Navy Estimates.

Orders of the Day — Supply. – in the House of Commons on 26th February 1942.

Alert me about debates like this

Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

Photo of Sir Patrick Donner Sir Patrick Donner , Basingstoke

I was saying that we have been told by the Government that the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse" were sent to Singapore as a deterrent, but the fact remains that they were sent out unescorted, and therefore did not prove so much a deterrent as an invitation to attack, since their presence, vulnerable as they were, presented an opportunity to the Japanese to attack the battle fleet piecemeal. We have been told why no aircraft carrier was sent to accompany them, but no spokesman of the Government has yet stated why no anti-aircraft cruisers were sent with them. Are we to be told that no anti-aircraft cruisers were available? If so, surely the event proves that they could not have been used to better purpose in any other part of the world. If they were not available, what has happened to our anti-aircraft destroyers? Why were none sent in escort? If the Government do not feel that this is information which can properly be given in Public Session, again I hope the First Lord will arrange to give the House information in private.

It is difficult to see, in the light of what has happened, how the First Lord can divest himself of some of the responsibility for sending these ships unescorted. The loss of them is the cause of all the reverses that we have sustained in the Far East, and it is difficult to understand how he could have sanctioned the sending of them without proper escort or, if they were so sent, how they could have been sent without giving Admiral Phillips when he left this country, specific orders to keep them as a Fleet in being at Singapore. If he had been ordered to treat them as a Fleet in being, as the Italians have used their Fleet in the Mediterranean in this war and the Germans their high seas fleet in the North Sea in the last war, he would have contained a larger force of Japanese ships within striking distance of our aircraft, and they would have become vulnerable to attack by us. I was glad to hear the Prime Minister defending Admiral Phillips, because I believe he had no choice in the matter. Once there, at Singapore, if he had not been given orders to treat the ships as a Fleet in being he had no option but to act as he did.

What is the lesson of all this—the lesson of the consequences of the loss of sea power? The First Lord said that we had only limited cruiser strength, but why is that strength limited? He spoke of the handicap this imposes, but how came it to be imposed? Let us at least learn the lesson: let us never again sign another London Naval Treaty, because that Treaty, signed in 1930, is the cause of our troubles and the fundamental reason why to-day we are in so difficult a position. That Treaty reduced our cruiser strength from 70 to 50. The First Lord said that we had a small cruiser strength when we entered this war, but it was that Treaty which cut those cruisers down. It was that Treaty which prevented our rebuilding of the battle fleet before January, 1937, and which prevented our laying down a single aircraft carrier before that date. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1921 established a 10 years' naval holiday, and between 1931 and 1937 we were due to build 10 battleships. What a different picture would not the Pacific represent to-day if we had those 10 great battleships in commission. It was that Treaty which wiped them out with a stroke of the pen.

Therefore, I say, let this country at least learn the lesson never again to tie our hands with any Treaty and never again to sign such a document. I believe that history provides no greater example of an attempt to cripple, mangle and mutilate the naval power of a great Empire than the London Naval Treaty of 1930. When things go wrong it is surely wise to ask whether all is well with the direction at the Admiralty. I have heard it said in many parts of the country that the Naval Staff is overworked. I therefore made inquiries, and I am informed that the Naval Staff at the Admiralty work seven days a week. They thus work on Saturdays and Sundays. Fifty-two Sundays and half Saturdays equal 78 days, and if at the end of a year the Naval Staff are given a week Or a fortnight's leave, it is plain that it bears no relation to the amount of work they have done. during those 78 days when they ought to have been on leave. Not only that, but the Naval Staff are required to work in the small hours of the night. We can understand the principle that we should work the Naval Staff to 100 per cent. of their capacity until they are worn out and that then they should be replaced by others. We should bear in mind, however, that these men, when they are tired and before they are replaced, are required to take great decisions of far-reaching consequence. The Government will do well to consider whether it is wise to overwork the Naval Staff as they are being overworked to-day.

I should like to raise the question of aircraft carriers. There is some feeling in the country that the Japanese have employed them to great advantage, and the question has arisen whether it would not be wise to build smaller aircraft carriers in addition to those we already possess. I believe our large aircraft carriers have been justified. Not only can they carry a greater proportion of aircraft and aircraft of heavier types, but they can be defended by armour. The bombing of the "Illustrious" showed how valuable that armour was. Had it been the old "Ark Royal" and not the "Illustrious" which was bombed at Malta, she would have suffered much more severe damage, for she carried no deck armour as smaller carriers could not carry armour either. The House will probably wish to have the Admiralty view on this subject, and I shall be glad if the First Lord will give some indication of its policy in regard to building further aircraft carriers of a smaller size.

When the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse" were lost a report was published that although Japanese aircraft were in the vicinity they did not machine-gun our sailors who were swimming in the water. If that be true, it is a remarkable fact. The Germans have never hesitated to machine-gun our men in the water. The Germans are a Continental military Power, and I have been wondering whether the Japanese, who have proved themselves so barbarous in other ways, did not do so because they already had a naval tradition which prevents their acting in this way. If that be so, their failure to machine-gun our men in the water is not only significant but perhaps ominous. I hope that in the future we shall not again under-estimate the Japanese in the Far East. We are told that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour was treacherous. Of course it was, but it was efficient. If, therefore—to come back to my previous point— Admiral Phillips had been given orders, which I believe he should have been given, to treat his fleet as a fleet in being, he could have used his light vessels and smaller craft to feel his way to discover the strength of the Japanese at sea, keeping his big ships in reserve. How valuable would that experience have been to us now.

We have many Micawbers in this country, many people who are always hoping that something or somebody will come along and get us out of our troubles. Only by our own exertions, however, can we possibly be saved. There are people who say that we need not worry because the Russians will deal with Germany and the United States Navy will deal with the Japanese navy. The American Navy is a one-ocean navy which has to deal with a two-ocean war. We are told that there are people in this country, in America and in Canada who are disappointed that the Americans have not been able to give us greater naval assistance in the Pacific than they have. These people sometimes forget that America has to function navally in two great oceans, and she cannot afford to lose too many small and light vessels for when her battleships have been repaired she would not then have sufficient escorts. It would be more than human nature to expect the United States not to take precautions to prevent the bombardment of San Francisco. Therefore, we come back to the fact that we must rely upon ourselves. We must look to ourselves and not to others to save us. Only the other day a distinguished admiral, Admiral Tyrwhitt, said in public that Britannia no longer rules the waves. Well, we rule some of the waves. I am told his audience became angry. Is it not time, however, that we faced facts and realities and realised that at long last we are fighting this war for survival? When we were up against it in the days of Queen Elizabeth, Francis Drake said: I must have the gentlemen to hale and draw with the mariners and the mariners with the gentlemen. Let us look forward in that spirit, because only in that spirit can we win.

Photo of Mr William Watson Mr William Watson , Dunfermline District of Burghs

My hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) ended his speech by mentioning that he had travelled from Liverpool to London in a train that was full of naval ratings, and that he wished the First Lord had been with him so that he might have heard their opinions of the Government. 1 travel as much as anyone in this House. Every week I spend 24 hours in trains getting to and from this House, so that I have a good opportunity of hearing what naval ratings, soldiers and airmen have to say. It is quite true that they express their opinions about this Government, just as they express them about other things. I suppose they are entitled to enjoy the democratic right of expressing their opinions about this Government or any other Government, and sometimes their language is, like the language of Bret Harte's "Truthful James," that is "frequent and painful and free." It is as free about this Government, as it is about other things, but, behind it all, there is a determination on the part of these men to do their duty by this country, and I was pleased indeed to hear the First Lord pay the tribute which he rightly paid to the naval service. I am not sure that I have not much greater admiration for the Navy than for the two other Services. I do not wish to decry them or to make comparisons, but I have a prejudice in favour of the Navy. We have always looked upon the Navy as our first arm of defence, and the Navy has never let us down. Even with all their difficulties and all the adverse circumstances in which they find themselves, they are always able to keep on top.

