HL Deb 27 July 1954 vol 189 cc140-90

3.40 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I do not propose to follow the noble Viscount who has moved this Motion on all the points that he has raised to-day, but I should like to say something about the reconstruction—or perhaps I should say the lack of reconstruction—programme which he has mentioned. The noble Viscount referred to the statement of the First Lord last year when introducing the Navy Estimates. The First Lord then warned the nation that a replacement programme for the Fleet by new construction was absolutely vital if the Royal Navy was to exist as a balanced and efficient Fighting Service. Where is this programme to-day? There is no sign of it yet, and no indication in the Statement accompanying the Navy Estimates that such a programme may shortly be commenced.

All your Lordships are well aware of the difficulties of finance and the question of priorities, but the fact remains that if we started on a reconstruction programme now it would take at least five years or more to complete. For that very reason the cost can be spread, and surely it should now be possible to lay down some new ships for construction which will provide us with a balanced Fleet. I sometimes wonder whether finance is the only difficulty. I would hazard a guess that, in view of the new weapons of war, the Admiralty are still undecided as to what sort of Fleet is required. We have never been told what sort of Fleet they would like to have, and I suggest that if the country knew, the taxpayer would be more likely to be prepared to foot the necessary bill. A question of security may, of course, arise, but surely it would be well to sacrifice a little security and give this information to the country.

What kind of Fleet has our potential enemy as compared with our own? The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, has referred to the Russian cruiser fleet. Russia is reported to have some twenty to twenty-five modern cruisers of, I believe, about 17,000 tons, and over 100 modern destroyers, while we have ten old cruisers in commission, fifteen in reserve and three building, on which work, I understand, has now been suspended. It may well be that the cruiser is considered out of date, but we have not been told so or what is to replace it. Perhaps it is the light fleet carrier, which can certainly carry out some of the duties of a cruiser, though not all of them. I think it is true to say that the whole complex question is wrapped up in the relative rôles of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force in the light of modern weapons of war. At one time I was very much against an inquiry into these matters, but I am now inclined to support the setting-up of an impartial committee of inquiry to go into the whole question. There is no doubt that lack of a definite policy is having a bad effect on officers and men, and it is high time that the Navy and the Air Force knew what their relative rôles are to be.

Tied up with this relationship there is the future of Coastal Command. I do not propose to go deeply into this matter to-day, but I suggest that the Navy should have operational control of any section of the Air Force which is actually operating with surface or underwater craft. This was found necessary in the last war, and no doubt will be found necessary again. It is, of course, one of the matters that could be settled by an impartial inquiry. It can be argued I know, that the Chiefs of Staff Committee and the Government as a whole can settle the differences which may arise over operational control of air forces under varying conditions and what should be the relative rôles les of the Royal Navy and the Air Force. To a certain extent this is true, but I submit that the findings of an impartial inquiry would be of the greatest assistance to Her Majesty's Government and, moreover, would go a long way to satisfying officers in the Services and the public generally. There is a precedent for such an inquiry. There was the Esher Committee, which advised on the reconstruction of the Committee of Imperial Defence and other matters. But whatever course is decided upon, in an approach to this difficult question of the relative rôles of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, I feel it to be of the greatest importance that this matter should be tackled without delay.

I would ask your Lordships to bear with me for a few moments longer, because I wish to raise the question of uniform for officers of Her Majesty's Fleet. May I suggest that it is high time that commissioned officers of all ranks in the Royal Navy should provide themselves, or be provided, with a modified form of full dress? The present No. 1 dress, with monkey jacket and medals, and perhaps an order round the neck, sitting on a tie, is, I suggest, really grotesque. No great expense would be involved if, instead of the old No. 1 full-dress, the frock-coat were substituted, with the usual distinctive lace. In fact, I have been informed by those eminent people who should know that even for a full Admiral the cost would be only £39, including purchase tax. The cocked hat might also return, in all its glory, and with a modified form of gold lace distinction would cost from £16 to £20, according to rank. I would suggest that, in the first place, officers might receive a grant, according to their rank, to equip themselves with this modified full-dress, and that thereafter they should provide themselves, as in the past, when they receive a step in rank. It may not be out of place to point out that in the last year or two, especially since the Coronation, many young officers have, by some means or other, succeeded in dressing themselves up in the old No. 1 full-dress on special occasions, such as marriage, and I think it reflects great credit on them. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will give careful consideration to this proposal, which I am sure would be welcomed by the officers of Her Majesty's Fleet.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, for the kind remarks about myself that he was good enough to make at the beginning of his speech. I should also like to assure him that never for one moment, in connection with this Motion, have I had the slightest sense of being treated badly. It is true that I put my name to the Motion, but that was simply because the noble Viscount was out of the country. It would have been most inappropriate for me to move the Motion when there was a prospect of the return of a former First Lord, with his great wealth of experience. When it was known that the noble Viscount was returning, I naturally transferred the Motion to his name. I am quite sure your Lordships will agree that the wise but also grave speech which we heard from the noble Viscount this afternoon would have been worth waiting even longer for. We all hope that the noble Viscount enjoyed his holiday in South Africa. We are glad to see him return in such good trim as he has displayed to-day. Perhaps I may remind the noble Viscount that in one of our economic debates, in some extraordinary way, the Island of Capri crept in, and the noble Viscount remarked that only the Conservatives could afford to go to Capri. As the noble Viscount has been much further abroad than Capri, I hope that his holiday has no political significance.

I have a few questions to ask about which the noble Earl who is to reply has been good enough to let me speak to him. Before going on to these questions, however, there are one or two general observations that I should like to make. First of all, in regard to Dartmouth, nobody could possibly regret more than I do what has happened about Dartmouth. My portrait appears in two places in the corridor there—once as a cadet and once as a term officer. Of course, it is a sentimental matter, but one does regret very much the passing of the Dartmouth cadet. We must feel sympathy with the song writers, the playwrights and the lady novelists who will no longer be able to refer to the young gentlemen they were so fond of calling "the dear little middy." But I think the change was inevitable. Modern developments, and what the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Cunningham of Hyndhope, called the instrumentalisation of the Navy, have made the change quite inevitable. So, with regret, we have to agree to the passing of Dartmouth.

In the course of the general observations that I wish to make my first point is this. I do not care very much for remarks made about the future rôle of the Navy being defensive. It may be true that we are not likely to have Fleet actions again, but if the future rôle of the Navy is to be anti-submarine work, convoy work, minesweeping, minelaying, amphibious operations, and operations in the air, and in connection with whatever changes in weapons are coming, those tasks will have to be, and will be, carried out in the old offensive spirit which has always characterised the Navy; and they will afford plenty of scope for the display of an offensive spirit. As I say, we must not think that because, possibly, the days of Fleet actions are past, therefore the future rôle of the Navy is to be a defensive one. Nor do I think that the principles for the conduct of naval warfare and the functions and tasks of the Navy have been radically changed by advances in aviation. With great respect to the Air Force—I do not think I have ever said a disrespectful word about them—we must preserve a sense of balance in this matter; we must not be carried away by those air enthusiasts and let the Royal Air Force have, at the expense of the Royal Navy, everything they want.

I notice that Russia is spending a great deal on her Navy, in spite of all the air talk. Again, the functions of shore-based and carrier-based aircraft are clearly complementary. Shore-based aircraft cannot possibly replace carrier-borne aircraft in the great open spaces of the ocean. In those open spaces, the shore-based aircraft cannot possibly be sure of being in the right place, at the right time and in the right strength. How can they be? These matters are very much disputed, usually by violent protagonists, and the arguments usually end by each side going out by the same door by which they came in. I am no great friend of committees, and in my view the modern Minister is far too apt to fall back upon a committee to do his work for him. I notice, for instance, that the Minister of Works seems to be unable to settle the smallest question about the gardens of which he is in charge without appointing a committee to decide on questions of flowers and trees. Nevertheless, I think that a committee to report on the respective functions of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force in the exercise of sea power might well serve a useful purpose. I hope the appointment of such a committee may be considered.

With reference to the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, about construction, I think we want a great many more new ships. We hear a great deal about modernising old ships, but that is not the answer. Money spent on an old car is often money wasted and a false economy; and we must not think that the modernising of old ships is any answer to our need for many new ships. I quite agree that we have been doing better of recent years in regard to small ships—escort craft and so on—but more heavy ships and more aircraft are very much needed at this moment.

The noble Viscount referred to American construction. I have a few figures about that subject which I hope may be correct. I think they probably refer to what is being aimed at by the end of 1955, but their budget is nearly 10,000 million dollars. They have a fleet of 1,080 operating ships, some 13,000 combat and support aircraft, and a shipbuilding programme of 1,000 million dollars. Their active and reserve personnel number over 1 million. They have over 400 combat ships in commission and, by the end of 1955, 80 per cent. of their flying fleet will consist of jet machines. They have a construction programme at this moment of thirty ships, including a "Forrestal" class carrier, five destroyers, two more atomic-powered submarines, a helicopter assault craft, and they are producing a ship for use with guided missiles. I believe, also, that we are carrying out some experiments in the helicopter respect. These are just a few of the figures relating to the American Navy. I am bound to say that my mouth waters, and I dare say that the noble Viscount's mouth waters too. But if my mouth waters, I get a certain amount of comfort from feeling that we have such an ally. Thank goodness that America is our ally! These facts throw into relief in these bleak days the utter foolishness of those who lose no opportunity whatever in displaying their anti-Americanism.

I am glad to see that we have some ships—I think two—being constructed especially for convoy work. I think that is a most important development; I hope that it will be successful and that we shall go on producing many more ships of that type. But of small ships generally we want many more. During the war, the Allies eventually disposed of 880 vessels for ocean convoy duties, but even with that large number the anti-U-boat war hung in the balance. I do not know how many U-boats Germany ended the war with, but I understand that she began with only fifty-seven and nearly won the Battle of the Atlantic. It seems possible that Russia might begin a war with at least 200 submarines, In face of that, the bulk of our anti-submarine forces to-day consist of old ships of low speed, which most certainly require replacement. Again, during the war, the Allies disposed of some fifty carriers, most of which were employed on convoy work in the defence of seaborne trade. We now have about twelve. How many ought we to have? Has any estimate been made of the number of carriers which would be required for convoy work in another war? I am quite sure that the number would be more than twelve, especially in view of the 20,000 aircraft which Russia is said to dispose of.

