HL Deb 02 December 1954 vol 190 cc117-80

3.41 p.m.

Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved on Tuesday by Lord Polwarth—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as followeth:

"Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."


My Lords, like many other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, I wish to add my tribute to the three years of achievement which Her Majesty's Government can present to the country to-day and to the projects which are so well laid out in the gracious Speech. My noble friend, Lord Jessel, in the course of his speech—which I regret that I was unable to hear but which which I read afterwards with great interest—referred, in this connection, to certain ungenerous people who regarded the achievements of Her Majesty's Government as the result merely of favourable terms of trade—in other words, as he put it, of good luck. Undoubtedly we have had favourable terms of trade, but Her Majesty's Government have also had very considerable problems to overcome, and I should like to say—and I think my noble friend would agree with me—that in my view Her Majesty's Government have taken every advantage of such favourable opportunities as have been presented to them, and it is because of the advantage that they have taken of those opportunities that they have this record to show to the country. I do not want to be deterred from adding my tribute to Her Majesty's Government, despite the fact that many others have paid theirs already, because the more people who can say something to support the line Her Majesty's Government are taking now, the more it will strengthen the hands of Her Majesty's Government, particularly in dealing with the many problems which still have to be over-come.

A great deal has been said during the last few years on the importance of new investment in industry, and this has been recognised in the last two Budgets that the Chancellor has introduced. They were clearly designed to encourage investment in industry, and I think there is ample evidence to show that a very substantial measure of success is being already achieved. It will no doubt have a snowball effect so that we shall see more results arising from it. My noble friend, Lord Jessel, spoke of the importance of new factory building. He mentioned it as a matter of urgency. I entirely agree with my noble friend, but I think we have ground for a certain amount of encouragement, even there. I should like to tell your Lordships What came to my notice only two weeks ago when a Canadian trade buying mission was visiting this country. They toured all over the country and visited a very large number of factories of one kind and another, some of them quite outside the range of the particular industries from which they were purchasing. They told me that they had visited something like eighty-five different factories. What had struck them most had been that in practically every one of them some building development of some kind, great or small, was going on.

Compared with what they had seen here two years ago, when these same individuals had been in this country, they noticed a very distinct change. They went so far as to refer to it as "a resurgence of British industry." When I inquired of them what they thought that was due to, they said, spontaneously and without any reservations, that it was undoubtedly due to the relaxation of controls and the general policy adopted by Her Majesty's Government. That is most encouraging, though it certainly does not mean that we have any room for complacency. We have to push on with new building and the installation of new machinery, and although I do not like using the term "both sides of industry"—because I always regard industry as something in which all concerned should operate as a team—in this particular case I must use it. If we are going to get the best out of our new machines it is essential for both sides of industry to be enthusiastic and earnestly to desire to get the best out of their now equipment. Here, I think there is cause for a good deal of encouragement. I will give one reason why I say that now. Is it not significant that today the British Productivity Council, with all its tentacles and local committees up and down the country, has as its chairman an eminent trade unionist and as its vice-chairman an eminent industrialist? To my mind that emphasises the importance of both sides of industry getting together and really trying to tackle the problem of productivity.

It seems to me that sometimes when we talk of capital investment we are inclined to refer only to buildings and machinery. Sometimes, perhaps, we may refer to ships, railways and power stations. I suggest that one other very important item mentioned in the gracious Speech must also come under the heading of "capital investment for industry" and that is roads. So I certainly welcome very warmly indeed the reference in the gracious Speech to the projects which Her Majesty's Government have in regard to new road construction. It is easy at this stage to criticise Her Majesty's Government and previous Governments, perhaps, for delays in bringing in these major proposals. Perhaps it could have been done by cutting a little here or a little there; perhaps there might have been not quite so much expenditure on power stations, or airfields, or houses and so on. It is easy to make criticisms in retrospect, but it is not so easy to prove them. I am not going to be critical here in the slightest. All I am going to say on the subject of these new projects is intended to emphasise that there is real urgency for them to be proceeded with.

My noble friend, Lord Blackford, speaking on this subject yesterday referred in, particular to the amount of agricultural land that will be wanted for some of these roads, and suggested that a great deal could be done by improvement of existing roads, by cutting out bottlenecks and so forth. Up to a point, I would agree with him, but on that very matter I cannot help thinking that at times we are inclined to waste on minor improvements a considerable amount of the money that is now being spent on the roads, and that if some of those minor improvements could be done away with and the savings added to the money used for new roads, on balance we should be much better off. If we can get a number of these major new roads completed they will have the effect of attracting off the ordinary roads a considerable amount of traffic, and the existing ordinary roads would not then be so grossly overloaded as they are to-day.

When I refer to new major roads I have in mind high-speed motor roads, such as have been in the minds of many of us and which I think are referred to in the Act of Parliament which was passed by the Labour Government—motor roads, for instance, between London and Birmingham, Birmingham and Manchester, North Lancashire and Liverpool, Birmingham and South Wales, and so on. I notice with great interest the reference that was made to some figures by the Foreign Secretary in another place. The day before yesterday he said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 535 (No. 1), col. 22): When the programme gets fully under way, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be paying out for these improvements each year as much as two or three times the amount allowed by the present programme which was laid down last year. The full amount of expenditure laid down by the earlier programme was £14 million to £15 million a year, so I take it that the expenditure that this new programme envisages when it gets fully into its stride will be of the order of £28 million to £45 million a year, which is a substantial amount. This raises the question whether that figure represents the actual amount of effort that is going to be put into the roads in any one year or whether it represents the amount that will be spent in servicing a loan if Her Majesty's Government were to decide to finance these roads by way of loan. If it were the latter, then it might be that the actual expenditure in any one year in man-hours and material would be a much higher figure than that. I have not given the noble Viscount notice of that question so I am not expecting him to give me an answer, but perhaps he will bear it in mind and pass it on the Minister of Transport.

The question of roads cannot be divorced from another point that is mentioned in the gracious Speech—namely, the revision of the Road Traffic Acts. I have two points I want to make clear. I most strongly urge the Government to think again about revising the 20 miles per hour speed limit for heavy traffic up to 30 miles per hour in the case of ordinary roads. I believe fiat the case for lifting the speed limit from 20 to 30 miles per hour is absolutely unanswerable. I realise that there are delicate questions involved in that matter which I will not go into at this stage, but I want to take this point a stage further. The raising of the speed limit referred only to ordinary roads, and a moment ago I referred to high-speed, motor roads. I hope that when these new motor roads are built they will be without any restriction of speed at all, because on such roads—as in the United States and on the Continent—heavy transport vehicles can go along comfortably ,at 50 or 60 miles per hour, or even more. That is a matter of great importance to industry. May I give your Lordships an example of why it is so important? A friend of mine who has an important engineering business on the outskirts of Greater London not infrequently has to send a heavy vehicle from London to Birmingham. As matters are today, that vehicle goes to Birmingham one day, stays overnight and returns the next day. With the high-speed motor roads one sees on the Continent and other parts of the world there is no question whatever that that vehicle could do the return trip in one day. Where my friend has two of these heavy and expensive vehicles today, with proper roadways he could do the same amount of work with one.

Before I leave the subject of transport I should like to comment on another reference in the gracious Speech—that is, the proposal that the borrowing powers of the British Transport Commission shall be increased. I suppose that at this stage it would be impossible to have an indication as to how much the increase is likely to be, but I take it that the purpose is so to improve the efficiency of the railways that there will be a reasonable chance of attracting back to them from the roads some of the traffic that has been lost over the last few years. I welcome that, but my welcome is qualified by the condition that that additional expenditure will be able to increase efficiency and so attract back goods from the roads to the railways.

A matter to which I should also like to refer not specifically mentioned in the gracious Speech, but it would come under the heading of the intention to encourage the expansion of industry. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, referred to it yesterday in his remarks on the Beaver Report, in connection with avoiding smoke and improving the atmosphere. I want to refer to it in a rather different context. If we have less smoke that means more efficient stoking, and that, in turn, implies a substantial saving in coal consumption for the country as a whole. I suppose that this Report has not been available long enough for us to be told whether the Government are going to accept the Report and its recommendations, but I would make this point. The saving of coal is a matter of the greatest importance today. It is a matter we have discussed in your Lordships' House on more than one occasion, but it has been drawn more particularly to our attention this autumn because we have seen that, if industry is to continue to expand as it has been doing, we need more coal, and this very autumn we have had to import more coal than we did last year to achieve that end.

I should now like to say a few words on a matter already mentioned by many noble Lords—namely, G.A.T.T. Here I should like to applaud the line of policy the Government have been taking, and particularly the personal efforts of the President of the Board of Trade. I regard the matter in this light. What manufacturer is not constantly reminded today of the ever-increasing competition in world markets? That is a fact from which we cannot escape. The question I ask myself is: under those conditions, can we hope to increase our share of existing trade? We may by greater skill and ingenuity increase it somewhat, but I do not think it is being defeatist to suggest that we cannot hope to increase our share to any major extent. After all, other trading countries must trade if they are to live. If we cannot increase our share, then how can we expand our trade, except through growing world trade? Can we hope for a growth in world trade unless all countries sincerely work towards an easing of tariff barriers?

My noble friend Lord Jessel referred to "a Commonwealth and Empire self-supporting economic unit," and I roust adroit that for a number of reasons that idea has many attractions. But is it, in fact, practicable to-day? Would even a unit of the size of the Commonwealth and Empire be big enough? Would it be properly balanced? How long would it take to achieve; and what is to happen meanwhile? I might mention just one country which is very much in our minds these days, from the trade point of view—I refer to Japan. Let us suppose that the Commonwealth was a self-supporting economic unit. Other countries from outside will still have to trade with us. Japan will want raw materials from us, and will have to buy those raw materials with her manufactures. If she does not, her economy is bound to go down, and we shall be handing her "on a plate" to the other side of the Iron Curtain. I entirely agree wlith my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, when he asks that we should perhaps try to get some modification of the "No new preference" rule. By all means let us try, though I am not very sanguine about success on a general scale: it raises immensely important political difficulties. We have, however, already one example where a slight modification on an individual subject has been achieved. Admittedly it was on an unbound tariff, but we may be able to gain other examples of waivers, perhaps even with bound tariffs; and by taking individual cases, we may be able to achieve what I know my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye is so keen on—namely, some benefit for the development of certain of the Colonial territories.

When people criticise the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade I think they are inclined to forget some of the benefits that we have already received from it. After all, during the three conferences on G.A.T.T. that took place in 1947, 1949 and 1951, I gather that the tariffs on 58,000 items were either reduced or bound. I see that 80 per cent. of the rates of tariff into the United States became bound under the General Agreement. One must ask oneself what would happen if G.A.T.T. were withdrawn, and if these bindings were withdrawn. The only estimate I have seen is that on the items which are at present bound the rates of tariff might go up, on an average, about 65 per cent., which would be a serious thing for British trade into the United States. There are, of course, other advantages. The General Agreement gives us a code of commercial rules; it gives us a forum where such matters as quantitative restrictions, imposed for balance of payments purposes, can be discussed; and after all, quota restrictions are much more damaging to trade than tariffs. It also gives us a code of standard practice for customs procedure. Those are practical advantages which we have already obtained from the Agreement. If I may again refer to the speech of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, he referred to "immaculate G.A.T.T.", and I entirely agree with him. In my view, G.A.T.T. is by no means immaculate yet—there are plenty of anomalies and improvements that could be made. But it is, I suggest, an approach to our trading problems that seems the most likely to fulfil our need of expanding trade and economy.

That brings me to my final point: to what purpose this expanding trade and economy? The answer is given, very neatly, in one sentence of the gracious Speech, which says: On these sure foundations of national prosperity My Ministers will find increasing scope for pursing social policies directed to the happiness and well-being of all My People. That seems to me to underline the fact that all the attractive schemes that to-day go to make up the Welfare State depend on one thing—national prosperity. They depend on our ability to work hard, to work with skill, enterprise and imagination, and by so doing to make profits. It is curious that so often those who stand, to gain most from the social services are the most outspoken against the advantages of industrial profits. If anyone should be tempted to criticise Her Majesty's Government for not being sincere in developing the social services, I would suggest that the Government have an unanswerable reply. They have put first things first, and have determined to build the sure foundations about which we have heard in the gracious Speech; and I for one am more than grateful.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we all agree that we have had a wide-ranging and interesting debate and that it has maintained a singularly high level. But then, of course, the mover and the seconder of the Address set us a high standard to live up to. If I may mention one speech, in particular, I thought that the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dovercourt, was an absolute model of what a speech should be, not only maiden, but mature: it was brief, lucid and packed with constructive ideas. But then, the noble Lord is only half a maiden, because he graduated successfully in another place. I was also greatly interested by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, on road traffic, and that speech will certainly be taken into consideration. I have listened to a great many debates on the Address in this House and another place, but in all these years I cannot remember in either place a gracious Speech which was greeted by such a chorus of praise. It will not make us conceited, but it does rather warm our hearts.

