Orders of the Day — Supply – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th March 1948.
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
Owing to the absence of my noble Friend in another place, it is my duty today, and my privilege, to speak on behalf of the officers and men of the Royal Navy. I am particularly glad to do this because the Navy has recently been subjected to a great deal of criticism; some of it well-intentioned, some of it malicious, and some of it merely ill-informed. We are told that the Navy today is being fast reduced to nothing, that it is a decaying force. Words such as these are not pleasant for the officers and men of the Royal Navy to hear—men who know they are carrying out an arduous duty, and who do not like to hear fun being made of it.
We are asking this year for a sum of no less than £153 million. This is a big reduction on last year's Estimate. The principle we have acted upon in making this reduction is to see that so far as possible the Navy is kept fit and ready for expansion should the need arise. In showing how we are doing this, I want to deal first with the ships and then with the men of the Royal Navy. As hon. Members are fully aware, many of our ships are now immobilised. We hope that by December of this year, however—and this I think will interest in particular the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition—to have put a number of ships once again into commission. By that time, we shall have four battleships, three fleet carriers, five light fleet carriers, 17 cruisers, 34 submarines, 52 destroyers and 43 frigates in commission. These are quite apart from the reserve Fleet, which is large, and which makes an important contribution towards the strength of the Navy.
During recent years—and this is a point which, I think, will interest hon. Members, many of whom may not be aware of it—there has been considerable development both in frigates and in destroyers. So great indeed is this improvement that our 24 newest destroyers have a comparable armament to prewar light cruisers. Our frigates though not as useful as prewar destroyers against surface craft, are, in fact, more useful than prewar destroyers against submarines. When we bear this in mind we face a very interesting fact. We find that except for battleships of which we certainly have fewer than before the war, we have quite definitely today as many ships of each class as we had in an average prewar year. It is, indeed, a very formidable Fleet, second only in size to that of the United States of America, and a Fleet to which in spite of all criticism levelled against it, every officer and man is proud to belong.
Will the hon. Gentleman say how many ships we have in commission, because this is a point which will make a considerable difference?
I have just given the number of ships we are to have in commission towards the end of the year. I have also said that a number of ships are, as we know, immobilised. I have given the number of ships we shall have in commission at the end of the year and talked about the ships in reserve, and I thought that I had made it quite clear that I am adding both together in stating the size of the Fleet.
The recent decision of His Majesty's Government to scrap five old battleships has given rise to a number of misconceptions. Some people thought that we had lost interest in the Navy by doing this. I think that it is worth while considering what was done by previous Governments. The Government that was in power between 1918 and 1922 of which the Leader of the Opposition was a prominent Member, took exactly the same course as we have taken. Between November, 1918, and November, 1922, they disposed of—and perfectly rightly disposed of—no fewer than 39 of our oldest battleships. That was a perfectly proper proceeding and one with with which we do not quarrel, but it ill-behoves them to quarrel with us for doing the same thing. Some of these which we are now scrapping are very old indeed, dating back to the first world war. It would be ridiculous to keep them on now, using money and manpower, as souvenirs when at the beginning of a new war they would probably be sunk within a few days. Hon. Members will be interested to know that the United States have also decided to scrap or dispose of no fewer than seven of their battleships.
They are keeping 13 in reserve, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that they are keeping only two in commission, which is fewer than we are. The end of any war naturally finds us with more ships than we can possibly man under peacetime conditions. Some of them are being scrapped. We want to keep a number of them in reserve. We attach a great deal of importance to our reserve Fleet, and, on the instructions of the First Lord, I recently went to America to investigate the methods which the Americans are adopting for looking after their reserve Fleet. We want to see that our reserve Fleet is properly preserved, and methods exist today for doing that which did not exist before the war. The method which the Americans are using has the rather terrifying title of dynamic dehumidification, which, I am sure, the right hon. Gentleman would prefer to call, as I do, drying by force. We too hope that, although we have less money and less materials than the Americans, our ships can be preserved as are American ships, ready for action should the need arise, at very short notice. As I stated earlier, a number of our ships are immobilised. I said, also, that they would be put in commission at a later period this year.
I am glad to be able to inform the House that the Home Fleet will proceed on a cruise this autumn to the West Indies, leaving the United Kingdom
towards the end of September and returning at the beginning of December in time for Christmas leave. The composition of the Fleet is not yet decided, but it will probably consist of the "Duke of York," the Flagship of the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, the 3rd Aircraft Carrier Squadron, the 2nd Cruiser Squadron, two flotillas of destroyers and the Fleet replenishment ship. On passage, and during their stay in the West Indies, the Fleet will carry out extensive exercises, and will also visit British possessions within the area. During this cruise some ships will leave the main Fleet and pay a visit to South Africa. The House will be glad to hear that we have received a telegram from the South African Government which states:
The Union Government have heard with great pleasure of the cruise of units of the Home Fleet and agree to the proposal. The visiting ships will receive a most cordial welcome from the people of South Africa.
During the past year the Mediterranean Fleet has remained virtually at full strength. I say this, because it is a point which some people may not have noticed—some people, particularly, who will be making criticisms of the weakness of the Fleet. The Mediterranean Fleet has had a great deal of work to do. I will mention only one of its duties, the task of controlling illegal Jewish immigration. Far be it from me to enter into any controversy with regard to the rights and wrongs of controlling Jewish immigration. I would say only that the skill, determination and humanity of those taking part in this difficult operation has been amply shown by the success which has attended the Palestine Patrol. Quite apart from the Fleet we are keeping in commission, we have, as the House has seen from the Estimates, made provision for a number of ships now being built.
There are 12 carriers now under construction, and work is actually proceeding on eight of them. We hope to complete a fleet carrier in 1949 and to launch an additional light carrier this year. Ten destroyers and a number of smaller vessels are also under construction, while seven destroyers and seven submarines were completed, and joined the Home Fleet last year. I think the House will be interested to know that the size of some of the ships is considerably greater than the size of similar ships before the war. To take, for example, the fleet carriers: the newest, the "Ark Royal," will have a displacement of 36,800 tons, compared with the displacement of the "Illustrious," which was 23,000 tons.
As the House knows, the helicopter is still only in its infancy. When fully developed it may prove to be of some value in connection with various aspects of naval work. I had the opportunity last year of travelling in one myself. I found it a most remarkable experience, and one which I can advocate for any hon. Member who has not already enjoyed it. After one has gone forward at full speed ahead, pulled up suddenly, gone back in reverse, and landed on the top of a hangar, the ordinary aeroplane seems quite an old-fashioned apparatus. Helicopters have only one drawback, which is that, on landing, if there is a high wind, they are apt suddenly, after having landed, to turn over very slowly—a process which is not conducive to a dignified arrival on the part of important personages. Apart from that, they are useful.
The Royal Dockyards are playing a leading part in keeping the Navy effective, and they will continue to do this, which is of course, their primary function. To maintain dockyard efficiency, and to be sure that, if called upon, we can expand rapidly, we are making provision for the supply of adequate machine tools. We attach very great importance to this. With the object of reducing the call on labour facilities in private shipyards we have increased considerably the refitting work on non-naval vessels belonging to the Admiralty and other Government Departments, and have also continued to undertake commercial repayment work, our aim being both to maintain the capacity of the Royal Dockyards at a high level, and to afford employment for workers who would otherwise be unemployed. We plan to employ about 2,400 workers in the Royal Dockyards this year in this way, and 57o in the Royal Naval Torpedo Factory. Repayment work is being carried out for Government Departments, local authorities and private firms. The work varies from the manufacture of coal-cutting machinery to the installation of wiring on a housing estate near Plymouth. This is all work of national importance, carried out by men who would, in similar circumstances before the war under previous Governments, have been drawing their dole at the Employment Exchange.
I have dealt with the ships that we have now and those we are building——
Can the Parliamentary Secretary say which Royal Dockyards we are retaining, both in England and abroad?
We are retaining all the Royal Dockyards at home. There is no question at all of their not being retained.
I come now to a new point, not with regard to the ships we have, or ships we are building, but ships we may have in the future. It is often said that generals and admirals fight each war with the weapons of the last. It is a joke that is often made at their expense. If they do, it is very often not their fault, but simply that they have not been provided with new weapons. We mean to see that any admirals who may have to fight a war, it may be in five, 10, 15 or even 50 years, will have adequate and up-to-date weapons with which to fight it. We are, therefore, devoting a very large sum of money, a large proportion of our Estimates, to research. We are devoting no less than £9 million, and I would compare this figure—because I think the comparison is an interesting one—with the figure of only £700,000 devoted to research in 1934, which I would take as an average pre-war year.
Hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that a substantial part of our research is devoted to the effects of the atom bomb. To what extent has the arrival of the atom bomb rendered our existing Fleet obsolete, and what steps can we take to counter it? Anyone who saw the photographs of the damaged craft after Bikini will realise the extent of the problem. Obviously, no ship built, or ever likely to be built, could operate after the detonation of an atomic bomb directly over it. That is quite plain. Hence, we must select a distance at which the ship, and more particularly the crew, can continue to operate with some degree of efficiency and ensure that both can survive the air blast, under-water shock, radioactivity and heat resulting from the bomb at that particular distance. The question of the protection of the crew against the heat and radioactive effects is particularly important. There must clearly be occasions when some of them will be exposed to these effects, but we are taking action to obtain the best possible means of reducing these to the minimum, by enclosing bridges, gun mounts and other superstructure; in fact, we are considering whether some of this superstructure cannot be abolished altogether.
One of the most troublesome features is the resulting radioactive contamination of a ship due to a nearby detonation. That is a problem to which we are giving the utmost attention, as indeed we are to many others to which I have no time today to refer. I merely mention it in the course of a very general address. The House will understand that I cannot go into details on atomic research, but I should make it plain that the Navy is keeping that matter in the forefront of its inquiries into new methods.
My hon. Friend has actually said that he had considered the effects of the atom bomb that burst in the air. I am sure that he will not try to give a wrong impression as to the relative effectiveness of the bombs. Is it not a fact that the most dangerous use of the atom bomb is the under-water explosion, which had so much more effect at Bikini?
I am quite well aware of that fact. We shall pay just as much attention to it as we shall to the other effects.
I come to the development of what is known as "Snort," the name given to the means to provide for British submarines taking in air for the purpose of running engines and providing fresh air for the crew, when the vessel is submerged to periscope depth. The idea of maintaining an air inlet of this sort is by no means new. It was, in fact, started by Bourne in his submersible, as far back as 1578. Unfortunately, or fortunately, that craft never took the water. The Germans developed it, as hon. Members know, to a very considerable extent.
The British device is similar to that of the Germans. We have given it a number of trials lately. The most interesting one was the trial of H.M.S. "Alliance," which has recently returned from tropical waters. Her course under water took her from a point ion miles south of the Canaries down to the Equator and back as far as Freetown, a distance of more than 3,000 miles, during which she remained totally submerged. We have sent H.A.S. "Ambush" up to the Arctic to make investigations into conditions in that part of the world and to see how far it is possible to travel submerged in Arctic waters. She left this country in mid-February and she is up there now.
In some ways, the new "Snort" apparatus eases the life of the crew to a very considerable extent. For example, the air is maintained relatively fresh inside the submarine. The crew can smoke. In rough weather, rolling is minimised. Needless to say, there is no danger of the men getting drenched by going up on deck. We think that the health and efficiency of crews will not be adversely affected. That is a point which I should like to bring to the notice of hon. Members now, for the benefit of those who may go into submarines in the future. Future submarines will include this equipment as an integral part of their make-up.
Can my hon. Friend give us some indication of the under-water speeds for which we must be prepared?
My hon. and learned Friend has anticipated by about three seconds what I was going to say. I was just coming to that point. We are investigating alternative methods of submarine propulsion, and investigations are proceeding satisfactorily. Should they meet with success and lead to the design and production of submarines capable of a substantially higher speed when submerged, it is clear that the tactical employment of submarines in future war and the defence of our trade against such attack will require reconsideration. I cannot say more than that at present. Hon. Members can rest assured that this very important investigation is receiving a high priority and that we mean to see that it is brought to a successful conclusion.
A fourth item of research, quite a different one, is into the development of the gas turbine engine. This development is still in its infancy, but if it is successful it may well revolutionise the whole of naval warfare. Not only that, but it may have a very big effect upon merchant shipping. For centuries, man depended on the wind to propel his ships. Then came the steam engine, which revolutionised naval warfare and drove the sailing ship from the sea. It is possible that the introduction of this new method of propulsion may, if it is successful, drive the steamship off the sea and make it as out of date as the sailing ship. It will reduce fuel consumption so that ships will have a greatly increased cruising radius. That is very important, as hon. Members will appreciate. It will abolish the need for ships to put into port every month to have their boilers cleaned, which again will increase their capacity for operation, although this may give some pain to ratings who expect to get leave during the period when boilers are cleaned. It will reduce the space occupied by machinery and allow a corresponding increase for fighting equipment, which is another important point. It may halve the time needed to get the ship under way, a point which will be seen to be of vital importance in all warlike operations.
I have talked of the ships we have, of the ships we are building and of the ships we mean to have in the future. From ships, I come now to the men of the Royal Navy. Just as we must provide ships which are adequately equipped, so we must provide men adequately trained to serve in those ships. Hence our big, and necessarily big, provision for training. The ordinary training charges amount to no less than £12,500,000. Here I will, if I may, give a simple lesson to the Leader of the Opposition. May I take the opportunity of saying how very pleased I am to see him here? I heard that he was ill—I am sorry that I cannot get his attention—and I was very sorry to see it reported that he would not be present. I am therefore glad to see that he is here, even though his presence makes my task considerably more difficult. I feel rather in the position of a destroyer cruising about in the middle of the sea and seeing at a distance on the horizon a large enemy battleship bearing down upon me, with everything all set for a big, major operation.
In spite of that feeling, I will continue to give the right hon. Gentleman the lesson about which I was talking. The right hon. Gentleman professed surprise at the fact that we have a large number of men in the Navy and relatively few ships at sea. I think that is the main part of his argument. I can scarcely believe that that scintillating brain really does not understand the true position. There was once a very famous admiral, of whom the right hon. Gentleman is aware, who had very considerable difficulty with a certain eye in looking at things which he did not want to see. The right hon. Gentleman evidently suffers from the same complaint as that admiral. I would like to hold a telescope to his eye myself and show him exactly what the position is, so that we may be quite certain that he understands it.
The position is that the men under training are not the best material for manning our ships. They do not help us to keep our ships at sea. In fact, far from doing that, they have exactly the opposite effect. The men who are under training need petty officers, officers and ratings to train them, help them to look after their training establishments, and engage in all operations that may help them to become better sailors. Since V.E. Day, we have lost nearly 850,000 trained men. The run-down has been rapid. The speed has been deliberate. As hon. Members know, we decided last autumn to come right down to what we regard as the postwar strength of the Navy by March this year, instead of waiting, as indeed we might well have done if we had wanted to, till later. Our object was to facilitate naval re-organisation, even at the cost of much immediate disturbance.
I would make this point clear. The decision was reached unanimously after the most careful consideration of the matter by the full Board of Admiralty of which, as the House knows, the majority are naval members. I say this not with the idea of shifting the burden from the shoulders of my noble Friend, who takes complete responsibility, as he should, for all decisions made by the Board, but simply to make it abundantly clear that in fact this decision was taken not at all on political grounds but in the best interests of the Royal Navy. At the same time as we have been releasing men under the age and length of service scheme, we have been taking in quite a number. Since VE-Day we have actually taken in, including National Service men, no fewer than 125,000 men, the majority of whom were, of course, quite untrained. I am glad to say that Regular recruitment is most satisfactory, and we have in fact almost reached our target.
As a result of this, therefore, we have a large training programme. Out of a Navy of 145,000 we have today under training, employed as instructors or associated with training in one way or another, no fewer than 33,000 officers and men, nearly a quarter of the entire Navy. These men are, for a thoroughly sound reason, kept on shore jobs. Hon. Members may ask why they cannot be trained at sea. It may be said, "Here are these men; they are going to be sailors; why are you wasting their time ashore; why are you not training them at sea?" The answer is that in most cases it is very much quicker to train them ashore than it is to train them at sea. To train them ashore in an establishment specially built for training is quicker than taking them out to sea where they will be in ships where the rest of the men are engaged in a hundred and one other occupations and where it will be very difficult to find adequate time to give them the training which is needed. I should add, though this is a point which hon. Members will obviously fully realise, that the training today is very much more complicated than it was before the war because of the very great increase in equipment which we now have in our ships.
Hon. Members will be interested to hear of one single aspect of training as an illustration of the kind of work we are doing. That is the work carried out by the Anti-Submarine Training School at Londonderry, which I visited recently and which has also been visited by, I believe, the Secretary of State for Air. This is a joint enterprise where the Navy and the Royal Air Force work together in perfect co-operation under the joint command of a naval captain and a group captain, R.A.F. Besides work at problems on the tactical table, which is very important, officers and men from the Navy and the Royal Air Force are trained to take part on and under the sea and in the air over the sea in realistic exercises designed to give them the best possible practice in the finding, hunting and destroying of submarines. I give this as one example of the kind of training which is going on today. These various training establishments are necessary if our officers and ratings are to be kept in touch with modern developments, but at the same time while the work they are doing is of the greatest possible value, it must inevitably keep men shore-based.