I come back to a point in this connection which I have frequently made in similar debates, but I make no apology for returning to it—that is, to ask whether our escort ships and their personnel are being trained and exercised together. Again, I suggest that there should be created a new appointment, Flag Officer, Escort Forces, to superintend this training and these operational exercises. In these ways we should not have, for the third time, the spectacle of those ships and officers and men who are told off for convoy duty having to learn their work at sea in face of the enemy, with disastrous losses of both ships and men. In this connection also I express the hope that the First Lord, with such guns as he may carry, impresses constantly upon the Government the need to keep the Merchant Fleet at full strength. The incidence of taxation is increasingly affecting shipbuilding; but for us a strong Merchant Fleet is essential if war comes. I think we can say to-day that the Merchant Navy is one of our defence forces, and that it is the task of the Government to keep the Merchant Navy up to the same pitch of efficiency, and to see that it is kept up to the same strength as our other defence forces. I have some questions to ask about personnel. First, may I offer my respectful congratulations to the Board of Admiralty on recent reforms which have been carried out. During that bad period when gauge glasses were being broken and electric circuits cut, I noticed that the First Lord always minimised the incidents, attributing them to one or two disgruntled men among a large intake and not admitting that that pointed to any serious, I should not like to use the word "discontent," but dissatisfaction on the lower deck. This is surmise, but I think perhaps the Sea Lords knew better than the First Lord, and saw the necessity for very material reforms indeed. At any rate, since those reforms have been introduced I have seen no reports of any gauge glasses being broken, any electric circuits being cut, or any similar incidents. That shows conclusively that there was dissatisfaction on the lower deck but that the reforms introduced by the Board of Admiralty have checked them and brought them to an end.

It seems to me that the present reengagement rate is disturbingly low, and I most sincerely hope that the efforts of the Board of Admiralty to induce men to stay in the Navy for twelve years and to get a high proportion of them to sign on for pension will be successful. I am, however, not too optimistic. One step towards success would be to improve drastically the position of the petty officers, and to this end I am in favour of having fewer of them and raising the age at which they may be appointed. The number of them now in their early twenties is, to my mind, ridiculous. For what my opinion is worth, I do not think that any man should be rated a petty officer unless he has signed on for twelve years, or made a chief petty officer unless he has signed on for pension. Unless you lay down those conditions you are wasting time and money and experience where your petty officers are concerned. The Navy is also experiencing a shortage of personnel which may or may not be eased by the reforms of which I have spoken. I think I am right in saying that the bottom of the barrel had to be scraped in order to find the extra 2,000 men who were wanted to carry out Exercise "Mariner." New construction is coming along. How are you going to man the "Ark Royal" and other new ships in due course? Will you have to pay off older ships in order to man the new ships? That would be "robbing Peter to pay Paul," which has never been found a very satisfactory system on which to conduct your affairs.

I should now like to say a word about the hydrogen bomb. I know that the late Chief of Air Staff, Sir John Slessor, thinks that the hydrogen bomb has abolished major war. Well, I can only say "O sancta simplicitas!" And we have our starry-eyed ones on the lunatic fringe who think that the hydrogen bomb should be abolished and that the free nations should cease to carry on their tests with the bomb while Russia goes merrily on with her tests. I think we had better be guided by those eminent professionals who have no doubt whatever that in another war the nuclear weapons will be used. This brings me to the point I want to raise in reference to terminal ports in this country. I have no doubt whatever that our escort forces will, as they have done in the past, bring their convoys safely home to this country. But it will be very awkward if they bring them to where Southampton was last night but is not any more that morning. It is evident that our terminal ports are all too few in number, and that the question of alternative ports is of great importance. If it is considered undesirable, I will not for a moment press for a reply upon that point; but this question of alternative terminal ports is one of the greatest possible importance in view of the nuclear weapon.

I now come to the last one or two points that I wish to raise. When, before the war, the question of the appointment of a Minister of Defence was very much in the air, I was amongst those who, in my insignificant way, supported the suggestion. I recall, however, that I wrote a letter, I think to the Spectator, to say that we must face the fact that the creation of such an appointment would immediately lead to a stepping down in status of the political heads of the Defence Services, who would, in fact, virtually become Under-Secretaries. My Lords, we have seen that come about, and I now see some dangers in this post of a Minister of Defence. I am making no personal reference whatever in what I am about to say, but if the two posts of Prime Minister and Minister of Defence are separated, as they are at present, I think the Prime Minister is likely to be extremely careful as to whom he appoints as Minister of Defence, because it is obvious that if he had a difference of opinion with his Minister of Defence, possibly leading to the resignation of the latter, it would be extremely likely to bring his Government down; and it is only human nature that the Prime Minister is not likely to look for too independent a person to appoint as Minister of Defence.

Similarly, it would be very awkward for the Minister of Defence if, for instance, he had a very strong First Lord who differed from him on a point of policy and resigned. Undoubtedly, that would place the Minister of Defence in an awkward position. As I say, I am making no personal references, but what I fear about this system of appointing a Minister of Defence is that, to some extent, there is enshrined in it the possibility of the appointment of "stooges'' to certain highly important positions—men who are not likely to take action which might seriously embarrass the Government. Apart from that, I greatly regret the diminution of the First Lord's status in the modern Government. I know the First Lord is, for example, called into the Cabinet when business affecting his Department is considered; but that, to my mind, does not meet the case. He is not a Cabinet Minister; his status is diminished. We have to go back a very long way—possibly to 1925 and Mr. Amery—to find a First Lord in the old tradition. I cannot find that the relegation of the First Lord virtually to the position of an Under-Secretary has proved of advantage to the Navy.

Finally, I should like to speak of a particular Admiralty appointment, that of the Fifth Sea Lord who deals with Air matters. In our last debate on the Navy Estimates, or some debate which introduced that subject, the proposal was advanced that what was wanted was to increase the seniority of the holder of that appointment and generally very much to increase his status and importance. I am unable to agree with that proposal; I feel exactly the contrary. The submarine service has never had its own Sea Lord at the Admiralty and I cannot see that the submarine service has suffered in any way whatsoever. Possibly it has gained through not having its own particular Sea Lord. I very much doubt the advantage of giving particular branches their own Sea Lord. I think it is better that all these particular branches should be treated as the submarine service has been treated, as a part of the whole Navy. The Fleet Air Arm would do well to copy the example of the submarine service and allow the appointment of the Fifth Sea Lord now to be abolished. I trust I have not kept your Lordships too long. I say that especially remembering yesterday's debate when I was in a rather choppy sea. I hope today I have kept in smooth waters.

4.13 p.m.


My Lords, I should be wasting the time of the House if I attempted to speak on the wider subjects that have been raised in the admirable speeches of the noble Viscount and others. I confess that I am deeply tempted by the last speaker when he talks of the Minister of Defence, but I should go on too long if I started on that subject. I believe in Bacon's theory, that it were better that, in causes of weight, the matter was propounded one day, and not spoken to till next day. In nocte consilium." I want first to congratulate the Admiralty very warmly indeed on the expedition that was organised to H.M.S. "Eagle" a few weeks ago, just before the debate on this motion was originally due to take place. I found that a magnificent education. One saw how wonderfully the Navy is adapting the old traditions to the very latest weapons. It happened to be a day when there was low visibility, and we were bemoaning the fact that we should not be able to see the aircraft approaching. But the conditions were just what was needed to show us the immense value of radar and how the modern battle has to be fought, owing to the prodigious speed of the aircraft, no longer from the conning tower looking out on the sea but from inside, looking on radar apparatus.

I spent a certain amount of time in the barracks (as they still call their quarters) of the Royal Marines. They were much more comfortable and commodious than in my own time. I should like to speak to-day mainly of the Royal Marines. I was brought up in that Corps and had much of my early upbringing with it. The Royal Marines are mentioned about eight times in the White Paper, but always with someone else: "the Royal Navy and Royal Marines"; "a party of the Royal Marines landed with the Army" in British Guiana, and so on. I should have liked to see more particulars given in the White Paper about the Royal Marines. How many were present at the Coronation? In the references to Korea, what proportion of the casualties and of the decorations represented Royal Marines? Much more detail of that kind could be given. The Admiralty, always extremely courteous, have let me see those figures and they are very striking. I would bring out just one—that of Korean honours and awards. There, No. 41 Commando, Royal Marines, had 33 honours and awards—a very large proportion; and in ships in Korean waters, 13.

This matter is important from another point of view. Towards the end of the Statement on The Navy Estimates it is said that there has been a sharp deterioration in recruiting, particularly for seamen and stoker mechanic branches and for the Royal Marines. That ought not to be the case. The Royal Marines has been a long-service Corps for a large part of its existence. The personnel goes down from father to son among the officers and men, and it ought to be possible to keep recruiting up to the mark in the Royal Marines. They should be "written up" more. Perhaps the noble Earl who is going to reply will make a note of that. I should like him to pass on to the Admiralty the suggestion that in future White Papers there should be a section devoted entirely to the Royal Marines. That would be noticed by people who write up these subjects and would prove useful in making the Corps better known. The Marines are a colourful body of men, and there is a great deal in the Corps which appeals to youth—the very badge, with the Globe and Laurel; the motto, "Per mare, per terram" and "Gibraltar"; and those white helmets that are known all over the world. I think it would pay the Admiralty if they adopted this suggestion.

I think, too, that they might say more about the commando work of the Marines, which is little known. It is extremely interesting and to a young man it is very attractive, combining raiding parties, boat work, climbing cliffs and every sort of adventure. It is the spirit of adventure that we want in this country, and nowhere is that spirit shown more than in the Commandos of the Royal Marines. I believe that there have recently been some interesting exercises in the Mediterranean. I had my information from American Marine officers whom I meet from time to time in Paris, where I have to go a good deal, and sometimes in London, and they have spoken of interesting exercises with their Marine comrades of Korea and of earlier campaigns. There have been exercises in Malta, where there is a permanent training base for Marines, founded in my time, rather on my initiative, and in Crete. I know that there are all round me noble Lords who would bear out everything I can say about the value of the Royal Marines. The noble Lord, Lord Winster, spoke of the defensive rôle sometimes attributed to the Navy, and I most strongly agree with him there. I do not think the Navy's work is going to be defensive with those aircraft carriers and aircraft; they are for attack all the time, and in favourable circumstances the Marines are one of the offensive weapons.

