HC Deb 19 June 1978 vol 952 cc31-169

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Frank R. White.]

3.35 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

This is the last of this year's Service Estimates debates and possibly the last before a General Election. I hope that in it the House will be able to assess the present and future role of the Royal Navy. We had plenty of party political controversy during the two-day defence debate and the succeeding debate on Service pay. I hope to avoid such controversy, as far as possible, in this debate.

However, I must start by referring to a matter that divides the two sides of the House—that of pay. The Government have said that they will restore comparability within two years. That means that the Services will have been under-remunerated for about five years. I want to discuss the effect of this underpayment on the efficiency of the Royal Navy.

Let me give the House some brief examples. The helicopter is one of the chief anti-submarine weapons of the Royal Navy, and we have too few helicopters. However, what concerns me even more is the shortage of helicopter pilots. I was told in answer to a recent Question that 37 qualified helicopter pilots left the Navy in 1975, that the figure increased to 47 in 1976 and that last year it had nearly doubled to 65. I understand that this year the position may be even worse. Is the Minister satisfied that we have enough qualified pilots to man the number of helicopters available to the Royal Navy?

Another aspect of the pay problem is overstretch. In another recent Question I asked for details of the average hours at sea spent by a destroyer or a frigate in 1957, 1967 and 1977. The answer was 1,970 hours, 2,750 hours and 2,870 hours respectively. It is clear that the increase of more than one-third in that period is causing considerable strain on key officers and personnel.

I understand that the air traffic control at RNAS Yelverton is a high-intensity international air control organisation and that it is operating for only eight hours a day when it is supposed to be operating for a full 24 hours a day.

I mention these matters to illustrate that the problem goes beyond pay and causes difficulties for the officers and men who remain in the Royal Navy. The lower deck is apt to think on these matters that senior officers have not done enough to see that the Service receives a better deal. I do not believe this and I am sure that the Minister does not believe it. The good thing to emerge from the recent row between the Secretary of State and the Service chiefs was that it illustrated that the Service chiefs do all they can for the officers and other ranks in the Services, though obviously it must be done in confidence.

There have, on occasions, been similar criticisms of the Under-Secretary. I know them to be untrue. The Royal Navy is fortunate to have a Minister who has not only served in the Navy, but is clearly dedicated to the senior Service. I believe that the villain of the piece is the poacher turned gamekeeper who is now Chancellor of the Exchequer. He went to the Ministry of Defence with the highest possible reputation and left with the lowest. He is now repeating his disastrous policies at the Treasury.

The House may remember that when the Chancellor was Secretary of State for Defence we suffered a defence review followed by four major cuts which virtually reduced our world-wide Navy into a home defence force and abolished the fixed-wing Fleet Air Arm.

Since his becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer, we have suffered another defence review followed by four major cuts. In those cuts nine frigates or destroyers have been removed from the building programme, about 25 per cent. of our conventional submarines have been cut and 50 per cent. of the Royal Marine Commando helicopter lift and commando carriers and assault ships have either been laid up or diverted to other purposes. NATO has made it clear that these cuts seriously affect our contribution to the defence of the West at a time when the USSR is increasing both naval expenditure and influence. We seem to forget the meaning of sea power. I suggest that is a fatal mistake for an island nation.

As I said earlier, we should today be considering the present and future role of the Royal Navy. I believe that the House is not sufficiently informed on these matters of great national importance. I have here two documents. The larger one contains the amount of information given to Congress and the Senate in the United States of America. The smaller one contains the amount of information given to the House of Commons. It is not enough, irrespective of whichever party is in power. I hope that in future we shall be able to follow rather more the example from the other side of the Atlantic.

However, I note that these documents agree on fundamentals. The White Paper, on page 17, states: Freedom of the Atlantic is vital to the security of NATO and the United Kingdom. All the United Kingdom's major ships and amphibious forces are therefore assigned to NATO and would, in time of tension or war, be concentrated on the eastern Atlantic and Channel areas. The Americans go further. They say: Maintaining the integrity of critical air and sea lines of communication to Europe remains the primary objective in a conventional conflict. The following are the most important actions contributing to control of the Atlantic:

  1. (i) Destroying enemy forces in the Atlantic area.
  2. (ii) Interdict Soviet sea and air routes from their Northern Fleet bases into the Atlantic sea lanes.
  3. (iii) Reinforce strategic islands such as Iceland and the Azores.
  4. (iv) Provide close support to those critical ships which must sail early."
Both those documents agree on what is really important.

The Government say that the Royal Navy is to be concentrated on the eastern Atlantic and Channel and has particular responsibilities for our northern flank. I should like to examine how the Royal Navy can play the role assigned to it by the Government, dealing first with the eastern Atlantic, then with the northern flank and finally with coastal waters.

As I said, the White Paper states: Freedom of the Atlantic is vital to the security of NATO and the United Kingdom. It goes on to stress that the greatest threat to east-west and south-north move- ment in the Atlantic is from the Soviet nuclear submarine fleet. This now includes 330 boats, of which 180 are nuclear propelled. I make no apology for saying yet again that in Hitler's war the ratio of German U-boats to allied anti-submarine vessels was approximately one to six. Today the ratio between Soviet submarines and allied anti-submarine vessels is only one to two. Yet today the submarine does not have to surface and nuclear submarines travel faster under water than ASW vessels travel on the water. Therefore, the loss of nine destroyers and frigates from the building programme is particularly serious.

What can we do? The Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic—SACLANT—has made clear that his major requirement is for more anti-submarine vessels and aircraft. How can we assist him?

The House will know that from 1966 onwards my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) and I tried to persuade the then Minister of Defence to build small ASW carriers. In fact, in order to attract him, we called them Healey carriers, but we did not get them. Now designs of a 7,500-ton mini-carrier have been prepared by Vickers and Vosper-Thorneycroft. These ships would carry 10 aircraft or helicopters. Of course, they would be much cheaper than "Invincible". I am sure that the Minister has considered this problem. I should be grateful if he would tell us what conclusions he has reached.

In emergencies, these mini-carriers, operating with "Invincible"—a particularly fine, but expensive, ship costing in all about £150 million each—could be supported by container ships. We have a number of fast, large container ships plying the various oceans of the world today. I believe that, in time of war, they could be converted to carry Sea Kings in prefabricated hangers. Are there any plans for such conversions? Have we got the spare ASW helicopters in reserve? Even more important, have we any reserves of helicopter pilots? This is a vital issue. It was the issue that settled the Battle of Britain one way or the other.

The Opposition pressurised the Government for a long time to order Sea Harriers. I think that we were pressing at an open door so far as the then Minister of Defence was concerned, but not the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We were glad when they were ordered. I understand that the Government have ordered 10 more, and I congratulate them.

However, there has been criticism that these aircraft are subsonic. I remind the House that the 1964 Labour Government cancelled the P1154, a supersonic V /STOL aircraft, which I believe the Americans will now develop and sell back to us and the rest of the world. Of course, the present Minister had no responsibility so long ago. I congratulate him on the ski-jump, which is being fitted to "Invincible" and presumably to other ships carrying Sea Harriers, which enables them to take off with about 1,000 kilogramms more all-up weight, which is of considerable importance. It is another simple and valuable British invention. It follows the angled deck and the mirror sight.

I understand that the Sea Harrier will operate normally on a two-hour combat air patrol about 100 miles from its deck. It carries ESM, but I understand no ECM—electronic counter measures. As such, I believe that it would be vulnerable to surface-to-air missiles. Is this matter being studied? Is there also a study for fitting the Sea Harrier with some kind of strike weapon, such as Harpoon, or some British equivalent.

I turn from the air to the surface. The whole House knows that we need more frigates. The cheaper they are, the more we can have. Again, I refer to the Flower class designed by Three Quays Marine Services Ltd. of the P & O Group. I believe that it fulfills two important requirements. In wartime such ships could carry two anti-submarine helicopters, guns or missiles. They have a 1,200-ton hull fitted with fin stabilisers, so they will not roll very much, and a speed of 22 knots. I understand the latest estimate of cost is £19 million each.

In peacetime, these ships, which could be adapted for fisheries protection and oil dispersement—routine, but important, work which has to be carried out these days by the Royal Navy—could be provided for £9 million. That is only £3 million more than the Isles class. Of course, they would be available to be converted into proper warships, as I have already described, which the Isles class ships are not.

Is the Minister looking into the design of the Flower class? In this respect, I commend to him an article in Navat Record of October 1977 and in the December issue of Defence. I think that article puts the case for these ships very well indeed.

What about the future of AEW? The Gannets phase out from with HMS "Ark Royal" at the end of this year. I understand that the Nimrod AEW will not be in service for at least four years. What will happen in the meanwhile? Will the Gannets operate from shore bases? If so, their effect will be considerably reduced.

I turn from the Atlantic to the northern flank. I believe that we in this House and people of this country owe a considerable debt to President Carter. At the summit in May last year, he revitalised NATO and even persuaded the present Labour Government to spend 3 per cent. more on defence, which was quite an achievement.

At that summit, 10 working groups were set up and reported to the Washington summit last month. Their plans stretch over 15 years to revitalise NATO and maintain a balance with the Warsaw Pact expansion. The most important of these working groups relating to the northern flank is that dealing with reinforcements. It provides for rapid reinforcement from the northern flank, which is vital.

In this respect I congratulate the Minister on retaining 41 Royal Marine Commando. This enables 42 and 45 Royal Marine Commando to be trained actively in Arctic warfare in Norway. The Minister and I a few months ago had the privilege of watching them training. I was most impressed—and I know that the Minister was, too—with the amount of co-operation with the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps and the interest shown by the United States Marine Corps.

I know that the Minister also agrees with me that the key to the problem of the northern flank is to get reinforcements there before the balloon goes up. This will require courage from the Government and the full backing of the Parliament of the day. In addition to the available warships, we need civilian ships, rollon/roll-off ships and transport aircraft. I understand from the Secretary of State that there is now no legal difficulty in taking up these civilian ships and aircraft before the declaration of a state of emergency, in other words, before mobilisation. Obviously, this will have to be done if we are to get the vessels there in time before war breaks out.

Again dealing with the northern flank, "Hermes" is now acting mainly as an ASW carrier. This makes matters much more difficult for the Royal Marine Commandos. "Bulwark" is to be commissioned soon. Is she to be commissioned as a commando carrier or is she, like "Hermes", to act part-time as a commando carrier and part-time as an ASW carrier?

In any case, is the cut in the helicopter lift of the Royal Marine Commandos to be made good now that "Bulwark" is coming out of reserve? Is it true that because of the shortage of key personnel, "Bulwark" cannot be commissioned until "Ark Royal" and "Tiger" have been paid off? If this is so, it illustrates the problems we face after a long succession of defence cuts.

It is a very good thing that the Royal Marines are now allowed to stockpile their vehicles and stores in Norway. That makes the problem of getting there in times of tension very much easier. It is unfortunate, however, that the new 105 mm. gun cannot be carried or lifted by the Wessex helicopter, but it can be done by the new Lynx. When will the Lynx be available for this purpose?

Finally, on the subject of the northern flank, I should like to ask the Minister about the run-down in reserves of fuel and ammunition. I hope that these will be built up as soon as possible. Warning time may now decrease from three weeks to a period possibly as short as three days. This emphasises the importance of pre-stocking of a speedy reinforcement by sea and air.

I turn to what I believe to be the third role of the Royal Navy—its role in coastal waters, including minesweeping, and fishery and oil rig protection. Our inshore minesweepers, which have borne the brunt of this service, are now getting very old and there are not many left. The Isles class vessels have been built, but they are too slow, carry no helicopters and I am told that they roll from 40° to 50°. Unlike the Flowers, I suggest that they would be no use in wartime. I cannot understand why the Minister ordered two more of these ships. I believe that the cost has now escalated to about £6 million.

If the Minister needs relatively slow, 15-knot vessels, I would remind him that there are large modern trawlers in Hull and other fishing ports which, because of the problems of the common fisheries policy, are tied up and could be made available. The Icelanders used such ships very effectiveley during the cod war, as we know to our cost. I suggest that a use could be found for these vessels by the Navy.

I turn to the Bird class of vessels. I believe that the vessels in this class are an even bigger waste of money. There was an interesting account of these vessels in the Daily Telegraph a few days ago. That article said of those vessels: The warships nobody wants may soon at last have a job to do. After nearly three years in trying to find a role for the four Bird class patrol craft, each costing £1½ million…the Navy is planning that they should be disarmed and become inshore survey craft for the Hydrographer of the Navy. I have no pleasure in saying that, because the four vessels were built in my constituency. If there were any design faults, it was certainly not the fault of the yard.

What is the position with regard to fast patrol boats? At present we have only target vessels, yet our private yards have produced some world-beating designs for the world market—a very large market nowadays. There was a most interesting article on this subject in the International Defence Review last February and December giving the whole range of the markets available for ships of this type. I believe that we need missile boats in war, and in peace we need these vessels for fishery protection purposes, oil rig protection and so on.

I believe that we need faster vessels than we now possess in the Isles class. I have referred many times in the past to the "Osprey" design of craft. They are 280-ton craft, 150-feet long, travel at 35 knots and provide the quick reaction craft that we need. I understand that the very first vessel to this design is being built in Denmark for £2.1 million. What is the Admiralty's reaction to that? Are we to rely on foreign nations making the running in this respect?

I have no time to deal with hydrofoils and hovercraft, but there have been important developments in that respect. We should remember that the Russians have been, and probably are, the world's leaders in minelaying. May I ask what experiments have been carried out involving minesweeping from hovercraft and from helicopters? There is a report in the Daily Telegraph of today that the Navy was keen on acquiring a Boeing jet foil for oil rig protection. That again would be an interesting development.

On the subject of minesweeping, we are building the world's largest fibre-glass mine counter-measures ship in the Brecon class at a cost of about £12 million. Clearly, we shall need a number of these vessels, and we shall not be able to afford that amount of money for each one. Once again I suggest to the Minister that we should consider the question of deep-sea trawlers. I know that experiments have been carried out in the Clyde involving minesweeping carried out by these trawlers. Because of the dispute with the EEC over the common fisheries policy, a large number of these trawlers are laid up. I believe that the economic solution would be for the Admiralty to acquire these vessels as auxiliary minesweepers. They would also serve to give the RNR sea training, which is now being cut because the vessels allocated to the RNR for training were axed three years ago from 11 to six.

I wish to remind the House of the recent speech made by the NATO C-in-C, Channel, Admiral Sir Henry Leach, who warned of the intolerable situation that could be created if reinforcements for Europe were held up while suitable channels were swept clear of mines. That emphasises the importance of the problem of minesweeping.

I now turn to the areas outside the NATO boundaries. I note that the American reports cover the world, while the British reports in the White Paper produce only one paragraph out of 547 on the areas outside the NATO boundaries. Yet 80 per cent. of our minerals, 50 per cent. of our food and vital oil fuel comes from outside the NATO area—in other words, south of the Tropic of Cancer. This includes oil from the Gulf, essential minerals, platinum, chrome, manganese, gold, vanadium, fluorspar, asbestos, uranium, titanium—much of these from Southern Africa. Interruption of these supplies at source or at sea would be utterly disastrous for European industries. If the next war is not nuclear—indeed if it is fought at all—I believe that it will be fought for resources. The key battle in future will be the battle for resources, and in this battle I suggest that the USSR is already well ahead.

What are our plans, in conjunction with NATO, to protect the sea lanes south, as well as north, of the Tropic of Cancer? The Government will never answer that question. Is it because they cannot, or dare not? I am not proposing an extension of NATO's boundaries. That would involve renegotiation of the treaty. But there should be consultation between the "blue water" navies to protect vital NATO shipping in the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

There is no need in this respect to seek the co-operation of South Africa. Of course, such plans would be strengthened militarily if and when this were politically possible, but it is not essential. The deep water Powers—the British, the Americans, the French and possibly the Dutch—should get together to see how these shipping lanes, which are vital to Europe's future, should be protected in time of tension or war. It is no good hoping that the problem will disappear. The only answer at the moment if NATO shipping is interrupted is nuclear war or surrender.

Let me here quote the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic, Admiral Kidd, who said on 6th June that restrictions by members of NATO preventing operations south of the Tropic of Cancer were making his task much more difficult. He said: You people have given me the job of resupplying Europe. You look at where the stuff has to come from. The Soviet Navy is south of the Tropic of Cancer and I don't know of any agreement that they will not attack from there. No doubt he will be expressing much the same view at the Symposium Sealink which starts in Annapolis tomorrow.

For four years the North Atlantic Assembly has passed resolutions calling attention to this danger and urging NATO Ministers to take action. The last of these recommendations was in September last year. It urged the North Atlantic Council, which consists of the Ministers of Defence of the North Atlantic Powers, to urge their member Goverments to give top priority to increasing the strength of NATO ASW vessels and aircraft, to reinforce the authority given to SACLANT with regard to the planning and protection of vital shipping lanes particularly in the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and to ensure that adequate facilities are available for the surveillance of Warsaw Pact shipping in these areas. It recommended also that adequate NATO communications be available in times of tension.

The North Atlantic Assembly is composed of MPs of all parties from all NATO nations. I should add that communications and intelligence from Southern Africa ceased with the abrogation of the Simonstown agreement, to the detriment of Western defence.

I turn finally to certain technical issues with which I shall deal as briefly as possible. The first of these is weapons. It has always been my contention that British ships are under-gunned or under-armed. I am delighted that they are being fitted with Exocet and Sea Wolf, which will turn them into formidable fighting vessels. I hope that when the time comes to replace Exocet with a new surface-to-surface missile NATO will adopt a standard weapon which can be reloaded at sea.

I wish to concentrate on Sea Wolf. It is a unique weapon. It is the only antimissile missile in the world. There is one snag: it is heavy and therefore cannot be put into small ships. But there is a new development with Dutch radar called, I understand, Sea Wolf VM40, which has cut the weight by no less than 50 per cent., and I hope that we are doing everything possible to sell this unique weapon to NATO nations. I believe that we have a great opportunity here because the United States' Sea Sparrow, which has been adopted by a number of NATO navies, has little anti-missile capability. The Americans' new Standard missile, which was adapted from their Tartar, also has very little anti-missile capability. In order to fill the gap the Americans are producing as a stop gap the Vulvan Phalanx gun which fires very large numbers of bullets with which they hope to stop missiles.

In 1990 the Americans hope to produce the SIRCS system. But I believe that Sea Wolf could fill the gap between 1980 and 1990 before SIRCS comes into operation, and I hope that every effort will be made by all Government Departments to push sales of Sea Wolf not only in the interests of this country, but of Western defence as a whole.

We have built or are building 13 fleet submarines. The 1964 Labour Government talked about having a missile for these submarines which would then be come the capital ships of the fleet". But nothing happened until last year when the present Government ordered the American Sub-Harpoon. When will deliveries of that weapon commence? It is a very important weapon which more than doubles the effectiveness of our fleet submarines. Can the Minister assure us that these vessels are no longer armed with World War II torpedoes, as they were a year or two ago?

I speak without very great knowledge, but I believe that the real answer may be Tomahawk, which is the cruise missile being developed by the American Navy. It is long-range and is capable of being fired, like Sub-Harpoon, from torpedo tubes. I believe that this could become the missile for the next generation of ships since it has a nuclear and conventional capability. I am sure that that is being borne in mind. I hope that the Admiralty is receiving information from our colleagues across the Atlantic, and that this project will not be affected by any SALT II decisions.

I turn now to the question of scrapping. There is no reserve fleet today, presumably because of the cost of maintaining it. Even so the Government's scrapping policy appears strange. For example, "Hampshire" and "London" are to be scrapped after only 16 years. Why? "Matapan" is to be scrapped four years after a £2.5 million refit. What about SACLANT's plea to keep "Ark Royal" in operation for yet another year? Are these decisions due to problems of economics or, as is much more probable, to problems of manpower? If the latter is the case we know where the blame lies.

There is also the question of replacement. The replacement of ships is taking far too long. I understand that "Invincible" is two years behind schedule and that the RFA "Fort Grange", is to be completed this year having been ordered in 1971 and laid down in 1973. Five years for a 17,200 ton fleet replenishment ship!

The Swiftsure class of nuclear submarine took about four years from laying down to date of commissioning. The "Sceptre", which is the latest vessel in this class, is taking five years. Why? Is it Government policy to stretch out the building period, or is the delay due to industrial difficulties? This year, I understand, orders are to be placed only for one Type 42 frigate, one fleet submarine, possibly one counter-measures ship, and, I hope, the third "Invincible". If that is all, the Navy will face grave shortages by 1982. The cuts take time to take effect and their effect in five years' time could be very serious indeed.

In some ways cuts could be made up by arms sales. In wartime one can take over ships that are building for other nations. That is a well-established fact. We are now selling old frigates to India and destroyers to Egypt, but what about new ships? I came across a report in the magazine Battle for July which reads as follows: because of the appalling record of British shipyard delays etc., it is likely that Iran will order its new frigates, submarines, mine-counter-measure ships and fast patrol boats from German or Dutch yards. I hope that that report is untrue. Perhaps the Minister will comment upon it.

I conclude by referring to the Merchant Navy. The Royal Navy exists in wartime largely to protect the Merchant Navy. But the Government and the rest of the EEC must protect their own shipping in peace from unfair competition. A recent EEC report tells us that Soviet bloc shipping policy may in medium term become a threat to the existence of shipping companies in the Community". Soviet vessels are State subsidised. No agencies are allowed in COMECON coun- tries. Subsidies enable COMECON ships in the North Atlantic to carry 28 per cent. of eastbound cargoes and 25 per cent. of those westbound. They have planned another 1 million tons each year to 1980. They now have the sixth largest mercantile marine in the world, and by the 1980s it may well be the largest—yet this in a country which has virtually no need for imports. This, of course, is a matter for the EEC, but I wish that the EEC would take it more seriously, as it has recently been urged to do by Her Majesty's Government.

I should like to conclude on a note of nostalgia. For many years we were the largest sea Power in the world, and I believe that we have done very little to preserve our sea heritage. A book recently published called "Historic Ships of the World" shows the number of merchant ships and warships which have been preserved in the various countries in the world. It shows that we have been pretty slack as compared with the United States of America. We have, of course, "Victory", "Cutty Sark", "Great Britain" and now "Belfast" and "Cavalier". But I suggest that that is not a very good spectrum of our maritime history.

Recently the future of "Discovery" has come up. In recent years, she has maintained a very useful role for training Sea Scouts, a role of which I have had personal experience. I hope very much that if she is taken over from the Admiralty by some other organisation and berthed elsewhere—I am told that she may be berthed below the bridges because it is too difficult to take down her masts—thought will be given to continuing this very valuable training purpose for which the ship is serving today.

But it is really about "Warrior" that I want to ask the Minister. Her hull is now available in Pembroke Dock. Apart from "Victory", I suppose that she is the most famous ship of the lot. She was our first armour-clad warship. I believe that the Admiralty should do everything possible to reclaim and refit this historic ship, though, of course, money will have to be provided by public subscription, through the Maritime Trust, if it will take it on. However, I hope that we shall get an assurance that at least the Admiralty will maintain the hull until a survey can be accomplished, and that when that is accomplished and the Maritime Trust decides to take her on, the hull will be handed over free of charge.

Perhaps I may say in conclusion that I made my maiden speech on the Navy Estimates, and I have spoken in every Navy debate since then. It is, therefore, a particular privilege for me to open this debate today. I have asked many questions—questions that I know are worrying the Navy. I have tried to be constructive. I hope very much that the Minister will be in a position to give us some fairly clear answers.

The vast majority on both sides of this House value the work of the Royal Navy—officers, ratings, Royal Marines and the WRNS. Many of us in this House still hold the view expressed in the Articles of War, that under the good providence of God it is upon Her Majesty's Navy that the wealth, safety and strength of the Kingdom so much depend.

4.12 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. A. E. P. Duffy)

It is a great pleasure to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall). He has made yet another impressive speech from the Front Bench. It was informed, as we would expect it to be, coming from him. It was more than that. It was very perceptive and, consequently, wide-ranging and comprehensive. The hon. Member may have left very few new issues for his hon. Friends or mine to raise.

Above all, the hon. Member's speech was tinged with a very real feel for his subject. I have no doubt that he has got the House off to an excellent start, and that his hon. Friends and I shall seek to follow him—that is, to take him up upon his opening remarks, that this will not follow the pattern of one or two debates that have taken place in the House recently. Rather, we shall try to provide the framework for a meaningful debate, because what unites us and, indeed, every hon. Member present today, is surely a deep unswerving love for the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines. Therefore, if we cannot promote yet again in the House a debate worthy of the senior Service, I do not know what company can.

First, I must briefly take up just a few of the points that the hon. Member raised. I hope that I shall not make too deep an inroad into the time of the debate. However, I know that hon. Members will expect me to make an early stab at reply.

I note the hon. Member's first concern about reserve pilots. Whilst the Navy does not maintain a permanent cadre of reserve pilots, all short-service aircrews are required to serve on an emergency list for a period of four years after completing their active service commissions.

Secondly, the hon. Member mentioned airborne early warning. Airborne early warning for the fleet following the departure of "Ark Royal" will be provided by the RAF's Shackleton force and later by the RAF's AEW Nimrod, which will enter service progressively from the early 1980s.

Thirdly, the hon. Member raised the subject of an offshore patrol vessel. He touched, first, upon the potential of the Flower Class, and then later he referred to "Osprey". As he knows, there is much interest in the choice of craft that the Royal Navy needs as a successor to the Ton Class in the offshore role. Initial studies indicate that there would be significant operational advantages in using an OPV capable of undertaking operations throughout the 200-mile fishery limit. It is our judgment and experience that in these circumstances a number of designs which have been proposed, and of which perhaps the "Osprey" has been the most publicised—I saw the article in The Times to which the hon. Member referred—would be too small to operate satisfactorily in this role.

We expect to reach a decision on the design of the ship that we shall need by the end of the year, in consultation of course, with the interested civil Departments. We have some other patrol craft requirements in the offing for roles where the demand for sea-keeping may be less onerous. A number of designs are at present under consideration, including the "Osprey" and designs by Vosper Thorny-croft and Brooke Marine.

Fourthly, the hon. Member referred to the problem of amphibious lift. He knows that this will be provided, first of all, by ships of the Royal Navy, which can be supplemented as necessary by ships taken up from trade under long-standing arrangements. I want to assure the hon. Member and the House that we are aware of the interest of the House and, perhaps, its nervousness on this question. We are therefore making improvements in our amphibious lift capability.

The NATO long-term defence programme recommended that suitable commercial ships could be earmarked for this task. We have, in fact, already identified a number of ships in civilian use and suitable for employment with the amphibious force. In addition, of course, the restoration of HMS "Bulwark" to operational status with a secondary amphibious lift capability will increase the amount of Service shipping available for this purpose.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

As regards the transportation and lift problems, without pressing the Minister for a fuller answer, perhaps I may say that he will appreciate and recall that the Select Committee expressed very grave concern about this. Is he able, perhaps in what may be said later, to give any indication of the Government's thinking that has moved beyond the observations that he gave to the then Committee?

Mr. Duffy

First, I am certainly aware of not only the recommendations of that Committee but of the excellent work that went towards the report by the hon. Member and other hon. Members on both sides of the House. I shall certainly explore whether I can go further later. But0020this much I can assure the hon. Member: we in the Navy Department are very aware of the recommendations of that Committee. I think that I know the report almost off by heart. If I can take it up again later, I shall certainly do so.

