Perhaps I shall be in Order as the Member who was interrupted by the sad occurrence which took place last week if I congratulate you, Sir, on your promotion in the interval. I will not try to pick up the thread which was so sadly cut. I will start with a clean slate, and I hope that my remarks will be regarded as acceptable by the First Lord. I was pleased to hear the high place which the First Lord, in presenting the Estimates, gave to the activities of the Fleet Air Arm. My particular branch of the Service has been under the fierce fire of criticism for many months past, and while I want to be critical of some aspects of it, I would point out that there is one thing conspicuously absent from all these criticisms; no recognition has been given to that small band of naval officers who have built up this Service, which was only relinquished to them shortly before the outbreak of war, into the remarkably fine Air Arm it is to-day. I feel that the House will want to recognise the activities of those men. They did not have an easy job. Probably they did not have sufficient power in their own Service. The Navy is not particularly, air-minded, even to-day; and, furthermore, I consider that the public wrangles continually going on as to who should own us cannot help the relations between the Admiralty and the Air Ministry which these men are charged to keep on a reasonable and friendly level. I would ask the First Lord to do everything he can to pull down the curtain on these rather undignified squabbles as to who is to run a purely Naval Air Service.
Now I wish to speak briefly upon one or two technical matters. More inaccurate statements are made about this very technical service than about any other. Since the retirement of my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson), I think I am the only active participant in the Service who is in the House, and perhaps I shall be forgiven if I do remark upon the types of aircraft which we have to use. Lord Brabazon wrote to "The Times" the other day to say that sea-borne aircraft must always be inferior to land-based aircraft. Lord Brabazon is a great expert, or was a great expert, and I think it is a pity when men of his eminence take up a rather defeatist view as far as we are concerned. I say quite definitely, having had some considerable experience of flying at sea, that there is no reason at all why ship-borne aircraft should not complete on very advantageous terms with land-based aircraft. There is no reason at all, except the assumption by many experts that it cannot be done. In can be done, and it is being done at the moment.
Our difficulty in the Naval Air Service has always been to get priority for aircraft. I speak from some experience. I want to give this only as an example, because to-day things are getting very much better, but when I was given a fighter squadron one of the aircraft which was given to me had already been shot down three times in the Battle of Britain and only then had it been adapted for naval use. That seems to me an indication of the sort of priority which we got in the past. I must underline that I am not complaining too ferociously about the position to-day, because it is getting better, but lest there should be any slipping back, lest there should be any idea that we can "make do" with second best, I hope the First Lord will remember my remarks on this subject. I cannot believe that inter-Service rivalry is such that in wartime one Service would deliberately try to do another down. I believe that our relations with the Air Ministry and with the Royal Air Force generally are extremely good, and I know that in the field anyway we get on remarkably well. We have our terms of reference, of course. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, the Naval Air Service is an integral part of the Navy. We have control over Coastal Command, and I do not think there is anyone inside either of the two Services who would want the position altered to-day, but what we do want is equal priority with the R.A.F. We do not want priority over the R.A.F.—that is definite—but we want priority, with a certain amount of give-and-take according to our special needs and their special needs, but this equality we must have.
If the one example I have given—and I could multiply it 100 times—is any indication, we have not had that priority in the past. I believe that we are getting it to-day, and I hope that the First Lord will see that there is no slipping back in this matter. I do not want him to appeal to the nation to give us better aircraft, I want him to give us the aircraft himself, always of a more modern type. When the R.A.F. were finished with Hurricane I's which fought in the Battle for Britain the Navy got Hurricane I's. When the R.A.F. had all the Spitfires they required, then we started to get some Spitfires. We have been asking for them for something like three years, and now we are getting them. I do not want the First Lord to think that we are in any way ungrateful, because we are tremendously pleased to get them, but now we want something even better than the Spitfires of two years ago. We want the newest ones. That is why I say that while we do not ask for priority over the R.A.F., we want parity with them.
This leads me to a point about the Ministry of Aircraft Production. In the past I believe that possibly we have not been adequately represented there, for no other reason than the question of numbers. I believe that our representatives were of the highest quality, the best the Service could produce, but the plain matter of fact was that for every one naval officer there were ten from other Services, and it was a physical impossibility that we should be represented in all the various ramifications of that great Ministry, which was built up largely from people owning allegiance to the R.A.F. In asking for this priority in aircraft, I hope that the First Lord of the Admiralty and his colleague the new Minister of Aircraft Production will see that we do not get a paper priority but a real priority, a priority to include all the things which go with an aircraft, like wireless sets, guns and so on. Although it might be said that exquisite fairness has been shown all along I rather suspect that from time to time there has crept into the relations of the Ministry of Aircraft Production attitude towards our Service the tendency to treat us as a poor relation. I should be glad to be contradicted on that, but we in the Service sometimes suspect that that is the case.
Before I leave types of aircraft, the First Lord in his speech talked a little about the Barracudas. I would not dream of adding anything to his remarks to-day, because I do not want to come under Defence Regulation 18B, but I should like the First Lord to say more about the progress of this aircraft, because it is very difficult for pilots flying aircraft like the Swordfish to maintain their morale year after year if they do not get modern and better aircraft. I ask him to give, from his great position, a message of encouragement to those men. He himself has said that they have produced a remarkable result with the old slow but sound aircraft which they have been flying, and I am sure that he will be able to give them such a message and that later on in the Debate he will send it out.
I would now like to diverge for a moment, because it might well be asked, What is the necessity for the Navy always to have the most up-to-date machines? The necessity is that the largest part of the Navy's effort, by far the largest part, is spent in convoying ships across the seas. It is a very great part indeed of the Navy's effort. If he wants to strike at the root of our strength, the enemy has to come to those convoys to hit us. We have concentrated far too much, in my opinion, upon getting the convoy through. We have concentrated upon defence without making an offensive defence. The enemy has to come to the convoy; that is where you can hit him and where you are bound to meet him. In protecting those convoys we should concentrate upon hitting him hard and strongly, so that he does not get back. Consider the convoys to Russia. The Hun has to get across 200 miles of extremely cold sea. Nobody likes getting shot down into the Arctic Ocean. He is 200 miles from land. Everybody's hand is against him. If he is shot down, there are no destroyers to pick him up; yet many of those aircraft get home, for no other reason than that we have not enough fighters or they are not fast enough or may not have the right armament. That is why I think we ought to have equal priority with the R.A.F. for aircraft, so that we can hit the enemy where it hurts him most, namely, at the point where he comes to make an attack upon us. The same goes for the submarine.
After those points, technical perhaps, about aircraft, I want to speak briefly about publicity. In his speech, the First Lord mentioned many things that have been done by the Fleet Air Arm. He mentioned activities in the Desert and the landing in North Africa. It is difficult for the public to know or to appreciate what this Service is doing, and for young men to know whether they want to go into the Navy, and particularly the Naval Air Service, unless they know what the Service is doing. I think it is a pity that these bits of news—and they are of some news value—are saved up for the First Lord's annual review of the Navy's activities. For instance, there was the landing in North Africa, when Seafires were used. It was a very good news story about the activities of the naval pilots in protecting those landings, and it was well worth recording. Cursory references were made to the matter in the Press. I was so angry about it when I got home that I asked permission to go round the factories which are making aircraft for the Navy to tell the worker what has been happening to the aircraft they made. I wanted to tell the people who are doing drab jobs day after day in many parts of the country that their aircraft are being well employed and being used in a new way by new men, and so on. I hope that we will have the same sort of idea, to help people both to join our service and to take pleasure in making aircraft for us. I want people to be as proud to be building aircraft for the Navy as for the R.A.F. If you do not tell them what the naval aircraft are doing, they will not be proud.
Out of this point of publicity a few other points arise. By the way, "publicity" is a shocking word. I do not mean line-shooting or any breakaway from the traditions of our silent Service. I merely mean telling an honest story reasonably well, in an interesting way and at the right time. Let it be left at that. The First Lord mentioned many submarine commanders by name, but there are many torpedo pilots who have just as great a merchant tonnage to their credit as many submarine commanders, although they have done this with Swordfish by themselves at night very often. These men are entitled to some public recognition of their work, and they should not be allowed to recline in complete darkness.
My final point arises out of publicity. I do not want to detain the House long. I want to talk quite seriously, and I hope with responsibility, about conditions of service of the Fleet Air Arm. The first Lord, I hope, will take these remarks in the way they are meant. I am not trying to cause any trouble, and I am merely trying to explain things that have to be put right. In the Naval Air Service, we are inextricably mixed up with the R.A.F. We do the same jobs as the Royal Air Force. We fly in the same air, we use the same aircraft, if we are lucky, and we talk the same shop. We are mixed up with the Royal Air Force, and we are continually mingling with them, but there are very severe discrepancies as to conditions of pay and promotion between the two Services. Those discrepancies can react only badly on the Naval Air Service unless they are rapidly put right. May I give one or two examples? About three weeks ago, I think it was, the First Lord answered a Question in this House about the rank of officers commanding squadrons in the Naval Air Service. The Air Minister answered Questions about the rank of officers commanding squadrons in the Royal Air Force. The First Lord told us that 99 per cent. of naval squadrons are commanded by lieutenants. There are no flight lieutenants commanding squadrons in the R.A.F., many of whose squadrons are commanded by wing commanders. I expect the House will appreciate that point.
Now let hon. Members compare that position with the following. There had been inquiries in this House about the comparative pay between the two Services. It was then pointed out that, when the sub-lieutenants' flying pay was reduced, the reduction was made to bring them into line with the comparable rank of the R.A.F. That was given as the reason for reducing the flying pay—not the total pay—of one particular rank of the Naval Air Service. So it happened that, rank for rank, the Naval Air Service is paid the same as in the R.A.F., but the responsibility and work, rank for rank, are very different. As is shown in the First Lord's answer, 99 per cent. of our squadrons are commanded by lieutenants. I hope I have made that point clear. If the reason for reducing the pay of officers in the Naval Air Service is that it puts them on a level with officers in the R.A.F., in all fairness we should give them the same rank for doing the same job. Otherwise, there is no equality at all.
Most of our squadrons are commanded by lieutenants, but no squadrons in the R.A.F. are commanded by flight lieutenants, although they get paid the same. Squadrons are commanded by wing commanders and squadron leaders, and I understand that normally these are a great deal younger than the lieutenants in the Navy. That is another point to be borne in mind. The reason for this is that the R.A.F. has established the rank of squadron leader, but the Navy has not done that. I hope that the First Lord will see that some steps are taken to make the various posts in the Navy in some degree comparable with those in the R.A.F. I say this because this Service is manned almost entirely by amateurs. The Naval Air Service is far nearer 100 per cent. R.N.V.R. than 90 per cent. After the war, a large number of these men will have to be invited to accept permanent commissions in the Navy. In order that the very best should volunteer for these commissions we should offer them at least as attractive a career as they can get elsewhere. Unless we give them something like full pay and an equal chance of promotion with the R.A.F., with which we are so closely mixed up, we shall not get the best into the Navy where we want the very best.
Perhaps I might emphasise my point a little by giving some figures connected with those meaningless symbols of pounds, shillings and pence about which we hear. Flying pay in the Naval Air Service is 6s. a day. In order to make the reduction about which I have spoken, flying pay for acting sub-lieutenants was reduced from 6s. to 4s. a day in order to bring if into line with the R.A.F. At the same time, and quite rightly, the submarine money of those who go under the sea was not reduced at all. When you ask for a naval lieutenant to be given an acting rank to command squadrons, or to do this or that, it is always put up as an argument that he cannot be promoted without the rest of the Navy being promoted with him. The airman is therefore in an awful spot. He cannot have his pay put up because of the R.A.F., and he cannot be promoted for the reason I have just given. It is a difficulty, and I am not unmindful of it, but it should be handled, and handled quickly.