We have just had a two days' Debate upon matters pertaining to the war in which naval strategy was discussed as much as it is being discussed to-day. Two things have struck me about these Debates. The first is how wise everybody can be after the event. After things have gone wrong we see quite clearly how they could have been kept right. Another thing which has struck me is the impression there seems to be in the minds of some people that we ought to be strong in every quarter of the globe—in the Atlantic, in the North Sea, in the English Channel, in the Mediterranean, in the South Atlantic and in the Pacific. If that had been our intention we ought to have made greater preparations in the past. The hon. and gallant Member for Basingstoke (Squadron-Leader Donner) referred to the Treaty of London as having cut down naval armaments, but if we wish to get to the roots of our present trouble we have to go back further still, to the Treaty of Versailles. It was that Treaty which laid the foundations of our present trouble. If we meant the things we said in that Treaty we ought to have stood by them. We had not only a right to try to enforce what was in that Treaty, but to stand by the obligations which we ourselves had undertaken under it. If we decided upon a measure of disarmament we had a right to carry it out, and if we did attempt to carry it out and find ourselves in difficulties to-day we have only ourselves to blame.

I wish to pay my tribute to the Royal Navy. I consider that they have done amazingly good work during the war. They have kept us with a higher standard of living than many of us expected to enjoy after 2½ years of war, and they are entitled to the credit for that. They have accompanied our convoys across the Atlantic and have convoyed our ships to various other parts of the world. We have not only been able to maintain a very high standard of living here, but to send supplies practically to all the ends of the earth. It is true that when this war began we were not prepared as we ought to have been even for the war against Germany, and, as the First Lord reminded us to to-day, when we were robbed of the assistance of the second largest Navy in Europe the country found itself in a terrible position, and the way the country has carried on and the way the Navy has carried on must excite the admiration not only of the people of this country but of the world as well. That does not mean that no blunders have been made, it does not mean that things have happened which ought not to have happened, but it is always easy to be wise after the event. I do not know who was responsible for the decision that those two great capital ships should be sent to the Far East. I daresay they were sent there with the best intentions and it is possible that if the purpose which they were intended to accomplish had been successful we should have been priding ourselves on the strategy that sent the ships there, but the manœuvre that we had intended failed and those two great ships were lost.

I have a great deal of sympathy with those who have the responsibility of carrying on our great Services, on which we rely for the defence of this country, but I wish to join with those who have expressed the opinion that they cannot see what particular advantage has been gained by the escape of the three German ships from Brest. It may be that the Admiralty are satisfied that the ships are better where they are than they would have been at Brest. I suppose we do not require to carry on our bombing operations at Brest any longer, so far as those are concerned. I hope that the Admiralty will keep their eyes not only on those three ships but upon others that are either in Kiel Canal or elsewhere. I hope we shall not soon find those ships out in the North Atlantic, and that, before long, the day may come when we shall have an opportunity of meeting them with Forces of equal size. I have not the slightest doubt that they will fare much worse than they did in their passage up the Channel. The Admiralty have a case for the advantages resulting from the escape of those three vessels. I am not inclined to blame the Admiralty too much, but I expect it will not be very long before we hear of those ships again. I hope that we shall have better results next time.

Something has been said about the Fleet Air Arm. When last the Naval Estimates were before the House, I spoke on the subject. I believe that the Navy ought to have its own suitable aircraft for carrying out any work required in connection with naval operations. The Navy ought to be able to plan for the carrying on of its operations not only in regard to ships but in regard to the air protection which is now so necessary. There ought to be closely associated with the Navy and under the control of the Navy, a sufficient number of aircraft for all purposes the Admiralty may have in view. Had more aircraft been at the disposal of the Admiralty, the disasters which we deplore to-day would not have taken place. If the Fleet Air Arm is not strong enough at this moment to do what it ought, we have ourselves to blame. There has always been a conflict between the Royal Air Force and the Navy as to who should have the absolute control of the air. Only very reluctantly has this House agreed to aircraft being associated with the operations of the Navy.

However, we are learning lessons day by day. We have learned many lessons from this war, and I hope that we shall be much wiser in future than we have been in the past. I am not prepared to dissociate myself from those who, in by- gone years, have been strong advocates of disarmament and peace because those are the conditions I would like to see, but even those who have believed in those things in bygone years have to recognise hard facts. We are up against hard facts now, and we are likely to be up against them for many years to come. I hope that the lessons which have been taught us during this war will not be neglected.

Photo of Admiral Sir Roger Keyes Admiral Sir Roger Keyes , Portsmouth North

I was fortunate enough to draw third place in the Ballot, and I proposed to move that the Navy should have complete control of all the air-craft—

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

The hon. and gallant Member did not have first place in the Ballot.

Photo of Admiral Sir Roger Keyes Admiral Sir Roger Keyes , Portsmouth North

I said, Sir, that I had drawn third place in the Ballot and that as I was not being called, I was free to speak on other subjects as well. That was the point I was raising. There are other matters in connection with the conduct of the war to which I would like to draw attention. I hope no one will think there is any sinister motive in my coming here to-day in uniform. It is a matter of convenience to me to do so, because I have to leave directly after the Debate to attend a Warships Week affair. These Warships Weeks are the only active things I am allowed to do now towards the war effort. It is a very great disappointment to me that I am not able to continue to direct combined operations against the enemy, but the leisure I enjoy has given me a lot of useful experience. I have been North, South, East and West all over the country, and I have been shocked to find how very far the whole attitude of the country is from the 100 per cent. endeavour. That 100 per cent. endeavour is absolutely essential if we are to achieve a speedy victory and not prolong the agony.

The First Lord of the Admiralty expressed a great deal of complacency about what is happening in the dockyards and shipyards. I would advise him to go more among them, if that is his opinion. I have been among them, and I can say that there is nowhere near 100 per cent. work going on in the shipyards. I can say this from first-hand experience. Officers and men of the Royal Navy come in to have their ships repaired and are absolutely disgusted with the slow progress of the work on their ships. They see men idling, and men drawing out their work on board ships to get overtime and draw very high wages—far higher wages than anything they could possibly earn themselves. This is building up a frightful feeling, just as it did in the last war, a feeling that will cause great trouble when the war comes to an end. But it is no good talking about after the war; we have to win the war first, and we can win it only by an effort of 100 per cent., and that applies right to the centre. It is high time that the country woke up to the necessity of putting everything into its effort.

For the last three years I have tried hard to get someone to take an interest in real national service. The nation is at war. I said in September, 1939—and this has reference to work in the dockyards: Equality of sacrifice in relation to wages is a very difficult but not an insoluble question, and I suggest that under a real system of national service basic payment should be made at the same rate for each grade of employment during the war and that there should be family and rent allowances, and arrangements to meet any contractual obligations undertaken prior to the war, so that those who have been thrifty and provident in peace-time should not be penalised by their war service."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th September, 1939; col. 1584, Vol. 351.] If we could do something of that sort now we should have the whole nation in. I listened to many speeches yesterday with which I was in full agreement, but I did not try to intervene in the Debate because I did not think I could say anything of value in Public Session. I have brought to the notice of the First Lord matters which I hope he will take to heart, because I have a great deal of practical experience in the prosecution of war, which has been denied to those on whom he relies for advice.

I was interested in the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Squadron-Leader Donner) about the London Naval Treaty, because I have been speaking about that in this House for eight years. My maiden speech was on that subject. The man who was largely responsible for forcing the London Naval Treaty upon the country was not in the House at the time, but is sitting now on the Front Bench representing the Navy. The hon. and gallant Member for Basingstoke has shown how that Treaty is really responsible for our troubles to-day. I have often heard the First Lord defend it, but to-day he has told us of the frightful difficulties under which the Navy started the war and the tremendous burden it has had to bear because of the shortage of ships. I think he is a very courageous man to come here and speak like that. I should not have had the courage to do it if I had had so much to do with saddling the country with the London Naval Treaty.

