§ Motion made, and Question proposed. That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Tinn]
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill (Stretford)
The House will be glad to see that the Secretary of State has managed to make it back from the picket line. Some of us wish that he put as much vigilance and enthusiasm into manning the barricades of freedom and peace as he apparently has put into an industrial dispute this morning.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Frederic Mulley)
I do not want to introduce a note of controversy, but it was the barricades of freedom that I was defending this morning.
§ Mr. Churchill
That is an even more dubious proposition than that which the right hon. Gentleman usually advances from the Dispatch Box.
For eight years now the Western allies have been talking detente with the Russians. Many of our Governments have gone further and have been putting detente into practice by reducing their armament expenditure—most notably the United States, which, in the wake of the Vietnam war, has slashed its defence budget by one-third, from $167 billion in 1969 to $115 billion this year. It can only be a matter for extreme concern that the restraint by the NATO allies has in no way been reciprocated by the Soviet Government, who over the same period have increased their defence expenditure by nearly one-third from $125 billion to $155 billion.
No whisper of detente has been communicated to the Soviet armaments factories, which are producing at a rate that can only be described as being close to a wartime footing. Nor has a whisper of detente been communicated to the Soviet armed forces which, starting from the same baseline as the United States 10 years ago with a total of 3.5 728 million men under arms, have increased the figure by nearly 1 million. In the same period the United States has cut its forces by 1½ million. The continuation of these trends is incompatible with the maintenance of peace and stability in Europe.
President Carter, addressing last week's NATO ministerial meeing in London, warned:The threat facing the Alliance has grown steadily in recent years. The Soviet Union has achieved essential strategic nuclear equivalents. Its theatre nuclear forces have been strengthened. The Warsaw Pact's conventional forces in Europe emphasise an offensive posture. These forces are much stronger than needed for any defence purpose.The President then stated the response that the challenge demands of the alliance. He said:The collective deterrent strength of our Allies is effective. But it will only remain so if we work to improve it. The United States is prepared to make a major effort to this end…in the expectation that our Allies will do the same. There have to be real increases in Allied defence spending.Following hard on the heels of the President's warning was the ministerial session of the NATO Defence Planning Committee meeting this week in Brussels, and attended by the Secretary of State. Ministers drew particular attention to the insufficient readiness of NATO forces, to the inadequacies of war reserve munitions and critical weaknesses in anti-armour capability.
There can be no doubt that these criticisms were applied especially to the United Kingdom, which has approximately 10,000 Rhine Army troops currently deployed in Northern Ireland and maintains wholly inadequate war reserve stocks in Germany. Until Milan, delayed by Labour's defence cuts, is fully deployed we find ourselves criminally weak in anti-armour capability.
The Ministers concluded:An annual increase in real terms in defence budgets should be aimed at by all countries. This annual increase should be in the region of 3 per cent.What is to be our response to President Carter's initiative and the considered judgment of NATO's Defence Ministers? In the next financial year, 1978–79, Britain's defence budget is planned to be cut by £1,217 million as a result of Labour's five successive defence cuts. That represents a reduction of 18.4 per 729 cent. on the planned 1974 level of expenditure. Already training and war stocks have been reduced to a dangerous and inadequate level and vitally needed modern equipment has been postponed or cancelled. The additional £230 million cut for 1978–79 announced by the Secretary of State in December can be achieved only by additional cuts in these areas, or by the disbandment of squadrons or battalions, or the paying off of ships.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
The hon. Gentleman is speaking most interestingly, but I was under the impressions that we were all meeting for the purpose of discussing the Royal Navy, and I have not yet heard a single word about it.
§ Mr. Churchill
If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, he will find that I am coming to that immediately.
The £230 million cut will inevitably lead to the disbandment of ships, of squadrons and of battalions, or to further reductions in training, which very much affect the Royal Navy. This is one of the reasons that we have a half-speed Navy, or at any rate a reduced-speed Navy, today. All such cuts would be wholly counter to the spirit of the London and Brussels meetings and to what the national interest requires.
The Soviet challenge to the West is especially evident on the high seas. Though enjoying internal lines of communication and, unlike the West, not dependent for the bulk of their food, energy and raw materials on the free flow of commerce upon the high seas, the Soviets have been devoting vast resources to the creation of a large, modern, ocean-going fleet. Their naval shipyards have been producing on average 14 submarines and 14 major combatant vessels each year for the past 10 years, deploying a total of 766 new vessels altogether.
The architect of this build-up is Admiral Sergei Gorshkov, who has brazenly declared:The goal of the Soviet sea power is to effectively utilise the world oceans in the interests of building Communism.Evidence of this, if any were needed, can be found in the transportation by the Soviet Union in recent months of an 730 18,000-man Cuban mercenary army from the Western hemisphere to Angola to invade and occupy that country in the Soviet interest, and in the establishment by the Soviets of missile and naval bases elsewhere in the African continent.
The naval and amphibious forces of the Soviet Union, previously designed for use on the perimeter of the USSR, are now capable of extended open-ocean operations. We cannot ignore the fact that the vital sea lines of communication, on which the survival of Britain and Western Europe depend, are today less secure than they were only a decade ago in view of the strengthened Soviet naval and air power.
It would be wrong, of course, to exaggerate the strength of the Soviet surface fleet, which could in a conflict be driven off the high seas by the Western navies, and in particular by the strike carrier force. The threat at sea—and it is a most serious one—comes from the Soviet submarine fleet, which is by far the largest in the world and three times that of the United States.
It also comes from the deployment of more than 100 supersonic Backfire heavy bombers so far deployed by the Soviet Union in the long-range air force and the naval air force on an equal basis. These aircraft, which are three times the gross weight of the United States' F111, are able from their Black Sea and Baltic bases to dominate a wide area of the North Atlantic and of the Mediterranean, equipped as they are with long range, stand-off, nuclear missiles.
This is the challenge that confronts the Royal Navy at sea today. Its task is clear: to gain control of the seas in order to keep open our vital lines of communication around the globe and to enable sea-borne reinforcements—a vital part of NATO's deterrent strategy—to reach their stations in Western Europe in time of crisis.
How is the Royal Navy placed to meet this growing challenge? First, it must be said that the Royal Navy is the most powerful navy in the Alliance, second only to that of the United States, for which it is the pacemaker. We are leaders in development, in operations, and in training. Alone of the European allies we deploy an important force of nuclear attack submarines. Further, the 731 Royal Navy deploys four Polaris submarines with a most formidable striking power which repreents the backbone of Britain's strategic capability and a very important contribution to the NATO alliance.
It is impossible to talk about the calibre of our Navy without talking about the quality of the men who man our vessels on the high seas and under the oceans. Their quality of excellence and dedication to their job is unequalled. It is not unusual for an ordinary seaman in one of our submarines to have as many as four or five O-levels. That gives some idea of the calibre of men attracted into the service.
§ Mr. Churchill
Very nearly. In order to maintain a high calibre of officers and men to match the machinery and so that the nation is able to realise a profit on the very substantial human investment involved in a long and expensive training, it is vital that the men and women who serve the Queen feel that they are getting a square deal from the Government. Discontent causes men to leave and deters others from joining, and is wholly incompatible with the voluntary principles on which our Armed Forces are based.
It is for this reason that I am particularly concerned to note that whereas the Armed Forces, under phases 1 and 2 of the Government's pay policy, have been granted a 14.4 per cent. increase over the past two years, average industrial earnings over the same period, according to the Minister of State's parliamentary reply to me of 16th May, increased by no less than 19.9 per cent.—nearly 50 per cent. higher. Bearing in mind that virtually all the Service man's increase has been clawed back in higher accommodation charges—which in some instances have doubled in the course of the past three years—it is no wonder that the forces at every level of rank feel that their loyalty and devotion to their task are being abused by the Government.
I am very glad that the Government have backed down from their intention to consider dishonouring commitments made to pilots—especially Fleet Air Arm pilots—in respect of gratuities. I am glad, furthermore, that the Under-Secretary of 732 State for Defence for the Royal Air Force has conceded my point that, whatever the practice may have been over the years under successive Governments, it is nevertheless wrong that the Armed Forces and their families should suffer rent increases that are retrospective by one month or more. He has undertaken to ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to speak to the Pay Review Board on this matter, and I very much hope that the Secretary of State will agree to do that.
However, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy will be aware of the increasing incidence of separation, which especially affects naval families. Quite apart from the long periods that husband have to spend at sea, the provisions of the Rent Act, by making it difficult for them to rent their homes when posted to another area—because they would find difficulty in getting them back again—effectively prevent wives from moving to be close to their husbands. As this problem of separation is now becoming so widespread, will the Minister undertake to give serious consideration to this problem in order to see how it can best be overcome?
I turn now to the southern flank. There can be no question but that the defence cuts have taken a heavy toll of the Navy. There has been a one-year slippage in the delivery programme of the Exocet surface-to-surface missile, which, according to the Report of the Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee, waspartly attributable to financial constraints".But of even greater concern to the Sub-Committee was what it referred to in paragraph 17 asthe serious implications of the phased abandonment of our commitments to the Southern Flank of NATO and of the reduction in our capacity to provide reinforcements for the Northern Flank. Both represent a diminution of our support for NATO.That is a direct contradiction of everything that the Government, in their successive defence cuts, have been claiming, namely, that they are strengthening the British commitment to NATO. The all-party Sub-Committee unanimously takes a contrary view.
It has now become clear that the greater part of the Mediterranean naval amphibious force—including a commando group, commando ships, assault ships, 733 mine counter-measures vessels, and RAF Canberras—is not only to be withdrawn but decommissioned, in addition to at least eight destroyers and an entire long-range maritime patrol flight of Nimrods based in Malta. To carry out such a complete withdrawal from the Mediterranean at a time when Soviet naval and air power is increasing and when the southern flank of NATO is in disarray with the dispute between Greece and Turkey, with the uncertain political and economic situation in Italy, and with the continued absence of France from the organisation of NATO, can only be describd as reckless.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise for interrupting the debate, but just before you took the Chair the Secretary of State for the Environment gave an undertaking to the House that by seven minutes past five he would inform the House, through my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and me, of the answer to the question whether water rates would be based on the capital value of property, which is now to be the basis of the rating system. I want to report that not only has that pledge not been honoured in the House, but no message has been put on the message board and no message has come through by telphone or by personal messenger. Therefore, the House has been grossly misled and the Secretary of State has reneged on his undertaking to the House.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's remarks have been noted by the Minister's representatives.
§ Mr. Churchill
There are two decisive NATO theatres for NATO: the North Atlantic, which is vital to reinforcement and supplies, and the Mediterranean, the soft under-belly of NATO—which, if it were ever to fall into hostile hands, could lead to the outflanking and collapse of NATO's defence posture in Central Europe.
It is greatly to be regretted that, with the exception of a single guardship in Gibraltar, we have pulled out virtually entirely from the Mediterranean, apart from occasional visits. Perhaps the Minister will confirm later that we shall 734 maintain the force of staff officers, who are playing such an invaluable part in the headquarters at Naples and who contribute so much to the cohesion of the alliance in a difficult time.
There is a danger that, as a result of the defence cuts, we may fall into a Maginot philosophy of concentrating on a single area to the exclusion of all others. We cannot overlook the fact that the Cape route, which is used to supply the West with 80 per cent. of its oil and NATO with 70 per cent. of its strategic materials, is also a vital area of interest.
I understand that it has been proposed that a NATO maritime co-ordination group should be established at North-wood under C-in-C Channel to organise deployments in the South Atlantic, Indian Ocean and the Far East. Perhaps the Minister could say what progress has been made with that proposal and confirm that Her Majesty's Government no longer oppose its formation.
§ Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)
While the hon. Gentleman is on this theme, what is the Opposition's view on the suggestion involving the formation of a South Atlantic Treaty Organisation, thus extending the purview of NATO over the whole sphere?
§ Mr. Churchill
It has already been agreed within NATO that the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, Admiral Kidd, should make contingency plans for operations south of the Tropic of Cancer, should that become necessary. The Opposition would welcome joint deployments and exercises outside the immediate NATO area. We are well aware that Europe cannot be defended in northern waters alone.
Let me say a few words about equipment. The Royal Navy is currently being strengthened by the Swiftsure class of nuclear submarine—an excellent piece of equipment which is among the most silent in the world. In view of the success and popularity in the Fleet of the commercially designed Type-21 frigate, will the Minister say whether this means that further offers of design may go to industry in the future?
Perhaps he can tell the House about important new developments taking place on the other side of the Atlantic—and we would very much hope in this country, 735 too—which are substantially enhancing the capability of anti-submarine warfare and surface submarines, namely, the towed array sonars. Will he confirm that Britain is taking steps to acquire such equipment?
On missiles, there can be no doubt that the strength and capacity of the British electronics industry, after many years in the doldrums, is now much better organised in support of the Royal Navy. Sea Dart and Sea Cat are both fine pieces of equipment. However, will the Minister say something about Sea Wolf and the weight-growth problem of the associated system? Apparently the missile is excellent, but the system is somewhat heavy. Will he confirm whether the Government still intend to deploy this weapon in all the ships originally envisaged?
In regard to Sub-Harpoon, is it the case, following the devaluation of sterling, that it would be cheaper to go ahead with Sub-Martell in conjunction with the French? Even if the contract goes to Sub-Harpoon and the Americans, will the guidance system and homing head be manufactured by GEC Marconi in this country, whose equipment has already been ordered for Sea Harrier and Tornado? Bearing in mind the vital rôle of electronics in modern warfare, will the Minister say whether further resources are to be made available in this vital area of development, since it will affect not only the Navy but every other branch of the Armed Services?
Since we have seen the deployment in recent months of more than 100 Soviet Backfire weapons, 50 per cent. of them in the anti-shipping rôle, is the Minister satisfied that the Royal Navy and our merchant marine will have the protection that they need from air attack in the years ahead as Tornado ADV will not come into service, even if the present schedule is maintained, until 1984? What is intended to fill the gap following the payoff of "Ark Royal"?
It is evident that the Government are spending considerable sums of money on modernising our Polaris missiles. Given the full support of the Opposition for the importance of overall deterent strategy in the alliance, we believe that there should be more than one decision-making centre for a potential aggressor to consider.
736 The Minister will have seen recent reports emanating from United States Air Force intelligence that the Soviet Union may have achieved a breakthrough in particle beam technology. Such weapons apparently could be deployed within five years or so and might effectively prevent the present generation of ballistic missiles from reaching their targets. In view of the implications that this has for our deterrent capability, can the Minister say whether these reports are well founded and whether urgent consideration will now be given to the development of a cruise missile system, which would have greater chances of penetration because of its low level and could be deployed in our attack submarines, trebling the platforms on which our strategic deterrent could be deployed?
The men and women of the Royal Navy are playing an indispensable part in the maintenance of peace and the security of our islands. They have earned the admiration and gratitude of the House and the nation. They deserve stronger support than they have received from this Government.
Only a strong defence can provide the means of a valid deterrent policy and a basis of achieving a serious arms control agreement with the Soviets, which must be the path of hope. We wish Secretary Vance and the United States Administration well in their search for such an agreement in Geneva. Let this Government not continue to undermine their efforts by unilateral cuts in defence. That is the path to disaster.
There is bound to be concern that at the recent meeting in Brussels the rider had to be inserted that for some individual countries economic circumstances will affect what can be achieved. This was a direct reference to the 3 per cent. target of increase. The suggestion is that this rider was inserted at the request of our own Secretary of State. I hope that that is not so. With our defence expenditure per head less than half of that the United States and one-third less than that of West Germany, I hope that the Minister will not seek to plead that resources cannot be found for Britain to pay her fair share. That is unacceptable for a Government who squander resources on a vastly increased bureaucracy and utterly irrelevant nationalisation costing 737 the taxpayers billions of pounds and for a Government who are devoting £275 million a year to the National Enterprise Board, which must now be regarded in an even more dubious light than before. For such a Government to argue that resources cannot be found to do what is necessary for the Army, Navy and Air Force is unacceptable.
I call on the Government to announce that they will restore the additional £230 million of cuts scheduled for next year. That would still leave a massive cut of £978 million. I call on the Government to say that in the following years after 1979 it is their aim to achieve the 3 per cent. target that has been agreed.
The Secretary of State, who is well aware of the increasing Soviet threat, is under an obligation to convince his Cabinet colleagues of the importance to this country of increasing defence expenditure in real terms. If the Secretary of State is unable to do that, the path required by both honour and duty is clear: he must resign. To do anything less than make this modest increase and this modest strengthening of our forces would be to breach faith with our allies, to lessen the chances of agreement with the Soviets on the limitation of strategic and conventional arms, and to place peace in jeopardy. It cannot be denied that the price of deterrence is high, but the price of failure to deter is immeasurable.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. A. E. P. Duffy)
The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) started his speech slowly. It took him about seven minutes to get on to the Navy, but he did raise some questions afterwards. I shall try to answer some of them. He will understand that I prefer not to be drawn on questions about equipment. He also asked about sonars, Sea Wolf and Sub-Harpoon. I shall write to him where possible.
I shall be glad to meet the hon. Member's question about the separation of families, home ownership and the problems arising out of the Rent Act. I shall also deal with the southern flank, "Ark Royal" and the cruise missile.
738 Air defence support of the Fleet is currently provided nationally by the Fleet Air Arm in aircraft operating from "Ark Royal" and by RAF aircraft operated from land bases. As "Ark Royal" phases out of service her aircraft will continue to be operated in a maritime rôle by the RAF.
In addition, we are planning to deploy the Sea Harrier to supply a complementary, quick reaction capability in use particularly against Warsaw Pact reconnaissance and target-indicating aircraft. At the same time, it must be appreciated that our plans for air defence of the Fleet are based on the concept of defence in depth. Therefore, in addition to the aircraft that I have mentioned, we shall be deploying one Sea Dart missile in Type-42 destroyers to provide area air defence against aircraft and missiles, and the Sea Wolf missile system to provide short-range defence especially against missiles.
In operations in the NATO area we would expect to be operating with other forces, so national resources would be supplemented not only by land-based aircraft but by ship-borne aircraft of the United States.
§ Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)
Can the Minister confirm that the squadron of fighters of "Ark Royal" will be replaced by an additional squadron of RAF Phantoms? Will there be an additional RAF squadron to replace the Navy squadron?
§ Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)
Can the Minister say in what way airborne early warning will be given to our Fleet, and in particular to HMS "Invincible" when she is outside the range of land-based aircraft?
§ Mr. Duffy
I shall be talking about HMS "Invincible" later and I shall try to answer the hon. Member's question.
I now turn to the formal presentation of my remarks. In the last year's Navy 739 debate I discussed at some length the characteristics of the maritime threat, particularly the risks posed to the free use of the North Atlantic. It has remained our first priority, therefore, to ensure that our contribution to NATO remains effective in the light of the evolving nature of the Soviet threat. In the Eastern Atlantic and Channel areas of NATO the United Kingdom provides the main weight of NATO's ready maritime forces.
I shall, with the House's permission, touch upon some of the most significant aspects of the past year as far as the Navy is concerned. I do not want to go over old ground or repeat any portion of the speech that I made a year ago. I prefer to concentrate on some of the changes and follow the hon. Member for Stretford in his generous references to personnel.
As the hon. Member reminded us, the finest equipment is of little value without the men and women who operate, service and support it. I want to concentrate to a greater extent than usual on the men and women of the senior Service and the civilians who are so essential in the support of an all-volunteer Service.
On the equipment side, perhaps the most significant events of the past year have been at the extremes. On the one hand, the Navy has launched its largest surface ship for almost a quarter of a century. At the other end of the scale, in response to the extended fishery protection task, we have ordered and are having built in a very short time scale—to the huge credit of the builders, Hall Russell of Aberdeen—the Island class protection vessels.
Earlier this month Her Majesty the Queen launched HMS "Invincible", the first of the new ASW cruisers. "Invincible" is more than the first of a new class; she is the first of a new concept. She will provide an operating platform from which to deploy ASW helicopters in significant numbers, as well as command and control facilities for a maritime task force, and will contribute to area air defence with the Sea Dart missile system, as well as deploying the Sea Harrier. The keel of the second cruiser was laid last October.
The new Island class will be responsible for policing the new 200-mile fisheries limits and providing deterrent patrols for the protection of the offshore oil 740 and gas installations. The first, HMS "Jersey", was accepted into service last September; the fifth, HMS "Lindis-farne", will be launched on 1st June and is expected to be operational early next year.
HMS "Jersey", as hon. Members may have noted, was quite up to the job of making the first arrest of a Soviet trawler fishing illegally within our new limits on 7th April. When the present Government arrived in office we saw immediately the need for a new class to meet a new job, a need that would have to be met within a short time scale, and we have provided just that.
I have taken the two extremes—"Invincible" and "Lindisfarne". Between the two the re-equipment programme of the Navy continues. HMS "Battleaxe", the second of the new class of Type 22 frigate, was launched yesterday by Mrs. Audrey Callaghan.
"Battleaxe" will operate the Anglo-French Lynx helicopter. The first deck landings of the Lynx were very successfully conducted with HMS "Birmingham" in February this year.
Improvements to the Navy's capabilities do not rest solely in new design and new construction. Ships are expensive and weapon systems often have an effective life shorter than the hull life of a modern warship. To maintain the fighting effectiveness of the Fleet requires the modernisation of existing ships. The fitting of the early Leander frigates with the Ikara anti-submarine missile is virtually complete; the last ship, "Dido", is currently being refitted. The later, batch 2, Leanders are being fitted with Exocet anti-ship missile systems. "Phoebe" finished her refit last month; currently "Sirius", "Minerva" and "Argonaut" are being fitted with Exocet, and "Danae" is planned to start her refit in July.