I am sure we all welcomed what the noble and learned Earl, the Leader of the Opposition, said in opening, about how important it was, and how he would always strive, to keep foreign affairs and Commonwealth affairs above Party politics. We want to reciprocate in that regard. Many noble Lords in the course of the debate have spoken about the Commonwealth. The noble Lord, Lord Haden-Guest, said that a strong and united Commonwealth is the backbone of the United Nations. A large part of this debate has been on economic matters and I should like to devote most of my speech to them, although I think it would be convenient if before I came to the broad economic situation I answered three or four specific questions which were put to me.

Both the noble and learned Earl the Leader of the Opposition and the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of York regretted that the hydrogen bomb and the problems connected with it were not referred to more specifically in the gracious Speech. Of course, these things are never absent from our minds. On certain aspects I do not wish to add anything to what the Prime Minister said in another place yesterday. But if it be an omission from the gracious Speech that we did not refer specifically to the large amount of work that is continually being done, there was, I thought, one notable omission from the speeches both of the noble and learned Earl and the most reverend Primate in this matter: there was not a word in those speeches about the tremendous efforts we have made to get effective disarmament. I should like to say a word or two to the House to-day about that, because it is the heart of the problem. Unconventional weapons cannot be treated in isolation; conventional weapons, as much as unconventional weapons, must form a part of the disarmament problem.

I should like to remind the House how strenuous have been the efforts which we have been making all through this year to get a satisfactory convention. Take the long Conference in London this summer: it went on for weeks, if not for months; and the present Minister of Supply, who was then Minister of State, worked tirelessly in all those weeks. The British and the French delegations put forward a comprehensive, complete, practical plan which was accepted by the Canadians and the United States who were in conference with us but was alas! entirely rejected at that stage by Russia. That situation, with the plan, was reported to U.N.O. this summer. Noble Lords will remember that during the discussions that took place at U.N.O. in September and October the Soviet Government announced their acceptance of those Anglo-French proposals as a basis for an international disarmament treaty. That was certainly an advance. It was not possible, in spite of prolonged discussion, to discover what was the Russian attitude towards the details; and, of course, the practicability of the plan depends upon the comprehensiveness of the details, whereby the conventional and the unconventional alike are diminished in orderly sequence until, finally, the unconventional are reduced to vanishing point. The result was that a Canadian resolution was unanimously passed requiring the United Nations Disarmament Commission to do their best to make progress next year. We will certainly go on trying all the time, and while what has happened cannot give us any ground for complacency, the change—and it is a definite change—the Soviet attitude does, I think, hold out some hope for the future.

Then the noble and learned Earl referred to Palestine. He need not have apologised for speaking at length on that subject, because the vivid account he gave us, I think, interested the whole House. I am sure that visits like that of the noble and learned Earl are valuable. He brings to the people he visits a wide experience and a judicial mind, speaking frankly and objectively to both sides. Whilst he may think, as one often does, that he makes little impression, and they answer back—I know it so well; I dealt with those intractable problems five and twenty years ago—perhaps more sticks than one thinks. Certainly the Government would welcome any sign by either side of a willingness to discuss a settlement of any of the difficult problems. I am sure it is true—and, indeed, the noble and learned Earl agreed with it—that it is impossible to impose a settlement. For instance, the United Nations proposal for the internationalisation of Jerusalem, which looked all right, was uttterly rejected at the time by both sides. That was years ago, and it would be quite impossible to revive it. Perhaps there is a better chance over the protection of the Holy Places. But I am sure of one thing: the best hope of creating the right atmosphere lies in getting a more peaceful situation on the borders. What the noble and learned Earl said about fear is very true; but surely the commitment of the United States. France and ourselves in the Tripartite Declaration of May, 1950, is a firm and far-reaching Declaration and should give a real sense of security.

The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, suggested that there might be a possibility of settling more refugees in Jordan. I very much doubt whether that is possible. I have not been in that country for some time, but I used to know it fairly well, and it has a great many refugees already. It is true that there is a great deal of space, but on the whole it is not space which can be made productive. But in Syria, for example, I think there would be a good deal more opportunity. The whole problem is one in which we take our share, but it is essentially a problem of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which has just had its life extended for five years.

Then there was "smog," to which the noble and learned Earl referred, and which has just been referred to again. I take it that the noble and learned Earl did not refer to it importing any consideration of internal Party politics. He asked whether I could say anything about the Beaver Report. There are three ways in which you can deal with a report when you get it—and we have only just got this one. You can pigeon-hole it—and we certainly do not intend to do that; you can keep it for many months while you study it and make up your mind what you are going to do about it, and then publish the Report with a Government decision; or you can do what we did in this case, which I think was the wise and right thing to do: we published the Report within a few days of having received it. It is an extraordinarily interesting Report, and it makes wide and far-reaching suggestions, many of which would require legislation, some of it, I have no doubt, highly controversial. I do not mean that in a Party sense, but some of the recommendations are pretty far-reaching. It will certainly require careful consideration, because when we take action on this matter it is important that we should take the right action. Therefore, I do not think anybody in this House would expect that, within a few days of receiving the Report, we should come with a complete plan based upon it.

Now I come to G.A.T.T. and Japan. The Government recognise that Japan is one of the major trading countries and that, as has been said by many speakers, with her large population and dependence upon imports of food and raw materials, she must export in order to survive. We have no desire to thwart her legitimate export trade, or to prevent her from having access to the markets of the world on a fair and equal basis with other trading, nations. In fact, I do not think much blame can be laid at our door. We give Japan—at least, I think we do—most-favoured-nation treatment in our tariffs. We certainly treat Japan very equitably in import quotas in the United Kingdom and the Colonies, having regard to the conditions of the sterling area's balance of payments with Japan. On the other hand—and I must say this frankly—we have painful memories of the impact of unrestricted Japanese competition on our industries in the years between the wars; and we think it is our duty to do what we can to see that those conditions do not re-emerge. It is quite natural that Japan should want to enter G.A.T.T. Our own decision must depend (I quote the words that the President of the Board of Trade used in another place) on whether an acceptable basis can be found to enable us and other countries to undertake relationships within the G.A.T.T. towards Japan without any violent disturbance of exising trade patterns or the development of disruptive or unfair Japanese competition. Our Government made certain proposals to the Japanese. I have just heard that those proposals were not accepted, though we have not yet received the particulars of the reply. We shall continue to seek a solution which would admit Japan into G.A.T.T., but it must be on conditions which will provide the necessary safeguards for our own British industry.

Now may I turn to the broad economic position and our prospects. It was convenient that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, should introduce this full debate at the beginning of a new Session: it is a good time to take stock, particularly on economic affairs, on which so much else depends. In order to see the position in true perspective, in order to appreciate the present, and indeed to appraise the future, we must look at the past. Three years ago, the United Kingdom trade balance was running at the rate of over £700 million a sear on the wrong side. Our reserves were draining away at a disastrous rate. The pound was at a discount. You could buy it, at one rate or another, in any black market in the world, and the world was beginning to lose confidence in us, though I am sure that we never lost confidence in ourselves. We could not rely on other parts of the Commonwealth to redress our own adverse trade balance. The whole of the Commonwealth sterling area, every country in it, had run, to a greater or lesser extent, into the same heavy weather. Taking the Commonwealth sterling area as a whole, the adverse balance was running at a rate of no less than £1,400 million a year in the late autumn of 1951.

We and the whole Commonwealth have made a remarkable recovery. It was recovery we made in concert and together. By the middle of 1952, both this country and the Commonwealth sterling area had wiped out the adverse balance and were running on the right side. By the end of 1952, the position was a great deal better still. It is important to remember, and to realise, how much that recovery was a united effort. While each Government and country and must be, responsible for its own policy and decisions and actions, there was a concerted policy; we worked it out together, and together we resolutely followed it through. From the restriction which with all of us was inevitable at the start, we have moved steadily and progressively to increasing liberalisation and to freer trade. That movement has covered the whole of our front. We are importing a great deal more. As I say, we have liberalised all our trade policy. Most of the controls have gone. We have reopened the great commercial exchanges which serve world trade, and the result has been remarkable. To our reserves which sustain the whole area and which had been draining away we have added over 1,200 million dollars—and that in spite of paying off a good deal of the gold and dollar debt. The pound is steady the world over, and confidence is restored.

In production and in exports the advance is equally striking. The year 1953 was pretty good, but 1954 is a great deal better. Our production is up 6 per cent. on what it was in 1953, and though we are consuming more to-day, we are also exporting more. Our exports this year are up on 1953 by 6 per cent. in value and by 8 per cent. in volume. I would have your Lordships observe this fact: that great advance in exports (and 1953 was an advance on the year before) has taken place in spite of three conditions which your Lordships would have supposed would, and which indeed do, militate against it. In the first place, there was a considerable recession—or, as I think is a more fashionable term now, "down turn"—in the United States economy. From a United States point of view, it was not catastrophic, but it was the kind of recession which a few years ago would almost have "knocked our economy endways." We appear to have been able to take that in our stride. The defence load which we carry not only makes a tremendous demand on our finances but also takes something like one-tenth of the total national product. Of course, the sellers' market has gone for ever, and we have been selling everywhere in keen competition in a buyers' market.

As regards unemployment, it is a nominal 1 per cent. Wage rates have gone up by 4½ per cent. in the last twelve months, and earnings still more. In 1954, over 9 million people have received pay increases amounting to rather more than £3 million a week; and more have been announced. During the same period, retail prices have gone up by only 2 per cent. I am sure that that is why people are able to spend more and to save more; and the increase in savings this year has been most gratifying. I think that in National Savings in the last twelve months there has been an increase of something over £44 million, whereas in the previous twelve months they were down by £59 million.

That is the plain story. I come back to the theme of unity. All this—and it is a remarkable recovery—has been done by hard work and team work, and by, as a team, using all our assets, the old and the new, using the skill of our workers, and (and this is tremendously important) by an ever-growing understanding and co-operation between management and workers in factories. It has been done by applying scientific research and inventive genius—and those qualities have never been higher in this land than they are at this moment—to our industries, the old industries like steel, where we are still about as cheap and efficient producers as there are in the world; to shipbuilding, where we have the gas turbine in the tanker which has just crossed the Atlantic; to the textile industry as well as to the new industries, like chemicals and electronics. We have done it by linking up production with our network of merchanting, banking, insurance and transport; we have done it, too, by linking a century of experience and, what is perhaps still more important, a century of integrity, which has made our markets and exchanges commercial centres of the world. In that combined effort we have achieved a combination of ancient and modern, striving all the time to build upon the knowledge and goodwill of the past the accumulating experience of the present and the anticipation of the future.

A number of speakers have emphasised the need for incentives and the importance of up-to-date equipment. I certainly agree with both. Perhaps there is a little tendency to underrate the incentives which have already been given to individuals and to industry—for what we have received we are, just at the moment, thankful, but the memory soon fades. After all, millions of individuals have received remissions of income tax; perhaps the ones who are paying nothing at all now have forgotten about it. There have been remissions of purchase tax, though I notice that as soon as there is a remission of purchase tax, like Oliver Twist every recipient asks for more. Then, in industry the initial allowance was restored to 20 per cent. in 1953, and last year there was the investment allowance on new plant. I do not know whether it is as a result of those incentives, but we could not tell the story we do to-day of our production, at competitive prices, and of our exports, if industry was not becoming more efficient all the time. Of course, that has been done with a great deal of ploughing back of profits—as there must be: there cannot be too much of it. Investment in plant and machinery is, as far as I can get any figures, 20 per cent. higher than it was in 1948. I am told that orders for machine tools—which again is a good test to apply—are much higher this year than they were a year ago, and investment in Commonwealth development is helping indirectly.

Though this recovery, which I have sketched and of which so many others have spoken, is remarkable and is the cause of satisfaction and maybe of modest pride, it is certainly no ground for complacency. World trade has been expanding. We are holding our own in regard to our share, but I doubt if we are substantially gaining a higher proportion. Given the teamwork and efficient production and salesmanship which have proved so successful, I think our future export prospects should be good. World trade continues to run at a high level. Certainly, trade in Western Europe has shown a marked expansion. Our dollar exports fell off last year. This was, I think, due entirely to market conditions, and certainly not, from what I have seen (I saw it for myself in Canada) to any slackening of the efforts of our exporters. There are now signs of recovery in the United States, and we may hope that these exports will again increase.