As the hon. Member for Haltemprice reminded the House, Sea Wolf is a close-range self-defence missile system for use against missiles and aircraft. The series of sea trials conducted on board HMS "Penelope" was highly successful. Production of the missile end ship system has begun, and Sea Wolf will be introduced into service with the Royal Navy in the early 1980s, in Type 22 frigates and other ships.

We believe that the Sea Wolf weapon system is in advance of all others of its type—touching upon the hon. Member's comparative reference to Sea Sparrow. As with many modern weapon systems, the expected developments in the threat have led to a programme of improvements, and we are confident that Sea Wolf will be best equipped to meet the threat by the 1980s.

The hon. Member pressed me on the matter of weight. Of course, he is right. The system has been affected by some weight growth in development, but this is not unacceptable in the development of advanced systems when the threat itself is developing. We are keeping the question of weight under review. As always in these situations, there are trade-offs to be considered, and opportunities to make improvements in weight and other areas are taken whenever thought to be feasible and cost-effective.

Sub-Harpoon is intended to meet the Royal Navy's requirements for a submarine-launched long-range anti-ship missile which will provide the main anti-surface ship armament of our submarine fleet from the early 1980s. Negotiations with the United States Government for full development of the equipment were completed in October last year.

On scrapping policy, there is no precise designed effective life for a warship. The date at which ships are phased out depends on a number of factors, including the condition of the ship, the performance of the new construction industry and the current assessment of the number and quality of ships needed to meet our requirements in the light of the threat.

The average age of the Fleet, however, is low for a force of this size. For example, the average age of the major units of the Fleet—frigates, submarines and above—is about 12 years. I therefore, hope that the House will accept that we have a modern and effective Navy, and we have impressive new construction and modernisation programmes in hand to ensure that that remains the case.

Finally, I want to touch briefly on the Merchant Navy and the potential and threat of the Soviet merchant fleet. This is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, but I recognise that there could be strategic consideration over the longer term, with implications for defence. However, those potential strategic implications are well seized by Western countries and steps are already being taken to head them off.

That much is made clear by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade on 9th June. He then told the House: our objective is to seek not a confrontation with the Soviet Union but a policy of accommodation if…the Soviet side is prepared to meet problems of genuine concern to us."—[Official Report, 9th June 1978; Vol. 951, c. 594.] However, we must watch events carefully and we must not flinch from imposing restrictive measures if that course becomes necessary.

If there are any other points raised by the hon. Member to which I can refer when I wind up the debate, I shall certainly do so.

So far as I can, I intend to follow the pattern of previous contributions. I shall not attempt to reproduce sections of the Defence White Paper or to go over old ground. Rather I will dwell on those developments during my tenure as Navy Minister that I regard as most significant. They are, first, the growth in the maritime threat, second the eruption of feeling over pay and conditions and third the trend towards maritime tasks that are neither naval nor military.

The Soviet northern fleet poses an even more formidable threat to the vital lines of supply and reinforcement which connect the two halves of the Alliance than it did when I spoke last year. I am sure that observant hon. Members will have noticed that the "Kiev" shows every sign of having added her considerable strength to the northern fleet in the course of the year. The major threat in the Atlanic continues to come, however, from the large and growing force of Soviet nuclear submarines.

Happily, our commitment to NATO remains as firm as ever. All the major ships of the Royal Navy—I remind the House that it is the largest European NATO navy—are assigned to the Alliance. When I visited SACLANT at the headquarters at Norfolk, Virginia at Easter I was stirred by Admiral Ike Kidd's praise for the substantial contribution which the Royal Navy officers make to his staff.

We are responding positively to the call for a real increase of 3 per cent. in the defence expenditure of members of the Alliance from 1979 onwards.

We are already making two major additions to our planned maritime forces in response to the decision taken by NATO in December 1977 to implement a programme of short-term measures to improve the defences of the Alliance. We have announced our decision to retain 41 Commando of the Royal Marines and assign it to the United Kingdom-Netherlands amphibious force. We have decided that HMS "Bulwark" is to return to full operational service early next year in a ASW role. We will also, of course, be taking into account in considering our future equipment plans the decisions about the long-term defence programme which NATO leaders reached at the recent summit meeting.

I shall not speak at any length about the major programme of new construction and re-equipment which we are undertaking because the details are readily available in the Defence White Paper. I would, however, like to make some general points. The first is that our plans are oriented primarily towards antisubmarine operations. ASW cruisers of the "Invincible" class, our nuclear fleet submarines and the Type 22 frigate all possess a potent anti-submarine capability. In this context I am sure hon. Members will welcome the news that studies are already under way towards the development of a successor for the successful Sea King anti-submarine helicopter. We are aiming to achieve this by means of a joint venture with our European partners, and discussions are taking place to that end.

I suspect, however, that hon. Members are inclined to question less the very high quality of our new equipment than its quantity. The balance between these two factors is always difficult to achieve, but I should like to provide two instances of ways in which we are trying to redress that balance.

First, we are keeping under review the possibilities of getting more ASW helicopters to sea in simpler and cheaper hulls, which will go some way to meet the hon. Member's anxiety. We are therefore watching with interest the preliminary studies being undertaken by the United States Navy into the use of container ships for this purpose. In the meantime our larger RFAs already possess facilities to operate ASW helicopters and we are planning to extend this practice in future RFAs. We have recently decided to establish a squadron of Sea King helicopters specifically to operate from RFAs.

My second example is taken from mine warfare, to which the hon. Member has also drawn our attention. On Wednesday I shall have the pleasure of attending the launch by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent of the "Brecon", the first of the Hunt class of mine countermeasure vessels. This is not just the first of a new class, but the first of a new concept. Designed for both minesweeping and minehunting they are the world's largest vessels to be constructed in glass-reinforced plastic, a material which will give greatly improved capability over existing vessels.

Of course, advances of this order are expensive. We are therefore looking at ways of complementing the Hunt class with some cheaper form of capability. In this connection trials have recently taken place with stern trawlers for possible use in deeper water minesweeping. The results of these trials are still being evaluated and it is too early to say what the outcome will be.

So far I have spoken only of ships, but the hon. Member has reminded us of the important role which the Royal Marines play in the North of Norway. As he said, we were there together in February, so I think we can find common ground in advocating the cause of that particular flank; it is indeed an area to which this Government are devoting additional resources.

The United Kingdom makes a significant contribution from all three Services to the forces available for the defence of the northern flank, including, of course, the Royal Marine Commandos which would operate as part of the joint United Kingdom-Netherlands amphibious force. Amphibious lift for the force is provided by ships of the Royal Navy, supplemented as necessary by ships taken up from trade under long-standing arrangements and by other studies which are under way.

Significant improvements are in hand in the training and equipment of these forces. One Royal Marine Commando Group 15 Commando, which we visited—is already fully trained and equipped for mountain and Arctic warfare. A second-42 Commando—has also been trained for this role, only using snow shoes rather than skis. However, we have now decided to equip this Commando, together with the brigade headquarters, with skis to bring them fully into line with 45 Commando. This improvement will be completed by next year.

In addition, programmes are under way to provide the Royal Marine Commandos with the latest types of mountain and Arctic equipment, including the best over-snow vehicles available to any of the NATO forces, and a 105 mm. gun with a greater range and accuracy than that of its predecessor. In view of the importance which we attach to this commitment it has now been agreed in principle that Royal Marine oversnow vehicles, which are the same as those being procured for the Norwegian forces, will be stockpiled in North Norway for the nine months between exercises. This will significantly improve our readiness and capability to reinforce the northern flank and augers well for improved co-operation and interoperability.

We are considering means of improving the helicopter lift capability of these forces. At present this is provided by Wessex V helicopters, but we are looking at the possibility of purchasing new helicopters, which would be capable, for instance, of lifting the 105 mm gun as a single load, and we hope to make an announcement shortly.

The role of the Royal Marines is by no means confined to the northern flank. 41 Commando is just coming to the end of a tour in Northern Ireland. I know that all hon. Members will join me in paying tribute to the men of the Royal Marines and the Royal Navy, and also the women of the WRNS, who have served in that Province during the past year and who are still serving there. I visited all of them only a fortnight ago. I was struck, as always, by the resourcefulness and determination with which they go about their dangerous task. I was also honoured to present the General Service Medal to a number of WRNS who were there in a supporting role—that is a new development and illustrative of the wider opportunities which we are creating for women in the Service now that they have been placed under the Navy Discipline Act.

During previous Navy debates whilst I have been Minister I have been struck by the hesitancy of one or two of my hon. Friends to accept the nature and extent of the maritime threat and their consequent reluctance to endorse the size of Estimates. I am moved, in the light of my personal experience, to make two observations. First, global expenditure on the Royal Navy is not merely devoted to ships and weaponry and related systems intended to counter the threat. It must also provide for the pay, conditions and pensions of personnel, as well as the employment of 34,000 civilians in the dockyards.

Of course, I have been left in no doubt about the deep concern which has been felt over pay, but I think it has now been made abundantly clear that the Government accept that the Armed Forces have fallen behind and have given a firm undertaking to restore them to full comparability by April 1980. I wish it could be sooner, but the Government have wider responsibilities to consider as well.

Secondly, even where expenditure does not fall within this latter category, it is not necessarily directed to military ends. As a matter of fact, the next and most striking development in my experience as Minister is towards the undertaking of tasks by the Royal Navy that are not fundamentally naval or military and are thereby enabling the Navy to make a growing social contribution. Thus, naval expenditure affords us not only protection against a growing maritime threat, but is providing a growing social dividend.

The area in which the task of the Royal Navy has most markedly changed in character during my incumbency as Navy Minister is, of course, fishery protection. I still recall how daunting a task it appeared, on that first day in January last year, when our area of fishery protection responsibility increased from 30,000 square miles to 270,000 miles. I know that the whole House will agree that the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force have made a great success of the fishery protection task, as was only to be expected, for after all, the Armed Services in some shape or form have been coping with fish and fishermen for some 400 years. Nelson himself was a fishery protection squadron man.

I believe, however, that the Government can also claim some credit for the way in which this challenge has been surmounted. Our plans were greeted with some sceptism when they were laid. After 18 months of operating in the new regime, however, we are in no doubt as to the soundness of our approach.

what we did was to ensure that the future Fishery Protection Service would have the maximum coverage at the minimum cost to the taxpayer. We built the new Service on the basis of what we already had: notably a skilled and dedicated body of men, a nucleus of expertise, and a well-oiled command and control structure. These were attributes to be found nowhere else, and if is added to them the existence of Nimrod capacity for aerial surveillance, the answer was clear: fishery protection would continue to be undertaken by the Armed Services.

Clearly, the great increase in sea area demanded an increase in the number of surface ships, deployed, and we took what was at the time a controversial decision but which has since been thoroughly vindicated by experience: we ordered five vessels to the Island class. All five vessels were completed on time and within the estimated cost. Where else and how often does that happen nowadays? Was not that therefore an achievement? The endurance and seakeeping qualities to which we attached so much importance have proved themselves time and time again. They have been remarkably free from operational defects that have resulted in loss of patrol time. Already the first of class "HMS Jersey" has steamed some 50,000 miles.

The shortage of speed on which the hon. Member persists in dwelling has proved no handicap at all. Experience has shown that the Islands are capable of speeds in excess of 17 knots, more than all except a very few trawlers. I can assure the House that there has been no occasion on which the speed of the Islands has been found inadequate for the job in hand.

The naval correspondent of the Daily Telegraph declared in last November's edition of Navy International that as a means of maintaining a presence in the offshore oilfields and among the fishing fleets it would be hard to find a more economical or seaworthy design than the Island class.

The record of our fishery protection forces is certainly impressive.

Mr. Wall

Will the Under-Secretary deal with the point of how Islands are to be used in wartime? It seems to me that they are pretty useless as a warship, whereas the Flower class would be very useful vessels. Is the hon. Gentleman considering the feasibility of ordering Flowers?

Mr. Duffy

I shall deal with that point. I can say that the Islands have a command and control capability.

Since 1st January 1977 our fishery protection forces boarded some 2,000 fishing vessels and, as a result, some 47 foreign fishing vessels have been convicted of fishery offences. Their achievement, however, should be measured just as much by the general acceptance which is now accorded to our fisheries legislation and by the good relations which have been established with fishermen as by the number of convictions obtained.

Fishery protection is but one notable example of the many ways in which the Royal Navy is making a direct contribution to the civilian community. Indeed, the past year has provided the Royal Navy with a number of opportunities to demonstrate the value to society in peacetime of its unique combination of specialist skills, discipline, duty and adaptability.

This House has already paid tribute to the Service men, including 8,000 members of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, who provided emergency fire cover during the firemen's dispute. I think that episode demonstrates very clearly the flexibility of the Services. The speed and professionalism with which they adapted to an unfamiliar task and difficult conditions impressed all who met them.

In February the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines played an important part in relief operations in the West country following the blizzards and floods there. Royal Navy helicopters from Culdrose, Portland and Yeovilton and Royal Marine helicopters from Coypool flew a total of some 220 hours, often in appalling weather, on tasks such as dropping food, fuel, drugs and cattle fodder, and transporting casualties to hospital. Royal Navy helicopters from Prestwick performed similar tasks in support of snow relief operations in Scotland.

Less publicised, but equally valuable, was the voluntary assistance given by the Royal Marines at Deal following storms and flooding on the Kent coast. Small craft and vehicles were used to take people to safety and to provide relief and supplies to those in flooded houses.

The Royal Navy continues to contribute civil maritime search and rescue facilities on behalf of the Department of Trade. Flights of Wessex helicopters are allocated to search and rescue duties at Culdrose in Cornwall and Lee-on-Solent in Hampshire. Culdrose and Prestwick also make available Sea King anti-submarine helicopters for long-range and night-time search and rescue work. In the year ending 30th April 1978, these aircraft rescued some 220 civilians, including rescues during snow relief operations.

On two occasions recently, our capacity to deal with oil pollution at sea has been put to the test. In March, after the "Amoco Cadiz" went aground near Ushant, the Ministry of Defence, at the request of the French authorities and the Department of Trade, made available six Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service vessels equipped with dispersant spraying gear to assist in combating the pollution. A frigate was provided for command and control duties, and several other vessels were held in readiness to counter possible pollution of the United Kingdom coastline. Aircraft were provided by the Royal Navy to monitor the movement of oil slicks, and by the Royal Air Force to transport dispersant supplies to the Channel Islands.

In early May, when the "Eleni V" was sliced in two by a collision off East Anglia, the Royal Navy, again at the request of the Department of Trade, provided a minesweeper and later a frigate to exercise control over the fleet of dispersant-spraying and salvage vessels, together with advice on salvage operations. The Department of Trade particularly praised the part played by the frigate's helicopter, which flew an exceptional number of hours surveying the area. When it was subsequently decided to dispose of the oil by exploding the hulk, the operation was successfully undertaken by a Royal Navy clearance diving team.

The lessons learnt from these two incidents will be included in the review which is now urgently being conducted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, but there is no doubt that on both occasions the Royal Navy once again made a highly professional and distinguished contribution to the actions taken.

Another Department which makes a significant contribution to the community is the Royal Navy's medical service, which has a high standing with United Kingdom health authorities and the Royal colleges. Sixty-four officers are recognised by the colleges as being of consultant status, and there are 30 recognised training posts in the Royal Navy hospitals. Some senior medical officers emphasise the Navy's high medical standards by being appointed to professional chairs at universities. Such an instance is the impending appointment of Surgeon Captain Norman Blacklock, who has already distinguished himself nationally and internationally in his field, to the chair of urology at Manchester University.

I have also visited the Institute of Naval Medicine, which is now recognised as a leading authority on diving techniques. Its research programme in this field has been of considerable assistance in the opening up and development of our North Sea oilfields.

I know that I am not alone in my admiration for the skill of the Hydro-graphic Department, which this year has been granted the Queen's Award for export achievement in recognition of its world-wide sales of Admiralty charts and navigational publications. Its export earnings have more than doubled between the financial years 1974–75 and 1976–77, from some £1.3 million to some £3.1 million. Over the same period total sales business has grown from some £2.5 million to some £5.6 million. The department therefore makes a valuable contribution to the country's export effort, in addition to providing an essential service to mariners of all nationalities. To have half the world market for one's product is an enviable achievement.

Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)

if I am fortunate enough to catch the eye of the Chair later, I shall say a few words on the subject of hydrography, but I hope that the Minister will allow me, as the Member for the constituency in which the Hydrographic Department of the Admiralty has mainly been located ever since the war, to say how very much that tribute to the work done by the men of the hydrographic fleet and the hydro- graphic establishments on shore is appreciated. We are all extremely proud of what they do. They are a great national asset and are of the greatest possible economic importance in the West Country and in my constituency in particular.

Mr. Duffy

I was fortunate enough to be able to pay a visit to the Hydrographic Department only a few weeks ago. I recall thinking—as I told the staff of the establishment—how proud the right hon. Gentleman must be to have such an establishment in his constituency. On every count, it seemed to me to be excellent and praiseworthy, and I know that the right hon. Gentleman has uttered no word of commendation which is not wholly deserved.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and the last thing I want to do is to interrupt the mutual back-scratching which is going on, but could he tell the House how many years it will be before the Hydrographic Department, of its present size and with its present ships, will be able to catch up with the charts which are needed at the present day?

Mr. Duffy

With the hon. and gallant Gentleman's permission, perhaps I could come back to that later.

The dockyards, too, through their apprentice entry and training schemes, make a significant social contribution, because they contribute to the nation's supply of skilled craftsmen in a variety of trades. Many of them move on later to other jobs, somewhat to the Navy's regret, I am bound to say, but nevertheless to the benefit of the economy at large.

For this year, the Ministry of Defence is taking on an additional 500 civilan apprentices as its contribution towards increasing the levels of our nation's skill and helping to offset problems of youth unemployment. The Navy Department's share of 150 will be absorbed predominantly in the Royal Dockyard apprentice training schools. A new training school for Portsmouth Dockyard is due for completion next year.

As indicated in the "Statement on the Defence Estimates", there is a full programme of naval work available for all the Royal dockyards for the foreseeable future. Some difficulty is being experienced in maintaining the levels and balance of skills required to maintain the work force that we need to support the Fleet. This reinforces the need to improve productivity.

The extensive capital investment programme in hand in all the home yards is an earnest of the Government's confidence in their future and of their determination to provide them with the up-to-date facilities they need. Perhaps the most impressive project completed in the past year, and now in full use, is the frigate refitting complex at Devonport, the largest of its kind in Europe, which was opened by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on 23rd September last year. Since then, HMS "Galatea" has successfully completed, within the approved man-weeks budget, the first normal refit to have been undertaken in the new facility.

Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)

Everything that the Minister says about capital investment in the dockyards is both true and welcome, but does he appreciate that those who work in the dockyards still feel strongly about their rates of pay? Some of my constituents are taking home as little as £36 or £38 a week.

Mr. Duffy

Yes, I am well aware of the sensitivity of feeling among dockyard workers about their rates of pay, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that this is an ever-recurring subject for discussion between the Chief of Fleet Support, who, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is the Board member with responsibility for the dockyards, and myself.

The dockyards are at present funded directly from Votes, which are accounted for in the appropriation accounts. In addition, there are production statements, which accompany the Vote Estimates, and production accounts, which accompany the appropriation accounts, and which give a more detailed picture.

Consideration has been given to replacing the existing arrangements by a trading fund under the Government Trading Funds Act 1973. However, although the dockyards are an industrial organisation, they do not operate in a truly commercial trading environment, and no change in their financing or accounting arrangements can alter that fact. They, together with their principal suppliers and principal customers are all bound together within a wider defence organisation, with whose overall aim their own must be integrated.

The Government believe that, in these circumstances, the overall advantages of a trading fund regime are at best intangible. On the other hand, there are readily discernible disadvantages. The Government have therefore decided not to pursue further the idea of a trading fund for the dockyards.

This decision in no way detracts from the Government's determination to encourage improved dockyard performance in every way possible. We are at present considering, as we are for the nationalised industries, what use might be made of performance indicators for the dockyards.

I have spoken about the range of skills which are to be found in the modem Navy, but there is one final skill to which I cannot forbear to make reference. I have been careful to avoid striking a partisan note so far, but it must be admitted that there is a skill that the Royal Navy seems to possess in far greater measure than either of the other Services.

The fact is that the Royal Navy rugby team has now won the inter-Service championship on six occasions since 1970. Not only that, but in April it defeated the full Dutch international side. I do not know whether wars are still won on playing fields—I doubt it—but I do know that there is no activity to which the men and women of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines turn their hands without acquitting themselves supremely well.

This is the third annual debate on the Royal Navy to which I shall be replying as Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy. I feel immensely privileged. I do not believe that there is a more satisfying role open to any parliamentarian. On the one hand, he is conscious, as a Member of Parliament, of the basic values and the human rights for which this House has fought so tenaciously over the centuries. On the other hand, he is aware, as Minister for the Royal Navy, how crucially reliant the House has necessarily become on the Armed Forces for the continuity of those same liberties. My last word, therefore, is that while this House continues to cherish its freedoms, it must perforce see to it that the Royal Navy, as ever, is equal to the task of fighting to defend those freedoms.

4.52 p.m.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)

The Under-Secretary of State takes great pride in his position, and rightly so, because he is in charge of one of the most important Departements, if not the most important, in the Ministry of Defence. He obviously takes great pride also in the rugby prowess of the Royal Navy. It must have recruited many of my fellow countrymen since 1970 to achieve its success, and I trust that before it played the Dutch international side they taught it how to play rugby.

It is not so many years ago that we had the largest and most powerful Navy in the world. Now we are considering the role of our Navy in a totally different context. The development of the Soviet Navy over the last 20 years is perhaps the most significant factor, not only in the military balance of power but possibly also in the economic and political balance in the world during the post-war period. Indeed, the growth of the Soviet Navy is much more significant than the growth of the Soviet land forces, because the growth in the Soviet Navy is in pursuit of a definitely set-out strategy with a political purpose.

The founder of the modern Soviet Navy, Admiral Gorshkov, in his book "The Role of Naval Fleets in Peace and War", has analysed the various mistakes made over the last 200 years on political grounds, strategic grounds and operational control grounds in the use of navies during peace time as well as war time.

It is interesting that Admiral Gorshkov lays great emphasis on a navy carrying out the political purposes of the country it serves. He concludes that, by the buildup of a very large navy, the Soviet Union will be able to achieve a great measure of success without resorting to war. I have always believed that the build-up of Soviet forces is not primarily calculated to fight war but is primarily calculated to influence events short of war.

The Russians are not fools. They can appreciate that the threat of nuclear war is a threat of destruction of their civilisation as well as our own, and so it is something to which they would resort only when everything else had failed. Nevertheless, they are people with a missionary zeal, whether we like it or not. They want to extend the influence of Communism, in particular the Soviet brand, all over the world—and Admiral Gorshkov has concluded, in effect, in his book that the purpose of the Soviet Navy is to serve this political purpose of Russia.

It is highly significant that Russia herself is largely a land-locked country, as are most of the other Warsaw Pact Powers. On the other hand, without exception the NATO Powers all have large access to the sea and the oceans. The sea routes have been amazingly important to the development of the Western world and have led its present economic and strategic importance. Consequently, a considerable number of NATO countries have been involved in empires over the last 200 or 300 years but have now declined as world Powers.

Therefore, we have the amazing development that the last bulwark of the defence of the Western world is the United States, which has, for many historical reasons, tended at times to eschew her world role and has been forced reluctantly into it. Indeed, there have been times even in the post-war period when there have been signs of a growth of isolationism in the United States, when there was great reluctance to sustain the development of her world position.

At the same time, there has been a reduction in Europe in the Royal Navy, the French Navy and others and in our respective world roles. Other countries in NATO—even those which were not involved in the imperial era as imperial Powers, like Norway—benefited historically from the protection given to the free world by the formerly powerful navies of Western Europe which maintained the free sea routes.

There is, therefore, an important psychological problem for the West in dealing with the great growth of Soviet naval power. Clearly, the growth of that power is itself beset with great difficulties. There are few bases abroad for the Soviet fleet—Cuba is an example—but there has been a gradual increase in their availability. Thus, the logistic problems of the Soviet fleet are very great.

Yet the Soviet Union has persisted for 20 years in this great build-up. Why? I think that it is because the Russians feel that they are able to influence world events greatly by means of their navy. They are able to show the flag, as it were; they are able to assist insurgents within countries even where those insurgents are in a minority, because they can frighten off the majority, who throw in the towel and do not think that it is worth the candle to fight. All this poses a very great problem for us in deciding our responsibilities.

We can try to match warship for warship, for example, but that is not the sort of response that one intelligently expects or that would be right in the circumstances. We clearly have to protect ourselves against the unthinkable—that is, a war with the possibility of an early escalation into nuclear war. But the development of the Soviet Fleet is in one sense itself a means of trying to avoid, if there is conflict, escalation into nuclear warfare.

I am concerned that from defence debates it seems to me that there is a lack of machinery in Britain and within NATO to take the most important strategic decision. The lesser decisions are taken and taken properly, but how many times are the questions asked and decided "What do we do in the light of this threat? Do we increase naval forces or our air forces?" I have great doubts about the quality of major decisions.

It has been disclosed in defence debates that over the past 24 years exactly the same proportion of the defence budget is allocated to the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. Despite the enormous growth of Soviet naval power over the past 20 years, it has remained the same. I was told recently on a visit to the Ministry of Defence that in West Germany, where they reach these decisions by a different route and do not have our formula, the allocations work out miraculously as something like 40 per cent., 35 per cent. and 25 per cent. The allocations there remain almost exactly the same. Does it happen throughout the whole of the Western defence community? Who takes the decision about the correct role of the Royal Navy in the situation in which we now find ourselves as far as our country is concerned?

The sea lanes are vital to the West. For the defence of the West we depend largely on the support of the greatest Power that we have in the NATO Alliance, which lies across the sea. Therefore, it is so vital that the sea lanes remain open. Apart from that, we have the factor to which I have already referred but which I do not think the West has sufficiently closely considered—namely, what the West should do politically in the light of the Soviet Union's decision to use its wide-ranging naval forces not as a direct threat to NATO countries but gradually to get an emergent world into the Soviet sphere of influence, politically, economically and militarily, without ever resorting to the use of force. It is when we consider the problem in that way that it is important to ask who takes the decisions in the West at that high level. Who takes the decisions in this country?

Is it coincidental that the percentages allocated to the Army, Navy and Air Force have remained within a rigid allocation for the past 24 years? I suspect that there is something gravely wrong with the way in which we approach these problems. I believe that the whole of the West—we are all maritime Powers really—should at present be considering the role of its navies, how they should be co-ordinated and whether they deserve a greater proportion of the defence expenditure that is allocated to them by the various countries of the West.

The United States has been changing its mind about these matters. Since 1976 there has been an increase in the number of ships being produced for the United States Navy. In the general defence debate I quoted the words of Mr. Brezhnev when addressing the twenty-third congress of the Soviet Community Party in 1976. Those who belittle the threat to the West should read the words of Mr. Brezhnev when he referred to the might of the Soviet Union as being the most important factor now in the political and economic development of the world. When that statement is linked to Admiral Gorshkov's book on the role of the navy in peace and in war, there is a definite strategic and political intention in the Soviet Union's development of its naval forces.

I am worried whether the West ever thinks out the real answer in the longer term to the problem that it faces. It is not enough to match ship for ship and to say "We must have more of this and more of that." If that approach is adopted every discipline will be pressing for its own contribution to be enhanced. There is a great need to consider the whole problem in far greater perspective.