The First Lord is constitutionally responsible for the advice which the Admiralty gives to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister told us quite definitely on Tuesday of the great power which the Chiefs of Staff exercise and of their freedom from interference. He said that he did not interfere in their deliberations and recommendations, or something to that effect. I will not delay the House by quoting the passage; it is in the. OFFICIAL REPORT. I remember that when he said that there was a sort of ironical groan. But it is true. I have seen it happen. Over and over again the Prime Minister has felt that he must reject his own inclinations in regard to matters on which he had received expert advice because he had to he bound by the advice of his constitutional Service chiefs. He then gave us a list of the various committees, which he said operate flexibly, in his war machine. You cannot make war by committees. You must have someone ready to accept great responsibilities. When a project is put up to these committees—I think he mentioned three of them—even when it has the approval of the Chiefs of Staff, they find out all its difficulties and dangers and persuade the Chiefs of Staff that the odds against success are too heavy. How can the Prime Minister go against the advice of his constitutional advisers under the existing system? I assure you, I have never known him do so in this war, and I cannot recall an occasion in the last war.

Readiness to accept responsibility is the whole essence of the conduct of war. We hear a great deal about youth and the need for youth, and of course it is a war for youth, and when you find a man who is ready to accept responsibility, he should receive strong support from the Board of Admiralty But how under the present system, with that dreadful thing called wireless, is a young man to exer- cise initiative, when the wireless not only gives him orders, but listens to what he is saying to other people? I have suffered from that. I could give examples if it would interest the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "It would."] You may remember the sinking of the "Aboukir," "Cressy," and "Hogue," an action in which we lost 1,40o men, more than were lost in the Battle of Trafalgar. I happened to be able to go to sea with a force of 20 destroyers and a light cruiser, and I thought it would be a splendid opportunity to hit the enemy back off Ems. I thought that when the people read next morning of this awful loss of life they might be cheered if we could tell them that we had sunk three or four enemy destroyers. I felt that it was no use telling the Admiralty, but thought I ought to let the Commander-in-Chief know. I told him what I was going to do, and he said he would send some cruisers to support me at dawn and told me not to stay too late. My wireless conversation with the Commander-in-Chief was heard at Ipswich, was telephoned to the Admiralty, and I received a peremptory order to return to harbour at once. I am sure that those few enemy destroyers could not have escaped.

How is an officer to exercise any initiative under such conditions? It happened over and over again in the Norwegian campaign. Ships were actually going to follow the Germans into Bergen, and it was just a matter of seconds whether a wireless message would reach them in time. It reached them in time, and they were recalled, but what a difference it might have made if it had not arrived in time and the German ships there had been destroyed. Think of the liberties the Germans took with us. Take the case of the "Renown." With some destroyers she fought a gallant action against a force superior to her in gun-power. She drove them off and prevented them going into Narvik, and was then going into Narvik to destroy the nine German destroyers which were there. She was stopped at the last minute by wireless. Then a gallant Captain commanding four destroyers was given the option of going in to attack. Of course he did not hesitate to attack a vastly superior force, and lost his life, and we lost two destroyers. Then a day or two later the "Warspite" was sent in with destroyers to do what the "Renown" could have done days before. It is impossible for men to act with initiative if they are ruled by wireless from Whitehall all the time.

The First Lord has given us a wonderful survey of what our splendid Navy and Mercantile Marine have been doing throughout the war. It fills me with pride, but I am not throwing him any bouquets because he is constitutionally responsible for the bad advice which the Admiralty gives to the Prime Minister. As I have shown, and it is a fact, the Prime Minister acts on that advice. Let us look now at the explanations given regarding the sending-out of the two ships to the Far East. They bear no sort of relation to the exercise of sea power in modem war. Again, look at the explanations—given on the advice of the Naval Staff—of the passage of the three German ships through the Straits, and that they are far better placed in the Baltic than at Brest. That may be right, but one has already heard nasty rumours floating about to the effect that we let them go through because we do not want the Russians to win. Of course it is a lie, but still that is the sort of thing that is being said. I cannot help thinking that the advice to the Prime Minister from the Admiralty in this connection may prove just as unfortunate as the advice he received early in April last year when he announced in this House—I criticised it, and I remember the Lord Privy Seal also criticised it—how greatly advantaged we were by the German attack on Norway. We ought to have been, but we were not because there was not a properly aggressive spirit in the Admiralty.

I am full of admiration for the way in which the Admiralty carries on its daily task. It is colossal, it is wonderful; but we cannot win the war by passive defence. It is high time that some more vicious, angry, furious, aggressive action was taken. There have been opportunities for carrying out aggressive exploits, I assure you. I know that the Prime Minister wanted to carry them out, but then this chain of committees—which I hope my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Privy Seal will look into and examine carefully—will find every possible excuse for not doing anything. It is their duty to examine proposals and point out the difficulties and dangers. So it goes on. You cannot make war by committee. I do hope that the Prime Minister will reconsider what he said when he told us that these committees, on which the process of the war machine is based, would proceed exactly as it had been doing without any fundamental change. In the last war again and again things were done which no committee would have dreamt of approving. They were prepared in secret, and the country woke up one morning and found that something surprising had been done which greatly cheered them up. But no committee would have approved in advance of the action taken. I do feel, and I think I am speaking for the country, that when this reconstruction of the Government took place there was a strong feeling that it was about time that there was a shake-up at the Admiralty. After all, the First Lord is responsible for the Admiralty. I hope if he remains there he will shake it up good and hearty and get it out of the committee complex which stifles offensive action.

I should like to turn to the Amendment which stood in my name. I do not believe that anyone of my generation, certainly in the Navy, has had the opportunity of becoming as air-minded as I am. I started flying with the Royal Naval Air Service in 1912—I was head of the Submarine Service at the time—to see if it was a fact that submarines could be located and destroyed by air power. I continued to do that quite often. In 1918, when I commanded the Dover Patrol I had a magnificent air service, the finest in the world. We were able to train our young men very intensively before we let them loose on the enemy, and they were the admiration of everybody. There was a shore-based part in the Dover Straits which included enormous Handley-Page night bombers. No one else had anything like them. They were coveted by the Royal Flying Corps to carry out long-distance raiding. I had a large number of marines to provide a military force; I had 300 ships and this splendid air force, thus having control over the three Services—land, sea and air—working in close cooperation. When there was a great battle on shore I placed the whole of my organisation at the disposal of the military Commander-in-Chief. I wish to make that point clear. The daily task goes on, and when a battle comes—it may be at long intervals—everything must be flex- ible and ready to go into battle under the man who is conducting it. When the great offensive was started in 1918 I worked in close co-operation with the military Commander-in-Chief, Sir Douglas Haig.

I learned in 1918 that there should be no such thing as dual control in war. On 1st April, 1918, this splendid Naval air force was broken up, and placed under the Royal Flying Corps, which became the R.A.F.; Naval Officers and men had to take military ranks. The whole organisation was militarised. We took it all in good part, and though I had operational command there was the dual control. Squadrons were taken away, and I could not make full use of them. Few people know that at that time we had 2,800 Naval aircraft, and 55,000 personnel, all engaged on the sea affair, convoys, etc. When the Royal Air Force was formed, the Navy did riot get a chance of becoming air-minded as it ought to have done. Directly after the war I went to the Battle Fleet. There was a Royal Air Force attached to the squadron. It is almost unbelievable that in these aircraft which were part of the Fleet even the observers had to be Royal Air Force personnel. The Commander-in-Chief said to me that we had to realise there was no such thing as naval air power for us. He said "It is absurd; how can I be responsible for the conduct of the Fleet when I am dependent on some young R.A.F. observer to direct my fire and carry out my reconnaissance?" Shortly afterwards I was at the Admiralty, and from then on I con-tinned to fight for what I knew to he necessary. The Navy must have aircraft to carry out the daily task, and if battle comes within reach of R.A.F. shore-based aircraft the Navy should have the full co-operation of the R.A.F.

