§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ VISCOUNT MONTGOMERY OF ALAMEIN
My Lords, having satisfactorily diposed of the fears of the tribal areas north of the Border, we now return to a safer subject, the Royal Navy. We note that the affairs of Scotland are now in the hands of the Foreign Office: therefore, all will be well.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition. He was First Lord of the Admiralty in war time and Minister of Defence in the immediate postwar years. Therefore, his views command respect. I should like to approach this problem of sea power and the Navy in a rather different way, and I do that 263 because I do not believe one can discuss the Navy except within the context of the Armed Forces as a whole. The three Fighting Services have to be integrated on a co-operative basis, and in the interests of financial economy we must get away from all competition between them. I believe that we must think nightly on the basic principles of organisation in our defence set-up.
I also think, my Lords, that we in this House are very apt to get led into details before we have cleared our minds on the broad principles of policy, and I should like to put the problem to your Lordships in this way. Although a major all-out nuclear war is unlikely, that possibility cannot be totally disregarded. If Russia thought she could hit us without our having the ability to hit back, we should be open to all sorts of pressures. Therefore we must be prepared and ready to play our part in the Western defence organisation, which is NATO. If your Lordships will allow me, I should like to deal first with that problem, with the defence of the NATO area.
From the earliest days of my military life I learned that, whenever you can, you must always consider a defensive area from the enemy point of view. Therefore, I invite your Lordships to come with me to a viewpoint high in the air over Moscow, and from that viewpoint to look Westwards at the NATO area. Enjoying our voyage through space to this viewpoint over Moscow, we have some conversation—I do not say very much.
§ VISCOUNT MONTGOMERY OF ALAMEIN
Your Lordships make some remarks. I give it as my opinion that a commander whose flanks and rear are secure is well placed for battle. Those of your Lordships who have held high command in war will know that it is quite a simple thing to penetrate a defensive front. The enemy can always penetrate our front at any time, and we can do the same to him. But his difficulties must then begin. If my front is penetrated, I at once strengthen the flanks, having reserves ready for that pur-
264 pose. But before the battle, before the war ever begins, I ensure that the flanks of my whole area of operations are absolutely secure.
Remembering that principle, we arrive at our viewpoint over Moscow. What do we see? We are pretty high up in the air, and we have a good view. We see NATO Europe as one large peninsula, jutting out into the sea. The flanks are on the sea, from the North Cape right the way down to the south of Italy; and the rear is on the sea. And, in accordance with that principle with which your Lordships agreed during our journey through space, those flanks must be secure beyond any possibility of doubt. We also see that we have an air flank, and it is clear that we have to co-ordinate all the activities which operate in that air flank.
We then have a look at the land, and we see the enormous importance of six areas of land. Going from North to South, you have NATO. Scandinavia—Norway and Denmark. Then you have the United Kingdom islands. Then you have the Iberian peninsula—and if any of your Lordships is not clear where that is, that is Spain and Portugal. Then you have North Africa, and I should prefer to call that what used to be French North Africa—that is, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Then you have Italy; and, finally, Turkey. When dealing with Turkey, I would particularly say Anatolia, because that is part of Turkey. Anatolia is the miliary key to the Middle East. Those six areas of land must be secured. They are essential to the overall security of the sea flank, and if that sea flank were to go, we should be in very great danger of defeat in any East-West conflict.
From that vantage point over Moscow we see that if we try to hold NATO Europe, the whole area, with a rigid defence, spreading the land forces evenly, as you would spread butter on a piece of bread, and aiming to be strong everywhere, we should merely be weak everywhere, and should then be in danger of losing everything. We must hold securely the vital areas, the lynch-pins of the whole structure, and elsewhere we must fight the mobile battle. The art of war is to be able to move yourself and to prevent your enemy from moving; and if you can achieve 265 that very desirable end, you win. But your ability to manœuvre freely will depend on the absolute security of certain vital areas; because you manœuvre best around fixed points. If those fixed areas which I have mentioned are lost, then the sea flank is in danger, the air flank is weakened, the land defence disintegrates and we are at once in very grave trouble.
Now, my Lords, from that viewpoint we lift our gaze to include the whole NATO area, and we see at once the enormous importance to NATO Europe of the Atlantic and, behind it, of the American "support" area, as I prefer to call it. We see at once that, unless the NATO area is considered as one entity in defence planning, with a properly co-ordinated effort over the whole area, we cannot get any good results. If we look at it in that way, and study the whole NATO area, we at once see the enormous influence of the sea in our defence structure. If we cannot ensure the free use of the major oceans and seas, we could not survive in a major war.
The matter is really very simple: we have to confine Russia, or any aggressor, to a land strategy. From the days when we humans first began to use the seas the great lesson of history has been that the enemy who is confined to a land strategy is, in the end, defeated. That has been true since the days of Carthage In more recent times there is the example of the French Napoleonic Wars, and of the Germans in the Kaiser's war and in Hitler's war. Another example could be found in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904: Japan had sea control; she fought Russia at the end of long communications with her own shores, and she won. The Second World War, the late war, was fundamentally a struggle for control of the major oceans and seas—in other words, a battle for the control of sea communications—and until we had won that struggle, we could not proceed with our plans to win the war, as I and your Lordships know very well.
So to-day our strategy must be based on confining the aggressor to a land strategy; any other strategy is no good.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, would the noble and gallant Viscount say whether he is talking about a major war? Is the situation he is visualising before the nuclear exchange or is he 266 setting it against a background of conventional war?
§ VISCOUNT MONTGOMERY OF ALAMEIN
My Lords, if you are going to come down to war, in my view it would be an all-out war. I do not see a war between East and West without the nuclear weapon being used by somebody. On that interesting point, before the next five years, maybe six—I should not like to be too dogmatic on that—the main agent for delivering accurate nuclear fire power against an enemy country will be "mannedad". After that time, the number of "mannedad" craft may well decrease, but I do not agree with those who say that the manned bomber will go out of business. In my view, there will always be a need for manned strategic aircraft, for two reasons—one, to give flexibility to the overall air plan, and the other, to locate interior targets in the enemy country. For forward planning over the foreseeable future, I suggest that it should be assumed that at least 25 per cent. of our total fire power delivery capability will be the manned bomber—that is, piloted aircraft. For air defence, the best ratio for the defence force will probably be three-quarters missiles and one-quarter manned aircraft.
There is another point. The more you consider this problem of NATO defence, the more obvious it becomes that it must be handled within a global framework. There cannot be just a NATO war. If war is imposed on us, it will be global, and we have no framework of global defence for the defence of the Free World. A global framework is particularly important for those activities which go on in the air. We now have short-range missiles, long-range ballistic missiles with ranges up to 5,000 to 6,000 miles or more, with nuclear warheads. Satellites circle the earth. We must have some framework for handling all this on a global system. We must have a global early warning system. We must have centralised global planning for air defence. And I would suggest that the need is urgent for some central agency or organisation, which is above the level of Supreme Commanders, to plan and direct all these activities and to control satellites. I would go further. I would say that every day which passes without such a higher organisation merely decreases the value of the deterrent.
267 To sum up as regards NATO, we cannot fight without allies. There is no doubt that allies are most irritating, and they bring with them conditions which add to the irritations, but with our allies it is essential to have collective forces within the alliance as supreme rather than have self-sufficiency in every nation. And in our own case we should give priority to our sea and air Forces. Once we are out of Germany—and I have a feeling that the Germans might ask us to go quite soon—the Army can be relatively small, with great flexibility. The strategic rôle of the Army is to hold, and that should be the main responsibility of the armies of NATO Europe.
So much for the West. But when all is said and done, the immediate problem that confronts us here in this country is not war in NATO Europe. It is the cold war activities on the periphery, activities which could so easily lead to a bitter conflagration unless they are handled quickly and with determination. It is in that realm that we need the very greatest co-operation between the three Services, if we are going to have the right defence with due regard to economy. We cannot do that unless we have the highest possible degree of mobility, flexibility and interchange-ability. Of course, the greatest mobility will be found on the sea and in the air, which leads us to a maritime strategy. And East of Suez, where these things are most likely to occur, we must have a secure base, which is best put in an absolutely safe place, such as Australia—and Perth would be the right place. We should maintain there a division—maybe less, a brigade group—and then have operating centres in certain selected areas. The Air Force must be able to fly Army units quickly to the scene of any conflict with the right equipment. To do that they must have a large air freighter; and they have not got one.
One last word about the Army. I believe that the Army must learn to get its feet wet. The Navy are building modern assault craft, each one to take tanks, guns, vehicles and several hundred men. As they become ready one by one, I would hope that the Navy will hand them over to the Army saying, "These are your craft. Take them and 268 run them. They belong to you and if you want a few bluejackets to help you to maintain them, we will certainly give them to you."
In these inter-Service bases overseas it adds enormously to the expense to have to build married quarters for the Army. I believe that the soldier has to go abroad for one or one and a half years and leave his family in England, like the sailor has to do, and after a year return to this country, to England or maybe to Scotland, and be relieved by others.
I also consider that the Army should interest itself in commando work and not let that type of operation be the preserve of the Royal Marines. Any good infantry battalion should be just as good as a marine commando. It is merely a matter of training. I think that all things of this sort would help to do away with boredom; and it is boredom from which the soldier is very liable to suffer. One last point. I believe that there is far too much conventional thinking in Whitehall to-day. That conventional thinking wants to be given a thoroughly good shake-up before it gets stagnant.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, to get back to the British Navy, the Explanatory Statement reminds us of the Kuwait operation, one of the peripheral matters of which the noble and gallant Field Marshal has just been speaking. Two carriers, the "Victorious" and the "Centaur" were sent to the Persian Gulf "to give air support if necessary"—I quote the Statement. These are nuclear carriers, carrying planes which are capable of carrying nuclear bombs. I want to raise the question in this debate: were these two ships at that time carrying nuclear bombs? I know that this is not in itself a question of great strategic importance, because I assume that we could at any moment we like reach Kuwait, Iraq and the Persian Gulf with V-bombers from Cyprus or Aden, but it is still a question.
We know that when the American Sixth Fleet moved up to the Lebanon in 1958, the carriers in that fleet did have nuclear weapons aboard; that was announced at the time. It is the same problem as that which now exists in 269 Quemoy and Matsu, where the Americans have howitzers which are capable of firing conventional or nuclear shells onto the mainland of China. I believe that there are no nuclear shells on the off-shore islands at the moment, but they could be flown in at short notice. You get the same pattern around the world in British and American Forces. We have the commissioning next Tuesday, I believe, at Lossiemouth, of the first squadron of Buccaneer aircraft. Where are they going? To what ship? And where is that ship going? Buccaneer is, to put a short word on it, an atomic bomber; and, of course, it is not the first atomic bomber to be held by the British Fleet. But it is faster and more efficient than Scimitar and is, therefore, an increase in the nuclear capability of these carriers.
