HL Deb 27 January 1959 vol 213 cc794-848

2.52 p.m.

THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY rose to move to resolve, That, in the opinion of this House, the depleted strength of the Royal Navy creates a dangerous situation. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am not going to begin my few remarks by apologising for bringing this matter before your Lordships' House again, although it was debated only a few months ago—but to empty Benches. In my view, there are certain aspects of the Government's defence policy which require consideration at the proper time; and one of them—and in my opinion, the most important—is to stop depleting the Fleet and running it down to nothing before we have something to take its place. The text on which I want to talk is: Do not throw away good articles until you have got something better to take their place.

We are engaged now in changing from a conventional Navy to a nuclear Navy, and everybody understands that this is a task which must take time. Every new device must be well tried before it is fitted into ships of the new Fleet—a Fleet upon which so much may depend in the future. Further, it is quite obvious, in the present state of the world, with rulers of powerful States telling each other, not perhaps to "go to Hell," but that force will be met by force, that nobody can say that the shadow of another world war does not hang over us. I think it behoves the Government, therefore, to walk warily, and not to do either of two things: to let the conventional Navy be so depleted that it cannot manage the task it may be called upon to perform at the present moment, or to let the other nations get such a long start with a nuclear Fleet that we are left hopelessly astern. I submit that we are in danger of doing both those things.

The background against which we must consider this question is a simple one. Every year we have to import into these islands 100 million tons of food and raw materials, and 99 per cent. of that huge tonnage has to come by sea in ships. In his Explanatory Statement on the Navy Estimates for last year, the First Lord said: The oceans cover 70 per cent. of the world surface … nothing is more important than that our merchant shipping should be able to pass freely and safely across them. Our very existence, in peace and in war, depends upon this freedom. The Minister of Defence has said a similar thing. He has said: It is surely the first duty of the Navy to pay attention to the protection of the sea communications upon which the whole life and economy of our island people depends. In view of those two statements by those responsible Ministers, can it be wondered that the general public should not concern themselves much about this question but take it for granted that, having made those important statements, the Government will see that everything is done to implement them?

But, my Lords, we are not the only people who have studied the lessons to be learned from the last two wars. Other nations, too, have noted what a powerful weapon the submarine is against merchant shipping, and how it can be used to bring to its knees and to starvation a nation which depends entirely upon its merchant shipping. For that purpose Russia—essentially a Continental Power—has during the last decade built a very powerful and very modern navy. None of the ships in that navy is more than ten years old, so the ships are all modern. In addition, the Russians have a powerful maritime air force—some 3,000 machines. I am not insinuating that the nation has been purposely kept in ignorance of the position, but I do feel that there is a general misunderstanding of the situation as it now exists. There have been such headlines in the Press, for instance, as "Home Fleet leaves for Manœuvres in the North Sea." How many people realise that that means two ships and a flotilla of small craft? Then, another one was "N.A.T.O.'s Manœuvres East of Suez". How many people realise that the British contingent consisted of one carrier, one destroyer, and one submarine? When, after full-scale exercises in the Atlantic, the American and British air and sea officers reported that they had not sufficient planes or ships to do the task allotted to them, they were hardly listened to, if not actually frowned upon.

At the present time we have a small naval force which I do not hesitate to say would be quite unable to protect our shipping if war were to come to-morrow. The First Lord recently said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 211, col. 651]: What I am concerned with is what we are going to have in ten years' time. He then went on to say: … it is no good thinking only of to-day. I do not think that the immediate danger of a major war is great … My Lords, I have a great respect for all that the First Lord says, except on this particular point. Surely the present intervening years require a close and careful study and a watching from hour to hour. The position should be kept very much in the foreground, so that the change from the conventional to the nuclear Navy is made as a rather gradual transition, and not as a period of fits and starts.

I know that I shall be told that we are not alone. If we were alone at the present time, with the Navy as it is to-day, we should not have a chance. To my way of thinking—and no doubt many other noble Lords will agree—that is a sad position for Britain to be in. Our opponents will have several advantages over us if they choose to bring about a war. The first, and perhaps main, advantage will be that they will be under one command. With one command you can do your planning and movement of ships and have everything ready and settled almost before your opponents know that anything is happening. We do not know much about what goes on behind the Iron Curtain, as has been proved by certain recent events, and it is possible that they could have the whole thing ready to surprise us. What would our position be then? We should be like a fox in a henyard, clattering about as to whether we should declare war according to this or that.

I do not wish to burden your Lordships with figures, but I feel that the strength of the Russian Fleet ought to be borne in mind. They have 32 cruisers, 180 destroyers, 1,000 escort ships, 500 submarines and, in addition, a powerful maritime force of something like 3,000 planes. Next year our strength will be 3 carriers, 3 cruisers, 24 destroyers and approximately 40 to 50 frigates. The amount of merchant shipping that we should have to protect with that strength does not differ much from what it was in 1939; in fact, it is probably somewhat larger, because of the increased demand for oil. There is only one thing to be said in regard to that, and that is that we have not the force to protect it.

If there is anything behind all the Russian movements, the very state of the Fleet at this time, even if we could come to any agreement about nuclear weapons, would invite them to take the opportunity of destroying us. I have told your Lordships that there are about 40 to 50 frigates, and that may sound to some noble Lords to be a goodly number. But frigates have other tasks to perform than escort duty. And when we consider escort vessels, we should not think in tens or twenties, but must think in hundreds. During the last war we never had enough escorts until towards the very end of that war. Escort vessels comprise not only frigates, but also cruisers and other ships, down to submarines and small craft such as oceangoing trawlers.

In March, 1942, the British and American authorities looking after convoys got together to decide what number of escort craft they required. The British required 720 and had 380; the Americans required 550 and had 120. So that they were together something like 800 below requirements. At that time some 200 escort ships were being built in the United States for Britain, and it was hoped that they would be delivered before the end of that year. They did not enter service fast enough to meet the growing demand for escorts, however, and we suffered from a severe shortage of these vessels until almost the end of the war. As late as 1943 we find our Prime Minister telling the President of the United States: The sinking of 17 ships in convoy in the North Atlantic in two days is final proof that everywhere our escorts are too thin. And he goes on to say: The strain upon the British navy is getting intolerable. What could we do with the force that we have available now if we were called upon to carry out a similar task!

That struggle for escort vessels remained, as I have said, almost a permanent feature in the Atlantic battle during the whole of the war. One reason for that was because of a clash of priorities in the United States, both sides no doubt thinking that their interests were the most important. The Americans wanted the labour and materials for the landing craft in the Pacific and for the North African expedition, and we wanted more ships to guard our food supplies.

Much the same state of affairs existed with escort carriers, of which a great deal was hoped. We did not get them for some time and had to employ a make-shift class of ship. Are we again to be asked to go all these troubles? This certainly cost us thousands of lives and hundreds of merchant ships, which, if we had the forces to protect them, would have been spared. We read of an attack upon a convoy and are told that three ships have gone down in one column, two in another and a further ship in another. We are all very sad about the loss of the ships, but nobody thinks about the merchant seamen, who, in losses of that nature, would represent something like 300 men.

On the question of scrapping of ships, it is the fact that in the last three years we have been doing little else. I should like to give your Lordships an example of what happens—my information is all from the newspapers, so it may be that there is something more behind it. A 9,000 tons cruiser arrived home just before Christmas, having come 10,000 miles. She was a Flagship in the Eastern part of the world—off the back-door, as it were, of Vladivostock—a station where typhoons and extremely heavy weather are not unknown. The ship brought back 700 or 800 men in safety, but the same day she arrives it was announced that she was to be scrapped. Why should she be scrapped? She was out there, and presumably she was an efficient ship. I feel sure that she was kept in a high state of efficiency, because Her Majesty's ships usually are, and she had proved herself quite safe at sea. Yet she is to be scrapped. That ship would have been much more suited to the work that was given to the unfortunate "Jervis Bay" at the beginning of the last war. The "Jervis Bay", an armed liner, was the only armed vessel with a convoy of 37 ships. She was sighted by a German cruiser, which engaged and sank her, along with seven other ships in the convoy. That represented the loss of another 300 or 400 merchant seamen.

Surely we could give the ship I have mentioned two or three years more. A small crew would keep her in the required state. I do not know whether any of your Lordships read the House of Commons examination, but they were not loud in their praises of the Admiralty as concerns the old ships.

There are many other matters which I should have liked to bring before your Lordships to-day. In my opinion it is a point of honour for the Government to give not only the sailors of the Merchant Navy—I am not talking at the moment about the Royal Navy—but all soldiers, airmen and Government officials of all kinds who have to be transported by sea better protection and rescue vessels, so that if they do meet disaster they do not all go.

I hope that this subject will be taken up by subsequent speakers and I must ask your Lordships' leave not to make any more remarks. I have been suffering from a throat, and I am rather in difficulties. I should like to say that a well protected, efficient Merchant Navy is the hope of salvation of this country. If our food and our supplies do not come in time of war, we run a great risk of a bad effect upon national morale. Picture thousands of men out of work, standing about and seeing their wives struggling to keep the children happy, the children crying for food and starving. That could lead to a very strong "Stop the war" movement, to demonstrations and riots, and from riots to chaos and perhaps even revolution. I beg to move my Resolution.

Moved, That, in the opinion of this House the depleted strength of the Royal Navy creates a dangerous situation.—(The Earl of Cork and Orrery.)

3.13 p.m.


My Lords, I hope the noble and gallant Admiral of the Fleet will allow me to say, with respect, that he has always had the reputation of being a man who uses words sparingly but uses them to express his exact meaning. If he warns us to-day that the country is moving into danger because of the naval situation, then he means exactly that, and I trust that the Government will heed the warning.

The First Sea Lord made a speech early this month in which he said that he welcomed the public reawakening to recognition of the Navy's role. I am bound to say that I have not noticed much in that direction myself, and I wish it were so, with all my heart. The Government will have to adopt a different attitude towards the Navy if indeed the public is to be awakened to its functions and to its present state. The First Sea Lord went on to say that the Navy could operate efficiently in a cold war, a limited war and a global war. That sounds all very well, but it requires some amplification which I hope the First Lord may be able to give us this afternoon. What I should like to know is: What does the Navy do? What is the function of the Navy in each of those three eventualities of which the First Sea Lord spoke? What ships would be necessary in each case to enable the Navy to carry out that function? Finally, have we got those ships, or what is the prospect of getting them? Unless we have some facts of that nature I am bound to say that I think the First Sea Lord's speech carries very little weight.

The First Lord, answering the noble Earl, Lord Howe, a short time ago used these words [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 213 (No. 20), col. 81]: … we intend to maintain a Fleet which will fulfil these tasks. I take it that he meant the tasks of which the First Sea Lord has spoken. But does the First Lord really think that, say, in 1961 all those tasks as defined by the First Sea Lord can be performed on a basis of three carriers and three cruisers? Those are the figures issued recently by the Navy League, and I have not seen any contradiction of them. Does the Admiralty really think that that basis is adequate? The First Lord used these words recently: Resources are being repeatedly diverted from the shore support of the Navy to the fighting ships themselves. What exactly does that mean? The fighting ships are diminishing steadily, and they are to be reduced to three carriers and three cruisers with, of course, the attendant ships. What are these resources being diverted for? Why the urgency to divert the resources from shore support to the fighting ships themselves when the fighting ships are getting fewer and fewer? Of course, the First Lord, I recognise fully, is bound by his political loyalties, but I find it difficult to believe that he is satisfied in his own heart, beyond all reasonable doubt, that we are strong enough at sea and that where the Navy is concerned our defence policy is today correct and effective.

