HL Deb 06 May 1959 vol 216 cc143-202

2.50 p.m.

VISCOUNT HALL rose to call attention to the Explanatory Statement on the Navy Estimates (Cmnd. 674); and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. Before dealing with the matter before the House, I should like on behalf of yourLordships to extend a welcome to the First Lord, the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, after his indisposition. We missed him, and we trust that he will soon recover and be his usual robust self.

My Lords, usually the First Lord's Explanatory Statement opens with an explanation of the financial provisions provided for the Naval service. This year we have just a short statement giving the amount allocated by Parliament to the Admiralty for the present financial year. The full explanation of the financial provision is now given on the last page. I am not suggesting there is any significance in this change, because I am sure the First Lord is very satisfied with the amount of money which has been voted to the Navy for spending during the course of the present financial year. That amount is £70,700,000, some £31,300,000 more than was allocated in last year's Estimate, which was for £339 million. But that sum has been increased by a Supplementary Estimate, so that the expenditure last year was £381 million. The expenditure on the Royal Navy during the last year and the present year is higher than in any other year in peace time.

With this large expenditure, it can safely be said that so many of the people of this country and overseas rather think that the present size of the Royal Navy is deeply disturbing. After all, not only have this nation and the Commonwealth been dependent upon sea power in times of trouble, but our power, wealth and influence in the world also depended upon our overseas trade, the skill of our work people and the then preservation of our supremacy at sea. At present it must be conceded that there are difficulties and uncertainties which are inevitable during such a period of almost frightening scientific, technical and costly developments through which the world is passing. It makes it difficult for anyone who has had a close association with the Royal Navy to criticise unduly or, indeed, condemn the present policy of the Admiralty. But it is our duty to question certain aspects of the past and present policy; and that we propose to do.

The present strength of the Royal Navy, given in the Explanatory Statement, shows that, with the high Naval expenditure, the Operational Fleet has fewer ships than have made up the Fleet, I think, since the turn of the century. Ships of the Operational Fleet consist of 3 aircraft carriers, 6 cruisers, 23 destroyers, 30 frigates, and, of course, some submarines and some of the smaller vessels. The Reserve Fleet is equally small in numbers. It is of interest to give comparable figures between the ships of our Navy in commission and also other worthwhile ships in reserve and those of the United States of America and Russia. In aircraft carriers, we have one for every 5 of the United States of America; Russia, so far as we know, has no aircraft carriers, but a large number of shore-based aircraft with long-range and well-trained forces. We 'have one cruiser for every 6 cruisers of the United States, and one for every 3 of Russia. Of destroyers and frigates, we have one for the United States' 6, and one for 3 of Russia. In submarines, we have one for 4 of the United States and one for 10 of Russia. With the exception of the United States' nuclear-propelled submarines, and possibly some nuclear-propelled submarines of Russia, almost all the other ships which the Americans and the Russians have are what we call conventional ships; and a very large proportion of these were commissioned during the last war and are now held in reserve.

Many questions are asked, not only in this country but also in the Commonwealth countries—and indeed in some foreign countries—as to why Britain, which has had and will have to depend so much upon sea communications, should have allowed her Naval power to fall as low as it is at the present time. I think that part of the answer is given by the noble Earl, the First Lord, on page 3 of his Explanatory Statement, which is that: The Navy is passing through a period of rapid technical change. And we know that the cost of the replacement of some of the older ships is very high. Even allowing for the point made, however, we wonder why the rundown of; the Navy has been so much that it is at its present point. We are the only Naval country following such a policy, and there is much anxiety about the number of Naval ships which have been scrapped, sold or otherwise disposed of during the past eight or ten years.

It came as a great surprise to myself and many others to see the reply given to Questions put in another place in the early part of this year. One Question asked how many Naval ships completed since January, 1944, had been scrapped. The surprising Answer given was that the number of ships which had been disposed of amounted to 1,888. I am not going to say that the present First Lord is entirely responsible for the scrapping of that number of ships, because I myself, and other former First Lords, must undertake some responsibility, for at the end of the war, of course, we did begin to dispose of some of the ships, particularly the larger ones.

But, during the past two years no fewer than six aircraft carriers, four battleships, seven cruisers, twelve destroyers, and 64 frigates, with other smaller ships, have been scrapped or sold. That is not all, for there was some doubt a month or two ago as to the future of another two aircraft carriers, the "Triumph" and the "Magnificent," and the cruisers "Newfoundlland", "Kenya", "Superb" and "Jamaica". I should be grateful if the noble Earl, when he speaks, would tell us whether or not those ships have been disposed of. The "Superb" is practically a new ship. It is just thirteen years since she was commissioned, and we wonder why a ship of that kind, which has had practically no service at all, should be disposed of. If these latter ships have been disposed of, the Navy will be left with just six aircraft carriers and twelve cruisers, including the "Cumberland", which cannot be described as a cruiser, and the two "Tiger" class cruisers. Again, I should like to ask the First Lord why eight of the "Dart" class fast patrol boats, built during the past four years at the cost of £300.000 each, have been disposed of while at the same time the Admiralty has been building another three of the same class at the cost of over £1 million.

I know how distasteful the disposing of ships of this kind must be to the First Lord, to the Board of Admiralty, and to all who are associated with the Royal Navy. I remember in my own experience when it was decided that some eight or ten battleships had to be disposed of. That was about four years after the conclusion of hostilities. The Admiralty was bitterly attacked at that time by Mr. Churchill; but I want to say this of him: that very soon afterwards we had a conversation and he told me that we had done the right thing and that he had been advised that the battleship was out-dated. Notwithstanding that fact, the Americans have still something like twenty battleships in reserve at the present time.

The general complaint is that the rundown has gone too far. Lord Mountbatten of Burma, in an interview a week or two ago, said that the fat had been taken off the Royal Navy. My Lords, it is not only the fat which has been taken off: it is the skin as well; and, so far as we can see, very few ships have been built to take the place of those which have been disposed of. On page 3 of the Explanatory Statement we have a list of ships which have, or will have, joined the Fleet during the period of five years—that is, from January, 1956, to December, 1960. What are they? They are one aircraft carrier, three cruisers, twenty-four anti-submarine frigates, eight anti-aircraft frigates, and thirteen submarines. It is true that there has been a modernisation of some of the other ships.

As to the reduction in numbers, the same can be said of the ships engaged on training and trials, and of those in the Reserve, as can be said of the Navy itself; and the effect of the small numbers can be realised when the disposition of the Fleet is examined. Two or three years ago we heard of task forces, and I take it that the operative Navy is now divided up into three task forces. Each will have one aircraft carrier, two cruisers, and some smaller ships. Three of those task forces will make up the operative Navy and will operate in the Home. Mediterranean, and Far Eastern Stations.

Let us take just one area—east of Suez. There will there he one task force of the size which I have mentioned: one aircraft carrier, possibly two cruisers, arid a number of smaller ships. That is a very wide area for such a small task force, for we know that in the Far East, apart from the Russian Pacific fleet, the Chinese Government have thirty submarines operating and are fully competent to expand this fleet by their own construction efforts. It should be remembered that in the Korean war, to enable us to play our full part in the United Nations operations in support of the Security Council's resolution, there were stationed there four cruisers, two aircraft carriers, seven destroyers, seven frigates and a number of supporting ships, together with ships from the Commonwealth countries. Compare those figures with the present task force, which is covering a much wider area.

I do not join with those who have criticised the Admiralty for proceeding with the completion of the three "Tiger" class cruisers. I have not been privileged to see the one recently commissioned, but the description given by Captain Washburn, who is in command, indicates that there is no doubt that it was the right decision to go ahead with the completion of these three ships, which are equipped with guns automatically controlled, of advanced design, capable of firing at more than twice the speed of manned armament. The ship has been fitted with guns suitable for a guided-missile era, the bottles of which were well-tried, and the improvement in guns was ten times better than if the ship had been with the original gun armament. The captain said that H.M.S. "Tiger" had been designed to cope with nuclear attacks, in that she can steam for up to a fortnight through radio-active fall-out with remotely controlled boiler and engine and armament operating with re-circulating purified air below decks, and could operate as a fighting unit even if a nuclear bomb were dropped near by. We are told that the other two ships of the same class, the "Lion" and the "Blake", yet to be completed, will have the extremely blind firing gun system. Could not some of the older cruisers be converted into ships similar to the "Tiger"?

It was correctly said that there was always a time when the best of the old could more than compete with the first of the new techniques, such as nuclear propulsion. Here was an opportunity to try to use, instead of scrapping, many ships which could be utilised for that purpose. The United States of America and Russia still think that it is worth while to keep a large number of conventional ships. One thing that Captain Washburn is reported to have said, in the interview which he gave, was that by 1960 there would be only three cruisers at sea with the Royal Navy. I would ask the First Lord whether that is so. If it is, then what we all regard as already a small Fleet will be smaller still.

It may well be that the "Tiger" class cruisers will be the last of what are called conventional ships. What is taking their place? The shipbuilding programme appears to be rather thin. It is made up of the two "Tiger" class cruisers and one aircraft carrier. From a report which I saw in The Times only last week, it appears that there will be very few aircraft carriers required in future. This report was given upon H.M.S. "Eagle". I do not attribute this statement to Vice-Admiral Evans, who is the Flag Officer of the Aircraft Fleet; I think that it is more likely to be attributable to the naval correspondent of The Times, who said: The future of British aircraft carriers is to-day very much in the melting pot. It has been argued strongly that purely from a matter of what the nation can afford it is unlikely that another carrier will be built after H.M.S. 'Hermes'. Admiral Evans's personal view is that another carrier should be built and since 10 years is generally reckoned as a reasonable period for its construction, that active thought should be given to the project now. With the optimistic hope that a guided missile era will replace the manned aircraft of the Navy, the tendency in many quarters has been to think that the carrier will be superfluous in the push-button age. It may be so, but the major tacticians of the west are well aware that one of the greatest problems of guided missiles even after they have been deployed, is to overcome enemy jamming of the direction mechanism. We have now been told that two of the four guided-missile destroyers, which have been provided for, are to be laid down. So far as we know, this is the first effort of the Admiralty for the use of this kind of warfare by the Royal Navy. For there is no doubt that Britain is still lagging far behind the United States, and, so far as I know, Russia, in building and operating nuclear-propelled submarines and ships. There is no need for me to repeat the growing numbers and achievement of these nuclear-propelled submarines, particularly as tried out by the United States of America. After four years' tactical testing and operation, they have exceeded the United States Navy's highest expectation, and it is generally known that the whole of naval strategy may well be revolutionised by the advent of the missile-firing submarine, such as the United States are building in the new class of "Polaris" missile submarines, which are said to be larger than the 5,600-ton vessels now being completed. In addition to the nuclear submarines, America is building a 14,000-ton cruiser, which has two nuclear reactor furnace plants. I think that Britain's first nuclear-propelled submarine was projected some four or five years ago, and while we have heard much about the "Dreadnought", the delay is an indication that research in this country has not been making much progress.

In such circumstances, there was no alternative but that the Admiralty should make an agreement with the United States for the purchase by the British Government of one complete submarine nuclear-propulsion plant, similar to that which is being installed in the latest United States Navy submarines of the "Skip-jack" class; and for America to communicate classified information necessary for its design, manufacture and operation; to train some members of the ship's company in America and to sell fuel elements for the operation of this submarine up to 1968. It is hoped that it will be possible for the British Government to develop its design. I understand that blue prints and documents of the American atomic reactor for the "Dreadnought" have already arrived in Britain, but the process of transferring the £10 million worth of machinery into the hull is expected to extend over a period of two years. I understand that the United Kingdom's shore-based prototype of a nuclear-propelled plant which has been built in Dounreay, Caithness, is not affected by this agreement. I wonder whether the First Lord can tell us how the research on that reactor is proceeding, and if and when we can expect some results from it.

We are also behind in research on nuclear propulsion for merchant ships. America has the "Savannah" cargo ship of 22,000 tons, which is due to be launched in July or August. It is a costly ship. Propulsion costs are much more than those for any conventional ship; and its operation costs are also higher. Even the Russians are building an icebreaker of 16,000 tons, and they claim that it is well worth building, seeing that it is the first nuclear-propelled icebreaker in the world.