Your Lordships might think of it like this. A nuclear Power, like Britain or America, is like a strawberry plant, and whenever anywhere in the world it sends forces which have both a conventional and a nuclear capability there goes out a sort of sucker of "nuclearity", and at the other end there springs up another strawberry plant in the form of a threat of nuclear war. This cannot be avoided; it is how it is; and it happens whether the forces are actually carrying nuclear weapons or not, even if they just have the capability to do it. And as more and more of the arms of forces become nuclearised, so are there more and more of the suckers of this strawberry plant making threats and dangers of nuclear war in more and more remote parts of the world. That is how it is, as I say, and that is how it must be once one has embarked on the extremely tricky path of giving everything a nuclear capability. But is this all right? That is a question to which I should like to have an answer from the First Lord.
What does a small Power, like Syria in the Lebanon affair, or Iraq in the Kuwait affair, do when it sees a carrier approaching which may or may not be bristling with nuclear bombs? What did Iraq actually do at the time of the Kuwait affair? I think the House will be interested to hear something about that. Did they protest to us, for instance? Is there any evidence that they thought of tunning to the Soviet Union and asking the Russians to send in a few nuclear-armed light bombers in order to 270 make a parallel show of force on the other side? Such dangers are fairly obvious. I have heard—I do not know how true it is—that the Americans are considering withdrawing the nuclear weapons from the carriers in their Sixth Fleet, or at least of ceasing so much to carry them around the Mediterranean as part of the normal armament, as they do now. Will the Admiralty be considering the possibility of the same sort of action with regard to our own carriers? Would it be a good plan in future operations of the Kuwait or Lebanon type, of which we must expect to see more, if we were to say to the world: "Here are our carriers, and though they have a nuclear capability, as you know from published works, they have not in fact at the moment any nuclear weapons on board "? Would it have done any harm to say so publicly?
What Anglo-American arrangement governs the use or the threat of use of nuclear weapons from naval carriers? We know that the old neutral consultation arrangements came to an end in 1948. We know that there has been a lot of talk recently about joint strategic planning between the American and British air forces, and there is the whole tangle of command and control in NATO land forces. But what happens on the naval level? What happens about all this, not only in NATO, but in SEATO, CENTO, and ANZUS, where the power is to a far greater proportion naval than in NATO? It seems to me that these nuclear-armed carriers must be terrible "jackers-up" of tension, not only because of what they can do, but because of what they invite the other side to do: they are very juicy targets for a first strike.
I do not want to get into the argument about tactical nuclear weapons in Germany—whether they should be up front, or in reserve in higher command; but assuming it is difficult for us to withdraw atomic nuclear weapons in Germany, might it not be easier to withdraw them from the Fleet. I hope that the First Lord will be able to say something about all these questions when he comes to reply.
§ 4.15 p.m.
My Lords, for the last two years in the debate on the First Lord's Explanatory Statement I have drawn attention to what seems to me to 271 be a grave shortage of aircraft carriers, and I believe that this shortage still exists. Indeed, this was well demonstrated in the Kuwait operation last year. When everything was "Go" and the operation began, "Victorious" was, I believe, in the Hong Kong area and started off with a handicap of minus-5,000 miles. The only other available carrier, "Centaur", had just commissioned and was on her way out to the Mediterranean to work up. Quite apart from the fact that she must have been below average efficiency (the First Lord will correct me if I am wrong), she started with a handicap of minus-4,000 miles. Indeed, if there had been a serious air opposition in Kuwait the Navy would have been hard put to it to do its job of seeing that the Army got firmly established ashore. In fact, all went well; and all credit to those who were responsible for conducting this highly successful operation. But at the same time I cannot help feeling, that, with that "all", we had a little bit of Stanley Holloway's "little bit of luck".
My Lords, operations of that sort should not, I think, depend in any way on luck. Bad luck will come sometimes, and we must be ready for it. These things do happen, and we must insure against them. In order to avoid a recurrence, I believe it is vital that we should have another carrier East of Suez. I am not going to pursue that point: I have been through it all before, and I just mention it, in passing, because it still seems to me to be a point of prime importance in our deployment of forces around the world.
Before I read this year's Statement I contemplated drawing your Lordships' attention to the great importance to the Fleet of an adequate Fleet Train. But, having read it, I see that the Admiralty are, rather naturally, fully alive to this side of the business, and the wind has been largely taken out of my sails. Nevertheless, I should like to ask this question: Is the Fleet Train, as planned, large enough and sufficiently comprehensive to support our Fleet? I realise that one cannot be precise over this: there are too many unknown factors at the moment, such as area of operations and so on, and I suppose that a well-informed estimate is probably as near as one can go.
272 A matter that I should like to probe, in particular, and which is closely connected with the Fleet Train, is the organisation for the setting up of temporary fleet bases that would surely be required in war for the accommodation of our Fleet and its forward base-support ships. In the definition of temporary fleet bases I include, of course, as always, their allied air bases. This matter is bound up with the point raised by the noble and gallant Field Marshal, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, in the Defence debate last March. Your Lordships will remember that he then put forward a strong plea for developing our maritime strategy East of Suez—and he said this again to-day—for a firm and secure base in Australia, possibly at Perth.
It is true that a few days later the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, in a debate on Foreign Affairs, put this "East of Suez" strategy in second place, and gave as his most emphatic first a secure home base, which nowadays, of course, means a secure Western Europe. I myself entirely agree with those priorities, but having built up a secure Western Europe (which was again referred to by the noble and gallant Field Marshal this afternoon) I would also agree that a permanent base in Australia is worthy of the closest study. I would, however, suggest Sydney as a possible alternative to Perth, for there already exists in Sydney a number of fine Fleet bases. The problem of temporary fleet bases is also connected with remarks made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Ampthill, in the course of the Defence debate, when he referred to the possible revival of an organisation known as the Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisation, which existed before World War II, and which in the main was concerned, as its title implies, with the defence of temporary fleet bases, as opposed to their construction and equipment, which is the matter I want to put to your Lordships now.
Temporary fleet bases, as your Lordships know, were required in the last war on a very large scale—those that were provided by the Americans in the Pacific being, perhaps, the best examples. The base at Manus, in the Admiralty Islands, is one that I have particularly in mind, partly because I had first-hand knowledge of it during the war, and 273 partly because full use was made of it by our own Pacific Fleet under the command of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Fraser of North Cape. Within about three months of capturing the Admiralty Islands from the Japanese the Americans had turned this almost desert island into a great fleet base, with alongside berths for unloading cargo, with floating docks, with a 10,000-feet airstrip, completed, they say, within fourteen days of the initial landings on the island. They built roads, storage accommodation, magazines, workshops, a hospital, clubs, canteens, and all those services which go to make up a fleet base. This was developed at top speed out of what amounted to a good natural harbour surrounded by nothing more than a few coral islands covered with jungle.
It is clearly recognised in the Explanatory Statement that in future afloat support will be an important and, indeed, a vital requirement; and the reasons for this are easy enough to understand. As was pointed out by the noble and gallant Field Marshal, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, in the Defence debate, we have lost the use of many of our former bases around the world, and who can say that in time we may not lose more? Such bases as we may have at the beginning of another war may well be attractive targets for nuclear or, indeed, for conventional attack. We have had plenty of examples of this in the past—Pearl Harbour, Singapore, Taranto and Scapa Flow, to name only four from the last war. It follows that in future maritime operations will surely have to be carried out in areas remote from usable permanent bases. And so it is clear beyond doubt that not only shall we require afloat support, but we shall also require temporary fleet and air bases. As the area of Operations moves, so it will be necessary to move these bases, often at very short notice. Here I need quote only one example. Four days before the assault on Okinawa the Americans captured the island of Kerama Retto, only twenty miles away. They captured this island simply to pro-wide themselves with an advanced repair and supply base; and four days after its capture it was available to the fleet for the repair of action damage, refuelling and re-ammunitioning.
274 Of course, the Fleets operating in the Pacific in the last war, both the British Pacific Fleet and the American 3rd, 5th and 7th Fleets, were immensely larger than anything we are thinking about today. In 1943, when the Admiralty was considering mobile fleet bases for our Fleet-to-be in the Pacific, they were thinking in terms of 4 battleships, 4 fleet carriers, 15 escort carriers, 15 cruisers, 50 destroyers, and so on. Of course, the American Fleets were even larger. So from this angle our problem to-day is a much more modest one. Here it is, I think, interesting to recall that the purpose of these mobile fleet bases was laid down by the Admiralty at that time as being:the rapid provision of the facilities necessary for the sustained operation of the Fleet in an area far removed from established bases.So, my Lords, there is nothing new in what I am saying now.
In 1943, the Admiralty also had to consider base facilities for Fleet Air Arm squadrons in the Pacific, and by January, 1945, five mobile operating naval air bases (or "MONABS" as they were called) had been formed. Their purpose was to enable captured airfields to be rapidly manned and equipped for naval aircraft temporarily disembarked for training and maintenance. But these "MONABS" did not include one vital thing: they did not include men or materials for constructional purposes; and, so far as I know, the same applied to the mobile fleet bases. So neither organisation could carry out the all-important business of building airstrips, roads, stores, accommodation and so on, and both had to rely on works that already existed—a very severe limitation indeed. We lacked, in fact, that splendid body of men who worked for the American Fleet, the construction battalions, or "Sea Bees" as they were called.
These highly trained men were a vital part of the American organisation. They were what we might call "combat civil engineers," though their own definition of themselves was "Soldiers in sailors' uniform, with Marine training, doing civilian work". They were formed at the beginning of 1942, and by the end of the war they were over a quarter of a million strong and represented some 60 275 different trades. Their jobs ranged from the building of fleet bases in the Tropics to the setting up of power stations in the Antarctic. Fleet Admiral King said of them:The accomplishments of the Sea Bees have been one of the outstanding features of the war. Furthermore, the Sea Bees have participated in practically every amphibious operation, landing with the first wave of assault troops, to bring equipment ashore and set up temporary bases of operation.As recently as 1957, Fleet Admiral Nimitz said:The original idea of having highly skilled construction workers in uniform has developed into one of the many valuable components without which we could not maintain our Navy as we know it to-day.In the main, the Sea Bees were armed, and on landing they at once set about clearing exits from the beaches, surveying, and so on; and as the troops moved forward they followed close behind, levelling ground, building airstrips, setting up temporary buildings, and all that kind of work. This force is still in existence to-day in peace-time America, and it is a force such as this that I believe we shall want in a future war. As I have said, they are highly trained men, and it is no use waiting for a war to start before we form such a force. A trained nucleus, however small, must be available in peace time, together with their arms, equipment and transport.
