§ 2.51 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 contained are adequate for the defence of the country; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in the first place I should like to make it clear that we appreciate very much the greater detail and the increase in the information which has been given to us in the Statement on the Navy Estimates this year compared with last year. We still feel, however, that the information falls short in certain important and, I would say, vital particulars. On the question of the adequacy of the Estimates as a whole, I should like to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he is satisfied that no slowing down in the modernisation and reconditioning of the Fleet will occur owing to these somewhat limited funds which are to be put at the disposal of the Admiralty in this financial year. It is, of course, of first and vital importance that this modernisation should be completed in the shortest possible time. We must not find that when a crisis occurs, as it may well occur in the near future, only half the work has been completed. It will then be too late to vote additional money and expect the Fleet to put to sea with modern equipment in a few weeks.
When I speak of modernisation of the Fleet, I am not including the battleships; it is the modernisation of our cruisers, our aircraft carriers and our destroyers, and all that goes with our anti-submarine forces, which is so urgently required. I am certainly not advocating that the
Navy should benefit at the expense of the other two Services. On the contrary, I should say that we must guard against an unbalance of our Forces which might be brought about by misguided public opinion. It is perhaps natural that the public are much more mindful of the bombing which they suffered during the last war than of the submarines which threatened their existence just as much. Therefore, there may be a tendency to turn towards the air for their salvation. The Parliamentary Secretary of the Admiralty in another place, said:
Clearly, the Navy is not getting enough money.
Though to be fair, I should perhaps add his further words that:
No Service Department ever does get enough money.
None the less, it is of vital importance that the Navy is always, at any time and in any emergency, able to carry out its time-honoured rôle, which I think remains unchanged, in spite of the menace from the air, and in spite of the production of new weapons. I need hardly remind your Lordships that this rôle is to keep open our lines of communication, to ensure the free movement of our convoys and to destroy the enemy whenever he appears, either above or below the surface.
§ I do not deny that air power is of tremendous assistance in the narrow seas, but it can never do all that is required for the protection of our convoys in the oceans of the world. The day when troops, stores and raw materials—the sinews of war—may be carried by air is still far distant and may, of course, never materialise. Therefore, ships grouped in numbers of small convoys will still require protection from submarines and fast surface raiders. I would say that such protection can be maintained night and day, in fair weather and foul, only by fast escort vessels supported by sea-borne aircraft, although, as in the last war, shore-based aircraft can be of immense assistance, when conditions are suitable. We all know that certain criticisms have been levelled from time to time at the use of aircraft carriers, but the fact remains that it was effectively demonstrated in the last war that the aircraft carriers could remain in a given area in all weathers, when shore-based aircraft would be quite unable to do so. So far 234 as I know, nothing has altered that position to-day. I have mentioned a large number of small convoys because I have little doubt that the advent of the atomic bomb will mean that we must disperse our ships more than we have done in the past. This in turn must mean a great increase in the number of escort vessels which we shall require.
§ During the recent debate on the Navy Estimates in another place, a new and perhaps more ingenious method of lulling the nation to sleep with regard to our anti-submarine escort vessels was tried out by His Majesty's Government. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty pointed out that there are three types of submarines to guard against to-day. First, there is the conventional type as used in the early days of the last war. Secondly, there is the fast battery-driven type, which of course is merely the conventional type of submarine boosted in speed for a limited period, perhaps while making an attack or a getaway. Thirdly, there is the submarine capable of sustaining high speeds under water. The Parliamentary Secretary indicated that our existing escort vessels were quite capable of dealing with the major number of submarines in existence to-day. Assuming this estimate to be true, there is unfortunately no guarantee that the minority of high-speed submarines will be in one area and the majority of slow submarines in another. Surely, our escort vessels must be capable of dealing efficiently with the most modern submarines at any time and in any area. Can the First Lord indicate whether our existing escort vessels are capable of dealing with the boosted, battery-driven type of submarine, and whether there is any reason to suppose that Russia would have any difficulty in converting her submarines to the boosted type? I have little doubt that our existing escort vessels are certainly not capable of dealing with the conventional type of submarine which has been boosted for high speed. It may well be that Russia has already converted a large proportion of her conventional type of submarines to the boosted type. That is the great danger that we face in the very near future.
§ Then, of course, there are the submarines which are capable of sustained high speeds under water. The Parliamentary Secretary in another place has indicated that only a certain number of 235 these submarines are at sea. As they are only of the experimental type, I do not want to spend much time on them to-day. I understand, however, that it may be only a short time before there will be one or two very effective models afloat. We have heard only recently that the United States Navy is engaged on building an atomic-driven submarine. I fully appreciate that the Admiralty policy is to meet this menace of the boosted type of submarine by building new frigates and converting existing escort vessels. We were told last year that this was the policy. The question is: Have the two conversions promised in last year's Estimates been completed, and have satisfactory trials taken place? Then there are the two new escort vessels which, according to the Estimates, are to be laid down this year. I hope we shall hear from the First Lord that propelling machinery has been provided and also the armaments and radar fittings which are so necessary; otherwise I cannot help feeling that these ships will be little more than ships on paper, and for a long time.
§ I think many of your Lordships are very disturbed at the lack of provision for high-speed escort vessels. It is true that we cannot spend unlimited money on such vessels, but it may well be that we are trying to produce a Rolls Royce type of escort vessel rather than Ford car vessels. I suggest that what we require is a large number of easily built high-speed escort vessels embodying the main essentials in anti-submarine work and protection from aircraft, and with all other fittings and gear reduced to a bare minimum so that building costs are kept as low as possible. There is another point. It appears that during the last twelve months we have transferred to India three destroyers. Surely this is a further unnecessary depletion of our few fast vessels which can be used for escort purposes and which are capable of dealing with the modern boosted submarine, especially when there is no guarantee that in the event of hostilities these vessels will be available in Europe.
§ I am afraid I cannot say that I am filled with optimism after reading the publication on the Navy Estimates for this year. One has only to look at the building programme to find that the building of our three new cruisers has been suspended for the second time. 236 Your Lordships will remember it was suspended at the time of last year's Navy Estimates. We are now reduced to a total of fourteen cruisers on active service. Many of those are old, and those which are in reserve are very old and out of date, too. I believe it to be true that the Russians now have almost the same number of cruisers afloat that we have. Can the First Lord give any indication as to when further work will take place on these three cruisers? I think they are known as "Defence," "Tiger" and "Blake." The "Defence" was launched in 1944 and the "Tiger" and "Blake" in 1945. Surely it is high time that these vessels were completed.
§ I have already suggested that in the case of escort vessels it might be wise to concentrate on the production of a large number of simple-type vessels, and the same argument might well apply in the future to the provision of naval aircraft for anti-submarine work. I believe it is true that owing to its weight the new all-purpose G.17 naval aircraft can land on the flight decks of only the largest aircraft carriers, the fleet carriers, which are, of course, large, vulnerable and expensive ships. I do not deny that a number of fleet carriers are certainly necessary; but might it not be wise to concentrate more on the production of a large number of simple type naval aircraft, with the minimum fittings, for antisubmarine work, which can land on the decks of not only fleet and light fleet carriers but also, possibly, of escort carriers? In fact, where are the escort carriers which I suggest are so vitally necessary for the protection of our convoys, and which will be required to sail with them again, as in the past? According to the Estimates there appears to be only one such vessel, and she is to be loaned to the Festival of Britain for two years. I suggest that it is of the first importance that protection for the numerous convoy groups which will be required in the event of another war should include not only high-speed escort vessels, but also escort carriers, with, of course, their complement of aircraft ready to search for and strike at a submarine at a moment's notice.
§ There also appears to be no mention in the Navy Estimates of the provision of light coastal forces, which did such magnificent work in the narrow seas during the last war. I hope the First 237 Lord will be able to give an assurance to-day that such a provision is not being neglected, and that modern small vessels will be laid down from time to time whenever possible. I notice the Estimates mention that one motor torpedo boat has been accepted into the naval service during the last twelve months, but there appear to be no other vessels coming forward. Surely we should not neglect to build up a large number of these very important small craft? I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to our minesweeping fleet, which is of such importance for keeping our harbours open and the approach channels clear of mines. According to the statement in the Estimates, we are now transferring or have transferred six fleet sweepers to Belgium and another one to Iran. While appreciating that Belgium is one of the Benelux countries and a staunch ally of ours, I should like to inquire whether it is considered that we have sufficient minesweepers for our own use to keep our channels open. I would suggest that the numbers indicated in the statement indicate otherwise. In fact, in the last war it was found that ten sweepers were required to keep even one channel open for a limited period.
§ Now I should like to turn to a more cheerful note, and say that we appreciate the economies that have taken place in the Admiralty by the reduction in staff. Of course, even now, as the First Lord will know, the staff is two and a half times greater than it was before the war; but I hope this figure will be progressively reduced, so that the officers concerned can get to sea and not remain behind propping up office stools. I am sure we are all pleased to learn that a committee has been set up to study the question of re-engagements. I hope that this committee will make an early report and that they are, in fact, considering the short-term engagements which were so successful in the American Navy. It is evident that economies are to be made by the closing down of the Rosyth Depôt and the Bermuda Dockyard. I can well understand that the Bermuda Dockyard is a very expensive commitment which may well be closed down for large repair work, but it seems a pity that reduced facilities could not be maintained there for repairs to escort vessels and even to destroyers. Those facilities might be 238 of the greatest value in the event of another emergency, because we may not always be able to rely on American yards to refit our escort vessels in that theatre of operations. As regards Rosyth, I should like to ask the First Lord how it is proposed that the naval forces in Scotland will be mobilised in the event of war. It might be quite impossible to send these men South when the ports in the South may be under heavy aerial bombardment.
§ Now, for a few moments, I come to the question of man-power. I hope the First Lord will be able to tell us to-day more about the proposal to reduce the Navy's intake of National Service men from last year's figure of about 10,000 to 2,000. From the actual efficiency point of view, no doubt we should like to retain the 2,000, but I think the real question is, where are the R.N.V.R men to come from unless we have a fairly large intake of National Service men? I hope that we shall hear something also about naval aviation, especially with regard to the reported shortage of pilots, and what steps are being taken to reduce that shortage. There is one other point, perhaps more appropriate to a debate on foreign affairs than on Navy Estimates, but which I should like to mention—namely, the reported establishment of a Russian submarine base on an island near the Albanian coast, at the entrance to the Adriatic. I believe this question was raised in another form during a similar debate on Navy Estimates last year, or in the Defence debate, but no satisfactory or full reply was given. I hope that it may be possible for His Majesty's Government either to deny or to confirm this report.
§ I realise that I have put a number of searching questions to His Majesty's Government, but I hope that on this occasion it will be possible for me to receive adequate replies, especially as regards the provision of high-speed escort vessels, and ships for minesweeping purposes. May I digress for a moment? In the old days it was possible to make use of fishing trawlers for minesweeping purposes, but this would be very difficult to-day. We now require well-built ships, equipped in a highly scientific way for minesweeping. We on this side of the House fully realise the need for economy, but surely it will be false economy if we 239 do not provide for the minimum requirements in escort vessels and minesweepers to protect our vast merchant fleet on the high seas. We feel that this provision has not yet been made.
