HL Deb 11 May 1949 vol 162 cc501-46

2.47 p.m.

LORD TEYNHAM rose to call attention to the Memorandum on Naval Estimates recently presented, and to ask His Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied that the proposals therein con- tained are adequate for the defence of the country; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, a few weeks ago your Lordships debated a Motion on Naval Policy, with special reference to personnel. Since that date we have had the signing of the Atlantic Pact, the Prime Ministers' Conference and also Conferences on the Western Union. I therefore suggest that it is now very appropriate that to-day we should debate the Memorandum on Naval Estimates as a whole. I understand that Naval representatives, not only from the British Commonwealth but also from America and the Benelux Countries, have been, and perhaps still are, in this country. I hope the First Lord of the Admiralty will be able to tell your Lordships to-day something of the plans for the co-ordination and co-operation of their respective naval forces. I understand that it is contemplated that the navies of the Western Union Countries—France, Belgium and the Netherlands—shall co-operate in combined exercises this summer, and I hope that we shall hear that similar arrangements are to be made for exercises with the American Fleet.

I should now like to draw your Lordships' attention to the actual financial provisions for the Navy, as set out in the Estimates for this year. I suggest that it is well known in naval circles—and possibly to a number of your Lordships—that the Admiralty programme of new construction, conversion and reconditioning of the Fleet, is based on a period extending over a number of years. I should like to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he is satisfied that the financial provision for the Naval Service this year is in every way sufficient to cover the first stages of this plan. I would suggest that the minimum figure required is not £189,000,000, as set out in the Estimates, but that it should be very much nearer the figure of £220,000,000 in order to enable the Admiralty effectively to carry out their plan. I think it is true to say that a very urgent reconstruction programme is necessary for most, if not all, of our aircraft carriers. That is because of the increase in weight and landing speed of the aircraft now to be used with them. Can the First Lord give an assurance that provision has in fact been made for the strengthening and rebuilding of the flight decks of our fleet carriers, whether work will be undertaken on them this year and, also, what is the intention as regards our light fleet carriers?

Since the war, of course, there has been a tremendous improvement and extension of radar, in fire control systems and in methods of anti-submarine warfare. I think it is true to say that in that respect almost all our ships are out of date and require modernisation. Supersonic targets will require the most advanced fire control equipment, and new radar equipment is also of vital importance. I should like to ask the First Lord whether he is satisfied that provision has been made for this vitally important modernisation of the ships of our Fleet. In another place recently, the Civil Lord of the Admiralty did his best to belittle the menace of the Russian submarine fleet. It may well be that the majority of the Russian submarines are not of the modern high-speed design, but in the event of war even a comparatively small number of such high-speed craft would place our convoys of merchant ships in deadly danger. I know that it has been argued from time to time that it would be possible to block the exits of the Baltic by mining and so on, but I think that scheme is a highly problematical one, and, in any case, in the event of war, enemy submarines would be at sea long before hostilities began.

Has provision been made for dealing with this submarine menace?—because I think it is a menace, however much it may be discounted. I suggest that the provision made at the present time to cope with this menace, or even the provision likely in the near future, so far as we can see from the information given us by His Majesty's Government, is entirely inadequate. On page 6 of the Explanatory Statement on the Naval Estimates we find a table setting out the strength of the Fleet in classes, and your Lordships will note that it indicates that in the active Fleet we have only 33 destroyers and 25 frigates. It is true that there are 80 old destroyers and some 129 frigates in reserve, but the speed of these frigates is far too low to be of any use against the modern submarine. What is being done to overcome this deplorable shortage in high-speed anti-submarine vessels?

The Civil Lord in another place has gone a certain distance to supply the answer to this important question, but he has given us very little information. He stated that His Majesty's Government consider that the best plan for dealing with this shortage in the quickest way would be by conversion rather than by new construction. This plan may be a good one as a temporary measure, if real steps are being taken to get on with such conversion. But what do we find? We find from a statement by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty that we are making a prototype of two fast frigates and that these are being made from two old destroyers. We do not know when this work commenced or when it is likely to be completed. Can the First Lord inform us how far this work has progressed, whether he is satisfied that the type of propelling machinery designed for these frigates is in good and quick supply for any future conversions, and how many conversions it is proposed to carry out this year?

I suggest that it is obvious to any student of naval warfare that what is required at the present time is a rapid modernisation of our anti-submarine craft. This is vitally important. It should also be combined with new construction. That programme I hope His Majesty's Government are now considering. I think it was the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, who recently suggested in your Lordships' House that what the Navy really wanted was 1,000 small antisubmarine craft. I imagine the noble Viscount must have had in mind quite small vessels of possibly 500 tons displacement and under; but I suggest that such vessels would be far too small for anti-submarine work except in the approaches to harbours and for coastal work. An anti-submarine vessel must have good sea-keeping qualities for convoy protection, and must also have a large radius of action. The minimum displacement for a high-speed antisubmarine vessel, capable of carrying all the modern anti-submarine gear, weapons for air defence and so on, is in the nature of 1,700 tons displacement—a figure which I feel sure the First Lord will not dispute.

I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to certain naval developments in the United States—developments which have been made fully public to the people of that country. In the Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy these words were used: Developments in submarines have indicated that a 'true' submersible is not beyond the realms of practicability. With 70 per cent. of the earth covered by water and with the advantage of concealment and difficulty of detection, it is possible that a future conflict might involve as many battles under the sea as on the surface. How is America proposing to deal with this new development in submarine warfare? in the first place, she is converting two light fleet carriers especially for antisubmarine warfare, and she is also constructing three "killer" submarines for operations against enemy submarines. She certainly appears, therefore, to be very much alive to the submarine menace. When we turn to the Empire there is certainly a ray of hope. In the first week of April the Canadian House of Commons discussed a Supplementary Estimate for Defence, and great interest was shown in the question of the adequacy of their anti-submarine forces. The Canadian Government, I believe, are laying down this year three anti-submarine escort vessels of a new high-speed type, which I am sure will be a welcome addition to the Atlantic Pact forces. I hope the First Lord will be able to assure us that similar and equivalent developments are planned for our anti-submarine forces. We must not forget the story of the U-boats. The Germans began the last war with only fifty-seven submarines, but in spite of the most intense aerial bombardment they were able to step up their production; in fact, the production of new submarines was at the rate of one for every second day of the war.

I would now ask your Lordships to turn to page 236 of the Naval Estimates, whereon it is indicated that three cruisers have been launched but not yet brought into service. You will notice from a footnote on this page—printed in perhaps the smallest type it is possible to read—that constructional work has been suspended on these cruisers and also that future armament is dependent on research now in progress. Can the First Lord indicate when work will be resumed on these cruisers and if the new armament, which I believe is under research, has yet been determined? Ministerial statements have appeared in the past suggesting that our large modern destroyers are really equivalent to light cruisers. In a certain sense that may be true—but they must not be counted twice over, as has been done by His Majesty's Government in one or two cases.

At one time it was considered that seventy cruisers was the minimum number necessary for the protection of our trade routes and to carry out the various calls on the naval services which arise from time to time. I am not suggesting that we should now have seventy cruisers because, admittedly, the aircraft carrier has to a certain extent modified the use of cruisers, but none the less I would suggest that fifteen cruisers in the active fleet and twelve in reserve is far too small a figure, especially as many of them are old ships. When we examine the number of aircraft carriers we find there is only one fleet carrier and four light fleet carriers in the active fleet and six fleet carriers and two light fleet carriers in reserve, with one fleet carrier and one light fleet carrier building. I should like to ask the First Lord whether he considers that a total of twenty-seven cruisers and twelve aircraft carriers is equivalent to seventy cruisers for the protection of our trade routes, and, if so, what are the reasons for coming to that conclusion.

I now come to the type of vessel which is too often forgotten, but is none the less of the greatest importance and without which the Normandy landings could not have been attempted, much less carried out, and that is the minesweeper. It appears that only, fourteen minesweepers are with the active fleet, and that fifty sweepers, either fleet or auxiliary, are in reserve. During the last war we found it necessary to use some 400 vessels of this type. I do not suggest that we should have that number now, but I should like to ask the First Lord whether he proposes to increase the number of minesweepers in training and what steps are being taken to build up a really effective minesweeping force to cover all eventualities; otherwise at the outbreak of hostilities we might very well find our ports and approaches mined and with no suitable craft to deal with it. The old idea of a trawler and stout-hearted fishermen is no longer tenable. Ships for minesweeping duties must be specially and scientifically built, and their crews be very highly trained indeed.

In the past we have heard a great deal from the First Lord about balanced fleets; but what sort of balanced fleet does he propose to maintain in the Far East? Does he consider that the Far Eastern Fleet, without an aircraft carrier, is a balanced fleet? I do not propose to-day to enter into a lengthy discussion of the Yangtse disaster, except to say that had an aircraft carrier been attached to the Far Eastern Fleet it might not have been necessary to risk the loss of the cruiser "London" and the sloop "Black Swan." A great deal of nonsense has been written in the Press recently about air cover and air support, and I suggest that anyone who has actually carried out operations in confined waters, both with and without air support, is well aware of the difference and its value. I do not suggest that continuous air cover should, or could, have been provided during the passage of the "Amethyst"; but I do suggest that, when she was attacked, the whole position changed, and if air support had then been available, even for a short period, against the Communist batteries on the banks of the river, it might well have been possible to extricate the "Amethyst" from the position in which she now lies. I am sure there is no Admiral flying his flag who would not go to the rescue of one of his ships, whatever the circumstances, but he should not be driven to do so without there being available air support upon which he could call.