My Lords, although our territorial commitments and responsibilities around the world have decreased since 1945, the Navy's responsibility for the protection of shipping is as widespread and as vital as ever it was; and with our limited and dwindling overseas bases it is clear beyond doubt that we must be ready to set up temporary bases in or near operational areas with the least possible delay. Let us make no mistake about it: the Fleet will not operate at full efficiency without them; and for this reason we shall require a comprehensive and properly balanced Fleet Train, and (and this is my point) a fully trained force of "Sea Bees". The Americans are past masters at this sort of business; they proved it, surely, up to the hilt in the last war. Let us profit by their example, and set about forming a nucleus force of "Sea Bees" of our own without delay.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, this is the third year running in which I have ventured to intervene in this important debate, and once again I was very glad that the debate was opened by the noble Viscount who sits on the Front Bench opposite. Although I may not agree with everything he said, as always I enjoyed the robust manner in which he stood up for the Navy.
It does not become any easier for one such as myself, a humble Back-Bencher long retired from the Royal Navy, even to attempt, let alone make, a worthwhile contribution to this debate; nevertheless, I think it is important, and a duty on those of your Lordships' House who are interested in or who have served in the Royal Navy, to make this attempt. This is the only opportunity we get in this House to debate in detail purely naval matters which are not really suitable for the wider scope of the Defence debate. I admit that the growing awareness of, and increasing emphasis on, the vital need for this country to pursue a maritime strategy makes it more difficult to discuss even purely naval matters without reference to the other Services. I do not think this is really a serious difficulty and, of course, it applies also to the debates on the Army and Air Force. I feel that these debates on the individual Services are extremely important and, with the Defence debate, form the most satisfactory method for your Lordships' House to consider matters of defence. Personally, I hope that these four important debates will not be rolled into one great omnibus debate.
As many of your Lordships will know from my previous interventions in our Defence debates, as well as in the Navy, Army, and Air Force debates, I am a fervent supporter of a maritime strategy, together with the inter-Service co-operation which that implies. Therefore, I particularly welcome the intervention of the noble and gallant Field Marshal in our debate to-day. Who knows, we may yet get him to join the Navy League? I am very glad that the noble and gallant Field Marshal has spoken so strongly in favour of a maritime strategy, and I think it cannot be emphasised too much because there are so many examples in our history, some 277 quite recently, when we forgot or ignored the priceless asset of sea power and the flexibility of manœuvre which it gives us.
The Memorandum (Command Paper, No. 1629), which we are debating is once again, in my view, an admirably concise and informative document, and I should like to offer my humble congratulations to the First Lord and, through him, to those responsible for its production. I am very glad and particularly grateful that space has been found for reference to the Surveying Service, which some of us mentioned last year. I am also glad to see mentioned the Instructor Branch. From this statement in the Memorandum and various statements in the Press I gather that this branch has moved rather far from the days when we midshipmen had to contribute something from our princely remuneration of Is. 9d. a day to augment the emoluments of the naval instructors in our ships.
To my mind, the most satisfactory fact disclosed in the Memorandum is the figures about recruiting, and, even more, about re-engagement. These are most heartening and are shown most clearly on page 17 of the Memorandum. The least satisfactory feature is the small number of ships, aircraft and men which we get for our money. Nevertheless, I believe the Board of Admiralty have done and are doing their best with the funds made available to them, that they have got their priorities right, that they are building the right sort of Navy, and that our future planning is on the right lines.
I do no intend to play the numbers game with ships, because to do so effectively it seems to me that one needs to know much more than I do about the strength and composition of the Commonwealth Navies and, of course, those of our principal Allies. One is aware of the enormous naval strength, even to-day, of the United States of America, and I have been reading lately of the substantial naval programme for these days which is being undertaken by Canada, though I fear that this may now be cut back slightly. Nevertheless, when all the combined resources are totted up I suspect we have barely sufficient to protect the world-wide sea communications so vitally important not only to us but to NATO, CENTO and 278 SEATO. Whether any general U-boat war on the trade routes is probable or not, the fact remains that our potential enemies have between 400 and 500 submarines, they have at least 12 cruisers and numerous aircraft; and I do not believe that they maintain these unless it is to interfere with the freedom of the seas. In our days the ability to assure free movement by sea at the right time and place depends not only on surface ships but also on aircraft.
This brings me to Coastal Command, which I have no hesitation in mentioning in this debate because this was intimately connected with the Navy. I must say that I view with some apprehension the present state of Coastal Command. It seems to me to be rather the Cinderella of the Services. We go on furbishing up our three or four score of old Shackletons, though I notice that other countries, including Canada, are producing new and up-to-date maritime aircraft. Unfortunately, I also saw in my Sunday newspaper that with regard to a new aircraft called the Breguet Atlantic 1150, which France has undertaken to produce for NATO, a credit of equivalent to £15 million has been withdrawn, and therefore I doubt whether that maritime aircraft will be available to NATO. I think this makes it even more important that the Minister of Defence should have a good look at Coastal Command, its aircraft and equipment, with a view to giving it a much higher priority in the shopping list, and I hope very much that the First Lord will be able to tell us when he replies that he will add his weight to this suggestion. While they are at it, I think the Ministry of Defence, and the defence staff generally, should give serious consideration to whether Coastal Command should not once again have at least a nucleus of flying boats—say, an up-to-date version of the Catalina. Earlier in this debate my noble friend Lord Ashbourne spoke, and I have spoken before, about the diminishing base factors and of the difficulties of those mobile bases, and I cannot help feeling that a few flying boats could be very useful until we had established bases.
My Lords, I propose to devote the main part of my remarks to a purely naval question of nuts and bolts, and that is propulsion machinery, but before 279 I turn to this I must say how strongly I support my noble and gallant friend, Lord Ashbourne, in his plea for a substantial engineering and construction force as part of the Fleet's train.
I myself have spoken about the need for a Fleet Train. I endorse everything that my noble and gallant friend said about the "Seabees". They were the most remarkable asset to the Pacific campaign. My noble friend spoke so eloquently about them that I need not say any more, but perhaps many of your Lordships are unaware that we ourselves had not thousands but we had several battalions of Royal Marine engineers, who again called themselves assault engineers, and who gave most valuable service in North Africa, Italy and later in France. In supporting my noble friend, therefore, I repeat the suggestion which I made, I believe in the naval debate last year, that the very least we can do is to form a Royal Marine engineering wing of the Royal Marine Fleet Volunteer Reserve. I am sure we should have no difficulty in recruiting this up to strength in a very short time.
There are two other matters before I reach my machinery questions. The first concerns the Trade Division of the Naval Staff, now represented, I believe, by one comparatively junior officer in the Admiralty. The functions of the Trade Division, I understand, have been taken over by the Ministry of Transport. Many of us feel rather disturbed about this, if it be true; and I hope the First Lord can give us an assurance when he replies that if this is the arrangement it is working satisfactorily. I personally should have thought the Ministry of Transport had quite enough on its plate without taking that on.
The other point is Flag officers' sea training. I think this is certainly the most important junior Flag appointment in the Navy. Certainly if I were a young Admiral, or just promoted to be a young Admiral, it is the command I would want. We never had such a thing in the old days. It came into being during the last war and I think it is a thing of vital importance. At the moment this command is, I believe, based on Wev-mouth, and of course there are many technical reasons why this is a very suitable place.
280 On the other hand, it has been suggested to me—and I have read it and talked about it—that sea training can be done much more effectively in a more remote spot than Weymouth Bay, where there are not the amenities, week-end leave and all those things which distract from it. I admit there are practical difficulties, but I am sure it is correct. I find that one can pull a ship's company together or a staff together if one gets them away from families and week-ends, too many of the fleshpots. Anyway, I throw that pebble in the pool. Maybe they will be forced to move from Weymouth Bay, because, as your Lordships may remember, Her Majesty's Government allowed the United States Air Force to put up a new-fangled station at Ringstead Bay, and I think it is quite likely that the sea training may suffer electronic interference I hope so, really, because my experts say it will and the Government's experts say it will not: I should like to be proved right.
I must turn now to purely nuts and bolts matters: ship propulsion. First of all, I should like to refer to the gas turbines boost machinery, the prototype of which is installed in H.M.S. "Ashanti", the first of the Tribal class frigates. I learn from the Press that reports on this machinery are most encouraging after some 3,000 hours running at sea. Nevertheless, I read in The Times of May 8 last that the Assistant-Director of Machine Engineer-ins, Ship Department, Admiralty, addressing the International Conference of the Institute of Marine Engineers, had this to say—I paraphrase: that the potential advantages of gas turbines in naval application have not been fully exploited. The Assistant-Director went on to explain that the advantages were: (a) compactness, hence great saving of space; (b) ease of control; one man can control this engine from a remote position; and (c) shipboard maintenance virtually eliminated between overhauls, thus leading to major reductions in engineering personnel carried on board. I think this is a very important advantage for more than one reason; our ships are overcrowded with men and gear as it is.
I am aware that this type of propelling machinery is being fitted not only in the Tribals but in the Devonshire class 281 of guided missile destroyers. I understand that 31 such engines have been ordered. All this sounds very good, but I am disturbed by the statement which I quoted earlier that in their naval application these gas turbines have not been fully exploited. I hope that the gas turbine will be introduced rapidly wherever it is applicable, and that we shall not have a repeat of the water-tube boiler row of 1901, which was sparked off by a Member of the other place who said:I say briefly that the water tube boiler for marine purposes cannot work. If you experiment more with these water tube boilers you will come to grief again.At that time the Admiralty were really on the spot because they had 1,500 Bellville boilers on order. However, there was an inquiry and the water-tube boiler was vindicated. Certainly by 1914 all Her Majesty's ships were equipped with water-tube boilers, not necessarily of the Bellville type.
I hope that the gas turbine engine will not only have a smooth and rapid introduction into service but that high priority will be given to further development work, on it. I personally hope and expect that later marks of the gas turbine engine will be as great an improvement on the existing type as the later types of water-tube boilers were on the original Bellvilles. I did my boiler room training on Bellville boilers, as did, I suspect, my noble friend Lord Teynham. I do not know whether my noble and gallant friend Lord Ashbourne is too young. They worked, but they were very difficult and dirty to maintain. My hands have never recovered from it to this day. I think there is a lesson in this little boiler interlude. Something good can be pushed aside. I hope gas boilers will not be.