I was pleased to see in the Press this morning the announcement made by the Admiralty in relation to the question of nuclear-propelled ships, but I wonder why it has taken them so long to make that announcement. Two years ago the Admiralty were charged with the responsibility of inquiring into this matter, and announcements have been expected before now. It is interesting to note, in relation to this announcement, that in this country, quite apart from the Atomic Energy Authority, no fewer than six shipping and shipbuilding companies were able to send in designs for investigation by the Committee that was set up. I was interested also to see from the Press to-day estimates as to the length of time it is going to take to have one of these ships operating: some say five years arid some say six years. But I read about two weeks ago what Mr. H. W. Bowker, the head of the Harwell Marine Propulsion Group of the Atomic Energy Authority, had to say about nuclear-powered ships. He said that there were nuclear-powered ships with operating costs not more than 5 per cent. higher than those of conventional vessels which could be in service in 1961; and he also said that they might be operating at competitive costs within five or ten years from now. But then we have Mr. Harold Pemberton, the Chief Surveyor of Lloyd's Register of Shipping, who is reported to have said that Britain's first nuclear? powered merchant ship will not be ready for five or six years. I hope that the Committee will speed up their investigation in relation to this matter; and if we can get the first nuclear-powered ship operating at an economic level, then we should try to be first in the race.

I should like now to say something about the manpower of the Royal Navy, because, as there is a reduction in the number of ships, so there is a reduction in manpower. At a Press conference in July, 1957, the First Lord outlined the Admiralty's plan for reducing manpower in the Royal Navy, which was to be reduced from its then strength of some 120,000 officers and ratings to a figure of between 100,000 and 90,000 by the end of 1962. The First Lord has proceeded faster than he anticipated, because from 1957 to the end of this financial year he will have reduced the number of officers and ratings by 20,300, a reduction of 6,000 having taken place during the course of this financial year. That brings the number down to 93,100, which is the lowest since 1932, when we had 61,000 officers and men in reserve. I do not know how many we have in reserve at the present time, but it cannot be anything near that number. I recently saw a report that it was intended to bring the strength of manpower down to 88,000 by 1962.


My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Viscount, as I think it is a pity to get these manpower figures wrong. The matter is a little complicated, but there are sometimes two different bases on which they are quoted. There is the figure on Vote A, which is, or will be, a little under 100,000; and there is the figure of what we call "U.K. adult males", which may be given as 88,000. I mention the figures in case there may be any confusion.


I am taking my figure from the Estimates, which is officers and ratings: it does not include W.R.N.S. or Marines.


Are locally enlisted persons overseas excluded?


They may be; but if they are serving as officers or ratings, I take it that they are included.


Not in the 88,000.


Then that would reduce it below 88,000.




Of course it would.


They are in addition.


Anyhow, I have taken these figures from this year's Estimates and previous Estimates. So far as the strength being reduced to 88,000 is concerned, I took that from a statement I saw in the Press of an interview with the First Lord about two years ago. All I want to know is whether it is the intention of the First Lord or the Admiralty to bring the strength of the Navy, that is to say, officers and ratings, down to 88,000 by 1962.


The figure which is comparable to other figures given on Vote A—and Vote A has been known in Parliament for a long time—is a figure of a little under 100,000. The other figure I gave, of United Kingdom adult males, is a new concept which has not been shown until a year or two ago and, therefore, is not strictly comparable to any previous figure.


But it is true—and, indeed, it shows in the two Estimates which I have quoted, one for 1957 and the present Estimate—that there will be a reduction of about 22,300. That is the figure I gave. At any rate, I think the First Lord and I might have a word about this matter. I am taking these figures mainly from the Estimate. I was pleased to see that there is to be a reorganisation and unification of the Reserves, and that a Flag Officer has been appointed to take charge of sea training. Strange to say, this year, for the first time for many years, no aircraft carrier or cruiser has been set aside for training, but merely the "Girdle Ness", two destroyers and some frigates. There were 21 last year.

Once again the Admiralty are making changes in the cadet entry into Dartmouth and are fixing a very high scholastic standard. Candidates must have five passes in the General Certificate of Education, with at least two at "A" level, or the equivalent, and all officers, with the exception of engineering officers, will be required to cover mathematics and physics in their certificates. I understand that one of the reasons why the change has been made is that there has been some dissatisfaction in recent years arising from the quality of leadership and temperament, and that more of these qualities are required for the modern Navy. As the Navy, with other Services, has become more scientific, so its demand for higher skills has increased. The Admiralty must know the difficulties of obtaining sufficient candidates of the right stamp and calibre at the present time. For young men who can produce such qualifications there is much competition today from the other Services, but the competition comes mainly from industry and the professions. I should like to ask the First Lord whether candidates from the grammar schools can also apply, and whether the Upper Yardsmen scheme will continue to operate.

I have said very little about deterrents. Some two years ago the Admiralty announced particulars of the trials and success of the ship-to-air guided missile known as the Sea-slug, fired from the "Girdle Ness." It is automatically fed from a magazine below the decks, and is operated and fired from positions within the ship without anyone on duty being in an exposed place. We were told that the trials were so successful that the Admiralty had ordered four guided-missile destroyers. They were called, I think, the County class. I take it that the two destroyers which have now been laid down are two of the four which are mentioned, and that they are guided-missile destroyers. I take it from the last White Paper on Defence that the development of the Blue Streak ballistic missile is to continue, and that as at present known it can be fired from missile firing submarines. I take it that the "Dreadnought", when fully equipped, will be capable of firing these ballistic missiles.

In conclusion, I should like to ask the First Lord to take seriously the great anxiety about the disposal of so many ships which is felt among so many persons who have had a close association with the Admiralty. So long as we continue to have world-wide commitments and worldwide trade, it is essential that we should have art efficient Navy and sufficient ships manned with the right men, who have never failed this country in the past. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, if it is the wish of the House, I should like to say a few words now and, if the House will permit me, to make a further reply to any points which may be raised in the course of the debate. First, may I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, very warmly for the kind welcome he gave me on my return? I should apologise to the House for being absent for so long.

This is the fourth debate which we have held on the Royal Navy in the last twelve months, and I think it reflects the concern—and, if I may say so, the very proper concern—for this important arm which is rightly felt in this House. I do not want to reiterate the arguments which I have used before on this subject, though perhaps I might remind the House of the general line which I have taken before. I believe the big enemy the Navy has to face to-day is obsolescence. This is one of the great problems we have to face. I shall revert to that point later in the course of my remarks. The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, left a conflict in what he said. He complained first of all that a much larger number of old ships were not being maintained and, at the same time, expected a far greater amount to be expended on research and development in order to enable new ships to be brought in much more quickly. Quite frankly, there is a conflict here, and I for one would come down wholly on the side of seeing that new equipment is brought in

The noble Viscount referred to the question of Supplementary Estimates. There are two reasons why Supplementary Estimates were necessary in the last year. The first is rising costs. As the noble Viscount is aware, increased costs are not allowed to be included in Estimates; therefore, they necessarily give rise to Supplementary Estimates. The second point is that it is difficult in the course of the coming year to be sure how much work the shipbuilders are going to put in on any given project. In the past year, when the burden on the shipbuilding industry was not so great as it has been in the past, they put in a good deal more naval work. This is very satisfactory. It means that we are getting our ships and equipment more quickly than would otherwise have been the case.

I should like to refer to the question of personnel, which the noble Viscount mentioned. I have not been able to follow entirely the figures he gave, which did not strike me as being entirely accurate, but since I have been at the Admiralty, which is now two years, the reduction in uniformed personnel has been about 8 per cent. and the reduction in civilian personnel in Admiralty employ has been about 14 per cent. I think I am correct in saying that as from April this year the uniformed personnel is 106,000. The point I was trying to make to the noble Viscount is that in regard to Vote A it is important to remember that there are two bases on which we calculate personnel in the Sent vice. One is Vote A, which includes W.R.N.S., local overseas personnel and juniors; the other, which is a new concept produced in the last two years and a rather smaller one, the 88,000 to which the noble Lord referred, is United Kingdom adult males. In making a comparison with Vote A in previous years it is the other figure that has to be taken into account for the future, somewhere just under 100,000.

May I say something on a matter that is of great importance to a First Lord, and that is recruiting? We have had this year 8,300 Regular recruits as opposed to 6,800 last year. This might mean that we shall have to reduce slightly the number of recruits we can take in the current year. But we have been short of two categories: sick berth attendants and artificer apprentices. I am rather distressed to find that the opportunities which are given to these apprentices are not fully taken up. An artificer apprentice can to-day reach the rank of chief petty officer in his middle twenties, and if he is married he will then be earning about £1,000 a year. He has prospects of becoming an officer on the Special Duties List or in certain circumstances on the General List. I think the prospects for apprentices are extremely good and the training gives benefits which are fully recognised in industry.

The Royal Marines have been particularly successful and we were able to raise our original target for the Marines last year from 800 to 1,400, which we very nearly attained. This is of special importance because more of the Marines were from National Service than was the case in any other part of the Service. What, however, I am particularly satisfied about is that the rate of re-engagement has improved steadily in recent years. These are the men who are in the Service and know the Service and want to stay in it. The total of ratings re-engaging rose last year from 48 per cent. to 58 per cent., which is very nearly up to the level which was current in 1937–38–61 per cent.

In this regard I should like to emphasise the great efforts which are being made by the Controller of the Navy to improve habitability at sea. We are bringing in all new designs, and air conditioning in living quarters. Centralised messing is now generally normal; and hammocks are giving way to bunks in quite a number of our bigger ships and in some of the smaller ones. The use of Formica, a plastic which is particularly easy to clean and is almost untarnishable, is extremely valuable on board ship for such things as polishing machines and vacuum cleaners. It is an encouraging picture which I think offers some idea of what we are doing for men in this Service, because in this extremely complex Service it is important that we should be able to call on people of the highest technical ability who demand high standards.

May I say one word on accommodation ashore? We have in hand this year somewhere about £6 million which is being spent on barracks and single living quarters. We have recently, as noble Lords who have read the memorandum will see, put up a new mess for ratings at H.M.S. "Mercury". Similar work is on hand at Portsmouth and Plymouth and at a number of other schools and training establishments. Modernised accommodation is being introduced. We have also completed or are completing accommodation to improved standards in Malta, Aden and Bahrein.

The noble Viscount also referred to officer recruitment. We need men of a pretty high order. We want people with all the qualities of leadership, intelligence, resource and resolution which we have been acustomed to expect from naval officers, and we also want people of a very high technical competence who can handle the sort of equipment which is coming in at the present time. We are getting a certain number of young men of that sort, but frankly we need more. It was largely for that reason that I asked Sir Keith Murray to head a committee to examine the training at Dartmouth. The Committee there told us that we were not getting as good an academic standard as we need. It is a rather curious fact that the Grigg Committee, from an entirely different source, came to exactly the same conclusion. I do not think the noble Viscount is right in saying that this is a very exacting standard. We are asking for five passes in the General Certificate of Education, and two at "A" level. That is not very different from what is generally regarded as necessary for the universities, and I think that in our new entrance at Dartmouth we should get at least as good a class of young man as could qualify to go to university.

We must have first-class men, and I think we can encourage boys of ability and high intellectual qualities who want a life of action to come in. In order to get these young men we are anxious to improve our liaison with the secondary schools, and we are in touch with something like 3,000 schools. Of course, it is open to any school anywhere in the country who can produce young men of the right quality. I suppose there may be some advantage in those schools which specialise rather more in the scientific side, but, with that exception, every school has exactly the same chance as any other. The noble Viscount referred to industry, and of course it is true to say that these same young men are very much the men who are wanted in industry at the present time. No doubt many of them do extremely well in industry. I sometimes wonder whether the broad attractions of industry are slightly overplayed and whether, in fact, industry in many cases can give anything like as good a career to a young man as he is assured, certainly in the early days, in the Royal Navy. Everyone talks about successful people in industry. There are, however, many people who find industry pretty hard going, and I think that those who want variety, responsibility and a life of a good deal of adventure can find a great deal more in the Royal Navy than in industry.


My Lords, would the noble Earl allow me to intervene for one moment? My own great anxiety about the young officers who are to come in—and, of course, they should be of the highest type possible—is that so many of them, I regret to think, will spend the last fifteen years of their career far from the sea or from contact with seamen. The noble Earl speaks of a life of adventure, but for many of them that life of adventure will cease at a very early age and they will find themselves compelled to follow up a shore job.