In 1947 there were two light fleet carriers with the China Fleet, but these were withdrawn in October of that year, owing to measures taken by His Majesty's Government to accelerate naval demobilisation. I should like to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he has yet taken steps to provide the ships of the Far Eastern Fleet with an aircraft carrier and, if not, when it may be possible to do so. I know that there are certain schools of thought who maintain that we should spend far less money on the Navy and should vote our resources to the Air Force. I think it is also true to say that some people believe that sea power is almost obsolete, and that air power has entirely supplanted it. I suggest that those two views are profoundly mistaken, and that what we really require for successful defensive and offensive operations is a close integration of sea power and air power.

Quite rightly, the Air Force should be considered as a first line of defence and given top priority, but at the same time we must remember that this country will still have to be victualled by sea, since there is no prospect in the foreseeable future of aircraft taking the place of ships for carrying the vast quantities of food and stores required in war time. In that respect, therefore, we must still fall back on our merchant fleets, and concentrate our naval policy, in close association with the Air Force, on their protection. It may be true that air cover can largely protect our convoys in the future, but I think it will probably be a long time before they can do so without the aid of naval forces. It is therefore of vital importance that we should build up and train an effective anti-submarine fleet.

We all realise, of course, that we can set aside for the Armed Forces only a proportion of our national finances, in order that we do not impede our national recovery in the economic field, but I am bound to say that the Naval Estimates for this year give little indication of what His Majesty's Government intend to be the broad strategical purpose of the Navy in the future. I beg to move for Papers.

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has made a speech which, if he will allow me to say so, in every line reflected his great professional abilities and the thought which he devotes to the problems of his profession. I would particularly like to reinforce and emphasise the point which he made at the beginning of his remarks about the necessity for modernising and reconstructing our ships. In that respect, I wish to call your Lordships' attention to the sad and lamentable story of the sinking of the "Hood." From the time she was launched, the "Hood" was known by her constructors to have a defect. She had a weak spot, and for some reason—no doubt, the reasons were very strong at the time—she was never taken in hand to have the necessary reconstruction done. The result, as we all know, was that she was sunk by the "Bismarck" after being hit in that very spot that the constructors had known all along was a vital and dangerous spot. Therefore I reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has said about the necessity for looking at our ships and seeing what reconstruction or modernisation is necessary.

Equally, I wish to reinforce what the noble Lord has said about the necessity for speed, which is all-important. I hope that he will not mind if I say that I do not think that on all points his speech was related to the facts of the world situation. I know that at one time seventy cruisers were considered to be necessary to protect our sea communications, but the position at sea was very different in those days. There were then potential enemies which do not exist today. As I shall say later on in my speech, when we are considering what is necessary for the Navy to-day we must not think in terms of the last war, or of the situation before the last war; we must think of the world situation, and of the situation at sea, as it actually exists to-day.

I have some questions to put to the First Lord. I hope that he will not take them amiss, because I do not put them in any unfriendly or critical spirit. I believe that the country has great confidence in the Board of Admiralty as it exists to-day, and that that confidence is well placed. But there is a certain amount of public misapprehension on one or two points. If I put certain questions to the First Lord, I trust that he will recognise that I do so in the hope that he may give answers which will reassure public opinion upon those points. The noble Lord who opened this debate referred to the Yangtse disaster. We need not go into that matter again, but I thought that the word. "disaster" was perhaps a little strong and emphatic. There is a great deal about that affair that reflected immense credit upon the Navy. It is a very fine page in our naval history, and I would not go so far as to call what happened a disaster. But I do not propose to go into that to-day.

I rejoiced the other day to see a statement that Hong Kong is to be defended, and that the Minister of Defence said that the Far Eastern Fleet will be reinforced by one cruiser and, if necessary, a carrier. I would ask the noble Viscount whether, when he speaks this afternoon, he will make clear the difference between replacements and reinforcements, because it is possible to get the two confused. Perhaps what appear to some people to be reinforcements are in fact replacements. As I understand it, the "Jamaica" is due in the Far East on May 31, and the "Mauritius" is on her way to the Far Eastern Fleet with a destroyer and two frigates. But what we would like to know is exactly what naval forces will be available at Hong Kong by May 31—that is, by the end of this month; also, whether a carrier is to be made available. If she is to be made available, where is that carrier to come from? At the present moment, so far as I know, the nearest carrier to Hong Kong is 7,000 miles away. The Mediterranean and the Home Fleets have carriers. What other squadrons besides those two have carriers? If there are squadrons which are without carriers, what action could those squadrons take against any possible opponent which had the use of shore-based aircraft? I think that those are questions that it would be worth while answering to-day.

There were two carriers in the Far East, the "Theseus" and the "Glory." They were both withdrawn, but at that time an undertaking—or, at any rate, an intimation—was given that they were to be replaced. That promise or that intimation has not been fulfilled. There is still no carrier with the Far Eastern Fleet. There is the "Terrible," on the Australian station, but the "Terrible," as I understand, is not yet operational, and will not be for some time. If there is need, as I believe there is, for a carrier for the Far Eastern Fleet, why cannot a carrier be detached from the Home or Mediterranean Fleets and sent out there? What is the strategical situation or what is the threat in Home or Mediterranean waters that would prevent a carrier being detached from one of those squadrons and sent out to the Far East?

We are very short of carriers, and this question is an extremely important one. We have only twelve carriers. We have stopped building on three. We have eight in commission, and four in reserve. Would the First Lord tell us to-day how soon those four in reserve could be brought forward and made operational? Our reserve carriers present very considerable difficulties when it is desired to bring them forward and make them operational. The question of equipment, the necessity for shore bases, the question of electrical personnel, all present the most formidable difficulties when carriers are being brought into commission. I think it would be of great interest to know how soon it is considered that those four carriers in reserve could be made operational if the need arose.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, said that there are those to-day who are a little inclined to question the necessity for a large Navy, and who look rather askance at expenditure upon the Navy. As a matter of fact, there is a great deal of force in the arguments which those who hold those views bring forward. They deserve examination. With your Lordships' permission I will try to examine them this afternoon. To our country, which has a great Colonial Empire, overseas commitments and commitments under the Atlantic Pact, of course a Navy is essential. But it is the fact to-day that there are no other navies for us to fight. So while a Navy is essential, perhaps it need not be a very large Navy. To-day I think the composition of the Fleet is the all-important question—more important than the question of size.

If any of your Lordships were to visit the Museum of the Royal United Services Institution in Whitehall you would see a wonderful model of the Grand Fleet at sea during the 1914–18 war—a very remarkable model indeed, with masses and masses of battleships. In these days, that exhibit reminds me of the models which may be seen in the South Kensington Museum—models of those extinct monsters which perished because they were all body and no head: they exhausted their functions, they became obsolete. And I am not at all sure that the same thing cannot be said of the battleship to-day. But I am quite sure about one thing—namely, that we have got to learn a lesson from those extinct monsters. We have got to use our heads, and must not rely upon size alone for safety in the future.

In regard to our national necessities in armaments perhaps it may be the case that the Navy must yield pride of place to the Army and to the Air Force. If I may venture to say so, let us live in a world of reality about this matter. To-day there is no potential enemy at sea, except possibly Russia. Russia has never been very distinguished for her fighting capacities at sea, and to-day the Russian surface fleet is completely obsolete, while the Russian submarine fleet, about which I know there is a great deal of talk, has not the officers and men with the capacities, the training or the experience which are so essential to make a submarine navy effective. The fact is that the Russian officers and men simply have not the "know-how" of submarine warfare. If we look at the formidable naval resources which Great Britain and America command to-day I do not think we need worry unduly about any possible Russian menace at sea. I saw, last year I think, a letter from an Admiral in which he referred again to those 70,000 miles of sea communications upon which we depend for our food and commerce. I am sure that numerically that is correct; but does it matter how long our sea communications are if there is no enemy to attack them? How is Russia to get out of the Baltic or out of the Black Sea to carry on a war against our overseas communications?

This country has never begrudged money to the Navy. This country has always been a generous giver, a generous paymaster where the Navy has been concerned. But I think the country is now asking whether we really need spend as much on the Navy as we do at present, and whether other armament claims are not more deserving of attention. I hope the First Lord will not mind my saying that I think the Admiralty may fairly be called upon for vigorous and detailed justification before an impartial judge of every item of its expenditure. In my opinion, the function of the Minister of Defence should not be that of a conciliator, one who lets each Service have its cut at the cake. I think there may be cases where the Minister ought to harden his heart and say that there is no cake for some particular little boy. We do not want a Minister of Defence who says simply that everyone must have his cut at the cake. As an instance of this I would like to ask what we are spending at the present moment upon our five battleships, and exactly what value the country gets from those five battleships for the money which they cost us. What is the tactical role of the battleship to-day?

