HL Deb 11 June 1958 vol 209 cc714-88

2.45 p.m.

VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS-BOROUGH rose to call attention to the Explanatory Statement by the First Lord of the Admiralty on the Navy Estimates, 1958–59 (Cmnd. 371); and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion which stands in my name on the. Order Paper. May I say at the outset that I hope it will be with the consent of the House that the arrangements made between the First Lord of the Admiralty and myself—that I should move my Motion, and that he should make a very early statement of Admiralty policy, with the right afterwards, by leave of the House, to reply to the debate—will be agreeable to your Lordships.

The reading of the First Lord's Paper on the Navy Estimates must have tilled most of us with pretty mixed feelings. There are one or two things that might be put upon the credit side, perhaps not least the fact that at last, after many years of pressure, the Government have decided in the last fifteen months what the role of the Royal Navy is to be in the future years and in the changing circumstances, and that this year it is included in the White Paper on Defence. In that Paper the three main tasks of naval forces are: In peace time, to help carry out Britain's responsibilities in colonies and protected territories, to defend British shipping and generally to contribute by their presence to the mainenance of peace and stability; in limited war, to protect sea communications, to escort troops and supplies to the theatre of operations and to give them support in action; M global war, to make an effective contribution to the combined naval forces of the Western Alliance.

That, I think, is not an unreasonable definition, to the minds of most of us, as to what the role of the Royal Navy should be. But looking at the first part, which says that the Royal Navy's task in peace time is generally to contribute by their presence to the maintenance of peace and stability, I just wonder how, with the steadily reducing strength of the Fleet, and the proportion of even that reduced Fleet which is put into reserve, it can possibly cover the situation.

I remember that in one of the naval journals Mr. Dudley Pope, the Naval Correspondent of the Evening News, said this: To patrol its 33 million square-mile parish in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean the Navy will have two aircraft carriers and two cruisers. For the Pacific and Indian Oceans, more than 97 million square miles, British interests and shipping will be guarded by one carrier and a few escorts, with a commando-carrying carrier coming along later.

"Later" is the right emphasis. "Later" will depend, I take it, upon when "Albion" relieves "Bulwark" in the East, how long "Bulwark" takes to get home and how many months elapse, due to the requirements that staffs usually have during the transformation or refit of a ship, before the commando carrier is available. But obviously, whilst it may be added that besides the two aircraft carriers and two cruisers in the Mediterranean and Atlantic sphere there will be other important vessels, even though minor in category, the fact remains that, compared to the influence we were able to bring to bear in the past, not merely in protecting our vast shipping interests but in actually promoting good will in the world, our influence will have been very much reduced. I cannot picture that in any circumstances this island community of ours, with all its great shipping traditions, and with its vast interests throughout the British Commonwealth, can ever afford to be without such forces as are required to keep these great vast stretches of sea safe for our Commonwealth citizens.

If one looks at the White Paper issued by the First Lord of the Admiralty, one finds he says in paragraph 7 on page 4 just the essential things. He points out that the oceans cover over 70 per cent. of the world's surface, and adds: Taking first the interests of these islands and of the Commonwealth, nothing is more important than that merchant shipping should be able to pass freely and safely across them. Our very existence, in peace and in war, depends upon this freedom.

It is my submission—and whatever anybody else may say I stick to this submission—that in the extent of naval provision we are being cut to a situation in which those most vital interests which the First Lord himself mentions in his White Paper cannot properly be met and covered. That is why I put down a Motion of the kind that appears on the Order Paper to-day.

The Defence White Paper contained a couple of most interesting paragraphs—paragraphs 46 and 47—which I think also require a little elucidation by the First Lord of the Admiralty. Paragraph 46 states, In the Atlantic and Mediterranean, the Royal Navy and maritime aircraft of the R.A.F. will continue to play their part in N.A.T.O. Since, apart from fulfilling certain colonial responsibilities, the Royal Navy will be operating in conjunction with other allied navies, the aim will be to make the most effective contribution to the combined forces of the Alliance, and not necessarily to provide a fully balanced all-purpose British fleet.

For that purpose—not having a fully balanced all-purpose British fleet—it goes on to say: The British naval forces in this area will include two carriers, two cruisers and a number of destroyers, frigates and submarines.

Then the White Paper deals with the question of the East. In paragraph 47 it says: East of Suez, it is proposed to maintain a balanced, all-purpose fleet of appreciable strength.

The exact qualification of "appreciable" to the noun "strength" I am not quite able to assess. This is necessary to enable Britain to discharge her obligations to S.E.A.T.O. and the Baghdad Alliance, and to fulfil her independent military commitments in that area. According to paragraph 48, the Eastern fleet will be composed of one aircraft carrier, one cruiser and a number of destroyers. So that in the case of the fleet, so called—one can hardly call a flotilla of this size a "fleet"—it is to be an all-purpose balanced fleet, with one aircraft carrier, one cruiser and some destroyers. But in the Mediterranean and for that part of the sea in the Atlantic ocean, it is not to be an all-purpose, well-balanced fleet, although it will have two aircraft carriers, two cruisers and some subsidiary vessels.

I really do not understand exactly who could have written the White Paper on Defence. It certainly could not have been anybody in the Admiralty; and I should have thought that by now there must have been some arguments in furioso terms between the Ministry of Defence and the Board of Admiralty as to what is an all-purpose, well-balanced fleet. I must confess that the First Lord of the Admiralty, in the paragraphs with which he opens his White Paper on general policy, seems to have done the best he can to cover up what is the real fact—namely, that under the pressure of the Treasury, and it may be through the channel of (I do not know whether he would wholly agree with this) the Minister of Defence there is a continuous rundown proposed for the Royal Navy.

There is a good deal of talk about economies which are going to be effected by reductions in civilian staff and the reduction in naval posts occupied on shore. In fact, however, anybody who takes the trouble to study the situation of the Fleet in the last two years, and the Fleet as it is forecast to be in commission or in reserve in the future, can see quite plainly that instead of, as is suggested by the First Lord's White Paper, there being increased numbers of ships in commission, with increased resources made available by sacking civilians and shutting up naval posts on shore, the main purpose of the Government, through its Treasury and the Ministry of Defence, is to drag down the strength of the Fleet the whole time. That stands out a mile to anybody who makes an impartial study of these two Papers—the Defence White Paper on actual defence policy and the White Paper of the First Lord which we are examining this afternoon.

I want to say quite clearly that I must not be regarded at all as one who holds that there should be no progress to disarmament. I do not hold that view at all. I am most anxious that the Summit conference should take place. I am most anxious that we shall see an agreement which will avoid this stupid, suicidal policy of placing far too much reliance upon the ultimate deterrent of the H. bomb, and that we shall be able then to proceed to a proper round-table conference between all the Powers concerned, such as has been advocated by Her Majesty's Government, for general disarmament in conventional weapons. On the other hand, I am all against the suggestion that we should make any undue unilateral disarmament before all the Powers concerned are brought into consultation and are willing to make the same contributions to general disarmament. Were we to do that, we should put ourselves into an unsafe position, and indeed seriously detract from the weight, the breadth and the scope of our diplomatic representation throughout the world.

That is my conviction upon this matter, and it is because of the dithering of the last few years, in which we have had six or seven different Ministers of Defence coming to no real statement of policy, and in which we have been refused over and over again a detailed national inquiry as to what ought to be the future of the fighting forces so that there might be a real result from such a study, that I feel that we ought to tell the Government quite clearly that we are wholly dissatisfied with their defence policy and are bitterly dissatisfied—those of us who know what are our responsibilities at sea—with the treatment of the Royal Navy.

The situation that staggers me is that we take this line upon the strength of the Royal Navy at a time when the Power which predominates in most people's minds as being the biggest threat to our peace and security, the U.S.S.R., is taking quite the opposite line. I think it is a great pity—and I would ask the First Lord whether when he replies later in the debate he will tell me why this is so—that we do not nowadays get the old Blue Book called Fleets, so that we might have before Parliament at all times a proper comparative study of the strengths of other Naval Powers. But if one looks at the only really authoritative source we have at the moment, Jane's Fighting Ships, and sees what is going on in the U.S.S.R., it is certainly staggering to think that we, as a nation, are falling far behind a Power which used to be so secondary to us in regard to naval strength and are relying upon something which at present it is in the power of only one of our Allies to deliver—the ultimate deterrent, the H-bomb.

One sees at a glance what the change has been. According to Jane's Fighting Ships Russia has 37 cruisers, while our total strength, on paper, at the moment is 15; and before this debate ends I should like to know what the strength of our cruiser fleet is to be in twelve months' time, because I cannot find that out at the moment. At any rate, that has to be matched against the U.S.S.R.'s strength of 37 cruisers, practically all of which are reasonably modern. Leaving out only that part of the "Kirov" class and ex-German and ex-Italian vessels, the oldest of them have been laid down since 1939. And we talk of the strength of our cruiser fleet, which includes ships like the "Town" class—the "Sheffield", the "Birmingham" and others—which were finished and at sea, in commission, long before the last war broke out! Take just that one category and compare it, and one wonders what is becoming of this great sea strength of ours.

Take destroyers. I do not know exactly how many active destroyers we have. I have looked at the figures once or twice, but taking the figures we have—26 in commission and 30 in reserve—they compare with 155 which the Russians have. In frigates and escort vessels we are rather ahead of them: they have 76. But, of course, we have only between 50 and 60 submarines. Discounting much of the inflation in stories about the Russian submarine strength, and getting as near as I can to the "brass tacks" of the situation, I imagine that the Russians certainly have more than 300 effective submarines; in fact, I believe that their total strength in submarines to-day is certainly nearer 400 than 300, against which we postulate a force of 56 destroyers; and while we have 57 submarines, the Russians possess 155 destroyers.

I know, of course, that it will be said: "You must remember that we are now only a part of a wider and more general collective strength: we have allies." When I read of events in France in the last three weeks, I am not at all sure of how far every part of the structure of N.A.T.O. is going to stand up to every kind of national wind that blows; and I certainly cannot see it to be a sound defence policy to do as Her Majesty's Government propose. Here we are, a great shipbuilding nation, building up at present on a programme which stretches into years ahead, covering 5 million or 6 million tons of merchant shipping and ships trading all over the world, under many flags as well as our own—because at least 20 per cent. of our shipbuilding is exported to foreign Powers. Apparently we are gradually to let down the protection of our vast interest in all that, for the idea of the H-bomb, wielded at present only by somebody else, and incapable even of being used except by consent of the other Power. As I said on the debate on the Defence White Paper, that is surely leading us to a policy of suicide; and when one thinks what this country has to thank the Royal Navy for in the past for being its saviour from starvation, it is hardly a good thing to adopt in defence a policy of suicide for the purpose of saving ourselves from starvation. I am just amazed that we should have come to this pass, and I hope that when the noble Earl, the First Lord of the Admiralty, comes to reply he will give us some effective answer to my fears and the fears of many other people on that particular point.

May I ask the noble Earl a few questions of detail? In paragraph 11 of his Paper he refers to the fact that: The carriers will continue to be the core of the new Navy.

There seems to be a vast difference in the value attached to a core of this character now and the value attached to it in the days when I first went to be political head of the Admiralty in 1929—that is a long time ago. I remember going down with the present noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, when he was commanding the Home Fleet. I saw his ships in Torbay. Our total Navy manpower strength was about 89,000 or 90,000, I believe, and there were a full battleship squadron, an excellent battle cruiser squadron, a heavily gunned "County" class cruiser squadron and a lighter cruiser squadron; a couple of flotillas of destroyers and all the necessary supply ships—all well within our power and strength in those days to be manned and used to show the Flag in times of peace when any trouble seemed to be on the horizon.

One looked at the core, and the core was the battleship and the battle cruiser, very well added to by a most powerful cruiser squadron. In 1930, when I went to debate this matter at the international table of the London Naval Conference, the Admiralty's cruiser programme—which they thought was insufficient—was to be a minimum of 70; and I was well attacked from the Conservative side for ever agreeing to a maximum tonnage of (I believe it was) 335,000 tons, allowing of a reasonable fleet of cruisers, about 50.

What is the core of the fleet now? Is it four aircraft carriers, or is it nine? I should like to know. That is not a very heavy core for this great country and the British Commonwealth. It is certainly all that we have in commission, and so far as I can see the four will never be in commission, on active service, all at one time. Where is this core? There are five aircraft carriers, of different ages and in different stages of conversion, in reserve. How many are to be scrapped? Could we know? What is to be the total of this new form of capital ship at the core—the aircraft carrier? Is it to be four, five or how many? Apparently, the only ship in the aircraft carrier class that is being completed at the moment is the "Hermes." There is one ship which has been laid down for years. It was, away back, included in my war programme, and it is still lying on the stocks, uncompleted.

This core, says the First Lord of the Admiralty, is to be surrounded by other supporting ships, armed to meet every kind of attack, whether under-water, surface or overhead. Apparently, the total number of cruisers in commission at the moment is six, and if cruisers are to be scrapped how many operational cruisers shall we have in twelve months time? Could we know? It was very useful recently when a cruiser could look in at Aden, was it not? I wish that the House could be fully apprised on the sort of anxieties I have in my mind with regard to the running down of the Fleet.

If one looks at the destroyer class, I must say that, so far as they have been allowed, the Admiralty seem to have done an exceedingly good job in turning over to the fast frigate class a number of the older but fast destroyers; and the fact that we have not as many destroyers as I should like is to some extent made up for by the new anti-submarine and escort vessel categories. But to say that those two classes of ships are sufficiently great in number, or in sufficiently continuous use for training, or operationally, ready to deal at any time with a Power having between 300 and 400 submarines, does not seem to be in accordance with fact. I am not asking that we should provide the whole of the anti-submarine forces, having regard to the strength of certain other Allies; but to say that operationally and effectively we are making a proper contribution to our maritime defence seems to me to be quite unacceptable.

I should like to say this to the First Lord, in addition to rapping out some of my attacks. I should like to thank him for giving a rather better idea this year of the development of our aircraft for the Fleet Air Arm. Yet I should like some more details, if possible. Let us see where we are going in this modern age. The new strike aircraft "Blackburn" interests me very much, but I do not seem to know enough about it to understand it; and the same applies to one or two other like craft. In these days, when our moving bases are so different from the fixed bases which could be so easily attacked at any time, especially when close to the bases of the enemy—your bases were vulnerable to the enemy and his were vulnerable to you—I would ask this question. When are we going to have the kind of aircraft that can take off from the aircraft carrier, in any part of the world, and deliver an effective striking blow with the same power as can be delivered from a land base?

I should also like to know (something has been said about this matter from time to time, and I am very interested in the information that is given) how soon it is thought that the new development with regard to direct vertical lift can be put into effect for aircraft. I am quite sure that there is a future in that connection, if the various engineering and other problems can be overcome. I am no engineer; I have always left engineering problems to other people, and I do not know the answer. But I should like to have some information on what progress we are making in vertical lift in the craft we could use for heavy attack from the moving base of an aircraft carrier.