So much for officers' pay and conditions of service. I would like to speak briefly about the other ranks. The discrepancies there are even greater. Upon leaving a flying training school the R.A.F. entrant becomes a sergeant. After six months he becomes a flight sergeant and after six months again can become a warrant officer or get a commission. In the Navy the entrant after training becomes a petty officer, a rank which is equal to sergeant, but does not go any farther. There are a number of these pilots, many with extensive war service, but I do not know of one who has become chief petty officer, which is the comparable rank of flight sergeant. So much for the pilots, who do extremely responsible work in old aircraft like the Swordfish. When they leave training, instead of being sergeants they are acting leading airmen, and it takes a good man about 18 months with hard work to attain the rank of petty officer, which is equal to the rank of sergeant.
I wish the First Lord would look into these things. He above all must appreciate, and I am sure he does appreciate the importance of the Air Arm to the Navy to-day. I do not know whether it would be in the national interest to give the proportion of the total of the Navy which is now occupied by the Fleet Air Arm. Perhaps the First Lord can do so. I think the House would be utterly astonished. This service is going on after the war, as in my humble view there is no end to the things which we can do with aircraft borne in ships and can inflict upon the enemy. In considering the few points that I have put forward for the type of aircraft that we require and which I hope will be the best—and to ask for the best is not asking for too much—I hope that the First Lord will see that we get it. To ask for a reasonable statement of our affairs is only, in my opinion, to improve the standard and to increase the desire of young men to enter this Service and to give them the right conditions of service is to make them not only clamour to come in, but clamour to stay in, the Service. This leads me up to my final point, that however you look at it to-day, the carrier has taken the place of the battleship; the aeroplane, wherever you go, in any Service, has taken the place of the gun. Whatever the protagonists of heavy ships may say, I do not believe there can be any doubt about it, and I hope that the First Lord will agree with me, that the future of the British Navy must lie in the air.
I do not intend to follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has preceded me any further than to say he can rest assured that the men I represent in this House, the engineers, have every desire to see that he gets the finest aircraft the world can produce. It is because of them that I rise at this moment, because the Admiralty is responsible to this House for the shipbuilding of this country, not only the building of ships for the Navy but for the mercantile fleet. That is a new situation which has arisen since the war. I want to begin by intimating to the House and the country at large that in the shipyards the men are not giving of their best. It is a very serious statement for me to make, and the reason I am making that statement deliberately—I have made it in the House before, a year ago, warning the Admiralty and warning the Government of what was going on. It is that the engineers consider they are getting a raw deal. The Government have always pushed me off. I have done what I could to keep the men at their work and will continue to do that, because there can be no justification for the men stopping work to-day.
The first thing that is essential for the winning of the war to-day is ships. You are not getting the ships as fast as you might, and the reason is because the engineers for over nine months have been agitating for an increase in their wages. They put in, just over nine months ago, for £1 a week increase, and anybody who has worked as an engineer, as I have, and who has tried to rear a decent, respectable family on an engineer's wage knows the terrible struggle it is. So there was no idle or revolutionary idea in their mind when they put in for £1 a week nine months ago. Then, after discussion with one and another, it was decided to modify that demand. At first it was a request, but in my opinion the day for them putting it forward as a request is past. It is a demand now. It was modified, and then on 5th November, 1942, after all the preliminaries of the trade union movement machinery had been gone through, they met at York, and the employers offered them 5s. It was refused. At any rate our Executive of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers went back and reported, and considered it, and again met the employers at York on 5th January, 1943. You have to remember that all this time every shipyard in Britain was seething with discontent. In my own constituency the yards have had about 50 strikes since the war began. I know they have not been of long duration, but it is this spirit which is abroad that is causing them to stop work. Fifth January—nothing doing!
Again, three weeks ago, I raised it on the Floor of the House, when again the employers met our Executive here in London and offered another shilling. Now it has been placed before the Minister of Labour by our Executive with a view that the matter should go to arbitration. What do you think is to go to arbitration? What do you think are the wages of engineers? What do you think the employers of labour, the shipbuilders, who die millionaires, consider the men are value for, the men who build you your aeroplanes, or battleships or "Queen Marys" or "Queen Elizabeths," who build the finest ships that sail the seven seas? What do the employers reckon is their value? It is 11¾d. an hour. That is the basic wage of the engineer. It is perfectly true that they have had bonuses granted to them. All the increases given to every other workman in Britain are given on the basic wage but not in the case of the engineers. You have to remember that this is an engineers' war, and that is how you treat the engineers. What does the bonus amount to? They give them a bonus that has mounted up to 93/16d. No other workman in Britain is treated in that fashion, paid one-sixteenth of a penny. What is the rate including the bonus, what is called the national bonus? It is 1s. 813/16d.
That is how Britain treats these engineers, the men you are depending on. As a result the whole place is seething with discontent. You are not getting the best out of them. I can go and appeal to them as I like, and as I do, as I stop them coming out on strike, as I shall continue to do, but it is well nigh becoming impossible. The right hon. Gentleman as First Lord of the Admiralty is the boss of the shipbuilders of to-day, and if he is going to be the First Lord of the Admiralty and have all the honour that that brings, his is the responsibility. He ought to be able to tell the employers of labour that they are not going to play with these men in that fashion. Do you mean to tell me that if this was a gun and there was a question of price raised, the production of the gun would cease? No fear, the gun would be produced, but this is only our own fellows, not the Germans, who I am talking about. There are no truer and more faithful workers for Britain than the British engineers, and this is how they are treated. Why are they being treated in that way? Why do not their increases in wages and what they are hammering at now go to the basic rate? Because of the employers, the shipbuilders. I know them. The First Lord knows I know them. I am eternally dealing with them. They have their eye more on what is going to happen after the war than on winning the war.
And the terrible thing about it is that that is what the men think, and I think the men are right to think that. I have told Sir James Lithgow, I have told Lord Aberconway, I have told Sir Maurice Denny and Sir Charles Craven—I have told them all—tried to get them to face up to the position. But no. Why? Because of what I have said already. They fear that the engineers will demand a decent standard of life after the war which they have never had up to date. They have had starvation wages. Even supposing now the employers had offered 8s. at the last meeting instead of 6s., what would it have brought the engineer up to in the shipbuilding yard? It would only have brought him in line with the other craftsmen in the yard, plumbers, electricians, ships' joiners, etc. If they had got 8s., they would only have been in line. We have felt for years that we were scabs on the industry, always working below the rest. That is as far as the wages are concerned, and I want the First Lord of the Admiralty to face up to this business, because no longer can it be pushed to one side. We had a deputation down last week from Aberdeen, Dundee, the Firth of Forth, the Clyde and the Ailsa Works, Troon. No body of nicer looking or more well set-up men ever came into that outer Lobby. These are men just like I was when I was in the workshop. Nothing could have kept me out of it. I was born and bred an engineer, and proud to be an engineer. These men are of the same material, anxious to give of their best if they get a dog's chance, if they feel that they are being treated like men. They are treated as if they were enemies of the country, not friends.
Here is further evidence of that. I have here over 100 pay lines. When I put a Question to the Minister of Labour two months ago, he replied that he did not accept the first part of my Question. That shows that he does not know everything. The first part of the Question was whether he was aware that the engineer's rate of wages was 1s. 813/16d. Just think of that. What has worried and humiliated the men is the idea of being paid in terms of one-fourth of a farthing. Here is a gold watch which I got from the engineers 28 years ago, when I got them a full penny. Now they are being dealt with in terms of one-fourth of a farthing. Those are the rates for the Clyde, the Tyne, Birkenhead, and Barrow—where the big ships come from. They are all on the time rate of 1s. 813/16d. This affects my country more than it does England, because the Midlands and all around London are on jobs of mass production. In shipbuilding up to date we have not yet evolved a system whereby we can have mass production. Engineers working on aeroplanes, guns, and tanks are earning double the money that engineers in the shipbuilding industry are getting—and shipbuilding is priority No. 1. At Dundee the rate is 1s. 89/16d.; at Aberdeen the basic rate, plus bonus, is 1s. 81/16d. The nation should be proud of this.
Another source of annoyance to the men is the question of Income Tax. Income Tax is levied on the summer-time earnings, when the men are working overtime and on Sundays; it is extracted from them when overtime has ceased and the bar is up against Sunday work. They have to pay out of the miserable wages they earn then, Income Tax on the decent wages they had previously earned. Here is the case of a man who works 76 hours in a week in a shipyard. At 1s. 813/16d. an hour, he earns £6 12s. 3d. Deductions for National Health Insurance, hospital, and war fund total 2s. 10d. Income Tax amounts to £4 12s. 3d. That leaves him £1 17s. 2d. Is it possible to expect men to continue under conditions like that, and to give of their best? How can I go to them and ask them to work overtime? Some smug friends of mine tell me: "Before I took on a Government job I had £15,000 a year; and I took on a Government job which brought in just under £2,000 a year. I never said anything. I accepted that reduction because the country was at war. When Income Tax came upon me I just had this £2,000 a year, and I am not grumbling." Surely they do not expect the workers to be kidded like that. If I had £15,000 a year I should have £15,000 laid by, on which I could draw; but in the case of the worker there is no reservoir; he has only enough to keep him going for a week or so at best.
The British people seem to forget that for years the shipbuilders of this country were unemployed. They shut down the shipyards and did not care a button for the workers, but threw them on the streets, threw them on the scrapheap. That broke the hearts of thousands of men, because they knew when they went out then that they would never get a job again. Now these people are expected to save against a rainy day. It is said that they should have been able to put by the money they were earning in the summertime. Can I say that to them—I who told them to spend the money? I told them that they needed to buy clothes; their wives and weans had neither clothes nor food, their houses were devoid of furniture. It had to be seen to be believed, what the folk of Clydebank and Dumbarton were like when poverty was standing there, brooding like a skeleton over them. Never would it be believed that they were the same folk. In the streets they were walking proud and erect; clean, although they were poor; but in the homes everything had gone. All the niceties of civilisation Had been used up, because they were dependent upon what the merest breath of adversity may in a moment dispel. I remember it being said to me by the Prime Minister of that time, "There is the labour exchange". That was Ramsay MacDonald's reply to me When I appealed to him on behalf of the shipbuilders and engineers. This question will have to be faced.
Here is the next point which aggravates the situation of the folk whom I have had the honour to represent for over 20 years continuously in this House—and I have been a member of my trade union for 50 years. I do not think I am getting the help that I should get from the Secretary of State for Scotland to meet this difficulty. Here is the case of a charge-hand engineer in one of the principal shipbuilding yards of the world. He was never out of Clydebank, he was bred in it, but he was blown out of the place. When the Blitz came the Government were good enough, when we appealed to them, to allow my folk to travel from wherever they were, scattered all over Scotland, by means of vouchers for 3s. a week, but that was stopped over a year ago. There were no homes for them, they rebelled against the idea of being driven into the slums of Glasgow—Glasgow, which has an overcrowding problem of its own, while Clydebank always excelled in healthy children. I am supporting them in their refusal. I have here the name and address and all particulars of this charge-hand. Engineers will know that he must be a very good charge-hand, because he has 3d. per hour above the rate. I thought I was a great chap even before my time was out, but in our days 1d. an hour above the rate was considered marvellous. This man has £1 a week for travelling expenses; he has a wife and child, and he goes home to Alva. He takes home £1 19s. 1d. for a week's work at John Brown's, of Clydebank. That is the last place I want to say anything against, for I have boosted it to the best of my ability; but the time has come when the Government must intervene in these negotiations, which have been going on for at least five months—officially five months, but unofficially over nine. It is time the Government took a hand here. It is no use saying, as the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty said in reply to me before, that they have no complaints. I say publicly and before the world that the output is too low. The workers are not working. That is a serious business.