We have, too, as I explained to hon. Members last year, another commitment which scarcely existed before the war. I refer to naval aviation. This, too, keeps many thousands of men permanently shore-based and unable to take part in manning the sea-going fleet, but I need hardly add that they play a vital part in enabling our naval planes to take the air, and we must have them shore-based. During the past year, too, we have had a shore-based naval force in Germany which, among its many other activities, has superintended a great mine clearance operation with conspicuous success. We have, however, I am glad to say, been able to reduce this force from nearly 1,000 last year to a little over 200 today——
It is approximately a quarter of the Royal Navy—between a quarter and one-third.
It fluctuates to some extent. It is bound to fluctuate. That, of course, includes the men in the carriers and the men going up in the aeroplanes.
While on this point, can the hon. Gentleman say how many operational squadrons there are as a result of this supply of a quarter of 145,000 men?
No, Sir. I cannot state the exact number there are at the moment. That depends on the number of carriers commissioned from time to time, and, as I have already stated, carriers like other ships are at this precise moment immobilised. I made that perfectly clear, and I will continue to make that clear. To that figure we must add the many thousands of officers and ratings who now man the reserve Fleet. In addition there are the Marine Commandos and the men engaged in Combined Operations. These together—this figure will interest the right hon. Gentleman—make a total of 64,000 men who are shore-based and who must remain shore-based.
The House will be interested to hear, and the right hon. Gentleman in particular will be interested to hear, that the Manpower Economy Committee, presided over by His Honour Sir Tom Eastham, has presented an interim report. This states, firstly, that the principles and methods adopted by the Admiralty in its control of manpower are generally sound and may be regarded as satisfactory; and, secondly, that the Admiralty organisation is alert and fully alive to the need for the utmost economy in manpower consistent with the maintenance of an efficient Fleet. The report indicates no instances of gross extravagance or of waste in the use of manpower, but contains a number of valuable suggestions for further possible economies without loss of efficiency.
These suggestions, some of which have already been implemented, concern matters of detail rather than principle. The right hon. Gentleman is, I believe, anxious to know who wrote the report. I think I heard him make some remark——
His Honour Sir Tom Eastham is the Chairman and the two outside members are Mr. John Green, a director of Firth and Brown, and Mr. J. C. Little, a past President of the Amalgamated Engineering Union.
I cannot help, I am sorry to say, making one short reference to the past before I leave this question. Leaving aside the new commitments of naval aviation, Commandos and Combined Operations, we find that the number of men in the Navy who will be shore-based at the end of the year is 43 per cent. I find on investigation that in 1921, when the right hon. Gentleman was himself a member of the Government, the figure was almost precisely the same. Really, it seems to me that it ill behoves the right hon. Gentleman to be so disturbed at this figure considering the conditions there were at a comparable time, after the last war, under a Government of which he was a member. I have dealt with both the ships and the men and have, I hope, satisfied the House and the country that far from there being any cause for alarm, there is cause to be confident today in the state of the Navy.
I want now to deal for a few moments with the question of the selection and training of officers. Last year we promised the reform of Dartmouth. My noble Friend has kept that promise. I would like, though it may be rather an unusual thing to do, to pay a tribute to him for the skill and tact with which he has managed to introduce this new scheme at such short notice and with such conspicuous success. As from September this year, there will be a new system of entry. Boys will enter at 16, and they will be given absolutely free maintenance and tuition thereafter, thus, for the first time in British naval history, removing from officer selection any possibility whatever of bias in favour of the rich. This is one of the most important reforms ever undertaken in the history of the Royal Navy.
Some hon. Members were a little concerned that the new scheme was being introduced with such speed that it might, as it were, go off at half-cock. They will, I know, be glad to hear that in spite of the short notice we have had a very remarkable response. The number of applications for entry to Dartmouth last September under the old system was 132. This year, for the first entry at 16 under the new system, we have received no fewer than 514 applications—I regret to say, for only 29 vacancies. However, as often happens when a new scheme is started, one gets some rather curious inquiries. One which may interest the House began:
I should like to compete for the new system of entry as a naval officer. My father was a seaman who fell overboard and was drowned and I would like to follow in his footsteps.
We have in recent years been very conscious of the danger that a reduction in the Fleet might perhaps result in an over-bearing of officers, and we have taken this into account in determining the officer bearings in the various branches. We have every desire to avoid recourse to axing measures such as were introduced after the last war, and, on the numbers planned to be borne next year, we do not contemplate that any measures of the kind adopted from 1922 onwards will be necessary.
I come now to a consideration of the position of warrant officers. We have given this question much thought and have the advantage of a report from the committee set up by the Admiralty under the chairmanship of Admiral Sir Percy Noble. The three questions which most exercised the minds of those warrant officers who gave evidence before the committee were, so far as we could see, firstly, their title; secondly, their standing in the hierarchy of officers; and, thirdly, their messing arrangements. The first, curiously enough, has given us considerable difficulty. We are perfectly ready to change the title of warrant officers but, strange as it may seem, we so far find it exceedingly difficult to choose a suitable title. So difficult have we found it that we have been forced to send a message to Commanders-in-Chief asking them to get in touch with representative warrant officers in their command and ask for their suggestions. When a suitable title has been found, we are ready to adopt it in place of the present one.
The next point was the standing of warrant officers in the general officer hierarchy. This is also a difficult problem to solve. We have decided, after careful consideration, that commissioned warrant officers shall in future rank equal with sub-lieutenants instead of with acting sub-lieutenants, thus going one step up. Lastly, I come to the question of their messing. We have decided that in future all officers of the warrant officer class shall be regarded as having full wardroom status. Consequently the warrant officers' mess, as such, will be abolished, though accommodation difficulties may make it impossible in some ships immediately to mess all officers in one mess. As a corollary to this decision, of course, the payment of difference of mess subscription must cease.
I have dealt with the problems, prospects and achievements of our own Navy, but I would like before I sit down to consider for a few moments the wider aspect of Commonwealth naval strategy. Today we find that many other members of the Commonwealth have fleets of no mean stature. Let me take as an example the Australian fleet. Australia has a five-year naval programme, at the end of which she hopes to have two light fleet carriers, three cruisers and eight destroyers, manned by 14,000 officers and ratings. Speaking in the Australian Parliament last June, the Minister of Defence made this significant statement:
In view of the fundamental importance of sea power to the British Commonwealth and the fact that in war the navies of the Empire act under the strategical direction of the Admiralty, the provision of two aircraft carriers and the increased Naval Vote are contributions to the naval strength of the British Commonwealth as well as to our own defence.
At no time in its history will Australia have made as great a peace-time contribution to British Commonwealth defence and to the maintenance of peace and security at large than is contemplated in this programme.
Here we see the realisation by one of the great Dominions of the importance of close co-operation between us all in the naval defence of the Commonwealth. A practical illustration of this co-operation was the visit paid to Australia and New Zealand last summer by the Far Eastern Carrier Squadron, when joint training exercises were carried out both with the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force. I need hardly say that the squadron had a great welcome from the people of Australia and New Zealand.
I have given Australia as an example, but she is not alone among the Dominions, not by any means. Canada now has a far larger fleet than before the war, South Africa has for the first time a small fleet, while New Zealand has two cruisers, two frigates and seven minesweepers, and the two new Dominions of India and Pakistan have each decided to have navies of their own which, in the case of India, will include a cruiser and several destroyers. In the Colonial Empire, too, Malaya has shown a fine example by deciding to create its first permanent naval force, and proposals for the establishment of naval forces are under consideration in other Colonies. If ever the need should arise, these forces will prove a great source of strength in our naval defence. In short, we cannot consider the defence of the Commonwealth in terms of the British Navy alone. A great and growing body of ships and men has come to join us and to form a bulwark of strength to the British Commonwealth of Nations.
It is today fashionable to talk about the atomic age and to say that the next war will be over within a few hours, I do not know whether this is true or not but what I do know, and with this I am sure every hon. Member will agree, is that it will be all over for this country and for the whole British Commonwealth of Nations if we have not an adequate fleet to guard our food supplies. His Majesty's Government are determined that we shall have such a fleet, strong, contented and alert, to ensure for our nation in war as in peace the supply of that food without which we perish.
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, may I ask him a question? In reply to the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) he pointed out that naval aviation was at least one-third or one-quarter of the whole of the Navy. In a speech of three quarters of an hour, he devoted approximately 40 seconds to naval aviation. Do we really understand that is all he is going to say on that question?