Then I should like to know a little more about something which seems quite strange to me. It is a long time since I myself was operating in the Admiralty (I have been away from there now for eight years), but I remember Mr. H. G. Wells coming and having a furious row with me in the Admiralty at the end of 1940 because, he said, we were wasting our time in the Navy since we were not providing helicopters to sink the enemy submarines. In those days, of course, we did not get enough aircraft coming off the production line to be able to supply the basic needs of the Royal Air Force and the lesser needs of the Fleet Air Arm. Moreover, except for the Sikorsky helicopter in the United States, we did not know of any real progress being made with helicopters. Therefore, obviously, that matter had to be set on one side. But what I did know from talking to naval officers was this: that all submarines carry a fairly powerful surface gun; and the helicopter, as we knew it then, was such a "sitting bird" that it had very little opportunity to stay long enough in a position to get a direct attack upon a submarine. If it attempted to do so it would be shot down. What change has taken place in the helicopter? What will be its new potentialities, compared with what they were during the last war, that will make it such a strong candidate as a principal method of attack upon a submarine? I should like to know a little more about that point, if the First Lord could give us some information.

I come now to a point to which I have already referred. I should like to know from the First Lord when he expects that the "Bulwark" will be fit for commission and remodelled as a commando aircraft carrier. Would he give a date? Is it the end of 1959? Is it the middle of 1960, or the end of 1960? What sort of date would he give for the time when we shall get the "Bulwark" as a carrier, especially suited for the kind of task we shall have in the eastern seas?

Another thing people complain about, quite understandably, is that so often the Admiralty report to Parliament that orders will be placed, and then there is delay. It is perhaps said that orders have been placed for this or that type of ship. In paragraphs 30 and 31 of the Explanatory Statement reference is made to guided-missile ships. I note that it is said that four guided missile destroyers have been ordered, and their names have been selected. But I remember that it was in 1955 that we first learnt in Parliament that these destroyers were to be ordered. This is three years later, and there is nothing at all in this Paper to indicate that a start has been made. Have the orders been placed on contract with certain firms, and have the firms begun the construction of these guided-missile craft? I should like to know, and I feel sure that Parliament would like to know.

I should like to congratulate the First Lord upon the obvious progress in the submarines of the "Porpoise" class; and I am interested now in referring only to submarines, because obviously that class of craft is doing very well. I should like also to ask what has become of the "Dreadnought", the nuclear-powered ship, as it is hoped she will be. This ship has been on the stocks now for a very long time, and I should like to know what is the present position. Paragraph 35 of the Explanatory Statement says: As regards ' Dreadnought.' the first of the Navy's nuclear submarines, much experimental work has been done in association with the Atomic Energy Authority, and the reactor for the zero energy experiment, known as 'Neptune,' is now in operation.

Apparently nothing has happened, except the putting up of buildings and the starting of experiments on a sort of engineering prototype on land. When are we likely to begin to have the same sense of urgency in this country as has been evinced by the United States Navy about this particular function of the future Navy? I just do not understand it. Why is it? Here we have at least three nuclear-powered submarines in the United States Fleet, and with all our great history and capacity in this field of nautical warfare we have not a single one, and we seem to be years off the conclusion of the construction of such a ship. May we please have a report to-day on what is the exact stage, and will the First Lord give us a date for the completion of the "Dreadnought" and say how many more nuclear-powered submarines the Admiralty propose should be laid down for the future?

The Explanatory Statement says, in paragraph 38: In recent years the policy has been to reduce the size of the Reserve Fleet, and to maintain the more important ships therein at a higher state of readiness; following the current review of defence policy this trend will be accentuated.

What does that mean? When we turn to pages 13, 14 and 15 of the Explanatory Statement and see the actual categories of ships now in commission and those which are in reserve, we feel a little confident about the number of ships in all existing categories in reserve, but what does the Statement mean by "accentuating" the reduction of the Reserve? Will the First Lord tell us by how much he is going to reduce the Reserve in the next twelve months? Is it going to be reduced? What does that paragraph mean? And what is the value of suddenly scrapping good ships?

Looking back at the years of war, I remember that we had a lot of argument in 1929–31 about what should be held in Reserve and what should be scrapped. We used to keep an Admiral in command of the Reserve and he had a number of ships in the Reserve. When war broke out in 1939 we needed every one of them—the "V" and "W" class destroyers and even the older battleships which had been regarded by all the critics as stone dead and finished. Even when we came to so late a time as 1944, to the great landing on the coast of Normandy, and we were getting a frightful time on the French beaches from the raking fire of the German "Long Tom" on the other side of the Weems Canal, the only thing we had to keep it in check and which finally quashed it were the guns of a succession of old capital ships—the "Warspite", the "Rodney" (getting pretty old then) and even one of the "Royal Sovereign" class. These ships kept down that gun and so reduced the number of casualties on the beaches, so that, except for air attack, we were from that time able to go on almost uninterruptedly with the landings on shore which were so essential for the operation. We should be careful how we throw away our Reserves—very careful. We shall need them. Do not keep a ship which we cannot repair economically, but be very careful that we keep an adequate Reserve.

If your Lordships would look at the summary in paragraph 58, you will see that it says: It is recognised that these measures will create disturbance and difficulties for both civilian and naval personnel. Everything possible will be done to mitigate hardship for all who are affected, and particularly to help civilian employees discharged to find other work The Ministry of Labour and National Service will be arranging, as necessary, to open special employment offices inside the establishments affected before discharges begin. The assistance of the Northern Ireland Ministry of Labour and National Insurance is also being sought.

The next paragraph states that the savings proposed run into £7 million under the first head, £5 million a year under the second and £3½ million under the third. I do not know—we cannot be prophets—but I wonder what the lack of provision we have at present may mean in ten or twenty years' time, in the next outbreak, if it comes, in regard to not the ultimate deterrent but some other form of weapon. I am getting old—I am 73; I look back a long way and I had to learn a lot about defence. I remember as a lad, in 1899, watching the Artillery Reserve going out from Bristol to South Africa. The position could not have been held until they got there if we had not had a Naval Brigade there. I remember, when we came to take stock, that although we had had a whole series of Liberal and Tory Governments we had not the stuff to fight even a colonial war in South Africa.

I remember 1914, and that the size of our Forces then for the magnitude of the task we were forced to undertake because of imperialism in Europe was wholly inadequate. We came as near defeat as possible and I believe that defeat would have been positive in the war of 1914–1918, if we had not had the naval strength we had then. I look back at the last war and remember what was the state of preparation in 1939. Governments who had been working upon the ten-year rule were to blame. For ten years we were always going forward, year after year, saying that there was no risk of war and therefore "we need not do this, that or the other; we can save the money now"—so that in 1939 we found we did not have the stuff.

Although I belong to a Party many of whose members would disagree with me in detail about this—and I do not mind having to disagree with them in details about it—I am certain of this: that we should save a lot of time and money, as well as valuable lives and property, if in all matters of defence we took precautions, steady precautions, at the right time. I beg to move for Papers.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, if it is the wish of the House, I should be glad to fall in with the proposal which the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, has made, that I should speak again at the end of the debate. Before I reply, perhaps I may be permitted to congratulate the noble Viscount and Lady Alexander of Hillsborough on their Golden Wedding. I feel sure that the noble Viscount is a much less controversial figure in domestic life than he is on political occasions.

The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, has cast his net fairly wide, and in reply I would do the same, because I think it is desirable. The first thing which I have sought to do in the nearly eighteen months I have been at the Admiralty, as the noble Viscount said, is to try to lay down fairly clearly the role of the Navy. The noble Viscount has been good enough to say that he finds general approval of the terms in which that appears in the Defence White Paper. We must remember changing circumstances. Throughout the nineteenth century we had the largest Navy in the world and were able to maintain free communications over the seas. I think we can claim that after the Napoleonic Wars we played a considerable part in preventing a world conflagration throughout the century.

The first challenge came at the turn of the century with the building of the German Navy. At that time we replied by saying that we would build two ships to one. We did not perhaps entirely succeed in doing that, but we had enough ships to ensure complete control of the seas during the First World War. Following the First World War we sought to limit the size of navies through the Washington Treaty; and this was fairly successful until the years immediately preceding the Second World War, when the system broke down. Still, even if we were unable to maintain quite our past standards, we were able, with the assistance of the Royal Air Force, to meet the challenge to our sea communications in the Second World War and finally to defeat it completely.

We are now in a different position. We cannot be the dominant Navy in the world nor can we limit navies. It is all very well for the noble Viscount to say what he would like to build, but we must know where the funds are to come from if that building is to be carried out. If the noble Viscount can say that his Party is prepared to spend literally hundreds of millions more on defence, then much of what he has said to-day is quite logical. I must make that point, because that is how the position stands. If the noble Viscount really says that he wishes to give up any form of deterrent, then again he is leaving that side entirely to someone else to carry out for us. The position I am putting forward is that our policy is to see that the essential rôle of the Royal Navy in maintaining our sea communications is carried out by close association with Commonwealth navies, with the navies of the United States of America and of Europe through the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and with the navies of our other friends through the Baghdad Pact and S.E.A.T.O. This is a new situation, for the Navy, to have to depend on friendly relations with other navies to ensure our control of the seas. I would say that this occupies a good deal of the time of our Commanders-in-Chief, who are fulfilling this difficult role with great skill.

I know that the considerably reduced size of the Navy, both numerically and in comparison with other navies of the world, is causing anxiety to your Lordships and, indeed, to many sections of the country. But I think it is proper to remind ourselves that the strongest of our allies, the United States of America, have the largest navy which the world has ever seen; and it is always worth remembering that they spend about nine times as much on it as we do on the Royal Navy. This is immensely reassuring, but I know that there are those who argue, quite reasonably, that although the broad purpose of our policies is well aligned, there are inevitably occasions and areas where we have responsibilities special to ourselves.

We can, I think, take great satisfaction in the growing strength of the navies of the Commonwealth, and much of the work which they do now was formerly done by the Royal Navy. If we take the combined operational fleets of the Commonwealth, including the Royal Navy, we find that it has to-day 6 aircraft carriers, 11 cruisers and 120 destroyers and frigates. I think it is fair to say that this is a Force roughly comparable to the prewar Royal Navy, and it is a powerful element on the side of stability and the maintenance of free sea communications throughout the world. I can say that the standard of professional ability is very high. I had the pleasure of watching exercises this spring between the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Navy in the North Atlantic, and the professional ability and seamanship were clearly embodied in the one Navy as in the other. I think we can take credit and pride in the developments which have taken place in our Commonwealth navies.

I would mention here three factors in the world situation which affect the part the Navy has to play. The first is the world-wide sense of nationalism which is evident almost everywhere. The nascent and developing countries of the world want to run their own show. Secondly, the areas of potential nationalism are much greater than they used to be; and this is no doubt largely due to improved communications. The result is that the areas of instability tend to be greater in extent, and their repercussions are likely to he much more far-reaching. The third point is that to-day almost any country may, by the use of foreign volunteers or by purchasing weapons on easy payments, he possessed of very modern weapons. This is true even of quite small countries and must necessarily strongly influence our policy. We have therefore a world where areas of instability may arise swiftly in many different parts, and this can have an exceedingly adverse effect on us as a world trading community. I submit that we have in naval forces elements to meet precisely those three points, because a ship does not violate sovereignty in the same way as forces which are stationed on land: it is mobile and can easily be brought to action to prevent the spreading of any area of instability; it is, moreover, a compact versatile force with a wide variety of weapons prepared to meet a considerable variety of circumstances and, occasions.

There are two further points I would mention here. During the two world wars we have concentrated all our consideration the Atlantic, and that may in some ways have obscured the continuing importance of our world communications. While we had a large naval force stationed all over the world it was unnecessary for us to consider what might happen if, say, the South Atlantic or the Indian Ocean came under the control of a hostile Power. We had an example of this in 1948 when during the demobilisation period after the last war the Home Fleet was considerably run down, and at that time certain claims were laid to various territories in Antarctica. I do not know whether that was coincidental or whether there may have been a causal connection. Now, with much smaller forces to fulfil our tasks and to maintain the Navy on a world-wide basis we are stretched to the utmost, and the Admiralty have to use all their ingenuity to provide forces both sufficient and suitable to meet the demands of our foreign policy.

The second point which I want to make here brings me back to the important point of the control of the Atlantic, where our whole outlook to-day has necessarily been clouded by the Russian submarine fleet. The submarine is, of course, essentially, though not exclusively, an offensive weapon, and its great virtue lies in its ability to operate in waters not entirely within the control of its own country. In this sense, if the Russians wish to gain active control of distant waters, I have ma doubt that strategically they are perfectly correct to concentrate on building up a submarine fleet. Moreover, it is clear that one way or another they are putting submarines at the disposal of what they assume to be friendly countries. Accordingly, our aim is to provide naval forces which are at one and the same time suitable for cold and limited war and can also deal effectively with the submarine menace.

If I may pass from the broad point of the role, may I go on to what I describe as the internal adjustments which I have been trying to make during the time I have been there. It has been a considerable problem, particularly in dealing with the size of Vote A and civilian staff. Vote A has to come down in any case with the gradual abolition of National Service. During the current year the total will fall from 112,000 to 105,000, and will eventually drop to rather below 100,000. It was also clear, of course, that the strategic changes in the last years would necessarily be reflected in shore support. The size of the Fleet was shrinking and the cost of ships and equipment was growing. Therefore, if an adequate Fleet was to be kept at sea, shore support had to be cut radically. The obvious solution was more difficult to apply, since the extraordinary and remarkable increase in the complexity of modern ships meant increased shore backing in certain respects. That includes the whole field, from the naval architects designing the ships to the storekeepers who are responsible for the immense variety and complexity of modern equipment.

I hope your Lordships will look upon what we are doing as a sort of creative evolution which has attempted to redesign the whole pattern of the Navy's shore support to meet modern needs. I have explained in the Explanatory Statement how dockyards, commands, bases, air stations, hospitals, R and D establishments and store depots have all been affected. Our aim throughout has been to economise on the overheads and running costs, and to amalgamate and concentrate wherever possible. Eventually, we hope, taking January 1, 1957, as our datum period, to reduce Naval manpower by nearly 20 per cent. and Admiralty civilians by, I hope, at least 25 per cent.

I know also how much regret there is at the closing of places which have had long and distinguished associations with the Royal Navy, and I can assure your Lordships that I have not enjoyed being at the Admiralty at a time when we have had to hand over Simonstown (though I think it was a wise thing to do) and Trincomalee; decided to reduce Hong Kong; to close the yards at Portland and Sheerness; to transfer the Torpedo Experimental Establishment from Greenock; to abolish the Nore Command, and to concentrate the Air Command, including the closure of the air station at Eglinton, near Londonderry. These were hard decisions, and were reached only after a great deal of heart-burning, particularly in regard to Greenock and Londonderry, which are already faced with high local unemployment. Nevertheless, I believe that these were right decisions, and that there was no real alternative if the size and efficiency of the Fleet at sea was to be maintained.

But I should not like the House to think that we have been simply closing down dockyards and establishments: we have also been devoting a tremendous amount of thought to increasing the efficiency of those upon which we decided to concentrate. I have already explained something to the House on an earlier occasion about reorganising the Admiralty itself.


I am sorry to interrupt the First Lord, but could he give us, if not now, perhaps when he is winding up, some information as to the progress for finding alternative employment or the disposal of Government assets at Sheerness and Portland?


Yes, I can say straight away that I am very optimistic about the future of Sheerness, and I will see if I can be a little more specific before I sit down. I was referring to a statement I have made before in regard to the Controller's Department in the Admiralty. This has been reorganized and will now be divided under broad functional sub-divisions—that is to say ships, weapons and aircraft—instead of under the existing specialised professional departments. I am sure that this is a much sounder basis of organisation. but it will, of course, take a little time to bring it fully into operation.