§ In conclusion, I should like to put forward a word of warning. There is little doubt that the main occupation of His Majesty's Government at the present time is the economic condition of the country. No doubt that is a very laudable and necessary occupation. But I suggest that we must not blind ourselves with these preoccupations to the fact that the real and paramount danger is that possibly in three years time, when Russia may be at the peak of her production and supply, we shall have war, unless in the meantime we create a defence which will be so strong that the enemy cannot be reasonably sure of success. I maintain that we have not yet realised that degree of strength and preparation in our Naval Forces which will keep us free from the appalling calamity of war. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.12 p.m.
had given notice of his intention to call attention to modern developments in submarines and methods of defence; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has just given us a very interesting speech, but it has been one of almost unrelieved gloom. The only time he seemed to cheer up was when he congratulated my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty on economies in the Admiralty. I suppose that, like all serving officers, Lord Teynham has an ancient feud against the gentlemen in the "stone frigates," and I can understand his joy at the fact that some of them have been sent off to sea again. I was glad that he dealt in a part of his speech with the submarine question. I have on the Order Paper a Motion following his, which deals with that question, but with your Lordships' leave I do not propose to move it. If I may, however, I will address my remarks largely to that subject.
The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, says that the principal anxiety of His Majesty's Government relates to the economic situation. I should have thought that it was the Parliamentary situation with which 240 they were chiefly pre-occupied. Their principal pre-occupation, I should have imagined, would be to see whether somehow or other they could stave off a general Election, at any rate until some time towards the end of this year. However, that has nothing to do with the Navy Estimates or the strength of the Fleet. With some of the forebodings and misgivings expressed by Lord Teynham, I must say that I feel a certain sympathy. It is always the case that after a great war the Services are bound to suffer. I am afraid that has been particularly the case with regard to the Navy. It happened after the Napoleonic Wars, after the First World War, and now we see the same thing occurring again. I think that we in your Lordships' House can all do a service to the country by emphasising the old principles of sea power and their tremendous importance to this country, hoping that when times are better the Fleet will be strengthened and kept in an up-to-date condition. I know that that is the view of His Majesty's Government and certainly of my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty.
Before I come to the very important question of submarine defence may I make two general observations? First, I am glad to see that a naval squadron is to visit ports in Yugoslavia. Visits of this sort always do good. Naval men have ever been our best ambassadors abroad; we have cemented friendships with many countries by timely visits from the Fleet. I hope that the Navy will find occasion and opportunity to visit as many other ports abroad as possible, particularly in the Iron Curtain countries. I should like to see them going to the ports of Poland and, if they can get into the Black Sea, to Roumanian ports. They can do no harm and they will probably do a great deal of good in promoting better understanding with other countries in these difficult times.
The other general observation which I wish to make is upon a matter which has already been touched upon by Lord Teynham—the tremendous changes in naval technique which he and I have seen in our short lives. They have been simply amazing, particularly in the last few years. But, as he has said, they do not, in any way, alter the main principles of naval strategy. In the course of history we have seen great changes in sea 241 methods. There has been the transition from the galley to the sailing ship, and from the sailing ship to vessels propelled by steam and the internal combustion engine. Presently, no doubt, we shall have atomic weapons and all that they mean. But none of these things has affected the main principles—which are these. An island Power like ourselves must be able to keep open the sea routes and to deny them to the enemy. On that our whole power and security rest. All these technical changes do not in the least alter that fundamental fact.
As to the great immediate developments that appear to lie ahead, so far as I can gather from a study of technical journals, and from reading the rather fuller information which we get from the United States (I notice that Congress is treated to rather more information than Parliament gets from my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, but perhaps that is unavoidable in the United States), it seems that, apart from the continued improvement and enlargement of aviation, which of course is tremendously important, two great developments of the future appear to be guided missiles and the more modern types of submarine, which have been referred to by Lord Teynham, and were also dealt with at considerable length during the interesting debates in another place. I understand that my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty is prepared to enlarge somewhat on the necessarily brief statement which was made in the other House by his Parliamentary Secretary on this vitally important question of defence against submarines.
With regard to the guided missiles, it seems to me, from the evidence which can be collected, that there is a distinct possibility that these will replace cannon altogether. If that development is coming along—and as experiments proceed, that seems to be indicated—there is a very strong case for the Admiralty not to lay down a great many new ships at the present time; and there is a very good answer to Lord Teynham. I suggest that we should do well to hold our hands in the matter of new construction until we see how these new weapons are to be developed and how far our experimental research services have advanced in building them up. I notice that the United States Navy—this was announced to 242 Congress—is to spend no less than 40,000,000 dollars on converting one heavy cruiser into a guided-missile ship. That is a tremendous sum, and the decision to spend it in this way shows the great intricacy of this problem and the complicated armaments that are apparently to be put into this vessel. I understand that we exchange information with the United States Naval Staff, and I think it would be true economy to wait and see what happens to this guided-missile vessel before we embark on a big programme of building large ships at the enormous prices which with their present-day equipment they now cost.
With regard to the submarine situation, the information given to Congress by the United States Navy Chiefs is again interesting. It is announced that the United States Navy is to build an atomic power-propelled submarine which will cost 40,000,000 dollars. They are also to build a 250-ton submarine, quite a small vessel, which is to cost no less than 3,000,000 dollars. The cost of construction of these modern ships gives us every reason for holding our hand, if we can, until we are quite certain of the designs we need. The United States Navy is also to build a 2,200-ton submarine with secret power plant. Whether this is atomic energy, some form of jet propulsion, or some new fuel such as high-test peroxide, I do not know, but the vessel will cost 37,000,000 dollars. The U.S. Navy is also converting a number of existing submarines to the Schnorkel type which the Germans developed towards the end of the Second World War.
Before I leave the United States, I would make one other comment. It is sad to have to make comparisons with a war-time Ally, Russia, but the situation is as it is, and we have to deal with it. Admiral Sherman, the Chief of Naval Operations, has informed Congress that the Russians are known to have more than 270 submarines in their flotillas. That is a tremendous number. At the beginning of the Second World War, the Nazis had fifty-seven. It is true that they were modern-type submarines, because Germany began to build submarines against all the treaty restrictions only a few years before the Second World War; and they did a large amount of damage. These are the Russian figures, on the authority of the Chief of Naval 243 Operations of the United States Navy. These are all items of information that I have marshalled to illustrate the progress of developments at sea; and I have given their sources.
Now, what of our own Navy? On Pages 7 and 8 of the Statement which my noble friend issued with the Estimates, it is stated that we are studying the effect of attack by submarines of high underwater speed, submerged endurance and capacity for deep diving. On page 8 it is stated that:The greater underwater threat of the future demands increased ranges of underwater protection, new ahead-thrown weapons, homing torpedoes and fast submarines capable of meeting an enemy on terms at least of equality.The Statement goes on to talk about the great deal of research work in progress. The impression I have formed from studying the Estimates and the accompanying Statement, and the debate in another place is that while we are very active in research and experiment, and are spending a great deal of money and energy—quite rightly—on these Services, the actual construction programme is rather modest. And I gather that was the complaint of the noble Lord who opened the debate. On page 6 of the Statement, for example, reference is made to two escort vessels of new design. We are converting altogether five destroyers into makeshift frigates—I say "makeshift" because obviously they must be a compromise. The need for fast escort vessels is so great that we have had to convert destroyers. In the debate on the Navy Estimates in another place, the Parliamentary Secretary said that the first new anti-submarine frigate is already under way. The first! These are very small numbers and they seem to indicate a very modest programme. It is also said that the Admiralty are considering a simple design of anti-submarine frigate. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, noticed that statement, but he called for a simpler design of frigate, and as apparently the Admiralty think with him perhaps he will cheer up a little on that account.
I should like to ask my noble friend the only question to which I should like a definite answer. I asked the same question in the last debate that we had on Defence. Have we ready for immediate 244 action, for split-second action, an anti-submarine striking force, both air-borne and sea-borne? In the present state of affairs, that is obviously an inescapable necessity. We must have a force ready, prepared to go into action without any delay at all. The same applies to the minesweeping force. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, and all noble Lords will agree with me that the minesweeping force must be equally ready to go into action at once in case of trouble. Let me look at the figures of our active fleet—thirty-four destroyers and twenty-seven frigates. These are modest numbers, and I presume a good many of these ships are on foreign stations.
May I make some modest suggestions about dealing with the submarine menace, and I include in that the submarine mine menace, because the laying, of mines by submarines was a serious threat in both world wars and will be again? In the early days of the submarines, when I was a very young officer, those who went into that Service were proud of themselves; and they were fine fellows. They called themselves "the Trade." They used to boast, some of them, that one day all war vessels would be submarines, or at any rate submersibles. Their prophecy has not quite come true, but the fighting of submarines by submarines did come true in both wars. Particularly in the First World War our submarines made many "kills" by lying submerged in ambush, so to speak, on the exit routes or homing routes of German submarines and torpedoing them. In the First World War, in 1916 to be exact, I put forward suggestions, not entirely my own for they were the result of team work, for a special submarine to be used as a submarine killer and having a number of small torpedo tubes with which it could fire a cluster of small, fast, short-range torpedoes. We may now talk of homing torpedoes as that is no longer a secret. I believe that the perfection of homing torpedoes will make the construction of the anti-submarine, or perhaps I should say counter-submarine submarines, which I suggest more attractive. The use of a 21-inch torpedo in the First World War by ambushing submarines was a waste when a 14-inch torpedo would have done perfectly well. I think that that suggestion should be reviewed and the results turned up and examined.
245 In addition to homing torpedoes, which add to the efficacy of such a vessel in attacking other submarines, we have continual advances in radar and we are getting over some of the difficulties in detecting under-water bodies from bodies themselves submerged. If this improvement in radar continues, and the scientists make progress at the rate they are doing, it should be possible for a submerged vessel—in other words one of our own submarines—to detect an enemy submarine at a considerable distance. If we can do that and, as I say, have a large number of small fast torpedoes to fire at them, I believe that we shall have a useful weapon against enemy submarines. If we can combine all this with a close working together with our aircraft—and that means continuous and intensive training—then we shall have something. I again throw out the germ of this idea, after thirty-four years, to my noble friend and his professional advisers.
Generally speaking, however, I do not see any great need for alarm. We still have the great asset of our geographical position—and as we are bound to talk of fighting a Baltic Power (I again regret that we have to do so) then our geographical position is even more favourable than it would be in a contest with a North Sea Power. I see that my noble friend the First Sea Lord, Lord Fraser, has gone on record in the Press as saying that he does not believe that any nation possesses a submarine capable of twenty-five knots submerged—that was the figure used to raise the hairs of the Faithful Commoners the other day. But if the noble Lord, Lord Fraser, says that, it is good enough evidence for me. From what I know of advances in submarines since they became a feasible proposition in about the year 1910, it will need tremendous technical achievements and a great deal of time to produce a large vessel capable of proceeding at twenty-five knots submerged. I am not particularly alarmed about that supposed threat. However, I think we shall all agree that, whereas it has always been said—and it is true to-day—that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, it is also true that our liberty has always been bound up with our sea power, and that the price of Admiralty is also eternal vigilance.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ LORD WINSTER
My Lords, I feel that all your Lordships will be grateful 246 to the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, for bringing forward this Motion, which he has done in a speech of remarkable brevity but one in which, none the less, he managed to touch upon every vital question which is uppermost in naval circles to-day. I thought the noble Lord was a little more perturbed about the transfer of some destroyers to India than about the placing of an escort carrier at the disposal of the Festival of Britain, which perhaps indicates that he has some hopes of the Festival of Britain, but not much hope of India. Some of us might be inclined to put it the other way round. I noticed, too, that the noble Lord at one moment apologised for having to touch upon a point perhaps more in the sphere of foreign affairs than of naval matters. I feel that that is inevitable in a debate upon any defence subject. All defence subjects are now so interlocked with foreign policy and, for that matter, interlocked with each other, that it is almost impossible to discuss the Navy Estimates without bringing in questions affecting other Services as well.