I think the House will have formed a favourable impression of the speech delivered by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty. His father was for many years a brother officer of mine in the Oxford-shire Yeomanry, and I am glad, on personal grounds, to see him acquit himself with distinction in the House of Commons.
Let me say at the outset of my remarks this afternoon that I have not sought any information from the Government or the Admiralty—who might well have been willing to supply it if I had asked them—about the naval matters which are under discussion. I prefer to depend entirely on statements which have already been made to the public, and upon my own knowledge, which enables me to interpret those statements. It is customary on these occasions to compare the strength of the Navy with that of other fleets, built and building. Today that is impossible, because there is no enemy, no enemy at sea. All our former enemy navies are sunk beneath the waves, or distributed among the victors. The Soviet Navy has not yet taken shape, except, perhaps, for submarines, about which there should be serious consideration. But for the rest, the United States and France are in the closest harmony with us, and the German, Italian and Japanese Fleets do not exist. So there is no enemy against which to match the strength of the British Fleet, and this has been true since "VJ Day" in August, 1945.
Therefore, the strength, or non-existence, of other fleets at this time affords us no measure of the force which we should maintain. On the surface of the waters there is no enemy. But the Navy has a dual function. In war it is our means of safety; in peace it sustains the prestige, repute, and influence of this small island; and it is a major factor in the cohesion of the British Empire and Commonwealth. The tasks which the Navy has performed in peacetime are hardly less magnificent than those they have achieved in war. From Trafalgar onwards, for more than 100 years Britannia ruled the waves. There was a great measure of peace, the freedom of the seas was maintained, the slave trade was extirpated, the Monroe Doctrine of the United States found its sanction in British naval power—and that has been pretty well recognised on the other side of the Atlantic—and in those happy days the cost was about £10 million a year.
I wonder, therefore, as there are no enemies, no enemy battle fleets to be taken into consideration, why the Socialist Government should be so anxious to conceal the facts about the Navy and our naval power. Why, if there are no immediate enemies, should exceptional secrecy be preserved about our naval strength? Such secrecy was not thought necessary by men quite as capable as the present Minister of Defence in bygone years. Why, then, in these days, when there is no enemy possessing a naval power, should returns be refused like the Dilke Return, which were freely given to Parliament up to the eve of the wars of 1914 and of 1939? The Dilke Return has been suspended, and I am told there is but one copy of the Navy List in the Library. In 1914 our ratio to the German Fleet was only 16 to 10 in battleships. On mobilisation, we had 64 battleships, and the enemy about two-thirds of that. A Fleet action which might upset the whole future of the world at the very outset was our main pre-occupation. But that did not prevent the Government of those days from presenting to Parliament a fair and full statement of our naval strength. Why, then, does the Government shrink from doing it now?
All through the year 1939 there was great anxiety, as there is now, but all the full returns to which the House of Commons had been accustomed were presented, and I do not think we suffered at all from telling the truth to Parliament and to the world. There is something to be said for telling the truth to Parliament. This is a country governed by Parliament and finance and control of expenditure have always been the traditional and effective means by which the. House of Commons has brought its authority to bear upon policy and to shape its course. But, now the Socialist Government say that their naval plans are so secret that they cannot practise the frankness shown by the Liberal Government on the eve of war in 1914, or by the Conservative Administration in 1939.
The whole of this policy of concealment is silly. It only makes people ask themselves "What have the Government got to hide? If there are no enemies it must be their own shortcomings and administrative failures that they wish to hide." There is no doubt a lot in this, but when I come to examine these matters more closely I cannot find it an altogether convincing explanation, because the real strength of the Royal Navy is far above what the Government has lately made it out to be. This argument of secrecy is fraudulent, but it arises not from malice, but from stupidity. Nothing that the Government could conceal about the Navy, its strength or its weakness, could be so bad as what they have themselves proclaimed to the world. Nothing they could tell to foreigners would be so disparaging to British interests as what they have already said themselves about the strength of the Fleet.
My criticism today of Socialist Admiralty policy is twofold. First, the Admiralty never gave so little fighting value for so much money or so many men, and secondly never was such value as there is, so ill-presented to the world. I am always shy of criticising Governments about their mistakes in this changing scene—[Laughter.]—this is a test I commend to hon. Members—unless I am on record as having warned them and advised them beforehand. Therefore, I have no compunction in reading what I said three years ago about the naval strengths we should maintain. In the autumn of 1945, not quite three years ago, I said:
I take the Navy first. On existing plans, allowing for intake, on 31st December, this
year, the strength of the Navy would be 665,000 of whom 55,000 are women so that the Navy would even retain 448,000 at the end of June, 1946. I am astounded that such figures should be accepted by His Majesty's Government. I know no reason why Vote 'A' of the Navy should exceed the figure at which it stood in the Estimates of 1939, namely, 133,000. We had a fine Navy at the outbreak of war. I was sent to the Admiralty, at a few hours notice, on 3rd September, 5939, and that is what I found, relatively to the forces of other countries against whom we were matched, or likely to be matched. I have yet to hear any argument which justifies our planning to maintain, or maintaining, at the present time—unless it be in connection with the Fleet Air Arm—a larger naval force in personnel than we had at the beginning of the late war. I remember that at the height of the Nelson period, in the war against Napoleon, we reached a Vote A of 148,000, and that, oddly enough, was the figure that I was responsible for reaching in August, 1914. Let us take, as a working figure, 150,000."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1945; Vol. 414, C. 1690.]
That is where I was then, and that is where I stand now, although getting on for three years have passed. Then the Government tossed their heads in scorn, and the present Minister of Defence—this was before he had reached the "piffle and poppycock" stage—pawed the ground, sniffed and snorted in a manner of complete disdain that a figure such as that could possibly be mentioned in connection with the Royal Navy.
I prescribed 150,000 as a general figure. Now the Minister of Defence tells us that 145,000 is to be the permanent strength of the Navy. Why not have done it then? Yes, let the Government ask themselves. Why had they not the wit and prescience and knowledge of the subject to take the proper steps then? Now, when 30 months have passed, much has been lost. Hundreds of thousands of men, costing scores of millions of money, were kept in the naval service and on our Navy Estimates without any need or without any reason except the incapacity of Ministers to understand the problems with which they were confronted.
Now the Government accept my figures of 30 months ago. They took two years to clear out of Palestine after they were told to do so. Now they accept these figures of 30 months ago. They are to regulate, so they tell us, the permanent future of the Navy. Was it not a pity not to take these decisions in 1945? Think of all that would have been saved, think of all that would have been gained, by the release of men to build up our country's industries in the short intervening time before the American Loan ran out. I have not made the calculation of how many scores of millions of pounds and hundreds of millions of man-hours would have been saved if the Government and the right hon. Gentlemen opposite had done then what I advised them to do, and what they are now doing.
But there has been no policy, no control, no guidance, just jolting along, living from hand to mouth and from day to day. It has just been drift and mental inertia, and this is not only typical but an extremely precise instance which illustrates this point. It is typical of the degeneration of our affairs and administration throughout our whole country and in every branch of our national life. And how ill-timed is this new conversion of the Government to what I told them three years ago. They could hardly have hit it off worse. In fact, it is the record of misfits. When the world was safe on the morrow of our victory the Government and the Admiralty squandered our money on keeping up a vast strength against nothing. Now that danger revives, according to the speeches of almost every important Minister, they are found in the process of casting away the numbers and strength of our Forces.
Contrast the European scene of 1945 with what we see today. Contrast the problems of our foreign policy with the naval armaments policy presented on these two dates. Then there was no danger, but the Government had not the enlightenment to make the necessary reductions to ensure an adequate foundation for the Fleet. Now, when fears and dangers grow, they make, last year and this year, immense reductions. It is a strange inversion of thought for which there is, as far as I can see, no explanation except muddle and drift. If His Majesty's Government had done what I advised them to do in 1945, they would today have their Navy growing in strength and integral cohesion; they would be approaching that period of which the Parliamentary Secretary spoke just now when we should, in fact, have something like a Home Fleet in commission again.
I am afraid that that is a shaft too deadly for me to reply to.
Now, at the moment when the world is so wrongly discounting what we are worth, and when it is so important for us to make, the best of ourselves, we have the least possible to show, and we are caught at the worst possible moment, having wasted such vast sums and so much precious manpower meanwhile. It is a story for which the right hon. Gentleman opposite has a continuing responsibility, whether as First Lord of the Admiralty or as Minister of Defence. I say that all the Government ought to be ashamed, and that those responsible for this mishandling of our affairs ought to be punished by every suitable means known to the British Constitution. One of the most appropriate and usually employed punishments is a prolonged holiday. We are not bloodthirsty in this country, but that, I trust, may be meted out in due course.
