§ 4.5 p.m.
§ EARL HOWE rose to call attention to the disposal of ships of the Royal Navy and to certain aspects of naval policy; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, for the last two years efforts have been made in both Houses of Parliament to try to ascertain what were the real facts with regard to our naval position. Unfortunately it had not seemed possible for one reason or another—no doubt very good ones—for His Majesty's Government to be able to provide any information upon the Navy until comparatively recently.
§ If your Lordships will bear with me for a minute or two, I should like to remind 468 you that the story begins in January, 1947. On the 29th of that month the Government issued a statement which showed that they were proposing to scrap, dispose of, sell, or loan some 400 ships of the Royal Navy. That, of course, is recorded in Hansard. Ever since then efforts have been made by various Members of both Houses of Parliament to secure the publication of the List, The Return of Fleets, which, before the war, used to come out every year. Only a short time ago—actually on February 3—the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, put a question to the noble Viscount the First Lord of the Admiralty, asking if that publication was to be resumed, but the First Lord regretted that he was unable to say when publication might be expected, owing to the fact that at least one prominent Power does not give any information with regard to its fleet, as it used to do before the war. We have also tried to get a copy of the Navy List for publication, but again the Admiralty were not able to agree, though that may have been partly due to lack of newsprint.
§ It was not until February 27 of this year that the explanatory statement with regard to the Navy was made, and not until January 21 that the Government announced that it had been decided to scrap certain capital ships: "Nelson," "Rodney," "Queen Elizabeth," "Valiant" and "Renown." Nor were those the only ships, for the statement announcing that fact also said that several cruisers would be scrapped at the same time. That caused grave anxiety in the country. It was realised that the time of the run-down of the Fleet was approaching its maximum and that it had been decided to reduce capital ships whose names at one time were household words. This made it all the more necessary for those who were anxious with regard to our naval position to try to ascertain what the facts were. Since the announcement was made that the Admiralty were going to scrap those five important ships, various statements have appeared in the Press which indicate that at least twelve cruisers are likely to be scrapped as well. Four of them are 8-inch gun cruisers—" Berwick," "Suffolk," "Cumberland," and "Kent"—and the others include "Ajax," "Orion," and "Arethusa." I have no means of knowing whether those statements are true.469
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (VISCOUNT HALL)
My Lords, may I say at once that the fact that cruisers were to be scrapped was announced at the same time as I announced the scrapping of the battleships. The number was seven and not twelve.
§ EARL HOWE
Since then statements have appeared in the Press that the number is about twelve. I can give your Lordships the names that have been mentioned: "Berwick," "Suffolk," "Cumberland," "Kent," "Leander," "Caledon," "Colombo," "Delhi," "Darian," "Ajax," "Orion" and "Arethusa." At the same time that those statements appeared, rumour got to work and mentioned certain aircraft carriers: "Albion," "Bulwark," "Majestio," "Centaur," "Hermes," "Powerful," "Hercules," "Leviathan," and "Terrible." On February 27 an explanatory statement was issued, and not until then had we really been able to ascertain any facts at all. So much for the actual ships concerned. Repeated efforts have also been made to try to ascertain officially from the Government what was the disposition of our various squadrons overseas, but the information has been consistently refused. A question was put on October 27 in another place, but the information was refused again, notwithstanding that on October 6 last year a full list of ships sailing overseas was published in Johannesburg. A list of ships which were placed for service overseas was also published by the Navy League in this country.
The Minister of Defence in another place, during the debate on Defence, stated:There have been many foolish statements about the strength of the Home Fleet, which have sought to imply that its operational strength during the short period of reorganisation was to be the measure of its future strength as a whole. Such statements have quite unnecessarily damaged our credit and reputation among our friends abroad.It is no use for the Minister of Defence to complain if the Government refuse to give 470 correct information, and a situation of this sort is bound to give rise to rumour and to wild, irresponsible statements. All the country wanted to know was only what any competent naval attaché could easily find out for himself.
It was suggested by the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty that the lists published were a guess. But according to an East London newspaper there are at least 5,000 people who "guessed," because they went aboard H.M.S. "Nigeria," which was at that time at East London, and an account was published in the Kenya Weekly Times that "Norfolk" was at Mombasa, and there was an opportunity for anybody who wished to go aboard. Statements of that sort, added together, enable such a body as the Navy League, which is extremely interested in the matter, to ascertain certain facts for themselves—at least, we imagine that they are facts. However, in these days warships cannot be hidden, and I do not see why the Admiralty cannot let the country know the facts. The country surely would not have been so shocked and so gravely surprised as it has been by the events which have taken place at Canton, the Falkland Islands, Guatemala, Accra and places like that. Was it not Napoleon who said:Only those who want to deceive the public and govern it for their own private profit can wish to keep it in ignorance "?But I think there is a far more apposite quotation. Mr. Claxton (Minister of Defence in Canada), during the debate on the Canadian Defence Estimates on June 9 last year, said—and I would commend it to His Majesty's Government:I have taken advantage of every possible opportunity to meet representatives of reserve associations, co-operating organisations like the Navy League of Canada and the Air Cadet League, as well as representatives of industry and experts from other countries. It is important that there should be a wide measure of informed and interested support of adequate defence measures.That seems to me to be the essential point. The only people who are being or have been kept in complete ignorance in regard to the Navy are the people who have to pay the bill for it. They really have the right to know. You cannot expect to have a well-informed public opinion behind you unless you tell the people the facts.
In an effort to elicit some of those facts I intend to ask a number of questions of 471 which I sent the First Lord a copy in the hope that it would enable him to deal with them. In nearly every case the meaning of these questions will be obvious, but I will explain the points as I go along. The first question is: What is intended to be the "appropriate strength" of the Fleet in peace-time, and its composition? The words "appropriate strength" are the words used in the statement explaining the Estimates. We want to know what yardstick is to be used nowadays. As noble Lords will remember, before the war it was a question of a two-Power standard or a one-Power standard. What sort of standard of strength when the complete build-up of the Fleet is concluded are the Government aiming at to-day? It is reported that the Government are aiming at a strength of two battleships, ten aircraft-carriers, twenty cruisers, and 100 destroyers. I do not know whether those figures are anywhere near the mark, but I do hope that the First Lord will be able to give the actual figures for which I ask. At the moment, all we know is that the fighting power of the Navy for the time being is undoubtedly crippled.
The second question is this: Have the Government had, or are the Government going to have, any consultation with the Dominions with reference to the first question that I have asked? That question seems to me to be self-explanatory, but I would like to know whether His Majesty's Government have collected the views of the Dominions upon the reductions in the Navy, of naval dispositions, and so on generally? If complete consultation has not already taken place with the Dominions, would it not be a good idea to have an Imperial Defence Conference to deal with the whole matter? The third question is with regard to battleships. Many people think that the atomic bomb and the advance of naval construction have rendered the battleship quite superfluous. Do the Government consider that the battleship has any chance of use when working with carriers, as was the practice carried out both by the Americans and ourselves during the latter stages of the Pacific war? The fourth question is: Is it considered that the advent of the atomic weapon has changed the principles of naval warfare? The point of that is really: Is the atomic 472 bomb just another bomb, only a bit bigger and better, or is it something which has revolutionised all principles of naval warfare?
Again, with reference to the First Lord's statement in regard to the Navy Estimates, I notice that that statement contains no reference to M.T.B.s—light coastal forces, as they used to be called during the Second World War. I am wondering why that is so. Does that mean that the M.T.B.s have passed from the strength of the Navy, or is it just a small oversight? There are two other ships to which I do not see any reference in either the Navy Estimates or the explanatory statement. Those two ships are the "Perseus" and the "Pioneer," which were light aircraft carriers but were taken over as floating workshops to act with the Fleet training in the Pacific. I should like to know about them because they do not seem to appear in any statement with regard to the Navy Estimates or in this explanatory statement.
Another question I have is: Does the latest type of submarine render obsolete the type of ship which was used for antisubmarine work and escort duties during the Second World War? Take the latest type of German submarine (I believe it was No. 21) which was just coming into commission at the time of the collapse of Germany. I am sure that the First Lord can give us the details of the performance of that ship. I understand that it was able to do over 20 knots under water and remain submerged for a matter of weeks. In fact, in 1945 at various conferences, Admiral Doenitz reported that that ship was capable of going from Germany to Japan without coming to the surface. Do craft of that sort render obsolete all the types of ship used for anti-submarine work during the Second World War? In fact, does it mean that in another war, in order to grapple with ships of that sort, one will have to rely more than ever upon the destroyer?
The next question I have is: Do any of the ships now under construction or completed since the Second World War embody the lessons learnt during that struggle and since, either in construction or in fighting power? One of the reasons for that question is a report which was made by Admiral Blandy after the try-out of the atomic bomb at Bikini. This is what he said: 473The air burst "—that is, the bomb that burst upon the ships there—showed the need for cleaning up, streamlining and strengthening superstructures. The underwater burst indicated the need to strengthen ships' hulls. The air burst pointed the way to changes in design to increase resistance to blast and protection from flash. Protection from radiation must come chiefly from dispersal and decentralisation.Then, most important, he said:The provision to ships of equipment such as geiger counters "—what a geiger counter is I am afraid I do not know: I imagine it is something to detect radiation—to detect the invisible radiations is essential and definite steps are needed to protect personnel from this new hazard.He made a further recommendation with regard to tactical changes in the Fleet, but that does not come into this matter.
Then I would ask this question: Do any of the ships which are now under construction or which have been completed since the last war, embody any of the recommendations of Admiral Blandy with reference to the atomic weapon; and do the Admiralty agree that they should? Further, do the proposals for scrapping or disposing of certain ships weaken the strength of the Fleet so as to constitute a form of unilateral disarmament? We can all remember what happened after the First World War, when ships were scrapped wholesale. At that time I was a humble Member of another place, and it was absolutely impossible to find out what ships were being scrapped, or what were the intentions of the Admiralty at that time. It seems to me that what has been done now with regard to the scrapping of these ships does constitute a form of unilateral disarmament. Might it not have been a good idea to retain some of these old battleships for training purposes?
We all remember the raids made by the "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau" on the Atlantic convoys in the last war, together, I believe, with the "Admiral Hipper." They were driven off only by the fact that battleships were in company with the convoys concerned. If there is another war, can we be sure that one or two, or possibly three or four, of these old battleships will not be wanted? In the meantime, why not use them for training purposes, instead of as modern first-line ships? In both the last war 474 and the First World War these old battleships were invaluable for the purposes of bombardment and that sort of thing. If another enemy should appear at the Channel ports, can we be quite sure that we may not want these old battleships again? I would also ask: what is meant by the term "immobilised"? That term appears quite frequently in this explanatory statement, bat there is nothing to show its implication. What I would like to know is what it means, and for how long immobilisation will last. Yet another question I would like to ask is, what is the state of readiness for action intended for ships used for training purposes?
The Minister of Defence used these words in another place, during the debate on defence:Let me make it plain, that in addition to the Home Fleet, there are in the training and experimental squadrons in Home Waters battleships and fleet carriers, as well as cruisers, destroyers and submarines "—and this is the point to which I would especially draw attention—which could—and I say this advisedly—if necessary, at comparatively short notice be manned and made ready for action." Comparatively short notice "is a rather vague term, but I am sure that all your Lordships who have experience in these matters (many with far greater experience than myself) will agree that it is impossible for a ship to work up to anything like fighting efficiency in under three months; and it often takes six months. Was not that statement by the Minister in another place a little misleading? Should he not have said that, after a period of some months, these ships might be able to take their place in the line? It seems to me that if these ships used for training in the Home Fleet are demobilised to any extent it will lake them a long time to work up to full operational efficiency.