It is not often that someone from this Bench—certainly not me—opts to cite an article by the naval correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, but he was kind enough to quote last week, on 11th May, the words of the Captain of "Cleopatra", the first Royal Navy frigate to be fitted with Exocet:It gives confidence knowing that with these missiles we can face up to almost any other surface warship.741 Perhaps the most publicised development for the Navy over the last year, however, has been the extension of the United Kingdom fishing limits to 200 miles on 1st January. The new fisheries regime is far from settled, but the Services have coped well. Hon. Members must be aware of this. Things have settled down remarkably quickly, because the Navy and the RAF have coped well with a complex and evolving set of regulations.
In its progress report on the fishing industry published in March, the Trade and Industry Sub-Committee commented that it wasimpressed with the enthusiasm and professionalism of the RN and RAF in fishery protection".All the evidence so far suggests that the mix of forces, surface ships and aircraft, upon which we decided in 1974 was the correct one, though we shall continue to monitor the success of these forces.
I know that many hon. Members take an interest in the work of the Hydro-grapher. It was thus with great pleasure that I announced on 12th October last that the hydrographic fleet would be retained at its present size for the time being. This represented a clear recognition by the Government of the importance of the national hydrographic tasks that the Navy's Hydrographer performs.
The Government and this House are not alone in their admiration of our hydrographic service. As a measure of the high esteem in which it is held, I am pleased to say that a report, written almost entirely by the British Hydro- graphic Department, on the standardisation of nautical chart symbols was recently adopted "with acclamation". The United Kingdom was unanimously elected to chair a new technical committee to extend this work and several statements were made from the floor that the United Kingdom was the only country which could take on this task. During the first four months of 1977 chart sales are 25 per cent. greater in volume than even the record sales of 1976. I am also pleased—indeed, honoured—to say that the British President of the International Hydrographic Board—Rear-Admiral G. S. Ritchie, who was Hydrographer of the Navy for the period 1960 to 1965—has 742 been re-elected for a further five-year term of office.
I should like to move on now to the subject of Northern Ireland to make special mention of the contribution there of the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines, as well as that of the Royal Naval Reserve.
§ Mr. Tebbit I do not want to break up the formation of the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I think that inadvertently he might have passed the section of his speech where one would have expected him to deal with the problem of airborne early warning for the Fleet operating outside the range of home-based aircraft.
§ Mr. Duffy
I did not do that. I was as helpful as I could be in the circumstances. I looked very hard at the hon. Gentleman when I was doing just that, and I did not really expect that what I had to say then would satisfy him. I noted that he moved to the edge of the Bench, but when he relaxed I thought that I had got around that difficult part of our debate. I think that the hon. Gentleman will understand why I cannot say any more on this occasion. I have been more helpful, in the circumstances, than might have been possible. Where I can add anything to what I have said, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman. He knows the position as well as I do. I hope that he will not make too much of this matter.
I return to what I was saying about the contribution of the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines and of the Royal Naval Reserve in Northern Ireland. They continue to make a valuable contribution to security in the Province, together with the splendid work there of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Royal Marine commandos take their turn with Army battalions in emergency tours, whilst coastal operations continue to search for arms smuggling. In recent weeks one of our patrolling ships has had notable successes in Carlingford Lough. On 19th March she picked up a small boat carrying explosives. On 21st April she intercepted a merchant ship carrying a quantity of arms. The events of the past fortnight have reminded us all most vividly of the dangers to the security forces in Northern Ireland, and I should 743 like to pay tribute—and I know that both sides of the House will join me—to all those who have served or are serving in the Province.
The personnel of the Royal Navy, like all Service men, are justly renowned for their personal courage and bravery. The past year has been no exception. Twelve gallantry awards have been made. Hon. Members may have seen in the television series "Sailor" the rescue by an aircrew-man of "Ark Royal" of a United States Navy rating washed over the side of a submarine. Was that not a marvellous series? I am told that the BBC's figures for its viewing public on this series leapt from 4 million to just under 10 million and that the episode to which I have just referred came in for most comment and most praise.
Many of us take the quality of our Navy personnel for granted, but some of us can only suspect their operating circumstances, although some hon. Members present are very familiar with them. We know that we ought not to take this quality for granted, although it is a great tribute to the Service to take it for granted. We take it as axiomatic that all of the Services are among the most professional, the best trained and the most proficient. It is only when one visits our own personnel in NATO postings that one sees just how true that is. They are just that. They are the most proficient. However, it would be complacency of the most dangerous kind to take it for granted that it should be so.
During the past few months I have visited Brussels, both NATO Headquarters and SHAPE, the headquarters of AFSOUTH in Naples—I am willing to assure the hon. Member for Stretford about the matter that he raised concerning the deployment of personnel and staff appointments—and AFNORTH in Oslo. I have talked to senior personnel from many NATO nations. Everyone has spoken highly of the quality of our men and women.
Anyone with responsibilities for the Royal Navy such as I have must constantly be asking himself, however, how long this can continue in view of the environment in which the Service men and women must live and work, in view of the many and varied pressures which impinge upon all of us in one way or another but particularly on the Service man.
744 We cannot take the very high standards of our Service men for granted. Standards in society as a whole change. We live in an age of increasing violence, emotional instability, uncertain moral standards and fluctuating economic fortunes. The Service man is not exempt from the influence of these changes. In society as a whole careful, skilled, workmanship is no longer to be taken for granted.
So what about the professional skills of our sailors and naval airmen with their responsibility for operating and maintaining ever more complex equipment? In an increasingly materialistic society how are we to keep such men and women properly motivated and self-disciplined as well as well trained? It is the responsibility of Governments to cushion as far as possible the adverse affects of change upon the men and women in the Armed Forces who, because of the particular circumstances of their work, are often less able to take compensating action themselves.
The defence review and the subsequent cuts enforced by economic circumstances have affected the Navy's spending just as that of the other two Services. But the Navy has managed to avoid large-scale redundancies. In fact, on present plans no ratings and not more than 50 officers will leave on redundancy terms, and I hope that they will all be volunteers.
As was announced in the Defence White Paper of 1975, we shall be reducing our total bearing to 74,000 by 1979 to match the requirements of the Fleet and the shore establishments, and recruiting policy over the next two or three years will be framed accordingly.
Recruiting is reasonably good at present. Indeed, I was somewhat surprised but so gratified to learn during a recent visit to HMS "Raleigh", the new entry training establishment for ratings, that we were recruiting graduates to the Jower deck: from there they, as all able men on the lower deck, have the opportunity to progress towards commissioned rank.
We are getting the officers and ratings we need in all except certain specialist branches—but it may not be so a year or two hence when we may be in keener competition with industry and may thus need to expand recruiting. As well as competition, the Navy has so much to 745 offer industry in the way of the skills and qualities of the officers and senior rates who leave at the end of their engagements, still in their prime, to take up employment in civilian life.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
The Minister is being extremely interesting and I am sure that the whole House will agree with the tribute that he is paying to the Royal Navy. However, would he agree that the corollary to what he is saying is that these people should be paid properly? I hope that the hon. Gentleman will refer to that point before he completes his speech.
§ Mr. Duffy
I shall, indeed. I gladly give the hon. and gallant Gentleman that assurance.
The hon. Member for Stretford raised the subject of the separation of families and sought an undertaking about it. I am glad to follow the hon. Gentleman and say that long periods of separation from families are no longer the normal order of the day. Under the harmony rules, which have been in operation for some years now, no one should be absent from his base port for longer than nine months or for more than a total of 15 months in a 30 months' commission.
Family separation has been reduced over the years, but by the very nature of the task of the Royal Navy, it will never be eliminated. Consequently, a burden of responsibility for home and family over and above the norm will always fall on the Navy wives, and they deserve recognition for the part that they play. Sailors are marrying younger and young wives, in particular, need a helping hand from the Navy to carry them through the stresses and strains of separation and the crises that brew up whilst their husbands are away. We maintain the Seebohm aim of caring for naval families so that welfare problems are forestalled. I think that it is generally accepted that our existing welfare staff cope admirably when a welfare crisis develops.
We have placed the Commander-in-Chief, Naval Home Command, in overall charge of the welfare, community and housing services and made him personally responsible for ensuring that resources are used and developed to the best possible advantage. New sailors' 746 and families' advice bureaux have been introduced at the main naval bases and are already proving a well-used source of advice and help on any problem for the sailor and his family. By our placing our senior commander-in-chief in general charge of these services they get a renewed impetus, and the inauguration of the Naval Personal and Family Service under his aegis on 1st April 1977 will be seen as a marked practical improvement in our care of naval families.
It is, of course, the officers of the Royal Navy—and in particular the divisional and commanding officers—who form the first line of our welfare defences. Closely allied to them are the chaplains, about whom I should like to say a special word. The Navy is very well served by chaplains of all denominations, who play a vital part in the support of personnel and their families, and not only by their ministry to the committed Christians. A great deal of their work for the whole Royal Navy community is carried out on an ecumenical basis.
We have appointed certain selected chaplains for specific duty in the larger married quarters estates. This deeper involvement is in its early stages and it will be some time before its benefits can be evaluated, but there are already signs that it has been welcomed by the families concerned.
Of course, the basic need that all families have in common is a home. There the picture now looks pretty bright. Now we are able, broadly speaking—I admit that there are exceptions—to provide a married quarter or hiring for every officer and rating who wants one when he moves to a new job ashore. On home ownership the most recent figures I have show that out of about 6,700 married officers about 5,500 own their own houses, For married ratings the figures are almost 13,000 house owners out of nearly 30,000. We encourage home ownership through long-service advances of pay.
This welcome trend is not without its problems. We have spent a lot of time negotiating on them with the other Departments concerned, and I am glad to acknowledge that such successes as we have had owe a good deal to the readiness of these Departments to recognise the special problems of Service men and 747 to try to make concessions where they can.
The Ministry of Defence is joining with the Department of the Environment and others in considering what can be done for the officer or man who finds on returning home that he cannot resume occupation of his own house without going through lengthy and sometimes expensive legal procedure. I am certainly not saying that we have catered for all the sailors' problems—that we shall never achieve—but I believe that we know what the main grievances are, and we are doing our best to allay them.
§ Mr. Churchill
The Minister might not be fully apprised of the situation. It is not just the problem arising out of the fact that officers and families are unable to reoccupy their home once they have rented it. The problem arises from the fact that, because they know it may be difficult to regain their homes, they dare not rent their homes. Wives therefore cannot afford to move to where their husbands may be posted. Families cannot afford to take out a married quarter or some local lodging while at the same time having the full burden of their own home. Unless the law is changed, some specific allowance must be made so that husbands and wives are not kept apart.
§ Mr. Duffy
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. That is a further problem. How far we can go towards its relief is again a matter that I would prefer to be left with me. However, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for putting the problem on the record.
I want to come to point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles). That is my most urgent cause for concern at present, as well as that of the hon. and gallant Gentleman and other hon. Members. It is the extent to which national economic difficulties and the measures we are having to take to overcome them have affected Service men. There is no doubt—the 1977 report from the Armed Forces Pay Review Body itself emphasises this—that, because of a number of factors, there has been a loss of pay comparability between the Armed Forces and their civilian counterparts during the past two years. It is also acknowleged that differentials have been badly distorted—as they have 748 in the community at large—and it follows that middle-ranking and senior officers have come off particularly badly. The Navy is naturally keenly conscious of all this.
What all this adds up to is that Service men start to wonder whether the machinery for settling their pay and allowances gives them a fair deal and whether their interests are being represented as vigorously as they ought to be. This year—and I should like to make this very clear—the Armed Forces Pay Review Body recommended, and the Government accepted, the highest Service pay award which could be given without breaking the current pay policy. It recommended food and accommodation charges calculated on exactly the same formulae as in previous years. Naturally, these charges reflected the higher cost of living generally, but if there had been any abatement of them it would have meant that Service men would have been protected from the rising cost of living in a way no other sector of the community is protected.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
Will the Minister explain why, if Service pay is frozen, Service costs and lodging cannot be frozen, too?
§ Mr. Duffy
That is precisely what I have just explained.
Of course, pay policy has created problems for the Services, as it has in pay structures throughout the country. The AFPRB has ensured by its very clear recommendations that the Government are fully aware of these problems. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has assured the Services that as we enter the period following phase 2 he will ensure that the needs of the Services are fully represented.
§ Mr. Churchill:
Before the Minister leaves the question of service pay, will he explain how it is that average industrial earnings over the last two years under phases 1 and 2 of the Government's pay policy have increased by 19.9 per cent., as was disclosed in a parliamentary reply to me only this week, yet Service pay has gone up by 5 per cent. less? If it had been increased by 10 per cent. this year, the Forces would still not have been above the average industrial increase for the period.
§ Mr. Duffy
I have explained why the Armed Forces Pay Review Body recommended and the Government felt obliged to accept the highest Service pay award which could be given without breaking the current pay policy. I am aware of the growth that has taken place during the last year in industrial earnings, but I think that the hon. Gentleman will accept that this is not the responsibility of my right hon. Friend but is rather that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.
One of the advantages of my job is the opportunities it gives me to meet and talk to the men and women of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. I know from my visits to ship and shore establishments what they are feeling and thinking, because they express it to me. I always feel that it is a great privilege for me to meet and talk with them. They represent a pretty complete cross-section of our society.
Another cause for satisfaction which, I find in my visits to the Fleet and the shore establishments is that the Navy provides very little reflection of the less pleasant aspects of some sections of our modern society. The men are not angels and they are certainly not sissies. However, there is no denying, from both the statistical approach and personal judgment, that conduct in the Navy is far better than it was 25 years ago. This stems not from a rigid imposition of a disciplinary code but rather from an intelligent recognition by officers and ratings alike that self-discipline is an essential ingredient of any healthy community.
Last week I visited the Royal Navy Detention Quarters at Portsmouth. This is not a particularly well-known facet of naval life, nor would I wish it to be. But what impressed me was the fact that the place was half empty and that numbers have been declining steadily over the past few years at a time when the prison population is tending to increase. This is yet another instance of the Navy offering higher standards and thus continuing to provide an example for the community as a whole.
I make no excuse for talking at some length about the men and women in uniform, because in an era of technological marvels it is the hardware that usually makes the headlines. The humans often come a poor second—but never, I 750 hope, in the Navy. During my time as Navy Minister I have made a point of visiting as many ships and establishments as possible and meeting all the men and women I could. Yesterday I was at sea in the Channel in HMS "Antrim". Next week I am planning to go to sea in one of the new Island class as well as to visit shore establishments such as Portland and Plymouth. So I speak from firsthand knowledge when I tell the House that their quality is inspiring, their morale is high, and it is my privilege to see to it that their problems are known in Whitehall and treated with the sympathy and urgency they deserve.
This year is the sixtieth anniversary of the Women's Royal Naval Service. I trust that the House will permit me to say more about the WRNS than is usual in debates. It is a source of regret to me personally that, though hon. Members are willing to champion their old Services—and none more so than the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) and his fellow ex-Royal Marines, who provide the most fervent body in this House in support of any of the Services, there is no such group, certainly not among our women Members, prepared to champion the WRNS. The WRNS finds no champion among female hon. Members. I cannot even see one attending this debate.
The officer corps of the WRNS is unique in that all members spend some time as ratings. WRNS officers are gradually, but increasingly, becoming more interchangeable with Royal Navy officers in many appointments in shore establishments and on command staffs. Despite their relatively small numbers, there are many with the qualifications and ability for these tasks, and with the broader based training they receive, their talents, and the dedication which goes with them, are being put to very positive advantage in both the operational and the support organisations. The majority of WRNS officers serve for about six and a half years, but those who remain for a full career now have the opportunity of further training at both the Royal Naval Staff College and the National Defence College. In all ranks they play their full part in the life and work of the Royal Navy.
The WRNS rating trained strength is around 2,750. All ratings now enter on 751 notice engagements and stay, on average, about three and a quarter years in the Service. As with their officers, joint training allows greater flexibility in movement of all ratings serving in the Royal Navy. An increasing number of shore billets are becoming interchangeable between the Royal Navy and WRNS and in particular the regulating branch will be benefiting from this change later this year.
Through its initial training the WRNS is becoming more integrated; WRNS officer training moved last autumn from Greenwich to Dartmouth; Royal Navy rating new entry training is being concentrated in HMS "Raleigh" at Torpoint outside Plymouth and WRNS new entry training will be moving to "Raleigh" from HMS "Dauntless" near Reading. My personal belief is that there is scope for increasing integration of the WRNS in the full life of the Navy, but this is an area which needs very sensitive treatment. Prejudice and convention can all to easily damage what has been achieved: we need to hasten slowly.
I would not want to omit a reference to the Reserves, particularly after such an eventful year for them. On 1st January the post of Admiral Commanding Reserves lapsed and direct responsibility for command and control of the volunteer naval Reserves passed to Commander-in-Chief Naval Home Command. This change will permit even closer integration between the Royal Navy and the Reserves.
Last September the tragic sinking of HMS "Fittleton" was an abrupt reminder of the ever-present risks of life at sea. It was also a very real reminder of the demands made of members of the Reserves as an operational component of the Fleet. Following the tragedy we examined the procedures for training and the qualifications for command, but came to the conclusion that no fundamental changes were necessary.
At the end of March I visited Royal Navy and Royal Marine Reserve units on Merseyside. I have nothing but praise for these men and women who give up their spare time to make a very important contribution towards the defence effort. Credit is also due to their families and employers who also make their sacrifices in support of the Reservists. All of them 752 are people who are motivated to stand up in support of their country and defence, a vital part in our jigsaw of deterrence.
If I say relatively little about the civilian staff who serve the Navy, that is only because my time is limited. The Navy employs over 70,000 civilians at home and abroad, the majority of whom, almost 85 per cent., are employed in direct support of the Fleet, in the dockyards, in stores and supplies depots, and manning the Royal Fleet auxiliaries. In the Royal Navy the whole of the supplies, stores and transport organisation is manned by civilians. This is not the case in the other two Services.
I must need be selective, but I should like to mention the Royal Dockyards. Any organisation of the size and complexity of the Royal Dockyards needs to be looked at closely to ensure that we are getting the best return on investment. We are developing management systems for the better planning, estimating and control of work to improve performance. The introduction last April of the Dockyard Services Vote was designed to gather together funds previously spread over several Defence Votes to introduce greater financial discipline into the administration of the dockyards as a stimulus to management.
On the other side, the object of the new wages structure trial at Chatham has been to create a pattern of remuneration, which, in association with new management techniques, will provide scope for increasing efficiency and job satisfaction for all employees. If the trial proves successful and when national pay policy permits, we hope to extend the scheme to the other yards. A major modernisation programme is currently in hand. But of one thing I should like to assure the House, and particularly hon. Members with constituency interests in the dockyards: for the foreseeable future we shall require all four home dockyards.
§ Mr. Churchill
Will the Under-Secretary explain why, since the Royal Navy today has fewer than one-third as many ships as it had 20 years ago, it has not been possible to reduce the number of dockyards in use?
§ Mr. Duffy
Certainly that is a fair question. I acknowledge that the number of ships has been reduced, but, although 753 that may have taken place, the complexities of the ships that remain have increased. Hon. Gentlemen present who represent dockyard constituencies will know that the Navy now makes much greater demands on the skill of the work force in their constituencies. More specialist training is necessary. New weapons systems and new propulsion systems such as nuclear power have placed a greater requirement on the support provided by the dockyards. This is reflected in the dockyards represented by hon. Members in the House today.
Finally, whilst on the subject of the dockyards I should like to pay a special tribute to the work of Vic Feather, whose death last summer was a great loss to all of my colleagues on the Royal Dockyards Policy Board, and to myself.
As is the case with their Service colleagues, the size of the civilian staff is being reduced. The 1974 defence review and the 1976 expenditure review together required substantial savings to be made by 1979. A degree of redundancy is, I regret, unavoidable but we are doing everything possible to keep it to a minimum. The staff associations and trade unions are, of course, being kept informed and consulted as necessary. The savings we have achieved so far have been designed to have the minimum effect on the operational capability of the Fleet and we shall not relax our endeavours to minimise the impact of those yet to be made.
I continue to be impressed with the high quality of our civilian staff, both at home and abroad. The Navy could not manage without them. Perhaps I may be allowed to take this opportunity of recording my appreciation of their continued loyalty and dedication despite the somewhat unsettled background which, unfortunately, cannot be avoided in a period when defence expenditure reductions are being sought.
I have not made a systematic speech on the capabilities of the senior Service. I have not attempted a wide conspectus of the Navy's activities over the last year. Hon. Members can find all this in the defence White Paper. Rather I have preferred to concentrate on a few themes and elaborate to a far greater degree than is usually possible. I have chosen to con 754 centrate on some of the items which concern me as Navy Minister. I have attempted to draw attention to matters which are every bit as important as numerical ratios of forces and building programmes—above all, the men and women of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines.
I take great pride in the achievements and the very high standards of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. But I hope that from what I have said the House will be aware that I do not take these things for granted.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
I should like to join the Minister in praising the devotion of the men and women of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, and more particularly the Women's Royal Naval Service. After all, I married a Wren! We all know that the Minister's heart is with the Royal Navy, and I suppose that the same applies to his superior, the Secretary of State for Defence, although he seems to be rather kicked around by the Cabinet. I believe that the villain of the piece so far as the Services are concerned is that poacher turned gamekeeper, the gentleman who presided over the first of many cuts in the Royal Navy, who is now Chancellor of the Exchequer. I believe that he began as Secretary of State for Defence with more popularity than any of his predecessors because he talked the language and apparently understood the problem. I am sorry to say that after four or more years in office he became an absolute disaster to the Forces.
