HL Deb 29 January 1947 vol 145 cc281-302

had the following Notice on the Order Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government whether a complete statement can be furnished showing the names and classes of ship belonging to the Royal Navy which have been handed over to other Powers, and our Dominions, or which it is proposed to hand over; whether the terms of the transactions can be indicated; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the Motion I have on the Order Paper to-day was originally put down as a question last December, but in order to afford other members of your Lordships' House an opportunity of taking part in discussion on it I re-drafted it in the terms of a Motion. The reason for it is this. Quite a number of ships belonging to the Royal Navy have been transferred to other Navies, and many announcements have been made with regard to the matter.

For instance, a certain number of fairly new "C" class destroyers were transferred to Norway, and I believe the transfer of an aircraft carrier to Norway is contemplated. We have transferred an aircraft carrier to France. We are to turn over two of the most famous ships of the Royal Navy in the last war to China—the "Aurora" and the "Penelope", I believe they are called—and the "Ajax" and "Achilles", which your Lordships will remember also have a distinguished war record, are to be handed over to the Royal Indian Navy. I do not know what the Royal Indian Navy is going to consist of in the future. We all hope against hope that India may still remain within the British Commonwealth of Nations, but it does not look as if that will be the case. Yet it is proposed to hand over these two important ships to the Royal Indian Navy. There are many other transactions which have taken place. For instance, during the war the battleship "Royal Sovereign" was transferred to Soviet Russia. I do not know whether that battleship is going to remain in Russian hands, or whether it will be re-transferred to the Royal Navy. Probably the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, at any rate, would be delighted to hear that it was going to be left in Russian hands.

The point is this. All these transactions have taken place, and no really considered statement has been made in regard to what sort of Navy we are to have in future. We all know the difficulties, and many of them have been alluded to by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House in his reply just now. Everything depends, I suppose, on our commitments under U.N.O. At the same time, we are all taxpayers, and, to that extent at any rate, we all have an interest in the Royal Navy. These ships have cost the country much money and much effort to provide. What seems to me to be required is a considered statement on behalf of the Ministry of Defence or the Admiralty—whichever is the appropriate Department—in order to give us some idea of the sort of Navy we are going to have in the future, and to inform us whether any important ships are to be turned over to other countries. I think the country has the right to know what is proposed before the transaction has actually taken place.

Your Lordships will remember what happened after the First World War. At that time ships were transferred to other Navies almost wholesale, or they were broken up. I, at that time, in common with my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, was a member of another piace. We were never told what was going to happen or what was intended; we never knew until long after the event. I do submit that the country has the right to know what ships have been turned over and what ships are going to be turned over to other countries and to our Dominions, and what is the basis of the transaction. If we can be given any information with regard to the bearing all this has upon naval strength and the Navy of the future, such a statement will be all the more welcomed. I beg to move for Papers.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, I know that the noble Viscount wants to get away as soon as possible, but my speech will take only six minutes, if as long as that. I was glad to see my noble friend put down this Motion, because it is a question which needs clarifying. On October 30 in the Foreign Affairs debate I ventured to draw attention to the number of His Majesty's ships that we were giving away, and I was told by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House that this was being done in full agreement with the Admiralty. That may be so, but I wonder how that agreement was reached. It is common knowledge that Admiralty appropriations have been drastically cut, and it may well be that their Lordships had to decide between a reduction of personnel and the loss of these ships. As there are barely enough men to man the few attenuated squadrons left, they chose to lose the ships. That may be the kind of agreement referred to by the noble Viscount.