The same general principles are being applied to the Royal Dockyards, with the appointment of a general manager under the authority of the Admiral Superintendent. He, in his turn, will have departments under him carrying out specific tasks, instead of the dockyard being divided, as has been done previously, according to the profession of individuals—that is, constructors, engineers, and electrical engineers. As a first step we have discontinued the experimental post of Deputy Superintendent Industrial at Chatham, and have appointed the same man as General Manager designate. I can already say that we are getting results from the new planning and organisation of the Royal Dockyards, and there is evidence of this both in reduced cost and time for refits.

I suppose it is true to say that much the most difficult task has been the need to cut down the number of ships in the Fleet. We have tried so far as possible to spare the operational Fleet, but I am afraid that the cruisers, as the noble Viscount opposite has said, have suffered pretty heavily. It is a sobering thought to compare the thirty-three cruisers in commission before the war with the three which we plan to have in the operational fleet by 1960. If the noble Viscount wants to know what is the number for the next year he can see it in paragraph 61 of my Memorandum. As the noble Viscount has said, many of these cruisers will be reaching the end of their useful life, and we believe that in modern conditions aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates and submarines give better value than the old cruisers.

I am sure that we cannot hope to maintain even our present level of new construction and, at the same time, the whole of the Reserve Fleet as at present. Therefore, there have had to be considerable reductions in the Reserve Fleet. I am not saying that the considerations which the noble Viscount has advanced have not been with us—of course they have. I think the reasons why we have come to this conclusion should be clearly before the House. Many of the ships in the Reserve Fleet are reaching, if they have not already done so, the end of their useful life, and they could not he kept going except by spending a very large sum of money. Others, if in reasonable condition, have equipment, which is largely out of date. With the rapid advance of equipment, it would mean completely re-equipping ships which have been out of service for a short time. Moreover, keeping ships in Reserve is exceedingly expensive. If we spend money there, it means that there will be less available for the Active Fleet. It is our view that in global war we simply should not have time to bring out of reserve large numbers of ships which are not in a high state of readiness. Even in a limited war it is, I think, unlikely that we should be able to get the ships ready in time, emphasising, as I have done, the need for fairly quick action if they are to be of any great use. I am certain, in the present circumstances, that the largest possible Active Fleet in commission is the most useful for us to have, whether our consideration be of global or, indeed, that of limited war.

Before going on to the third point I want to make, may I mention recruiting for a moment, as I think it might interest the House? In 1956–57 we obtained 8,150 recruits; in 1957–58—that is, until last March—we had a fall to 6,900, and we need, for a Navy of just under 100,000, about 7,750 a year. I am glad to say that the prospects are encouraging. Now that we have the role of the Navy established and the incentives by way of pay, we look forward to an improvement—and it is worth noting that in 1962 the effect of the higher birthrate will mean an increased potential for recruiting of about one-quarter higher than it was last year. I think, therefore, that our chances for the Royal Navy and indeed figures for the last two months confirm it—are very encouraging. As far as the Royal Marines are concerned, there has been a startling and extremely welcome improvement. The figures for April and May are running at over twice the rate they were a year earlier. I think, therefore, that the prospects of raising 1,100 Marines a year are quite good, particularly as we are now introducing a youth entry into the Royal Marines on the lines of the entry which has proved so popular for the Royal Navy. There are one or two difficult categories. Among juniors we want rather more seamen and communicators; we want more writers, stores ratings and sick berth attendants. In particular I would mention artificers, to whom we always give particular attention.

May I say one word about a matter which has struck me a great deal since I have been in the Admiralty, and that is the very high standard of education and training? The Navy have been pioneers in this field. Their first technical schools were pioneers in this field over 100 years ago, and I am quite certain that if there were more technological colleges like that at Portsmouth Dockyard, this country would be in a stronger position scientifically and technically. Exactly the same applies to the artificer-apprentice establishments at "Fisgard, "Caledonia," "Collingwood" and "Condor." I was immensely struck with the quality of training and the type of young man coming forward there. We want more artificers at the present time, and I would emphasise that this is a great opportunity for intelligent young men to obtain very fine training. I am told that the engineering trade unions all agree that these establishments produce craftsmen whose quality is second to none.

Very much the same applies to the training of officers. Dartmouth and the Naval Engineering College at Manadon are well known. and at Greenwich the Navy provide the most advanced naval architecture course in the country; their civilian electrical engineers are rated so highly that when they take degrees at London they are almost automatically expected to get Firsts. It is not surprising that we attach importance to technical training. There lies in front of us a very wide range of difficult problems—nuclear and guided missile problems—and it is of the utmost importance that we should train, as we are doing, officers on the scientific and technological side.

The third great challenge which the Admiralty has to face, I think, is to give the Navy the modern ships and equipment which it must have to fulfil its rôole. I have already explained that where the ships and weapons are required for limited war they have to be absolutely up to date, since it is quite clear that Russia will continue to supply modern arms and equipment to her friends throughout the world. This is a vital task made more difficult because military materials have risen enormously in price over the last twenty years. For example, a "Daring" to-day costs about ten times as much as a "Tribal" destroyer twenty years ago. A modern fighter aircraft costs forty or fifty times as much as a comparable aircraft just before the war. For this reason alone it seems to me obvious that the numbers must be subordinated in some way to quality.

The problem of sea power to-day is not just a contest between surface ships; it is a contest in three media—under the sea, on the surface and in the air. Anyone who wishes to control the passage of the seas must control in all those three media. What of the weapons needed for these three media? The modern weapon really consists of two parts: the first is the means of detecting the enemy, and the second is the means of destroying it. So far as the first is concerned, our modern radar which we are now putting in our carriers is as good as, if not better than, any in the world. Here I would particularly refer to the "Victorious" which is now finishing her trials. We consider that her radar and air-detection facilities are the most advanced in any country.

Our real task is to bring up our capacity to hit the enemy after once detecting him. To do this for longer-range air targets we have first of all the fighter aircraft. The first Scimitar squadron was formed last week. Next year the Sea Vixens will come into service with the guided missile Firestreak. For the shorter-range air defence of the Fleet we shall have the guided-missile destroyers with Seaslug, which has been doing very well in recent trials. I should also add the new close-range guided missile which we intend progressively to take the place of anti-aircraft Bofors with which the Fleet is at present armed. It is a most ingenious weapon with a novel type of direction which gives very high promise. Similarly, under the water the new Asdic which we are fitting will, I think, Fully meet our requirements for detection. Our ships are not all fitted with modern Asdic but it is coming along with reasonable speed. Our problem is to find a weapon capable of making the fullest use of the Asdic potential which we have.

We think greater flexibility of range will be obtained by using helicopters. The advantages of the helicopter are, first, that it can operate not only from carriers but also from the new type destroyers; secondly, that it vastly extends the detecting and destroying range of the escorts; and thirdly, these helicopters will be able to operate not only against conventional submarines as we know them to-day but also against nuclear submarines. Nuclear submarines will present an entirely new problem to anti-submarine forces. They will certainly possess an underwater speed of anything from 20 to 25 knots, perhaps higher, which is going to make them extremely awkward to destroy from ordinary surface vessels, because for the first time the destroyer will no longer possess the wide margin of speed which has formerly been such an essential part in submarine hunting. This is a real revolution which makes the submarine no longer a relatively cumbersome and slow-moving vessel compared with a surface ship but as fast and as manœuvrable as a surface ship. It is no longer in any way a handicap for it to be under water, and accordingly it is very unlikely to surface except in its own waters. That in some ways answers the point the noble Viscount made earlier.

I do not want to pretend we are going to rely exclusively on helicopters. Submarine chasing will essentially be a combination of all arms, above water, on the surface and underwater, and it is in this combination that our most effective anti-submarine strength will lie.

May I just turn quite shortly to frigates and say this. This year we should bring our new frigates up to 24, which is rather more than completion of half the programme which we have in hand. We have also received the first post-war operational submarines, and we hope to have five by the end of this financial year. While I am speaking on submarines, I have already emphasised the importance of nuclear power as a means of propulsion for submarines. The principles of nuclear power are in some ways so simple that I think people are led astray by statements that nuclear power is light in weight, compact, requires little development and can be easily produced. All I can say is that our experience is diametrically opposite to that in every respect. So far as we can see, nuclear power is almost inevitably bulky, complex and expensive; it requires a great deal of research and development and takes a long time to produce; and even then it may not be economical, though it will undoubtedly have other important long-term advantages.

The Government, with the other Governments of N.A.T.O., have considered the best way of using their research and development facilities, and discussions have been held with this object in view. It was in this line of thought that at the conclusion of their meeting last Autumn the President of the United States and the Prime Minister issued a declaration of common purpose. This declaration recognised that the countries of the free world could maintain their security only by combining their resources and sharing their tasks. Only in this way could the best use be made of scientific talents.

The advantages of such a policy of inter-dependence are exemplified by the approach which we have recently made to the American Government for approval to purchase one nuclear submarine propulsion machinery unit from an American firm. A great deal of work has been done in the United States towards the design and development of pressurised water reactors for submarine propulsion. They already have a number of these vessels at sea and the submarines "Nautilus" and "Skate" have achieved astonishing feats of underwater range and endurance. Many of these technical achievements and problems have been discussed by experts in the Admiralty and there is no doubt that they represent a considerable testimony to American determination.

We announced our intention to build such a submarine some time ago and considerable progress has been made towards this objective. But it has become clear that a number of difficulties which still confront us could be readily overcome if it were possible to obtain an American built set of machinery and the associated design information, including manufacturing know-how. We should save research effort and the propulsion machinery could be installed in H.M.S. "Dreadnought" earlier than would otherwise be the case. We do not yet know whether the Americans will agree to these proposals. Legislation in the United States Congress would be necessary before the United States Government could agree to our request. All I can say at present is that our proposals are now being carefully considered in the United States.

I would mention only two small points further. One is the Commando carrier to which the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, referred. I can say that her conversion starts later this year and we hope that she will be available for service next year. The equipment of the Commando carrier will enable her to carry a full Royal Marine Commando with equipment, and she will be able to carry light vehicles and sufficient helicopters to load and maintain the whole force. This is a dramatic development which will enable full use to be made of the highly trained Marine Commandos, and adds to the versatility of naval forces which already operate on the surface, under the sea and in the air. I can also say that this Commando carrier could be re-converted and use its own helicopters for anti-submarine work.

The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, also referred to vertical lift aircraft. I think this is not a subject which can yet be said to have entered into the sphere of a naval debate. It is still some little way off. I realise the importance of it, but I think it would be wrong for me to introduce it as a current matter in a naval debate.

But I can say that the strike aircraft N.A.39 is one to which we attach great importance. I think it is worth recording that three years ago the Blackburn Company said that it would fly in April, 1958, and I am glad to say that the first flight in fact took place in that month. The aircraft combines a number of entirely new elements and features in design of British aircraft—such things as area rule, which reduces drag, integral construction of the wing, and blown flaps to reduce speed on landing, are included from the initial drawing. The N.A.39 gives the Navy a strike capability over a considerable range.

My Lords, I have tried—I hope at not too great a length—to deal with three things: the rôle of the Royal Navy, the internal adjustments that we have had to make, and the new equipment which we envisage. But I think it would be wrong to pretend that the Navy consists only of theories on defence, organisational plans and pieces of equipment, however remarkable. All these would be of no value if it were not for the quality of the officers and ratings who have shown themselves willing and able to dedicate their services to the Royal Navy. Of course, individuals change year by year—indeed, surprisingly quickly; but the Service has lost none of its historic touch which has given the Royal Navy a unique position in the world. I think that this country is fortunate in the standard of ability of the men, and, indeed, women, of all ranks who have followed the call of the Service. I would only say that if this standard is to be maintained I am sure the Service must have the full support not only of Parliament but also of the country, and the assurance that the importance of their task is recognised and that their service is held in undiminished regard by their fellow countrymen.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, if the First Lord will forgive me for saying so. I am not greatly impressed by his statement to-day, although I think he has made a good case out of a bad one. He referred to changing circumstances. It is perfectly true that circumstances are changing, but I do not think that that is a justification for the present state of the Navy. He has referred to the great strength of the fleets of our principal Allies and of our Commonwealth; but, of course, we cannot always, in all conditions, rely on our Allies.

I think it is true to say that this is the first occasion on which there have been presented Naval Estimates which contain no provision for the laying down of new tonnage, other than that authorised in past Estimates, and which contain instead only a few pious hopes for the future. There is no word about cruiser replacement, and I think it is evident—in fact, I believe the First Lord has to-day confirmed it—that the three "Tiger class cruisers will eventually be our only cruisers in the Fleet; and they are, of course, rapidly becoming out of date because they have been so long in completion. There is also nothing yet about guided missile cruisers. The four guided missile destroyers promised in last year's Estimates have got no further than being ordered, which is very different from being laid down. What a sorry state our Navy has come to—hamstrung on the altar of economy! But that economy will be justified only if the defence of Britain and our lifeline overseas is maintained in as high a state of efficiency as ever before, and I very much doubt whether this is now possible. In fact, the money to be spent on the Navy is only a little more than the subsidy we are giving to the farmers. I do not begrudge the subsidy to the farmers, but I think that the balance is incorrect.

I would say that the only encouraging statement in the Estimates is a clearer definition of the rôle of the Navy, which was certainly most inadequately expressed last year. I fully appreciate the courage of the Admiralty in cutting the supporting "tail" of the Navy in favour of the seagoing Fleet. This is certainly a great improvement. The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, has referred to the rundown of men in shore bases. Let us look at these figures a little closer. May I draw your Lordships' attention to paragraph 50 of the Defence White Paper and paragraph 60 of the Explanatory Statement before us to-day?

Paragraph 50 of the Defence White Paper states that: … dockyard and base facilities will be curtailed to correspond with the reduction in the size of the Fleet. On the other hand paragraph 60 of the Explanatory Statement on the Naval Estimates states that the closing down of the bases will save 7,000 naval posts ashore which will release these men for the seagoing Fleet. Much as I should like to believe to the contrary, I presume that there is no intention of commissioning more ships from the Reserve Fleet. If this is so, and if the Fleet is in fact to be further reduced, where are the ships for these 7,000 men? Would it not be much more honest to say that this saving of 7,000 shore posts is merely a rundown in men and that it is very doubtful if any of them will get to sea? Surely it is quite clear that, if more ships are not to be put into commission, paragraph 50 of the Defence White Paper, and paragraph 60 in the Explanatory Statement on the Naval Estimates do not tie up at all. The fact is that year by year the Fleet is being greatly reduced, and there appears to be a complete lack of a replacement programme. Does the First Lord of the Admiralty, with his statement of a balanced Fleet East of Suez, really think that one carrier is sufficient insurance to deal with a local war? A little boiler trouble in the one carrier and there would be no carrier at all. Where would the balance of the Fleet be then?