The past year has seen an agreeable relaxation in import restrictions in a number of Commonwealth countries. We have a better chance of trade now with Persia and with Egypt. In both countries our trade has been put on a sounder footing, which ought to enable us to increase our sales. I notice that our exporters are fully conscious of the purchasing power which arises from the great oil revenues of the Middle East. I was delighted to see, as I am sure everybody was who knew of it, the very successful effort which was made by a number of firms acting together to stage a trade fair in Baghdad. I am told it was a remarkable success. Orders were received for all sorts of things. I know that our manufacturers have been active in the dollar countries of Latin America, in Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia and Cuba. So I would say that prospects are favourable if together, in a united effort, we take advantage of them. But we shall be up against the keenest competition all the time. It would be easy to lose the ground that we have won, and to lose our hold. It is a vital matter (I use that word advisedly) because it is not only our livelihood but our very life which depends on our progress being uninterrupted. Peace and harmony in industry are the foundations of that success.

My Lords, it is impossible to exaggerate the harm which can be done by a stoppage in a key industry like the docks, which not only holds up our world-wide trade but reacts on every other industry. If there is an opportunity, other countries are only too ready to step in and exploit it. No one has preached and practised, appreciated, and tried to bring that home more than some of the most responsible and respected of the trade union leaders. If such disputes are unjustified and unauthorised—and in some instances they may be instigated or fomented by people who want to sabotage our united efforts—then it is suicidal.

As in the Commonwealth, so at home at its heart, I think we are more and more realising how much we are members one of another. This theme of unity runs through the gracious Speech, as indeed it has run through all the speeches in this debate irrespective of the side of the House from which they came. The gracious Speech speaks of "a strong and united Commonwealth." The difficulties and dangers through which we have passed and which still confront us have brought the countries of the Commonwealth, each of them free, sovereign and independent, ever closer together. Again there is the realisation that we are all members one of another, and that when we in the Commonwealth act together—I think this was what Lord Haden-Guest had in mind—we, as a Commonwealth, are a much greater power for good, our own and other people's, in the world than when we all act separately. There is the conviction that we have taken the right road and our determination to follow it, and the unity of purpose and action we find over so wide a field. Soon, in two months, the Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth will be meeting here again. No meeting could be more opportune. I am confident, as I am sure all your Lordships are, that their deliberations will still further fortify our unity and our strength.

4.30 p.m.

LORD CHATFIELD moved, as an Amendment the humble Address, at the end to insert: but regret the absence of any statement indicating the immediate commencement of a building programme to strengthen the Royal Navy and, in particular, to replace our ageing cruisers, to enable this country to meet the present serious threat to our maritime security.''

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Amendment to the humble Address which stands in my name on the Order Paper. I do so because there is a growing feeling in the country and, naturally and unfortunately, especially in Her Majesty's Navy, over the policy of Her Majesty's Government on maritime security. I can go back a long way, but never has there been in living memory a time when the position of the Navy compared to its responsibilities was more precarious. We have not the ships; we have not the men; nor have we the aircraft that we require to fulfil those responsibilities. Due to shortage of personnel, so few men-of-war are in commission today that officers cannot even get sufficient experience at sea in command of ships and squadrons properly to qualify themselves for their higher duties.

We have had two debates on this subject in your Lordships' House this year. One was on the Statement on Defence in March, the other was the debate on the Navy Estimates in July. One would have hoped that, as a result of those two debates, we should have obtained some reassurance and some lessening of anxiety; but the result was exactly to the contrary. The debates took on a form which barely touched upon naval matters. The Defence debate hardly touched naval matters and the debate on the Navy Estimates contained hardly any reference to the subject with which I am dealing to-day. Particularly was this absence of reference noticeable in regard to our cruiser strength, a subject on which I wish especially to address your Lordships now, leaving others to deal with other points of our naval weaknesses.

In the debate last March, the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Alexander of Tunis, made some interesting statements covering naval matters. He said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vo1. 186, col. 364): … there are those enthusiasts who would like us to ignore the conventional weapons and go all out for the non-conventional. I am afraid it is not quite as simple.… The truth is that most of the weapons are several years away and we have yet to learn how successful they will turn out to be. Therefore we have got to bridge the gap between then and now. … The noble Earl also said on that occasion [col. 359]: In face of mining and submarine warfare the Royal Navy is likely to have as hazardous and difficult a task in a future struggle as it has faced before in two World Wars. If our sea communications were severed and the convoys carrying our essential supplies from overseas could not reach us, I need not remind your Lordships of the grave situation with which we should be faced. It is because of this threat that the naval construction programme is concentrated on minesweepers and anti-submarine forces. … The noble Earl entirely omitted any reference to the subject of our cruiser strength. He is not with us this afternoon, although I did mention to him that I was going to criticise him. I know how difficult it is for anyone to speak for other Services—I had to do it myself in 1939, defending the Air Force and the Air Ministry against criticisms. All one can do on those occasions is to speak from a brief; and I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who is to reply to the debate, will be similarly confined.

The noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, who replied for Her Majesty's Government in the debate on the Navy Estimates did not burke anything at all. He spoke quite clearly of the dangers with which we were faced at sea. He mentioned the ships that a nation which is at any rate potentially a foe—Russia—was building to-day compared with ours. He told your Lordships that Russia had increased her naval personnel from 150,000 to 750,000 men; that she was building a large number of most powerful cruisers, warships far more powerful than anything we possess or are likely to possess for many years, and that she had 3,000 naval aircraft and so on. On this particular subject, the noble Earl finished up with these words (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 189 (No. 101), col. 181): These are sombre statistics which we must constantly bear in mind. He did not say who was to bear them in mind, whether they were matters to be borne in mind by your Lordships or by the Board of Admiralty or by Her Majesty's Government. One would have thought that, having said, speaking for Her Majesty's Government, that the situation was so gloomy, he would have tried to give some reassuring facts, some little sprig of hope for your Lordships in considering these sombre matters. But the noble Earl was too honest to do that, because he knew that he had nothing to say.

It is no wonder that people in this country view with alarm the fact that a great military nation like Russia, having suddenly discovered the value of maritime security and the use of ships, though having no great maritime responsibilities of her own, is now building a large number of surface vessels of great size, power and speed, whose destination in war upon the oceans can well be imagined; whereas we, to whom maritime security and trade are vital, are doing absolutely nothing to counter those efforts on the part of a possible antagonist. It is a most amazing situation. Before the last war we were striving to get something like seven or eight times as many cruisers as the Germans could put upon the oceans to attack our trade, whereas to-day, or in a few years' time, Russia may have over thirty powerful cruisers, compared to our twenty-six. Many noble Lords who live in the country will know that one cannot catch a fox with half a foxhound: it needs a pack. And, unless some entirely new method of doing it has been devised which will be ready in time, how can we expect the Royal Navy to defend our merchant seamen, gallantly risking their lives for their country, with a lesser number of ships than the enemy have?

It seems to me that this is really a sombre situation. Why are Her Majesty's Government so complacent as regards our maritime security? It is a patent fact to all who study maritime defence that we have run into grave danger—that is by no means exaggerating the situation—and when, in naval matters, a nation runs into grave dangers the difficulty is that it cannot emerge from them except over a long period of time. It takes longer to provide the petty officers and men to man a ship than to build the ship herself. And it is no good the Government suddenly deciding to spend their money hoping that in a short time it will produce something which can defend the country. I feel that the present situation is a sign to-day of a decadent mentality in Her Majesty's Government on maritime defence. What happened in the peace years is happening all over again—as I thought it would. The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, speaking in the debate on defence in March, suggested that there should be an independent (I think that was his word) inquiry. That suggestion was criticised. I do not wonder that the noble Viscount asked for an inquiry, but the only inquiry of any use would be an inquiry into the Government's mentality as regards their intentions about our maritime policy. And that is what I am trying to carry out to-day before your Lordships.

I should like respectfully to draw your Lordships' attention to certain very elementary principles which govern the question of maritime security. They may surprise you; but all sailors know them. The first principle is that each of the three elements, land, sea and air, in the order of their solidity has a special and unique value of its own. Each has some power it can give which the other two cannot. And, in maritime war, it is essential to extract from the three elements all that each can give. Nothing else is good enough. In defending the seas, you must not only hold the seas but you must hold the air over the seas. It is just the same as it is in regard to land: it is no good to-day having at army unless you can hold the air over that army. But although you can hold the air over the army and over the seas, that does not do away with the need for armies or navies. Air control is an assistant, a vital assistant, not a substitute. The nation that tries, with ships alone, or with air power alone, to hold the seas will be defeated by a nation which uses both ships and aircraft. That is a basic fact which will last for all foreseeable time.

The second point I would make to your Lordships is this. In Imperial defence it is not enough merely to defend the approaches to these islands, or even the North Atlantic. Our defence must be world-wide. It is often not understood that there are coastal areas in which ships cannot act against the enemy—their coastal areas—and that they have similar difficulty in acting against ours. It is those areas which the mine and the submarine render dangerous. Those areas of ours must be defended by anti-mine and anti-submarine ships, mine sweepers and frigates; and they must be assisted by coastal aircraft. As time goes on and weapons improve, these coastal areas are always increasing. But outside them lie the great oceans, and in those oceans we have to hold the seas and defend our merchant ships. It is impossible to do that merely by being what is called "on the defensive." There has been a lot of talk lately on this subject, and people have been saying how sad it is that the Navy is becoming a defensive Service. But the Navy always has been a defensive Service to defend the seas against an enemy. There is nothing offensive about it. That is why, I think, it is respected by our countrymen, in particular—at least, it has been in the past.

But although it is becoming a commonplace to speak about defence, the defence of the seas is not like a military defence, where men sit in trenches and wait for the enemy to attack them. It is an offensive defensive. The Navy's defensive is an offensive defensive. To pursue the enemy all over the world until it finds him and destroys him—that is the rôle of the Navy in maritime defence. Land aircraft can be of enormous value in the defence of our coastal areas, but they cannot go beyond a certain range and the limitations inevitably imposed by weather.


Would the noble and gallant Lord say what their range is? Would 10,000 miles be about right?


The range of the coastal areas is mainly governed by the depth of water, and by the number of mines that can be laid in dangerous waters; also by the waters in which submarines can be effective and concentrated.


The noble and gallant Lord has not dealt with the question which I put. The question I put was what is the range of the aircraft; is it 10,000 miles?


The range of coastal aircraft?


Any aircraft.


Any aircraft?—I am talking about coastal aircraft. The noble Viscount must confine himself to my words: I am talking about coastal aircraft. I say that coastal aircraft can be of the greatest value to the Navy in defending our trade routes within their limits (the noble Viscount will admit that there are limits), but that outside those limits the Navy cannot expect to have the assistance of these aircraft all over the world of oceans. It must take with it its own aircraft in aircraft carriers, which can be always there, ready to help in holding the air over the seas wherever the ships may be—in the Indian Ocean, off the River Plate, or wherever they have to operate. Cruisers must be the basis of that offensive in the oceans, and they must be as powerful as, and more numerous than, those of the enemy if we are to be safe.

The third principle I would mention is this. Every type of ship that the enemy has we must have, because every type of ship has a special value according to the weather and according to whether it is operating, shall we say, in the Mediterranean or in the Arctic Ocean. Let me say a word about the capital ship, applying that theory to the problem, which is often discussed. The use of the capital ship is to destroy the enemy's capital ship. If the enemy has no capital ship, we need none either; but if he has one, we need two. The ships that Russia is building to-day are small capital ships of 17,000 tons heavy displacement. They have a heavy armoured belt right round them from bow to stern, and a speed faster than that of any other cruiser in the world. Those are the ships which our sailors have been asked to go out and meet, to defend our merchant seamen thousands of miles away, with ships which for the greater part were designed before the last war.

The duty of the cruisers is to destroy the enemy cruisers. Some of us may have read the interesting book War at Sea, the first volume of which, by Captain Roskill, is brilliantly written. It describes how, in the first two years of the war, when our armies were back in this country, the Navy was able to hold the situation at sea for us. He describes how, in the spring of 1941, the two German small battleships, the "Scharnhorst" and the "Gneisenau," ranged over the Indian Ocean and the South Atlantic, interfering with our trade. It was a long time before they could be driven back to their own country. During that time, how did we defend our convoys from South Africa, the River Plate and India? By putting an old battleship in charge of each convoy—and that saved convoys on more than one occasion. That, I would suggest to your Lordships, is the principle we must bear in mind. It was exactly the same when the "Bismarck" got to sea. What would have happened if that ship had got out into our trade routes and we had not been able to sink her with the "Rodney" and the "King George V" in the Bay of Biscay?


My Lords, may I ask a question, out of my ignorance? Would not all these questions to which the noble and gallant Lord has been referring be affected, to some extent, by the existence of the atom and hydrogen bombs?


Oh, no.