What will be the relevant proportions of the personnel of the Fleet serving at sea and ashore in the year, let us say, 1949–50? It seems to me, from what little I have been able to gather of the actual facts, that a very great proportion of the Fleet will be serving on shore. This may not be altogether the fault—if it be a fault—of the Admiralty, because, as we know, the air arm of the Navy is responsible for about one third of its 475 personnel and, of necessity, a large proportion of that personnel will probably have to be employed at air stations and the like. At the same time, it appears that, of the 145,000 men composing the active list of the Royal Navy, the proportion of personnel on shore in the years 1949–50, without any ships in which to go to sea, will be very high indeed. Then I would like to ask: How is it proposed to provide for the sea training of the various classes of Naval Reserve? In that question, I naturally refer rather particularly to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. In the years before the last war, their sea training had to be carried out in ships of the Home Fleet at home stations. They could go to sea only during their holidays, which could not always be arranged. If they are to be told that they cannot have sea training because there is no ship available, it will have a most deplorable effect on the morale of the whole force. Do not let us forget that in the last war 80 per cent. of the Navy came from the R.N.V.R.
I would like next to ask the First Lord what is the present composition of the squadrons stationed overseas, and is it proposed to strengthen them as and when ships become available. According to the list which was published by the Navy League—it was, of course, not official, and was rather a guess, but perhaps not a bad guess—there were two light fleet carriers, ten cruisers and eighteen destroyers. There was a submarine flotilla serving in the Pacific, and I am told, or have seen reports to the effect, that that has been brought home. There were also some destroyers in the Mediterranean, two flotillas I believe. Are those flotillas still at flotilla strength, or have any of them been brought home? Let us know the facts and, when we get to know the facts, do not let us forget that old and somewhat hackneyed saying: "Trade follows the Flag."
My next question is: "Can a complete list of ships already earmarked for scrapping or for disposal by gift, sale or loan, be given, indicating in such case the terms and, in the case of foreign countries, the Power concerned? The most absurd things have been happening with regard to some of these ships. There is a light fleet carrier which it was rumoured in July was to be turned over to Holland. 476 That ship was the "Venerable." Then, I think in November, a Dutch paper produced a picture of the ship and banner headlines saying "This is to be the start of our new air arm," or something like that. But not until December 19 did a representative of the Admiralty in another place admit that negotiations were taking place. Surely we could be given better or more up-to-date information than that? At any rate, I hope that the First Lord will give us a complete list, so that the country knows where it is, and that there will be no more rumours that a lot more ships are to be scrapped.
Is it proposed to provide a complete complement of aircraft for all fleet and light fleet carriers, whether operational or in reserve? In the First Lord's statement may be seen a list of fleet carriers and light fleet carriers. I believe it to be a fact that one of the fleet carriers, the "Victorious," is practically no longer a fleet carrier at all; that she has been adapted merely for the training of new entrants into the Navy, and therefore might not now be considered a carrier. We want to know whether the aircraft for all these carriers will be available in an emergency. Can they be counted on as likely to be operational units or not; if not, how long will it be before they are given their complement of aircraft? Another question which I would like to ask—and of this I did not give the noble Viscount the First Lord of the Admiralty notice—is whether he can tell us what ships are now under construction for the Royal Navy. In particular I would like to know whether a ship which was to be called the "Bellerophon" is still under construction; also whether the "Daring" class of destroyers are being brought to completion. The reason I want to know-about new construction is that if new construction is stopped it may well be quite impossible to expand the Fleet in an emergency.
Finally, I would like to say that no doubt there are a lot of people who hold the view that the Navy is completely out of date, and that we should rely upon the air. To those who think that, I submit that aircraft cannot completely replace ships. They cannot carry the food and the raw materials, and the fuel which they themselves must use in another emergency. I suggest that in the war of the future, as I see it, it will be vitally 477 necessary for all Services to combine in one gigantic combined operation. I hope that we shall never hear again of the sort of troubles of which one heard between the wars, when Services seemed sometimes to be at loggerheads with one another. Sea power seems to me to be still the principal vehicle for supplies and transport, and in my view weakness at sea would be most dangerous. I would ask noble Lords whether they noticed on January 5 of this year a quotation which appeared in that great newspaper The Times. It was taken from an issue of the same paper one hundred years earlier. This is how it ran:I quite concur in all your views of the danger of our present position, and of the magnitude of the stake at issue. I am specially sensible of the certainty of failure if we do not, at an early moment, attend to the measures necessary to be taken for our defence; and of the disgrace—the indelible disgrace—of such failure…. When did any man hear of allies of a country unable to defend itself?I understand that that was written by the Duke of Wellington to Sir John Burgoyne. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 4.34 p.m.
My Lords, I feel that the debate which has been initiated by my noble friend Earl Howe, is of very great importance at the present time. He has posed a series of questions to the First Lord of the Admiralty, and I hope that the noble Viscount will be able to give some reassuring and satisfactory answers. It was only a short time ago that we had in this House a debate on the reduction of man-power in the Forces and its consequent effect on His Majesty's Fleet. Since then, we have had a statement by the Minister of Defence that a number of capital ships are to be scrapped. It is on this statement, I understand, that the Motion which we are considering to-day is largely based. Finally, we have had the Defence White Paper and the Naval Estimates.
There is little doubt, I think, that the statement made by the Minister of Defence concerning the scrapping of these ships was most unfortunately timed; in any case, I suggest it ought never to have been made. Why declare to the world that we are scrapping a large portion of our Reserve Fleet? It may well be true that the ships are out of date and of little 478 fighting value, but their very existence is a source of strength to the country in the eyes of the world. Now, almost irreparable harm has been done by these declarations. There is also the question of cruisers and destroyers, many of which, I understand, may suffer a similar fate to that of the old battleships. I notice that there has not been any great hurry on the part of the Minister of Defence to disclose the numbers and names of these vessels. We have heard from the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that the number may be twelve cruisers. The noble Viscount the First Lord has told us that it may be seven. Perhaps His Majesty's Government have now learned their lesson in this respect.
I do not suggest that no disclosures should be made of the disposition of our fleets, or of the building programme. After all, it is right that the country and the taxpayer should know what they are getting for their money. Anyone who takes the trouble can find out the disposition of the fleets, and failure to give this information cannot really be substantiated on grounds of security. I hope that the noble Viscount the First Lord of the Admiralty will be able to assure your Lordships that there is no intention of scrapping a large number of old cruisers and destroyers, which could be maintained in the Reserve Fleet without any great sacrifice of man-power. Few, if any, of the ships of the American Fleet are being sent to the scrap heap, and it should not be forgotten that the fifty old American destroyers of the First World War vintage—one of which I had the honour to command in this war—came to us at a critical period in the Battle of the Atlantic, and were of great assistance in reinforcing our convoy escorts. Our old destroyers may one day be equally useful. They cannot be replaced in a hurry and we should think twice before scrapping them.
It is doubtful when, and in what state, a ship becomes valueless for naval purposes of some kind. Provision has to be made for harbour defence ships, block ships, and many other services. Those of your Lordships who have served in the Royal Navy will recall the occasions on which a dummy fleet has proved most useful, especially in these days of radar. Why is it necessary to include the "Valiant" and the "Queen Elizabeth" in this break-up of our Reserve Fleet? 479 Both these ships were almost entirely rebuilt in 1939, and I believe that almost as much money was spent on them then as they originally cost to build. Why could not these ships be used for the training squadrons and so release our two modern battleships engaged on these duties? The noble Viscount the First Lord may reply that his colleagues, the Lords of the Admiralty, are in agreement on the proposals to reduce our Reserve Fleet. The question I would like to ask is, what financial restrictions were imposed upon them? It may well be that the Board of Admiralty were reluctantly forced to put forward such a policy, not because it was based on the merits of the case alone, but because it was the only alternative to foregoing other naval requirements which were considered more essential.
It was recently pointed out by a distinguished Admiral, that in giving consideration to naval strength it is essential to have a long as well as a short view. Vessels of war cannot be built in a few weeks or months; in most cases over a year is required. Battleships take from three to five years, and even aircraft carriers must take at least three years to construct. It is hardly likely that in the case of another war we may see a repetition of the "phoney" period which we had at the beginning of the last war and which will enable us to get on with our building programme and make the necessary preparations. Can the noble Viscount assure your Lordships that both a long view and a short view have been taken on naval rearmament? I hope it is not the case that the Admiralty have been told that their programme is to be based on a supposition that there will be no war for ten years. That, I suggest, is a dangerous fallacy in the present state of world conditions. Your Lordships may remember that a somewhat similar period was set down as a basis between the two world wars. And from year to year the "no war" psychology had the effect of continuing the ten-year period, nearly with disastrous results for the nation as a whole.
Our Navy is undoubtedly in a deplorable condition. Although it is true that it is in the process of a transitional stage and no reduction is to be made in manpower during the coming year, I suggest that the strength of the Fleet is reckoned 480 numerically in ships rather than in the number of men. In the words of the leading columnist of The Times recently:Its strength is possibly less now than it has been since the reign of Henry VII.I suggest that the Navy has been allowed to become almost powerless to maintain the national prestige abroad and to look after our nationals as they should be looked after. We have seen the recent events involving our nationals at Canton, and now we have further difficulties in the Falkland Island Dependencies in the Antarctic and in Guatemala. In the case of the incident at Guatemala, all we could send was the training cruiser "Devonshire," which has fifty naval cadets aboard.
I think it is true. It is true to say that history has always shown that when the British Fleet has been allowed to become weakened, other nations have endeavoured to profit by that weakness and created disturbed conditions in the world. The present troubles in the Antarctic with Chile and the Argentine are no doubt the manifestation of this weakness. I would like to suggest to His Majesty's Government that steps might have been taken much earlier which would have prevented the unfortunate clash of interests and the tardy dispatch of a cruiser from a distant port in South Africa. I understand the Commonwealth Government of Australia offered to send a cruiser. Why was this offer refused? What has become of the American and West Indies squadron? Has it become so depleted and weak that only one sloop was available for carrying out the duties of looking after British possessions in the Falkland Dependencies until such time as we could dispatch a cruiser from some 3,000 miles away?
I have spent several years in South America and know the Chilean Navy well. As many of your Lordships know, a large proportion of its officers were trained in our Fleet. It is therefore all the more deplorable that the Chilean Navy, which has had such close associations with this country, should find itself ranged against us through political intrigue made possible by the weakening of our sea power. Then we hear of the Argentine Fleet at sea, with almost as many Admirals as ships, 481 disputing British sovereignty in the South Seas. I have no doubt that our failure to exact retribution from Albania for the loss of so many of our seamen when their ship was deliberately mined in the Corfu Channel has led other nations to believe that they can twist the lion's tail with impunity. I sincerely hope that the position into which this country has been allowed to drift will soon be resolved by amicable settlement.
I should like to turn to the White Paper on Defence for a moment. I can find little comfort in this document, which is packed with specious words and phrases. In paragraph 52 it lays down that the best deterrent to war is tangible evidence of our intention and ability to withstand attack. Where is this tangible evidence? Certainly not in our Fleet as it is to-day or even will be in the near future. I doubt if there has ever been a time in our history when the ratio of the number of men afloat to the number of men in administrative positions ashore and in naval establishments has been so great as it is to-day. That matter was referred to by my noble friend, Lord Howe. The amount of money spent on shore-going establishments, which includes the salaries and wages of swollen civilian administrative staffs, is stupendous, when compared with the expenses of keeping the few ships we have in commission at sea. On page 12 of the White Paper on Defence figures are given which indicate the proportion of men in uniform to that of the civilian staffs for all three Services. These figures indicate that in the case of the Navy there are over two civilians for every man in uniform, whereas in the case of the Army it is only one civilian for every six in uniform, and the Air Force gets along quite well with only one civilian for every five in uniform. Surely a great waste of manpower and money, which might well be used to keep men and ships at sea, is wrapped up in the swollen civilian staffs employed on naval administration.