It is clear from the Explanatory Statement that the plans for the Reserve Fleet are to be revised. The Explanatory Statement goes on to say that the Reserve Fleet should comprise only sufficient ships to keep the Active Fleet up to strength. From the point of view of nuclear warfare I agree that to keep in the Reserve Fleet ships that cannot be manned and put to sea quickly would be a great mistake But the Active Fleet is now so small that the proposed plan must mean the scrapping of a large number of still useful ships of the Reserve Fleet. I was very interested to hear the support which the noble Viscount, Lord Hillsborough gave, to our old friend the battleships, as I thought it was not very long ago that he was asking for them to be scrapped—but perhaps I am wrong. Could not arrangements be made, perhaps with Canada or with some other Commonwealth country, for them to take these ships and certain valuable ships of the Reserve Fleet on a "care and maintenance" basis?—because we know very well, to our cost, that in time of war anything that can float and steam is of great service to us.

I cannot help feeling that there is a great lack of urgency in making good the past neglect of the Fleet. In the Estimates for 1955–56 provision was made to order two new fleet escorts, and in the Estimates for the following year, 1956–57, it was stated that these vessels would be armed with guided missiles and provision was made for a further two such ships. Again, in last year's Estimates we were told that orders had been placed for the four ships, but there was no report of progress on the first two. What do we find in to-day's Estimates? Merely a statement that they have still been ordered; and this time they are named. What astonishing progress! There is still no evidence that their keels have been laid. It may be, of course, that delays have occurred with the guided missiles, but if that is the case surely it would have been far better not to mislead us by the annual remarks I have mentioned but to say what are the real facts.

Our contribution to N.A.T.O. is certainly going to be a meagre one. As I understand, it will be two aircraft carriers and two cruisers, together with a certain number of submarines, frigates and destroyers. Admiral Wright, the N.A.T.O. Commannder-in-Chief, recently stated in New York—and these were his very words—that he views with grave concern the British decision to make drastic cuts in Naval forces. The cuts, he said, will have a far-reaching effect on Britain's N.A.T.O. contribution, and he feared they will be taken as an example by other Allies in Europe. He went on to say that he hopes these reductions will be temporary, and that Britain will soon be restored to her traditional position. That is a very depressing statement. This, then, is our Navy—the Navy, let it be said, in terms of its operational strength, of a fourth-rate Power. I suggest that our proposed Naval force will be completely inadequate, not only to discharge our possible limited war responsibilities but also even our peacetime duties. The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, has referred to the "presence" of the Fleet. That is very important. We must be able to show the Flag in as many parts of the world as possible to promote good will. I believe that we are all agreed that a global war may well spring from some peace-time incident or perhaps from a limited war; and I maintain that our Naval forces must be capable of dealing swiftly with such outbreaks. What is more, by their ability to do so they form a most important part of the deterrent; and to undermine this, I should say, would be folly in the extreme.

I am sure that many of your Lordships with more Naval experience than mine will agree that not less than six carrier task forces are required, four of which would he constantly operational, with one in training and one refitting and giving leave. In fact, I understand that the task force scheme may not even be realised and that we are likely to have only a group of ships, to be known as a composite squadron, with or without a carrier, and that the Fleet train to supply these ships is now unlikely to be extended. I hope that the First Lord, in his reply, will be able to give us some information on these very vital matters.

I need hardly add that the Merchant Navy is very concerned about the ability of the Navy to protect our sea communications. It is the men of the Merchant Navy who carry the onerous and hazardous responsibility of maintaining our food supplies in time of war, and they certainly deserve all the protection we can give them. I was delighted to hear that there now seems to be some hope of obtaining a nuclear submarine power plant from the United States of America. I have little doubt that the nuclear-powered missile-firing submarine will be the most potent form of nuclear attack in the future. It will add a completely new dimension to strategic power, and I believe that it should be possible for a submarine of this type to remain at sea for perhaps a year or more, and submerged for the greater part of that period. Almost all the important targets in Russia could be threatened with comparatively small fear of detection. How much better that would be than using the proposed land bases! I should have liked to see much greater emphasis in the Naval Estimates on the development of nuclear submarines, because I believe that they may well prove the greatest deterrent of all. It is true that the Navy is still in a state of transition, but the trouble is that the transition is much too slow; and I think it must be speeded up. We cannot go on continually changing our ideas at the behest of the scientist and holding up construction. A deadline must be set and a fixed date determined. Anyone who has had anything to do with the construction of warships will know that work is frequently hampered and hindered by some last-minute change in design.

In the past, successive Governments have dithered about the future role of the Navy, and this has been the excuse for past neglect of the Fleet. I hope that, now that its role has been properly defined, we may begin to see some improvement. I would go so far as to say that it is common knowledge that there are certain senior members of Her Majesty's Government who consider that the Navy has a very small role to play in the future and that it would be better to spend the minimum amount of money on it without causing alarm. But let me put this to the "doubting Thomases": if one believes that a global war would kill nearly everyone, then of course a strong Navy would be of little importance. But we cannot be sure. The trouble is that if we are not sure that in a big war nearly everyone is going to be killed, or if we are not sure that a big war would not be a conventional war, and we have an inadequate Navy, then we face the possibility that in a conflict Europe would be cut off from America, and we should be quickly starved and destroyed. I hope that these "doubting Thomases" will have been converted before it is too late.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, the last sentence of the speech made by the noble Lord. Lord Teynham, is one which might well be posted up on the notice boards all over the country. I am very happy to be able to speak on a Motion that has been so enthusiastically moved by my old friend. Lord Alexander of Hillsborough. I do not want in any way to make a complete speech, because in reality there are not a great many topics in this debate. Most of them have been traversed already, and many of my distinguished colleagues who are to speak later will probably express, more capably than I can do, their views on the subject.

I was exceedingly happy that it should have been the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, who opened this debate, for more than one reason: he has been a great deal in Whitehall, looking after naval interests, as well as having been Minister of Defence, and he has always taken a great interest in the Navy. Although his speech was perhaps so enthusiastic that it rather carried him away from what is possible, as the First Lord said, he nevertheless spoke in the right spirit, which would have given great pleasure to any sailor who heard him. He came to visit my Fleet, as he said, twenty years ago, when I was Commander-in-Chief, and he stayed with me at Invergordon and in Malta; and I well remember the interest he took in considering with us there naval policy and the seaman's life, which was balanced by the amusement and interest that I and my staff had in discussing with him Socialism and co-operative societies.

I am also very glad that he should have proposed the Motion because he is the Leader of the Opposition. That is a very important thing to me, confirming, as far as it can, that at the present time our sea responsibilities are not a Party matter, at any rate in principle. We may have different ways of doing things in defence, and think differently as to what should be done, but the main thing to-day is that Parliament wants the nation to be defended. It was very different before the war, and I myself feel in a kind of political paradise to-day, when one realises the feelings of those who are here compared to what they were in the thirteen years which I spent in the Admiralty before the war, fighting to get a few ships for His Majesty's Navy. At that time one Party would say, "No ships! Let us trust to something else", and the other Party would be afraid to build them because it would be unpopular. Now, my Lords, we have a much more pleasant situation, because all that ended with the war. When the Labour Government came into power they, to their credit, as they had been advised by many of us, completely reorganised the Defence staff, and they also started spending the vast sums of money that are spent on defending this country and the Empire. I say that although I am a Conservative—honour to whom honour is due.

It is very difficult for old seamen like myself to speak on the Navy Estimates to-day. I, personally, and I daresay even some of my younger colleagues here—they are not all much younger—feel in the position that the Admirals were in at the end of the last century. They had mastered their profession. They had their muzzle-loading guns. Then they suddenly found that horrible things like destroyers and submarines and dreadnoughts and armoured ships and turbines had suddenly become de rigeur. They knew nothing about them; they had not been educated in such subjects. To-day we find ourselves in the same position, though perhaps not quite so seriously. We find ships which my colleague Lord Cunningham commanded such a short time ago—was it fifteen years ago or less? He also must be acutely aware of the modern developments in science and in nuclear reactors, and so on, which have been men- tioned by Lord Teynham and others. It is really quite impossible for us to come to the House and pretend that we can give the House information of an important nature about the Navy. I cannot; and so I confine myself when I come here to asking questions. I come to the House of Lords only to learn something about the Navy, not to tell the House of Lords something about the Navy, and that is what I am going to do to-day.

I first want to ask a few questions of the First Lord, with the greatest respect for one who is my lord and master, as First Lord of the Admiralty, while I am still an Admiral on the active list. I should just like to say what a tremendous advantage it is to your Lordships' House to have the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, here to-day to advise us and to tell us what the Admiralty are doing. After all, Parliament has tremendous responsibilities in defence; it cannot shove it all off on to the Government. It is Parliament which is finally responsible and which can compel the Government to do what Parliament wants. Therefore, it is of immense importance that Parliament should be well informed. I remember that in the 1920s the First Lord and the First Sea Lord resigned, or tendered their resignation, because the Government would not build any cruisers, and the remainder of the Board had to decide what they would do—were they to resign or not? The political and naval members who remained agreed that we would tell the Prime Minister that if he would inform Parliament of the problem, of the Admiralty's case and the Government's case, and if Parliament supported him, we would stay in our posts. That was just an example of the fact that the basic factor is not the Government in these problems; it is Parliament.

I realise the First Lord's difficulty in writing the White Paper. I hope that he will long remain at the Admiralty, because I know that he has the greatest ability and immense political knowledge; and I think he will forgive me for saying that I hope he will wish to stay, and that he will be allowed to stay, in his present post as long as possible for the good of the Service. To-day his responsibility is as part of a combination of Navies, as we all know and as has been said. In the past, it was the First Lord's sole duty to provide an adequate Navy, equal to defeating the enemy's main fleet and protecting our commerce. To-day we share that responsibility with others—all kinds of nations, some with vast fleets and others with a few gunboats. They are all our allies. In the past, as has been said by the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, we had powerful battleships and packs of cruisers to hunt the raiders of the enemy and the other surface ships that were attacking our trade. Our convoys got from South America to Liverpool only because a battleship like the "Ramillies" was escorting them, thirty or forty or fifty ships or more, and nothing could come near them on the surface.

To-day we have none. We have a handful of cruisers, as I read in the White Paper, and a few tiny squadrons"Fleets" they are called, I suppose by courtesy—which have a Commander-in-Chief. I suppose the idea is that these little squadrons, to which the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, referred quite sarcastically, are expected to be joined by other ships of our Allies who, when they find a fleet in the South Atlantic or Indian Ocean with a Commander-in-Chief, join his flag and he takes command of the whole lot. That would be a good way of ensuring that the British Navy remains in command at sea. We should command a few ships of our own and a large number belonging to our Allies. I do not know whether that is the case. Perhaps the First Lord will tell us if that is the idea of calling these three or four ships a fleet and having a Commander-in-Chief to take command. I am sure that it is a good idea or the Admiralty would not have had it.

I feel that in paragraphs 9, 14 and 15, the White Paper implies a confidence which, on the information given, seems to be optimistic, and I should like to ask the First Lord, in accordance with my political principle, three or four questions, omitting any reference to submarine defence problems, which I know will be dealt with by others. Can the First Lord tell Parliament the strength of the surface forces that the United States would deploy to help our tiny squadrons in every ocean? I see no reason at all why the figures should not be told. There was no secrecy about our allies before the war. We did not send our Army over to France without knowing how many men they were going to have on the front line and where they would be, and also where the French Navy was and what it was going to do. Why is it to-day that we know nothing about this and just talk about "our Allies". Allies are Allies—they may be good Allies or they may not.

We must surely have some fixed arrangement in N.A.T.O. by which a fleet of four or five ships and a few other frigates in the Atlantic will be supported by a certain number of certain kinds of warships. Can the First Lord tell us what that is? Or if, for some political reason, he is not able to tell us, can he give Parliament, not me, an assurance that he is satisfied that the ships that our Allies will bring to the support of our various squadrons in the various oceans will give reasonable security for our merchantmen on the seas? That is the first question about which I hope the First Lord will be able to say something. This terrible cruiser question is a sort of core question which has been worrying me, and I am sure worrying others, this afternoon.

My next question is one to which the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, has referred briefly. In paragraph 10, the Explanatory Statement speaks of a reduction in the number of ships over the next few years, as if it were a kind of fact accepted in advance. Can the First Lord say if that was intended and on what principle these further reductions are to be made? Are they being made for financial reasons or because we have more reliable information from our Allies of what they will send to support us? It is very difficult to understand that paragraph and it may mean a great deal less than it reads. I hope it does.

I should like to ask the First Lord a question about the new nuclear submarine, "Dreadnought", which also has been mentioned by the noble Viscount and which is dealt with in paragraph 35 of the White Paper. This question has already been brought up in another place, yet Parliament is uninformed about it. I hope that your Lordships' House can be more completely informed. What is the policy about "Dreadnought"? We are told that only the design work is proceeding. Is she to be equipped, like the United States nuclear submarine "Nautilus", with intermediate range ballistic missiles that can be fired from 100 feet under the sea, go 1,500 miles and drop something unpleasant on some big town in a country far away? I have read that the United States and Russia already have nuclear submarines with that power and that they are highly dangerous.

What is the Admiralty policy about "Dreadnought"? Should it not be to lessen the danger of Russia, we will say—I think we talk about Russia in that kind of way nowadays—achieving a "Pearl Harbour" knockout of our Eastern air bases (our great deterrent there) and installing a mobile sea base like the "Nautilus", that could not be destroyed suddenly as our Eastern bases could be. That would seem to me to be a wholly reasonable way to spend our money—such money as there is—and I hope that the First Lord can enlighten us on that. I daresay it is purely a financial problem, but from what the First Lord said about the difficulties of building and getting nuclear material, it would seem that it is not only a financial matter.

I would conclude by asking only one more question. The noble Earl may not be able to reply to this, but could Parliament be assured that the Navy Estimates are reasonably sufficient for the Admiralty's great responsibilities today? There is certainly no indication in the White Paper that this is not so; but there is no idea in the White Paper t hat there is this hungry Admiralty waiting for more money. One feels that the Estimates are insufficient to meet the danger point, even with our Allies, and there is nothing sufficiently definite in the White Paper to guide Parliament in its final great responsibility in that matter. I feel that something more should be said about the anxieties of the Admiralty, if they exist, about the financial situation of our naval defence. Personally I should like to add, with the greatest respect to the First Lord, and I am sure that my naval colleagues would agree, that I have the fullest confidence in him and in his able naval advisers and I am sure that they have made the wisest use of the money allotted to them. But is it enough?—that is the problem.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, I also am pleased to speak to this Motion moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough. I find that I agree with practically every word that he said, which is perhaps not surprising as for three years we were working together at the Admiralty. The noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, has disclaimed all knowledge of the modern Navy, but I think he would find very few connected with the Navy who would agree with him on that point. Much of what I wish to say has already been touched on by noble Lords who have spoken, and I hope not to weary your Lordships by too much repetition.

In the present conditions of financial stringency I find it difficult to comment on the Navy Estimates, which must be the result of much hard thought by the Admiralty, and much paring and scraping. All one can do is to try to examine how the resources at the disposal of the Admiralty have been used, and whether the forces provided are sufficient in numbers and in capability to carry out the duties laid on them in the Defence White Paper. The Admiralty can have had no easy task in providing even for the rather meagre forces which now form the Fleet; but certainly, in my opinion, they are on the right lines in reducing the shore support, a measure much overdue and one which I think could be carried further. It must have been with deep regret that they abolished the Nore Command and some of the establishments there which had served the Navy so well for so long. It is to be hoped that the closing of Chatham Barracks, which for years has been the "home from home" for men from Kent, London and the Eastern Counties, will not have an adverse effect on the recruiting in those areas.