I hope, when the reply is made, that the number of ships donated and the number of ships sold will be stated. It does not seem to me to be quite the moment to choose to be generous, if such acts of grace interfere with the efficiency of His Majesty's Fleet. The outlook abroad does not appear to be too rosy. A state of camouflaged war exists between that bastion of democracy, Greece, and the tyrant Red Fascist States which surround her. The future will assuredly show that it will be only by the will of this country that Greece will be able to resist the pressure from beyond her frontiers. If that will should no longer exist, Greece will go under. The attitude of those countries is that if a blow can be struck at the British, so much the better. We all know of the murder of more than forty British sailors, who are the salt of the earth, and I am sure the whole country congratulates the Government on the stand they have made on that matter. I understand the clause under which the matter is to be brought before U.N.O. is that particular one under which the action of Albania can be defined as a danger to the peace of the world. I may be in a minority of one in this matter, but I hope that if it is necessary the Government will show by vigorous action that this dastardly act is a danger to the peace of the world.

The purpose of this digression is to bring home to your Lordships that it is in these times and in these circumstances that the Government see fit to weaken His Majesty's Fleet. The optimists tell us that there will be no war for five years and that by that time these fine 30-knot destroyers and cruisers will be obsolete. On the other hand, many naval officers believe that these fast ships will be of the greatest use and that if they were laid up in care and maintenance reserve they would give good service for many years to come. I make so bold as to say that that is really the opinion of the Admiralty, or at least of the sea-going clement there, but perhaps I shall be corrected over that. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard—who is perhaps the arch-critic of the Navy—talked about battleships, but he did not go so far as to say anything about these fast cruisers, and I think perhaps even he would agree that these ships are of use to protect the smaller aircraft carriers which he has in mind. It makes one almost despair to see the Government prepared to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on taking over the electricity undertakings and perhaps thousands of millions of pounds on nationalizing the transport system, and yet unable to provide money for the upkeep of these fine ships.

It would not have been a matter of so much concern if all these ships were going to the Dominions, but, as the noble Earl has just said, many of them are being sent to foreign countries. Three of the best and most famous, including the "Ajax," are going to India. Surely there is a lack of imagination on the part of the Government in sending a ship like the "Ajax"—a ship of immortal fame, whose work during this war will go down in the annals of the British Navy—to a country like India. I cannot understand why that is done. I should have thought she could have been sent to some other place and not to India, of all places. However, the deed is done and we have to face the fact that these ships are lost to us. Therefore it only remains for me to ask the noble Viscount whether he can tell us when, if ever, there will be another programme started to replace them?

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first of all to thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for the readiness with which he agreed, in certain circumstances which I explained to him, to postpone the discussion of this matter from a date in December until the present time. I would like at once to inform him and the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, that it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to publish a complete statement showing the names and the classes of ships belonging to the Royal Navy which have been, or which will be, transferred under certain agreements to the Dominions, to the Allies and to other Powers. The list of such ships is of considerable length; the number involved is no fewer than 420. I would not like your Lordships to be unduly startled by that number. All kinds of craft are referred to as "ships".

Included in that number of 420 there is only one battleship, very few cruisers, a few light aircraft carriers, and not very many destroyers. There is a large proportion of trawlers, tank landing craft, and small craft of all kinds. For the convenience of your Lordships, and indeed for the benefit of numbers of people in the country who are interested in this matter, it was felt to be necessary in any case to provide a full factual statement giving a list of the ships involved and the conditions of their transfer. I am therefore circulating with the Official Report a list of these vessels. Many have been loaned, and loaned on condition that they will be returned if required. Some have been sold, and some have been given. All those which have been given have been given to the Dominions, and I should imagine there is not a single noble Lord, or a single person in this country, who would deny to the Dominions the opportunity of securing the necessary ships and equipment to replace the very heavy losses which they suffered as a result of the war.

In view of the fact that the information is to be given in factual form, it is not my intention to deal very fully with this matter this afternoon, but I would like to say that your Lordships can be assured that the transfer of these ships under the conditions under which they have been transferred will not in any way impair the strength of the Royal Navy. May I refer to some of the transfers and the conditions of transfer? It is true that the battleship the "Royal Sovereign," with destroyers and submarines, was lent to the U.S.S.R. in 1945. The conditions under which those ships were loaned were fully explained by the then Prime Minister in another place on June 5 of that year. Those ships are on loan, and when certain conditions of the agreement under which they were loaned are fulfilled we can expect them to be returned to this country.