I will deal with that point all in good time. If the noble Earl will let me make my speech in my own order, I assure him that I will not disappoint him. The last principle to which I would ask your Lordships to listen is this: the fact that one weapon dominates all others is no argument for doing away with the old weapon. If the atomic shell can destroy a tank, that is no reason why we should do away with tanks. The answer is to have an atomic shell also, and so destroy more enemy tanks more quickly than he can destroy ours. If the fighter can shoot down the bomber, that is no reason for abolishing bombers; and if the bomber can hit the ship, that is no reason for abolishing ships. If an atomic bomb can destroy the ports, as the noble Earl has suggested—


I did not make any such suggestion.


—or our erodromes, or even threaten our national existence, the reply is to hit the enemy with the same weapon more quickly, more violently and more efficiently. There is no other salvation in war than that. It is a case of our scientists against the enemy's scientists.

I give your Lordships these principles, for what they are worth, briefly and broadly. If they are roughly correct. I would ask why Her Majesty's Government have not given the Admiralty a proper cruiser building programme? The First Lord has told us that they are waiting on the scientists. Since the war not one new cruiser has been sent to sea. We are taking unimaginable risks. It is the old game: "do not build; wait for the scientists." But if we wait for the scientists, we shall wait for ever and never build anything. I have warned the House on that subject on many occasions since the last war. It is the old Exchequer theory: keep them waiting for their money. It was the same in past years. It hamstrung the three Services, all of them, so that we were not ready for war; and in 1939 our soldiers, sailors and airmen were sent by statesmen to fight in old ships and with inferior weapons.


It just does not happen to be true.


Order, order!


And it is going to happen again—old weapons and too few of them. Why was the building of three "Tiger" class cruisers suspended three years ago? Why did we not proceed to build on a programme parallel to that of the Russian navy? A British cruiser designed in, say, 1949 would be as good a ship as a Russian cruiser built in 1949. If we had built ship for ship with Russia from 1946 onwards, we should now have five more cruisers than we have at the present time, and each of those cruisers would be as good, ship for ship, as the one built in the other country. In the 'nineties Russia built two new cruisers—the "Rurik" and the "Rossia." We immediately built in those days two others, the "Powerful" and the "Terrible," to correspond with them. That was our policy in those days. That is how our fathers acted, egged on by Lord Tennyson, and so they preserved our maritime security.

To delay building when our potential enemy is not doing so is irresponsible, neglectful and a dangerous policy. We have lost five years which have been thrown away; and the delay piles up. When you lose the lead at sea, you may never catch it up, and your national life in an island then becomes at the mercy of the restraint of the rival Power who threatens you. We must not be guided by the imaginations of a few who, lacking guidance by the Government, quite naturally express their ideas in Parliament and the Press. Our gallant airmen (and may I remind your Lordships that speaking in this House a few years ago I advised that the Royal Air Force should be given priority of expenditure over the other two Services, because it had the greatest danger and responsibility) cannot do everything. It has to bomb the country of our enemy; it has to provide over-air cover for the Army; it has to defend this country against air attack; it has to provide aircraft for our coastal defence—that is quite enough. With all the great courage and ability of our airmen they cannot do everything.

The next war, if it comes, may not be over in a fortnight, as some suggest. Our Allied navies will not necessarily guard our trade routes for us; they have built their navies for their own purposes and their own security. The Americans have to look after the Pacific, Australia, New Zealand and the North Atlantic. We cannot trust blindly to others to do our work which we are shirking. After all, may not atomic weapons conceivably be restricted to the battlefields? I ask that an immediate programme should be given The Admiralty of large cruisers, and in sufficient numbers, because they are vital to our security. I warn you, my Lords, with all my experience and without in any way exaggerating, that our position is dangerous at sea—that is obvious to the whole world. Unless the Government take adequate and rapid action, it will be too late. I beg to move.

Moved, to add at the end of the proposed Address: but regret the absence of any statement indicating the immediate commencement of a building programme to strengthen the Royal Navy and, in particular, to replace our ageing cruisers, to enable this country to meet the present serious threat to our maritime security."—(Lord Chatfield.)


My Lords, I rise to second the Amendment to the humble and loyal Address which has been moved by the noble and gallant. Lord, Lord Chatfield. He has set out most cogently and clearly and, I think, not before it was necessary, the ever-increasing danger to our position at sea through the failure to keep the Navy up to a proper strength in not providing, in particular, a steady replacement programme for our elderly cruisers. He has said that we should build ships of equal power and equal numbers to those by which our security at sea may be menaced.

May I remind your Lordships that the British Commonwealth still has the largest merchant navy at sea, and carries a proportionately high percentage of the world's trade, including our own, and the supplies to this island which are vital to our existence in time of war.

I may be told that the advent of nuclear weapons has made all our previous methods of war at sea obsolete. Nuclear weapons have undoubtedly brought great and revolutionary changes to warfare, but how far they will affect the war at sea it is hard to say. An explosive vastly more powerful than anything hitherto encountered has been produced, but it is questionable whether its use against shipping at sea would be strategically economical. In harbour, of course, it would be quite a different matter, and a much more profitable target would be our harbours and the shipping in them. The safety of our ports and bases is, of course, a prime responsibility of our air and ground forces.

To my mind the greatest danger to our shipping at sea will still be from what are now called conventional weapons. It is hoped that escort vessels and carrier-borne and shore-based aircraft will be able to deal with these, but there still remains the problem and the danger of the surface raider.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, has described the ships that the Russians are now building, and it is obvious that they are thinking along these lines. For what else are they building this large number of heavily armed ships, fast and, no doubt, of long endurance? If these Russian cruisers are but reasonably efficient in war we have now no cruiser that could stand up to them with any prospect of success. There are, of course, carrier-borne and shore-based planes, but we have all too few of the former, and the latter cannot replace them in far distant seas; and there will be days, perhaps even weeks, when, in spite of all the aids of science, weather will defeat strike and search aircraft. Moreover, as I think my air friends will agree, it is no easy matter to hit with a bomb or torpedo a single ship of high speed and with full manœuvring ability.

In this connection, I may mention that there have been great delays in providing the Fleet Air Arm with the modern aircraft essential for the protection of shipping at sea and for any offensive operations that they may be called upon to carry out.

Some of your Lordships may think that the danger of the surface raider has been over-stressed. In the late war, surface raiders, both warships and disguised merchant vessels, sank nearly one million tons of shipping, mostly in the broad oceans. They were a constant anxiety to the Admiralty, and considerable forces had to be locked up ready to hunt them down and protect the convoys. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, has mentioned the four great German ships, the "Scharnhorst," the "Gniesnau," the "Bismark" and the "Tirpitz." They locked up large forces out of all proportion to the damage they did to us. But if those forces had not been available, the result would have been disaster and perhaps defeat. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, has said, in those days we had fifty-eight cruisers to draw on, and now we have less than half that number. We should be sending old and out-of-date cruisers to deal with new and powerful ones—rather an unfair strain on the morale of our naval personnel.

There are those who claim that the safety of our sea communications can now be safely left to the air. No one would question, or wish to question, the great contribution that the air can make to this vital task, but those who have experience of it and realise the immensity of the oceans and the variability of the weather know that those who make this claim are utterly mistaken. I will give your Lordships one example only of the difficulties which would be encountered by an aircraft—that is, the question of identification. The recognition of friend from foe has sometimes baffled even a surface ship. It is easy to see that one could not expect aircraft, flying at great speed and great height, to make much of it. Their very speed would be a hindrance to them.

It may also be remarked that there is plenty of opportunity for error. At any one time in the last war there were at sea 2,500 British merchant ships and at least an equal number under other flags, many of them working directly or indirectly for us. I have no doubt that in the future aircraft will make an ever-increasing contribution to the security of our seaborne trade. But I believe that the time that they can do it alone is very far distant, and will remain far distant so long as the bulk of our supplies, raw materials and food, has to be brought to us over the sea.

There are some who would have us rely on our Allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and it cannot be denied that we have already passed many of our responsibilities over to the U.S.A. But alliances run only for a short term, and we have seen, all too often, political changes bring about totally unexpected international upheavals. Of course, Britain welcomes Allies to work with her, but in the last issue the responsibility for her maritime security rests, and must always rest, with herself. She cannot afford to rely on her Allies to such an extent that, if the alliance disintegrates, she is left defenceless at sea. Can we be certain that events may not so arrange themselves that American preoccupations at a critical juncture will not necessarily be identical with ours, however friendly the relations between our two countries continue to be?

One of our ablest writers, Sir Arthur Bryant, has written recently: The sea's relation to England is a kind of 'Escape me never.' At various times in our history we have tried to ignore her, but never without disaster. It is to be hoped that the neglect of the Navy in the middle years of this century may not lead to that result.

As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, has already said, sea power allowed to decline to the extent that ours already has cannot be quickly rebuilt. To design and build good ships is a tradition and demands continuity. Break the continuity, and you lose the men who can design and build them. Each warship class develops from her predecessors. You cannot safely progress by sudden leaps; nor can we afford to let ships decay, designers and other experts go elsewhere and shipbuilding and weapon-producing plant be put to other uses, while we wait hopefully for the new design which, as we have so often been told, will solve all our problems.

With all these considerations which have been put before your Lordships in mind, I suggest that the question is not "Can we keep the Navy up to strength required of them in war?" but, "Can we afford not to?" I submit that the answer is definitely that we cannot afford not to.

The Prime Minister himself says, at the end of his great historical survey: We, an island power … dependent on the sea, can read the lesson and understand our own fate had we failed to master the U-boats. The Navy's responsibilities in war extend far beyond he mastery of the U-boats, but the lesson remains the same. My Lords, I beg to second the Amendment.

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene for only a very short time, for as recently as the end of July of this year I dealt fully with naval problems and the urgent need for a fleet replacement programme, particularly of the older cruisers. There is no doubt that this need is acknowledged by everyone who is or has been associated with the Royal Navy. This debate is significant. In the first place, it is taking place on an Amendment to the Address to Her Majesty for her gracious Speech. It is sponsored by four very distinguished and gallant Admirals of the Fleet, each of whom has given a lifetime of valuable service to the Royal Navy and the nation. They are supported by other noble Lords who also have given great service to the Royal Navy. Indeed, with the exception of myself and my noble friend Lord Stansgate, every speaker who is to take part in the debate has given valuable service to the Royal Navy. The Board of Admiralty and Her Majesty's Government should take serious note of the speeches which will be made during the debate here to-day, and especially those of the noble Lords who have already spoken. Both have given startling figures. Not only have they spoken with great knowledge, but that knowledge is based upon a very long experience.

Like so many serving officers in the Navy at the present time, they feel a great concern, and much frustration, about the condition of the Royal Navy to-day. I am hoping that we shall have a reply from the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, to some of the points which have been put, and will be put later on, during the course of this debate. If not, I hope that it will be a pointer to the First Lord when he is preparing his Estimates and his Explanatory Statement which will be submitted to Parliament in February of next year. It cannot be repeated too often that there is an urgent need of a replacement programme. In five years' time, apart from two fleet carriers and one battleship with two light fleet carriers and five cruisers, all the ships larger than a frigate will be over eighteen years old. In the First Lord's Statement two years ago it was said that if the fleet is to exist as an efficient and well-balanced fighting force, it is vital that we should have a steady replacement of new construction throughout the future.

It has already been stated by noble Lords who have spoken that there are at the present time, in accordance with the statement issued by the First Lord in February of this year, twenty-six cruisers—ten in the active fleet, one training and fifteen in reserve. I am not so sure that we have that twenty-six today. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he can give us the exact numbers, because I think the "Nigeria" has been sold to India and that the "Devonshire" has already been scrapped. It is pleasing to note that the First Lord, in a very recent speech, mentioned that the three "Tiger" class cruisers, the "Tiger," the "Blake" and the "Defence," are now being proceeded with, with a view to their completion. What he said was this: Now we are ready to finish the work, and `Tiger,' 'Blake,' and 'Defence' will join 'Superb,' which has already been completed. These valuable ships have been re-designed and re-equipped. They will have a displacement similar to 'Superb' and a speed of more than thirty knots. I would again ask the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, whether he can give some information as to the time when it is expected these ships will be completed. I understand that most modern fire equipment is being installed in these ships, but that they are purely gun cruisers and are not in any way prepared to deal with guided missiles.

It can be said that much work has been done in relation to the building of frigates and the conversion of a number of destroyers into very modern ships. Much has been done in relation to minesweeping and all of these smaller craft, but what is so important to-day is that this all-purpose ship, the cruiser, should be proceeded with at once. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, referred to the strength of the Russian Navy. The First Lord, in a statement issued on behalf of the Admiralty, dealt fully with the strength of the Russian Navy. Not only cruisers but every class of ship below that of a cruiser have been considerably increased. I think the First Lord also mentioned the fact that already since the conclusion of hostilities the Russians have spent a sum of something like £12,000 million upon their Navy—and that is apart from the expenditure upon their Army and their Air Force. We cannot hope to compete with an expenditure of that kind, and we have to do the best we can in all the circumstances. I agree that we shall have to wait some time to get the full effect of the scientific research which has been carried on during the past eight or ten years, but I would ask that we should have some information now as to what has been done in connection with preparing the ships to handle guided missiles.