The Admiralty are to be congratulated, I think, on the imaginative idea of stationing a carrier, with a commando of Marines on board, in the Far East. I do not wish to take any gilt off the Admiralty gingerbread but, allowing for technical progress, this has been tried before. About fifty years ago a small cruiser, manned almost entirely by Royal Marines, was stationed in the West Indies with the same purpose, that of being able to move quickly to any point where trouble looked like starting up. There is no doubt, however, that this carrier will be of tremendous use either in working with the forces on the station or perhaps in preparing the way for the central reserve, when it is flown out; and I am sure we are all glad to hear that it is going to be functioning before 1960.

The Report on Defence Paper, paragraph 45, states that owing to the threat of Russia's formidable submarine force the Government consider it desirable to concentrate the efforts of the Royal Navy to an increasing extent on the anti-submarine rôle. While this danger of Russia's enormous submarine force is now recognised, the forces to meet and defeat this very real menace are, in my view, quite inadequate. The Navy Estimates Paper shows that, counting all ships in the Reserve Fleet—those engaged in trial and training and those building—we can muster, at the most, 184 anti-submarine craft. To these may be added those of the Commonwealth and our N.A.T.O. Allies—and here, I regret to say, the figures of the First Lord and mine are somewhat at variance; I am sure that his are correct, but perhaps mine are nearer reality. Altogether, I would place the number of anti-submarine craft that we, the Commonwealth and our N.A.T.O. Allies, possess at between 300 and 400. And, of course, many of these will be dispersed abroad, engaged on other duties, such as escorting warships and so on, and not available for convoy duty.

In the late war, at the time of the peak of our losses from submarine attack, when we were losing, on an average, 500,000 tons a month—and in some months much more—from the operations of, on the average, 60 German submarines, we had in the Atlantic battle alone 465 major anti-submarine vessels and 252 minor anti-submarine vessels. The heavy and crippling losses then sustained show how deficient those numbers were. But how much greater would the deficiency be now, when we might have to face up to 200 Russian submarines at sea! These will present a far more formidable menace. Many of them will travel at high submerged speed, and all of them, I expect, will be able to remain submerged for weeks on end, as against the few hours possible in the late war. Towards the end of that war, when we more or less had the mastery of the submarine, the Admiralty had under their control 880 escort vessels for ocean escort, and a further 2,000 Asdic-fitted vessels for close inshore work. Obviously we cannot maintain such large forces in peace time, but it is certain that the difference between what we have at present and what we might need to give any really adequate protection to our merchant ships bringing the essential supplies to this country makes it highly necessary that we should have a larger and steadier building programme of these anti-submarine vessels. Of course, the anti-submarine surface vessels may expect to be reinforced by the carrier borne anti-submarine aircraft and, it is to be hoped, a strong and highly trained Coastal Command.

In this connection, I should like to ask (without, I fear, expecting an answer) whether the Admiralty are satisfied with the present strength of Coastal Command and with the numbers that may be expected to be operational in war time. In the B.B.C's. presentation of last autumn's exercise "Sea Watch", the Coastal Command aircraft appeared to be very thin on the ground—or, perhaps, I should say, in the air over the sea. Everyone can remember the great part played by Coastal Command in winning the Battle of the Atlantic, and it is worthy of note that towards the end of the war they employed in that battle over 700 aircraft. Certainly no fewer will be required in any future war. Yet apart from one passing reference to Coastal Command it is not mentioned in the Air Estimates, and there is no indication of its present strength and composition.

So far I have dealt only with the Russian submarine threat and have made no reference to that perhaps equally formidable threat from the Russian maritime aircraft, estimated to number 3,500. During the Second World War German maritime aircraft were relatively few in numbers. They were not very well equipped, and certainly in the early years they were not very well trained. Yet they achieved considerable success against our Allied merchant ships and warships unprotected by fighters. It does not appear to me that Coastal Command and Fighter Command could do much about some hundreds of long-range aircraft marauding over the oceans. It looks as though the carrier fighters and the guided missile ships, when we get them, will have to do their best. I do not think that sufficient provision has been made to meet that threat.

Perhaps I may be allowed to refer to the cruisers. Counting the ships in reserve, we have fourteen, with three building. All the fourteen are approaching twenty years of age, and though they are doubtless very useful in peace time, they are quite out of date for modern war. No cruisers seem to be projected. In another place a spokesman on behalf of the Admiralty said that the strike aircraft in the carriers would be able to deal with the two dozen or so modern Russian cruisers. I think that is rather wishful thinking. It is to be hoped that what he said is true; but apart from the fact that at sea there are many days on which aircraft cannot operate, especially in the Atlantic, the aircraft in the small number of carriers that we have seem to me to be already heavily overburdened by their multifarious duties. It is to be hoped that the squadrons for the four or five carriers we have in reserve are in being and available at short call in an emergency.

My Lords, I hope that I have said enough to show that without question our Naval forces, as set out in the Explanatory Statement are quite inadequate to carry out the duties expected of them, particularly as regards the protection of shipping. It is not surprising that the. C.-in-C. Eastern Atlantic stated, at the conclusion of exercise "Sea Watch": My own conclusion is that we have not got anything like enough forces to carry out the duties that would fall to them in the event of war. We are desperately short of all the hardware needed to fight this battle. I assume that by "hardware" he meant ships and weapons. In this view he was supported by the Supreme Commander, Atlantic, who said that grave shortages had been noticed. I will go further and say that unacceptable risks are being run at sea. It appears, in fact, that the security of our merchant ships, which are indispensable to our survival as a nation, are more dependent on the use of the nuclear deterrent than on our naval forces and those of our N.A.T.O. Allies. It is surely a sorry day when the Merchant Navy can no longer rely for protection on the Royal Navy. I would urge most strongly, well knowing that in present conditions, the idea is unpopular, and not likely to be heeded by Her Majesty's Government, that greater resources should be made available to the Admiralty so that our merchant ships can he given reasonable security at sea land the reduction of this country to starvation be prevented, and so as to avoid our being forced into that dreadful and probably suicidal alternative, starting up a nuclear war.

4.57 p.m.


My Lords, I was most anxious to take part in this debate, but it is difficult for anybody like me to follow the noble and gallant Admiral of the Fleet who has just sat down. But I want particularly to find out what policy is really contemplated by the Admiralty with regard to the Navy. The first thing that happened was the issue of the Defence White Paper by the present Minister of Defence, in which he told a startled world that the rôle of the naval forces in total war is somewhat uncertain, and it may be that the initial nuclear bombardment and the counter bombardment would be so crippling as to bring the war to an end within a few weeks or even days, in which case naval operations would not play a significant part. I am glad to think that that obiter dictum from the present Minister of Defence has quite clearly been thrown over the side, because on page 5 of the Explanatory Statement on the Navy Estimates, the present First Lord says: Uncertainty about the course and direction of global war, which applies to all the fighting services, does not therefore restrict the rôle, the shape, or the size of the future Navy. There are further remarks in the general policy Statement which also apply in the same sense.

I believe it is proposed to sell a number of ships. I simply cannot find out what ships the Admiralty contemplates selling. Various statements are made from time to time. Obviously every ship you sell out of the Navy leaves active service and puts a greater strain on the ones left, which makes it still more difficult for them to carry out their tasks. In the Explanatory Statement with which the First Lord has provided us, in the paragraph dealing with the strength of the Fleet a ship called "H.M.S. Warrior" is shown as being in reserve or undergoing extended refit, modernisation or conversion during the course of the year. Are we, or are we not, going to sell the "Warrior"? We have precious few carriers; there are only five carriers left in the Reserve. Yet a statement was allowed to go out the other day that "Warrior" is going to be disposed of.

I understand that two other carriers are also going to be disposed of. Could the First Lord tell us what is the real policy? We see, from time to time, these statements that ships are going to be disposed of but Parliament is not asked whether it approves the idea or not. Long before Parliament has a chance to say anything, statements go out and arrangements are made for ships concerned to be disposed of. It seems to me that Parliament ought to be kept far more closely informed than it has been in the past with regard to these disposals. I shall be very grateful if the First Lord will tell us the state of the market as far as "Warrior" is concerned.

The Navy is shrinking rapidly every day, as we know only too well, and as has been stated by everybody this afternoon. Last September, I think it was, a N.A.T.O. exercise was carried out and after that exercise some very remarkable statements were made. The noble and gallant Admiral of the Fleet Lord Cunningham of Hyndhope has referred to one which was made by Sir John Eccles, but he was not the only officer who spoke about it. Air Marshal Sir Bryan Reynolds, who was also serving as a N.A.T.O. officer at the time, referred to the exercise in these terms: The stark fact was that they had not the forces needed. The exercise had definitely shown that they were especially short of long-range aircraft. He was not the only one. There were other statements by Admiral Jerauld Wright and there was a statement by Admiral Boone of the United States Navy in the same sense. There was one most remarkable incident which was supposed to have taken place during that exercise. Admiral Pirie, an American Admiral, striking in the north Norwegian sea, was steaming south into an area well known to be submarine infested. It was not possible to give the distant anti-submarine support which was undoubtedly needed, because the maritime aircraft were fully employed on anti-submarine searches in other concentrated areas. If those things can happen in peace time during an exercise, it seems to me that those responsible for the Navy and the Ministry of Defence in this country must really sit up and take notice.

I venture to submit, in all humility, that the Navy at present is being extremely badly let down. I do not believe that the trouble lies so much with the Board of Admiralty; I believe the trouble lies with the Ministry of Defence, and in particular the Minister. I should like very much to know when the Minister of Defence, as opposed to the Board of Admiralty, is going really to tell the country what sort of Navy we are going to be allowed to have. Many years ago when I was in the House of Commons we used to discuss the advisability of having a Ministry of Defence, and those of us who considered it at that time were mostly against it because we thought that it would tend to a lessening of the responsibility of either one of the Services. I still hold that view most strongly myself.

In the Explanatory Statement on the Navy Estimates this year there is no reference whatever to a replacement programme for destroyers. The subject has already been referred to by other speakers. If we are so gravely short of destroyers and really have only about 50 left, whilst the Russians have 120 or something of that sort, how can we say that the forces proposed in the White Paper are really adequate? Then again, there is a point not mentioned by any speaker so far this afternoon, and that is the question of supply ships. We are going to have these small task forces distributed all over the world. They will not be able to come back into harbour periodically and refit; they will probably have to be kept at sea, as was the American Pacific Fleet in the last war. That will require a large number of a special type of ships, fairly fast and able to keep at sea for long periods. Therefore I submit that the Board of Admiralty should tell us what they have in mind. No doubt the matter has not escaped the attention of the Board of Admiralty. Cannot they tell us, and tell Parliament, what they have in mind with regard to a Fleet train? I am perfectly certain that we do not want the same scale of Fleet train that the Americans had in the Pacific, but at any rate we shall need some arrangement for enabling the Fleet to carry out its task.

My Lords, there is much more I should have liked to say, but most of the points have been touched on by previous speakers and therefore I will not go over them again. Many of us who have no axe to grind in this matter are profoundly disturbed and anxious with regard to the state of the Navy and the policy of the Government with regard to it. In the fullness of time we shall no doubt come to another General Election. It will be difficult to rally the people to the side of the present Government unless we are able to show that they really have been carrying out their responsibilities. I do not think I could subscribe to such a statement to-day. I hope that the First Lord when he comes to reply to this debate will realise the force of the arguments used by the distinguished speakers who have preceded me.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, there are one or two points in the First Lord's speech to which I should like briefly to refer, although the First Lord is not present at the moment. He spoke about our having had complete control of the sea in the First World War. That statement will not bear examination for a moment. In 1917 we were in sight of defeat because of our inability to protect our shipping at sea. In the Second World War a very similar situation arose. The Battle of the Atlantic was a very near run thing indeed, and at one time it looked like being a lost battle. The anxieties of many who have spoken this afternoon are that a Third World War might find us in similar difficulties over the protection of our shipping. We must be careful how we use such phrases as "complete control of the sea" when they are not borne out by the facts.

The First Lord referred to the fact that many of the difficulties arose because of lack of funds, and he asked where the funds are to come from. I will not go into that point this afternoon, but I will say, "Do not waste funds." I remember the money that was spent on the "Vanguard" after the end of the last war and the money being spent on the three "Tiger" class cruisers at the present moment, may also, I fear, come to represent a waste of funds. I was delighted to hear what was said about our dockyards. I remember bringing forward a Motion in this House in which I urged the need for an overhaul of the dockyard administration, and I was severely rebuked by a former First Lord and a former First Sea Lord, who of course had their share of responsibility for the shortcomings of which I was com- plaining. However, these things have now been put right, so that we can "call that a day". I should also like to say, with respect, how warmly I agree with what the First Lord said on the subject of ships in reserve: I think he was completely right in what he said.

I remember that after achieving the life-long ambition, Sir Winston Churchill once remarked that he had not become Prime Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire. I sometimes think that those distinguished naval officers who have fulfilled probably a life-long and honourable ambition by finding themselves called to the Board of Admiralty, may sometimes feel rather perturbed to find themselves apparently presiding over reductions in the British Navy which closely resemble the liquidation of the British Navy. Much has been said this afternoon in criticism of the Board of Admiralty. May I assure the First Lord that, in my view, those who have uttered criticisms—and I shall utter some—are not really criticising the Board of Admiralty. This afternoon the Board of Admiralty are acting as the whipping boy for the Government the criticisms are really directed against the Government. I myself should not wish to criticise the Board of Admiralty because I recognise, with respect, their great difficulties in the transition period through which we are passing at the moment, when everything is altering almost overnight, and with the present shortage of funds.

Then, of course, we cannot know—it is a matter of high policy—what are the relations between the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Minister of Defence. Much of that which apparently lies at the door of the First Lord of the Admiralty may in reality be the result of views advocated by the Minister of Defence. For all those reasons, I say that I hope the First Lord will recognise that what I have to say is not said in criticism of the Board but is really a criticism of the Government. Of course, I understand the question of Cabinet responsibility and so on. It does sometimes look like the liquidation of the British Navy when one considers the melancholy list of announcements that have been made in this House. Old traditional Commands have been abolished; one dockyard after another has gone, and 99 establishments are going. Paragraphs 42 and 54 of the First Lord's Statement indeed make melancholy reading. I do not say that I disapprove of the reductions which have been made; I think a very strong case is there to be made out for all of them. But there were times when I read the Statement, when I said to myself, Change and decay in all around I see". Indeed, it is a melancholy Statement in those respects.

I have spoken of the great transitional era through which we are passing. It is one of the great transitional eras of the Navy: steam to nuclear propulsion; gunpowder to H-bombs; guns to guided missiles; subsonic propelled aircraft to supersonic jets—all at the same time. Indeed, the problems falling upon the Naval staff are immense. But I believe that the urgent priorities in this era upon which much emphasis should be placed are these: atomic propulsion, rocket and missile-launching submarines, submersive ships—that in the very far future, I agree—and also this problem of vertical lift which I think the First Lord was quite right in saying we should not debate in detail this afternoon. I believe that those are the developments which really indicate the way ahead for the Navy.