I believe that the Minister has to continue fighting the whole time against his right hon. Friend the Chancellor, and I hope that what is said in this debate will help him and his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence to do so, because it is obvious that the cuts that have been made by the present Government have gone far too far. The Minister, like anybody who associates himself with NATO, Western European Union or any such organisation, will know what damage has been done to the standing of our forces in Europe and the world.
I want to divide my remarks into two broad headings, strategic and tactical. I believe that the problem we in this country have always had to face since way 755 back in history is that of getting a correct balance between a Continental and a maritime strategy. At the moment the balance has gone far too far one way, too far towards a Continental strategy. The reason for this is the fault of the Government, because it stems from direct party political policy. We are bound to keep a certain number of troops in Europe under the Brussels Treaty. If the Government were to "rat" on that undertaking, there would be a major international political row. Therefore, the Government maintain a Continental strategy. I am not saying that it is not necessary to have forces in Europe, but they maintain these forces and they therefore neglect what is realised, even by soldiers whom I met in a NATO exercise last week, as the greatest threat to NATO—the threat to the flanks. The maritime threat, is the area of major Government neglect which will have serious consequences.
I was always taught to try to discover what was the objective of a potential enemy and then assess the method he would use. What is the objective of the Soviet Union in trying to exploit our defence? In the words of Mr. Brezhnev last year,Detente in no way rescinds or can rescind the laws of class struggle.Pravda said that the struggle must go on untilthe complete and final victory of communism on a world scale".I borrow another quotation from my hon. and gallant Frend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles), who uses it frequently. It comes from President Kennedy. He said that the danger to the West would be of being nibbled to death in conditions of nuclear stalemate. The stalemate is occurring in the centre and the nibbling is taking place on the flanks.
It is at last being realised that it is in the field of maritime strategy that the danger mainly lies. That was recognised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) when he opened the debate. My hon. Friend mentioned the northern flank. Our primary task in war or in time of tension is to reinforce the northern flank. That is the job of the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the Army and the Royal Air Force. I believe that our capacity to reinforce the northern 756 flank has been gravely eroded. We are being nibbled to death not only on the northern flank but in Iceland and Denmark—the cork in the bottle of the Baltic.
On the southern flank, the problem of the Iberian Peninsula has not yet been settled. There is the problem of Cyprus, Greece and Turkey—the cork in the bottle of the Black Sea. What will happen in Yugoslavia when Marshal Tito dies? There are also the problems of the Middle East. These are both military and maritime problems.
There is another flank which gives the Soviet Union its best hope of obtaining its objective without moving a single soldier or running the risk of nuclear war—that is, by interrupting our communications in the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. The Minister knows that these communications are vital for bringing reinforcements over from the United States in the event of war or in time of tension. We can fly troops over in large aircraft, but we cannot bring their stores. They must come by sea. About 90 per cent. must come by sea, As my hon. Friend said, we are now facing the biggest submarine threat that the world has ever known from the Soviet Navy.
There is also the question of oil supplies. We now have to pay four times more for oil than we did a few years ago. We should remember that it was Mr. Brezhnev who told the Arabs in 1975 that they should put up their oil prices. We know the effect that that has had on our economy. It has not affected the Russian economy very much, but it has had an enormous effect on the economy of the West.
There is another factor about which I should like some information. I tried to get information on this matter from the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force in the recent debate on the Royal Air Force. The Minister, in opening the debate today, said that the Royal Navy would be protected from air and submarine attack. If we have only 20 Sea Harriers, how will a British component of a NATO force reacting to Soviet threats to our communications in the South Atlantic or the Indian Ocean be protected from the air? There has been no answer to that question. I do not believe that the Minister has one. If so, he should tell the country and we 757 shall then be able to appreciate the true seriousness of our position.
I contend that the Soviet Union, by taking over Western influence in Southern Africa—it could do that within the next five to 10 years—would then control 90 per cent. of the world's platinum, 80 per cent. of gold and vanadium, some 75 per cent. of the world's manganese, 60 to 80 per cent. of its chrome and copper production, 60 per cent. of diamond output and more than 50 per cent. of the world's uranium reserves. If Mr. Brezhnev told the Arabs what to do about oil prices, what could the Soviet Union not do about those vital minerals? If those supplies, through our political folly in permitting the creation of Marxist States in Southern Africa or by the weakness of our sea communications, were to be controlled by the Soviet Union. Europe would have to surrender because its industries would be unable to continue. The battle that we face is not the battle of the Atlantic but the battle for resources. I am glad that those who are responsible for maintaining our shield in Europe have begun to appreciate that the battle for resources is vital, because that is where the most likely threat lies.
I turn now to the tactical side. What are the Government doing about some of the threats which have been outlined this afternoon? My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford underlined the importance to NATO of Northern Norway. How do we reinforce that area? In the past we had aircraft carriers, commando carriers and amphibious assault shipping to land vehicles and tanks. Now we have to rely on British Railways rail ferries. How can we expect merchant seamen to risk their lives at the start of hostility? It does not make sense. How do the Government propose to fulfil their commitment to reinforce that area in time of war? I have asked that question on a number of occasions and had no answer. If they get there before the balloon goes up, well and good, but what happens if they do not and they are opposed?
Another major threat comes from Soviet submarines. The Soviet Union has 325 submarines, of which 130 are nuclear. The numbers are coming down slightly but the nuclear component is going up. Within the next few years the Soviet 758 Union will have a wholly nuclear submarine fleet. These submarines are clearly designed to cut our communications.
How are we to prevent the cutting of our communications? By frigates, destroyers, anti-submarine helicopters and Nimrod aircraft. Yet these are the very things that the Government have cut. Nine frigates have been cut from the proposed building programme over the next few years. The Nimrods are to be cut under the Government's proposals. It is now possible that they are going to use aircraft which were to be scrapped as airborne early warning aircraft. Are we now to use all the Nimrods and not scrap any? I hope that is so and that the Minister will confirm this.
We are often told not to worry about the small number of frigates because a Sea King is equivalent to a frigate in antisubmarine warfare. What reserves have we got of Sea Kings? What reserves have we got of Sea King pilots? In time of emergency, because of Government cuts, we shall have to improvise. We now have large fleets of container ships and tankers which travel not at eight knots, but at speeds of 16 to 20 knots. These ships could be used, because they have large flat decks, to carry helicopters for anti-submarine warfare. But it can be done only with adequate reserves of Sea Kings and pilots. In the Battle of Britain the real shortage was a shortage of pilots. We need an emergency scheme for training pilots in time of tension. I am told that there is no such scheme and that there is virtually no reserve of pilots. I hope that the Minister will take that matter up. He will have seen that it has been raised in a number of Service magazines. It is extremely worrying, and he should take action.
No doubt the Minister will say that we have "Invincible". She is two years late already. However, I am delighted that "Invincible" is being built. I hope that a third of the class will be ordered in the near future. "Invincible" will be a very expensive ship, but she will be worth it. I believe that the Minister should now start thinking about smaller carriers of some 8,000 tons, such as the Vosper-Thornycroft mini-carrier which carries eight V/STOL aircraft or large helicopters plus two smaller helicopters. Four of these ships might be as useful as 759 one "Invincible". I think that that matter should be gone into.
Above all, I want to press the Minister on the question of the conversion of container ships and tankers, which depend on adequate reserves of helicopters and pilots.
The hon. Gentleman praised the Isles class vessels which are just coming into service, but I have my doubts about them. They are slow and do not carry helicopters. I am not sure that it would not have been better to convert the distant-water trawlers that are now tied up in Hull and Grimsby. I do not know whether such a conversion, which was urged by Iceland, has been investigated, but I hope that the Minister will take the point. He has said that the Isles class vessels are the policeman on the beat. That may be so, but we must also have faster vessels for quick reaction forces. I hope that the Minister will take up this point when he replies.
We have reached the missile age, and I hope that when we have our quick reaction force of FPBs they will be capable of being armed with missiles in time of war. If they are, they will then be useful for protecting our oil rigs, fishing rights and conservation areas in peace time as well as operations in time of war. We entered the missile age rather slowly, but now things have started to move.
Is it true that the Government are updating the Polaris, as reported in the Dai Mail on 16th March? I hope it is true and that it will be confirmed.
Sub-Harpoon has been mentioned today. An article in the Daily Telegraph on 13th May said that the American Sub-Harpoon that we intend to buy had suffered a year's setback, and there is a growing belief that the Americans may cancel it. I question that very much. Today I, like other hon. Members, received a letter from McDonnell-Douglas saying that this was entirely untrue. I hope that the Minister will confirm that this is so. The Sub-Harpoon is essential. If we had our own missile, that would be fine, but as we now do not it is essential that we should have the Sub-Harpoon. It is vital that our nuclear submarines should be armed with missiles rather than the old-fashioned torpedoes with which they are armed today.
760 What are the Government doing to sell Sea Wolf and Sea Skua to the United States of America? I have been in America recently, and a lot of people there do not know anything about Sea Wolf. It is not the fault of our Ambassador or the sales staff, but our opposite numbers in Congress do not know anything about this weapon system. This is a great pity because Sea Wolf is a world-beating missile—it is the only anti-missile missile that has been developed in the West to date. The Americans are developing one but they will not have it ready for another six or seven years. We should therefore be able to make a sale.
Recently I visited Australia and New Zealand and discovered that there is a big potential for both these great countries to buy British again for their navies. Both are thinking in terms of more frigates and fast patrol boats. The Australians believe that the Sea Harriers could give HMAS "Melbourne" a new lease of life. She is an old carrier and too slow to operate fixed-wing aircraft. However, she could operate V-STOL aircraft, which would mean that she could carry on for perhaps another 10 years at a great saving. I hope that the Minister will ensure that he is giving these matters as much support as possible.
I turn now to the size and scope of the Russian mercantile fleet. Last year the General Council of British Shipping produced a pamphlet entitled "The Red Ensign versus the Red Flag". This shows that the Russians are rapidly becoming one of the largest mercantile marine carriers in the world. Their fleet is Government-controlled, so it does not matter if it loses money. The Russians are cutting freight rates that have been set on an international basis, and if this sort of practice goes on it could be extremely serious for us.
There are already practically no British passenger liners left—most have been sold to the Greeks and Russians. It is much more serious for us if the Russians continue to undercut us in areas like the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic and the Pacific in freight carrying. This could be very dangerous indeed, and although it is not the Minister's responsibility I hope that he is keeping an eye on the situation. The Council of Shipping points out that the British mercantile marine earns £800 761 million a year in invisibles and a further £400 million with import savings.
Admiral Sir John Treacher spoke of this recently when he said that he was extremely concerned about such matters. He said:If you look at the maritime scene today you will see the Soviet Union, already with 20 million tons of ocean-going shipping, with another 5 million tons of sophisticated ships laid down, who are not in business commercially to make a profit in the carriage of trade. The rates they operate are 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. below conference rates.That is the point. This shipping is not being produced to carry food or raw materials—the Soviet has enough of both. These ships are being produced to undercut the maritime power of the West.
On the question of pay, the Minister has this well in mind. He got an indication of it after Question Time today when we were talking about the police. It is said that these matters will be cleared up in phase 3, and I understand that the Minister cannot now give definite pledges. However, I ask him to take it from me that in both the Army and the Navy—and I have recently visited some Army units—everyone is getting thoroughly fed up and regards the situation as unfair. They feel that the Government give them something with one hand and then take it away with the other. After the last pay increases, an able seaman in barracks got an increase of 50p in his pocket, a petty officer got from 90p to £2.20 and a lieutenant-commander got between 50p and £1.30p. This sort of money is chickenfeed in the light of inflation today, and it is causing grave dissension in the Services. I hope that the Secretary of State will appeal to the Chancellor on this matter.
Both sides of the House appreciate everything that is done by the maritime Services of this country—and in that category I include the Merchant Navy. They are under great pressure from inflation, from the economic conditions prevailing in the world and from the Soviet Union rapidly becoming the greatest sea power in the world. A lot of American shipping is in mothballs, and from the point of view of operational shipping the Soviet Union may today be the largest operational navy in the world.
762 On the future balance between NATO and the Soviet Union, the Americans have just started rearming and their rearmament will catch up in some five years. The real danger period lies, therefore, in the next five years. In that period there is a danger of the Soviet Union having the capability of cutting our sea communications, exercising blackmail and forcing us to surrender.
I hope that when he is arguing about further cuts the Minister will bear in mind, and the country will realise, the pledge given by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that when the Conservatives return to power cuts in our defence Forces will end.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Grimsby)
I find myself as a maiden speaker in this Chamber very much in the rôle of a repentant sinner. In a previous incarnation it was never my practice to treat Members of Parliament with courtesy or indulgence by interviewing them without interruption. As I stand here somewhat nervously, without the benefit of Autocue, I am confident that the House will treat me with the courtesy and indulgence that I did not give to other hon. Members on previous occasions.
I stand here with very mixed feelings. First, I have a feeling of awe that I am speaking in a Chamber that has echoed to the oratory of giants of the past. I also have a feeling of happiness in that I have achieved an ambition of being a member of this central forum of our nation. As well, I have a feeling of sadness because of the occasion that gave rise to the by-election in which I was successful—the death of Tony Crosland. I have looked at several maiden speeches and have seen that often the mention of the previous Member has been somewhat perfunctory. That would not suffice on this occasion. For me this must be a matter of real emotion. I have always regarded myself as an intellectual disciple of Tony Crosland. It was on his book "The Future of Socialism" that I cut my political teeth in the 1950s. It is still a basic text for Social Democrats.
Emotion, too, is felt by the House-sadness at the loss of a great man and at seeing a career cut short in its prime. Tony Crosland was many things. He was an able Minister who held several 763 portfolios with great distinction. His career was a long preparation for a culmination, a consummation, which it never reached—control of the economic destiny of this country. He was also an honest, radical thinker of great intellectual penetration, as I know from interviews I conducted with him on television, and as the House knows from his speeches. He was a man of great originality of thought, and, most of all, for all his deep seriousness, he was a very warm and very human man who loved life, who was open, accessible, and loved and respected by both sides of the House, just as he was loved in his constituency, as I can testify.
Therefore, I pay tribute to Tony Crosland and recognise, in doing so, the enormous strength he secured by being the representative of the borough of Grimsby, a borough that he was as proud to represent as I am. Hon. Members who had the pleasure of going to Grimsby during the recent by-election will have come away very impressed by Grimsby, impressed by a town that, unlike many urban constituencies, is not a slice of somewhere else, is not a vast, amorphous urban nothingness, but a community in its own right, with a sense of pride and identity which even the best endeavours of local government reorganisation and the Post Office have not been able to undermine.
Visitors will have been impressed, too, by the friendliness of a community which has traditionally been slightly isolated but, perhaps as a consequence, is friendly, warm and welcoming. They will have been impressed, finally, by the civic pride of Grimsby, which is shown in its schools, housing and leisure facilities—all the things that make for the good life, that make it a good place to live in and have given it a long tradition of industrial development sponsored by the council.
Obviously, hon. Members will be anxious for me to continue at some length on the subject of Grimsby's history over the past 2,000 years. Unfortunately, I shall have to disappoint them by talking only briefly about Grimsby today. It has the image of a fishing town. I am sure that the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) and my hon. Friends who represent Hull constituencies will concede that I am not being at all controversial 764 when I say that Grimsby is the foremost fishing port on the Humber as well as in this country, but it is also far more than a fishing town. In the post-war period, thanks to the council's foresight and industrial strategy, Grimsby has attracted a wide range of other industries—textiles, chemicals and food processing, to name but a few.
Grimsby is a town with problems. It would not be a part of this country if it did not have problems. It has a higher-than-average unemployment rate, a pressing need for more industrial diversity, more light industry and more white-collar jobs of the kind that will stop young people from drifting away, and certainly a pressing need for an improvement in communications, including the rapid completion of the M180. Now Grimsby has development area status, a potent weapon in the competition for development, in which it is strenuously engaged.
I hope that hon. Members will forgive my proper sense of pride in Grimsby. I should like an even fuller and more tumultuous House to hear me extol its virtues. However, I want to return to the main thread of the debate and specifically to the problems of fishery protection.
I have said that Grimsby is more than a fishing town, but its fishing industry, like the rest of the fishing industry, has been badly battered in recent years. On the deep-water, distant-water side, it has been badly battered because of the closure of the Icelandic grounds and the curtailment of our fishing effort in other distant-water grounds. It has also been badly battered by the situation that has been developing in the North Sea in recent years, a situation that has been approaching the dimensions of a tragedy, with a more and more massive fishing effort pursuing smaller and smaller fish and with a consequent danger of the extinction of this vital national resource. There is a major threat to our national heritage.
I shall not go into all the reasons. I shall not go into the controversy over the common fisheries policy. I do not want to be controversial, except to say that I think—it is a personal view—that the only solution, the only effective guarantee for our fishing industry, is our own exclusive 50-mile limit for British fishermen. That is essential for our industry.
765 Whatever the shape of limits, whatever the future pattern of control in the Common Market pool, we face a real problem of policing and protecting not only our own limits, whatever they may be, but the 270,000 square miles of Common Market fishing waters. This must pose an increasing problem for the Royal Navy I sometimes wonder how adequately it is equipped for this vital rôle. Frigates are obviously invaluable. They have the speed that is necessary to deal with even the fastest of Russian trawlers, but the Icelandic situation showed the limits of the frigates—limits of manoeuvrability and the fact that, like television interviewers, they have a somewhat thin skin. We have the ships of the Island class, but while they are more manoeuvrable, they lack something in speed.
Therefore, I ask how adequately we are prepared for the new situation that is developing with not only the 200-mile Common Market pool but the possibility—I hope the probability and certainty—of our own exclusive 50-mile fishing limit. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, who has already told us about the mixture of ships decided in 1974, will pay more attention to this problem when he winds up the debate, because the situation has changed drastically since 1974. I should welcome assurances from him both as to how well equipped the Navy is for the enormous problem of fishery protection and policing and how well it will be equipped in the coming years to play a vital rôle for the fishing industry and for my constituency.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)
It is a great pleasure and privilege to follow the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) immediately after he has made his maiden speech. His speech had eloquence and depth, particularly when he spoke of his predecessor, whom he rightly described as a person who was warm and human. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree wholeheartedly with that.
The only matter on which I cannot agree with the hon. Member was his admiration for the book written by his predecessor, "The Future of Socialism". Some of us are dedicated to seeing that 766 the future of Socialism is kept within the strictest territorial limits. I say that merely in a jocular fashion. The hon. Gentleman's tribute to his predecessor was wholly appropriate, eloquent and clearly deeply felt.
The hon. Gentleman has come to the House by way of a by-election. I, too, came to the House via a by-election, and I know that by-elections are a great strain. However, the hon. Gentleman is looking extremely relaxed, perhaps because of his experience in television. He is well known in his part of the country and elsewhere as an interviewer. If the proceedings of the House are televised in due course, his contributions will no doubt be even more formidable than the admirable maiden speech that we have just heard.
I know that hon. Members on both sides will wish the hon. Gentleman, I do not say a long career in the House, which would be going too far across political boundaries, but a very happy time in the House. We look forward to hearing from him frequently and we are grateful for what he said.
The hon. Gentleman also dealt with a matter that is dear to my heart, although I do not represent one of the candidates for the title of "principal fishing port". Had he said a word about oysters, that would have been a different matter. I shall leave it to those of my hon. Friends who represent fishing ports to argue about which is the principal fishing port. Grimsby is certainly in the top rank.
The hon. Gentleman spoke appropriately about the problems of fishery protection, and I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply to his points. There is no doubt that, in spite of the expansion that has been made and what is planned in the Navy's capability in this sphere, there are doubts on both sides of the House about whether these arrangements will be adequate to police a 200-mile or even a 50-mile limit. I had the pleasure of being the Navy Minister during one of the so-called cod wars. We won those wars, but there does not seem to be sufficient knowledge that we did so. They were won because of the skill of the Navy in operating ships which, as the hon. Member for Grimsby said, were possibly not ideal for that purpose. We had frigates and Iceland had the gunboat "Thor", which is a 767 husky little vessel but one that a frigate could blow out of the water as easily as turning a telescope on it. Yet our vessels put up with bumping and hazardous tactics in desperately rough seas and men's lives were put at hazard, even though right was on our side.
Hon. Members who represent fishing constituencies know better than I that the International Court made a ruling that we could catch, if my memory serves me right, 180,000 tons of fish a year from those waters. Even though, in negotiations, we agreed to go down to 150,000 tons, the Icelanders would not accept that. We went ahead and caught what we were entitled to catch—that is, about 180,000 tons. We caught up to the top of the legal limit. The Icelanders put our men and their own in jeopardy. They could have had a smaller catch taken from those waters by peaceful methods. That possibly illustrates the fact that the use of force and bullying tactics—a small boy bullying a bigger boy because he knows that the bigger boy will be restrained—does not always pay.
It is my profound belief that the Icelanders did not win and that the Navy triumphed. However, I have great admiration for the Icelandic people and I hope that our friendship will continue in spite of these difficulties. Everybody here knows the importance of the base at Keflavik. We hope that a happier chapter will emerge in Anglo-Icelandic relationships, but nobody should think that the Navy was not triumphant in looking after the fishermen's interests. The hon. Member for Grimsby described his constituency as having been battered by the fishery situation. He was right, but I am sure he would acknowledge that that is not in any way the fault of the Navy.