The First Lord has been at sea in a battleship, and if there is a case for the battleship why cannot it be made? And before what better audience could it be made than before your Lordships' House, which contains so many naval officers of great intellectual and professional experience and ability? If a case exists for the battleship, if it can be made, let the First Lord make it; and let him make it before the experienced and critical audience of your Lordships' House. But what is the tactical rôle of the battleship? I read that a battleship took part in the recent manœuvres off Gibraltar. I wonder what was her tactical rôle in those manœuvres. I read that she carried the umpire! Certainly one must have an umpire, but it seems to me that if that was her sole tactical rôle upon that occasion, it was rather an expensive form of transport for the umpire. What I would very much like to know is exactly what rôle the battleship maintains in the Mediterranean? There are submarines, destroyers and various other ships there, and there is one battleship. I suppose there are strategical, tactical plans for the use of these ships, but what rôle could a solitary battleship play in the Mediterranean Fleet? Three battleships are being used for training. I have no doubt they fulfil their function in that respect admirably, but I should have thought it a very expensive use to which to put battleships, and I should be surprised to hear that there were not cheaper methods of carrying out the training.

The story of the battleship is a very old one. In 1920, or 1921, I assisted in preparing the brief for Admiral Beatty to take to the Cabinet to prove the necessity for the continued existence of battleships. Between the two wars, one expert after another threw doubts upon the value of the battleship, but their voices fell upon deaf ears. So what happened in the last war? We found battleships being employed for convoy duties. If anyone can tell me of a more unsuitable warship than a battleship to convoy merchant ships at sea, I would like to know what it is. When we were desperately short of fast frigates, corvettes and destroyers, we were using battleships on convoy duties, and great ships, like the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse," were sent to their doom upon a completely sleeveless errand. Really, has the time not come to announce that the battleship has become obsolete? Even Hitler, who was always sick when he went to sea, knew it. At one time he gave an order to pay off every capital ship in the German Navy. He knew perfectly well that the battleship, as we have known it, was obsolete.

I suggest to your Lordships that the time has come when we must think about the Navy in terms of quite another fleet than that which is based upon the battleship. Especially, we must think of the size of fleet that is necessary when there is no potential enemy at sea, and what should be the composition of our future fleet. If I had to give an opinion about that, my mind would be turning towards a fleet composed of such vessels as cruisers, destroyers, rocket ships, motor boats, carriers and submarines. I would not be thinking in terms of the very heavy, rather lumbering, cumbersome battleship. No, I would be thinking in terms of a fleet something like a cloud of gnats or a swarm of bees, something fast and mobile, versatile, ubiquitous and elastic in its operations. Looking at the future and at the trends of present developments in weapons, I feel it is in terms of that type of fleet that we should be thinking. Unless the noble Viscount, the First Lord of the Admiralty, can give your Lordships' House some information and make out a case for the battleship, proving its tactical value and the tactical necessity for it, I say that, whatever expenditure or apparent loss might be involved for the time being, let us have the courage to say that the day of the battleship is over and find some more profitable use for the money which we are spending to-day on five battleships which are employed in the manner I have described to your Lordships.

3.23 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down put some very pertinent questions to the First Lord in the first part of his speech—questions which, I entirely agree, certainly require an answer. Then, suddenly, something seemed to cause him to go on to a sidetrack as it were, and he began querying the need for the existence of a Navy composed as it is to-day, in spite of the fact that he told us he has every confidence in the Naval Staff. He wound up with a very eloquent discourse upon the merits or the demerits of the battleship. I almost felt I was listening to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, when I heard the noble Lord's attack.

I approach this subject of the Navy as just an ordinary man in the street—as do most of your Lordships. I regard myself as just a man in the street who is profoundly anxious about the Navy at the present time. There are one or two things concerning it which have made a particularly strong impression upon me. First there is the extraordinary difficulty of getting any real information about the Fleet as it exists to-day. Secondly, there is the impossibility, as it seems to me, of getting any answer from the Government as to what is their long-term plan. With regard to the Navy, I submit that, above all things, we have to look ahead, plan for the future, take a long-term view. But we do not know what the Admiralty plan is; we have not the least idea of it. All we know is that since the war the Admiralty have done their best to please the noble Lord who spoke last by scrapping or disposing of ten battleships, one battle-cruiser, forty aircraft carriers, thirty cruisers and one hundred destroyers. Not very much has been said about this: in fact, no real explanation has been given to your Lordships' House, or to another place, for that matter, as to what was the governing policy which decided all this. No doubt it has been accepted so far as it goes. But during these last four years we have not laid down a single ship in any one of the classes that we have scrapped.

We cannot maintain a Navy by a policy of scrapping. Such a policy must come to an end somewhere. So long as you carry on that policy you are only living on your fat. Therefore, I suggest that the country has a right to be told what sort of Navy we are to have; what is to be the governing plan. Before the last war, and for a long time back, Governments were able to take the country into their confidence and give reasonable explanations as to what their naval polices were. What stops His Majesty's present Government from telling us something about it? I would like the First Lord to give us a little more information, if he will be so good, in addition to that which I have managed to glean for myself. According to my information, the building of three fleet carriers of very large tonnage and size, grand ships, no doubt (two of them were of 45,000 tons), two cruisers and forty destroyers has been cancelled. That is in addition to the ships scrapped. What has been the effect of this on the Fleet as a whole? We have at present, so far as my researches give me any guidance, five battleships, twelve aircraft carriers, one escort carrier, twenty-six cruisers, 113 destroyers (together with forty-five of the Hunt class), sixty-three submarines and 171 frigates and corvettes. Broadly speaking, the Fleet we have today almost exactly represents our losses during the late war. During that war we lost five battleships, eight aircraft carriers, twenty-eight cruisers, 139 destroyers, eighty-three submarines, fifty-two frigates and fifteen armed merchantmen.

The point is surely that we ought to know a little more about policy. Take the matter of new construction. If your Lordships turn to page 235 of the Naval Estimates, you will see that the fleet carrier "Eagle" was launched on March 19, 1946. She was launched in 1946 and she is still not complete. Statements, whether inspired or not and whether on good foundation or not I cannot say, have appeared in the Press recently to the effect that she is not to be completed until next year. Now the "Eagle" had a sister ship, the "Ark Royal." On page 234 of the Estimates your Lordships will see details of fleet carriers being built but apparently not launched, and, so far as my information goes, one of those ships is the "Ark Royal," sister ship to the "Eagle."

So here we are, after all these years, and the ship is still apparently building—heaven knows what state she is in ! Further down on page 235 your Lordships will see a list of light fleet carriers, including the "Hercules," the "Albion," the "Bulwark" and the "Centaur." Now one of the disadvantages of the light fleet carrier to-day is that she is only a 25-knot ship. The ships to which I have just referred are, I believe, 32-knot ships. Such vessels are probably of much greater use to the modern Fleet than light fleet carriers which are not capable of such speed.

We come to the cruiser question. Your Lordships will see from page 236 of the Navy Estimates that we have three cruisers under construction. In what state are these cruisers? According to my information, no work whatever has been carried out on them. What is the policy with regard to cruisers? How long are we going on with only twenty cruisers in our modern Fleet? Both of the previous speakers have stated that we ought to have seventy cruisers, which was the minimum Lord Jellicoe considered necessary I agree that circumstances to-day are very different, and no doubt Lord Jellicoe himself would review that figure in the light of the existence of the aircraft carrier. Probably, we do not need so many. But we must not forget the large number of cruisers required to hunt down hostile raiders. During the last war we had ample evidence of the harm that an armed merchant raider can do on a trade route. What is happening with regard to the "Plough," the "Defence" and the "Tiger"?

In regard to destroyers, the "Decoy," the name ship of a new class, has been launched. Eight are being laid down altogether. How far has work proceeded on the other seven, and when will they be completed? No member of your Lordships' House, however powerfully he may try to pretend that battleships are no good, will argue against destroyers. I do not want to weary your Lordships with too many figures, but I may remind you that the Home Fleet to-day consists of three aircraft carriers, three cruisers and eighteen destroyers. In 1939, it consisted of seven battleships, two aircraft carriers, six cruisers and twenty-eight destroyers. The submarine menace has not decreased during the years, and it seems to me that, as always, we shall be short of destroyers. I wonder if a single one of the distinguished flag officers who are members of your Lordships' House would tell us that he has ever had under his command enough destroyers. I do not believe there is one.

In the North American and West ladies Squadron before the war, we had five cruisers and two sloops. To-day we are supposed to have two cruisers and four frigates. Some months ago we were shown how dangerous Guatemala could be and we had further evidence of the danger to the Falkland Islands. Cruisers were summoned from all over the world, and hurried off to try and hold the fort, some even being turned into transports to convey troops. One of the two cruisers has already been taken away from the West Indies to hold the fort in China. Why do we have to do all this? It seems to me evidence of the absence of careful thinking and a long-term plan. It seems to me that either we have not enough forces on the spot or we have not an adequate plan.