Then there is the matter of building which has been so much spoken about this afternoon. The trouble here is that the Admiralty have for so long been unable to define the Navy's rôle. Outside circumstances have had to be taken into account, and it has been difficult to define the Navy's rôle—so much so that there has been a lag in building up the Fleet and the staff, because until the role had been devised the staff has been unable to decide what should be built. Apart from that, there has seemed at times to be a lack of a sense of urgency at the Admiralty or, if not a sense of urgency (if that is too harsh a word), sometimes a lack of decision. Now we see, in paragraph 62 of this Statement, that no important ships are being laid down. Clearly, it will be years before the first modern ship joins the Fleet—I use the adjective "modern" as opposed to "new" ship, because to my mind the modern ship, certainly as the Americans understand the term, is one propelled by nuclear power and armed with missiles only, such as the rocket-launching submarine. Clearly it will be several years before such a ship joins the Fleet.

I spoke just now about the "Tigers". In the 1957–58 Statement the construction of the three "Tigers" which had been laid down twelve years before was said to be (I quote the words in the Statement) "now gathering pace"—in other words, they had put on a sprint in the snails' Derby. One was to start trials early in 1959—again I quote the words: "with their up-to-date armament." Guns are no longer up-to-date armament: they are on their way out. The United States have scrapped the 5-inch guns in the two "Forrestals" and have replaced them by missile launchers; and the nuclear cruiser which is projected will have only rockets and missiles. The cruiser "Longbeach", expected in 1960, will contain all guided missiles. It is no longer any use speaking of guns as modern armaments; they are not. The modern armaments of to-day are the rockets and the missiles.

What we see as the result of the building programme is that the Fleet gets steadily smaller. The First Lord said in December last that at the end of the rundown the Navy will be rather bigger than it was twenty years ago. That takes us back to 1939, when we realised that the Navy was completely inadequate for its duty and especially inadequate in escort ships and destroyers; so that if at the end of the rundown we are left with a Fleet larger than the 1939 fleet we have only got something larger than what was inadequate. Therefore I feel that that is a slightly misleading statement—unintentionally misleading, I need hardly say.

To-day we are faced with a possible naval offensive considerably greater than faced us in 1939. Hitler had not got 500 submarines when war broke out, but he gave us a very hot run for our money; and to-day Russia has more submarines than the United States of America. The Estimates authorise no additional ships of any substance. The programme is for ships which have been authorised in past Estimates. Yet in 1953 the then First Lord told us that the Fleet was getting old and that a speedy replacement programme was necessary if the Navy was to exist as an efficient force. Brave words, I agree, but year after year the Fleet has been diminished.

We constantly hear of ships being scrapped; we have heard of that this afternoon. But if we scrap a ship, that merely emphasises the necessity for replacement, and since 1956–57, taking into account ships in operational service, cruisers are down by three, destroyers by five, submarines by five, minesweepers by nine and coastal craft by twenty-one. Landing vessels are down by two. The number of carriers is the same and frigates are up by two. As far as I can follow it, the Defence White Paper foreshadows that in the future operational carriers will be down from four to three plus the Commando carrier, and that cruisers will also be down to three. I agree that carriers will continue to be the core of the new Navy; but have not the task forces gone by the board—those task forces which I understood were the reason for regarding the carrier as the hard core of the Navy?

I pin my faith in the future on the submarine. In any case, when one thinks of the duties which apparently carriers are expected to perform in the event of war, we can only say that for their numbers they are hopelessly overloaded; yet one finds the kind of statement that appears in paragraph 10 of the Statement after the responsibilities falling upon the attenuated Navy have been enumerated: The Navy is already well advanced towards realising this ideal. My Lords, it is not. Those words are a completely misleading deception. The Navy is not well advanced towards realising this ideal, however much it is put into the White Paper. That is the fact. To realise that ideal we require guided missile ships and atomic powered submarines able to discharge rockets; and yet these essentials are only in very distant prospect. Yet the world is in such a state to-day that the prevention of a global war may very well depend upon our having an operational modern naval force immediately available so that some incident which might turn into a global war may be brought up with a round turn. That is the way in which we may find ourselves involved in a global war for lack of forces of that nature.

The Estimates are up by £20 million but we are getting less and less naval protection. We are getting less Navy for more money. Paragraph 3 speaks of the "lower requirements of the Fleet of the future". There are rockets, guided missiles, nuclear propulsion, atomic powered submarines—every sort of new kind of weapon and equipment—and yet naval requirements are to be "lower". I, in my ignorance, simply do not understand what is meant by that phrase. Paragraph 15 states that: The Royal Navy's contribution to N.A.T.O. should be predominantly in the anti-submarine rôle. When are we going to build that contribution? After the N.A.T.O. exercise Strike Back, both Admiral Wright, the American Admiral, who has been quoted already this afternoon, and our own Admiral Eccles made the most scathing comments about the forces available for performing that essential rôle on behalf of N.A.T.O. Admiral Eccles said: I say as a professional man with over forty years' experience. I cannot carry out my task without more forces. In short, that is the opinion of the man who was then charged with the responsibility of carrying out what the Minister of Defence had proclaimed as the primary object of the Navy. The man who had to discharge that duty told us that he simply had not got the forces necessary to discharge his duty and that we were running a very great risk on that account.

The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, in the short interim before he exchanged the peak cap for the mortarboard, said, as First Lord, that we had underbuilt in anti-submarine escort vessels. In this Statement which we are considering this afternoon, where is provision being made for catching up those arrears of which the noble and learned Viscount, as First Lord, spoke?

If I may ask a question to which, like many others put to the First Lord this afternoon, we cannot expect an answer: upon what tactics are the Admiralty relying for the defence of our convoys?—assuming that in a nuclear war any convoys at all will be possible. Upon what tactics are the Admiralty relying for the defence of our convoys with the forces at present available to our commanders at sea? The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, said some very wise things in that short interlude as First Lord. He said that we may have to put up with a smaller Navy than we should like, but, he said, let us resolve not to be content with an obsolete one. It is looking very like an obsolescent one, to my mind, and the Fleet is bound to become obsolete if we do not build replacements as they are needed.

Again, the noble and learned Viscount said that a programme of new construction was inescapable. He was only repeating the words of the First Lord in 1953. But no important ships are being laid down in this current year. What is the programme for this "inescapable new construction"? How many nuclear-propelled ships, how many guided-missile ships and how many rocket-launching submarines are involved? Where is this programme of "inescapable construction"? Of what does it consist?

My Lords, it has been truly said this afternoon that the nuclear submarine marks a transition in naval affairs comparable with the building of the monitor. A Parliamentary Secretary said on March 4 of this year, in regard to nuclear submarines [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 583, col. 983]: Their coming, however, is inevitable.…. The Admiralty, of course, is working on this.… I myself should prefer to say that the Admiralty are dragging their feet on this. Harwell was working on the idea in 1946. The "Dreadnought" was projected in 1954; yet it is still only in the early experimental stages. In the 1957–58 Statement we heard that progress was being made with the design. Good progress on designing the reactor was reported in February, 1957. In 1957, again, the First Sea Lord said that our first atomic submarine was well on the drawing hoard. That was the first time I had heard that phrase used in naval construction. He went on to say that the Board were then —these are his words: … trying to think of an imaginative and dramatic name for this revolutionary vessel. If I remember aright, the Rainiers were engaged in the same struggle—to think of a name for the baby which was on the stocks. But the baby has beaten the "Dreadnought" by many lengths.

Now we are in 1958–59, and what have we got? In paragraphs 35 and 36 of the Estimates we are told: … the reactor for the zero energy experiment.. is now in operation … work on the buildings intended for the shore prototype plant is well advanced. In other words, we have not got a car, but we are getting the garage in readiness for when it comes. And we are told that: Design work for the submarine herself is proceeding. That is very satisfactory indeed! But I think this question has been put to the First Lord already this afternoon: When are we to have a nuclear submarine available, a nuclear submarine in which to begin the training of officers and crews? Not until we have such submarines, armed with rockets, and operational, shall we be able to begin the dismantling of these much-criticised missile bases on land. In a future war two factors will be of supreme importance: mobility and dispersability, For that reason it is a matter of urgency to get the rocket-launchers to sea, where they cannot be found, instead of making targets on our own soil. Hardly anywhere in the world is out of range of nuclear submarine carrying missiles of 1,500 miles range. So the sooner we get our rocket-launchers to sea, and operational, the better it will clearly be.

I would say just a word about the guided-missile ships. Paragraph 31 states that four guided-missile ships have been ordered and named. That curious phrase "provision to order" was announced for two of these ships in the 1955–56 Estimates, and provision to order the other two appeared in the 1956–57 Estimates. Anyone reading that statement would be rather apt to think that something was really being done about these guided-missile ships. It was stated, too, in 1956–57 that all four would be armed with guided missiles. In the 1957–58 Estimates we were told that orders had been placed for all four; and in 1958–59 we find that there is no progress on these ships and that work has not yet started on them. With great respect to the First Lord, who would not be a party to anything that was not completely straightforward and above board, I suggest that those statements about the four guided-missile ships are highly misleading, and I hope that when the First Lord comes to address the House at the end of the debate he may be able to give us something more about those ships.

Meanwhile, the United States goes steadily ahead converting the Navy from guns to missiles. She had a guided-missile ship, the "Canberra", operating in the Mediterranean in 1956. Nine cruisers are being converted; she has the first nuclear guided-missile cruiser being built; destroyers and frigates are being converted or built, without conventional guns but to use missiles. No more big gun ammunition is being produced in the United States for the Navy. That is a clear indication of how naval thought is progressing across the Atlantic. "Regulus II" is operating; "Polaris", which can be launched from nuclear-powered submarines, submerged, is coming along. I know that the question of funds is involved, but it looks as if thought has proceeded along more advanced lines in the United States than it has done in this country; and that I think is a complaint that may legitimately be levelled against past Boards of Admiralty.

I say nothing about this nuclear carrier the United States has projected, a vessel of 85,000 tons, and 33 knots, able to do several trips round the world without refuelling. Indeed, she need not refuel for five years—for the duration of a war. Nuclear submarines can cruise indefinitely at depths out of radar reach. "Nautilus" cruised for 1,000 miles beneath the Arctic ice cap and reached a point within 180 miles of the North Pole. One cannot help being impressed by this evidence of forward-thinking in America. It is no pleasure to anyone on this side of the Atlantic to point repeatedly to what has been done by America on the other side of the Atlantic, especially when we know their advantage in the matter of funds and so on. But, as I say, one cannot but be impressed by the forward-thinking of which we see so many evidences on that side of the Atlantic.

The First Lord has been most illuminating about the role of the Navy this afternoon. On the last occasion we had the announcement about task forces in the future rôle of the Navy. That was not so long ago. That principle has apparently now gone by the board in favour of these composite squadrons. Is this change of plan dictated by new conceptions of strategy, as it well may be, or by considerations of economy? I think that the new rôle announced for the Navy and what has been said about co-operation with other N.A.T.O. countries in anti-submarine operations both point to a concentration on defence against an attack by enemy submarines against N.A.T.O. supply lines. As a layman and a complete amateur I would say that I think that is right; and, having arrived at this new conception of the role of the Navy, I very much hope that we shall stick to it, and that the First Lord will not have to announce another change of rôle when, as I hope, he comes to address us next year on the Explanatory Statement on the Navy Estimates.

There are so many things that I should like to talk about. I am delighted to find that the question of civilian manpower has been tackled at long last, for the preponderance of civilian manpower over naval manpower has been approaching a scandal. On the civilian side we had arrived at Parkinson's Law which, as your Lordships will be well aware, states that work expands according to the time and staff available to perform it. That is what has been happening at the Admiralty and in many other Naval establishments.

I feel that I must take up no more of your Lordships' time in what I fear has already been too lengthy a speech, though there are many other things to which I should have liked to refer. I would but echo what has already been said by my noble friend and add my plea to his for the recognition by Parliament and by the public of the responsibilities falling upon the Navy in future and of the essential part which the Navy still has to play in the defence of this country. It is necessary to convince the public on this point. If I may make a personal remark, it is not so long since I was asked by a newspaper to write a centre page article entitled, "Do we need a Navy any longer?" I did not accept the commission. Yet it illuminates the state of public opinion in this country that a paper should suggest to me such a commission as writing that article.

We have a great duty falling upon us to try to convince the public, by every means in our power, of the necessity of the Navy. When I read in an American paper the other day of the Navy League of America holding its annual convention in New York, when they had a "ticker tape" procession up Broadway, with over forty Admirals and a large number of Generals riding in it, it made my mouth water, because it indicated a state of feeling in the public of America which I wish with all my heart we could see reproduced in this country today.

5.44 p.m.


My Lords, I will endeavour not to keep the House too long, as I feel that everything has been covered far better by noble Lords who are wiser than I am and more experienced in the affairs of the Navy, but there are one or two domestic matters which I should like to raise in regard to the closing down of the establishments listed in the White Paper. The first is the question of airfields. I wonder if the First Lord can tell us whether these airfields are being closed down permanently or are just being withdrawn from service while runways are mended.

The second point concerns the closing down of the Admiralty gunnery establishment at Portland, and its transfer, seemingly, to Portsdown. I feel that noble Lords who know the Portsdown Hills will join with me in wishing that another large building should not be built on the top of these hills. I hope that the closing down and transfer of the gunnery establishment will not mean that. Again with regard to the closing down of the barracks at Chatham, a matter touched upon by my noble and gallant friend Lord Cunningham of Hyndhope, I wonder whether there is any indication of the possible effect on recruiting and whether there is any means of countering it at the moment. The only thought that came to me on this matter was whether it might not be worth considering the erection of a small barracks on the closed-down air station at Arbroath, in what I might call the Edinburgh-Glasgow complex. There are a fairly large number of Scotsmen serving in the Navy, and a barracks near their homes would be of great help and might assist recruiting. The opposition to this scheme in the past has always come from the Merchant Service, because this has been one of the main recruiting centres for merchant seamen. At the present time, it might well be that they would be glad of an alternative.

There is one other point on which I would touch. I see no mention in the White Paper this year, or, so far as I recall, last year, of the Hydrographic Department. I am sorry that this should be so, because they perform one of the most essential services the Admiralty carries out in peace time. I think that normally there are six survey ships, which spend their time going round the world, producing new charts and mending old ones, and keeping all ships and the seamen who sail in them over the whole world up to date and safe. I feel that they should have a place in the White Paper. I believe that they have recently been put to other uses. I notice that the High Commissioner of Ceylon was carried from Colombo to Gann in H.M.S. "Vidal."

May I add my thanks to the First Lord for the admirable trip in one of Her Majesty's carriers which he arranged last year for some Members of your Lordships' House, including myself? I enjoyed it very much. One thing which struck me on that trip was the youth of the crew. I gained the impression that the men who are in the Navy at the moment are younger than when I knew them a short five years ago, and that they are full of purpose. I felt that they knew what they were doing and were quite satisfied with how things were going.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, I hesitate to intervene in this debate at this late stage because there is little that I can say that is not repetition, but I feel that perhaps I ought to join in the debate started by my old war-time chief and also because I probably know as well as anybody in your Lordships' House what the difficulties of the First Lord and of the Admiralty have been of late. It is two years ago since I spoke from that Box about defence matters in general and Navy matters in particular. There was doubt in the minds of noble Lords who spoke in that debate and in my own mind of the value of the role of the Royal Navy in future. There certainly was a great deal of doubt in defence circles generally at that time. To sum it up briefly, that has been the root cause of almost all the delays about which complaints have been made from all sides of the House to-day.