I have noticed with regret that the Navy Estimates never seem to arouse the interest in public opinion which they ought to arouse. It is perhaps for that reason that we always begin a war with the most disastrous shipping losses, which hamper every overseas operation which follows and consequently prolong the war to a far greater length than it need be. Fundamentally, war is the affair of statesmen, who must decide their policies before the heads of the Armed Forces can begin to consider their strategy. These things have to be thought out in peace time—and I am afraid some of us occasionally fail to notice any signs of much thinking being done. As a matter of fact, the lack of statesmen who think out these questions in peace time can prove just as dangerous as the lack of essential weapons when war comes. The hallmark of a statesman in these matters is that he thinks in terms of realities and does not procrastinate. I would like to remind some of them of the saying of the old Greek poet:The procrastinating man is ever struggling with ruin.Unfortunately, it is the country which has to struggle with the ruin which the procrastinator all too often produces.
247 To-day we are faced with the fact that the cold war is growing more and not less threatening. The deadlock between East and West remains, and we must take care lest the Welfare State mentality dulls the ears to world affairs. We must face up to realities in these matters. I noticed that the other day the Minister of Fuel and Power, talking of these things, said that the one hope lies in the development of the United Nations Organisation. Which of your Lordships would be prepared to endorse that statement? I feel that statements of that nature only encourage the unscrupulous to steal a march upon the scrupulous Government. I would commend to Mr. Noel-Baker the words used by the late Lord Balfour. Speaking of such organisations, committees, conferences and so on, he said:These demonstrations just put up a painted screen, painted to delude people of good will all over the world into thinking that something is really being done, while behind the paper screen the forces of militarism are sharpening their knives.In this connection let it be remembered that the war of the future will give us less chance than ever to build up security after the war has started, as we have done in the past. We have in recent years been passing through a period in which the political direction of the Ministry of Defence and of the defence ministries has encountered severe criticisms. I am not competent to decide whether or not those criticisms are well merited, but that they exist is certainly known to us all. It has been said that we have not been getting value for the money we have been spending on defence. Indeed, I heard one cynical remark to the effect that we have been "Spending on defence more than we can afford, but not enough for security." I remember in our last debate on defence matters I heard one speaker say that the defence arrangements of the Atlantic Pact or Western Defence were all harness and no horse. I found myself wondering if we had a cart to put before the "no horse." I know that the Air League of Great Britain has said that thepresent provisions for national defence, instead of reflecting bold decisions, represent an unsatisfactory compromise which fails entirely to take account of the conditions of the war of the future.War has become a very scientific business, yielding huge dividends to re- 248 sourcefulness—that resourcefulness which is the child of education allied to scientific skill—and I hope that those who are directing our preparations at the present moment have that type of mind. But the essential point that we have to bear in mind in these debates upon defence matters seems to me to be that the cold war is here to stay, and it is likely to get worse. Therefore, defence should be a major, if not the major, consideration. At the present moment the West has no defence except the American atomic bombs, and it is a dangerous illusion to put our trust into talks and committees, and so forth, which have no "teeth" and which lack modern weapons.
In this respect, what are our naval requirements to-day? They have been touched upon by previous speakers. I speak, of course, not solely from the national point of view because we have to approach these questions now from the point of view of Western Defence. Our naval requirements seem to me to be naval forces capable of assuming the mastery of the seas, of supporting overseas operations and also of providing—an important matter—adequate naval transports in order to move men and materials quickly where the overseas operations require. If those are the requirements, it seems to me that the prime naval tasks depend upon our antisubmarine measures. We must remember that practically up to the very end of the last war, when it was clear that we were on top and saw victory approaching rapidly, nevertheless successful submarine attacks were being made upon our shipping. The anti-submarine aircraft must be ready at full strength from the word "Go"; the Fleet Air Arm, in my humble opinion, should be expanded for its anti-submarine tasks, and the anti-submarine flotillas must be built up and bases provided. I do not know what our Allies are doing in this respect. Quite conceivably, it would not be judicious to inquire too fully into that matter, but I did notice the other day that the Dutch are replanning and expanding their Den Helder base, and are clearly preparing to make their contribution to the naval requirements of Western Defence. But it is the fact that neither sea nor land operations can be developed with full efficiency until a favourable air situation is created. That is why, in my opinion, this question of bases deserves equal attention with that 249 of the provision of aircraft and of the anti-submarine flotillas.
With your Lordships' permission, I should like to call attention to some information which I have received concerning a great amphibious exercise which was carried out in March by the Americans—an exercise called "Portrex." I venture to call attention to it because I think that the lessons which the Americans have drawn from that great exercise do throw into relief the naval requirements which we have been discussing to-day. This exercise extended for over a fortnight and personnel numbering 80,000 were engaged. The exercise bore some resemblance to the Salerno and Normandy landings, but was brought up to date in the light of new weapons. Certainly one of the impressions gained was that those new weapons will make such landings as those at Salerno and Normandy quite impossible in any future war unless, for instance, anti-submarine protection is enormously improved. Unless that is done, it is felt that we are not likely to see another such amphibious operation.
The exercise was planned to represent an overseas assault upon a distant shore, so the Navy had the leading rôle to play in the early and middle phases of the exercise. The assaulting force enjoyed heavy superiority, and effected its approach successfully. It landed a small airborne force and then sent landing parties in, supporting them by ship bombardment, and reinforcements were sent in until the beachhead was secured. The interesting point is that the conclusion drawn was that although that was done, and even with the balance heavily in favour of the assaulting force, the umpires ruled severe losses at sea. Nevertheless, in spite of those heavy losses at sea, the lesson was judged to be that while it will be different from 1945, and while it will require great modifications from 1945, yet the Navy's rôle will continue to be of major character. if only because of the seaborne requirements entailed by the movement of large reinforcements and supplies.
I am told that the following were the main lessons which were learnt from this exercise: that the vulnerability of an assaulting force had increased; that offensive weapons have completely outstripped the defensive weapons of surface vessels; that the submarines inflicted 250 what are described as staggering losses while themselves evading detection and destruction. In this particular sphere the defence has been a completely out-stripped. It was said also that the newest aeroplanes can pierce the defence screen often enough to inflict insupportable losses; that the guided missile constitutes a powerful weapon against other objectives than aircraft—namely, against surface vessels; that the defence against the submarine, the newest aircraft and the guided missile, still falls most uncomfortably short of what is necessary. I will not deal with other lessons which were learnt, important though I believe them to be, because they do not directly affect naval issues and I do not want to detain your Lordships too long. But another lesson was this: that the airborne forces first landed are doomed unless they are rapidly and continuously given the means to drive the enemy away. This problem becomes more acute, and it is said that these reinforcements must come from Navy carriers. Another interesting point is that it was said that the exercise showed a great improvement in unification of operations, and that all tactical air units, Navy or Air Force, were commanded by one man. This was considered to be a most satisfactory feature of the exercise.
Therefore, summing up, if these lessons have been correctly interpreted by those who had to judge, the conclusions would appear to be these: that such grand-scale combined operations as represented by these exercises demand a more complete command of the sea than the modern submarines—the Schnorkel submarine in particular—will allow, while the atomic bomb automatically rules out large concentrations; that the opening phases of overseas operations must be far more an affair of the air than heretofore (it follows that the handicaps mentioned must be overcome before such operations can be undertaken): that the tactics, as well as the equipment and techniques of air assaults, must be modified—an airborne invasion must be self-supporting, and the initial air drop must be quickly supported by airborne reinforcements; and that, amphibious landings such as the last war saw seemingly being ruled out, the burden of invasion will fall on paratroopers and on airborne forces. Under existing conditions, such forces are very vulnerable and must be reinforced quickly, and that 251 can be done only from Navy carriers. It follows, therefore, that the Navy still has a vital part to play in protecting and delivering the vast supplies and reinforcements which are necessary. This is an immense responsibility, and defence against the submarine is essential in order to discharge it.
I trust I have not wearied your Lordships by relating at some length the lessons drawn by acute and skilled observers from this most interesting exercise. Perhaps the information has been a propos, because I feel it adds great weight and support to many of the points brought out by the two previous speakers.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, I wish to deal in the main with only one small matter this afternoon. But I should like first to say that I found the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Winster, most interesting; certainly, it interested me very much to hear the results of that large United States naval exercise in the Pacific. I think there will not be any dissent in this House from the words of the noble Lord to the effect that the Navy still has a vital part to play in our defence. It has always been so, and always will, so long as arms are necessary in this world at all. There is only one point upon which perhaps I disagree with the noble Lord. He suggested that the Navy was never ready, and that we always lost some ships at the beginning of a war. I think I am right in saying that in the last two wars in which we have been engaged, the Navy has been far more ready than either of the other two Services. I certainly speak with some knowledge when I say that that was the case in the last war; and it enabled us to build up our security here after the war had started.
I agree with the noble Lord that circumstances are changing now, and that a far greater responsibility rests upon the Royal Air Force and their counter-bombing measures than ever existed before. I should, therefore, like to see the Royal Air Force have in the future only two functions—that of Fighter Command and that of Bomber Command. In my view the time has come for the situation to be reviewed as to whether the Fleet Air Arm ought not to take over the anti-submarine patrol and attack operations 252 which were carried out in the last war by Coastal Command. These matters should not be settled for all time. There was considerable doubt in the minds of those who had to decide just before the last war whether that function, as well as the duties carried out by ship-borne aircraft, should not go to the Royal Navy. At any rate, that would enable one commander to be in control. The noble Lord, Lord Winster, pointed out the advantage there was in having one Commander in the American operation, and equally it may be well to have one man, say in the Western Approaches to be the commander not only of destroyers and other anti-submarine vessels but equally of the anti-submarine forces that fly in the air. I agree that there is no doubt that the time will shortly come when that matter will have to be reviewed.
But I did not rise, as I say, to take part in the general debate. I desire rather to speak for one small but important body of men—the Department of the Civil Engineer-in-Chief. I raised this question on May 11 of last year and the noble Viscount, as one would expect, gave me a courteous reply. He promised to carry out the suggestion I made, that he should see the Civil Engineer-in-Chief to ascertain whether anything could be done to relieve the difficulties which had arisen in connection with the salary scale. I wish to say now only that the first time that this matter—which affects a highly skilled body of professional men who are good servants of the Admiralty and of the State—was raised as long ago as 1938. I saw the men (I was Civil Lord at the time) and started the necessary negotiations with the Treasury. Before these negotiations could be concluded, I was transferred to another Department; and shortly after that the war came, and the whole matter was put aside to be dealt with after the War.