Both the previous speakers pointed out, with truth, that we have not a single aircraft carrier east of Suez. The noble Lord, Lord Winster, amidst the applause of your Lordships, said that we all want to see Hong Kong defended. Every single soul in this country—with the exception, no doubt, of some "hard-boiled" Communists—is entirely behind the Government in their declared policy to defend Hong Kong. But how? At Hong Kong we have one air strip which lies on the edge of the mainland territory. It could be fairly easily put out of action by hostile artillery fire; and if that happened we should have nothing else.

What are we going to do? It seems to me that a carrier is urgently required in that area—but not one carrier alone. It is unnecessary for me to point out to your Lordships that without aircraft an aircraft carrier is one of the most vulnerable and helpless ships afloat. This is a case for sending not one carrier, but certainly two, and perhaps three, to that disturbed area at the present time, because of the enormous distances to be, covered and impossibility of reinforcement at short notice. The noble Lord, who spoke last dealt with reinforcements. We have withdrawn the "Norfolk." The "London" is very severely damaged—four turrets are out of action, and no doubt she will have to go in for a long refit. Whether that can be done at Hong Kong or whether she will have to come home, perhaps the first Lord of the Admiralty will be able to tell us. I am told that the "Constance" is to come home; and of course there is the unfortunate "Amethyst," marooned up the Yangtse, and the "Black Swan" which has also been severely damaged. Two sloops are to be sent out to take their place. Any student of affairs understands that China is definitely a danger area to-day. What it may be to-morrow, who can say?

In the Royal Navy to-day we have six fleet carriers and six light fleet carriers. I wonder if the Admiralty are entirely satisfied with the light fleet carrier from an all-round point of view. Maybe they are useful working with convoys, but with their slower speed they cannot be of the same tactical value as the fleet carrier, which can do her 32 knots. I hope the First Lord can reassure the House that it is the policy of the Admiralty to try to keep the Fleet's speed at a more or less uniform figure of 32 knots, which has been the rule up to now.

I thought the noble Lord who spoke last was very optimistic in his remarks about the Russian submarine navy. I do not know anything about the Russian submarine navy, and I do not know whether the noble Lord has special channels of information. I had an opportunity of going aboard one or two Russian submarines during the war, however, and I agree with him that the Russian submarine, when officered and manned by Russians, is perhaps not the same menace as the same ship would be in the hands of Germans. At the same time, is the noble Lord quite sure that the Russian submarine navy has not an appreciable percentage of Germans helping them in running their navy? One has reason to think that they have. Again, how are we to meet that menace? Obviously, the only craft we have that can meet the modern submarine, which does 20 knots-plus submerged, are the 113 destroyers and the forty-five "Hunt" Class destroyers. The "Hunt" Class are all very well for fighting in the North Sea and the approaches, but they have not the radius of action to cover the broad ocean. Therefore the destroyer force that we possess to deal with fleet reconnaissance, and to act as an anti-submarine force in the Atlantic and elsewhere, is 113 all told.

I submit that the destroyer force is not at all satisfactory. I suggest that the Fleet destroyer is not the ideal craft to hunt submarines. They are fairly large, and their turning circle is considerable. It sems to me that a new type of ship altogether is required. I have already ventured to submit this argument to your Lordships on a previous occasion, and I hope the House will forgive me if I return to the advocacy of the same idea. My submission to the House and to the Government is this. We want an entirely new type of anti-submarine vessel; a ship with tremendous endurance and with the ability to accelerate to 35 or 40 knots, if required, for a longer or shorter period. There are people in this country who say that a combination of the diesel engine, plus the gas turbine and variable pitch propellers, will give us the ship we want. I do not know whether that is a revolutionary suggestion, but it has been adopted by the Admiralty in the past. When the Admiralty were considering the new destroyers in about 1936—it may have been a little earlier—they invited the shipbuilders to submit competitive designs. Out of those designs I believe the "Tribal" class of destroyer emerged. Why should not the Admiralty now call for designs? We are told that they are converting two older destroyers that means there will be only 111 destroyers to work with the Fleet instead of 113. But even if those ships are converted more or less satisfactorily, they will be only adaptations; they are not likely to be so satisfactory as ships designed ad hoc. I submit that if a ship such as I have described can be evolved, that is a type which is wanted for work with the Fleet.

I am afraid I have taken up too much time already, but I would plead with the Admiralty to take the country into their confidence. It has been done in America, so why not here? Tell us what you are aiming at. Tell us what your overall plan is. I am certain that if you will do what the Labour Party pamphlets say and "Believe in Britain," you will then "get somewhere."

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, so far in this debate two of the noble Lords who have spoken have pressed either for new types of ship construction or for better provisions to be made for ships to be brought forward from reserve. The noble Earl who has just spoken asked for an entirely new type of ship. All those requirements, with which I fully agree, will throw more work on those responsible for designing and building the ships. That brings me to the subject of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, on which, with your Lordships' permission, I would like to say a few words. I know that this subject was raised in your Lordships' House a comparatively short time ago but, so far as I can see, in spite of every promise from the First Lord that he would do all he could, there has been no improvement in the situation since then. This subject has already been dealt with by such distinguished sailors that I feel that anything I may say is rather like a rifle used in a full-scale naval bombardment. My only excuse for dealing with this matter is that I have had an opportunity to view this lamentable situation from several points of view: first of all, from the naval side, then from the point of view of the constructors and now from one of the sources of recruitment. And, from every angle from which I have looked at the matter, the picture seems to get blacker.

There are, it is true, one or two brighter aspects. First, there is the magnificent work that the Corps have done—that understaffed, underpaid and, very often, misunderstood body of men. I need not say any more about that, because eloquent tributes have already been paid to their work. The second bright spot was the Eastham Committee and the Report which they made over two and a half years ago. That body was a very strong, independent one. The Committee took evidence all over the country, at Royal Dockyards, from private shipbuilders and from the universities, and they produced a Report that was unanimous. But after two and a half years, that Report has still not been published. In spite of that, a good deal is known of the recommendations in the Report, particularly as they affect conditions of service in the Corps. Therefore, no good purpose can be served by ref using any longer to publish the Report.

Already there is a widespread feeling of frustration throughout the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors; of resentment at the long delay in publishing the Report; of concern that the recommendations of that Report, which are known to be advantageous to the Corps, and the adoption of which would considerably improve conditions in the Corps, have not been implemented. The disastrous effects which this delay will have on recruitment for the Corps are obvious, and it is unnecessary for me to emphasise them. But far worse than that is the fact that already there is a drift from the Corps of fully-qualified young men. Out of thirty-two university entries to the Corps since 1936 ten have left; and a great majority of those ten have had to pay to the Admiralty a bond of £300 into which they were required to enter before they joined the Corps.

Those responsible at the universities for advising undergraduates as to their future careers when they are about to leave have done their best to help recruitment to the Corps. Not only that: they have done their best to persuade those who entered the Corps from the universities from leaving it in the hope that conditions would be bettered, as has been promised. I can testify to that from personal experience. In addition, every assistance has been given by the university authorities to help those responsible to plan conditions of service in the Royal Corps which will attract men of the highest calibre who are required in the Corps. In spite of all the advice and the help that has been given, and in spite of the unanimous decision of the very strong Eastham Committee, no decision has apparently yet been reached—at least, I can find no information at the Cambridge University Appointments Board—on new conditions of service which might attract the right type of men. That lack of information can only serve to make it quite impossible in the future for those advising the best engineering men to recommend the Corps as a first-class career. All who have the welfare of the Navy at heart, and who understand its problems, want to be able to recommend the Corps as a really first-class career for first-class men. Under present conditions, I could not do so with a clear conscience, and I do not feel that I shall be able to do so until the recommendations of the Eastham Committee, or something very like them, have been carried out.

On the last occasion on which this subject was raised in your Lordships' House, the noble Viscount, Lord Cunningham, said that, whatever shape the Navy of the future may take, it must have a first-rate Constructor Corps, and one which the Navy recognises as being first-rate. Surely there can be no higher authority than that. If we are to achieve that, it is absolutely essential that careers offered in the Royal Corps should be of the same order of attractiveness as those offered in the engineering industry to-day. There is no other alternative.

Now I wish to say a few words about the reply given by the First Lord two and a half months ago. In his reply to that debate he said: I want to say at once that we have come to certain conclusions in relation to the question of pay. I wish that this were a matter which the Admiralty could itself decide. Those words gave some hope to those of us who are interested in this question, but nothing has happened since then. The noble Viscount went on to say: But new conditions cannot be settled except in proper relation to general Government policy on the post-war organisation of the Civil Service as a whole. Now that part of the statement fills me with despondency. If the Corps is not to be treated as something above the rest of the Civil Service—as a corps élite, as one noble Lord said—and if it is to be treated simply as a branch of the technical Civil Service, then I think all the discussions which have been going on about the future conditions in the Corps are unlikely to come to a satisfactory conclusion.