I think the noble Lord is greatly overstating what he is telling the House. I agree that, compared with fifty, sixty or seventy years ago, there are many more posts ashore, and there inevitably will be mare posts ashore. The shore backing of the very technical equipment, and the development of naval equipment in our establishments at Bath and elsewhere, necessarily demand a very high class of man who can do this work, and there will be many of them required to do it. I think the noble Lord is overstating it in saying that many spend so much of their life away from the sea.

Perhaps the noble Lord will agree with what I am going to say now. The Dartmouth training is going to be divided into two parts. Of the first part, the first year will be spent at Dartmouth and in the Training Squadron, and the second year will be spent at sea as a midshipman. That has already been announced. I may add that ever since I have been at the Admiralty I have been impressed by the number of people who have told me of the value of the knowledge of the sea which 'they gained through going to the Fleet as midshipmen. I was informed by many officers that knowledge is gained there which it is almost impossible to gain alt a later date. There is a place in the Fleet for midshipmen, but it is much more difficult to fit in an acting sublieutenant who has had practically no experience previously with the seagoing Fleet. It is for that reason that I am convinced that we are much wiser to send these young men to 503 for the first time as midshipmen. In this way the man can gain closer contact with the ratings than is possible once he becomes an officer. After the has spent his year at sea getting used to the Navy the seaman midshipman will return to Dartmouth and will then spend two years, the first on academic work and the second on professional training. Thereafter, when he goes to sea as a sub-lieutenant he will, I think, be in a better position to understand the nature of his duties and more quickly be able to undertake full responsibility.

I should now like to say a word about the technical specialisations, the engineers and electrical officers. They will do the same common course as seamen up to the point where they return from the midshipman year at sea. They will then go on to do a full professional training of three years, partly at Dartmouth and partly at Manadon, and we hope that they will all end up with an engineering degree. Alternatively, some of the more able will be able to go on to Cambridge, or possibly some other university. I attach great importance to the Royal Navy's maintaining contact with the big universities. I think it is a good thing that they should do that and that there should not be too much in-breeding.

The noble Viscount also asked about the upper yardman scheme. The upper yardman scheme has been going very well. In the last year we took in about twenty officers. We are determined to give a proper opportunity for those who have the ability to come in and take a full commissioned rank.

May I, in passing, say one word about the W.R.N.S. They form an important part of the Service and do most valuable work with the Royal Navy. We try to give them opportunities for serving in a number of places overseas and this is generally very popular. There is a proposed change in the nursing service so as to bring it into a single permanent service, in place of the V.A.Ds. who have continued to serve with the Navy since the war, and the W.R.N.S. who are engaged in nursing duties. These will now become a Naval Nursing Auxiliary Section of the existing Queen Alexandra's Royal Nursing Service. I should like to pay a high measure of regard to the high standard of nursing which I received while I was in the Royal Naval Hospital at Chatham. I think that the Royal Navy is extremely fortunate in having such people to carry out that service on behalf of the Navy.

May I turn now to the other side, to the technical changes which are taking place? I recognise that there are a number of difficulties in regard to this matter. Everything is changing extremely quickly; it is very expensive indeed, and it takes a good deal of time. But, frankly, I do not think that the noble Viscount need have the anxiety that we are lagging so far behind other nations. We are spending a great deal on research and development, and we shall see that these special weapons and equipment are introduced in the near future. I should like to remind the House that under the interdependence arrangements agreed between the Prime Minister and the President in 1957 we are learning a good deal about the results that the United States Navy have achieved, and indeed we are working in close contact with them.

The special matter to which the noble Viscount has referred is, of course, the progress made on the nuclear submarine "Dreadnought". I should perhaps correct the noble Viscount, and say that this is really a hunter-killer submarine and will not be a missile-carrying submarine at all. As I think the House is aware, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh will be laying the keel of the "Dreadnought" next month. "Laying the keel" is perhaps not quite the correct term, hut technically it describes what happens; it is more a question of laying certain parts of the hull.

I know that the House has been impatient at the speed at which progress has been made, but I think that our critics are inclined to underestimate the revolutionary change which is taking place; nor do they have proper regard to the amount of money and effort which the United States had to put into their first nuclear submarine. We could have achieved a similar rate of progress in this country if we had, among other things, allowed some sacrifice in our civil nuclear power programme of development. We are now getting what is, in fact, the latest United States submarine, "Skipjack", which has only just been put into commission and is doing very successful trials. She will be much superior in design, and indeed in performance, to the "Nautilus", which has achieved so many remarkable things. We are going ahead with Dounreay. The facilities there will be built up for training and development.

Quite apart from operational use of submarines as a means of attack, it is essential that the Royal Navy should have submarines for training purposes. It is quite impossible for us to train for antisubmarine work unless we can practise with the submarines themselves. Of course, in addition to our own needs we have to help a large number of our Commonwealth friends at the present time who have no submarine forces of their own. We have to supply them. We have great difficulty at the present time in getting enough submarines to meet their training requirements. I should like here to say a few words in regard to the advent of nuclear submarines. In this connection, a number of new strategic and tactical problems will arise. We are preparing ourselves for this. We have two H.T.P. submarines—she "Excalibur" and the "Explorer" which, though they are not operational, are fast submarines and are extremely valuable for this purpose.

The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, also raised the general question of marine nuclear power. I think that to-day we sometirnes expect science to hand things up to us on a plate. Sometimes we forget that it took us about a full century to change over from sail to steam, and it was only 100 years ago that the ships of the Royal Navy were all being fitted with steam in some form or another, although of course they still retained sail for a considerable time. It is quite wrong that one should expect these things to happen very quickly. What we can say is that we are much more ready for it, perhaps, than the Admiralty were in the time of Lord Melville, who was then First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1828, he wrote a Minute to Mr. Hay, of the Colonial Department, to this effect: Their Lordships thought it their bounden duty to discourage to the utmost of their ability the employment of steam vessels as they considered the introduction of steam was calculated to strike a vital blow at the naval supremacy of the Empire, and to concede to the request would be simply to let in the thin end of the wedge. I think that we are now at least prepared to accept these new ideas, but it would be wrong to expect them to come too quickly.

The noble Viscount was quite right in saying that there are only two ships being built at the present time, the "Savannah", which is to be launched this summer, and the "Lenin", which was launched last December, in Russia. Both are operated by pressurised water systems. We could build a ship to-day with a pressurised water system, but it would be completely uneconomical. Quite frankly, we must appreciate that it is no use putting a ship to sea unless we can see some chance of its developing on an economic basis. That is the basis on which I am proceeding, and if any of your Lordships wishes to disagree with me I hope he will do so; but I believe that is the right way in which to proceed.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, has said, we had earlier this week an extremely interesting presentation of various systems of nuclear propulsion. I do not pretend to be able to go into detail on the technical side, but to my mind it is fascinating to see the astonishing ingenuity and resource with which industry in this country is tackling this very complex problem. We had presented to us the eight different systems of using nuclear propulsion. Each had its own advantages, in size, weight, safety, economy and time. Some of these factors, in some types, were better than in others. These are all matters that we have to get down to. We have to examine them and try to bear all those factors in mind in deciding which is likely to be the most successful development. That is what we are now proceeding to do. I do not think we have the slightest reason to be despondent about the ability of those concerned in this country to produce an economically driven merchant ship with power drawn from a nuclear reactor.


My Lords, may I just put one question to the noble Earl? In view of the fact that there was such a response from the shipbuilding and shipping industry in relation to providing designs for nuclear merchant shipping, would it not have been just as well to ask the shipbuilders and shipping companies to do the same for a reactor for the submarine? Had we asked them to do that, perhaps we should have been very much further forward. I was very surprised to note that seven consortia had prepared designs and plans for a nuclear-propelled merchant ship. As the noble Earl the First Lord, has said, it is really remarkable.


My Lords, frankly, I think it is a question of time. I should not like to suggest that there was some better way of getting a "Dreadnought" to sea than the way we have adopted. The Americans have put a great deal of resources into research and development, and unless we had been prepared to spend a good deal more a good many years ago—a contingency not worth considering now—we should not have got a "Dreadnought" to sea as quickly as we shall under present circumstances.

Reverting to guided-missile ships those, like 15-inch battleships, have to be designed round the weapon. It is just not practical politics to put a guided-missile into one of these cruisers. We considered this matter very carefully, but it is quite impossible to do that. We have to build the ship around this main, tremendous weapon; and that is what we are doing. This weapon, which we have every reason to think is a good one —as good as any of its kind—has had to be thoroughly tested. It is no good trying to produce quick results: we have to get good results. Tests have been carried out with Sea-slug and have been exceedingly satisfactory, the results exceeding the expectations. After a final trial this summer the weapon will go into production late this year. In the meantime, as I have announced, four guided-missile ships have been ordered and two of these have already been laid down.

May I deal now with another matter in which there has been a big change, and refer to Malta? The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, did not mention Malta, but in the last month a very big change has taken place in Malta Dockyard. That has been a Royal Dockyard now for 160 years, since the time of Nelson, and I do not think any of us forgets for a moment the courage of the dockyard personnel who withstood the extremely dangerous conditions to which they were exposed at a critical period of the war. That is the background of the problem. In the foreground there was the question of our being unable to give Malta as much repair work from the Royal Navy as in the past, and the need to avoid unemployment and to strengthen and diversify the economy of the island. The decision to transfer the Dockyard to a commercial firm was the only satisfactory way in which to meet the changing needs of the island. It is part of our plan to release from the Navy resources which can be put to better use in maintaining the fighting power of the Fleet. That will place the continued working of thousands of Malta Dockyard workmen, with all their skills and experience, on a firm foundation. The Royal Navy have consistently found that Maltese Dockyard personnel are very skilled and sound workmen, and we are very indebted to them. It is our hope that the way will be open for wider industrial development which will offer an assured livelihood for those in Malta.

I think it has been quite an achievement to transfer the Dockyard as quickly as we have done. It is now only eight months since the announcement of the change took place. We have had to make plans for converting three dry docks for commercial purposes; the financing of this great new enterprise had to be arranged; new legislation had to be introduced in the island; and, not least important, some 6,000 of our employees have had to be transferred to the firm of Baileys. I am sure that this is the best way for the Dockyard to be organised to ensure the future of Malta, and I am sure the House will wish Baileys every good fortune in the work they are undertaking.

Another change I should like to mention concerns Portland, where there has been a considerable change. The dockyard has been closed, but I am glad to say that up to the present time that has not given rise to any big question of unemployment, partly due to the fact that we are concentrating certain other establishments in Portland, notably our underwater research and development establishments, so that we can concentrate all our scientific manpower on that problem there. We are also using that as the centre for working up cruisers and escorts which are newly commissioned or re-commissioned, to provide a more systematic means of ensuring uniform standards of training. In addition a small operational flying school for antisubmarine helicopters has recently been opened there.

Of Chatham I will say only that three major changes are going on. First, the Royal Naval Barracks, which will not be needed after 1961, will now be transferred to the War Office. Secondly, the old Medway Barracks of the Royal Marines will be sold and used for commercial purposes. That is good news for the Medway, though I am sure that people there will be sorry that the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines are no longer to be at the barracks. Lastly, we are retaining Chatham Dockyard itself.

May I now say a word about the Admiralty. Last year I told the House that there was to be reorganisation in the Controller's Departments in which the work was being performed by four Directors-General dealing respectively with ships, weapons, aircraft, and dockyards and fleet maintenance. This reorganisation has been put into force and has started extremely well, and it has been shown that it is likely to be very satisfactory. We are doing very much the same kind of reorganisation in the Second Sea Lord's Departments dealing with Naval personnel. He will have under him three Directors-General, covering respect tively man-power, training, and personal services and officer appointments. The object of that is to enable the departments (all of which, of course, are responsible to the Second Sea Lord) to have a greater measure of decentralisation and enable them to be regrouped into larger units. I believe that this is important, particularly on the man-power side where it is very crucial to have proper planning to meet the long-term technical requirements.