I do not know which of their errors is most to be censured—the one of keeping all these men two and three years ago when they were not needed, or the folly of featuring the process of naval reduction at the present anxious time. But we have had both. We have had the worst of all worlds. Our strength was wasted and consumed when we were strong and safe; our weakness is now advertised when we are hard-pressed and in danger in so many parts of the world. The Government have brought off a double event which I can only describe as the quintessence of asininity.
I said a little while ago that there was no enemy on the surface of the sea. May be, however, there is a new enemy under the seas, but of that I will not speak this afternoon, because I am keeping myself to the general public statements which we have before us. The fact that there is no enemy on the seas, that none is drawn up in line of battle is no reason for breaking down the prestige of the Royal Navy, but every step that the Government and the Admiralty have taken has been in this direction in the last two months. The Parliamentary Secretary was complaining of criticism. He complained of speeches made about the Government's mat-administration preju- dicing the reputation of our country. I agree with him, that we ought to try to count for as much as we can among the nations at the present time, although one of the ways is by trying to rectify through criticism the many errors that are committed. No one has disparaged our naval strength like the Government, for which the Parliamentary Secretary has spoken.
The Parliamentary Secretary complained of gloomy speeches that are made while the Government pour them out themselves, but I am not talking of speeches, I am talking of deeds. Actions speak louder than words. The deeds of a powerful though blundering Government count much more than any speeches which can be made by persons in a private station. What could there be more foolish in itself or more injurious to the country than the official announcement that was made that the British Home Fleet consisted only of one cruiser and four battle destroyers? I was astonished at this new naval term. I have heard of battleships and battle cruisers, but the Minister of Defence must be getting hard up when he has to speak about battle destroyers.
It appears, however, that he had an excuse to shelter himself behind, because these are destroyers not significant because they are ones that go into battle, but significant because they are ones which are named after famous naval battles. The right hon. Gentleman saw a way of carrying and cloaking his powers by using the word "battle" so that it gave a more bracing and inspiriting feeling to the uninstructed public who might read his announcement. I am sorry for the right hon. Gentleman. When he left my care and supervision he had a fine reputation. Now he will have to work very hard to retrieve it.
I say what a folly and what a libel this announcement was upon the Fleet. I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that next to the United States the British Navy is incomparably the strongest on the seas and, even compared with the United States it has immense latent but easily mobilised resources, especially at the present time. Why then declare that our principal Fleet consisted of only one cruiser and four battle destroyers? After all, we have the four "King George V" battleships, and the "Vanguard," which is the latest and in many ways the strongest and latest battleship afloat. We have a number of modern aircraft carriers. We have immense reserves of trained veteran seafaring men. Why should the Admiralty and the Government write themselves down in this idiotic way, and why should they have done it at this time above all others? Surely, these are fair questions to ask in the conduct of our affairs?
It would have been quite easy for an intelligent Admiralty administration, political and professional, to have arranged the complements of the ships of the Home Fleet in such a way as to convey to the world its true power and value. All these fine modern ships could have been included in our Home Fleet in perfect truth and candour. The fact that some of them are being used for training purposes should in no way have prevented their inclusion in any statement of our national Fleet strength. The Minister of Defence tried to repair this error of statement to some extent in his speech the other night, and, of course, that was the theme of the Parliamentary Secretary's speech this afternoon, but what a ghastly folly it was.
I come now to the word "operational," which I notice figures on page 5 of the White Paper. This is a new term to me, and in time of peace a grossly misleading term. I think it comes from the Air Ministry and they apply it to certain tank landing craft or air servicing craft, but it is a new importation into the Navy. I am glad to see the Lord President of the Council in his place today. He spoke the other day about Socialist simpletons. There must have been Socialist simpletons in charge of the Navy when this term "operational" was slid into our Naval terminology in time of peace. What is "operational"? Everyone knows the increased complexity of the equipment and crews of warships. Once the term "operational" is introduced the Socialist simpletons have little more to say. Here is a man short from manning an antiaircraft gun. Obviously, only a portion of the anti-aircraft guns can be manned at one time. Here is a technician missing from the radar department. Here are shortages in the ammunition supply services, which are not fully manned. They are not operational if one chooses to call it so.
Complements are prescribed in the office of the Second Sea Lord, so it is quite easy to classify a ship non-operational because it has not got the precise complement approved by the Board of Admiralty which might be necessary in time of war or danger. I would never tolerate such a classification in time of peace. In time of war it is known whether the ships are operational or not by whether, in fact, the emergency is sufficient to make a Government send them to sea and whether they can steam and fire their guns. In time of peace it is altogether a misleading definition, and one by which Ministers should be very careful not to be entrapped.
I have never been a slave to professional opinion. "Expert knowledge," said Mr. Gladstone, "is limited knowledge." I have several times seen the Admiralty make grave mistakes when deprived of competent political guidance. There was the folly of building a Dreadnought, which made obsolete all the immense reserve of ships we then possessed and enabled all newcomers in naval competition to start from scratch. There was the Anglo-German Naval Treaty of 1935. There was the failure to build destroyers in the programme of 1937. There was the amazing surrender of the Irish Ports in 1938. All these were errors strongly supported by professional Admiralty opinion on the highest and most disinterested grounds. I must say the introduction of this word "operational" as a means of proclaiming British naval weakness to the world takes its place with the other misfortunes and errors which I have mentioned.
A competent administration of the Admiralty could, in one week, have made arrangements through the Department of the Second Sea Lord, for all these good ships which are used for training or in immediate reserve, to be manned effectively for action within a single month. All these could have been counted as living entities within the Home Fleet with perfect propriety and truth. Are we so rich and prosperous that we can afford to cast away and to squander our remaining assets and credit? Why did the Government do such a thing? Not assuredly because of their malice—their interest was the other way—but because of the ineptitude which characterises so many branches of their administration. The Minister of Defence may say, "Only the facts matter. We may have stated them badly, but it is the facts that count."
Sir, it is not only the facts that count. When this declaration was made that the British Home Fleet consisted of one cruiser and four battle destroyers, a great shock went through the whole free, democratic world. Britain has always floated upon her Navy. Her great Indian Empire has gone down one drain, and now the Admiralty proclaims that the British Home Fleet has gone down another. Can you wonder, with these weapons, that you are cheeked by Chile, abused by the Argentine and girded at by Guatemala? If anybody had set himself to work to downcry our country and all who depend upon it, he could not have acted more shrewdly than by this senseless and, I must add, lying declaration of the strength of our Home Fleet.
But there was an even worse effect upon what is left of the British Empire and Commonwealth, still a great association with a high mission to mankind. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) told me that he was in South Africa when this lamentable, and untruthful, exposure of our weakness occurred. Instantly, the anti-British parties and Press out there derided General Smuts. "All these years," they said, "he has been telling us that we must hold on to Britain because of the naval defence and security which she gives us." "Where is it now," they asked, "where is that security now?" One cruiser and four destroyers! Why, Sir, they said that it was less than the Chilean Navy. I believe this was a fact. A battleship, one cruiser and six destroyers was the Chilean Navy. And the Chileans noted this point too, hence these alarums and excursions. All our friends in South Africa, Boer and Briton alike, who held to the great association of the Commonwealth, were embarrassed in the face of the Admiralty statement. They did not know what to say.
Let me tell them now—I found myself upon the Parliamentary Secretary—that it was all rubbish, and that there never was, in time of peace, a British Navy which had so few possible naval foes and so many powerful naval friends. There never was a British Navy, in time of peace, which had more ample resources and power. Let them not be misled by this passing phase of mismanagement and disorganisation. A period of wise, vigorous and careful administration, making the best and most thrifty use of all our resources, could soon restore our naval strength and repute throughout the world.
I would rather conclude my argument. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt have a great opportunity to deal with his point in Debate.
On top of this declaration of the weakness of the Home Fleet, and the very great reduction in our squadrons in various quarters of the globe—the Government do not like to publish figures of that, but, of course, foreigners have no difficulty in finding out what British ships are on the various stations; the British public is the only public which does not know these facts—on top of this, we come to the scrapping, announced with so much gusto, of the older ships of the Fleet. The Parliamentary Secretary spoke of the scrapping after the last war and used the figure 39 for several years. In those days battleships were counted by tens whereas they are counted now by units, by ones. There were 60 or 70 battleships and cruisers, and so forth, in existence then, and all had been kept for a very lengthy time. When all had been scrapped which was scrapped, a very large reserve remained. What the Government have done is to scrap the whole reserve of capital ships. The hon. Gentleman was perhaps not entitled to go beyond the statement that only five of the "Queen Elizabeth" class capital ships were to be scrapped, but I understand that the "Malaya," the "Ramillies"—I have forgotten all their names—are to be scrapped as well.