The Corps is a very small body, and consequently the number of more highly-paid posts is small. It requires a very high standard of technical skill and administrative ability — administrative ability such as is required in the administrative Civil Service. Never before have the problems facing the Naval Constructors been so great and so difficult to solve. If the Corps is to be put on the same level as the scientific Civil Service, I am convinced that we shall not produce the Corps which the Navy deserves, and which the Navy must have if it is to be efficient in the future. I appreciate the difficulties in which the First Lord finds himself, and I am sure that he is as anxious as any of us to see the Navy properly served. But I implore him to raise this issue above the general reorganisation of the Civil Service, and to impress upon his colleagues the great urgency of coming to a decision now. To put it mildly, it is very unfair to those who have gone into the Corps, and to those who are remaining in the Corps, to hold out hopes of better conditions year after year, as has been done for the last two years. I know that the First Lord said in his reply that any increases in pay or improvement in conditions would be back-dated, I think, to January 1, 1946. That does not help a young Constructor now; he may be married and have a family. I have even heard of young officers seeking permission to do extra work in other establishments during the evenings in order to make ends meet. Surely we shall not get the best out of them under those conditions.

The first thing the First Lord can do—and surely this is within his power, without having to ask the views of the Treasury—is to publish the Eastham Report. If that Report were published, it would remove a tremendous amount of suspicion from the minds of the members of the Corps. Whether it is implemented or not, surely it is bound to come out one day, and in any case, as I have said, many of the recommendations are already fairly well known. The next step, I admit, is much more difficult—that is, to come to a decision. There are all sorts of conflicting requirements and conflicting claims in the rest of the Civil Service. I have already pointed out how unfair the present situation is, where hopes of improvement are held out to those already in the Corps. If the First Lord is not able to offer conditions of service which will attract new entrants or retain those already in the Corps, he must surely announce the fact, and give those young men a chance to make up their minds how they are to plan their career.

As I say, I know it is not an easy decision, but I implore the First Lord to give some real encouragement this time. I think much the best way would be if he would say: "I will make a decision on this question by such-and-such a date"—and let it be a date not too far distant. It would be even better if he told us that the recommendations of the Eastham Report, or something like them, would be accepted. Once more, I implore the First Lord to give some more definite information than he did last time—some idea as to when an answer to this question may be expected.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, this afternoon, because with his experience in, and personal knowledge of, the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, I am sure that his expressions will command your Lordships' deepest attention. Unfortunately, when this was debated on February 23 I was unable to attend. Your Lordships will remember that the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Cunningham, intervened for the first time and made a notable contribution and plea that sympathetic action should be taken towards the Corps. As the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, has said, it is now two and a half months since the First Lord assured the House that he had come to certain conclusions as regards pay. And yet we have heard nothing. He said at the time that he had tremendous regard and respect for Naval Constructors, but surely there must be something seriously wrong with the Admiralty organisation if decisions on the unanimous recommendations of such a strong Committee as the Eastham Committee can be delayed for two and a half years.

The First Lord said that his aim was to be able to offer, as soon as possible, such revised conditions as would attract further recruits from the universities. But is he aware, as has just been said, that over 30 per cent. of the university graduates recruited since 1936 have left the Service, forfeiting their £300 bond, to seek careers in private industries? If that is so surely it only emphasises the necessity to come to a decision rapidly, before we lose any more men. There is no doubt that the Service has already lost numbers of promising and brilliant young men with high university and naval architectural qualifications, and that new entries are now non-existent from that source. It was made quite plain in the last debate that recruitment was falling off, and that there was widespread resentment in the Corps itself about the present conditions and the intolerable delay in putting them on a firm basis for the future. In spite of the First Lord's assurance in February, there is a deep suspicion in the Corps that attempts are being made to water down the unanimous recommendations of the Committee. I suggest that this Report should be made public, like the Inchcape Report and the Barlow Report, and, more recently, the Reports of Committees presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Oaksey, on other matters.

If the Navy is to have the best ships in the future, I am quite certain that the pay and conditions must be such that first-class men will always enter the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors. That is of fundamental concern to the Navy, and thus to the nation as a whole. I am sure that the First Lord views their claims with sympathy. The matter is not altogether in his hands, and no doubt he is having to fight about it. I am sure that it would be best for all concerned if he would publish the Eastham Committee's Report and tell us what he intends to do about it.

The Naval Estimates and the First Lord's Explanatory Memorandum were so thoroughly discussed in another place, and in this House on March 23, that I do not intend to detain your Lordships long this afternoon. Since those debates, however, there has taken place the very serious incident in China, which underlines the necessity for us to maintain considerable naval forces all over the world to back up our interests. In the past eighteen months we have had examples of this requirement as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, pointed out, in places as far apart as the Falkland Island Dependencies, British Honduras, West Africa and now China. All these have shown that, without doubt, our cruiser and our aircraft carrier force is insufficient. Your Lordships will remember that in the case of the Antarctica quarrel a cruiser had to be sent from South Africa—showing that the West Indies Squadron was insufficient to deal with any trouble arising in its own sphere. In British Honduras it happened that a naval cadet training ship was the only ship in the vicinity, and this vessel was used. If trouble had really broken out, it would have been very improper to use an ill-armed training ship to represent the Navy.

And now in China the Far Eastern Squadron has to be reinforced by vessels sent from here and from the West Indies. It is surely obvious to the public now that our foreign station fleets are purely token forces, and it is equally obvious that our chronic weakness all over the world has precipitated these incidents in the past. If our cruiser and carrier force is insufficient in peace, how utterly incapable it would be of performing its duties in war! It is, therefore, clearly necessary for us, even in peace time, to increase our cruiser and carrier force, for police purposes alone. There is no doubt that the accelerated reductions in the Navy in 1946 and 1947 have caused an acute shortage of trained personnel; and it is because of this shortage that we are unable to put into commission more than fifteen cruisers. It seems to me very difficult to explain why our active fleet consists of such a small number when the Navy has never before in time of peace had a larger personnel. Even when we deduct from the total the personnel of the Fleet Air Arm, the only conclusion we can reach is that there are far too many men serving ashore. Surely the First Lord will agree it is time that the active fleet consisted of more ships in commission. After all, the business of the Navy is to keep the seas and not to serve ashore.

Turning now from the more normal duties which will always fall on the Navy in peace, I would remind your Lordships that, as has been stressed this afternoon by the noble Lords, Lord Winster and Lord Teynham, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, the real danger from the naval point of view, should this cold war develop into a shooting war, is the Russian submarine. One has to keep a very level head about this question. Some people are apt to think that all the 250 submarines that Russia is said to possess are fast and capable of high submerged speeds, but of course they are not. No doubt, however, some have those qualities. I would not, as Lord Winster did, dismiss these submarines too lightly, for I feel sure that the Russians have a great many German sailors and technicians to help them in this sphere, and this would make their submarine force a very formidable one. But if we are to be told this afternoon that the conversion of existing destroyers is the Government's answer to the submarine danger, then I feel it is a totally inadequate answer. It is inadequate because it does not provide any total increase in the already wholly insufficient numbers of available vessels capable of coping with the high submerged speed of the modern submarine.

Here I come to the question of new construction. In this year's White Paper on Defence, paragraph 49, it was stated that only token provision was made for new construction. The First Lord himself, in his explanatory Memorandum, says: It is still necessary to proceed slowly with naval new construction.… But the real answer to the Russian submarine menace is new construction for sooner or later we must not only design but build a modern, faster and more economic type of anti-submarine vessel. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, has already touched on this subject, but I wish to emphasise it, because our frigates and our corvettes are out of date. Our destroyers are insufficient in numbers and, in any case, are far too expensive for us to contemplate laying down great numbers of them in future for the sole purpose of submarine hunting. Thus, if we take the long view, a new type of submarine killer must be evolved.

No one can be complacent about the international situation; but at no time in our history have our dangers at sea been made clearer. We know who the only possible aggressor can be. We know the type of warship in which he specialises. Yet in four years not one single new fighting ship has been ordered by this Government to meet this requirement. Should war come, it will be a question of expansion, not of conversion. We shall need all the fast small ships we already possess. That being so, we must decide now on the vessel we require. We cannot put it off, year in and year out, because everyone does not entirely agree upon the ideal vessel. It takes years between design and completion, so I hope the First Lord can assure us this afternoon that a steady new construction programme of small ships will soon be commenced. No doubt we shall be told that these suggestions are desirable but prohibitive, because of financial restrictions. But when the outstanding danger of the Russian submarine is so evident, the importance of making a start towards laying down the right type of vessel is such that I feel that every effort should be bent towards that end.

As the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has said, Canada has given us a lead. Surely we should not lag behind one of the Dominions in this respect. I understand—I know of it only from the Press—that she is going to lay down this year three fast anti-submarine escort vessels. If that is so, why cannot we do it also? As I have said, we shall probably be told that financial restrictions prohibit us from doing so. Well, I believe a right start has been made in the announcement that the "Duke of York" is to be placed in reserve. I do not go so far as the noble Lord, Lord Winster, but we have to be realists in these days, and I believe that the day of keeping a number of battleships in full commission is over. By that do not mean in any shape or form that it is over for all time; we do not know, and we must keep these vessels in reserve. But I believe a right start has been made in placing the "Duke of York" in reserve. I hope it will mean that more smaller ships will be put in commission.