I am not an expert on these matters, but ever since I have been in the House I have taken a considerable interest in defence and in NATO through the North Atlantic Assembly. I am told by those who know about these matters that the most impressive feature about the Soviet Navy is in many ways its operational control and the use of modern technology. The Soviet Union has a fine operational control of its navy and of its merchant fleet. Its very political system makes that easier. When we consider the logistic problems presented to a world-ranging navy operating from a largely land-locked country such as the Soviet Union, good operational control is clearly vital, and Gorshkov thinks it is vital.

I am informed that Sea Wolf is an outstanding weapon. It can even hit an incoming shell. We must press on with it. At no time should that development be put in danger. We have seen important British developments scrapped at short notice as economy measures. I am told, for example, that if we had gone ahead with our anti-tank weapons at the time when they were first developed they would now be ahead of all others. We were miles ahead in that area and we are now miles ahead with Sea Wolf the antimissile missile. In that context, I was pleased to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) in his impressive opening, speech. The hon. Gentleman knows a great deal about these matters. I was also pleased that the Under-Secretary of State spoke of the importance of the development.

I turn to a subject that is completely unrelated but of importance. I was asked to make the point by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross). In a constituency such as my hon. Friend's the Sea Cadet Corps is important. It is a means of recruiting for the Navy. It is a means of getting youngsters who are interested in the Navy to learn more about it. Therefore, it is potentially a great source of knowledgeable recruits for the Navy. In many areas—including the Isle of Wight—there is an urgent need for recently retired petty officers and others to help with tuition in the Cadet Corps. Will the Minister do something to encourage that process?

Finance is important. I am told that for administration the corps is limited to £1 per recruit, which in modern conditions is not good enough. I suspect that the problem has not been considered for some time. It would be of considerable help to the Sea Cadet Corps throughout the country if the Minister were to consider the problems that it now faces.

The opening speeches from both sides of the House were the most constructive that we have had in any defence debate so far this Session. It is in defence above all that we need a multi-party approach. Today we have that very much more than in any previous debate on defence matters during the Session.

5.9 p.m.

Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) made some interesting observations about the geopolitical attitude of the Soviet Union in developing massively its maritime capability and its merchant fleet. That subject was mentioned by the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) in speaking on behalf of the Opposition, and I shall return to it.

First, I direct a few queries to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. It is good news to hear about HMS "Invincible", which was launched last year and which is about to be fitted out. I should be most grateful if my hon. Friend could give me some indication of the time-scale of that fitting. Obviously HMS "Invincible" will fulfil an important anti-submarine role, which the hon. Member for Haltemprice mentioned. It appears that HMS "Illustrious" is well on the way and that a third vessel is about to be laid and constructed. I should like confirmation on that score.

I should also like to hear more about the missile destroyers, particularly HMS "Newcastle." My hon. Friend must be congratulated on the way in which he has pushed this programme ahead, with seven more such destroyers, three of which, I believe, are due this year. This is a welcome improvement for which my hon. Friend ought to be congratulated.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

The hon. Gentleman keeps referring to a ship as "it". For the avoidance of confusion, could he possibly call them "she" so that everyone will know what he is talking about?

Mr. Williams

I apologise. I ought to know better myself, being a Thames waterman.

With regard to submarines, it appears that the nuclear powered submarine programme is also well advanced. Therefore, it seems to me that the Royal Navy represents a quality navy. This must be so, because much of the Soviet maritime threat is deployed in the Eastern Atlantic and the Channel exactly where the Royal Navy is operating.

The suggestion about a "light ship" Navy always sounds an attractive argument, because the idea of having a light ship Navy is to save a large amount of money. However, the more one analyses that approach, the more one realises that this is not an option which is open to the Royal Navy. If the Royal Navy did not produce the ships of quality of the sort that I have mentioned, we would increasingly rely on the United States Navy to provide that presence. A lot of further analysis is needed before one would accept that situation with equanimity.

I agree that further long-term analysis is needed in order to analyse the future nature of war at sea and not least to determine the role of the ASW cruiser and the maritime Harrier. It would be unrealistic to plan on the assumption that the United States will always want to provide the big ships in this area. Therefore, whatever may be argued in this regard, there will always be a need for the Royal Navy to be a quality ship Navy.

This leads me on to a much trickier area, one which is controversial among certain sections on this side of the House. It concerns the nuclear deterrent and Polaris. Some years ago, when the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was Prime Minister, I wrote a letter to The Times arguing the case for a fifth Polaris. I am not saying that writing letters to The Times has any effect, either on the editor or on the Government. This afternoon I am not putting forward such a proposition. I believe that the time for the laying of the keel of a fifth Polaris is perhaps now past.

Nevertheless, I firmly believe that it would be very wrong to abandon the role of Polaris and our independent nuclear capability. If we were to do so, it would leave the French as the only Power to influence the strategic nuclear balance. That is a factor with which I am sure my hon. Friend will agree. In addition, it would mean total reliance on the United States to provide the essential third element in the triad of conventional, tactical nuclear and strategic nuclear forces on which the NATO strategy of deterrence is so firmly based.

In my view, it is unrealistic to expect other European Powers, either individually or collectively, to acquire a similar capability. If the Royal Navy does not have this capability, I do not think that other European countries will develop it because of the provisions of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and given the limitation placed on anti-ballistic missile systems. Therefore, in my view, Polaris should remain an effective part of NATO's strategic nuclear armoury, and at very low cost.

During his period as Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy my hon. Friend has shown a keen interest in the Navy. That has been recognised and appreciated thoughout the House. I should like to congratulate him. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery that this is one of the most constructive defence debates we have had. Some of the others, for other reasons, have not been quite so constructive. Part of the reason lies in the way in which the hon. Member for Haltemprice opened the debate. He is a pretty tough fighter. He is also very controversial. On basic assumptions, I sometimes find myself in disagreement with him. He even makes me feel and sound like a dove. The hon. Gentleman is sometimes wrong on these issues, but the way in which he introduced the debate today was wholly constructive and I was pleased that my hon. Friend responded in the same spirit.

5.16 p.m.

Mr. R. Bonner Pink (Portsmouth, South)

I agree with the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) that the Royal Navy is a quality navy. That is perfectly true. But many of my hon. Friends and I are concerned not with its quality but with its size. My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) has already emphasised the cut in numbers. The Government do not seem to be worried about this. When the Minister was asked how the capability of the "Ark Royal" was to be replaced, he said "by Shackletons and Nimrods". As far as I am aware, the Shackletons are obsolescent and the Nimrod programme was cut when we withdrew from Cyprus.

On the other hand, I do not agree with the hon. Member for Hornchurch that the time for increasing the Polaris force is past. I think, as he thought, that there should be a fifth Polaris submarine. That would increase—in most cases, almost double—the effective use of this fleet on patrol. However, we need the multiple warheads for Polaris. I should like to know why the Government did not accept this proposition. We all know that the Polaris fleet is getting very old. Can the Minister tell us anything about a replacement fleet for it? What is envisaged and when?

Like many of my hon. Friends, I am concerned about the time which we take to build our ships. I understand that we take longer than any comparable power. We take longer than private yards building for foreign Powers. I understand that this is due largely to the policy of the Navy in introducing a number of modifications while a ship is under construction. That causes excessive delays as well as excessive cost. Surely, once a ship has been started, no modifications should be introduced which will affect the building programme. Surely major modifications should be reserved for later ships in the same class or for refits.

The Minister stressed that the Island class boats were built on time and to the estimate. I have an idea—no more than that—that these were civilian-designed ships built in private yards. Perhaps this is an indication that, if the Navy does not interfere with modifications in the way that it has, the building programmes can be accelerated. I have said on a number of occasions that I do not think that these Island class boats are adequate for the patrolling of North Sea rigs.

The Daily Telegraph today confirms that. Its report, which is only a newspaper report, says that the Navy is asking for a hydrofoil for this purpose. If that is true, I wonder whether the Royal Navy has considered using hovercraft for this purpose. I know that it has a hovercraft at Lee-on-Solent for trials purposes. Has it been used in the North Sea to evaluate its possibilities? My own view is that neither a hydrofoil nor a hovercraft would be suitable in the North Sea in winter conditions. I think that the proper course would be to build a fairly small and fairly unsophisticated fast ship of, say, 20 to 25 knots with a helicopter pad on it so that the whole area could be supervised in conjunction with the Nimrods.

We have been talking about ships, but probably far more important are the men who man the ships. The high morale of the Royal Navy is being eroded steadily. It is being eroded by bad pay and by dissatisfaction in many ways about allowances and deductions. Not only must pay be increased; allowances and deductions must be reconsidered and adjusted.

Perhaps even more important are the future prospects of the man joining the Royal Navy when he sees year by year cuts being introduced. It seems that every year we have cuts in defence. Sometimes I feel that we have as many defence cuts as we have Budgets. How can anyone doubt that a man considering entering the Royal Navy is seriously influenced by future prospects? Once in, of course, at the moment it is a question of pay and conditions.

But, apart from the Royal Navy itself and the men in it, no navy can operate without a proper back-up. Its ships have to be built and they have to be refitted. Now, for the first time in living memory, we are experiencing strikes in Portsmouth Dockyard. I noticed that the Minister made no reference to this very serious state of affairs. It is notorious that the pay in the Royal dockyards lags behind that in civilian yards. This has been traditional because the Royal dockyards have taken into account the security of their employees' jobs. But today that security exists no longer. As I have said, the Royal dockyard workers see defence cuts, and they know that if the numbers of ships are cut employment cuts in the dockyards must follow. I appreciate that as ships get more sophisticated trades vary and that in some trades more men are required for maintenance. Overall, however, if the number of ships in the Royal Navy is reduced, it must follow that there will be less employment in the dockyards.

The men working in Portsmouth Dockyard find that when they are working alongside the employees of Vosper Thornycroft, which happens quite often, their pay is not comparable. They are very unhappy as a result. What makes them even more unhappy is that their rates of pay are not as good as those of their mates in Chatham. This hurts very much. Perhaps the Minister will say what steps he is taking to even up pay throughout the Royal dockyards and to increase it in line with civilian employment.

Another way in which the Minister can improve morale in the Royal dockyards is by building new ships in them. It used to be a tradition going back to Nelson's time that no major ship of the line was ever built outside a Royal dockyard. I think that nothing bigger than a 74 was ever built outside. Gradually, however, more and more ships are being built for the Royal Navy in private yards. The amount of good to morale in the Royal dockyards of building new ships from scratch is tremendous and incalculable. I remember as a very small boy watching the launch of HMS "London". The fillip that it gave to the men in the dockyard was unbelievable. Repairs are all very well, but they are not as satisfying as building a whole new ship. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some new construction, however small, to the Royal dockyards.

There is very grave concern about morale in both the Royal Navy and the dockyards. The Government must take action to improve it, and they must do so now. Pay and conditions in the Royal Navy must be improved for both naval and dockyard personnel. If they are not, we shall find it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to man and to maintain the ships that we have.

5.25 p.m.

Mr. Adam Hunter (Dunfermline)

I am sure that the Minister will forgive me for dealing exclusively with one part of the speech of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink) concerning the pay and conditions of industrial civil servants. In the Rosyth Dockyard the low pay of industrial civil servants is giving rise to considerable disquiet.

I am a little surprised that only the industrial civil servants find it necessary to engage in industrial disputes. It is very seldom that the staff side of the Royal dockyard is concerned in such a dispute. In 1972, when the industrial workers in the Rosyth Dockyard came out on strike and were out for a few weeks, unfortunately the other thousands of industrial civil servants working for the Government did not support them, and they had to return to work with their tails between their legs.

On this occasion, however, they are more determined than ever and they have already vented their anger on Members of Parliament. They came to the House of Commons on 10th May. There was a massive lobby of Government industrial workers. We heard from them the problems which they faced of low pay and inferior conditions even compared with those of people working in other parts of the Government service. But they complained especially of their low pay compared with that of workers in private industry. I make no apology, therefore, for dealing exclusively with this problem.

As I have tried to point out, I have a very special interest. The Rosyth Dockyard, which is now known as Her Majesty's Naval Base, is one of four in the United Kingdom and the only one in Scotland. It has been there now for a little more than 70 years, and it has become part of the Dunfermline-Rosyth area. At the moment it provides work for more than 8,000 people. Hon. Members will therefore appreciate its importance to the economy of the area.

To illustrate the importance of the dockyard, I remind the House that in 1915, just after the start of the First World War, a Bill was pushed through Parliament in a few days simply to provide housing for Admiralty workers in the area. I happen to know this because recently a young student asked me to do some research into it. I referred to the appropriate volume of Hansard and discovered that this Bill was passed in 1915. About 600 houses were built at the time simply to assist in providing accommodation for the work force required to repair and service Royal Navy ships during the First World War.

Many people from all parts of the United Kingdom came to Rosyth at that time. Many of them are still there—although they are very old—and their families are there as well. In fact, the Rosyth area is almost a "little England", a "little Ireland" or a "little Wales". Over the years we have all got on very well together. The houses are still occupied by many Admiralty workers. Although the houses were built in 1915, they are in very good condition. Ten years ago they were all modernised and the whole area is now considered to be a garden city. It has become that because of the dockyard.

We in Dunfermline and Rosyth have had our ups and downs with the dockyard. After the First World War, because of the Tories, there was a rundown of the Rosyth Dockyard and 1,000 jobs were lost. The economy of the area was badly affected. Luckily, as time went on, things picked up and defence policy changed. For several years now Rosyth naval base has been in a comfortable and healthy position. I have often asked the Minister about our prospects for continuing as a dockyard, and I am always told that we have a full programme for at least 10 years ahead.

I visited the dockyard with two of my colleagues on 8th May and I was very impressed by the modernisation schemes for equipment. Certainly, as a result of what I saw that day, I am sure that Rosyth has good prospects. It still provides thousands of jobs. It is associated with other naval establishments in the area—the Crombie armaments depot, and HMS "Caledonia" which is a training establishment and the Lathalmond stores depot.

The Admiralty is the largest industrial employer in the Fife region—it is even larger than the mining industry. I have tried to show briefly how important the dockyard is to the people of Dunfermline, and to explain why the dockyard has had such an appreciative work force in the past.

However, times change and they appear to have changed again. The most recent change seems to be that the workers are up in arms about their low pay. Unless something drastic is done, probably there will be a dispute. Some improvement in pay and conditions must be made for industrial civil servants in Rosyth. I have read that thousands of people have staged walk-outs in the Portsmouth Dockyard. That sort of thing is bound to spread to my area.

My hon. Friends the Members for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and Kirkcaldy (Mr. Gourlay) attended a meeting last Saturday at the Crombie armaments depot which was augmented by shop stewards from the naval base. We had described to us all the troubles and problems that faced the workers on the pay question. I know that they are asking for more holidays and improved conditions. The accounts that we have had from several of the workers there impressed us very much. One young man told us that he had a basic rate of pay of £34 a week. With the supplements from the two years of pay policy—£6 and £2.50 respectively—he had a basic rate of £42, of which about £22 went in tax because he was single.

Because the base is situated some distance from the main living accommodation of the workers—some come from as far as 20 miles away—they have to spend a great deal of money on transport. In addition, they have to buy meals in the dockyard. Some of them feel—others disagree—that the two pay policy supplements should be consolidated in the basic rate. This would mean that that young man's grade would have a basic rate of £42. I think that all hon. Members would agree that that is not very high in this day and age—in fact, it is very low. Most of the workers who spoke to my hon. Friend for Kirkcaldy said that they were disgusted. In fact, many of them said that they would be far better off unemployed and on the dole. I hope that the Minister will use his influence to improve their conditions and those of all industrial civil servants throughout the United Kingdom.

There is another point that is very worrying. I am sure that the Minister is aware of the plight of craftsmen. Their basic rates of pay are very low, resulting in many of them leaving the dockyards and going into private industry. Luckily in our area we have some oil-related industries. Because of the high pay in such firms the craftsmen are trained at Government expense only to leave their jobs in the dockyards and go into better paid jobs. This is not new. Even when the much higher wages outside did not prevail, people always seemed to feel that they should get out into private industry after being trained in the dockyard because the pay was always better than in the dockyard.

Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)

The hon. Member's giving way is typical of the co-operation between us when I was Navy Minister. Does he agree that it would be a good idea to have annually a much fuller report on the dockyards in the Defence White Paper? At present the amount of space devoted to them is inadequate. It was in our day, too—I am not making a party political point. This organisation employs tens of thousands of people and therefore the two paragraphs devoted to it in the White Paper are not enough. I think it would be a good idea to have an annexe to the White Paper dealing more fully with dockyard affairs.

Mr. Hunter

I agree. What is in the White Paper is inadequate. To people who are not interested in defence matters it means nothing, but to those who are interested, as I am, it is important, because it concerns the whole economy in my area. I hope that the Minister will take note of the hon. and learned Member's suggestion because if we see it in detail it might enable us to gauge future hapenings in certain sections of the Government service.

I understand that our dockyard is short of about 120 to 150 craftsmen because men are leaving to get more pay outside. I do not believe that conditions are better outside because dockyard workers have always had security and they are given a non-contributory pension and good sickness pay schemes. However, it seems that workers are prepared to forgo these advantages to work in outside industry. I am concerned that, if we do not arrest the drain of skilled people from the dockyard, it may jeopardise the future of a section of the dockyard in my area. I hope that the Minister will take note of these points.

5.40 p.m.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)

I hope that the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Hunter) will forgive me if I do not follow the points that he made, except to say that the House will be aware that the problem to which he referred is common to many constituencies where industrial civil servants are working in defence establishments.

Anyone who has the good of the Royal Navy at heart must feel rather worried nowadays, and anyone who has the good of the country at heart must be worried about the size and state of the Royal Navy. I wish to concentrate my remarks under three headings—personnel, materials and the strategic task.

I do not want to turn the debate into a slanging match between the parties. It has been a responsible and sensible debate so far and my instinct is against making political points. I remember that when I was a young commander in a destroyer in the Mediterranean I was told to take the Navy Minister of the day from Malta to Cyprus. I did not ask myself whether the Minister was a Socialist or a Tory. I merely asked myself, first, whether he was a decent chap and, secondly, whether I had clean sheets in my sea-cabin where he would be sleeping.

I must go straight to the recent pay award that gave the Services 13 per cent. instead of 32 per cent. What is the good of that? We all know that the Minister's heart is closely wedded to the Service in which he served during the war. In his peroration he talked about taking care that the Royal Navy was up to its task. But he also has responsibility for ensuring that the pay of the Royal Navy is up to the task that the Service performs. I must tell him that it is not.

It is no wonder that the wives of Service men held a mass lobby here recently. It was deplorable that that had to happen and I never expected to see it. No Labour or Liberal Member came to face these hundreds of angry women, to hear their grievances. If they had, they would have heard a specific promise from the Conservative spokesman that if the Conservatives win a General Election before April we shall restore full comparability in April.

Mr. Harry Gourlay (Kirkcaldy)

Does that promise apply equally to the civilian personnel in dockyards about whom my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Hunter) was speaking?

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

It was not made in that context. It was made only to the wives of serving soldiers, sailors and airmen.

The acid test will be whether the number of applications for premature voluntary retirement is falling off. It should soon be possible statistically to get an idea whether the pay award was sufficient to staunch the haemorrhage of people leaving the forces. Can the Minister say when he replies to the debate whether there is any indication that the flow of applications has been staunched?

Can the Minister also tell us the average delay between application and release from the Navy? This is particularly important, because the Minister will understand how much an officer's morale is affected by his career pattern and promotion prospects. Once an officer has asked to go, he is clearly not a happy man and he will not be spreading sweetness and light around him for the remainder of his time.

Has the Minister's attention been drawn to anomalies in retirement pay that have been caused by the pay freezes of recent years? I had no idea until a constituent came to see me on Friday that a captain who retired in 1975 receives retirement pay which has been index linked and has consequently risen very much above the pay of an officer of similar rank who retired this year. The pay of the latter officer has been caught by successive pay policies and has been held down. I do not think that this anomaly applies in many cases, but I should like the Minister to comment on it.

Is the Minister aware that the wives of Service men who remarry after retirement do not qualify for widow's pensions? Perhaps I ought to declare an interest because I have remarried since I left the Service, but this position seems to be inequitable because I understand that the same rule does not apply to civil servants. Can the Minister explain this anomaly?

I join in the tributes that many hon. Members have paid to the personnel of the the Navy and the Royal Marines for the way in which they have kept up their morale during their undoubted difficulties about pay. My "bamboo wireless" still works in the Services and I know that they do not want trade unions. I said recently, perhaps rather provocatively, that they would sooner starve than have trade unions and I think that, generally, that is true.

Provision for Service voting has improved enormously in recent years. I have many Service men in my constituency, and when I went round married quarters I often found that the Service families hardly knew that an election was taking place. They were never on the election register because they had always just arrived from Malaya or were just about to depart for Berlin and so on. Now that they have been able to deposit a proxy for the whole of their Service life the position is much better.

However, I came across an anomaly recently. When proxy forms are sent out, the proxy should also be sent a postal voting card so that he or she may apply in good time for a postal vote. All too often the Service man is stationed in, say, Portsmouth and wants to vote there and his mum, who is his proxy, lives in Lancashire and cannot vote because she does not get a postal vote in time. It is only a small administrative matter, and I hope that the Minister can put it right.

I should like to recall the famous signal of Admiral Cunningham that it would take three years to build more ships but 300 years to rebuild our tradition. He sent that signal when he was asked to do something particularly difficult in the Mediterranean, and decided to do it. We can adapt that signal today to say that it would take three years to build more ships but 30 years to rebuild the experienced manpower if any Government allowed it to be dispersed.

Turning to the question of materials, it is not practicable in such a debate to go into details of weapons systems. Our modem ships are excellent, but we still have too many old and clapped out ships. My bêtes noires are HMS "Tiger" and HMS "Blake". They look like old clockwork toys with boot-boxes stuck on their quarter decks. The Minister, from his experience, knows the psychological advantage for ships' companies of having new, modern, decent-looking ships and the corresponding disadvantage of serving in ships which are long past their prime. Crowded, cramped and incompletely air-conditioned mess decks are great disadvantages in the "Tiger" and the "Blake ". It is time to put them on the scrap heap. If we have shipbuilding capacity to build ships at cut rates for the Poles, we can surely build hulls for the Royal Navy, even if we have to put them on one side until we have the men to commission them.

The only comparisons that we can fairly make with the Soviet is not so much of quality but of quantity, as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) said. We cannot seek to balance the Soviet Union on our own. No one but a fool would pretend that we could. But the NATO comparisons are not very cheerful. In the admirable little pamplet which the Minister put out, "Why Navy?", there are some statistics about submarines. It is an excellent publication. The U-boats are the best comparison. The Soviet Union is shown as having about 80 ballistic missile submarines, whereas NATO as a whole has only 50. As regards other submarines, the Soviet Union has over 350, whereas NATO has only 200. Therefore, comparing, not Britain with the Soviet Union, but the Soviet Union with NATO, the Russians have an enormous preponderance of submarines.

Submarines are not defensive weapons. They are solely weapons of attack. This statistic must be taken into account when trying to assess not only the capabilities but the intentions of the Soviet Union. We must ask ourselves over and over again: why do they build so many U-boats?

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)

Perhaps we do not need to ask the question, because Admiral Gorshkov, C-in-C of the Soviet Navy, last month wrote that the naval weapon was the means by which they would defeat the imperialist enemy and make way for a Communist world.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

I fear that my hon. and learned Friend is only too right. I have heard other explanations. I was having, one might say, quite a punch-up with a Russian delegate in Vienna recently at the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe under the auspices of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. He got very angry at one stage. He said that he was very worried about the neutron bomb, and I said that I was very worried about the Russian U-boats. He said "But we have 40,000 miles of coastline to defend". That was a grotesque explanation. I think that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) was much nearer the truth, because a country does not defend its coastline with U-boats.

Anti-submarine warfare is of prime importance, and the United Kingdom, in its technique, is predominant among the NATO navies, but our numbers are grossly inadequate. I pay tribute to the enormous efficiency of the Sea King helicopters. They form an integral part of anti-submarine warfare preparations.

No country has publicly declared how fast its nuclear submarines will go, but certainly they will go much faster than any surface ship. Therefore, the only way to keep track of what submarines are doing is with the Sea King. That leads me on to say what a great pity it is that we have so few platforms from which to operate the Sea King.

The second point on material relates to minesweepers and mine counter-measure ships. The Minister said that the first of this new generation was just being launched. That is an extraordinary situation. The charts of Western Europe show the enormous vulnerability of the United Kingdom and of almost every NATO country to attack by mining. As my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) said, the Russians have always been extremely conscious of the importance of mining.

I come now to my third chapter heading about deployment or the strategic task of the Royal Navy today. The White Paper, in paragraph 201, states: Freedom of the Atlantic is vital to the security of NATO and the United Kingdom. All the United Kingdom's major ships and amphibious forces are therefore assigned to NATO and would, in time of tension or war, be concentrated in the eastern Atlantic and Channel areas. I challenge that whole assumption and concept of the deployment of the Royal Navy. It might be a correct deployment if we considered only a declared war of very short duration. But we must admit—and it has become increasingly apparent in defence debates—that this is not by any means the most likely scenario. Indeed, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, speaking from the Liberal Bench, said that today. Astonishing to say, I found myself in agreement with a good deal of what he said.

Paragraph 201 of the White Paper is an attempt by the Government to match the supposed threat with the forces available, rather than the other way round. In fact, they should be providing adequate forces to meet the real assessed threat. The Soviet naval threat is now oceanic and world-wide—a point made by the Liberal spokesman.

The diagram in this admirable pamphlet "Why Navy?" shows Soviet naval activity in 1962. I am sure that the Minister will be familiar with it. Such activity is represented by a few little spots on the map of the world. But now those little spots indicating Soviet naval deployment make the thing look like a bad attack of measles. I hope that it is in order for me to pass this pamphlet across to the Minister to remind him of it. A naval information team toured the country recently and came to my constituency. It put round this excellent publication "Why Navy?", which shows typical deployments year in, year out by the Soviet Navy. It is a fantastic revelation. I wish that such a diagram could appear in Hansard. The point was dealt with on 6th February in a debate on Soviet policy in and around the continent of Africa.

Perhaps I may summarise the threats to Britain and the West in this situation. They come under the headings of denial of raw materials, denial of free passage for our merchant ships and our export and import trade and, in particular, oil from the Middle East carried round the Cape route.

Again, in that splendid little pamphlet, the distribution of British merchant ships is shown. The Minister will see that there are 700 round the world at sea all the time and 600 in port. He will also see a note at the bottom saying that 120 oceangoing ships arrive in Western Europe every day and discharge 3 million tons of cargo. I emphasise that I am now speaking about peace-time shipping. I am not escalating this matter to a situation of declared war. In war there would be increased shipping traffic across the Atlantic, bringing American reinforcements and materials.

Admiral Kidd of the United States Navy, currently Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic, both in the North Atlantic Assembly and on a recent television programme spoke about the great difficulties that he foresees of providing protection in the Atlantic and the grievous losses of merchant shipping which must he expected.

It is strategically unsound to pretend that the threat is only in the Atlantic. In wartime, the threat would certainly be world wide. Also, in conditions short of declared war, our merchant shipping would be vulnerable to harassment and interruption anywhere in the world. Surely this is the most likely situation to arise and therefore the one which we should face.