There was a wonderful example of that recently when the German cruisers went through the Channel. The R.A.F. threw their aircraft into the battle. A number of splendid young men lost their lives. The Germans protected their fleet skillfully with a cover of fighter aircraft. Those aircraft working with the German fleet were undoubtedly under the direction of the German commander-in-chief for the operation. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) had a good deal to say about it, so I do not propose to go into it. What he said bears out my contention.

It happened that the only aircraft that the Navy could throw into this battle were six old Swordfish, which were at a training station. Most gallantly, the pilots went out to what they knew was certain death. In the same way, pilots of the R.A.F. went with equal gallantry into the action. But those machines were not under the Navy, but under the R.A.F. What sort of comparison is there between these Swordfish and the great four-engined flying destroyers that the Japanese use? Is it folly to think that, if the Navy had had its way, we should have been as well off as the Japanese when we started the war? We started with 268 practically obsolete machines. The Japanese Navy had over 3,000 machines.

Shortly after I came into this House, I went to America. One of my principal objects was to see what the American naval air force was like. It was 100 per cent. ahead of ours. I flew across America with eight different commercial pilots, five of whom had actually been trained in aircraft carriers and formed a valuable Naval reserve. We had none. We were not even allowed to train our petty officers. Every sort of difficulty was put in the way. This does not mean that there is any sort of feeling between the young men in the Navy and the Royal Air Force. In fact, the whole organisation for working dual control was based on what is known as the Keyes-Trenchard agreement, and it worked fairly well. There has always been great admiration in the Navy for the young men in the R.A.F., and the best of good feeling exists.

Photo of Mr Austin Hopkinson Mr Austin Hopkinson , Mossley

I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member does not wish to misrepresent what I said. I said that there was no ill-feeling, but that his action was likely to create it—which is quite different.

Photo of Admiral Sir Roger Keyes Admiral Sir Roger Keyes , Portsmouth North

I think it is much more likely that the hon. Member's action will create ill-feeling. The fact that there is no ill-feeling does not mean that the Air Ministry is right in depriving the Navy of its own air force; but Boards of Admiralty have been exceedingly weak in failing to insist on the Navy having what everybody recognises the Navy must have to-day, namely, as my Amendment puts it: complete control over all the aircraft it requires to fulfil its responsibilities. It is going to be very difficult to put it into force now, but I would like to make a suggestion to the First Lord. I am sorry that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) is not here, because he, under the inspiration of the present Prime Minister, then First Lord, built up the Royal Naval Air Service. I would ask the First Lord to set up a committee—much as I hate committees, that is the only way—to form a real Naval Air Service. It is said that we cannot do that in war-time. I think it could be done, with the good will of both Services. In 1918, there was a certain amount of feeling. Naval officers had to adopt military uniform and take military titles. That is not necessary now. The gallant young men who do all the fighting and the flying are the best of friends, and the necessary R.A.F. officers could be seconded to the Naval Air Service. I think that, with the good will which exists between the two Services, a Naval Air Service could be formed. It involves only a fraction of the Air Force that we possess now, but that fraction is essential for the exercise of sea power. Whoever has the responsibility for exercising sea power must have complete control of the air power which is essential for the Navy.

I wish I had the eloquence of my right hon. Friend who put the case for the Army so well yesterday, but I am sure that everybody realises that I have been steadfast in my political life to one object, of trying to make the Navy as efficient as possible, and strong enough to fulfil the great responsibilities that it has to undertake.

When I speak at these Warship Weeks I never hesitate to tell people exactly what I think. I never hesitate—I see the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) is not here now, but I would say this just the same if he were here—to ask a Communist what he was doing to help the war effort when Russia had an arrangement with Germany, and Britain was standing alone. I did not hesitate, in a Welsh valley the other night, to tell the miners that I thought it was absolutely rotten of them to strike. I did not know whether it was due to the fault of the management or the workpeople, but I told them what I thought about them striking while sailors and soldiers were dying. I do that freely, and the extraordinary thing is that no one minds, so long as one says these things sincerely and earnestly. If the Prime Minister would listen to me—and I assure hon. Members that he has not done so during the war, and I hope my friends in the Navy will take note of this—I would advise him to go to the microphone and talk about she slackness and to tell people that it has to stop. If he would tell them that, and then introduce some real form of national service, with real equality of sacrifice, on the lines I have suggested, the whole country would be ranged behind him.

Photo of Sir Percy Harris Sir Percy Harris , Bethnal Green South West

My excuse for cutting in on a Service debate is that for two years I was chairman of the Select Committee charged with the duty of inquiring into the administration of the Admiralty. As my right hon. Friend the First Lord knows, I had remarkable opportunities of seeing the inner workings of the machine, at Whitehall and at the depots, yards, and factories under the control of the Admiralty. Let me say, right away, that I was immensely impressed with the spirit and enthusiasm of every branch of the Service, their loyalty to the Navy, and their keenness in their work. I also received encouragement from every branch of the Service, accompanied by a readiness to listen to criticism and a quickness to respond to suggestions made in good faith. I can now speak with greater freedom. I am no longer on that Committee, and I look back with immense satisfaction to those two years of happy work and experience gained from enjoying the great confidence of the Navy, of the men "who go down to the sea in ships" and those who are responsible for the organisation. Sometimes I have asked them how could they explain their general efficiency? and the answer I have invariably received has been that they have 300 years of tradition behind them, dating back to the immortal Pepys, and that that tradition still remains, from the Admiral of the Fleet down almost to the junior office boy at the Board of Admiralty. I would like to pay them this tribute. But, inevitably age has its disadvantages. Everything is not necessarily perfect. I made suggestions to the First Lord and our Committee made suggestions—many of which were welcomed—in order to adapt the Admiralty and the Navy to modern conditions of war.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the gallant Admiral the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, North (Sir R. Keyes). He is always apologising to us for his lack of eloquence, but let me assure him that the simplicity of his language and the straightforward way he puts his points are far more impressive than any spate of words. We know that he speaks from knowledge and that he is guided by his heart and his head—a very valuable combination. I think that the House and the country are impressed by the fact that, in spite of what some people say, he has made good his case for the control by the Navy of a strong, powerful air force, the need for which has been shown by the events, not only of Norway, but of the Channel.

I want to speak not of high strategy,—I do not feel qualified to do that—but of some of my impressions of the administration of the Admiralty itself. I found it efficient, but rather slow and cumbersome. That is the criticism that one can apply to most of the Civil Service. It takes a long time to get to the end of the passage. Sooner or later, some suggestions receive a reply, but it is not a matter of days or weeks, but, only too often, a matter of months. I suggest riot only to the First Lord, but to the heads of every War Department that a real and honest attempt must be made to simplify procedure and speed-up the machine. All these processes, checks and endorsements by various Departments when quick decisions are vital ought to be simplified. There is great room in every Service Department to introduce business experts to overhaul the work. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) thinks that he is an expert on every possible subject, but I think I am equally justified in saying that we ought to have business experts, thoroughly to overhaul some of the organisation in this Department as well as in every other Service Department.

I do not decry the Civil Service. On the contrary—certainly as regards the Admiralty—I was very much impressed by their efficiency and ability. What impressed me and all the Members of my Committee was the inferior position of the executive branch. That is a criticism which applies to a great number of Government Departments. There is an impression in the Admiralty—in fact it is recognised by the salary scale—that the executive is something inferior to the administrative branch. The Director of Contracts, the Engineer in Chief, the metallurgists, all the technical experts on whom the running of the ships so vitally depend, are in an inferior status, while the Civil servant can rise to a position carrying a salary of £3,000 a year. The salary of these vital executive officers is generally not more than £1,800 a year. That system wants changing.