But there is another field in which I believe much money could be saved, and that is by the ruthless pruning of shore establishments and civil staffs. Over a year ago I put to the First Lord a question which no doubt he will remember, asking him if he would give the comparative numbers of officers and ratings in the Royal Navy and in the Secretaries' Department at the Admiralty in one of the pre-war years and last year. The answer, in effect, was that whereas the numbers in uniform had increased by 50 per cent., the numbers in the Secretaries' Department had increased four or five times. In answer to a supplementary question, the First Lord showed he was aware of the urgency to reduce numbers in the civil staffs as quickly as possible, but I am bound to say that there is little evidence in the Naval Estimates of much reduction up to date. I see from Vote 12 in this year's Estimate that the Department in question has been reduced by only seventy-three out of a total of about 2,700. That is not ruthless pruning.

That is only one small example. There must be many more, and I sincerely hope that the noble Viscount will apply his axe with renewed vigour in the forthcoming year. Our desire in these debates is to help the Navy for, whatever may be our political opinions, a Navy sufficient for our defence needs will ever remain of primary and vital importance to this island nation of ours. In many respects, if I may humbly say so, the First Lord has shown himself to be a friend, but I hope he will give even further indication in the forthcoming year of his strength and independence of mind, and put the Navy once more on a proper footing.

4.16 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to say a few words this afternoon about the aircraft carrier strength of the Royal Navy. This subject has already been touched on by many other speakers, so I propose to be extremely brief. If we take the figures of our aircraft carriers in commission at the present time, they are three fleet carriers and five light fleet carriers. But, of those, two are used for training and one is being used for trials—so the number is small enough, in all conscience! Let us look a little more closely at these ships. The fleet carriers are all now very "long in the tooth"; and the light fleet carriers, as other speakers have mentioned, are capable of a speed of only 25 knots. This handicap has been mentioned from the point of view of manœuvrability with the fleet. There is another important point: 25 knots is a very low speed for the unfortunate pilot of a modern aircraft who has to try to get down upon the deck. Even in the old days of slower aircraft, 30 knots was considered a minimum for an aircraft carrier.

Let us look at the history of these light fleet carriers. Indeed, I know it well, because I remember attending the very first conference when they were proposed. For what were they proposed? They were proposed as a quick job in the critical period of the war; to fulfil an urgent operational need when it was realised that the new fleet carriers (which of course are still not finished) were unlikely to materialise during hostilities. I remember that even the engines were a makeshift. I remember the question was asked, where could the engines be obtained quickly. The answer was, to divert some engines, or a proportion of the machinery set, from a cruiser. They did not even have a full machinery set from a cruiser. So that from the word "Go," those ships were definitely a war-time makeshift.

Then there is a fact which has been a headache for the Admiralty, and particularly for the naval constructors, for many years. As the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, said, it is one of the many problems that have to be solved. That problem is this: that aircraft develop and become obsolete, at the present day, at any rate, very much more quickly than do ships. An aircraft may become obsolete in four or live years, whereas a carrier is expected to last twenty to twenty-five years. In consequence of this difference, points like the strength of the flight deck and the size of the lifts become important considerations. I remember that during the last war we had to alter the size of the lifts of a carrier before she was even launched, because of her having to operate newer and larger aircraft. Thus I come to the question I want to ask: In the light of the larger and faster aircraft which are now being provided, what is being done to modernise our carriers?

I do not want to quote him in his presence, but during a recent inspection the First Sea Lord encouraged the pilots by telling them that they would shortly receive the latest and most up-to-date types of aircraft. But he sounded a note of warning, that the use of these aircraft would mean that we should have to modernise our carriers. In fact he went so far as to say that these aircraft would make some of the carriers obsolete, and that they must be modernised to allow them to operate these new aircraft. I think we ought to know what is being done in regard to this very urgent matter. My Lords, having shown that our present aircraft carrier fleet, quite apart from its size, is certainly not the most up-to-date, I think it is pertinent to ask what is being done to push on with the construction of the "Eagle" and the other new fleet carriers which quite obviously are needed by the Fleet at the earliest possible time.

Now, my Lords, I think I must say one word about China. I served as a pilot in a naval squadron of the Fleet nearly twenty-five years ago, when there were in existence in the Royal Navy only three aircraft carriers. Let us look where those three aircraft carriers were stationed. One was training at home, one was in the Mediterranean and the third was in China. I think it is true to say that we have had an aircraft carrier in China continuously up to the beginning of the recent war. Of course, after the fall of Hong Kong they could not be kept there but after the re-occupation we had carriers there until they were withdrawn in 1947. I feel that it is absolutely essential that we should have an aircraft carrier in these waters as soon as possible. It is well known that Kaitak, the only airfield at Hong Kong, is, as the noble Lord, Lord Douglas, told us, completely inadequate for modern requirements. To increase our air strength it is essential, to my mind, that we should have an aircraft carrier there, as this is the only way it can be done. I agree with other noble Lords that although nobody would seriously suggest there should be continuous air cover over those vessels in the Yangtse, if an aircraft carrier had been available it could have operated in the mouth of the Yangtse and could have provided a striking force after the attack took place.

There is one encouraging feature with regard to the Far East—namely, that, as we are all delighted to hear, the Royal Australian Navy is pushing on so energetically with its air arm. H.M.A.S. "Sydney," the Royal Australian Navy's first carrier, has now gone out to Australia. Of course it will be some little time before she is operational, but it is a great help to feel that that great Dominion has realised the necessity for an air arm. I might add, in passing, that when the British Pacific Fleet was based on Australia, we took on a number of first-class pilots from the Royal Australian Air Force who at that time, with very very short training did splendid work in our carriers, and filled a gap, especially in fighter pilots, when we had the greatest difficulty in getting enough trained men from this country. My Lords, that is all I have to say this afternoon. I think most of what I have said has been covered before, but those points which I have raised, and to which I have asked the First Lord to give an answer, are most pertinent—particularly the question of the reconstruction and modernising of our carriers.

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, I think it is well that we are holding this debate and that noble Lords should have the advantage of hearing answers from the head of the Department to 'the points they have raised. It is a good thing to have a debate with the First Lord in his place to give the necessary answers to Parliament. This afternoon I want to raise quite a different point, and not in any way to cover the ground which has previously been traversed by noble Lords. My point in rising to-day is to say a word or two about the department of the Civil Engineer in Chief. That department serves directly under the Civil Lord, as the First Lord will know; it served directly under him when he was Civil Lord, and directly under me when I had the honour to hold that office for two years.

In March, 1938, when I was Civil Lord, the Professional Officers' Association submitted a claim on behalf of the higher directing staff of the department to which I am alluding. Their basic salary had not then been altered for thirty years, but they had to bear great responsibilities. Noble Lords will perhaps know that their activities extend from building such things as the great graving dock at Singapore, a vast number of ammunition depôts, a new cordite factory (which was done in my time), barracks, docks and storehouses, and indeed every kind of shore establishment. They put forward their claim on the ground of the vast amount of knowledge they had to possess, on a comparison of salaries outside the Service, and on the relative pay of the civil engineers to that of the naval constructors on whose behalf we heard such an eloquent plea by the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, during the last debate.

On May 1, 1939, ten years ago, I received a deputation from them and recommended that something should be done. I am told that after the war started, in July, 1940, the Association was told by the Board of Admiralty that a general review of such salaries was going to take place but it was impossible during the years of the war; that as it would be invidious to single out special classes for particular treatment, nothing could then be done, but that a general review would take place immediately after the war ceased. Meanwhile, it is fair to say that an extra £150 was given as a bonus to the Civil Engineer in Chief, and £100 to each of the higher grades. It is now some four years after V.E.-Day, and although I am not suggesting that anything could have been done immediately after the conclusion of hostilities, I think the review could have been started, at any rate, a year after the war, and that after three years we might have seen some result.

It is not as though the Government have not been prompted. In October, 1945, the Association of Professional Officers called attention to this outstanding claim and requested that, the war being over, the review might take place promptly and favourable consideration he given to their claims. In March, 1946, they again returned to the charge, and I believe that in October. 1946, the Treasury issued a new salary structure whereby the salaries of the heads of major professional departments were to go up to £2,000 a year while those of directing and other grades were to go up to £1,800 and £1,520 respectively. In November, 1948—that is, two years after this Treasury announcement—this salary structure had not been applied to the men for whom I am speaking, and in February of this year the matter was taken up again. Although I am told that the staff it question are not satisfied with the work-groups salaries, they, at any rate, would have liked them applied rather than that they should remain as they had been for forty years.

I think that their view was, to a certain extent, endorsed by a Committee over which, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Charley, presided. Although this Committee did not recommend specific salaries, it recommended that the salaries of people of this kind should remain relative to those of the administrative grades. The administrative grades were fairly well satisfied before the war, whereas these civil engineers were not. The administrative grades have received a rise, but still the civil engineers are left behind. Not only that, but scientific and legal classes have, similarly, had a rise since the war. As I say, the men of whom I am speaking, have been on the same basic salary for the past forty years, and the value of the pound has certainly altered considerably during that time. You will not get the best work unless you employ the best people, and you will not get the best people if you continue to pay them, or try to get them at, salaries which were thought to be right forty years ago. These men have vast works schemes going through their hands, and if they are efficient they can save the Admiralty and the country a great deal of money by their proper supervision of those schemes. I am told that in this department they are getting rather despondent, and I think I am right in speaking for them, for they gave me very good service while I Was their immediate chief. I am also informed that there have been resignations because of the lowness of the salaries, and that a number of good men who came in temporarily during the war were offered establishment but, finding that conditions had not been improved, they refused. Further, I am told, that recruitment of new staff is far from easy and that the standard of the department is falling.