There is one other side of this reorganisation that I should like to mention. The distinctions between specialisation in the Royal Navy are becoming less clear. Your Lordships will be aware of the introduction of the General List, which means that appointments are no longer specifically allocated to one particular specialisation. There is a wide sphere in which they may be held by officers of any one of the four specialisations. I am sure that that is right. It will now, moreover, no longer be possible to have certain appointments which will always be filled by the head of each specialisation. We shall, however, continue for a time to have certain officers designated, irrespective of their appointment but in a personal capacity: Chief Naval Engineering Officer, Chief Naval Electrical Officer and Chief Naval Supply and Secretariat Officer. I should like to give this example of how far the concept is going. We have engineering officers now acting as Naval Attaches. We have a supply and secretariat officer who is to act as Captain of the Fleet in the Far East, and we have an engineering officer who is acting as Superintendent of the Dockyard.

I should like to say one word about Iceland. I think that the fisheries dispute with Iceland offers a good example of the delicacy and complexity of the international problems which face Her Majesty's Government. It is not altogether a new problem, though it has come to a head within the last twelve months; and it is far from being an easy problem. I suggest that any Government would find it difficult to secure a quick and satisfactory solution in a situation in which a small and friendly country—indeed, one of our N.A.T.O. Allies—is challenging the reasonable economic interests of this country, and especially of our fishermen, in waters in which we are fully justified in regarding as the High Seas— and, indeed, have done so for a long time.

I do not want to go into the causes of the dispute, except to say that the Government have stressed on many occasions their willingness to negotiate a fair settlement or to have the dispute referred to the International Court. I should like to emphasise what the Navy has been trying to do to support our fishing fleets in continuous patrol duties, often carried out in extremely arduous conditions. The Navy has always taken a great pride in its close links with the Merchant Navy and the fishing fleets. I am glad to say that these have been strengthened by the tireless operations of Her Majesty's ships in these waters. Since September there have always been three or four of our ships on patrol and they have refuelled in very difficult conditions. These ships have come mostly from the Home Fleet. They have been successful in their task of preventing any illegal interference with British fishing vessels on the High Seas. More than thirty attempts by Icelandic coastguard vessels to arrest British trawlers have failed because of the Navy's intervention. At the same time, relations between our ships and the Icelandic gunboats remain good; and we should, I think, pay a tribute to the tact and diplomatic skill of our commanding officers. In addition our ships are giving medical assistance to the trawlers, as well as helping them in any mechanical breakdowns. The trawler owners, on their side, have been very generous in sending gifts of provisions for the Naval crews.

May I say one other word? I think it appropriate to pay a tribute to the part which the Royal Marines have played in Muscat. I think it is a good example of their ability to tackle almost any job in almost any part of the world. A small group of Marines were made available in March, 1958, for temporary service with the Muscat armed forces. There were never more than twenty of them on this duty. Their duties were partly to train recruits in the Muscat armed forces and partly to lead small detachments of these forces against the rebel elements who, after their attempted revolt had failed in the summer of 1957, were continuing to defy the authority of the Sultan from positions on top of the Jebel Akhbhar. There were many difficulties, including those of language and climate and intense heat, but I can say that their activities did much to improve the morale and effectiveness of the Sultan's forces. They played a valuable part in containing the rebels and so contributing to the success of the final operations to dislodge the dissident forces, which have now been completed by the Special Air Service Regiment which has been to Muscat. As a contrast, I would say we now have had during the Antarctic summer one officer and thirty men of the Royal Marines doing snow training in the Antarctic. So they have a wide variety of tasks to fulfil.

I should like to say one word about Fleet exercises which are going on almost continuously in different parts of the world, because this is of great importance in bringing together our Allies and members of the Commonwealth. That can be done, I think, much more extensively and intimately than is possible either on land or in the air. May I mention a few examples? First, there was the N.A.T.O. exercise "Dawn Breeze IV", held during March of this year. This took part over a wide area of the Eastern Atlantic, starting from Gibraltar. Ships from France, Denmark, Portugal and this country took part. This exercise was conducted by about forty ships, of which considerably more than a half, including three aircraft carriers, were British. The Naval force was supported by Shackletons of the Royal Air Force and Harpoons of the Portuguese Air Force, and was opposed by V-bombers and light bombers of the Royal Air Force, aircraft of the United States Air Force, and the French Navy.

A week ago the largest S.E.A.T.O. maritime exercise was completed in the South China Sea. Naval forces from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, France and ourselves were involved. I think the importance of this exercise can hardly be over-estimated. This was well demonstrated by the S.E.A.T.O. meeting recently held in New Zealand, which the Minister of Defence attended, when the Treaty Organisation Council expressed their conviction that S.E.A.T.O. was providing an effective deterrent to aggression and that the alliance has had a steady influence in the area ever since it was formed nearly five years ago. I have no doubt, either, that these exercises play an important part in maintaining this confidence.

I should like to mention also the exercises which will be carried out between the Royal Navy, the Indian Navy, the Pakistan Navy and the Royal Ceylon Navy, who are also to be joined by the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal New Zealand Navy. These exercises will be in the Indian Ocean between ships on their way to Trincomalee, where they will have tactical manoeuvres together. I do not think the importance of the close contact with these countries and the Royal Navy can be exaggerated. I have visited most of these countries and realise the great importance they attach to the Royal Navy.

I am sorry to have spoken for so long, but I thought it proper to give some account of the activities of the Royal Navy during the last twelve months. May I add this? As the House knows, we have appointed a new First Sea Lord, and I should like to take this opportunity of paying a tribute to the administrative drive and the strong sense of leadership which Admiral of the Fleet Lord Mountbatten of Burma has instilled into the Department during his period of office. I am fully aware that he had to put through many forms of reorganisation which were undoubtedly painful to the Navy but which he was wise enough to realise were essential for the longterm welfare of the Service. He has, I am sure, succeeded in carrying the confidence of the Service in the many changes which are taking place.

I should like also to welcome Admiral Sir Charles Lambe, who has taken his place. He has had a most varied career and experience of high appointments. He has been Commander-in-Chief, Far East, Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Flag Officer Air (Home), and Second Sea Lord. He has had a wealth of experience which cannot have been available to many who have had to undertake this important post, which I know he will fulfil to the great benefit of this country.

May I say, in conclusion, that I have not tried to conceal from the House that we are conscious of the difficulties which surround us and those which lie ahead, strategic and political. I have tried to put the facts fairly and clearly before the House in the annual statements I have made in various speeches. The Fleet will be smaller in numbers, but each unit will have a greater weapon capacity as new developments are brought into service. The Navy is likely to remain fully extended as long as present world conditions last; and, as I have said, no First Lord or Board of Admiralty is ever going to say they have enough. These powerful units of the Fleet should enable us, however, to remain ready to concentrate an effective force wherever it is required to support our interests overseas.

I do not think I can be expected to say exactly what ships we are going to have over the next three or four years. I do not think it reasonable for the noble Viscount to press me on that point. All I can say is that the number of ships will remain virtually unchanged in the categories which are most important: aircraft carriers and escort vessels. I will put these two points to the House. The first is that we are not contracting out of any major technical development—aircraft, guided missiles, anti-submarine devices—and I do not think we are far behind, if at all, any other nation in the world. We are entering into the field of nuclear propulsion. We are determined to keep the Navy up to date.

The second point I would make is that we have to balance the various requirements: the strategic lessons of the past with the implications of modern technology on the strategy of the future. We have to keep the balance between our military requirements and the strength of our economy; between the resources which we can allocate to new ships and the maintenance of older ships and their modernisation and conversion; between aircraft carriers and larger ships and various kinds of escort ships. I believe we are getting that balance about right. I believe we can face our requirements; but I am sure it would be quite wrong to think that we can face them with anything less good than we have got.

To end, I say this. The Supreme Commander, Atlantic, recently said: In securing to N.A.T.O. the continued freedom of the Atlantic, the units of the various navies contributing forces to the Allied Command Atlantic constitute the most modern, hard-hitting, integrated naval force in the world today. Our contribution to that naval force is second only to that of the United States; and the ships which compose it are the same ships which will tackle the tasks which may fall to us alone. In this way the Royal Navy will continue to play its part in maintaining the security of the Western Alliance, and will remain deployed on a world-wide basis.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, we have been told by Her Majesty's Government on many occasions (but perhaps not on this one) that one of the main functions of the Navy is to protect our Merchant Navy in every possible way. Does anyone really believe that six cruisers, shortly to be reduced to three, and three aircraft carriers, together with our limited number of escort vessels, are sufficient to protect what is still the largest Merchant Navy in the world? I think it is true to say that many senior Merchant Navy officers are very concerned indeed about this matter. Of course, finance is at the root of all the Navy's troubles; and we all realise that we cannot have everything and thereby ruin our economy. On the other hand, the Naval Staff must be well aware what is the irreducible minimum below which it would be impossible for the Navy to fulfil its functions. Does the First Lord of the Admiralty really think that our present strength in ships is a safe minimum? It is, of course, far too low; and that is plain for all to see.

The trouble is that too much money is going into what might be called the fourth line of defence—the deterrent. The deterrent is undoubtedly taking a substantial and growing share of our defence budget, which money might otherwise be devoted to the other three Services. The fact is that the nuclear weapon is tending to overshadow everything else, whereas I would say that it should be fitted into a comprehensive plan. I can see nothing in the Defence White Paper, or in the Explanatory Statement before us to-day, which envisages such a plan. if such a plan exists, why cannot we be told about it? The fact is that any weapon that is not a nuclear weapon is hardly ever mentioned these days. It is out of fashion, not only with the great British public but also with the Press.

My Lords, we cannot be satisfied with the comparatively few escort vessels that we have, and with the inadequate number of carriers and cruisers which are afloat and coming forward. I cannot believe that the First Lord and his Naval Staff are happy about the size of the Fleet. It is no good arguing, as they have done to-day, that the fewer ships are more modern, with increased fire power than ever before, because to a certain extent numbers must count. Our ships have to spread over the oceans of the world even to be effective during the cold war—and what about a hot war? I understand that a very large number of ships are on the disposal list, including aircraft carriers. The cruisers include the "Kenya", "Jamaica", "Euryalus", and, I believe, the "Superb".

What do we find when we look at foreign navies? The Dutch aircraft carrier "Karel Doorman", which was formerly H.M.S. "Venerable", was modernised in 1958, during which time she was fitted with an angled deck, mirror landing, steam catapult, and all the frills of modernisation. Yet she is the same class as the "Ocean" and "Theseus", which I understand are now on the disposal list. Why cannot we recondition these ships, like our N.A.T.O. Ally? I suppose that again the difficulty is finance.

I am delighted to hear that the "Dreadnought" will shortly be on the stocks. It is certainly a very great advance but we must not forget that, except for antisubmarine training purposes, and so on, one such type of submarine can have very little tactical value. If more money were available for the Navy, we might have more than one nuclear submarine, and have an effective flotilla. I do not think we should pin our hopes for the future too much on a nuclear submarine armed with an under-water missile known as "Polaris". When it is perfected, no doubt it will be of great importance and will revolutionise sea warfare; but I understand that the American's are having great difficulties with the rocket fuel, and it may be some years before "Polaris" becomes an effective weapon. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will not sit back and wait for American designers to perfect this weapon, and that the Navy will be encouraged to work out its own problems of under-water missiles.

I was also delighted to hear that, after years of assurances in successive White Papers, the first two guided-missile ships are now to be laid down equipped with ship-to-air guided missiles. I hope that before long we shall hear something about a guided-missile cruiser which will be capable of firing not only ship-to-air guided missiles but also ship-to-ship guided missiles.

It has been said that we are to have a constantly developing fleet. My Lords, we cannot have that without a constantly developing building programme, and in the present White Paper I see no sign of that programme. The fact remains that Her Majesty's Government seem prepared to accept such a small Fleet that it indicates that they consider that an H-bomb war would be over and our people annihilated before the protection of convoys and imports, and so on, became a factor of real importance. We cannot be sure about this annihilation, and I suggest that it is well worth while to consider 'that Russia is unlikely to want to commit suicide and that she may well bring on a major war outside the Continent of Europe which would be fought with conventional 'weapons. Then, I hope the First Lord will not neglect the needs of amphibious warfare and the training of men for this very specialised service. And I should have liked to see some reference to this matter in the White Paper.