The Admiralty and all the Service Departments ought to draw inside their boards the best experts available and recognise their ability and capacity by putting them on an equal status with the Civil Service grade. That has long been done in most of the great municipal corporations. In the L.C.C., for instance, their architect, engineer and medical officer have the same scale of salary as the Chief Clerk. I put that suggestion forward as something which really requires to be dealt with, and, in doing so, I refer specially to the position of the metallurgist—and here I speak with some knowledge, having had the advantage of some information on the matter—upon whom depends the armour-plate of the ship. Only one metallurgist has recently been appointed, and I understand that his scale of salary is comparatively modest, when you consider that upon him depends the safety of vitally important ships, valuable lives and the effectiveness of the Fleet. That is a matter to which the First Lord might well give his personal attention.

There has been in recent months very severe criticism of the way some of our ships have stood up to attacks from the air, compared with the apparent invulnerability of German ships of war. The "Bismarck" wanted a lot of killing, but, on the other hand, some of our ships seemed to go down almost after the first hit. I cannot help wondering, in view of my experience of the work of the Admiralty, whether this is not in some measure due to the technical side of the Admiralty always putting their technical experts in such an inferior position and consequently making that branch of the Service unattractive. That is only a criticism of the administration of the Admiralty at headquarters. One of my most interesting experiences has been in visiting His Majesty's dockyards, most of them dating back for 200 or 300 years, with a fine tradition, and the pride and glory of the Navy. But my general impression was that much of what was a fine tradition is to-day essentially out of date, and run on antiquated and old-fashioned lines and badly wants bringing into line with modern practice and to be brought up to the standards of the best private shipyards.

I know that the Admiralty are very sensitive about this matter, and that they are very touchy when one makes any comparison between naval yards and private yards. All I can say is that in these days one must pool information, ideas, and knowledge, and that the Admiralty would gain if there were a much freer exchange of ideas between the naval yards and the private yards. One of the most cherished traditions of the Navy is that the superintendent of a naval dockyard must always be an executive naval officer. I cannot help thinking that this is an unnecessary adherence to tradition. There is need to draw into the service of the Admiralty some of the highly trained men available in the private yards, for these men could bring more modern practices into the running of these great businesses on which the safety and efficiency of the Navy so much depend. If there must be a naval officer as superintendent of a naval dockyard, I cannot understand why more use cannot be made of engineer admirals. Nowadays they go through the same training and through the same college, but there is still an adherence to Victorian traditions, and however good an engineer officer may be, however able and trained in his job, in a naval dockyard he must always be under an executive officer. I ask the First Lord, who has had great business experience, to sweep away some of these traditions. Nowadays a dockyard is a great business undertaking, a great producer, a mass of machinery, and common sense suggests that the man who is in charge of that machinery and of the workmen in the yard, if he cannot be a man who has had business training, should be, at any rate, a man with engineering knowledge and experience. I am sure that such a change would be to the advantage of the production of the yards.

The same thing applies to the Board of Admiralty. I am treading on delicate ground when I say that, but to me it is amazing that in 1942, when engineering is so vital in the organisation of the Navy, the Board of Admiralty should hold firmly to the line that on no account can an engineer admiral, however capable he may be, be admitted into the sacred circle. I know that the common answer given to this argument is that one might as well have a paymaster or a marine officer or a medical officer. But the analogy is nonsense. Considering that the famous Admiral Brown has been brought into the Ministry of Supply, considering this recognition of the capacity of engineer officers when production is at issue, that prejudice ought to be broken down and the equality of the engineering side of the Navy, when it is to the advantage of the Navy, be recognised and accepted. Such recognition would result in increased efficiency in the Board of Admiralty. These are matters which the First Lord should decide personally. I fully agree that the responsibility is on the First Lord—I think he accepts his responsibility—and that he cannot take cover behind the advice of the Sea Lords or his technical advisers. I ask the First Lord to follow a policy that will bring the Navy up to modern standards.

There is only one other matter with which I want to deal, and it is a matter which worried me very much a year ago—namely, the question of contracts with outside yards. In ship repairing the practice that is almost generally applied is to give the contracts on a cost-plus-percentage basis. I have protested about this in the past, and I am satisfied that general adherence to this practice is not really necessary. It is not, of course, the practice in regard to the construction of new ships. It is argued that in the case of repairs, as speed is essential, the line of least resistance is to hand over the ship on the basis of cost-plus-percentage. Only last week there was a revelation in Liverpool of what results from that kind of contract, and what was happening there was discovered only after many months.

I am assured by shipowners that in the vast majority of cases it would be practicable to get ships repaired on the basis of a fixed price, subject, of course, to variations where alterations have to be made. The advantage would not only be increased protection of the public purse, but a much more favourable impression on the part of the men working in the yards, for there is in the yards an undercurrent of feeling that it is not necessary for men to worry about the cost because the Government will pay, and that the larger the cost the larger the profit to the "boss." I believe that even now, in the third year of the war, the First Lord might well investigate whether it would not be to the advantage of the Admiralty, from the point of view both of time and of cost, to extend the principle of fixed-price contracts to ship repairing, and thus do away with the suspicion which the public has that the nation is being robbed, because the cost-plus-per centage system tends to cause extravagance in the use of labour and eliminates the stimulus for getting the work done speedily, with consequent loss to the nation.

Photo of Mr Austin Hopkinson Mr Austin Hopkinson , Mossley

I apologise to the right hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) for the interruption which I made in his speech, but I assure him it was forced from me against my will. He suggested the awful remedy of bringing someone called a business expert into a Government Department, and in spite of myself, I am afraid that in the circumstances I could not suppress a groan, because I know something of business experts from my own experience.

I have risen for the purpose, first, of answering a few of the points made by the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes). I am sorry he is not present at the moment, but I feel sure that, in due course, he will come back to the Chamber, if he is within the precincts of the House, because nobody can accuse him of refusing to face fire. I am afraid the hon. and gallant Gentleman has altogether missed the fact that this war is a very different matter from the last war, and that experience in the last war is apt to be, I will not say a far from safe guide, but a very dangerous sort of guide to the present war. The hon. and gallant Gentleman's experience of the Fleet Air Arm dates from the days when air power was a very different thing from what it is to-day, and in that connection I should like to draw attention to a certain plan of operations, to which he has referred more than once in the House and referred to to-day, with which, owing to circumstances, I was myself concerned.

Unfortunately, owing to the Official Secrets Act, I cannot give any details, or any hint as to what the exact operation was, but I was assured that the operation was impracticable and dangerous, and that even if it succeeded, it would not have any favourable strategic effect on the war. It so happened that, owing to a curious concatenation of circumstances, I, a humble "two-wavy striper" in the Navy, was able to put a spoke in the wheel and prevent it from being carried out. I am not entitled to criticise even the tactical operations because as a "two-wavy striper" I am one of the humblest creatures in the Navy. In the technical branch I come in a caste midway between a sweeper and a grass-cutter and I wear two of those squiggly things on my arm, which constantly remind us what worms we really are. I cannot presume to criticise my superior officers in the Navy and the present Naval Staff. Since the outbreak of war, however, I have been intimately concerned with the Fleet Air Arm. The point which strikes me in connection with my hon. and gallant Friend's suggestion is that he has not the faintest realisation of what taking over Coastal Command means in actual practice.

It so happens that, by good luck, I was once in a position in which even I could help to persuade the Co-ordinator of Defence to make certain changes, whereby sea-borne aircraft, at any rate, were handed over to the Navy. At the beginning of the war, I was at a workshop at one of our air stations and I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that it was not an easy task on the technical side. To take over Coastal Command at the present time would probably involve merely taking over the personnel and putting them into dark blue uniform. We should have to take over the personnel as well as the aircraft because the Navy has not the trained men for the job. Therefore the House will see, in spite of what my hon. and gallant Friend has said, the right policy was to get that degree of control over the operational movements of Coastal Command which would satisfy the requirements of the Navy. As the House ought to know, the Navy have that degree of control. I sec that my hon. and gallant Friend has entered the Chamber. I was referring to the practical difficulties of carrying out the policy which he advocates. I was referring to my own experience at the beginning of the war when the taking over of sea-borne aircraft and air stations was part of my duty. I was pointing out in the very humblest way the immense difficulties in carrying it out. I suggest that to take over Coastal Command at the present time would in actual practice simply involve changing the personnel from light blue into dark blue uniform because the Navy have not got the men to put in their place. My hon. and gallant Friend also referred to the recent operations in the Channel and asked why we sent those Swordfish squadrons into action. We did so because we did not have anything else. We did not have such good torpedo bombers as Coastal Command. What he does not seem to be aware of is that if we had Coastal Command under the complete control of the Navy, we should have been just as short of the proper aircraft as the Royal Air Force.