I now want to pay tribute to the work that was done for the British Navy by Sir Peter Kirk. It is right that I should do this because I took over from him as Navy Minister. Many of us were at his memorial service today. He was devoted to the cause of Europe. He enjoyed immensely his time with the Royal Navy—as, indeed, everyone does who holds that post. I know that the Minister would wish to pay tribute to what he did for the Royal Navy, particularly in a matter that the Minister has already mentioned, and that is the personnel side. One thing that he did which was of great long-term 768 value was to persuade Lord Seebohm to undertake the task of submitting a report on the general supportive mechanism that is provided for the personnel of the Royal Navy.
That report eventually came to me while I was Minister, and it is now being implemented—although, perhaps, a little more gradually than either I or the Minister would like. However, we appreciate the financial constraints. I hope that the House will agree that it is appropriate to put on record the gratitude that many of us feel for the work that Peter Kirk did, not only in Europe but for the Royal Navy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
I have just recovered from a rather arduous weekend that I spent in the Mediterranean at the invitation of the C-in-C Navy Eur.—it is difficult to work out and follow this jargon but that is the Commander-in-Chief of the Naval Forces in Europe. The visit was substantially organised by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter), and I am grateful to him for that. We were accompanied by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles), who was able to put us right in talking correctly about being on and not in the ships. I thought I had got those things right when I was Navy Minister, but one forgets once one has been out of office for a little while. My hon. and gallant Friend was a most helpful companion in our visit to the American Sixth Fleet.
The Sixth Fleet is, of course, the real NATO maritime power in the Mediterranean. It sustains NATO on that front. I shall have more to say about the southern flank in a moment. I hope that I shall cause the Minister no difficulty with his hon. Friends below the Gangway when I say that it was gratifying to find a British deployment in the Mediterranean. There was a British frigate there and also HMS "Hermes", upon which ship our party spent one night. It was good to see that from time to time we have a powerful force in the Mediterranean and a powerful British presence in such an exercise as Dawn Patrol, which was the exercise we were watching. However, I must express my chagrin that there is now no permanent British presence in the Mediterranean. I know that there is no use in taxing the Minister with 769 this, because I appreciate that he must keep in order his hon. Friends below the Gangway and the left wing of his party. Nevertheless, I hope that that policy may be reversed.
There are certain questions that it is reasonable to put to the Minister today. My hon. and gallant Friend and my hon. Friend who were in the Mediterranean with me would no doubt agree that we found universal consternation among the two American admirals whom we met and among our own personnel about the withdrawal of the Nimrods from Malta. There is no doubt that this is a valuable contribution to the southern flank and that it is, in the view of the real experts, virtually irreplaceable and wholly significant in a maritime context. It provides a capability that could not easily be replaced. The Italians may attempt to do something to take its place with their Atlantiques, and the American Forces may try to help, but the universal view that we encountered in naval circles—and in air force circles as well—was that these Nimrods are virtually irreplaceable. I hope that I can persuade the Undersecretary to exert all the influence he can on the Secretary of State, and thus on the Cabinet, to ensure that the decision that they should be withdrawn is reversed.
While I was in the Mediterranean it was particularly pleasant to find, in one of the American ships which we visited, a young lieutenant of the Royal Navy who had been seconded to and was working with the American Navy. I hope that the Minister will say something about these valuable exchanges. I had met this officer previously on one of our small patrol craft, HMS "Tenacity". He was working with the Americans to mutual advantage. I hope that the Minister will plan for extensions to this scheme whereby our people are seconded for a while to allied navies, and vice versa.
That ties in with what the Minister said in his informative speech about training. We train for about 40 nations, and I have never been entirely happy that we get as much from this as we should. This is a growth sector. If these foreign navies are to be trained, it is best that they should be trained by our Royal Navy. That may sound a little jingoistic, but we are 770 vastly proud of our Navy and it has a world-wide reputation.
We should expand the training facilities that we make available for other nations and charge properly for them. The sums earned from such training facilities should be contra-accounted against defence Votes. I suggested this in a debate about two years ago and was told that the Ministry was working on it. I have heard nothing since, but perhaps the Minister could refer to it later.
The Minister spoke earlier about the Wrens. What a splendid force they are. The late Sir Peter Kirk started the tradition among Navy Ministers to have a Wren on their staff. The WRNS work very hard, are very efficient and provide a pleasant relief to Ministers and their staffs from the all-male company of the Admiralty Board. I pay tribute to Commandant McBride, the relatively new Commandant of the WRNS. She is a lady of enormous ability and vigour. In my day she commanded HMS "Dauntless" the WRNS training establishment, and I am sure that she will follow in the admirable tradition of her predecessor, Commandant Talbot.
The Minister was preaching to the converted when he spoke about the need to appreciate how useful and valuable the WRNS is. It will be interesting to see how much further he can expand job opportunities for WRNS personnel. A survey was conducted while I was a Minister and I hope that it will be useful to him. The whole House is devoted to the cause of the WRNS. It does not lack champions.
Turning from the domestic scene, I should like to refer to some areas of strategic importance further afield. The Secretary of State should, I believe, launch a major programme to convince our allies that the geographical guidelines of NATO do not make sense any more. They are wholly artificial, and it is not sensible to be confined, for example, by the Tropic of Cancer. The whole of NATO should be recast. Perhaps it needs the shock treatment of a new master plan. It must become the shield for the whole of the free world and have no geographical limitations.
Until recently I was a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Western European Union, and I managed to get 771 acceptance there of a resolution that NATO's scope should be widened, that its geographical limitations should be dropped and that its composition should be altered, though still based, of course, on democracies. I managed to get through a resolution that Spain should be requested to join NATO once free elections had taken place there. Those free elections now seem likely, and I hope that as soon as there is a democratic Government in Spain we shall do all we can within NATO to support Spanish membership of the Alliance. There should also be further help given to Portugal, which is a member of NATO, to update its forces. I was very concerned about this when I visited Lisbon recently, as were the defence chiefs.
The western end of the Mediterranean presents a more favourable picture for NATO in the immediate future than does the other end, where there is still considerable chaos. The Government should consider a low-cost improvement on the Iberian Peninsula. It is wrong that there should be no domination of the Straits of Gibraltar by guns or missiles. A relatively low-cost way of solving this problem would be to install a static Exocet there. I have talked about this possibility with Gibraltar's Premier, Sir Joshua Hasan, and there would be no political objection to that proposal.
There should also be a regular deployment of mine counter-measures vessels. It is absurd that there is no minelaying or minesweeping capacity off Gibraltar. There have been mine counter-measures vessels and minelayers there in the past, and American equipment may be able to dominate from bases in Spain, but, since we shall remain in Gibraltar for as long as the people of Gibraltar wish, it is absurd not to have a minesweeping capacity or guns—since even the old Victorian guns are now out of commission—to dominate the straits.
The House is grateful to the Minister for what he has said. I know that he will have the courtesy to ask the leave of the House to speak again, and I have no doubt that he will get it. I hope that his reply will be as full and as helpful as his opening speech and that he will deal with the points that have been raised in the debate.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
The hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) made a helpful and interesting speech. I shall not follow all the points that he made, but I certainly associate myself with his kind remarks to my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). I understand that my hon. Friend has been carried off by the Whips to vote in the Finance Bill Committee and, therefore, cannot be here to receive our tributes. We were all delighted with his speech and expect great things from him. His hard-fought victory at Grimsby threw a bright light on an otherwise dark day for Labour.
It is always enjoyable to listen to the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), who spoke in his usual breezy way and proved that the art of sabre rattling is not yet dead. In him it continues with renewed strength. However, the hon. Gentleman spoke with two voices—a well-known circumstance of Opposition Front Bench speakers. He expressed considerable criticism of this Government's defence cuts, but did not refer to the cuts made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour). That is probably understandable, but it is odd that for two years we have heard Opposition Members insisting that there must be cuts in Government expenditure, that no one cheers those demands louder than the hon. Member for Stretford, and that now he demands greatly increased Government expenditure on defence. If there was some urgent need for it, one could understand, but the hon. Gentleman was the first to admit that the Royal Navy is the most powerful navy in the Western Alliance after the United States Navy. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that we spend much more on defence in proportion to our gross domestic product than any other major country in the Western Alliance with the exception of the United States. It seems that he is talking with two voices in that rather characteristic way of the Opposition Front Bench, but with not as much logic as one would expect.
I take up the hon. Gentleman's point about welfare problems in the Royal Navy. It is fair to say that the Armed Forces' pay has slipped behind the 773 national average. I accept the hon. Gentleman's figures. However, my hon. Friend gave an impeccable answer when he said that the Navy has had to adhere to the national policy on wages. There is no escape from that. It is bad luck that the timing of these matters is such that members of the Armed Forces should be in a more difficult position than most others. They are suffering some hardship, and I hope that my hon. Friend, with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, will bear that in mind when the next round of discussions on pay for the Armed Forces takes place.
I have had the advantage of being able to talk to quite a few officers, petty officers and ratings, to a large extent by courtesy of the Navy Ministers. I have been to sea with HMS "Courageous" and HMS "Arrow". I was enormously impressed by the high standard of morale and efficiency, but there were certain criticisms. Some of the ratings were upset about wages. Another matter that seemed to worry them was pensions. It would be agreeable if pensions were standardised in some fair manner. The fairest way would be to ensure that pensions maintain a constant parity. In other words, a petty officer, officer or rating who retires should receive exactly the same pension in terms of parity, as that being received by someone who retired some years before. There should be parity so that pensioners are always in a relatively fair position.
Several hon. Members have spoken about the problems of separation. I do not see how much can be done to improve housing for Royal Navy personnel when they are separated, but much could be done by way of travel warrants. There is some discontent about warrants, especially on the part of ratings. They feel that they are treated unfavourably compared with civil servants, Ratings who in Great Britain are left in some port a long way from their homes, obviously through no fault of their own, should receive travel warrants much more frequently to enable them to go on leave to their homes. Quite often they do not go to their homes for short leaves because they cannot afford to do so. That must be unfair.
§ Mr. Trotter
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it would be utterly wrong in 774 those circumstances to tax warrants, as has been suggested?
§ Mr. Cronin
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. That would be a very mean thing to do. I hope that that never comes about.
Another matter that some hon. Members will take seriously is that some of the petty officers find that they are doing in Her Majesty's ships work that is not suitable for petty officers. As a result of more sophisticated equipment, there have been crew reductions. That is satisfactory in many ways, but petty officers quite often find themselves cleaning decks and doing similar work that is more the province of the ratings. They consider that people of their skilled trades should not be in that position. Some more thought should be given to the lower forms of husbandry in Her Majesty's ships when the question of replacing men with complicated equipment arises.
I am glad to see that surface-to-surface missiles are now being more generally deployed. I remember that about 15 years ago I and other hon. Members were arguing that such missiles should be developed and fitted to Her Majesty's ships. I recollect that there was little response in those days. I am glad that the present Government have made great improvements in this respect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby talked about the Island class ships to be used for protecting oil rigs and for fishery protection. In spite of parliamentary praise of this class of ship, I have some doubts. We talk about policemen being on a beat, but I do not regard the Island class as being comparable even to policemen on a beat. If he is reasonably athletic, a policeman can run as fast as the thief, but that is not the case with the Island class because the ships are slower than most trawlers.
§ Mr. Cronin
I am glad to accept that correction. I take it that only a small 775 proportion of trawlers are faster than the Island class.
It would be an agreeable situation if ships designed solely for the purpose of police duties in fishery protection were to be faster than all trawlers. That is something one could reasonable hope for. However, I take my hon. Friend's point. I accept that probably the capacity of the Island class for overtaking trawlers is better than I thought.
Another matter that causes me some doubt is that the Island class does not have helicopters. Surely that is essential for any fishery protection duties. Most of all, it is essential for the protection of oil rigs. How can the ships liaise with, convey equipment to, or take sick people from, oil rigs in rough weather when they have no helicopters? This seems to be an inadequacy. I shall not labour that matter as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) knows much more about this subject.
It was heartening to see HMS "Invincible" being launched at the beginning of this month by Her Majesty. I do not want to introduce a sour note, but the choice of name was unfortunate. There have been six "Invincibles" in the Royal Navy and practically all of them have been lost with extremely heavy casualties. Sometimes they have lost almost everyone on board. Perhaps the choice of name was unfortunate, but we cannot worry too much about a lack of sensitivity on the part of the Navy Board. At least it is good to know that we have something that is close to being a carrier. I know that it is called an antisubmarine cruiser, but that is because it is the Navy's polite wish to conform to Government policy of a few years ago—namely, that no more carriers should be made. It shows a charming sense of tact to call something an anti-submarine cruiser which to everybody else looks exactly the same as a carrier. Indeed, it seems to have similar functions.
I am somewhat concerned that the present Harrier has a somewhat short range. I refer to the Harriers which will operate from the "Invincible" class. The Harrier also has rather a poor payload and insufficient speed and acceleration to cope with interceptor aircraft. I hope that rather more consideration will be 776 given to developing VTOL technology. It is rather a pity that we in Great Britain, who were the first to develop such aircraft, should find ourselves lagging behind the Americans, who have taken over and are developing the Harrier to rather better proportions.
It is common in these debates for us to talk about the Soviet navy and the increasing threat that it poses. The hon. Member for Stretford was quite right in drawing our attention to this. One gets the impression that, in total numbers of ships, the Soviet navy has reached something of a plateau. It is not increasing the number of ships, but the quality of its ships has improved in the most extraordinary way. It now has ships such as the "Kara" and "Kresta II" cruisers, and the Krivac destroyers, which are superior, I think, to almost any other ships in the Western Alliance. It has its Kiev helicopter carriers which could be easily adapted to VTOL work. They are also certainly as good as anything we can show in the Western Alliance.
What is also rather disturbing is the world-wide deployment of the Soviet navy, which now has bases in Cuba, North Africa, Guinea, Somalia and Aden. It is not at all clear why it should need this world-wide deployment or these bases. For instance, the Soviet navy always has a powerful squadron in the Indian Ocean. As far as I know, NATO has nothing in the Indian Ocean, yet about 200 tankers bringing oil to Europe are afloat in the Indian Ocean every day. It seems to me to be rather an uncomfortable situation.
The fact that the Soviet navy has roughly only the same numerical strength as the Western navies is not as reassuring as it sounds, because experience has proved that it is those who are defending at sea who have to have the odds in their favour. For an offensive to be effective on land the general doctrine is that it requires odds of three to one in favour of the offence, but at sea the position is completely reversed. It is always the defenders who have to have much greater numbers. One recollects that in 1939 the German navy was then one-quarter of the strength of the Royal Navy, and yet with about 50 diesel submarines and a handful of surface ships it was able to maintain the Royal Navy at full stretch, and very nearly succeeded in strangling the import of food and petrol into Britain. 777 It is very important that we should bear in mind that the Soviet navy, which now has no fewer than 400 submarines, of which a very large proportion is nuclear, is in a much stronger position that we are in ourselves.
There are certain measures which could be taken to improve the situation without costing money. Much could be done to improve NATO, and much money could be saved if there were much more standardisation. So far, we have standardisation almost entirely in terms of musketry. It should be possible to standardise parts of ships or other maritime equipment. I should have thought that there is a very good case for more rationalisation and specialisation in the NATO navies—in fact, the very opposite of what was suggested by several Opposition Members who were expressing disappointment that the Royal Navy had to a large extent withdrawn from the Mediterranean. Clearly, this is a case in which there should be specialisation, and the Mediterranean can be must more easily looked after from a maritime point of view by the countries which actually adjoin it, and, of course, by the United States, which has a powerful force there.
I believe it is desirable that the longstanding rule that NATO's operations cease to the south at the Tropic of Cancer should be changed. There must be a good case for the deployment of NATO ships south of the Tropic of Cancer, not only around the Cape but in the India Ocean. There should be much more in the way of exercises—
§ Mr. Newens
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. If there were to be any deployment of NATO ships in the Southern Hemisphere, to which my hon. Friend is referring, would this not involve military co-operation with certain racialist regimes in other parts of the world, and would not the result of that be likely to drive many black African countries in Southern Africa away from sympathy with the West?
§ Mr. Cronin
I agree with my hon. Friend that any form of military cooperation with South Africa would be most undesirable, but as I understand it, NATO maritime forces could certainly operate in the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean without any help at all 778 from the Government of South Africa. In these days fleets or squadrons are often more or less self-supporting. They have their own tankers and services of every kind with them. It certainly would not be necessary for any kind of cooperation to take place with the South African Government. But it is helpful that my hon. Friend mentioned this point, because it ought to be made clear that quite a few of us would strongly object to any military co-operation with South Africa.
I should like next to draw the attention of the House to one particular aspect of naval strategy which does not get as much attention as it deserves. It is perfectly possible that we could have a conflict in the near future with the Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact Powers, a conflict which would be confined entirely to the sea. This sort of thing has happened before, and there is a very distinct danger that it could happen again. In 1962, during the Cuba crisis, there was a conflict which was entirely confined to the sea. During the phoney war period of 1939–40 the conflict was again entirely maritime. More recently we have had an entirely maritime conflict in Icelandic waters.
A conflict of this nature has certain advantages to an aggressor. There are no frontiers to be crossed. There are no centres of population to be affected. Most of maritime conflict can take place without any shooting war. I should have thought that this form of purely maritime conflict would have great attractions to any aggressor who wanted to effect his policy without actually declaring war or giving rise to a situation which would cause a war. There are many ways in which a nation can have a war when confining it entirely to the sea. An aggressor nation could declare a certain zone of the sea to be a danger zone and say that merchant ships should not enter it. It could mine or close an important channel. It could insist on inspecting merchant ships or harassing them, or inspecting fishing ships and harass them. All these actions could be taken by a potential aggressor.
What would be the result if such aggression were found to be successful? If the Western Powers were unable to cope with limited maritime aggression they could do one of three things. They 779 could escalate the war so that it would become a land war, which would put them in an even weaker position. They could start some form of nuclear war, which would be an unthinkable situation. Lastly, they could surrender. It is absolutely clear that in the interests of peace it is very desirable that the NATO navy should think very clearly of the possibilities of a conflict with an aggressor limited entirely to the sea.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy on the speech he made, in which he mentioned many people in the Royal Navy who should have been mentioned on other occasions in these debates. We owe the Royal Navy a great debt of gratitude. I think that my hon. Friend covered almost every category in the Royal Navy. I cannot say that I have had much acquaintance with chaplains, but I am certainly an admirer of the WRNS, which does a wonderful job. In the Royal Navy we have a marvellous Service altogether. It is a balanced, efficient force, and it contains personnel second to none, and deserves the thanks of this House.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)
We are debating the Royal Navy at a time when its personnel strength is the lowest since 1895, a time of world peace, very different from the turbulent days in which we now live. The Minister no doubt will say that ships have improved a great deal since 1895, and indeed they have improved considerably since 10 or 20 years ago. But we must not lose sight of the fact that the ships of the potential enemy have improved by at least as much.
The modern surface vessels of the Soviet Union are of a very high capability. One of their most fearsome aspects is that they appear to be aimed at initial attack. They do not appear to carry large stocks of weapons and appear to operate on the principle that they will attack first. That is a most worrying feature for the naval commanders of NATO, who do not know whether an attack will come in the middle of the night. It is difficult, despite the strength of the NATO navies, to deal with this situation.
The Soviet Union is a great land Power and has no natural reason for wanting a 780 large navy. It has no sea lines of communications, because it is a landlocked country. Therefore, its naval growth is all the more worrying to us.
In the "Statement on Defence Estimates 1975" the then Secretary of State set out the superiority of the Soviet northern fleet over our naval forces in the Eastern Atlantic. There was a 70 per cent. superiority in surface ships, 60 per cent. superiority in submarines, and 50 per cent. superiority in aircraft. In this year's White Paper the continued increase of the capability of the Soviet northern fleet is well illustrated.
At the same time as the Soviet submarine fleet has been increased by 10 per cent. in conventional terms and by 130 per cent. in nuclear terms, our own submarine fleet in the Royal Navy has declined by 30 per cent. Russian cruisers and destroyers have increased in terms of missile armament by 270 per cent. and in non-missile terms by 26 per cent., while our cruisers and destroyers in those respects have nearly halved. This is a worrying trend.
The 1975 review brought substantial cuts in the Royal Navy which affected destroyers, frigates, submarines, minesweepers and auxiliaries. Since the 1975 review there have been cuts of a further 70 per cent. For every £100 million saved in the 1975 review there has been a further saving or cut of £70 million. We must worry about the effect of these further significant cuts in face of the front-line strength and capability of the Soviet Navy. We must also worry increasingly about the effect of future cuts.
The Secretary of State was evasive when asked in the House to confirm whether the front-line forces committed to NATO would be affected. He said that he would do his best to maintain those forces. He has not said, however, that he "will" maintain them. We must suppose that there is danger of even further cuts to come.
On Monday a NATO meeting was held and afterwards a communiqué was issued referring to the need for an annual increase in the region of 3 per cent. in real terms in defence spending by NATO countries. That is in contrast to an increase of 5 per cent. in annual spending on defence by the Soviet Union. The communiqué went on to say that 781 economic circumstances in some countries will affect what can be achieved, while in others the present force contributions might justify a higher level of increase. I believe that we fall into the latter category, but the Government, as a way of getting out of their responsibilities, will probably say that we are in the former category. However, I hope that the Government will not shrug off their responsibilities on this occasion.