Last, but not least, I venture to remind Her Majesty's Government of the high importance of building up a fully integrated Fleet train of supply and repair ships. It is vital that our Fleet should be able to keep at sea if its home bases are destroyed. A corollary of this is, of course, the planning and training of a specialised service for the construction of temporary bases. I do hope the First Lord will be able to give an assurance that all these matters I have mentioned are in hand. My Lords, it is no use trying to disguise the fact that the Fleet to-day, as regards numbers of ships, is in a very sorry state. I do not doubt that the hearts of the men that man them are as sound as ever. Give them the tools, and they will get on with the job.

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, I should like, first of all, to associate myself with the welcome back to the House to the First Lord of the Admiralty. The speech he has just made to us is a wonderful advertisement of the nursing sisters, to whom he has already paid tribute. There was no sign of any tiredness or want of vigour, and I think he should have top marks; but I would remind him that not every patient who goes into a naval hospital is the First Lord of the Admiralty.

It was my intention to make a certain number of remarks, but so much of the information has been given by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, and by the previous speaker, that I will abbreviate as much as I can what I have to say, and I will not mention any figures. I do not wish to criticise the work of the Admiralty in the preparation of a modern Navy. Of course, we want to have a modern Navy, but we ought not to run the risk in the interval, while we are waiting for it. That, as my noble friend Lord Teynham pointed out, is what we are doing. There is a gulf between the old Navy and the new which ought not to have arisen, and which, in my view, was never meant to arise. The laying down of the nuclear ships was postponed, for various reasons, whereas scrapping has gone on continuously the whole time.

We are now in a state somewhat similar to that in which we were in 1938. At that time, your Lordships will remember, the then Prime Minister went over and interviewed the dictator who was threatening us. He came back in the belief that he had an understanding with him. Well he had not, but he did secure a year of peace; and during all that year we were preparing for war and adding to our Navy. To-day again our Prime Minister has made a good will effort and went to see the dictator threatening us, but he has come back with no agreement, and the reduction of the Navy goes on as if he had come back with a year of peace confirmed. The Fleet is now so run down that there is no gainsaying the fact that if, at the end of three months time, at the end of the Summit talks, relations were to be broken off, our Merchant Navy would be ruined and we should starve. There are not enough ships now in the Navy to fight and keep our people supplied. We have supply ships all over the world. Interdependence may be all very well in many parts of the world, but one responsibility the Royal Navy has always had, and does not wish to give up, is to see that our people are fed.

The Statement under discussion opens with these words: The role of the Navy in the nuclear age was fully set out last year. So it was; and what did it say? Among other things, we were reminded that the oceans cover over 70 per cent. of the world's surface, and nothing is more important than that our merchant shipping should be able to pass freely and safely across the seas. I agree with my noble friend Lord Teynham. I believe that the sort of imagination the Admiralty possess has carried it too far, and the maintenance of an active Fleet, ready to go into action at very short notice, has been neglected. I read only the other day a statement about cruisers being no longer the "eyes of the Fleet". What does that mean? Fleet! —where is it? Two aircraft carriers are not a Fleet. May I remind your Lordships of how vulnerable these aircraft carriers are? Only the other day attention was drawn to the fact that two aircraft carries were in collision in Portsmouth harbour, and last week two aircraft carriers were on fire at the same time. We are told that they are the "core of the Fleet". The core of the Fleet was looking a bit thin!

As the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, has pointed out, the number of ships given in the tables in the Statement are not at all reassuring. We are informed that The building and manning of the modern Fleet have largely been made possible by discarding older ships as they became obsolescent. And the Statement goes on to say that: No ship has been scrapped unless its age and condition made it unfit for service in the present day Navy. It says, as an example, that the "Bellona" and the "Euryalus" were in such a state as "would alone make their modernisation uneconomical". Why go to the expense of reconditioning them? They have fought, and did good service up to the year 1945. What was good enough then could be made good use of now, if only it were given a chance. We have never fought a war in which every ship and every bit of equipment was modern and up to date, and all that could he desired. I think that we can justly say that one of our traditions in the Navy is to do the best with what we have. And we make very good use of it, too. The majority of the ships that fought in the last war had been fighting in 1914-18. All the big ships except the "Hood" had been in the first war. Some of them were more modern than others, but all did pretty good work.

I should like to call attention to one incident of the late war. There was an old destroyer called the "Viceroy" which not only fought in the 1914-18 war but celebrated the 25th anniversary of her entry into the Fleet by sinking two German submarines in the last war. If that ship had been scrapped because she was thought to be useless, those two submarines might not have been sunk. It is not always understood that a cruiser is a self-contained ship, protected, subdivided, with gun crews under shelter, strongly built and built for war. If a cruiser goes to any local trouble, she can land 200 to 300 men and keep them supported for weeks at a time. But what is the use of one frigate? A frigate may be a very nice little vessel, but she is a little vessel; and as the noble Lord, Lord Winster, pointed out in our last debate on the Navy, our prestige in places where they used to see large British ships is not kept up if we send a frigate. They think that we have come to a pretty pass when a frigate comes to represent us in time of trouble.

I am not for one moment saying that the whole Fleet should be kept up, except in so far as to be able to fight what we may have to fight now, but no noble Lord or any member of the Government, though they may like to shut their eyes to the fact, can say that in a few months' time we may not find ourselves in war. We are getting so used to the idea; we are quite content to say, "There is not going to be a war. They do not want a war." It may be that they do not want a war now, but they want a war at their chosen moment. In the last debate we had on the Navy, the noble Earl the Leader of the House said, or nearly said, that we had enough ships to look after anything that was a purely British interest. That is what I understood him to mean, but of course that is not so. After all, it is a purely British interest to maintain the food supply of our people; and if we had war now, that is something we could not do. What happened in the first weeks of the last war would be re-enacted in the first weeks of the next one. Scores of merchant ships were making for British or neutral ports without any organised protection. We lost the "Courageous" in that sort of scramble. We might even have a repetition of the "Jervis Bay" incident, when a merchant ship with a few guns on board was sent out with twenty-seven sy hips in convoy. She was alone. Why was that? It was because we had nothing to take her place. She did her duty and tried to save her convey, but was sunk by a powerful German cruiser. It was sheer murder to send that ship out on an expedition like that.

Very little interest is taken in the men of the Merchant Navy. There are only one or two Members of this House who ever bring up the subject—and my noble friend Lord Winster is one of them. These men are not trained to fight, and they are not paid to fight; but being British seamen, they will. However, nobody seems to care what happens to them. I seldom see in The Times any objection from the shipping fraternity about the risks their ships are called upon to run; and members of the shipping fraternity in your Lordships House seldom make speeches on the subject. I was speaking to a "high-up" member of the shipping fraternity the other day, and he said: "Of course we care what happens to them". I will bring my disjointed remarks to a close (although I may say that they would not have been so disjointed had I not, in deference to the time, cut out much of what I had intended to say) with one further observation. A few years ago we could sing Rule, Britannia! and it really was "Rule, Britannia!" But now we can sing only songs of interdependence, with somebody else to look after our jobs.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, first of all I must apologise to the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, for having missed the first two minutes of his speech when he opened the debate. Whenever I think of Naval affairs at the present time my mind immediately goes back to the Statement on Defence of 1956, which states, in paragraph 20: For the reasons given earlier in this Paper the long-term plans for the Navy must be based on the deployment of a smaller fleet than at present. For this reason, I rather expected any Explanatory Statement on the Navy Estimates to be gloomy. Being an optimist, I first went quickly through this, and found it gloomy; and I then went through it again to see whether I could find something not quite so gloomy. I found four points which certainly commend themselves to people who are at present serving. The first one was the laying down of the guided-missile ships. We have waited since 1956 to hear that something was happening. Personally, I should have preferred to wait until this year to hear that these ships were laid down rather than to have been told four years ago that something was happening and to be left in suspense. But I am delighted to see that they are now laid down and building.

The second thing that pleases me is to see that the "Dreadnought" is to go on the stocks. I am sure we are all pleased about that, although again we should have liked to see it earlier. There are, however, one or itwo things about this subject that I should like to get clear, and perhaps the First Lord can help. Is this reactor which is to be incorporated in the engine which we are buying from America to be one of the totally uneconomic types of reactors, which we are getting in order to have a nuclear submarine with which to carry out trials for the time being? I am pleased to know that we are to have this submarine that much earlier, but I should be more interested to know how we are getting on with producing our own engine, which will be an economic one. I accept everything which the First Lord said in the way of pointing out that we cannot afford to build submarines with engines that are totally uneconomic, as the Americans have. The submarines which they have will use fuel in five years, at a rough estimate, equal to the total cost of building the actual submarine. That does not seem to be a sensible proposition.

The third thing which seems to be good is the question of manpower, and I am particularly pleased to see that the number of re-engagements is up. That is an important point, because these are the men who have to train others coming in and who can be built upon; they have been trained and have the experience, and you can experiment with them, if you like, and they can experiment themselves. There we have a working basis on which we can advance, and it is, I think, almost more important than the material side. I feel sure that if those re-engagements continue, the other side of recruiting, which is still going fairly well, will continue in that strain. I hope that, so far as artificers are concerned, the maximum publicity possible will be given to the introduction of types of nuclear power, because I feel that that is—I suppose the word should be a "gimmick"; it is a new thing that should catch people's imagination, and it might well help with recruiting.

I am afraid I have to say that, having seen those three points, I then reverted to the rather more gloomy things which seem to have occurred. I will not waste time by repeating what has been said already, but I came to the House this afternoon prepared to agree that the three new cruisers of the "Lion" class were an adequate stop-gap and trial on the understanding that they could be fitted with guided missiles. But if I understood the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, correctly, he said that it was not, and would not be, possible to adapt them in that direction. There was a suggestion of the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, that ships of the "Superb" class, at any rate the two of them, might well be fitted in the same way as the "Lion" and "Tiger". They are, after all, identical ships, or they were in their first construction and conception; One may say, in passing, that it is a great credit to the Corps of Naval Constructors that these ships, which were designed nearly twenty years ago, have stood the test of the changing technical constituents that now have to go into them.

I now move to the question of Dartmouth. I would take up what the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, said about the scholastic standard for the cadets. As I understand it, the standards were reduced when the G.E.C. was brought in. Speaking from memory, I think the old standards used to be a matriculation examination in school certificate or a higher school certificate, and that required five credits and special subjects in physics and mathematics. When the G.F.C. was brought in that standard was reduced, but, as I see it, this new standard is going back to the old one and is putting the qualification back where it should be. The fact that the midshipmen will now go to sea for a year overjoys me. I have always felt that a Navy which does not go to sea might just as well not be a Navy at all. I have been taught, and it is my own short experience, that if you are to go to sea and fight in ships, you cannot learn the essential seamanship on land. I am sure that those of your Lordships who have far greater experience than I have would hear that out. It is not a thing you can learn; it is experience that you can only pick up in time and, as such, the new scheme is, I am sure, excellent.

There is one point I should like to get clear. In what ships will the midshipmen go to sea? Midshipmen previously were able to go to sea in battleships and cruisers where there was a gun room, and they were treated as trainees with responsibilities. Now, if we are to have only three or possibly six cruisers, which I rather suspect will be required for trooping with marines in addition to other duties, quite apart from the extra space which is required for modern electrical equipment, they may well not have space for a gun room, and it would be interesting to know what process these midshipmen will go through. I do not think smaller ships than a cruiser are ideal for training.

Next, I would come to the works side. As I understand it, there is a sum of money which has been allotted—I have forgotten what the Vote is, but I will call it the Works Vote—and which has been spent on building married quarters (I may be wrong in that assumption), and the modernisation of barracks has been temporarily put on one side. When the married quarters building programme is completed, it is then proposed to go on to the barracks. I am thinking particularly in terms of Portsmouth Barracks, which I have not seen now for a year, when it struck me that nothing new had been done since I was there some ten years before.

There are also various establishments which have been closed down (I think this is a point which the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, raised last year) and the reduction in total manpower would seem to bear that out. It is true to say that the Naval establishments which have been closed down—there are the airfields and one or two training establishments —were not up to full complement, and when they were closed down a paper figure was then deleted from the Admiralty manpower requirement. But it was a paper figure which always has been a paper figure, because there was no one there actually to do the job. Of course, it is quite right and proper that those establishments should be closed down, because they were quite uneconomic and impossible to run by the few people who were there. In some cases, without any doubt at all, they were kept open in order to help the employment situation in the particular area. I think Chatham is probably a particular case.