Photo of Admiral Sir Roger Keyes Admiral Sir Roger Keyes , Portsmouth North

Why? I understand that in July, 1937, Mr. Chamberlain announced that the handing over of Coastal Command was being considered. It was nearly done, but he then went on to say that it had been decided to leave Coastal Command under the complete operational and administrative control of the Royal Air Force.

Photo of Mr Austin Hopkinson Mr Austin Hopkinson , Mossley

My hon. and gallant Friend has raised two separate points simultaneously. He is referring to a time when this country was at peace, whereas at the present time this country is at the crux of hostilities. The two things are quite different. To take over Coastal Command in peace would be very different from doing so now.

I think it only right that the House should know the reason why Coastal Command were insufficiently equipped with proper torpedo-dropping aircraft. It was not the fault of the Air Ministry. It was the fault entirely of the Ministry of Aircraft Production. If there were any serious mistakes in this operation, and I am not going to admit that there were, then I am sorry to say the two Services must share the responsibility. Everyone seems to think that the Navy never makes mistakes and that if there is any trouble it must be the Air Force which is at fault. This attitude of mind may be a good thing in the case of a junior member of the Service but I do protest when an experienced officer adopts that puerile attitude towards these things—the attitude that the Navy can never be guilty of mistakes or blunders and that it must be the other Service which is at fault. As I say, the fault, if fault there be, lies with the Ministry of Aircraft Production, because it was lack of material more than anything else which led to the unfortunate incident in the Channel.

It is not necessary that a scapegoat should be found on this particular occasion. Let us see what happened in actual practice. It had been anticipated for weeks that these ships would attempt to move towards their own ports and every possible precaution, with the material and the trained crews available, was taken. The procedure of Admiralty operational control over Coastal Command is simply this: if operations are contemplated, the Admiralty or the Naval staff inform Coastal Command what they want done and Coastal Command then makes its dispositions to meet those requirements. The House does not generally know that naval officers are with Coastal Command to watch these dispositions on behalf of the Navy. When agreement has been reached, these operations are put in hand by the A.O.C. and, if they are wrong, I am sorry to say that the Navy is equally responsible. If mistakes are made subsequently, that is another matter, but we have no reason to suppose that the advantages would be any greater if Coastal Command came under the direct control of the Admiralty as regards supply, training and all those other matters since the personnel would be practically the same.

Photo of Mr Arthur Woodburn Mr Arthur Woodburn , Clackmannan and Eastern

It is very interesting to hear the explanation of the hon. Member. No matter if the two Services were fully equipped with bombing and torpedo-carrying aircraft, if the battleships were properly screened by destroyers and other surface craft, would it be possible for them to destroy the battleships in such a case?

Photo of Mr Austin Hopkinson Mr Austin Hopkinson , Mossley

I cannot give a full answer to that without giving the House one point on which, I am sorry to say, my own Service, or rather the Admiralty, is to blame, and I am not going to do that. Possibly, when I have been duly cashiered for what I am saying to-day, I shall be able to give the House some further information. The position is that the Navy have to take their share of responsibility and they cannot throw the whole blame on to Coastal Command. The failure was largely a failure of material, and mainly a failure of the Minis- try of Aircraft Production, and I am sorry to say that, on one particular point, the blame for failure of material must be imputed to the Admiralty. Torpedo-dropping aircraft are not provided with weapons which are adequate to modern warfare. As for the Swordfish squadron, even if the Navy had taken over Coastal Command, lock, stock and barrel, no more torpedo-droppers would have been in existence than were in existence on the occasion in question.

Then, it is said, as Coastal Command had these torpedo bombers, why did not they have greater success against the enemy? To some extent that was due to the unfortunate opening of operations in far waters of the world and the fact that a large number of trained crews—and the training of these crews is a prolonged and difficult process—were wanted elsewhere, and therefore Coastal Command was deprived of their services. Another thing was that a large number of squadrons had been "standing to" for weeks on end and therefore their training was, naturally, impaired. You cannot train squadrons, particularly of that type, while they are "standing to" in imminent expectation of being required immediately for operational purposes. Therefore there is no doubt that the squadrons used on that particular occasion were not nearly so highly trained as we should wish them to be. It may be said that, supposing the Navy had had charge of these operations, all the crews would have been highly trained, but that is not the case. The Fleet Air Arm now is dependent for a considerable part of its training upon the Royal Air Force and there is no reason to suppose that, by taking over Coastal Command, that training difficulty will be solved and that we shall not be even more dependent, because of our greater personnel, upon the training which can be provided by the Royal Air Force.

For all those reasons, I ventured recently to suggest that those who, at this critical moment in our fortunes, were endeavouring by tooth and nail to get the Navy to demand—not to request but to demand—the handing over of Coastal Command were doing no good service of any sort to either of the two Services concerned. We can get on all right as we are. It is not perfect but the essential thing is there. Admiralty has operational control over Coastal Command. The Admiralty, however, cannot be saddled with the practically insuperable task of taking over, in the middle of hostilities, a whole Service of that sort, initiating new training and all that would be involved in such a taking over. When I referred to people whose motives seemed to be malicious I was obviously not referring to the hon. and gallant Gentleman but to certain politicians who, undoubtedly, are and have been using this for the last 18 months for their own purposes, perhaps to gratify spite against a colleague in the Government. Fortunately, that danger is now over at any rate for the present, but I know the disloyalty and the difficulties placed in the way of one Minister by another in the past. This "stunt," for I can call it nothing else, came to an end with the discovery that the Navy did not want to quarrel with the Air Force and to serve the private purposes of outsiders.

Photo of Commander Robert Bower Commander Robert Bower , Cleveland

My admiration for the "wavy Navy" has always been very deep and was much increased by the speech that I have just heard. It is certainly a speech which no regular naval officer with any amount of knowledge would have the temerity to make. I offer my sincere congratulations to the lion. Member who made it, but he has of course entirely missed the point. All that my hon. arid gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes)—under whom I have been so proud to serve and to whom I think the Mouse pays too little attention, although perhaps he does not always present his case as well as he might—really meant was that a great many of these disasters would not have occurred had the Navy had the making of its own Air Force. We all know that Coastal Command has now been handed over to the operational control of the Admiralty. I suppose I know it as well as anyone because I was at Coastal Command headquarters for the first 10 months of the war, and I can vouch for it that under Sir Frederick Bowhill, then Commander-in-Chief of Coastal Command, the co-operation was 100 per cent. effective. I do not think operations could have taken place any more efficiently if, at that time, Coastal Command had been under the command of the Admiralty. But I know that Coastal Command had not been provided by the Royal Air Force with the machines that it would have had if it had been under the control of the Admiralty before the war.

It should be known that at the beginning of the war Coastal Command consisted almost entirely of a force of Hudson machines, which are primarily commercial machines used for reconnaissance. They are usable to a certain extent as bombers, but Coastal Command had no striking force. It had no bombers and no fighters and it was just beginning to get some modern torpedo-carrying aircraft. Not only that, but about two years ago—I do not think there is any harm in repeating it now—there was a period of several months when we were getting delivery of no flying boats whatever, because the Air Ministry had decided, before the war, that all such reconnaissance would be carried out by shore-based aircraft; consequently this hiatus occurred in the spring of 1940, when there were no flying boats coming through at all. It seems to me ridiculous to suppose. that had the Admiralty had control of its own Air Force, the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty would have allowed this very essential arm to fall into such a state as regards material.