I was rather disturbed to hear that this question of the rôles of the Navy and the Air Force has not yet been tidied up. I have been the Secretary of many inquiries on that very subject, from Lord Salisbury's Committee to that of Lord Caldecote, with many in between. But these inquiries never seem to lead to finality. It is a very difficult question. I remember that the original inquiry was delegated by Lord Salisbury's Committee to a small committee, over which Lord Balfour presided. That Committee deliberated for some time and was about to report in favour of a purely Navy air service. I suggested, as Secretary, why not go down to a carrier and see how it works? We went to a carrier, which happened to be a very happy ship, and all spoke so well of the old system, which my noble and gallant friend Lord Trenchard advocated, that the Committee came down in favour of that after all. That shows how finely balanced the argument is. Therefore, on the whole, I do not support the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Teynham for another inquiry. I think the Chiefs of Staff Committee and the whole of that organisation ought to make the inquiry inside.

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that those who see the somewhat depressing air of your Lordships' House this afternoon, perhaps even including the Government Front Bench, will not think that there is any real lack of interest in the Royal Navy or in its fortunes in the future. Far from it. We have before us a White Paper explanatory of the Navy Estimates, which I have been studying with the idea of finding out what sort of Navy the Admiralty and the Government are really aiming at. It is quite impossible to understand it from this White Paper. There are various headings—British Guiana, Malaya, the Korean Campaign, Reserve Fleet Redeployment, the Greek Earthquakes, New Construction, Modernisation and Conversion—but nothing to tell us what sort of Navy the Government consider to be necessary. Before the war we used as a yardstick for measuring our naval strength the Two-Power Standard and later on the One Power Standard, but now where are we? I think that has been the leitmotiv in some of the speeches delivered this afternoon.

In May, or a little before that, an announcement was made in the Press, to the surprise of a great many, that an important unit of the Fleet was going to be sold to the Indian Government for £300,000. I refer to H.M.S. "Nigeria." For the benefit of those who do not carry a work of reference in their pockets, H.M.S. "Nigeria." is almost the latest type of 6-inch gun cruiser which we have in the Royal Navy. She belongs to the "Fiji" or "Mauritius" class. Since she was built only two other cruisers, the "Superb" and the "Swiftsure," have been completed carrying the same armament. In your Lordships' House on May 25 the noble Earl who is going to reply to the debate stated [OFFICAL REPORT, Volume 187 (No. 74), col. 840]: The disposal of H.M.S. 'Nigeria' will reduce the number of cruisers in reserve in the Royal Navy from fifteen to fourteen, but generally it is to our mutual advantage to transfer to the active Fleets of friendly nations, and particularly to members of the Commonwealth and of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, ships which are not required to be in service in the Royal Navy. As the noble Earl said, it will reduce the number of cruisers from fifteen to fourteen, not in itself an ultra-serious matter, but I submit it is a matter about which one would like Parliament and the country to be given an opportunity of deciding.

We have never been told what sort of Navy we are going to have, and to what standard of strength. I submit that the country should be told, and told at once, because this is a matter of close concern to all of us. The noble Earl went on to say that these matters must be considered confidential until they are decided. How far are we going with this way of disposing of ships? We have no opportunity to find out until the actual announcement is made that it has happened. Then the noble Earl said: The sale of H.M.S. 'Nigeria' is unconditional. Does this mean that in future, supposing another war were to break out and Britain were fighting for her life at sea, and India were a neutral country, we should not be able to have the benefit of the valuable help that the "Nigeria" might be able to give? It seems to me that casual announcements like this in the Press—how they are decided one does not know—is hardly the way to deal with the Royal Navy.

We were told last year, when the Navy Estimates were put before us, that we had so many cruisers and so many of each class of ship. But we were not told that it was in the mind of the Admiralty to dispose of a most important unit of this character. As a matter of fact, the "Nigeria" is an important ship of her class, because she carries three more 6-inch guns than any of her sister ships. Another announcement has been made since then: that H.M.S. "Illustrious" is to be disposed of. She is one of our few remaining fleet carriers. It seems to me that the disposal of these ships raises the whole question of our Naval policy. It is a sad commentary upon the state of the Royal Navy today, and particularly the Fleet in the eastern waters, that when such an incident as that which occurred off Hainan Island the other day takes place, it has to be left to the Navy of another Power, however friendly, to dispatch a carrier to see that our rescue operations and the search for survivors are not interfered with.

What about our cruiser position as a whole? We have, in commission and in reserve, twenty-four cruisers, including the "Nigeria," of which only eleven are in commission. Of these twenty-four, only sixteen mount 6-inch guns. It will no doubt be said that it is difficult to man these ships, and one well understands the manning difficulties in the Navy to-day. But it seems to me that the lessons of the last war must have been altogether lost if it is imagined that we can have a really effective command of the seas of the world on a basis of twenty-four cruisers. It took pretty well twenty-four cruisers to run down one hostile raider in the last war, and in another war—particularly so far as the Russians are concerned; they have two more cruisers than we have of equivalent type—we might easily find these ships operating in force out in the Atlantic, and it would be impossible to concentrate our cruiser force in order to tackle them. How is the work going to be done? We must be told something about it. The Russian Navy appear to have eighteen ships that mount 6-inch guns, or above, and all of them are more than a match for our ships of an equivalent type. Should another war come, it is obvious that we shall have surface raiders breaking out, and we shall have a submarine war to deal with on a far greater scale than before. It has been said—I forget who said it, but I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Winster—that the Germans started the last war with only fifty submarines. An Answer has been given in the other place that at the present time the Russians have 350 submarines, seagoing ships with a huge radius of action, and far more powerful than the Germans were able to use against us in the last war.

Reference was made by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, to the "Daring" class, and the rather extraordinary decision to class those ships as cruisers and not as destroyers, which they really are. If we consider the Russians—and we must, because they happen to have the next strongest fleet to our own—we find they have thirty-five destroyers equal to or superior to the "Daring," or of equivalent class. If our "Darings" are to be called cruisers, are we going to call the thirty-five Russian destroyers of a similar type cruisers? If so, our position is even worse. Have we really forgotten all about the "Von Spee," the "Deutschland," the "Gneisenau," the "Scharnhorst," the "Eugen," the "Bismarck," and all the armed raiders? Will the noble Earl who is to reply be able to give us any information as to how many ships it took to hunt down any one of those?—I know that it runs into double figures in every case.

What is the policy of India likely to be in another war? Can anybody forecast with any certainty what view Mr. Nehru, or anybody speaking at the head of an Indian Government, will take with regard to a global war in which we might become involved? It seems to me that there should certainly be a condition attached to the sale of this ship to India, that if in another war India remains neutral, we should again assume possession of that ship. Every ship might be vital, and the consequences might be serious. We also have three cruisers of the "Tiger" class. They have been lying in the Gareloch for years, practically ever since they were launched. It did not seem as if the Admiralty knew just what they were going to do with them, until recently an announcement was made that they were going to be armed with four 6-inch guns. These, apparently, are going to be a species of 6-inch machine guns: they are going to fire at an enormous rate and, one hopes, with great accuracy. But those ships are of war design, and if they are going to fire an enormous amount of ammunition, what arrangements have been made in regard to ammunition supply for them? It will require much more than 200 rounds a gun to keep those ships in action. It seems to me that we ought to know something more about that matter.

That brings me to the question of the age of our ships. To-day we have not got in the Fleet a single cruiser or destroyer of post-war design, nor apparently any in prospect, and there appear to be no proposals for new construction in that direction. That seems to be a most serious position. The country has a right to be told what sort of Navy the Government are aiming at. In my view, what is required is a steady programme of replacement that everybody can understand. Do not let us be told that we have no cruisers, no aircraft carriers and no destroyers under construction. We ought to have. We know that we went into the First World War without enough destroyers, and that the same thing happened in the Second World War. Are we going to wait for the same thing to happen in the event of a Third World War? Surely we ought to proceed on a well-ordered programme that everybody can understand, instead of in fits and starts.

A good deal has been said this afternoon on other topics about which I do not want to say very much, but I am sorry that I must say I do not agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, and the noble Lord, Lord Winster, upon the rather rosy view Which they seem to take of the question of officer entry into the Royal Navy. I have never understood why the noble Viscount felt compelled to change the whole scheme of officer entry into the Royal Navy, although he has told us this afternoon why he felt so compelled. I am only an onlooker at the Royal Navy, but I am one who has been able to look at it, to a certain extent, from the inside instead of always from the outside. I have never been able to understand what was wrong with the old system of officer entry into the Royal Navy. At any rate, those boys came in and learned much of their seamanship at Osborne and Dartmouth, seamanship which lasted them through all their time in the Navy, when they had left the salt-horse side of it and gone on to specialise in gunnery, torpedoes, signals or even engineering, as the case might be.

It seems to me that it is rather a tragedy to have upset all that, and to have come to a position where, apparently, we shall have not boys but young men. They will not find it nearly so easy to "get down to it," to learn the details of a very intricate profession, as they would have found it if they had gone into it earlier and had been brought up in all the great traditions of selfless service and offensive action of the Royal Navy of the past. It is a great pity, it seems to me, that all that had to be upset. One realises the strong points of the new scheme, but, balancing everything up, I cannot help regretting it very much. I happen to have served in a battleship in which half the gunroom were special entry men and the other half had come in through Dartmouth; and while it is true to say that the special entry were stronger, and perhaps physically better developed, there was no doubt in our minds that the Dartmouth entry were superior in education. I do not mean to say that the special entry could not catch them up, and to a certain extent did; but there was no doubt that, so far as education was concerned, the Dartmouth entry were somewhat better equipped.

I hope that what Lord Winster said about alternative ports will not be altogether lost sight of. I think it is a most important matter. It may be that we shall find ourselves compelled to go to something like Mulberry in reverse. Be that as it may, I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Winster, touched on a most important point in that connection. With regard to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, on the subject of uniform, one has a great deal of sympathy (I know that I have) with the suggestion he put before your Lordships. But this is a most difficult question, and I do not think we could expect the Admiralty to bring out new uniform regulations which would have the effect of laying an extra burden upon the officers of the Fleet. Whatever was done in that connection would have, quite clearly, to be an expense shouldered by the Admiralty. It must not be forgotten that we have Reserves. If the uniform for the Royal Navy were to be changed, automatically the uniform for the Reserve officers would have to be changed; and whatever arrangements were made for the uniforms of Naval officers would have to be extended to officers of the Reserve.