Let us look for a moment at another speech made by the First Sea Lord on Trafalgar Day of last year. He quoted Nelson as having warned the Admiralty once in 1803 in connection with steam propulsion which was then being talked about. The First Sea Lord made this comment: Let us take to heart this lesson from Nelson's life: Look ahead, keep abreast of the times and where possible ahead of them. Very fine words indeed. But we are not ahead of the times; we are miles astern of America and Russia, who are now first and second. What is the position in which we find ourselves? The Prime Minister spoke on naval matters when recently in Australia and he said: We must not lower our guard. But at sea that is exactly what we have done. The official statement is: We have decided not to attempt to maintain in home waters a balanced naval force containing warships capable of discharging every rôle. If that is not lowering our guard I should like to know what is. The Prime Minister continued: Interdependence must here come to Britain's aid. I confess that that frightened me, for our experience of interdependence has not been very happy. The story of where our support should come from has been too much a story of delays, too little and too late, poor quality and quarrels militating against victories. The story of interdependence is not altogether a happy one for us.

I want to pass on to what an Admiral of the Fleet said about the Merchant Navy. The Merchant Navy Officers' Association has recently communicated to the First Lord its fears that the Admiralty is neglecting the defence of the Merchant Navy. The Admiralty reply claims that it … always bears in mind its special responsibility to the Merchant Navy. But, my Lords, two wars have proved that that claim is quite unfounded, and as things are going to-day a third war would, I fear, repeat the melancholy story. The Admiralty reply, as a matter of fact, admits my criticism when it says: … at the beginning of the last war a number of armed merchant cruisers had to be given the task of protecting convoys from surface attack. … We all remember with pride the epic fights of the 'Rawalpindi' and the 'Jervis Bay'. We remember with pride; and the Admiralty feels pride in those two episodes.

I had the following comment on this letter from a most eminent and distinguished naval officer. He says that, in the letter, we have an exposition of Admiralty policy which will not stand the most elementary examination. With you I regard the 'Rawalpindi' and 'Jervis Bay' with shame; but of course the praise and V.C.s were the smoke screen behind which the authorities sought refuge. Who has ever doubted the courage of the personnel of the Royal Navy or the Merchant Navy? I thought that a very poor passage in the Admiralty reply.

The Admiralty letter then goes on: I am bound to agree that the submarine threat has increased. As you know, the Royal Navy has concentrated on anti-aircraft and anti-submarine measures as its main contribution to the N.A.T.O. navies. But we know from Admiral Eccles, when he was Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet, that he had not got under his command the resources to enable him to defend the Merchant Navy adequately if called upon to do so. The letter concluded by hoping you will feel that the Royal Navy can best succour the Merchant Navy by concentrating on building a powerful, active Fleet. My naval friend made the appropriate comment again: It is not as if the 'powerful, active Fleet' was just round the corner instead of being over the hills and far away. The Merchant Navy has so many of these reassurances to endure. The noble Viscount, Lord Cilcennin, when he was First Lord, said: The Merchant Navy can still rely on the Royal Navy to escort it as it performs its vital task. The frigates and the carriers will be there. That was some time ago, but they are not there yet. This has not been the Merchant Navy's experience in two wars after similarly optimistic and reassuring Admiralty pronouncements. The Merchant Navy has had enough of these bland reassurances, the worthlessness of which was proved in the last war by 35,000 casualties and 11 million tons of shipping sunk. In the debate of June 11 last year the noble and gallant Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Cunningham of Hyndhope, pointed out that we ended the last war with 880 ocean escort vessels. That gives the measure of the task which the Admiralty is called upon to perform with regard to our Merchant Navy. We had 880 ocean escort vessels. What have we got to-day?

The noble Viscount went on to say that unacceptable risks are being run at sea. It is surely a sorry day when the Merchant Navy can no longer rely for protection on the Royal Navy. He called attention to the Russian submarine force and said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 209, col. 751]: … the forces to meet and defeat this very real menace are, in my view, quite inadequate … unacceptable risks are being run. And he was supported by another Admiral of the Fleet, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, who asked for an assurance that there will be ships available to give "reasonable security" for our merchantmen. He did not ask for too much; he asked for "reasonable security" for our merchantmen. I should like to put it a little higher than that and say that we want very real security indeed for our merchant shipping.

It was noticeable that in that debate of June last year, although two Admirals of the Fleet expressed themselves in these very strong terms about the Merchant Navy, the First Lord made no reply. I read through the two speeches that he made on that occasion; I read through them yesterday, and I do not think I missed anything—if I did I will apologise, of course—but I could not find that the First Lord made any reasoned reply to what those two gallant officers had said. I hope we may be more fortunate to-day. I think that what we hope for is not an attempt to prove that everything is all right—I mean the sort of speech that Lord Cilcennin once made, that "the carriers and the ships will be there", and so on. We do not ask for that sort of assurance from the First Lord to-day; I am afraid we should not believe it if we got it. What we should like to hear is something in detail about the plans which are in hand, the programmes which are being devised in order to build up the sort of protection that the Merchant Navy must have.

I do not want to go at length this afternoon into the question of the atomic submarine, the "Dreadnought", but I must say that I think it is a sorry story indeed. In fact, I am almost tempted to use a stronger adjective than sorry. But why all the secrecy about this vessel? I do not know what is the purpose of the secrecy. Surely everything about atomic submarines is now known certainly to America and very probably indeed also to Russia, so why must there be all this secrecy about the ship? Why cannot we be told that the keel has been laid or when it is hoped to lay the keel, or when it is hoped she may be launched, and when it is hoped that she may be with the Fleet and operational? Why the secrecy? I can understand many difficulties which have arisen in regard to this vessel, and I am sure there is a good reason for the many delays; but I cannot understand the reason for secrecy.

In March last year, less than a year ago, the Parliamentary Secretary said: The coming of atomic submarines is inevitable. The Admiralty is working on this. Rip van Winkle again! At that time the "Nautilus" had cruised 66,000 miles, and the Parliamentary Secretary had realised that the coming of these craft is inevitable! Rear Admiral Wilson was recently appointed—a very good appointment indeed—in charge of nuclear propulsion, and he has stressed the importance of getting to sea with the minimum delay, using these words: Posterity will not excuse us if we fail in this task. At the present moment if we are not in fact failing, certainly we are lagging behind. The latest Jane's Fighting Ships speaks of our "modest effort" to produce one atomic submarine. At that I think I will leave the subject this afternoon. But the series of quotations would I think shock your Lordships if one were to go back over the whole story of this submarine from the time she was first thought about. To my mind, the story is all the more regrettable because I have been told that we actually had the embryonic idea before America; but America now has certainly five and I believe seven atomic submarines at sea with the Fleet.

Then I want to say a word or two about what I call "modern" ships. Again, this year Jane's Fighting Ships says: The Navy Departments of major naval Powers have been shaken out of the static orbit of conventional ships, conventional propulsion and conventional weapons. I am afraid that that can hardly be said about our Navy. There is, of course, a great distinction between new and modern ships. Although we have been building some new ships we have not yet built a modern ship in the accepted sense of the word. I could build a house. I could build it without central heating, without electric light and without any water supply. When it was finished I should have a new house, but I should not have a modern house. The Admiralty has been building some new ships, but they have not yet built a modern ship.

When I spoke about this in our last debate the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, said that I had advocated having a lot of new ships, the building of which would lead to bankruptcy. I asked for nothing of the sort. I only asked that when we do build something it should be modern in the accepted naval sense of the word to-day. Modern ships are those which embody modern ideas—atomic propulsion, rockets, missiles, vertical take-off aircraft, atomic missile launching submarines. Those are modern ships as navies understand them to-day. We have none of those things. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, when he was First Lord, said: We may have to put up with a smaller Navy, but let us resolve not to be content with an obsolete one. That is very true indeed. I could almost wish that he had remained in that office in order to put his words into effect.

What we have been building, while it may be new, is not by my reckoning modern—in fact, it is obsolescent already and it will be years before a modern, as opposed to a new, ship joins the Fleet. We have had one submarine since 1948—we build one submarine while Russia has apparently built 500—but she and her sister ships are new, not modern. They will be armed with torpedoes, not with missiles; and the rest of our submarines are left-overs from the last war. There are three cruisers. One of them is now undergoing her trials. It is over nineteen years since the "Tiger" was laid down, and something like fifteen years since she was launched. We heard from the Admiralty, when questioned about these three cruisers at one time, that the work on them was "gathering pace"—this snails' race of nineteen years!—and also that when they did come out they would have up-to-date armament. But the armament is not up to date. They are armed with guns, not with missiles, at a time when America is taking guns out of her carriers and has ceased to make any more big gun ammunition.

The habit of thought that the Admiralty has evinced in these answers that we get seems to me to be all wrong. Money wasted on obsolescent equipment, if put into modern ideas, would have given us a Fleet which certainly would have been small—I agree about that—but which would have been a powerful deterrent to an international conflict, the thing that we want above all things to avoid. We are in the midst of a transitional era at sea, but we are not abreast of our era, and I regret to say that it is Admiral Arleigh Burke, known as "Thirty knot Burke", the chief of the American Navy, who, in Lord Mountbatten's words, is Looking ahead, keeping abreast of the times and where possible ahead of them. It is to America that we have to go to find that being done. As things are to-day we have neither a Fleet in being—we have abandoned the attempt to keep a Fleet adequate for all our needs at home—nor have we a Fleet in prospect to discharge the responsibilities which are now envisaged by the Admiralty in the definition of the Navy's roles which the Admiralty has recently put forward.

In 1953, the then First Lord said that a replacement programme was necessary if the Navy is to exist as an efficient force. That was six years ago. Since then, what have we seen?—a steady wastage; no planned continuous replacement programme; no sense of urgency about modern ships; but, instead, year after year of doubt and indecision, with the Navy rather smaller when each year ended than when it began. I trust that we may to-day have from the First Lord some indication that these facts are at least being borne in mind and that, especially with regard to the modern Navy, the programme of escort ships which is essential to its service is now being planned and will be put into action in not too long a time.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, I must admit that I feel a little shy about taking part in this debate on the Royal Navy, as I never had the honour of serving in that Service; nor did I have the privilege of serving as a Minister of the Admiralty. This House in itself contains many memorials to the greatness of the Royal Navy in the names with which it is decorated—or, may I say, jewelled?—Hood and Howe, Jellicoe and Beatty, Rodney and Nelson and other great names which make us recall the splendid past of the Royal Navy. And the list is kept up to date. To-day we shall hear the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Cunningham of Hyndhope, as we have heard the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery.