We should be very foolish to get rid of ships like the "Nelson" and the "Valiant," on which a lot of money has been spent, and to keep the ships on which no repairs have been done of a great character for a great many years. But I take it that they are all to go, the whole 10 of them, including the "Renown." That leaves no material reserve at all. The "Queen Elizabeth," the two "Nelsons," the "Renown," and the "Royal Sovereign" arc all consigned to the scrap heap. I suppose that the Minister of Defence will reply to this Debate.
One may first ask, and I should like to have some answer to this precise point, whether, if such a measure were necessary, this was the right moment for it. Was it the right moment to announce this wholesale clearance and destruction, when we really ought to make the most of all we have got? Was it right to proclaim such a decision to the world? I wonder how the Foreign Office felt about it, or whether they were consulted. I wonder how the Colonial Office felt about it—because all people keep their eyes on the British Navy. Why was it necessary to blurt it out at this time? There was no hurry. Many of the ships would not go to the knacker's yard for nearly two years. There was not the least hurry to bring out this wholesale destruction of these historic units at this juncture. The Government perfectly well could have let that question rest, whatever decision they had reached in their own minds. Nothing effective could be done, in many cases, for at least two years. I, therefore, hope that some of them may yet be saved.
I have some experience in these matters because twice on the first night of two great wars I have sat in the First Lord's chair at the Admiralty, and well I know how in the hour of crisis one looks around for every item of strength that can be scraped together. A set of short-term half-wits in time of peace, may brush away old vessels with all kinds of penny wise, pound foolish arguments and, if they have the political power, I have no doubt that they will find many experts to testify that these vessels are useless, especially if the experts have a hope that they are going to get new ones built in their place, which they are not.
But, when war comes, that is not what you feel. Before the second Great War, I think I prevented by speeches in this House, the destruction of several ships which a year or two later we found most useful. I remember that very old vessel the "Centurion," battered by target practice for many years, playing an important part in our plans for resisting cross-Channel invasion, and she was moved to Plymouth for that very purpose. There are such things as "expendables." There are occasions on which an old ship structure can perform a great feat of arms, and where it would be wrong to risk an up-to-date capital unit of the Fleet, of which there are nowadays so few that they can be counted on the fingers. I am told also that these old battleships might conceivably become strongly armoured launching platforms for guided missiles to be discharged. There are many uses to which they could be put. There is plenty of room in the bases. Why could they not rest there for a while? Why, anyhow, did the Government want to blurt it out now?
Then, there were the 50 American destroyers, which were bought at high cost in 1940. They had lain for a quarter of a century in the shipyards and bases of the United States. The United States put them by for a rainy day, as they might come in handy, and now they have become what everyone realised at the time they would be—an important factor in our fortunes, and a very useful counter in the hands of the United States. If the United States had followed the purblind policy now proposed by the British Admiralty under the direction of the Socialist Ministers, these 50 destroyers would have been scrapped 25 years before as mere junk. My experience has been that it is always better to keep the old ships or, at any rate, the best of them—I will not say that we should keep them all, and we did not do that last time—but to keep the old ships, because the cost of maintaining them in the various degrees of care and maintenance is nothing as compared with their insurance value, and still less to the part they may play in some grievous emergency.
With these preliminaries, let me now come to the particular vessels, or some of the particular vessels. "Nelson" and "Rodney" are only 25 years old, and they were the strongest ships of their kind when they were built. The "Queen Elizabeth" and the "Valiant" were. virtually rebuilt barely eight years ago at a cost almost equal to what I asked the House of Commons to vote for them when they were first laid down in 1912. It was a case of building a new cask round the old bung-hole, but they cost between £2 million and £3 million, I think, only a few years ago. I remember how eagerly we awaited their return to the Fleet in 1940, and we all know what a part they played in the war. I do not recommend complete reconstruction now, but it is very wrong to throw them away. These battleships are symbols of power. Perhaps battleships are only symbols of power now, but they count as invaluable resources, and they are considered in every country, friendly or hostile, throughout the world. There is an indefinite and unknowable value in old ships. No foreigner can tell what part they can play, what part they could play after a year or 18 months of reconstruction, or find out accurately what is being done to them at home.
But now the Government have proclaimed a clean cut; they have gloried in stripping themselves to the bone. All that sense of a latent, indefinable strength in the background is precipitately and incontinently swept away. This has been greatly to the detriment of British influence in the world in time of peace and it would certainly be deeply injurious in any naval war. Even in this plan of cutting us down to the bone and rigidly and starkly exposing the limits of our strength, the Government have no policy. The "Valiant" is now ordered to the scrap-heap, but it is only a year or two ago that the Admiralty demanded and obtained from this House £250,000 to give her far-reaching repairs and modernisation, which were carried out. That £250,000 has been taken from the taxpayers, earned by the toil and skill of the working people and squandered in repairs by the present Government on this one ship alone. Think of all those workmen refitting this ship, working upon hard steel, so many hours, days and months, only to find at the end of their toil that the result is immediately consigned contemptuously to the scrap-heap.
This particular episode of the repair and refitting of the "Valiant" is exactly like using 1,000 skilled men to dig a hole in the ground, and then, when they have dug it, using them again to fill it up. Why, even in the convict prisons, the idea of useless labour has been rightly condemned and abolished. In the convict prisons, yes; but not in the Admiralty under the present administration. They are welcome to their slogan "Scrap the lot"; for my part, I prefer, when I look at that Front Bench, Lord Fisher's famous dictum, "Sack the lot." I return to the question of manpower. Three years ago, I mentioned a figure of 150,000 as the rough, overall measure for the Navy and its Air Arm. The Government now tell us that they are aiming at a permanent strength of 145,000 men, including the Fleet Air Arm, or whatever they call it now. There is nothing between us in numbers, and I am content with that figure. I have said that I thought, three years ago, that that should be the figure, and now, at last, they have come down to it I hope that, with this apportionment of men—and, after all, it is the men whose numbers govern the money Vote at a time when there is no large new construction programme—it should be possible to maintain an adequate Navy under present conditions and having regard to the whole world situation.
How are these men being used? We had some figures, which I had not heard before, from the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon. I see that, three years ago, I hazarded a guess that at that time there were nearly as many men of the Navy ashore as afloat. That was brushed aside; but it was admitted by the Parliamentary Secretary on 1st March, only a week or so ago, that, out of 143,500 men, 84,700 were ashore, which is more than half the total numbers now demanded in Vote A. All this cannot be covered up by talk of the importance of research, which nobody denies, and the development of social services and amenities, by the need of training and retraining men ashore rather than afloat, or by the Air Arm of the Fleet.
All these count, but most careful examination should be made. The prime purpose of the Navy is its war strength, the safety of the country and its power and fame. The House of Commons should go into these matters with rigour and persistence. Something was told us about some committee. I was not quite clear about it. Some committee has been set up by the Government in order to give them a bouquet. Some of the very nice things which the committee said about them were read out to us. I had not heard about this committee; I would like to see a committee of the House of Commons have a look at these matters themselves, as they would have done in almost any other Parliament than this. It is not a popular part of our duties to pare and prune, but there ought to be ceaseless pruning and paring of the non-combatant Departments, not only in the Navy, but in the Army, and, believe me—although I am not dealing with it here—in the Air Service, which is producing the very minimum of results for the enormous sums entrusted to it.
In these last three years, instead of cutting down to a necessary permanent peace level as soon as possible after the victory, and thus letting the Navy work up efficiency on that basis, year by year, there was no policy or plan. The Navy was cut down by successive steps, each of which was announced as permanent at the time. As soon as one basic manning figure was fixed, it was found impracticable to adhere to it, and another was announced. The unfortunate Board of Admiralty have been driven from pillar to post, and have really had no chance of making well-thought-out and thrifty schemes. Planning has been made quite impossible. This reaches its extreme in the Fleet Air Arm, which has had to devote its time to making one plan after another with great labour and then tearing them up, because a further Cabinet decision had been reached, without ever being able to implement any particular scheme.
The efficiency of British administration in the Fighting Services has sunk to its very lowest level at the present time, and no one in the Government has the mental grip and vitality to reform and restore it. Although there is no enemy on the seas —this is a matter to which the Parliamentary Secretary did not refer, though it might have come under his attention at any moment—there are nearly three times as many officials, naval and civil, at the Admiralty and its ancillary establishments as there were on the outbreak of war in 1939. Here are the figures: 4,950 before the outbreak of war, and 12,650 today. All that these three times as many officials can produce is a pitiful admission—and an untruthful admission —that there is not one single battleship "operational" at the present time. There are nearly 8,000 additional clerks and officials employed on managing the Navy compared with what there were at the outbreak of war, when for less men and less money a far larger Fleet was made efficient. I must say that the number of naval officers has not increased: that is creditable to the profession. But what has happened has been this enormous growth of civilian officials of all kinds who have been superimposed, and who make work for themselves and their descendants every day they sit in their office chairs. The whole presentation of the Admiralty staff is a scandal, which any House of Commons worthy of its financial responsibilities should probe, scrub and cleanse.