I want now to bring the matter up to date. In October, 1946, the Treasury issued new salary scales for these men. There are only twenty-four of them, and the scale was to take effect retrospectively from January 1, 1946. It is true that the scales were not agreed by the Institution of Professional Civil Servants, but they were much better than those on which this body of men had been working. I would remind your Lordships that these scales have not been altered for forty years. Forty years ago these men were 253 responsible for about £1,000,000 worth of civil construction, work. They are now responsible for about £10,000,000 worth a year. In the war they were responsible for about £36,000,000 worth. When one realises the value of the pound now as compared with its value in, say, 1910, one realises what that postponement means. These scales were put forward by the Treasury in 1946. They were put forward by the Government and at the same time as they were promulgated there were new salary scales for the administrative and scientific grades of the Civil Service. There was no delay in putting into effect the new scales for the scientific classes and the administrative grades, but to this day the civil engineers have never had these salaries which were promulgated in 1946. It is true that some of the men who have retired have been given part-payment of sums due to them retrospective to January 1, 1946, but nothing has been done for the people who continue to serve. That is my information. If the noble Viscount can tell me something different, I shall be obliged.
When last year we had a plea rightly put forward by the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Cunningham, on behalf of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, possibly as a result of his focusing attention on them they received their new salary scales. They had put in their claim only in 1945, but the civil engineers had made theirs in 1938. The Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, I believe, have had their increases since last year, and they were back-dated to January 1, 1946. I am not saying that they should not have had them. I think they should, because they are a valuable body of men upon whom the safety of the Fleet and the accommodation of the men who serve in His Majesty's ships so largely depend. But the time has now come when something ought to be done for this body of men for whom I speak. My only claim to speak for them is that they served me loyally while I was their immediate chief for the two years when I had the honour to be Civil Lord of the Admiralty. They ought to have their money paid up now on these new scales dated back to January, 1946, as has been done in the case of the scientific classes, the administrative grades and, since we spoke about it last year, the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (VISCOUNT HALL)
My Lords, may I interrupt for a moment? I do not want there to be any disagreement between the noble Lord opposite and myself. If he made inquiries, I think he would find that the majority of the persons of whom he speaks or in the Department which he mentions have had increases of salary which date back to the date which he has given. In the case of some senior grades there are still a few questions outstanding, but certain sums have been paid to them on account, retrospectively to January 1, 1946. I should not like the noble Lord to be under any misapprehension in relation to this matter, because what was promised last year was done. In the majority of cases increases have been given and the retrospective payments made.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
I am obliged to the noble Viscount, if that has been done. I will be frank in saying where I obtained my information. It was from the Institution of Professional Civil Servants. If I have misunderstood what they told me, or have misconstrued what they said to me, then I apologise to the noble Viscount. I was under the impression that, except for bonuses that had been given, and except for some payments made to people who have retired, those who are serving in the department have not had this increase of salary dating back to January, 1946, which, I think the noble Viscount will agree with me, they should have had, just as the scientific workers, the administrative grades and the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors have had theirs. If the engineers have had it, that answers the point I wish to make to-day. If they have not had it, I very much hope that the noble Viscount will see that they get it. If they have already had it, I thank him for having gone into the matter after my raising it last year. If they have not got it, I thank him in advance for what I know he will do now.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ LORD MOUNTEVANS
had given notice of a Motion to call attention to the improved systems of recruitment and training of officers in the Royal Navy. The noble Lord said: My Lords, regarding the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper, I should like to remind 255 the noble Viscount the First Lord of the Admiralty that in his statement of January 28, 1948, concerning the alteration of the Dartmouth entry system, he emphasised two points: (a) that the quality of officers entered by the new system must be maintained at the previous high level; and (b) that the revised conditions of entry should serve to open a naval officer's career to all boys of the right quality, whatever their school or financial circumstances. As a naval officer I am as anxious as anyone else that that fine quality should be maintained, but at the same time I should like to be assured that the new system of entry has succeeded in employing a wider field than before.
Perhaps the new scheme has not been operating long enough to infer reliably whether the new style cadets are proving as good as their predecessors. I should also like to ask the First Lord whether the revised conditions of entry and financial regulations have in fact resulted in Dartmouth being opened to above-average boys from any type of school. As an ex-juvenile delinquent for whom there was no hope I was brought up in a school for troublesome boys, and I failed to qualify for a Dartmouth cadetship. However, I managed to secure one a couple of years later in competition with boys from the "Worcester" and the "Conway." I was, in fact, the forerunner of the upper yard scheme, as a further means of broadening the officer entry. I mention it in order to find out whether we are getting a good type of officer from the lower deck. Perhaps the First Lord would kindly answer this question, and also inform your Lordships' House what percentage of all officers, say in the last five years, are ex-upper yard men. In addition to what I have said, may I ask the First Lord whether he considers sixteen an ideal age at which to enter Dartmouth? Not long ago, I took part in a discussion with the headmaster of Sherborne who said, amongst other things, that sixteen was no age at which to enter the Navy from any public school because any public schoolmaster, in fact most schoolmasters, would not accept a boy who had the intention of leaving school at the age of sixteen to go to Dartmouth. It appears that seventeen, or from seventeen and a half to 256 eighteen and a half, would be a better age at which to join Dartmouth.
There is another point I should like to bring up—I seem to be plying the First Lord with questions. As regards the electrical officers, can the First Lord state that we have enough officers with electrical education in days when the Navy is so full of electrical gadgets? Perhaps the First Lord will also inform the House what opportunities to obtain commissions are offered to promising material amongst National Service men. Further, will the First Lord tell the House whether he is satisfied that there is an adequate flow of junior officers into all branches of the Naval Service? My final question concerning the training of junior officers is perhaps an important one. Are the Admiralty adapting the training of junior officers to fit them for modern conditions? If so, what recent changes have been made in the training of sub-lieutenants and midshipmen? Some of your Lordships may have read recently in Hansard a naval debate, a good deal of which was concerned with this new sixteen-year-old entry into the Royal Naval College of Dartmouth. One statement made by the honourable and gallant Member for Chelsea was that out of 242 boys who sat for the examination to Dartmouth 219 failed to pass, or to reach the necessary educational standard. Perhaps the noble Viscount the First Lord will remark on this very serious account.
§ 4.12 p.m.
My Lords, I wish to speak very briefly this afternoon about the Air Arm of the Royal Navy in which I spent part of my naval career. I should like to deal with two main subjects—first, the shortage of air personnel, in particular of pilots; and, secondly, the strategic value of the aircraft carrier under present-day conditions. On the personnel side, I think it is true to say that at the moment the Navy is desperately short of pilots. Why is this? In the first place, I think it is because at the present time the young people of this country have rather lost the spirit of adventure, and they are not coming forward as they were a few years ago to join this very interesting and attractive side of the Service. I suppose it is a natural aftermath of war, the combination of the Welfare State and early marriage, and things of that kind. Those 257 things may be all right; but the spirit of adventure made us great in the past, and we will have to get back to it again. The second reason is that the conditions which are offered to young men to take up a flying career in the Royal Navy are not sufficiently attractive. Take, first, the example of the ex-Dartmouth cadets. We are getting only half the number of volunteers in flying that we should. I think it is essential that flying pay should be increased.
I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, raised the question of Dartmouth. I am sure he is absolutely right in what he says. I think the present scheme is neither fish nor fowl, and that the age should either be raised or lowered. I should like to refer to another point he raised—namely, that public schools are unwilling to take a boy who is going to leave them at sixteen. Moreover, the boy himself, although starting off by being very keen to go into the Navy, begins to feel his feet after about two years at his public school: he has perhaps gained his house colours, and so forth, and is becoming interested in all matters connected with the school. His enthusiasm for going into the Navy will have waned, and the last thing he will want to do is to leave his public school at that age. As Lord Mountevans has said, we are not now getting the pick of the nation's manhood into Dartmouth as we were before.
Now may I turn for a moment to the short-service air officers. The position there is even worse. We are getting only about one-third the number we require. There, again, the conditions offered are simply not sufficiently attractive. Again I would emphasise a rise in flying pay. I do not think it is enough at present, nor do I think the retirement gratuity enough. The leaflet laying down the conditions for entry as a short-service officer rather vaguely states that there are certain opportunities for taking permanent commissions. In fact, I believe that at the present time those opportunities are extremely good, and I think that in publicising the scheme we might hold out the much more rosy prospects of a permanent commission which do exist today. I also think that some, though not all, of these permanent commissions should be given earlier in the eight-year period of service. Some of them should 258 be given as early as three years, so that a really keen young man who was confident of his ability would say, "I am prepared to take a chance and go into this scheme, because feel I have a real chance of getting a permanent commission." Thereby we should get a better type of young man into this short service scheme. Of course, some of the permanent commissions should be given later, because some men take longer to develop, but I think a proportion of them should be given much earlier, say three years after entry. There, again, at present the material we are getting is poor. I believe that out of some 150 applicants for short-service commissions, only about 10 per cent. finally come through; the others fail on educational and medical standards, and so forth.
Although the shortage of pilots is the chief trouble, another factor is that, while we have good maintenance ratings, not enough of them are re-engaging. We are losing our skilled maintenance ratings. That is dealt with in the White Paper, but it is a point which must be borne in mind. Then what about our flying reserves? Are they getting enough encouragement and enough flying? What about that rather Cinderella body, the R.N.V.R. Supplementary Special Reserve? Are they getting any flying or encouragement at all? When last this matter was raised in your Lordships' House it was understood that they were not getting as much encouragement as the R.A.F. Supplementary Special Reserve. There is one final point in regard to personnel. Is the field of recruitment from the Commonwealth and the Colonial Empire being fully exploited? I feel that more could be done there to get the right type of young man into the Navy.
My Lords, I pass to my second point—namely, the strategic value of the aircraft carrier. The question is asked: will there be any part for the aircraft carrier to play in a future war? I say definitely "Yes." I admit that it is unlikely to be used in a Fleet action, but I believe it will play a major part in operations against submarines. I was very much interested in what Lord Winster had to say about that, and I entirely agree with him. I agree also with what was said by Lord Llewellin on the subject of unified command. In the anti-submarine war it may be neces- 259 sary, eventually, that all aircraft to be used in that war should be, operationally and otherwise, under the command of the Royal Navy.
I think it is generally agreed that in the open oceans, at any distance over 600 miles from the shore base, the aircraft carrier provides a much more economic way of protecting convoys. We must remember that the air base which is required for the operation of the modern jet fighter is much more expensive and difficult to construct than used to be the case. For example, longer and heavier runways are required. It is no longer possible to establish easily an air base in the desert or to hack one out of the jungle. It entails a major feat of civil engineering to construct a base which will be suitable for modern aircraft. It would, I am convinced, be quite impossible, either in the economic or the practical sense, to build enough air bases to enable us in the case of any future war to be ready for eventualities in all parts of the world. Even for protecting Mediterranean convoys it would be necessary to have five major air bases in the Mediterranean area. Moreover, bases will have to be closer together than in the past, because the jet fighter aircraft has a range of only a little over 200 miles.