Of course, all these doubts sprang from the arrival of the hydrogen bomb. I am sure that in the minds of those who doubled whether the Navy had a role in future, those doubts were genuine and fundamental. When money is asked for and money is scarce, it is tempting to think that perhaps warships are out of date and that peace can be maintained merely by the possession of the hydrogen bomb. That was the battle which of late all of us at the Admiralty have had to fight, and before I left that office I hoped that a certain light was beginning to dawn on our critics. At least, so far as aircraft carriers are concerned, we were immensely helped by the complete conversion of the noble and gallant Viscount, Field-Marshal Lord Montgomery, from one of their bitterest critics to one of their most ardent supporters. But I will not conceal from your Lordships that when I left office those doubts and uncertainties were still running in the minds of the scientists and the strategists and all we were able to do was to keep the position financially level for the Navy and go on arguing ceaselessly about the importance of the rôle of the Navy in the atomic age that lay ahead.

During these last two years there has been another re-examination of the position—I think we had about six re-examinations during my time at the Admiralty—but on this occasion the results show that the battle for the future of the Navy has largely been won by its advocates. So my first feeling tonight is one of great relief and thankfulness, although I also have a great deal of sympathy for the speeches made to-day by noble Lords on all sides of the House in support of carrying on the building programme of the Navy as quickly as possible now that we know where we are as to its rôle. I must confess that I had some sympathy for remarks similar to those made to-clay when I stood at the Dispatch Box, and it is rather pleasant to be able to show that sympathy more clearly this evening than I was able to do on that occasion two years ago. But none of these steps which in those days the Board of Admiralty and your Lordships who spoke in the debate, were so anxious to have taken, were able to be sanctioned because the future rôle had not been defined. That, I repeat, has been our trouble all through.

Therefore, I am free to congratulate my successors as First Lord. They have carried on the battle to a substantial victory. But, as I think those two noble Lords would be the first to admit, the main burden of producing technical evidence in favour of the usefulness of the Navy has naturally fallen upon the Naval Staff, and especially upon their leaders—that is, the three First Sea Lords in my time, who, of course, included the present First Sea Lord. I think they have fought that battle brilliantly and without respite, and the Royal Navy owes them a tremendous debt of gratitude.

It seems to me that both in the First Lord's Explanatory Statement on the Nary Estimates and in the statement of the Minister of Defence in his White Paper, the rôle of the Navy has now publicly been proclaimed, whatever the building programme may be, to be as vital a one in the defence of our country as it has ever been in the past: a streamlined Navy, of course, in view of the country's finances, but with plans for modernisation which I am sure will make it a thoroughly efficient force, when the ships come along, in this nuclear age. I agree with more than one speaker that what money the Admiralty are able to spend at the moment, they are spending well. In speaking for the rôle of the Navy we have always maintained that it had this great power of deterrent; and we made it quite clear also that you cannot rely completely on the nuclear bomb, although obviously the bomb is the ultimate deterrent. But the bomb cannot be used in the many dangerous situations that are developing, and are likely to go on developing, throughout the world, falling short of the threat of global war.

Among other arguments, an old one used often, but none the less true for that, is that the Navy has this great power of deterrent and is uniquely fitted to deal with these situations because of its mobility, which enables it to react quickly where speed is vital to stop a small trouble from growing into a big one. But I think the point one should stress most is that the Navy makes it possible to keep a show of force to a minimum where the appearance of powerful forces may only aggravate feelings unnecessarily. When I was First Lord I could not help feeling faintly cynical, when the future role of the Navy was being discussed, at the repeated requests which came from the Government to the Admiralty if only for a destroyer or a frigate to show this force without aggravation.

Now these arguments seem to be recognised generally, and the commando carrier especially is given pride of place. The commando carrier seems to me to be one of the most important ideas in the naval field for some time. We are rapidly losing our bases all over the world, and in my view this concept of a commando carrier offers one of the best ways of maintaining British interests against aggressive and irresponsible small nations that are being so tiresome at the moment, quite apart from its major contribution to the question of peace as a whole. I hope that the Government will not hesitate to extend this idea if the situation demands it. Above all, I rejoice that it gives another vitally important task to those magnificent Royal Marines.

In my time there was a school of thought outside the Admiralty that the anti-submarine rôle was on the wane and could largely be left to the American naval forces. Now I am glad to see the Government are strengthening the Navy's efforts in this rôle. Quite apart from the immense submarine forces possessed by certain nations, other small nations are getting submarines and are likely to get them still more in the future, and we may well have to deal with a submarine threat not merely in the Atlantic but in many different parts of the world.

Passing from the subject of the antisubmarine rôle to that of aircraft, I am glad to see the report of the aircraft coming along at last. Nothing was more disappointing or disheartening in the time when some of us were Ministers than the delay through mishaps and through engineering disappointments that we had with our aircraft, whether for the Royal Air Force or for the Admiralty; and I am not sure that in many ways the Navy was not luckier than the Royal Air Force in those misfortunes. But now we are on the right lines and the right machines are coming along; but the years of delay caused by these mistakes will take a great deal of catching up.

I would now turn to the question of guided weapons. I know, and your Lordships know, that the Admiralty have been planning these guided weapons for some time, and their plans, so far as I can guess, are admirable. But I do ask the Government to ensure that there is sufficient money allowed for the development of these vital weapons, and to deal with the whole general question of nuclear-powered submarines. I wish good fortune to the American talks about the purchase of their power plant. But I do not think it has been suggested in this debate today—and I have heard almost every speech—that nuclear-powered submarines are, after all, only the forerunners of nuclear-powered merchant ships, and when money for the Admiralty is so short, surely it is possible for shipowners and shipbuilders to consider helping financially with the research which will mean so much for their businesses and their trades in the years to come.

The noble Lord, Lord Winster, has reminded me that it has always been brought to the notice of the Government of the country that our present Fleet is ageing, and that has been stressed again to-day. I do not withdraw any of the words I used in 1953; I only wish we had been able to fulfil them. Because of the delay in settling the rôle of the Navy, the new construction under way at present is not sufficient to replace this ageing Fleet. As I think the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, said, and other noble Lords echoed him, a long time elapses between the first statement of a requirement for a ship and its coming into service. For instance, plans made for new ships now will not come to fruition until about the middle of 1960 at the earliest. Therefore it is essential, as it always has been—and I know the First Lord and the Naval Staff are aware of this—that the Admiralty should state their firm requirements for new ships at the earliest possible moment, and that they be working out now the new Fleet we shall need in the next ten years.

I think all Parties in your Lordships' House to-day have agreed about the importance of the main object of getting as many ships as possible to sea. Hard though the blow has been to certain ports in the country—and I for one had to take the preliminary preparations for it—I am glad to see that the Committee of my time, which we called "The Way Ahead", and which was then beginning to do useful work, has had the courage to recommend to the Board of Admiralty to take in these last Estimates these drastic decisions, sad though they are, to streamline still further, and drastically, the Navy's shore support. Of course, the complex modern naval force requires a backing, and a large backing, ashore, if it is to be kept in fighting trim. But we have to get the maximum of our ships and aircraft at sea. I believe the Committee are still in session, and I hope that as the months go by they will continue to streamline the shore support of the Navy in favour of the ships at sea, and they will not forget, in making those cuts, to find a few parallel cuts in the Headquarters staff of the Admiralty itself.

I hope I have made it clear that I, for one, am by no means complacent about the speed of the building programme. But I return to my original feeling of relief that the rôle of the Navy has been set out for all to see, and that it is a vital one for the defence of the country. Whatever complaints we may have, let us, above all, stress this point, and stress it as publicly as possible, for recruiting depends so much on that. The Navy has never had the same recruiting troubles as the Royal Air Force, and certainly not the same as the Army. I am glad to hear that the First Lord is optimistic about the future. But there has been so much talk about the Navy, as the noble Lord, Lord Winster, was saying: "Is the Navy to-day really necessary?" There is so much of that talk in so many articles in newspapers—and I am thankful the noble Lord did not add to them—that it has got around and will, if it is allowed to continue, have an adverse effect upon recruiting. It has got to be wiped out once and for all. In the past years, as the First Lord has said to-day, we have done an immense amount for the living conditions of men in the Fleet and their families. There has been a distinct advance in conditions of pay. But what we all now want to do is to get it across that the Navy goes on with a future as valuable to the country and to the Commonwealth as her role has ever been in the past.

6.4 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken began by expressing some doubt whether he could contribute anything useful. He has certainly contributed a most enthralling speech, which I know will be studied very widely, by those who heard it here who want to read it again, anti wherever the Naval interest is followed at all. As I was his predecessor, though for only a few months, I can testify once more to the high esteem in which I know he was always held by the Admiralty and the Navy.

I feel, as we all must, that this has been an expert debate, and in that sense I can certainly add nothing to it of any value. If I speak at all--and I say this without affectation, because my time in the Admiralty was so short, and I had no previous contact with the Navy—it is as a well-disposed layman who, for various reasons, some of them family, loves the Navy but who cannot compare in any way with those (and this applies to nearly all the speakers) who have spent so much of their life in service in the Royal Navy. In some ways I think it is a pity that in these debates of ours we always find that the speakers are all in love with their subject, and are all experts who take the same kind of view. In recent months, I have been specialising in much less attractive subjects than the Royal Navy—the Wolfenden Report, mental deficiency, prisons and topics of that sort. There again we usually find—it was not so with the Wolfenden Report, but that was a new inflammatory topic—what you might call the "penal boys" coming out of their holes one afternoon, and all the mental people another. So it is, I am afraid, with the Navy. To-day we have with us those who have every right to speak about the Navy from expert knowledge, but who in that sense are not representative of the general public to whom the noble Lord, Lord Winster, referred in a speech which was one of the most cogent even he has delivered.

I think there are many people (I know the noble Viscount, Lord Cilcennin, did not use quite the expression who "ought to be wiped out by violence"; I am sure he did not mean violent liquidation), a great many well-disposed people, not necessarily the pacifists, who are asking to-day, in all sincerity: "What point is there in the Navy in the nuclear age?" In a moment I will deal with that point because, speaking as a relative layman, I might enter into the minds of such people perhaps more completely than some of the great men who have spoken.

Before coming to that, may I put two questions which I know my noble Leader, who opened so powerfully, would like me to put. He touched on one of them, but I know he would like that one and another one placed before the noble Earl Lord Selkirk. Would the noble Earl say something more, if it is possible to-day, about the employment position following the closure, actual or pending, of the dockyards and establishments? My noble Leader referred to that matter. The noble Earl said, in one connection at least, that he was optimistic, but can he say something more about the actual position that is arising, or is likely to arise, in Chatham, Sheerness, Portland, Greenock and Londonderry? It is a matter to which we on this side, and I have no doubt all noble Lords, attach great importance.

Can he also say something—here perhaps I can hardly hope he will say something definite—about Coastal Command? We read in the papers that there is great activity on that front. The Minister of Defence pays a visit, which is afterwards described as a routine visit with no special significance and so on, but we understand that the topic is very much to the fore. We, of course, live on one side of the "Iron Curtain". I do not know whether it is the better or the worse side, but there is a curtain between us and these sources of information. We do not even know what the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, knows, that there are some very highly placed Ministers who are apparently adverse to the Navy. I was tempted to ask whether the Minister of Defence was one of them, but I thought that would be an impertinence. But perhaps the noble Earl may throw light on that topic. To return to Coastal Command, can the noble Earl tell us whether, as many of us think, Coastal Command may be handled adequately by the Royal Navy? Would he at any rate bear in mind that we are interested in that question?

May I now turn to one theme that has been touched upon, though not quite in this sense, throughout the debate. I think the general line taken by most people is that the rôle of the Navy has at any rate been defined, but that there is a lack of urgency about proceeding to get anything done. There has also been heavy criticism by two great sailors and others about the shortage of money. I will say a word about the urgency at the end. Speaking now simply as the landlubber, the ignoramus, may I ask whether the rôle of the Navy has, in fact, been defined in global war? It seems to be taken for granted that some great victory—no doubt it is a victory on paper at the moment, in some recess of Whitehall—or Downing Street—has been won as a result of a great struggle. Now the Admiralty are said to have come out on top and we all know where we are.

I am afraid that I do not quite know where we are, or I hope none of us wants to be where this would take us. But in the event of global war has any of us any idea of what the rôle of the Navy would be? It seems to be assumed that that is more or less settled. In the White Paper we are told Uncertainty about the course and direction of global war, which applies to all the fighting services, does not therefore restrict the rôle, the shape, or the size of the future Navy. That does not exactly say that the rôle has been defined, but the Parliamentary Secretary, in the speech he made in another place, actually said that the Navy's tasks have been defined. He used that expression in the Navy Estimates debate [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 583, col. 982]: The Navy's tasks have been defined". He went on to say: They are: in global war to make an effective contribution to the combined naval forces of the Western Alliance. We are apparently to understand, and it has been accepted by many speakers, that the Navy's rôle in a global war has been defined. Am I breaking some security rule if I ask what the Navy's rôle would be?


If the noble Lord would allow me to intervene, I think that in a previous White Paper there has been a reference to the Navy going to sea during the "broken back" war which would follow the first nuclear attack upon this country. It will remain at sea and come back triumphantly when things have settled down.


That could be another substantial victory, I gather. Seriously, I do want to know, if I am allowed to ask and it is not something supposed to be kept secret, what exactly the Navy's rôle is in global war. Quite seriously, I think that few of us suppose that if you had a really flat-out total war, with the ultimate deterrent being used—


Perhaps I may suggest to the noble Lord that the role of the Navy in a future war would be exactly the same as it has been in past wars, in that its task would be to prevent the enemy's navy from obtaining command of the seas.


But I am raising the point—and I am speaking only as a layman—that the global war would not last more than a fortnight; it would be all over. That is what three-quarters of the population now believe.


That, I would suggest, is only in the noble Lord's imagination. It may be right but it may be wrong; and if your imagination is wrong and you cannot rebuild the Navy for ten years, you cannot do away with the hydrogen bomb until you have rebuilt your Navy.


The noble Lord has identified me as an enemy of the Navy. I was going to reach almost the same conclusion but by a more circuitous route.


I apologise. I am afraid that that often happens.


In fact I was simply approaching that point rather more laboriously, being a landlubber and not having the noble Lord's direct naval methods. The noble Lord comes to it directly. But I do seriously ask whether you can say that the Navy has a rôle in a global war at all. If you think of a maximum global war, surely the whole thing would be over before the Navy could carry out any rôle. You might say the Navy might be used in the shortest of wars for hitting the enemy. That is one possible answer. But I do not think it is the answer given.

I hope I am not making a pedantic point, but I am suggesting what most people have in mind: that the Navy's main role would occur if the ultimate deterrent were not being used, if it were not global war in the full sense at all. I would say, therefore, that it is a pity, if we are talking of definitions, that we have not a fourth category. We have global war in which the Navy is supposed to make a contribution to N.A.T.O. We have also something called limited war, which is something more like Suez, though we hope that sort of thing will not occur again. And then there is the Navy's rôle in peace time.

But what about a major war in which the Soviet Union was the enemy although the ultimate deterrent was not being used? I think many people assume that that situation might possibly occur. I believe it is not unreasonable to think that, as the major Powers in the world reach a certain parity in destructive power, that parity will in fact rule out the ultimate deterrent. That, I think, is a possibility. When the ultimate deterrent is ruled out I can see a form of war which is not global war in the ordinary sense that the man in the street is thinking about. In short, the main danger would occur where we were fighting an enemy but the ultimate deterrent was not being used. If that is what is meant by global war, when the Navy is to play its part in N.A.T.O., would it not be better to say so?