My Lords, if the noble Lord is saying that Chatham is kept open to keep employment going in the Medway, that is quite untrue.


I accept that from the noble Earl. May I go on to Admiralty organisation? I notice in the 1959-60 Estimates that there is a reduction in the civil manpower. I also notice, with hope, that in a particular category, that of draftsmen, there has been an increase. I will explain why I say "with hope" in a moment. Equally, under the Admiralty organisation, I understood the First Lord to tell us that the Second Sea Lord is now to have three senior officers under him, and I should be interested to know how that would affect the central drafting scheme, and how it will tie up with that.

We have heard a great deal about work study groups in the Fleet. I am sure that they are an excellent thing, and if they work as well as the instructional technique schools they will be a great help. I wonder whether the Service personnel, as a result of work study, will be inundated with more rules and regulations. If that were to happen it would be a mistake. It is rather inclined to happen when these new schemes come in. But work study itself must be excellent, and what little I have seen of it at work has helped immensely. Two years ago, we heard of senior ratings who were doing a course at the Admiralty and were then going out—in this particular case, I think it was a Chief Petty Officer Andrews—to the Fleet in Malta. The idea was to try to explain facts to the lower deck so that there would be a greater understanding of the Admiralty's views. Since then I have heard no more and seen no more on that particular subject. It would be interesting to know how that has worked out, whether it has been a success, and whether it is being continued.

Finally, as an ex-naval officer, may I add my voice to those of my senior members, and say that I am sad to see the Navy reduced to the size it is at the moment? For myself, I should be content to see the ships built at the end of the war and which still have a certain amount of life scrapped, provided I could also see at the same time a building programme coming along to replace them. I think that the Controller must be a worried man at the moment. He may not be worried, because he may know of a programme which we do not. But as one sees it, there is no future programme of building at all. There is the completion of the present escort ships; there is one more cruiser to come and one more aircraft carrier, and there are some submarines. After that, there is nothing, and we are all left in the air. As I understand it, that programme will be completed in 1962. If it takes five or six years to plan and build a ship, for instance of the "Daring" class, it presumably will take longer to plan and build a ship of a more revolutionary design.

For that reason, I find it very difficult to agree to the scrapping of hulls which are good but which are not of use at the moment, but which in the event of an, outbreak of war could be used as pickets, as a coverage over a given area of sea. I think it is always true to say that six ships of very inferior design in six areas are far better than one very good ship in the whole area. For that reason, I find myself in agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, and I come back to where I started, which is the Defence White Paper of 1956, which says: For the reasons given earlier in this paper the long-term plans of the Navy must be based on the deployment of a smaller fleet than at present. I cannot bring myself to agree with that now. any more than I did then.

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, I am hoping to read the speech we have just heard—or, rather, most of us have failed to hear a large part of it—with great interest tomorrow. The sort of private conversation between the noble Lord and the First Lord of the Admiralty gave us little bits now and again which were exceedingly interesting. I am sure we can be pleased that the noble Lord supports very largely the case put here by my noble friend Lord Hall, the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, and the noble Lord, Lord Teynham.

I wish to say first to the noble Earl the First Lord of the Admiralty how much I associate myself with what my noble friend Lord Hall said in opening the debate: our pleasure at seeing the noble Earl back on the Bench, back at work. We hope very much that he is feeling better for the convalescent period he has had since his indisposition. I would say to him also that I was glad that he mentioned the great service of the First Sea Lard who has just retired, the noble Earl, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Mountbatten. I am also anxious to be associated with his introduction in his new appointment of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Charles Lambe. The noble Earl the First Lord of the Admiralty gave some particulars of what I might call the higher-rank service of one I first knew as Commander and then Captain Lambe. In those days he did wonderful service, especially for some time as what I might call my Director of Plans. He has always had a great naval brain as well as a generally good brain, and I am sure he will do well as First Sea Lord.

My Lords, I very much regret that there is not greater interest shown here to-day in the Royal Navy. It is true, as the noble Earl the First Lord of the Admiralty has pointed out, that this is the fourth debate in twelve months on the Royal Navy. He accepts the fact that this means that there is a good deal of concern about the present condition of the Royal Navy, and I am certain that that is so. But to-day's debate, which has been deferred for various reasons for some weeks, is in respect of the Explanatory Statement of the Board of Admiralty with regard to the programme and Estimates for the current year. I am disappointed that not more Members of your Lordships' House have been willing to engage either in criticism or in praise of the Explanatory Statement than have appeared to-day a strange contrast to the numbers who wished to speak in the debate yesterday.

This question of the Royal Navy and its position in the life of our nation and in the interest of the whole Commonwealth is vastly important. I have spent so much of my life in connection with this great Service, in a civil and directive capacity, that I just cannot understand how it is that so large a part of the community to-day seems to be oblivious of the dangerous position into which the running down of the Fleet is putting our country and Commonwealth. Admiral of the Fleet Lord Mountbatten gave a television interview the other day at the time of his actual retirement. I took great care to note the time and to be there to see him and to listen to what he had to say.

It was a very convenient interview, and the questions that were put to him with regard to the role and the fitness of the Royal Navy to deal with three positions were very apposite. Was the role of the Navy as at present outlined, was the fitness of the Royal Navy at the present time, able to deal adequately with any one of the three phases: the cold war in so-called peace time; in a period of limited war; or in a full-scale global war such as might intervene if our efforts at negotiations were not successful? I would defy anybody to say that anything that was said by Lord Mountbatten was not absolutely correct. It was very cautious, very wise; he was not giving anything away. But the fact was that he just backed up the real case of the Royal Navy for proper treatment and proper strength with the quotations that she gave to us from Russsian generals and commanders as to what the changed situation is. All the changes in the situation would still require in all three of those different phases—cold, limited or global war—a Royal Navy which was both efficient and able to cover the tasks which were submitted to it to carry out.

I am bound to say that as I listened to the noble Earl the First Lord of the Admiralty to-day I felt that he found himself in a difficulty. My noble friend had put some very pointed facts to him and some particular questions. I did not feel at the end of his speech, although it was very interesting in many of the things he was explaining to us, that we had had real answers upon the strength of the Fleet, either in what is called the Operational Fleet or in regard to those ships which are mentioned in the White Paper as being either in Reserve, under constructional alteration or under repair. The noble Earl spoke about his confidence that, whatever the circumstances, with the current strength of our operational ships we should always be able to concentrate a force somewhere to face up to an emergency. We have heard no real answer as to how, with something far less than the size of a task force to be stationed in home waters and, say, the Eastern Atlantic, or in the Mediterranean or the Far East, we are going to concentrate these three forces together to meet an emergency, or even an immediate and widespread emergency in what would be called a limited war. We have been through these crises before.

I was deeply moved as I listened to the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery; and as he was talking about the possibilities of this or that happening I was thinking of myself sitting in the First Lord's room in 1940, anxiously awaiting signals from the noble Earl in Narvik, sitting in a position which, a few months before, no one would ever have anticipated arising. I recalled the task that he then had to carry out, with insufficient forces. Nobody who really knows the history and work of the Royal Navy can imagine that it could be in a much weaker position, with the commitments it has to meet to-day, and the operational fleet as it exists to-day.

I doubt very much whether anybody could show that at any time in the last 250 years we have been so weak in units, in manning and so on, in relation to the task that might have to be faced. Certainly in the days when we were building our real power at sea—and of course at the same time we were steadily widening and strengthening our mercantile marine and overseas trade—we needed a greater number of units than we require to-day, because there was a much greater slowness in travel. But if one takes the actual strength of our present mercantile marine, and considers its vast importance to this nation and to the whole of the Commonwealth, one has to consider that we are going to have three aircraft carriers scattered about the world, three cruisers in operation at any one time, scattered about (although I believe that six are to be interchangeable as operational, at any one time probably no more than three will actually be in operation), and a few destroyers. Taking those into account, with the smaller vessels—and the noble Earl the First Lord says, in the Explanatory Statement, that the Navy has had to make over 400 visits of one sort or another in this ordinary year of peace—and remembering the other tasks we may have to face, and the fact that at any time there might be an emergency, I should think it is obvious to anybody that we have not the number of seagoing units to do the job that might at any time require to be done.

I know it is an unpopular thing to have to say to members of my own Party, and a very unpopular thing to say to members of a Party who would normally be deeply in support of the Royal Navy but who, because they feel they have to support the financial policy of their own Government Party, do not feel able to speak out. This sort of occasion has arisen before, and always in such crises in the country I call to mind such people as those referred to in the twelfth verse of the first chapter of the little book of the Prophet Zephaniah: The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil "— "It does not really matter; we could not care less." That is the kind of attitude that grows up in the public mind if we in either House of Parliament do not constantly bring this matter before our members and see that the country is awakened to the real dangers of the situation.

I recall my war-time experiences at the Admiralty, and my experiences from 1929 to 1931. My noble friend who introduced the debate to-day went to the Admiralty with me in 1929 as Civil Lord, and another colleague of mine, Lord Ammon, was the Financial Secretary—so we, on this side of the House, have had a long experience of the Admiralty. I look back at the pressure that was put upon us to disarm, and at what came out of the London Naval Conference in 1930 in regard to building up a really fine basic set of Fleet units. When I see what happened in I 939-40, I cannot for the life of me see the reason why the Government should he trying to scrap nearly everything they have, without anything like an adequate building policy in its place. Ask any serving officer, even the young and the most modern technically to-day, what he would like to see if he were faced with the sort of situation presented to the Admiralty in 1940. We were relying upon the French Fleet. The French Fleet had gone, but we still had to carry on with our anti-submarine war. We should have been completely sunk in the war, long before America came in, if it had not been for the retention in the Reserve Fleet of ships that many naval officers of the day were saying were out of date, the old "V." and "W." destroyers, the smaller remaining cruisers that were available and the like.

I am bound to say that when I look at the comparative complacency of the present Government in relation to the strength of the Fleet, in spite of the fact that we are spending £371 million I say that we are not taking even the minimum insurance policy required to cover the future defence of our sea channels and sea lanes which mean so much that is vital to the whole future of our nation, its trade, its Commonwealth and right the way through. I am quite sure that if he looked into his own heart the First Lord of the Admiralty would say to himself, "Well, I am doing my best, it is true, to get some modernisation into the Royal Navy." But if he were made to answer half a dozen different questions as to what he would do in certain circumstances with the strength we have got, I think he would have to say that we cart no longer do it ourselves; that we rely upon the United States of America. That is not a very satisfactory position to be in, because we as a nation own and control so much of the mercantile marine of the world, and we have such vast interests to keep going. However much we may bring freedom to other nations within the Commonwealth, we shall still need to protect our merchant marine and our trade.

I was deeply moved by the reference of the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, to the merchant seamen. I think one or two other noble Lords have referred to them. The Explanatory Statement points out that we are busy preparing various kinds of armaments for the merchant seamen. I am very sorry indeed that that is being done, but how can we possibly put a lot of merchant vessels to proper use while we must give every protection we can to other merchant seamen in a convoy? What can take the place of properly armed escorts in proper numbers? We had far more destroyers available in 1940, at least at the opening of the Battle of the Atlantic, than we have now. We know full well that what happened then was that we had to send our convoys to Longitude 30 with perhaps two destroyers, or maybe three trawlers, to the convoy; and at Longitude 30 we had to take those escorts away, sending the convoy on to cross the rest of the Atlantic without any escort, while the escort, the destroyers or trawlers, waited for the inward-bound convoy; and we often suffered pretty heavy losses m convoy when there was no protection at all.

As to the ultimate emergency arming of a merchant ship as an armed merchant cruiser, whilst I would not deny for a moment that we have not marvellously worked with them—and the examples of the "Jervis Bay" and "Rawalpindi" are outstanding—yet anybody, any naval officer here this afternoon, who has seen, in war time a merchant ship of 10,000 to 14,000 tons fitted out as an armed merchant cruiser, and seen the conditions under which the naval staff of that ship have to keep going, the horribleness of the whole thing, the vulnerability of its bulwark and the complete absence of armour, even for its small armament, will see the kind of task that that means.