There is no question of jealousy between the Services. I have spent much of my time in the Service in collaboration with the Royal Air Force. I was one of the few naval officers who passed through their staff college. I never found any ill-feeling. Where there were differences of opinion they were upon strategy. You got naval officers who rather sneered at the Air Force, but, on the other hand, you got airman who said that air power was the only thing that mattered and that wars were going to be won by bombing—the old strategic bombing idea which carries too much weight at the present time. All the discussions that took place, however, were friendly and we all realised that only a war could show us who were right. The trouble we are up against in this war is that the war has shown us who is right and we have not applied the lessons. The Japanese have. One lesson became apparent at Taranto. There we inflicted heavy losses on the Italian fleet, and they would have been much heavier had our aircraft been more modern and the torpedoes they carried heavier. That lesson, either from the offensive or the defensive point of view, was not properly learned by us. Otherwise, we should not have sent those two ships the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse" out to a practically certain fate in the way that we did. We have been told a little about what happened. One excuse given was that they were relying upon cloudy weather. To anybody who knows that part of the world, that might have been all right in July, but in December it does not hold water at all. However, I do not want to go into details.

We shall, doubtless, in due course hear more about that unfortunate operation. We shall doubtless hear more about the escape of the "Scharnhost" and the "Gneisenau." I do not want to refer to that except to say one thing to my right hon. Friend the First Lord. I read in the Press a report of a speech of his in which he seemed to take the view that certain critics were criticising the officers and men who took part in the operation—officers and men who had been working up and down the Channel underneath the German aircraft umbrella, and so on. I can assure my right hon. Friend that I have searched the Press with some assiduity and have listened to speeches in this House, and outside of it, and I have found no such criticism. The criticism is directed at him and those whom he represents.

Photo of Mr Austin Hopkinson Mr Austin Hopkinson , Mossley

Is my hon. and gallant Friend moving away from the question of material? If so, I want to ask him a question. He referred to Taranto and said that we had ancient aircraft and inadequate weapons. Who is responsible for that? Surely not the Air Ministry?

Photo of Commander Robert Bower Commander Robert Bower , Cleveland

I have devoted the whole of my speech to trying to persuade my hon. Friend that there is no dispute between the two Services. It is he who is trying to make out there is a dispute. It does not matter who is responsible, the Admiralty or the Air Ministry. What I say is that had the Admiralty had control of its own Air Force, as it had in the last war, naturally the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty would have insisted, with all the great prestige that the Admiralty carries, on having the types of aircraft they wanted in the same way as they insist on having destroyers, submarines, or anything else.

Photo of Mr Austin Hopkinson Mr Austin Hopkinson , Mossley

The whole point is whether they have their own supply. If they are dependent on another Ministry for supply, the problem is different.

Photo of Commander Robert Bower Commander Robert Bower , Cleveland

I am not as familiar with intimate details of Supply as my hon. Friend is. I was saying that there was no question of criticising the officers and men who took part in this operation, but there was criticism, in many quarters, of my right hon. Friend the First Lord and those whose responsibility he shoulders in this House. I will not go further into that now because the matter is awaiting the decision of the Bucknill inquiry. I hope that, as far as possible, the result of that inquiry will be made public. There has been too little publicity. It is hard to balance in time of war how much one should say and how much one should not, but in this war, certainly in this period of the war, we have been told too little, as I think my right hon. Friend the First Lord will agree if he recalls his own speech in a Debate in May, 1940, on the Norwegian affair, when he asked a long list of questions of the present Prime Minister, who showed no resentment whatever.

I want to emphasise that this question of the control by the Navy of the Air Force connected with the Navy is one of vital importance, which must be settled. I sent to the Prime Minister when he was First Lord, a memorandum on the subject in December, 1939. He referred me to the Fifth Sea Lord, whom I saw. I spent the whole afternoon with him, and he said, "This matter must be settled now." It has not been settled yet. I am beginning to lose all hope that it will be settled. Co-operation, splendid as it is, can never be the same as integration. I have had a good deal of experience working with the Air Force, and perhaps the worst aspect of the whole thing is the sharp division of functions between the three main parts of the Royal Air ForceBomber Command, Fighter Command and Coastal Command. When I was at Coastal Command there was more lack of liaison and more difficulty between Bomber Command and Coastal Command than between the Navy and the Army. It is as if you had in the Air Force three different Services, and one of the great faults is that the Air Force is organised in that particular way which prevents co-operation being given to the Navy really effectively from any but Coastal Command. Bomber Command do not co-operate with the Navy because they do not know how to do so. The pilots are not trained in navigation over the sea, cannot recognise naval targets, and so on. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, Coastal Command had no striking force of bombers and no striking force of fighters. The Navy must have a force of all arms of the Air Force, and that cannot be got under the present organisation of the Royal Air Force and the present system of liaison between the two Services.

Photo of Sir Austin Hudson Sir Austin Hudson , Hackney North

I think it would be for the convenience of the House if I spoke now and tried to answer some of the questions which have been put by hon. Members That will not, of course, close the Debate. There is an interesting Amendment on the position in the shipyards to be moved shortly, and that will be replied to by my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty, who is particularly charged with that side of our activities in the Admiralty. The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), who opened the Debate, put some questions about merchant shipbuilding which I shall leave to the Financial Secretary to answer. He did, however, touch slightly on the question of the Royal Dockyards, and, as he knows from having been in the Admiralty, they are the particular responsibility of the Civil Lord.

Ever since the war began the numbers of men in the Royal Dockyards have increased week by week, that is, men employed on warship repair and, to a smaller degree, on warship building. We used to issue at first a weekly return, now a fortnightly return, of the workmen in these Royal Dockyards, because we feel it is so important to keep those numbers up and to see that they are properly balanced numbers, so that work is not impeded in any way. While mentioning that fact I think I might deal with the point about the Royal Dockyards made by the right hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris). He said that many of the Royal Dockyards are antiquated, having been built many years ago. That is true, but since the very heavy enemy attacks which have been made from the air opportunity has been taken to modernise them when we have been putting right the damage that has been done, and in various places to which these have been dispersed we have endeavoured to make use of more modern practice. One point I would make here is that more than once we have done our best to compare the costs in the Royal Dockyards with those prevailing in private yards, and I think I am right in saying that in every case the costs are as low as or lower than in the private yards. We look upon that as a matter of great importance.

The hon. Member who opened the Debate and a number of others have dealt with the question of co-ordination between the Services, particularly between the Royal Air Force and the Admiralty. I can assure him that that is a matter which is being very carefully considered at the moment. He will not expect me to deal with a subject which is at the moment before the Bucknill Committee. As announced by the Prime Minister, that committee, which is now sitting and is carrying out its deliberations as quickly as possible, is dealing with certain aspects of the movement through the Channel of the three German warships. One of the most important aspects of the matter with which they are dealing is whether the co-ordination between the two Services is as perfect as it might be. Obviously, if that committee finds that there is something wrong, then the whole matter will have to be considered not only by the Board of Admiralty and the Air Ministry but by the War Cabinet as a whole.

The hon. Member for North Camberwell and other Members have asked about the strength and equipment of the Fleet Air Arm. We have been asked why six rather aged aircraft were sent on that important operation in the Channel. I am afraid I find it not possible to make an answer in open Session. That is always the difficult position in which a Minister finds himself when answering for a Service department in war-time. If I were to go into the question of what aircraft we had, what improvements there were, the type of torpedo, where our aircraft carriers were and what they had on them, it would, unfortunately, give a lot of information to the enemy. Therefore, I am sure the House will acquit me of any desire to evade the question if I say that in public Session it is impossible without the danger of, unwittingly perhaps, giving something away, to give the information for which many hon. Members have asked.