Certainly I feel that the Navy, throughout its history, has benefited immensely from the vigilance which has been shown in both Houses of Parliament, and not least in your Lordships' House, both from those who have served at the Admiralty and from those who have served in the Royal Navy. So the whole House ought to be grateful to the noble and gallant Earl, whom we all so greatly admire, for bringing forward this subject to-day. No one is better fitted than the noble Earl to remind any Government of their duty towards the Royal Navy. I am one of those who believe that the greatest and, indeed, the happiest days of this nation were those in which the Royal Navy was supreme upon the seas; and I believe that those were happier days for the world. The prayer "Britannia, rule the waves" (not "rules" the waves) was uttered then by all the citizens of this country, and I, for one, regret the passing of those days. But they have gone past recall, and no longer is Britain's armed strength exactly synonymous with the strength and efficiency of the Royal Navy.

A modern Government in this country has a supremely difficult problem to solve, and the strength of the Royal Navy has to be taken in the context of the whole defence problem; and while I consider that pre-war Governments could be arraigned for neglecting the nation's defences, I think that, on the whole, this is not true of any post-war Government, of either colour. The nation has spent all it could properly afford, and possibly more, on its Services and on preparations for defence. Although the noble Lord, Lord Winster, does not like the word, it nevertheless remains true that to-day our national defence policy must rest upon interdependence—interdependence between the nations of the Western Alliance and, internally, on interdependence between the Services.

I agree that all Governments, of whatever Party and complexion, by whomever they may be led, need constantly to be reminded that they must not prefer internal welfare to the strength of the nation externally. However, I do not think that the present Administration can justly be accused of such neglect. In essence to-day all debates, whether they are on one Service or on more than one Service, are both defence debates and foreign policy debates. In any debate of this nature we must always ask ourselves: How can we, as a nation, best underpin the Western Allies? How can we best contribute Armed Forces which will help to preserve peace with freedom? We must ask also: By what means can we secure that Britain has an effective voice in the policy of the Alliance? And lastly: How can we satisfy the requirements and preparations for global war with the security problems that are always with us, such as Cyprus is to-day?

I submit, with great respect, that this debate, on such a high level and in which so many speakers of great weight and experience will take part, should be conducted within the context of these questions; and I further submit that, unless it is, the debate will not have the effect which it ought to have outside of this House. I hope that these questions will be constantly in the minds of all speakers, and that they will debate the Motion with the national and international aspects of defence policy in their minds. I do not know whether the noble and gallant Earl intends to press his Motion to a Division. He, of all men, I think, has always followed the exhortation to lay his ship alongside the enemy's and board her. I must say that, much as I admire him and his vigilance, on the wording of the Motion to-day I could not go into the Lobby with him.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, within a few months it will be fifty years since I first addressed your Lordships' House, and some years ago, with increasing deafness, I fully felt that my time of speaking in the House was over. But the whole of my political life I have stood up for the adequate defence of this country—not by any means a popular subject for most of that period—and as I happened to be First Lord during the ten months immediately preceding the outbreak of war in 1939 I thought that I might have figures to give to your Lordships showing the position as it was then and comparing it with the position today.

My figures for 1939 I quote from the Official Return of Fleets published in February of that year. On February 1, 1939, we had 6 aircraft carriers, with 5 others building. Although, to some extent, battleships took part in defending our merchant navy and our sea routes, that was only a side issue, so I am omitting battleships from the figures I give your Lordships to-day. Of cruisers we had 39, with 21 over age but fully operational—a total of 60, with 17 under construction; and I may say that none of those over age was more than about 22 years old, "over age", for a cruiser, meaning anything over 20 years old.

As regards destroyers, we had 97, with 62 others over 16 years of age—none of them, I think, more than 20 years of age—a total of 159 destroyers, with 28 others building. Of escort vessels (later called frigates) we had 32, with 107 trawlers which had been converted for anti-submarine work and clearing of mines, making a total of 139, with 58 then building and due to come into service at an early date. Then of submarines: we had 44, with 15 others building. The total of cruisers, destroyers and frigates in being was 311. Many of the 108 ships then building were due for completion at a very early date.

The Germans, according to Admiral Doenitz's book, which is appearing serially in the Sunday Times, had at the beginning of the war 56 submarines in commission, of which only 46 were operational. Of those 46, only 22—I repeat, only 22—had sufficient range of action to act in the Atlantic. The 24 others were so small that they could not operate outside the North Sea. Of course the Admiralty knew quite well that if war broke out the Germans would begin to build many more submarines. But we felt that we, too, should have time to build extra ships as they were required; and therefore we felt that what we were putting forward in the Estimates in 1939 was adequate to meet that situation.

I was interested, a few nights ago, to read the speech which the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough (as he now is), made at that time on behalf of the Labour Party in another place, when the Estimates were presented by the then Parliamentary Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Shakespeare. He seemed to be quite content with the figures that were produced, and certainly he did not say that they were too high. Yet with 311 British ships against only 46 (which number, of course, rapidly increased), we shall all remember the shortages that we suffered in every kind of way throughout the war—rationing of food, rationing of petrol and rationing of all sorts of products which were necessary for the safety and welfare of this country.

My Lords, let us now compare with that position the position of to-day. The U.S.S.R. is reported to have at least 400 submarines in being, and most of them are large submarines capable of action in the far seas. They are faster, a good deal faster, than the German submarines of twenty years ago; and as they have considerable fuel capacity they will have to withdraw far less often away from the operational areas in order to refuel or to return home for the same purpose. They will be able to remain at sea much longer and, therefore, they are worth far more, ship for Ship, than were the submarines of the Germans twenty years ago. I am aware, of course, that radar detection has made great strides, arid that to-day we can probably spot a submarine, if she is afloat, right up to the horizon, and possibly slightly further. But I doubt very much whether my noble friend the First Lord will say that echo-sounding has increased very materially in range, or that we have means of easily finding a submarine while submerged. How my noble friend Lord De L'Isle thinks we are going to find submarines submerged, particularly at night, I do not know.

What have we to put against these 400 submarines? I quote from the Explanatory Statement of the First Lord which he published last year, and I hope he will feel that I am not only being fair to him but even being super-generous, because I am going to include in ships in commission those engaged on trials and training; and I am going to include among ships in reserve those in all classes of reserve, whether undergoing extensive refit, modernisation or conversion, and so on. Many of these ships will, of course, be many months undergoing that conversion and modernisation; nevertheless, I will regard them as being in reserve. These are the figures: cruisers, 7, plus 9 in reserve, making a total of 16, against 60 twenty years ago; destroyers, 24, plus 32 in reserve, a total of 56, against 159 twenty years ago; frigates, 30, plus 75 in reserve, making 105, against 140 twenty years ago. That is a total of 177 cruisers, destroyers and frigates, as compared with 359 twenty years ago.

My Lords, I may be told, as I believe my noble friend Lord De L'Isle said, that we must not forget we now have N.A.T.O. Allies. Yes. But will they be able to come to our rescue? Am I wrong in saying that many of the Russian submarines mount fairly big guns? Suppose those submarines lie submerged off the East Coast of America and that in the hours of darkness, or when they think it is safe to rise to the surface, they shell some of those great cities situated on the Eastern seaboard of the United States, Does anybody think for one moment that the American people will not insist—as, after all, we were inclined to insist when shelled for a short time in the 1914–18 war—that their Fleet, their frigates and cruisers and so on, should patrol their coast to ensure that their cities are protected and safe from bombardment? Will they, in these circumstances, be available to protect our trade routes and our merchant shipping on sea? And what happens if they cannot? The blockade was bad enough in the last war. With ten times the number of submarines, at least, and those submarines infinitely more efficient, surely the danger now is far greater than it was then.

What may happen? Suppose that our fuel supplies are cut off. We may run our power stations on coal; we cannot run our aircraft on coal, Every one of them would be tied to the ground. We could not even use our Fleet. It is all now powered by oil fuel. We should not be able to use our road transport; and many of our railways, too, are now using diesel engines instead of coal. And that is only the beginning of the problem. What is the alternative? Are we going to be the first to use a nuclear bomb? Are we going to be prepared to do so—or are we prepared to become a nation similar to Poland or Roumania, or possibly Hungary?

We are all aware that it is far more expensive to build a fleet these days than it was twenty years ago. There is no comparison with the position fifty years ago, when we could build a dreadnought for under £1 million, which, I suppose, is a figure not far different from that which a destroyer costs to-day. Yet, my Lords, are we justified in putting anything before the safety of this country? Surely protection of this country must be a first charge on our expenditure and on all that we possess. I do not believe that this country, if told the facts, would hesitate to provide the funds necessary for building an adequate Fleet, even though it meant giving up cherished expectations and things we have longed to have for many years past: further support of the arts, improved education and all the rest of it. Failing an agreement between East and West on which we can all rely, we must put first the protection of this country, by sea, by air and on the land. I cannot but think that this Government, who have shown such courage in putting through legislation which we on this side feel to have been right, can lack the courage necessary to tell the, people of this country the truth. I plead that they should put in hand, not a Fleet of dreadnoughts and battle cruisers, and so on, but of small ships, to fight the submarine menace and to help out what can be done from the air, to see that the trade routes of this country are maintained and our merchant fleet protected.

House adjourned during pleasure and resumed by The LORD CHANCELLOR.

4.1 p.m.


My Lords, I feel a certain hesitation in butting in on such a naval occasion, all the more so since I find myself in great disagreement with those noble Lords who have spoken, with the exception of the noble Viscount. Lord De L'Isle. I personally am very sorry we were not able to hear the full wisdom of the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery. However, I find that much of what has been said to-day smacks of that unreality—and I am sorry to use such a strong expression—which is still shown by so many of our people in the face of the atomic weapon, and I hope that the Government, even though they may have had a bad week last week, will stand up to-day to the suggestion that we ought to have a larger Navy.

I say straight away that no one has a higher esteem for the qualities of the Navy—for those remarkable qualities of discipline and courage, and all those virtues that protected this country so effectively in the past—than I have. But we are faced with a situation in which sentiment alone cannot determine our actions; and the comparisons that have been made in the numbers of ships that we have to-day as opposed to those that we had thirty years ago are, in my opinion, as valid as if we were to judge the transport system of this country by the number of railway engines that we have, or, indeed, by the number of horses. The situation is radically different.

As I understand the Government policy—and this is the view which many people in other Parties hold, and not all my colleagues would agree—it is that we rely for the defence of this country very largely on the prevention of war by means of the deterrent, and it is the deterrent which is the basis of Government policy. Whether that is right or wrong can be argued, but that is, at the moment, the fundamental concept which, year after year, has found expression in Government Defence White Papers. I would ask those noble Lords who have been advocating a larger Navy whether in fact they disagree with the Government on this particular matter, because this is the crux of the issue.

I personally think that the development of atomic weapons, terrible though they are, has made its contribution to the preservation of peace. But if there is one way in which I believe we shall be in danger of finding ourselves at war, it is if we attempt to compete with the Russians, and compete alone with the Russians, in terms of conventional weapons. We have heard a lot of talk about the size of the Russian Navy and of the number of Russian submarines. For the last ten years we have been hearing about a figure varying between 350 and 500 Russian submarines—and in a very excitable moment it was the present Prime Minister, I think, who once said that he thought there were 1,000. But any noble Lords who have examined Jane's Fighting Ships will find that the submarines which are listed there year after year are the ones that have been there year after year—and, indeed, were there before the war.