Everyone agrees that war, if it comes—and, of course, we all hope that it will never come again—will come very suddenly indeed. There will be little, if any, time for preparation, as there was in the last war. So I maintain that the strategic mobility of the aircraft carrier is of the highest importance, not only for getting an air striking force to different parts of the world where we have no bases, but also—as was shown in the last war on many occasions—to meet calls of the R.A.F. for assistance. On a number of occasions in the last war, the Royal Air Force had to appeal to the Navy to transport their squadrons to scenes of action. It happened in the case of Malta and in the case of Takoradi. In recent times, we have had to help the R.A.F. to get squadrons to Hong Kong. I am convinced that the aircraft carrier will have a major rôle to fill in any future war, and will be vital to our defence. I would close again emphasising its strategic value as a mobile air base. That being so, I put forward a most urgent plea for all 260 possible support, both financially and as regards increased personnel, for the Air Arm of the Royal Navy.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, I hesitate to intervene in a debate of this nature, especially in view of the fact that it has been conducted at such a high level with regard to strategic matters. I have, however, to put forward a point of view which is fairly widely held in Scotland, and I am sorry that the noble Viscount the First Lord of the Admiralty is not in his place at the moment. I think it would help a great deal if the noble Viscount would make a statement upon this matter. It has for a considerable time been common knowledge among ordinary people that as soon as a war starts the Fleet goes up to Scotland. That has happened in the last two wars. As soon as a war ends, establishments in Scotland are either almost immediately closed down or at least are considerably reduced. I am fully aware, as, indeed, everyone must be, of the measures of economy which necessarily follow a war, and I know what difficulties Service Departments have in dealing with this question. It is also obvious that no Service Department can be governed by what might be called sociological considerations. If the noble Viscount the First Lord could say something of the reasons which make it necessary to close down the Scottish establishments—and I assure him that this is causing a great deal of heart burning in many districts—it would have a good effect and would lead to a better understanding of naval policy. We appreciate very much the visits which we in Scotland receive from time to time from the Navy. We should welcome more such visits. I am very glad to note that the former First Lord, Lord Cunningham, is having an escort when he visits Edinburgh this month. It is a matter for great satisfaction that that should be the case.
Now, venturing into rather deeper waters, may I say how astonished I was to note, from the emphasis in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Winster, on the need for unity of command, that there was deduced the need to divide control of land-based aircraft? I hope that the idea of divided control of the Air Force is no longer being entertained. After all, one cannot have two wars, one being conducted on the sea and another being con- 261 ducted on the land. If unity of command means anything whatsoever it means control over both spheres. It is common knowledge, I think, that during the last war it was not infrequent for aircraft to be transferred from Bomber Command to Coastal Command for use over open sea and used in many cases with great effect. Finally, on D-Day, air power was united in full support of our land and sea Forces with one objective, and its effect was overwhelming. I would further emphasise the inefficiency which would arise by not having a common source of supply and equipment and not having a common training scheme, as would result from dividing our Air Force into two. Unless further and stronger arguments are advanced, I personally should be very much against Coastal Command being removed from its present position.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, I find myself largely in agreement with what the noble Earl who has just spoken has said in regard to Coastal Command. For many years before the last war, I was very much concerned in the barren controversy which, as we all remember, took place between the Admiralty and the Air Ministry about the Royal Air Force and as to who should control certain aspects of it. In those clays, I always subscribed to the Admiralty view as it then was—or at any rate, it was the view of a great number of sailors—that the Admiralty ought to be in control of everything which used the sea, whether it flew over it or not. Since that time we have had a war, and from it I am sure that we have all learned much. The Air Ministry and the Admiralty must certainly have learned a lot. From what little I know, and from all that I have read, there is no doubt that the fight which Coastal Command put up against the submarine menace in the Atlantic was magnificent. I do not say it was perfect, for I do not know enough about it, though I imagine it probably was. One of the questions which I want to put to the First Lord of the Admiralty in this debate is: How long would it take to regroup Coastal Command, whether it was run by the Navy or by the R.A.F.?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH)
As I was in the middle of the controversy in 1940 and 262 1941 I should like to say that the great success of Coastal Command, which we all admired so much, dated, in the Atlantic at any rate, from the time the Admiralty were given operational control of Coastal Command and we secured reinforcements to the Command of which previously we had been starved.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I have just said it was because of the reinforcements of which we had previously been starved.
§ EARL HOWE
Maybe it was. I have nothing but admiration for the glorious work of Coastal Command during the last war. I should like to pass from that aspect. With regard to the Navy to-day I must confess that, notwithstanding Lord Strabolgi's warning about gloom, I have a considerable feeling of disquiet about the state of naval affairs. What the country really wants to know is: Is our Navy sufficient and efficient? There is no Party issue about this question. It is something we all want to know: what sort of Navy have we? The only answer we can get are these notes on naval activities and Admiralty policy, but I cannot get anything out of them. The Navy is surrounded by a secret curtain which it seems almost impossible to penetrate.
He would be a bold man who would be prepared to underwrite the peace of the world for the next five years. Therefore it is important to know what sort of Navy we have. If we do not tell the country, we cannot expect the country to give us adequate support when we want it. We had in Pearl Harbour an example of what might happen in another war. Are we sure in another war that we shall have a period of even strained relations? Is it not almost possible that the attack may open to-morrow morning? It certainly could if the aggressor were sufficiently unscrupulous; and what would happen if that did come off? There would be about 2,000 merchant ships on the trade routes of the world which would be the immediate target for a submarine force, and hostile submarines might be expected to be ready in position. They would come out, escaping observation for the most part by their Schnorkel devices, and would be in position, as were the Germans when they sank the "Athenia " 263 in the last war. Probably there would be a supplementary air attack on a terrific scale by an air force with about 40,000 machines behind them.
Could we re-create Coastal Command? Have we an organisation that would provide for escort vessels to be ready to go out to the trade routes and carry out the Navy's traditional job of defending our shipping? Have we the personnel to man the ships? Have we the ships? And, finally, have we the aircraft? The situation I have envisaged is not an impossible one. Naturally, I do not expect to be told secrets that we should not know, but could we not be given an assurance on how far we should be able to grapple with a sudden attack of that sort? Presumably, the Navy would want to deploy anti-submarine craft, escort vessels and minesweepers. How many have we? We have some figures in this remarkable document—remarkable because, in spite of the warning of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, about gloom, it opens with the sinking of the "Aurora" which was handed over to the Chinese Navy and became the "Chunking" and goes on to tell about the defeat of the "Consort" in the Yangtze and the withdrawal forced upon the "London" and the "Black Swan." I should have thought the less said about defeat in a document of this sort the better.
What force have we immediately available to go to sea to defend the trade routes? So far as I can see, we have sixty-one destroyers and frigates. We have also thirty-three on a reduced basis, training and experimental, which perhaps should be added, to make a total of ninety-four. And we have in reserve 184 ships. That gives us a modest total, indeed, to deal with an attack of a submarine force which, according to what we have been told in the House this afternoon, may consist of as many as 270. They would not all come out at the same time, but no doubt the attack would be formidable. It seems to me that the Admiralty should try to reassure us, but I do not know whether they can. I should like to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty how many destroyers, escort vessels and minesweepers were found to be necessary to grapple with the submarine attacks on our ships in 1943. Can he also tell us how many aircraft Coastal Command were using in 1943? The answers to 264 these questions, if they can be answered, would give us an idea of how the forces available to-day compare with what we found to be necessary in 1943.
There are many more questions one could ask, to which the First Lord could not give us answers, on grounds of security. How many airfields were required for the work of Coastal Command and how many for the work of the Navy? In this Statement it is stated that we are closing down eight airfields used in the late war for the work of the Navy, or reducing them to a care-and-maintenance basis, or disposing of them in some other way. To get an accurate picture of the whole situation, I think it is essential that the First Lord should tell us a little more than he has been able to tell us up to now.
The noble Earl is not proposing, is he, that we should keep up a war strength in all these materials in peace time?
§ EARL HOWE
If the noble Lord had been present when I started my speech I think he would have understood better the point I am trying to make. There is considerable secrecy with regard to what sort of Navy we have. In order to find out how far it is adequate for the purpose for which we want a Navy, I am putting a few questions to the First Lord, although on grounds of security it may be undesirable that he should answer them to-day. But these questions, if answered, would give us an idea of the extent to which the Navy will be able to meet any possible attack. It has been stated that battleships have been reduced to moth-ball status in order to man smaller ships. Can the noble Viscount tell us how many smaller ships have been brought into commission as a result of that particular step?
With regard to the ships that we may have available in the event of attack, five new frigates are being built from five old destroyers and one new anti-submarine ship is under construction. I suppose that that anti-submarine ship is experimental: that it will be another two or three years before the construction is completed, and possibly a further two or three years on top of that before her trials are completed. But who will underwrite peace for the next five years? It is in the next five years that we may want that ship. I would ask the noble Viscount whether he can tell us about this new anti- 265 submarine ship: whether she is a ship that is likely to be constructed quickly, and is capable of being built more or less on mass production lines. We are also told that when trouble comes the Navy may have homing torpedoes. Do these homing torpedoes exist at present, or are they just another experiment which has to be completed, and which must obviously take a long time? I do not expect the noble Viscount to answer that. Probably it will not become a question of practical politics.
Something has been said this afternoon about the transfer of ships to other nations. One would have thought that we should hang on to the destroyers and frigates that we have, rather than dispose of them. But if your Lordships turn to page 6 of the First Lord's Statement you will see that we have disposed of twenty-one destroyers and thirty frigates to foreign Governments. We remember the start of the last war, and how short we were of destroyers, a matter frequently pointed out in Parliament at the time. We also remember that we had to make special arrangements with America, and thanks to American aid we got the valuable assistance of fifty destroyers. If war broke out in the next five years is it not likely that the fifty-one ships that have been disposed of to foreign Governments would be invaluable? I cannot understand the policy which disposes of them at present. Furthermore, it seems to me to be an extraordinary thing that that policy should be put into operation without, so far as I am aware, Parliament being consulted at all. It may still be the policy of the Admiralty to dispose of destroyers and frigates, and our resources are getting less every day. We have no control over the Admiralty if they wish suddenly to dispose of, say, another half dozen destroyers and half a dozen frigates. Yet those ships might be vital if war broke out.
My next point is in relation to gas turbines, which is a matter I have raised before in your Lordships' House. I do not know whether it is a practical proposition, but it seems to me that with the modern development of the higher speed submarine we want a ship that can cruise at economical speeds, with a great radius of action, and yet have at its command great power so as to be able to achieve very high seagoing speed when required. The Navy have had an experimental gas 266 turbine ship for some considerable time. Can the noble Viscount tell us anything about the trials? Have they been successful? Is it expected that gas turbines can be applied to anti-submarine craft of this character? Then, if the trouble comes, what about the minesweeping position? That has already been referred to by previous speakers. We might easily have the same situation as we had the last time, with the enemy scattering mines ail over the estuaries and entries to our ports and harbours. We all know of the desperate efforts made by the Admiralty to deal, first of all, with the magnetic mine, and then with the acoustic mina when it came along. But have we yet found the answer to the hydrostatic mine? We had not found the answer to it at the end of the war, and I can only, hope that we have since. Then, with regard to degaussing to protect our ships from the magnetic mine, are we prepared to bring some organisation into being in order to deal with that point? Nothing has been said about that. All these are matters which may have to be dealt with at very short notice.