In a report which appears in The Times to-day, it is said that the Americans already have two cruisers, the "Boston" and the "Canberra," which will come into service in a very short time as combatant guided-missile ships. Conversion is going on in other ships, and what is particularly interesting is that some of the old battleships are also in service in the American Navy as guided-missile experimental ships. We have four battleships in reserve in this country. They were put into reserve because it was felt that et some time they could be made useful, particularly when we are dealing with all the scientific knowledge which we have. As the guided missile appears to be the kind of weapon which is likely to take the place of the gun in the very near future, I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he can give some information about the preparation which has been made, either in the building of suitable ships to act as platforms, for guided missiles or the re-conversion of any cruisers, and whether it can be contemplated that some of the battleships now in reserve will be used for that purpose.

There are many other speakers to come, including two noble and gallant Lords who are Admirals of the Fleet, who can speak with a very much greater experience than I have. Therefore I will conclude and leave the debate in the more competent hands of my noble and gallant friends. I would just say that I some times think that, when defence is being considered by Parliament, we are too apt to forget the naval aspects of our security problems. We should remember that it remains as true as ever it was that Great Britain lives by the sea, and that to lose its use during war would lead this country to defeat and to destruction.

5.31 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened with the greatest interest to the noble Viscount who has just sat down. He has put before us some very important points, some of which, at any rate, I hope Her Majesty's Government will be able to answer this evening. I, too, think it is true to say that there is a widespread feeling of uncertainty in many quarters of the country as to the future of the Royal Navy, and I should like to add my support to the Amendment which has been moved by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield. In the circumstances, I too suggest that it is most necessary that we should have a debate of this kind before the issue of the White Paper, and I certainly welcome it.

The noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, said that there never was a time when the position of the Navy was more precarious than it is now. I entirely agree with him. I believe that it is not going too far to say that unless this uncertainty is corrected or removed in the near future, the morale of the Service will begin to deteriorate. This is not a question of Service rivalry—I would emphasise that. It is a question which really hinges on the lack of an appreciation by Her Majesty's Government about the future of the Navy and the type of ship which it is to man. Of course, no one in his senses wants to build cruisers if they are unnecessary, and the claim for them is not just put forward, as some misguided people have supposed, merely because some of us may feel that the Navy is in danger of losing its traditional large ships of war. This is not the case at all.

May I ask your Lordships to examine this problem in the light of an appreciation which I now propose to put before you? In the first place, as was mentioned by the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Cunningham of Hyndhope, there are over 2,500 British merchant ships at sea on any one day, a number which would, of course, be greatly increased by Allied ships in time of war. How is this great number of ships to be protected from disguised surface raiders? Lord Cunningham of Hyndhope told us that in the last war surface raiders sunk over one million tons of our shipping. It is all very well to argue that these raiders can be take a care of by suitable aircraft; but, as the noble Lord said, how is the aeroplane to distinguish between the disguised raider and the peaceful merchant ship? It cannot be done.

I maintain that cruisers capable of fighting a gun action or, I would say, a guided-missile action, are very necessary for the destruction of these disguised raiders; and I hope that we shall never again see the suicidal policy of arming large merchant ships as cruisers because we have not enough real cruisers to do the job. It has often been said that the aircraft carrier has superseded the cruiser. This is probably true for certain functions, such as reconnaissance; and, of course, there is no sphere of naval activity in which the air arm has not proved itself capable of taking an important part. But this does not mean that it can necessarily replace the cruiser altogether. It is not difficult to imagine conditions in which it would be far too great a risk to use an aircraft carrier and where a cruiser might be used instead—for example, in narrow waters.

I should also like to point out that aircraft carriers are still necessary for the protection of our convoys, in spite of the many arguments that have been put forward from time to time to the contrary. We must not forget one overriding factor, which is simply the inability of shore-based fighters to protect a convoy beyond the fighter aircraft's operational range, which is at present something under 500 miles. I think that answers the question put a short time ago by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate. This statement of fact has also been entirely supported by that great soldier Field Marshal Lord Montgomery, in his recent address to the United Services Institution. The convoy must have its light fleet carriers, either with it or in the offing, to give protection when it is attacked from the air many hundreds of miles beyond the range of shore-based fighters. Apart from the cruisers, no new light fleet carriers have been laid down. Are we to have no modern light fleet carriers on a steady rebuilding programme?

Reports have reached me that officers serving in the Fleet Air Arm are very concerned about the whole position, about what their future with the Fleet is to be, and also what type of aircraft they are to fly. Undoubtedly, this feeling is having a grave effect on recruiting; and, what is more, the lack of a reasonable replacement programme for both cruisers and light fleet carriers may well have an adverse effect on the new Dartmouth College entry. The whole set up of the Services is, as we all know, bedevilled by the immense power of the nuclear weapon. I do not think it is far wrong to say that the scientific inventions of to-day could destroy the world, and that in the minds of some people conventional weapons are already obsolete. But surely we must not forget the cold war, which is with us now and may be with us for a very long time yet, and which calls for the use of conventional weapons. We have already seen this in the Korean war.

There is no doubt that the Services are being, and must be, completely reorganised on the basis of nuclear warfare, but I suggest that we must not move too quickly and neglect the weapons we know for weapons which we do not know and which have yet to be proved. It may well be that the guided missile has progressed far more than is commonly supposed, and that the gun of the cruiser will be replaced by such a weapon; but so far we have been told nothing about it. It is known that in the war in Korea the United States Navy used a pilotless dive-bomber carrying a large explosive and fitted with a television camera on its nose and controlled from the ship which launched it. Have we such a weapon? We have never been told. No doubt many of your Lordships have read the interesting letter which appeared in The Times of yesterday, pointing out how much more information is given to the public about these matters in the United States than in this country. I suggest it is high time that Her Majesty's Government took the country a little more into their confidence and gave an indication of the rôle that Her Majesty's Navy may be expected to play in the future, and of the ships and weapons with which it is to be provided. I should like to add my support to a suggestion which was made in another place yesterday, that we should have a secret Session of both Houses of Parliament to debate defence matters, because, in the long run, Parliament is responsible for defence matters.

I should like your Lordships for a few moments to look at the broad picture of naval defence as it appears to be at the present time. I suggest that with nuclear weapons we may well have a war divided into two phases: first, the atomic phase, which may be so devastating that our ports will be out of action and the transport of the country completely demoralised, with our enemy also in a somewhat similar state; and then we may have the second phase, when our main preoccupation will be the feeding of our people, which can be carried out only by surface ships. It is then that we shall require our conventional weapons, the cruisers, to protect our ships from commerce raiders. Only recently the Admiralty indicated the strength of the Russian cruiser fleet, which no doubt would be at sea in strategic positions in the oceans of the world long before the war had commenced. But what the Admiralty did not tell us was what steps were to be taken to meet the Russian cruiser menace. It is a grave danger from which we cannot emerge in a short time, as has been clearly pointed out to the House by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, because a cruiser takes a long time to build and it takes a long time to train the men to man her. As a young naval cadet I remember an old Parliamentary catch-phrase which had great effect at the time when we were short of battleships. It was, I think, invented by Admiral Lord Charles Beresford: We want eight And we won't wait. May I suggest a possible equivalent for today: Without a fleet We cannot eat.

5.41 p.m.


My Lords, it is with a considerable feeling of humility that I rise to address a few remarks to your Lordships on this question, in particular because no real defence debate—and this is only an aspect of defence which has been treated in this debate—can possibly stop short at the speeches which have been made and the mass of technical data that has been produced. A real defence debate must take everything into account—nuclear weapons and, even more, the political layout of the world to-day. I felt some doubt about making a speech of such wide range because I feared I might be out of order, but this is a debate on the gracious Speech, and though it might have waited until the Amendment had been disposed of I am informed that it may be better to say what I have to say now, even if it goes a little wider than would be possible or proper on this particular question.

Admirals of the Fleet have a great advantage, They have rendered inestimable service to the State. They are popular and regular attenders of this House and they speak for a Service that everybody loves, for it is traditional that we should love a sailor. My noble friend, Lord Hall, has been indoctrinated will similar feelings of loyalty at the Admiralty. But, after all, when one hears what has been said today one is entitled to ask, where does the civilian, the taxpayer, the ordinary person come in? This country is in very grave danger. It has never been in such grave danger—we know that. What, is to be done? The soldiers had their turn last week. They want the Germans to have another twelve divisions and they got those twelve divisions—500,000 men. Mr. Molotov (not Mr. Malenkov this time) then called in the Chinese. Now the growth in the population in China every year is 6,000,000. So if the mothers of China get together they can fill the Chinese cradles with twelve divisions in thirty days, after, of course, the necessary biological time-lag.

Now the sailors come along, and not a word has been said to-day to suggest that anything but a floating object—bottoms, I think they are called—can or should have anything but priority. We have had speech after speech delivered, all of them most interesting. We like them all, everything the Admirals of the Fleet want, everything my noble friend Lord Hall has heard of, everything that the Americans have and we have not. We should like the lot. But unfortunately there is a budget. I should like the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, when he replies, to take the White Paper on Defence, showing the distribution of money, and say which item he is going to take it from. How much is it going to cost? Has he added it all up? It is no good coming to the House of Lords with imperative Resolutions to say that an immediate programme must be started unless you put something on paper to tot up that for which you ask. I admire the courage of the Admirals of the Fleet because they are putting it to the test, and the House of Lords will decide this issue to-night. The noble and gallant Lord when he replies ought to tell us how much the job is going to cost and from which Estimates the money is to come. Is it to come from the Army Estimates, from the Air Estimates, or from the Navy Estimates? Will he cut down the number of helicopters, or do the Admirals of the Fleet think pensions ought to be reduced?

It is no good my noble friend Lord, Hall, in Opposition, pretending that he is supporting a cruiser programme, unless the Labour Party, if returned to power tomorrow, would be prepared to enlarge the naval building programme. One must face practical facts—unless, of course, we are having a little celebration of our appreciation for the boys in navy blue. The point is a simple one. There is so much money: how are you to distribute it between the claims of the Air, the Army, the Navy and research? My noble friend, Lord Hall, said, quite truly, that I have never served in the Navy, but in my early days forty years ago I was a sort of junior officer in a sort of aircraft carrier, the "Ben-my-Chree," and I well remember it was then that I began to take an interest in the relation between the Navy and the Air Force. I heard what my captain said and what the admiral said. I was a Member of Parliament and I was so excited that I wrote to London, and when I went on leave I came to London and saw Lord Cowdray and Lord Curzon, and I know what they thought of the Air Force. The admirals thought it was a toy, something like a torpedo, a very nice thing to have. "We all ought to have one of those," they said. That was their conception of the Air Force. They never understood that air is a dominant weapon.


May I ask the noble Viscount what year he is referring to when relating these interesting facts?


I am referring to a period about 1917 when our ship had the honour of lying alongside the "Fox," commanded by the noble and gallant Earl, off Jeddah.


I hope the noble Viscount is not accusing me of holding those views.


I conceived from that event an affection for the noble Earl which has never been impaired in the course of my life. That is the real truth. When that war was over they tried to destroy the Air Force. We saw it happen and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, knows perfectly well that that was so, for he was the First Sea Lord. They tried to divide the Air Force and they put it under the charge of an Under-Secretary who was also responsible for the Board of Trade or the Colonies—I cannot remember which. That is perfectly true. Time and time again the Service people tried to destroy our organised air power. And the worst offender was the Navy, and the worst offender in the Navy was the mover of this Resolution tonight. They will say, "We are all experts." I could become an expert if I could find the time to read it all up and give it to noble Lords. There are lots of experts. I would beg people who are going to speak to read a book like that of Sir John Slessor, a terrifying book on the strategy of the next war. He certainly knows what he is talking about for he has been Chief of Air Staff. There are two questions that must be answered, and they have not been answered to-day: Where is the money to come from?; and, What about nuclear weapons? Not a word!


My Lords, I said a great deal about nuclear weapons but I am afraid the noble Viscount was not listening.