Of course, when we examine the ratio of men afloat to Royal Navy men employed ashore, the position is no better, but I realise that the transitional stage would account for that fact at the present time. Why do we require a second Admiralty at Bath? It was not required before the war. Why the large administrative organisation at Queen Anne's Mansions? It seems that the Socialist 482 craze for planning has spread to the Services. It is a fact that planning units are here, there and everywhere, both at home and abroad, many of them, in the colloquial phrase, taking in each other's washing. There is no doubt whatever that all these staffs, both naval and civilian, could be cut down and the money and men saved thereby used in keeping more ships afloat. That would enable the Fleet to carry out its proper duties, which are now being so grossly neglected through the want of men and money. I should like to ask the First Lord whether he will consider setting up an inquiry to look into the swollen administrative staffs. By that, I do not mean with the object of wielding a Geddes axe, but of releasing more men and money for the proper duties of keeping our ships at sea.
It was, of course, inevitable, that there should be reductions from war standards to peace standards in the strength of our Fleet. I have no wish to minimise the difficulties of the transitional period and the change-over from short service wartime personnel to the traditional and necessary long-service professional seamen, but the point is: Do these circumstances justify the recent appalling rundown in naval strength, which is already having a bad effect on world opinion and causing disturbed conditions in many parts of the world? I think the answer is, emphatically, "No." It is this question which, is greatly agitating the public mind and which should be answered. I do not blame the professional members of the Board of Admiralty, but the political and financial pressure that has been thrust upon them from without to carry out this unfortunate run-down in naval strength.
Many of your Lordships have no doubt read the book by the distinguished Admiral, the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, which is called It Might Happen Again and which was published towards the end of last year. I hope he will have no objection to my quoting him. I suggest the comments in this book on the years between the two great wars can be linked in a startling way with the figures given in the Naval Estimates which have now been published. The noble Lord, in giving an account of his service as Controller of the Navy and First Sea Lord, said that the system of financial control 483 was vicious, that defence should be a first charge on the national income and that neither politicians, Press nor people ever fully understood the problems of naval material. It is absolutely essential to regulate carefully the flow of work to the shipyards, and it is a fallacy to believe that building can be accelerated at will in times of emergency. If yards are idle, skilled workers accustomed to naval construction will take their skill and services elsewhere. It is disturbing to learn from the Naval Estimates that no construction is to be laid down this year and, in addition, that work will be slowed down on ships already under construction.
It may well be that His Majesty's Government have not yet made up their minds what class and type of ship to build. I suggest it is high time they did so and got on with the job. It is true that the advent of the atomic bomb and controlled missiles has a great bearing on naval construction, but I suggest that time is not on our side in present world conditions. I entirely agree with the policy of high priority in research, but we must not defer our decisions too long. We are scrapping old battleships, cruisers and destroyers, but what are we going to put in their places? His Majesty's Government have made it clear that the Air Force is to be accorded first priority in our defence measures, on the basis that the Air Force is the first line of defence. It will, of course, constitute the first threat to an aggressor. I do not quarrel with this argument, which is a sound one, but it should not be carried too far. It ought not to involve the undue neglect of other Services, because it is obvious that the striking power of the Air Force—as was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Howe—cannot be maintained unless it is assured of supplies of fuel and stores which must largely come by sea. I think it is true to say that there is no prospect of aircraft being able to carry sufficient food and war stores across the Atlantic for many years to come; as soon as hostilities occur, convoys will again have to be instituted with provision for their naval escort. It is possible that aircraft may be able to give full protection to such convoys in the near future, but it is doubtful whether they will ever be able to do so without some assistance from high-speed surface craft. I maintain, therefore, that we cannot afford to rely 484 on the air arm to the virtual extinction of other arms.
I know that there are many people who believe that sea power is obsolete, but I maintain that for many years to come a combination of sea and air power will be required to defend the country from world aggression. Our present weakness at sea is dangerous for world peace, and has a bad moral effect not only on our enemies, but on our neighbours and friends. This danger has increased by the failure of His Majesty's Government to maintain a rhythmical construction programme. I trust, also, that no steps will be taken to abandon the valuable naval bases abroad or to close useful dockyards. The condition of the Navy at the present time is most unsatisfactory and disquieting. We see the national income swollen to immense proportions, while the Navy is hamstrung by parsimony and reduced to a state of impotence, largely for economic and social advantages which, however much they are desired by all of us, cannot be maintained until our security is assured. I submit that defence should be a first charge on the national income. It is no use planning social services until we are prepared to pay the premium for security. The situation which has now developed in the Royal Navy recalls the lines of the poet who many years ago gave this warning to a Government of England:You, you, if you shall fail to understand What England is, and what her all-in-all; On you will come the curse of all the land, Should this old England fall Which Nelson left so great.You, you, that have the ordering of her Fleet,If you should only compass her disgrace, When all men starve, the wild mob's million feetWill kick you from your place.But then too late, too late.
§ 4.54 p.m.
THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, when I saw this Motion down on the Paper I felt a certain amount of regret that we should be having another purely naval debate, because I think the time has come when all these matters ought to be considered together. But we have gone into a good deal of naval detail, and perhaps it is just as well that it was separated. I am not so downhearted about the state of the Royal Navy as either of the two noble Lords who preceded me. I agree, of course, with a 485 good deal of what they say; nobody is more anxious than I to see our Fleet as strong as possible. But surely, at the end of a great war, when you have eliminated all potential maritime opponents, and when you have a great reserve of trained men, that is the time to reorganise the personnel, to cut away the dead wood in the shape of obsolete ships, weapons and stores as quickly as possible, and to place the Navy on a satisfactory footing, ready if the time comes to play its part at sea again. I was glad to see the arrangement made about the men, and the sooner we put the Fleet on a sound basis again the sooner it will be efficient. It is a race against time, and it is as well that it should be done as quickly as possible.
If it is necessary to announce what you are doing—and I have always doubted whether it is—then I think it should be done with discretion. If I have any fault to find with the Admiralty, it is that their publicity campaign has been badly managed. Why is it necessary to blazon abroad what you are doing? I can understand it if you are strong, but why let everybody know if you are weak? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, that these ships might well have been disposed of in some harbour, and remained on the list, anyhow, as a reserve of strength. Take the question of the announcement of the immobilisation of the Home Fleet. That must be taken in conjunction with a statement made only a short time before, that the Home Fleet autumn cruise was cancelled in order to save fuel. That was bound to cause depression at home, and it was bound to have repercussions abroad. There can be little doubt that the situation in the South Atlantic is due to the impression which had gained ground that Great Britain was so down and out that she could no longer send her ships to sea. It has never been sufficiently recognised, in this country or abroad, that the work of the Navy does not cease with the termination of a war; its police work is continuous. The disappearance of the White Ensign from the oceans of the world has naturally encouraged those having the inclination to take advantage of our troubles.
The First Lord's statement mentions police work having to be performed at places as far apart as Palestine, Aden, Somaliland and the Solomon Islands; and since that report was compiled, events 486 similar to those to which he referred have occurred in West Africa, Central America, the Falkland Islands and the Antarctic. What we are suffering from now, perhaps, is the rapid run-down in our cruiser strength. We have not now, as we had in the past, a squadron of cruisers which could be sent to any part of the world. I would suggest that the Admiralty should use not two battleships and a large aircraft carrier as training ships, but a squadron of cruisers. There is great advantage in having cruisers, rather than a battleship. They are much simpler to construct, a far greater supervision is possible and the cost is less. Such a step, moreover, would provide a mobile squadron to show the flag, and to do the work where it needs to be done—just as the "Devonshire" has been used.
The term Training Squadron does not mean merely sending young seamen and stokers to sea to train. It is now more important than ever to give everybody, from Admirals downwards, experience in handling ships in close order. Your Lordships will probably be surprised to know that quite an appreciable percentage of promising officers fail when they arrive at the high ranks just because they have not had in their younger days enough experience in handling ships. They become nervous wrecks. People think it is a simple matter, but to get two large battleships crashing alongside each other in the dark is enough to try any man's nerve. At the moment, perhaps, sea-going time is not so important as it was, because all those officers and men have had a good deal of sea-going experience in the recent past. That may be another argument for laying up the ships in harbour for the moment. But generations change extraordinarily quickly. If you are going to have leaders at sea in the future, you must remember that the majority of young lieutenants will all go on to specialise; and if they have not had that training before they start to specialise they may never receive it later.
We had an announcement about the scrapping of battleships, and within forty-eight hours a debate was being held in another place in which both Front Benches were talking openly of war. Naturally it caused some excitement in the country, and people wondered why the scrapping of the ships could not be put off until the international horizon had cleared. I speak feelingly on this matter 487 because I felt at first that it was a good thing to scrap these old ships, but when I saw that the Front Benches were openly talking of war—which would never have occurred twenty or twenty-five years ago—I got very "hotted-up" about it. Surely it could have waited until it was possible for a statement to be made about the considerable numbers of ships which were coming on. It is all very well to retard the building of ships—and no doubt it is true that we have to incorporate a lot of new things in them—but I would remind the First Lord and his colleagues of a saying which they know well in another connection: "Never up, never in." If you cannot get your ships completed, they will not be there when they are wanted.
I was going to ask the noble Viscount another question which was asked by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. It was whether an aircraft carrier has her outfit of planes all ready for her in the same way as an outfit of ammunition is ready for ships. I would not say anything against the scrapping of small ships if they were useless, but can we take it for granted that the Dominions and all our Reserve Forces have exactly what they require in order to give the officers and men real training? I saw in the First Lord's statement that the recruiting for the three Services and the Auxiliary Services was not entirely satisfactory. I do not know if the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve are included in that figure or not. I am quite sure that if you do not give the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve what they want in the way of modern ships and modern arms, and give them the duties and responsibilities which are proportionate in some way to all that they undertook and did so efficiently in the war, you will not get the officers or the men. They do not want to play at it; they want to do it. I look forward to the time when I shall read in the Press that a flotilla of destroyers, manned by the London Division of volunteers, are cruising in the Norwegian Fjords, or have gone to Iceland, to the Azores or somewhere else.
At the risk of being considered egotistical may I tell your Lordships of a small experiment I carried out myself? After Munich I took counsel with Sir Dennis Boyd, who then commanded the "Vernon" Torpedo Establishment. We were unhappy in regard to the state of the 488 minesweepers if Munich came to nothing. We organised our own corps and we got all sorts of men to join. They came and trained in the minesweepers. They had a special uniform, and they honoured me by calling themselves "Cork's Light Horse." Noble Lords may laugh, but those four minesweepers were at sea before the Royal Proclamation calling out Reservists. They had no training of any sort until they did it in their own time. I am perfectly sure that we lose a good number of men who do not join the R.N.V.R. and who do not become sea cadets because they do not want to be on the parade ground and form a Guard of Honour with rifles in their hands. They say: "We could join the Army if we wanted that." The sort of fellows I had were those on the mud-flats looking for mussels, but they were at home in a small craft with a wire hawser in their hands. Your Lordships may remember that description of a lady which appeared in Punch:She plays her irons like a man,She is very sure with wood.But in a drawing room with a fanShe is not quite so good.That rather applies to the man on the mud-flats.