From the information which I have had, I think it is likely that, even if the Russians have in fact succeeded in getting a certain number of the more modern type of submarine based on the German Type 21, and even if they have some with closed-cycle propulsion, they still lack the resources and, above all, they lack the ports. The German threat in the last war reached its climax when they obtained possession of the Atlantic ports, and at that time they were operating at sea as many as 100 submarines. I do not know whether the noble Lords who are advocating that we should strengthen our defence against that threat think that a war would be extended so far as to give a possible Russian enemy deep-sea ports on the Atlantic without somebody, somewhere, dropping an atom bomb.

Of course, if it were to come to that, the situation is today radically different from what it was in the last war, for most of the last war bombing of submarine bases, although it had a considerable disrupting effect, none the less was not decisive. The great bulk of German submarines which were sunk were sunk at sea, and were sunk at sea by aircraft—and if the noble Lord disagrees with me I will give him the figures in a moment. I hope, therefore, that the Government will not be too disturbed by this Motion, because I believe that it is important that we should look at the defence of this country, as the noble Viscount, Lord De L'Isle, said, as interdependent between the Services and, above all, as interdependent between the Allies. If we start doubting our Allies, we might as well "pack it in" now; and I am sure that we should not follow any policy which is based on a belief that we cannot maintain an alliance.

Now I want to turn to another matter. I hope that the Government, in their desire to conciliate naval interests, will not follow the course which I understand is now very much under consideration. It is believed, certainly among some people in the Air Force, that it is quite likely that the Navy, at their tenth attempt, will succeed in wresting Coastal Command from the Royal Air Force. I would remind your Lordships of some of the facts and of some of the arguments that have been put forward in the past. We all appreciate that there is a concept of sea power—a concept which has been of profound importance in the growth and power of this country: but there is also a concept of air power, and I should like to illustrate it, if I may go back to the last war, although the arguments that I am going to use are not wholly relevant to the present situation but are relevant to what has been said to-day.

In the U-boat war we were faced by a threat which, it is fully conceded, very nearly brought this country down. It was defeated by the knowledge and courage of the Merchant Navy, the Royal Navy, and the Royal Air Force. When it came to the sinking of submarines, it was in fact land-based aircraft which were largely responsible or which had the major share, and here I have the actual figures, derived from the Government's own White Paper which was published a few years ago on this very subject. In the first part of the war aircraft hardly sank a submarine—I think they sank something like one and a half submarines in the first two years, and those halves were, in fact, those in which they co-operated with the Royal Navy. The number was so small partly because they were using depth charges which were set at a depth at which one could not sink a submerged submarine. By 1942 and 1943 Coastal Command and maritime forces were sinking submarines in far greater numbers. During the last part of the war they sank 690, of which 390 were sunk by aircraft, and of those 49 per cent. (very nearly half) were sunk by shore-based aircraft. The great bulk of those were sunk by the British—524 to be exact—and 248, again very nearly half, were sunk by land-based aircraft. I admit that a certain number were sunk by Bomber Command, but the majority were sunk by shore-based maritime aircraft.

The decisive factor that brought about this destruction at a crucial stage (and noble Lords who have been following the extracts from Admiral Doenitz's book which are appearing in the Sunday Times will notice that he has reached this very point) was the development of centimetre radar and the strengthening of the maritime Air Force. After Casablanca, the decision was taken to make the U-boat war a priority, and at that point squadrons were moved out of Bomber Command into Coastal Command. It was the sort of thing that could not have been done without a unified Air Force and it is a thing that will not be so easy to do if there is a Naval Air Force shore-based and independent of the Royal Air Force.

As a contribution towards a consideration of this problem, I would ask the Government whether they would arrange for the dispatches of Sir John Slessor to be published. So far as I know, they have not yet been published. I should like to suggest also that any change should be resisted unless the strongest case has been made out for such a change. The arguments, as I understand them, are, first of all, that those who fly over the sea ought to be sailors. I do not think that that argument really stands up, because in fact people who fly over the seas are mostly not sailors and there is not the time to make them sailors. At a crucial stage in the last war the United States Army Air Force, which had a very effective school of anti-submarine warfare and four squadrons operating from this country, did extremely well. The United States Navy traded their strategic Bomber Command for the United States Air Force Anti-Submarine Command, and right in the middle of a crucial stage of the Battle of the Atlantic out went the highly-trained Army Air Force crews and in came the Navy crews. I had quite a part in helping to train those American naval crews and I make no reflection on their qualities, either as men or as pilots, but one thing they were not, and that was sailors. They did not know any more about the sea than anybody else. In war time we always have to rely on a greatly expanded force, including civilians. It was a long while before the Navy squadrons reached the efficiency the Army Air Force had before.

If it is seriously proposed to switch Coastal Command, I would ask the Government to consider what the consequences are. The first consequence is that it will be extremely destructive of good inter-Service relations. It is this sort of imperialism that will destroy an excellent working set-up. If there is one thing on which I am sure all noble Lords who have served will agree it is on the excellent relationship that existed between the Air Force and the Navy and the excellent co-operation there was at Joint Headquarters.

There will be no economy; indeed, it will be a more expensive move, because the Navy will have to set up their own training facilities. There will be no economy in airfields. Coastal Command airfields are already full and in many cases they may want to operate aircraft in double roles from the same airfield. Therefore, I would ask those who advocate such a course to think very seriously before taking a decision which has constantly been turned down and which is even more irrelevant in the present situation, because the whole conception of war is different from what it was twenty years ago. I believe that the Government are sincere in believing that they can prevent war by the deterrent. We shall certainly encourage war if we weaken ourselves by internal dissensions or weaken or fritter away our forces. I hope that we shall see no change of this kind and that the noble Earl who is to reply for the Government will be able to tell us that there is no pressure of this kind.

I hope that we shall conclude this debate by acknowledging the achievements of the Royal Navy, realising that they have a vital role in policing the world and helping to preserve peace. No doubt if war, a real atomic war, did break out, all the Navy could do would be little better than a rescue operation. I do not think that we are going to get greater security or greater peace if we build up the number of surface ships or take away Coastal Command from the Royal Air Force.

4.16 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to support the Motion, I wish to congratulate my old friend and colleague, the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, for his persistence in this matter in the adverse circumstances to which he referred at the outset of his speech. I think that he has done valuable service in initiating this debate and in attracting such a notable array of speakers. For my part, I am out of date. I cannot pretend to support him with more figures than have been given. In fact, we have been given about as many figures as we can digest.

I had not intended to speak until Sunday evening, after, I am afraid, spending a large part of the Sabbath in reading Admiral Doenitz and the notable letter from my noble and gallant friend Lord Cunningham of Hyndhope, whom I am glad to see here to-day. Those documents set up a train of thought in my mind carrying me back a good many years, and I think that at my age I can more usefully contribute from the past than from my thoughts of the future. The years 1942, 1943 and onwards, when I had co-operated with my noble and gallant friend, were brought back to my mind. At that time the Germans were undoubtedly getting the upper hand in anti-submarine warfare, and my noble friends whom I see around me to-day, like the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, and the noble and gallant Earl, felt that we must get priority for our first line of offence in the conduct of the war. What my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery was working for especially was much the same as he wants to-day; that is, more escorts, more protection for the ships and more long-range aircraft.

My speciality at that time was radar. I had raised most of the personnel for radar, and, although I resigned from the Government in 1942, I was still in charge, and remained so until the end of the war, of the machinery for training vast numbers of men for radar. That brought me into touch with the naval side, and in my training investigations I was made aware that there were two special forms of apparatus which, combined, could render great service against submarines. One was long-range radar, which would enable an aircraft to distinguish the submarine at a long distance, when, as it had to in those days, it came up to refuel; and in the dark or in calm weather that would bring her very close. The other was a new short-range apparatus which enabled the aircraft to hit when it got within range.

The trouble at that time was that the Government of the day were set on bombardment. They thought that by bombarding towns, factories, dockyards and the like, they could end the war. It was most difficult to get even 25 heavy aircraft (I remember that figure well) with what I insisted on—namely, the special apparatus to deal with this matter. When I read Doenitz on Sunday I was delighted and somewhat astounded to see his exact description of the plight of the German U-boats at that time. They lost three batches of five, I think, and some of the most famous and relied on of their U-boat commanders; and that dashed Doenitz's spirits to the ground. We did, eventually succeed in getting a reasonable quantity of these aircraft properly fitted for the purpose, but they came along so slowly that it was a long time before the U-boat was mastered.

It seems to me that that position is in a sense repeated to-day, and, as the last speaker mentioned most effectively, we appear to be relying largely on the famous deterrent of the atomic weapon. I myself am dubious about the deterrent, and always have been—and I have spoken about this matter before. It sounds very good that a whole mass of nations should be united in N.A.T.O., all prepared to come into action when the word is given. But what I am always apprehensive about is the top-heavy machinery; that is, the difference between one force which can be set in motion by one person—an omnipotent power in his own country—coming to one decision, and a decision that has to be taken by a number of nations, each of which has its own political problems and troubles. If, by arrangement, this were reduced to, say, only three—I fancy there is some such arrangement, but I do not know—those three would still include one gallant and most important nation, the most powerful or one of the most powerful in the world, whose strong point is not a decision to come into action promptly.

It seems to me that this situation provides openings to the supposed opponent. He has two weapons. First of all, he has, as we have, an equally powerful nuclear weapon; and, secondly, he has this enormously powerful fleet (I think he has a powerful army, too, but that does not come in to-day) and this mass of U-boats. The figures given to-day show that we could not hope to compete with those. Supposing he says that he is not going to be the first to use the nuclear weapon, although if anybody else does it will go off straight away, but is going to deal with such-and-such a nation with which he is particularly at loggerheads—which may be us—with the ordinary pre-nuclear weapons. I feel that we should have some insurance against that (I think my noble friend Lord Cunningham of Hyndhope put it in that way), and I think that at the moment the insurance is not sufficient. I speak without hearing what my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty will say, but subject to that, it seems that we have not yet the right insurance.

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened with the greatest interest to the whole of this debate so far. I want to assure my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty that anything that I have to say is in no way intended as a reflection upon him, but there are one or two things that it seems to me need saying quite forcibly. I think the whole trouble began with the Defence White Paper published by the Minister of Defence. That White Paper was published in April, 1957, and the first line of paragraph 24, on page 42, says: The rôle of naval forces in total war is somewhat uncertain. When I read that statement it was a terrible shock, because it seems to me to fly in the teeth of history. It seems to me to have no relation to the troubles with which we are faced. I submit to your Lordships that in these days of deterrents, nuclear warfare and all the rest, while weapons and tactics may change the central role of the Navy remains just as much to-day as it did in the days of Nelson or of the great leaders of World War I, Lord Beatty, Lord Jellicoe and others. Ignorance of the role of the Navy is no excuse whatever for making such an astounding statement: it could be excused only by complete ignorance.