I now pass from the lesser craft to the aircraft carriers, about which a good deal has been said this afternoon. An aircraft carrier without her aircraft is like a ship without her guns. Have the aircraft carriers which we possess available for them, either ashore or afloat, their full complement of aircraft? With regard to pilots, I imagine from what has fallen from noble Lords who have already spoken in this debate, and particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, that the pilot position is net all that it might he. But if we have not the pilots or the machines our aircraft carriers will be useless, and one of the most important, parts of the Navy may be out of action when it is required. Can the noble Viscount reassure us on this point? Much could be said about the manning situation, re-engagement, and SO on. We appreciate all the difficulties, but it seems an. extraordinary thing that we have to give a man a bonus when he retires from the Navy at twelve years, and yet when a man re-engages he does not receive one. It seems to me that under present conditions it is the man who re-engages who wants the bonus—and a good big one too. I suppose there is some answer to that. I hope the First Lord will be able to give 267 us a better reply than was given in the other place.
I should like to pass on to the question of closing the Bermuda base. I suppose it is inevitable that we have to close down that dockyard or, at any rate, to reduce its status. However, I submit that if the last war taught us anything, it taught us the extreme importance of just such a base as that at Bermuda. Surely something can be done. Would it not be policy, with Mr. Dean Acheson in this country, to discuss the question of Bermuda with him, if it has not already been discussed? If it has been discussed perhaps the noble Viscount will tell us, but, if not, surely it might be worth while discussing with Mr. Dean Acheson what the future status of Bermuda is to be before any executive action is taken in that direction.
Finally, one of the economies the Admiralty are now undertaking is to close down the Chatham Division of the Royal Marines. The Royal Marines have had the honour of supplying the band which has played at several of the banquets attended by the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander, during the last few years, and I believe it was also the band which led the victory march in Berlin. Does this closing down mean that that band is to be lost to the Royal Marines? Then it is proposed to reduce the Royal Marines by 2,000 men. The Royal Marines have to provide detachments for all His Majesty's ships. They have to provide a Commando Brigade, and incidentally that Commando Brigade has to go to every point where trouble exists—Palestine, Akabar, Hong Kong, and now Malaya. That seems to form a very considerable percentage of our active Army. With the remaining 10,000 men, shall we be able to provide a worth-while commando force, the detachments for all our ships and also personnel for manning our small landing craft, if the arrangement which I understand existed in the last war is still continued?
I am afraid that I have asked a lot of questions and taken up a lot of time, but I hope that I shall be forgiven because I am so extraordinarily anxious, and I do hope that the First Lord will give us all the information he can. It is an expensive business having a Navy, and it is an expensive business having a Navy 268 strong enough to win a war. But I submit that the most expensive business of all is to have a Navy strong enough to lose a war.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ LORD HANKEY
My Lords, I am proposing to detain your Lordships for only a few minutes. I shall give the First Lord a brief interval in which to try at least to get a list of the tremendous string of questions with which he has just been bombarded, but I do not think I shall add anything to that list. I am not proposing to embark on any of the major questions which have been raised to-day, because they have all been exploited so fully. On that I would only say that for more than fifty years I have been either engaged in the preparation for a war or helping in the centre of a war, and all that time I have heard terrible reasons advanced for saying that the Navy was finished and that the country was pretty well finished, too. From the day of the introduction of the torpedo, one after another there have been these new inventions. Well, somehow or another, the counter has always been found. At the beginning of the last war it looked as though the enemy air forces would make life impossible for the Navy and for the country, but radar came to the rescue and we again survived. We have still very fine scientists engaged over the whole field of defence research, including especially the Navy. I expect that the Admiralty have a certain amount "up their sleeves." If I were in the First Lord's place, I think I should forget some of those questions or find it not in the public interest to give the answers I do not think he can answer in some cases.
I have been speaking of what I do not intend to talk about further—namely, the larger questions. I really rose only to say a few words on a question which the noble Earl has raised concerning the Royal Marines. They are a modest but an essential part of the Navy. The noble Earl mentioned the question of Chatham, which is one into which I have looked a little. From many points of view it is certainly regrettable that Chatham barracks should have to be closed. I believe everybody would agree with that —I think the First Lord himself will agree. At the naval ports there have always been the Marine Divisions, as they used to be called. It was a very handy 269 arrangement for manning the ships. If we wanted to send away a party of Marines, as we did in 1926 to Shanghai and on another occasion to the West Indies, it could be done very conveniently by putting a few detachments, one at a time, on board a few ships, and thereby attracting little attention. Apart from that, however, there were very close associations between the Marines and the people of the ports. There grew around the barracks little colonies which were admirable recruiting places, and Marines went on in the same family from one generation to another. That has been a factor of especial importance in a long-service Corps. Chatham recently recognised that, before this announcement was made, by giving the Royal Marines the freedom of the town. That just illustrates the point.
It is very regrettable, but undoubtedly the barracks were in a bad position. There are new barracks—I think down in the Deal-Walmer direction—which will take the place of those at Chatham. Chatham was not a particularly good place for the modern training of Marines, which require the proximity of a coast line. It is a little too far up the river, and the place has grown so much that it is necessary to go too far outside Chatham for the best training facilities. For that reason, I do not think that the Admiralty could do otherwise than close down those barracks, although I understand that they have kept an association with the town by retaining some of the administrative formations—I think it is the pay divisions.
It is rather on the function of the modern training of commandos that I wanted to speak. I think the First Lord will be able to answer that the commando system has been kept virtually intact. It might be imagined, after what my noble friend Lord Winster said in. his very thoughtful speech, that the commando system was less important because amphibious warfare had slipped into the background. I quite agree with him that it will not be possible to land huge forces on a coast until the command of the sea has been secured. But it never was possible to do it otherwise, and we shall probably and that science will find its way to meet those great difficulties, and that in time we shall obtain sufficient command of the sea in a war to be 270 able to land forces on the coast. But it is not only great forces which have had value in amphibious warfare. In the works of every writer, from Marryat to Forester, you will and recounted the operations of small forces of great importance—small forces which are not going to draw upon themselves the atomic bomb. Yet those forces were of great importance in the old wars, the Nelson wars at the beginning of the nineteenth century and the end of the eighteenth century. It was so in the case of Spain, especially the Peninsular War. And the noble Earl has mentioned some modern instances.
It is two years since I spoke on this question in your Lordships' House. About mid-way in that space of time I was in Egypt. During that time I called on the Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East. He and all the, officers I met were discussing the extraordinary performance of the Royal Marine Commandos at one of those inter-Service displays which take place. It sounds simple enough: it was marching in the desert. Yes—but marching in loose sand; and to do something that is a slow march in those conditions calls for the most perfect training and discipline. To do that marching in the desert as well as they would do it on Horse Guards Parade is most certainly a sign of discipline. That, my Lords, is the standard at which the Royal Marines aim. They want to emulate the standard of discipline of the Guards; they want the handiness of the sailor; and they emulate the élan of tae Royal Air Force.
I should like to give your Lordships another example. Two clays later I was asked by the Marine Commandos to visit them. I did so, and was met halfway by a great force of motor-cyclists. We proceeded at hurricane speed to a spot on the Little Bitter Lake, when suddenly we stopped short, and there, in front of me, I saw a magnificent guard of Royal Marines. With their blue uniforms, aid their accoutrements shining, and their white helmets, they were a most magnificent sight there in the desert. At that moment, with perfect timing, the Commandant of all the Commandos at Malta descended in an aeroplane and was beside me at the saluting point where I had to take the salute; and then these men did the march past in the sand of the desert.
271 Then suddenly I saw the other side. These people had just come from the occupation of Akaba, which the noble Earl mentioned. That, they told me, had been done partly by air and partly by sea. They gave a display with their guns with the greatest smartness—the sort of smartness one expects of the winners at the Royal Tournament. They were getting their guns into aeroplanes. It was a great contrast, this sudden change into battle-dress and this tremendous new élan in getting the guns into their aeroplanes ready to fly off. Incidentally, by arrangement, they were spending, their spare time in assisting the Egyptian police in preventing thefts of arms from the British depôts, which at that time—this was about a year ago—were very serious. Very shortly afterwards, they went off to Hong Kong, and now I see that they are going to Malaya. I think they had previously been to Palestine.
There, my Lords, is a modern exposition of the immense value of a Service —and remember, it is a long-term Service —with a very high efficiency. I think it is a fine thing for the nation that we should have a Corps that sets itself those high standards, even though it is rather small. The Marines have not finished their work. If there is another war they will certainly be there again. And if some day we have succeeded in imposing peace upon the world by force—when I say "we" I mean the forces of common sense and order—and come to the conclusion that for our safety we have got to impose it upon the planets, I am sure that at the invasion of Venus—no, perhaps I had better not say that, for Venus would he rather dangerous for Marines—at the invasion of Mars, the Marines will be there.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
My Lords, the debate which was initiated so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has kept up the tradition of the last three debates on naval affairs. That is explained by the fact that, with the exception of myself, every person who has taken part in the debate has served in the Royal Navy or in the Royal Marines. All are experts, and very forcible and clear in expressing, their views in your Lordships' House.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, has said, I have had a spate of questions fired 272 at me. I do not know how long I should keep your Lordships sitting if I were to attempt to answer all the questions. I will do what I can, but it is my intention to deal with the two or three main questions, which I think have been put by every noble Lord who has spoken to-day. The first point, which was put by Lord Teynham, was about the question of money. He asked whether I am satisfied that with the money which Parliament has voted the Royal Navy can be kept both efficient and sufficient. The position is this. The amount of money which has been voted by Parliament for the Royal Navy for the current year is no less than £193,000,000 which is £3,750,000 in excess of the corresponding sum voted by Parliament last year. This sum is about a quarter of the total global sum of £780,000,000 voted for the Defence Services as a whole, with £60,000,000 for the Ministry of Supply. In all the circumstances we cannot complain about the Admiralty allocation. I think it can be said that the keynote of Admiralty policy this year is the intention to devote more money to re-equipment and to reduce the total manpower of the Royal Navy in order to enable this to be done. I do not think that any noble Lords who have spoken in this debate will disagree with that policy.
Reference has been made to the reduction in man-power. It is true that manpower will fall from about 140,000 at the beginning of the year to 127,500 or thereabouts at the end of the financial year. I want here to make it clear, however, that this reduction in man-power is to be achieved by administrative economies ashore, and not at the expense of the sea-going Fleet. The major portion of the reductions will fall upon the National Service men. Indeed, it can be said that something like 75 per cent. of the reductions will fall upon National Service men who would be going out in any case. As your Lordships know, we are not replacing them with the numbers that we did formerly. Many of the economies we are making are referred to in my Explanatory Note. Some have already been put into effect, and others are now being carried out. The money which is being saved on personnel, together with the increase in the total Estimates provision, has enabled us to augment the provision for production and research by £10,000,000 above the sum provided for the corresponding services last year. Some 273 of the economies which we have made have been referred to in the course of this debate.
It was pleasing to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, who has a love for the Marines, in view of the fact that he spent part of his most distinguished service to the State in the Royal Marines. Indeed, I should have been disappointed if during this debate he had not intervened as he has, and paid that great tribute which he has paid to his old Corps. In relation to the removal of certain of the Royal Marines from Chatham, the closing down of the dockyard in Bermuda and the taking away of the Flag Officer in Scotland, may I say that these economies were not entered into lightly. Considerable discussions took place in relation to them and they came about only as a result of the fact that conditions are completely changed. For instance, take Bermuda. It was almost impossible to keep sufficient men in Bermuda to deal with all the intricacies of a warship at the present tune. It is a small and most uneconomic depôt to work. Something like two-thirds of the costs in Bermuda were overheads. We thought that the time had now come when the dockyard should be closed, fully realising its economic effect upon the economy of Bermuda. I must say that when we met the delegation from Bermuda, they fully realised what the situation was and accepted the position, though with very great regret. The change will not interfere with the stationing of the North Atlantic Fleet. They will still base at Bermuda, and the Commander-in-Chief will reside there.