When I referred to the number of ships involved, some surprise was expressed by noble Lords. It must be remembered that the Royal Navy was composed of various classes of ships during the period of the war. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, was quite right when he said that the small ships—the tank landing craft and landing craft of every kind—were of great use during the period of the war. Whilst there was no great expansion of the number of battleships, at no time in the history of this country has the Royal Navy been made up of such large numbers of ships and craft of all kinds, and served by such a large number of personnel, as during the last war. At the cessation of hostilities (which possibly came, particularly in the case of Japan, very suddenly) the demand of the nation was that the Services should release as many as possible of the personnel so that we could change the economy of the nation from a war economy to a peace economy. I think it may be sail that the run-down, or the release of personnel, from the Royal Navy took place very speedily. The result was that there was this very large number of ships in respect of which decisions had to be taken.

I can say that consideration was given to the placing of the ships into four categories. First of all, there were the more modern ships which would be retained in active commission. A number of those ships are still retained in active commission. I am not yet in a position to state what will be the post-war strength of the Royal Navy. We would like to see much more settled conditions in the world, and we would like to know what contribution is to be expected of the British Commonwealth of Nations to U.N.O., and U.N.O.'s power for the retention of world peace. At the same time, in the course of the near future I hope it will be possible, not only so far as the Royal Navy is concerned but also the other branches of the armed Forces in this country, to bring before your Lordships' House and another place the peace-time strength of the Services which may be required in order to maintain the safety and integrity of the nation.

I think noble Lords would be interested if I referred to the four categories. The first is the retention of the more modern ships for active commission, some of which are retained for the purpose of giving the necessary training to the recruits whom we are still taking into the Navy. It is very necessary that they should receive some of their training in ships which are fitted with all the modern equipment of radar, wireless transmission and all the technical equipment which has been developed during the war. A very large number of ships are necessarily retained in reserve. They will, so far as possible, be kept in a state of repair and maintained so that in the event of an emergency they will be ready to take their part in the defence of the country.

Noble Lords will fully realize that a number of ships which were used during the last war were very old ships—indeed they were veterans of the 1914–1918 war. I speak, if I may say so, in terms of very great pride of the work which was done by battleships of the "Malaya" and "Warspite" class, ships well over thirty years old, which served this nation well in the two wars. But ships, like human beings, get older and past their serviceable age. That can be said of quite a number of ships which the Admiralty and His Majesty's Government felt it was no longer necessary to retain, and they had to be scrapped. This was done with a very great pang of regret, and I am sure a number of gallant and noble members of your Lordships' House will have heard with very deep regret of the scrapping of ships with such gallant and valiant service as the two ships to which I have referred.

With regard to the transfer of ships to the Dominions, I have already referred to the desire of His Majesty's Government to assist the Dominions in every possible way, and your Lordships will remember that as early as 1943 His Majesty's Government decided that H.M.S. "Shropshire" should be given to Australia to replace some of the losses which Australia had sustained. In addition, five destroyers were lent to Australia in 1945. Last year a light fleet carrier was lent to Canada, and a further vessel of the same class will be lent to her this year. In addition, two cruisers and a number of destroyers have been given or lent to that great Dominion. To New Zealand, two cruisers and two frigates have been given or lent. Frigates have also been given to South Africa, and a number of frigates and corvettes have been transferred to India, while negotiations are proceeding with the Government of India with regard to the transfer of the three cruisers referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, which, of course, includes the "Ajax."


And the "Achilles."


That is so. These cruisers have not yet been transferred. The matter is one for negotiation between His Majesty's Government and the Government of India, and those negotiations are proceeding at the present time. Three "Flower" class corvettes have been sold to Eire, and it is expected that another three will be transferred under the same conditions this year. Your Lordships will observe from the list which I am circulating this afternoon that of ships of the cruiser category, one cruiser has been lent to China; that is the result of a promise made in response to a request of the Chinese Government in October, 1944. A light fleet carrier has been loaned to France, and an escort carrier with destroyers, has been loaned to the Netherlands. It will also be seen that there are a very large number of destroyers, frigates, corvettes and smaller ships and craft which have been sold, lent or transferred to other countries for the purpose of defence, minesweeping and so on.