In the debate on 6th February I suggested that the threat from Soviet adventurism was not confined to the European central front. I argued that the massive build-up of Soviet armies, tanks and aircraft against NATO in Europe may be no more than a gigantic deception plan designed to keep NATO's flimsy forces concentrated where they will be least effective. I suggested further that we should discuss a revised strategy with our NATO allies, a feature of which would be for the United Kingdom to reduce progressively and gradually, and in agreement with our allies, its contribution to a standing army in central Europe and make instead a much larger maritime contribution. I called this the "Blue water school of thought".

I hope that the Minister will be able to say a few words on this broad strategic concept. There was no follow-up from the Government after the previous debate. However, the matter might have been overlooked, and I hope that the Minister will be able to deal with it today. I am not speaking with a single-Service voice because I emphasise that in the control and protection of merchant shipping sea and air operations are essentially interlinked. I pay enormous tribute to the Royal Air Force, because in what used to be called Coastal Command some harsh lessons were learned by naval officers of my generation.

In the debate to which I referred I pointed out that historically a continental army has not always proved to be the best strategy for Britain; whereas, looking to the future, it is clear that Soviet ambitions have been built up year after year on the basis of a vastly increasing presence at sea in terms of naval forces, merchant shipping, oceanic fishing fleets and hydrographic exploration vessels, including a great deal of intelligence work carried out by all these vessels.

Soviet expansionism has been going full speed ahead. This is particularly true in and around the continent of Africa. Events in Ethiopia and in the Horn and Soviet activities in Aden mean that they can completely control the Red Sea and the Suez route and that without difficulty they could blockade the exit from the Persian Gulf. Events in Mozambique and Angola provide firm bases for Soviet naval forces whenever they want them. There are now reports from the Cape Verde Islands about Soviet efforts to obtain a foothold in this strategic area. Again, one must ask oneself why all this is happening. These developments point to a situation where the Soviet could control the merchant shipping of the West without any overt declaration of war.

Mr. Churchill (Stretford)

I wish to emphasise from personal experience in the last two months the point made by my hon. and gallant Friend. Only two months ago I was flying back from Somalia on the point of entering the southern end of the Red Sea when suddenly the aircraft was refused entry into South Yemen air space, even though that permission had been granted in advance. We had no choice but to fly over Perim Island and the Bab el Mandeb straits at the southern end. At that point the left wing of the aircraft was in Ethiopian air space with Soviets and MiGs, and the right wing was in South Yemen air space, again with Soviets and MiGs. The same applies to any vessel passing through those straits. One had a vivid sense of the presence of Soviet power at that crucial point.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

My hon. Friend makes an extremely powerful and topical point. My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice made a similar point earlier in the debate. The difficulty is that the Government do not appear to have any answer on the subject of the protection of merchant ships. The Minister said that we have a "policy of accommodation with the Soviet Union". That will not do. We must hear more from the Government on this matter.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

I am following this tortuous case with some care, but what do the Opposition expect us to do? Do they expect Her Majesty's Government to send an armada to Bab el Mandeb and block the Red Sea? I do not understand the object of this political exercise by the Opposition.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

The answer to that question is easy. Let us have a navy of adequate size to do the job that is required of it.

Mr. Duffy

I reminded the House that this is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. Nevertheless, I took the point, and said that our objective was not to seek confrontation with the Soviet Union, but a policy of accommodation, provided that the Soviet side was prepared to meet the problems of genuine concern to us. But we shall watch events carefully and shall not flinch from imposing restrictive measures, if that course becomes necessary.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

I am grateful to the Minister for trying to answer the point. However, I think that he and I are at cross purposes. He takes the view that this matter is primarily one for his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. But it is nothing to do with trade. It is a defence matter involving the protection of our shipping. It is for his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade to deal with the rivalry between Soviet and British merchant shipping, and it is for that right hon. Gentleman to concern himself with liner rates, unfair competition, and all the rest of it. But I am talking of the protection of allied merchant shipping. That is a matter we must face—and we must insist that NATO faces that problem, too. At present NATO has its head stuck deeply in the sand. This is a fundamental point, and I hope that I have made it clear to the Minister. Protection of our overseas trade has always been the priority task of the Royal Navy throughout the centuries.

There is one step which could be taken by the Government and it involves no expenditure whatever. They could resume contacts with the South African Navy. I am not talking about anything to do with internal policies in South Africa; that would be out of order, and perhaps it could be debated on another occasion. But the Simonstown agreement was purely a military affair. It was an admirable agreement that was most beneficial to Britain. Unfortunately, it was abrogated unilaterally by the present Government, in an act of supreme folly. At the back of Simonstown there is a large underground headquarters called Silvermine. There is an intelligence plot there, which I have visited, showing in detail everything that moves on and under the water within hundreds of miles of Capetown. I understand that from London there is no contact whatever with the South Africans about that plot and its results, and no communications link-up. No use is made of the intelligence that derives from that collecting point.

The Services are in the business of preventing war, not of waging it. Everybody agrees that that is their role. That means that the Services should possess good intelligence sources and should be able to put together all the pieces of the giant jigsaw puzzle and decide what the Soviets' intentions are throughout the world. Why do we gratuitously ignore this large and valuable chunk of the jigsaw puzzle?

Mr. Alan Lee Williams

Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman agree that such intelligence as is being collected by Western Powers about Southern Africa shows that if we were to pursue the policy he recommends we would throw the whole of black Africa into the hands of the Russians?

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

I do not agree with that argument. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams), who has a very good head on his shoulders, should fall for that ridiculous line. It is similar to the line put out by the Foreign Secretary. What could go faster through Africa than the Soviet Union is moving at present?

All history shows that if one wishes to cause the Soviet Union to desist from some course of action involving the threat to oneself one must stand up firmly to it and not stand on one side and say "Go ahead and help yourself". On the contrary, it is wicked for any Government to allow the ideological obsessions of some of their Back Benchers to take precedence over the interests of the nation.

In that context too, I believe that the removal of the Royal Navy's forces from the Mediterranean is an absurdity. It all comes back to the same thing: we simply do not have a big enough Navy.

My point was well summed up by Admiral Sir Peter Hill-Norton, until recently chairman of the military committee of NATO, who wrote recently: Have we jointly the courage, the wisdom and the foresight to lift our minds from the narrow confines of the European theatre to the great oceans of the world across which our very means of survival must pass?

6.11 p.m.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

I am sorely tempted to take up the geopolitical pyrotechnics that we have just heard, including the references to "ideological obsessions". I have been to East and West Africa and I was in the Horn of Africa a few months ago. I did not meet one black African leader who was not intensely opposed to the line advanced by the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) and who did not subscribe to the view put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) that if we were to line up with South Africa that would merely antagonise those in Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe and certainly in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere. The hon. and gallant Member has his opinion, as I do. We should not waste our time on these matters.

I wish to move on to the question of fishery protection, which is much more important to my constituents.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles


Mr. Johnson

No, I will not give way. We must not antagonise other hon. Members.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Cites


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Order. The hon. Member is not giving way. Mr. Johnson.

Mr. Johnson

I wish to continue on a more pleasant note. I listened to my hon. Friend the Minister paying sincere and well-earned compliments to the Senior Service. We all subscribe to them and we are indebted to it for what it does. My hon. Friend also paid a compliment to the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), who is a constituency neighbour of mine. I support that compliment. The hon. Member made a good speech and I agree with about half of what he said, particularly about possible use of fishing vessels for use as minesweepers or for North Sea oil rig patrols and so on.

The Select Committee dealt last year with the possible use for fishery protection of the 10, 20 or 30 boats which are lying up in my constituency in the St. Andrews Dock and Albert Dock. They can no longer fish off Iceland or in the White Sea. Is there any possibility of using these vessels for such a purpose? It is a worthy and important task.

I was glad that the Minister gave some facts and figures about fishery protection. I believe he said that 2,000 boats had been halted and 47 had been hauled into harbour. I hope that he will give more detail later on that score. I was glad that he corrected the erroneous views of Conservative Members about the speed of the Island class of vessels and gave details of their achievements in catching vessels when they needed to be caught. Certain hon. Members, like skippers from Hull, suggested in the past that these boats are not fast enough and are capable of only 15 or 17 knots. They certainly do sufficient knots to carry out the task for which they were built.

I wish to make an apology. It is not often that I have to do that in this Chamber, but I do it now and to an hon. Member who is not here. In our fisheries debate last Thursday, we were discussing the question of fishery protection. There were some slightly strong views about the performance of some of our colleagues in Strasbourg and Luxembourg in fishery debates. One enthusiastic Scottish Member suggested that the only person who said anything good about our performance and stuck up for our industry was a certain hon. Lady in his party. I do not accept that, but it was said last week that certain of our colleagues might do more than they are doing at present.

I was emboldened by those comments and by something which appeared in a Hull newspaper ascribed to the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie). I said A member of the Opposition, in a handout in the Hull newspapers of all places, suggested that there should be a European fleet flying some sort of European flag". I said that I did not want that. I added I do not believe that it is possible to have an international fleet doing a job of that nature ".—[Official Report, 15th June 1978 Vol. 951, c. 1203.] I was misled about this matter.

Later, the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) said that since the hon. Member I had mentioned was the rapporteur of the committee, he, like the chairman, had to speak publicly about the views of the committee. I did not accept that. Members of Parliament, particularly those with fishing constituencies, should stand up for their constituents when they go to the Continent and, if there is a misunderstanding, it can be corrected subsequently. When they go to Europe, they should say on behalf of their constituents what should be done about limits, not sizes and so on.

Mr. Wall

I am grateful to the hon. Member for what he has said. My hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie) told me that he made two speeches, one as rapporteur and one as a Member for this House. He also told me that he was suggesting not an international fleet but international payment by the EEC for fishery protection vessels. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) for making this point, and I shall report to my hon. Friend what he has said.

Mr. Johnson

I, too, am glad of the opportunity to say what I said. We must observe the courtesies in this Chamber. The hon. Member told me later that the EEC had given millions of pounds to Ireland and in the event of our national fleet needing help would be prepared to disburse money for the guarding of stocks in our waters.

Just what is happening in our coastal waters? The parliamentary all-party fisheries group visited the Lossiemouth naval station last year. We enjoyed the visit. We went up in Nimrods and we saw the work that was being done. The aircraft are fast and expensive, and I still put my money on having slower vessels in the water. In this context, I do not know whether we intend spending money building new vessels. I should like the provision of a boat that is about 40 feet wide and can carry helicopters. These could hover above those villians out of Boulogne or Ostend and elsewhere, tell them quite plainly that they were doing wrong and take their names and numbers. That would be a great deal more helpful than a photograph taken by a Nimrod flying at X hundred miles an hour. That would he complementary evidence and would seal, sign and deliver the case in our favour. I see that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army is shaking his head, but I hope he will consider this matter and come round to my point of view.

I was a member recently of a deputation to the Minister which included my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Fletcher) and an American coastguard expert to put forward the idea of small airships for this work. These have been built in this country and are first-class. I gather that they have done a first-class job in American waters. Could they not complement and supplement helicopters—they could do this for the Island class vessels and with the Nimrods—in cleaning up and safeguarding our waters?

That is all that I intend to say, except that the fishing industry is fully convinced that we need a 50-mile zone and that it is impossible to make a decent job of the conservation of stocks unless we have an even larger and better fishery protection flotilla than we have now. This is so important to the industry. Without it, we cannot guarantee the protection of our people and we cannot do for them what must be done, which is to have non-discriminating unilateral measures, as we are entitled to have by the Hague agreement.

Young fish must be protected. In my view, no ship should be allowed to carry nets of more than one mesh size. That means that we must board the vessels. Their skippers cannot be allowed to have a 50-mm mesh and a 70-mm mesh and hide one and say that the other is being used if and when they are boarded.

The Navy is doing a first-class job but, of course, one can always do a better job. The fishermen are saying—I could quote cases that back up all that is said —in regard to what was done by HMS "Shavington" and other boats off Lowestoft last week, where a certain vessel was hauled in and fines of perhaps £1,000 or £1,250 were exacted from her, "More power to the Minister's elbow." Will he also give us some idea of how much money is now in the kitty of fines exacted for stopping these 47 vessels?

6.22 p.m.

Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)

I, too, should like to pay tribute particularly to the Navy's work on fishery protection on behalf of the fishermen based in the North-East, who have a very high regard for the work carried out by the Fishery Protection Squadron. I have never been able to understand, though, why the cost of the inshore squadron should have to be met out of Defence Votes while the cost of the offshore squadron is met from civilian funds. I should have thought that logic should dictate that both squadrons should be paid for out of civilian funds.

In taking part in this debate, I am very conscious of the fact that any remarks I address to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy are addressed to a fellow enthusiast who shares my own belief in the Navy and my desire to see the best Navy that we can achieve. I believe that where we differ is in the amount of money that we believe can be spent on funding the Navy and on funding the pay of those who serve in it.

I thank the Minister for the courteous way in which he always arranges for those of us who are interested in his Service to visit the Navy and the Royal Marines. I also pay tribute to the staff of the secretarial department concerned, who work so well to arrange such visits. Perhaps I may say, with the best of intent—in the presence of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army—that I only wish that the Army Department could follow the lead set by the Navy, a lead which has now been followed by the Royal Air Force. It has taken the message on board from the Royal Navy. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army will also take this message on board today.

When one visits the Navy, one is always struck by the high calibre of the men, in letter at sea or ashore, and similarly for Royal Marines or on a Royal Air Force base. If only the same qualities and attributes were shown in civilian life in this country, I believe that Britain would not have as many problems as it has at present in industry.

But one cannot visit Service units without realising how concerned all those in the Services are about their pay situation. It would be wholly wrong if this House and the Government were to take advantage of the dedication that is shown by Service men and the fact that they are not prepared to go on strike or to demonstrate. Sadly some of their wives feel the need to do so, but that is not the way in which Service men, on the whole, believe that action should be taken. The Government should not take advantage of that situation.

In my opinion, morale in the Navy is still very high. However, unless we see implementation at the earliest possible date of the Pay Review Body's recommendations, that morale is bound to suffer as Service men see themselves falling yet further behind those in civilian life.

Perhaps I may mention briefly the case of Air Vice-Marshal Williamson, whose attempt to have his pension commuted because of his serious illness has hit the headlines recently. I appreciate that we are talking about the Navy and not the Royal Air Force, but presumably the same thing could apply to a rear-admiral or someone of other rank in the Navy. I hope that the Ministers concerned will take note of the bad effect on morale of that apparently heartless decision. I believe that the body concerned is a Civil Service review body and that it has not been a political decision. All I would say is that it would do a great deal to help morale in the Services if at a political level that decision could be reversed. It could affect morale not just in the Royal Air Force but in the Navy.

One of the problems that face us in these debates is that we must not refer, for obvious reasons, to matters of a security nature. Therefore, anything that I say will be based entirely on published sources, most of which are in the United States. There is a very considerable difference between the level of information that is made publicly available to those who wish to see it in the United States and in our own country. Indeed, it is interesting that at times we can discover the weaknesses of our forces by reading about them in American literature, both official and well-informed journals of a Service nature.

The background to the debate is one of the balance continually moving against us at sea. Very regrettably, it is moving against us all the time, simply because of the fact that the Soviet Union is prepared to allocate resources to armaments in a way that the democracies of the West naturally do not wish to see happen. It is no wonder that when 13 roubles out of every 100 earned in the Soviet Union are spent on armaments, as compared with £5 out of every £100 earned in this country, only one Soviet citizen in 100 has a car for his own use when in Britain one citizen out of four has a car. If one spends money on submarines and aircraft carriers instead of on peaceful projects, that is the type of living that one will impose upon one's people.

The Soviet Union has an advantage in that it has conscription. Therefore, the Soviet Union's men, the crews of its ships, are very largely conscripts, as I found when I visited the "Obraztsovy" when she was in Portsmouth two years ago. The young men to whom I talked were nearly all conscripts and, no doubt, were paid a very small sum indeed. So the Soviet Union does not have the big demand of pay on the defence budget that we have, quite rightly, in the democratic West. Of course, our allies in Europe also have the advantage of conscription. However, with the increasing complexity of equipment at sea, one wonders to what extent conscripts are able to cope adequately with modern weapons and electronic equipment.

It is not just in terms of numbers that the development of the Soviet Navy is worrying. It is also in the quality of its ships. It is true that our ships are getting better, but so are the ships on the other side. In their own White Paper, the Government have indicated the way that the numbers of every major category of vessel in the Soviet Navy are still increasing.

I believe that we have cut the size of our Navy too far. If fully implemented —I have no reason to suppose that it will not be, and, as far as I know, there has been no statement from the Government Front Bench to say that it will not be carried out—the plan to cut the numbers of destroyers and frigates under the defence review will leave us with one-half of the numbers that we had in 1964.

One of the saddest features of these cuts is. I believe—coming as I do from Tyneside—that 10,000 jobs will be lost in the shipyards. That is the figure given to me by the Minister of State for Defence at the time. I find that very sad indeed. Of course, we on Tyneside are very grateful that we have the order for the third through-deck cruiser, but in the industry as a whole it is a fact, apparently, that 10,000 jobs are to be lost as a result of the Government's defence review. When one considers the problems facing the shipbuilding industry, one realises that that was by no means a helpful act. It was a catastrophe for many of the yards in Britain.

We now have fewer sailors than taxmen —75,000 as opposed to 85,000. That shows this Government's priorities when it comes to defence.

Friends of mine, usually aviators, say that in a generation, if war should come—which God forbid—all ships would be immediately spotted by satellite and sunk soon afterwards by missiles. I think they are a little optimistic or naÏve in thinking that it would be that simple. I do not accept that we shall not need a surface Navy in future. It will be essential. But we could argue at length about the type of ships that we should be building.

Can the Minister give us any thoughts about the next generation of major surface ship? Three Type 22s are now building on the Clyde and I hope that some more will eventually be ordered. These expensive ships are dedicated to anti-submarine warfare. Type 42 destroyers are being built in different places. They are anti-aircraft or antimissile warships. I suggest that there could be a case for combining those two roles in one ship.

If we could develop, say, a Type 23 or a Type 43, going on from the existing classes, their value would be doubled if they could each combat both submarines and aircraft. HMS "Bristol" was built as the sole Type 82 with that role, but she is a much bigger ship. With miniaturisation techniques it might be possible, within the size of the hull of the Type 22 or Type 42, to construct a vessel with both capabilities, which would surely be better value for money.

The White Paper, I think, refers to 190 submarines in the Soviet northern fleet—the main fleet, in the Arctic, opposing NATO in the Atlantic. At the height of the U-boat campaign there were 230 U-boats operational. That one Soviet fleet, which is the main fleet, but only one—there are others in the Baltic, the Black Sea and the Pacific—has nearly as many submarines as there were at the height of the U-boat campaign in 1943.

Those submarines, according to published sources, are becoming much more deadly and difficult to catch than ever before. The new submarines can fire their missiles from under water. They have been treated, according to the American literature with what is described as "Clusterguard" an anachoic paint, which reduces the acquisition range of the mark 46 American anti-submarine torpedo from 1,500 yards to 1,000 yards. I read this in Aviation Week, so I can mention it. I am sure that Aviation Week, or perhaps a translation of it, is regularly read by Admiral Gorshkov.

In that same article I read that other sophisticated counter-measures are being developed for the Soviet submarines. Their new vessels can dive to 2,000 ft. I remember going down some years ago in a conventional submarine to 450 ft. I —and, I think, the crew, judging from their faces—felt that that was very daring. These new submarines will be very difficult to find and attack because of their great depth and this paint and other counter-measures.

The odds in anti-submarine warfare are against the defenders—the frigates and destroyers. In land warfare it seems to be accepted that one can enter a battle facing odds of three or four to one, but that is not the case at sea. It is generally recognised that one needs two or three anti-submarine weapon systems to be able to catch one of these fast and sophisticated nuclear submarines.

NATO lacks numbers. On surface ships, the White Paper reveals the ever-increasing size of the modern Soviet Navy

It is extraordinary that the White Paper did not mention the removal from service this year of HMS "Ark Royal". She is, after all, the most powerful conventional vessel in the Royal Navy. When she goes at the end of the year, it will be the end of traditional fixed-wing flying. Yet the White Paper did not mention this major reduction in the strength of the Royal Navy.

Indeed, as usual under this Government, the White Paper is a little odd in that it does not seem to refer to any problems. One would think from the White Papers every year that all was basically well with the Services. Under no Administration can everything go right. In the equivalent American literature, many of the warts are revealed for public discussion, but that does not happen here.

"Ark Royal" may be portrayed as an elderly lady of 23, although not many ladies would regard that as old. The normal life for a ship is about 30 years. Astonishingly, the American Navy, faced also with an ageing fleet of carriers, has brought in SLEP—the selective life extension programme—under which the "Forrestal", for example, which entered service in 1955, the same year as "Ark Royal", will go on until the year 2000 or just after. I asked the chief of naval operations in Washington whether he thought that that was possible. He said that he did. I doubt it, but obviously they think that the "Forrestal" and other American carriers of a similar age to "Ark Royal" can go on for many years to come.

There is no way of understanding the Government's decision to remove "Ark Royal" other than the fact that the defence review has not provided the money or men to keep her in service. The cost of running her last year was given to me as £17 million. That is about the cost of running three destroyers. I should think that "Ark Royal" still has such an enormously important part to play that it would have been right to keep her going, even if it meant not running three destroyers.

The new Soviet carrier "Kiev" is now in full commission. There are suggestions that she is down at the bow. I am not sure why. "Canberra" when built was down at the stern until they filled up the bow with cement. These things happen in all countries. Similar ships are now entering service—the "Minsk", the "Karkov" and others, perhaps. I am sorry that I shall not be able to stay for the Minister's closing speech, as I have explained to him, but I shall read it with interest in Hansard. I hope that he will be able to comment on the state of the new Soviet carrier fleet, which is fast developing just when we are coming out of conventional carriers.

The Backfire bomber is now said by many competent American authorities to be more of a danger to the NATO surface fleet than are the Soviet submarines. Considering the power of the latter, that is a worrying thought.

It is estimated in America that 190 Backfires will be dedicated to an anti-shipping role—run by the Soviet Navy, not by their air force, within the next seven or eight years. That is a powerful force. I am delighted that the Harrier project has gone ahead, although I have my doubts whether it will be able to deal with the supersonic Backfire. I hope that that is an interim measure until we can develop, I hope in this country, a supersonic V/STOL plane. One's mind goes back to the defence cuts made by the present Chancellor when he was Secretary of State for Defence, but for which we might have seen those planes in service some time ago. In the meantime, we have the Sea Devons, Sea Princes and Sea Herons, allocated to NATO.

I have flown in one of those aircraft. They remind me of an aircraft in which, at my particular request, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) and I were going out to visit the United States Navy. When the door flew open, my hon. Friend said that he did not enjoy flying with me. We then had to turn back because of technical trouble. Though those three aircraft types may be superlatively maintained, they can hardly be said to be the last word in modern defence equipment. They have been in service about as long as the "Ark Royal"—about 20 years. I do not think that that could be said to be more than a cosmetic addition to NATO's strength. I understand that we still have a Swordfish that flies down at Yeovilton. Perhaps we shall read in next year's White Paper that it has also been committed to NATO.

Perhaps I may add to the comments which have been made by hon. Members about the worrying situation which faces us over mines. Today mines are not simple objects with horns on the end of wires. They are extraordinarily sophisticated weapons which can be left on the bottom of the sea bed to explode after a varying number of vessels have passed over them, and they are very difficult to deal with. There have recently been quotations both by Admiral Hill Norton and by Sir Henry Leach. Sir Henry, wearing his NATO hat at the time he spoke, said: Our defences against mines are quite inadequate. We have not enough minesweepers and many of those we have are too old. The article says that Sir Henry stated that we are in danger of being hypnotised by Russia's build-up of nuclear weapons, and overlooking the danger from mines. The quotation goes on to say—this is not Sir Henry speaking—that the new order for Hunt class mine counter measure vessels is to be reduced to only 12 because of the cost.

In 1960 we had no fewer than 200 mine counter-measure vessels in the Royal Navy. We are now down to 33. Is it really being suggested that we shall go down to 12? Many of the 200 that we had in 1960 were in reserve, but they were available and could be very quickly put to sea. Relatively simple ships like that are easily manned. Fishermen can be put on to them and they can put to sea very quickly, as happened in the last war. However, those vessels are now no longer available, although the threat from mines is infinitely greater than it was in 1960.

Mr. Churchill

My hon. Friend has drawn attention to the threat not only from mines, which can be dropped from the air, but to the threat to the Royal Navy from the Backfire, 100 of which have already been deployed to the Soviet naval and long-range air forces. I hope that the Minister, when he replies, will give my hon. Friend a reply on this matter, in particular as to the catastrophically low level of air defence capability for the Fleet when it is within range of fixed-wing aircraft of the United Kingdom. We have fewer than 100 fixed-wing aircraft for the air defence of the entire United Kingdom air defence region—that is, the civilan population of this country and the Fleet on the high seas, in the North Sea, in the Channel and over the eastern Atlantic.

Mr. Trotter

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. It was an excellent point that he made. If I were a sailor I should be very concerned about the extent to which the RAF would be able to provide air cover in an emergency. Of course it would wish to do so, but its first priority must surely be to defend the people of Britain from an attack on Britain itself. The RAF is too thinly spread in the air. I think that it is a great pity that the Fleet Air Arm is no longer to have its own dedicated Phantom squadron for the protection of the Fleet at sea.

I shall now comment on a few matters which remain in the air. The White Paper seems to leave many questions unanswered. In fact, it does not even ask the questions, let alone try to answer them.

First, are we to have another class of conventional submarine? It is interesting that the Soviet Union regards it as still worth while to build what I believe is called the Tango class. It is still producing very quiet diesel submarines. Do we intend to do the same? They would be very useful, first, for economical training. They would be useful also for certain harrier roles. Also—this is an interesting point—we should be able to export such vessels. We have sold the Oberon class all over the world. I do not believe that we shall be able to sell a successor readily unless the Royal Navy itself has ordered some of these ships.

The Hydrographer has stated that it costs about £6 million a year for the survey of our home waters. That is a survey that is hardly needed these days for the Royal Navy as our naval ships have become smaller and smaller. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) seems to be disagreeing. Perhaps he is thinking of the submarine side of it.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

I am sorry; I did not intend to interrupt my hon. Friend. Obviously survey ships are needed for deep diving survey, about which my hon. Friend was speaking a little while ago, and for the giant supertankers and oil rigs.

Mr. Trotter

I take the point. As for the submarines, I think that the waters where that sort of survey is being carried out are probably outside our own coastal areas. Of course, we need the surveys for the deep tankers, but those are civilian ships, and I do not see for the life of me why naval Votes should pay for the survey of routes for giant tankers or for oil rigs at depths which are not now needed for the smaller vessels of the Royal Navy.

Recently the Hydrographer gave evidence before the Industry Sub-Committee. His evidence made it clear that in the past four years only 4 per cent. of the coastal waters had been surveyed and there is still 72 per cent. of these waters to be surveyed, which by simple arithmetic would take 72 years to carry out. The Hydrographer is short of money and ships. He needs about twice as many ships as he has. I hope that there can be a transfer of the cost of the Hydrographer, in so far as he is not engaged on essential naval work, to civil funds. That £6 million, if it were transferred, would represent the cost of running five or six conventional submarines each year. So I have managed to suggest to the Minister, if only his friends at the Treasury would agree, a way in which he could operate five or six more conventional submarines at cost.