How can we and the Government expect the British worker to emulate the Russian worker? The atmosphere in Russia is the opposite of the atmosphere in the shipyards of Britain. The Russians believe, and rightly, that when the war is over Russia will be theirs. When the war is finished the worker in this country, having due regard to all the palliatives and the rise in wages for agricultural workers and dock labourers, and the provision of canteens for the shipyards on the Clyde, which I appreciate—apart from all that, the worker in this country will have nothing but his labour-power Incorporated in his body, which he will require to sell in order to live, as he did before the war. In Russia everything will be for the Russians. I would be delighted if I were able to say that Britain, and particularly Scotland, were ours, but I cannot. Scotland is not ours. At the finish of the war it will belong to the ruling class as it does now. I do not want to do anything that will hinder production, and my last word is that I want the Government to appeal to the managements in the engineering and shipbuilding industry of this country, as I have done not only privately, but three times in broadcasts, to pool their resources, mentally and physically, and to treat the men as equals. I have never met any one of them who is more than my equal. I was just an engineer and never wanted to be anything else. They ought to pull together as a team.
After all I have said about Russia and everything else, it is essential, if we are to win this war, that we must work as a team, but we must not expect all this team work and self-sacrifice to come only from the workers. It has to come from the managements as well. They have to recognise the men. I have been with different production committees from Coventry right up to Glasgow and have seen the employers look upon the production committee as a body sitting to deal with an individual who is an absentee and not with a view to collaboration to see whether there is something that they can do for the benefit of the country. May there not be some latent power in the mind of the workers? Cannot ideas be produced that will benefit us at a time when we require all the power that is possible in order to win the war? That is all I am concerned about at the moment. The surest way of winning it, as I see it from the shipbuilding and engineering point of view, is that the Government interfere now and tell the employers that they must shut out of their minds the idea of what is going to happen after the war. They have to get down to it now and try and meet the engineers and grant their just request.
We have just listened to a very eloquent plea on behalf of the shipyard engineers, and after listening to it I only wish that the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) were with us and was one of our advocates when we pressed for higher pay for the men in the Services. I am certain that his help would have been invaluable.
I am very gratified to learn from the hon. Member that he is with us all the time in that respect, and I hope that we may have some success in that direction before very long. I naturally do not wish to follow the hon. Member but to come back to the very able speech which we had from the First Lord a week ago, when he told us of the very great achievements of the Navy during the past 12 months—achievements which reflect the greatest credit on everyone concerned, on the Board of Admiralty, on the commanders-in-chief both at
sea and ashore, and on officers and men of the Service and also on all the Departments which are responsible for equipment and supply. I would like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the manner in which he made that statement to the House, but if I had one criticism to offer, it would be that while he told us of all the achievements of the Navy and rightly so, because the nation should know what a debt of gratitude it owes to the Service, he said very little about the very great difficulties which confront the Navy in these days. He left me with an impression that all was well at sea. I hope the House will forgive me if I go back and refer to various matters which were referred to by hon. Members who took part in the Debate a week ago, but I do not think that any apology is called for if I refer to the offensive against the U-boat. The First Lord, in speaking of that, used these words. He said it was
the greatest threat we have ever experienced to our sea lines."—(OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1943, col. 567, Vol. 387.)
And nothing is more true than that.
The United Nations have gained supremacy in production. We can say that we have gained the mastery of the air, and to-day we have evidence before us which proves that our troops, as now equipped, have got the upper hand of the enemy. As far as I can see, the only weapon remaining to the Germans from which they can hope for success is the submarine, and that we can expect them to exploit to the full. Once let us lose control of the lines of sea communication and everything comes to a standstill. Your Air Force will be grounded from lack of petrol, your Army will be immobilised, you will not be able to get to it even the most vital necessities, and this country will be faced with starvation from two directions—starvation of our industries through lack of raw materials and starvation of our people through lack of foodstuffs. Therefore, it is essential that the lines of sea communication should be maintained at all costs.
Just how grave is this menace which confronts us? Hon. Members will remember that the Prime Minister, when he spoke last in this House, spoke for some time on this very subject, but I doubt whether even the majority of the Members of the House, far less the public, realised or appreciated the gravity of the words which he then used. He told us that the margin between ships building and ships being sunk, that is, the excess of building over sinkings, amounted in the last six months to 1,250,000 tons. The world knows—it is common knowledge everywhere—that last year in the United States they launched 8,000,000 tons of shipping and that the larger proportion came forward in the last six months. It would not be unreasonable, I suggest, if we assumed in these six months an output of 4,250,000 tons. When you add to that the estimate of the output of this country and Canada, which let me assume at 1,000,000 tons, you have shipping launched during that period of six months of 5,250,000 tons. The Prime Minister told us that the excess was only 1,250,000 tons, and therefore we are faced with the fact that during that period our losses amounted to something in the region of 4,000,000 tons. That is a very serious situation. The Prime Minister said that it was not only a matter of the loss in valuable lives, which could never be replaced; it was a question of the loss of ships, of raw materials, finished products and foodstuffs on the production of which an incalculable number of man-hours had been spent. It was a loss of materials urgently required in our factories and by the Fighting Services. It is a loss which can postpone victory more than anything else possibly can. It is a loss which may have a greater effect on our war effort than all the bombing of Germany is having on theirs. It is a drain on the resources of the United Nations which must be checked and brought under control.
It is not that the Navy does not know the answer to this problem. The answer lies on convoying and in sufficient escort vessels, sufficient hunting craft and aircraft, and in the closest possible co-operation between the ships and carrier-borne and land-based aircraft. I would like to know whether there are sufficient shore-based aircraft of the right type being devoted to this purpose. The First Lord told us in his speech a week ago that we had an insufficient number of escort vessels but that the production of these ships had now been given the highest priority. I do not think it is fair to blame the Admiralty for that shortage. It is due to a great variety of different factors, one of the most important of which was the fall of France, which, together with the overrunning of Norway, gave our enemy direct access to the ocean. Also we know and should appreciate, that the Admiralty have had their misfortunes in connection with the building of these ships. They placed large orders in the United States, with the full consent of the United States Navy, who at that time did not think they would require this type of vessel, but when they came into the war found that they were essential to enable them to deal with their own submarine problem. So it comes about that the Admiralty has not been receiving these vessels in the numbers which, under different circumstances, they had every reason to expect. I have not doubt that steps are being taken to make good that loss, but we must be patient, because you cannot produce ships overnight. I would like to ask, however, whether sufficient aircraft to make good that deficiency are being made available. Coastal Command is now under the operational control of the Admiralty, and I hear on every side that the co-operation which exists between it and the Navy could not possibly be better. But we have to remember this: Coastal Command is the step-child of the Royal Air Force, and I have grave cause to doubt whether it is being supplied with sufficient aircraft of the right type for use against submarines.
We have been told by the First Lord of the great value of aircraft carriers in the defence of convoys and that submarines are operating to-day in mid-Atlantic, removed as far as possible from shore-based aircraft. While there is no doubt that carrier-borne aircraft are of the greatest possible value, it is no secret that we have not got them in anything like sufficient numbers to-day. Under weather conditions such as exist for days at a time in the North Atlantic it is often impossible to launch aircraft from ships. But under those conditions shore-based aircraft can still operate and, therefore, both types are required if we are to overcome the submarine. I would like an assurance that Coastal Command is actually receiving a sufficient number of long-range shore-based aircraft to enable them to perform their function against the submarine. It is well known that the type required is similar to those being used for the bombing of Germany, and it seems to me that more importance is still being paid to that than to the destruction of the submarine. I say that because, although we were told by the Prime Minister—and it was reiterated by the First Lord last Wednesday—that the anti-submarine campaign was to receive first priority, my information is that Bomber Command still comes before all others where it is a case of long-range shore-based aircraft. I would ask the First Lord whether that is correct and whether the priority of which the Prime Minister spoke is being given in relation to these long-range shore-based aircraft for anti-submarine purposes in order to bring the submarine under a proper measure of control.
Now let me turn to another subject—the Fleet Air Arm—a subject which was very ably dealt with by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hythe (Lieut.-Commander Brabner), who spoke a short while ago. We are constantly being told, both in the Press and with great vehemence by a very distinguished Member of another place, that the Admiralty is not air-minded and that senior naval officers have no idea how to use aircraft or, indeed, how valuable they are in naval warfare. Well, I do not know how this can possibly be maintained when one thinks back to the days of the Royal Naval Air Service, which was brought into being in the early days of flying, at the same time, indeed, as the Royal Frying Corps came into being. I do not know how this can be maintained when one remembers the struggle which the Admiralty put up year after year in order to obtain control of their own air service. How many care to remember that the Admiralty, together with the Norwegian Admiralty, were the only two bodies in the whole world to maintain through thick and thin that the torpedo from aircraft was the correct and primary weapon to be used against ships? If only the Air Ministry had been converted to that view, there would have been no need for the campaign in Lybia, because Rommel's communications would have been so shattered that he could not have gone on. It seems that it is convenient for some people to forget these things.
Since 1939 the Admiralty have been pressing to be supplied with an efficient torpedo-bomber. All that the First Lord can now tell us is that Barracudas are coming from the factories in increasing numbers. That conveys nothing to us at all. He tells us, and he has justification for doing so, that the Admiralty put the greater needs of other Services first. I am quite sure that this House and, indeed, the country appreciate the broad view which the Admiralty took, but have not the Admiralty allowed the interests of other Services to predominate too long over the equally, if not more vital, interests involved in the control of sea communications? I cannot believe that if the Admiralty had really pressed their claims as strongly as they should in the last 18 months they would not have got the aircraft which the Fleet Air Arm so urgently requires to-day. The First Lord knows as well as we do that neither the Fleet Air Arm nor the Navy are satisfied with the situation as it exists to-day. Exactly the same thing applies to the supply to the Fleet Air Arm of an efficient fighter. Since 1940 the Admiralty have been pressing for the supply of Seafires. Again, all the First Lord can say is that they are coming forward in increasing numbers. Well, increasing numbers from nothing at all does not mean very much. I know, and the First Lord knows, that the Fleet Air Arm are extremely short of efficient machines, and I would press him to see that they are made forthcoming. No matter what the needs of the Royal Air Force are, they are nothing to-day compared in importance with the supply of the machines required to control the seas. I say, therefore, that not only the Navy but the nation looks to the First Lord and to his colleagues to see that these lanes are kept open.
I know the First Lord's difficulties; I know that the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Aircraft Production are closely connected and stand much in the same relationship to each other as the War Office does to the Ministry of Supply. From my own personal experience I know what that means, because I happened to be in America before the Admiralty had a Supply Mission in that country and had to rely on the British Purchasing Commission which was the Ministry of Supply's Mission in the U.S.A. to meet all their requirements. Those requirements received very little consideration. The reason was that the requirements of the Army were so much heavier and so much more numerous than those of the Navy that their requirements were completely snowed under. I have a suspicion that a like situation exists between the Admiralty, the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Aircraft Production, but I hope that with the advent of the new Minister of Aircraft Production, who, I believe, understands the heed for the Navy's requirements being met, there will be a very decided change. The Admiralty can help there too by pressing their claims more strongly and by seeing that there is a reasonable representation of naval officers in the Ministry of Aircraft Production.
I thought the First Lord in his speech skated very lightly over the question of the technical and scientific advance made by the Navy in the period which he reviewed. I have already alluded to the broad-minded policy of the Admiralty in standing aside when other Services were in much more need than the Navy. During that period the other Services have obtained a great start on the Navy. They have collected unto themselves most of the scientific brains of this country, and I would ask the First Lord to look into that matter and ascertain how many scientists are to-day working on research in connection with most vital naval matters as compared with those employed by the other Services. I hope the other Services will act in the same broad-minded way as the Navy acted and, now that the Navy's interests are so much greater, see that it is treated in the same way as the Navy treated them at other times.