I want the First Lord of the Admiralty to make this what I may term a "yellow jacket" matter. He knows what a "yellow jacket" at the Admiralty denotes: it means a matter which has to be dealt with promptly. Certainly these men have waited far too long for something to be done about their case. I would like the First Lord to tell me today that he will, himself, go into this matter; that, if necessary, he will send for the Civil Engineer in Chief and verify whether what I have been saying is right. Thereafter, if he is convinced, as I was ten years ago, that something ought to be done, I ask him to do it, so that justice can be meted out to this very efficient and loyal body of servants who do such good work for the Royal Navy.

4.36 p.m.


My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, that the debate to which we have listened this afternoon has been well worth while. It was introduced in his usual courteous and, indeed, able manner by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, and he and other noble Lords have raised a number of interesting and important matters. I hope that I shall be able to deal with the major points which have been raised, and I will certainly refer to the matters which have been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, and the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote. I think the debate can be said to have focused itself on four or five of the principal matters with which the Royal Navy must concern itself, and especially, as the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, rightly said, plans for co-operation and co-ordination. The noble Lord must know well that co-ordination and co-operation are matters of vital importance now, in view of the various new Pacts which have been agreed, notably between this country and the Benelux countries and between the signatories to the Atlantic Pact.

It was to me most interesting that the noble Lord should deal with the question of finance. I suppose that if I answered the question which appears in the Motion on the Order Paper in the usual Parliamentary manner by saying "No," that would satisfy Lord Teynham; and if I said "Yes" to my noble friend, Lord Winster, he would be satisfied. As your Lordships know, provision amounting to £189,250,000 is provided in this year's Budget for the Royal Navy. Lord Teynham would like to see the amount increased to £220,000,000. I do not know how far he is expressing his own views, or the views of the Party with which he is associated, because there was no Amendment on the Order Paper in another place suggesting that there should be any increase in the global sum of £760,000,000 which was being set aside for the three Defence Services, including research. I think that that is a record figure for peace time. Indeed it represents little short of 25 per cent. of the total national expenditure.

I read the report of the debate on defence which took place in your Lordships' House on March 23. One noble Lord, referring to this global sum, mentioned that it was equal to the actual amount which was spent on tobacco—namely, £760,000,000. I assume that he had in mind that if the nation can afford to pay £760,000,000 for tobacco, it can afford to pay that amount for defence. The figure to which I have referred£189,250,000—is equal to the provision made for the Royal Navy in the three years after the First World War—1922, 1923 and 1924. This can be said to be a colossal sum, but after all the value of money is the value one can receive for money. The increase in costs has almost corresponded to the increase in the amount of money voted for the Royal Navy. Both the costs for personnel and material have increased considerably as compared with pre-1939. It costs £290 a year to pay, feed and clothe a naval rating. This includes marriage allowance and national insurance, and compares with the corresponding figure of £160 per annum in 1938. On the material side, costs have increased from two to three times, as compared with 1938. I will not trouble your Lordships with many examples, but the cost of installing communication equipment, radio and radar, in a modern cruiser or destroyer has gone up something like twenty times as compared with 1938—though then, of course, there was no radar. The naval aircraft to-day is a vastly more complex and efficient piece of mechanism than its counterpart of 1938. In short, the application to all naval ships and aircraft of our advancing scientific knowledge means a considerable increase in costs.

All the noble Lords who have taken part in the debate referred to the question of new construction. The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, referred to one fleet carrier which is building, and the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, asked when the two fleet carriers under construction would be completed. We hope that H.M.S. "Eagle" will be completed by the end of 1950 and H.M.S. "Ark Royal" by the end of 1952. We have eight light fleet carriers at various stages of construction. Noble Lords will realise that a considerable amount of scientific knowledge has been acquired during and since the war, and we are anxious that all this knowledge, so far as possible, may be applied and adapted to the aircraft carriers now being constructed. In addition to H.M.S. "Sydney," which has recently been sold to Australia, one other of the "Majestic" class is to be completed, again for Australia. One of our problems is the modernisation of our existing carriers. This has been referred to by noble Lords this afternoon, and it will be seen in the Explanatory Memorandum issued with the Estimates that the first of the fleet carriers is to be taken in hand for complete modernisation this year. Unless the work of modernisation is carried out speedily, the carriers will not be able to operate the new type of naval jet aircraft which are now in the course of development. This is an urgent problem with which the Admiralty are fully engaged.

I might mention here, in regard to the point raised by noble Lords about aircraft carriers in the Far East, a point which was particularly emphasised by my noble friend Lord Winster, that the buildup of naval aviation in the Far East was designed in face of the Japanese operations in that area. The end of the Japanese war removed the naval threat, and at the present time there are no foreign naval forces in the Pacific or in Far Eastern waters, apart from the United States Navy, which compare in any way with those of the Commonwealth. At the time of the run-down of man-power it was decided, for reasons of economy, to withdraw our carriers from areas eastwards of the Mediterranean, to close down naval air stations and to withdraw stores and supplies. While it is true that the aircraft carrier can often help in a time of emergency, its main purpose is to work with the Fleet to protect His Majesty's ships, and generally to take part in naval operations. It is considered that the Royal Air Force, which already has bases in the Far East, can best meet the requirements in that area at the present time. However, as announced recently in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of Defence, should circumstances arise in the Far East in which the assistance of an aircraft carrier would be valuable, one would be sent.

To return to new construction, research and design, I may say that work on the equipment, particularly the armament, for the three cruisers laid down is proceeding, and we are anxious that the ships should be equipped with the most modern gear when they are completed. So far as we can we are embodying all the modern knowledge which has been acquired, and the assembly of the equipment will take some time. I should say, however, that I do not expect the research work on the armament intended for these ships will be sufficiently advanced to justify a restart of structural work during the course of the next two years. Of the "Daring" class destroyers we are expecting that the eight wall be completed during 1950–51. Two new "Bay" frigates are approaching completion. I would like here to recall that no battleships are laid down or included in new naval construction programmes. I was very interested in the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Winster. He pointed out very forcibly what he thought would or would not be the rôle of the battleship in the future, and asked what was the Admiralty's intention in relation to the battleship. I think it will be said of the present Board of Admiralty, when history comes to be written, that no Board of Admiralty in this country scrapped as many battleships as has the present one. As the noble Earl, Lord Howe, rightly said, in the last two years no fewer than ten battleships and one battle cruiser have been scrapped. I well remember the look of consternation on the faces of some of my noble friends in your Lordships' House when I announced the scrapping of a large number of these ships.

It is difficult to say what the rôle of the battleship is likely to be in future. It is easy for my noble friend to adopt the attitude he does. But if other nations have battleships, is the Royal Navy to scrap the remaining battleships which it has? The battleships which we still have are among the most modern in the world. But they are not the only battleships. Is there any noble Lord present who will say, here and now, that these five battleships should be scrapped?


May I ask the noble Viscount whether he has any information as to exactly what capital ship construction is going on in the Baltic?


So far as I know, there is little or no battleship construction going on in the Baltic. But I do want to deal with this point. It is so easy to say that the battleship should be scrapped or put into reserve. I can say quite definitely that it is not the intention to scrap any one of the present five battleships. Whether they will be put into reserve, or used for training purposes, is another question. Noble Lords must realise, however, that if a battleship, or indeed any ship, is put into reserve, it costs a considerable amount of money to keep that ship in anything like order, and to prevent serious deterioration setting in. It cannot be said that a battleship, or a warship of any kind, placed into reserve, under any of the categories of reserve, does not deteriorate without some personnel being kept to look after that ship. My noble friend said that Hitler knew all about this, and had ideas of scrapping all his capital ships. But did he win or lose the war? That is the real point. Indeed, noble Lords will realise that two of the battleships were used in convoy work because there were unknown enemy cruisers and raiders. I am not going to attempt this afternoon to prove to your Lordships that the Admiralty's view as to the rôle of the battleship in future is the right one, but I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Winster, that the Admiralty have this matter very much in mind, and are considering what is likely to be the rôle, not only of battleships but also of cruisers, carriers and every other class of warship.

One of the Admiralty's problems has been to overcome arrears of refitting and repairs. The position has now greatly improved, particularly in the smaller class of ships, escorts and minesweepers, to which the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, particularly referred. Noble Lords will be interested to know that the programme which was completed during the last financial year numbered some 500 ships, mainly of the destroyer, frigate and minesweeper classes, including 200 ships for the Reserve Fleet. By the beginning of the present financial year, the number of ships overdue for refit will be reduced in the more important classes, such as fleet carriers, light fleets and cruisers.