My Lords, I am sorry; I was not at that moment thinking of the noble Lord opposite. He certainly mentioned nuclear weapons, but it is a question of proportion, and I do not think any one today knows what is the right proportion. The question involves Russia; it involves politics and negotiation. In these difficult questions of defence it is not simply a matter of saying, "I should like a ship so many cubits long and so many cubits broad" (it is all set out in the sixth Chapter of Genesis). That is not enough. It is necessary to know how you are to divide your available resources between the various powers of defence and how you are to negotiate so as to put yourself in the most favourable position for defence. On that matter the Chiefs of Staff are apt to make tremendous mistakes. In reading past records it is appalling to read of the awful mistakes made by Chiefs of Staff. The noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, in his book, gives the reason why, during those agonising negotiations with Poland in 1939, we made the decision which we did, which led to such disastrous results. He said this in the book—I will quote only two short passages: The details must be followed"— he was giving the details of the negotiations— against a background of disbelief in Russian military strength and suspicion of Russian political motives Then he went on to say: We had to depend for our estimate on the unanimous verdict of the British and French General Staff that the Russian Army was completely demoralised. The debate which took place yesterday in the other place turned on the immense strength of the Russians, which even threatened the Channel ports in 1945. Who was the Minister of Defence from whose office this estimate emerged in 1939? These are very important questions. If we are to depend on expert experience we must examine these things in retrospect and apply a quotient, at any rate, of credibility to what they say.

My Lords, I have nothing else to say, except one thing. Of course this country is in a very parlous position. So is every country. So is the whole of civilisation. There was a debate in another place yesterday and I heard it. I cannot quote the debate because that would be out of order, but I am entitled to quote what was said by the chief Minister, and I am entitled to quote the way the debate was reported in The Times. That is my particular intention. The matter which was discussed was a matter of defence, most vital at this moment. There were two great statesmen facing one another—Mr. Shinwell and the Prime Minister. I do not know why the debate was raised at all—I have never been able to understand that. I will give you first of all what The Times says about the prosecutor: I will tell you what they say about Mr. Shinwell. The Times says that the Prime Minister referred to … Mr. Shinwell, whose fairness in raising the matter he handsomely commended The Times goes on to say of Mr. Shinwell: His most charitable explanation was that Sir Winston Churchill might have confused the message with some ideas he had on the subject. … That is the prosecutor. The Times says: … the Prime Minister replied to his gentle, reluctant and good humoured probing"— that is, the probing of the prosecutor. Then let us see how the man in the dock is dealt with by The Times. It states: Nobody could have been more candid … than the Prime Minister … The heavy burden of the apologetic rôle he had to play—so different from that which filled the nation's eye yesterday—was painfully apparent … There is a whole column of it. I think it is times a cleaner way was found of getting rid of the old man, if people want to do it.

There is one passage in the debate which I will quote. The Prime Minister, quoting his speech at Woodford, said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 535 (No. 2), col. 175): It was in May last year that I advocated that we, with our allies, should work towards closer contact with Russia in order to make sure whether that great people had undergone any important change of mood and outlook under their new leadership. This is still my purpose. The Prime Minister then added: In fact, that is the only explanation of my presence here to-day. It is still my purpose. I believe, and I think the great bulk of the people in this country believe, that the greatest measure of defence we can have is that the Prime Minister should retain his position until this meeting with the Russians takes place. That, I believe, is the political answer to the Amendment here to-day.

Now to return for a moment to the Amendment. I said that I considered it very brave of the noble and gallant Admirals to bring it in. But what are they going to do? They have put it on the Order Paper. They cannot withdraw it. That will not be allowed. Certainly not! They must either vote for it—which I am sure they will do—or else they must submit to its being negatived by the House of Lords. They should not have come forward with these brave plans unless they thought they could carry then through. That is the situation in which they find themselves. That is why one anticipates the Division—if there is one—or the decision of the House, with so much interest.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, in a flagship the admiral has a sentry, usually a marine—a respectable old soldier, very often with four stripes—whose duty it is to see that no one disturbs the admiral unduly, and to take messages in to him. I feel that I, as an old marine, may fulfil that rôle to-day, because while the ship was proceeding so calmly and all seemed so quiet, we had a speech of a most interesting character which the Admirals of the Fleet—and there are, I think, four of them in the House—will have to answer. So I am only filling the rôle of the sentry for a short time, and I shall not take up any of the technical details of the debate.

I notice that Lord Chatfield's Amendment gives as the object of the additions to the Navy which he is demanding; to enable this country to meet the present serious threat to our maritime security. In the old days, if I had been asked what was the threat to maritime security, and all security, I should have said: "Invasion and communications." I am not going to spend any time speaking of invasion, because as long as we have superiority in the air the smaller ships of the Navy, which I understand are being brought up to date, may well be able to deal with it. But there is the very important question of communications, and it is on the defence of communications that this debate really turns, because my noble friend—in fact every speaker—has given a most formidable description of the situation which now prevails owing to the size of the Russian fleet and its building programme. How are our communications to be maintained unless we have an adequate fleet to send against those from whom that possible threat might come? There is really only one answer, I think. I agree that we have to consider this in very wide perspective. There is the atomic weapon, but I feel that that will never be plentiful enough. The Russians, or whoever the enemy may be—any enemy—in the future will not have enough atomic weapons to go chasing convoys with them. We have to meet like with like—only with rather better. We have one advantage in having been so late. The one advantage we have is that into our new programmes we can introduce the latest types of weapons, be they nuclear or be they something different. In the last war we saw how essential it was to be able to bring troops from the Dominions and Colonies to any theatre of war, or any threatened area, and we saw, as in the Far East, that we could not do it when we lost command of the sea. The Singapore story is a very formidable memory, and it is a lesson that ought not to be forgotten.

The second paragraph of the gracious Speech begins: My Government are convinced that a strong and united Commonwealth can take a leading part in the councils of the nations. That is infinitely true, but it presupposes safe communications, and if we do not build some counter to the present threat, we shall not have safe communications. The next paragraph says: My Ministers will promote the development of the Colonial Empire … That is a splendid phrase and I am glad that it has been used. But of what use is a Colonial Empire, of what use is the rubber and tin of Singapore, and the other resources we draw from all over the Empire, without safe communications? The second paragraph of the gracious Speech goes on to say: They look forward keenly to the meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers to be held in London early next year. I have been at many Commonwealth Conferences, certainly at more than any other noble Lord; I have taken an active part in them, and have kept in touch with members of the Commonwealth ever since. I should not look forward keenly to that Conference if I could not give a better picture of the state of our communications that we have had this afternoon. Time is getting on and your Lordships will not want to hear the sentry further; you will want to hear the Admirals of the Fleet and the other distinguished Members of the House who are about to reply.

6.3 p.m.


My Lords, we have had two eminent speakers, two Admirals of the Fleet, speaking on the Royal Navy and I am not going to add to that heavy barrage. I would rather launch myself as a guided missile, in spite of my somewhat unstreamlined figure, and let that missile be guided by my noble and gallant friend Lord Chatfield. In his Amendment to the humble Address, he particularly emphasised the lack of cruisers, and to my mind he has given an unanswerable argument. The life and feeding of this island are dependent on our merchant navy, and in time of war on the safe passage of our convoys. If there are in existence cruisers built in an enemy country to which we have no vessels of comparable strength, then I think those convoys would be in poor shape, and our losses at sea would be tremendous. I am not going to labour this point, because other speakers have cited examples from the time when our surface forces were much stronger. Whatever changes arise from unconventional weapons, I still feel that the danger of the surface raider exists as strongly as it did in previous wars.

My noble and gallant friend Lord Cunningham of Hyndhope has already made the point that if there is no continuity of building larger ships in our shipyards, the designers, craftsmen and naval architects will drift away, and when the time comes we shall not have the skill and knowledge there to build the type of ship we require. I doubt whether it is possible to match ship for ship, as has been said by some speakers, but at least a start should be made in building one or more modern cruisers. Incidentally, I would put in here a plea which I have made before in your Lordships' House. The only modern vessels of a larger size we have are known as the D Class. I wish they could be known as something more romantic and impressive. I think they might well be called "light cruisers."

When I read the noble and gallant Lord's Amendment, I was a little nervous that he was not going to say anything about the Fleet Air Arm. I am glad that he did, because that is a side of the Navy in which I am particularly interested. I think it is equally important that the Air Arm should be supplied with modern aircraft, which it undoubtedly lacks at the present time. I do not wish to keep your Lordships any longer this afternoon, except to add my humble support to the Amendment.

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, when I came to your Lordships' House this morning, deliberating whether I should venture to address your Lordships in this debate or not, I found that no fewer than four Admirals of the Fleet were to take part in it. I confess that I thought of the Irishman who, finding a street brawl going on, said to a bystander, "Is this a private fight or can anybody join in?" Speaking seriously, I think that, with their record of great service behind them, the Admirals of the Fleet have rendered today not the least of their services to the nation. They have issued a grave warning, which is certainly not to be minimised by remarks about "everybody loving a sailor."

We have had a speech from my noble friend Lord Stansgate, and we always appreciate greatly his speeches; but he took the line of attacking the Amendment upon the old ground: that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, and his supporters do not say where the money is to come from. I understand that the task of the sailor is to say, out of his experience, what is wanted. I am sure that as First Sea Lord, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, had many experiences of not being able to get the money for things which he felt necessary and of seeing, when war came, that some very unpleasant things happened because he had not been able to get the money for which he asked.


And stood the blame.


I entirely agree But surely the duty of the sailor is to issue the warning.


If I may say so, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, is not now a sailor but a Member of your Lordships' House.


I am not sure, but I have an idea that the noble Marquess is wrong about that. I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but I think that an Admiral of the Fleet remains on the Active List, and therefore the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, is a sailor.


Then he is in a very awkward situation.


To go on with my argument, I think it is the duty of the sailor to issue the warning, and it is for the Government to take the responsibility of saying whether they believe the warning or not; and if they do believe it, then it is their task to find the money. I would put this point to the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate. Having heard this afternoon about the figures of our cruiser strength, and the great age of the majority of our cruisers, and putting that in contrast to, what we know of Russian naval strength in cruisers, does he or does he not think on those figures that, in the unfortunate event of our finding ourselves engaged in hostilities with Russia, we should be safe?


The noble Lord has put that question to me, and I will put a question to him. I was in the Admiralty at one time as a private secretary. We had a doctrine then of a two-part standard: some people talked about "two keels to one." Is that what the noble Lord is suggesting? We have heard about Russian ships. Does he want two ships built to every one? I think the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, said ten.


I never feel that one answers a question by putting another question. I do not propose to advance any suggestions about what I consider is our necessary cruiser strength. I merely ask my question: in view of the figures which have been quoted, does the noble Viscount consider that we should be safe in cruisers if we found ourselves engaged in hostilities with Russia? The question of how many we want to reply to the Russian threat is another question that we can debate on some other occasion. I have only one other reference to make to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, and it concerns what he said about a speech and some published statements by Sir John Slessor, and the horrors which Sir John Slessor has painted for us in a future war. My understanding of Sir John Slessor, however, is, on the contrary, that he has advanced a theory that war has abolished itself. So his news is very good tidings indeed; it is the best we have had, if he is to be believed. But I noticed, in a criticism of his book or lecture by the Spectator, that he was severely criticised on the grounds of "chop logic," or something of that nature.

I should like to put the remarks I have to make, and the speeches to which we have listened, into the framework of the speech made this year by the First Lord of the Admiralty, Mr. Thomas, about the Russian fleet. That speech attracted considerable attention; and it has since been said, by way of reassurance, that the N.A.T.O. navies combined exceed the Russian strength which the First Lord quoted. But to leave it at that would be most misleading: for, as I understand it, while the Russian fleet is nearly all in commission the greater part of the N.A.T.O. ships are in reserve; and in an emergency it would take a considerable time to get them all on an active footing. How much time shall we have if such an emergency supervenes? I remember that when the present Prime Minister was leaving the Admiralty at the time of the Dardanelles, it is said that Lord Kitchener went to see him and said to him: "At any rate, there is one thing they can never take from you; when war broke out you had the ships ready. "My Lords, if war came to-morrow, no one would be able to say to the Prime Minister: "Well, you had the ships ready." They are not there, and they are not ready. Again, if you look at the N.A.T.O. list of ships, you will find they are mostly old ships, whereas the Russian ships are mostly post-war. Both quantitatively and qualitatively the Russians have the advantage.

Let us look at our own fleet. The latest figures that I have seen (if there are later figures I can be corrected) are that we have 19 carriers, of which 3 are in full commission; 24 cruisers, with 10 in full commission; and 92 destroyers, with 26 in full commission. That, or thereabouts, is the position today. What of the future? We have been told this afternoon that we have nothing larger than a frigate building at the moment. To be quite accurate, as I wish to be, I believe it to be the case that there are five light carriers built, or building, for Commonwealth countries. But of these ships which I have quoted, 11 of the 24 cruisers, and 37 of the 92 destroyers, will be over age somewhere about 1960. You cannot keep a Navy at effective strength by building in fits and starts; you have to build steadily. I notice—and I think it is a fair analogy—that the chairman of the P. and O., at the launching of their latest ship, the "Iberia," the other day, in referring to the cost of that ship, said: It is a bit of a gamble, but you cannot stay in the shipbuilding business if you do not build ships. That is true of the Navy: we cannot keep up our position as a naval Power unless we have a continuous building programme.