Some new ships have been ordered by the Government but I would remind the Minister that a former Defence Minister informed me last year that there would be no fewer than 11,000 jobs lost in shipbuilding as a result of the Government's defence review. It is unfortunate that, at a time when the shipbuilding industry is in danger of great contraction owing to lack of demand for merchant shipping, there should be a deliberate policy of cuts and a loss of jobs to warship builders involving 11,000 jobs.
I would remind the Minister that the answer to which I refer was given to me last April. I hope that he will be able to say what is the extent of further cuts as a result of the latest series of cuts in defence spending.
There is, it seems, thus not only to be a cut in numbers but also a proposal to run on older ships, with all that means in terms of lack of modern equipment and with the additional expense of maintenance costs. The efficiency of the Royal Navy depends on the quality of its men and women. Many tributes have rightly been paid to that staff, and I entirely concur. When one visits naval establishments, one sees great enthusiasm, professionalism and devotion to duty. If that attitude were prevalent in civil industry, this country would have no problems to face. We should also be able to afford the adequate defence capability we wish to see.
The quality of the men and women in the Services also should be backed by good equipment. It is essential to keep such equipment up to date. I am concerned about the use of the Mark VIII torpedo in our nuclear submarines. We have these expensive, sophisticated and effective vessels armed with torpedoes designed in 1934 and last produced in 1952. I know that there have been many 782 modifications, but one cannot modify a model T-Ford to make it into a modern car. That is the kind of comparison with which we are dealing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) referred to Sub-Harpoon. I wish to advise the House that earlier today I received a letter from McDonnell Douglas stating that the information given earlier was inaccurate. I gather that it appeared in an article in the Daily Telegraph. McDonnell Douglas refers to an article in Flight International of 16th April. That is supposed to be an accurate representation of the present situation, and I hope that I can refresh the Minister's memory by referring to that article.
It said that McDonnell Douglas had submitted its report on the pre-development phase for Sub-Harpoon to the Royal Navy on schedule in February. A report and recommendation from the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment would be submitted in full in the late spring. McDonnell Douglas also said that the Sub-Harpoon would be used by the United States navy and European navies. Therefore, it would appear that the project is still in existence.
I turn to areas of operation. The Government have said that they intend to concentrate on NATO, since our maritime interests are still world-wide. Although we may have given up land bases, our trade continues throughout the world, especially on the Cape route. Some 40 ships per day pass the Cape on their way to this country. Therefore, it is a matter of grave concern that there is no NATO responsibility for the safety of those ships when at the same time in the Southern Atlantic and Indian Ocean we see ever-increasing Soviet naval and maritime-air operations.
Last year I had the opportunity to meet the American Pacific commanders. They stressed the importance of a British presence in the Indian Ocean. It takes a month for a ship to steam from San Diego on the West Coast of America to the East Coast of Africa—which is a very long time. It is important that there should be units in that area, because of possible conflagration.
I also took the opportunity to visit India and found a great reluctance there to accept the American navy's rôle in the 783 Indian Ocean. It was an illogical argument. I understand that it was based on the fact that when India and Pakistan were at war the Seventh Fleet entered the area and was not seen as being on India's side. That event soured relationships between the United States navy and India, and that is a great pity.
I am delighted to know that there are constant deployments of Royal Navy task forces in the Indian Ocean and I hope that they will continue. I suggest that the Minister talks with his ministerial colleagues with their responsibilities for the Royal Air Force and suggests a small attachment of Nimrods to be sent out with the task groups so that there may be surface, sub-surface and above-surface operations by those groups.
I turn now to NATO. At times we criticise NATO for the slow progress that it has made on standardisation. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) said, I was privileged to take one or two colleagues to see a Dawn Patrol operation. We were impressed by what had been achieved and by the remarkable achievement of international co-operation among Italian, British and American ships working closely together. We were pleased to spend one night on "Hermes". Although the hospitality of the American Navy is good, coffee is not a stimulating drink after one has spent a day climbing ladders. One cannot compare the British Navy with the United States Navy in that way.
I do not wish to draw invidious comparisons between the British and the United States Navies, but the Royal Navy, in its quality and attitudes, is second to none and certainly up with the United States Navy in that respect.
We were not so far ahead with equipment. For instance, when we fit Ikara we have to take out the gun. We saw United States escorts that were better armed than ours. When we put in the anti-submarine equipment, we must take out the gun, and that leaves a castrated frigate.
I turn now to air defence. The range of American weapons remains substantially greater than that of the British. This also applies to surface-to-surface missiles. Exocet is a one-shot missile: it cannot be reloaded. But the Americans have fitted magazines that can keep on firing. 784 I know that it is argued that one should not have to fire more than once because one shot will sink the enemy, but that is an optimistic attitude.
I was disturbed to hear of the effects of the British withdrawal from the Mediterranean. The marines' disbandment was worrying because they were almost the only outside reinforcements available to the commanders in the south. Who is to take their place? There are no extra mine counter-measures vessels available.
The French have moved ships from Brest to Toulon, but that leaves part of the Atlantic without French strength. Although there are good relations between the French Navy and NATO, they are not in accord with the rest of NATO in the way in which our Navy is in accord.
On the southern flank there is concern about the instability from one end to the other of the Mediterranean and the ever-increasing Soviet activity. There is much Soviet activity in that area. One must remember that there were 56 Soviet vessels in that area in 1976.
Perhaps the most worrying feature of our withdrawal is that our equipment is not to be available. For frigates, nine vessels are to be scrapped and the Nimrods are to be no longer available for their maritime rôle. Commanders-in-chief may move their vessels from one command to the other. They do not have to have Government approval and it is possible for them to be moved to the Atlantic from the Mediterranean, but our frigates are to be scrapped and the Nimrods will not be available for that purpose.
The northern flank has been mentioned. It is essential that we have the ability to land forces quickly in a geographically hostile environment. The almost complete disbandment of the amphibious squadron was a grave effect of the defence review. I understand that the boats being used are run not by British Rail but by the Fred Olsen Line. I hope that there is an agreement with the enemy that hostilities shall not start until the holiday season is over!
Our capabilities are restricted as a result of the scrapping of "Albion", the laying up of "Intrepid" and the use of "Hermes" as an anti-submarine vessel. The message must go out that "Bulwark" should be brought back into commission.
785 General Whiteley, Commander-in-Chief, North, is the first in the corps of Royal Marines who has held such an appointment. That is a credit to the country, the corps and the general. The strength of the Royal Marines is so reduced that the Minister had to say that they were unable to mount guard at Buckingham Palace, as they did in 1935 on the occasion of the last Jubilee celebrations. Now they do not have enough men to mount guard at Buckingham Palace. That is a sad situation. Could arrangements be made for them to take their turn at a later stage? I do not expect an answer tonight.
Now I turn to the North Atlantic, where we have the vital sea lines of communication. We hear much about the efforts of civil aircraft to move the American army into Europe, but most equipment will have to come by sea and there will be a massive requirement for convoys. The cuts in numbers are therefore unfortunate.
We are apparently not to be told that "Ark Royal" is to be decommissioned, but it is generally known that it is to be decommissioned at the end of next year. It also seems to be known that there will be a gap of about one year before we have cover from the Harriers on the "Invincible".
It was right to order the Sea Harrier. It was designed to deal with the older threat from subsonic aircraft. But I have grave doubts about whether it would be able to deal with the new supersonic Backfire with long-range air-to-surface missiles. That is a dangerous threat, but the advantage of the Harrier force is that it maintains organic air power. The lessons learned by "Repulse" and "Prince of Wales" are still valid. There must be a next generation of special sonic VTOL aircraft and that development must involve the United States.
I asked earlier about airborne early warning. I know that the Nimrods will be used in that rôle, but all 11 Nimrods will be needed to defend the air space over Britain. It is essential to develop the AEW VTOL aircraft jointly with the Americans.
I shall not say much about our home waters, but I join in the concern expressed about the speed of our patrol boats. If 786 a faster vessel were available, it could move from one area to another with a speed that would give it a more effective patrol capability. At present it is necessary for a crew to go into harbour to attend a magistrates' court. While they are off station, the intelligence of the fishing industry is such that their absence is soon reported. It would be more economical in future to use the 748 coast guarders instead of Nimrods. That would leave four more Nimrods for their main rôle.
The threat of mines is one of the most worrying dangers. It is a problem that does not receive enough attention, either in this country or in NATO. The mine today is more dangerous than ever. Yet the number of mine counter-measure vessels is declining. In 1960 we had 152 minesweepers, but now we are down to 34.
A new class has been ordered. It would not be right to mention possible totals in the House, but I believe that we are unlikely to order anything like 34. I suggest that the waters around Britain cannot be maintained free from mines, which can be placed in peace-time and lay dormant for a long time before being activated at some future date. In this respect it is particularly unfortunate that the Royal Naval Reserve has been nearly halved in terms of its number of minesweepers. This has come down from 11 to six. That is one of the worst moves, and it is one of the greatest weaknesses at sea.
On the strategic deterrent, I merely say that I agree with my colleagues that we should definitely be looking into the possibility of the use of the cruise missile as a long-term replacement for Polaris. Cruise missiles are relatively cheap. They can be launched from ordinary submarines. They do not need specialist submarines, and they can be launched from nuclear attack submarines.
Finally, I should like to thank the Under-Secretary personally for his courtesy and the courtesy of his Department in keeping hon. Members informed of developments in the Navy. It may lead to criticism at times, but it leads to informed criticism, and that is better than ill-informed criticism.
I should like to say how very much I appreciate the arrangements that the Under-Secretary has made for me to meet 787 the Navy, and I pay my compliments to all those in his office who have worked to arrange my visits to various stations and ships. The quality of the men is second to none.
The former Secretary of State, speaking at Camberley in December 1975, referred to the balance between the economy and the international threat as being a matter of political judgment, reflecting, however imperfectly, the will of the people of this country. I am afraid that I must say that I think that the judgment of the present Government has been very imperfect. I believe that the people have the will to maintain adequate defences and that it must be the will of the Government to support them.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. R. E. Bean (Rochester and Chatham)
I followed the speech of the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) with considerable interest. I was particularly interested in his references to NATO.
Last year I had the opportunity of touring several capitals in Europe. I spoke to European Members of Parliament about the question of the Royal Navy and NATO. They expressed to me the view that they were very worried about the decline in the size of the Royal Navy and the effect that that would have on Britain's contribution to NATO. However, I pointed out that we had extreme difficulty in bearing the cost of being the largest partner in NATO and that unless some of this cost was shared, we might have to think twice.
The possibility was then put to me by the Members of Parliament of some of the services at present borne by Britain alone being shared by our NATO allies. One point that came to mind was the Hydrographic Service. This survey service is operated by Britain, obviously for our own national interest but, nevertheless, for the whole interest of all seafaring nations. It would seem to be useful to ask our NATO allies if they would bear with us and help to support the cost of this venture.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has today praised the work done in the Royal Dockyards. He was correct when he said that the work of refitting modern ships is extremely complicated and that there is a need for all four Royal Dockyards. I was grateful, once again, to hear that the future of the four dockyards is 788 assured. I was interested, however, in the intervention of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) when he questioned whether there were perhaps too many Royal Dockyards in view of the present size of the Navy. I should be grateful if it could be made clear whether that is the view of the Conservative Opposition or just the hon. Gentle man's personal observation.
It is a pity that the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) is not present this evening. I know that very often he expresses fears about the future of Chatham Dockyard, and I am sure that he would be pressing his colleagues on that point were he present.
The Minister mentioned the rôle being played by Chatham Dockyard in being the pilot yard in the new wages structure. One important factor of the new wages scheme is that we shall now be able accurately to monitor the amount of waiting time.
I have been associated with Chatham Dockyard for many years. It has been a constant source of complaint to me, by lower management and dockyard employees, that there is a great deal of waiting time in the dockyard due to the complexities of refitting ships. However, this has always been denied by management. The latest results survey carried out under the Chatham agreement shows that some trades have a waiting period of up to 20 per cent. during a working week. This has confirmed what has been said by the unions over the years.
The major problems is the fact that the work force feels that it is not part of the team and that decision-making really takes place above its head. One way of resolving this problem was the introduction of industrial democracy. Some two years ago initial talks were held in all four of the Royal Dockyards on the question of the introduction of industrial democracy. Unfortunately, however, little has happened since then. If now a fresh initiative were taken on the question of getting talks moving, possibly with the aid of the Industrial Society, I think that the Minister would find that there would be a willing response on the part of the work force.
§ Mr. Churchill
I should like to reply to the point that the hon. Gentleman was making about the dockyards. I was merely putting a question to his hon. 789 Friend the Under-Secretary for elucidation as to how it is that we need as many dockyards today to deal with a Navy of 107 ships as we needed in 1956 to deal with a Navy of 348 ships—more than three times the size.
§ Mr. Bean
If the hon. Gentleman examines the figures, I think that he will see that over the last 10 years the work force has been considerably reduced in all four dockyards. At present there is a shortage of skill in all four yards and the Navy dare not close one of the yards because it would then be at the mercy of a labour shortage. It is the skills that will keep all four yards going.
We in Chatham are the pioneering yard for nuclear refitting and refuelling. Initially, it was taking about 110 weeks to refit and refuel the nuclear submarines. I am pleased to say that, through experience, we have now got this period down to some 86 weeks. But this work is extremely difficult and every care must be taken to ensure the safety of not only the crew but, naturally, all the work people.
Recently there have been two accidents that have caused public concern. Only six weeks ago there was a derailment of a train carrying a spent nuclear core from Chatham Dockyard. It was derailed at Gillingham. I have learned only within the last hour or so that a similar derailment has occurred today. Unfortunately, the derailment today involves a nuclear core that was being taken into the yard—radioactive, presumably. I am sure that all necessary precautions are being taken. However, this matter is of such a serious nature that the Minister should take the opportunity—tonight, I hope—to assure the public that there is no danger as a result of this accident.
§ Mr. Duffy
I can, indeed, confirm that a freight train coming into Chatham Dockyard was derailed at 10.23 a.m. today just outside Gillingham station. It was en route from Windscale to Chatham Dockyard. No other rail or road traffic was involved, and no one was injured.
The freight train included a purpose-built transporter wagon for carrying radioactive materials. It was empty at the time of the derailment and there was no danger of any kind to the public or 790 British Rail employees. The train was put back on the rails shortly after 1 o'clock.
§ Mr. Bean
I thank my hon. Friend for that information. It probably explains why my train was two hours late reaching London today.
I have mentioned that the Whitley Committee feels frustrated because of the lack of communication in the dockyard. This lack is causing continued frustration, and men feel that they are not being given the opportunity to show what work they can do.
I have said that on nuclear refitting the production has been improved by 25 per cent. The same sort of production figures could be shown if the men were given the opportunity. Only recently all four Royal Dockyards were approached by the Navy Board to see whether they could take on another refitting—HMS "Herald", a survey class ship. There is joint consultation and the Whitley Committee takes a decision in full consultation with the production management. But when the Whitley Committee inquired whether this work could be done at Chatham, it was told "No". The decision was taken outside the meeting with the Whitley Committee, and that is the sort of situation that creates frustration.
I hope that it will be seen that this creates problems and I hope that the Minister will try to give a fresh impetus to the introduction of industrial democracy, which in the long run will increase production.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
I rise with some trepidation to speak in a Navy debate or anything to do with defence. I admit immediately that my knowledge of this subject is extremely limited. I have listened with great respect and interest to the contributions by other hon. Members. My only qualifications are that for about four and a half years I served on the lower deck on a fleet sweeper called "The Wave", which makes one think about a musical comedy—at times it was something of a comedy—and my sister served in the WRNS.
As the Minister responsible for the Navy will know, until this debate was chosen he was going to spend today in my constituency. I was hoping to 791 convince him during that visit of the desirability of using the hovercraft in a minesweeping capacity.
Many hon. Members have already referred to the shortage of mine counter-measure vessels. I want to confine my few remarks to the rôle of the hovercraft in that respect. I, and many of my constituents who work for British Hovercraft Corporation—the biggest hovercraft company in the world, employing a work force of over 2,000—are concerned about the rumours emanating from Navy circles about the possible abandonment of the hovercraft as a mine counter-measure vessel.
Hon. Members better versed in Navy affairs than I am will be well aware that since 17th January 1975 the Royal Navy has had sole charge of the hovercraft trials unit based at Lee-on-Solent. As Lord Beswick said in another place:Any successful outcome of that could open up an important market for the industry ".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1st May 1975; Vol. 360, c. 82–3.]That is what the British Hovercraft Corporation management and my constituents are hoping will prove to be the case.
Since that date, the hovercraft trials unit has evaluated the advantages of the BH7 and, more recently, the N3 and N4 hovercraft, all of which are manufactured by the BHC at East Cowes. The N4 is exactly the same as the largest hovercraft now in service which crosses the Channel. It is the same as the model that we are now cutting in half and stretching, and in a year's time one of these vessels will be able to carry more than 80 cars across the Channel. The larger it becomes, the more viable it is with traditional ships, and the smoother will be the crossing. Such hovercraft are able to go out in virtually any sort of weather.
In Written Answers that I have received I have been told that a decision will be made before the end of this year about whether the Royal Navy will proceed to place a firm order for one or more hovercraft for use in a minesweeping capacity. My constituents and the company feel that the sooner this is known the better because substantial redundancies will follow if the Royal Navy does not proceed.
792 One of the rumours that has caused alarm was a report in The Guardian on 4th April stating, that the Navy might cancel hovercraft plans. I know that this has been contradicted by the Minister of State and by the Minister responsible for the Navy since then, but certain senior officers of the Royal Navy are believed to be more favourably disposed towards traditional ships whereas there is another body of naval opinion that is very much in favour of moving into the area of hovercraft in minesweeping rôles as well as in one or two others.
I should like to outline some of the great advantages which I think the hovercraft has over traditional ships in this rôle. They may be summarised as follows. There is the speed of getting to the area to be swept. During my time on the fleet sweeper we were supposed to sweep the entrance into Hong Kong but, fortunately for us, we broke down at the last moment and someone else did it. Our top speed when operative was about 15 knots. The great advantage with the hovercraft is that it can travel at up to 70 knots.
Secondly, there is the relative invulnerability of hovercraft in minesweeping rôles. The force of an explosion from a mine underneath a hovercraft is largely absorbed in the air cushion. The Minister will have confirmed to him if he does not already know that recent attempts to blow up a hovercraft proved abortive. Although an explosion took place underneath the hovercraft, it was able to return to port.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
The explosion annoyed a number of my constituents, but apart from that it caused no great alarm.
§ Mr. Ross
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman's constituents, but it was in a very good cause.
Another good point about the hovercraft is that the magnetic signature is extremely low. It is well known to naval people that when ships are constructed they have to be treated so that they do not attract magnetic mines. The materials that go into the building of a hovercraft do not have that effect.
Another point that ought to be of interest to the Government is that the 793 cost of a hovercraft is half that of a conventional sweeper. That is very important. One can visualise the N4 type in a much bigger rôle because it can be used to carry all the gear necessary for a mine-sweeping exercise. I seems to remember that fleet sweepers when going on an "Oropesa" sweep go out abreast of one another. One can therefore see the sense of having the larger type of hovercraft that carries all the materials that one needs.
The larger hovercraft can also be used in a logistic support rôle. Hovercraft can be refuelled at sea, beached in an emergency and require only a small crew. There are other tasks for which hovercraft can be used. They can tow traditional inshore sweepers which break down from the source of activity. They can also be used in a minehunting rôle as well as in bomb disposal, as was the case about two years ago around the Wash area where last war bombs were still lying close to the shore.
Hovercraft have a proven reliability. This is one feature to which I hope the Secretary of State will pay particular attention if he is able to visit the BHC. He will see there the SRN4 which has been brought in to be stretched. It was first launched in 1967 or 1968 and it has hardly been back since. There has been almost no corrosion in that hovercraft, but it has been used the whole time for Channel crossings. I can witness their proven reliability from my many trips on them when crossing between the Isle of Wight and the mainland.
The Royal Navy has spent many months carrying out trials and evaluations of the larger-engined hovercaft for minesweeping. One leading admiral has said that there is considerable potential in them for this rôle. Therefore, it would be tragic if we were to throw away all the work that has been done, particularly since other countries are proceeding apace to develop the hovercraft.
Russian technicians are in the Isle of Wight picking up knowledge about hovercraft skirts, a subject in which we lead the world. The Americans also intend to build much bigger hovercaft. The French have just built one, although, unfortunately, someone set fire to it, but there is another on its way.
794 These other countries will not give up. If we are not careful, we shall witness here another example of how Britain, having led the field, allows others to pick up its knowledge so that in the end we are the losers. An order from the Navy for hovercraft is of very great importance to my constituents and to a large number of employees at the BHC.
That, however, is not my excuse for intervening today. We are not asking for help for a craft that is unlikely to give good service. I am completely convinced that the Navy should have the benefit of hovercraft for minesweeping. We have already been told that the Navy is short of vessels for this work. To throw away work that has already been done would be folly indeed.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy: (Rother Valley)
I am not competent to comment on the merits of hovercraft, although I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to visit the Isle of Wight and see while he is there whether the components of the hovercraft are made of special steel produced in South Yorkshire.
I want in particular to comment on the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). Tribute has been paid to him already, but I wish to offer my own commendations since I thought his reference to Tony Crosland was particularly appropriate. The House is aware of the great respect that Grimsby had for Tony Crosland, and having listened to the comments of my hon. Friend today I can only say that I believe that the respect and affection that Grimsby had for Tony Crosland will be commanded by his successor.