I should like now to turn to nuclear-powered propulsion. May I remind your Lordships that the American Navy has the aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. "Enterprise" at sea and the merchant ship "Savannah" on trials. The Russians have had an ice-breaker for some time. All these are nuclear powered. Moreover, the United States Navy will have by 1970, so I read, 45 Polaris-armed submarines and 70 (as they call them) attack submarines at sea, and all under nuclear power. What are we doing about this? Our submarine "Dreadnought" is not 282 at sea yet. The "Valiant" is only just laid down. We do seem to be rather slow nowadays. We did better 50 years ago. On January 3, 1905, the Admiralty Design Committee met for the first time to consider the design of the first all big gun battleship ever, an entirely new and, for those days, very complex ship. The keel of the ship resulting from this meeting was laid down ten months later on October 2, 1905. She was launched 18 weeks later in February 1906, and christened H.M.S. "Dreadnought". One year and one day from laying down she went to sea on her trials, and, for the Record, she was built in Her Majesty's dockyard at Portsmouth—and all credit to them! I merely mention this in the hope that it will spur us to a little quicker shipbuilding. It is not only the "Dreadnought". I think the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, also made a comment about the assault ship.
At any rate, I find it difficult to understand why the submarine "Dreadnought" is taking so long. Barrow has a reputation second to none for building submarines. The ambition of myself and contemporary submariners was to serve in Barrow-built boats—an ambition, so far as I was concerned, that was never achieved. If the reason is difficulties with the Westinghouse nuclear propulsion machinery supplied from America (as I have heard toll) one is even more mystified, because the nuclear-powered American submarines already at sea seem to be functioning satisfactorily, while others are being commissioned at regular intervals. However, important though this question of the "Dreadnought" is—land perhaps the First Lord can give us an answer when he replies—the really important question is, what are we, and in particular the Admiralty, doing about nuclear-powered propulsion for ships in general?
The Principal Surveyor of the Engineering Investigation Department, Lloyd's Register, Mr. Hildrew, in May last read to this same International Conference of Marine Engineers, a paper in which he drew the general conclusion that no reactor concept at present put forward shows any sign of being economic. He stressed the need for much more development work on land on all the systems at present under examination. This, and much else that he said, was of great interest, but I will 283 not weary your Lordships with further technical details. However, it seems clear, from what this gentleman said, that we have some way to go before nuclear-powered marine propulsion is an economic proposition in the commercial sense. Of course, purely commercial considerations are of less importance to the Admiralty that those of weight, reliability and safety; and, most of all, the need to get nuclear marine propulsion machinery into service in certain classes of Her Majesty's ships.
So far as I can ascertain, the only research work being carried out on this subject directly for the Admiralty is a contract given to Rolls-Royce, for work on improved reactors. There is also, of course, the machinery installed in H.M.S. "Dreadnought", not yet at sea, and the land-based prototype nuclear machinery at Dounreay which is also not yet functioning. It is true that the Atomic Energy Authority are sponsoring considerable research work on this subject. For instance, they have given a study contract to continue further work on a reactor system originally put forward by a consortium of Vickers, Rolls-Royce and Foster-Wheeler. Then, as my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport announced in another place on November 8 last, the Atomic Energy Authority have signed an agreement with a consortium of Belgian companies—they call it "Belgonucleare"—to take part in a joint research and development programme on a reactor of advanced design known as Vulcain, which is stated to be very promising for marine application.
The Ministry of Transport are obviously more interested in the commercial application of nuclear marine propulsion, and I am sure that it will take time to achieve success in this field. In the meantime, are sufficient importance and sufficient priority being given to the Admiralty's urgent need (or so it seems to me) to get satisfactory nuclear propulsion machinery, not only for our new submarines but also, possibly, for the projected new aircraft carriers? I submit that this question of nuclear-powered machinery for naval ships is a matter of great importance and urgency, and, at this time, of even greater importance than in its purely commercial application. I have no 284 more to say about the experimental work in progress on nuclear-propelled machinery for ships, but I hope that the First Lord will be able to tell us that the Admiralty are satisfied that they are getting enough priority in all these various projects, all but one of which are not under their direct control.
I mentioned the aircraft carrier as possibly being a candidate for such types of machinery. I fully appreciate the many difficulties which face the Admiralty in achieving a satisfactory design for the aircraft carrier of the future. Nuclear-powered propulsion is only one. There is the equally important and difficult question of what sort of aircraft they are to carry. Then, finally, there is also the purely policy decision, as to whether to build at all; and, if so, when. I personally agree with my noble and gallant friend Lord Ashbourne that we need another carrier at sea East of Suez as soon as possible; but at this late stage in my speech I do not propose to enter into detailed discussion of this matter. All I will say is that it seems to me that these two questions—the type of propelling machinery and the type of aircraft to be used—are fundamental in reaching any final decision about the aircraft carrier of the future.
If and when the Staff requirements are worked out, I am sure we can rely on the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, that most capable body of fewer than 200 men, to produce the best possible design, and on our shipbuilders, private or in the Royal Dock Yards, to build them. I have mentioned quite deliberately the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors. They have been in existence as such for nearly 100 years, but of course their traditions go back much longer. Until 1873 the most senior constructor rejoiced in the title "Master Shipwright", a rank handed down from the reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I. Now, I believe, he is called the Director-General of Ships—not quite such an attractive title. But why I have mentioned this Corps is that I think perhaps occasionally they might have a reference in the Memorandum.
I want to inform your Lordships also that my naval friends who are still serving, tell me that our new ships are most beautifully designed—I do not refer so much to the hull form or the external 285 appearance as to the interior layout—no longer, to quote the argot of to-day "a dog's breakfast inside a ship." The Royal Corps of Naval Constructors would be the first to admit that these results could not be achieved without the magnificent co-operation they receive from the electrical and engineering and other departments. I am told that, both on new construction and refits, the cooperation and co-ordination between these departments is quite remarkable. Having heard that comment, my Lords, I thought I should include it in my speech.
I have nearly finished all that I have to say. In making my notes for this part of my speech it occurred to me what a wonderful thing it would be if we had a Royal Corps of Aircraft Constructors working closely with the Air Staff, as the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors works with the Naval Staff. I believe that if such existed, many problems would be solved, more quickly and more effectively than they are, including, of course, the type of aircraft to fly from our new aircraft carriers. The late Lord Fisher (better known as "Jackie Fisher") wrote:The essence of war is violence. Moderation in war is imbecility. Hit first, hit hard, hit anywhere.I think that this Memorandum on the Naval Estimates which we are debating to-day shows that we are getting a Navy, albeit too small, albeit too slowly; but, nevertheless, one which can do just that—hit first, hit hard and hit anywhere.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ LORD ABINGER
My Lords, on occasions when we are discussing the affairs of the Royal Navy, I think our first thoughts must be for the officers and men of all ranks who man the Service. I should like to start by paying tribute, in all humility, to their matchless efficiency and morale. I speak as a retired Army officer myself, and I remember during the last war we in the Army occasionally grumbled, probably without justification, about the performance and efficiency of Army units or formations in which we did not happen to be serving ourselves. I remember that occasionally, in the early days of the war, we also grumbled, I am sure without any justification at all, about the support which we received from the 286 Royal Air Force. But I can never for one moment remember the efficiency of the Royal Navy being questioned. Our faith in the Navy was absolute. We in the Army had no opportunity to see major fleet actions, but in our contacts with the Royal Navy, whether we were being landed by them in hostile territory, or, less happily, whether we were being withdrawn, we were filled with admiration for their work. I am quite sure the same spirit of efficiency prevails in the Service to-day.
My intervention in this debate will be a fairly short one. I seek information on one matter only. It seems to me that quite the most important point, the salient point, in the Explanatory Statement, is the fact, clearly brought out again, that we no longer possess a Battle Fleet. This, of course, is not a new situation; it has been developing ever since the last war. But I am not sure, even now, that we fully appreciate the significance of this revolutionary deterioration in naval strength. The Explanatory Statement goes into some detail about the ships which are available to the Royal Navy. Major Fleet units would, I suppose, include the three aircraft carriers, the four cruisers and perhaps the two Commando carriers. Presently it seems that there will be another three aircraft carriers and another four cruisers in service. But even if all these ships are operational, can they in any way constitute a force at all comparable with the great battle fleets which existed before the First and the Second World Wars?
I do not want to take the comparison too far, because I know that circumstances have altered, but, to see this matter in perspective it is worth remembering that even in 1939, when the Royal Navy was none too well off for ships, it could deploy some 29 cruisers and had another 27 cruisers in reserve. This total of 56 cruisers might, I think, be compared with the 8, at the most, which are now available. I should have thought that the few heavy ships that we have now available could constitute little more than a task force, perhaps two task forces; but they would be quite insufficient to play the rôle which the former Grand Fleet did. My Lords, if we agree that nothing equivalent to the old Grand Battle Fleet really exists now, we 287 must surely consider very carefully how the functions which those fleets used to perform will be fulfilled in the future.
I myself speak as a layman in these matters, and I am very glad that a number of noble Lords with distinguished naval careers have taken part in the debate this afternoon. They are far more qualified than I am to raise these points. But I think some facts are clear even to a layman. For three, four or five hundred years our country has depended for its security very largely on a maritime strategy, and I think our forefathers were wise to pursue this policy. The proof of their wisdom lies in the fact that we have not lost a major war for 200 years, and our Island has remained secure from invasion for 900 years.
For a very long time the basis of our maritime strategy has surely been the existence of a large Fleet. I imagine that the functions of a Fleet are, broadly speaking, two. The Fleet enables us to maintain the strategic initiative in wartime; it enables us in time of war to attack our enemies in any part of the world and to land our armies on hostile territory or to withdraw them when they are in difficulties so that they can fight another day elsewhere. The very existence of a Battle Fleet, even if it remains in harbour, as it did for very much of the First World War, is a constant threat and deterrent to our enemies.
The second function of a Battle Fleet I should imagine to be the protection of our merchant shipping and trade routes. The main Fleet has always provided cover for the work of the lighter naval ships which are more directly concerned in this task—the smaller ships which escort our convoys in war time, which hunt submarines, or, in the first context, actually land or evacuate armies. Paragraph 6 in the Explanatory Statement gives a whole list of the smaller ships which are available to the Royal Navy, and their numbers are considerable. I should imagine that they could be increased fairly quickly in time of emergency.
The point I wish to make is this. Even if their numbers were two or three times as many, even if we had a huge number of destroyers, frigates and smaller naval 288 vessels, would their services be of any avail if they were to be denied the cover of a main Battle Fleet which they have always had in the past? If it is conceded that a maritime strategy has kept our Island secure for hundreds of years, if it is further conceded that the basis of this maritime strategy has been the existence of the main Battle Fleet, and if it is finally conceded that we no longer possess such a Fleet, we have to ask: what is the substitute defensive plan? We all realise, of course, that the circumstances of defence have altered radically since the last war. There has been the development of nuclear weapons; there has been perhaps our economic inability to maintain the large forces we were previously able to do. Those of us who follow the fortunes of the Royal Navy are not necessarily arguing the case for great Battle Fleets with a wealth Of capital ships. What we are anxious to know is how the vital functions which such Fleets performed in the past will be fulfilled in the future.