I have been shown unofficial calculations, which anybody can make for himself, that an equivalent number of men to these 8,000, differently trained and employed—and, no doubt, much less well remunerated—could man two battleships, four cruisers and ten destroyers, now all laid up. It is the duty of the House to cut into this abuse and excessive top-hamper.
To sum up—I am obliged to the House for listening to me for so long; I had not thought I should be so long—I accuse the Socialist Government and Admiralty administration, for which they are responsible, of giving altogether inadequate value in fighting power for the men and money provided by Parliament. Secondly, I accuse them of disparaging our naval strength at a time of increasing danger by their public pronouncements and by their wholesale and precipitate destruction of our material reserves and resources. Thirdly, I censure their misuse—uneconomical and wasteful misuse, lush indulgence in misuse—of the manpower provided. And, finally, running through it all, I censure the lack of policy and comprehension which in this as in other spheres, has led our country down to levers of inefficiency which we have never plumbed before.
I am grateful to my colleagues on this side of the House for allowing me to speak at once in reply to the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). I give place to no one in this House in my respect for his qualities and service in every phase of fighting, and preparing for fighting, in the past. I have served a great number of years with him. I have seen a great deal—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Oh."]——I must make my own statement about this—of his achievements, but I would at once resist the suggestion which he seemed to imply, and which I hope he did not mean to imply, that always in his prophecies, always in his direction, and always in his overriding of professional opinion he had been right, and the professional men on such occasions had usually been wrong.
I have spent an even longer time at the Admiralty than did the right hon. Gentleman, who had a long and distinguished career there. He has the advantage over me in that all the time he was at the Admiralty, he was on a rising market, as is always the case when one is preparing for or waging war. That was the case on both occasions. But I will also say that, in my experience of the Board of Admiralty—and I have had intimate contact with the other Services as well—I have never yet met an organisation which produces better leaders and staff officers than does the Board of Admiralty. In the long run, their advice—it is always necessary for it to be checked and considered—has been in the interests, not only of the Fleet, but also of the nation at large. I do not mind what criticisms the right hon. Gentleman pours forth upon me—that does not matter—but I do resent some of the implications in his speech today about the Board of Admiralty, and especially about the quality of the professional advice tendered by the Board.
I will deal first with the main point made by the right hon. Gentleman at the beginning of his speech—that we had been completely wrong in our policy with regard to the personnel strength of the Fleet since 1945–46. He said that he had drawn attention in the late part of 1945 to the fact that we were going to have far too many men in the Fleet in 1946. What he failed to point out to the House was that, at that time, we were carrying through a very large demobilisation programme, planned and approved under his Prime Minister-ship, and specially designed to fit in with postwar circumstances. The policy should not, he said, be to run down too rapidly—I remember him saying it. Such a course would only precipitate unemployment before industry could be got going properly. I remember him saying when he was Prime Minister, that it was important to avoid injustices between one section and another of the Services. The whole demobilisation plan was carefully worked out by a Government composed of representatives of both sides of the House. So easily can a change from office to the Opposition bench change the views of right hon. Gentlemen, within two or three months——
No, I have not changed my views at all. The whole point of my speech was that today I am rejoicing that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence has accepted the figure which I mentioned three year; ago.
I am coming to that. I am saying that by October, 1945, the right hon. Gentleman had abandoned so completely the ordered run-down plan, for the drafting of which his Coalition Government were responsible, that he said the Navy ought to be rapidly reduced at once. Let us consider what really did happen in the reduction of the Fleet. We were so anxious to save all possible costs on naval administration, foreign stations and operations, that the Navy kept ahead of the actual age and group discharges from either of the other two Services, and this sometimes met with criticism from hon. Members. Up to the time that I left the Admiralty in October, 1946, we were ahead of the other Services in this process of demobilisation.
Last Monday I tried to explain what was obviously already known to a number of hon. Members opposite, namely, that the rapid rundown has already resulted in a state of unbalance in the Forces after such an extraordinarily long war—a war in which we had so little regular recruitment. Even as it is, there are so few of the regular men left in the Services that if we had followed the advice of the right hon. Gentleman in October, 1945, we should have had a far more disastrous position in the balance of the Fleet today than we actually have.
I doubt very much whether we should have done so, because we should never have had the minimum cadre of trained officer instructors, petty officer instructors and trained ratings to have got the thing going in sufficient motion in order to have the number of trained men that we have today.
Is it not a fact that the target which is now 145,000 men was continually altered by the Admiralty during that period? Did not that lead to a whole heap of unnecessary difficulties which need never have arisen?
I have no doubt at all that the Board of Admiralty, through its history, has tried to alter its targets in relation to the objectives it has particularly in mind, but we would not by any means be the first Government who had had something to say in altering those targets. No one was more powerful in influencing the programme of the Board of Admiralty downwards than the right hon. Member for Woodford when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1924 to 1929.
During the five years of my administration at the Treasury, by very careful and judiciously selected economies a reduction of £10 million was effected on the whole three Services put together.
Towards that there was a very large contribution in the reduction of the building of destroyers. I think in the whole of the five years that the right hon. Gentleman was at the Treasury we did not complete more than 20 destroyers. Of course, it all depends on what one regards as the danger of war, but the right hon. Gentleman came into office at the end of 1924, and for more than five years he followed the plan of assuming that there would be peace, or at least that there would not be a major war, for ten years. Certainly under the right hon. Gentleman's Chancellorship we were not following the minimum security basis at that time of at least one leader and one flotilla of destroyers to be laid down under each programme. I do not complain, but I do not see why we should be attacked for having done the same thing when we find it is necessary in the interest of the nation and of our economic situation generally.
With regard to the other charge, the right hon Gentleman said that we made a mistake in our announcement of the temporary immobilisation of a large part of the Home Fleet. I must say when look back upon the circumstances that wish that, instead of the matter having leaked from one end of the Fleet, a proper statement had proceeded from the Board of Admiralty at the time. I regret that very much. I do not think there is any point in denying it; but I do say that the way in which it was brought out by a hostile political Press, which was just acting on a bare statement by a Press liaison officer with the Fleet, to the effect that so many ships were going back for re-sorting and re-complementing, and that for a long time they would be out of action, was also regrettable.
We were asked how many ships would be operational, and then we had the campaign of the Navy League in its own publication, alleging that the actual number of operational ships for the time being was to be regarded as the measure of strength of the Fleet. Nothing could be more culpable than the pronouncements of an organisation like that, knowing the real facts as well as the right hon. Gentleman knew them, and as he fairly stated them this afternoon. I say that the right hon. Gentleman fairly stated the facts. When I was stating the true situation in this House on 27th October, 1947, to get rid of the bad effect of the first announcement, the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), a former naval officer, interrupted me; he said that, when I was talking about the other major ships at home in commission, but engaged in training, they would take a long time to get ready. He objected to the fact that I had them in mind as being operational at short notice.
I think I asked the right hon. Gentleman how long it would take to get them ready—a question which he answered with great courtesy.
I always try to answer questions with great courtesy, and give way, as often as possible, but it seemed to me that the only reason for the interruption was to suggest that it was quite impossible for me to count on these ships as being operational at anything like short notice. I say that if we had followed the right hon. Gentleman's advice in October, 1945, we should have been in a far greater state of unbalance.
I will now come to the question of how many ships we could hope to have at sea, from the point of view of the personnel strength on Vote A which we are now asking the House to approve. No account seems to have been taken of the difference between the present day characteristics and manning requirements of ship units compared with what they were in the past. Let us examine the situation. A ship of the Nelson class before the war required 1,400 men to man it. The "Duke of York," with all its modern equipment, takes at least 1,760 men today. That is an increase of 25 per cent. A Fleet aircraft carrier before the war took 1,000 men. Today, with all the extra things to be done in it, it takes 1,400 men, an increase of 40 per cent. If we compare a modern Fleet destroyer with one of the prewar Greyhound class—[Interruption]—I know the right hon. Gentleman has had a good deal of fun about the battle class. The battle-class destroyer is very nearly as good as any of the 6-inch gun cruisers which the right hon. Gentleman had in the first world war. They were named after battles and. were entitled to be called battle class. Let us take destroyers. Prewar we needed 150 to 170 men in one of the ships of the Greyhound destroyer class, but today it would require a minimum of 280 men for the modern battle class destroyer, an increase of 90 per cent.