Secondly, what is happening about hovercraft in relation to mine countermeasures? We have been playing about with them and trying them out for years, but as yet nothing has been said about future developments.

When is Harpoon coming into service? The main armament of our nuclear submarines against surface ships remains the Mark 8 torpedo. The Minister, with a very poor brief, does his very best each time this subject comes up by saying that the Mark 8 torpedo now in service has been considerably improved from when it first went into service in the 1930s. That is rather like saying that my Model I Ford is a little better than the original one. It is quite ridiculous that our very expensive and very efficient nuclear submarines are spoilt in their role against surface shipping by having a completely antiquated weapon which obviously cannot be fired without their putting themselves into a position where they will expose themselves. There is a pressing need for the Harpoon development to go ahead.

As regards weapon systems, what is to happen about building a new generation of amphibious ships? The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in America has said that the reduction in the United Kingdom amphibious lift capability has created a significant shortfall in the support in the Atlantic. That is a serious situation, and the marines, as the Minister and I both know, are superlative fighting men. They are tremendous people. We both had the opportunity of seeing them in Norway. I know that we were both equally impressed by what we saw.

I believe that the marines require simple, dedicated ships to take them to wherever they are required to go into operation. I do not think that it is necessary to build those ships to the same very high internal standards that we always had in the past. Let us face it: if there is going to be a crisis, if that ship is hit and if it is sophisticated it will survive. It can be towed back to Rosyth but the war will be over before the surveyors have estimated what the cost and the time will be to repair it. There will be no time to carry out long-term repairs if there ever should be another war. I believe that there is a case for building a much simpler vessel, basically on merchant construction lines but dedicated to the role of the marines.

I want, finally, to comment on the need to replace the Polaris. The United States Polaris submarines will be being phased out very soon now. That will leave us with our own stock of Polaris. The motors of the Polaris missiles will be wearing out and perhaps will not be able to be replaced if there is no longer an American need for them. In considering this matter, it is interesting to note that for the first time the Soviet Union has Golf submarines based in the Baltic—they arrived there only recently. They are ballistic missile submarines of an early generation with a short range. Being based in the Baltic, their targets can only be in Europe.

According to American sources, the Polaris weapons—both those in America and those in our own hands—are part of the theatre nuclear forces in Europe. I believe that the arrival of the Golf submarines of the Soviet Navy in the Baltic indicates, if nothing else indicates, the need for us to be considering now the replacement of our own Polaris submarines. I hope that the Minister will find time to say something on this subject. I do not suggest that we should build another generation of ballistic missile submarines, but I take it that the cruise missile is something which fits very well into the future development of our Navy.

I hope that the Minister will find time soon to listen to this point, and I shall continue for a while until he does, since the future of the British strategic nuclear deterrent is of great importance to the people of Britain. The Minister's future and that of his constituents depend upon what happens to our strategic nuclear deterrent. If the Minister does not listen, one can only assume that it is a rather difficult subject for him. I think that that point must be taken by the House. Again, I hope that in winding up the Minister will say a few words about the future of the cruise missile.

6.51 p.m.

Mr. Harry Gourlay (Kirkcaldy)

The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) made a detailed, interesting and obviously somewhat knowledgeable speech on the subject of the Royal Navy and defence. At one point he referred to the disappearance of the "Ark Royal". No doubt the Minister will give a detailed statement on the reasons why the "Ark Royal" is being phased out, but on my recent visit to Rosyth, where I had the privileged of going over a frigate which is possibly only half the age of the "Ark Royal", I was astonished at the amount of new work which was to be done on the hull of that ship and what the cost was likely to be. I can well imagine how enormous would be the cost of bringing the "Ark Royal" up to a reasonable standard of preparedness for anything that might happen.

I was interested also in the hon. Gentleman's remarks about submarines, and I noted especially what was said on that subject by the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles). In some ways I must bow to the hon. and gallant Gentleman's knowledge of ships and the Navy, but his statement that submarines were obviously an instrument of attack rather than defence somewhat surprised me. I can think of hardly no naval ship, except perhaps the minesweeper, which could not be an instrument of attack as well as of defence.

It may well be right to say that submarines are, in the main, more designed towards attack than towards defence, but I think that submarines must be essentially for defence. Otherwise, why does the British Navy have so many? Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggesting that Britain has submarines purely for the purpose of attack?

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

The point is that the best anti-submarine weapon is another submarine.

Mr. Gourlay

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is giving the answer that, since we have submarines, obviously the Soviet Union has them too, and just to make sure that they always have the capability for properly defending themselves the Russians will have two for every one of ours—or three, whatever the proportion might be.

I noted that the hon. Member for Tynemouth suggested that we should increase the number of our conventional submarines because we could even export them. It seems, therefore, that he is suggesting that we should manufacture weapons of war, and specifically weapons of attack, for export.

I do not think that the argument that we should be entirely afraid of the Soviet submarines because of their preponderance in the Soviet Navy is one to which we should give too much credit. Nevertheless, we in this country would be less than human if we were not concerned about the expansion of the military forces of the Soviet Union. I think that only the most supine of Communists would subscribe to continued expansion in that respect.

This is the first occasion for quite some time when I have participated in a debate on the Royal Navy. My first contact here with the Admiralty or the Navy was shortly after I came to the House, quite a long time ago now, when I served as a member of the Estimates Committee charged with the investigation of the headquarters of the Admiralty. It was a revealing investigation. One of the better-known points that emerged from our report was that we discovered that the Navy at that time had more admirals than ships. I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester, as a rear-admiral, would be included in that number.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

I am not quite sure about that statistic, but I read today that there are now as many civilians supporting the Navy as there are people in uniform in the Royal Navy.

Mr. Gourlay

It is something of a coincidence that the hon. and gallant Gentleman should mention that, since it is one of the subjects with which I intend to deal.

Another question which the Estimates Committee studied was that of civilianisation in the Admiralty, and one of our recommendations was that it should be increased. Perhaps what has happened up to this point in the Navy is part of the operation of that recommendation.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles


Mr. Gourlay

The hon. and gallant Gentleman asks why. We paid a visit to the ship department in Bath, and we discovered that the manager of the ship department was a civilian but the person in overall charge of the department was a serving officer who, on the occasion of our visit, happened to have taken command only three or four weeks previously, so that, in order to answer our questions, he had to ask the manager of the ship department beside him for a lot of information which the Committee required. That gave us some indication of the need for having a civilian in regular command or control of a department of that kind. We felt that that could apply in greater measure throughout the establishment.

I recognise, as the Committee did, the reasons for putting serving officers in such an establishment so that one had the customer-builder relationship. The serving officers could advise the civilians, the designers and others concerned about naval requirements, especially at sea, and give the benefit of their experience. That is quite understandable, but we thought that information of that kind could be made available by seconding serving officers for a limited period instead of by putting them in command.

Another matter which emerged was the amount of money spent by officers and civilians going to and fro between London and Bath. I recall that we recommended that some other forms of consultation could be adopted in order to eliminate a great deal of wasteful expenditure at that time. No doubt, with modern methods of communication, a lot of that trouble has since been overcome.

I come now to the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Hunter), with particular reference to Rosyth and the difficulties in that establishment because of the shortage of skilled and unskilled labour. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force, 'who is at present on the Front Bench, will take particular note of what I have to say on this matter.

There is no doubt that it is the rates of pay in these establishments which are causing the trouble today. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline said persons employed in the Post Office, in the police service and in the Royal dockyards were previously willing to accept lower rates of wages because of the security of employment which then obtained in those services. But we are now living in a different age, and those who work in the dockyards have to pay the same for their groceries, for their meat, for their housing and so on as do people working in far more remunerative jobs.

In the light of the basic rates of pay offered to employees coming into the dockyards, one can readily understand the hesitation with which unskilled people in particular offer themselves for employment. With the benefits now available, along with the travelling involved and the effect of taxation and national insurance, they would be little better off than, or in some cases not even as well off as, they would be if they remained registered as unemployed.

Mr. Alan Clark

I do not know whether any of the hon. Gentleman's constituents are in the same position as some of my own, but perhaps he was not here earlier when I pointed out to the Minister that a number of dockyard workers in Devonport would be better off, so they tell me, if they deliberately went unemployed and lived on social security. It is only their dedication and their pride in their skill that keep them in a job which draws less cash than if they were on social security.

Mr. Gourlay

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for reinforcing the argument. We know that there are reasons why it is difficult to increase rates of pay at present, but other people, not unconnected with the Services, have been made special cases and I feel that the workers in the dockyards are also a special case, since there is no point in increasing the pay of Service men if they are not to have the ships and materials regularly at hand to use if anything should happen

I intervened when the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester was speaking about the promise that the Conservative Party has made to Service men about what it will do should it ever manage to be returned to power. He was not so forthcoming about giving the same kind of guarantee for the people employed in the dockyards. I hope that the Minister will convey to the rest of the Government the urgency that must be attached to trying to resolve the problem of low pay in the dockyards.

Some time ago I wrote to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy about recruitment of civilian labour in Rosyth Dockyard, particularly with regard to the unskilled. I had a constituent who had found it extremely difficult. He was very anxious to get a job which he understood to be vacant in the dockyard. But, because of some arrangement between the naval authorities in Rosyth and the Department of Employment in Dunfermline, the exchange in Kirkcaldy, where my constituent was registered, was not able to recommend or suggest his name for employment at the dockyard. The agreement was that Dunfermline was the recruiting office for the dockyard. It seems somewhat preposterous, because in my constituency there must be hundreds, if not thousands, employed in Rosyth.

Since I wrote, some time ago, the problem seems a little nearer resolution, but I am not clear whether the Department of Employment is yet in a position to recommend semi-skilled people for employment in the dockyard, despite the fact that, on the occasion of their visit to Rosyth, my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) were told on several occasions by the manager of the dockyard how far short it was of establishment.

Another factor which emerged on that occasion was the time taken to grant security clearance to persons who had been submitted to the dockyard management for employment. In fact, it was not catching up. As soon as the dockyard was able to recruit someone who had been cleared for security, someone else had left, so that the dockyard was having this continued shortfall of between 120 and 150 people. Perhaps some measure can be taken to quicken the time required for security clearance, especially for people in this category.

As in other dockyards, we have in Rosyth a loyal and dedicated group of employees, and certainly a most unlikely source of recruitment for the separatist policies of the Scottish National Party. I therefore reinforce the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline for an urgent review of the wages of those employed in the dockyards, having regard to the restrictions which apply if necessary, but, if necessary, I suggest that they are as much a special case as the men who man our ships.

7.6 p.m.

Mr. Iain MacCormick (Argyll)

I do not intend to prolong my remarks, but several points have been made in the debate on which I want to say a few words. Anyone in Scotland or who represents Scotland in this House must be aware of the threat which the growth of Soviet naval power poses not only to Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom but to the whole of the free Western world. From my point of view, as Member for Argyll, it is particularly obvious, since at Argyll the American nuclear submarines are based, while round the corner, as it were, is the chief base for the British fleet of nuclear submarines.

In view of the penultimate remarks of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Gourlay), I make plain that the Scottish National Party is convinced that Scotland, one way or another, will continue to make the tremendous contribution to NATO that it has always made. That comprises my first point.

The second point which has interested me particularly in the debate arises from the speeches of the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Hunter), the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and several others who mentioned problems associated with the dockyards. As a Scottish Member, and a member of the SNP, to me the future of Rosyth Dockyard is a matter of concern. I agree with those who have asked the Minister for a clear assurance that Rosyth Dockyard will have a continuing function into the foreseeable future and have a better role to play with more advanced ships than is at present possible for it to play now.

The third point I wish to take up was raised particularly by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson)—the question of inshore protection. I find this to be a matter of some confusion as it is at present organised. I cannot think of any more important aspect of naval affairs than the question of inshore protection, be it of fishing vessels or other merchant vessels or of oil rigs, especially around the coastline of Scotland.

At the same time, when one examines the problem from the naval point of view, one finds a large number of different agencies involved. I ask the Government to look into the possibility of a system whereby we might unify the agencies. Apart from the Royal Navy itself, there are Her Majesty's Coastguard and, for Scotland, the Northern Lighthouse Board. There is also the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which might not always be able to remain on a voluntary basis. There are still other agencies. The Scottish Office comes in on the question of fishery protection, for example.

I have a strong feeling that it might be much better if, instead of all these agencies looking at the problem piecemeal, they were drawn together within a unified service for this purpose, which might be akin to the coastguard service as understood elsewhere, particularly in the United States and now, I believe, also in Canada.

I recently had the opportunity to become aware of another aspect of the problem when I was seeing the Department of Trade—yet another agency with a finger in this pie—in connection with the Post Office maritime radio service, which supplies the necessary radio link between ships at sea and people ashore, a link sometimes used by naval vessels and often by the fishery protection service. Yet, because the Coastguard is to take over a limited function providing for distress calls over the radio, the Department of Trade will no longer provide the Post Office with money to run its much more comprehensive service. That is another example of how, in a naval sense, we might unify the coastal protection services that we provide. It would make more sense to do so and it is possible that if it were done the service could be supplied more cheaply.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West spoke about offshore protection and the type of vessel that the Royal Navy should have to supply that capability. He said that he wanted to see the Navy using a boat capable of carrying a helicopter. As an example of trying to unify the present services, the Northern Lighthouse Board has tenders that are already equipped with not only helicopter pads but helicopters. When those vessels are not being used for other purposes, it would make more sense if they were employed as part of a unified service for the protection of our coastal interests.

I do not intend to prolong my remarks. I associate myself with all that has been said from all parts of the House about the great admiration with which we look upon the Royal Navy and the personnel who serve therein. I hope that the Minister will take account of the matters that I have raised and will go some way to answering them.

7.12 p.m.

Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)

I apologise to the House for my inability to be present during the whole currency of the debate. As Mr. Speaker, the Under-Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie), who has the honour of replying to the debate, will be aware, there are occasions when one is commanded to be elsewhere.

I listened, as did the House, with rapt attention to the opening speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall). My hon. Friend did the House a supreme service by calling attention to the broad strategic needs that the Navy must fulfil in these difficult and extremely dangerous times. It was especially important that he should have spent time at the end of his remarks talking about the position of Britain as a maritime nation and the dreadful competition that is now being faced by the merchant fleets of the free world from the Communist bloc. That competition is unfair. It is designed deliberately to weaken, if not finally to extinguish, this nation's important cargo-carrying capacity, and the cargo-carrying capacity of other nations in the free world.

It was good to hear the Under-Secretary of State plainly state, although it is not perhaps a matter that falls within the purview of his immediate responsibilities, that he is entirely sensible of what is happening, is aware of the dangers and glad to see that the free world is beginning to some extent, although I believe inadequately, to take counter measures.

We should make no mistake about what is intended. We should make no mistake about what will happen if we do not defend ourselves against the deliberate intention of the Soviets to destroy our cargo-carrying capacity.

My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice touched upon a number of detailed matters on which the Under-Secretary of State has commented. Of a large number of individual items I shall refer to only three. I am sure that my hon. Friend was entirely right when he spoke of what used to be termed in wartime days the Woolworth carriers. I had the honour to serve as a naval rating on the second such vessel to be constructed, HMS "Activity", which was subsequently sunk towards the end of the war on the run to supply Russia. I can testify to their great value and inexpensiveness as sea-keeping ships.

I referred to my duties elsewhere in the House this afternoon. The Public Accounts Committee, of which I have the honour to be Chairman and of which my hon. Friend is a distinguished member, has many times investigated matters concerning the procurement of ships, as the Under-Secretary of State will know. My hon. Friend and I visited Bath. He and I have been to see at least one yard in operation. I know of his devoted and conscientious attempt to inform himself fully on these matters. If I may say so, as a result of that experience, he and I are especially conscious of the immense cost of modern ships, as must be the Under-Secretary of State.

All my experience leads me to believe that in matters of naval construction we fail to appreciate the old maxim that it is a mistake for the excellent to drive out the good. The designers, constructors and naval officers consciously strive after perfection. Often we pay more than we need for a ship that would still be eminently serviceable and perfectly efficient if it cost a great deal less. I believe that that was the point of my hon. Friend's remarks about Woolworth carriers, if I may continue to call them that.

My hon. Friend also made an admirable point when talking about torpedo boats or, as they are now called, fast patrol boats. Having had the honour to serve also in that branch of the Service during the war—that may be a long time ago—I can testify, first, that they are fine fighting ships and, secondly, that they can be produced relatively inexpensively. They give young men on the lower deck and officers admirable experience of all that is involved in what might be called the proper practice of naval discipline and seamanship.

As my hon. Friend indicated, it is a class of ship that is in great demand throughout the world. There is a worldwide market for us. I am bound to repeat the remark that I made some years ago, that it seems a profound mistake that we should be ignoring that market and the training opportunities that exist in that class of warship. We are also ignoring their substantial potential to deliver missiles and the like. It is nothing other than derisory that fast patrol boats should be relegated, as my hon. Friend said, to mere target towing.

Before I come to my main point, there is one other minor matter to which I refer and on which my hon. Friend remarked. I share with my hon. Friend, as I am sure does the whole House, the hope that some method will be found to preserve the "Discovery". That might be done under the aegis of the Maritime Trust, of which both he and I have been supporters since its inception by the Duke of Edinburgh. I know how sympathetic the Under-Secretary of State has been in general towards the cause of ship preservation. I know of the great help that he gave to those associated originally with the project to preserve HMS "Cavalier". I hope that it will be possible similarly to preserve the "Discovery", on which, curiously enough, I spent VE night in Immingham on my way to the Shetland Islands many years ago. I may say that I only just remember.

I thought that the Under-Secretary of State was right to lay emphasis on the fact that the Navy has a plurality of responsibilities. As he said, it is not only a fighting force. He gave examples of the way in which the Navy and the Royal Marines have lent aid and comfort to the civilian population in a variety of circumstances. That is known and appreciated by us all, and not least all of us in the West Country who have particular reasons to know of their wonderful service to the public.

One such activity that is carried out by the Navy is hydrography. I have raised the question of the ability of the surveying vessels of Her Majesty's Fleet and of the Hydrographic Department of the Admiralty to fulfil their tasks adequately in the House on three previous occasions. It is a shocking indictment of the Government, and it indicates a discreditable neglect of our national needs, that it should be necessary again to do so.

I agree with what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) said in an intervention. There is a shocking shortfall between needs and performance at the present time. I say at once, not merely because I wish to be polite to him, that I exonerate the Under-Secretary of State from blame in this regard. I think that the Navy is very fortunate to have its affairs in the stewardship of one who is as conscientious and determined as he is. Nor do I make the point out of mere parochial interest. It is true that the Hydrographic Department is located in my constituency, and we are very proud of it. It is important to us in Taunton for the obvious reason that this Government, in their wisdom, having decided to concentrate the Army at Salisbury Plain —a logistic absurdity if ever there was one—at a time when I would have thought it was necessary to integrate and identify the Armed Forces increasingly with the needs and aspirations of the civilian population.

The Army has virtually left Taunton. But happily, through a decision made some years ago by my noble Friend Lord Orr-Ewing, when Civil Lord of the Admiralty, the Hydrographic Department is concentrated in Taunton. It is indispensable to us and, as I said earlier, we are very proud indeed of what it is achieving. We were grateful to the Minister for his recent visit.

But it is not just for parochial reasons that I take the view that I do, nor simple pride in the patriotic achievements of that branch of the Navy. However, I see no reason why one should not affect a certain simple patriotic pride, even in these days. It is marvellous that the Hydro-graphic Department has won the Queen's award, which will be presented by the lord lieutenant of the county in a short time. The Minister gave the figures of what that Department has been doing. As a simple user of charts and Admiralty publications, I pay my tribute to it.

As I think my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) indicated in his speech, which I am sorry I did not hear, matters of high national interest are involved. I can explain my point best by beginning with a quotation from the report of the Hydrographer of the Navy for 1977. This man is a brilliant officer. If I fault him in any way it is in his remarkable capacity for restraint. He begins his report by writing: Successive United Nations Regional Cartographic Conferences have, over the last two decades, stressed the need to establish hydro-graphic services in all developing maritime countries and to build up the established hydrographic offices, in the interests of navigational safety and of national economic development. He goes on to talk about a conference, which lately took place, and a report which was published. He says: The report emphasises that inadequate hydrographic services can lead to costly delays in resource exploitation and so restrict the growth of maritime trade. He goes on further to quote a recommendation from the significant United Nations regional cartographic conference. The abstract from its recommendation is as follows: Those responsible at the highest levels in government should recognise that, in the marine environment, there can be no exploitation of resources without exploration and that there can be no exploitation without hydrography. We would all agree so far. The question is, what is happening here in the United Kingdom? It will be within the knowledge of the House, certainly the Minister knows very well, that in 1974 a hydro-graphic study group was set up by our Ministry of Defence. The Hydrographer of the Navy writes: Since the publication of the report of this Study Group, the possibilities of funding the capital and running costs of the national surveying fleet have continued to be investigated by the many various departments involved. Let us put the matter in plain English. This nation has a vital interest in resource exploitation. The most obvious example is oil, not only in the North Sea but almost universally around the coast of the United Kingdom—for example, in the Celtic Sea where exploration is now beginning. For what my opinion is worth, I believe that in my lifetime the marine seabed will prove to be a veritable treasure house of other riches. Faced with this vast opportunity and these wonderful possibilities, the Government have been incompetent and idle in this matter.

What is the Hydrographer saying? He is too polite to put it in vulgar, plain, straightforward English. He is saying that since that study group was set up, four years have gone by and nothing—as they used to say in the Navy "Repeat, nothing"—has been done. It is a matter of fact, and discreditable fact at that, that only 28 per cent. of the waters around the United Kingdom have been surveyed to modern standards. It is a matter of fact, and discreditable fact at that, that there are no plans—as I am sure the Under-Secretary of State will unhappily confirm—to construct new surveying ships. It is a matter of fact, and discreditable fact at that, that there are no contributions programmed from other Departments towards the work of hydrography in the Royal Navy. Yet almost every Department of State is involved—the Department of Trade, obviously; the Ministry of Overseas Development, obviously; the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, obviously, and the Department of Energy, perhaps more obviously than most.

It is bad enough that we are adrift in satisfying the defence requirement. Let me again quote from the report of the Hydrographer: Progress of the top priority non-defence surveys, both in home waters and overseas, has already slipped some way behind the programme outlined by the Hydrographic Study Group. That is the reality of this situation. It is shocking that we should be so commercially indifferent. Here are the Government of our nation—the trustee of a maritime people—whose prime duty is surely to facilitate commercial progress, to make the opportunities, to create them, and to open the way to further advancement for our people. But they have shrugged their shoulders and, as the old saying goes, passed by on the other side.

Years ago the commercial user could be equated with naval needs. But that is not so today, for the character of ships has changed greatly. As the House is only too well aware, we now have very large cargo carriers drawing 60 ft. or more. We have vast oil tankers and the like. It is monstrous that very large cargo carriers and oil tankers should now be operating in areas which have not been properly surveyed.

Let me give an example of what I mean. The Straits of Dover—which are the busist seaway in the world and, therefore, the most dangerous—were last surveyed just under 20 years ago. It was known that there were 168 wrecks in that 200 square miles which make up this Piccadilly Circus of the sea lanes. Yet, when surveyed recently, 60 previously unknown additional wrecks were found. Think of the hazards involved in allowing these vast ships, and others, to be travelling over waters which were inadequately surveyed.

It would take 70 years to complete the work of surveying the coasts around our shores with our current resources. The reality is that we have only half the number of ships needed. Comparatively speaking, the costs for rectifying this matter are tiny—a capital investment of perhaps £50 million and perhaps additional running costs annually of about £10 million. I ask hon. Members to compare that with the cost of pollution and the amounts of money which would be spent if there were an accident anywhere around our shores—an event which the population of this nation, with experience of tankers, have in mind.

The value of hydrography accomplished by the Navy—the chart seller of the world—to civil interests is undisputed. The service requires immediate expansion. I hope that there would be unanimous agreement of the House to that, just as I hope that there would be unanimous condemnation of this Government by the House and the nation if they did not follow what I believe to be wise advice.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. R. E. Bean (Rochester and Chatham)

I listened to the speech of the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) with considerable interest. His reference to the concept of the Woolworth ship was very interesting. I have been concerned about the growth of the Soviet fleet. However, if we analyse the threat we see that it confines itself purely to the growth in submarines. The NATO and American fleets have outstripped the Warsaw Pact on surface vessels, but we are sadly lagging behind in submarines.

My concern at present is that in the anti-submarine warfare we are losing out in submarines. This may sound illogical. In fact, Fleet submarines—in the British Navy they are solely nuclear-powered—are part of the anti-submarine warfare concept, and I think that we are putting too many of our eggs into the nuclear basket. We ought to think afresh—this is where the concept of the right hon. Member for Taunton comes in—and look at other forms of submarines, perhaps at cheaper submarines which will do this job. We do not need so many of the very expensive nuclear submarines.

This concept of the Fleet submarine has been with the Navy for the past 11 years, and some 13 Fleet submarines are now in service. We are running down the diesel submarines. But technology has improved so much since the 1960s that we should have a fresh look at them.

We went over to nuclear submarines because they had the obvious advantage of being far swifter than diesel-electric submarines and could stay undetected under the water for considerable lengths of time. However, Germany, Sweden, Israel and other nations which have very powerful and effective submarine fleets have developed a technology which enables diesel-electric submarines to remain submerged for longer periods than we envisaged in the 1960s. New diesel-electric power units have been devised, together with new schnorkel equipment, which enable them to stay under water longer, and I believe that the German and Swedish Governments are issuing contracts for the development of new types of engine which will defeat the acoustic homing devices used in antisubmarine warfare.

I lay this emphasis on diesel-electric for two factors. One is the initial cost of building nuclear submarines. The diesel-electric submarine costs one-fifth or one-quarter that of a nuclear submarine, and it is considerably cheaper in manpower. It can be crewed by about one-third of the number of men required for a nuclear submarine. I think that the time has come when the Navy should reconsider its policy of abandoning the diesel-electric and concentrating exclusively on nuclear propulsion. Obviously we still want nuclear propulsion, but I think that we should re-examine our options and perhaps introduce a new class of diesel submarine which would be particularly effective in the shallow waters of the North Sea.

I am not a submariner, although I come from a dockyard town, but I am told that it is difficult, if not dangerous, to dive at full speed in a nuclear submarine in the shallow waters of the North Sea. Submariners tell me that they would be far happier doing it in a conventional diesel submarine. Because we have concentrated our Navy in the Atlantic and in home waters, I think that we should look again at the possibility of diesel-electric submarines.

Recently, the chief executive of the Royal dockyards issued a statement to the effect that there was now a feasibility study going on into whether the dockyards could build ships once again. At present, the study is looking at Portsmouth and Devonport Dockyards. If the answer is "Yes", the go-ahead could be given for the building of ships in all four of the Royal dockyards. This would be of considerable interest to my constituency and Chatham Dockyard, because we feel that we have an excellent reputation for building submarines going back to the turn of the century. If there is to be a new class of diesel-electric submarine and if the Royal dockyards are to build them, Chatham feels that it has a prior claim.