Do Her Majesty's Government suggest that an air strategy can replace our former maritime strategy? The Royal Air Force is now very powerful indeed, and in some ways perhaps it is our premier fighting Service. It can attack our enemies in time of war in any part of the world. But could it ever give the necessary cover to naval ships which are escorting merchantmen—not so much the ships in coastal waters and home waters, but those on the oceans—and to smaller vessels engaged in combined operations, which cover the main Battle Fleets have provided in the past? Many of us feel that an Air Force will never be able to perform these traditional functions of a strategic Battle Fleet. Surely the strategic rôle of an Air Force is rather a different one.
Is it really the case then, as I suspect, that, as we ourselves no longer possess a heavy Battle Fleet we must depend on our Allies—to a great extent on the heavy ships, the capital ships of our Allies? Is it the American Battle Fleet which is to be asked to cover the work of such lighter naval vessels as we possess? It would be foolish to condemn such a position out of hand, because, after all, alliances are two-way affairs. If we depend on our Allies more than we have had to do in the 289 past, then they in turn no doubt depend more on us. And, of course, the Royal Navy is making a very big contribution indeed to the main Allied Fleets. Nevertheless, it is a sad and sobering thought, if we are unable any longer to pursue an independent maritime strategy and if we have no plans to recreate a strategic covering fleet.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, the noble Lord has several times referred to a "battle fleet". What sort of ships has he actually in mind?
§ LORD ABINGER
Aircraft carriers, my Lords. We have six aircraft carriers, but, as I suggested, I think that is little more than a task force or two task forces.
Finally, I do question the lack of information in the Explanatory Statement on this vital matter of allied co-operation. The only mention of allied cooperation is in paragraph 48 which says:Discussions with Allied Navies aimed at practical co-operation in research and development are beginning to show encouraging results. Collaboration, which results in a saving of both time and money, is being negotiated on a number of research and development projects.I do not think that gets us very far.
So I would conclude by asking the noble Lord, the First Lord of the Admiralty, who is replying in the debate, whether he is able to give us any more detailed information about the Allied Fleets, to which important elements of the Royal Navy will apparently be subordinate in time of war. Do these Fleets, for instance, include a considerable number of heavy capital ships, capable of forming a Battle Fleet to cover the work of lighter naval vessels? It may seem odd for me to inquire in this debate about ships in other nations' navies, but it seems clear that our own Royal Navy is going to require a great deal of help from these allied navies, if it is to succeed in keeping the oceans open for our shipping. I myself feel that any information about these allied ships, with which the Royal Navy is now closely associated, would be useful. I would only say that I think it is rather a tragic commentary on our own comparative weakness at sea that such a question has to be asked at all.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I am sure it will have impressed all of your Lordships, how deeply and sincerely—I would also say sentimentally, but without, I hope, sentimental undertones—my noble friend who moved this Motion feels about the Royal Navy. Clearly, in taking part in a debate on the Royal Navy those who belong to another Service, like the noble Lord who has just spoken and myself, feel we have to proceed with a good deal of delicacy. I may say that, now that the Royal Navy has ceased its attempts to take Coastal Command from the Royal Air Force, I am able to approach a naval debate with a less critical eye than I might otherwise have had.
I should first like to refer to one matter, about which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will tell us something; that is, the progress that he is making in regard to meeting the criticisms of the Estimates Committee on the control of expenditure. I know that some of this criticism related to the Admiralty itself, and to the size of the headquarters; and we have to take into account, inevitably, that in the headquarters, with all its responsibilities for design and research, it may prove very difficult to cut down numbers. But presumably the First Lord has been at pains to carry out the wishes of the Estimates Committe, and we should like to know how that is going.
There has been some criticism in this debate, both about the delay and about the cost of new developments. It seems absolutely inseparable from any form of Defence expenditure, that anything that is ordered costs a great deal more than was originally anticipated. Probably the worst offender in this matter is not the Royal Navy but the Royal Air Force, which has had the most prodigious increases in costs. None the less, I think that a number of people have been shocked at the cost of some of the new developments, particularly the cost of the new assault ships. It is not surprising, although regrettable, that we are not likely to have more than two of these new assault ships in the next three years, as I understand it. Depending on one's particular view of naval and military, or combined strategy, I should have 291 thought that they had a very high priority, indeed.
I would first turn to a matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, referred briefly, and that is the Surveying Service, the Hydrographical Service of the Admiralty and the Royal Navy. It is interesting to see that, parallel with their military activities (and we have commented on this before) all three services are apt to be involved, to a very considerable and, indeed, expensive extent, in activities which serve a much greater interest than that of the particular Service—whether it is the Royal Air Force with the Meteorological Service or, most especially, the Royal Navy with the Surveying Service. I tried to discover from the Estimates (and this is one of the matters that is prompting these remarks) how large a part these purely peaceful services of the Royal Navy play in these very large totals.
It is, of course, a fact that the Surveying Service and the Hydrographer's Office of the Royal Navy are held in international esteem. However far in certain matters our powers may have declined, there is no doubt that the hydrographic work and, increasingly now, the oceanographic work, as well as the general survey work of the Royal Navy, are the very finest of any naval hydrographic service in the world. There are many great names connected with it, whether it be Admiral Beaufort; or, more recently, Admiral Edgell; or even the present Hydrographer, Admiral Irving, who have all carried on the great tradition which is being pursued throughout the world. We are undertaking this service, against, in certain respects, declining responsibilities in regard to sovereignty, for countries—some of the emergent nations of the British Commonwealth—who are not themselves in a position to undertake this. One finds H.M.S. "Cook" very suitably operating in Fiji, and it is worth remembering, of course, that Captain Cook was himself at one stage, before the Surveying Service had really developed, a very effective surveyor. Indeed, if I remember rightly, the successful assault on Quebec was largely attributable to his survey of the St. Lawrence.
292 It is interesting to note that a number of these ships have been taking part, particularly, in oceanographic work. This is a matter to which scientists, certainly, and those of us who are interested in the geographical field, attach tremendous importance. However much exploration of space there is going to be, there are still vast areas of the world which have not yet been explored, and these are in the oceans. The interest of geologists, biologists and, indeed, oceanographers is growing all the time; and in this work it is satisfactory to see the Surveying Service of the Royal Navy playing such an important part, and having to play it with more complicated equipment. It is worth noting, again, that the Royal Naval officers who take part in this are fully-trained surveyors. They are having to deal now with Decca navigators, and all this new equipment. It is also satisfactory to note that, while they are carrying out this high-level scientific work, they are also providing better and more useful charts for yachtsmen. Altogether, I am sure your Lordships would agree that we are very fortunate in the service that they render.
My Lords, we have had some discussion to-day on strategy, and I confess I have a number of critical remarks to make, with regard both to the equipment and to some of the concepts that still seem to lie behind the policy which Her Majesty's Government are following concerning the Royal Navy. I listened with great interest to the noble and gallant Field Marshal. There were moments when I felt so high above Moscow that I had difficulty in following the particular arguments that he was seeking to have with us. But it seems that the advent of the deterrent, of the nuclear bomb, has changed the picture so much that it is very difficult for any of us, the Government or anyone else, to visualise the sort of situation that would exist once a major nuclear exchange broke out. But, increasingly, the Government, urged by members of all political Parties and of none, have been stressing more and more the importance of the limited war rôle of our Defence Services. It seems to me that this is the primary rôle. It is in the prevention of war and in dealing with the 293 "brush fire", the breakout in a particular area, which is the main activity of the Navy and the Army, and the Royal Air Force except for Bomber Command—and even here they may have their part to play.
I am sure the noble and gallant Field Marshal is right in that we really do not help ourselves if we think entirely in terms of a naval or air strategy. I do not know whether noble Lords will be shocked if I say that the important concepts of the Fleet in being the sort of thing we were brought up on, Admiral Marne and so on, have to-day gone to a large extent, and we need to think in very different terms—in terms, indeed, which I am inclined to think are implicit in the Government's White Paper on Defence, in the Estimates and in the Memorandum accompanying the Estimates. It is encouraging to see the sort of thing the noble and gallant Field Marshal has been urging coming out more and more in these Government documents. Personally, I do not think we have gone anything like far enough, but I would not wish to pursue this wider matter now because I want to make just a few remarks about naval equipment, about carriers and, particularly, about carrier aircraft.
Here, my Lords, we are confronted with the most enormous expenditure. When we think that a new carrier, one which is laid down for completion in 1970, 1971 or 1972, is going to cost something like £50 million, and that with all the aircraft and equipment it may well be £100 million, this is, in fact, though I admit it will not all be paid in one year, one-fifth of a single year's expenditure on the Navy. When we realise the long delays in the introduction of aircraft, then it is extremely important for the Government to make up their mind and not dither, as I really believe they are doing, on the question whether the Royal Navy is to pursue a nuclear or a conventional rôle. This has been bedevilling our defence, both in the Army and in the Navy, for the last few years. It is probably inevitable that it should be so; but we pay quite a heavy price for this. I am sure the First Lord will know that there has been serious criticism—and from within the Service—of the consequences of this, and of the type of aircraft that we now 294 have in operation or coming into operation.
I hesitate to make these criticisms, for obvious reasons. One is aware that it could be argued that they would be damaging to morale. However, these are matters which have been spoken of, and I feel I must mention them, and I hope that the First Lord will be able to answer them. It is argued that the "Scimitar" should never have been bought. I appreciate the difficulties in taking such a decision, and we are now committed irrevocably to it. It was originally intended as an interceptor. One of its important rôles now is as a nuclear strike aircraft. It is suggested that if they are to deliver conventional weapons, their capacity is little more than that of a "Fury" of many years ago. The "Scimitar", I believe, can carry something like four 1,000 lb. conventional bombs. In order to take off from certain carriers, like the "Hermes" or the "Victorious", it is necessary for there to be a windspeed of 20 knots in addition to the ship's own speed. This does not apply to the "Ark Royal" or the "Eagle". I should be delighted to hear that this is not true, but I have had this information on pretty good authority. The range, again, is something I should like to hear about, for I understand the range is only about 200 to 400 miles depending on the load.
Unkind things are said about the "Scimitar". It has been alleged, again, that it is the answer to the threat of thrust, or the wingless wonder. This may be just Service talk of a kind which is always made: people are always apt to be rude about their equipment; but we want to make sure that we are not trying to produce over-sophisticated aircraft for what is more likely to be a limited war rôle. Again, it is suggested that the insistence of the Royal Navy or of the Government on creating a nuclear rôle for the Royal Navy and the Fleet Air Arm has led to the provision of aircraft which are a great deal less satisfactory to the keeping of the peace, in which the Royal Navy has such an important part to play.