My Lords, I have had my say. I look upon the episode of the disposal of the "Nigeria" as a most unhappy one. I hope that no further disposal of a similar character is contemplated or in prospect. I beg the noble Earl who is going to reply to tell us straight out: Are we or are we not negotiating the disposal of any more important units of the Fleet? I hope the noble Earl will be able to give us some idea of the sort of Fleet that we are aiming at. I do not believe that it is a satisfactory position for this country not to have a single post-war cruiser or destroyer in the Royal Navy, and none under construction. I hope that the Admiralty will be able to tell us a little more than they so far have done about these questions.

4.46 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are all most grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, for initiating this debate on the Royal Navy, a debate which he has led so ably and so often in the past. I think he deserves some sympathy for the fact that he has twice had to put off this debate. I know that he has been most forbearing—perhaps some of us are not so forbearing at seeing the Navy thrust on one side in favour of television. However, the debate has now come, and we have had a number of very interesting and informative speeches. I should like, before I take up the main tenor of my remarks, to support Lord Teynham's suggestion for the reintroduction of the frock coat. It is not an unduly expensive dress and not nearly so elaborate as the old full-dress. I think this is a matter to which the Admiralty should give serious consideration. The Navy so often has to be an ambassador in different parts of the world, and I think that its officers should have some reasonable form of ceremonial dress. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, said that of course the Reserves would have to have the new dress as well. I think that he is probably right, in that they would eventually have to have it; but in the opening stages it could be made voluntary for the R.N.V.R.

Once again the First Lord's Statement shows how often in the course of a year the Navy is called to the rescue. We have instances of their taking troops to British Guiana; of helicopters operating in Malayan jungles; of the giving of help and succour in the case of two earthquakes, one in Greece and the other in Cyprus; of taking part in the search for the Comet; and of dealing with piracy in Arabia. As always, when it comes to first aid, and when it comes to an unusual operation in any part of the world, the Navy is still the only Service which can cope with the situation effectively and quickly.

I am pleased to see the statement that the eighth and last ship of the "Daring" class is about to join the Fleet. I had an opportunity a few weeks ago of visiting the "Diamond" and the "Duchess" alongside at Copenhagen, and I should like to say how greatly these magnificent ships were admired by all the visitors of many different European nationalities who had the opportunity of seeing them. Incidentally, I note that the Admiralty classes these ships separately in the list of ships. They are not called destroyers and they are not called cruisers. I do not know whether there is any particular reason for that, but they are such large and imposing ships that I should have thought they might well have been added to the cruiser list, which would give them some classification which the ordinary man in the street would understand. There may be some very good reason for not doing so, and if so perhaps the noble Earl who is to reply will tell us.

At the other end of the scale we have the Reserve Fleet, and I am glad to hear that the method of preserving ships of the Reserve Fleet has been completely revolutionised. No longer are we wasting large numbers of active-service ratings in that soulless job of manning ships in reserve, which, under the old system were rapidly deteriorating and becoming rusty scrap iron. We now have the much better plan of preserving the ships by modern scientific methods of de-humification and sealing, and having them looked after in civilian yards by civilian personnel. I think great credit is due for this quite revolutionary process in the history of the Navy, which I think was brought in, not without opposition, by the late Admiral Commanding Reserve Fleet, Admiral McCall. I am sure that we all owe him a great debt of gratitude.

Now I should like to turn for a few moments to the Fleet Air Arm, in which I had the honour to serve for some years, and in which I did my first deck landing some thirty-two years ago. Incidentally, the other day I visited H.M.S. "Eagle" and found that I had done my first deck landing ten years before the youngest pilot aboard was born, which made me feel very old. I am delighted that the old title of Fleet Air Arm has been restored. I am sure that it is the right title, and it is one which is well known and is revered by all. We have made great progress in the Fleet Air Arm. We are right to be proud of our technicians who have invented the new angled flight deck and the steam catapult, both of which have now been adopted by the United States Navy. Recently I had an opportunity of visiting H.M.S. "Eagle" to witness what was appropriately called "Operation Shop Window." I was particularly interested to note the tremendous improvement in speed and technique of catapult launching of aircraft; the improvement since my day was really most marked. Carriers were provided with a catapult in those days, but it was an instrument that we did not use if we could possibly avoid it. Launching was always a lengthy, cumbersome business, and there was usually some hold-up. I had the pleasure of witnessing a whole squadron taking off on the two catapults almost as quickly as it would have been possible to launch them by normal deck take-off.

I am glad to see that the new types, of aircraft are now beginning to arrive in the Fleet, particularly the Seahawks. I am sorry that the progress with the antisubmarine aircraft has been slower, and I think that everything possible should be done to speed up the production of the Gannet. Are we doing enough to keep aircraft simple? The Gannet was originally designed for an all-up weight of 16,500 lb., and it has ended up with an all-up weight of 21,500 lb. I feel that those on the production side really must stand up to the Naval Staffs. Obviously, the Naval Staff will always ask for more and more, if possible, but those on the production side must be given a fair run, and the Staffs must accept a reasonable compromise or we shall have our aircraft festooned with gadgets like a Christmas tree. I am delighted to hear that Vice Admiral John has been appointed to the Ministry of Supply as Senior Officer in Charge of Naval Aircraft Production. I am sure that that is an excellent step and will help to bring about what I have just been trying to emphasise.

To turn to another subject, during my recent visit to H.M.S. "Eagle" I was absolutely horrified at the drabness of the wardroom and the anteroom. Cannot something be done to make the living quarters of ships a little more attractive? They are steadily getting worse. I know what a great problem exists. I know that more and more different types of equipment have to be put into a ship, but nevertheless I feel that something more could be done. Many of us have been on board modern tourist class liners, where the living spaces have been made most attractive by extremely economical means. Nowadays there are beautiful incombustible materials of different colours which can be used with perfect safety. One of them, called Marinite, is completely incombustible, so there is no danger in fitting it to ships. I am quite sure that if one consulted a good naval architect, in conjunction with an interior decorator, it would be possible to make the living spaces in ships much more attractive than they are, particularly those without scuttles, where people have to live by artificial light all the time, which is always a depressing thing.


The noble Lord knows that the "United States" is quite fireproof and most beautifully decorated throughout.


I entirely agree with the noble Lord, and I thank him for his intervention. The new design of metal chair for the wardroom is a most hideous thing, like the chairs you see in the cheapest cinemas or dance halls. As a contrast to that, I think great care has been given to the design of cabin furniture. Although cabins are overcrowded, and far too many comparatively senior officers have to share cabins in these days, the actual layout has been very carefully designed to give reasonable hanging space, a writing table, and so forth. Great attention has been paid to cabins, as opposed to messes. I think it is important that as many officers as possible of the rank of senior lieutenant and above should be given the privacy of a cabin, even if it is a small one, to themselves. After all, it is the home in which they have to live, year in, year out.

Before I sit down, I should like to say one word about the cadet entry, a subject which has been touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Winster, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and other speakers. In the difficult circumstances existing at that time, I have no quarrel with the decision to restrict entry to the older age groups, but I should like to offer one word of warning. At these age groups we are competing strongly with the Army, the Air Force and, particularly, with the universities. At a time when the Navy wishes to take these young potential officers, the other Services and, as I say, the universities are all looking out for clever youths. Most probably, the tendency of headmasters is, where they have a really clever youth, to try to get him to sit for a university scholarship. The Navy, instead of taking boys at an age when nobody is competing for them, chooses a time when every walk of life and every other Service is competing. When the entry was at thirteen, we got a large number of clever boys who afterwards developed to scholarship standard. If we find that we do not get a sufficient number of boys or youths of the right standard, something will have to be done about it. I feel that it would not be impossible for a part of Dartmouth to become a kind of second Pangbourne, a nautical public school, where parents could send their boys on payment of fees, and possibly if they went into the Navy afterwards the fees could be remitted. It is not outside the bounds of possibility to utilise the great reputation of Dartmouth for boys interested in a nautical education who may afterwards elect for the Navy.

Naturally, we all regret the passing of the midshipman from the sea-going ship. As the noble Lord, Lord Winster, has said, he was the source of funds of stories, and the delight of the writer of adventurous fiction. He will no longer be with us, but, indeed, the "snotty" did a magnificent job, particularly in boats. One recalls the pride with which the "snotty" looked after his boat. Sometimes he fitted curtains. I remember that I once fitted an electric light system in my picket boat. We all remember, as far away as Gallipoli, their reputation on the beaches. I am sure that the specialist officers, the navigator and the gunnery officer, will greatly miss their "doggies" who helped so much in their respective departments.

I think the decision is inevitable, now that we have so few large ships in the Fleet, and most of the small ships have no gunroom accommodation. I do not believe that having midshipmen in the wardroom was ever a very satisfactory arrangement. I hope that the abolition of the gunroom will at least help to solve the accommodation problem which I have previously mentioned, and that considerable thought will be given as to how gunrooms can best be used for the comfort of the officers as a whole. I will end this note of lament for the passing of the midshipman, and also my speech, by giving a definition of him—a definition which has often been quoted: A medium of abuse between officers of unequal seniority.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, may I also start by thanking the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, for introducing this debate again, and also congratulate him upon his return to full health and, in due humility, upon such an admirable speech. In reading this Explanatory Memorandum of the First Lord, I, too, like the noble Earl, Lord Howe, felt that there was one great omission: that there was no real indication of what the broad purpose of the Navy is now. We have had over the past few years since the end of the war so many great changes in the scale and methods of attack and defence, and, indeed, in the whole scope and strategy of naval warfare, that I think it is time that we had some indication from the Government as to what they envisage is the modern rôle of the Navy. Clearly, Her Majesty's Government are laying great emphasis, and rightly so, on the anti-submarine and mine-sweeping forces.

One of the primary rôle of the Navy is still, of course, to keep our sea lanes open. I should like to ask the noble Earl who is to reply how many of these 170-odd old frigates and 180-odd old minesweepers have been modernised, because to have anti-submarine frigates and minesweepers which have not been modernised means that they are practically valueless to deal with the modern fast submarine or the modern cunning and scientific mine. It is a long time since the days when trawlers could be sent out to minesweep more or less with fishing gear, or with an "Asdic" fitted to the bottom to make them into efficient anti-submarine vessels.