I mentioned earlier that the Germans, Israelis and Swedes were building submarines. In fact there is a tremendous export potential for them. If Britain does not invest, we could be losing out in many years to come because the developing nations of the Third world want defence systems, including submarines, and obviously they cannot afford the very expensive nuclear propulsion, which means that diesel-electric submarines make sense to them as well.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State pleased me on two counts but disappointed me very badly on one. He pleased me with his pledge that there would continue to be capital investment in the Royal dockyards, and I hope that Chatham will share in that in the years to come. I was also extremely pleased to hear that the Government proposed to expand the apprenticeship training scheme. I have been pressing for that in all four of the dockyards. In my view the Government should do it in all their establishments, because there is a serious danger that industrial expansion will be held up by a lack of trained personnel, and the dockyards are second to none in producing the tradesmen of the future.

What disappointed me in my hon. Friend's speech was his statement that the Government had decided not to implement the Mallabar Report—in other words, to do away with the concept of trading accounts. This is a retrograde step. In our dockyards we need more accountability. If we are to have this accountability and local autonomy, it must be evaluated in terms of pounds and pence, which means having a trading account.

Today, the dockyard men at Portsmouth have been out on strike. This is unheard of in the Royal dockyards. However, it illustrates the frustration felt by the men and, I think, by union management at the continuous inability of top management to understand what is going on in the dockyards.

There is an obsession among members of top management that at all costs completion dates must be met and everything else can go out of the window. I have had this continuous argument with the management and with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. If more confidence were shown in the men and more work were taken on, we could reduce costs and still meet the completion dates. Trade unionists both in management and on the workers' side of the Whitley Committee tell me that, because of the obsession of top management with the importance of meeting completion dates, labour is kept hanging around so that, should there be a crisis, they can flood the work and get the job done. If this happened, it is inevitable that costs would be pushed up. The Chatham wages scheme, which was a very brave attempt to introduce efficiency into the dockyards, has been defeated because of this very bunching up of labour in order to meet the completion date.

No one in management in the dockyards is given credit for taking any initiative. If a person takes a risk and says that a certain project will be finished in 90 weeks and it is finished in 89, he gets a black mark. If he thinks that it will be completed in 90 weeks and promises to do it in 95, he is the man marked to be manager of the dockyard. That is the basic problem.

The Mallabar Report, issued in 1971, stressed the need to bring in civilian expertise from outside. But what has happened is exactly the reverse. Still more ex-Navy personnel are taking over the key jobs at the top. At present in Chatham Dockyard, two of the top five managers are either ex-Navy or serving officers. The Institute of Professional Civil Servants told me today that nearly 100 such jobs throughout the Royal dockyards had been taken over by ex-Navy personnel. This must stifle promotion prospects. People feel frustrated and they feel that these managers are subservient, not to the dockyard but to Bath and to Admiralty. The information that we have had today, that the trading accounts are out, means that the Admiralty Mafia has won once again.

Computers provide one way of solving the problem, but they must be used properly. Planning is a dirty word in Chatham, as I am sure it is in all four dockyards. But if we were to analyse the work done on the dockyard computers we would be surprised to find that 90 per cent. of computer time is taken up with working out wages and salaries of the staff and tracing Navy records. Only 10 per cent. is devoted to the major part of the dockyards' activities—ship repairing.

In 1976, very successful use was made of a computer when, for the first time, HMS "Dreadnought", one of the Fleet submarines, was completed on time. The naval officer at the time paid tribute to the dockyard and particular tribute to the use of the computer. Unfortunately, the top team which brought that programme together has been disbanded.

I warn the Under-Secretary that the news today of the trading accounts will be greeted by the unions, both manual and non-manual with cries of disappointment, because they think that once again the Navy has won.

I was disappointed that we did not hear anything at all about industrial democracy in the Minister's speech. It was spoken about in the dockyards as long ago as 1974. The then Under-Secretary had talked with the unions in all four Royal dockyards, but since then there has been a deafening silence. It is to be regretted that this new concept of management in the 1970s and 1980s has continued to be ignored in the dockyards.

I believe that an opportunity has been lost to look at the question of standardisation of ships throughout NATO. This would reduce costs considerably. It has been estimated by one expert that 15 per cent. of the cost of refitting is taken up because of the difficulties of using non standardised equipment. We hear so much from our NATO allies that standardisation is high on the agenda of all the conferences, but we see little of the effect in the dockyards.

I accept that the Under-Secretary feels that he is doing justice to the Royal dockyards. I believe, however, that today has been a black day, and if the Under-Secretary wants to win back the confidence of the men we must have a positive statement on the question of industrial democracy, otherwise I am afraid that he will lose all their confidence.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Michael Brotherton (Louth)

I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bean), speaking on the subject of the Royal dockyards. He obviously speaks with great knowledge and feeling. I also listened to his equally controversial views on the future of the submarine service. I hope he will forgive me if I do not wander down either of those tracks.

I also listened with great interest to the fine speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Du Cann). Tonight he added an even greater lustre to his standing in the House by the revelation that he spent VE night in Immingham, in my constituency. I was in Immingham on Saturday when we opened some new British Legion flats there. In view of my right hon. Friend's great connection with that port, if in his declining years and in the twilight of his life he wishes somewhere to rest, we shall always have a billet for him in Immingham.

Mr. du Cann

Thank you very much.

Mr. Brotherton

The Minister did not really have a great deal of good news for the House today. He started with the usual tributes, with which we all identify ourselves, to the officers and men of the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines and the WRNS. They do a wonderful job in the most difficult circumstances. But the only really positive piece of good news that the Minister could give us was that the Navy had won the inter-Services rugby championship six times in the 1970s. One of the main reasons why the Navy has done so well, I fear, may well be that it has so few ships that the rugby team can spend all its time on land practising for these great triumphs at Twickenham.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) mentioned the Forces Wives Association whose members visited the House two weeks ago. Morale at present is not very high in the Royal Navy. When I talk to some of my friends who are still serving and are in medium senior positions in the Service, almost invariably the conversation turns to the question of pay. It is the main topic of conversation of almost any Service man at almost any level. We were promised that there would be parity by 1980. But will this be parity with what is being paid in 1978? What about inflation between 1978 and 1980? This has not been spelt out by the Government.

I regret that on the occasion of the meeting with members of the Forces Wives Association—it is a sad thing that these wives of men and officers alike felt that they had to demonstrate—only Conservative Members were present and spoke to them. There was nobody there from the Socialist Party, the Liberals or any of the other minor parties.

Mr. Duffy

The hon. Gentleman is not being very fair. He does not know that the wives did not talk to Labour Members. What he knows is that the meeting to which he referred was organised by his own colleagues. It was the responsibility of Conservative Members. The meeting and the room were both booked in their names.

Mr. Brotherton

It was an open meeting, and dozens of the wives said afterwards that it was a pity that no Socialist Members were there. No doubt the wives will remember that.

Mr. Duffy

I thank the hon. Member for giving way again. I intend to persist on this. Will he tell the House in whose name the meeting was booked?

Mr. Brotherton

I do not know. All I know is that I was told that members of the Forces Wives Association were meeting in that room. I heard that they wished to meet as many Members of Parliament as possible. I had not the remotest idea who had booked the room. It might have been a Socialist. Surely it did not matter.

Mr. Churchill

As a matter of fact, the room was booked in my name. But the purport of the complaint that is being raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton) is that a large number of members of the Forces Wives Association went away from the meeting disappointed, having sought to make contact with their own Members of Parliament, but without success. We arranged that meeting on our side of the House. We thought it was rather unfortunate that Government Members were not able to do the same thing.

Mr. Brotherton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention and for booking the room.

The Minister spoke, partly for the benefit of his Left-wing colleagues, about the amount of employment created by the Navy and the social engineering in which the Navy was involved. May I remind him that the purpose of the Navy is to defend our lines of sea communications and to deny their use to the enemy? The Navy's role is not to provide employment ashore or to indulge in social engineering; it is to help with the defences of this country.

I wish to concentrate on three matters relating to the Navy—ships, men and fishery protection, which is of special interest to many of my constituents.

I asked the Minister a few weeks ago what representations he had received from our allies, particularly the Americans, about the phasing out of "Ark Royal", and he replied that the Government had informed the Americans of their intention to phase out "Ark Royal" and that the Americans understood our position. Are we to believe that the Americans made no protest about "Ark Royal" being withdrawn from service? Are we to believe that the Americans and our other NATO allies are happy with this decision? Are we to believe that the Americans are continuing to keep in commission their old carriers yet gave the Government their blessing to withdraw "Ark Royal" from service? I doubt it very much.

By the end of this year, when "Ark Royal" has left service, there will be no fixed-wing support for the Fleet. The through-deck cruisers are not due in service until the 1980s. What are we to do for the air defence of the Fleet between 1978 and 1981, 1982 or whenever? What are we to do about airborne early warnings, which is of particular importance to ships operating in the middle of the Atlantic?

The Minister has spoken about the Shackletons being succeeded by the Nimrods in giving the necessary airborne early warning cover for the Fleet. But when these planes have to go 1,000 miles out into the middle of the Atlantic it will be an inefficient way of giving cover to the Fleet and much of the time of the aircraft will be spent on passage and not on task. Even at this late hour, could we not keep "Ark Royal" and her AEW Gannets, Phantoms and other aircraft in service at least until 1980? Or is it, as my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall') said in his excellent opening speech, that we cannot have "Ark Royal" and other ships in service at the same time? If so, that is a damning indictment of the Government and the way they have treated the Royal Navy in the past four years.

HMS "Hermes" is in service as an anti-submarine warfare carrier. My old ship, HMS "Bulwark", is due to recommission fairly soon in a similar role. We are told regularly in answers to Questions, as we were told by the Minister earlier, that "Hermes" and "Bulwark" are also available in a secondary role for troop carrying and for use as commando ships carrying the Royal Marines, particularly, one imagines, to the northern flank of NATO.

If it is decided that "Hermes" is to be converted from the ASW role into that of a commando ship, how long will that process take? How long will it take if "Bulwark" is to be converted to that role? I suggest that the Minister is indulging in verbal gymnastics to try to hide from the House that we have no commando ships and that if we are called upon to send our Royal Marines to, say, the northern flank of NATO they will have to go by British Rail ferry because "Bulwark" and "Hermes" will not be fitted out and capable of carrying them.

On personnel, I should like to say something about officers at the start of their career and at the top of their profession. I thank the Minister for arranging for me to visit Dartmouth in February. I was sad to see that few of the lecturers seemed to be those who were there when I attended that establishment 30 years ago. I can only assume that they must have moved on to greater glory, because I am sure that they could not have left for reasons of age.

I was very impressed with what I saw on my visit. The spirit seemed unchanged and I was particularly impressed with the great dedication of the staff, both naval and civilian, to the task that they have to perform. I was somewhat concerned when looking through the curriculum to get the impression that perhaps too much was being crammed into the midshipmen and sub-lieutenants too quickly. It was put to me that it would be a good idea if an extra six or eight weeks were added to the length of the courses. That would be of inestimable value to the staff and to those under instruction.

At the other end of the scale, I should like to draw the Minister's attention to the extraordinary anomaly in the retirement pay of admirals of the fleet, field marshals and marshals of the Royal Air Force. These men who have reached the pinnacle of their profession never retire. When their active service days are over, they go on to half pay. I am reliably informed that a retired admiral of the fleet receives as half pay—which is, in effect, his pension—considerably less than does a retired admiral or a retired vice-admiral. If, as I believe, this is true, it is so unbelievably wrong that I hope that the Minister will be able to announce tonight that he will put right this injustice. It is equivalent to saying that a retired Prime Minister should have a smaller pension than a retired Chancellor of the Exchequer. We all know how ridiculous that would be, even with the present Administration.

As regards fishery protection, the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) raised the interesting thought of an independent Scottish navy. That is another alley that I shall not allow myself to be led down, but I should like to point out to the SNP that, with its sense of the history of England and the United Kingdom, if it ever forms its Scottish navy it will do well to bear in mind that historically in the Royal Navy we have an admiral of the red, an admiral of the blue and an admiral of the white. Doubtless the Scottish navy will have an admiral of the tartan and will say that it is carrying on the tradition of the Royal Navy.

We had a very good debate on Thursday on the fishing industry, with particular regard to the negotiations that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is conducting with our Common Market partners this week. The message that went out from that debate, above almost all else, was that the 50-mile limit was vital for the future of our fishing industry. Members of all parties told the Minister to stick out for the 50-mile limit and that they would back him. But, of course, the Minister pointed out that if the territorial limits were so increased there would be tens of thousands of miles of ocean to be policed.

Many years ago, the 5th Minesweeping Squadron was called the 5th Fishery Protection and Minesweeping Squadron and its sole task was fishery protection duties, apart from a small period of training in minesweeping each year. The House would do well to consider, with the complexities of the modern fishing industry, whether it would not be a good idea to revert to having a specialist fishery protection squadron. That would give us continuity and the Ministry and other experts employed in fishery protection would have a permanent basis on which to deal with the Royal Navy. If we have a 50-mile limit, what sort of ships are we to use to carry out fishery protection patrols? My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice posed a question mark over the Island class. The Minister seems content with the Island class. He could even find a use for such ships in wartime as command and control ships. With the number of ships that we have in the Royal Navy now, I should not have thought that we would need an extra five command and control ships should we be involved in a war. I am told that these ships are not suited for the task. The ideas put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice make much sense.

I should like to put in a special word for a ship of the type, size and speed of the "Osprey". A small, fast vessel which carries a helicopter would be of tremendous use not only in fishery protection but in defence of our oil rigs.

I hope that not too much notice will be taken of those who seem to be opposed to the use of aircraft to assist surface ships on fishery protection duties. The Comet is well suited to that task. It can plot a very wide area of the ocean. The Comet must fly somewhere. Therefore, why not let it do its ordinary continuation training on fishery patrol at the same time, thereby getting the best of both worlds?

We need many ships for fishery protection. An Island class ship doing between 15 and 17 knots would be capable of arresting a trawler and taking it into port. But, like the Shackleton going out to command an AEW barrier in the middle of the Atlantic, a vast amount of its time would be wasted on passage from the incident, taking the offender in and going back on patrol.

I end with a plea to the Minister. We do not want fancy, expensive ships. Ships similar to the "Osprey" do not cost a great deal. I should have thought that we would be better off with 15 or 20 "Osprey" class ships than with five Island class ships.

Finally, despite our slight disagreement about who saw the wives of Service men and when and why, I know that the Minister is personally held in high esteem by the Royal Navy.

8.2 p.m.

Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)

I endorse what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton).

In the main, we have had a nonpolitical approach to this debate, and I welcome it. I think that we have been able to sustain this non-political approach because of a certain degree of absenteeism below the Gangway on the Government side. We know that there are certain Labour Members who are not present today whose defence policy is to send a telegram to the Kremlin saying "We surrender". We know that policy is not advocated by the Under-Secretary of State who opened the debate and who, all being well, will conclude it.

I should like to draw attention to the White Paper. Much of the debate is based on it. In my view, it is time for this document to be recast. What has emerged from hon. Members on both sides of the House is the inadequacy of the defence review, with especial reference to the dockyards. During the period that I had the privilege of being the Minister with responsibility for the Royal Navy, a great deal of my time was taken by consideration of the dockyards. I suspect that much the same applies to the Minister. He calmly announced today that all the ideas relative to the Mallabar Report are to be dropped. In effect, all ideas of cost accounting within the dockyards are to be dropped. That was an extraordinary announcement. It probably was right. I always thought the Mallabar Report a strange report.

I was confronted with presiding over the dockyards advisory board within a few days of being appointed as a Minister. That was a fairly terrifying experience. I once got in a helicopter to have a thorough look at a dockyard. The dockyards advisory board is indeed advisory. I suggested that it might produce an annual report; but, as was pointed out by the Minister, it is advisory and therefore an annual report might not be appropriate. Is the Minister's calm and cool dropping of any idea of cost accountancy within the dockyards in accordance with views expressed by the dockyards advisory board? May we have a review from him about this whole matter?

We see the inadequacy of the format of the defence White Paper in page 52, because, in two relatively succinct paragraphs, the naval dockyards are dismissed. However, we are considering the employment of tens of thousands of people. I suggest that in addition to the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" it might be appropriate to have a full annual report on the dockyards dealing with matters over which I know the Minister presides—for example, Whitley Council meetings and the work of the dockyards advisory board. In a few calm sentences we have had the total dismissal of the widely adumbrated concept of full cost accountancy within the dockyards. I suggest that we should have more information from the Minister about that matter. It is clear that those who have dockyards within their constituencies would certainly like to have more information.

Mr. Bean

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it would have been wiser for the Government to wait until the Public Accounts Committee, which is looking into the cost effectiveness of the dockyards, published its report? I understand from the Library that the report will be coming out on 26th June. However, the Government have made their pronouncement now.

Mr. Buck

I have great sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says. I would have thought that we should have a separate debate on the dockyards when we have the report to which the hon. Gentleman referred. It would be appropriate for the Minister to produce a White Paper or a Green Paper, or at least a report—in Ministry of Defence jargon, a "situation report"—on the dockyards. I have great admiration for the Minister, but it is somewhat cool to say "We are abandoning this type of cost accountancy concept relative to the dockyards." I hope that we shall hear more about that matter, if not tonight, perhaps by a publication tying in with the report to which the hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bean) referred.

I suggest that we should have a recasting of and a much fuller White Paper on defence. It is interesting that in the last week we should have had the report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. That document is similar in size to the whole of the defence White Paper, but it deals only with police officers employed in the Metropolis—about 20,000 people. The White Paper deals with about 70,000 naval personnel and over 30,000 civilians. We are dealing with far more personnel in the White Paper in a very few paragraphs.

I suggest that we have an all party working group to consider whether the time has come for the White Paper to be somewhat different in character and certainly dealing separately and more adequately with the affairs of the dockyards. I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to that constructive suggestion.

The report by the Commissioner of Police is indeed a report by him. It would be interesting to have the views of the First Sea Lord. There have been what we understand might be described as certain local difficulties with the chiefs of staff during the last 12 months. I do not wish to bring any undue disharmony into the debate, but I believe that it would be interesting to have a report from the Chief of Defence Staff and one from the First Sea Lord. This happens already in the United States.

I have put these ideas forward in what I hope has been a constructive spirit and to try to obtain more information about defence matters.

I am privileged to be Chairman of the Select Committee dealing with the work of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, commonly known as the Ombudsman. We recently paid a visit to Stockholm. It sounds a somewhat crazy perigrination because we travelled from Stockholm to Copenhagen to Tel Aviv, but when we were in Stockholm we had the good fortune to find that the "Fleet was in". It was "group operating", a type of deployment which I had some part in establishing. Since we can no longer have a permanent presence in as many parts of the world as we used to have, the group operating procedure now applies. In parenthesis, I wish to say that we have gone a little too far in the process of having no permanent presence, because there are still places where I believe we should still retain such a presence.

We found Stockholm full of spendid British matelots, in good heart and getting on well with the Swedes. However, those sailors do not get a cost-of-living allowance and they resented this. It is surely absurd that we should send a group of ships operating throughout the world, and especially to such a city as Stockholm, without a cost-of-living allowance.

I shall not bother the House with the details of those cases in which cost-of-living allowance is paid, and perhaps I should myself have gone into the matter more thoroughly before extending the scope of group operation. I do not wish to make a party point but merely emphasise that I hope that the Minister will do something about the allowance. Since the cost of a glass of beer in Sweden is a little over £1, our sailors were unable to stand their round. That surely is not the way to treat our Service men.

There are certain other aspects of the group operation which I shall take up with the Minister in private. However, I must point out that, even when working under those financial constraints, our sailors were clearly making an admirable impression, as were the superb ships that were deployed there in Stockholm. I hope that the Minister will look into the cost-of-living allowance provisions and see that they are improved.

When I was a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of Western European Union I had the privilege of presenting a report on the balance of power in the Mediterranean. The Ministry of Defence examined that report and on the whole commended it. There were certain factors in that report which have never been taken up. One important recommendation related to Gibraltar.

It is ridiculous that we do not have a minelaying and minesweeping capacity based on Gibraltar. I believe that that situation should be rectified forthwith. It is not literally a "low cost, no cost" syndrome, but is a relatively low cost exercise. I know that there are minesweepers and minehunters deployed at Gibraltar from time to time, but I believe that there should be a permanent presence there.

The House will perhaps know that in these days there are no guns dominating the Straits of Gibraltar. The last of the old guns is now out of commission. It might be possible for an Exocet guided missile to be kept in Gibraltar to dominate the straits. It is ridiculous that Gibraltar, part of the NATO set-up, is neglected in this way. Perhaps the Minister will be able to say whether anything can be done to improve the situation.

Has any progress been made in our arrangements with the Spanish Navy which up to now have been on an ad hoc basis? In due course I hope that Spain will become part of NATO and that her naval forces will become properly integrated in NATO. I agree that Spain should be seen to be fully democratic before that is done. Spain has done magnificently after 30 or 40 years of absolute rule, and after democratic elections she appears to be drawing herself back into full democracy. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about the ad hoc preparations regarding Spain preparatory to that nation returning fully to democracy, as I think she will.

The situation at that end of the Mediterranean is showing an improvement, although at the other end of the Mediterranean there is still a certain degree of chaos because of the difficulties between Greece and Turkey. In that context I pay a further tribute to what has already been said about our naval personnel. One now finds naval personnel in Naples, although we no longer have any ships there, who are playing a great part in the organisation of NATO.

A great deal of acrimony has been generated over pay in the Services. I hope that when a Conservative Government is returned, we shall deal with pay matters by taking them right out of the bargaining spectrum. I hope that we shall recast the role of the Armed Services Pay Review Body. I hope that in common with the formula laid clown under the Willink proposals for the police we shall follow automatically the recommendations of a reconstituted Services pay review body. It is most important that we should take the police, the Armed Forces and the firemen out of pay bargaining. I hope that action will be taken on this matter.

There has been a great deal of accord in the House about the Navy's role. Britain's Navy is no longer the most powerful in the world, but it is the third most powerful. I must pay tribute to the "Know your Navy" team which spreads the message to all parts of the country about the power and force of the Royal Navy. I know that the Minister is as devoted as I am to that team.

There is one other aspect of naval affairs which never gets any publicity. There is in existence a splendid naval school called Holbrook. The Minister is chairman of the governors and I still serve on the board. It is about time the affairs of Holbrook School were mentioned in this House. I have checked on the matter and Holbrook is one of the responsibilities of the House since it is financed by the Greenwich Trust. It is a splendid school situated near Ipswich and it does a great deal to provide trained personnel for the Royal Navy and other professions. Since more parliamentary time is to be given to defence matters, it might be appropriate if the work of the school were raised in an Adjournment debate. The school carries out tremendous work in providing personnel for all the Armed Forces, and it is time a tribute was paid to it. Perhaps I may give myself a tiny pat on the back because when I was a Defence Minister a new headmaster was required for the school, owing to the ill-health of Dr. York, who so sadly has since died, having given great service to the school. What an ecumenical approach it was that we chose as headmaster somebody who had served in the Royal Air Force. The headmaster is now doing very well and the school under his direction is doing admirably.

We are very proud of the Royal Navy. I appreciate the non-political approach which has been displayed in this debate. I think it is best that those who do not believe in the Royal Navy—and there are some in this House—have absented themselves on this occasion.

8.18 p.m.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

In common with the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), I apologise for my absence throughout much of this debate, although I have not such a good excuse to offer for my absence as that put forward by the right hon. Gentleman.

I preface my remarks by saying, without wishing any malice whatever, that I am pleased that the tutors of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton) have disappeared from their posts, because they have a lot to be held accountable for.

This debate has been rather different from previous debates, since it has not been as partisan as some debates on defence subjects. We have heard a great deal from hon. Members who have offered ministerial experience to the debate, such as the hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck). We have also had contributions from hon. Members who have had constituency experience to offer, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bean) and Members with military experience, such as the right hon. Member for Taunton. I must apologise for having no such ex- perience to offer. Certainly I missed out on military service. I was not even in the Sea Scouts.

Walsall has no naval dockyard. It is land-locked with no great traditions of seafaring. However, the governor of the state of Nebraska made me an hon. orary Admiral in the Nebraskan Navy, and normally that would fit me very well for contributing to debates of this kind. Very often they are fun debates in which hon. Members make political and ideological points which bear little relationship to the reality of the situation. However, that does not apply today, because the debate has been of a much more serious character than usual.

We have today an opportunity to discuss how so often the military tail wags the foreign policy dog, how military capabilities such as the incredible navies of NATO and the Warsaw Pact provide Governments of all kinds with readily available options for action and how, regrettably, it is those options that then dictate the course of foreign policy. This can work in a number of ways. A breakthrough in technology can provide a weapon or a capability that a Government are desperately anxious should be used. It could be used somewhere at some time, often regardless of any real need. The military capabilities of the hovercraft provide a good example of that. It has been described as a solution looking for a problem.

In a different way, entrenched, unquestioned and often outmoded principles and procedures of operation perpetuate bad habits. It has been argued, even by British politicians, that we are sometimes guilty of thinking that the British military presence east of Suez was a military requirement. Often one would argue that the Navy's presence in the Far East was in some cases superfluous. The fact that the Navy was there was justification for a foreign policy that was beyond our capabilities and our national interest.

We hear so often of the need to send marines to areas in which we have no great interest. The mere existence of a capability gives politicians the justification for taking a course of action that might not necessarily be in our military or political interest. It has been argued that our naval presence in the Far East, particularly in the 1960s, was much more useful to the Royal Navy than the Royal Navy was useful to British foreign policy. The point is that very often military power and capabilities encourage the policy-makers to think of a course of action that is frequently unnecessary but which enables them to put the cart before the horse. Nowhere is this point more relevant than in consideration of the problems of our naval forces.

This problem is not confined to the United Kingdom. A senator from the United States once said that if Americans had the capability to go anywhere and do anything, they would always be going somewhere and doing something. That approach is regrettable, detrimental and positively dangerous. It does not apply so much to the United Kingdom because we have been stripped, or have voluntarily stripped ourselves, of much of the grandeur and delusion of power. Yet this attitude besets the United States and, particularly at this stage, the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, therefore, the possession of an instrument of military force tends to shape the will to use it. We should not entirely blame the military or, in this case, the naval planner. The planner's job is quite obviously to assume the worst in any situation. His brief is to use the worst-case analysis and to base his recommendations upon it.

Ideally, those recommendations should then compete with other recommendations from other elements within the political and decision-making apparatus. These should converge upon the Foreign Office to enable it to make a reasoned decision. This goes to the heart of one of the problems facing this country and others. Virtually every country's Foreign Office—and that certainly includes ours —has failed to provide a proper counterweight to military contingency planning.

This is not a debate on foreign affairs, but the link between foreign affairs and defence is very often clear. The Berrill Report on Britain's overseas representation was bold enough to proclaim that our traditional forms of diplomacy—this probably applies to other countries—have failed us. Although the report does not draw attention to the overwhelming influence of defence planning on our international actions, its underlying argument accords with that approach. There is a great deal of work in the Berrill Report, and I look forward to the Government's response to it. I hope that that response will not be based on the views of the parliamentary Committee which investigated the matter. If civil servants are terrified of parliamentary Select Committees, they can take some comfort from what emanated from Parliament on this subject.

I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Colchester that the defence White Paper should be revamped. Perhaps I could suggest an annual foreign policy White Paper to complement the Defence Estimates. This might force the Foreign Office to organise its collective thoughts in the way that the Ministry of Defence is obliged to do, and it could then abandon its normal practice of muddling through until a crisis forces it into action, which is often dictated by military argument and capabilities.

Mr. Alan Clark

That might be a welcome suggestion, but does not the hon. Member agree that, whereas we still have a Navy and a naval policy, we do not have a foreign policy, so that there would be no point in publishing a White Paper?