Again there are criticisms of the "Buccaneer", the N.A.39, especially with the Gyron junior engine. I know that a later version is coming along, I think with a Spey engine, which will be 295 more satisfactory. In so far as we share the views of those who are talking about an East of Suez rôle, of maintaining task forces and of providing some form of successor to the Fleet in being in these areas, is it really to be expected that they are likely to have to drop atomic bombs? It would be very much simpler if we could answer this; and it might well be much more profitable to this country to have more smaller aircraft carriers, carrying less sophisticated aircraft, able to be readily available wherever trouble arises, so that there would not be this necessity to steam 4,000 or 5,000 miles when any emergency arises.
We are well aware that the Royal Navy and the Admiralty, in particular, either had great luck or showed great prescience—I think it was a mixture of both—when the Kuwait operation came off. But they may not always be as lucky and they may not always be as prescient as they were on that occasion. I myself feel (and this has been argued quite strongly by Members of another place, belonging to all Parties; my noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough made the same point in his speech, and I think the Government are hesitating on this) that we ought not to embark without a good deal more consideration on a really expensive carrier policy unless we are satisfied that there is an essential rôle for these large carriers.
My Lords, I should have thought that the important rôle for the Navy must be in helping to maintain the peace of the world, short of a nuclear war. I should like to support those noble Lords who have urged again a strengthening of the anti-submarine forces. I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, that Coastal Command is in fact at a very high level of efficiency indeed. It is an extremely efficient Command, and the squadrons are doing pretty well with their old aircraft. But there is a necessity for a replacement; and this is a necessity which, as the noble Lord has argued, is of great importance to the Royal Navy.
We may be confronted with a situation in which pirate submarine activities (and by "pirate" activities I mean ones which might well be sponsored by another country, though not officially 296 admitted) may occur. There might well have been submarine activity during the Kuwait operation, and there may well be in fields other than a single area. If any Power were successful in creating real trouble for us in the world, and could make it occur in several areas of the world simultaneously, if we found unofficial or pirate submarine activities thrown into the battle I think we might find ourselves in an extremely difficult situation in a military sense. I hope, therefore, that we are not sacrificing the security of the Royal Navy and of this country in these matters by putting too many of our eggs into the basket of a few very large carriers.
My Lords, there were a number of points of extreme interest made by noble Lords to which I should have liked to refer, and I hope the Government will consider them. It is always inevitable, when money is short, that good new ideas will never really get started, People are so busy trying to maintain what they have—and this is perfectly reasonable—that the possibility of developing new activities gets very much less. But I would urge upon the Government—and I am sure noble Lords who heard the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, would agree—the importance in this situation of trying to achieve complete mobility and a maritime strategy of making Naval forces, whether they be for the Air Force or for the Army, really self-supporting, and providing the necessary constructional or other forces similar to the "Sea Bees".
I do not wish to go into the question of whether the Royal Navy should have Polaris submarines. This raises bigger issues. Personally, I have very considerable doubts, in the long run, as to how important it is that we do maintain a completely British-controlled deterrent or nuclear deterrent; but I am quite certain that the work which goes into the construction of these new types of machinery, particularly into the development of nuclear machinery, will not be wasted nationally. It may appear to be extremely expensive at the moment for us to be building a second nuclear submarine; but surely this is going to pay off in terms of marine construction, whether it be Naval or whether it be civilian, in the future.
297 I would say only this in conclusion: it is quite clear that in this House, as indeed in any British assembly, there is deep admiration and deep devotion to the Royal Navy, as there is, I hope, to all the Services. But we should like to be satisfied that the Government are giving the country value for money; that they are taking the right decisions in this new and ever-changing situation; and that we shall not see less and less return on the enormous expenditure which the country has to make on defence. I personally have a very large measure of confidence in the First Lord, and I hope that he will listen to the ideas that your Lordships have put to him to-day.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (LORD CARRINGTON)
My Lords, this is the fourth and last of the annual debates which we have on the Service Estimates each year, and we are, as usual, greatly in the debt of the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition for having put down this Motion. I think I have said before that there can be no doubt whatever where the noble Viscount stands in relation to the Royal Navy. He may think that the Royal Navy is too small. He certainly thinks that the Government and the First Lord are not very good. But his criticisms certainly do not extend to the officers and men of the Royal Navy, and he is as firm in his belief in the rôle and importance of sea power as ever he was.
I am glad, too, to think that this afternoon we have had, in addition to the usual and welcome speakers on Naval affairs, three new speakers. One was my noble and gallant friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein, who, whenever he speaks, certainly makes us think. He made, I thought, a most interesting speech this afternoon. The only thing I would quarrel with him about is that I beg leave to doubt whether he would be quite so silent as he said, as he raised himself in his balloon over Moscow, compared with the rest of your Lordships. Then there was the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who brings a quite distinctive point of view of his own. The noble Lord asked me a number of questions. He asked me so many that I could not get them all down. I am sure he knows as well as I do that 298 questions of the kind he asked are never answered, and I hope he will acquit me of any discourtesy if I do not do so.
Then there was my noble friend Lord Abinger, and I hope he will not compare the circumstances of to-day and the capability of the ships of to-day with those of pre-war. I hope that he will find in what I have to say the answers to some of his questions. My Lords, I do not think I can go into the strengths of the Allied Fleets, because I hardly think it would be proper for me to do so; but I might recommend to him Jane's Fighting Ships which I find to be a very accurate and interesting publication with regard to the navies of the world.
Although it is only to-day that we have turned our attention specifically to Naval affairs, in each of our previous debates the rôle of the Navy, and the part which it has been assigned in our defence strategy for the 1960s, has been touched upon. This is in itself, I think, a sign of a changed attitude towards the Navy. I must say that three years or so ago, when I first came to the Admiralty, I thought that I detected a tendency in your Lordships' House, and perhaps in the country too, to regard the Royal Navy as standing somehow apart from the main stream of our national defence. The role of the Army was always clear, and so was that of the Royal Air Force; and their two rôles were, quite rightly, I think, regarded as complementary. The movement of troops by air, and their tactical support by the Royal Air Force in battle, were concepts Which were well understood by everyone. But then there was the Navy, scattered about the world in its own separate element, the sea, detached and a little remote. The function and the purpose of the Fleet was apt to fee measured, I think, by the task which it carried out in the First and Second World Wars. Not surprisingly perhaps, when judged solely in that light, its rôle in the future did not seem entirely clear.
There were those who, remembering how close to defeat this country came in the Battle of the Atlantic, raised the alarm over the size of the Navy—forgetting perhaps our altered circumstances, our regional pacts, and the need for a balanced Fleet, as well as an antisubmarine Navy. Others saw all modern 299 warfare as a push-button, nuclear affair, which would he all over in a matter of weeks, if not days—and wrote the Navy off as a waste of money. What, for them, had hitherto seemed the main task and justification of British sea power— keeping the supply line to Britain open in a protracted war—had apparently vanished in a mushroom cloud. And I am not at all sure that six or seven years ago my noble and gallant friend behind me would not have gone some way along that road.
Since then it has come to be recognised more clearly that the Royal Navy, together with the other navies of the Western Alliance, forms an indispensable part of the general deterrent in Europe; for example, which of your Lordships could contemplate with anything but dismay a situation in which we and our Allies had to face the Soviet Union entirely defenceless at sea? It seems to me that this aspect of our Naval rôle has been put with great clarity by my noble and gallant friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein. Here I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and perhaps I may break off for a moment to say that I think the noble Lord improves with every year that passes. When I first became First Lord, I thought he started off by being rather antipathetic to the Royal Navy. Last year, he was not too bad; but this year I thought he had come on a great deal; and next year, I expect great things of him.
Few people, even three years ago, would have ventured to predict that the Navy's traditional task of keeping the oceans safe for British traffic would soon take on the new and wider meaning which the 1962 Defence White Paper has given it; though perhaps, looking back, it is easy to see now that the writing on the wall was already there—in the slowly developing nuclear stalemate between East and West, which has thrown what I might call the peripheral threat of Communism into strong relief; and in the steady growth of independent nations throughout the world, which has meant that we can now rely on fewer bases and installations overseas.
We are a great trading nation; and we have many vital national interests throughout the world which we must continue to protect, if we are to survive. 300 We have also contracted new and powerful international obligations; and, as a result, the rôle and purpose of the modern Navy, and the value of British sea power, has acquired a yet broader significance. It is to ensure that Britain can play her full part, within the Alliance of free nations, in preventing the spread of world-wide Communism, and in preserving peace. If we are to do this, we must retain the ability to deploy our military power all over the world; and with the growing number of land and air barriers to the movement of our forces, the one free highway of the sea which we can always use—provided that we can defend it—is going to figure more and more in all our military planning and thought.
It is for this reason, which I believe has now come to be generally understood—and certainly I have heard no doubts cast on the value of sea power this afternoon—that no debate on Defence, or on the Army, ox even on the Royal Air Force, can nowadays be complete without taking account of the Royal Navy. For, as my night honourable friend the Minister of Defence has said, we must begin to think increasingly of the inter-dependence of the three Fighting Services: the efficiency of one will depend increasingly on the efficiency of the other two. And certainly the policy which the Government have decided to follow, for example, for the Army, which we discussed last month, makes very little sense without a strong and efficient Navy—and Air Force—to give it reality.
There is no disguising the fact that six or seven years ago there was doubt about what shape the future Navy was likely to take. I have already outlined some of the conflicting views which were then held by eminent and responsible people. In these circumstances, the Board of Admiralty at that time decided that the wisest course was to keep something of everything: to keep alive all the arts of naval warfare, so as to be ready to expand and step forward in any direction as soon as the uncertainty cleared. I think that the wisdom of this course has been borne out by events, for to-day we have a versatile Navy, equipped to flight in all the elements: on or under the sea, in the air, and, with the Royal Marine Commandos, 301 even on land—the very nucleus of the kind of joint sea-borne task forces which the 1962 Defence White Paper prescribes.
Already the Navy has a significant amphibious capability, with the commando ships and the ships of the Amphibious Warfare Squadron; and this will grow substantially as our new assault ships, about which noble Lords have been talking, arrive. They will be called H.M.S. "Fearless" and H.M.S. "Intrepid" and will join the Fleet in about three years' time. H.M.S. "Fearless" will begin to take shape in a fortnight from now, when the first prefabricated section of the hull is laid down at Belfast. These ships are of about 12,000 to 13,000 tons and will carry a large body of troops, tanks, guns and lorries. They will be a very formidable addition to our amphibious warfare squadron.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, already the tonnage seems to have increased during the discussions on these new ships.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I do not think so. I think that they were always supposed to be about that size. Certainly that was the impression I thought I gave your Lordships last year, when they were first announced. They have not altered in that time.