If we are going on with a programme such as we have now, with practically no replacement of adequately armed escorts of that type to sail with the large convoy, then so long as we have a potential enemy who is not scrapping his battleships, his battle cruisers, his heavy cruisers, and the like, we are going to be in a very difficult position. The comparative figures given by my noble friend Lord Hall this afternoon of our strength to-clay, compared to the strength of either the United States or Russia, also left me wondering. I do not think there is any doubt that the real estimate of the total of potentially dangerous submarines owned by the U.S.S.R. at the moment cannot be put at less than 400. Some estimates go much higher—to 500 and more; but I am considering only those which have to be taken as highly and potentially dangerous. When we think of our strength and the strength of our Allies against that, it means that we could not be certain of a victory.

What the Allies are going to say, of course, is: "We shall not need this, for we can use the bomb; that is the ultimate deterrent. Whether these people attack with conventional weapons or otherwise, we shall use the bomb." In other words, we take the chance of victory or suicide. I think that it is a very deplorable position into which we have got ourselves, and I beg the noble Earl, the First Lord of the Admiralty to be constantly defending and advancing the case for the Royal Navy to be treated, in the provision of its units, more adequately than it is being treated at present.

I was very glad that the noble Earl said what he did about Malta and its dockyard. That was due to be said, and I certainly hope that the firm of Messrs. Baileys. of Cardiff. a firm I know well, will be very successful in attracting work to the island and giving the dockyard workers there a chance. But if Her Majesty's Government can do that for Malta, what are they doing for Sheerness? I think we ought to know this afternoon what is happening there. As a matter of fact, more than twelve months ago I asked Her Majesty's Government whether they would consider making Sheppey and Sheerness at once a special area. I understand from local information that it is barely three months since Sheppey and Sheerness were put upon the Board of Trade list of places to be specially assisted, industrially and financially, under arrangements which, I am glad to say, Her Majesty's Government have made in other parts of the country. That was done only three months ago.

There is a very difficult situation to be faced there. We do not know whether there have been any substantial offers. In the White Paper of the Admiralty a good deal is made of the fact that a glass firm is to provide work for about 100 people at Queenborough. I am very glad to know that, but here we are considering the result of action by Her Majesty's Government which is leading to the end of this dockyard, which, in some ways, has an older tradition even than that of Malta; because in the old sailing days there were some elements of a dockyard there going back, in fact, to the beginning of the seventeenth century. It is Parliament's approval of the action of Her Majesty's Government in closing Sheerness that brings all the tragedy now arising there. What are we doing about it? I feel that we ought to be told more than we have yet been told.

I would point out, for example, that already unemployment there has been higher than the average for the rest of the country, and actual discharges from the dockyard are only now beginning to take real effect. There is the problem of the children who will be leaving school in July this year. I suppose that the majority of them—about 200—would have been able to turn to the dockyard and its general administrative occupations, for work. Probably that will come almost completely to an end, not at once bin within twelve months, and perhaps in less time even than that. What will happen to those young people? What is to happen to the general standard of boys and girls who, on leaving school, usually go to the dockyard, if we are to close down the dockyard school?

Incidentally, may I say to the noble Earl the First Lord of the Admiralty, as a little personal comment, that we enjoyed his reference to the period of Lord Melville, and the old greybeards of the Admiralty of those days. But let us not forget that in the course of the 100 years of the turnover from plain sail to plain steam and no sails at all, the Admiralty did some thinking, and something really worth while; for in 1841, because they were going to adopt steam, they set up dockyard schools which have a very fine record. There is one of those dockyard schools in Sheerness. It has a wonderful record and was able to assure skilled employment for most of the children leaving school in Sheerness and going to work for the Government there. What is to happen to them? Is anything being done to provide something in place of that employment? Have we no interest except to say that there is the employment exchange and there is the dole to go on? Have we no more than that to say? Have not we, as Parliament, and have not the Admiralty, a special responsibility in having closed down this place?

I have here a publication, issued not long ago, full of beautiful photographs of all the places that were available and could be used by different firms; it was issued by the agents who, I believe, have been asked by the Admiralty to sell up the place, lock, stock and barrel. But who is going to take it over on that basis? There seems to be no idea that the Government might help substantially with finance to help firms to go there, as has been done in Malta. You are doing it for Malta. Why not for your own dockyard workers here when you turn them out of their employment? If you want to see the whole population of Sheerness bereft altogether, you will not have to wait very long, unless something is done about it. The situation of local government is such that as soon as the dockyard gives up its ordinary business, the town of Sheerness will lose £32,000 a year in rates. Their rates will go up another 2s. in the £; they will have all the extra burden of their unemployed people upon them; and there will be a growing disaster entirely due to Government policy.

I feel that the Government ought to do something effective. I think they ought, under the general type of arrangement that is made in special areas, to give inducement to firms that might go there if factories were ready to receive them That was the general aim in the old schemes we had; and I think it is the general aim in the current scheme. I think that special aid ought to be given in the case where the Government close down a Government establishment of this kind, which is the life and soul of the whole local community. I hope, therefore, that I may have some assurance from the noble Earl the First Lord of the Admiralty on that point to-day, and if there is anything I can do personally to help, I shall be only too glad. If he wants to discuss it with me, or with any of my friends, I am sure that anybody who is concerned about the good name of the Admiralty in such a case as this would be anxious to help to see that something effective is done.

I want now to come to one or two other specific questions. I was rather interested in the reply which the noble Earl the First Lord of the Admiralty made to my noble friend about personnel. I am bound to say that my own impression is that there will not be 88,000 men manning ships afloat. Is that so? Can we have any idea as to what will be the number of adult seamen afloat in our ships? Because the position is a little mixed up by the change which has taken place in the announcement of our personnel strength. I think it would be a good idea in Explanatory Statements in future if we could have a little tabular statement showing what is the total overall strength of the Admiralty staffs in every respect; how many of them are officers afloat and ashore, how many of them are sailors afloat and ashore, and how many of them are civilian employees in the dockyard, and the like—a proper statement so that we can see just how well we are balanced in dealing with the problem.

I was very interested, after long years of interest in the curriculum of Dartmouth, in the changes proposed. No one can quarrel, in this technical age, with any general aim to raise the standard of the qualification required on entry and to be secured before going to sea. I think that stands out. On the other hand, I am a little anxious about the rather indefinite reply which the First Lord of the Admiralty gave us with regard to the upper yardmen. Are the upper yardmen to have their standards of pure educational qualifications raised at the same time, or are they going to be given a reasonable chance, in view of their experience and their general improvement in education as they go along, to get their promotion? I think that is essential, if it can be secured. If you have sufficiently good instructors in your classes for upper yardmen, it ought not to be beyond the dreams of possibility that they might be able to qualify quite well in such subjects as technical navigation, mathematics, physics and the like. I hope some special attention will be paid to that, because we on this side of the House are very keen always to have properly provided avenues of promotion for those who deserve them from the lower deck.

Then with regard to one of the questions which my noble friends put this afternoon, I could not quite understand from the First Lord's reply whether he said it was unreasonable or unfair to ask whether our number of ships was going to go down or up, how much he was going to keep in reserve and how much he was not. I want to put this very direct question, if I may. In paragraph D, on page 7 of the Explanatory Statement, there is a list of Ships in all classes of reserve or undergoing extended refit, modernisation, conversion, etc. during the year. May I ask him specifically: Are all the ships under paragraph D going to be kept right through this year and next year in reserve, or are any of them to be scrapped? May I ask that? Because we ought to know.

The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, referred to the possibility of certain cruisers being scrapped, including the "Superb", which seems to me just a tragedy. I sailed in the first of her class to the Mediterranean on her first commission, on her sister ship "Swiftsure"—a very fine job. Are you going to scrap the "Swiftsure"? Are any other cruisers in that category to be scrapped? Is it true that you are going to scrap any of the "Battle" class destroyers? You have thirty destroyers in reserve, including four "Daring" class, 13 "Battle" class and 12 "C" class. I do not think you will have got as far as scrapping any of the "Daring" class—at least, I hope not—but we ought to know. And if any are going to be scrapped, how many? What are you going to have left? I think that the same question might well be put with regard to the submarines, so that we may see what submarines you are going to keep and what you intend to scrap.

Then there are one or two other points which I wanted briefly to make. I thought that a very good reference was made this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, to the aircraft carriers. If we look at page 8 of the Explanatory Statement we see that there are some notes at the end of the paragraph headed "Naval Shipbuilding": In addition there is a carrier hull, launched in 1945, on which work is suspended. I take it that your reference in the Naval Estimates List is to the "Leviathan". What are the real intentions about the Leviathan". Can we know? Is the work to be suspended for ever? Is she to be scrapped or sold for a song, or is she to be used in exactly the type of way the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, suggested this afternoon?

I should like to know whether there are any other aircraft carriers which have not yet been scrapped, which are going to be scrapped and which are not capable, as they are now, of angle-deck flying, off and on, but which could be made so. If we are not going to have battleships in the future—and I think it is certain we are not, and I think it is right to do away with their use—then I feel that the multiple uses of aircraft carriers will be so valuable that we ought to have a proper number of them. My own experience in the war was such that I had no hesitation at all in ordering twenty-five in one block—not the slightest hesitation. The First Lord smiles: I agree that it was war time, and that we could count upon its being supported. It was supported: nevertheless, it was a recognition by the Naval Staff at the Admiralty of the effectiveness and the true rôle of the aircraft carrier, even as far back as that. At any rate, I should myself like to see much more attention given to strengthening that section of our naval forces.

Now I do not intend to take up any further of your Lordships' time, although there are many other matters to which I wanted to refer. But I should be much more happy in my mind if I felt that Parliament as a whole was really concerned about the future of the Royal Navy. This is not a question of Party. I have said already that the things I say about the Royal Navy would sometimes be very unpopular, probably, in many sections of my own Party; but I feel so strongly that the Royal Navy has been so much to this country, and is capable still of giving such defence to us to-day in all circumstances, that unless our naval men are given proper conditions—the ships they want, the defence they want, and the accommodation they want—then we are not likely in the future to get the service of those of our general citizens who want to go to sea, as we have had in the past. Let us call upon all the resources of our nation to see that our sea defences are put right, so that we can face any contingency in the future with confidence.

5.42 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House I will try to answer some of the points that have been raised. I should like to thank noble Lords for taking part, because in the many decisions on difficult problems that have to be arrived at it does help to know the views of the House. I would suggest that the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, was speaking with folies de grandeur when he talked about ordering 25 carriers. It was a very peculiar occasion; but I am sure that in war time these things do happen. However, one must not make too many comparisons of that sort. Then I do not disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Teynham. Some people do get mesmerised by nuclear power; but I do not think the Government are, because we have constantly emphasised the importance we attach to what are generally called conventional weapons—and I am sure that that is right. It would be very foolish, I think, to believe that everything could be resolved in one single way.

The noble Lard, Lord Congleton, asked a number of questions which I will try to answer broadly. He said two things in which I was rather interested. First of all, he said that he was glad to see the guided-missile ships laid down. Then he went on to say that he was sorry that guided missiles could not be put into "Superb". But, of course, the real answer is, quite simply, that those who think that this complicated mechanism could go into an old cruiser greatly underestimate the difficulty there would be in putting it into any ship not tailor-made to take it. These weapons are far more complicated, and very much mare difficult than anyone who has not seen them, or been faced with the problem of installing them, is likely to conceive.


May I make my point clear? What I was saying was that I understood that the cruisers of the "Lion," and "Tiger" Class could, in time, be fitted with the new weapons in place of their present 6-inch turrets. Now I understand that that is not so. Therefore it seems a pity, to me, that the ships of the "Superb" Class, which in many respects are exactly similar to, the ships of the "Lion" and "Tiger" Class, cannot similarly be fitted as the "Lion" and "Tiger" Class and kept in service.


I thought the noble Lord wanted us to put Seaslug into the "Superb." I was merely saying that we could not do that. We did consider modernising the "Superb", as we have done "Belfast". "Belfast" is a modernised ship now, as is "Swiftsure", but the condition of "Superb" made it unlikely that modernisation would be worth while, because in any event it was drawing to the end of its useful life. However, if I may, I will say a word later about cruisers generally. Perhaps I may go on to the other points which the noble Lord mentioned. First, he talked about the uneconomic nature of nuclear propulsion. Almost all ships can be run by an uneconomic form of propulsion, and the pressurised water system which is used in "Dreadnought" is precisely of that type. But I do not worry about it in a submarine, because you do not put a submarine on the same commercial basis as that on which you would put a tanker.