I would like to turn for one moment to the question of pay. In the Debate on the Army Estimates recently reference was made by a number of speakers to the pay of the Army. All stated that Army pay was far too low when considered in relation to what can be earned elsewhere. Exactly the same thing applies to the Navy. There are any number of anomalies, and I would like to refer to one. The pay of merchant seamen to-day is £24 a month. That places them in a better position than many naval officers, particularly so because £10 of that is an allowance—called "danger money," I believe—which is not subject to Income Tax. They are at least twice as well off as their opposite numbers in the Navy. At this moment merchant seamen are serving with the Navy alongside naval ratings who are receiving half that amount in pay. You have naval gun crews serving in merchant ships alongside these merchant seamen receiving this higher pay. That is something which leads neither to harmony nor content. Do not let it be supposed that I am saying that the Merchant Service is overpaid. No, I would like to pay my tribute to the Merchant Service, whose men at this time are facing difficulties, dangers and discomforts of which this country has no idea whatsoever. I have had the opportunity of crossing the ocean in a convoy during this war, and I cannot understand how these men keep on coming forward time and time again, after having been sunk, to face all these dangers so cheerfully and with such courage. It is not that the pay of the Merchant Service is too high; but that the pay of the Navy is too low; As was pointed out in the Debate on the Army Estimates, the men are not complaining about their own position, but they are apprehensive about the position of their wives and families. It is particularly the case that men who have been abroad for any length of time fail to understand how their families can get on when they have so little compared with what is being received by other people around them. I had intended to refer to the question of command, but that has been ably dealt with by the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe. I will therefore content myself with expressing the hope that my right hon. Friend the First Lord will give that matter his consideration.
In conclusion, I say to my right hon. Friend that the Navy and the nation are looking to him and to his colleagues on the Board of Admiralty to see that the Navy gets those weapons which are necessary to ensure the command of the seas and victory. May I also say to him that the officers and men of the Navy look to him particularly and personally to see that they are treated in all respects with justice.
It is unfortunate that my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, in the very interesting survey of the work of the Navy which he gave last week, was prevented, for obvious reasons, from giving to the House and the country many most interesting details of that Service. Of course, such details would not only have been interesting to us but would have been of the greatest use to our enemies. Therefore, the First Lord is in no way to blame in this respect. My right hon. Friend devoted a considerable part of his survey to the question of the submarine campaign and the question of the Fleet Air Arm, and it is to those two subjects that I wish to devote my remarks.
I would like, first of all, however, to pay my tribute to the officers and men of the two great sister sea Services for the incomparable services they have rendered to the country and to the Allied nations from the beginning of the war. They have not only faced their tasks but have carried them out under immense difficulties, and in spite of almost insuperable obstacles, in a manner worthy of the best traditions of the Service. Their courage, their devotion to duty, their loyalty and their self-sacrifice have been an inspiration to us all.
I want now to speak about what is so often called the Battle of the Atlantic, in my opinion a misnomer, because the so-called Battle of the Atlantic is really a ceaseless struggle over the oceans of the world. On the one side it is, as far as we are concerned, a struggle to give security to our merchant ships, and on the other side, for the enemy, an attempt to interfere as much as possible with the ebb and flow of transport across the oceans of the world, on which we depend entirely not only for the prosecution of the war but for our very existence. I think the question of submarine warfare is viewed very generally from an entirely wrong angle. One commonly hears references to the total tonnage of ships that have been sunk and, on the other hand, the total tonnage of new construction that has been brought into being to replace the ships that have been sunk, and if those two columns more or less balance, if we are up on the sinkings, a false sense of security is engendered in the minds of the people. That is an entirely wrong point of view. It is obvious that we must build ships as fast as ever we can, not only to replace the ships that have been sunk, but to make up the immense leeway with which we started the war, when we had not sufficient merchant ships. Surely, the primary factor in submarine warfare, from our point of view, should not be the replacement of ships that have been sunk, but the prevention of the sinking of those ships.
In order to do that we have to carry out not merely the defensive operations of escorting convoys, which are most necessary, but offensive operations as well. Therefore, I wish to put certain points to my right hon. Friend the First Lord. There is, in the first place, the question of the speed of the merchant ships in new construction. We all know that convoys are extremely slow, having five knots or seven and a half knots—less than the speed which the submarines that are at present working in groups in the Atlantic and elsewhere travel when they are submerged, and they have a great speed on the surface. The result is that the convoy as such, by itself, can never shake off the enemy's submarines which are shadowing it. They can shadow it for hundreds of miles, for 1,000 miles if necessary, and never be shaken off. If a convoy had a speed of 14 or 15 knots, at night time it would be able to take evasive action by an alteration of course and have a good possibility of shaking off the shadowing submarines. It is impossible for a slow convoy to do that; at present it is a waste of time for these slow-moving convoys to take any evasive action. There would be great advantages in increased speed for the merchant ships in new construction; we also know that there would be disadvantages; but I maintain that the advantages would far outweigh the disadvantages. Therefore I hope that my right hon. Friend and the Admiralty will insist upon a much higher proportion of really fast merchant ships being constructed. It is no good saying that we have ships building at 11 knots. What does that mean? Is that the speed at which the ships will steam when in convoy fully laden? The only practical interpretation of the speed of a ship is when it is steaming in convoy fully laden. It is no good a ship being built for 11 knots which, when it gets in convoy, can go only at seven and a half knots or eight knots. The same thing applies with regard to a speed of 14 knots or 15 knots; the ships want to be able to make that speed when they are in convoy at sea. There is a pressing need to increase the speed of the convoys.
But speed alone, of course, is not nearly enough. As everybody knows, a convoy is liable to attack by submarine, by surface craft, or from the air, and in order that it may be protected it has to have an escort. At the beginning of the war the escort was very small or non-existent, but gradually it has been increased, as we have got a greater number of ships; but still the escort is not sufficient to deal with the problem of attacks from submarines, surface craft and the air. However powerful the actual escort may be, it can only ward off the attack of the submarine. If submarines are operating in a group, the escort may ward them off completely, or it may sink a certain number of the submarines and leave the remainder behind. The escorting force cannot dissociate itself from the convoy, it cannot break its connection and remain in the area where the submarines are operating to harass them, to search them out and destroy them. The convoy cannot go on without its escort. It is the duty of the escort to maintain the security of the convoy from the time it leaves one harbour to the time it reaches the next harbour or is relieved by another escort. Therefore, the escort is in reality a defensive force. If we are to win the Battle of the Atlantic we must have, in addition to that defensive force, an offensive force attached to every convoy. When a convoy is being attacked by a single submarine or by a group of submarines the escort takes part in warding off the attack and in the destruction of the submarines, but after a certain time the escort itself must go on with the convoy. Therefore, there should be attached to every convoy an offensive force of one or two ships, or whatever number might be necessary, a force detached from the escort and not forming a part of it, whose special duty it would be to hunt and harass the submarines and go on doing so until it had destroyed the submarines which had attacked the convoy. In that way, and in no other way, shall we win the Battle of the Atlantic.
I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) in his suggestion that at the head of the Committee which is responsible for the anti-U-boat warfare measures there should be a Flag officer having expert knowledge and experience of the operation of submarines. I think that is absolutely essential. I welcome the fact that a very distinguished submarine officer, Admiral Sir Max Horton, is in charge of the Western Approaches. That is a great advance, but it is only a part of what is necessary. As I understand it, he does not lay down what is necessary, but can only utilise what is given to him in order to defeat the U-boats. We want at the centre a Committee at the head of which is an officer of Flag rank, with expert knowledge, to direct these operations. I repeat that in my opinion, in order to win the battle, there must be a special squadron of craft detailed for offensive action against the submarines, allotted to that job only and to no other.
In connection with this, I do hope that this country is not expending its energy and time in the construction of what I have always thought to be an anachronism, the 40,000 tons battleship. That is not what we want. We have enough battleships. How much better if we devoted our energies to constructing these small craft which are necessary to safeguard our sea communications upon which for the operations of war in which we are engaged we absolutely depend. It is only by keeping those communications intact that the other operations of war are possible. If the line of communications is broken, we cannot conduct the war. If it is interfered with, it makes our other operations much more difficult, so we should concentrate on offensive action against the attacking craft. Then we have to attack also from the air. Air Marshal Viscount Trenchard has taken a prominent part in acrimonious discussions creating dissension between the great Services—he has rendered great service to the country and to the Air Force, but none to the Fleet Air Arm—discussions which are doing so much harm, and which are interfering with our war effort. There are other elements besides that of the sky which we must make full use of and we can only attain victory by getting the greatest possible co-operation between the Services working on all three elements. In no other way can we get victory. I hope that stupid, senseless, mischievous discussion will now come to an end.
With regard to attacks on convoys from the air, the First Lord said that these submarines are now operating in groups in areas removed from the radius of action of shore-based fighters, and as it is the co-operation of submarines and the aircraft which accounts for by far the greater proportion of the sinkings, it is equally important while carrying out the offensive against the U-boats that we should also be able to carry out an offensive against the aircraft which attack our convoys. It may be—I do not know—that we are constructing a great many aircraft carriers, but, if we are to win this Battle of the Atlantic, in which aircraft play such an important part, we must provide the escort with the aeroplanes necessary for meeting attack by enemy aircraft. The aircraft which are built for fleet purposes are, in my opinion, too big. They are very vulnerable, and they require a great deal of protection. Therefore, we should build special aircraft to Work with the escort of the convoys and provided with such machines as experience has shown necessary to utilise every opportunity of attacking enemy aircraft. Here also you would have to have an officer on the Committee of high rank, fully conversant with the operations of aircraft.
The only other point I want to bring to the right hon. Gentleman's notice is the pay and allowances of naval officers, and I know that it has his sympathy. I intend to continue raising this matter on every possible occasion. I only wish to raise one point now, and that is the marriage allowance, which I have always looked upon as a shabby, cheese-paring piece of legislation, brought in in February, 1939. When it was brought in the basic rate of pay of officers above the age of 30 was reduced by 2s. a day to pay for it except in the case of the commissioned warrant officer, whose pay was only reduced by 1s. It did not matter whether officers were married or not, or whether they would benefit from the scheme or not, because you do not benefit from it unless you live apart from your wife; all had their pay reduced. The consequence of the reduction of pay was this. In the old scheme, a commodore, second class, a captain of a ship and a colonel of Marines, because they were married, received a net sum of 24s. 6d. a week. Commanders and below received 17s. 6d. A warrant officer received 14s. a week. But an able seaman serving in the same ship as the captain, commander, lieut.-commander and lieutenant received 18s. a week. Therefore an officer had to be above the rank of commander before he received more than an able seaman on the lower deck. How can such a scheme be justified?
Yes. But a new scheme was brought in in December, 1941. One would imagine that this was to make the position better for the married naval officer, but not at all. The whole scheme was altered. Still every officer in the Service had his pay reduced by 2s. a day, and the commissioned warrant officer by 1s. a day, for this miserable pittance that is called a married allowance. After they had had a month to digest the new scheme if they could—I found it very difficult to understand—those in the old scheme could turn over to the new scheme, but if they liked to remain under the old scheme they could. The new scheme was that all officers from commodore, second class down, received a gross flat rate of 4s. a day, if they were married, from which must be deducted the 2s. reduction from the basic rate to obtain the net gain. Therefore, officers from commodore, second class, downwards—captain, commander, lieut.-commander and lieutenant—are receiving net 14s. a week because they are married, while an able seaman is receiving 18s. How can such an iniquitous scheme be justified? I ask the right hon. Gentleman, who, I know, is sympathetic, to remove this blot. After all, the naval officer looks to the Lords of the Admiralty and to the First Lord to give him a fair deal. He has nowhere else to look. If you ask naval officers what they are entitled to in pay not one in 100 can tell you. The Admiralty juggle with the amount of pay and allowances for officers from one to the other and take this away and put it on to something else. Let us have a straight deal. Let us once and for all put this marriage allowance on a proper and decent footing and not continue this iniquitous, cheese-paring arrangement.