I turn now to questions of defence policy. A great deal of concern has been expressed this week about proposals for future defence spending in NATO. It is right that this should have attracted a great deal of attention and that there should be questions and critical examination.
But if questions are necessary, so also are logical conclusions. If we are to look at NATO's policy, we must also look at the increased Soviet and Warsaw Pact spending. That must be carefully monitored and the results must be reflected in this country's defence policy. We have to 795 recognise that all the demands made today—demands which would be triplicated through the Army and the Air Force—could not be met by one comparatively small part of the Western Alliance.
We must determine our priorities. They must reflect the large increase in defence spending by Russia and the other Warsaw Pact Powers, but they must reflect also the needs we face and the areas in which we can make a particular contribution. For that reason, I am not entirely sure that we should go along with the often fashionable view of concentrating the public mind upon the growing Russian submarine strength. It is important, but it may be that the greatest threat to Europe and ourselves lies in the rapid increase in land forces on the European mainland rather than from Soviet imperialism.
I accept that Soviet imperialism is entirely distasteful, but within it lie the seeds of its own failure. If the Soviet Union persists in going around Africa offering arms and military aid but not technical aid or the other forms of assistance that Africa most needs, sooner or later they will be spurned and sooner or later Africa will treat that policy with the contempt that it deserves. For that reason we are right to commit ourselves primarily to NATO.
My right hon. Friend's policy of earmarking all major Royal Navy units to NATO assignments in the case of conflict is right. In this unpleasant and divided world, NATO must be the pillar upon which British security rests. I do not think that that justifies either excessive timidity by people who sometimes comment on defence or the demands for extravagant defence expenditure so often made by the Conservatives. If we were to spend the sort of money that they demand, it would so constrain social programmes in this country that a great deal of political health and liberty would be a much greater risk.
If we were to restrain social progress in order to feed delusions of past grandeur, or the sometimes excessive fears of that metallic maiden who saw nothing wrong with the cuts of 1973, we would be entering a panic condition which is not justified. There has to be prudence, because excessive defence expenditure could in the end power the cause of 796 neutrality, and I would not support that. I see neutrality offering no advantage to Britain. It would certainly provide nothing of a shelter from nuclear fallout. Our present membership of the Alliance contributes to our security and at least allows us useful influence in the Alliance. Neutrality would save us little and would in any case involve no less risk of catastrophe from conflict. Nor would the prospect of liberty be served.
It is because I am interested in liberty that I decided to speak today. I have a case which causes me great concern and about which I have written to my hon. Friend the Minister. I am sorry if I cause him any difficulty or embarrassment, but he is aware that I believe that the individual's position in society is one which must ever command the attention of this House. That is why I have decided to mention the case in the House in the hope that when my hon. Friend replies to the debate he will be able to offer some help and reassurance.
Anthony John Quinn is a 16-year-old boy who lives in Thurcroft in my constituency. For a long time Anthony has wished to join the Royal Navy. He applied to join on 21st October last year as a junior marine engineering mechanic. He received a firm letter of acceptance on 20th January 1977. This gave him a great deal of delight and gave considerable pleasure to his parents and his teachers. I know that his school was pleased because I have consulted his headmaster at Wells Comprehensive School, and I have seen documents and reports about the boy.
Having seen those and having met the boy, I was absolutely sure that here was someone who would and could have done very well in the Royal Navy. He was entirely suited for the career. He is bright and fit and he will do well in his external examinations this year. He plays rugby for his school and cricket for his house, and he is a prominent young athlete in my district. He is a good all-rounder.
However, on 8th February this year he received a letter telling him that the Royal Navy could not accept him but making no reference to the objection. The father came to my surgery and I spent a great deal of time on this case looking into it in detail. It seems that the only reason for the Ministry of Defence changing its mind could be that Mr. Quinn, the father, 797 had been, as he frankly admitted to me, a member of the Communist Party.
To the best of my knowledge he was never active in that party, nor had he been much interested in politics. I do not think that he is an expert in political theory, nor do I discern any sign of revolutionary commitment. My hon. Friend the Minister will know well that I am not and never have been a Communist. I strongly criticise the Communist Party, because I believe that it could lead to as great an evil as the evils which democratic Socialism was founded to remove. I believe that a Communist régime would be likely to diminish the individual within the State and to interfere with that freedom which we wish to enhance. Because of that belief, I have spelt out my support for our membership of the NATO Alliance. However, if a Briton wishes to be a Communist he has the right to be a Communist. There are a few of them, not very many, in my constituency. I do not think that they care very much for me. I do not care very much for their belief either, but they have a right to that belief and I have a duty to defend that right. I accept that it is my duty to challenge the Executive in this case because I do not believe that there is any threat to the security of this country by allowing Anthony Quinn to join the Royal Navy.
The Ministry of Defence has no right to make an automatic assumption that my constituent, or, what is worse, his 16-year-old son, offers any threat to our security. If we have to make such an assumption automatically, we are either in a very parlous state and individual rights need to be more firmly upheld or security within central Government has been allowed excessive power.
In my view, Mr. Quinn offers no threat. He is a steel erector, secretary of a trade union branch and regarded as a moderate because he does not seek strikes but believes in going through agreed procedures. There are plenty of people in trade unions who are not members of the Communist Party who may not be regarded as such calm personalities. But his hobby is not intellectual or political. I believe he hardly ever attended Communist Party meetings between 1971 and 1974, the period during which I understand he was a member.
798 Now, however, Mr. Quinn is very angry, and my hon. Friend will know why because he is, like me, a South Yorkshire man. My hon. Friend knows what our people are like. He knows the South Yorkshire character and aspirations and he knows of the approach of those employed in the heavy industries which dominate our area. He will not be astonished when I say that such men, though they may support the Communist Party, are never very likely to provide the stuff of treason; and if they really settle to examine politics properly they will probably find that their beliefs are a considerable distance from those of the party they join.
I know them, like Mr. Quinn, to be decent men. He is a very good father. I have said he was angry. Because of his anger he has taken an action which I regard as typical of the man but not helpful to this case. He rejoined the Communist Party last month and in that respect the Ministry has achieved a fairly good effect in promoting the strength of that organisation. While my hon. Friend and I might disagree about Mr. Quinn's political attitude, I believe my hon. Friend would recognise that he is a very respectable person. He would recognise that the kind of community in which Mr. Quinn resides, Thurcroft, is a community not free from deprivation but one which has no history of sedition or revolution. In fact, the very nature of the community of Thurcroft is more redolent of service than treason. I know the people there, and this family stands in very reasonable regard in the community.
I certainly believe that an injustice has been done in this case. I remind my hon. Friend that an injustice was once said to have been done to a boy by the Royal Navy. This was the background to Terence Rattigan's play "The Winslow Boy". That case was based on a missing 1s. 6d. In my view, more importantly, this case is based on missing liberty, and I hope that my hon. Friend will examine this matter very carefully today.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
Before calling the next hon. Member, I should like to remind the House that time is moving on. There are five hon. Members desiring to take part in the debate. May I appeal to hon. 799 Members to limit their speeches to 10 minutes, if possible?
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
In view of your words, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not follow the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) into the ideological quicksands within his constituency. I wish to start by saying that the Royal Navy has usually been very fortunate in its Navy Ministers, and this includes the present one. I intend to say some fairly harsh things, but I wish to be seen as attacking the measures and not the man.
Like many others who have spoken, I should like to pay tribute to a previous Navy Minister, Sir Peter Kirk, whose memorial service took place today. Amongst many other things, he arranged for HMS "Belfast" to be given to the trustees by the Government, and this transfer took place in his time. The House will know that she was put on permanent exhibition at moorings in the Port of London. Sir Peter's initiative has been triumphantly vindicated as the scheme is now an assured success. I am happy to inform the House that 2 million visitors will have visited the ship by next month, many of them from abroad, a huge proportion of them schoolchildren and young people. Topically, the ship will be a splendid viewpoint or grandstand for all who wish to see Her Majesty's Silver Jubilee progress up the River Thames at midday on Thursday 9th June.
On this subject, in this Jubilee year, may I say that a magnificent collection of pictures of World War Two at sea, painted by John Hamilton, a very expert artist who lives in the Scilly Isles, is to be opened by the Lord Mayor of London in Guildhall on 25th May. There is currently an appeal to preserve these pictures for the nation, and if this proves successful, as I hope it will, a permanent home will be found for the exhibition in HMS "Belfast".
It is a pity that the Minister had to leave at this very moment, but my words will be recorded in Hansard. I hope he will do everything he can to expedite the scheme for HMS "Cavalier" which is to some extent hanging fire. She is the last of the traditional design of des 800 troyers, which played such a large part in British naval history.
I turn now to two subjects of more immediate concern to the Royal Navy—pay and conditions, and the size and shape of the Fleet. I spent last weekend at sea in the Mediterranean with the United States Sixth Fleet on the NATO exercise Dawn Patrol which is currently in progress, during which I visited HMS "Hermes". In discussions with officers and ship's company their opinions of the pay review, I detected neither bitterness nor any damage to morale, although this is sometimes alleged by people who have discussed the subject, because the morale was excellent and the ship's company were "getting on with their job" as soldiers and sailors so splendidly do.
However, I detected very great disappointment about the result of the pay review because the so-called pay increases amounted to little or nothing at all. In some individual cases there was actually a loss. In a debate like this it is not easy to make statistical comparisons about pay, but there are a few salient points I should like to make to the Minister. The first is that successive Review Board awards, under the limitations imposed by Government restraint policies, have meant that forces' pay has been falling progressively still further behind as one review has taken over from another. It is not simply the effect of one review but a cumulative and progressive deterioration through falling further and further behind.
A second point is that comparisons with the industrial sector amount to nothing because the Services cannot claim overtime. They do not want to do so, and I am certainly not advocating that, as I hope the Minister will understand. If, however, Government Ministers could see the number of hours spent on duty, for example in HMS "Hermes" and other Royal Navy ships working round the clock in these very energetic NATO exercises, they would understand that Service pay is grossly inadequate. I had a go at the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force in a debate not long ago, but I am afraid that the point has not yet been taken.
Thirdly, any increases which have been granted have been whittled away to nothing by increased charges for food 801 and accommodation. Ministers claim that comparison with civilian life must be taken into account. But what a comparison that is, particularly for the Royal Navy, when we think of the crowded mess decks in which men are accommodated. The food is much better than it was. However, I do not think it is fair that charges for food and accommodation should be increased in view of what these represent when it comes to the nitty-gritty of how the men live. That is particularly applicable to the Royal Navy.
The point was made about men going ashore in foreign ports. When men are living in cramped conditions in a modern warship—they have very little privacy, and they have restricted accommodation—they need a "run ashore" in foreign ports for health and sanity. We cannot expect men not to go ashore, and, of course, prices in foreign ports are high owing to the value of the pound.
The fourth point, which has been made by others of my hon. Friends, relates to the Rent Act. I should like to add only one comment about that. One must have been in the Services—some Ministers have—to understand the effects of the turbulence of Service life. It is "come and go" all the time.
When I visited "Hermes", the point was made to me that the issue of travel warrants was not generous enough.
I should like to quote from the final paragraph of the report of the Review Board:We attach particular importance to the need for a measure of flexibility in the period after 1st August 1977 in a form that is directly relevant to the armed forces pay system".I want to press for a specific undertaking that a new pay award—whatever the Government think is right—will be granted from 1st August 1977, which is the specific recommendation of the Review Board. Only in that way can we break the chain of successively falling further and further behind. It is not sufficient for the Government to duck round that by saying that the review lasts for a year. The Government do not appear to have noticed the specific recommendation that new measures are required from 1st August next. I ask the Minister to take heed of that point and to reply to it in his winding-up speech.
802 The Navy Minister sounded extremely unhappy about Service pay. I wrote down what he said:There has been a loss of pay comparability.He rightly referred to the problems of differentials. This matter must be dealt with. The ball is in the Minister's court.
The second major point with which I want to deal relates to the size and shape of the Fleet. This subject is at least as important to the officers and men of the Royal Navy as their pay. They are dedicated and professional men. I am sure that they would like to echo Churchill's words during the war:Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.I referred to the American Sixth Fleet. Comparison with the United States Navy is odious. We were accommodated on the "John F. Kennedy". We landed on the deck in a large twin-engined aircraft. The flight deck covers 4½ acres. Nearly 100 aircraft and 5,500 men embark on that ship.
The American Sixth Fleet is very impressive. But both Admiral Train, who commands the Sixth Fleet, and Admiral Schultz, commanding our task force, spoke highly of the Royal Navy's contribution—both ships and men—and in particular the Sea King helicopters embarked in "Hermes ".That underlines the fundamental issue about the importance of anti-submarine warfare in Royal Navy thinking, for reasons which will be clearly understood and into which I need not go tonight.
There were Russian shadowers. There was an almost constant attendant destroyer following the "John F. Kennedy". Seeing this Russian ship refuelling when we turned into the wind to take on an aircraft brought the problem in the Mediterranean into clear perspective. There is a tense situation on the south flank of NATO. As has been pointed out, on average there are about 50 Soviet ships in the Mediterranean all the time. Half of them are combat ships; the others are support ships. There are nine submarines and innumerable intelligence gatherers. They have various anchorages which they regularly use. There were 95 Soviet warships in the Mediterranean during the Arab-Israeli 803 war. We are told that there are now 75 Backfire bombers based in the Crimea.
The American commander-in-chief emphasised the importance to NATO of sovereign bases in Cyprus. He also strongly emphasised the value to him of the Nimrods which have until now been deployed in the Mediterranean. As the Minister knows, the Nimrod can fly the length of the Mediterranean in a few hours and every rowing boat which moves can be detected by it.
We need a continuous Royal Navy presence in the Mediterranean in support of our NATO partners just as much now as has always been the case in the past I am not suggesting that it should be an individual national presence.
On the wider aspect of the size and shape of the Fleet, I agree with what has been said interestingly by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the importance of the Cape route and the Indian Ocean. I want deployment there not to fight wars but to prevent them.
Angola is very much the shape of things to come in Africa. The hon. Member for Rother Valley should consider how the independent African nations will get the Soviets off their backs once they get them in. How will the people of Angola get rid of the Cubans?
The raison d'etre for the Royal Navy is the protection of our merchant ships wherever they may ply their trade—not only in the Western Approaches. We must have the ability to do that, before war is declared, in order to keep the peace. We cannot pretend to be able to do so with the Royal Navy at its present size. We frequently hear from Labour Members that we cannot do it alone. Of course not. I am not advocating that we could dream of doing it alone. But, if we are to rely on our allies, we must make an adequate contribution to the Alliance, and that contribution must be seen to be adequate.
President Carter was in London a week ago urging a 3 per cent. annual increase in defence budgets. That means that the Government and the Prime Minister, who was chatting up and slapping that man on the back and praising what he was saying, must pay heed to what he said. That means cancelling further cuts in 804 defence expenditure and instead increasing it by 3 per cent.
This will be little enough to rectify the pay situation and provide for the leeway to be made up on equipment, but it must be done by the Government if they are to stand up honourably among our allies. The Government must pay heed to what President Carter has said, and put his words into action.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)
In accordance with the appeal of your predecessor, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall speak briefly—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
Usually I find that when such an appeal is made, the speeches last longer.
§ Mr. Johnson
Well, I shall speak briefly on one aspect—that of fisheries protection and the vital part that the Queen's Navy must play in policing our own waters to keep out vessels, EEC or otherwise, that are not entitled to be there.
I enjoyed the speech of my new Humberside colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). He spoke with wit, and he spoke modestly and pleasantly. I enjoyed his contribution immensely, and the best compliment I can pay him on his initial performance—which is an ordeal for most of us—is that his predecessor would have appreciated and approved every word he spoke.
Napoleon once said that the British were a nation of small shopkeepers. But long before that and still today we are a nation of small fishermen. Later in our history we also became distant-water fishermen—I am in a deep-sea port—but Iceland and other places will not see us in future. We must accept the situation without too much gloom. We are forced back into the North Sea and the Atlantic to the west of our islands.
Without speaking in a spirit of vainglory these waters about our shores are our heritage and it is our duty to hand them down to the next generation. We cannot allow our waters to become pawns in bargaining with our EEC partners or with anyone else. The Minister of Agriculture has indicated where he stands on this and he has the support of the whole 805 House behind him. He needs his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence, and particularly the Navy Minister, to enforce the limits and to back him up.
I believe, as I am sure the House does too, that we need a much wider exclusive economic zone and we must not allow the inner waters in that zone to be fished by those people or nations who have destroyed their stocks on the Continental side. We cannot allow uncontrolled fishing in and about our shores.
Mr. Austen Laing, the Director-General of the British Trawlers' Federation, recently gave a lecture at the Royal Society of Arts and he used the term "looting". Looting and anarchy are not allowed on land, so why should they be allowed at sea? There was a time when there was slaving at sea, and our Fleet eliminated that. In doing so it earned the respect and affection of the civilised world. It is our duty to expect and demand a similar job by the Royal Navy in seeing that those who should not fish in our waters do not do so.
In the past the Navy has enforced a 12-mile limit. In future we shall have a 200-mile limit and this will enlarge the waters within the limit to 300,000 square miles. This will be a heavy burden on the Fleet. The fishing industry has faced many challenges in the past but this is the biggest. It is also a big challenge to the Government and the Ministry of Defence, whose job it is to keep the waters clear.
No fisherman in my constituency, or any other constituency, believes in catch quotas. There is too much cheating by the Continentals. Even if catch quotas are fixed by the EEC, it is extremely likely that we shall still have a fish famine towards the end of the year.
The word now is "conservation"—we must husband our stocks. This can be best done by the territorial State and it can only be done successfully if alien vessels are generally kept out. We must expect tougher penalties for all poachers who are caught by our Fleet fishing illegally within our coastal waters.
Our attitude on this is quite contrary to that north of the Tweed. In Scotland it does not pay to poach. In the Shetlands the authorities demand fines of £10,000, but if we haul in a French poacher off Hull, he will get a £250 fine. 806 We must not only catch but fine those who are fishing in our waters.
There are two or three questions I wish to put to the Minister. There has been criticism in the past and from hon. Members tonight about the speed of certain vessels. I have known skippers in Hull who have sniffed contemptuously and said that the island class vessels can do only 16 knots. The vessels are purpose-built. Ours is the only Government in the West or in the EEC to have purpose-built boats. Can these boats do 16 knots or can they do more? I must also point out that it was only the Labour Government who thought of having purpose-built vessels to look after our fishermen.
I understand that we are building another type of vessel that can go faster, at about 25 knots. This is the Azteca class, which we export to Mexico. These boats are 40 ft. wide and can therefore carry a helicopter. So far we have built only one vessel, the "Jersey". I understand that another four vessels of this class are to be built. I would like an assurance from my hon. Friend that in each of the four divisions within this 300,000 square mile area there will always be a purpose-built boat of this calibre patrolling.
Can the Minister give us half-yearly reports about progress in this area? How are the men and officers coping in these particularly dangerous waters? From the tales that we hear from the oil industry we can obtain some idea of the terrible conditions which our fishermen have to endure. What vessels have been caught so far? Are there any disputed waters? If there are, we shall find the Soviet Union sending vessels into any areas of water that are in dispute, perhaps round about Rockall.
Things have gone quiet lately. Are we having success in keeping foreign vessels out of our waters? The Irish slapped down the Russians with a fine of, I think, £90,000 on a large factory vessel that was caught fishing somewhere near St. George's Channel. We must not lag behind. Ireland is a small country and will attract sympathy, as Iceland did against us, but public opinion in the United Kingdom always lags behind opinion and knowledge in the House.
Not only must we do the job but the job must be seen to be done. We 807 must not allow too large a gap between what the public think and what we think. We must educate public opinion on what the Government are doing. I know that the Government are doing a good job and I hope that it will be even better. I hope that we shall be told exactly what the Government are doing.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Mr. David Walder (Clitheroe)
I shall not attempt to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson), except to say that I suspect that everything he said would be echoed by the fishermen in my county, which is the rival of his county.
The hon. Gentleman referred to purpose-built vessels. I was in Mexico City a month ago and had a report on them. If the Mexicans can be happy with them, I cannot see why Yorkshiremen and Lancastrians cannot also.
I should now like to turn to what I regard as the main purpose of the debate. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy is a pleasant and agreeable man and he made a pleasant and agreeable speech telling us about the Royal Navy viewed from deck level. I cannot say less than that of his speech, but I certainly cannot say more. There was a deal of skating over the surface that has happened in all the defence debates that we have had in this series, covering the three Services, and in the main defence debate.
First, I want to quote a statement that was made by the Prime Minister after the recent NATO conference and his visit to our forces in Europe. He said:Nevertheless we must be vigilant, for if we should find that a build-up on the side of the Warsaw Pact is likely to disturb the balance we should have to draw the appropriate conclusions ".That was a clever sentence and slightly above the standard of the bluff honesty that the right hon. Gentleman normally affects. However, I take that as a statement of policy and it should therefore be examined in relation to the facts about defence today and the special circumstances of the Royal Navy.
Last week I was, by courtesy of the Ministry of Defence, to which I give thanks, present with a number of my colleagues, at the SHAPE conference out 808 side Brussels. It was the first time that politicians had been allowed to be present. Hon. Members from both sides of the House participated in what had hitherto been regarded as purely the sphere of senior officers and diplomats. I was grateful for that opportunity, but to come from the atmosphere there to the atmosphere in this House when defence matters are discussed is, quite honestly, to move in two different worlds.