The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, asked whether the present number of cruisers, taken in conjunction with the number of aircraft carriers, could be regarded as equivalent to the seventy cruisers regarded as necessary before the war. I think my noble friend Lord Winster replied effectively to that point. World conditions to-day are entirely different from what they were when the target of seventy cruisers was fixed. Before the war, Germany, Italy and Japan had large fleets of major surface ships, and it was necessary for us to have efficient major vessels of war to protect our trade against the combined efforts of all three of these countries. We are not likely in the foreseeable future to be opposed by a fleet containing a substantial number of such surface vessels, widely dispersed all over the world, and therefore our requirements now are quite different and in no way related to pre-war assessments. The present cruiser strength of the Commonwealth is larger than that of the known cruiser strength of other nations, excluding, of course, the United States of America. As your Lordships know, the navies of the Commonwealth are not in competition with the United States Navy, but are complementary to it.

I agree that in the future one of the greatest menaces at sea will be the submarine with a high underwater speed. While I do not minimise the danger of this weapon, I think it would be wrong to over-estimate the number of such submarines which are now being operated by any country. I saw in the debate on Defence that reference was made to a submarine with a speed of 20 knots. I do not know of any submarine which can do a submerged speed of 20 knots. As the noble Lord, Lord Winster, said, the number of submarines now operating anywhere with a speed in excess of 12 knots under the surface is small. There is no doubt that all countries who have naval forces are concentrating on increasing the submerged speed of their submarines, but I think it fair to say that in no country is greater attention being paid to this problem than it is here.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Viscount, but do I understand him to say that there is no submarine capable of 20 knots under water? Has the noble Viscount noticed the allusion to submarine Type 21 in the Führer Conferences?


I did say that I knew of no submarine in existence which can do a speed of 20 knots submerged. That is the information which I have had and I checked it up only yesterday. I repeat that the submarine with a fast underwater speed is the menace of the future, but we are confident that we could deal with any threat which might develop at the present time, and that the plans we have for the future will enable us to cope with any of the types of fast submarine which are likely to come into existence in the future.

Before I leave this subject, perhaps I should refer to statements which have been made in your Lordships' House and elsewhere, both in this country and in the United States of America, that one particular Power, the U.S.S R., has about 250 submarines. Indeed, in one of the speeches made during the debate on Defence, it was said that they had 250 "modern submarines." This statement is, I believe, numerically true, but we should remember that the great majority of those submarines are of a pre-war design and, although their numbers are obviously formidable, their capabilities represent no advance on the submarines employed by the Germans during the war. The U.S.S.R. obtained a few more modern types similar to those handed over to the United Kingdom and the United States of America as reparations from the Germans, but it must be emphasised that in every new type there are bound to be teething troubles, and the other countries will be no more able to overcome those than will our own nation. I assure your Lordships that the many frigates which we have are capable of dealing with any but the most modern existing type of submarine of which, as I have said, there are few.

Reference has been made to the question of a faster frigate. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, suggested a diesel-driven ship with supplementary e as turbine power, and this has already been investigated by the Admiralty design staffs. It seems clear, however, that considerable development in the marine gas turbine, and in other technical matters, will be necessary before a proposal on these lines can be a practicable proposition. The scheme will continue to be considered by the Admiralty as technical development proceeds. In the meantime, naval research and development in all aspects of antisubmarine warfare have the highest priority. I cannot, of course, reveal details, but I can go so far as to say that the prospects are reasonably encouraging. It is true, as noble Lords have said, that two destroyers are being converted into fast frigates, and work on them has already begun. These are regarded as prototypes, and the future conversion programme will depend upon their success. In the meantime, the design of a new anti-submarine frigate has been completed, and I am hoping that it will be possible to include one of these ships in the 1949–50 new construction programme.

The noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked me several questions about ships. In particular, he asked whether we had a sufficient number of destroyers, whether we had enough aircraft carriers, whether we had sufficient aircraft for those carriers in service, and whether the light fleet carriers possess sufficient speed. Broadly speaking, the Admiralty consider we have sufficient destroyers for fleet work and sufficient aircraft carriers. I have already dealt with the provision which we are making to counter the submarine menace by new construction and conversion. I may say that our present light fleet carriers are fast enough to operate the aircraft likely to be in service for some time to come, and that we have sufficient aircraft reserves to support fully the peace-time complements of carriers at present in commission.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, together with other noble Lords, is somewhat premature in asking whether any new co-ordination in naval forces has been decided upon as a result of the signing of the North Atlantic Pact, for the Pact itself has not yet been ratified by all the countries concerned. I need not, however, remind your Lordships that the Admiralty has maintained—and, indeed, the Government, in relation to all the other Services—very close and friendly association, not only with the naval forces of the Commonwealth but also with those of the Powers who were our Allies during the war and who are now associated with us in the Atlantic Pact.

We have been able to give each other much mutual assistance during recent years, and thus in the naval sphere much of the framework of the Atlantic Pact is already in existence. Moreover, within the Western Union, the French, Dutch and Belgian navies are to a large extent equipped with British ships and material. The Naval Advisory Committee, set up last year as part of the Western Union organisation, is proving a most valuable forum for the exchange of information on all subjects relating to the common naval defence of the five Powers. The Committee is paying particular attention to standardisation of material and practice, and to the co-ordination of naval forces, building upon the experience gained in these directions during the war. I might here emphasise that it is the Admiralty's aim to promote the maximum degree of standardisation, not only with the navies of the Western Union Powers but with those of the Commonwealth and the United States. The field covered is very wide and embraces not only equipment but also operational matters and communications. Inter-service standardisation in all our Services is, of course, the accepted policy. Your Lordships may be interested to know that, within the Admiralty, a special high-level committee and a new division of the Naval Staff are being set up to progress standardisation in all its aspects. The combined exercises, in which the French, Dutch and Belgian navies will take part with the Home Fleet at the beginning of July, are an indication of the extent to which Western Union co-operation has progressed. These exercises will be under the overall command of the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, Admiral Sir Rhoderick McGrigor.

In the course of his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Winster, asked whether the ships which have been sent to the Far East are replacements, or whether they are to build up the strength in the Far East. I can assure him that it is the intention that they should help to build up the naval strength in the Far East. It is true, as he said, that some ships were damaged during the Yangtse incident, but there are facilities in the dockyards in the Far East which will enable those ships to be repaired and refitted on the station. So it will not be a replacement; it will be a kind of building up of the naval strength in the Far East.

The noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, referred to the question of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors. It is true that this matter was raised in the course of the naval debate some two and a half months ago, and at that time I promised that I would give my personal attention to it. During the intervening period I have attempted to bring about a settlement of this question. Unfortunately, there is some little difficulty, but I am hoping that that will be resolved, and that quite soon, at any rate within the course of three or four weeks, some offer will be made to the Corps. Whether the offer will be an acceptable one or not is a matter which, of course, will be decided by the Royal Corps itself. But I can assure the noble Lord that after the debate in which the noble Viscount, Lord Cunningham, took part, together with a number of other very distinguished naval officers, the matter has been looked into carefully, and I am hoping that it will result in a statement in the near future. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, who served part of his happy ministerial life at the Admiralty as Civil Lord, asked me about the new salary scales for the Admiralty Civil Engineers. This is rather a technical question which I shall be quite ready to discuss with the noble Lord, for I do not wish to take up too much of your Lordships' time this afternoon. It is a matter which, I think, can be fully explained to him. I certainly will carry out the suggestion which he made that I should see the Civil Engineer-in-Chief with a view to seeing whether anything can be done to resolve the difficulties which have arisen in connection with salary scales.

In conclusion I would say that the morale, discipline, and prestige of the Royal Navy are in every way satisfactory. This is very pleasing when it is remembered that almost all the manpower of the pre-war fleet has now disappeared. The number of Regulars with war-time service is exceptionally small, and the present naval strength has largely been built up during the past few years. The miscellaneous duties which fall on the Fleet in all corners of the globe have been performed at the highest level of naval tradition, and great credit must be given to the officers and senior ratings for the continuance of the grand traditions of a grand Service.


May I point out that I pleaded with the noble Viscount that we should have some statement of naval policy, of what we are really aiming at? Before the war we had standards—one-power and two-power standards, and so forth. Is the First Lord able to give us some sort of idea of what standards we are aiming at now? Is the present composition of the Fleets abroad to be considered as the sort of Navy we are to have in the future?


My Lords, I can speak again only by leave of the House. The noble Earl must realise that the Navy has been and is still in the course of reconstruction. The run-down which has taken place, not only in ships but also in men, does cause some little difficulty, especially in view of the training question. Regular recruitment still continues to be very satisfactory, but there are certain man-power features which are causing us some concern; and until we can see where we are in relation to man-power we are not able to man-up ships at the various stations to the strength which the Board of Admiralty would wish.


I thank the noble Viscount very much.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Viscount for the efforts he has made to answer the questions—some of them very difficult—which have been put to him. At the same lime it is disquieting to hear that no further work is to be done on the three cruisers until after the lapse of two years. It is true that Russia has a very small surface fleet, but she has a few cruisers; and other countries who may not necessarily be on our side in the event of another war also have cruisers. I entirely agree with what the noble Viscount said about battleships. We must retain ours, since other countries have them; but they need not necessarily be kept in commission, and the money which would be spent on building battleships would probably be better spent in other directions. I was glad to hear that a new design for anti-submarine frigates has been produced. But I wish the noble Viscount could have told us something more about the two conversions which are going on—when they are likely to be completed and whether any more conversions are proposed. However, in view of the assurances that the noble Viscount has given, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.