We are now, of course, in a period of transition, and I can find no fault with the decision not to lay down ships. We must give those who are responsible time for consideration. They have a multitude of reports to go through and analyse before they can come to a decision. When they have come to a decision on the old weapons which we knew until the end of 1945, they then have to see how they are affected by the atomic bomb and by self-controlled weapons. We must give them time, and I think we have to put our trust in them. When they do come to a decision and put in their demands, I am sure those demands will be heavy and that they will want all the support we can give them. As to the atomic bomb, I venture the opinion that it will not be used—its terrific power may be the measure of its weakness. Your Lordships may remember that in the Report on the Bikini trials which was quoted by the noble Earl, the Admiralty said that the third trial, which was to explode the bomb on the ground, was never carried out and therefore no definite answer to the questions could be given, but from all they could learn radio-active 489 dust would be carried hundreds of miles by the wind. That limits the use of the bomb, unless you are going to have your own Army affected by the radio-active dust.
Between the wars there was a school of thought that held we might be wrong in going in for anything but heavy bombing, which was to win the war. I do not say that there was an instructed school, but there was a school of thought of that kind. Only the other day I heard the same remark made in another place by a member who said: "It is all nonsense. The atomic bomb has settled all this." It is true that heavy bombing played a tremendous part in the winning of victory, but what really brought about the result? It was the convergence of great Armies from East and West, and the Army that came from the-West had to be conveyed overseas in hundreds and hundreds of ships. We must be careful not to drop between two stools. We must be prepared for the atomic bomb and all new weapons, but we must be prepared to carry on for the next decade at least with arms with which we are better acquainted.
One further question I should like to ask the First Lord is whether the Admiralty are really happy about the cutting down of the number of National Service men allotted to the Navy. With the Reserves we are likely to have by the time the next war comes, can we really man all the positions which were so well-manned by the Reservists in the years 1943 and 1944? I know it is said that the Navy cannot train men efficiently in one year. That may be so, and I do not venture to say whether they could or not, but I maintain that a great number of ancillary duties could be done and well done by men whom you can train for twelve months. In any case, a partially trained man is better than one starting from bedrock.
I never like seeing the Army and the Air Force leading the Navy, but they are ahead of us with their Reserve Forces. If the Army can provide its armour, its airborne troops and artillery from the Territorials, and the Air Force can get into the air a great number of aircraft straight away, why cannot the Navy do the same with the flotillas all round the coast—the light coastal flotillas, the escort flotillas and so on? It is for that purpose that the light craft should be kept—to provide 490 a nucleus. Crews can be trained with a nucleus. Then, as in the days of old, when the flag falls you will not have to wait six months to organise your Forces, but from every port of the Kingdom the flotillas will emerge. The last two wars began by the destruction of our ships in our own waters. We want the flotillas ready to take their place within six hours of the outbreak of war, and not six months afterwards.
I am afraid I have made some very disjointed remarks, but I would like in conclusion to quote some wise words from The Times. In the last paragraph of a leading article on this subject, The Times, in its issue of March 2 said:To produce adequate defence forces with a bruised economy, enormous civil counterclaims on money, inadequate manpower, inadequate machinery, and inadequate dollars, is doubtless a very difficult task, but it is at the same time one which cannot be neglected, and any mismanagement of it might entail the gravest consequences.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ EARL BEATTY
My Lords, there can now be no doubt that the deliberately accelerated reductions in the Royal Navy in the last two years have been known and interpreted abroad as a sign of weakness on our part. Whether it was a right or a wrong policy, only the future will be able to tell us. But one thing is quite certain, and that is that unless we show now that we mean to proceed with a vigorous policy of rehabilitating the Fleet and of increasing its efficiency and modernising it, then that policy will have proved to be a most dangerous, even criminal, gamble.
Whatever may have been or are the merits of scrapping our old battleships, certainly I think that the timing of the announcement is one that we should all agree is bad. Surely, events in the last few weeks have lent substance to that condemnation. I only hope that the Government will now appreciate that the prestige of a British battleship in the minds of foreigners is still very high, and is, as it always has been, a great asset to our diplomacy. Surely it would have been better to keep one or two—in particular, I would mention "Valiant" and "Renown," because, as the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, said, they were entirely rebuilt at great cost and completed only during the war years. I should have thought it would have been wiser to retain them as a 491 reserve to the few remaining battleships we do possess. If we have no reserves, the value of the existing battleships is greatly enhanced, so much so that if we lose one or two at the outset of the war, it might appear to be a mortal blow. In this respect I would add that when they become so precious it will be hard to expect the naval staff to take risks with them—and without some risks, a war is seldom won.
I think that the main argument for the retention of one or two of these ships as a reserve is the well-known fact that it takes so many years to replace them; and as, obviously, there is no intention at the moment to lay down another battleship, it seems to me common sense to run down, if you must, on the types that you can replace, or that you can build up most quickly, whilst those that take longest should be scrapped last. I should like to make a point here for the attention of the First Lord. The United States, who have scrapped very few ships, have evolved a satisfactory scheme which rejoices in the tongue twisting name of "Dynamic-Dehumidification" for laying up their vessels. Some of the figures I have seen published for keeping these ships in perfect condition for a number of years are remarkably small, in regard both to cost and to man-power. I should like to ask the noble Viscount whether we have obtained that method for this country and, if not, whether it would not be prudent to do so. Furthermore, I suggest that the preservation of one of the older battleships would provide an admirable opportunity for using that method. Before I leave the subject I should like to say that the reprieve of one or two of these battleships either for training purposes, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, suggested, or to be laid up in this new way, could have only a beneficial effect on the stage of foreign affairs in these dark and sombre days, apart from giving us at least some reserve of un-replaceable ships.
The question of scrapping brings me to my next point. We have a large number of corvettes and frigates, built during the war for escorting convoys and anti-submarine work generally. I think that anyone who fought in the Battle of the Atlantic will bear me out when I say that one of our constant worries was the 492 ever-increasing speed on the surface and, more particularly, under the water, of the German submarines. In fact, when the corvettes did come along they were immediately found to be too slow to catch the German submarines on the surface and, towards the end of the war, under the water. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, mentioned this point, and I think it is a very important one, because frigates are admittedly a few knots faster than corvettes; but by 1945 the Type XXI German submarine was able to proceed submerged at 18 knots—a far greater speed than had originally been thought possible. Had the Germans produced this type earlier, it would indeed have been a serious thing for us. This is a known fact, and if any potential enemy of the future is able to produce submarines in large numbers with these speeds, and probably faster, in one stroke it outdates not only our corvettes but our frigates, and will reduce them to little more than paper value.
I hope the First Lord will be able to assure us that these facts have been taken into consideration and that if these two types of vessels are to be retained in reserve it is the definite opinion of the Admiralty that they can serve a useful purpose. If not, it would be far better that our resources should be directed to other channels. In regard to the question of speed, it is all the more important that our attention should be directed towards increasing the numbers of modern destroyers and, as the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, suggested, at any rate retaining, the older destroyers which have the speed required. Until quite recently destroyers were built in two classes, those to be used for Fleet work and those of a smaller and cheaper variety for antisubmarine and escort work generally. It would appear now, with these increased speeds, that the time has come when destroyers must be made for both purposes. For that reason it is alarming to note in the First Lord's statement that progress on the construction of the "Daring" class destroyers, and of the few ships mentioned in the estimates, has been slowed down still further. Last year they were slowed down, and surely the work must now be almost at a standstill. Since destroyers are the handmaiden of all work in the Navy, we can never have too many of them.
493 I should like to ask whether the First Lord can say when, at the present rate of progress, the eight destroyers which are mentioned in the Navy Estimates are likely to be completed. I believe that those ships have been ordered for some two or three years. Can the First Lord tell us that any of their keels have yet been laid; or are we, next year and the year after, to see this same blank page here, with no date of launching given? What we are up against in this direction of new construction, as I mentioned in the debate that we had last October, is the danger that there may be a gap in construction as a result of which several years pass before any new ships join the Navy. The danger, since the majority of our present ships were built between 1941 and 1945, is that we shall suddenly find that we have an out-of-date Fleet. I would like to reinforce the plea made by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, that in the long run it is far better and cheaper that a steady programme of replacements should be laid down and kept to. That was our experience between the wars. Surely we should not forget it. Apart from the danger of a gap in production, the slowing up of progress on new construction is an expensive game. I believe that the Americans considered it two years ago with reference to a certain number of their ships, and they also came to the conclusion that it was better to get a ship completed once it had been commenced.
I wish now to turn for a minute to quite a different subject in the Naval Estimates. I welcome the fact that scientific research is so strongly supported by the Admiralty. I hope that it obtains the highest priority, but I am a little uneasy when this sentence creeps in to the First Lord's statement:owing to…unavoidable restrictions which retard the provisions of new laboratories, progress continues under handicap.Surely if research has the highest priority, as was said in the statement from the Minister of Defence, there should be no difficulty in the provision of laboratories. I cannot understand how this can be permitted. I can only assume that the Minister of Health has won a battle in the Cabinet against the Minister of Defence in competing for materials; and that, in a matter concerned with defence, is quite wrong. I trust that the First Lord will take this up very quickly. As I have said, this is not the first time that these delays 494 have been mentioned and, if there is to be any meaning in the words "highest priority," I fervently hope that we shall never again see the words "unavoidable restrictions," in this connection, in any Government statement.
It is easy to spend money on research for a number of years and yet not know whether much has been achieved in this field—unless the results of that research have been put into production. Experience of the Second World War showed that there was a vast time lag between creating and experimenting with a new idea and putting it into production. Until it was put into production, the teething troubles were never overcome. I should like an assurance from the First Lord that he is satisfied with the results of naval research in the past two years, particularly in view of the fact that in two years we have spent, and are planning to spend, nearly £5,500,000 on research and development contracts. Furthermore, I should like to ask whether results achieved have produced any useful defence measures or offensive weapons. For instance, have we designed and produced a single suitable superstructure for any class of vessel as a protection for personnel against atomic warfare? This was one of the main lessons of the Bikini trials. If we have not—and it is now nearly two years since these trials took place—why is it?
Now, one word on atomic warfare as regards the Navy. Many people think that the advent of the atom bomb has greatly reduced the value of sea power. I do not subscribe to that view. Rather do I feel that it may well have enhanced sea-power—for the following reasons. First, I do not think that the atom bomb will be used (if it is used at all) to any degree against ships at sea. It would be far too expensive a game indiscriminately to bomb ships dispersed across the ocean when more concentrated targets are to be found in towns and factories. Secondly, if we or America had to carry out an atom attack over great distances, it might well be that the initial method of getting to the target would have to be by sea before the launching. Thirdly, atom bomb or no atom bomb, we are still an island which depends for its existence upon keeping its sea routes open. Fourthly, as General Marshall (than whom there could be no greater authority on this subject) said in his official Report on leaving his 495 position as United States Army Chief of Staff:The only effective defence a nation can now maintain is the power of attack.In the last sentence, he says that the United States, if ever again at war:will bleed and suffer perhaps to the point of annihilation unless we move armies of men into the enemy's bases of operation and seize the sites from which he launches his attacks.In other words, it is his firm opinion that to win we shall have to transport an army across the sea. Therefore, I hope that the nation will never be deluded into thinking that a strong and powerful Navy is no longer essential to our country.
With regard to the last point on transporting armies, I note with concern that there is no mention in the Estimates of combined operational ships or craft. Your Lordships will remember that vast fleets of these specialised vessels were required to transport our armies across the seas during the Second World War. Perhaps the First Lord can tell us what has happened to all these ships, and whether we are at least maintaining some for training and experimental work.