I feel that this is an important point, and until it is cleared up a great many people will be asking the question which the noble Lord, Lord Winster, asked. They will read the White Paper and the speeches, and say, "It is bunkum, because the war will be over in a fortnight". I think the biggest danger will occur when you get this parity and find yourself faced with a war against a terrific and implacable enemy but the ultimate deterrent is ruled out.


The trouble about global war is that you cannot be sure everybody is going to be killed. There may be a lot of people left alive. You still have to protect the lifelines, and that is why you require the Navy.


It may be so. It may be that there will be some form of life in this country when the global war has come and gone. It may be that we shall find an answer to the H-bomb—that is a possibility. These things must be borne in mind. I agree with the principle stated by the noble Lords, Lord Chatfield, Lord Cunningham of Hyndhope, and others, that it would be treachery for anyone who believes in national defence at all to discard a strong Navy. I do think, when we are trying to persuade the country about what our real purpose is, the situation is far more as I have described it than the situation described in rather vague terms in these various documents. The situation mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, could arise, but I should not think it very likely. What is much more likely is a major war in which the deterrent has been ruled out.


Would the noble Lord accept the principle which I have often stated in this House, that we must have the same types of weapon as our possible enemy? You can never be sure which weapon he will fight with, and if he has one which you have not and he fights in a certain way then you lose the war. You can never afford to be without the same types of ships in a Fleet that your enemy has. You must have the same. Because of the uncertainty of the calculations we have to make, a Government must, to my mind, on that primary principle, have the same means of defence and attack that the enemy has.


Might I make a short point in reply to what the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, has said? I remember that in a previous debate the noble Lord said that if another country had a battleship we must have a battleship, and that is the principle that I feel he has just enunciated. My reply to that is that what we must have is not necessarily a battleship but the antidote to the battleship. That, I believe, is a rather sounder way of putting, it.


I think between two eminent sailors my opinion would be comparatively worthless, but I will support, if I may, Lord Winster's type of answer. I would also add, that I am assuming we are acting in conjunction with Allies.


With N.A.T.O.


Yes. I have very little more to say, in view of the time and the fact that we want to hear the noble Earl again. I could repeat a great many of the things which have been said, and I should like to echo what was said about the pre-eminent place the Navy occupies in the institutions of this country. The Royal Family is really the only institution which can be compared with it.

I must, however, say one word about urgency. There is no doubt that all those who have spoken to-day are depressed and oppressed and obsessed by a kind of sluggishness in the transition to which Lord Winster, my noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough and many other noble Lords have referred. What is the explanation? I may be doing him an injustice, but I think Lord Winster referred to the Admiralty "dragging their feet."


That was in regard to nuclear submarines.


Well, in regard to nuclear submarines, missiles, everything that matters most, we all get this feeling (I think we can hardly be wrong) that there has been an unwarrantable delay. I would not think in regard to those noble Lords who have been at the Admiralty since my time that there has been any likelihood of their "dragging their feet." Certainly the present First Sea Lord is the last man who would "drag his feet." The same goes for all those concerned with the Admiralty who are known to me personally. I find it difficult therefore to believe that the fault lies wholly or perhaps largely with the Admiralty.

What other explanations are offered? Shortage of money has been touched on. That may come in, but it can hardly be a good reason for everything taking so long, though it would. of course, affect the scope of the programme. Nor, so far as I can judge, are technical problems, which are always coming up, the main factor. So it seems that there is something else—some unexplained element—which has produced delay. The noble Viscount, Lord Cilcennin, has supplied an answer. He said that there has been this great struggle behind the scenes. He assured us that, though there have been delays, there will be no more delays because the battle has now been won. May he indeed prove a true prophet! It certainly is the object of all of us here. But he will not think us unduly sceptical if we await results, because these delays are something too serious to pass over lightly.

The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has also offered an explanation. He said that there are powerful Ministers who are un-favourable to the Navy or to the view that so many of us take of the Navy of the future. That may be the answer. Whatever the reason, I do put it to the noble Earl who is held in such high esteem by all of us, both in his capacity here as a fine speaker and as First Lord of the Senior Service, that the last word said before he speaks to-night is a word that combines good will with disquiet—serious disquiet at the delays that have taken place. Whatever may be the explanation, I hope that to-night and later he will do all in his power to remove from our minds the very grave doubt and anxiety that at present hang over all of us.

6.24 p.m.


My Lords, I think I should thank noble Lords for what they have said. They have spoken in kindly criticism of the Department I represent and I greatly value their comments, coming as they do from two former First Lords and two present Admirals of the Fleet. I do not propose to enter into this fascinating controversy on the deterrent which I find always arouses people's intense interest—I noticed that when the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, referred to it three people were on their feet discussing their theories on the deterrent. I did arm myself with one of the quotations from Kissinger which I always find interesting in this connection. It is very much on the lines of the noble Lord's argument, and it is this: A renunciation of force by eliminating the penalty for intransigence, will therefore place the international order at the mercy of its most rutbless or its most irresponsible member. I think that that is very much the point that the noble Lord was making.

But the real issue, so far as the Navy is concerned, is that we should really have substantially the same equipment for limited war as we should have for a global war. So that point does not arise in the same acute way as it would do in other Services. We should require the same forces. I do not feel under any obligation to go deeply into this point, because I believe that it would perhaps be wrong of us to try to see the future, for it would be too difficult to say exactly what future was in store for us. We might make just as much of a mistake by taking one course as we should by taking another.


My Lords, may I say to the noble Earl, in all sincerity, that I think that that is a very disappointing comment on my observations? He has simply ignored the whole question that I raised as to the role of the Navy in the event of a global war. He says that he does not feel able to say anything on that subject.


With respect, I should be the last person to ignore what the noble Lord has said. I did not say that I had nothing to say on that point. What I said was that the equipment which the Navy would require, whether in global or limited war, would be substantially the same. I think the noble Lord is going rather far if he expects me to describe precisely what the naval role would be either in global war or in limited war. What I can tell him is the sort of equipment which we might require or that we should require to meet the contingency. But I think it is going a little far to expect me to give precise descriptions of how the Navy would meet a nuclear attack or any other form of attack launched in a war. What I think is important, from my point of view and from the point of view of the House, is that the equipment that the ships would require would be substantially the same. It would not be different. That is one of the advantages: that you can combine in a ship a fairly wide variety of equipment which can be used to meet different types of necessity. I hope the noble Lord does not think I am evading the question. I do not think that I can usefully explain to him what in fact could happen in global war, because it would be pure surmise.

Coming to the general debate, I think the House will agree with me on these two points. The first is that we must not arm ourselves into bankruptcy. That has been said often, and I know that everybody agrees with it, but in listening to the many types of ships which the noble Lord, Lord Winster, suggested we ought to be building now, I thought that he was going a long way in that direction. That, I feel, is a point in this matter which we must bear in mind. The other point is that if we look back in our history we can rarely point to a time when we were acting without allies. There is nothing wrong with having allies. It has been the policy for an extremely long period for this Island to have allies. If we look back to almost any war to the time of Marlborough it will be found that we have acted with allies. In the presence of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, I can say that there was a period when for a short time we acted without allies; but it was a very unpleasant period and one which I think almost all of us would never seek to repeat.

My Lords, the main criticism which has been directed to me to-day has been in regard to new construction. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Cilcennin for making some reference to that, because the modern ship is something which requires a great deal of preliminary work before it even reaches the stage of development. I do not in any way differ from noble Lords in regard to the need to maintain the impetus of modern construction. What I do emphasise, though, is that it is more important to keep modern ships going than it is to try to spend one's energies on the older ships. I can say that there has been no cancellation at all in the shipbuilding programme. We do not normally mention ships in the programme because they are there; we report them as they come into the Fleet. If I may try to console the noble Lord. Lord Teynham a little, I can assure him that the position is this. We have now completed the conversion of the thirty-two Type 15 and 16, and they are all available in service. That was started in the time of the Korean war. We have now rather more than half of the new frigates already with the Fleet. or shall have this year.

We also have a quite impressive programme for modernising destroyers, some of which will be equipped with radar to enable them to act as pickets. All our carriers have been completed since the war, but during that time there have been considerable changes in the carrier requirement and they have all required fairly expensive modernisation—the kind of requirement which the Americans have been only too willing to realise, and to which we have made a tremendous contribution.

I very much hope that the first of the new cruisers, the "Tiger", will be completed very early next year. The noble Lord says that it is already out of date. If he knows exactly the type of war that we are going to fight I should be very grateful to know. My own feeling is that that will be a very useful ship. As the noble Viscount, Lord Cilcennin, has said, what is really important is that we should have a definite idea of what we are aiming at for the middle 'sixties. It is with the object of incorporating new ideas and the latest thoughts of the Naval Staff that I have formed a Fleet Requirements Committee which includes designers, naval staff and scientists, all closely associated together, to see what ships are likely to be required from the middle 'sixties onwards.

There has been some comment, for instance, on guided-missile destroyers. Not only is that an entirely new form of weapon but it involves an entirely new form of propulsion, combining steam turbines with gas turbines, which will necessarily take a long time to develop. I have one more word for the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, on the first flight of the Short SC.1 direct lift aircraft which took place on Whit Monday. That is at least a step forward, but it is really too early to start discussing that in any detail. The noble Viscount also asked about Fleets which I understand ceased publication in February, 1938. I have to assume it was thought that Jane's Fighting Ships told the public all they wanted to know.

There was considerable emphasis on Fleet support and a number of speakers spoke upon that, among them, I believe, the noble Lords, Lord Congleton and Lord Teynham. I agree that we do want more afloat support, and in my recent visit to the United States Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, which is entirely maintained by afloat support, while that is certainly very impressive, I got the impression that it must be extremely expensive.


Hear, hear!


A comparison between the Fleet to-day and that of pre-war times shows, I think, that we have a much bigger number of ships available for that purpose than we had then; but at the present time I can only say that I do not think we shall be able to afford expenditure on the American scale.

One noble Lord raised the question of Sheerness. We are in close touch with the Board of Trade and are doing everything practicable to ensure that the facilities there are made available to those who are interested. I am told that we have a large number of inquiries, and we have good hopes that it will be possible to dispose of the yard in such a way as to provide considerable employment. I am afraid that I cannot go any further at the moment, but I am glad to be able to give optimistic news upon it so far.

The noble Lord, Lord Congleton, asked a number of questions on employment, and at the present juncture it is a little premature to say what will be the effect Greenock is not at all affected at the present time. The move has not started and will not start until next year. At the moment Eglinton is not at all affected, so I have no information which I can usefully give the noble Lord at the present time. I can assure him that there is no intention to build a very large new building on the top of Portsdown, and the noble Lord need have no anxiety about that. The fact is that the Admiralty Gunnery Establishment, Portland, is being transferred to a different purpose, which have explained on a former occasion, and the gunnery side concentrated with radar at the Portsdown establishment.

The noble Lord also asked about airfields. By and large, those shown in the Statement will be given up, with the exception of Brawdy, in South Wales, which is being retained as a reserve field. The noble Lord raised the question of the Hydrographer, and I can assure him that there is not the slightest question of giving up the Hydrographer for the Navy—indeed, many other people would be in a poor way without the Hydrographer. He is giving an exhibition which is travelling round the country at present, and if the noble Lord is interested he might like to see that at some time.

We have had some severe warnings on the numbers of our ships. I am not here to say that I am by any means satisfied with the numbers we have or the speed at which construction is taking place. I am afraid that I cannot tell the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, the numbers declared by our Allies and ourselves to N.A.T.O., but I can assure him that those likely to be available in these waters are considerable. I believe it is fair to say that the forces we could make available are not inconsiderable. Some of your Lordships have asked, "Have we enough?" Of course, no one can ever know that in advance. It would be quite wrong, however, to say that our contribution is in itself decisive, or that the contribution which is made by our Allies is very small.

A number of noble Lords have raised the question of "Polaris "—the missile which is now being built in America. I have not a great deal to say about that beyond what is already known. It is a solid propellant guided missile, firing perhaps 1,500 miles. One submarine carries perhaps a dozen or more missiles. It can load in safety in port, go to a spot and operate. It is said to use an extremely accurate system of navigation under-water and can launch its missiles with great accuracy; and, if necessary, it can operate from holes in the ice fields at the North Pole. A few submarines of this kind are said to be able to cover the greater part of the Eurasian land-mass, should that be necessary. In short, there is no doubt that this is a most significant development—one which we are watching extremely closely. It is an extremely potent weapon. mobile, versatile and very difficult to detect. It is extremely difficult to destroy and carries, if necessary, a megaton warhead.


My Lords, may I ask whether the noble Earl the First Lord happens to know if she can fire the missile from a depth below the radar detection limit?


My Lords. I can answer that question very easily, because radar detection does not operate under water but if the noble Lord has Asdic detection in mind. I would not say that it would be below Asdic depth, so far as I know. On the other hand, as the noble Lord will be aware, Asdic requires to be very close to a submarine, as compared with radar, to be effective. I do not know whether there is any question which I have been asked to which I have not given an answer.


Coastal Command.


My Lords, I am glad the noble Viscount raised the question of Coastal Command, in view of recent reports that Her Majesty's Government have made a decision on that.

The answer is: No, that is pure speculation. I believe that that is all I need say on that at the present time. Time is getting on, but I should like again to thank those of your Lordships who have taken part in this debate. The advice and guidance which you give is of value to us in our considerations, even if I have not necessarily been able entirely to satisfy your Lordships this evening.

6.41 p.m.


My Lords, before asking for the leave of the House to withdraw the Motion, because we certainly should not want to divide on it, may I thank the First Lord for the trouble he has taken to reply to the debate? I hope that he will not dismiss the idea of the Navy's having some more permanent control of Coastal Command, because our experience in the war was that if we had not been able to get operational control of it we should never have had such an expanding and wonderful success by Coastal Command in sinking sub-marines. They had a very good toll, but it was Coastal Command's co-operation under the operational directions of the Admiralty that led to the success. If we could have a little more actual training in Coastal Command in peace time on that principle, I think it would do a lot of good.

The First Lord asked whether I or my Party would be prepared to pay all the extra millions that some of my arguments seemed to imply would be necessary, and to give up the deterrent. I think I have made my position on the deterrent perfectly plain in speaking on the White Paper on Defence and on this occasion. But, of course, in dealing with the last six years, we get into the sphere of political controversy. As for the previous six years we would take our caning if any caning was due to us; but in the last six and a half years costs have risen so violently, we think because of the economic and financial policy of the Government, that we have nothing like fulfilled the programme formulated by the Labour Government. We think that something better might have been done in that regard. I am not blaming the First Lord, and certainly not the Board of Admiralty. They have been hedged in by rising costs that have been made effective as inflated costs and by the policy of "Set the people free from all controls and let them spend just what they like"; and that is what has happened in that connection.

I am grateful to all the noble Lords who have joined in the debate on this Motion this afternoon. I feel quite certain that the more each one of us individually gives expression to his view as to what is the special need for maritime defence of this old country and our Commonwealth, the better it will be for the nation, the better it will be for recruitment into this great Service and the better it will be for the prevention, rather than the promotion, of war in our country in the future. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.