There were gathered at the conference all the experts of the NATO Alliance. The Supreme Commander and Dr. Luns, the widely respected Secretary-General, were the most eminent people present. The message of that conference was loud and clear, and everybody here knows it already. It was a precise definition and description of the increased defence capabilities of the Warsaw Pact nations on land, at sea and in the air.
It is possible to say that capability is different from intentions. But intentions are perhaps more difficult to define and more problematical. However, capability may well affect intentions, and, as far as I know, it is the best evidence that one can find of intentions.
I should now like to turn more particularly to naval matters. As far back as 1956 Admiral Gorchkov, the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, decided that Russia should be a strong naval Power spreading into the oceans of the world aided—and a number of hon. Members have made this point—by an enormously increased merchant marine that would be well above Russian's economic needs. He decided that the merchant marine should be an auxiliary of the fleet and its officers part of the Soviet navy. It would provide the Soviet navy with extra eyes and ears and, in time of war, arms. It would act as a fleet auxiliary.
Examining why the Russians decided that is a waste of time. It has already been said in this debate that Russia is a land-locked nation and that it has no need of a fleet or merchant marine as we do because we are an island. That may be so, but the history of Russia shows that there have been a number of attempts to make her into a naval Power. Stalin was not much interested. Czar Nicolas II was, but that attempt came to failure—and hon. Members who wish to know 809 more about that should read my book on the subject.
So it is rather a waste of time to ask oneself why the Russians decided that, because they plainly have so decided. That was demonstrated last year when the whole Russian navy and maritime marine carried out Operation Okean. The word means "ocean" and the operation meant precisely that it was a demonstration of Russian command and superiority in the oceans of the world. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) has already quoted Admiral Gorchkov's reasons. The admiral said:The goal of the Soviet sea power is to effectively utilise the world oceans in the interests of building CommunismHe has said it all too plainly.
The motive is exposed. It is superiority over the enemy by building up the maritime base system that the Russian navy lacks—either with friendly nations or with naions that can be overawed. I respect the judgment and analysis of the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy), but this was a point that he omitted.
It may be true that the Russians have not made many friends, but there are a number of nations dotted around the oceans of the world that can be overawed by a naval presence and I have no doubt that this is part of the Russians' strategy. Two years ago, Admiral Stansfield Turner of the United States Navy told my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) and myself in Naples that the Russian Navy was a "one-shot navy". The Russians are now trying to get away from that image. It is a sort of new colonialism.
We know how the Warsaw Pact nations have increased their military and naval potential over the years. The facts have been spelled out in successive defence White Papers. We console ourselves with the belief that a superiority of eight to one on land is necessary to take Western Europe. That may be so, but I suspect that it is a dangerous consolation.
Even if we accept that for the sake of argument, it is obvious that Moscow is prepared to consider not only the land and military factor but the naval factor. Moscow may be content with the balance on the central front in Europe. I think 810 that we sometimes over-concentrate on that. Ministers take great consolation from the fact that all our forces are committed to the NATO central front, but it is a curious assumption that our enemy will choose to make war where we should most like. Meanwhile, the Russians are increasing their power outside that area.
Our contribution to the NATO navy is 100 ships, ranging from a single elderly aircraft carrier down to some very small vessels. It may still be the largest navy of any Western European nation—and, as we are an island, it damn well should be—and although I have no doubts about its quality and the morale of the men, size is also important. Quality and quantity are both important.
Our navy is confined to the Channel and the Western Approaches, and I know that this is a source of regret to our allies in NATO. It is reasonable to assume that Moscow may view the situation on land as a stalemate and that the new expansion will come at sea.
I know the time is limited, but I hope that I shall keep within my 10 minutes if I go back to where I started and to what the Prime Minister said after the most recent NATO conference and in the light of the commitment by all the NATO nations to a 3 per cent. increase in defence expenditure in real terms in the coming years. I understand from the Press that our Secretary of State was somewhat sceptical about that. We understand that he is being pushed by his party in exactly the opposite direction.
In the light of all that, I return to the Prime Minister's statement. Let us consider it sentence by sentence. He said:Nevertheless, we must be vigilant "—I hope we are. He continued:for if we should find that a build-up on the side of the Warsaw Pact is likely "—We have. There is one. It is not likely; it is not a possibility; it has happened. The right hon. Gentleman said:for if we should find that a build-up on the side of the Warsaw Pact is likely to disturb the balance…".It must disturb the balance. What shall we do in that event? How shall we meet the threat? How shall we scare or worry all those Russian admirals? What shall we do? Lo and behold, with Nelsonic 811 briefness from the Prime Minister we are told thatWe should have to draw the appropriate conclusions.No doubt that terrifies the Russian admirals. If we have drawn the appropriate conclusions from the build-up that has taken place, I have only one question of the Minister—what are they?
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
In view of the shortness of the time available, I shall be as brief as possible. The hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Walder) has properly posed certain questions. Equally predictably, he has provided no answers.
First, I think that the House should seriously consider whether we can devise a more effective way of conducting these investigations into defence matters. At no one part of the debate have more than 20 hon. Members been present, and in the main they have wanted to speak. If those 20 hon. Members had been locked in a room and had been able to cross-examine Ministers instead of having to make formal speeches in the Chamber, they would have enabled other hon. Members to get on with other matters and would probably have found it a more effective way of bringing Ministers to account for what they are doing or not doing.
My second general comment is that no nation State can possibly provide for its own defence. Nor can an alliance of States, whether the NATO Powers or the Warsaw Pact Powers, provide for all possible contingencies in defence matters. They have to make choices and assumptions. They have to try to monitor what the other side is doing. That is bound to be an extremely expensive and risky undertaking.
It is an extremely cheap way of obtaining party propaganda to complain when in Opposition about inadequate Service pay and inadequate equipment. In common with many other hon. Members, I was on the receiving end during the Second World War. We know what Service pay was like in those days, and Service men now are in the Klondyke compared with what we received. Like all other pay in the public service, Service pay is grossly inadequate. However, 812 within the context of a pay policy we must bear with it.
The problem about defence expenditure is that we have much more sophisticated and scientific equipment that is costing more and more. Service personnel are rightly demanding pay which is equivalent to that received by their counterparts in industry and which compensates them for the necessary discipline of Service life. It is a difficult problem to cope with whatever the colour of the Government in power.
One of the reasons why the House is so thinly attended when debates of this character take place is that hon. Members are sensitive of inadequacies in challenging Ministers who are equipped with a great deal of technical advice. We are simply not qualified to challenge them in very many important respects, although I exclude certain hon. Members with a life-long service in the Armed Forces who are better equipped than others of us.
With regard to what the Minister said about dockyards, it is quite deplorable that very few Members from dockyard constituencies have been present during the debate. There has been no one from Plymouth, for example, and Members on the Government side who represent dockyards have not been present, yet this is an extremely important part of the necessary provision for our naval defence.
With regard to Rosyth Dockyard, I comment on the complete absence of SNP Members throughout the debate. The SNP policy states quite frankly that when it gets, as it thinks it will, independence for Scotland, it will have a separate Scottish navy, army and air force.
Everyone here who is concerned with these matters knows that Rosyth has three extremely vital functions in defence. First, it is helping to protect our fisheries. Our fisheries have been mentioned by several hon. Members. Secondly, it protects or helps to protect our extremely valuable but vulnerable North Sea oil and gas resources in the North of Scotland and elsewhere. Thirdly, it services and refuels our nuclear submarines.
The SNP has said categorically that it wants to remove all nuclear facilities from Scotland. It also says that its navy—the Scottish navy—will be adequate enough to protect the oil platforms and 813 the fisheries, which will be separated from the English fisheries, although the fish will not know that. The Assembly in Edinburgh, the SNP believes, will do all these things.
There are more than 6,000 highly-skilled workers in the Rosyth Dockyard. More than one-third of them, quite properly highly paid, are servicing the nuclear submarines. If that nuclear provision is to be eliminated from Scotland, it follows, does it not, that Rosyth Dockyard could not possibly be a viable proposition? The workers of Scotland have a right to know where they stand, and the SNP Members should have been here to explain in great detail the consequences of their policy in this connection. It would inevitably lead to a closure of Rosyth Dockyard, which is the biggest employer in that part of Scotland, employing skilled men. It is very fundamental to the Fife economy and to the whole economy of the East of Scotland, in addition to being an extremely vital NATO base.
I was particularly anxious, therefore, to know that my hon. Friend the Minister had a specific passage in his speech on the dockyards in general. As I have said, the oil facilities are extremely vulnerable to terrorist activity, to submarine attack and so on. I am not at all convinced that the collaboration with our allies and the provision of naval vessels of one kind or another are wholly adequate to meet the extremely exacting demands in regard to the defence of this valuable asset, despite the fact that virtually the whole of our economic future, or a large part of it, depends on the extraction of these resources from the North Sea. It is imperative for the national economy and for the sake of our defence that they should be adequately defended by our Armed Forces.
§ Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)
The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) has been making some critical remarks about the absence of hon. Members representing dockyard constituencies. I sympathise with him, because he was including his right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen). The hon. Gentleman may have meant to include me, but I remind him that if he cares to consult the record he will find that the time I have devoted to the discussion of dockyards as compared 814 with the amount of time he has spent is roughly in the ratio of 20 to one.
§ Mr. Hamilton
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) has marked his attendance record, and that is good enough.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I hope that the Front Benches will allow time for the House to hear two-minute contributions from the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) and the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett). If that is done, everybody will have been accommodated.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
I am most grateful to have the opportunity of making this short contribution. If I had had the opportunity to speak for a little longer, I should have dealt with the subject of Service pay and conditions. However, there is one group of people who are overlooked consistently. They are known as the pre-1950 widows—the widows of men below the rank of warrant officer, class I, who retired before 1st September 1950. Those widows receive no pension from the Services.
I introduced a Bill on this subject entitled the Service Widows (Equality of Pensions) Bill, but objection was made by the Government Whips. I must tell the Government that nemesis is approaching. The noble Lady, Baroness Vickers, is introducing in the House of Lords a Bill in identical terms. I hope that that Bill will be approved on Second Reading and that it will pass through all its stages in the other place. The Government will then have to face the unattractive possibility of having to turn down a Bill which has been the subject of an Early-Day Motion that has now been signed by no fewer than 263 hon. Members.
These widows surely should not be overlooked any longer. It would surely be a more attractive posture for the Government to give in gracefully earlier rather than later.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. W. E. Garrett (Wallsend)
I am obliged to the principal spokesman for allowing me to make a two-minute contribution. I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy on the number of orders placed on Tyneside for 815 naval vessels in the past few years. Had it not been for those orders, unemployment in the shipbuilding industry would have been desperate.
I wish the Minister to know that there are still some berths available. If he feels like placing some more orders, whether for large or small ships, we shall be pleased to build them.
I am not one of those who argue for savage defence cuts. I believe that we must have a good Navy. There has been a great deal of mention of Royal Navy personnel, but those personnel must have behind them good fighting ships. We on Tyneside, true to our traditions, are able to build good fighting ships. We shall be prepared to build more.
The Royal Navy is often referred to as the silent Service. Having examined the figures relating to Reservists in the Royal Marines and Royal Navy, I believe that if they fall any further it will be known as the "extinct Service ".The Minister should examine the publicity effort in the seaports, where there is a long tradition relating to the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines. Perhaps a recruitment campaign could be conducted there on the same lines as those conducted elsewhere by the Army and Royal Air Force. I believe that in the long term such a campaign will prove to be a good investment.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)
I wish first to refer to the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck), who referred to the late Sir Peter Kirk, whose memorial service was held today. I know that all hon. Members in the Chamber will wish to be associated with those expressions of regret at Sir Peter's sad death. We remember his keen interest in the Royal Navy. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) referred to Sir Peter's work in respect of HMS "Belfast" and all he did to ensure that the ship should become a museum on the River Thames.
I also wish to refer to the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). I have on many occasions appeared on television programmes with the hon. Gentleman because before he came to the House he acted as inter 816 viewer and linkman on many television programmes. On every occasion I met him in that sphere he was always extremely courteous. We look forward to hearing further from the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member referred to his predecessor. The Opposition wish to be associated with his words of regret.
The annual debate on the Royal Navy carries with it significant importance in that it provides an opportunity for a general review of the state of the Navy. It comes at a time of growing and more vociferous concern for our defence capabilities and that of NATO compared with the size of the Russian machine.
The debate is appropriately timed. Yesterday the Ministers in Brussels issued a communiqué at the end of their meeting. That communiqué referred to some grave and important points in our defence strategy. I shall quote two points from that communiqué. The Ministers:expressed their concern at the steady expansion of Warsaw Pact military capabilities.They went on to say that these forces had become increasingly offensive in posture and were now capable of projecting Soviet power on a global scale. In the light of these developments they stressed the urgent need for NATO to maintain and improve its defensive capabilities.
The Minister made an interesting speech which was mainly concerned with the welfare and conditions of members of the Royal Navy. He spoke of WRENs. chaplains and other matters of concern. I maintain that at a time when we are dealing with a grave and significant challenge to the defence capability of NATO we should be concerning ourselves with how we can deal with this threat. That was reinforced by the Ministers at their meeting in Brussels yesterday. The Minister is a man of good intentions. He has a heart of oak, not in the sense that he is hard-hearted, but in the sense that his heart lies in the interests of the Royal Navy.
We must ensure that our country is properly defended. The Royal Navy is the most important part of our defensive shield. We want the Minister to give a categorical assurance that there will be no further cuts during the life of this Parliament. That might not be asking very much, because I have a suspicion that this is the last annual debate on the 817 Royal Navy that we shall have in this Parliament.
Where do the Government stand with the communiqué, which calls for an increase of 3 per cent. in real terms in defence expenditure? That is an important commitment to NATO. It is important because of our relationship with NATO and because we are an ally of great standing within the NATO alliance. We have therefore a duty to ensure that we comply with that which is agreed amongst Ministers of the NATO countries.
Labour Back Benchers appear to have a forlorn look. Certainly, the battles for saving our defence have been lost. One might ask "Where have all the Tribunes gone?". The Government have played to their tune. After the exhaustive defence review which was published in 1975 we have suffered cuts of great severity.
It is significant that on 12th January, at the conclusion of the defence debate, 76 Labour Members voted for further cuts in defence expenditure. The Government are now in the Liberal lifeboat. It will be up to them to indicate the support that they will give.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) is not with us. He spoke earlier but he did not give any indication about where the Liberal Party stands on defence policy. We want to know where the Liberals stand. The Liberal Party is supposed to stand for the national interest. I put the security and defence of our country at the forefront of our national interest.
When the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) spoke about the need to sustain our social policies I thought that he was echoing some of the speeches that might have been made in this Chamber in the 1930s. We are seeing a steady and remorseless growth of Russian maritime strength. We have relentlessly opposed the cuts that the Government have instigated in our defence programme. We have heard speeches made by Service men of great standing. The defence chiefs went to see the Prime Minister in a last desperate effort to stop the last defence cut from taking place.
But this has all fallen on deaf ears. Even with the NATO ministerial meeting 818 in Brussels we find that there is no reaction from the Government to show what they propose to do to make this country a more comfortable and secure place.
§ Mr. Hardy
The hon. Gentleman's representation of the first part of my speech was grossly inaccurate. If he reads it carefully, he will see that what I was complaining about was the demand for such increase in defence expenditure as would imperil the social programme, but at the same time I made it very clear that I recognised the importance of the increased Soviet defence capacity and expenditure.
§ Mr. Banks
I think that the hon. Gentleman should consider the immense amount of money that has been cut from defence in order to secure the very social programme about which he is talking. Therefore, when we are talking about increases, we are really talking about restoring some of the cuts that have been made.
The cuts that have been made in the defence review result, for instance, in 5,000 Service jobs being lost, some 15 per cent. of the planned number of destroyers being axed along with 25 per cent. of the conventional submarines and 30 per cent. of the other vessels. This refers to the period up to 1984. That in itself is a devastating cut to a Navy which is the spearhead of our defence of these islands.
I refer to the Second Report from the Expenditure Committee. It is an all-party Committee, as we all know. It takes long and searching looks at our defence capabilities. It took a long and searching look at the effects of the 1975 defence review. In one of its conclusions it said,Our forces are small and our reserves are few. A future war could allow no time to make good weaknesses. We consider that the House should be aware of the consequences for our defence capability and for our contribution to the NATO Alliance if further major cuts were to be imposed.That conclusion was reprinted in a further report of that Committee which dealt with further cuts. I remind the House that four separate cuts on defence expenditure were made following that initial conclusion.
We have to consider not only the effects of these cuts on the Royal Navy but the 819 lost opportunities that have arisen in the last few years. I refer to the loss of the scientists and the talent that we have had behind our Navy, the people who have worked to give us the technology to improve our weapons.
So many of these people have left this country to work elsewhere because of the taxation advantages and because they have had a better deal. They have been lured by other countries to go and work there. We are losing some of the young and some of the middle-aged talent that we can ill afford to lose at this time. Even so, the Government have cut research and development by some 10 per cent.
It is the strength, the order and the deployment of the Navy that are most crucial. We can compare—as hon. Members have done on many occasions—the expenditure that we place for the Navy with that of France and West Germany, for instance, or of other countries. However, the fact is that we are an island. It was brought out by my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Walker) in his excellent speech that we depend on our sea lines for our supplies and our reinforcements. We have the third largest merchant fleet. We should consider that 45 per cent. of our food, 88 per cent. of our timber and 63 per cent. of our iron and steel come by sea. Therefore, that gives us a special responsibility to ensure that we have the ships to equip us with the required safety along those sea lines.
Historically, we are a nation of sailors. We are a natural maritime leader in the NATO context. We have a special guard over the Channel approaches and the Eastern Atlantic. It is those areas that we guard, and we would have to deal with them in the first instance whenever a situation arose. We have 26 personnel in the NATO headquarters structure compared with 26 members on the American side. That underlines the importance of the British Navy to the NATO structure. Our position in the world context is as a focal point to the sea routes to Europe. The Royal Navy influences other individuals. Fifty-six countries send their cadets and ratings here for training. Ours is a particularly active commitment to NATO. We have an influence and responsibility, and we would do well to remember and recognise it.
820 When we are considering the possibility for reinforcements in a period of activity or tension, we should also consider the rôle of the merchant fleet and the necessity to be able to call up merchant shipping for the use of making those reinforcements. That is possible under the present legislation which allows for merchant ships to be requisitioned in an emergency. I would test that by saying that we need to ensure that merchant ships can be used at an early stage in a period of tension. That is a facet of this first test which is crucial not only to our security but to the security of Europe and NATO.
But NATO must react and must have sufficient international forces to be able to balance any Russian test that may be made upon it. Our political will is dependent upon international capability and the deployment and ability of our Navy to search and undertake the task that it would have to do in a situation of warning. Our task must be to neutralise a tense situation. Of course, we must be prepared for an escalation to the nuclear stage. We should be prepared and equipped. But our solid aim above all is to preserve peace, and we can do that only if we take action at the initial point in time when our conventional forces will be put under stress. Defence requires quantity of ships and air cover.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) referred to the number of Russian submarines. There are four times the number now that there were 10 years ago. A Russian submarine, or any submarine for that matter, is a dangerous weapon. It is a weapon of aggression. It is not a defensive weapon. We must ask ourselves why the Russian navy has built this number of submarines. Indeed, the Foreign Secretary referred to this matter in the speech he made only yesterday. The Russians have twice the number of missile cruisers that they had six years ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) referred to the improvements that the Soviet navy has made it in its weapons and training. That is an important contribution to our debate. There is no doubt that the West needs to look to its defences and to ways in which it can find the means of providing more ships and more cover to balance the 821 enlarged Soviet navy. That is a fact of reality.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clithero drew attention to the writings of Admiral Gorchkov, the commander-in-chief of the Soviet navy. He wrote a book called "The Sea Power of the State" published last year. In that book he said—I am paraphrasing—"the growing maritime might of our country ensures the successful implementation of her foreign policy and gives our nation a most important weapon for realising her historical mission."
He records that in the 1950s the Russians set out on a vast programme of building a mighty ocean-going navy armed with nuclear missiles. That they are achieving. He goes on along the lines that attacks on the enemy's communications lines have now become for the Russian Navy one of its most important tasks in the totality of its efforts aimed at destroying the enemy's military-economic potential.
That, I suggest, is a significant indication of why the Russians have built the fleet that they now possess. It is an easy task to rattle sabres, but we must face the reality of the situation because it will be too late if we do it when we are put to the test and are found wanting.
I should like to turn to the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall). He referred to the northern flank. The Russians have two-thirds of their navy based on the North Cape area. Here are two-thirds of their nuclear submarine force and three-quarters of their conventional submarine force. I reckon that this is the largest naval base in the world, and it is situated at Murmansk.
The northern flank is of particular importance to the Royal Navy. The land forces in North Norway are also of great strategic importance. Earlier this year I had the privilege of going to North Norway to see 45 Commando during its arctic warfare training. It is training a ski battalion for arctic warfare, and 42 Commando will be there next year. But it is significant that the troops are undertaking a snowshoe training programme because, I have been told, there are not sufficient funds to secure for them the skis they need. Here we have talented people 822 giving their service to the Royal Marines but being deprived of ski training only because the money is not available for them to do what everyone would like them to do.