The noble Lord also referred to barracks. There is no suggestion of holding up the improvement of barrack accommodation for the sake of married quarters. I do not know where the noble Lord got that idea from, but it is not so. There is no interference with the central drafting system in the reorganisation of the Second Sea Lord's Department. In regard to what he called the senior ratings course of visits, this is a thing which has been going on for some time in the Navy. It is not a matter to be exaggerated. The chief petty officer concerned has been going round to keep in contact with certain lower deck sections. I think its importance was slightly exaggerated in the newspapers. We thought it was good, but we do not want to put too much emphasis on it. The purpose of work study is to make work simpler, not more difficult. The noble Lord suggested that it would be made more difficult. I do not think that is likely to be the case.

There is one other thing that I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, and that is in regard to the fleet train. We have that very much under consideration, and I think it is fair to say that, compared with before the war, he would find the fleet train very much more effective to-day.

The general burden of the comments which have been made is that we should like to have a very much bigger Fleet. The first thing I should like to say is this. Of course I also should like to have a Fleet which is bigger; but what I do not want to do is to keep on a lot of old ships. I should like, if I may, to read this extract from Brassey's Naval Annual: One of the most important steps that has been taken for many years with regard to the Navy is the decision to remove from the dockyards a large number of ships, of which some are stated to be ineffective and some not fully effective for purposes of modern war. Then another quotation: The putting out of commission and the removal from the dockyards of a large number of ships included in this return will not only relieve the Estimates of a large expenditure for maintenance and repairs, but will set free a large number of officers and men for service in which they can be more usefully employed. Most of the ships struck off the list may not be wholly effective, but in the cruiser class the process of elimination has, we suggest, been somewhat too drastic My Lords, the interesting thing about those words is that they were not written this year, but in 1905. Almost precisely those words could well be used to-day. If I may mention it, in 1905 the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, was a lieutenant in H.M.S. "Astraea". I am sure that the decision was right then, and I believe that our decision is equally right to-day.


My Lords, I am most interested in the illustration the noble Earl gives of 1905. In 1908, the Daily Mail and Robert Blatchford were shouting, "We want eight, and we won't wait". They got them. And Churchill was sent from the Board of Trade to the Admiralty to see that they were got. That was the only reason we had a Navy ready for the war in 1914.


My Lords, I am glad that the noble Viscount has given such a fine testimonial to the Conservative Opposition in 1908. It is common practice for the Opposition to demand more ships and for the Government, who are responsible for finance, to find a little more difficulty in the matter.

What has happened to-day is that we are now fourteen years from the end of the war and, therefore, getting towards the end of the useful life of many of the smaller ships which were built fairly quickly during the war. It is perfectly natural that at this time we should be scrapping or disposing of a substantial number of ships; if we did not do so, we should be completely wrong. Only this week, for instance, we have transferred two "Bay" Class frigates to Portugal. I am certain that that is a right and proper thing to do. I have no doubt that more ships will be scrapped as they come to the end of their useful lives. Three or four years hence, the strength of the Fleet will be roughly the same as it is to-day, with the exception of cruisers. As the war-time generation of cruisers come to the end of their useful lives, we shall find the guided-missiles ships being introduced into the Fleet. These are roughly the size of a light cruiser—though I do not want your Lordships to think that they are similar to cruisers, because they are not. They serve a substantially different purpose. I think that it would be fair to say that we do not contemplate building any further cruisers after all three in the "Tiger" Class have been completed. So I suppose that it is true to say that eventually there will be only three ships of the cruiser class in the Operational Fleet. But that will not be the position next year.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl what forms the Fleet—the aircraft carriers? We hear about the Fleet, but it has gone out of existence.


The days of big fleet actions are over.


My Lords, I consider myself as good a judge of that as anybody in the Admiralty.


My Lords, in that sense, the Fleet will not exist at all. The noble and gallant Earl is just as good a judge as I am of these technical matters, on which I am not particularly qualified to speak. I think that it would be much better if he explained to your Lordships what he thinks a Fleet is.


My Lords, there is not a Fleet. The noble Earl asked me to define what the Fleet is. It is not there. It used to be what everybody understood it to be—a main body of ships. We have always had a main Fleet, which could reinforce our squadrons in any part of the world and replace ahem. That does not exist to-day. All that exists now is a lot of ships that used to be used for rescue operations and cruises, and that sort of thing—not a Fleet.


I will not pursue the point with the noble and gallant Earl. At the present time it is not likely that big fleets will ever be drawn together. I gave one or two examples of fleet exercises, which were of considerable scale, running to thirty or forty ships; but these are not likely to take place very often.

I do not think that this cry to retain a large number of obsolescent ships is a wise one. The first words I used to-day were that our biggest enemy was obsolescence. The noble Lord, Lord Congleton, says that he wants six old ships, which will cost as much as one new one. I say specifically that I disagree completely with him. I am sure that it is our task to get new ships and not allow obsolescence to creep up on us—indeed, I would say that it has crept up a good deal too far. There has never been a time—ever since the time of Samuel Pepyswhen we have not heard the cry, "We want more ships".

I think that the criticism of the Government has been rather overstated. This last year 32 new ships have entered the Fleet, and we are now laying down two completely new types of ship. In all, we have under construction at the present time, something like 30 ships. The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, says that the Government are dealing with this matter with complacency. May I remind him that when he was Minister of Defence and the noble Viscount, Lord Hall was First Lord of the Admiralty, ten years ago—a time which the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has recently said was a period of much greater tension than to-day—the Navy Estimates were half what they are this year.


Not the ships.


Those ships were just as obsolescent as they are now. What I have said demonstrates the degree of attention which the Government at that time, a time of greater tension in the world, attached to naval power. I do not think that the noble Viscount is really entitled to tell me to-day that we are facing this matter with complacency.


My Lords, may I point out that the United States were disarming much more rapidly, and we were engaged in trying to put a stop to other developments. In fact, we were responsible, and nobody since, for building up the organisation of N.A.T.O. We were able to do it on the basis of having National Service and of not having such expenses as I am sure it is only fair to say the Government now have to meet in additional costs and salaries and wages.


My Lords, I do not want to pursue this line which is a little political. I have always paid full tribute to the noble Viscount's contribution to N.A.T.O. I think that everybody recognises it. But to-day it is proper to say that the United States are not disarming, but are arming to a high degree. The noble Viscount said that we are relying on the United States. There is nothing shameful in this. Of course we are: and the United States have to rely on us. That is the nature of the Alliance of which we are members, and to talk of either of our countries standing alone would be a complete misreading of the present situation.

I am convinced that it is right to give the Navy modern ships, as well equipped as possible, and wrong to do anything else. They cost money, as I am only too well aware; but I am sure that it would be a terrible risk to fall back into the state from which we were in such great danger in the last war. So far as "old bottles" are concerned, I would only say to the noble Viscount that we have ex, tensively modernised some of our bottles, but we prefer to rely on the introduction of the newer ships that are coming in.

The noble Viscount Lord Alexander of Hillsborough raised a number of other points, one about Sheerness. I am very conscious of the problems arising at Sheerness. I regret that the noble Viscount compared it with the position in Malta. I think that the noble Viscount spoke emotionally, but in fact the position at Sheerness is fundamentally different from that at Malta. This is a matter on which we are concentrating our fullest attention. We are aware that there is little private industry existing there, and we are taking every step to ensure that anyone who is likely to wish to use the place properly will be fully informed about it. As the noble Viscount knows, we have advertised and put it in the hands of industrial agents. There continue to be a number of firms who appear to be interested in taking over the yard, either in whole or in part. I do not want to go into detail, because I think it is wrong to publicise them; but I can say that it would be quite wrong to suggest that there is not a prospect of good employment for the people who live in Sheerness. I can assure the House and the noble Viscount that I will spare no effort to find a good purchaser or tenant. I have met a number of prospective people with this object in view, and I shall certainly be prepared to meet others. I would emphasise that, in negotiating any arrangement, we shall regard the opportunities of employment as a factor of first importance.

The noble Viscount asked me one or two other questions which I should like to answer. He asked about the ships in Section D, on page 7 of my Explanatory Statement. No decision has been taken to scrap any of these ships. He then asked about the numbers of personnel afloat. I cannot give a percentage, but the noble Viscount knows that it is inevitable, with modern equipment, that there must be a large number of people ashore under training at the present time: and this is particularly so with the Fleet Air Arm. I was then asked about the upper yardmen, but I have nothing to add on that subject. I am aware of the difficulty, but we must have men who are up to the job. I am sure the noble Viscount will be the first to recognise that the wider facilities for education tend to cream off the best people in the educational system at an earlier age. There are, therefore, unlikely to be so many outstanding and able people on the lower deck as there were before our educational system was improved. However, I am fully aware of the problem, and we are looking for men of quality wherever we can find them.

"Leviathan" is a sister ship to the one sold to the Indian Navy recently, and no decision has been taken in regard to her. It is fair to remind the House that her sister ship has recently been modernised for use with the Indian Navy.

My Lords, I think I have answered most of the questions put to me, but I might make this point: that the Navy is still on a world-wide basis, and we are still continuing to engage our ships over a very wide area. Recently we have seen that the "Eagle" has just come back after doing 80,000 miles, her aircraft having flown 4 million miles; and she was recently visited by Her Majesty The Queen.

I should like to tell the House a story of one small ship, to illustrate how things happen to-day. The "Modeste", a "Black Swan" Class frigate, was commissioned in Singapore in April, 1957. In eighteen months she steamed 50.000 miles. In June, 1957, she was guard ship at Akaba during the first withdrawal of British forces from Jordan. During the summer she supported the frigates we retain in the Persian Gulf in patrolling the coasts of Oman and the Trucial States. In November, 1957, she was in Hong Kong. In early 1958 she visited Rangoon, where we maintained friendly relations with the Burmese Navy. In February and March of last year she visited Malaya and later was in the vicinity of Indonesia during disturbances in that country, when we might have been asked to give assistance to British subjects. In the spring she visited Japan and Korea. In August she was back on anti-gun-running patrols off the Persian Gulf. Finally, last September, she returned to Akaba at the end of the period of tension in the Middle East, and was visited by King Hussein, when we evacuated again. I think that is an example of the versatility of the work carried out all over the world by our ships in the Navy. It shows that they are playing a big part in maintaining stability, in which we are so interested ourselves and in which many other people are interested elsewhere.

I have tried to answer all the questions put to me. I will conclude by saying that I believe that our policy is right, and I am fortified in that view by the interest which your Lordships have taken to-day in the welfare of the Navy.


My Lords, I should like to ask one question. Did I understand the noble Earl to say that 32 or 34 frigates joined the Fleet last year or this year?


I said 32 ships, and that includes a number of minesweepers.

6.7 p.m.


My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. We have not had the audience, that we thought we might have, nor indeed the number of speakers, but I think the debate has been well worth while. I do not think we can bring this matter up again, although there is a good deal of discontent, and possibly a certain amount of misunderstanding, in connection with it. But the only point I should wish to make in relation to the disposal of the ships is that it is surprising that if the cruiser class, or ships larger than the cruiser, are regarded as being obsolete, why is it that America is still retaining 20 battleships in reserve and on service, and have in reserve 78 cruisers? It is really remarkable.

We can say that America is building up a new type of fleet. We are not doing anything of the kind, and it will take us quite a long time. We were told by the former First Sea Lord that we may have some eight or nine nuclear-propelled submarines by 1970. But who knows what will happen between now and 1970? Are we just to dispose of these ships without any idea of how long we shall have to wait for something to replace them? I was amazed to hear the First Lord say that the cruiser has practically died out; that the big ship has gone. Are we to depend solely on the smaller ships of, say, 2,000 tons, like the frigates, while other countries, and particularly Russia, are maintaining cruisers? Indeed, at the present time Russia is actually building new cruisers. Either we are right and they are wrong, or they are right and we are wrong; and, unfortunately, if we are wrong, then it is this country that will suffer. I beg to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.