We have maintained and modernised our aircraft carriers—extremely [powerful, mobile airfields—to support and combine with the land-based aircraft of the Royal Air Force in protecting our amphibious forces against attack from the air and in providing our troops with close support ashore.
This year also sees the introduction into service—on July 17, as a matter of fact—of the first operational squadron of the Blackburn Buccaneer, formerly called the N.A.39. This is a really first-class aircraft. I could not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in what he said about to. I can testify for myself how it behaves at high speeds and at low altitude, since I was given a ride by the test pilot of Messrs. Blackburn at very high speed and very close to the ground during a visit I paid to Brough the other day. It was very interesting to note that, coming into land at the airfield in an ordinary conven- 302 tional passenger aeroplane, the conditions were extremely rough and bumpy, while in the Buccaneer it was very noticeable how smooth it was at the same height—a very important factor in a low-level strike aircraft. I know that this aircraft will be a very great addition to the striking power of the Navy and will give useful service for many years to come.
It will replace the Scimitar, about which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, had some rather hard things to say. I do not think that it is right to speak in terms of an aircraft alone. I think that the noble Lord must consider the weapon system. The new air-to-air missiles, the Sidewinder and Firestreak, with which we are equipping both Scimitars and Sea Vixens, will greatly improve their effectiveness and prolong their lives. The Scimitar is about to be replaced by the Buccaneer, but the Sea Vixen is a very sophisticated all-weather fighter which, with these air-to-air missiles, will remain effective for at least the remainder of this decade.
To strengthen still further the air defence of the Fleet and of our amphibious forces, the first two of our six new guided missile destroyers, the "Hampshire" and "Devonshire", will join the Fleet early next year, with their Seaslug weapons, which have turned out extremely well. I paid a visit only a fortnight ago to the "Devonshire" at Birkenhead, where she has just completed her initial trials, and I must say that she is an extremely impressive—and handsome—ship. I hope that perhaps some of your Lordships will be able to visit her when she is commissioned. There has been an excellent report of her trials from her future captain, and I think these ships are going to be first class. The fifth and sixth ships, your Lordships may be interested to know, are to be called H.M.S. "Fife" and H.M.S. "Glamorgan", to preserve the naval connections with Scotland and Wales.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
Yes; but we have another new "Tribal" class, as well. These two new ships will be even 303 better than the first four, because they will have an improved anti-aircraft capability.
To protect our amphibious forces against submarine attack we have built in the last ten years nearly forty modern escorts of the "Whitby" and later classes; and the new "Leander" design, of which there is an illustration in my Explanatory Statement, has aroused interest all over the world. With our nuclear submarines we are hoping to break entirely new ground in the technique of anti-submarine warfare: for these boats, with their high speed and endurance, open up for the first time in history the prospects of an underwater convoy escort with all the advantages which ability to fight a submarine enemy in his own element brings. We hope to have the "Dreadnought" at sea by the end of the year; and provided the present labour dispute is settled fairly quickly, as I hope it will be, there seems every likelihood that we shall meet this date. I thought that my noble friend Lord Ampthill had some hard things to say about the time it has taken to build "Dreadnought". I wish he would come up some time and see how complicated it is to build a nuclear submarine; and perhaps he, too, might then appreciate the different conditions which exist in our shipyards as compared with those in the United States. I do not think we have done too badly in building "Dreadnought" in the time that we have.
H.M.S. "Valiant" has been laid down, and work is going on satisfactorily. I might also add that I paid a visit the other day to the prototype nuclear reactor which we are building at Dounreay in the North of Scotland, where, after a certain amount of difficulty and delay, the work is going ahead and the reactor will go critical next year. Perhaps I might add one thing at this point. My noble friend Lord Teynham asked me about the "Polaris" submarine. I am afraid I cannot add much to what I said last year, or, indeed, to what I said in the Defence debate this year. The vehicle for the deterrent is at the moment the V-bomber, at present arming with Blue Steel and subsequently to be re-armed with Skybolt. This takes us into the next decade. We are now 304 examining what will follow, and, of course, a nuclear submarine with a ballistic missile is one of the alternatives which we are looking at at the moment.
Last, but not least, in the catalogue of what I have been saying is the fact that we can no longer rely on so many fixed installations as we used to, and we must not neglect, and we have not neglected, the afloat support which my noble friend Lord Ashbourne spoke about. As my noble friend said, I made a point of dealing with this very fully in my Explanatory Statement, because the ability to replenish and maintain a task force at sea is going to be absolutely vital to the success of our new mobile strategy. I can assure him that it is a point we certainly have not lost sight of.
So your Lordships will see that the Admiralty's concept of a balanced Fleet has paid off handsomely: none of the categories which we have built will be wasted and none can be dispensed with; each will have its essential part to play in the new strategy. And if in any one category we are not as strong as perhaps we should like to be—and as I know some noble Lords, on both sides of the House, feel we ought to be—that is the price we have had to pay in creating a balanced Navy within a defence budget Which this country can afford.
But in case 1 sound too complacent—and I hope I do not—I should like for a moment to turn to the future, where the problems facing the Government and the Board of Admiralty loom very large indeed. Perhaps I might take aircraft carriers, about which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, talked, as an example, but only one example, of what I mean. I spent a week in H.M.S. "Victorious" earlier this year while she was taking part in a NATO exercise called Dawn Breeze. It was a most interesting and stimulating experience. The Admiralty spent many millions of pounds in modernising this ship, and, incidentally, came in for some heavy criticism for having done so. But the result, I can assure your Lordships, is a really formidable fighting unit.
The task of H.M.S. "Victorious" in the exercise was to launch a strike against an "enemy" target—an airfield 305 —in the face of opposition which included submarines, high-speed bombers and warships equipped with surface-to-surface missiles. Our escorts, helped by maritime patrol aircraft of Coastal Command, proved more than a match for the submarines, which were never within striking range of us. Our carrier-borne fighters were able to, and did, intercept the bombers which were sent against us at a considerable distance from the ship. And with the help of reconnaissance reports from Shackletons of Coastal Command, we were able to hit the enemy's surface force, again many miles away, with our own strike aircraft, which later on completed the carrier's mission while we were still several hundred miles from the coast. I must say that I thought this was a most impressive display, first, of the versatility and striking power of the "Victorious"; secondly, of co-operation between all three Services; and, finally, of the very difficult target which a properly escorted and supported aircraft carrier presents to an enemy equipped with even the most modern weapons.
Our present aircraft carriers will last until the 1970's. But if we are to go on deploying air power around the world after this, I believe we must replace them: not to substitute for fixed land bases—for there are certain tasks Which land-based aircraft will always do batter—but to combine with them, as we did at Kuwait. But ships of this size and complexity, as the noble Lord said, take about eight years to design and build. So, if we are not to renounce here and now our ability to deploy air power by sea in the 1970's, we must start preparing to replace our carriers at once. This is what we are now doing by getting ahead with the first phase of design; this must in any case precede any question of ordering.
But it is not only eight years ahead that we must look, difficult enough as I think that is. Those carriers, assuming that we go ahead and build them, will have a life of twenty years or more, which means that they will still be operating in the 1990's. What will the world be like then? What will war be like then? What will aircraft be like then? These are immensely difficult questions; and I think we should be pardoned in the Board of Admiralty if we take a little time to answer them.
306 People may well ask: can we afford them? But, on the other hand, can we afford not to have them, if we are to remain a world-wide military power? In fact, as carriers are the only airfields that I know of which can be moved from place to place wherever they are needed, they do, I think, represent the cheapest way of deploying ait power around the world. And, again, if we have them, it must not be to the exclusion of everything else—new frigates; new ships to replace our present cruisers; nuclear submarines (for, good as our conventional boats are, we want to go nuclear as soon as we can); a bigger and better amphibious capability; greater afloat support and so on.
In short, if we are to ensure that the Navy continues to be the first-class Service which it is to-day, and maintains its usefulness in the years to come, we must keep up the balancing act which we have performed, I think with some success, so far. But because of the time-scale of shipbuilding, as well as of recruiting and training the necessary men, the balancing has to be done now, making the most intelligent forecast that we can of what the long-term future holds. And it will become an increasingly difficult task as the cost of everything—ships, weapons, equipment and even manpower—grows with every new scientific and technical advance.
These are the special problems which the Government are facing to-day in their naval policy; and although I have no doubt that they will be solved, it seemed to me that your Lordships should perhaps be aware of them, and should reflect on them when you are considering What the future of the Navy should be, and when perhaps you are inclined to feel impatient with the time which it takes to reach decisions on these vital matters.
Before I leave this part of my speech, there are two allied subjects about which I should like to say a word, and these are habitability and work study. I think I have said before in these debates that I regard it as very important that we should try to make our new ships as comfortable as possible for the officers and ratings who serve in them. I believe that for the first time we have made a real advance in this field in the two new types of ship which are coming 307 into service this year, the County class guided missile destroyers and the Tribal class frigate. With their centralised messing arrangements, their comparatively uncluttered passageways, their 100 per cent. bunk arrangements and full air-conditioning, they are a striking advance and something of which the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors—about which my noble friend spoke—can be very proud.
On work study, I may say that we have been doing this on various aspects of the Navy's work, and this has frequently helped us to make better use of our men and material. I would quote one example to your Lordships of what we have done. An investigation the other day into the usage of submarines resulted not only in an increase in operational availability of four weeks per year per boat, but also in a higher standard of maintenance in the boats themselves and a better-balanced task in the submarine bases and depôt ships. But I believe there is another field in which we can not only improve the habitability of our ships still further but also reduce their size and the complement needed to man them. We are now beginning to introduce work study into our new ships at the design stage; and it is the opinion of our own Naval Constructors, as well as of those in the American Bureau of Ships—to whom I should say we have lent a Naval officer who is a specialist in work study—that there is in this field a considerable scope for economy. I am quite sure this is one of the applications of work study which should be encouraged and, if necessary, extended.
My noble friends Lord Ashbourne and Lord Ampthill mentioned the Royal Marine Engineers, and asked whether consideration was being given to reconstituting the Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisation. As the noble Lord said, they were, at the time of their inception, a very good idea, but both the Royal Marine Engineers and the M.N.B.D.O. did very valuable and important work during the last war. But I think it began to be apparent, even during the war years, that both were to some extent a duplication of the Army, and they wore in due course disbanded. I must say, frankly, that we do not foresee the need 308 for a separate organisation of this kind in the future, particularly as afloat support will, to an important extent, replace our reliance on fixed bases, and our repair, dep¾t and supply ships and tankers will operate from a very small number of forward bases which will call for comparatively little work ashore.
If engineer assistance is needed by the Commandos on any large scale, it will be provided by the Royal Engineers, and a squadron of them will probably form part of the amphibious group in an assault ship. But there will also be in each Commando a small number of men trained in the use of mines and explosives, as well as in operating certain types of plant. In this way, perhaps the tradition of the Royal Marine Engineers can be kept going.