Why do we not hear of any carriers, cruisers or destroyers building or projected? What is the idea at the back of this lamentable state of affairs? Are we relying upon American strength to fulfil our deficiencies? What a tale to tell the British public, who still have a great affection for, and pride in, the British Navy, that we are not building because we are relying on another nation! If that is not the case, and if that does not explain the reason why we are not building, will the Government tell us to-day that they do, in fact, intend to face up to the situation and set in hand a building programme for the replacement of what, in a few years' time, will be, by naval standards, old junk? In the speech to which I have already referred, the First Lord of the Admiralty warned us of the Russian threat by quoting the figures of their fleet. But what has he done about it since? What is he doing about it? The warning he has given us, but we have heard nothing of the steps he is taking to meet his own warning; so far he has left us in the dark.

Aircraft carriers have been mentioned this afternoon. Let me say at once that I have no intention whatever of getting involved in the sea-air controversy. I do not think I have ever said an acrimonious word on that subject, and I never intend to; and I am not going to address my remarks to that this afternoon. Field Marshal Lord Montgomery has said that he sees little future for aircraft carriers. But at the moment the nations with any pretentions to sea power regard the carriers as the linch pin of their navies. "Sea power" is Perhaps rather a bad term to use nowadays, because what is known as sea power can be exercised only by a combination of air and sea. Perhaps the term "maritime power" is better. But how is the air component of maritime power to be exercised without the carrier? I have heard it said in your Lordships' House that the carrier is very vulnerable. The figures of the last war do not bear that out. The carrier can defend herself, and it is unlikely to be operating without escort when in dangerous waters. In saying this I am quite aware of the impact of modern weapons, but to be always thinking about these modern weapons really means giving up all thought of putting up a fight. What we have to do is to think unceasingly about what is the reply to the modern weapons, but, meanwhile, to get on with the current types of ships.

We may not want the 60,000 ton carriers which the Americans are building—the "Forrestal" carriers—but we want, as things are at the moment, at least three types of carrier. We want the heavy carrier for the offensive, the light carrier for merchant convoy and the ferry carrier for supply. If that is agreed, why are there no carriers on the stocks to-day? Of the carriers we have, six are either modern or are modernised and represent up-to-date equipment and effectiveness. But after those six new or modernised carriers come no fewer than tell veterans of World War II, upwards of fifteen years old and with a very hard life behind them. I cannot think that they would be worth modernising. One of them, the "Victorious," has been "having her face lifted" ever since 1951, and I wonder when she is to come out of the beauty parlour. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, can tell us that this afternoon. I feel that there should be some limit to this expensive and largely ineffective modernising. Let us build new ships. The Board of Admiralty should read their Bibles and stop trying to put new wine into old bottles; it has never been a very successful process. The First Sea Lord said quite recently: Carrier-borne aircraft remain the main striking power of the Fleet. Far from being outmoded, the full importance of the aircraft carrier has yet to snake itself felt. That is the opinion of the present First Sea Lord, and I wonder whether, in his heart of hearts, he is really satisfied with the "built and building" figures of aircraft carriers.

I will not touch upon cruisers, because that subject has been adequately dealt with by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall. But nothing much has been said about destroyers this afternoon. The destroyers have been getting very large, and that is perhaps because of the endeavour to put all the eggs in one basket—to put all the modern equipment and the modern weapons into one ship. I wonder whether there is anything to be said for the theory of building something in the nature of specialist ships so as to economise size. The position has certainly improved as regards minesweepers and anti-submarine ships, and that is a matter for congratulation. But again, those minesweepers and anti-submarine ships represent the defensive in warfare, and we have heard this afternoon unarguably stated that the rôle of the Navy is offensive. It is the lack of a building programme for offensive ships that we are discussing to-day.

I have quoted Field Marshal Lord Montgomery who, in addition to his views about the aircraft carrier, seems to want a smaller Navy. The great trouble about Lord Montgomery—and I would not say one word to detract from his incomparable services to the country as a soldier—is that now he is what newspaper men call "news." Whatever he says and however misguided his remarks may be, he is news and those remarks are printed at full length, probably under a striking headline, and achieve a wide circulation. I am afraid that the Navy has for some time been failing to get the reply over to what he and other critics of the Navy have been saying. I think things may improve, for I rejoice to think that we have a First Sea Lord coming who will command just as much public attention for his remarks as does Lord Montgomery. Admiral Lord Mountbatten is not only our foremost sailor, who owes his promotions to his own merits and nothing else, but he is also a great figure in the world who has had to deal with the other great figures of the world during the greatest events the world has yet seen. I am quite sure that we can rely upon him, when he comes to the Admiralty, to put the Navy case effectively and to see that the Navy gets a fair share of the pie and no longer does Cinderella—I will not say to its two ugly sisters—which is the position to which she has been allowed largely to sink since 1945. I feel that the Navy, for various reasons, has suffered a certain diminution of prestige. But I am sure of this: that no First Sea Lord, not even Admiral Mountbatten, will be able to restore the prestige of the Navy unless he acknowledges fully the present rôle of the air. Nothing does the Navy more harm with the public than any suspicion that there is jealousy or resentment of the air arm.

Another thing which I feel is essential to the restoration of the Navy's prestige is that more consideration should be given to the Fleet Air Arm, and that the Fleet Air Arm should be fully encouraged and properly supplied. I know that things are, if anything, getting better with the Fleet Air Arm, but it has suffered severely from neglect in the past. It suffered in its earliest days through being treated rather as a new and unwanted poor relation of the Navy, thrust into what, until her advent, had been a very happy family without her. The Fleet Air Arm must be fully accepted and integrated into the Navy and its needs must be fully met; and the Navy's prestige generally will increase immensely in accordance with the efficiency of the Fleet Air Arm. Of that I feel quite certain.

Public opinion must be educated on what is involved in what I would call the Navy's case, because at the present moment the public is very largely in ignorance of what the naval requirements are and of what the Navy's case is. In its ignorance, it is slightly prejudiced, and there has been a certain falling off in public love and esteem for the Navy. The Navy has to learn at least one lesson in that respect—what I would call the lesson of propaganda and publicity. Those methods have always been somewhat abhorrent to the Navy, but in these days they must no longer be looked upon as tainted. The Navy's future will be decided by Parliamentary influence upon the Cabinet, and Parliament itself is increasingly influenced by the Press and by radio. The Press nowadays does little for the Navy, and the day of the great naval correspondents has passed. We no longer see such names in the paper. But not even the Press and not even the radio can influence Parliament unless the Board of Admiralty knows exactly what it wants and makes out the case for what it wants. Why, for instance does the Board of Admiralty let go unnoticed statements that the Navy's rôle is now confined to defence? Let 'the Board tell the public what the Navy has got to do, how it will have to do it and what it wants to do it with. If that is clearly and lucidly put before the public and repeated frequently, I am quite sure the public will respond.

In this debate this afternoon I feel the Government have had a very grave warning which cannot be lightly set aside. Four officers of the highest professional ability and reputation will, by the time the debate is over, have reiterated this warning in the Government's ears, and, should the Government ignore it and should things go on in this way, with our ships wearing out and no ships being put on the stocks to replace them, the Government themselves will suffer a diminution of the confidence of the public.


Before the noble Lord sits down, I should like to correct one point in particular. I think he said that the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery, had said in his recent speech that aircraft carriers were no longer necessary for the fleet. I have in my hands a verbatim report of that speech. He said: New weapons have not yet rendered the aircraft carrier obsolete, but they are likely, to do so in the fuure. I think that time has not arrived yet.


I apologise if I have done the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery, an injustice, but at the same time I think the tenor of the remarks show that he has little confidence in the aircraft carrier.

6.33 p.m.


My Lords, you have all listened to this debate, and so much has been said that I do not propose to add much more. There is only one point which has not been mentioned, and that is that in about six or seven years' time we shall not have any cruisers. I am sure that the public do not realise that. That is the situation. The fleet is running down to that extent. There are so many changing scenes of life, so to speak, nowadays, with the introduction of new weapons and other things happening, that it is as well to remember that there are two factors which have not changed for 500 years, and will not change in the foreseeable future. One is the vagaries of the weather, which have a greater influence at sea than on land, and the other is that our supplies will continue to come to this country in comparatively slow-moving convoys. There will be no other means of bringing supplies in the next twenty-five years. I believe that even the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, would agree that in that short time it would not be possible to supply the country by air.

The significant thing to my mind is that two big Powers, one in the East and one in the West, are building powerful navies. Why do they do that? And there is one great Power in the middle which is letting her navy run down. As I see a future war, we shall have terrific air battles. It is vital for us to win that air battle. At the same time the Russians (or our enemy) will send out their fleets and submarines to strike at our lifelines. Those will be their tactics. And at the present time, or in the very near future, we cannot compete with them. So the Russians (or our enemies, whoever they may be) will, if they win on that line, be able to ground all our air forces and all our armies, and we shall starve. That is the answer.

It may be said that perhaps there ought to be new developments to safeguard our convoys. We have carried out, and are carrying out, many experiments, but, so far, nothing leads us to believe that there is any other method of protecting these convoys, which have to take to the sea in any weather for a fortnight, three weeks or four weeks, than having naval ships in close attendance all the time, with the help, when necessary, of the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force. There is no other way known, and none is likely to be known in the near future, of protecting a convoy against that sort of attack.

The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, I think, mentioned the position of aircraft carriers and cruisers—they were not alternative—and that is why I brought in the weather so strongly. It depends entirely on the weather which type of vessel is used. In my "Scharnhorst" battle in the North, the wintry dark weather made use of the air by either side impossible. We could not have used an aircraft carrier, and the result was that three cruisers saved that big convoy of thirty ships. It was lucky that we had the three cruisers there, as well as the normal escort against submarines. Subsequently, other surface forces destroyed the "Scharnhorst," but if we had not had those three cruisers there, that convoy of thirty ships would have gone, with no help, or possibility of help, or search from the air. That is an example of how important it is to think of the weather; for surface ships can still be covered by the weather. As your Lordships may remember, the "Scharnhorst" and the "Gneisenau" came up the Channel unscathed, simply taking advantage of the weather. It is true that later they were damaged by mines laid by the Royal Air Force, but those had been laid three or four days beforehand.

The question of aircraft carriers is a debatable point, and always has been; but in my view one has to look upon the aircraft carrier as an advance base near to the point of danger. That is what the carrier really is. It is capable of attacking in places which are "un-get-at-able" by other means. The Fleet Air Arm was the only force, except our midget submarines, able to immobilise the "Tirpitz" for something like three months. That emphasises once again the offensive character of our Navy: it is an offensive Service. In my opinion we are not capable at the moment of meeting an attack on our convoys. It is said that we should not go on spending so much money on the carrier, which I described just now as an "advance base near to the point of danger." In using the carrier in that way, of course, we are merely following the policy of the Royal Air Force, because, as your Lordships will remember, on D-Day the aerodromes had to be in the South of England and the first thing the air people and Field Marshal Lord Montgomery wanted to do was to shift those bases across to France. They were shifted, of course, by the Royal Navy. It is that same policy which we follow.

I have little more to add. In the last six months I have perceived a slight sense of frustration going through the Royal Naval Service. The reason for it is lack of sea time, lack of any policy in regard to a replacement programme and lack of encouragement. As your Lordships know, too, alterations have been made in regard to the entry of men into the Navy—and the Navy knows that this was a result of purely political pressure. In the last respect, Royal Naval scholarships have been introduced, but to my mind it was scandalous that those scholarships should be subject to a means test. Surely a scholarship should go to the best boy. To go back to old history, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will not continue to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the modern equivalent of the telescope, which is the Asdic and radar danger signals of the Royal Navy.

6.41 p.m.


My Lords, I think all your Lordships will agree that we have had a most interesting debate this afternoon. We have heard speeches from noble Lords who have a lifetime of knowledge of their subject—indeed, as has already been mentioned, no fewer than three Admirals of the Fleet have taken part in the debate.

I think the fact that they have adopted this rather unusual procedure is evidence of how strongly your Lordships feel on this subject. As a matter of interest, I believe that the last time an Amendment to the Address was moved in this House was about ten years ago, when it was moved by the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork, who I am glad to see is associated with this Amendment—he entered but was scratched at the last moment. I think that this discussion has shown that there is an impressive weight of opinion your Lordships' House on the need for a strong Navy—a weight of opinion not only amongst the most distinguished officers of that Service who have spoken but also on all sides of the House. There was indeed almost complete unanimity, except for the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, whom we all enjoyed and who enjoyed himself this afternoon.