I wonder what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton (who belongs, I believe, to the Socialist Party), would say if, in a war, the Navy failed to protect the trade routes. He should know as well as anybody, and I am sure he does, that half our food and all our oil come from overseas. That is true whether a war is war with a deterrent or without a deterrent. What do we do? What is the industrial population to do without the food? What answer would he have? I only hope that the day does not come when the noble Lord who stressed the unreality of the arguments used for having an adequate Navy may have to eat his words; and I hope that, if he does, he will remember the speech he made to-day.

The Minister of Defence has been doing his best to reduce the Navy to an absurd position. In fact we are to-day almost, and shall be next year for certain, a fourth-rate Power at sea. Many of the officers and men no longer have the interest in the profession which they used to have. They cannot see any future for it or for themselves. It seems to me that one thing the Minister of Defence will be able to say is that he has succeeded in doing what the Germans tried, and failed, to do in two wars: he will go down in history and will be remembered by that.

Just think of the position which will arise in the near future, if it does not arise at the end of this year. We shall have three carriers and three cruisers, and no more. I am the last person to suggest that we should go in for a great programme of carrier building. It would be grand if we could, but in the economic situation of the country I do not see how we could reasonably expect it. But the problem is not being tackled in the right way at either end. Every time a ship is scrapped I wonder what is going to take her place and what will happen without her. Ships have been scrapped during the last two or three years, and Parliament has never been consulted beforehand. We are never told what the result is; and no effort is made to replace them. It seems to me to be the most extraordinary problem.

The replacement programme that I should like to see is one for small craft capable of holding their own with the newer type of submarine which we have and which we know the Russians have. They are much faster and capable of going at a very high speed when submerged (I believe at a higher speed even than when on the surface), and I think that it requires a special type of ship to deal with them. One would have thought that the Minister of Defence and the Admiralty would have gone in for a programme of construction of smaller ships of this type. But what have we found? Three years ago the Admiralty started talking about four new-type guided-missile destroyers that were to be laid down for the Navy. But not one has yet been laid down. They hope to lay down the first one in April of this year. When will she be completed? Perhaps the First Lord can tell us that. It will give us some idea of the efforts being made by the Ministry of Defence to return the Navy to something like the position which it ought to hold if it is to cope with the submarine menace.

We all know that in the last war the Navy had to protect sea communications, movement of troops and supplies and give them support. How can that be done with three aircraft carriers and three cruisers? One of those aircraft carriers is earmarked for working East of Suez, so that we shall have two aircraft carriers and perhaps three cruisers, wherever they are to be stationed. It is really a desperate problem. It has been said that we have about 40 or 50 destroyers. We have another 40 or 50 frigates. The noble Lord who preceded me referred to that regrettable letter from the noble and gallant Admiral of the Fleet Lord Cunningham of Hyndhope which appeared on Sunday. He gave the figures showing what was required for escorting convoys and the like. He said that we had 400 escort vessels and some 800 aircraft for safeguarding the trade routes. How can we possibly safeguard the trade routes with the number of ships we have? It is simply impossible. If the powers-that-be were to tell the truth, they would say so and tell us: "It is very regrettable, but we cannot do it. We could not even defend the Western Approaches with what we have." It seems to me the most appalling problem.

I do not know what one can usefully suggest. What I say is that unless urgent and immediate steps are taken by the Minister of Defence and by the Admiralty to produce the type of ship that will be required to escort our convoys and to safeguard the trade routes, they will definitely go down in history as having failed in their duty. There is every sort of opinion to back one up in those views. There was a former Controller of the Navy, Admiral Daniel, who said that the proposed Naval forces are completely inadequate to discharge their peace and limited war responsibilities. In my view, six forces are required, four operational, one training and one re-fitting and giving leave. The former Controller of the Navy must know what he is taking about, and that statement has not been refuted by anybody.

There is also the statement that was made after the exercise in Norwegian waters by Admiral Eccles. I think that has been quoted this afternoon, and I will not enlarge on it. Air Marshal Sir Bryan Reynolds said the stark fact was that they had not got the forces needed, and that the exercise had definitely shown that they were specially short of long-range aircraft. I submit that the Navy, in these days of the modern submarine, cannot, with the weapons it is given to use, of itself finally destroy the submarine menace. It must be tackled by the air forces and the Navy together, in the same wonderful spirit of co-operation that was used in the last war, and I hope that will not be forgotten.

There are other authorities one could quote. There is the noble and gallant Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Chatfield. I see that he has been in his place most of the afternoon. I hope that the country will not forget what he said in the debate on June 11. Perhaps I may suggest to the noble Lord that the role of the Royal Navy in a future war would be exactly the same as in past wars, in that its task would be to prevent the enemy's navy from taking command of the seas. We all bow to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who has told us he thinks we are unrealistic because we want to try to safeguard the trade routes. I submit to the noble Lord that that is a very dangerous theory, and I only hope that he will not have any more to say about it.

There is one other matter to which I want to refer. In the debate on June 11 I asked the First Lord some questions about the aircraft carrier called "Warrior", which had twice been refitted and brought up to date. I had been asking questions about the "Warrior" for some time past, and I understood from what was said the last time I asked about it that in all probability she was going to be scrapped. I believe that is so. I do not know whether the First Lord will confirm that or not. I have here a letter, dated May 17, 1956, from his predecessor at the Admiralty about the same ship. He said: We are, of course, already spending a lot of money in keeping our carrier force up to date, by completing the 'Hermes' and modernising the 'Victorious' and 'Warrior' and there should be more modernisations to come. I hope that the First Lord will tell us to-day (I know that the "Warrior" is only a standby ship) whether, in fact, that ship is to be scrapped; and, if so, what are the reasons for it. This letter which I have here—and I can show it to the First Lord—seems to indicate that a ship which is still capable of service is being done away with.

I only wish, my Lords, that I were not so desperately anxious about this whole question. I have no axe whatever to grind in the matter, except that I do not want to see the officers and men of the Royal Navy asked to carry out duties which they are quite unable to carry out because we are not giving them the tools they must have. I cannot help feeling very anxious indeed, and I put nine-tenths of the trouble down to the Minister of Defence. I should like to recall to your Lordships' minds a paragraph in Lord Montgomery of Alamein's Memoirs: A Minister of Defence in peacetime must be a skilled politician and able to handle the political side of Service affairs. But it was unlikely that such a man would understand defence problems sufficiently well to guide, direct, co-ordinate and settle the great issues of policy with which his Chiefs of Staff would have to grapple. I hope that that paragraph will not be lost on our Minister of Defence.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, I will be brief. There are two points I should like to put to you. The first is on the question of nuclear warfare. That threat is a horrid development which, quite frankly, makes nonsense of most of our ideas on defence. Perhaps the only good thing is that the prospects of such a war, with its threat, literally of annihilation, has led to the unexpectedly sane conclusion that the overriding consideration in all military planning must be to prevent war. I am not going to argue the case for the deterrent it is very well known. To me it is unanswerable, but I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, and I rather think the noble Earl, too, expressed scepticism about the deterrent. I am not quite sure what that scepticism is. Do they believe that the deterrent will not deter? If it does not, then we face annihilation and that is that. If it does deter, then what do they not believe about it?


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting him. I am not sure whether he is referring to what I said. Surely it is the same position as that is relation to mustard gas in the last war. Both sides may think that the deterrent is so appalling that they resort to the use of conventional weapons instead of the deterrent.


That is precisely where I was going; that is the next logical step. That means that what we have to face is a full-scale conventional war against the Soviets, the Soviet Navy with submarines about which we have heard so much, as well as the Air Forces; and although the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, said that the Army does not come into this, it does come into it. We face a problem there which would mean that we should need not only immense anti-submarine forces—and I entirely sympathise with my noble friends the Admirals—but the rebuilding of Fighter Command, Coastal Command and Bomber Command up to the 1945 strength. That is what we are faced with if we say that we are going to do without the deterrent, or rather that the deterrent will work and we shall he forced back on conventional war. I put it to your Lordships that the answer to the conventional war is bankruptcy—just that.

There is one other point about which I wanted to say something. I picked up a phrase from the noble Earl, Lord Howe, when he said that the Navy failed to protect the sea communications. With all respect to him, the responsibility for the security of the sea communications is not entirely a naval matter, as I am glad that at the end of his speech he did point out. I have been disturbed and worried by the signs of resurgence of the old pre-war idea that any aspect of war is the exclusive province of any one Service. I should have thought that one of the outstanding lessons of the last war was the essential unity of war. To try to segregate the war in the air from the war on land, or the war at sea from the war in the air and on land, is, to my mind, absolutely wrong. It is wrong to say that we can now throw into the wastepaper basket the bulk of our most valuable experience in the last war.

It has been suggested in this connection that Coastal Command is the sole force concerned with sea communications. I think that that was thoroughly disproved in the last war, because, apart from the fact that squadrons were diverted, as has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and as I am sure will be endorsed by the former First Lord, all the other Commands—Bomber, Fighter and the photographic reconnaissance units—all played their part, and a very important part, in the defence of our sea communications at that time. The whole Air Force took its share in that matter, in just the same way as did the whole Royal Navy.

The noble Viscount who was First Lord at the beginning of 1940 will probably refer to the occasion when he tried to get more bombers from Bomber Command to help in the problem of sea communication. He got a good deal, although he did not get as much as he wanted. But that is a matter of priorities, which is quite rightly dealt with by the combined Chiefs of Staff with the Minister of Defence. To my mind, that was the secret during the last war, and I hope that there will be no revival of any attempt again to divide up the Services and to destroy just that unity which we got so well and so completely during the war, and which is still going on progressively, particularly in regard to cooperation between Coastal Command and the Navy.

4.52 p.m.


My Lords, we have had this subject under debate on two previous occasions, thanks to the diligence and aliveness of the noble arid gallant Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Cork and Orrery, who has again addressed us this afternoon. He has done so in spite of what we all hope to be a temporary physical disability. With his old doggedness of purpose he has got through his speech, and we are very proud of him. The text of the Resolution which he has put down refers to the possibility of a dangerous situation arising through the deflated state of the Royal Navy at the present time. The noble and gallant Admiral of the Fleet connects that with the fact not only that we are failing to retain what could be adequate naval reserve ships, but that we are not making sufficient progress, even with the projects that we have, to proceed with the modern Navy. I should say that a good deal of his speech would seem to justify what was, after all, his main criticism: that in fact, so far as we can see, the Navy is being allowed to fall away from the kind of minimum Navy which was envisaged in the last White Paper on Defence.

It is largely by the standards of the Government's general policy on Defence that I would judge the purpose behind the Resolution that has been moved to-day. What did they say about sea power? They said that British naval power must be fitted to perform three tasks in peace time. One is to help carry out Britain's responsibilities in the Colonies and protected territories, which I am glad to say they still do. Only the other day I think the Navy helped the R.A.F. in regard to a particular problem. Then it must defend British shipping; and it has generally to contribute by its presence to the maintenance of peace and stability. That has been a great function of the Royal Navy in the past. Although we know that perhaps we ought not to rely too much on tradition—I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord De L'Isle, in that respect—nevertheless, I remember Frank Knox saying in the war, when he visited us as Secretary of State for the American Navy, "Of course, it is a fact that for a century, from 1815 to 1914, there was no real war of a world character, because of the peace-ensuring work and the qualities of the Royal Navy." One could not have a more independent opinion than that. He went on to say—it was the gist of his conversations with me for days as I took him to stations in this country—that it was quite impossible to think that with the financial sacrifices that this country had to make in the Second World War we should be left to bear the burden alone as we had done after the First World War.