When the Debate started, speaking as a layman representing a seaport, I was beginning to think the silent Service was all too silent, but after hearing the three hon. and gallant Gentlemen who have spoken, I assure them that the House listens with respectful attention, especially when they bring grievances before us on a day like this, when since 1688 it has been our custom to refuse to grant supplies until we have tried to remedy abuses. Eighteen shillings a week for the wife of an able-bodied seaman is not too much, and I am certain that 14s. a week is far too little for a married lady, whether she be the wife of an officer or the wife of a man who does not serve on the quarterdeck. I hope that the Admiralty will take serious notice of what has been said about priorities. I have been living in a land of illusion, for I always thought that the Admiralty could cock a snook with impunity at the Treasury. It would appear that, if we are not careful, the Navy will become the Cinderella Service. That would be intolerable. I do not ask for what I call smash-and-grab priorities. We had a game of smash-and-grab for a certain period of the war with aeroplanes and tanks.
The hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Lieut.-Commander Brabner) made a reasonable request for equal priorities. If such priorities are not given, I hope that we shall have a session of Parliament when we can be given some clear idea with regard, for instance, to the protection of convoys from the air and the provision of aeroplanes. I do not know whether it is true that the Navy is getting second-best, as it were, from a secondhand clothing store, and receiving the cast-offs of the Royal Air Force. If it is, I hope that it will be altered with that celerity of action which is the policy at the Admiralty, because people in the country, and especially those who live on the coast, realise the great service which has been given to the world and to this nation by the Navy.
I want to draw the attention of the Admiralty to the fact that since last week there has been a change of policy in Germany. The German chief admirals have been sacked, and I look upon that as significant. There is a new admiral in command in the Mediterranean, and I hope that the Minister of Information will take note that the policy of the German Admiralty, like Rommel's policy of fighting to the last Italian, is evidently to tight to the last Italian sailor.
I would like to draw attention to what I call the little ships. Prior to September, 1939, there was an armada of little ships, 300 or thereabouts in number, which sailed from Humberside to the White Sea and the Faroes—gallant little vessels manned by stout hearts. I believe they were called trawlers. Almost overnight that armada was reduced by 90 per cent. because the Admiralty and the country had great need of those trawlers, the finest of their kind in the world. They were needed because they were best for winning the first battle which was fought against the enemy. They won a victory over the magnetic mine. Since then the men upon them have given great and invaluable service. Again I want to use the word "priority" in this connection. I want to remind the Admiralty that the Humberside, denuded of its trawlers, was denuded of its livelihood. I am glad that the Minister of Food and the Minister of War Transport prevented Hull being further hit by refusing to allow another fishing port to sell its soul for a mess of Icelandic pottage. I ask that when peace comes the Humberside will have the right to the first priority in the replacement of its trawlers, so that the men can go back to their normal avocation. There have been grievous losses, but they have been taken on the chin. I went with the Deputy Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia round the shelters of the port, where we saw the wives and children of these minesweepers, these fishermen of England. They had to be in the shelters when the raids came, as they did for two years. There we found the women and children dancing and singing. When the Deputy Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia saw them he wondered and pondered, and when they sang to him his country's national hymn, he said, "Thank you. In my land the children cannot sing their own national hymn."
I am asking for a priority in the replacement of trawlers. I am asking for something else. I remember in the last war two little ships, one called the "Iris" and the other the "Daffodil," which came from a port as great as my own—Liverpool. They went on an expedition and received a great accolade of true knighthood. They came back the "Royal Iris" and the "Royal Daffodil.", If my right hon. Friend would pay a visit to the Humberside and see the devastation and the destroyed homes to which these men come back when on leave, and the cheerful spirits of their families, and if he would see St. Andrew's Dock, I think that he would be moved to say, "This country shall pay honour to the Humberside. These trawlers, whether they be 'Daffodils,' 'Hyacinths' or 'Irises' are in their spirit truly royal." I would like His Majesty to say, "On St. Andrew's Dock you shall receive a replica of the George Medal." I do not ask for the George Cross—I am too modest—but I would like some recognition of the unparalleled services which these fishermen have proudly given to the country. I plead for a recognition of the little ships.
I rise to pay a tribute to the courage and endurance of the men and officers of the Royal Navy. They have been fighting for their lives, and, indeed, for ours, ever since 3rd September, 1939, although some people more fortunately situated on dry land were unable to take an interest in the war before May, 1940, and still others before June, 1941. The First Lord's speech was noteworthy for one curious omission. He did not speak, except for a passing reference, of the work of the Battle Fleet. He said that the Home Fleet, under Admiral Sir John Tovey, had two principal tasks—to preserve these Islands from invasion and to prevent the German navy breaking out on to our sea-communications on the Atlantic. A great deal is said in these days about the air, and I would plead with the House for a greater sense of proportion than has been shown by a great many people. The fact remains—and this is a view which is shared by many distinguished sailors—that but for the Battle Fleet based in Scottish waters, the "Tirpitz," of 40,000 tons, the "Scharnhorst" and the "Gneisenau," of 26,000 tons each, and the two pocket battleships, of 10,000 tons each, accompanied by 6-inch and 8-inch gun cruisers, would force their way into the Atlantic and might well in three months do such damage to our merchant shipping as to bring us virtually to our knees. Therefore, in spite of the spate of air propaganda by extremists we must bear in mind that the capital ships which are at present in Scottish waters, even if they never fire a shot, are preserving us at this moment from defeat.
I listened with great interest and appreciation to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Lieut. Commander Brabner). I would have listened with more appreciation, however, if he had not ridden his own hobby horse quite as much as he did. We all know that he has played a gallant part in the war, and I agree with almost everything he said, but just because he has taken a gallant part in the Fleet Air Arm I had hoped that he would take the view that had he served in the great ships of the Home Fleet he would have also found some use for and merit in them.
I am sorry if I misrepresented my hon. and gallant Friend, but I gathered the impression from his speech that in his opinion the future of the Service rested with the air alone, and I want to persuade him and the House that there is another point of view and that we should maintain a sense of proportion. The rival claims for air and sea remind me of the undergraduate rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge when some found it impossible to praise their own university without decrying the other. I remember that when I was an Oxford undergraduate I found a guidebook—it may have been Baedeker—which said:
Oxford and Cambridge should be seen, but if time presses Cambridge may be omitted.
However much that might appeal to one in adolescent days we reach an age when we realise that both universities have their functions, and that, similarly, air and sea have their complementary functions. We cannot dispense with either.
I deplore the propaganda which that distinguished airman Lord Trenchard has recently indulged in, particularly in view of the fact that the three Services are working harmoniously together, and I think there would be some advantage if pre-war, pre-war officers realise that they are hardly in a position to-day to lay down a final judgment as to the exact relationship which exists at this moment between air and sea. I very much doubt whether anyone who has not served with the Royal Navy in the narrow waters of the Mediterranean during the last two years and who does not know precisely from personal experience what ships, great and small, can do in narrow waters in the face of enemy air forces possesses the intimate knowledge to allow him to lay down the law and to give a final judgment on the subject. After three and a half years of war we have lost only five capital ships, one new and four old, and that after continuous operational work is not a great deal, but because we have suffered these losses there are people who say the battleship is no longer of use. In a single raid on Berlin, due to icing and other conditions, 37 bombers were lost, but those of us who take an interest in the Royal Navy do not immediately jump to the conclusion that the heavy bomber is no good. On the contrary, I believe that the experience of this war has been that given proper air protection our ships can operate even in narrow waters. That seems to have been the experience of the Mediterranean Fleet, and it was certainly the experience of "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau," about which I spoke in the Navy Estimates a year ago, when I took the view that because they had been given air protection it had been possible, and should not have been a matter of surprise to this House or to the country for those great ships to be able to get through the Channel.
The First Lord said in his speech that it was unfortunate that so many people had taken the view that the Admiralty were not sufficiently air-minded. I should like in that connection to draw the attention of the House to a very remarkable fact, and that is that our building programme of aircraft carriers in 1938 was double that of any other country, with the possible exception of Japan, as to which accurate figures were not available. In 1939 we had, I believe, at least an equal number of aircraft carriers actually in service to the number possessed by any other country. How in the face of those facts it can be said that the Admiralty is not sufficiently air-minded it is difficult to know.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) made a very interesting speech and offered some observations in connection with the U-Boat Committee. What he had to say about that was I thought extremely disquieting, and I do hope that the First Lord or whoever will wind up this Debate will give us some assurance and will tell the House that the submarine expert will be attached to that Committee. There was only one point on which my hon. and gallant Friend took a rather more pessimistic view than I can share with him. He said he thought it was wishful thinking to believe that Germany would run short of trained submarine crews. I do not believe that to be the case. I am told by experienced officers in the Navy that when America first entered the war and before the convoys could be organised in the Western Atlantic; a great many merchant ships were lost and that the operational training and experience gained by the German submarine crews during those unfortunate months made them much more efficient than they would otherwise have been, but that once we have worked through that number of trained German submarine crews then we can look forward to less efficient German crews, and certainly to crews with less operational experience.
I think there will be a large number of Nazi officers, all keen men, perfectly ready to man their submarines, because they will do anything they can to try to bring this country to its knees. I do not think the Germans will run short of U-boat crews.
I would not dissent from that view at all. All I would say is that the operational experience that the German officers gained at that time must have been of the utmost value to them. There are a great many other points which I wish to make, but I promised the Chair that I would speak for rot more than ten minutes, and so I will finish.
I am fully conscious of the fact that my hon. and gallant Friends opposite, who are much more expert on the subjects under review than I can ever hope to be, are anxious to take part in the Debate, and therefore I shall condense my remarks into the most abbreviated space and time. Strange as it may seem, we are discussing, stripped of the irrelevances and the excrescences and the asides, the most vital question before this country. The question of promotion, to which an hon. and gallant Gentleman referred in an admirable speech, the question of pay and conditions in the Service, the rates of pay awarded to engineers, upon which my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) spoke so eloquently, are all important, but none is so vital, so far reaching, so urgent as the question—I pose it simply: "How are we going to encounter and destroy the submarine menace?" If I have any qualification to speak on this subject, it is not that I am an expert—very much of a layman—but I can at least say that for three years now, in this House, in public and in private Session, I have persistently directed attention to this subject. I ventured to direct attention to it when hardly anybody would listen, apart from a few hon. and gallant Members opposite and a few hon. Members on this side. The House as a whole is not interested, largely because of the kind of speech that we have just had from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Squadron-Leader Donner)—not the whole of the speech but a part of it—in which he seemed to indicate that the Germans were not able to produce this or that. That is precisely the type of talk we had three years ago—that the submarine menace was of no significance.
Do not let us waste any time about a thing like that. I merely mentioned it in order to show that that was precisely the atmosphere in this House three years ago, two and a half years ago, two years ago.
On a point of Order. Is it in Order and in accordance with the traditions of this House for an hon. Member to criticise another and not to allow him to make any kind of reply?
