§ 2.37 p.m.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether it has been decided to dispose of H.M.S. "Nigeria," and, if so, upon what conditions; whether any statement has previously been made with reference to the disposal of important ships of the Royal Navy; what effect the disposal of this ship will have upon the relative strength of the Fleet in this class of ship; whether any further disposals are contemplated; and, if so, what steps it is intended to take to replace ships disposed of.]
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
My Lords, the sale of H.M.S. "Nigeria" to the Indian Navy was made public on April 8. All transfers of Her Majesty's ships to other nations, whether by sale or on loan, are made public as they occur and are summarised each year in the Statement Explanatory of the Navy Estimates. The net effect of such disposals and of any ships that may be scrapped, as offset by new ships joining the Fleet, is reflected in the table giving the strength of the Fleet which is also included in the same Statement. The details of the programmes for replacing 840 ships of the Royal Navy and for equipping the Fleet with new kinds of warships to meet changing requirements are published at the same time in the Navy Estimates.
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. I am not prepared to disclose particulars of any other disposals which may be under consideration, whether by way of sale or otherwise. I am sure that the noble Earl will agree that matters like this must be kept confidential until they are decided. I should perhaps add that the sale of H.M.S. "Nigeria" is unconditional, but in addition to the purchase price paid for her the United Kingdom economy generally, and our ship repairing industry in particular, will benefit from the money that India will spend on refitting the ship in the yards of this country.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether he is aware that H.M.S. "Nigeria" belongs to the Fiji-class cruisers and is one of the very modern type of six-inch gun cruisers in service with the Royal Navy, and the fact that she has been sold to such a country as India inevitably has a material effect upon the number of ships that we have available. I would also ask the noble Earl whether he is aware that the relative strength of this country, as compared to that of such a Power as the Soviet Union, is very small indeed; whether he is aware that during the last war it took about eight or nine cruisers to hunt down one raider in the Atlantic, and whether he is assured that a sufficient margin of strength remains in the Royal Navy in this class of ship in order that the Royal Navy may be equal to all the burdens it may have to bear in a future war. Does he not also think that, when it is intended to dispose of important units of the Fleet, Parliament ought to be informed? So far as I am aware, no mention has been made of this sale in either House of Parliament.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
My Lords, if I may briefly answer the noble 841 Earl's speech, I am of course aware of the nature of H.M.S. "Nigeria," which was, in fact, launched in 1940 and is therefore fourteen years old. I am also well aware of the noble Earl's not unnatural anxiety on this subject, but I can only refer him to the answer I have already given about replacements. With great respect, but none the less firmly, I must tell the noble Earl that I am not prepared at this moment to enter into a general discussion on future policy with regard to cruisers.