So far, the purpose of the Navy is clear. But what of the capital ships, one in the Fleet, four in reserve? What is their rôle What of the carriers? We are glad to hear that modern aircraft are now coming into service, but what of the Reserve Fleet carriers? Are arrangements being made for the supply of aircraft to those Reserve Fleet carriers? Without them, they might as well be scrapped. Again, as one noble Lord asked, what is the rôle of the cruiser in the modern Navy? If cruisers are a needful part of the Navy, as I am convinced they are, surely we ought to be building some. There is a limit to what you can do on existing hulls, and it is surely high time that we had some new ones in which to put new equipment. There is another point there. New construction is not just a question of turning on a tap. You cannot suddenly decide, after years of no new construction, to have a great deal of new construction. The techniques of construction of naval vessels are quite different from those used in the construction of merchant vessels. The materials used are different and more difficult to deal with. If those techniques have been lost in the intervening years, when the time comes and a decision is taken to have a building programme of large ships again, there will be great difficulty and delay in getting it started.

Then what do Her Majesty's Government envisage at the start of some new conflict? In the old days, there was plenty of time for mobilising. Ships in reserve could be got out of their protective coverings and men could be trained for the new apparatus and equipment. Are we sure that all the ships in reserve are useful and could perform a useful function in time in a new war? Surely it is particularly applicable in the case of aircraft carriers, where the equipment has become so very complex. Those points are really important, and I hope that the noble Earl who is going to reply will give us some information on them.

Then in the Explanatory Statement a gloomy picture is painted about recruiting. It seems to me to be a serious position, but it has already been dealt with, and I do not want to say any more on it, except to add my warning to what is pointed out in the White Paper, that unless the problem is tackled now before it gets any worse, in a few years' time, when the engagements that we made at the close of the war come to an end, we shall find ourselves in an extremely difficult position. I should like to say one word, in passing, on the change in the arrangements for the recruitment of officers to the Royal Navy. I do not think that the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, gave due credit to the pre-war officer entry, Those of us who had the privilege of serving under and being taught by the pre-war naval officer know that there was no finer officer in any Service in the world. Like many others in the Navy to whom I have spoken, I feel that it was a sad mistake to alter the system of officer entry and to discontinue the entry from thirteen years of age. I am sure the Navy will suffer in the future from the stopping of that entry. But when it has been stopped, I am also sure that the present decision to discontinue the sixteen-year old entry and not to re-stare the thirteen-year-old entry is the right one, because if one Government put it back and another Government removed it, it could lead only to uncertainty and an unsatisfactory state of affairs.

I should like to say a few words about the technical branches of the Navy. There are three main branches. First of all, there is the engineers—an old-established naval branch, which from top to bottom is officered and manned by officers and men in the Royal Navy. So far as I know, the recruitment to that branch is satisfactory, and I have heard well of the new training establishment near Plymouth. The second technical branch is the constructors' branch. I am afraid that I have previously mentioned this matter in your Lordships' House, but the position as regards recruiting is so unsatisfactory and the present situation is so serious that I feel it is only right again to bring it to your attention. Either constructors do not matter and the whole question is unimportant, or it is a very grave situation. Unfortunately, the gravity of the situation will not appear for five or ten years, because there are enough competent naval architects in the corps to carry on the work for the time being; but as they get too old, and as the results of dilution which is now going on take effect, a very serious situation will develop. I wonder how much the situation which the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, described, of the slow building of frigates, is due to the lack of proper numbers and proper recruitment to the Royal Corps in the years since the war. Lord Hall mentioned also the group of scientists and constructors who are planning new design. I very much suspect that that group is so understaffed that it cannot carry out its functions properly so far as the constructors are concerned.

My Lords, I do not want to repeat the whole sad history of the Royal Corps. After the war a Report was made by eminent members of the Royal Navy, of industry and of the universities—the Eastham Report. That Report was pigeonholed, although it made far-reaching recommendations for the improvement of the Service. Just before the war a new scheme was started for a university entry to the Corps; many went in, but almost all have now come out. At the same time other sources of entry, from the dockyards and elsewhere, have partly dried up. Since the war many attempts have been made to improve recruitment, all of which have failed. At present, draftsmen and design assistants are being promoted into the Corps to fill the gaps caused by bad recruitment from the proper sources. Unfortunately, the problem has not been faced fairly and squarely over the years since the war. The Royal Corps has been equated with the scientific Civil Service, although on many occasions, in many Reports, several First Lords have been warned of the danger of doing that. Engineers and scientists are different. Scientists produce the ideas and work them out; engineers who must be recruited to the Corps put those ideas into action and into production.

The trouble is due partly to pay, partly to the method of training and partly to status. They are all complex problems and are not suitable for discussion in your Lordships' House, but I think the only thing that can be done is once more to try to sort them out. If necessary, let a new Committee be appointed, of those who understand the problems—such as naval officers, constructors, leaders in the shipbuilding industry, and representatives from the universities who teach possible recruits. But let not the Committee be too heavily weighted by non-professional members of the Admiralty staff, for that, I believe, has been the trouble in the past. It was from that quarter that advice was given that the Eastham Committee Report should be pigeonholed; it is from that quarter that schemes have originated over the past few years that have resulted in the present disastrous situation. After all, industry does not send out accountants to recruit its engineers; it sends out engineers to find out what is wanted and where recruits are to come from. I hope that the noble Earl who is to reply will be able to give us some information on what is being done to put right what is now a grave situation.

Then, there is the third main technical branch of the Navy—namely, the electrical branch. In the past that has been civilian. Now there is to be a gradual transfer to naval officers. The scheme started, I think, four or five years ago, and therefore has not been going long enough for us to see exactly how it will fare; but already there are signs of difficulties in recruitment. There is some doubt as to exactly what job these electrical officers are intended to do. Are they to be like constructors and design equipment, or are they to be like the naval engineers and be mainly operators and for liaison with designers? It is tremendously important to decide which they are supposed to be because on that depends what is the most suitable kind of training, for them. Originally, as I understand it, they were to replace the civilians in the Department of Electrical Engineering, and they were therefore to be designers; but it has not turned out in that way. They were to be sent to Cambridge where they would take the full engineering course, if possible taking in their last year the specialised electrical course.

If I may give just two sets of figures for two years' entry, 1951 and 1952, I think your Lordships will see how differently it has turned out. Of the 1951 entry of six who took the Honours Degree course three took third-class and three failed. In the 1952 entry, in the final examination, taken after only two years, two took third-class and two failed. In the second year preliminary examination (those who were not quite so advanced), two took second-class, seven took third-class and eight failed. Those are not encouraging figures in regard to people who one hopes will be designers. The question is, are these officers to be naval officers who know a little about electricity or are they to be electrical engineers who are also naval officers? If they are to be naval officers who know something about electricity, they will be something like the old torpedo officers, only a bit better. In that case the type of officer who is being recruited and is going through the Cambridge course is, I submit, eminently satisfactory. They will make excellent officers but will not, on the whole, make excellent designers. If, on the other hand, they are required to be electrical engineers first and foremost, designers of modern equipment and to look after it as the civilian corps used to do, then present recruiting is unsatisfactory.

Here I have to be very careful what I say, because I am convinced that the present method of training, the courses arranged at Cambridge, and afterwards in industry, are excellent, and I should be very sorry if they were discontinued after a relatively short trial period. I hope that the Admiralty will take whatever steps they can to improve the entry, to advertise it and to get the electrical branch better known, so that the material coming in may be better and so that the original scheme may go forward as was intended. It is a good scheme and can produce the best men if only the right material is there. Urgent steps are required or we shall find that as the electrical branch develops, displacing the old civilian-manned branch, we shall not have the designers to produce the very complicated modern equipment required in the Navy. Probably the main trouble is that it is a new service. Not many people know about it. Perhaps it has not been sufficiently advertised with suitable propaganda in the schools from which recruits must come.

There is one other point affecting all technical branches of the Navy. When a young man enters a job he likes to feel that he can get to the very top if he is worth it. At the present time the Board of Admiralty have no technical officer, neither an engineer, a constructor nor an electrical officer. That seems out of step with modern ideas and with the practice in modern industry. Surely a change is due there. It would make a tremendous difference to the entry into all technical branches in the Navy if a boy could feel that, provided he did well, he could one day be on the Board of Admiralty. Already there are many factors against a career in the technical branches—for instance, the command of ships cannot be given to a man mainly concerned with the equipment of ships, as he has not had the necessary training. If a place could be found on the Board of Admiralty for such officers it would be a tremendous incentive, and would assist in obtaining first-class recruits to these vital branches of the modern Navy. In conclusion, I would say: Do not, for heaven's sake! let us cheesepare, either on construction or on giving the proper rates of pay and conditions to attract the right sort of men into the Navy. A strong Navy is as necessary now, in peace and in war, as ever it was. It may have changed its rôle but it is still a vital necessity. We British still have much to teach the world. If we appear to lose faith in our mission by refusing to spend enough money on the Navy, or on any other of our defence forces, then we should, I am sure, do enormous damage not only to our own interests but to the interests of the people of the whole world.

5.24 p.m.


My Lords, we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Hall for introducing this interesting debate to-day. He presented a case to be answered by the Government so detailed and so comprehensive that I shall leave a good deal of what is to be said now to the noble Earl who is to reply. The noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, made an excellent speech which would, I am certain, have pleased his father, an old friend of mine, had he heard it. But the noble Viscount brought me up sharply in his last remarks, so powerful in advocacy of the Navy and coming from a representative of an old Bristol family with all its old piloting and other associations. He said: "Do not cheesepare; do not do this; do not do that." As he was speaking, I felt the contrast between 1929, when I first went to the Admiralty, and 1954.

We had then a Vote A of 89,000 men. The total cost was £50 million. The Fleet at sea, even in those days of economy, included, commissioned or in reserve, fifteen battleships and battle cruisers, with something like thirty-seven cruisers commissioned, and others in reserve running up to nearly sixty; 150,000 tons of destroyers—and all done under a Vote A of 89,000 men and a total overall expenditure of £50 million. Now we have before us an Estimate with a Vote A of 139,000 men. I cannot see that there is a man too many in relation to the enormous increase in personnel required, though with a smaller Fleet, to cover the various technical departments. The cost of those 139,000 men (only about 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. More than the figure in 1929) will be £369 million—more than seven times the cost in 1929. This is a great poser to those of us who in their hearts love the Navy so much that we do not want a penny taken off in the direction of cheeseparing. But we have to face facts and to be quite certain that what we are doing is giving us full value for the money we are already spending.