I feel that the point is really of no significance. All that I was doing was to furnish an illustration, a quite apposite illustration, with no reflection on my hon. and gallant Friend at all, apart from this note that I detected of complacency and a belief in ourselves irrespective of all the circumstances and conditions. That is the worst way to try to achieve victory. A year ago we had the same kind of complacency, the same belief that all was going well. If hon. Members challenge me, I will produce the evidence from the recorded speeches of those times. I have them before me, and they are well known to hon. Members of this House. Members of the Government, including the First Lord of the Admiralty, and even the Prime Minister, made optimistic utterances. All was going well. I can understand that kind of utterance if it is intended to deceive the enemy, but sometimes in deceiving the enemy you deceive yourselves, and that is the worst thing that can happen.
The first thing I want to say in relation to the Debate proper is this: My right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, in the concluding sentence of his speech, paid a magnificent tribute to the men of the Royal Navy and the Merchant Service. It was quite a proper tribute. He assured the men in the Services that they would always retain the confidence of this House. Of course they will. Not a single utterance in this House by myself or any other Member has ever appeared to indicate any distrust in the ability, the courage and the capacity of the men of the Navy or the Merchant Service. We have the utmost admiration for them, we have the utmost confidence in them. We had admiration for them and confidence in them at a time when they were ill-equipped. All the more so have we confidence in them as equipment gathers strength.
But that is not the issue at all; the issue is whether we have confidence in the political direction of the Admiralty. I say quite frankly that I have never had confidence in the political direction of the Admiralty, and particularly because of that attitude of—"complacency" is not the word, rather, the assumption that the barest breath of criticism to which they were subjected was all wrong and was harmful—not to them, for they would not matter in the least—but to the national interest. I venture the opinion that the only thing harmful to the national interest has been the attitude adopted by the political direction of the Admiralty. Why should we be mealy-mouthed? They are not mealy-mouthed in the United States. They speak quite openly and frankly about the submarine menace. They direct attention to the facts and the figures. They are not afraid to speak of losses when they occur, and when they discover new devices for dealing with this menace everybody is informed. Why should not we be as open as they are in the United States? It is suggested that outspokenness in this House and in the country is helpful to the enemy. I put it bluntly; that is what is said. But it may well be that outspokenness in Debates in this House and outspokenness on a public platform may be the corrective to spurious optimism. But if you want to convince the people of this country of the nature of the ordeal that confronts us, of its grim character, if you really believe the submarine menace is a menace and that unless we overcome it we may lose the war in spite of all our successes on land, you must speak of it frankly and inform the people of the facts; but the only answer we get from the Treasury Bench, and I am sorry to say very frequently from the back benches, is that we are providing comfort for the enemy. It is all nonsense. It is time that sort of thing stopped.
I must say that there has been a marked change in the language of the Admiralty chiefs in recent months. They are much more temperate and guarded in their references to the possibilities that are latent in submarine warfare. That is all to the good. Moreover, there is more frankness and candour in the publication of shipping losses—mark this, not of merchant shipping losses; of naval losses. Not that we have had a statement in this House; a statement was made in another place quite recently, and not in Secret Session. It was followed by a corrected statement emphasising the losses sustained. We were told, and nobody can complain if I now use the figures, because they have been used by members of the Government and on behalf of the Government in another place, and they have been paraded in the Press, that we actually lost 435 war vessels. If we can be told with such candour what our losses are in war vessels, why should we be precluded from knowing what the losses are in merchant vessels? Are we to understand that to convey information to the enemy that we have lost 435 war vessels is not harmful but to convey information to the enemy that we have lost several million tons of merchant vessels is injurious? The whole thing is illogical and absurd, unless it is intended to conceal the facts in order to cover up the deficiencies of the shipbuilding department of the Admiralty and of the convoy system. I believe that is the reason, and if there were time—there is not time in a Debate of this character—I should be willing to furnish all the facts, as has been done occasionally in this House.
What is the substance of this matter? As I see it, it is a question of how we can counter the menace of the U-boat; but not by operating the Fleet Air Arm, because that is only one means of approach. It is no more than that. It is not only by raising the speed of merchant vessels, which is very desirable but is only another approach, or by adding further protection, defensive and offensive, to the merchant vessels, again, another approach; or by reorganising the convoy system, again just another approach. It is a question of how, by combination of all those methods, we can secure the necessary efficient organisation in order to deal with the situation. There are a good many theorists who indulge themselves in this matter. They have their programmes to submit to the country on the matter. For example, lately there has been a new school of thought maintaining that the only way to deal with the submarine is to bomb the hide-outs, the Lorients and the St. Nazaires. They are talking about it, and writing about it in the newspapers, but that is all nonsense. You can obviously delay the activities of the U-boats and interfere with the morale of the U-boat crews by that method; you can delay and impede their operation, but no more than that. Therefore we must find a new means of organisation.
I believe that the two central points are, first to increase the speed of merchant ships, and second to add to their armament. I recognise that when one speaks of speed of vessels we are immediately met by the argument that it might mean a complete reorganisation of the shipbuilding policy of the Government, which takes time, and we might not have the ships or the equipment capable of responding to the needs of fast vessels. The Government were warned long ago about this matter. They cannot come along and say, "This is a new proposal. We have only just heard about it. Give us time to consider it, because it requires examination." They heard about it months ago, and they used the same argument then as now. The First Lord has told us that the Government are going to produce some fast ships, in spite of the fact that the Government have tried to prove to us that slow ships are as good as fast ships. If the Government have now arrived at the conclusion that some faster ships are necessary, they must agree that fast ships are useful. The fact is that fast ships are always better than slow ships.
The trouble I see is that we rely on the fact—and it is a fact—that in the last war we discovered the convoy system, which was of great value. Why was it of great value? First, because it was new, and secondly, because we then had a far larger number of escort vessels than we have now. I am not blaming the Admiralty for not having a sufficient supply of escort vessels. Some of us bear responsibility for that condition of things, but primarily, Governments of the past, and the Government immediately preceding this one. Probably we all bear responsibility, and I am not attaching blame to the Admiralty for not having 700 destroyers instead of only a few hundreds—or less than that. The fact is that conditions are different from those which obtained in the last war, and we must adapt ourselves to the new situation. The convoy system in this war is not as efficient as it was in the last war because the conditions which made it efficient are to some extent lacking. We have to adopt new methods. I say that speed is essential, and armament.
Now it is alleged, by many people who take the contrary view to that held by myself and other Members of this House, that you may have fast vessels but never-the less may lose them. In fact, that is what the Admiralty say. I anticipate that the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty will say that we have lost as many fast vessels as slow vessels; but surely, in order to test the accuracy and content of that statement, we must know the conditions in which those vessels were lost. I can tell the House of the conditions in which certain fast vessels were lost. I am not intending to give information to the enemy, and therefore I shall not name the vessels. They were three very fast vessels of round about 20,000 tons. I am trying to be as evasive as possible. They were on their way home, possibly in the South Atlantic, and they were torpedoed. They were sailing singly. I have always maintained that these vessels could sail singly and elude submarines. The Admiralty evidently believe that, because these vessels were sailing singly. They were three of our finest vessels, but I shall not mention the names of the companies. They were all lost. Why? They were all torpedoed within seven days, because the Admiralty ordered those vessels not to sail at their normal speed but to reduce speed to 15 knots in order to save oil fuel.
The First Lord of the Admiralty can get up now and say whether it is not occasionally the policy of the Admiralty to economise in oil fuel, and whether instructions are not issued occasionally to that effect. There is no doubt about these ships being lost, unfortunately. Here I would like to make an observation. I know that my right hon. Friend does not care very much for the things I say or for my method of saying them. In the last war we lost 14,000 merchant seamen. That was a great tribute to their readiness to sacrifice themselves. Could my right hon. Friend say how far we have exceeded that number in this war? No, but I know it. All right, I do not ask him to tell the House; I know. It concerns me, as I am sure it concerns every hon. and right hon. Member. Not for one moment do I deny that my right hon. Friend possesses the humanitarian instincts that prompt other hon. Members; that is not my case against him. I hear all these things occasionally, although I am not officially connected with seamen. Information comes to me of the terrible exposure to which these men are subjected. I read a document quite recently, reports which were horrifying. I admire the bravery, courage and endurance of these men who have to undergo a horrifying ordeal.
I must speak deliberately. Let the House understand, whatever the consequences may be. I know it is unpopular to speak in this fashion, but I say that if we are not adopting the right organisation, if there is the slightest inefficiency in the organisation, if there is any unwillingness to respond to modern methods because of vested interests or because of the hidebound attitude of certain people who are running the show, the responsibility for sending men to their death lies heavily on the shoulders of the Admiralty. That is strong language, but it is right to use it. When men are being sent to their death, it is because we have not adopted the right methods. Even the Admiralty will admit that they have discovered new methods in the last two or three years which, if they had employed them earlier, might have saved men from a horrible death or horrible exposure. It disturbs me very much when I hear statements made by the First Lord. I must admit that the speech last year was very non-committal, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) said, in his extremely able speech, it was full of generalisations. I quite understand that you cannot expect the right hon. Gentleman—to use his own language—to be too specific; but, when the Prime Minister comes to that Box—I would rather say this before the Prime Minister than when he is not here—and tells us—I have the quotation here—that we conveyed 3,000,000 soldiers and only lost 1,400 men, what is one to say about that?
That only 1,400 British soldiers have been drowned? Is that what it means, for the language is very carefully drawn? Just look at it. It simply is not true, and nobody deplores that more than I do. To say that no more than 1,400 British soldiers have been drowned while being transported overseas—the Government know that is not true. What is the good of talking like that? That is deceiving the House, that is deceiving the country, that is deceiving yourselves. At any rate, I am willing to be corrected by the Minister. Again, I plead with the House to try and understand me and not be constantly misunderstanding me when I talk about these matters. It is not with any desire to assist the enemy that I do so. I want to see this war won. I know we are up against one of the most formidable tasks that has ever faced us. That is why I say these things.
I want to come very briefly to the question of faster ships. Do not believe what I say. Anyhow I am only a layman, no expert. I have to rely on information furnished by others. Take the information conveyed by someone who knows all about it, Admiral Land, head of the United States Maritime Commission. Will he do? He is an expert. He is expert enough to be employed by the United States Government to take command of shipbuilding production. He said that the fast ship was now being produced. What is more, my shipowning friends, if I may call them friends, not politically or industrially, but with some of whom I occasionally associate and who furnish me with information, are now almost unanimous that the fast ship must be built. Read "Fair Play," read the "Shipbuilding Record," read any shipbuilding journal, read the reports of the Chamber of Shipping. There was a time when they did not agree, but they are now unanimous that fast ships are necessary. We can produce them. What is the argument against them? It is that we have not the capacity for engine production. I do not want to go into that too fully at the moment. I want to put it in this way. My right hon. Friend will probably understand what I mean.
Proposals have been submitted to him by an expert who has designed a cargo warship. I do not say that I am entirely in agreement with the cargo warship. Proposals have been submitted to him. He knows all about it. He knows also, through information conveyed to him, that it is possible to produce the engines, that in fact aircraft engines can be utilised for the purpose. It is well known in the industry that in fact it is not marine engineering which is the bottleneck now. Anyhow the United States are able to overcome the difficulty, if there is any difficulty. So we must get the fast ship, but we must get more than the fast ship. We must see that the ships are properly protected. I indulged in only one interjection during the First Lord's speech last week, so he cannot complain. When he was speaking about defensive equipment on merchant vessels I asked, "Fore and aft?" He said that many of them are equipped fore and aft. I made inquiries. What did he mean? Did he mean that if you erect two machine guns on the bridge, that is the forward part of the vessel?