If ships are loaned, can we get them back again?


That is the purpose of the loan, and if at any time we require the ships which have been loaned then we can ask for their return. I would also like to say that a number of the minesweepers on loan were loaned to enable some of the foreign navies to carry out their obligations under the International Organization for Mine Clearance. I do not think there is any need for me to take up any further time of your Lordships' House, but I assure you that the transfer, under the conditions such as I have described has been made without in any way prejudicing the strength of the Royal Navy.

[The following is the factual statement referred to in Viscount Hall's speech.]

Dominion and Indian Governments
Ships Transferred. Standard Displacement. Terms and Date of Transfer. Remarks.
To Australia Cruiser
SHROPSHIRE 9,830 Given, 1943
QUEENBOROUGH 1,705 Lent, 1945
To Canada Light Fleet Carriers
WARRIOR 14,000 Lent, 1946
MAGNIFICENT 14,000 To be lent in 1947.
ONTARIO late MINOTAUR. 8,000 Given, 1945
UGANDA 8,000 Given, 1944
CRESCENT 1,730 Lent, 1945
Escort Destroyers
GRIFFIN now OTTAWA 1,335 Given, 1943
FORTUNE now SASKATCHEWAN. 1,350 Given, 1943
DECOY now KOOTENAY 1,375 Given, 1943
EXPRESS now GATINEAU. 1,375 Given, 1943
HERO now CHAUDIERE. 1,375 Given, 1943
FOXHOUND now QU'APPELLE. 1,350 Given, 1944
Flower Class Corvettes
To Eire 3 Sold, 1946 All Flower Class are about 1,000 tons.
3 To be sold, 1947. Transfer will be made shortly
To New Zealand Cruisers
BLACK PRINCE 5,770 Lent, 1946
Flower Class Corvettes
2 Given, 1944
To South Africa Frigates
NATAL late LOCH CREE. 1,435 Given, 1945
GOOD HOPE late LOCH BOISDALE. 1,435 Given, 1944
TRANSVAAL late LOCH ARD. 1,435 Given, 1945
To India Cruisers
ACHILLES 7,030 To be sold To be transferred during 1947 and 1948.
AJAX 6,985 To be sold
LEANDER 7,270 To be sold
River Class Frigates Transferred Terms of transfer to be dealt with as part of the general settlement of sterling balances held in India.
TIR late BANN 1,460 1945
DHANUSH late DEVERON. 1,370 1945
SHAMSHER late NADDER. 1,370 1945
TRENT 1,460 1946
TEST 1,460 1946
Flower Class Corvettes
2 Transferred, 1945 and 6
Foreign Governments
Ships Transferred. Standard Displacement. Terms and Date of Transfer. Remarks
To Belgium Boom Defence Vessel
BARCOCK 750 Chartered, 1946.
Motor Mine-Sweepers
9 each 255 Lent, 1944
To China Cruiser
AURORA 5,270 Lent To be transferred in summer 1947.
Flower Class Corvette Lent, 1946
Harbour Defence Motor Launches
8 each 46 Lent Awaiting shipment.
To Denmark Submarine
MORSE 658 Chartered 1946 Option to purchase at end of 3 years
VULPINE 545 Chartered 1946
P. 52 646 Chartered 1946
ANNAN 1,370 Sold, 1945
MONNOW 1,370 Sold, 1945
Flower Class Corvette Sold, 1946
4 each 360 Lent, 1946
6 each 255 Lent, 1946
To France Light Fleet Carrier
COLOSSUS 13,190 Lent, 1946 Option to purchase at end of 3–5 years.
VINEYARD 545 Lent, 1944
River Class Frigates
WINDRUSH 1,365 Sold, 1947
Flower Class Corvettes
7 Lent, 1943 Purchase under consideration by French Government.
21 each 40 Lent, 1946
Motor Fishing Vessel
1 40 Lent, 1945
Landing Craft Tank
1 Lent, 1945