Another point which has been raised by more than one Member is that of the vulnerability of our warships; whether the construction of the ships which have been sunk, like the "Prince of Wales," "Repulse" and "Barham," was as good as it could have been, and whether our ships are more vulnerable to attack, either from the air or by submarine, than German warships. As my right hon. Friend said in his opening statement, he has agreed to set up an independent committee to go into all those questions. That does not mean to say they have not been considered before. I can assure the House that the Board of Admiralty has most carefully considered those questions. My right hon. Friend is particularly anxious not only that the general public, but our officers and men who serve in these ships, should have confidence in the material which is provided for them. For that reason he has agreed that a committee should be set up to deal with this very vital problem, and I think it will deal also with the size and type of torpedo. Needless to say, in considering the question of vulnerability of our ships you have also to consider the size and type of torpedo which can sink those vessels.

Photo of Mr John Davidson Mr John Davidson , Glasgow Maryhill

Has any decision been arrived at with regard to the composition of the committee; and will any communication on the subject be made to the House?

Photo of Sir Austin Hudson Sir Austin Hudson , Hackney North

It is an Admiralty inquiry and it is doubtful whether the composition will be announced.

Photo of Mr John Davidson Mr John Davidson , Glasgow Maryhill

Does that mean that the committee will be composed of people who are at present serving in the Admiralty or will it be an independent committee selected from outside? The Minister said it was to be an independent committee.

Photo of Sir Austin Hudson Sir Austin Hudson , Hackney North

There will be an independent chairman and an independent shipbuilder on it. That is the whole point of it. It is not merely an inquiry held within the Department in the Admiralty. The hon. Member for North Camberwell asked about subsistence allowances for lieut.-commanders and commanders. I hope that he will allow me to go into this matter and let him know later on. We had a very pleasant speech from the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) who also talked on the question of divided control. Since then, we have had a number of speeches on the subject of the control of Coastal Command and many questions were asked. Coastal Command is now under the operational control of the Admiralty, and the liaison is very much closer now than it was at the beginning of the war.

I was asked about pensions relating to officers serving now in a lower rank. As the House knows, a large number of distinguished officers of the rank of admiral are doing a grand job of work as commanders of convoys. The answer is that the widow of an officer killed on active service receives double the pension of the rank in which the man was employed, or the pension of his proper rank, whichever is the greater. Such a widow therefore would never receive less than she would if the officer had died a natural death. I think that is a clear answer to the question. The hon. Member also asked me whether, owing to certain tragedies which had occurred in the last war, the Admiralty controlled, and arranged regular inspection, of its cordite. I can assure him that such an inspection is made by the Admiralty.

An interesting speech was made by the hon. and gallant Member for Basingstoke (Squadron-Leader Donner). All I can say about it is that his request for a Secret Session on the building programme will be passed to the proper quarter, although I very much doubt whether it would be wise, even in Secret Session, to discuss the building programme of capital ships, etc., in view of the great importance such information would be to the enemy if, by any chance whatever, it leaked out.

Photo of Sir Patrick Donner Sir Patrick Donner , Basingstoke

May I have the assurance for which I asked, that battleship construction will be given every possible priority over everything else in the present circumstances?

Photo of Sir Austin Hudson Sir Austin Hudson , Hackney North

I think I can give an assurance of that kind. Very careful priority machinery has been set up, and although we may have been disappointed on certain occasions I think that on the whole the Admiralty have a pull which is very satisfactory.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) made a helpful speech on the general aspects of the war. I think the House will excuse me if I do not deal at great length with the speech made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes), because much of what he said was really directed to the Prime Minister rather than to the First Lord of the Admiralty. He says, as he has said again and again, that he does not like committees, and he thinks the Prime Minister is overruled by committees so that the work of the Navy suffers in consequence. It is scarcely for the Admiralty to reply to that. I was, however, particularly interested in his opening remarks, when he said that the dockyards are not at present working 100 per cent. I think my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary will have something to say on that matter. I know the Royal Dockyards very well, having to visit them frequently, and it is true that more work could be done, but I think there should not be over-emphasis the other way. Very good work is being done in very difficult circumstances, and although, by means of Whitley Committees and other means, we are doing all we can to increase production, at the same time absenteeism and so forth is only a small percentage. As has been said in this House many times before, it is a small minority of men who are causing the trouble in this respect.

I do not think I can go into the whole question as to how far Coastal Command and other parts of the Royal Air Force should be under the control of the Admiralty. Some answer was given by my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson). It is a most complicated question, which I have heard discussed in this House on more than one occasion. We did hope that some solution, perhaps final, had been come to when the Fleet Air Arm was returned to the Admiralty. I would, however, agree with what has been said by practically every speaker to the effect that there is no ill-feeling between the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. Both services are working together in the greatest harmony.

One more word about the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Bethnal Green. He said that he was speaking as chairman of one of the sub-committees of a Committee of this House, and, having examined the Admiralty thoroughly, he wished to simplify procedure and speed up the machine. May I say to him that I am heartily in agreement with him. He and I have had many discussions on this very point. He also said that he thought that higly-skilled technical people in the Admiralty should be more highly paid, and, there again, I think he and I do not differ very much.

We have noted several of his valuable suggestions which, as I say, he has made as a former chairman of a sub-committee which deals particularly with the Navy and with the Admiralty. I have noted also his remarks on the question of engineer officers. One thing I would like to say is about the cost-plus-percentage contracts. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I think the House is in agreement here, that cost-plus-percentage contracts should, if possible, be avoided altogether. I have always said so and have tried to avoid them on the side of the Admiralty with which I am particularly connected. There are occasions when it is dreadfully difficult to avoid them. There are difficult and complicated repair jobs where you cannot tell what the job will be until you open it up, or some form of construction, such as the setting of a secret weapon where until you make some progress with the work you cannot really tell what it will involve. I am talking now of the works programme which is my particular responsibility. But a case reported in the newspapers the other day shows how undesirable such contracts are. In the Admiralty, we do our best to see that careful checks are kept to avoid this. I wish the House to know that I am in agreement—and I speak for the whole of the Admiralty—with the view that if it can be wholly avoided, and where it can be avoided, the cost-plus-percentage system should not be employed.

Photo of Sir Percy Harris Sir Percy Harris , Bethnal Green South West

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has been kind in his references to what I said and I am reluctant to interrupt him. May I put this point? The Admiralty has taken the line for some time now that you cannot apply the principle of a fixed price to ship repairs, and it is in ship repairs that the greatest abuses take place. I put forward the contention that in the majority of ship repairing cases—there are exceptions—it is still possible to have fixed prices.

Photo of Sir Austin Hudson Sir Austin Hudson , Hackney North

As regards ship repairing, I shall ask my hon. Friend and new colleague the Financial Secretary to investigate that question with a fresh mind. I have been worried about this. I am thinking particularly now of the works services, which are the responsibility of the Civil Lord. However hard you try to avoid them, there are cases in which it does not seem possible to avoid this form of contract, but the matter will be looked into.

Photo of Mr Arthur Woodburn Mr Arthur Woodburn , Clackmannan and Eastern

There is complaint of the inspection in regard to cost-plus-percentage contracts as being superficial. It is stated for example that merely a paper examination is sufficient to justify any number of hours or men being charged for certain jobs and that there is no sufficient check to see that those men are actually working on the job in respect of which they are charged. That causes great discontent among the men. They think the employers are getting money ad lib. It causes great loss of conscientiousness among the men if they feel that the thing is not being tightly supervised. I suggest an inspection staff of a rather stricter nature.

Photo of Sir Austin Hudson Sir Austin Hudson , Hackney North

There is an inspection staff now, but, as I said, that matter is to be overhauled and looked into by the Financial Secretary. I think I have answered all the questions I can that have been put in the Debate so far. The Debate is not now closed, but I hope that with my brief speech and with the very full statement made by my right hon. Friend the First Lord, the House will feel that we may perhaps pass to the Amendment.