I said in the debate on the White Paper from the Ministry of Defence that we really needed now some special inquiry into our general armament and service expenditure. It would perhaps be going too wide of the Naval issue before us today to repeat that; but I am quite certain that the time has come, at this stage when we are spending something like £1,650 million on our Armed Services, when we ought to have a much more careful examination into, first, whether we are spending too much and, secondly, if we are not spending too much, into whether we are getting value for our money under the Budget that we have presented to Parliament. I have a great deal of sympathy with those noble Lords who have spoken on the future rôle of the Navy. A very short and potent speech by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, in which he asked for an inquiry into the rôle and relationship of the Navy and the Air Force, appealed to me very considerably. There might well be a case there, not from the point of view of settling old quarrels and difficulties that used to be maintained between the two Services but rather for settling on a general programme for our research expenditure in order to streamline our effort. I should have thought it would be wise to send from Parliament, as it were, a message to the Service Departments urging that there should be a special examination under the Chiefs of Staff Committee, a "get together" whose results, after they had been considered by the appropriate members of the Government, could be communicated to Parliament.

I feel that the position of the Royal Navy in the future has often been written down too much. The noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, for whom we all have such a great regard, has strong views upon the relative rôles of the Navy and Air Force. The future of the air is quite certain—it is expanding; but there is no knowing what the future of the Navy will be in the atomic age. I think it may yet be found that in the atomic age the use of the sea will become of increasing importance. I am glad to note that real experiments have been carried out by the Admiralty with regard to the future of the submarine. The recent report of the transatlantic voyage of one of our wartime constructed submarines, with, I take it, certain additions, was most interesting. But I think it will be necessary to go much further when it comes to the question of the propulsion of submarines by nuclear energy, and of rôles and missions in war-time of a kind which the Navy have never undertaken before. I do not exactly know where we are going in that direction. It would be almost insulting to the Chiefs of Staff if we were to suppose that they had not done anything about it and had not any ideas about it. But the more we get together, and the more information that can safely (I emphasise that word) be given to Parliament, the better.

From my long experience at the Admiralty, I must say that whoever is in charge of Naval policy at the present time has an enormous problem to solve. If atomic weapons are to be used, as the noble Lord, Lord Winster, is certain they will be used if we should come to war, the organisational policy has to be laid down and the equipment prepared for the future. If we take the report that has been given about the area of destruction of the hydrogen bomb, it may well be that Portsmouth, Chatham and Plymouth can be put out of action for months, even years, not by the flight of a great squadron of aircraft but merely by half a dozen machines working accurately, one coming over each of the naval ports. That is a great problem. What sort of base is the Navy going to find in the future. and where will it be? We do not hear much about these questions. There are some things we want to know, though we appreciate that there are some things which it would not be safe to talk about, and which ought not to be made public for the use of those who might at some time be in conflict with us. There are some things about which we must have a certain amount of faith.

What is the main thing I want to say to the House to-day? First, we are all anxious that we should not be left defenceless. We want to have an adequate defence, but we want to be sure that in our straitened economic position we are getting value for the money. Are we getting value for money in our defence programme? Are we having sufficiently, frequent and regular overhauls and checks to see that what we are spending is being spent without undue profit? Are we getting a true value? My noble friend Lord Hall complained that in the First Lord's Memorandum there was no reference to research, as in previous years, and said that our research and constructional work is costing about £153 million. Are we getting value for the money there? It has been said that the delivery of frigates and minesweepers is slow. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, wants quicker progress in the construction of cruisers. Have we the money to do that at the present rate of expenditure? Have we been right during the last seven or eight years in saying that the two main tasks of the Navy are anti-submarine and anti-mine operations, and in concentrating most of our construction on frigates and minesweepers and modernising a variety of ships into frigates? Probably we have been right. If that is so, can we afford to spend money on the construction of cruisers and larger ships like aircraft carriers, which has now been suggested? Had we not better make sure that we have a system for using these ships properly when war comes, by having proper bases, or proper defence of our bases? We should like to hear something about that, so far as it is not unsafe to give it to us.

I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Winster in what he said about banning the atom bomb, which I am sure he meant to be serious. I should be very happy if we could get an agreement on banning the bomb. I should be happy, and I am sure he would be, if, instead of having speeches made by generals and other high officers about the military side of international political policy, we could have an international convention upon these enormities which are being produced for the destruction of mankind. Some conventions have been effective, as in the case of poison gas, and I certainly should welcome an inter-national agreement. I should go on working for that, whatever might be the relations existing at the time the suggestion of such a convention was made. I think that is absolutely vital in the interests of the future of mankind. It is not a matter of what we say in this House or in another place, but of what kind of armaments we finally get. We may survive, but we shall have lost an enormous part, if not the whole, of our civilisation. Therefore, while we cannot afford in present circumstances to relax in our efforts to acquire such defence as we need, we ought not to cease our endeavours to get such agreements between nations as would, in practice, put out of existence the use of such terrible weapons as are now being introduced.


The noble Viscount has really said nothing with which I am not in most full and complete agreement.


As I said, I felt that that was so; but I wanted to make the point that we ought not to take the view which has been expressed by some high officers of the State, who should have left it to the elected statesmen of the world to say what policy should be, according to the wishes of their people. We ought to use all our powers and our strength to come to some form of agreement.

Before I finish, I should like to say how gratifying it always is to read the First Lord's White Paper on the Service. We congratulate the Admiralty on the work they are doing at sea. I should like to pay tribute to an old friend, Sir Arthur Whittaker, the former civil engineer in chief, who has now retired. I hope his retirement from his work for the Admiralty and the Fleet will be a happy one. I trust that as a result of our debate this afternoon—although we shall not agree with each other all the time—the future of the Navy may be more clear, and that it will be successful in the great mission it has always had—the defence of the people of this country.

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, my right honourable friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, when introducing the Navy Estimates in another place, gave a more detailed picture than I shall be able to give to-day. I propose, with your Lordships' permission, to confine myself to a few general observations before I attempt to tackle the detailed criticisms and questions which have emerged during the course of this extremely interesting debate. I fear, none the less, that I may detain your Lordships for rather a long time, not from choice but because I have to. It is, at any rate for me, a great relief to turn aside for a moment from the palpitating excitement of the Television Bill, and to focus my mind upon a more pedestrian though perhaps almost equally important subject, the Royal Navy in Great Britain.

My right honourable friend devoted a considerable part of his remarks to the manpower problem, as also have several of your Lordships this afternoon. He was pleased to be able to announce that, following the release of the last retained men and recalled reservists, he was able to alter the arrangements which had governed the commission of ships on overseas stations for fifty years and more—I refer to the General Service Commission Scheme. To-day, as your Lordships are aware, strain is thrown upon our Navy by our many commitments, particularly during this grave period through which we are passing and which we call the "cold war." All these duties cause an abnormal amount of disturbance in the Service and in the family life of the men in the Fleet. However, we think that something positive will be done to ease these hardships by the introduction of the new arrangements to which I have referred.

It is the chief aim of the scheme to reduce the length of period of foreign service for almost all personnel, so that, with few exceptions, a man will spend not more than eighteen months at a time, and frequently not more than twelve months, away from this country upon any one commission. Your Lordships will remember that under the old commissioning system the normal period of foreign service was about two and a half years. At the same time, we aim to reintroduce the system of fixed commissions in which captains, officers and men will, so far as possible, remain together throughout the commission. The effect of this on the morale of officers and men, and also upon the efficiency of the ships, needs no emphasis by me, I am sure. The scheme, which we have already begun to operate, will not, I think, be achieved overnight, nor will it be free from the usual growing pains. But we hope that once ships and men have taken their place in it we shall have done something positive, as I have said, to improve the never easy lot of our sailors. Another consequence of the release of the last of the recalled reservists and the time-expired men has been that we have been able to reopen on a limited basis, discharge by purchase, and to approve that officers who have not yet reached the age for compulsory retirement may, at Admiralty discretion, be allowed to retire or to resign.

As regards cadets, the regulations for the new 18-year-old entry have now been distributed to schools throughout the country, and they have also been widely publicised in the Press, as many of your Lordships may have noticed. It is not true, as the noble Lord, Lord Winster (I see that he has now gone) said, that the new 18-year-old entry will result in the elimination of the Dartmouth Royal Naval College. On the contrary, the College is to be the main focus of the future junior officers' training, and this will be made possible largely by release of facilities and resources resulting from the abolition of the 16-year-old entry.

Let me now, in these general remarks, turn to the Fleet itself, its rôle and the policy that is being adopted to keep it and its material up to date. The background of what we are doing has, of course, been set out in the Statement on Defence (Cmd. 9075). In terms of the policy set out in that White Paper, the Navy has, as usual, a most important rôle in providing a deterrent against major aggression and preparing to meet what is now vulgarly known as "hot war," should this disaster befall us. The Navy's task, however far ahead we look, will continue to be to allow us to use the sea to impose our will upon the enemy; to deny him the use of the sea; and to safeguard our own, and indeed, if past history is any guide, Europe's supplies also. We are determined to make it clear that we can, and will, perform this task successfully should war come.

I do not propose at this stage of my speech to go into the details of the steps we are taking towards this end; they have already been explained at length by my right honourable friend in another place. What I should like to do, instead, is to emphasise that, although financial and manpower considerations impose limitations on the size of the active Fleet, it is a fact (several noble Lords have asked the question) that a steady improvement in the material quality of the Fleet is taking place as post-war building and modernisation programmes progress. We are relegating to reserve the older carriers, frigates and minesweepers, and replacing them by more efficient new construction. Again, the rearming of the Fleet Air Arm with jet and turbo-prop aircraft is well under way, and will, I think, be complete by the end of the financial year. Progress is also being made in the production of the Navy's swept-wing jet fighter, which, as my right honourable friend said in another place, will be equipped with an air-to-air guided missile for air combat and will be able to carry an atom bomb. Production is to be started on an economical anti-submarine aircraft, the Sea Mew, and I think that no one can accuse the Royal Navy of being backward in the matter of helicopters. Guided missiles have also been occupying our very close attention, and I am glad to say that steady progress is being made by the Ministry of Supply in the development of a large guided missile for Fleet and convoy protection. I shall have something to say about this subject a little later on.