This is the first time that I have spoken in your Lordships' House as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. To do something for the first time is always rather alarming, and it is doubly so to-day when I have to answer noble and gallant Lords whose names and reputations are household words throughout the country. I feel rather like Daniel in the lions' den, but with no faith that a comparable miracle will occur. Your Lordships will remember that Daniel said My God hath sent his angels and hath shut the lions' mouths, that they have not hurt me. I am afraid that that is perhaps too much to ask for. At any rate, I can assure noble Lords that what has been said will be most carefully studied by the First Lord of the Admiralty and also by my right honourable friend the Minister of Defence. I should perhaps say that it is very uncommon for any statement on general defence policy to be made on this sort of occasion. Every year in February the Government of the day issue a White Paper on defence policy which is a comprehensive statement of the Government's views. It is then debated in both Houses of Parliament, and usually not long afterwards we in this House have a day's debate on the Navy Estimates. Your Lordships will remember that this year the debate was rather long delayed, taking place as recently as the end of July, when my noble friend Lord Birkenhead answered for the Government.

I think that the convenient time for Her Majesty's Government to announce their policy for defence and for the matter to be fully discussed in the context of both foreign and defence policy as a whole, is after the publication of the Defence White Paper. It is not possible in these days, when all questions of defence are so complicated and so interlinked the one with the other, to isolate the problems of any one service. We not only have to think of defence in terms of our own country, but must bear in mind our membership of such collective organisations as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation. This is more than ever true now, when, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, immense changes are taking place in military facts and in military thoughts, and the advent of the hydrogen bomb has fundamentally altered the entire problem of defence. We are struggling with new concepts of warfare brought about by the rapid pace of scientific development. It is the responsibility of the Government to decide how best such resources as we have should be allocated for defence. It is obviously a most difficult task. There can never, in the nature of things, be enough to meet all claims, and the problem of priorities is one of the perpetual "headaches" of any Government. However, having said that, I think it only right that I should offer a few short—what one might call interim—observations, in order to show to those of your Lordships who have spoken on this matter and who have expressed anxiety over the future of the Royal Navy, that Her Majesty's Government are fully aware of what is at stake and have taken measures to deal with this problem.

My Lords, we now have two heavy carriers. The "Eagle" and the "Ark Royal" are in commission, and three light fleet carriers of the "Hermes" class have been completed, and another one is under construction. All these ships have a much improved performance, by comparison with their pre-war or war-time counterparts. The introduction of the angled-decks and mirror sights will greatly improve operational efficiency and out down the accident rate. This is a matter of the greatest importance, not only in safeguarding human life but in preserving the very expensive aircraft with which carriers have to be equipped if they are to do their job properly. Four cruisers have been modernised since the war, and another is in the process of being so modernised. The completion of the three "Tiger" class cruisers whose construction was, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, mentioned, suspended to allow the installation of power-operated armament, has been announced. These ships are armed with a first-class new 6-inch gun with a revolutionary rate of fire. Four of these guns can deliver five tons of metal per minute. These ships will incorporate a radically new type of gunnery armament which will enable them to fire rapidly and accurately at both surface and air targets, by day and by night. But it may well be that these will be the last purely gun cruisers to be built.

The eight "Daring" class ships have been completed, and although they were originally designed in the latter part of the war, the designs have been brought up to date during their long period of construction, and they are very fine ships indeed. Nine new frigates have been launched and will shortly come into service. Another will be launched this week. For anti-submarine work it is essential that ships should be fast enough and modern enough to cope with any submarines they are likely to meet. We have seen in two wars how disastrous to our very survival a U-boat campaign can be, and we must he ready to meet any possible threat in the future. A large programme of modernisation and conversion has been carried out in the past three years in order to improve our antisubmarine forces. Nevertheless, Her Majesty's Government fully recognise, that in spite of what has been done—and the amount of work done should not be underestimated— the Fleet, and particularly its cruiser strength, is ageing, and that, as soon as it is possible to see sufficiently clearly what kind of ships will be required to meet the conditions of naval warfare in the future, important decisions will have to be made.


When will that be?


If the noble Lord will wait one moment, he will find that I am coming to that. I would ask those of your Lordships who criticised the Government for the delay in replacing these ships to remember once again that we are in the middle of great changes in warfare, and that to spend large sums of money before the consequences of those changes have been fully discussed and digested is not only imprudent but wasteful. The decisions that must be made will not be easy. The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, asked me what was the cruiser strength. The cruiser strength, excepting the cruiser "Nigeria" which, as the noble Viscount knows, has been transferred to the Indian Government, is twenty-four. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, specifically said in his speech that we should not rely upon our Allies and we should build ship for ship.


My Lords, may I interrupt for one moment to say that I ought to have said we should not unduly rely on our Allies. I may have left out the word "unduly" but I must look at Hansard to-morrow morning to see whether I did.


My Lords, I do not want to misinterpret the noble and gallant Lord, and if I have done so I apologise; but I do not think it makes any difference to the argument I was going to deploy. I would, with respect, strongly dissent from the thesis that we should plan our defences on the basis that in war we should be prepared to look after our own affairs and leave our Allies to look after theirs. It is, and must continue to be, the basis of our own defence policy that we should not fight alone but in concert with our Allies, including, of course, the United States, the strongest military power in the world. Our defence in the North Atlantic area is planned carefully and in detail with our Allies, and only by combined planning can the resources of all the West be properly used. This certainly would not happen if we all went our own way, and I suggest to your Lordships that it would be both contrary to common sense and also wasteful. The control of the sea will always remain a vital interest of this country, which lives in peace by its sea-borne trade and depends in war for its life on imports of food, oil and materials of all kinds.

The means of applying sea power in any future war must therefore always form an essential component of this country's war effort—either in local or limited wars in any part of the world or in any global war which should ever come upon us. It will be the duty of those who exercise sea power, in co-operation with our Allies—for there can be no question of fighting alone—to destroy the enemy's ability to wage war at sea and secure the safety of our sea-borne supplies. Though no one can say exactly how a future global war may develop, we believe that within the limits of our resources we must do our best to ensure that our forces are prepared for a war which, though initially of great intensity, may nevertheless continue for a very long time. As the war proceeds maritime power will play a rôle of ever-increasing importance.

The methods of exercising sea power have, throughout history, been subject to change with the advance of knowledge and science. In the days of the first Queen Elizabeth and for centuries afterwards the threat from surface ships was all we had to deal with, and most successfully did we deal with it by our own surface ships and by the ingenuity of the men who manned them, the officers who commanded them and the admirals who led them in battle. The first new threat to the surface forces of the Navy came with the invention of the underwater mine. This was initially a Russian weapon and it has remained a serious threat ever since those days. Then, early in this century, came the development of the submarine as a weapon of war. For the first time the submarine in the 1914–18 War became a menace to our existence. In that war we had two threats to combat at sea: one on the surface and the other beneath the surface. In the last war for the first time we saw the development of a third threat to our sea communications—from the air above the sea. This was used not only by itself but also in skilful combination with the other two. We thus now have to deal with a triple threat: on the sea, below the sea and above the sea.

In parallel with the development of new threats has come the development of new counters to them. Our surface ships were first equipped with depth charges and later with anti-submarine weapons. Aircraft carriers and their aircraft have been developed for antisubmarine work, for destroying enemy fighters, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft and for striking at sea targets. To the support of these naval forces has come the land-based long-range aircraft, which can be employed not only as an anti-submarine weapon and for maritime reconnaissance but also for striking at sea targets. One of the great problems today is to determine how the balance between land-based air forces and naval forces of all kinds, including carriers and their aircraft, should properly be struck. There is no doubt in the mind of Her Majesty's Government that control of the sea and the exercise of sea power is still, and will always remain, a vital interest of the United Kingdom in war and as an instrument of our Commonwealth and foreign policy in peace.

The nature of our naval forces is, however, bound to continue to evolve. We are on the threshold of new developments in the application of guided weapons to sea warfare. As has already been announced, the Admiralty is converting a ship into what might be described as a test vehicle for guided weapon armament. The results obtained from this experimental ship will have a most important influence on future design. The results achieved obviously will govern the shape of the next generation of ships, referred to by my right honourable friend in another place yesterday. It seems unlikely that ships already in existence will be suitable for conversion to incorporate guided weapon armament. The Admiralty has already made a detailed study of the practicability of converting our existing battleships, to which the noble Viscount. Lord Hall, referred, but the extent of the work which would be required would be so great that they have decided that such a project would be quite uneconomical. What applies to battleships must apply with even greater force to ships of other types. Moreover, the economic situation will continue to set limits to the resources which the country can afford to provide for its defence forces. It has been the universal experience of recent years that new weapons cost a great deal more money than those they supersede, and there is no reason to suppose that this will not continue to be true in the future. We must therefore be reasonably satisfied that we know what we want to do before we sink great sums of money in new construction.

In making these interim comments on the basis of what your Lordships will know to be an incomplete knowledge and very short experience, I should not wish it to be thought that Her Majesty's Government are in any way complacent about this most important matter. As I have already said, they fully recognise the necessity, for this country, in co-operation with its Allies, to be in a position at any time to retain control of the sea. They are very conscious of the potential threats to that control. They have not failed to note the striking growth since the war in the power the Russian naval forces. In the recent past the Russians have seemed to pay little attention to the sea, but since the end of the war Russia has engaged in a very large building programme and if numbers of ships alone are the test she has emerged as a naval power second only to the United States of America. We have seen the powerful "Sverdlov" class of cruiser, of which Russia now has about twelve and is building more. We are aware of her total fleet of 500 submarines, a large proportion of which are large ocean-going vessels with a possible radius of action of something like 20,000 miles. All these are significant factors in the world situation which we cannot afford to ignore and of which full account must be taken in planning our national defence policy and in deciding, in consultation with our Allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, how their collective efforts can be most effectively organised and deployed.

Detailed questions which have been raised by many members of your Lordships' House will be dealt with at a later date, I hope, in the debate on the Navy Estimates; but I can assure the House that all that has been said in this debate, and said, if I may respectfully say so, with such force and so great a wealth of knowledge and experience, will be most carefully noted and considered, and that it will be of the greatest value to Her Majesty's Government in deciding the right course of action for the future. Having said that, I hope that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, will find it possible to ask permission of your Lordships to withdraw his Amendment, and that the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate—who, as I understand him, strongly objects to the Amendment—will not object to its withdrawal.

7 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord who has just replied to the Amendment for the most able way in which he has performed a very difficult task—I think for the first time since he became Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. This is a difficult subject with which to deal. I cannot say that I am satisfied with all that the noble Lord has said, but the spirit of his reply was, to my mind, very satisfactory. He has promised to do all he can to draw the attention of those Ministries which are concerned to the problems which I and my colleagues who have spoken to-day have pointed out. I would only remark, on one point which the noble Lord made—that was on the old question about the difficulty of dealing with ever-improving weapons—that it is an absolutely dangerous doctrine. We simply cannot wait to build a new squadron of aircraft because designers have on the drawing board something far better. We have to go on. If we were alone in building we could wait, but if our rival is building all the time, then it is like saying to the Services: "Would you rather have no cruisers at all, or have some jolly good ones in four or five years' time?—we cannot tell you when war will start." That is what it amounts to. We cannot afford to wait; it is too dangerous. We have thrown away years.

I think the House may expect me to say something about the condemnation of the Amendment by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate. I really felt as if I were back again in Whitehall and he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. How often have I been in that position before, twenty years ago, and heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying to me: "You do not realise that the financial dangers to this country are far greater than the military"! We did not accept those arguments in those days. We pressed for money to save the country if war came. And fortunately they were not so bigoted in their views as to go on saying "No." So the Defence Loans came, and the country was saved, and Lord Stansgate is here to-day. I do not want to ask noble Lords to support me to-day on my Amendment. I should regret it if from the Motion for an humble Address there were one dissentient, and I would therefore ask the House, with all due deference, if it will now give me permission to withdraw my Amendment, which has served its purpose.

7.4 p.m.


My Lords, on a point of Order. It is most unusual for an Amendment to be put down to an Address, especially, I believe, in this House. I object very strongly to this Amendment, and I want to vote against it. I hope that the Admirals will not strike their flag but will go into the Lobby in support of their proposal, in which case I shall follow the Government Whips. But I object to the withdrawal of the Amendment. If it cannot be voted on, it must be negatived.


Is it your Lordships' pleasure that the Amendment be withdrawn?




No, my Lord Chancellor.

On Question, Amendment negatived, and Motion agreed to nemine contradicente: the said Address to be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves

House adjourned at five minutes past seven o'clock.