My noble friend Lord Ampthill asked me about the gas turbine, and he made the criticism that the advantages were not yet fully exploited. My Lords, we have only just started. I think it says a great deal for the confidence which the Board of Admiralty have in this gas turbine boost that we have decided to engine all the D.L.G.s, or guided-missile destroyers, and the Tribal class, with this machinery. I assure my noble friend that although the water-tube boiler row was rather before my day, I am surprised that I have not been blamed for it. But I assure him that we will avoid anything of the kind with regard to the gas turbine.
My noble friend also asked me about nuclear power and propulsion as did the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. As he knows, we are concentrating on nuclear reactors for submarines, because the advantages there are so very obvious. I think the advantages of nuclear-propelled surface ships are not at first sight so obvious as in the case of underwater vessels. As he said, at the moment there is no reactor which is anything like economic that can be put into a surface vessel. So we have decided to concentrate on research to find a nuclear reactor which is economic. Not only is the research being done, as the noble Lord has said, by Rolls Royce, but it is also being done by the Atomic Energy Authority. I am quite satisfied that we in the Board of Admiralty are having our say in what is being done.
309 My noble friend Lord Teynham asked about the Hovercraft. As I think he knows, we have been evaluating the S.R.N 1 Hovercraft at Lee-on-Solent, but the trials which we have done have so far proved inconclusive, and we hope to continue them later this year. We think there is a naval application for the Hovercraft in the anti-submarine and amphibious warfare rôles, but I think we must do a little more of these trials before we know for certain. My noble friend also asked me about the likely requirement for a long-range antisubmarine weapon. No decisions have been taken about this yet. There are various weapon systems. There is the Malafon, the American Asroc and the Australian Ikara, at all of which we are looking at the present time.
I have been speaking for some time, and I do not think I have time to go into the question of the Select Committee on Estimates, about which the noble Lord, Lord Shaekleton, asked me. He will know that we accepted a number of recommendations of this Committee, and they have been put into operation. We said that we would do what we could about a number of the other recommendations, and in fact a number of inquiries are going on at the present time. If the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, would like to know more, perhaps I may write him a letter and tell him how things are going.
I should like to end by saying a few words about manpower, and in particular about two branches of the Navy in which we have recently introduced markedly better conditions of service. In the Medical and Instructor Branches we are likely to have some difficulty in entering sufficiently qualified officers now that National Service has come to an end. The problems of the Forces' medical services are by now well known to your Lordships. We have recently introduced a far-reaching new deal for doctors and dentists in the Services in order to overcome the serious risk of severe shortage. I said something about this in the Army Estimates debate the other week. All the measures which are being introduced to encourage the entry of young doctors into the Army apply equally to the Navy, and our situation, I am glad to say, is not quite so serious. I am quite sure that these measures which we have introduced and, incidentally, which have 310 the endorsement and support of the Council of the British Medical Association, will succeed in helping us to build up the service to meet the shortages which have been foreseen.
Next the Instructor Branch, to which I am glad my noble friend Lord Ampthill referred. In the Royal Navy we have had education officers for about 300 years, and the development of technology and the increased application of science within the Service have underlined their importance. We plan to have an Instructor Branch of about 600 officers, including a large number qualified in mathematics, science and engineering. The branch is mainly employed in colleges and training establishments ashore, but a number of officers serve afloat in both training and meteorological duties. Wherever they serve they make a full contribution to the life of the Navy beyond the strict scope of their teaching task.
I have recently reviewed the future of the branch because, with the end of National Service, the Navy is having to seek the highly qualified entrants required by the branch in a sharply competitive market. We need a steady annual entry of graduates. These are for the most part young men who are in the greatest demand in civilian life. We have therefore made three major changes in the conditions of service in the Instructor Branch.
First, we are reshaping the permanent element of the branch by restricting it to graduates and those with equivalent qualifications, and limiting its size to an extent which will enable us to promote more than half of our permanent instructor officers to the rank of commander.
Secondly, we are offering a wider variety of entry conditions. A few highly-qualified young men will be able to enter direct on permanent commissions, and other entries will be able to start on a short-service commission, with later opportunities for selection for a permanent commission or for transfer to a 16-year commission, carrying at the end of it a pension of over £500 a year. The professional qualifications of the instructor officer reduce their problem of resettlement in civil life and we believe that this 16-year commission will have a great appeal to those who want to 311 serve in the Navy on attractive terms without committing themselves to a full career.
Thirdly, we have revised arrangements for the award of seniority on entry to take into acount not only all graduate qualifications but also all civilian experience. For example, it will now be possible for an officer to enter as a lieutenant with four years' seniority and to reach the rank of lieutenant-commander four years later.
I think these changes have made a good impact, though it is early days yet. Last year only 25 officers, including 5 with good science degrees, entered the branch. This year double that number have already entered or been selected for entry, including no fewer than 35 science graduates. I think that this is satisfactory so far as it goes. Certainly we attach the greatest importance to a vigorous and highly efficient Instructor Branch, and that depends on our ability to continue to attract the good men we need.
As for recruitment generally, we are running so far this year at about the same level as last, although it is much too early in the financial year to draw any firm conclusions from this. There are of course variations between the different categories and branches; for example, we are doing particularly well with Royal Marines and with Juniors (U), that is, the youngest entrants. But I should like to see more Juniors (O), that is boys aged between 16¼ and 17½, and also young adults; and in the recruiting organisation we are making a special effort to increase these numbers. This is not always easy, because these older entrants have usually left school some time ago and will already be earning their living. But there must, nevertheless, be a number of boys who, for one reason or another, are not happy in their job or want to see a bit more of the world. From the Navy's point of view, these rather more mature recruits are a welcome stiffening if we can find them because they play a more effective part in the Service all the sooner. We would be particularly glad to see more of these older entrants coming into the technical branches of the Navy, most of all perhaps on the electrical side. I think you will remem- 312 ber that I put emphasis on this in my Explanatory Statement this year, and we are at the moment rather short of electrical entrants.
Re-engagement continues at a very satisfactory rate, at rather more than 61 per cent. over all—a really good figure. It is not quite as high as the rate we were achieving a year or so ago but, even so, it means that very nearly two men out of every three are re-engaging in the Royal Navy.
One of the effects of the new defence strategy will be that we shall tend to have more ships at sea, and this, in turn, will mean that a higher proportion of the Navy will be serving afloat. I think your Lordships will agree with me that this is a welcome trend and one which should appeal to young men who are thinking of making a career in the Navy; not—and I do want to say this—that the proportion of men serving afloat to-day is as low as people sometimes make out or, indeed, as a straightforward comparison of those numbers with Vote A would suggest. Because when you exclude those categories which inevitably spend most, if not all, of their time ashore—such as the WRNS; nurses; the Fleet Air Arm, of whom only a quarter can ever be afloat regularly; the Royal Marines, with their new and predominantly commando rôle—quite unlike the pre-war days when large numbers of marines formed part of the complement of sea-going ships; and young men doing their initial training—and consider the 58,000 or so trained general service ratings whom one expects to be predominantly at sea, you will find that no less than 54 per cent. of the Royal Navy are actually serving afloat. On average, therefore, these men serve rather more than half of their naval working life at sea and the remainder not only is spent serving in shore establishments and in ships of the Reserve Fleet, but also includes periods of training, and so on. There is a limit to the amount of sea service which it is reasonable to expect men, and particularly the older men with families, to perform, and I think this has already been reached for certain categories who play a vital part in the Navy and on whose re-engagement so much depends. Naturally, sea service means separation from wives and 313 families and it presents a special problem in the Navy which cannot be overcome by means such as the provision of married quarters as it can be in the other two Services. I think this is a point which we must not overlook.
This year there is evidence that the Navy is once more, if indeed it was not always, a useful modern fighting service materialising before the eyes of those who come to join it. They have before them the new guided missile ships, the first of which commissions in October; the first of the nuclear submarines which joins the Fleet at the end of the year; they have the first operational squadron of "Buccaneers" which forms this month; they have the first gas turbine-driven frigates of the Tribal class; the new Wessex helicopter; and many other new equipments and weapons which are now coming into service. Altogether this has been, and will be, a year of achievement for the Royal Navy; and I do not discern in what has been said, either by noble Lords opposite or on this side of the House, that there is much dissatisfaction at the present time with naval affairs.
There are those who say that the Navy is not large enough. My Lords, I have often said before that there could be no First Lord and no Board of Admiralty who would be willing to say that they would not like to see a larger Navy. At the same time, bearing in mind the high level of taxation, the rising costs in the civilian sector of our economy and the large amount of money we already spend on defence, I do not think it would be reasonable to expect Her Majesty's Government to spend very much more on the Navy. I am quite sure that we have value for money, and that we are spending the money that we are allocated in the way most likely to achieve a properly balanced Navy, skilful in all branches at sea and air warfare, and, at the same time, capable of playing its part in cold, in limited and in global war. I believe that the stage is now set for the Navy to play a larger part in the defence of this country than it has done at any time since the end of the war; and I have no doubt that the equipment and, not least, the men and women who form the Royal Navy are as good as they have ever been in the past, or are ever likely to be in the future.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I should like first of all to thank all the Members of your Lordships' House who have joined me in this debate to-day, because I feel that it has been really worth while. I think it has elicited from the First Lord of the Admiralty a great deal of information, even more perhaps than we got from the printed Statement. I must confess that I did not get one or two of the answers I wanted as to what is the Government's real cruiser policy of the future; how far they are going; whether they ought not to have some chance at least of being able to deal with events in at least two parts of the world at once where they employ a task force—something which, to me, does not seem possible on the strength—and so on. Nevertheless, perhaps when the First Lord looks through the opening of the debate he will feel inclined to write to me on one or two points. I will leave it at that, because I think the First Lord has demonstrated that, like so many of his predecessors, the Navy has rather captured him. That, by the way, is the only way to be a successful First Lord.
I think he shows a competent knowledge of the very detailed and interwoven sections of the Naval Service and provisions and can be thought by the House to be doing a good job in his vastly important post. At any rate I enjoyed his speech to-day very much—more, in fact, than I enjoyed his reply to the lively debate on the Defence White Paper. And that perhaps gives an indication of exactly how I feel about it. We have at least, I think, settled in your Lordships' House to-day among the majority the vast importance of having a maritime policy in the changing conditions of warfare likely to be in the world; leaving out, in the main, sudden, widespread nuclear war. And I hope that, as the days go by, we shall have such an integration of the three Services, all following the main principle of the great strength we can gather in a maritime policy, that it will do perhaps more than anything else to nip in the bud places of trouble and thus be able to preserve the peace. I beg to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.