Although these few remarks that I have made so far have been very general, I think it is time that I turned to the many interesting points which have arisen in the debate to-day. First of all, I should like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, for the extremely courteous manner in which he introduced this debate. I also feel that I owe him a sincere apology for the number of times it has been postponed. It must have caused the noble Viscount a great deal of inconvenience, but he has supported it with the most remarkable kindness, and I am truly grateful to him. I am also gratified to think that at any rate the noble Viscount, who has subjected everything, including the cadet position, to a keen scrutiny today, has no serious quarrel with the steps which my right honourable friend has thought it necessary to take for the purpose of establishing a system which he hopes will endure—a system which will be free from any taint of Party or class interest, and which we hope will have the support of all concerned including—and this we consider very important—the educational world.

I thought that the noble Viscount's principal criticism of the scheme (he will correct me if I am wrong) is that he feels that the 16-old entry may not have had a fair trial. In reply, and without wishing to give the impression that, on the basis of experience, the 16-year-old entry has failed, I must say that it is unfortunately a fact that it has not proved as successful as had been hoped. Everything was done to make the 16-year-old entry attractive to schools of all kinds and to parents of all incomes. No payments were required for tuition or board, and parents had to contribute only to personal expenses. These contributions themselves could be waived up to a reasonably generous scale of income. The qualifying educational standard was also modified, and it was made possible for candidates to have two attempts. But despite all these incentives, the number of acceptable candidates coming forward has not been found sufficient to fill the vacancies. The deficiency in these acceptable candidates has been something in the neighbourhood of 15 per cent. The Admiralty hope, by concentrating on age eighteen as the entry point, to produce a scheme which will have a stronger appeal to the schools and enable it to accommodate boys who have reached the acceptable standard in any branch of education, and at the end to produce a body of officers with both a broad general education and an understanding of the basic mathematical and scientific principles, which are, of course, essential to Naval officers in all branches.

The noble Viscount also indicated that in his opinion it was odd that the Admiralty should abolish the 16-year-old form of entry to Dartmouth when the other two Services are resorting for the first time to such an entry. I must point out that those remarks are slightly misleading. The Royal Air Force has recently introduced a scholarship scheme for Cranwell open to boys of sixteen who will continue at their existing schools until they are ready to enter Cranwell at eighteen. So far as I know, there is no other form of 16-year-old entry into the Royal Air Force, and the proposed Naval scholarship scheme, to which I shall refer in a moment, will be very similar in broad outline to that which has been introduced by the Royal Air Force.


May I interrupt the noble Earl? I hope I did not convey the meaning that there was anything other than is now being described in the Royal Air Force, that is, the granting of scholarships after school. That is quite different, of course, from the Army scheme, which has been set up, with a residential school for entry at sixteen. The point I desired to make was that the Navy was abolishing while the Army was adopting that principle.


I think the noble Viscount must have in mind Welbeck College.




The noble Viscount is quite right. The Army has established this new Welbeck College and the object, as he says, is to provide suitable candidates for regular commissions in the technical corps of the Army. The college accepts boys of sixteen years old, as the noble Viscount said, and I think it is correct to say that its full strength is 150 boys. The proposed Naval scholarship scheme will meet broadly the same objects as the limited Welbeck College entry, with the advantage that the boys will be able to continue their education at their present schools while the Admiralty will be free to concentrate their limited resources on further education beyond the age of eighteen.

To refer for one moment to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, about dress, I am afraid that I cannot help him very much. I think this question has been reviewed from time to time since the war, but so far nothing practical has emerged on it. I think I ought to tell the noble Lord—who I know had very late notice of this debate—that I will certainly bring this matter to the attention of my right honourable friend.

I now come to the question of cruiser policy—a matter which was raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and I think also by Lord Teynham. In reply to this question, which I believe is the heart of the matter, so far as the noble Earl has gone this afternoon, I should like to assure all three noble Lords, and all your Lordships, that the Admiralty recognise that our present ships, with their conventional gun armament, are getting older, but that financial stringency and the most recent forecast—and I ask noble Lords to listen to this because it is important—of the advent of guided weapons are pointers which suggest that it would be unwise to devote too large a share of our limited resources to construction in this field until we can see more clearly what will be the effect of recent scientific development.

I do not want the noble Earl, Lord Howe, to get angry when I use the words "financial stringency"; it is as true of the Admiralty as it is of any other Department. The noble Earl frequently asks me questions about building roads, and in reply I have to use the same words, "financial stringency." He knows that I do not use them for fun; he knows that every Department in this country is hag-ridden by the same problem. Anyway, the Admiralty plan in due course to build guided weapon ships which will take over some of the functions of the present-day cruiser, and I am glad to confirm my right honourable friend's statement in another place that the first guided weapon trials ship will be fitted out shortly. I was going to draw the noble Earl's attention to the number of cruisers that we have at the present moment, but he has already drawn my attention to it so perhaps it will save time if I go on.

The noble Earl said something about the German pocket battleships and cruisers in the last war. In the first place I will not admit for one second that the next war will necessarily bear any relation, in its tactics, to the last one. Anyone who has made any empirical study of these matters will know that it never has been so. After all, they used lances at Balaclava and assegais at Omdurman, and we cannot be sure that the cruiser will necessarily be the right weapon.


Would the noble Earl not agree that our precise strength must bear some relation to the strength of other countries which we might have to meet in war?


In a moment I am going to disclose what the precise strength of the Soviet Union is, which is no doubt what the noble Earl has in mind. It may well be that the Soviet are wrong; and if they are it will not be the first error which the Soviet has made on a major issue. But I will come to that in a moment. I must just refer to what the noble Earl said about the German pocket battleships and cruisers. I should like to point out that those modern German battleships and cruisers which he mentioned did not, in fact, long survive once they were brought to battle; and, as my right honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out in another place, the mighty "Graf Spec." to which the noble Earl referred, with its superior armament, was dealt with very effectively by three small cruisers. Nor should the noble Earl forget—and I beg him to listen to this very carefully—that in any future war the Royal Navy would not, as it did during the crucial period in the last war, be fighting alone.

The noble Earl also asked for an assurance that the major units of the Fleet would not be disposed of without the consent of Parliament first being secured I think the noble Earl is still smarting from the disposal of the "Nigeria," but I have only one answer to this; that is that Her Majesty's Government must retain the power, in matters of this kind, to act as they think proper and in the best interests of the country. The nature of the Fleet we maintain, as with the disposition of its various units, must remain a direct Government responsibility. It would be quite contrary to constitutional practice for me to give the noble Earl the assurance for which he asks, and my answer to that question must therefore be a flat and categorical refusal.

The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, was interested in the make-up of Russian expenditure for naval purposes and, in particular, what types of ships and aircraft the Russians are concentrating on. Unfortunately, the Russians are not very forthcoming in information on these subjects—indeed, they are positively coy in showing how their expenditure is divided between the defence Services. We believe, however, that the proportion of their defence budget spent on the Navy is about one-fifth, and that there is a tendency for this proportion to rise as the building programme progresses and new ships are brought into commission. We know that since 1951 naval manpower in the Soviet Union has risen by 150,000 to 750,000. The Soviet Union has between twenty and twenty-five modern cruisers, over 100 modern destroyers and about 350 submarines. About half of these submarines are of the large or medium ocean-going type, on which we know that they are concentrating at the present time. In addition to some 20,000 aircraft in their Air Force, the Soviet have some 3,000 naval aircraft, and I perhaps should add that the Soviet Navy is also capable of a considerable minelaying effort. These are sombre statistics which we must constantly bear in mind.

The noble Viscount also asked me about the new high-test peroxide submarine, the "Explorer." I am afraid that it would not be in the national interest to give precise details of the performance of this type of submarine. All that I can say is that her submerged speed is well over twenty knots and—the point which appeared to be exercising the noble Viscount—this high speed can be maintained fully so long as the stocks of high-test peroxide are available. It is not a burst, it can be fully maintained. I am afraid that I must also plead that it would not be in the public interest to disclose the state which Naval preparations have reached in the field of atomic propulsion, and I must confine myself to saying that effort in connection with nuclear propulsion for the Royal Navy is being intensified. I can assure the noble Viscount that the Admiralty are fully alive to the advantages and disadvantages of these forms of propulsion in their respective fields.

While I am touching on atomic matters, perhaps I may deal with the noble Viscount's request for information about the ability of the Fleet Air Arm to carry atomic bombs and guided missiles. I can assure him that there is a good degree of co-operation between the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm both on the atomic bomb mentioned by my right honourable friend the First Lord and also in the guided missile field. The Ministry of Supply are agent for both Services in each case. The atomic weapon which the new swept-wing fighter will be able to carry is in all respects the same as that to be carried by the appropriate Royal Air Force aircraft, while the guided weapons which this and other aircraft will be able to carry will be the same weapons developed and produced to the same specifications as those to be carried by the appropriate Royal Air Force aircraft. I am afraid I cannot give any more information on that particular point without endangering security.

I think I should now touch on some of the remarks of the noble Viscount about the Admiralty's engagement policy. He believed, I thought, that the traditional twelve years' engagement was out of date, and that the Admiralty were unduly restricting the short seven years' engagement. We do not feel at the present time that the type of engagement offered to potential recruits to the Navy in any way restricts the numbers of recruits who are entering. The fact is that whatever the engagements offered, the numbers of recruits to the armed forces have been falling off for some time. I believe that most responsible people who have been concerned with the Navy have long preferred the twelve-year engagement, since it serves not only the best interests of the Navy itself but obviously those of the country as well. Men on such engagements provide stability. They conserve experience, and they also save considerable money and manpower in training. They produce the senior rating we must have for supervision and to assist officers. Unlike air crew entries, who can be employed on their arduous work for a limited time only, and who are therefore entered on short service commissions of up to eight years, the naval rating and marine rather increases in usefulness as time goes by, and still gives the most valuable service long after the type has to be withdrawn from operational flying.