Therefore, we look at the first peacetime rôle recorded in the last White Paper on Defence, and I think we are entitled to say to each other that this is a point to which the noble Earl the First Lord must give his attention. Has that been faithfully carried out? Do the kind of figures, for example, which were given by the noble Lord, Lord Winister, this afternoon of the effective commissioned strength employed by the First Lord and his administration at the present time enable us to deal with any kind of contingent emergency in peace-time? I personally should have thought that if you say that with your hand on your heart, you would be taking at least some risks. I would not put it any stronger than that. Above all, much as we hear from time to time that the main Parties in the State diverge in opinions and in fundamentals, in relation to the security of our country it is obviously important that as far as possible defence policy and the administration of defence ought to be on a non-Party basis. I emphasise "as far as possible". We ought never to be afraid of offering our criticism at the right time, any more than the right honourable gentleman, Sir Winston Churchill, was afraid to offer criticisms from 1935 to 1939. We must not be considered to be departing from a joint and collective desire to see our country defended just because from time to time we bring criticism to bear upon the policy of the current Government.

In the second part of the purposes laid down in paragraph 44 of the White Paper last year, it is said that in a limited war the rôle of the Navy is to protect sea communications, to escort troops and supplies to the theatre of operations and to give them support in action—that is, anywhere in the world. We all hope and pray that we shall not have to deal with anything in the shape of even a limited war. In fact, the White Paper last year seemed to me to show that if there were any real possibility of an attack by the Soviet States upon the West by conventional forces, we should be utterly committed to reply at once with, as it is said, "a massive attack with nuclear weapons". One knows perfectly well that when one speaks nowadays of "a massive attack with nuclear weapons" it means using the megaton and not the kiloton bomb. Nobody even yet knows whether the megaton is the top limit that is to be sought in the bomb ultimately to be delivered. Nor has it been really understood how far the actual explosion of those bombs will affect our own population as well as others.

The third point was that in global war we were to have a Navy which was to make an effective contribution to the combined naval forces of the Western Alliance. It is very difficult to judge, because we do not see the inner working of N.A.T.O.—an organisation in which I have been intensely interested, as the Minister of Defence at the time it was set up and perhaps one of the very few individuals in the State who has never been invited by N.A.T.O. to visit them since, for what reason I do not know. It is impossible, from an ordinary reading of newspapers and the like, to understand exactly what are the arrangements among the different nations who are to contribute collectively to the action to be taken in global war, or, indeed, in limited war.

If it had been so, perhaps we should have heard in the middle of 1956 far more than we did about Suez, because I imagine that the sort of action then taken, without consultation with the rest of those in the collective set-up, must have cut across every kind of plan or intercommunication, method of approach, routes and everything else within the planning of N.A.T.O. It seemed to me, therefore, to be the absolute reverse of real, co-operative collective action; and if that kind of thing is to emerge in the future I do not know where our country is going to be landed. I should be very sorry indeed if we were to be launched into that kind of thing again and had not sufficient naval forces to give at least some protection at sea and at home.

I made a speech in July, following the noble and gallant Admiral of the Fleet who moved this Motion this afternoon, and spoke later in the year as well. I do not want to trouble the House with my recital at that time of those parts of the case of the noble and gallant Admiral which I was only too happy to support because the figures were correct. I do not want to go through all that again, but I do say that if I had some really authoritative position at the moment to help and advise the Government of the day I am quite sure I should not necessarily insist on spending a lot more money at the present time—apart from that required for steady, new and modern development—but for the next two or three years, while we see how far we can make progress in our international negotiations, I should not be in such a hurry to sell, say, a vessel which cost £4 million to £5 million for a few tens of thousands of pounds. That point about international negotiations, by the way, was not overlooked in the White Paper on Defence, for it seemed to me that Her Majesty's Government hoped to see progress in the twelve months which were to intervene before the next White Paper. We should thus have something which would not cost us much, so that in the event of minor emergencies, or even a limited war anywhere, we should be able to take much more effective action by the naval section of our defence than otherwise would be the case.

I consider that up to the present time we have not got enough clear thinking on the part of Her Majesty's Government. We have no assurance, from their conduct in the last few years, to be able to say to the nation that they are firm believers in collective security and will always rely upon it. Nor am I at all sure that in regard to the nuclear policy they have considered what would be the effect on our economic life if at the present we were to go all out to push still further in the naval, air, and military forces, for new developments of purely nuclear and thermo-nuclear warfare.

I am told by my noble friend who was at the Admiralty after I was, Lord Hall, about the cost of the "Dreadnought" nuclear submarine. Questions have been asked about that this afternoon. It now seems to be either settled or hovering between a settlement as to who should provide the internal workings—whether that is to be done by British invention and construction, or American. But even with the limited nature of the operations of the "Dreadnought", that one submarine will cost £10 million. If one takes the facts of American progress in this matter, as was pointed out in an article (I believe a week ago) in the Economist, one finds that the more modern nuclear submarine of the United States of America, if adopted here, would cost, in English currency, £27 million, and that one of these vessels, actually costing £27 million (so far as I could read the report, though I did not quite understand what they meant by it), would be able to discharge only sixteen missiles.

I am therefore not a little hesitant about going too much in that direction, lest the point made by the noble and gallant Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Lord Tedder, as to bankruptcy were to arrive on the scene. In the present circumstances it is very difficult, especially after the period of economic crisis through which we have passed in the last three years, to see how much more we could afford. If I might reply to the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope—that we ought to set about telling Her Majesty's Government what we ought to afford in the matter—I do not know how we could very well afford much more than the figure of £1,600 million a year which we are already spending on defence. We are now faced, therefore, with the settlement of the problem that I tried to raise in the debate last year: what is the real prospect if we are willing to negotiate on interdependence and general co-operation and perhaps to get agreement on coexistence—which is not easy to get? We are doing our best to get that, but if we can have a prospect of doing so, why should we have to go into those negotiations depending upon our threat to use a terrible, anti-human weapon like the megaton bomb, and be running down our conventional forces, so that if afterwards we pursue the twin endeavour, first to ban the bomb and then to get general world disarmament under a collective agreement, we have hardly enough of our conventional armaments to lay on the table as our stake in a disarmament conference? We could have so much more to lay in that respect if we had a reasonably wise policy with arms, ships and other things in reserve, rather than scrapping at the present rate.

It is all very well to talk as the noble Earl the First Lord did on the last occasion and to say that it is no good wasting money on old ships. There seems to be a lot of sound sense at the bottom of that but, on the other hand, how far are we prepared, in our forces, on a modern basis today? In the Manchester Evening News a week or two ago there was an article by Harold Evans who had come back from making a detailed and intensive examination of the Armed Forces in Germany. He says that, after all the years that have gone by since 1950, the Army out there are not properly equipped, have not got the proper weapons which are available, and certainly not the modern transport which is available at the present time.

I should like to get my mind a little clearer on the general problem when the next White Paper on Defence comes out. I should like the Government to say—giving a full break-up of the information if it has not already been done—exactly what are the details of our expenditure upon nuclear and thermo-nuclear production and upon nuclear and thermonuclear research. I have never been against research for modernisation. I think it was our Government which in 1946 introduced for the first time into its general defence budget a global sum of £150 million for research. It was while the noble Lord, Lord Tedder, was my principal adviser that we adopted for the first time the course of spending £150 million on research. But if we find that we are going to be without necessary equipment for our Forces, who would be called upon at any moment if there were an emergency to-day, and are spending too much in the other direction, we ought to have the opportunity of seeing the figures and making our own judgment, as Parliament, upon them.

Nobody could have been more moved than I myself was, as was the noble Earl who moved the Resolution and the noble Lord, Lord Winster, who recounted them, about the difficulties of the merchant seamen. Never shall I forget the times we went through then. Night after night we were hardly able to go to bed because of the movements of convoys through the fields of submarines. However, I do not want to-night to say that I shall vote for a Resolution because it says that the Navy, as such, to-day is so running down that it leads to a dangerous situation. I think that is probably quite true. But what I do want to say is that when we get a White Paper that talks about interdependence, that talks about co-operation, that talks about all the things that are required and what are the roles of the three Forces, then certainly there ought to be no situation in which our existing Forces are not properly provided for, so as to be able to supply the minimum requirements of their present role. On that basis, because I think that the Government have not reached that stage. I myself should be quite prepared—and any of my followers who, I hope, would agree with me—to go into the Lobby.

Perhaps we might refer briefly for a moment to one other matter which has been introduced into the debate, though it was not raised by speakers previous to my noble friend Lord Shackleton, whose addition to the House I so much welcome, because of his great ability and experience. Let me say that I had no idea that such a question was going to be raised. I am quite sure that there is talk about it in the clubs, but I have never heard it seriously discussed anywhere else. We had great difficulties at the beginning of the war—the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, was quite right. I was fighting for more long-range bombers for protection of communications and so forth. I did not get all I wanted, but we did have the situation, which was fundamentally effective, that Coastal Command was placed under the operational control of the Admiralty; and working together, as they did (as I visited their headquarters from time to time I could see they were working together like a real team), they had enormous success. I am very glad to see that my noble friend Lord Shackleton does not claim quite so much credit as he did in his first phrase regarding the "killing" of submarines. He does have the credit which is due to the Air Force, because a very large number were sunk by the Air Force land machines; but, on the other hand, a great many of those destroyed by air, bringing the number up to the majority, were based upon ships.

That leads me to just one other remark about the Royal Navy. If we are to have any naval research I think it is fundamental that we should have some early research into what would happen if—your Lordships may think this is fantastic to say—we were at the beginning of a thermo-nuclear war in a difficult position and had to take some forces to another pert of the Commonwealth to defend it. I should want a large number of moving, floating bases. How far have we made any progress in research in that connection'? I am quite certain that in such a circumstance a combination of aircraft from floating bases and of submarines would have a great influence.

I remember so well, as First Lord, trying my best with Admiral Dudley Pound in Bordeaux in 1940 to persuade Darlan to sail the French Fleet from Bordeaux. I asked him to rest them in any place he liked, except the Mediterranean, where they would have been in danger of being ordered to French metropolitan ports, and to continue to fight the war with us with all the strength that they could muster, by their seapower allied to ours, based upon their Empire. If they had done so the war, in my view, would have been much shorter. We may in the mad world in which we live come to circumstances in which we may have to suggest all kinds of extraordinary movements and evolutions if the Commonwealth as a whole is to be saved. It is because I do not feel that at the moment we have a sufficiently thought-out and comprehensive collective policy in our defence that, if this occasion is one in which we were given the opportunity to register our vote, then I should go into the Lobby in support of the Resolution.