Similar remarks apply in relation to the removal of the Flag Officer in Scotland, a point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk. The amount of work which was being done in Scotland at the present time did not warrant the maintenance of a Commander-in-Chief, with all his staff. The result is that what we have done, in effect, is to revert to the pre-war position, and the Admiral Superintendent, who is in charge of the Royal Dockyard, will continue the work of the Commander-in-Chief. That in itself will save a fair amount of money. I assure the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, and indeed the people who are keenly interested in Rosyth, that this action is quite independent and separate from the question of the maintenance of the Royal Dockyard itself. There is no intention that there should 274 be any reductions or any thought of interfering with the maintenance of the Rosyth Dockyard.
In relation to the Royal Marines, there has been a break in the connection between the Royal Marines and Chatham which had existed for something like 150 years. I am a bit of a sentimentalist, and if I lived in Chatham, if I had any connection whatsoever with Chatham, I should certainly feel the break. As the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, has rightly said, the rôle of the Marines has changed. It was impossible to provide near Chatham the training which is necessary to the Marines at the present time. There were facilities near Portsmouth and Devonport. The result was that in all the circumstances it was absolutely necessary to bring about that change. The same thing can be said in relation to many other economies which we shall have to impose.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
The question is whether or not it will be required. We will keep that matter well in hand, but it is impossible to go on losing something like £800,000 a year on maintenance of a dockyard of that kind. As I have already pointed out, the representatives from Bermuda were fully conscious of the difficulty in that respect.
The theme which has gone right through this debate is really the role of the Royal Navy in the changed circumstances. In the course of the debate, one of the noble Lords referred to the disappearance of surface ships. It can be said that the disappearance of any potential enemy with a large surface fleet means that the threat is no longer in the battleship or other large surface ships, but in the submarine, the air and the mine. It is general knowledge that there are now being developed by large naval Powers faster submarines which can remain submerged for much longer periods than ever before. I have no doubt that your Lordships are acquainted with the results of two experiments which have recently taken place. One was the submerging of an American submarine, the other the submerging of a British 275 submarine. From a report which appeared a few weeks ago, an American submarine travelled 5,000 miles submerged for twenty-one days. Then there was our own experiment of a submarine which submerged for almost double the time, nearly six weeks, and travelled something like 3,000 miles.
The development of submarines capable, when submerged, of both high speed and long endurance has engaged our close attention from more than one point of view; indeed, it can be said that priority has been given to research and development in this particular problem. Let me say that, whatever the criticism may be of the Admiralty and the work which the Admiralty is doing, I know of no naval Power to which the Admiralty will allow us to take second place in relation to research, not only into fast submarines, but also into the antisubmarine methods which should be adopted. We are pursuing the development of the fast electrically-driven submarine. Several of our submarines are being converted to this fast electric drive. May I explain to your Lordships what that really means? In this case there is supplementary machinery to the usual diesel engines of a submarine. There are electric batteries which are charged and which, as the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, rightly said, will give a boost to the submarine for, say, nine, twelve or possibly fourteen knots; but it cannot give the boost for more than three-quarters of an hour.
May I interrupt the noble Viscount for a moment? Am I wrong in suggesting that the boosted speed is something more than fourteen knots, and is more like seventeen knots?
§ VISCOUNT HALL
I was going to come to the question of speed. I think the noble Lord is quite accurate: it is about seventeen knots. But the boost cannot complete the seventeen knots; it is only for a distance of about twelve to fourteen knots within the period, and then the batteries have to be recharged. This type is not the only electrically driven submarine of which we have had actual experience in operation. We have also had experience of the hydrogen-peroxide-propelled machine. Let me say again that I am satisfied that there is no naval Power in the world which has greater knowledge 276 of this form of propulsion than we have. Much has been said about alternative propulsive systems. They have been talked about at length during the course of the last two or three weeks. But if I were to reply to all the questions which have been put to me to-day, I should disclose all the information that the Russians would like to have. I am not going, to say anything more than that your Lordships will not expect me to deal with the alternative propulsive methods. I will only say that costly development, even if of vital importance, can be undertaken only if there has been sufficient background, research and study to give a reasonable degree of assurance of both technical success and tactical and strategic value.
I wish that we could do everything that noble Lords desire us to do, but I am afraid that to-day there is a complete under-estimation of the strength of the Royal Navy. I will repeat what the Parliamentary Secretary said in another place —namely, that we have escort vessels of sufficient speed to deal with all the known submarines of the present time. I will repeat what I said a year ago—namely, that I know of no naval Power in the world which has a submarine which can attain a submerged speed of twenty knots.
May I interrupt the noble Viscount attain for one moment? Does the noble Viscount mean to say that our existing escort vessels are capable of dealing with the boosted type of submarine which can attain a speed of seventeen knots?
§ VISCOUNT HALL
The majority of our escort vessels are capable of dealing even with that. But I should like to remind the noble Lord that the number of fast electrically propelled submarines is very small. If you take a proportion among some of the larger naval Powers, then, indeed, it is very, very small.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
They are increasing, but I doubt very much whether they will increase a great deal more, in view of the research which is going on into other propulsive methods.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
By that time we hope that we shall get the necessary escort vessels of sufficient speed to deal with the kind of submarine which the noble Lord has in mind, and indeed, to deal with vessels with the kind of propulsion which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, who made such a powerful plea in connection with this matter, has in mind.
Now let me explain to your Lordships what we are doing. A new prototype anti-submarine frigate, embodying the latest weapons and the results of all the lessons learned during and since the war, is being ordered this year. It will have sufficient speed to deal with future fast submarines. A serviceable anti-submarine frigate which can be turned out on the lines suggested by the noble Lord, quickly, comparatively cheaply and in large numbers, at the same time meeting the minimum requirements of future antisubmarine war, is in active development. Two fleet destroyers are in hand for conversion to anti-submarine frigates, and another three conversions will follow. I would not under-estimate the value of those converted destroyers. They have speed and, with the adaptations which can be carried out on them, they make most serviceable anti-submarine vessels. In all this work, as in other new construction and conversions which we are undertaking or will be putting in hand, the programme of ship target trials, of which your Lordships are aware, has played a most useful part. The target ships were bombed from the air, shelled from the surface and subjected to the shock of under-water explosion, all at a comparatively trivial cost. It can be said that nearly all the ships were saved from sinking, and the result has been that our scientists and others have been able to secure very valuable data indeed on which to base the construction of new vessels and the conversion of others.
The highest Priority is being given to the development of anti-submarine weapons for use by ships and aircraft; the dropping of depth charges over the stern has been superseded by the weapon which throws the depth charge ahead and around, and represents a considerable step forward. As was mentioned in another place, and as has been mentioned in the course of your Lordships' debate to-day, we have in the experimental stage a number of new types of homing 278 torpedoes which may be launched from the surface, from aircraft or from underwater. They will seek out an enemy submarine, set their course and "home" on the submarine. I think it can be said that there has been almost a revolution in regard to this kind of destructive weapon.
Reference has also been made to antisubmarine aircraft. I am afraid that I cannot share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, on this point. We cannot get those cheap aircraft of which he has been talking to-day. We have to get aircraft which will do the job, and such aircraft are very expensive. They are produced as the result, not of months, but of years of study in design and construction methods. It is not possible just to turn a wheel, as it were, and make them appear. A new anti-submarine aircraft, the G.R. 17, is now being developed for carrier operation. This machine, which has powers of detection and destruction, has already been deck landed successfully. Perhaps I may digress for a moment to say that although no carriers have yet been re-armed with jet aircraft, a flight of Vampire fighters were embarked in His Majesty's Ship "Implacable" during the last autumn exercise, and Vampire aircraft will be embarked again with the Home Fleet during the course of this summer.
These matters are constantly under consideration and, indeed, they are the subject of active practice. Frequent practices and exercises are taking place in the main Fleets, and the combined Naval and R.A.F. School at Londonderry is studying weapons and tactics. New attack weapons are being developed and asdic and radar are being greatly improved. I was glad this afternoon to hear so many noble Lords refer to the danger from mines. In our previous debates, very little reference has been made to this weapon. We believe that it constitutes the second most serious threat in war at the present time. These mines can be laid by aircraft, by surface vessels or by submarines, and they are most effective in shallow waters. The serious effect of mines on our shipping at certain periods of the last war will be remembered by all. There is no limit to the ingenuity which can be brought to hear in varying the magnetism within the mines, and so making them difficult to sweep. To counter this threat, we are commissioning a special experimental minesweeping flotilla 279 this year to investigate sweeping methods for mines which do not respond to orthodox methods of sweeping. In the next few years we intend to construct a number of minesweepers of new design, the first of which are being included in this year's programme. More minesweepers in home waters will be commissioned, so that as many men as possible can be trained in this vital form of nava warfare and so that tactics and technical innovations may be studied and tried out.
The air threat is likely to be more serious in coastal waters than on the ocean routes, for attack from the air is limited in scope by the distance from an enemy's airfields. We are, therefore, developing new forms of anti-aircraft control for most of our ships, and we are including a prototype anti-aircraft frigate in our new construction programme this year. We also plan to build a type of escort which is new to our Navy, and which will be fitted with means necessary to control our own fighter aircraft in the defence of our shipping against enemy bombers and other forms of attack from the air. Although it is likely to be less serious than hitherto, we cannot entirely rule out the surface threat. We are therefore retaining, as well as cruisers, a number of fleet destroyers, and as is known we are building eight new ones of the most modern and up-to-date design—the "Darings." Two of these destroyers have already been launched, and work on all of them is progressing, so it should not be long before they are all complete.
Your Lordships will recognise that our naval commitments in any future emergency will be many, and that we cannot concentrate all our resources on one particular aspect. Raving, decided what part of our Navy Estimates should be voted to the manning and maintenance of ships, it is then necessary to ensure that the units of the Fleet which put to sea in war are in the proper proportion to the varying gravity of the main threats which I have outlined. We are therefore including in our combined Active and Reserve Fleets at present thirteen aircraft carriers, whose main function will be the protection of shipping against air and submarine attack. I was rather surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, describe the cruisers as being old and out of date. May I say that 90 per cent. of those 280 twenty-six cruisers are under ten years of age?
§ VISCOUNT HALL
That is what we are endeavouring to ensure. That is why we are carrying out periodically work of modernisation and reconstruction. This can be done, and we are adapting these cruisers so that when they are modernised we shall have the most powerful cruisers of their kind—indeed, the most modern cruisers in the world.