Will he tell us how many British merchant vessels built in this country are provided with a gun in the forward part? I asked some shipowners. I said, "The First Lord now says that you have got them." None of them can find any. There may be some. They know of the machine guns on the bridges, but not of guns forward. Why? Is it because of international conventions? I am told that if one of our ships found its way into a neutral port it would be interned because it would be an offensive vessel if it had a gun on the forward part. What nonsense it is. I would like information about that. I believe, and I have said it for three years, that if you get a fast vessel and arm that vessel to do as the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) said, you can not merely defend yourself in convoy against submarine attacks, but go for the submarines. You can do that if you have got the vessels properly armed. I want that tackled.
Because I am very anxious to hear my hon. and gallant and hon. Friends I forbear to deal with other matters which I think very important, but I want to touch on one of them before I sit down. What is the moral of all this? We are now constantly praising the virtues of our Russian Ally, and rightly so. They have had glorious successes on land against great odds, persistently maintained against the enemy. That is very fine, very heartening, very inspiring. But while we praise those virtues, let us not underrate the virtues of our own men. That, I have never done. At many large meetings in the country I have always praised the virtues of our men. We have got it all. I would add that the Navy and the Merchant Service, with all the difficulties confronting them, are rendering as magnificent a contribution to victory as even our Russian Ally. I do not underrate their achievements, but we have a superhuman task facing us. It is right to tell us what we have achieved, but anybody who imagines this war is almost over because of successes on the Eastern front, or because of a moderate advance in Tunisia, or because we have destroyed some U-boats, or because of air bombing—all effective, I willingly agree—is making the gravest mistake that can be made in this war.
Before this war is over desperate things will happen. I do not rely on internal collapse or any other kind of collapse on the part of the enemy. The only one collapse possible is to destroy the menace which confronts us, and we shall in the main destroy it on the oceans. That is the big achievement expected of us, and to the extent to which we can destroy the submarine menace we shall have rendered a greater service to our Russian Ally even than we could by the immediate adoption of the second front, though I believe something like a second front may be necessary before long. Therefore I urge my right hon. Friend not to be so incensed when I refer to these matters. Let him not imagine that I am a disgruntled person. I am trying to help, if not him—I do not say I am trying to help him— the country, by propounding what I believe is the solution, or at any rate a partial or incomplete solution, to this problem of U-boat warfare.
If, finally, we discover we have not got the escort vessels and the submarine menace is overwhelming, or almost overwhelming, there is one thing we must do. We must put the public in possession of sufficient facts—I do not go beyond that—so as to prepare them for another ordeal, namely, the need, because of the need for the conservation of our food resources, to accept less than they have been accustomed to in the past three years. Again, I am saying nothing new so far as I am concerned. I have said it over and over again, and others have said it. [Interruption.]My right hon. Friend said he started it, but unfortunately he forgot all about it. [Interruption.] He has not had much influence in the Government. You can have it anyway you like. I agree that he believed in rationing. We discussed it in the early days of the war, but his preoccupation is looking after the Admiralty. The Prime Minister the other week told us we were dipping into our food reserves. I questioned him on the subject. I want to say this—the Government can correct me if I am wrong—that we are now below the danger point. There, I leave it. We are below the irreducible minimum, and when you are below the irreducible minimum it is time to face up to it, share and share alike, putting everybody on the same level, no nonsense about it, nobody cockahoop, because we have turned the corner, but facing up to it, a little less of the society functions and a little less of the hotel and restaurant manoeuvres, with fair play for everybody, and no pretence on the part of Lord Woolton or the Prime Minister or anyone else, if that is the position. If the Government are prepared to say to me that the food position is not at all serious, that we are still importing food and the rest of it, let them do so. If they cannot, then I say the problem has got to be solved in the long run, if you cannot deal with it by destroying the U-boats, though I think to some extent you can, and I have advised a certain course. But if you cannot solve it in that way, clearly we must be prepared to put our backs against the wall and tighten our belts and say that we shall go on, each prepared to sacrifice ourselves, to accept even privation so long as it is understood that we are doing it in the national interest. And why should we complain? What right have we to ask men to go and fight and that we should remain at home in comparative comfort, doing nothing or comparatively nothing? There are only two things we are called upon to do. One is to accept sacrifices not dissimilar from those imposed on the men who are fighting, and the other is to ensure that when those men come back they have a fair and square deal.
I think it will be for the convenience of the House if at this stage I deal with some of the many questions which have been raised in the course of the Debate. This does not necessarily mean the closing of the Debate, but it does mean that there is an interesting Amendment on the W.R.N.S. which is to be moved shortly, and which will be replied to by my hon. Friend the Civil Lord. I would like to acknowledge, on behalf of the First Lord and those of us of the Admiralty, the fine spirit in which the House has received the record of work of all branches of the Royal Navy and Mercantile Marine. This appreciation is a reflection of the nation's feeling for all who are associated with the Service in their gigantic task. At no time in history has the Royal Navy meant more to the nation and to the Allied Governments than it does at present. Its work is followed with the greatest interest, as was the story of great achievement which my right hon. Friend the First Lord gave the House, in his very fine speech.
Many very important questions have been raised during the Debate. A number of my hon. Friends expressed much concern as to whether the steps taken to combat the U-boat menace are adequate; and the other main questions concerned the strength of the Fleet Air Arm, the speed of merchant ships, and the disclosure of shipping losses. My hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) stressed each of those four points, and my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) mentioned the last two. The policy of the Government regarding disclosure of shipping losses was laid down as recently as nth February by the Prime Minister. We still think, as does my hon. and gallant Friend the
Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor), that while details of much of the work of the Service is of very great interest to the people of this country, it is of greater interest to the enemy; and, in the opinion of the Government, it is very much better for the enemy to deceive himself with his own lies as far as merchant shipping losses are concerned than that the figures should be disclosed. [Interruption.] I am simply stating the position on which the conclusions of the Government were based. With the exception of criticism in this House, there has been little or no pressure in the country for such disclosure. The nation is content to rely upon the information which is conveyed to it through this House and the Press from time to time, upon the authority, and with the reliability, of the Prime Minister. The First Lord, in his very informative review of the activities of the Navy during the past year, referred at length to the attempt of our enemies to impose a blockade upon this country, which would react seriously on our war effort if it were successful. He pointed out that the Government are fully seized of the importance of counter-action, and, indeed, of every kind of action, to bring about the destruction of the submarine menace. He pointed out that success had already attended these efforts. My hon. Friends have now had time to read what the First Lord said. He said:
Already I can say that the results in that direction during the last four months have been the most encouraging of the whole period of the war, and in the month of February just ended, from the number and nature of the attacks we know have been carried out, we believe we achieved the best results against U-boats yet experienced."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1943; cols. 569–70, Vol. 387.]
That statement only carries forward the recent statement by the Prime Minister, which clearly gave the full measure of the success attained. That statement was made as recently as nth February, and I am sure it is in the minds of most hon. Members. I will refer to just one part of it:
Provided that the present intense efforts are kept up here and in the United States, and that anti-U-boat warfare continues to hold first place in our thoughts and energies, I take the responsibility of assuring the House—and I have not misled them so far—that we shall be definitely better off, so far as shipping is concerned, at the end of 1943 than we are now."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1943; col. 1472, Vol. 386.)
There never was a moment in which he did not see our way through, provided that the United States promises to us were made good. Notwithstanding those statements, which are very reassuring, and while there is no need to exaggerate the number of U-boats, we know that they are increasing: so are their losses; and so are the means of attacking them. In this country, in the United States, and in Canada great programmes of escort ships are in hand, with the result that the United Nations will this year receive additions to their escort fleets far greater than in previous years.
Almost every hon. Member who has spoken in this Debate has put questions about priorities. The Prime Minister announced on 11th February that the production of these escort vessels is the highest priority, and that has been the position for some time. Also, there is a steady increase in the number of aircraft allotted for trade protection. These measures, together with the fact that there is a very strong Committee, presided over by the Prime Minister, constantly examining this problem, and the day-to-day work at the Admiralty, should assure this House and the nation and the Allies that every measure possible is taken to deal with this serious menace. Reference was made to the absence of any so-called U-boat expert on the anti-U-boat Committee. The First Lord explained that Admiral Sir Max Horton, who is chief of what may be regarded as the main U-boat battlefield, is a great U-boat expert, and that he is constantly consulted by and is in touch with the Committee. As the Prime Minister rightly said in his statement on the Committee on 15th December, several Departments are involved in the hunting of the U-boat, and it is necessary to focus the contributions of all the Departments concerned and to ensure proper concert between them. It is this that the representatives of the Committee, with their separate spheres of responsibility, are able to do. As well as this Committee, there is a very strong Admiralty organisation behind the commander in the main field of operations, giving attention to this very vital matter.
The question of the Fleet Air Arm has been raised by a number of speakers. I can but refer again to the statement of the First Lord, in which he mentions that the Fleet Air Arm has been constantly expanding, in spite of losses sustained by our carriers, and that this expansion is rapidly increasing. With this expansion, all Departments specially concerned with air matters in the Admiralty have been recently reorganised, and distinguished officers have been appointed. The announcement of their appointment, which was received with much approbation in this House, and the new plans announced by the First Lord should lead to an intensification of the work of the Fleet Air Arm. The First Lord referred to the increasing numbers of the Seafire fighters which are now coming along. The Barracuda is also coming from the factories in increasing numbers, while other types of naval aircraft of British design are coming forward, and the Avenger torpedo-bombers of special type and dive-bombers will shortly be delivered.
Questions have been put about priorities of the Fleet Air Arm compared with the Royal Air Force. The Fleet Air Arm has equal priority with the Royal Air Force for planes. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) asked my right hon. Friend to look into the question of the Inspector Department of the Ministry of Aircraft Production. I can assure him that that matter has already been dealt with. He also asked my right hon. Friend to look into the question of the advancement of officers of the Fleet Air Arm to bring them into equality with officers of the R.A.F. A very strong point was made of this by my hon and gallant Friend the Member for Hythe (Lieut.-Commander Brabner). This is one of the matters now receiving the attention of the new heads of the Fleet Air Department. I think it can be said that the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe explained very fully and clearly the difficulties which the Admiralty has found in giving extended promotion up to the rank of lieutenant-commander in the Fleet Air Arm. He explained that the difficulty was in the relation of the Fleet Air Arm to the rest of the Navy. The Admiralty has been busy for some time trying to work out a system to give much more promotion up to the lieutenant-commander's rank in the Fleet Air Arm without being unfair to the rest of the Service. My hon. and gallant Friend also referred to the promotion of rating pilots. That is another matter which is being considered.
Then my hon. and gallant Friend referred to publicity. He complained that the Fleet Air Arm was not getting its fair share. The publicity branch of the Admiralty has now been strengthened by bringing in a very gallant admiral to take control. We hope that, as a result, a good deal of attention will be paid to this question. I am sure that he will take note of what has been said about the work of the Fleet Air Arm. In saying that, I should make it quite clear that I do not mean that nothing has been done in regard to publicity hitherto. During the year approximately 400 official communiqués and Press notices, together with a large number of hand-outs, have been issued, naval Press conferences are held weekly at the Ministry of Information by a flag officer, and at the Admiralty a weekly Press conference is held for British naval correspondents, with periodical Press conferences for United States correspondents. The question of official photographers and cinema photographers is being gone into, and a good deal of very important work is being done. The success which has attended the publication of the book called "The Ark Royal" has been most marked. So far more than 525,000 copies of this publication have been sold, and several similar publications are now being produced. There is a special one called "West of Suez," which I think will be published during the course of this week.
Can the right hon. Gentlemen assure the House that at the Press conferences, where there are really only statements of fact, a real story and more detail will be given? It would not be giving anything away to the enemy and would be of great interest to the public. A mere statement that so-and-so was done is not enough. The publicity should be more of a general character and give more details of an operation.