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, has been anxious to put his Motion down for discussion for some time, I am sorry that he has brought it forward at a time when we shall be talking in a week or so about the White Paper on Defence shortly to be published. I am therefore in a slightly embarrassing position, since I must be careful not to anticipate in one way or another anything that may be said in that debate. But I do not think that this need affect the debate to-day very much, because the House has been kept reasonably informed of our position. I hope that the noble Earl will agree—and I think he does—that my Explanatory Memorandum attached to Navy Estimates last year was fairly full; and during the last year we have had an extensive discussion on at least two occasions in the House.

This debate has been interesting and, if I may venture to say so, greatly improved by the fact that it has not been entirely confined to what one might call the "Naval Lobby". I think it is a weakness of this House, if I may say so in all humility, that in the Service debates people tend to be interested in one particular Service and to talk only about that Service. We have had the advantage, which I value, of noble Lords speaking from a different angle. It has given the debate a slightly wider and better basis.

There is one fundamental difference, which I must emphasise at the outset, between myself and the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery. It is this. He thinks that it is a sad admission to have to work with allies. Of course, it is fundamental to the Government's position that we are working with allies.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl? I never intended to convey anything of the sort. Of course we work with allies. I am grateful we have had allies.


My Lords, I am delighted to find that the noble Earl is at one with me on that. But the burden of his case, as it seems to me, is that the Royal Navy should undertake certain duties in isolation. I certainly understood that from the noble Lord, Lord Winster, who appeared to me to make very clearly the point that we were not strong enough at sea to meet the situation entirely by ourselves. He went on to say that we might have to rely on interdependence, and that our experience of interdependence was not happy. I must make it clear to the House that this is absolutely fundamental to our position at the present time. I think it is right that it should be, and I feel that it is quite wrong to think there is anything at all shameful in working with allies. The Allied position in the West is absolutely essential. If I may go further, I will say this: I think it is quite clear that at the present time we should be entirely wrong not to work in the closest association with our Western allies.

Now, my Lords, I should like to turn to what the Government have said in the last year, in the pages of the Defence White Paper which deal with sea power. For reasons which have become clear in this debate, there appears to have been some confusion about what operations should be undertaken by sea power, and I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Winster, that those do include very clearly the duties to the Merchant Navy which the Royal Navy has always performed. I thought that the noble Lord was rather less than generous in suggesting that the support which the Royal Navy gave to the Merchant Navy in the two world wars was not of very high value. If he looks in the White Paper of last year, he will see that in paragraph 44 there is clearly laid down, as part of the task which the Royal Navy has to perform, the defence of British shipping.


Will the noble Earl forgive me for intervening? I should not like it to be thought for one second that I had said anything which intimated that the Royal Navy had not done all it could to defend the Merchant Navy in the two wars. The point I endeavoured to make was that the Royal Navy had not been provided with the tools to enable it to defend the Merchant Navy effectively; and the figures of the Merchant Navy losses, in men and ships, in the two wars bring out my point.


The noble Lord is saying, in effect, that the Navy was unable to provide to the Merchant Navy the assistance that it could have done, whereas I should have thought the Navy did a great deal to help the Merchant Navy during the two world wars.

However, if I may go on, I should like now to draw attention to what has been laid down in the White Paper. Most of the remarks to-day have referred to the Atlantic, but I would emphasise that the Royal Navy is still deployed on a world basis, and I am sure it is right that this should be so. The position is described fully in the White Paper. We still have important bases at Malta, Gibraltar, Aden, Hong Kong, Singapore, and elsewhere, which contribute greatly to the influence we are able to exercise. Noble Lords may argue (and I am not going to deny it) that the number of ships we keep on station seem thin, but they can be backed up and reinforced quickly. Looking at the wider world pattern, during the last twelve months we have had difficulties in the Eastern Mediterranean, in the Persian Gulf, and in Iceland, and I think I can say that there has been no essential difficulty in meeting the demands which were made in those areas. I can add this: that the Fleet as described in the Defence White Paper will not be substantially different from that of to-day. I am confident that the Navy will continue to be able to meet the kind of contingencies which we can expect, particularly in the cold war.


Does that mean that the First Lord does not agree with Admiral Sir John Eccles, who was the Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Section of the N.A.T.O. Navy, which we used to refer to as the Home Command, when he said that he had not the amount of forces necessary for him to carry out his task in that united Navy?


I am going to meet the noble Viscount fully on that, but I am talking now about the British part, working on a world basis in the circumstances of what we call cold or limited war. Admiral Eccles was referring specifically to N.A.T.O. requirements in a global war, and I will deal with that aspect in a minute.

What I should like to emphasise is that we do have the persistent probability of disturbances in a great many parts of the world which tend to disrupt our economic and commercial interests. Some of these troubles are connected with fervent nationalism. I have little doubt that we can more easily help to persuade the people concerned, or many of them, that their true interest lies in co-operation with the West if they do from time to time have the opportunity of welcoming into their midst units of the Royal Navy. It is in this sphere that the Navy has always been important in the past. I recently came across these words used by Admiral Lord Fisher quite a long time ago: One bucket of water ready on the spot, in the shape of an instantly ready Fleet, will stop the conflagration of war which all the fire brigades of the world won't stop a little later on". That has a curiously familiar ring at the present time. It is an illustration which has been used a good deal. I would add that nuclear weapons make no sense unless they are backed by a strong Navy, Army and Air Force, capable of dealing with local trouble.

In this general context, I think I should mention the very close co-operation in which we work with the Commonwealth Navies. It cannot be too fully emphasised that the last twenty years have seen a very important development of the naval forces of our Commonwealth partners. It is largely for that reason that I have visited virtually all the Navies of the Commonwealth during the last two years. They work in the closest cooperation with the Royal Navy, and they carry out exercises together; and whilst, of course, it is true that their political views are not absolutely identical, either with us or with each other, I am quite sure that they are actuated by those principles favouring the maintenance of stability and peace which we have in common with them. I should add that since the war we have transferred about seventy larger ships, besides thirty smaller ones, to the Commonwealth Navies. These Navies model themselves on the high standard maintained in the Royal Navy.

I have been dealing with what I regard as the individual part which we are playing, particularly in the cold war. If I may turn to the possibility of global war, I would say this. I am in considerable agreement with the description of this given by the noble Lord, Lord Tedder. It is far from easy to balance up the possibilities of conflict between countries capable of destroying themselves. At the same time, there is no doubt, however one looks at it, that we are facing a serious threat from the Soviet Navy. What I should stress is that we are preparing against it with Allies. If I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, I believe that this offers some assurance that we shall be able to meet it if we should have to do so.

With one or two exceptions, this country always has had allies, whether one goes to the Marlborough Wars, the Seven Years War, the Napoleonic Wars or, except for one period, to either the Second or the First World War. To-day, in peace time, we have prepared our alliances, which, of course, include in particular the Nato Alliance. We have agreed the broad strategy and plans. We are accustomed to working in close co-operation with the other N.A.T.O. Forces. That is of the utmost importance in ensuring that the closest co-operation that can be obtained exists between the different countries. We have a command structure which exists from the Levant, in the South, up to the North Cape—something we have never attempted to achieve before. We have a great deal in common in the research and development field. I do not think that so high a measure of confidence in the military field has ever existed between countries as exists at the present time among the countries of N.A.T.O., in the establishment of which the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, is so rightly proud at having played a part. It would be just as wrong for us to base our policy of defence on isolation as it would be if the Americans were to do so. I have no doubt that some Americans consider that their policy of defence should be one of complete isolation.

If I may now turn from the broad background of strategy, I should like to say a word about the size and shape of the Fleet. We are going through an extremely difficult period of change, which is both expensive and rapid—rapid, not because scientific discoveries are produced rapidly, but because they succeed one another with great rapidity. Any entirely new development will probably take ten years to come into full operation, and the cost is ten, twenty or thirty times as much as it was twenty years ago. A new carrier costs up to £40 million; and a frigate from £3 million to £4 million, four times as much as a battleship in the days about which the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, was talking. The complete modernisation of our amphibious warfare ships might cost up to £20 million. This is roughly the background to the Government's task of maintaining the Fleet.

The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, talked on the last occasion about seventy cruisers—he was a little more modest to-day. Cruisers are tending to fall into the same category as battleships, because a great deal of the work they have done will be done by strike aircraft and, as the noble Viscount is fully aware, they are not of value for anti-submarine work. I much prefer to have more ships working separately on anti-submarine work than to concentrate on cruisers.


My Lords, on the last occasion I said only that the Board of Admiralty of the day were asking at the London Naval Conference for 70 cruisers, but settled on 50. I do not think that we may want as many as 50 to-day. Surely the noble Earl is not going to claim that strike aircraft can deal with a major situation in many areas in the Colonies. I think that we could do it much more peacefully with a cruiser.


My Lords, I think that cruisers are too expensive—they cost about £15 million to build—if we want to use them only for that kind of work. My experience is that a frigate is generally quite suitable for such tasks.

Perhaps one or two comparisons between what the Navy has cost in the past and what it costs to-day might interest your Lordships. Thirty years ago the Navy cost £58 million, and in the current year it is costing about £340 million—something of the order of six times as much. By any normal standards, even allowing for the depreciation of money, that is a big increase in the real cost of the Navy. Let me take another figure. The cost of the Navy as a percentage of Government expenditure in 1927–28 was 6.9 per cent. In 1958–59 it was 6.7 per cent., which is closely comparable. When the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough was First Lord, in 1930 and 1931, the proportion was broadly the same.

If, however, we look at the immediate post-war period, in 1946, when the noble Viscount was First Lord, we find that the Navy had a smaller proportion of the total Government expenditure; and when the noble Viscount was Minister of Defence, in 1948–49, the proportion fell to 4.7 per cent. As your Lordships will remember, that was the year of the Berlin Air-lift, and I do not think that it could be claimed that the prospects for world peace were any higher then than they are to-day. At the time of the Korean war, in 1951–52, when we were actually at war, expenditure on the Navy, as a percentage of total Government expenditure, was 6.7. So I think that I can claim to have had just as much change from the Chancellor of the Exchequer as the noble Viscount ever had.


Except that you have not the strength.


I have the strength, but the noble Viscount wants to have a lot of rotten bottoms sailing about the seas, and I have not the slightest intention of agreeing to that. What we want are first-class ships.


My Lords, why have ships ever been allowed to have rotten bottoms?


My Lords, the noble and gallant Earl has more experience of what happens to ships when they go to sea than I have, and I should not like to give an answer to that question. It is largely a technical matter.

My Lords, I think that the figures I have quoted are some answer to those who say that we are allowing naval defence to fall to a lower level than at any time since the Dutch were in the Medway. The cost of modern equipment makes the amount we can have to-day much smaller than we were able to have in the past. Noble Lords who have referred to the complaints of N.A.T.O. commanders that we have not enough "hardware" should remember that they were talking about N.A.T.O. as a whole, and that what they said applies not only to us but to all the other N.A.T.O. countries, who are open to exactly the same criticism as we are. We have borne a pretty good share of N.A.T.O. expenditure.


My Lords, has the noble Earl seen the report that Admiral Wright has reported to his chiefs that the cuts in the British Navy have thrown a heavy strain upon his resources?