Mr. George

I can see the problems of publishing a White Paper of that kind. A major step towards getting the British foreign policy dog to wag its military tail, and not vice versa, was the abandonment of the romantic and dangerous ideas, which are still nursed by some Conservatives, about a British naval role east of Suez. I should remind the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) that we have the third largest Navy, not, as some people might suggest, a glorified military Sealink. We have a very large naval presence which we should not be too swift to denigrate. However, I am glad that the Government are committed to abandoning any aspirations of a large naval presence in an area that we do not have the capability to patrol. Our forces must be committed to Western Europe. I am very pleased that the Government are pursuing that policy and are not pursuing, along with the super-Powers, a policy of competitive meddling in places such as Africa.

I conclude my general remarks by suggesting that we should look more closely at the link between Soviet foreign policy and Soviet military policy. The Soviets suffer in the same way as we do from the dominance in the decision-making process of the military. They, too, have military planners calling the foreign policy tune. The Soviet Union is not immune from the resultant difficulties experienced by the United States. The way in which the Soviet Union's fingers were burnt in Egypt and Somalia is ample proof of that. I hope that the Soviets will learn from their unfortunate experience.

I am convinced that in Africa, as elsewhere, the Soviet Union's aggressive policy of seeking to enter areas which are not traditionally within its national interest will mean that its fingers will be burnt more often, and that this phase in Soviet foreign policy and defence thinking will turn out to be quite disastrous for them.

Quite obviously, there has been a build-up in the Soviet Navy, as, indeed, the navies of our NATO allies have developed. But, rather than providing the Soviet Union with an overwhelming advantage throughout the world, I suggest that this forward deployment of the Soviet Navy will turn out in the future to be an enormous liability, because it has made the Soviet Union highly vulnerable to manipulation by smaller States, on which the Soviet Union may depend for bases. It has opened up to the Soviet Union complications to foreign policy making that exceeded the complications that it faced hitherto. The Soviet Union is increasingly being drawn into local quarrels and squabbles that will turn out to be counter-productive to everyone's interests.

Therefore, this large build-up of the Soviet Navy could turn out to be quite a disaster. It has certainly provoked NATO into increasing its forces. It could provoke a real conflict. That would be in no one's interests. Lastly, I think that the Soviet Union could come very much to regret the time when it decided to embark upon this agressive opportunistic, adventuristic phase in its foreign policy.

It is high time that the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain and countries in the Third world came to recognise that military capabilities, such as warships throughout the world, too often dictate foreign policy. That is regrettable. The phrase "Have gunship, will travel" is something that we all recall from our own imperial history. America later developed this tactic, and undoubtedly the Soviet Union is carrying on in this tradition. I think that in future years the Soviet Union will regard this policy as quite disastrous.

I very much hope that we do not devise, as has been suggested by Opposition Members, a defence strategy that will endanger our national interests. As I have said previously, there is no monopoly of concern on the Opposition Benches for the security of this country. The hon. and learned Member for Colchester talked about one Member of Parliament who was adopting an "I surrender" policy. There are nearly 300 members of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and even if there were one such Member he would be something of a minority when set against the total background of the PLP.

We are just as patriotic. We may not wave that patriotism quite as brazenly as others might wave it, but it is certainly not in our interests to cut defence expenditure to such a level that British national interests would be impaired. Certainly I would never support that, and I doubt whether there are a large number of my hon. Friends who would in any way want to see British interests damaged.

Naturally, I very much hope that at the next General Election the Labour Party will once again be returned to office. If it is not returned to office, I very much hope that those whose fingers will be anywhere near the triggers will exercise responsibility. Looking at the speeches made by some Opposition Members, I am not entirely confident that that situation will prevail. But one should not become too worried, because the electorate will decide.

I hope that the tradition that appears to have emerged, at least in the latter part of the debate, of adopting a sensible if not a bipartisan approach to defence policy will prevail. No one in the House benefits from the making of stupid statements on either side—not the least of which was the statement made in one of the previous defence debates in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was accused of having a more detrimental effect than Hitler on the British Armed Forces. I do not think that statements of that kind, especially coming from a Front Bench spokesman, do anything to add to our understanding of the problem.

I very much hope that the future of the Navy is secured. A few months ago we celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the Royal Air Force. The Royal Navy has a history that goes back much further than that. It is a history of which we can be proud, and I do not think that the actions of this Government have in any way jeopardised the future of British society or been responsible for any contraction in the British Navy.

8.35 p.m

Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)

No one can claim that the House does not have adequate time or opportunity to debate defence matters. We debate White Papers on the subject; we debate the pay of the Services, Supply Days are allocated to individual Services and we debate them. And the consistent feature of these debates is a very thin attendance, a fair level of agreement, some arguing fervently and others somewhat dimly in favour of the Services, and an absolutely nil result on what actually takes place.

We discuss how they are equipped, how they are paid, where they are deployed, what their strength is, or what their programme for the future of weapon development or build-up may be but I cannot trace one alteration to the inexorable march of events that can be found to have stemmed from any of the debates in this House. Thus, it is hardly surprising, as various hon. Gentlemen, and some of my hon. Friends, have said, that there is a non-partisan or non-party flavour to these debates, because we are merely speaking in an echo chamber, and what is said in this House has virtually no effect on the military programme.

This is a relatively new phenomenon. It is something that appears to move in step with our military decline, because at the turn of the century the whole population was excited by the question of our naval supremacy. We were then the dominant naval Power in the globe. We had the capacity to take on the two next strongest Navies simultaneously. Yet when Parliament was hesitating over a programme for building immediately eight Dreadnoughts which would have even further consolidated our supremacy the whole population, at meetings over the length and breadth of the land, could be roused to a state of excitement by the slogan "We want eight, we won't wait".

Later, in the 1930s, questions of military programming and preparedness were of considerable interest when they were debated in this House. Indeed, if the long list of questions and complaints that my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) listed had been put in the context of the 1930s they would have attracted a great deal of publicity and alarm. The Admiralty would have been in a great state trying to find the answers. The Minister responsible would have been highly discomfited. Questions of that kind which were put by Winston Churchill and others in those days were the subject of great concern and were treated at an appropriately weighty level by the Press, by the House of Commons and by the Ministers in the Departments to which they were addressed.

Mr. George

I shall never seek to match the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of military or political history—few can in this House—but does he realise that both those periods about which he is talking of jingoism and a desire to increase our military forces ultimately were followed by world war?

Mr. Clark

It is possibly a valid criticism of the first period. But the 1930s were a period of appeasement. It is just that a few people were aware of the threat that was building up and that there was still time to do something about it. Now there is a kind of paralysis affecting both those who listen to these arguments and those whose duty it is to publicise them. I suppose it is that they feel that things have gone so far that there is nothing that can be done. I do not know what their motives are, but the fact remains that when questions of defence are raised in this House they are not treated with anything like the weight with which they used to be treated in times gone by. This is certainly regrettable, and it is a further indication of the diminution of stature and influence of this place, which I for one greatly regret.

I should like briefly to discuss one aspect of the Royal Navy's capability, that is, its power to defend, to advance and to nurture the interests of British subjects in distant waters far from the European theatre. I accept, of course, the primary requirement that it should take its place and put its vessels at the disposal of NATO, but, in a particular crisis outside the context of global war, or even of the threat of localised war with any of the major Powers, situations might arise which could be corrected only by naval intervention.

The capacity of the Royal Navy to protect British interests and British subjects is steadily diminishing, and, with the removal of fixed-wing air cover, will be virtualy non-existent. Certainly there are arrangements and construction plans for equipping the Royal Navy with helicopters and making sure that when ships are on station in any number they have helicopter support. But that is no substitute for fixed-wing air support if they are to be properly defended or if any aggressive action which they may be called upon to take needs to be backed by air support.

I dispute the theory that the RAF can give adequate support to the Royal Navy, even if it were present in sufficient numbers. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) said that only 100 fixed-wing aircraft in the RAF were capable of discharging this task, but even if there were twice as many it would not affect my argument. History shows that the RAF cannot be relied upon to support the Royal Navy.

In the last war, three of our most serious naval defeats can be directly attributed to failure of the Royal Air Force to support the Royal Navy. The sinking of the "Prince of Wales" and "Repulse" was directly due to lack of rendezvousing and support by RAF aircraft, which Admiral Phillips was told would come from airfields in the Malayan peninsula. That is why he kept within range of those airfields as he moved up the Malayan coast. They never turned up. The two primary capital ships surviving in the Pacific theatre were lost in half an hour as a result.

The escape of the "Scharnhorst" and "Prinz Eugen" up the English Channel was simply because the RAF, for a variety of reasons for which I shall not attribute blame tonight, failed to intercept and attack properly.

The Battle of the Atlantic was almost lost simply because Churchill could not resist the claims of the Chief of the Air Staff and particularly of Air Chief Marshal Harris, Chief of Bomber Command, that they could spare no aircraft from the enormous numbers available—there is no question of there not being enough in Bomber Command—not even a squadron, to allocate to Coastal Command, where they were desperately needed to relieve the Battle of the Atlantic.

I hope that the House will not think that I have wasted its time on these three examples from recent history, but I cite them to show that inter-Service rivalry—perfectly justified though it seems to the individual Service chiefs—militates against proper co-operation between the two Services. The Royal Navy will never be adequately protected in the air until it has its own air arm.

When we think, first, of the traditions of the Royal Naval Air Service, which was very far ahead of the Royal Flying Corps, both in flying skills and equipment, and then of the Fleet Air Arm, we must reflect that it is totally unrealistic to think that the Royal Navy can operate in any theatre and depend on the support of the Royal Air Force. Obviously, it cannot even pretend to depend on it when it is out of the range of fixed-wing aircraft. But even when it is within range I believe that it would be highly dangerous for us to assume that this would be possible.

I return to the question of the extent to which the Royal Navy can defend British interests in far-away locations. Although it is now fashionable, and various factors force this upon us, to believe that we can take military action only in conjunction with our allies—I accept that this is certainly true in cases of global or major Power encounter—none the less there remain situations in which only immediate action by the national services of the country concerned can be relied upon to protect the interests of that country's nationals.

The most recent example was the Kolwezi affair where the quarrelling, private rivalries, disagreements and jealousies between the Belgians and the French made the operation much more clumsy and cumbersome than it might have been. The lessons of Kolwezi were not, as has been often argued—even in the House—that NATO or the Community should have some joint national force which can be deployed. The lessons of Kolwezi were much more emphatically that only a national force has the necessary speed of reaction and the cohesive effect to defend the lives and interests of is own nationals in an immediate crisis.

Another example—this is a disgrace to those charged with our foreign policy and those charged with the deployment of our Services, particularly the Royal Navy—is what is happening in the Falkland Islands. That part of British territory is now permanently, it seems, occupied by a paramilitary force owing allegiance to—employed by, whatever phrase one likes to use—a notorious Fascist dictatorship in South America.

What can we do about that? We do nothing at all about it. We do not have the capacity to react and to show a military presence down there, as we could easily have done until quite recently when we still had properly integrated and balanced naval task forces. We do not have the capacity to send, as we should, a naval squadron to the South Atlantic and negotiate from strength and have the Argentines evacuate this part of the Falklands.

There is no question but that the Argentine presence is part of a gradual erosion of our position in the Falklands. It is part of an intimidation against the Falkland islanders. It is part of a campaign to force them to accede to the request of the Fascist dictatorship to which I have referred on the practical ground that the British Crown can no longer offer the Falklanders adequate protection. To mount a proper task force that could defend the Falklands adequately would now take months or even years of restructuring and re-equipping the Royal Navy.

There is a further question I wish to raise—piracy. I have given the Minister details of it. I am sorry that he is not present. It relates not to the protection of British territory, and not to the protection of the remaining fragments of our Empire, but directly to the lives of British sailors and merchant seamen.

Cases of piracy on the high seas do not, for various reasons, seem to be very widely reported in the British Press and do not often seem to be mentioned in the House. I quote from a letter I have received from one of my constituents who is a merchant seaman. He voyages from time to time to Africa. He writes to me about, in particular, the state of affairs among ships at anchor off Lagos. He tells me of repeated attacks of piracy by Nigerians, which have now reached a point at which the pirates are fully armed with the latest automatic machine guns and with bazooka-type rocket launchers.

The ordinary seafarers, not only British but other nationalities, too, are powerless. They have been supplied with some small arms, but their unions—both the officers' unions and the seamen's unions—have advised them that it would be inadvisable to use these weapons because there could be serious consequences if one of the Nigerian pirates were killed or injured, whether or not the incident arose in self-defence.

My constituent tells me: We regularly trade to Lagos, and it is a source of great anxiety both to us and to our families to know that ships are likely to be attacked not just for cargo but for personal possessions. Often, the pirates come on board, make the crew line up, take their watches and such money as they have, and then make off. Last December, a Danish captain was killed and all his crew were injured in one such attack when they tried to resist it.

My constituent writes: There has been a complete lack of interest by the local authority, even though after raids on vessels the getaway craft's position is given by every ship in the basin as it passes. It is reported as it makes its getaway, yet the authorities take no steps to intercept it.

My constituent does not say it in his letter, but other inquiries which I have made lead me to believe that there may well be substantial collusion by certain of the Nigerian authorities—one hopes, not at a very high level, but certainly at the level of the dock police and other authorities—in taking a cut from the pirates so that this level of piracy appears now to be quite a regular event.

My constituent goes on to say: I and other officers feel that the British Government are not taking enough interest or action in this serious matter. Will it take the murder of a British seafarer before the Government act? I do not like to say it, but my answer is that I believe that a British seafarer may well be murdered, and, having seen the fibre of our Foreign Secretary in similar situations, I think it highly unlikely that any action, or action of any significance, would be taken even if that were to happen.

I raise that matter at some length because although, as the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) said, it is true that the availability of military resources and the occurrence of such incidents to some extent coincide, there is here the very reverse of the situation which he described. Circumstances which he, I know, would deplore are extant, and there is nothing that we can do about them because we simply do not have the capacity to react.

Obviously, if Nigeria were still under the British Crown, the matter could be dealt with immediately. But if the Royal Navy had the capacity to assert a presence there and could defend ships which are lying off, that would, I am sure, diminish the number of such incidents and they might disappear altogether. However, because the Navy no longer has the capacity to defend British merchantmen at their distant ports of call, the trouble has increased. We should remember that one of the original purposes of the Royal Navy, at the time of Henry VIII, was to defend British merchantmen against piracy.

Even though, as I said at the outset, what we reflect on and debate here may seem to have little effect, we should remember that it was the Royal Navy which charted every creek on the globe and whose flag has flown in every port. If the Navy ceases to be a high seas Navy, if it ceases to sail and stand on station in distant waters, its morale, its status and its traditions will have been affected far more profoundly and more seriously than by any of the transient cuts in equipment and changes in building programmes, which are all correctable.

If we allow this state of affairs, this gradual contraction of the Navy's responsibilities, turning it from a Navy which would sail on far blue waters throughout the length and breadth of the globe into a coastal navy with contracted responsibilities and minimum capacity to assert its strength at great distances, we shall have connived at doing our Navy irreparable harm and bringing about a profound change in its character.

8.55 p.m.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

I listened with great interest to the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark). He referred to the fact that often debates in this Chamber on defence subjects and international affairs are not perhaps treated with the deference and respect that they were. I think that he is right. There are not many professional strategists and authors as my hon. Friend is. I have read his books and listened to his speeches with equal interest. I should like to take up his remarks, but I must confine myself to two narrow points deriving from my experience as representative of Gosport, which has particular links with the Royal Navy.

Gosport is home to 4,500 serving men and women in the Royal Navy. The last estimate was that there were some 15,000 men and wives eligible to vote as Service voters in the constituency. It is the base for many naval operations.

The first of the two narrow points I wish to make, based on this experience, concerns Service pensions. The principle upon which Service pensions are uprated is that any increase in them shall be given to future pensioners. When pensions are uprated, it is not normal to include any increase in respect of past pensioners, although, of course, pensions are now inflation-linked from the age of 55. The effect of this is that people now retiring from the Armed Forces retire on much higher pensions than those who retired earlier.

For example, a chief petty officer who retired in 1945 at the age of 40 after 22 years' service would receive a pension of £1.59 a week, and that is inflation-linked from the age of 55, which means that he would now be receiving, according to my information from a Written Answer, £10.40 a week. A chief petty officer, also with 22 years' service, retiring now at the age of 40 would receive £36.86 a week pension, almost four times as much as the pensioner who retired in 1945.

Although it was fair at one time to allow pensions to he based on this system, it is not fair now in view of the high levels of inflation that we have recently suffered, because, from the time the man retires at the age of 40 to the time when his pension becomes inflation-linked at the age of 55, that amount of his pension will suffer a great deal of erosion, and people who now retire on £36 a week and think that they will be well off in their old age will find that their pensions have been so badly eroded that they are worth a mere fraction of what they thought they would be.

The time has come for the Government to examine carefully the principle on which pensions are increased. Should they not consider whether increases should not just be given to those who retire in future but that some increase should also be given to those who retired at times in the past? It is not fair for a man with 22 years' service who retired in 1945 to find that his pension is one-third or a quarter of the pension of a man who gives comparable service now. I appreciate that the point that I put would involve changes in the principle on which pensions are allocated, but I ask whether it is fair for people now to receive so much more than those who retired at times in the past.

I mention, without apology, in this connection the specific case also of the pre-1950 widows. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) and others who have taken part in the campaign on their behalf know how serious is their plight. These are widows of men below the rank of warrant officer class I who retired before 1st September 1950, which was regarded as a cut-off date.

The widows of men who retired before that date receive as Service pensions exactly what they have always received—nothing. Is it not time that the case of pre-1950 widows, of whom there are about 30,000 was reviewed? I do not accept that that would involve a complete breach of principle. It would be possible for pensions to be given to pre-1950 widows, who are a special class of women.

My second point is based on my constituency experience and concerns the present plight of Ministry of Defence civilian workers, industrial and non-industrial civil servants who work in the naval yards and out-stations. In my constituency there are those who work at the Portsmouth naval yard, the naval aircraft yard at Fleetlands and the so-called out- stations such as HMS "Daedalus" HMS "Sultan" and HMS "Dolphin". However, the principle applies to all naval yards. I am thinking especially of the drivers, the stewards and the workers in the messes.

A recent job advertisement for such workers was circulated in the Lee-on-Solent Press. Jobs as mess hands were being offered at £32.50 a week plus phases 1 and 2 pay supplements. The job of head cook was offered at £38.25. Jobs for skilled labourers were being offered at £33.25 while the vacancy of chief steward (II) was advertised at £38.25 a week plus phases 1 and 2 supplements.

During the weekend I had a meeting with a number of workers in my constituency. I gather that the pay statement in my hands is not atypical. It seems that a gardener's basic pay is £33.65 a week. With supplements he receives gross payment of £44.15, but after tax and deductions he takes home £32.78. I gather that it is normal for non-industrial and industrial civil servants to take home about £35 to £40 a week. These amounts are not good enough when compared with what a person would receive if unemployed.

I have checked the figures for unemployed persons. If a man has no entitlement to earnings-related unemployment benefit, he and his wife receive £23.55 a week. If, for example, they have two children aged 16 years and 13 years, they receive further amounts of £8.90 and £7.40 respectively, giving an income of £39.85 a week. To that sum must be added rent, which would be provided through supplementary benefit payments. It must be borne in mind that an unemployed person does not need to pay fares. A man would be worse off if he took a job as advertised than if he remained unemployed. It is shameful that Government workers should be paid so poorly. It is merely pence a day between whether they are better off working or remaining unemployed.

One man told me during the weekend that he had taken a job because he did not want to remain unemployed. However, he was aware that he was mere pence a day better off working, even after overtime, than if he had remained unemployed. I asked these workers whether they had any special links with any Members of Parliament and whether they could arrange for them to put their case. They told me that they are members of the Transport and General Workers Union. That union is led by Mr. Jack Jones, who is thought of as the architect of the pay policy. It has 21 sponsored Members of Parliament, including two members of the Cabinet. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

The pay negotiations now in hand for wages that will apply on 1st July 1978 must result in these men being given a better week's pay for a hard week's work. The present shameful rates of pay cannot be allowed to continue.

9.4 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton)

In one of yesterday's colour supplements there was a double-page advertisement for a career as a Royal Navy officer. In the text of the advertisement in the section dealing with the capabilities of the would-be applicant there appeared the following: We will be interested in their views on the role of the Navy. This House—indeed, this nation—would be interested in the Government's views on the role of the Navy. By that I do not mean the generalised string of platitudes which are trotted out every year with regard to the defence White Paper. I mean a proper, strategic assessment of the role of sea power in the affairs of the United Kingdom.

In his opening speech this afternoon the Minister gave a clue, because he said that one of the things which he had detected in his tenure of office was what he described as "a growing social dividend". I should like to quote from a Government document as follows: If peace should be broken the Navy is as always the first line of defence for the maintenance of our essential sea communications. Our special problems of defence arise from the dependence of this country for its existence on seaborne supplies of food and raw materials and on the transport of adequate forces and their supplies by sea". That Government document—not from this Government—was presented in the House on 11th March 1935. Technology has undoubtedly changed since then. The Soviet Union has undoubtedly changed since then. The British economy has certainly changed since then. But the laws of geography remain the same. We are as dependent on our Navy now as ever we were. There can be nothing more fundamental to the survival of our nation than the ability of the Royal Navy to carry out its task. If the challenge should come, we have to meet it with what we have got. There will be no time to lay down some more keels with a burst of patriotic fervour.

I only wish that the Minister had given the House some sign that he is aware of the awesome responsibility which he carries. He gave the indication in his speech that he was very conscious of the importance of his post, but we did not really feel that he had any sense of his responsibility. If he was aware of his responsibility, after paying his tribute to Navy personnel and reading out the list of new vessels he would have discussed future strategy. Moreover, he would have shared with the House his anxieties about the problems of the Navy. The House would welcome being taken into the Minister's confidence, but apparently everything is just fine according to him. That is a great pity, because everything is not fine. It puts me in the position of having to draw to the attention of the House the various problems that exist.

However, before doing so I wish to pay my tribute to the men and women of the Royal Navy and the men of the Royal Marines for their dedication and professionalism. Tribute is also deserved with regard to their wives and families for agreeing, in the cause of the nation's defence, to be strung along on the question of their pay and conditions. No one who has any contact at all with the Services at any level can deny the very real sense of bitterness and injustice which still exists, but for the moment this issue is off the boil.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) both drew our attention to the question of pay and pensions and the problems of Service widows. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) drew our attention to the fundamental question of the allocation of funds between the Services. For too long this nation's defences have been run on the basis of the doctrine of equality of misery. There is no longer any point in pretending that we are not an island. Yet this, along with many other things, was a matter to which the Minister did not take the opportunity of referring.

The House might have been forgiven for thinking that the Minister would be bound to consider the situation of the strategic nuclear deterrent at some length. After all, of the three Services the Royal Navy has been entrusted for some years now with the major role in this regard. It is well known that the hull life of our Polaris boats is finite—they certainly cannot go on for ever—and that a decision as to their replacement has to be taken. The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) spoke out well and consistently, as has been his line in the past, in favour of Polaris replacement.

My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester both emphasised the role of the Navy outside the NATO area. My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice sat down feeling confident that, among the other matters with which he would deal, the Minister would no doubt refer to that. But not a word was said by the Minister about the role of the Navy outside the immediate NATO area.

There is general agreement that the Polaris decision will have to be taken by 1980, and preferably in 1979 if some of the options are not to be foreclosed by time. The Polaris replacement will be the second question which will have to be tackled by an incoming Conservative Government, the first one being Service pay.

The Polaris options basically are threefold. The first is to have no replacement for a variety of reasons, some of which happen to be perfectly respectable. The second is replacement with another ICBM system, which would have to be the United States Trident system if we could get it at a price that we could afford. The third would be replacement with a sea-launched cruise missile system developed in the United Kingdom. It could well be that a combination of the ICBM and cruise missile systems would be the most effective if they could be afforded.

We have had no discussion of the strategic deterrent simply because the Government are obviously afraid to face the question and, anyway, do not believe that they will be in office when the decision has to be taken. Nor have we had any signs from the Government that they realise that sea power can augment deterrence if it is properly deployed by projecting power ashore as well as contesting control of the seas. Central to this concept of challenging sea power is the idea of separating conventional naval arms from nuclear weapons and in this way avoiding a premature display of nuclear strength in a crisis while at the same time enhancing the belief in the mind of the potential adversary that the power would be used.

Current security concepts are concerned primarily with defence on land. Western naval forces are restricted increasingly to a declining capacity to ensure the use of the seas between Europe and North America. As the conventional imbalance on the central front worsens, NATO come to rely more on nuclear weapons, which in turn downgrades the strategic usefulness of sea control in the North Atlantic. The more naval forces are weakened at the expense of land forces, the more the naval part of the deterrent is weakened, namely, the likelihood of being able to reinforce and resupply Europe.

By creating a powerful surface navy, the Russians have created new vulnerabilities for themselves. In this one sense I agree with what the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) said in an otherwise rather curious speech. I agree with him that we should be putting more emphasis on our offensive capability. There are opportunities for shore-based attack aircraft and fast, unconventional missile-armed surface craft, but there is little sign that these elements feature in current Government planning.

There is no need for our planning always to be reactive. We can just as easily take the initiative and start considering ways of threatening the Soviet vulnerabilities, all in support of the aim of safeguarding the realm. In this respect, I hope that the Minister will give us the benefit of his comments on whether he is likely to heed the appeal of SACLANT not to reduce our offensive capability by paying off HMS "Ark Royal" when planned at present. My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) also urged this on the Minister.

If we are to be more offensive, which means simply attacking where necessary Soviet vulnerabilities, we shall need more maritime reconnaissance aircraft, more maritime strike aircraft and more tanker aircraft. This question of the lack of air cover is a matter to which I shall return, because it is most serious.

One way in which we can be more positive in naval terms is by getting more hulls on the water. By expanding the new construction programme, by transferring resources from modernisation to construction and by not selling off ships to foreign Governments—I do not welcome the news that three old ships are to go to Egypt, as was announced yesterday—we could expand the standby squadron, which consists at present of only four frigates. In time of emergency these extra ships would be manned by the shore-based naval personnel engaged in training, plus the Royal Fleet Reserve personnel. I know that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester and I may have a difference of emphasis on this matter, because he made various comments about certain ships being rather clapped out. I would rather have something there on which we could possibly put some modern system.

The cod war revealed the chronic shortage of smaller naval vessels. So stretched were we then that we would have been pressed to fulfil our NATO commitments. The Minister did not discuss with the House the problems that were thrown up at the time of the cod war, nor did he offer any future strategy to meet the problem that in five years' time two-thirds of our Fleet will be more than 20 years old.

One of the biggest single problems at the moment is being able to get the most out of existing equipment. This problem is well known in naval circles. It is a technical problem, a training problem and an administrative problem. It means that in future more effort must go into improving performance within existing capabilities than into improving the capabilities themselves.

In addition to a shortage of vessels, the Navy suffers from a serious lack of air cover. The Royal Air Force cannot provide this outside the United Kingdom air defence region. In time of war the RAF would have its hands more than full defending the home base without providing maritime cover as well. The airborne early warning cover also leaves much to be desired.