In conclusion, I should like to reinforce the question asked of the First Lord by the noble Earl, Lord Howe: What is meant by the words "appropriate peacetime strength of the Fleet"? What do the Government consider should be that peace-time strength? Furthermore, what did the Minister of Defence mean in his speech last Monday when, speaking of training and experimental squadrons, he said that they could "if necessary, at comparatively short notice, be manned and made ready for action." What do the words "comparatively short notice" mean? As in the carrier fleet, which is probably the most important category of all, we shall have no fleet carrier and only four light fleet carriers operational at the end of the year, the importance of those words is greatly accentuated. We can have our own ideas as to what they may mean, but I think that the people of this country would have a great shock if they really knew how long it would take to get those ships into a condition to fight effectively. I regret that the ships enumerated in the column headed "Training and Experimental and Special complements "—whatever that may mean—are really shown as padding to hide our real weakness.
496 As regards the column headed "Operational," in spite of the figures contained in it—and again it deals with the category of fleet carriers—I should like a further assurance from the First Lord that we shall have both up-to-date aircraft to equip and the man-power to man more than two light fleet carriers by the end of 1948. On reading the two statements by the Minister of Defence and the First Lord, I think one gains an unmistakable impression that no clear-cut policy as to the future has really been decided upon, that each Service is muddling along in its own sphere, without any central direction and without knowing quite what the future holds. There is a lack of vigorous determination to grasp the problem as a whole, and, in consequence, we are doing very little. Furthermore, the Government are hiding under the cloak of security only because of our weakness, for surely, if we were strong, it would do no harm to tell the world so. I say, without fear of contradiction, that there is a deep uneasiness throughout the Navy to-day, and I believe also that the nation has been profoundly shocked by recent events and disclosures.
Throughout the grave and thoughtful speeches which came from all sides of your Lordships' House last Wednesday ran the theme that the best hope of averting war was to maintain our strength. It is quite useless, and it is dishonest, to hold out hope to our people of increased social services and security without having national security. As the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition said: "The sands of time are running out." I therefore beg His Majesty's Government to be realistic on this issue and to apply themselves with renewed vigour to these problems of defence, because if it is not done soon it really will be too late, and it will mean not only the destruction of this nation but the destruction of civilisation itself.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ LORD TOVEY
My Lords, so much has already been said this afternoon that there is little left for me to deal with. There are, however, one or two points which I would like to mention. I do not feel so pessimistic as do some of the speakers. I have great confidence in the Board of Admiralty. Their officers, with a great deal of war and administrative experience, have passed these Estimates, and I 497 regard their signatures as a guarantee that they, at least, are satisfied that, under the conditions in which we are living at the present day, they have the Navy which the nation can afford and which they look upon as adequate to protect the country at the present time. I say "adequate" because, of course, most old sailors would like to have a much bigger Navy, much more efficient, and with much more opportunity. Such a Navy would, in my opinion, have a great effect abroad. One aspect of the Navy in peace-time is possibly not always thoroughly appreciated, and that is the great benefit we derive from ships of the Navy cruising round the world. The sight of a well-found ship, smartly kept, is an experience anywhere, and often it is the only contact that foreigners have with our Navy. They judge our country, our stability and our good faith by what they see of the ships that visit their ports. I think we are suffering a serious loss in that respect and it is a loss which has already been felt to-day. A previous speaker has suggested that, as soon as we can, we should send a cruiser squadron to visit foreign ports throughout the world. If that is possible, I think it will do a great amount of good and help in re-establishing the stability of our own country in the minds of foreigners.
A point which was touched on by many speakers was the scrapping of ships. One hates to see these old battleships go, but I must admit I do not feel any serious alarm. However, there was one lesson that came out of each war which is firmly imprinted in my mind, and that was never to scrap any small ships but to keep them as long as they will remain afloat, wherever you can place them. The very valuable service which was obtained from ships of all sorts and kinds in both the First and Second World Wars is quite extraordinary. We have never had too many and we never shall have too many, and it is a false policy to get rid of any of them before it is absolutely necessary.
§ 5.38 p.m.
My Lords, there is no doubt that large numbers of people in this country have been very disturbed at the drastic reductions in the Fleet, and I think it is true to say that our reputation abroad has also suffered. I do not propose to set myself up as knowing better than the Sea Lords, but I feel that the 498 way the announcement was put over was extremely unfortunate. It gave most people a very great shock at the time; indeed, they were very much worried. The noble Earl, Lord Cork, has said that it is essential for senior officers to have an opportunity of tactically controlling squadrons of ships afloat. I cannot see how many of them will have that opportunity to-day. I fear that we may get into a position such as I saw some years ago in the Pacific, when a French vessel came into harbour and called on the Admiral. The French Captain politely asked the Admiral how many ships he had in his squadron, and the Admiral was forced to admit that he had only one, to which the Frenchman replied, with the great politeness always shown by his nation: "How very convenient; no possibility of collision."
Before I pass on to the next point, I would like to say how interested I was in what Lord Beatty said about the modern methods of preserving ships. I feel that every consideration should be given to them. One may be able to preserve ships, and particularly small ships, very economically if modern methods are used. Now, my Lords, if I may, I will turn to the personnel side for a moment. I can well understand the Admiralty view that it is better to make a clean sweep—I think those were the words used by the noble Viscount the First Lord—of wartime ratings, and to build up a long-service, peace-time Navy. I think that if the Admiralty have decided on this course after careful consideration, one ought to accept the decision. But, though I am in general agreement with the policy that the Navy in peace time must largely be made up of long-service officers and ratings—who are, of course, the backbone of the Navy—I am, like the noble Earl, Lord Cork worried about the fact that the Navy are taking only a token figure of 2,000 national service ratings. It is not because they cannot secure many more.
As the noble Viscount well knows, there is great keenness among young men in this country to do their national service in the Navy. I feel that, so far as the Navy is concerned, it would be a pity to waste a great deal of this keen material. Some months ago, in this House, I put up a suggestion to the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, to which he was good enough to give me a courteous reply. From the 499 nature of that reply I gathered that he did not rule out further consideration of my suggestion, which I know is one that has support in the Navy. I know that it is felt in the Navy that a year of service is not long enough. My suggestion—and I am convinced that it is right—was that it would be possible to get a great number of young men who would be prepared, before they were actually called up for their national service, to volunteer to do an additional year or two years with the Fleet after their national service period was finished. I do not suggest making any difference in the national service part of the engagement, but, I am sure that it would be easy to get large numbers of keen young men to volunteer for the extra period of one or two years. I suggest that there is one group of people who ought to be allowed to do their national service in the Navy, without question. I refer to sea cadets who have reached a certain standard in their training.
As I have indicated, I agree, in general, that the backbone of the Navy should be the long-service man; but if this policy is followed too rigidly, then I do not see how we can build up adequate reserves for the Navy. I took careful account of what the Minister of Defence said in another place, and I must say that the paragraph of his speech which deals with this point was to me almost incomprehensible. This is what he said:My experience during the war, when large numbers of men were sent to sea after a very short period of training, convinces me that the existence of a substantial reserve of men, each of whom has had a full year's service, and has had two or more periods of refresher training, amounting to sixty days during his reserve, would greatly improve the situation on mobilisation. In general, having carefully studied all possible alternatives, the Government came to the conclusion that the plan they have adopted is the only practicable one which will avoid so substantial a breach in the principle of universal service as to destroy the essential basis of the Act itself, which would not be acceptable.I confess that I do not understand what the Minister is driving at. He goes on to say later:May I say generally that it is ridiculous to expect that the Navy or either of the other Services could be kept in the same state of readiness as was achieved only after five years of war.Of course, no one expects that.
500 I am not going to deal at any length with the question of the Volunteer Reserve, because I understand that Lord Selsdon who is to follow me is to make that the main theme of his speech. I would remind your Lordships, however, that we have just passed in this House a Bill to create a Royal Marine Forces Volunteer Reserve, and additional volunteers will be required for that Reserve. Surely the best way of building up these Reserves would be to take more national service ratings and encourage them to join the R.N.V.R. or the R.M.F.V.R., after their national service. One must not forget—and I think Lord Selsdon will tell your Lordships something about this—that certain branches of the Navy, coastal forces, aircraft direction, and so on, were almost entirely manned by the R.N.V.R. during the war. I believe that 80 per cent. of the officer strength of the Navy was drawn from the R.N.V.R. There is a little story illustrating this which I may perhaps tell your Lordships. An active service naval officer was visiting a coastal force base and two young officers looked curiously at his uniform. One asked "Who is he?" The answer given was: '' One of those fellows who act as the care and maintenance party of the Navy in peace time." The second method of building up reserves is much more wasteful but it is one which may have to be adopted. It is that ex-national service men of the Army and the Air Force should be allowed to exchange service in the Territorial Army or Air Force for service in the R.N.V.R. or R.M.F.V.R.
Before I sit down, I should like to say one word about the Fleet Air Arm, to which I had the honour to belong As I think the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said, the Fleet Air Arm comprises about one-third of the strength of the whole Navy. Yet, in the White Paper statement on the Naval Estimates, that branch is dismissed in about four short paragraphs—less than half a page. I thought that the noble Earl made a good point when he mentioned the aircraft repair ships "Perseus" and "Pioneer." They are not the only ones, of course. There are the "Unicorn" and some of the smaller engine repair ships. Not one of these ships is mentioned. I said some time ago in this House that it appeared to me that there are only two British aircraft carrier decks in the whole world on which 501 naval aircraft can land to-day. I think this is true and the White Paper bears it out. According to the Paper, only two light fleet carriers are marked as operational. There is the "Victorious," of course, which is on training duty, though I do not think that she would be immediately ready for aircraft to land upon her.
I would further like to ask the noble Viscount the First Lord about the squadrons to man these carriers. During the war in the Pacific, the theatre where the biggest carrier war was seen—indeed, without doubt, it was the biggest war with aircraft carriers in history—we found that not only did we need squadrons formed and trained together, but it was necessary to have entire carrier groups, consisting of five or six squadrons, formed and trained together. The carrier group had to be trained as an operational unit. I should like to ask what is the position now with regard to squadrons and carrier groups. Mention has been made of the light fleet carrier "Venerable" being transferred to the Royal Netherlands Navy. I had, if I may say so, a great deal to do with starting the Air Arm of the Netherlands Navy, and I am glad to hear that the Royal Netherlands Navy, which worked so closely with us during the war, is to have the "Venerable." I am sure that in the talks now going on about Western European Union, we shall be fortunate in having the efficient co-operation of the Royal Netherlands Navy.
In the last few weeks we have had several instances of the fact that the Navy is the only Service by which we can cope with minor troubles in various parts of the world. Even if we cannot quite say, as we used to say, that a sub-lieutenant showing the flag in a cutter was sufficient to make people realise the might of Britain, the visit of a ship in good time can do a great deal. The Navy is like a medical officer of health, who by his very presence stops trouble arising. A later stage is the emergency operation by the striking force of the Royal Air Force; but one hopes this may never be necessary. Let us keep our naval strength, so far as we can, throughout the world. The Navy is our only really mobile service and the appearance of the White Ensign anywhere can do nothing but good.
§ 5.53 p.m.