We have heard a lot to-day about the Navy not being ready to deal with the menaces which will confront us. I agree that the main menace is that of the submarine. But the fact is that, if you take all the naval Powers in the world, with the exception of the United States of America, and combine their cruiser strength, you will find that it does not come up to our cruiser strength. There is one consideration which noble Lords who have taken part in this debate seem to have forgotten. Even Lord Winster in the course of his very powerful speech did not mention it—in fact the only reference to it was by a noble Lord who said that the only defence of the West was by the atomic bomb. I should not like to say what are the defences of the United States of America, or indeed of the British Commonwealth—because we must not think only in terms of the British Fleet. There are the fleets of other countries in the Commonwealth to be taken into account. I have no doubt that in the future, as in the past, in the event of an emergency these will again be placed at the disposal of His Majesty's Government to do their share of the work.
Having regard to the Atlantic Pact and Western Union, if we combine the naval forces of the United States of America with the naval forces which we and other Commonwealth countries have we shall find that this combined strength is absolutely overwhelming. I am not suggesting for a moment that we ought not to rely on our own right arm. I doubt very much whether some of the noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon realise what has been done. We have twenty-six cruisers and 113 destroyers, some of which will be converted into anti-submarine frigates and the remainder 281 will be used in the same way as cruisers. We have 165 frigates for escort duties and sixty-six submarines. Do not let us underestimate the value of the Reserve Fleet.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
It is evident that the noble Earl does not know the practice of the Admiralty, which has already been described. The Reserve Fleet is refitted before it is placed in reserve. A number of ships are being dehumidified, if I may use such an ugly word. I have no doubt that in a wry short time after what might be regarded as "D" Day the major portion could be called into action.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
The noble Earl also referred to the three "Tiger" class cruisers. He mentioned this last year and I thought I gave him then a conclusive answer. I am afraid I can only repeat what I said last year, that we are most anxious that these vessels should be completed with the most modern equipment, particularly with regard to armament. Work on new armament is being pressed forward as rapidly as possible. Research in design, which necessarily precedes the introduction of new weapons, is nearing completion. However, I do not expect that the equipment actually to be fitted into the ships will be sufficiently advanced to justify restarting on constructional work for some little time. These ships will embody everything that is known and required for the most modern cruisers in the world.
As I have already pointed out, we are relying, as we always have done, on the assistance of the Commonwealth Navies, particularly for the security of the ocean routes adjacent to them. We are also co-ordinating our naval plans with the North Atlantic Treaty nations, from whom we expect much assistance in the event of an emergency. These plans, particularly for minesweeping and the protection of shipping, are well advanced. They are based on ships and aircraft in existence or building. We have been assisting them in the way of equipment and ships to the extent that is in our power, and the transfer to the Belgians of six minesweepers, to which the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, made reference, 282 was effected in accordance with that policy. I am surprised that any exception has been taken to the transfer of ships to Western European countries and to the Commonwealth. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, referred to some ships which had been transferred.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
This ship was transferred in payment of a debt which we owed the late Government of China. What happened to the ship afterwards was not the responsibility of the Admiralty.
The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, referred to a report of the establishment of a Russian base on an Albanian island, a matter previously mentioned in this House by the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood. The strategic usefulness of sites on the Albanian coast is apparent, and I agree that the existence of an operational naval base in this vicinity would be of great importance and concern. I can say, however, that there is no reason to believe that Russian submarines are at present based there. Such port constructional activity as there is in Albania appears to be devoted largely to exploiting Albanian mineral resources and to handling a small and diminishing proportion of freight from satellite countries.
The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, also asked about a committee we set up some little while ago to investigate the problem of naval re-engagements that is now causing us considerable concern. The committee have been asked to make a thorough investigation into every aspect of this problem, and their terms of reference have been drawn sufficiently wide for this to be done. We are expecting a report by the end of next month, and I assure your Lordships that action to provide incentives to encourage a greater number of men to reengage for pension is not being delayed pending submission of the Re-engagements Committee's report.
In the course of his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Winster, referred to the exercise which was carried out by the United States Forces. I have no doubt he saw 283 a report which appeared in the Press. The exercise did not take place in the Philippines but in the Caribbean.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
It was an exercise of the magnitude which the noble Lord claimed for it. In addition to 80,000 personnel, there were a large number of ships and a much larger number of aircraft engaged. We had observers there who followed the exercise with great interest. We have not yet had a complete report because the exercise took place in March, but I can promise the noble Lord that every aspect of that exercise will be studied. As he knows, there is the closest possible liaison between ourselves and the United States Navy, and he may be sure that the Board of Admiralty together with the naval authorities of the other allied countries will take cognisance of whatever lessons are to be learned from this exercise. The noble Lord also said he wished that there were some realism imported into our defence work. I ask him whether he knows of any Government during the post-war period which have given so much consideration to, spent so much money on and had greater problems to handle in Defence than the present Government. In fairness to the Service Departments, it must be said they have taken an entirely realistic view of the problems with which they are beset.
§ LORD WINSTER
Perhaps I may interrupt the noble Viscount. I will look at my words to-morrow, but my recollection is that I was not saying anything about those concerned with our defence matters not doing their work in a spirit of realism; I was referring to people putting their trust in organisations instead of, in the words which the noble Viscount himself used, in "our own strong right arm." To the best of my recollection, that was my reference to any spirit of unreality in discussing these matters.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
I have no doubt that one can check the words of the noble Lord. I feel that I ought to detain the House for a few minutes longer in order to deal with some of the other questions. Reference has been made. particularly by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, to the question of Naval Reserves. 284 The Navy have immediately available nearly 70,000 officers and men in the organised reserves, and this number is expected to rise by about 10 per cent. in the next twelve months, principally as a result of increases in the R.N.R., R.N.V.R., and R.M.F.V.R. and the entry of men into the R.N. Special Reserve. The strength of the Naval Reserves at the present time is much greater than it was in 1938 or, indeed, in 1939.
I was particularly interested in the speech made by my noble friend Lord Mountevans, who asked a number of questions, as did the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, in relation to the important subject of the recruitment and training of officers. The first reference made by the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, was to Dartmouth, and he asked some questions about equipment and training there. As I promised your Lordships over two years ago, we have done our utmost to ensure that the same high quality of cadets is maintained under the new age-sixteen entry scheme; and I think we have succeeded. The boys we are getting are a good type and a good cross-section of the community. Notwithstanding what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, half the boys are coming from the public schools. Most of the others are coming from State schools, and a few from Naval training establishments. No boy is prevented from entering Dartmouth by his parents' lack of means, since the only charge is for clothing, and incidentals, varying from nothing to £30 a term, depending on the means of the parents. It is, of course, too early to make any final judgment on these new cadets, as the first of them do not leave the college until July, and the real test will come, as with all other cadets, when they have finished their training and joined the Fleet as lieutenants. But preliminary reports from the College are good, for the new cadets have been well up to the standard, both educationally and in officer-like qualities. I am confident that Dartmouth will continue to produce as fine a naval officer in the future as it has done in the past.
As is known to your Lordships, Dartmouth is not the only way to commissioned rank. There is also the Special Entry at eighteen where we can, if necessary, make up any deficiencies from the 285 age-sixteen entry. Then we have, as the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, rightly said, a valuable Upper Yardman scheme for promotion from the lower deck. This is working very well indeed, and the Upper Yardman College is soon to be moved to Dartmouth to occupy accommodation which has become vacant as a result of the reduction in the number of cadets at the College following the raising of the entry age. This move will serve the double purpose of making a valuable saving by closing down H.M.S. "Hawke" and also of establishing the Upper Yardmen in the unrivalled atmosphere of Dartmouth. Your Lordships will be interested to know that promotions from the lower deck now provide up to 25 per cent. of all officers in the executive and supply branches and Marines. and up to 15 per cent. in the engineering and electrical branches. First-rate officer material is being obtained, and every effort is made to see that possible candidates are not overlooked.
Altogether, the entry of officers into the various branches of the Navy is satisfactory, both in quality and quantity, except, as has been pointed out by a number of noble Lords this afternoon, in relation to pilots and observers. The Board of Admiralty regard this as one of our most serious problems. We have only partially met the requirements by the recent granting of 220 permanent commissions to extended-service officers, and we are considering further changes and improvements in the conditions of service of air crews. We are already taking steps to improve the prospects of civil resettlement for short-service officers, both in civil aviation and other professions, and we are also doing everything possible to bring home to all ranks of the Navy the vital importance of naval aviation. The lack of short-service pilots and observers means that in a few years our Reserve position, at present covered by demobilised war-time officers, may become serious. To remedy this we have recently announced a scheme for training National Service men as pilots and observers. We need forty men per quarter, and I hope that many of the young men unable to do their National Service in other branches of the Royal Navy as the result of the reduction of our National Service intake to 2.000 will not forget that here is 286 an excellent chance of doing their service in naval aviation.
The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, raised a specific point in the course of his speech on which I intervened to inform him of what I thought had been done to deal with certain sections of the persons on whose behalf he made his plea. I will check up, as no doubt will the noble Lord, with those persons who know conditions such as he described, and perhaps he and I can further discuss the matter and iron out any difficulties which still exist. I am afraid that I have taken up rather a lot of your Lordships' time, but I thought it was necessary to deal fully with the questions which have been raised. There is not time to answer some of the questions, but I promise noble Lords who have submitted their points of view that I will carefully study them, and if it is possible to take advantage of their knowledge and of the information which they have given, then I and my colleagues in the Board of Admiralty will certainly do so. In conclusion, I would say that the spirit and morale of the Royal Navy is as sound and as high as ever it was. I feel sure that, notwithstanding certain gloomy outlooks expressed by some noble Lords to-day, in their hearts, after hearing my statement, they will say: "After all, the Navy stands where it was."
§ 6.0 p.m.
My Lords, I will detain the House for only a few moments. I was interested to hear the First Lord say that in his opinion the Navy had not done badly with the allocation of money it had received. I think that is probably true, but he has not really answered my question whether financial considerations are having any effect on the slowing down of the modernisation of the Fleet. But perhaps he intended to suggest that that modernisation was proceeding.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
I did intimate that we were spending £10,000,000 more on development and research—about £2,000,000 on research and the remainder on development.
I am very glad to hear the noble Viscount's explanation. I should like to make just one point with reference to the naval aircraft G.R.17. Of course, I am aware that it is a very efficient and up-to-date craft which embodies all the necessary instruments 287 for combating submarines, but there is still this point: that we cannot have a fleet carrier with every convoy and, therefore, we must have aircraft which can land on the small aircraft carriers and escort carriers. I am very glad to hear that more minesweepers are to be laid down as soon as possible, because I am sure that they are a vital necessity. I am still a little disappointed at the lack of provision of high-speed escort vessels, and I am still not convinced that our present escort vessels are capable of dealing with the high-speed boosted submarine.
The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, raised the question of the training of the young officer. I think it was the First Lord who indicated some time ago in your Lordships' House that the new Dartmouth scheme was, in fact, a trial scheme, and I fully realise that it has not had time to prove its worth, but perhaps there is sufficient information to show that the continuance of the scheme should be seriously considered. Each year it is more difficult to rectify if a 288 change is to be made. I maintain that under the old Dartmouth scheme, with the entries of thirteen and thirteen and a half, coupled of course with the seventeen and a half Special Entry of the upper yardsmen from the lower deck, the Navy obtained the best cross-section of boys from all walks of life. I do not think that is quite so true to-day as it was. I hope the First Lord will watch this scheme very carefully indeed, because the whole future of our officers will depend upon the College's taking a really first-class section of boys representing every walk of life. I do not propose to keep the House any longer on the many points with which I should still like to deal, and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.