The fact of the matter is that recruiting is going against us at the moment and that the proportion of short service recruits we set as a target is not, in our opinion, restricting the numbers we recruit. Nothing at the moment would be gained by raising the target for short-service entries, but I should like to assure the noble Viscount that if the improvements which we expect and hope from increased pay and the general service scheme are realised, we will be prepared immediately to reconsider those targets. Meanwhile, everything possible is being done to encourage men, after completing twelve years' service, to reengage. For example, the re-engagement bounty of £100 has been extended until further notice. We also hope that the introduction of general service commissions and improvements in living conditions, which I will discuss in a moment, will also play their part.

The noble Lord, Lord Winster, expressed concern about the manpower shortage in the Navy and inquired how, if this shortage continues, it is proposed to man the newly-commissioned ships. It is, of course, too soon to say whether the introduction of the recently announced general service commission scheme and the pay increases will produce any significant alteration in our manpower strength, but I would remind the noble Lord, when he reads this, that, even when the manpower position was relatively easy, it was not practicable to commission new ships while retaining all the existing ships in service. Obviously the decline in the numbers of men in the Navy to-day makes it even more difficult to avoid paying off old ships before commissioning new ones, but we hope there will be a net gain in modernisation and the efficiency in the Fleet.

The noble Lord also made an important point about petty officers. He suggested that the status of petty officer and chief petty officer should be improved. He maintained, if I followed him rightly, that we have far too many of them to-day and that they are far too young compared with pre-war days. He suggested that petty officer rank should be reserved for more mature and responsible men and that, in particular, no one should be made a petty officer unless he signed on for twelve years, and that no one should be made a chief petty officer unless he signed on for pension. I am afraid that, in making these, I am sure, well-intended suggestions, the noble Lord overlooked the fact that the age of promotion to petty officer must reflect and be the result of the general age structure of the Navy at any given time. Before the war, the Navy was manned predominantly on a long-service basis with a high rate of re-engagement for pension. This, of course, produced a Navy with a relatively old age structure and a tendency towards fairly delayed promotion to petty officer and chief petty officer. The slow rate of promotion, as any naval officer knows and as noble Lords will remember, was one of the main grouses of the pre-war Navy.

As it happens now, since the war, many factors have combined to produce a high proportion of short-service men and a low rate of re-engagement for pension. There is a great shortage of men with eight years' service and upwards, and their places must, of necessity, be filled by abnormally large numbers of men with less than seven years' service. The number of petty officers and chief petty officers must be governed by the requirements of the Service; so, in a Navy with a higher short-service content, the average age of promotion must come down. I can assure noble Lords that all possible steps are being taken to ensure that, in spite of the relatively young ages of promotion that prevail at the present time, all petty officers are adequately trained for their duties. I now come to the observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Gifford. He spoke about the "Daring" class. He did not know whether they were to be regarded as very big destroyer or a rather small cruiser. Is that right?


That is right.


They have been regarded as a class on their own because they are superior to destroyers but of a smaller displacement than the modern cruiser. They are in many respects comparable with what we used to know as the light cruisers, but they are much more manoeuvrable than light cruisers were. They are therefore known as the "Daring" class.

I should like to make some remarks about accommodation on board ship. I do not think the noble Viscount mentioned that subject in his speech, but I know that he has the matter very much at heart. Afloat the aim remains to get the best balance, so far as one can, between the conflicting claims of weight and space, and to achieve the best possible accommodation, of course without detriment to the fighting efficiency of the ships. I should like to tell the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, some of the improvements which have been introduced since 1945. I thought he was a little gloomy about the matter. For example, the introduction has been undertaken, of centralised general messing in the new and modernised carriers. A similar system has been tried successfully in smaller ships and, financial provision permitting, it is hoped to extend this system to other ships. A new type of hammock which can be converted into a camp bed has been developed, of which first issues were made last year. Improved kit lockers with more room and additional security against theft are being installed.

Improved standards of ventilation have been adopted, based on the results of extensive medical research. Bathrooms are being modernised and laundries have been fitted in cruisers and larger ships to compete with the full requirements of the ship's company, while special laundry equipment has been developed for installation in smaller ships. Drinking water coolers, ice-cream plants and domestic refrigerators are now fitted in most ships. Improvements have been made to the layout of living spaces. These are most marked in new ships, such as the "Daring" class and are also being tried in older ships as opportunity occurs. I can assure noble Lords that the Admiralty are keenly aware, from every point of view, of the need to minimise, so far as possible, the discomforts of our sailors. The saying "Sailors don't care" has long since been expunged from the vocabulary of the Admiralty.


I am glad to hear and fully appreciate the various things which the noble Earl has just listed, which, as a matter of fact, are all for men of the lower deck; but nearly all the remarks in my speech were confined to one particular point: the discomfort of wardrooms in new ships. I do not think the noble Earl has given me an answer to that. I mentioned the "Eagle," which I thought could be similarly improved.


I am very sorry indeed. I think the noble Lord can take it for granted—I have not the facts with me—that the wardrooms on new ships will show the same progress as the accommodation improvements for the other ranks; I am sure they will. I certainly will go into that question.


I thank the noble Earl very much.


I will acquaint the noble Lord with what I find. I should like to say a few words now about the scholarship scheme which my right honourable friend is introducing. He is conscious of the need for something to meet the gap which was caused by the abolition of the sixteen-year-old entry to Dartmouth, an entry which enabled many parents to ensure their sons a continued education until the age of eighteen and a future career which might not otherwise have been found possible. My right honourable friend therefore intends to institute a scheme of scholarships to be competed for at about the age of sixteen, to enable a candidate's education to be continued at his present school until the age of eighteen. By this means, we hope to ensure that no parent who might have secured a place for his son at an age-sixteen entry will in future be debarred for financial reasons from extending his son's education to the age of eighteen. We believe that the scholarship scheme, like the age-eighteen entry, will have the full support of the educational authorities and that it will make a substantial contribution towards maintaining the eighteen-year-old entry at the higher level. I should like to tell your Lordships more about the scholarship scheme, but it has not yet been worked out in detail.

My Lords, this may be a convenient point at which to reply to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Winster, and other noble Lords—I believe the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough also mentioned it—about alternative ports in the event of our principal ports being put out of commission. This is a rather tricky and delicate question, but I should like to assure noble Lords that for a number of years past the Government have, naturally, been fully aware of this problem, and plans have been made for the provision of alternative facilities in the event of damage to our major ports. These plans are well advanced, beyond the paper stage, and most of the works involved are either complete or already in hand. With your Lordships' permission, I would rather say no more about that matter.

I come next to Lord Hankey's remarks about the Royal Marines. I am afraid that recruiting for the Royal Marines continues to be disappointing, and recruiting for the R.M.F.V.R., while steady, is also slow. We are always ready to receive suggestions which may help to stimulate recruiting. Brief accounts of Royal Marine activities which, as Lord Hankey truly said, are as colourful as any in the Navy, are, in fact, included in the First Lord's annual Statement Explanatory of the Navy Estimates, but I doubt whether the publication of information, as he suggested, about the Royal Marines under a separate heading would persuade many more potential recruits to enter the Royal Marines. I strongly suspect that White Papers are not likely to be the favourite reading of potential recruits to the Royal Marines. My right honourable friend is, however, arranging for rather more recruiting publicity to be devoted to the Royal Marines in the national Press. I shall also certainly bear in mind Lord Hankey's observations about the Commandos, with which I entirely and heartily agree.

I come now to the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, who speaks with a specialised—indeed, I might almost say, an inside—knowledge of the problems of the constructional and electrical branches of the Royal Navy. As your Lordships are no doubt aware, in his capacity as University Lecturer in Engineering he has been closely associated with the education of naval electrical officers at Cambridge; and he has therefore got me at a considerable disadvantage. I can only say this: that the Board of Admiralty have always been aware that the build-up of a Corps of Naval Electrical Officers, possessing, on the one hand, qualities of leadership and personality and, on the other, a high technical competence which would enable them to deal with the very difficult question of design and maintenance in the widening fields of electrical and electronic technology, would present great difficulties. We are now trying hard to increase the number of applicants for entry into this branch as cadets, so that the field of selection will be widened. Press advertisements, broadcasts and the activities of Admiralty schools liaison officers are all brought into play, while the recommendations of officers who have entered through this source may be expected to increase the knowledge of this particularly attractive career among scientifically minded young men in the schools.

In addition to the cadet entry, there is, of course, a small post-graduate entry who join as acting sub-lieutenants and who include officers originally entered for National Service. Nor must we forget the avenue of promotion from the lower deck. Since the branch was instituted only in 1946, the flow of officers for design work has naturally been very limited and the stage of employment of the cadet-entered officers in this work has not really been reached. So far, the Board do not see any reason to doubt that suitable Naval officers of the Electrical Branch will be available to perform all the functions contemplated when that branch was instituted, and progress is being very closely watched. Lord Caldecote gave us a rather depressing picture of this matter. I feel that he speaks with great authority, and I will certainly communicate his views to my right honourable friend. I will also bring to the notice of my right honourable friend the noble Viscount's suggestion that there should be a technical officer, of the type he described, on the Board of Admiralty.

I hope that the noble Viscount will forgive me if I do not answer him at the moment about constructional engineers. I should like a little more time to study that matter, and perhaps he will allow me to communicate with him privately.

My Lords, I have at last finished. I beg your Lordships' pardon for the inordinate length at which I have spoken. I should like just to add this. It appears in some quarters to be the opinion that the day of navies is over, in view of the growing encroachment of aerial science. This, of course, has been said before. Hitler said to his friend Rauschnig: Surface fleets are the obsolete playthings of the wealthy democracies. That is not our view; nor, evidently, is it the view of the noble Viscount, Lord Hall. Nor does it appear to be the view of those two formidable Powers, the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. It may be that there will come a day when the Royal Navy is no longer required, but at the moment we are very far from that day. In my opinion, it will be an evil day for all true English people if and when it comes. It is no insult to the other great branches of the Armed Forces, to say that ever since the Armada was repelled the Royal Navy has been deep-rooted in tradition in the hearts of our peoples—and still is. I trust that I have said enough to prove to your Lordships that this is a heritage which we shall never squander, and that our Fleet at the moment is well worthy of the magnificent traditions of the past.

6.26 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to express to the noble Earl the gratitude, not only of myself but of all my noble friends who have taken part in this interesting debate, for his full and informative reply. I do not think he has missed out a single point; he has covered not only each point but each noble Lord who has taken part in the debate. I am most grateful to him, and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.