Wherever it is possible that is being done now. I do not think that it can be questioned but that stories are told so that they can get the best publicity value.
We have some very successful B.B.C. commentators connected with the Admiralty, and they have done a good deal of broadcasting work. I mention Kimmins, Woodruffe, and others like them who have been very successful broadcasters, and have done a good deal of useful work in that direction.
Probably we can leave that to the new head of the Department, who, I am sure, will take note of any suggestions made to him.
We listened to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Whitechapel and St. Georges (Mr. W. Edwards) in which he raised many practical points, and, like many other hon. Members, he raised the question of the speed of ships, and it was very interesting to have his comments upon the convoy system. My right hon. Friend the First Lord was very pleased to note that he himself testified to the progress that was being made in the safety of convoys during the course of last year, not that he did not suggest that there was room for improvement. He raised one question concerning the clothes for survivors which have been handed over by members of the crew of the naval craft which picked them up. I can tell him that all destroyers, sloops, and corvettes now carry extra coats, blankets and towels for the use of survivors, and each convoy ship at home and in Atlantic waters carries 25 complete survivors' kits, and this number is now to be increased considerably. Compensation to ratings, as my hon. Friend rightly said, is two-thirds of the value of the clothes. He has very strong views about this. The Admiralty came to a conclusion about this matter because it thought that that was reasonable and generous compensation, but my right hon. Friend and I would be very happy to discuss that matter with him.
He also raised the question of commissions from the lower deck. The Admiralty fully agrees that financial considerations should have nothing to do with the granting of commissions. When the hon. Member refers to the Navy losing good material owing to the uniform allowances and pay, perhaps he is not making allowance for the increases of junior officers' pay and of uniform allowance made during last autumn, when there were fairly substantial increases made both in uniform allowances and in junior officers' pay. Perhaps he will look at that matter, and if he has any special case where he thinks that someone whose claim is well founded, not from the point of view of advancing the man's claim for a commission, but because he is suitable for a commission, has been turned down for the reasons he has given either my right hon. Friend or I will be very pleased to discuss the matter with him.
Can my right hon. Friend give me any information at all of how new entrants and people called up for hostilities are selected to undergo examination for a commission?
Which more or less points out what I said last week, that they take them from certain professions rather than have a general view of the individual.
I do not think I can agree with my hon. Friend in this matter, but he must agree that in some cases financial considerations, possibly the question of pay, is a consideration as between one man and another.
Possibly the best way to deal with this matter is to discuss it with me. There was one question which has been discussed and which my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham, in his very eloquent speech, made a point about, and indeed it was the only constructive suggestion which he made in the whole of his speech, that of faster ships. Really, he must not think that the Admiralty or the Government have been complacent with regard to the U-boat menace. In his submission one would imagine that the First Lord has done nothing whatever. He complained bitterly about the inefficiency of the political heads of the Admiralty.
All that those of us who know the work of the First Lord and of the officers at the Admiralty charged with this very important question can say is that really my hon. Friend is speaking without knowledge of the facts.
It has been suggested that the Admiralty has been opposed to the construction of faster ships. That is entirely wrong. The Admiralty argued against it because of the lack of facilities for the purpose of producing these ships. [Interruption.] I hope my hon. Friend will listen to what I have to say in connection with this matter. There is scarcely any need for a reply to be given to the speech made by my hon. Friend in so far as this matter has already, during the course of the last month, been discussed on two occasions. The Prime Minister, in his speech on 11th February, referred at length to the difficulties of the construction of fast ships, and it would be out of Order for me to refer to another speech recently made which dealt very fully with the difficulty of providing the type of ship to which my hon. Friend has referred to-day.
Will my right hon. Friend deal with that part of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) in which he charged the Admiralty with not producing faster ships which caused the loss of vessels? That is a direct charge.
A serious charge of that kind will be answered, but I have not quite finished with the hon. Member for Seaham yet. My hon. Friend put it in such a way, and I wanted to answer some of the points my hon. Friend put to me, and I am sure he has no objection to that.
Then there is no disagreement at all between us. The impression seems to be that the Admiralty has set itself against the building of fast ships. Were there any such policy in the Admiralty, it Would have to be shared not only by the Admiralty, but by the Ministry of War Transport, which settles the types of vessels and ships to be built, with the advice of Admiralty experts about defensive needs and the feasibility of suitable apparatus for building hulls and machinery. The Ministry of War Transport is advised about the types and speed of ships by the Shipbuilding Advisory Committee, and this is well known to hon. Friends who are interested in this shipping problem in the House of Commons.
It is rather strange that my hon. Friend should say that when the President of the shipowners organisation at the time of the appointment of the Committee was appointed a member of that Committee.
There is a representative of the shipowners on the Committee. I want to disabuse the mind of my hon. Friend and the minds of other hon. Members upon the point that the Admiralty is a bottleneck with regard to the question of the speed of ships. It can be said that from the outbreak of war there has been a continuous effort to increase the amount of horse-power fitted into all the deep seagoing ships, and that has been achieved not only by a general uplift of power in all the various types but that some effort from the very outset has also resulted in a gradual extension in the proportion of faster ships. It is a proportion which has increased from the comparatively small amount at the outbreak of war to a far greater proportion than has ever been known in the history of the shipbuilding industry of this country. Let it not be forgotten that the great bulk of the shipyards normally in peace-time producing the high-power cargo liners, are now employed in what must come first—the production of high-powered warships.
I am dealing with my hon. Friend. The experts charged with dealing with that matter have given it considerable thought and very careful examination, which involved tank experiments with models. Very close consideration has been given to the question of the output capacity on a very wide range, not only in shipyards and engine works, but also in industries right down to the raw material stage, and it can safely be said that the output of fast ships has been increasing, and will continue to increase, in a manner which could not have been achieved without an enormous amount of thought and planning. Every slip not in use for naval ships, which is physically capable of berthing a vessel of appropriate dimensions of the faster ship, is now engaged on such vessels. The chief aim of the ship construction policy of the Government is to build as quickly as possible those ships which can carry a maximum quantity of cargo with the greatest measure of speed, to make the best possible use of shipbuilding and marine engine capacity in this country to meet the needs of the war and to make as many fast vessels as possible without misusing available capacity. On the question of the cargo-carrying capacity of the small ship as compared with the large ship, it should be pointed out, and the House should understand it, that to put engine power for a speed of 15 knots into every tramp ship would mean that the total merchant tonnage produced would be reduced to a half of what it is at the present time. That is a consideration which the Government must take into account.
The authority is the experts who are advising the Admiralty, and I do not know that the qualifications of the experts can be called into account. They are shipbuilders, not shipowners, who have done nothing but shipbuilding all their lives so far. Whatever might be the opinion about Sir James Lithgow, and the number of competent shipbuilders charged with the responsibility of advising the Admiralty and the Ministry of War Trans-port upon this question, surely my hon. Friends will give the Admiralty credit for taking the advice of men who have done a magnificent job for the nation since the commencement of the war. I know of no experts whose reputation would stand higher in shipbuilding or shipowning than these persons who have been advising the Admiralty upon this subject.
I want to assure my hon. Friends that this question of fast shipping is constantly before the Admiralty, and the fact is that of the ocean-going vessels now on order and under construction about one-third are in the higher speed categories.
I was about to reply to the specific point concerning the saving of fuel. I want to assure the House that what was done was not done for the purposes of economy. The ship referred to——
One of the ships referred to by my hon. Friend took on sufficient fuel to reach a certain port at full speed. It was discovered that there was an assembly of attacking submarines on the route through which the ships would have had to go, and this ship was, therefore, diverted from the normal route, with the result that the distance it had to travel was very much longer than the distance allowed for by the amount of oil fuel which was taken aboard. There was no instruction whatever that these ships should go at a slower speed to save oil. As I have said, they started out with sufficient oil for a full-speed journey without deviation. I think the explanation is quite clear. The course had to be altered for safety reasons. Owing to the route being much longer, the ship could not go at full speed, but had to travel at reduced speed. There was no instruction that there should be a saving of fuel.
May I ask one question? There are survivors of these ships, including officers. Has the question of what they think of the slowing down of these vessels been put to them? The officers ought to know.
I should have thought that my hon. Friend, with the information at his disposal, instead of throwing the charge across the Floor of the House, would have communicated with the Admiralty so that we could have made full inquiries.
It may be the old story, but in my view it would have been the honourable thing for any hon. Member to have done if he had been under the impression that something which should not have been done had, in fact, been done. If what my hon. Friend has said is true, quite frankly, I say that the matter should be dealt with at once, but it would have been very much better if, when it had been brought to his notice, he would, out of feelings towards my right hon. Friend the First Lord or myself, have put it before the Admiralty so that we could have made inquiries into it at once instead of raising the matter on the the Floor of the House, as he has done now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) made an eloquent speech about conditions in shipyards and referred to one special section—and a very important section—of the men who are employed in shipbuilding, namely, the engineers. He complained about what he called low wages which the engineers are paid and spoke of the pressure which he has put on the Admiralty and the Ministry of Labour with a view to increasing the rate. Well, my hon. Friend must know that the policy of the Government, which was laid down by the Minister of Labour, who is charged with this matter, is to leave questions of conditions of employment and wages to the conciliation machinery which has for so long served the nation and industry so well. Indeed, my hon. Friend knows that for some months negotiations have been proceeding between the representative organisation of the engineering employers and the Amalgamated Engineering Union and that at this moment the executive of the organisation of which he himself is a member is asking the Minister of Labour to take steps to submit the claim for increased wages to the tribunal which has been set up to deal with these questions. Under circumstances such as that it was impossible either for my right hon. Friend the First Lord or the Minister of Labour to intervene, other than to take steps which the Minister of Labour has taken.
We agree with my hon. Friend that these men are doing excellent work, although we do not share his expressed view as to the general attitude of the men in the shipyards. As was pointed out by the First Lord, the output last year, from new construction in the shipyards, exceeds the target. The target may be too low, but it was fixed by those persons competent to judge after the amount of material and labour available to bring about that target had been taken into consideration. From the point of view of repaired ships, tens of millions of tons have been repaired during the course of last year. Strangely enough, this week is the only week for a year when a ship awaiting repair has had to wait for a berth. It can be said, in connection with all the adaptations and conversions which have had to be carried out by the shipbuilding and repairing industry of the country, that it can be said on the whole the men in the yards are doing, and have done, a magnificent job of work.
The Government, led by the Minister of Labour, have laid it clown that everything is to be organised through trade union machinery. This is a question of engineers' wages, at the rate of 1s. 813/16d. per hour. Negotiations have been going on for five months, and what I am asking the Government to do is to intervene and tell the employers of labour that they must make terms with the men. The men have beaten all records in shipbuilding up to date, even making allowances for the trouble there has been. I have here the name of every ship that has been built and repaired in Britain. The men have beaten all records, and because of that I again appeal to the Government to use their influence to see that the just demands of the men are met at once.
It was only on Monday, I understand, that the Government were asked to intervene in the matter, and within a few hours the Minister of Labour had taken action to see that this claim in regard to wages should be dealt with. One could not have much more expedition than that.
I am afraid I have taken up much more time than I had anticipated I would. A number of questions were put to the Admiralty with which I have not been able to deal, but I assure my hon. Friends who put the questions that my right hon. Friend the First Lord will examine each of the points raised and, if necessary, will communicate with hon. Members with regard to them. I hope now that we shall be able to come to the Amendment that is to be moved.
Will the First Lord take special note of the reference I made to pay and allowances, because I assure him it is a matter of the utmost importance, and will he endeavour to get the remainder of the Government to give an early day for further discussion of that matter?
I would point out that that matter concerns not only the Navy but the other Services. I can assure my hon. Friend that the First Lord has taken full note of what he said on the matter.