My Lords, my speech to-day is going to be like the ships I served in during the last war—short and fast. So much has been said by other noble Lords that there is little for me to add. But I would draw attention to the statement attributed by the Press to the Minister of War, that he intended to have a "new look" Army. I do not have to remind your Lordsips that, as the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, pointed out, new ships take a long time to build. In the summer of 1941 we were glad to see fifty very old destroyers come across the Atlantic. Last Wednesday we had an extremely interesting and rather frightening debate in your Lordships' House on the situation abroad, which could not be classified as cheerful. Indeed, one might say that it was rather disquieting. Are we going to allow ourselves to revert to the days of 1940? Are we going to allow ourselves to be in the position of having no adequate escorts for Atlantic convoys in the event of war? We have new means this time, or rather the old means with a "new look"—the U-boat with a breathing device which enables it to stay under water for days and weeks. It was not easy to destroy them before, but at least the Air Force had a chance of picking them up by radar at night, when they were on the surface charging their batteries. To-day the U-boat can charge its batteries below water; and, as the noble Earl, Lord Beatty, has already informed the House, it can do eighteen knots under water. Moreover, it can go a long distance before a destroyer picks it up.
The Royal Navy has always been fortunate as regards its men. Men have always volunteered, because (a) they like ships and (b) they like the sea. But there is one thing I am quite certain they do not like, and that is sitting around in antiquated buildings, in the extreme discomfort which exists in Royal Naval barracks at the present time. The scrapping of these ships may not affect recruiting to any large extent at the moment, but a man will certainly think twice about joining the Navy if he knows that he has not a good chance of going to sea. That is his aim in joining the Navy. What I am concerned about is how the cutting down of the Fleet will affect the young officer who in normal times would be getting his command, but who in the 503 present state of things finds that there will be nothing for him to command. Should there be another emergency we would lose that number of efficient young officers aged about twenty-five and twenty-seven, whom the Navy produces. The Prime Minister said at a Territorial meeting the other day that in the event of another war there would be no time for the training of the ordinary soldier. In a naval battle every man on a ship is an essential man, doing a skilled job. It is essential, if we are to have an efficient Fleet, that we give these men in the Reserve a fair chance of training and of refreshing their memories in what they have to do.
The scrapping of these ships is a terrible blow to my friends in the R.N.V.R. They are men from all walks of life. They willingly give up their holidays and weekends to go for training, and perhaps spend part of their holidays at sea with the Fleet. Now I do not know what will happen. I had lunch with the Commanding Officer of the Solent Division the other day. He told me that the enthusiasm of this newly formed branch is something fantastic. People some from the dockyard and from thirty miles away to do their two hours' training, often returning home late at night. The only thing they keep asking is, "Shall we be among the lucky ones who get to sea? "Surely in an emergency the whole system of the Navy depends on these men. Cannot we have some form of training at sea? Perhaps a flotilla of destroyers, or vessels not so big as destroyers, could be allocated for training these men during the summer months.
I should like now to refer to the coastal forces. As your Lordships know, probably 90 per cent. of the striking force in the Channel during the war was made up of motor gunboats and motor torpedo boats. It was a young man's war. Everything was specialised; and there were all sorts of gadgets, so that a man had to know a bit about everything. To-day, so far as I can ascertain (and I stand to be corrected), there are only four M.L.s, with a speed of about 16½ knots, available throughout the whole of England. I believe there is one flotilla of M.T.B.s in commission, but nothing is available anywhere for training in this particular type of Channel warfare. I notice that in the Navy Estimates 504 it is stated that M.T.B. 538 mounts one 4.5 inch gun. I wonder if the First Lord can tell me if that is the same vessel that was started in 1945. I see it has just been launched. I would like to know if His Majesty's Government, or the Admiralty, have any plans for the future development of Diesel engines or gas turbines, one of which I believe was tried out the other day. I would like to know if there are any proposed developments, or whether experimental work is being carried on.
As other noble Lords have said, the Americans are not scrapping any of their ships; they are putting them into reserve. We do not seem to have heard anything from behind the Iron Curtain as to what is happening there, but I do not think they are scrapping ships; they might even be building a lot of U-boats, or some type of ship like that. While I must agree that the Board of Admiralty know a great deal more about these things than I do, I would point out that in 1941 we did not consider the old American destroyers, although they were not classified, as out-of-date. We soon had them up to date—or, at least, we had them fighting. These old battleships may not be of much use as a first line, but they must be of some use as a deterrent. Anything with a 15 inch gun is going to make somebody think twice. They may not be used as first line ships, but they could always be used as block ships, or could be used in a similar way to the old French battleship—I forget its name now—which formed part of the Mulberry Harbour.
When this country enters a war, we always seem to do so rather badly prepared. I do not know whether it is because we want to give the other chap a sporting chance, as we always know we are going to win! The last time we got a very hard blow on the jaw at Dunkirk, which made us pretty groggy. This time we do not know what will happen because we have not seen the atomic bomb. We know, however, that our food, war or no war, must come across water. I implore His Majesty's Government to reconsider their decision about scrapping these escort ships, and give the Royal Navy the chance of escorting the convoys from the word "Go."
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for 505 putting down his Motion and so allowing the discussion to take place this afternoon on the very important question of the Royal Navy. I think it is fitting that your Lordships should have an opportunity of discussing this matter at a time that coincides with the discussion on the Navy Estimates in another place. I want your Lordships to bear with me, because I may lake up a deal of your time, if only to reply to the many questions which have been levelled at me. I would like to thank those noble Lords who sent me a list of the questions which they intended to ask, and I hope in the course of my speech to cover most of the points so raised.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, referred to the disposal of ships in the Royal Navy, and he rightly referred to the statement which I made in your Lordships' House on January 29, 1947. It will also be seen from the explanatory statement which I circulated with the Estimates that that list has been brought up-to-date. It indicates the number of His Majesty's ships which have been sold, or lent, or given to Commonwealth and foreign Governments since the cessation of hostilities in 1945. There are certain important features of that policy with which I will deal later, but noble Lords will wish me to make a few remarks in amplification of the statement to which I have referred. Negotiations are in process for the sale of three light fleet carriers, one destroyer and six landing craft to Commonwealth and foreign Governments—in the main to Commonwealth countries. Further proposals, some tentative, for other transfers are under consideration. Particulars of any sales that are actually effected will be published to your Lordships' House in due course. Arrangements for the offer of the cruiser "Achilles" to the Union of India, together with three destroyers, and the offer of two destroyers to Pakistan, have now been settled, and I hope that those ships will soon be handed over.
I do not propose to dwell at length on the question of the run-down of manpower, because in the speeches which have been delivered this afternoon there has, on the whole, been little criticism about the method which was adopted by the Admiralty in bringing about this rundown, which inevitably led to a considerable amount of dislocation. As I have previously stated, our policy has been to 506 reconstitute the Navy on a peace-time footing as soon as possible, and to this end to re-create and train up the hard kernel of regular sailors on which our Navy must depend. This programme has been undertaken at a time when we are suffering severe economic pressure. I would ask your Lordships to realise that since the cessation of hostilities more than 750,000 men and women have left the Royal Navy, and during the last financial year alone the Navy lost a total of 90,000 trained officers and men. Of the personnel now serving, one half have been in the Service for less than two years—
§ VISCOUNT HALL
No; less than two years. Of the personnel now serving, one half has been in the Service for less than two years. It will also be realised that this short period has been insufficient to provide the trained personnel for a Service like the Royal Navy, which now needs a high proportion of skilled and experienced men. Also, our ships require far more men to man them than in pre-war years, particularly trained men in the specialist branches. For example, whereas the battleship "Nelson" in pre-war years had a total complement of some 1,400 men, which was regarded as sufficient to make the ship a fighting unit, the post-war complement of one of our modern battleships—I take the "Duke of York" as an example—is no less than 1,730 men. That is an increase of 25 per cent. and has been brought about largely by improved technical equipment. For similar reasons, an aircraft carrier now requires more than 1,400 men to man her, against the pre-war figure of rather less than 1,000, which is an increase of 40 per cent. in the complement of an aircraft carrier.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
Yes. It is mainly as a result of the modern devices and equipment which have been brought abort from experience in the war, and which are absolutely essential for a modern ship or aircraft carrier. The increase is particularly striking in the case of a destroyer, where, for example, a "Battle" class destroyer now has a complement of 280 men, whereas the pre-war "Greyhound" class required no more than 150. In that category the increase is almost 90 per cent. Those necessary increases in seagoing 507 complements, together with the other commitments which the Royal Navy now has ashore, provide the concise answer to those critics who hold that the number of sea-going ships is far smaller than our man-power resources would permit were we to put our minds to it; and, at the same time, they show clearly why it has been necessary to take some ships out of full commission for the time being. In the latter connection it is not mere numbers of men that count but the provision of trained sailors in specialist categories—in fact, a balanced ship's company—which is the determining factor. I was surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, say that it was not men we wanted but ships. Indeed, ships are no use without men.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
No, but we want the combination. If you have the most technical battleship in the world, unless you have the trained personnel to use on the battleship, then that battleship or warship of any class will be of little use. The provision of trained personnel for our ships is indeed the keystone of our present policy. With a naval strength of 145,000—which includes 7,500 W.R.N.S.—we have to-day under training, employed as instructors, or associated with training in one way or another, no fewer than 33,000 officers and men. I admit that this is an abnormal commitment, arising from the necessarily heavy training programme of the moment. But for the present these men, training or being trained, represent nearly one-quarter of our total man-power and they are, for thoroughly sound reasons, kept temporarily on particular duties ashore. Your Lordships will recognise that it is essential that men should be given an adequate foundation of training ashore before they are drafted to sea-going ships where they are converted into real sailors. Here I might mention, with regard to the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that we expect no difficulty in giving the necessary sea training to members of the Reserve.
The training commitment to-day is far heavier than it was pre-war, not only on account of the numbers involved, but in view of the nature of the training which must be designed to fit the sailor to carry 508 out efficiently the more complex functions which he is now called upon to perform. Naval aviation at the present time requires a considerable number of its personnel—many thousands—to be permanently shore based, and these personnel, though they play a vital part in servicing naval aircraft, are not available to take any part in manning the sea-going fleet. The maintenance of the Reserve Fleet also absorbs many thousands of officers and men, and while these are technically afloat they are, of course, not manning sea-going operational ships. In addition, the Royal Marines are providing a substantial number of men for Combined Operations duties and Royal Marine commandos. For these reasons, and those which I have already given, it is quite clear that we must expect to have a considerable portion of our men employed on shore or other than operational duties, at any rate for the time being.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked what would be the numbers of personnel of the Fleet serving afloat and ashore respectively in 1945–50. This will depend upon various factors, including the extent to which our present training programme is successfully carried through. I cannot at this stage give a forecast, but at the end of the present year we expect that out of a total strength of 139,000 men—that is, less the 7,500 W.R.N.S. to whom I have referred—we shall have afloat in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines 65,000 men. Of the figure of 139,000, I would point out that some 6,000 are boys under training. Reference has been made to the size of the Fleet operating at the end of the year. As is pointed out in the explanatory statement, we are hoping to man up these ships gradually and put them into the operational category. By the end of this year, if training goes well—and therein lies the crux of the situation—we are hoping to have in commission, including ships for experiment and training, 4 battleships, 3 fleet carriers, 5 light fleet carriers, 17 cruisers, 56 destroyers, 3 "Hunt" frigates and 38 other frigates, 34 submarines and 17 fleet minesweepers.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
That is up to the end of this year, December 31, 1948. Those ships together with those in reserve would give us 5 battleships, 6 fleet carriers, 6 light fleet carriers, 29 cruisers, 509 3 minelayers, 119 destroyers, 49 "Hunt" frigates, 128 other frigates, together with a large number of submarines and small craft.
I would like to point out in reference to the criticism which has been made in relation to the number of personnel of the Royal Navy who are shore based that I have compared figures for 1921–1922 with those of the present time. In 1921–1922 42 per cent. of the total personnel of the Royal Navy was shore based. By the end of this year, the number of shore based personnel of the Royal Navy, including the heavy commitment of the Naval Air Arm, will be 43 per cent. So it is not true to say that the proportion of men who are likely to be shore based will be anything in excess of that of a comparable period.
Reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, and the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, to the question of whether the policy of taking a token figure of 2,000 national service men is wise, in view of the need for the building up of the reserve forces. The Board of Admiralty came quite definitely and clearly to that conclusion; and it was based largely upon the fact that our Regular recruitment, which after all forms the nucleus of the Royal Navy, was satisfactory, and had, indeed, almost reached the target which we had hoped for. So satisfactory is it that we are getting more than twice the numbers we were getting in pre-war days as Regular recruits. That speaks well for the popularity of the Royal Navy, and it denies the truth of much of the criticism which has been levelled, that the Royal Navy is not so popular a Service as it used to be. The Board of Admiralty will at once admit that the token figure for intake of national service men is based only on requirements this year or, perhaps, next year. And it may well be that we shall have to reconsider the question if we have a falling off in the recruitment of Reserves into the R.N.V.R.—
Can the noble Viscount enlarge on the problem of building up his reserves for the Royal Navy if he does not take a larger number of recruits who might want to enlist in the other Services?
§ VISCOUNT HALL
We are hoping to build up, and we have a target figure. If we can achieve that target figure we think 510 that an entry of 2,000 national service men would be sufficient to give us the reserves which are required. There is no question about it that a great deal of thought has been given to this question.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
That is difficult Priority is given, provided, of course, that the sea scouts have all the qualifications which we can get from other recruits Suppose that a sea scout who offers himself for service in the Royal Navy under the scheme of national service or for regular recruitment, does not possess other necessary qualifications, apart from being a sea scout. I do not know that in such a case we ought to give him preference. But if he had qualities and qualifications on a par with those of another candidate who is not a sea scout, then certainly we should be anxious that encouragement should be given the candidate who had identified himself with the sea scouts—
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Viscount again, but I do not see how he is to get his Reserves. Other Services will want recruits and so will the Territorial Forces and the R.A.F. Reserve. I do not see where he is going to get his pool.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
The noble Lord put this matter to me before, and I promised to look into it; and it has in fact been looked into. We have assessed the number of Reserves required and if we find at any time that we are failing in this matter, then we shall certainly take even more than the token figure of 2,000 which we have discussed this evening.
I should like now to turn to another aspect of naval policy which is inseparably bound up with the process of contraction from war-time strength—namely, the scrapping of warships no longer required, about which so much has been said this afternoon. When I announced the recent decision to place on the scrapping list five of the older capital ships remaining in the Royal Navy I explained fully the circumstances in which this decision was taken. I do not think this decision will or or can be questioned by knowledgeable 511 and responsible naval opinion. I would emphasise that this decision constitutes no new departure of policy. Two of our older capital ships had already been placed on the scrapping list—namely "Malaya" and "Warspite." Others, "Ramillies," "Resolution" and "Revenge" had previously been declassified as fighting ships and have been in use for non-combatant purposes. Of these capital ships, two—namely, "Nelson" and "Rodney"—were more than twenty years old and had seen strenuous and valiant service under the arduous conditions of the last war. The remainder were even older.—
§ VISCOUNT HALL
You cannot continually modernise or patch up an old battleship. It is true that these ships were modernised as well as they could be. I well remember saying to a very gallant Admiral, who had been the whole of his life in the Royal Navy and had spent part of his time serving on the "Queen Elizabeth": "I am afraid there is bad news of the ' Queen Elizabeth.' ""Why," he asked, "Is she going to be scrapped?" I said, "Yes." "Well," he said, "she could not stand another patch being put on her." It is no new thing to scrap ships. After the first World War the then Government did not scrap six or seven battleships, they scrapped nearly thirty capital ships. There was the run-down at that time which we must inevitably have after every war. The cost of modernisation is very heavy indeed. I have been advised that it would amount to some £4,000,000 to £5,000,000 for each ship, and that it would have taken at least four years in each case. This expense and work would have to be undertaken at the expense of the maintenance of all those ships which in the opinion of the Board of Admiralty—
There has been no suggestion from these Benches that those ships should be modernised and brought up to date—none whatever.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
Without bringing them up to date they would be of very little use. One of these ships completely collapsed during the period of the last war, and had to be patched up to be brought home. On one of the other ships we had to spend a certain amount of 512 money for her to be taken out of dock and put into a yard to be scrapped. Noble Lords cannot realise the condition in which some of these ships are now. I beg your Lordships to realise that the Board of Admiralty did not scrap this vessel without fully appreciating the position. In the Second World War, it was the battleships of new construction and those of recent reconstruction that were the mainstay of the surface fleets. We are retaining in the post-war Fleet our most modern battleships, together with the "Vanguard," which embodies the latest knowledge and developments arising out of the naval warfare of the Second World War. It is only the most up-to-date units which can be expected to undertake successfully the functions and to face the hazards of modern warfare, particularly, as so many noble Lords have mentioned, in view of the difficulties which might arise as the result of the use of the atomic bomb.
It is not possible to-day to say that the era of the capital ship is over. We cannot yet foresee what may emerge out of the current scientific and technical developments that are taking place. While any future threat to the maintenance of our sea communications may well come from underwater craft and the air, it would be imprudent indeed, in the years which lie immediately ahead, not to make reasonable provision for defence against the possible use of major surface craft. It cannot be supposed that the retention of a number of old battleships would deter a potential aggressor. Equally, it would be wrong to suggest that the scrapping of them manifests a weakness. In no sense can the reduction of the war-time strength of the Navy in terms of vessels, whether of battleships or otherwise, be construed as a form of unilateral disarmament. The process is a natural consequence of the end of a major war, and we are not scrapping any vessels which we consider would be of service if another war were to break out within a few years. Reference was made by two or three noble Lords, to the fact that the Americans are not scrapping any ships. In fact, the Americans themselves are scrapping seven battleships. Indeed, they are keeping only two in commission and are placing the remainder in reserve. That is the situation so far as the United States are concerned.
513 It will be convenient if at this point I make reference to the position of the aircraft carrier. After all, the aircraft carriers form the hard core of our seaborne strength, both for offence and for defence. In support of carriers, we shall need surface ships to protect them against enemy surface vessels. To what extent this support will have to be provided by battleships or cruisers depends to some degree upon whether any potential enemy can assemble a force of battleships or heavy cruisers. It is also necessary to have surface ships more powerful than any potential enemy surface vessel, in order to be able to control sea communication if aircraft are not present or cannot operate—as, for example, in the Arctic in winter. At the present time, apart from our own, the only major surface Fleet containing battleships is that of the United States of America. It would be of interest if I made a short quotation from Brassy's Naval Annual 1947, which states at page 39:In the United States Navy, the battleship is now regarded as secondary to the aircraft carrier. Only two battleships are at present being maintained in full commission. That the whole question of the future employment of battleships is under consideration may also be deduced from the fact that the construction of the 45,000 ton ' Kentucky ' as well as the battle cruiser ' Hawaii ' has been suspended for twelve months in order that both ships may be given a main armament of rockets. Pending the installation of these revised armaments, and their testing after the ships are completed, no information can be expressed as to the future of the battleship in the United States Navy.In view of the controversy which has centred around the scrapping of the battleships, I thought it necessary to refer to that passage, which deals with the situation of the American Navy.
Under present conditions, we consider that five modern battleships should provide an adequate force for the support of carriers; or in circumstances when aircraft cannot operate. In due course it may be necessary to replace these battleships with capital ships of a different type. But the time has not yet arrived when we can see ahead sufficiently clearly to lay down definite plans of such forward character. As the Minister of Defence has recently said in another place, we must, in the present position, have minimum forces to meet emergencies and these, for the time being, must be more or less of the conventional type. As he continued, the only 514 prudent course is to defer committing ourselves to definite lines of development until we can see the future with greater certainty and, while retaining such forces as are necessary, press on with research and development. That is the situation at the present time.
When we have the criticism which we have had, that the Navy is being reduced without proper regard to minimum requirements or a replacement programme of adequate dimensions, it is invalid. I must emphasise—and emphasise strongly—that it is less than three years since the end of the Second World War; and it is a little more than one year since the results of the Bikini trials have been made available. The development of the air weapon between the two wars, and more latterly, has had a great effect on the: shape and composition of our Forces generally, and on the Navy in particular. The further development of guided missiles and other weapons emerging from the Second World War may, indeed, have greater effect. Atomic energy, should it be applied, against all our hopes, in future warfare, may well transcend all these other developments. In these circumstances, it is not to be expected that we shall at present be in a position to formulate any firm plan for modifying in fundamentals the traditional composition of the Fleet. We must always bear in mind—and this is true for any nation—that the big ship cannot be built quickly. It takes years to build, and it also costs a great deal of money. When pressed at this time to build heavy ships, not necessarily battleships, we should not allow ourselves to be urged to hasty and probably injudicious conclusions. It is right that we should be quite sure where we are going before we enter into such commitments.
However, while the effects of the atomic weapon are bound to be substantially greater than those of any previous new weapon, and some of them are entirely new to naval and other forms of warfare, I am advised that at present there is no reason to suppose that the general principles of naval warfare will be basically affected. In particular, as has already been pointed out in the course of the debate, it is currently the view that it would be uneconomical to use the atomic weapon in attacking warships or convoys of merchant ships upon the high seas. In common prudence the tactical 515 consequences and the possibility of such attacks are, of course, kept in mind, and the various ways in which the possibilities of atomic attack should modify the design of warships and their equipment are the subject of close study at the Admiralty at the present time. For the time being our programme of new construction is a modest one. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked whether information could be obtained as to what the programme is. He will see the programme set out on pages 228, 229 and 230 of the Naval Estimates. I admit it is a modest one, and the work which is being done is on those ships of earlier programmes which are being carried forward.
I am not laying down any new ships this year, but your Lordships will have observed that a number of fleet carriers, light fleet carriers, cruisers and destroyers are among the ships in course of construction on which work is being continued. It is true that work has not continued so speedily as some of us would have liked, but it is proceeding and we are hoping that in the course of a short time some, at any rate, of those ships will be completed. Some of those vessels will embody entirely new features and techniques, and may therefore rightly be described as prototypes. The eight destroyers are being progressed, the keels having been laid down for some time, and quite a number of them have been launched. They are making progress at a moderate speed because of the priority given to merchant shipbuilding in the shipyards, and to national programmes in the engineering factories where the fittings and equipment for our new ships have to be made. The Admiralty have not wished to advance the progress of these ships, particularly since the slower rate of construction will enable the latest discoveries—and there are discoveries being made every day—in technical equipments to be fitted to a greater extent than would have been possible with normal building times.
§ EARL BEATTY
Will the noble Viscount permit me to interrupt? He said just now that some of the eight destroyers had been already launched. If so, why are they not put down in the Naval Estimates, as indeed the light fleet carriers are, on the opposite page? Why does their date of launching not appear?
§ VISCOUNT HALL
On page 230 you will see it stated that some of the destroyers have been launched—not some of the eight, as I inadvertently said. Progress is being made on some of the "Daring" class, and we are embodying in them the technical knowledge which we have been able to obtain. We attach very great importance to these vessels which, to some extent, do constitute research and development projects, and the progress of their construction will be kept closely under review. The Admiralty is, of course, not unaware of the probable effects of increases in the speed of the submerged submarine, which was a question that was raised to-day. Indeed, we are paying close attention to that matter, but we must await the results of the experimental work in which progress is being made. At the same time, however, I should observe that the high speed submarine is itself still in the experimental stage. It is not to be imagined that, while the process of reorganising and re-constituting the Fleet is taking place, time is being wasted in the field of research and development in other spheres as well as that of the atomic bomb—for I can assure your Lordships that in this field we are devoting the maximum effort and affording high priority from the resources which can be made available for naval purposes.