Recent Labour Government defence cuts have effectively emasculated the Navy's ability to get British forces ashore. That is another problem that had escaped the Minister's attention. If there are any doubts in this score, they were effectively dispelled by the 1976 exercise involving the hiring of the two car ferries to get troops to Norway. Not only were the ferries restricted in where they could land—they could land only in particular places which obviously would be well known to the Soviets in the event of their being used in an emergency—but they lacked helicopter pads, which meant that the actual disembarkation was unduly prolonged, and the Ministry of Defence was charged £12 million for the privilege of hiring them.

It is known that various departmental studies have taken place on the subject of commandeering civil air and merchant shipping resources, but the House has not been favoured with any information about this. The joint merchant ship defence committee has been looking at various studies which, I understand, include the feasibility of laying on helicopter landing platforms or short flight decks on car ferries which could be used to rush Royal Marine commandos to Norway to reinforce NATO's northern flank.

It would have been helpful if the Minister had told us about the Government's attitude to that committee's deliberations and whether the Government set any store by the new Norwegian-designed temporary deck-covered hold bulk carriers which can double as car ferries. Therefore, by simple extension they can also double as military vehicle and helicopter carriers.

The Minister was only too glad to read out the paragraphs dealing with our contribution to NATO, but he tells the House nothing about his anxieties on whether we can discharge our obligations or what options he is considering in order to improve matters.

While on the subject of merchant ships, it is relevant to mention the Araphoe project to which the Minister referred in passing without naming it. That is a plan for using merchant ships to carry Harrier aircraft or anti-submarine helicopters to improve air defences by dispersing the aircraft. Under the plan, some containers would be specially strengthened to serve as flight decks. In some ships as many as eight Harriers or eight helicopters could be operated. The plan would be for a commercial container ship to carry a number of containers fitted to take crew and support systems for Harrier aircraft and helicopters.

This project is of considerable significance for future naval deployment, and it is surprising that the Minister did not give greater emphasis to it. I assume that he has obviously heard about it because he referred to it without mentioning its name. The Navy certainly knows all about it. I can only assume that the Minister did not think that the House was sufficiently competent to receive this information. Does he feel satisfied that the British contribution to NATO of 10 major vessels, comprising two commando ships, two dock ships and six logistic ships, is good enough? Have we any military transport and specialised sea-lift ships in reserve? No, we have not.

There is an air of wilful self-deception in Government circles, particularly in relation to NATO. Officers of NATO attending the recent Portland exercise were given a brief describing Britain's contribution to NATO of 130 warships. The facts are that about one-third of these are in dock for refits or modernisation, sometimes for as long as three years, and others are in reserve.

The NATO officers were told that early next year our number of carriers would go up from one to two, which is plainly untrue because "Bulwark" will not rejoin the active fleet until "Ark Royal" is paid off and "Hermes" is already in service. Two helicopter cruisers, "Blake" and "Tiger", were shown as being in the active Fleet, but "Tiger" is about to pay off into reserve to help find the men for "Bulwark". So we go on—robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Two amphibious assault ships are also shown as being in service, but it has been admitted that the one now in commission, "Fearless", will have to be paid off because of manpower shortage when the "Intrepid" comes into service. Out of 65 destroyers and frigates, 12 are undergoing refits or modernisation and one of the four Polaris boats is always under refit.

The defence of our shipping falls on about 20 aircraft—a squadron of Phantoms and a squadron of Buccaneers—to be reinforced, we are told, next year by Phantoms and Buccaneers from "Ark Royal", but they are, of course, shore-based.

The Government cut-backs in spares and stores have also impaired the Navy's ability to operate efficiently, particularly in the context of the task force visit to the Far East. The return of "Bulwark" has been hailed as a master stroke, but is it not possible to keep "Tiger" as well? This is where I differ from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester. Is it not truly appalling that "Tiger" cannot be kept in service because of the serious shortage of junior officers and sailors? Is that the reason for "Tiger" not staying in service?

We have heard little from the Minister about delays in constructing new ships and refitting old ones. At least the Ministry recognises that there is a problem here because it is considering a new plan to introduce penalty clauses in warship building contracts. This and the possible resumption of warship building at the Royal dockyards are seen as ways of improving our construction time.

The debate has been interesting for the amount of attention that has been focused on the dockyards. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink) spoke eloquently on this subject. The hon. Members for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Gourlay) and Dunfermline (Mr. Hunter) drew attention to the low pay in dockyards and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) spoke with the authority that can come only from someone who has been a Navy Minister when he urged that we should have a special section in the defence White Paper for a report on the workings of the dockyards. I would certainly welcome such a report.

As hon. Members have said, warships are taking at least a year longer to build, on average, in this country than in other EEC countries such as Italy and Holland. The aim in future must be to reduce the number of Admiralty-specified components—that might be one way of improving matters—and make the shipbuilder responsible for the remainder of the components. Unfortunately, one side effect of this would be that costs could be increased because the shipbuilder would tend to "aim off" in order to make allowance for the penalty clause. It might be possible to move to a more modular type of construction using several yards working on the same projects. The Navy is having to wait too long for new ships, and these delays add to costs.

The original estimate for the "Invincible" was about £98 million. By the year before last it had risen to £149 million, last year it reached £167 million and it is now £215 million. The second through-deck cruiser is scheduled to cost more than £200 million, and I prophesy that when we get to No. 3 we shall be looking at the first £500 million ship, if we bear in mind how long it will be before that ship comes into service.

The words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) were so true when he said that it is a mistake for the excellent to drive out the good. The reasons for the unsatisfactory construction progress are many and complex, but if the Government have any idea of future planning they should go in for batch ordering by giving a yard a decent number of orders in order to avoid the hysteria that occurs when the last vessel sails out. Type 21 frigates, for example, are popular both with our sailors and with foreign purchasers. Could we not carry on building on a more regular basis and avoid depriving the Royal Navy of a new ship whenever we have to satisfy a foreign customer? Many people also criticise the Royal Navy for too much gold plating.

Much has been said about fishery protection. I do not propose to add anything further to that subject, because all the contributions were very much to the point.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton and my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton) spoke about the advisability of the Royal Navy purchasing fast patrol boats. That suggestion would seem to be worth close consideration by the Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth (Mr. Trotter) quoted the remarks of Admiral Sir Henry Leach at the recent Portland exercise on the subject of mines. Elsewhere in that same Press report, Sir Henry said: If reinforcements for Europe have to wait while suitable channels are swept clear of mines, it is a pretty intolerable situation. That kind of comment coming from that kind of source ought to deserve close attention by the House.

To realise the importance of mines is to appreciate the nature of the threat against us, which is now not invasion but dependence on external supplies. In a period of tension, one word of the possibility of mines and no commercial traffic will appear. Here again we must not be wholly defensive in outlook. There are many choke points which the Soviet Navy must negotiate to get out into the open seas. Yet training in mine laying and mine sweeping is almost totally neglected whether by air or by sea.

In 1965 the United Kingdom had 101 mine counter-measures vessels plus 33 in reserve. Ten years later we had 40, most of them old. This year we shall have about 31, with the Hunt class coming in and the launch this week of the first one at a rather high cost. In 1940 we had approximately 700 mine counter-measures vessels. What happens if even the few ships that we have are bottled up in port?

It is probably within the Minister's knowledge that the Americans, when they mined Haiphong harbour knew that they would soon have to sweep those mines away and, therefore, had a good idea where they were. But, using 13 vessels and 31 helicopters, it took the Americans 63 days to clear Haiphong harbour. That is what mining can do. We now have 31 vessels compared with 700 in 1940.

It has been suggested that converted trawlers would help. They would be welcome. If we can buy 22, that will mean two each for each of the important Royal Naval Reserve divisions. The hovercraft potential was also mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth. I think that that aspect should be explored.

Mention has been made of the colossal strength of the Soviet merchant marine and the realisation that this is another lever available to the Soviet Union in its challenge to the free world.

On the critical question of air cover, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) made the important point that helicopters can be no substitute for fixed-wing aircraft. It would appear from the Government's figures that we shall have insufficient Nimrod airborne early warning aircraft to provide this early warning for the Fleet in the Atlantic and insufficient Phantoms and Buccaneers to provide the fighter cover. The air defence capability of the United Kingdom air defence region is about 90 aircraft, compared with over 900 in 1940. In the event of hostilities, these aircraft will have no spare time to assist the Fleet.

The Sea Harrier, which is subsonic, will not meet this task against the supersonic threat from aircraft such as Backfire, The absence of the P1154 is now being felt. As my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice said, the Harrier does not have the self-screening ECM, which could be a serious handicap. Much will depend now on the outcome of the AST403. If this emerges as a short takeoff and vertical landing aircraft, it will be equally at home on land or afloat, and it will be supersonic. However, this aircraft will not be in service much before 1989.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton made a powerful speech on the hydrographic service. I have heard him before on that subject. As he said, it is a matter of great sadness that, even after speeches as powerful as he can make, there seems to be little sign of any improvement. It is false economy of the grossest sort to leave the nation to neglect the extent of our resources below the sea.

The Minister so far has said nothing about the adequacy or inadequacy of the Navy's electronic counter-measures capability, possibly the most vital area of all—the enemy's ability to put out the Navy's eyes. Much of this electronic warfare is quite properly secret, but of almost equal importance is the subject of communications in the Navy.

I wish to give a quotation from Admiral of the Fleet Sir Peter Hill-Norton, who so often features in our debates. He said: There are considerable problems in tactical communications between NATO navies, largely due to decisions taken some years ago. In effect, the United States went one way, and the rest went another. This was a wrong decision, taken 'with our eyes open', and the result is that ships of different navies cannot readily exchange data or secure voice communications. The equipment involved is incompatible and not always interoperable. The Minister will know that the United Kingdom operates a system called Link 10, as do the navies of Belgium and the Netherlands, whereas the rest of NATO operates something called Link 11. Although HMS "Bristol" has both, we must bear in mind that the AEW Nimrod and the AWACS system operate with Link 4. It is hard to imagine anything more important to the Navy than the ability to communicate properly. The Minister did not mention this problem, nor did he say anything about the crucial impact of satellites on naval communications and why we have only two vessels carrying the Scot terminal.

The House and the nation do not want an increased social dividend from the Navy. What we want is a Navy which is given more ships, more strike aircraft, more reconnaissance aircraft, worthwhile mining capability and proper command communications. All these will enable the Navy to safeguard our supplies, contest control of the seas and put our troops ashore.

The Navy is our first line of defence. Let us hope that it will not be necessary to invite opinions of newspapers as to the role of the Royal Navy in future. The Navy will serve the country even better when it is given the resources to do the job.

9.33 p.m.

Mr. Duffy

With the leave of the House, I should like to reply to some of the points raised in the debate.

I wish first to compliment the hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) on his speech. He maintained the high standard initiated by his hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall). This has been a debate from which I have benefited immensely. I apologise if I do not reply to all the points raised.

I note that the hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton was critical of me. I think he may agree on reflection that I packed as much information into my contribution as was physically possible. I have tried to help the House, and I shall endeavour to be helpful in my reply. However, I know that the House will appreciate the constraints of time that are upon me.

I wish to convey to the House the apologies of two hon. Members who contributed but then had to leave on urgent constituency business. I refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) and the hon. Member for Tyne-mouth (Mr. Trotter). Several hon. Members, notably the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), the hon. Member for Tynemouth, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch, the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) and the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) expressed concern about the protection of merchant shipping on the trade routes, particularly on the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.

I am aware of the interest taken by the hon. Member for Haltemprice in this subject, and I have read his book as well as his contributions to public debate. I accept that the maintenance of the freedom of world trade is vital to a nation such as ours, but in this as in other areas our best safeguard is to make the most effective contribution we can to the strength of NATO and thereby to deter the potential aggressor.

But that is not all. For example, in the area of the Persian Gulf, which is so important for our oil supplies, there is the Central Treaty Organisation, of which the United Kingdom remains a member, although we no longer assign permanent forces to it. None the less, I believe CENTO to have a contribution to make towards the peace and stability of the area, and Royal Navy ships and, I believe, aircraft of the Royal Air Force will take part in the CENTO maritime exercise Midlink in November.

One cannot ignore the strength of the Soviet naval forces in the Indian Ocean, but we believe that there is in general a broad overall balance between the Western and Soviet naval forces in the area. We continue to watch the situation closely. The NATO defence planning committee authorised SACLANT in 1972 to undertake contingency planning for the protection of allied merchant shipping outside the NATO area in time of tension or war. This plan has now receivel DPC approval.

To provide an absolute guarantee of protection against surprise attack is virtually impossible anywhere, even in the English Channel, but it is unlikely that a threat to British shipping would materialise without warning. Instead, political developments and other information would alert us to a possible threat. In any event, whatever the situation, any potential aggressor would know that we should act appropriately to an attack of any kind.

I believe that our precautions are realistic. We exercise them from time to time in conjunction with our allies, and in this context our programme of group deployments is important. Group deployments provide a convincing demonstration of the Royal Navy's ability to operate in areas beyond the NATO boundaries which are important to British shipping. These deployments serve several purposes. They enable ships to exercise procedures for operating as a group in waters outside the NATO area, relatively free of surveillance; to exercise with ships of friendly navies outside NATO; and to visit ports in various parts of the world in support of our political and sales interests. However, our primary commitment remains to NATO. Ships of task groups remain declared to NATO throughout deployment.

Last October, I was able to learn for myself something of the work of Task Group 317.6 which had left the United Kingdom in September for a deployment lasting 33 weeks to the Far East and Australia. This deployment not only enabled ships to deploy outside the NATO area but made a significant contribution to our NATO commitments. The ships of the group participated in a major NATO exercise whilst in the Mediterranean en route for the Suez Canal. Amongst a series of visits in the early part of the deployment they called at Varna, in Bulgaria. That was the first such visit for over five years. They made a number of visits in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, including a call at Basra, in Iraq. It was the first visit by the Royal Navy to Iraq for over 10 years. If that visit was noteworthy because of its rarity. I am glad to say that the Royal Navy is a fairly frequent visitor to many other countries in the area.

These visits were followed by participation in the annual CENTO maritime exercise Midlink in the Arabian Sea, after which the group dispersed for a series of visits to Australia and the Far Fast—to Japan, South Korea, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand. In addition, there were exercises in the Indian Ocean with ships of the United States, French and Royal Australian Navies.

On the homeward leg of the deployment, visits were made to ports in and around the Indian Ocean. A further Task Group, 317.7, left United Kingdom waters at the end of May for a seven-month deployment to the Caribbean and the West Coast of North and Central America via the Panama Canal. Before crossing the Atlantic the ships took part in a series of exercises with the French Navy. Later in the deployment the task group will conduct exercises with the United States and Canadian Navies.

All this demonstrates our continuing interest in these areas, and our continuing ability to deploy there. It is gratifying to read from the reports of the ambassadors in many of the countries visited that the ships' companies invariably do a fine job in demonstrating the professional expertise of the Royal Navy and in maintaining its high standing throughout the world. But, more than that, the good will generated by these visits goes beyond the ties of friendship between navies and helps to promote our broader interests in various parts of the world.

Several hon. Members, notably the right hon. Member for Taunton, the hon. Member for Tynemouth and the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester, referred to the question of the additional hydrographic survey effort required to facilitate the safe navigation of merchant shipping. The right hon. Member described the problem with his customary lucidity, but I must take issue with him when he says that the Government have done nothing since the report of the hydrographic study group in 1975. Interim arrangements were made in October 1976 to keep the existing hydrographic fleet in being, and we are now looking at the longer term.

I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Tynemouth that the Ministry of Defence cannot, in a climate of close restraint upon defence spending, afford to devote its limited resources to financing a survey fleet of a greater size than that needed to meet priority defence requirements. This was pointed out in the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1976"—paragraph 59 of chapter 2. Some civil requirements will continue to be met because they coincide with defence requirements, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that this overlap will not be sufficient to fulfil all the requirements of merchant shipping.

The problem, therefore, is one of identifying the civil requirements which will not be met in the course of surveys undertaken for defence purposes, of working out how much additional surveying work will be needed to do the work in the desired time scale, and of finding the additional surveying capacity and, above all, an appropriate source of funding for carrying it out.

It is currently being discussed by the other Departments primarily concerned, as well as the Ministry of Defence, with the aim of producing a fully costed assessment of the additional requirement, and of identifying funding options for ministerial decision in the shortest possible time.

Hon. Members who sit for dockyard constituencies, notably my hon. Friends the Members for Dunfermline (Mr. Hunter), Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bean) and Kirkcaldy (Mr. Gourlay), have raised questions, quite rightly, about the pay of industrial workers in the dockyards and the loss of skilled workers that we are experiencing. As regards the wages situation generally, we must await the outcome of the industrial Civil Service pay settlement next month. This is not, of course, just a dockyard matter, or even a Navy or a defence matter. It is much wider than that.

Mr. Ernest G. Parry (Battersea, South)

My hon. Friend is dealing with the pay and conditions of the Services. Does he realise—I am quite sure that he does—that there are many widows whose husbands were called up at the Korean crisis, who were ratings and chief petty officers and who died in that campaign or just afterwards, who have not received any pension of any kind, but that if their husbands had been officers they would have received a 50 per cent. pension? Will he undertake to look into that matter?

Mr. Duffy

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because he has served to remind the House once more of the position, as the hon. Member for Gosport has done so often, and he is aware of my concern about this matter. I shall certainly do as he invites me to do. I shall write to my hon. Friend.

As regards the difference between Chatham and the other yards, it remains our intention, as soon as national pay policy permits, to introduce into the other yards a flat rate wage structure similar to that in operation at Chatham. The trade unions, for various reasons, are not prepared at present to proceed with negotiations to this end, but it is the Government's hope that discussions can be resumed before too long.

I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham was alive to the significance of what I had to say about a trading fund for the dockyards. I regret however, that I cannot share his conclusions. It is simply not the case that we are dropping all the recommendations of the Mallabar Report. The Government of the day accepted all but one of the recommendations, as I think my hon. Friend is aware, and rightly. A decision was deferred on the suggestion that the dockyards should be financed not directly through Estimates placed before the House but by means of a trading fund financed through the National Loans Fund. It is this suggestion only that we decided not to pursue. But we are not dropping cost accountancy—far from it. The dockyards have an advanced cost and management accounting system. This is being continuously developed. Among its fruits are the annual production accounts that are presented to Parliament along with the conventional vote appropriation accounts.

I have noted the suggestion by the hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) that perhaps we do not give enough coverage to the dockyards in the defence White Paper, and that perhaps they should have a separate section devoted to them, or maybe even a separate White Paper. I shall consider that suggestion.

I acknowledge the severe threat presented by the Backfire, to which the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) referred. I recall that the hon. Gentleman has pressed me on this matter before. With that in mind, it is our intention that when HMS "Ark Royal" is withdrawn from service at the end of the year her role will be undertaken by other Royal Navy and RAF units.

Air cover for the Fleet—and I am recalling also the reference of the hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton—will be provided primarily by RAF aircraft operating from land bases, and HMS "Ark Royal's" Phantoms and Buccaneers will be transferred to the Royal Air Force to increase the number of land-based aircraft available for this purpose.

In addition, defence against both aircraft and missiles will be provided by ship-borne weapons such as the Sea Dart area air defence and Sea Wolf point defence missile systems. From the 1980s onwards the air defence of the Fleet will be enhanced by the deployment of Sea Harrier which will provide a complementary quick reaction capability against reconnaissance and target-indicating aircraft. Sea Harriers will operate initially from HMS "Hermes" and later from the Invincible class cruisers.

Mr. Churchill

The Minister referred to the cover to be provided by the Royal Air Force for the Fleet. He knows that there are fewer than 90 RAF aircraft in the air defence role based in the United Kingdom, including all reserves. How does he conceive that in the context of an all-out conventional war, which is the premise about which he was speaking, there will be anything whatsoever to spare for the Fleet when our industries, our civilian population, our ports and our airfields are under sustained attack?

Mr. Duffy

Nevertheless, those assignments that I have described have been made and accepted.

My hon. Friend the Member for Horn-church, the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink) and the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery all raised the question how and whether Polaris might be replaced when it is ultimately taken out of service. The Polaris fleet has many years of effective life ahead of it, remaining fully operational until the 1990s. There is no need for a decision on what may happen after that time. The Government intend to maintain the effectiveness of the system, and we are taking steps to ensure that the system can be satisfactorily maintained once the United States Navy phases out its Polaris submarines.

Some reference was made to cruise missiles, and the hon. Member for Tyne-mouth was particularly concerned that I should hear what he had to say on this. In the context in which these references were made—and I assume that hon. Members were not referring to weapons such as Sub-Harpoon—I can only say that, while, as with all weapons, we seek to keep in touch with potential and new developments, we have no plans to develop or acquire such a system.

Mr. Trotter


Mr. Duffy

The hon. Member for Haltemprice and the right hon. Member for Taunton have my every sympathy when they advocate the cause of those groups who are seeking to preserve our maritime heritage. I assure them that we try to be as helpful as possible when proposals are put forward for the preservation of a naval vessel. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is aware of my concern. I think I share his fully, and I want to express my appreciation here in the House tonight for all that he and some of his hon. Friends and mine have done for the preservation of vessels. Yet I must say that it is the view of the Department that it would be inappropriate to use funds voted by Parliament for defence for this purpose. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will continue to succeed, and he knows that where I can be of assistance I shall continue to help.

As for the two ships that the right hon. Gentleman cited, he will know that we have agreed not to dispose of the "Warrior" hulk until the possibility of preserving it has been fully explored. We are discussing such plans with the Maritime Trust. In conjunction with the National Maritime Museum, the trust has also shown an interest in taking over "Discovery" and restoring her as a museum vessel. Other bodies have also been invited to make specific proposals for her preservation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) mentioned the possibility of using as fishery protection vessels some of the trawlers laid up in his constituency. I am also sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend, but the Department does not consider that the adaptation and use of laid up trawlers to meet future requirements for fishery protection vessels would be as cost-effective as new ships in terms of remaining hull life and continuing support.

The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester asked for statistical information about the way in which the Royal Navy handles PVR applications. The delay between receipt of an application to retire and the officer actually leaving varies from nine to 15 months, depending upon specialisations. A balance has to be struck between allowing people to go as soon as possible and retaining valuable specialists until they can be properly replaced. It is as yet too early to judge the effect of the pay award upon PVR applications.

In reply to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, may I say that we are aware of the importance of getting recently retired officers to help with the Sea Cadets, but it is very difficult, and it is not within the Department's power to dictate. However, we can and do send serving officers to help. It is not correct to say that the Sea Cadets are funded at £1 per cadet. The MoD's provision amounts to £1¼ million annually.

The hon. and learned Member for Colchester said that the special allowance paid to sailors when their ships visit over-seas ports is now inadequate. I appreciate that costs have risen, but it must also be remembered that sailors are accommodated and fed free of charge on board their ships while they are in port. However, arrangements for all overseas allowances are reviewed from time to time. Such a review is currently taking place, but it is much too early for me to anticipate the outcome.

As I come to the last section of my speech—

Mr. Albert Roberts (Normanton)

In this grandiose scheme, what part will the Royal Navy play in relation to Gibraltar?

Mr. Duffy

That point has been made during the debate. I am sorry that my hon. Friend could not attend throughout, since otherwise he would not have raised that question. Perhaps I could have a private word with him afterwards.

I stressed unrepentantly during my earlier speech that the past year has provided the Royal Navy with a number of opportunities to demonstrate the value to society in peacetime of its unique combination of specialist skills, discipline and adaptability. Despite what the hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton has said, he must see on reflection that the speed and success with which the Service has responded to a series of natural disasters and civil emergencies must have given the public confidence in its ability to meet a crisis of a more conventional military kind.

Mr. Pattie

Of course I entirely support what the Minister says about the Navy's contribution to various civil emergencies in the past year. I would not wish to take any of the glitter from that at all. I was simply taking exception to the Minister making it the main plank of his argument.

Mr. Duffy

Yes, I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point and accept it entirely.

The skills that are so prevalent now and wide-ranging in the Royal Navy are allied to the work of two specialist areas. First, there is the instructor branch which is primarily responsible for training. Much of this success must be attributed to the work of this branch. The role of instructor officers has changed significantly over the past 20 years as the level and range of skills required to be taught have expanded. In recognition of this fact the permanent list of the instructor branch has since 1st January this year been amalgamated with the general list of officers. This organisational change will allow instructor officers to be employed in a wider range of appointments, although their prime responsibility will remain unaltered.

Last December I visited the Royal Naval Engineering College at Manadon, near Plymouth, where the majority of engineering officers take a BSc course in naval engineering. This is a rapidly changing area of technology and it is vital that we keep abreast of the latest developments. Indeed, at the beginning of this year it was decided to reorganise the whole structure of the engineering branch in response to these changes and to make both the marine engineering and the weapon engineering branches responsible for the complete maintenance and, in some cases, also the operation of ship support and weapon systems.

I was therefore pleased to find that the college, though founded as long ago as 1880, has also kept abreast of these changes. The presence of students from foreign and Commonwealth navies and selected civilians from this country testifies to its reputation.

My feelings, as I proceed to wind up this debate, like those of the hon. Member for Haltemprice earlier today, are tinged with nostalgia and pride. My personal acquaintance with the Royal Navy spans a period of profound change. It ranges from seaman's training in Devonport Barracks, an introduction to the Home Fleet via a World War I relic—the old "Iron Duke"—through lower deck sea-time in the battle cruiser "Repulse", to naval aviation and then a command appointment, and finally to the great honour of chairing the Board of the Admiralty.

The Royal Navy has undergone more than one revolution during that time. No sailor now can know the exquisite joy of swinging gently in his hammock as the ship rolls, nor hear the stirring pipe of "Up Spirits". The departure of "Ark Royal" at the end of this year will mark yet another watershed, and I share the sadness of many hon. Members at its passing.

However, we must not allow nostalgia to blind us to the virtues of the new Navy which is emerging. The Fleet which Her Majesty reviewed last year may have been smaller than that which saluted her Coronation, but it packs a much greater punch. Over the past two decades the cost of a frigate has increased by between 10 and 15 times. That is not solely the result of inflation but is effectively a measure of the increased complexity and performance of modern warships.

Warships are among the largest mobile complex engineering units built by man. They are multiple weapon systems in which must be accommodated the men who operate them. They have to operate in a hostile marine environment, often remote from base support facilities. Their propulsion units, sensors and weapons, embodying some of the most advanced engineering concepts, all have to be fitted, together with their crews, into the limits of the ship's hull. They are fundamentally different from merchant ships.

In recent years there have been great technical changes and increases in warships' complexity. There have been rapid developments in sensors, in the use of computers and in communications, including the use of satellites. There have been major advances in guided weapons, which now constitute the main armament in nearly every major surface ship and submarine. Whereas 20 years ago only ships dedicated to the maritime air task carried aircraft, today almost all surface warships have their own helicopters as part of their weapon systems. Gas turbines have become the main propulsion units for surface ships. Almost half of the Navy's submarines are now nuclear powered.

The technical changes of the past two decades are expected to proceed apace during the final years of this century. The advanced propulsion systems, sensors and weapons will increasingly be associated with computer-based control systems and command facilities. Automation is being continuously extended in all fields.

There is one constant, fortunately, and that is the quality of the personnel the Navy still attracts and the devotion it fosters. That is where the pride comes in, for if the abiding impression that I have registered is one of ceaseless change and adaptation, the greatest conviction I can now muster is that the men and women of today's Navy are equal to the challenge. They train and retrain. They adapt and reclassify. They acquire skills and yet aspire tirelessly to ever higher standards. They are the true professionals of our society.

Mr. Joseph Harper (Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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