This is an important area. One of the main problems, as my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice was quick to point out, is that we have a problem in getting the Royal Marines there as a reinforcement to the Norwegians. I hope that one of the means by which this can be overcome is to negotiate with the Norwegian army, which I know is working closely with the Royal Marines, to have stockpiles at various points so that these can be utilised should the need ever arise.
Communications with the Norwegians are vital and here, more than in any other area, I suspect, we have to ensure that we have common communication between the two sides. This was evidenced in exercises when it was not possible always to have common communications between the two forces.
Clothing and equipment are of great importance. Having slept in a tent at 18 degrees below freezing, I could explain what it is like, but time does not permit me to do so. The development of equipment has been extremely good and we have a potential here for supplying equipment to other armies.
Reserve doctors can be of great value here, because it is so important that everyone is physically fit and avoids the problems of low temperatures. Reserve doctors could play a part here and they are needed by the Commandos.
In passing I reiterate my support for the Minister in what he said about the work of the Royal Marines in Northern Ireland and of the Royal Navy in patrolling the shores of the northern coast.
Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester, have referred to pay in the Services. This is a striking example of a situation which does not give much confidence to the Services. An able seaman in barracks will be 50p better off as a result of the pay award. If he were married and living in quarters, he would be £1.70 a week better off. A lieutenant-commander living in barracks would be only 50p a week better off, and if he were married and living in quarters 823 he would not do so well as the able seaman since he would get only £1.30. That points to a basic fault in the taxation system and shows how it deliberately destroys a differential.
References have been made to the problems of Service men in letting their houses when they are away from them. It is no good the Minister giving us these bland assurances, well-intentioned though they may be. We want action. It is a simple matter of bringing the relationship between landlord and tenant within the law so that if someone lets his house for a fixed period, he can get it at the expiry of that period.
The Minister referred to the dockyards, and this is a subject that deserves special attention. For generations the dockyards have been a continuing problem for the Navy. This goes back to Nelson's time. He had problems with the dockyards. There is no doubt that a number of ships have a great difficulty in getting a quick turn-round in the dockyards. The Government must show more zeal and attention in ensuring the establishment of a more cost-effective basis for the running of the dockyards. They must be run by proper, well-equipped management teams.
The Minister referred to capital expenditure, and he might have been referring to the dockyard at Devonport. Here is a sorry tale and I am glad that he mentioned it. I would refer briefly to some of the capital projects there. The frigate complex was approved in 1969 at a cost of £5 million. In May 1976 it was completed at a cost of £17 million. The submarine intermediate refit facility was approved in 1970 at a cost of £1.1 million and was completed in 1976 at a cost of £3,850,000. The submarine refitting complex was approved in 1972, at a cost of £13.5 million and yet in 1976 the end price was £42 million. The final example is the fleet and submarine maintenance base facilities, approved in 1971 at a cost of £1.2 million completed in 1975 at a cost of £7.5 million.
We are talking about ships, equipment and weapons that could have been supplied had proper cost-effectiveness been applied to these capital building works. That is an area where there are deficiencies. There is a sorry tale in the appropriation accounts of difficulties in 824 planning, changed requirements, and general delays. We should like to know how it is that in four distinct areas costs have escalated by more than three times.
I wish also to refer to shipbuilding, another area of sad delays. We have to find a way in which ships can be built faster and more reliably so that when keels are put down we know when we are to get these ships. These inadequacies provide great stress for the Royal Navy because it is the Navy that is waiting for the ships, which, unfortunately, are not arriving on time.
In answer to a question I was given dates for the laying down of the keels of ships that have been approved so far. The Ministry does not follow the practice of giving expected completion dates for ships under construction. I do not know why the Ministry is so coy, because everybody knows roughly the time it takes for our shipbuilding industry to get these things done.
The southern flank is of great importance to NATO, probably as important as the northern flank, but we are no longer a presence on the southern flank. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester spoke of this, as did my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester, both referring to the problems arising as a result of the withdrawal of the Nimrod squadron and to the importance of Cyprus. We want to see more exercises on the southern flank to ensure that the British Navy is there to give support to our allies. We also want an assurance from the Minister that our withdrawal has not led to a weakening, and we want to know whether he can show that our withdrawal has been filled.
Many hon. Gentlemen have referred to the problems of fishery protection. This subject has recently had so much publicity that it does not need me to reiterate what so many have said about our anxiety over the Island class. These are no ships to be crowing about. They are and have been shown to be expensive. Every hon. Member has referred to their slowness.
I do not believe that we have here a dramatic new design that has done great things for the Royal Navy. It is nothing to be so proud about. Are we so behind that we cannot produce something more fitting the need, faster and 825 able to have a helicopter on board to become the eyes of the ship?
Offshore oil rigs fall into the same category. We want from the Minister a categorical assurance that this priceless asset is to be properly screened and protected by the Royal Navy. Perhaps in passing he will give us an assurance that this is the prime responsibility of the Royal Navy and that it must be up to the Royal Navy to ensure that the oil rigs are properly protected.
We have had an interesting debate on the Royal Navy. At the end we can at least say that its morale is remarkably good considering what it has had to put up with. It has constantly had a question mark hanging over much of its future because of the cuts. People in the Royal Navy are proud of their ships. They have a relationship with them. They need ships to fulfil their task. I hope that the Minister will give the assurances that so many of us have sought tonight.
There was the sadness of the sinking of HMS "Fittleton". I congratulate the Minister on the way that he dealt with that matter, with one exception. I refer to the recompense, if that is the right word, to the dependants of those who lost their lives.
Is there not now a case for having an insurance policy to cover Reservists on training commitments so that if a similar occurence takes place—heaven forbid!—their dependants will be adequately compensated? Should there not be an obligation on the Ministry of Defence to ensure that people are left with a pension of more than £400 or £500 for the loss of someone who has perhaps given many years of service to the Reserves at weekends and in two-week training periods?
I have no doubt that at the end of the day the Royal Navy will triumph. It is a fine and great Service. So is the Royal Marines. However, the Navy needs the ships and the equipment to undertake the great responsibility that it carries so well on its shoulders.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Duffy
By leave of the House, I should like to reply to some of the points which have been made in the debate.
First, I compliment the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) on his debut 826 at the Dispatch Box. He made a most effective contribution. It was a very good start. The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) will have to look to his laurels. He will be under great pressure in being surrounded by colleagues who make speeches which are every bit as good as his.
§ Mr. Duffy
That is to the hon. Gentleman's credit. Certainly he is surrounded by colleagues who are just as concerned as he is about these matters. Some of his colleagues are very well informed.
For example, the hon. Member for Harrogate was in Norway for two weeks before 7th February. I know of the conditions that he shared with the Royal Marines and how much they appreciated his presence, with my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall). I know that the hon. Gentleman also went to camp in Mid-Wales with the Royal Marines. That is the kind of interest that marks a man out as genuine in his approach to defence matters. It also tells me that he will make an effective speech, and that is exactly what he did tonight.
I should like to refer to the NATO communique. NATO Ministers have agreed that they will aim at an annual increase in defence expenditure in real terms in the region of 3 per cent. for the period of 1979–84, recognising that for some individual countries economic circumstances will affect what can be achieved and that for some countries their present force contributions may justify a higher level of increase. Specific target figures for each country will need to be determined in the course of the normal NATO defence planning review process. Further, the Government will take full account of the needs of the Alliance in determining in due course our future levels of defence expenditure. No one is in doubt that our security is founded on NATO.
A number of hon. Members—notably the hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) and the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall)—referred to the withdrawal of Nimrods from Malta. That was a decision that had to be taken in the defence review. Much as we might regret it, the decision was not to commit 827 forces to the Mediterranean but to concentrate them in areas where they could make the most significant contribution to our security and that of the Alliance.
I have noted the points raised by the hon. and learned Member for Colchester on the defence of Gibraltar, including the mining of the straits and the provision of MCMV and Exocet.
The hon. Member for Stretford paid tribute to the high quality of the officers we provide at AFSOUTH in Naples. I visited Naples just after Easter, and I could not have been more impressed by the high quality of these men and the high regard in which they are held by our NATO allies. I assure the hon. Member that they will remain there.
The hon. and learned Member for Colchester also mentioned the Anglo-United States exchanges and the officer he met during his visit to the United States Sixth Fleet, along with his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) and his hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter), who unfortunately, because of another engagement, cannot be here for the winding-up speech. That officer was part of a continuing programme of exchanges which has been in operation for many years. The two navies exchange officers to fill equivalent billets in a great number of appointments afloat and among headquarters staff in administrative training establishments. These exchanges are considered by both sides to provide extremely valuable experience, not least in the operation of each other's systems.
Since the 1974 defence review it has been Government policy for our ships to visit the Mediterranean from time to time, and we continue to participate in exercises there with our NATO allies. I would like to assure the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester that where the opportunity arises we continue to participate with our allies in Naval On-Call Force Mediterranean. We have participated fully in two large NATO exercises in January and February of this year in the Western Mediterranean, and at the height of our involvement we had one cruiser, several guided-missile destroyers and frigates, nuclear and conventional submarines and support ships participating.
828 We are now participating in a major exercise in the Eastern Mediterranean with a contribution of one guided-missile destroyer, four frigates and a conventional submarine. We shall continue to participate with our allies in the southern flank whenever the opportunity arises and whenever it does not clash with our priority commitments in the Eastern Atlantic and Channel areas.
I have noted what the hon. Member for Haltemprice said about Soviet naval forces in the Indian Ocean. At present there is a broad overall balance between Western—that is, United States, British and French—and Soviet naval presences. The Soviet naval presence has remained relatively static in recent years. Although our defence resources mean that we no longer have a global presence, our Navy can be deployed world-wide in defence of our interests. From time to time we deploy task groups of ships to the Indian Ocean and the Far East. A group of nine ships was in the Indian Ocean last year exercising there with our CENTO allies.
It is a pleasure to join in complimenting my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) on his maiden speech. I understand that he has been made a prisoner by the Finance Bill Committee upstairs, otherwise it would have been a greater pleasure to tell him how impressed we were with his maiden speech. It is easy to say these words—one has heard them from time to time in one's parliamentary career—but it was a speech with charm and eloquence. His tribute to Tony Crosland was deep and convincing. The hon. and learned Member for Colchester said that we looked forward to hearing my hon. Friend again. That was also a genuine sentiment, certainly one that I endorse.
The House was also touched by the tribute paid to Peter Kirk. All hon. Members will join in the condolences to his widow and in saying how much we miss him. As the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester reminded me, I am fortunate to be in my position, and I know that. I am also fortunate, as he said, to be associated with those who went before me, not least Peter Kirk.
My hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby expressed anxiety about whether the protection forces would be adequate 829 to achieve successful enforcement within our new fishery limits, which were extended to 200 miles on New Year's Day. He mentioned the enormous area that must now be covered and asked whether our forces were adequate for the policing task. Without giving any impression of complacency, I should like to assure him that we believe that they are, although we shall watch developments carefully. After five months' experience, I do not hesitate to assure my hon. Friend and the House that I believe we have the right combination of ships and aircraft.
The Nimrods contribute enormously to the economic, timely and effective deployment of the ships. Depending on the density of fishing activity, the Nimrod can cover from 500 square miles to 5,000 square miles an hour. The average is expected to be about 2,000 square miles an hour.
The hon. Member for Haltemprice suggested that we should have been better advised to use converted trawlers for that offshore task rather than procure the new Island class. We do not consider that the adaptation of trawlers would be as cost-effective as new ships in terms of the remaining hull life or continuing support. Moreover, the characteristics required for small ships designed for offshore protection work are primarily good sea-keeping and endurance, and we believe already that the new ships have both. Neither high speed nor heavy armament should be required in policing an internationally agreed fisheries régime.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) asked me about the maximum speed of the Island class. It is 16 knots, although "Jersey" has already done more. But we regard 16 knots as sufficient for normal patrolling duties. Contrary to popular belief, very few trawlers are capable of 16 knots, and, of course, while they are actually fishing they are restricted to between three knots and five knots.
There are faster ships available as well, such as frigates, which we can call at short notice to support the patrol ships. We should bear in mind the time that was available for procurement. We have done all this since 1974 at a total cost of £17½ 830 million. I believe that we are getting good value for money.
My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) said that the Island class did not carry helicopters. It seemed to me that he was under the erroneous impression that vessels of that class would be involved in various logistic support activities which are the responsibility of the oil companies. Be that as it may, I assure my hon. Friend that the additional construction cost of equipping the Island class vessels with helicopters would have been out of all proportion to the limited benefits that might have resulted.
§ Mr. Wall
Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind the possibility of terrorist activities? The only way in which he will be able to get a rig back from terrorists will be to use helicopters. Can he confirm Press reports that he is considering providing a limited number of faster ships for this purpose?
§ Mr. Duffy
We are watching all the time the matter that the hon. Gentleman raised in his second point. Some hon. Members from both sides of the House have been to see me, and, with my officials, I have gone into the matter thoroughly and shall continue to do so. I invite any hon. Member who wishes to do so to join me in such discussions. We are alive to that contingency.
The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first point is that we have a quick reaction capability, manned, as the hon. Gentleman would expect, by the Royal Marines. We are equally alive to that contingency. In both contingencies we shall, where necessary, be backed up by the entire inventory of the Armed Forces.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West asked about the allocation of fishery protection vessels to certain areas. There are four main offshore patrolling areas—North Sea North, North Sea South, Western Approaches and West of Scotland. The last of those is covered by Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (Scotland) vessels. For each of the other three we intend to have a vessel of the Island class available at any one time. Meanwhile, frigates are filling the gap. In answer to another question, I can assure hon. Members that HMS "Jersey" was 831 up to the task of making the first arrest of a Soviet trawler fishing illegally in British waters on 7th April.
The hon. Member for Stretford raised the problem of weight growth of Sea Wolf. Sea Wolf is probably the best guided weapon system in the world for close-range defence of ships against missiles. Trials have been encouraging. It has suffered weight growth in development, but this is not unacceptable in the development of advanced systems when the threat itself is developing. Ship fitting is planned for the Type 22 and other frigates on as wide a basis as possible, but the final decisions have still to be taken.
The hon. Member for Tynemouth raised questions about the Mark 8 torpedo. Modernisation of our torpedo stock is continuing, and the deployment of the Mark 24 Tigerfish is also continuing. The Mark 24 which is launched from ships and aircraft was introduced two years ago and development is now virtually complete. The hon. Member for Tynemouth also asked whether the Sub-Martel would not be cheaper than the Sub-Harpoon in view of devaluation. Cost comparisons with the Sub-Martel are meaningless since it has been a long time since work on it stopped and the estimates are much earlier than those which have been made for the Sub-Harpoon. It cannot be supposed that the estimates for the Sub-Martel would remain unchanged. Negotiations with the United States are continuing and I can assure the House that the project is alive.
The matter of the Vosper Harrier carrier has been raised. Naturally, hon. Members will wish Vospers well in its efforts to find customers for the Harrier carrier. It was rather later in the field than the ASW cruiser and it represents a different concept. The primary rôles of the ASW cruiser are several, involving the deployment of Sea King ASW helicopters, command and control, and a contribution to area air defence with Sea Dart and, now, the deployment of the Sea Harrier. We believe that this variety of rôles is more cost-effectively deployed in one hull, although this requires a ship of the size of HMS "Invincible".
The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) spoke of the advantages of the hovercraft for the MCMV rôle. I 832 and the Minister of State for Defence have corresponded with the hon. Gentleman on the subject, and the hon. Gentleman recently led a deputation of workers from the hovercraft factory at Cowes to see the Minister of State. Had it not been for this debate, I should have been with the hon. Gentleman today on the Isle of Wight. I look forward to joining him there on a day yet to be mutually agreed, but I hope that it will be next month.
The hon. Member for Stretford also spoke about reports on Soviet lasar capabilities. The Government believe that the reports in Aviation Weekly were grossly exaggerated. We keep a close eye on all lasar technology in the Soviet Union, and we have no evidence about whether a weapon of the sort envisaged would be a practical proposition. We notice that this view has been corroborated by the statement issued by the United States Defence Department to the effect that there is no truth in the rumours to which the hon. Gentleman alluded.
The hon. and learned Member for Colchester asked about the scale of training that the Royal Navy provides for the personnel of navies of allied and other countries. The amount of training done varies somewhat from year to year, but I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that we do our best to help in the requirements that are expressed to us while taking care that what we do does not affect our own vital training task. None the less, considerable training facilities of this kind are made available and in 1976 alone some 5,000 foreign and Commonwealth naval personnel were trained in the United Kingdom.
I should like to acknowledge the interest that has been shown in dockyards by my hon. Friends the Members for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bean). My hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham raised questions about communications and industrial democracy. I can assure him that action is being taken in the dockyards to improve consultation and communication at all levels. Arrangements exist at Chatham, and the action that is required to overcome any weaknesses is considered by a sub-committee comprising management, staff and trade union representatives.
833 As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade told the House on 26th January, although the terms of reference of the Bullock Committee were confined to the private sector the Government have put in hand a continuing series of studies in consultation with the appropriate unions and management into the scope for the extension of participation in the public services within the accepted principles that govern the operation of elected bodies. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham will know of my interest in the application of this democracy in dockyards, especially Chatham. He will know of one initiative that I took early on in my present appointment in respect of the dockyard at Chatham.
My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough referred to pension parity. The pension entitlement of Service personnel and their dependants is governed by regulations in force at the time of retirement, and it is a basic principle of superannuation that those no longer engaged in an occupation do not benefit from improvements introduced after they leave. Because of the financial implications involved no Government have accepted the principle of making improvements retrospective. For this reason, the level of entitlement to pensions will vary between ex-Service men or their dependants, depending on when they served.
Many hon. Members raised the question of standardisation and interoperability, mainly in relation to our membership of NATO. I can assure the House that, in concert with our allies, we continue our efforts to achieve the maximum practical level of standardisation and interoperability of equipment. Both these points were stressed by the hon. and learned Member for Colchester. It must be recognised that in these areas success cannot be achieved overnight, and in the naval sphere the priority areas are in such fields as communications, fuel and interchangeable ammunition.
On communications, the increasing cost and complexity of equipment is a growing problem that is recognised within NATO, but vigorous efforts are being made to try to ensure that the existing degree of interoperability is at least preserved and, where possible, strengthened.
834 A common naval fuel has practically been achieved. Collaborative projects such as the new family of anti-ship missiles will do much to improve the logistic flexibility in the long term, as will steady work that is going on in such areas as common engineering standards and common components.
One of the closest areas of co-operation within NATO that I have come across is between the Royal Marines and the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps. On a visit to Arbroath in November, I saw Dutch Marines training alongside our own 45 Commando in preparation for the Clockwork deployment to North Norway. In March, I saw marines of both nations working together in Norway.
Since 1973, the Royal Marines and the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps have co-operated under the terms of the Joint Memorandum of Understanding signed by both Ministers of Defence. This allows the Royal Netherlands units, consisting of an amphibious combat group of commando size and an independent company, to be placed under Royal Marine command for operations in NATO, joint training and exchange of personnel. Wherever practicable, the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps is buying British equipment that is in use by the Royal Marines or is planned to come into service, and a considerable degree of compatibility has been achieved here. The two corps have achieved a degree of co-operation and understanding that is unique in Western Europe and is an example to all who believe in the solidarity of NATO.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) referred to the case of Anthony Quinn. I was able to agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend said. In particular, I endorse whole-heartedly his description of the nature of the community in South Yorkshire in which this young man resides. As my hon. Friend said, there is a readiness to serve. That is recognised by all those in this House who represent South Yorkshire, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
I am aware of my hon. Friend's real concern. I accept what he said about the young man's intention to join the Royal Navy. I can appreciate the disappointment that he felt when he was not 835 accepted. I appreciate not only Anthony's disappointment but that of his parents and those who have his interests at heart. I hope my hon. Friend will accept that I fully share his interest in Anthony Quinn. However, he must allow me to set the case in a different and simpler context from that on which he based his eloquent remarks.
Many applications that are provisionally accepted are not finally confirmed. The letter sent to Anthony made it clear that the acceptance was provisional. It did not represent a firm letter of acceptance. Nevertheless, I have thought it right most carefully to re-examine the case. Having done so, I am afraid that I feel unable to reverse the decision to turn down the application.
I cannot resist one remark before I come to my peroration. I take up the references that have been made to the presence in the Chamber of Labour Members. It was said that the Labour Benches have had a forlorn appearance. It is only right to put on record—so often the reverse is put on the record by Conservative Members—that for most of the day there was a majority of Labour Members in the Chamber.
Any final and overall assessment of the Navy that I may offer the House has obvious limitations. I am a layman and I cannot attempt a rigorously professional approach. However, I experienced the Navy at close quarters in World War Two. I could never cease to be grateful for the benefit of that experience, nor wish to exchange the leadership that sustained me or forget the acts of valour and quality of leadership that set the seal on the Navy's contribution to the victory of British arms.
When I visit both shore establishments and the Fleet, I am struck most of all by the improvement that is strikingly in evidence in all departments. Ships' hulls are superior and there has been a fundamental revolution in weapon design. The education of the personnel who man them is more profound and their training and subsequent standards are incomparably improved. The quality of leadership at all levels has never been higher. Indeed, the Navy that I knew has already passed into history. Its successor is not merely worthy but promises to be better.
836 The House may recall my previous concern for public expenditure and the calls I made both in the House and outside for public bodies to demonstrate value for money. I am bound to say that I do not know of any recipients of public money that give the British taxpayer a greater return on its investment than the Fleet.
§ Question put and negatived.