I am aware of that fact. There is no commander in the field who has not wanted more forces at some time. I quite agree with the noble Lord: I am not pretending for a moment that there is any room for complacency here. We are up against a big challenge, partly military and partly economic. What I am saying is that we have as a first task to maintain our economy, and then we have to balance our defence tasks against the standard of living which this country expects. That is the balance which the Government have tried to strike. I think that we have had a fair share of the defence burden in the past.

May I pass to the question of whether we should equip the Navy with completely up-to-date ships or be content with, shall I say, second-rate ships—that is, ships without modern radar and asdic and relying on the equipment we used during the war; whether we should have more ships of a rather lower standard or fewer ships at a high standard. The Government have come to the conclusion that it would be wrong to have second-rate ships and I will tell your Lordships why. In the first place, the Soviet Union have a tendency to sell or dispose of certain ships to various other countries, and it would be quite wrong for us to call on our Navy to meet good ships or ships better than we have. We might then be outclassed in the cold war.

In the second place, it would have a bad effect on the morale of sailors who are asked to work with equipment which they know is anything but first-class. Thirdly, it would reduce the flexibility of the Navy, which would mean that ships could not be used to deal with any situation when it arose. Fourthly, of course, it would make co-operation with our N.A.T.O. Allies less easy. For those reasons, we think that it would be wrong to have any but first-class ships. Even if we look back to past history, to the time of the Armada and at Trafalgar, we find that, while we did not have as many ships as were ranged against us at that time, we did have ships with a finer fighting capacity.

I believe that some of the anxiety which has been felt about the Navy is due to the repeated announcements of reductions in shore establishments. These have been proceeded with deliberately, in order that we should be able to maintain the maximum amount of ships in the Active Fleet. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Winster, was less than normally realistic in this matter. If you have a big shore establishment, clearly you have not the resources you would otherwise have for the maintenance of ships at sea. The whole point of this is to release resources from ashore; and that is what we have done. Though many of these cuts in our shore establishments are regrettable, they are releasing considerable resources which would not otherwise be available. During the last two years, for instance, we have either ceased to be responsible, or are ceasing to be responsible, for five dockyards. We have abolished one Command and are closing another. We have closed three naval bases, and we are closing or absorbing elsewhere seven different training establishments and seven air establishments. We have achieved all this without reducing the quality of training of naval personnel.


Or ships' bottoms?


I do not say that I am reducing the quality of ships' bottoms, but I am getting rid of some of them. As a result of these and other changes, we shall eventually save 7,000 naval posts ashore; and by the end of this year will have reduced the number of civilian posts by 23,000.

With regard to the Reserve Fleet, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked about "Warrior". "Warrior" has been sold to the Argentine and has been re-christened "Independencia". The noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, referred to "Newcastle," which came home from the Far East just before Christmas. She was not really in a condition such as to make it worth converting or modernising her for further use, and it was for that reason that it was decided to dispose of her. I will not repeat what I said last summer in regard to the Reserve Fleet, but I would ask the noble Earl not to press me, because I think it quite wrong to preserve ships which are out of date. I think that we should not be right to attempt to bring fully up-to-date to meet modern requirements these ships that we are proposing to scrap. It would be extremely expensive, and even then the ships would not have a very long life.


May I ask whether "Warrior" conformed to the doctrine which the noble Earl has just laid down? The letter I have here from the then First Lord of the Admiralty, the noble Viscount, Lord Cilcennin, says that "Warrior" had been modernised in the same way as Victorious ". Why have we sold her to another Power?


I can give the noble Earl the categorical answer that "Warrior" had not been modernised in the same way as "Victorious". I think I am right in saying that the noble Earl quoted from a letter from my predecessor which is at least three years old.




Quite frankly, three years is a long period in the evolution of carriers at the present time. I should not like to say that what was reasonably modern three years ago would be considered suitable to-day. I think that may be the answer to the noble Earl. This is something that happens from time to time in navies. I find, for instance, that one of the great reforms which Lord Fisher put through in 1904 was to get rid of the Reserve Fleet. He said that we must remove as soon as possible all out-of-date ships, and that those which were put in reserve were to have a nucleus crew so as to provide instant readiness for war. I think these arguments apply with equal force to-day. It would be quite wrong to keep a large Reserve Fleet which could be brought into operation only with great difficulty. It costs a great deal of money. The Reserve Fleet is costing about £15 million a year. A frigate costs about £100,000 a year to maintain in reserve.

I would now say a word or two on what I would describe as the build-up of the new Fleet. The noble Lord, Lord Winster, drew a distinction between modern and new ships. I do not know whether he would call the latest submarine of the "Porpoise" class a new ship or a modern ship. It has all the modern equipment. Three of them came into service in the course of last year. I would say that they were modern ships, just as I would say that the modern frigates, and particularly the anti-sub-marine frigates, are modern ships. Over the three year period from January, 1956, to January of this year we have brought into service 2 aircraft carriers, 14 destroyers, 26 frigates, 12 submarines and more than 80 minesweepers and smaller vessels which are completely new or completely modernised; and during the next two years we shall have commissioned from new construction 1 carrier, 3 cruisers, 10 frigates and a number of submarines and small craft. So I think it is fair to say that, with some 40 ships building at present, we are getting on with trying to see that the Fleet is kept thoroughly up to date.


Perhaps I might reply to the noble Earl, as he has referred to me. My definition of a modern submarine would be one armed with missiles and not with torpedoes.


I would point out that a submarine armed with missiles—and there are none in the world, as such—


I think the American Navy has one.


Not one armed with the V.2 type, although they may be armed with the V.1. However, they are not "hunter killer" submarines, but strategic submarines. It is a question of the rôle in which they can be used. I would add that, whereas five years ago we had 66 minesweepers, we now have well over 200. I would only say this about the "Dreadnought", which is coming on: the assistance of the United States, for which we are most grateful, is leading to faster progress, and much of the preliminary work has already been completed.

If I may sum up quite shortly, I would say to the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, that we in the Admiralty are not complacent. We do not underestimate the Soviet threat; and we are not less conscious than Anyone else of the dangers of the world we are living in. We have, however, to face the situation as it is and as it will be in the future, and not as it has been in the past. I think we are right to face with our Allies—as we are doing—the much greater Soviet threat, and our contribution in the naval sphere will be second only to that of the United States Navy.

The forces of the N.A.T.O. Alliance, backed by the nuclear power of the West, present a formidable deterrent to a major war in any form. There remain the national day-to-day commitments of a country with world-wide interests. I have spoken of the part which the Royal Navy plays in this respect, and I am confident that it will continue to fulfil its essential role. I would add only this. We are trying to learn the central lesson that history has, I think, taught us that is, to prevent war by maintaining the unity of N.A.T.O., and to form a solid, practised naval alliance, whose united confidence is the surest shield against war-like ambitions. The Government have no illusions in regard to the vital rôle which the Navy can and must play in this task. I submit that the rôle is clearly laid down in the White Paper published last year. It is for that reason that I would ask the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, not to press his Motion to a Division.


Before the noble Earl sits down, could be say a word about the "County" class missile destroyers?


My Lords, I can say that work has started on them. We are quite aware of the importance to be attached to them. The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, complained about their going slowly. One of the troubles today is that people talk about things which are a long way off. When they have been talked about for one or two years development appears to be slow. The noble Viscount said that he heard about them two years ago. A ship takes at least two years to design, two years to build, and probably another year before its trials are completed. I do not think there has been any undue delay, and we are conscious of the need to press on immediately.


My Lords, could the noble Earl answer the question about Coastal Command, or are we to take it, from his silence, that the Admiralty are hoping to replenish the Navy with that part of the Royal Air Force?


I do not want the noble Lord to take anything of the kind. What I said at the outset is that I do not want to make either an admission or a denial about what the White Paper may or may not say. Of course there have been discussions on almost every aspect of defence.


My Lords, might we hope that the Ministers will give some attention to the debate and the views of your Lordships as a whole in finishing off the construction of the White Paper?


I hope they will.


Is the noble Earl able to say whether the keel of the "Dreadnought" has yet been laid?


My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord's emphasis on secrecy shows that he cannot have followed some of the Naval debates in another place for a long time. He is aware that normally no mention is made of submarines until they are launched. Therefore, I am afraid it would be contrary to practice for me to make any statement on this until the launching has taken place. I am aware that a good deal more publicity has been given to the "Dreadnought" than to other submarines. I hope that I am not committing a terrible breach when I say that material work has actually started.


My Lords, whilst the procedure is not to say too much about submarines, nevertheless once the keel has been laid it is perfectly obvious, from the following Navy Estimates, that the ship is under construction.


I do not think that is so. If the noble Viscount will look at the Estimates he will find that there is no mention of the construction of submarines until they have been launched.

5.54 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry that I do not feel able to accede to the request of the First Lord to abstain from dividing the House. My Motion is a very simple one. It has. been smothered over with all sorts of subjects that I never expected. I was sorry that anything to do with Service rivalry came in. I have never taken part in anything of the sort, and I thought we were living in a modern age and that it was accepted that nobody would go back to that. But my Motion says simply that in the opinion of this House the Navy has been depleted to a dangerous extent. We have heard to-day promises about what is going to be done, but that is the

Resolved in the Negative, and Resolution disagreed to accordingly.

difficulty—nothing is done. We go on year after year, and the promises are still in the air. We still have not an atomic or nuclear Navy. I ask those Members of your Lordships' House who are not satisfied with the present position and the strength of the Navy to come into the Division Lobby against the Government.

On Question, Whether the said Resolution shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 27; Not-Contents, 52.

Ailwyn, L. Cunningham of Hyndhope, V. [Teller.] Milner of Leeds, L.
Albemarle, E. Ogmore, L.
Alexander of Hillsborough, V. Gifford, L. Pakenham, L.
Ampthill, L. Hankey, L. Silkin, L.
Amulree, L. Henderson, L. Stanhope, E.
Brocket, L. Howe, E. Stansgate, V.
Carnock, L. Latham, L. Stonham, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. [Teller.] Lawson, L. Uvedale of North End, L.
Crook, L. Lucan, E. Williams, L.
Winster, L.
Amwell, L. Dorchester, L. Onslow, E. [Teller.]
Atholl, D. Elliot of Harwood, Baroness. Perth, E.
Auckland, L. Gosford, E. Radnor, E.
Balfour of Burleigh, L. Grantchester, L. Rathcavan, L.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Grenfell, L. Rea, L.
Bathurst, E. Hailsham, V. (L. President.) Reading, M.
Chesham, L. Howard of Glossop, L. St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]
Clitheroe, L. Jellicoe, E. St. Just, L.
Coleraine, L. Jessel, L. Sandford, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.) Selkirk, E.
Conesford, L. Kinnaird, L. Soulbury, V.
Congleton, L. Leconfield, L. Strathclyde, L.
Craigmyle, L. Lonsdale, E. Swinton, E.
Craven, E. Malmesbury, E. Tenby, V.
De L'Isle, V. Mancroft, L. Waldegrave, E.
Denham, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V. Waleran, L.
Derwent, L. Merrivale, L. Yarborough, E.
Devonport, V.