The noble Earl, Lord Beatty, referred to difficulties concerning the provision of laboratories, equipment and man-power. We are certainly endeavouring to speed up the building of laboratories and to obtain additional scientists to help in this matter, although it must not be thought for a moment that we have not a number of very eminent scientists already at work dealing with these problems. There is our research into questions arising from the application of the device known as "Snort" which has been referred to, quite correctly, as a device enabling submarines to take in air for the purpose of running engines, charging batteries, and providing fresh air for the crew when the vessel is submerged to periscope depth. The Germans made some progress with that device during the last war and the principle has now been developed and 517 applied to a considerable proportion of our own submarine fleet. At the same time, the Admiralty is investigating methods of submarine propulsion (which is a very interesting study), including again those initiated by the Germans, and these investigations are proceeding satisfactorily.
A further development of great importance which was referred to this afternoon is that of the gas turbine engine for marine propulsion. This is still in its early stages, but when fully developed the influence which it will have on endurance and tactics will, in the opinion of the experts, be profound. The gas turbine will reduce fuel consumption, thus increasing the cruising radius. It will, if successful, drastically reduce the space occupied by machinery and allow a corresponding increase either for fighting equipment or for accommodation aboard ship. This will be a particularly welcome development in view of the constant addition of machinery and equipment in our ships during recent years.
A further important aspect of our research and development work is the trials on actual ships for the investigation of various problems affecting, in particular, ships' structures. I think that matter was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham. For these "ship target trials" we are, of course, using a number of vessels which are ultimately to be scrapped; and, indeed, some of the larger vessels of the battleship type will probably be used both for experiments from the air and for experiments under water. Needless to say, the lessons learned during the last war about ship construction and the equipment of His Majesty's ships, are being embodied in the design of ships in the course of construction, in the design of those we hope to be able to build in future programmes, and in the plans for bringing existing ships up to date when we embark upon a modernisation programme. By way of example, I might mention the planned modernisation of aircraft carriers to enable them to operate heavier types of naval aircraft coming into service and the re-equipment of the Fleet with modern anti-aircraft weapons, in addition to the more forward features to which I have already made reference. All of those are being considered in designing the modern Navy.
518 It is true that, as compared with the Fleet in 1938, the Royal Navy shows a reduction in capital ship strength. There has also been a reduction in the number of cruisers. But we must not forget that the fleet carrier, of which we have six, with two in the course of construction, has now assumed a wider function and a far more important position than it occupied in pre-war years. Again, in thinking of our cruiser strength we must take into consideration the light fleet carriers which have taken over certain of the rôles previously carried out by the cruiser category. We have six light fleet carriers now, while ten are at various stages of construction. Moreover, it must be borne in mind that the modern destroyer is a much larger and more powerful vessel than its pre-war counterpart. In fact, it is almost a small cruiser. Taking destroyers and frigates together, we now have a total of no fewer than 296 vessels. I know that noble Lords are interested in this figure because in several speeches reference has been made to the relative numbers. That total of 296 compares with 205 in 1938.
The strength of the Fleet, taking into account the build-up indicated in my explanatory statement, represents the assessment which has been made over the last two years of the number of ships needed to meet the current commitments of the Royal Navy. And having regard to the naval forces at the disposal of other members of the British Commonwealth that strength is regarded as sufficient to meet any foreseeable emergency in the future, and also to serve as the indispensable nucleus of the naval expansion which would be required in a major emergency. The build-up of our operational forces is proceeding in accordance with the programme indicated in my explanatory statement, and if our plans for training go ahead as we wish—and we fully expect that they will—the Home Fleet will proceed on its autumn exercises and a cruise to the West Indies. Certain units will take the opportunity of visiting South African waters, and, I am sure, will receive a hearty welcome.
The noble Earl asked me about the state of readiness of the training squadron—that is, whether it is immediately operational. I can say that the training and experimental training squadron in home waters, battleships and fleet carriers, 519 as well as cruisers, destroyers and submarines, could, if necessary, be manned and made ready for action at comparatively short notice. The larger units would take a few months—say three months—but the other ships could be ready even sooner. I should like to emphasise, however, that in circumstances sufficiently serious to warrant it we could—and would—put to sea in home waters a balanced force of some size within little more than a week. Naturally, this would involve a considerable interference with our forward plans for manning and training, but, in overriding circumstances, this consideration would have to take second place. I must remind your Lordships that we have throughout maintained operational a substantial Fleet in the Mediterranean, where, indeed, the greater part of advanced training is being carried out. With regard to the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, my intention, in my explanatory statement, was to give in as short a space as possible the size and shape of the Fleet. For this reason the table was confined to warships of the more important categories, and, in this respect, it conformed with the Navy Estimates.
The noble Earl, Lord Beatty, referred to combined operations ships and craft, and asked whether we had any of the war-time fleet left. The answer is that we are retaining an essential nucleus of seagoing ships and craft, including in all, from the landing ship headquarters to the smaller craft, upwards of 500 vessels. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked about the complements of aircraft for fleet and light fleet carriers. Air groups to provide full complements exist for all carriers in commission, and intended to commission this year, as shown in my statement on the strength of the Fleet. Neither the numbers of aircraft held nor the air crews in operational readiness will allow provision at short notice of complements for fleet or light fleet carriers in reserve.
My Lords, I would like at this point to say one word about the Reserve Fleet. As indicated in the explanatory statement, we are maintaining a large number of ships in reserve, and attention is now being paid to the preservation of these vessels. Questions have been asked this afternoon with regard to the American method of preservation. This is a problem of no small magnitude. At my request, 520 the Parliamentary Secretary has recently visited the United States of America to ascertain the measure of success attendant upon the methods which the Americans are adopting. We have been aware for some time past that the Americans have been applying the process known as dynamic dehumidification, by which all air is dried before entering the ship, thus ensuring that everything inside is kept in a proper state of preservation. We have, ourselves, been adopting somewhat similar measures, but I wished to obtain firsthand knowledge of the American practice and the degree to which it is proving successful. The information which we have obtained through the Parliamentary Secretary is now being carefully examined.
I would now say a few words—and I must apologise for keeping your Lordships so long—with reference to Commonwealth matters, of which mention has been made by noble Lords. I should like to remind your Lordships that the countries of the Commonwealth have been building up their Navies since the end of the war, and that the contribution which they are in a position to make to our over-all naval resources is not only gratifying but one which should not be overlooked when considering the strength of the Royal Navy itself. The Royal Australian Navy now comprises three cruisers, eight destroyers, fifteen frigates and thirty-two minesweepers. The Australian Government intend to add two light fleet carriers between now and 1950 to form a nucleus of Australian naval aviation. Canada has one aircraft carrier, two cruisers, eleven destroyers, six frigates, and nine minesweepers. New Zealand has two cruisers, two frigates, and seven minesweepers. While South African naval forces are being built up, they already have four frigates and two minesweepers, and, as I have just announced, the naval forces of India and Pakistan are to be strengthened—in the case of India by one cruiser and three destroyers, and in the case of Pakistan by two destroyers.
I can assure the noble Earl that the closest co-operation exists between the naval staffs of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and those of His Majesty's Governments in other Commonwealth countries. We welcome all opportunities of co-operating in connection with the size, shape and training of their naval forces. The chief modes of 521 co-operation between the Royal Navy and the Dominion Navies have been exchanges of visits and exercises between units of the respective Fleets. Questions of research and development figured prominently in the discussions during the meeting of the Commonwealth Advisory Committee on Defence Science which took place in London in November. Exchanges of information and views also take place during periodical visits to the Dominions and to this country. Perhaps your Lordships will permit me to quote the words of my right honourable friend, the Minister of Defence, when he said recently:Though we may not have a massive and elaborate official structure, I can assure the House that there are effective means of keeping the members of the Commonwealth in touch with one another on questions of defence and that it is our constant endeavour to make them still more effective.I hesitate to take up more of your Lordships' time, but I hope you will forgive me if, before I sit down, I mention two other matters of particular interest. The first is the scheme of cadet entry into the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. It will be recalled that under this scheme boys will enter the College at sixteen years of age and that they will be given free maintenance and tuition thereafter. At the time of my announcement some concern was expressed whether the new scheme had been introduced so rapidly and with so little margin of time before the first examination, which was to take place this month, that its success would be prejudiced. I can now say that, in spite of the unavoidably short notice, there has been a remarkable response. The average number of applicants for entry to Dartmouth under the old scheme over the last two and a half years has been 139 for an average entry on each occasion of thirty-eight. For the first entry at age sixteen under the new scheme we have received no fewer than 514 applications from eligible candidates from all types of school.
In conclusion, I should like to refer to the question of officers, particularly young officers, of the Royal Navy. We have in recent years been very conscious that a redaction of the Fleet carried with it the inherent danger of an over-bearing of officers. We have taken this into account in determining the officer bearings in the various branches, and I am now able to give two assurances. First, we have every 522 desire to avoid recourse to axing measures to reduce the numbers of officers. Second, on the numbers planned to be borne next year we do not envisage that any measures of the kind adopted from 1922 onwards will be necessary. I apologise again to your Lordships for keeping you so long, but I was anxious to cover as much ground as possible. We have covered a wide field of naval policy. Perhaps I have not answered all questions put to me, particularly about details, but I have tried to deal with the question of general policy, and I shall certainly see to it that all questions put to me receive a reply.
I trust now that as a result of this debate the Royal Navy and Admiralty will cease to be the centre of the kind of criticism which it has experienced during the last few months from some of the Press and from many persons who, for political purposes, are using the present transitional period to mislead some of the people of this country and the Commonwealth and are doing much damage to this nation throughout the world. It will now be seen that the Royal Navy is neither as weak nor as inefficient as certain publicists suggest. We are providing for the fourth year after the end of the war a Vote A of 145,000 men and women and £153,000,000. This provision is 50 per cent. more in man-power and almost three times as much in finance as was provided in 1922. These figures in themselves should be an indication of the intention—indeed, the determination—of the Government to maintain the strength of the Royal Navy and to provide the trained men, the ships and the planes to meet the requirements for policing the seas, to provide the nucleus on which to expand the Navy in the event of a serious emergency and for the protection and furtherance of the interests of this nation and the Commonwealth at home and abroad.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, I would like to offer my most sincere thanks to the First Lord for the extraordinarily courteous and comprehensive way in which he has tried to deal with all the questions with which he has been confronted this afternoon. I am sure we on this side of the House appreciate very much the charm and courtesy which he has displayed in doing it. There are one or two questions with which he has not dealt, but he has promised to deal with 523 them presumably in the form of correspondence. I would refer to the question of capital ships and the scrapping policy. I do not want to labour a horse which is obviously beaten before it starts, but the fate of the "Valiant," "Renown" and "Queen Elizabeth" cannot but bring to me a great regret, as I spent four-and-a-half years of my life in one of those ships. They were completely modernised at great cost after the outbreak of the war. I remember seeing the '' Queen Elizabeth '' in dock stripped down to her upper-works, and nothing but a hull. But I do not want to labour the point.
The First Lord said he hoped there would be a cessation of attacks by organisations and individuals. Will the First Lord permit me to say that I hope for my part the Admiralty will take the country completely into its confidence, as the noble Viscount himself has done this afternoon, so far as he can? The lack of information has been responsible for much of the anxiety and many of the attacks that have been made. I am sure that the more information the First Lord can give, the better it will be for all concerned. I beg to thank the noble Viscount again, and in doing so I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.