6 each 40 Sold at various dates between 1944–1946.
6 each 40 Lent at various dates between 1944–46
7 each 75 Lent at various dates between 1944–46
6 each 360 Lent at various dates between 1944–46
16 each 255 Lent at various dates between 1944–46
To Greece Destroyers
ECHO 1,375 Lent,1944
BOREAS 1,360
CATTERICK 1,050 Lent, 1946
MODBURY Lent, 1942
TANATSIDE Lent, 1946
BOLEBROKE Lent, 1942
BRAMHAM Lent, 1943
HURSLEY Lent, 1943
Foreign Governments—contd.
Ships Transferred. Standard Displacement. Terms and Date of Transfer. Remarks.
To Greece—contd. Submarines
VELDT 545 Lent, 1943
VENGEFUL 545 Lent, 1945
VOLATILE 545 Lent, 1946
VIRULENT 545 Lent, 1946
UPSTART 540 Lent, 1945
UNTIRING 540 Lent, 1945
Flower Class Corvettes
4 Lent, 1942–43
7 Sold, 1945–46 To Ministry of Merchant Marine without armament.
Floating Dock
A.F.D. 45 Lent, 1946 A dock of 750 tons lifting capacity.
Coastal Salvage Vessel
KINGARTH 900 On Charter, 1946.
8 46 Lent, 1945–46
9 75 Lent, 1944–46
M/S Depot ship(Ex Trawler)
PRODUCT 452 Lent, 1946
8 255 Lent, 1945–46
L.C.T.6 Lent, 1946
To Italy M.M.S.
17 255 Lent for period of mine clearance, 1946.
Minesweeping Trawlers
16 500 Lent for period of mine clearance, 1946.
To Netherlands Escort Carrier
(Ex Cargo Liner) NAIRANA 13,825 Lent, 1946 for 2 years. Netherlands Govt. will purchase a Light Fleet Carrier at end of period of loan.
Destroyers NOBLE 1,765 Sold, 1945
SERAPIS 1,710 Sold, 1945
RIBBLE 1,450 Sold, 1943
TALENT 1,090 Sold, 1943
TARN 1,090 Sold, 1944
P.47 540 Sold, 1945
8 38 Sold, 1941–43
8 about 700 Lent, 1946 Purchase under negotiation, probably 1947
8 360 Sold, 1946
2 255
6 226
Danlayer M.M.S
1 226 Lent, 1946
Foreign Governments—contd.
Ships Transferred. Standard Displacement. Terms and Date of Transfer. Remarks.
To Netherlands—contd. M.L's.
1 75 Lent 1945
3 No. To be sold 1947
ZZ Craft (River M/S)
3 80 Sold 1946
8 46 Lent 1945–46
2 46 Sold, 1945
10 Lent, 1946
Bar Class Boom Defence Vessels
2 750 On charter, 1946
1 No. To be sold, 1947
1 No To be sold, 1947.
Escort Maintenance Vessel
BEACHY HEAD 8,580 To be lent, 1947 Recoverable, at 3 months notice.
To Norway Destroyers
CROWN 1,710 Sold, 1946
VARNE 646 Sold, 1946
Flower Class Corvettes
BANGOR class
2 about 600 Sold, 1946
3 about 600 Lent, 1945
2 360 Sold, 1946
10 102 Sold, 1946
To Portugal A/S M/S Trawlers
4 545 Sold, 1945
CARAQUET 672 Sold, 1946
To Siam Flower Class Corvettes
2 Sold, 1946
1 Sold, 1947
To Turkey Destroyers
INCONSTANT 1,370 Transferred, 1945. Ships building for Turkey in this country under the Anglo-Turkish Arms Credits of 1938–39 and requisitioned by H.M. Govt. during the war or in replacement of such ships lost during the war.
ORIBI 1,540 Transferred,1946.
Foreign Governments—contd.
Ships Transferred. Standard Displacement. Terms and Date of Transfer. Remarks.
To Turkey—contd. Submarine
P.614 624 Transferred 1946 Ships building for Turkey in this country under the Anglo-Turkish Arms Credits of 1938–39 and requisitioned by H.M. Govt. during the war or in replacement of such ships lost during the war.
3 650 Transferred, 1946.
2 650 Sold, 1946.
4 360 Sold, 1946
Bar class Boom Defence Vessels
BARBARIAN 750 Transferred, 1946 Ships building for Turkey in this country under the Anglo-Turkish Arms Credits of 1938–39 and requisitioned by H.M. Govt. during the war or in replacement of such ships lost during the war.
8 75.5 Transferred 1946 Ships building for Turkey in this country under the Anglo-Turkish Arms Credits of 1938–39 and requisitioned by H.M. Govt. during the war or in replacement of such ships lost during he war.
8 45 Transferred 1946 Ships building for Turkey in this country under the Anglo-Turkish Arms Credits of 1938–39 and requisitioned by H.M. Govt. during the war or in replacement of such ships lost during the war.
Mine Recovery Launches
8 Transferred 1942–43.
To U.S.S.R Battleship
ROYAL SOVEREIGN 29,150 Lent, 1944 Circumstances of loan as announced by Prime Minister in the House of Commons on 5th June,1945.
ST. ALBANS 1,090 Lent, 1944
SUNFISH 768 Lent, 1944
To Yugoslavia Flower Class Corvette
1 1,060 Lent, 1945
Battleship Light Fleet Carrier. Escort Carrier. Crusiers. Destroyers. Submarines. Frigates. Corvettes. Landing Craft (Tank) Minesweepers. Trawlers (A/S M/S). Motor Minesweepers. Motor Torpedo Boats (incl. M.G. Bs.). Motor Launches. Harbour Defence Motor Launches. Boom Vessels. M.F.V's. Floating Docks. Salvage Vessels. M/S Depot Ship. Drifters. Escort Maintenance Vessel. H.S.P.B. Mine Recovery Launches.
Dominion Goverments.
Australia 1 5
Canada 1+1† 2 8
Eire 6*
New Zealand 2 2
Union of South Africa 3
India 3† 5 2
Foreign Governments.
Belgium 9 1
China 1† 1 8
Denmark 3 2 1 10
France 1 1 6 7 1 22 19 21 1
Greece 10 6 11* 6 8 9 8 1 1 1 1
Italy 16 17
Netherlands 1 6 3 1 10 11 17 8 4* 10 2 1* 1* 1*
Norway 7 5 3 5 2 10
Portgual 1 4
Turkey 2 1 5 4 8 8 2 8
U.S.S.R. 1 9 4
Yugoslavia 1
Siam 2 1
† To be transfer at a future date. *Includes ships which are still the subject of negotiations.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, I would like to thank the noble Viscount most sincerely for the very full and extremely interesting reply which he has just given to my Motion. I cannot help sharing with the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, a most sincere regret that the Admiralty should be contemplating turning over the "Ajax" and the "Achilles" to the Indian Navy. I cannot help feeling that there are other ships which might have been lent to India and satisfied that Navy. Those two ships are really hallowed in our naval history, and their deeds will go down for all time. To think that they have been handed over to a Navy which no one can say will be a friendly one in years to come, seems to me a very great pity and a very great mistake.

However, I only hope from what the First Lord said, that there may perhaps still be time, and that there may be a slipup in the negotiations. Who can tell? I should be delighted to hear that there had been. At any rate I feel that we might even now, at the eleventh hour, plead with the First Lord and with the Admiralty to reconsider turning over those two ships. Having said that, there is nothing for me to do except to thank the noble Viscount for what he has said, and beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.