The right hon. Gentleman says that is a great mistake. I am always ready to consider carefully any suggestions upon these matters which the right hon. Gentleman makes, because I have great respect for his experience, but I am bound to say that I think he might have learned a little more on these matters from his own experience in actually being at sea in the war. I seem to recall he had at one point actually to go on a battleship on a great and important journey leaving the destroyers behind, because they were simply unable to stand the seas and to keep up. In respect of both defence against underwater craft and increased fire power for anti-aircraft purposes, destroyers must be bigger; they must be faster and they must be able to stand the seas better if they are to complete a proper task force in future to be really effective against the enemy.
I do not want to get into a technical argument, but a great mistake may be made in increasing the size of destroyers year by year. One is risking a great deal of life in a practically unarmoured vessel, because one is moving from the class which hunts the submarines into the class which it is worth while for the submarines to hunt. It is easy to see the desire to say each year they are better than the year before, but one is passing out of the effective sphere of destroyer utility.
I do not think even that will hold very much water. There is really not very much chance for the submarines against the kind of destroyer which—although it is bigger, say 2,700 to 2,800 tons—can make 36 to 37 knots and carries its own anti-submarine attacking devices with it at the same time. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has a very good point in that.
In using our manpower we have to remember what are the requirements for manning the new fittings and characteristics of the modern ship. If we take the way in which the men are being used today—we have had a great many complaints about the number of men on shore —I think the Parliamentary Secretary made a perfectly good case about training——
I think the Admiralty should be looked at on the basis of how much their number have come down since the war, and in relation to what was the size of the Admiralty's commitments during the war. The Admiralty never had such a big Fleet to administer in the whole of its history as it had during the last war—870,000 men—and today it is still liquidating, completing its demobilisation, organising its retraining, and clearing up its very large contract business. Never-the less, in this particular Estimate—I have not the exact figure off-hand—there is a very substantial reduction of the home civilian personnel at the Admiralty.
I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House, but I must deal with the question of capital ships. Should they be scrapped, and if they were to be scrapped, was the present the most opportune time to do it?
Or to announce it. Those are the two points. In the first case, should they be scrapped? I make the point straight away to the right hon. Gentleman that in 1946, when the matter was put before me, I had grave doubts about the wisdom of scrapping them. If there is anyone more than another responsible for the delay in the decision to scrap these ships, I bear the responsibility. The present First Lord has inquired into it since, although he had much the same views as I had at that time. The right hon. Gentleman is right, up to a point, that we have made good use of old ships of this character, put into reserve; in the past. Are these conditions likely to be those which will, operate if we should unhappily be brought into another war? Could' we contemplate in the present economic circumstances the expenditure required, first of putting these great ships into a fit condition from their present war condition into reserve, and then of incurring the cost of the manning and maintenance of these ships during that period in reserve? The considerations as put to me were, I think, overwhelming—they are overwhelming.
The "Nelson," twice severely damaged during the war—torpedoed after she had previously been mined—would require an immense sum spent upon her to make her fit to go into reserve to be available at short notice out of reserve. The "Rodney," in consequence of the immobilisation of the "Nelson," was greatly overworked and she never had the chance to go in for a long refit during the war. I once stayed on her myself at the Armistice celebrations and at the time she was carrying 2,900 tons of water in her, and had to keep the pumps going the whole time to keep her afloat. To be put into condition to go into reserve, these two ships would have had to be refitted at a cost something like £11 million to £12 million between them, and would have immobilised and taken up dock labour for the next two to three years.
I do not believe it at all. I am not challenging the honesty of the right hon. Gentleman, but I do not believe these ships could not be placed in basins or roadsteads where they could remain without the expenditure of £11 million upon them. I think that is where the right hon. Gentleman is sucked in.
I am amazed at the right hon. Gentleman's lack of appreciation of the point. If those battleships were to be of any real use on the outbreak of war, when the Fleet was fully mobilised, they ought to be in condition——
The right hon. Gentleman really might get my argument. I never suggested they would be ready at the outbreak of war, but when other great ships are sunk, it is then that the older ones come into play with advantage. It may well be they would not come in until the second year of the war. [Interruption.] Why these cries of "Ooh, ooh"? Hon. Members should learn to follow reasonable arguments on these matters. Material reserves are not necessarily ready at the outbreak of war—it may be only a year after, or two years after, that they come in, but it may be vital then to have something when you have lost the others.
I do not see how they could have been fit for mobilisation within a year or two years. In their present entirely unsound condition they would deteriorate rapidly, and it would have taken four to five years after the outbreak of war to meet the kind of mobilisation or emergency to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. I am only strengthened in my view that the right hon. Gentleman has not yet considered this question deeply enough. Take the position of all the five capital ships which are to be scrapped: they would have cost——
Those included in the list announced. Others have been out long since—the "Malaya" and the "War-spite" were announced together for scrapping long ago, and the "Royal Sovereign" class for a long time have been used as accommodation ships. They do not come into this question at all from that point of view. Therefore, I say to the House that there can be no doubt from the point of view of economy, that it was not wise to keep the ships any longer.
In any case, suppose the money had been spent on them, what case could be made out for that? The whole make-up of an operational fleet in the future will be far more on the basis of a balanced task force than on that of the old conception of a long line of battle or heavy ships, one contending against another. The right hon. Gentleman knows that. If that is so, then the major ships of the unit must have a speed equal to that of the rest of their companions in the Fleet. The "Nelson" and the "Rodney" could not have been brought to a higher speed, with their great sets of engines, than 23 knots—23 knots compared with the 31 knots or 32 knots of a Fleet carrier. It is not suitable at all—even if we take the other ships—to spend money on ships of that character. I think the Admiralty have a perfectly sound case. They finally put it to us. They made the recommendations to us themselves, with their professional and naval knowledge. We accepted their advice—because we believed it to be sound—and we take the full responsibility.
I am sorry I have had to intervene right away, but I did not want to miss the opportunity of replying to the points the right hon. Gentleman has made. I say advisedly that, if there is any deterioration in the world because of what is supposed to be the power and strength of the Royal Navy, it is due to the type of comment which has been made from the Opposition benches and to the malice of the Opposition Press. I would say that I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the real strength of the Fleet today, and that he has assisted the Government in trying to erase the erroneous impression left upon the minds of many people in the world largely because of some of the statements made by members of his own party and by his party Press.
What the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty said represents entirely the determination of the Government. That is, that we shall not allow the Royal Navy to come to a position of weakness in which it would be unable to meet its commitments. We have accepted on naval advice—and take full responsibility for it—the temporary immobilisation of certain ships, while we get more quickly a balanced, trained force capable of manning the ships at an early date. As regards what the right hon. Gentleman said about the early possibility of manning, I would say that it is a fact that, if we required a balanced task force within one week or 10 days from now, it could be provided. I should like that to be known not only in the House but through the world. It would very seriously interfere with the wide and detailed technical scheme of training which the Admiralty has put in hand, but, nevertheless, it could be done, and would, if necessary, be done. I am obliged to the House for its patience.
I thank the Minister of Defence for his vigorous intervention. He certainly speaks with much more assurance on naval matters than he does on defence matters. I want to take up the case of the scrapping of the battleships. It has never been suggested that these ships should be refitted sufficiently to enable them to take their places in a line of battle in action The right hon. Gentleman has entirely missed the point. That is not the point at all. He knows perfectly well that when war comes anything that can float, anything that can steam, can be used. Who knows how these ships might be used? They might be towed to the point whence they could fire. The "Nelson" and the "Queen Elizabeth" three years ago were fighting thousands of miles away, but eventually came back under their own steam in time to bombard the enemy again. Now, in three years, we are told that they are no use at all.
Why should not these older battleships be used today? Why should they not be used for training? There is a great difference in the necessities required for the training of seamen of the lower deck and junior officers, on the one hand, and for training senior officers, on the other. A ship of 23 knots' speed would not be necessary for the training of seamen and junior officers. A ship with the speed of eight knots would do. Indeed, it might be much better, for the training crew would be longer at sea. But senior officers, admirals and staff officers, need ships of high speed in which to carry out manoeuvres and exercises of a technical sort.
I would draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to one or two things in this statement about the strength of the Fleet, information which has finally been prodded out of the Admiralty after great trouble and exertion. There is the question of the little history of the "Venerable," the aircraft carrier. We asked the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty long ago as last July what was to happen to this ship. We asked if she was to be disposed of. We could not get any answer—nothing satisfactory at all. Last November there actually appeared in the Dutch papers a picture of the "Venerable," and they described her as an ex-British naval ship to be turned over to the Dutch Navy. It was not until December that that was more or less admitted by the Financial Secretary. Now in this White Paper, amongst the training and experimental ships, the "Venerable" is listed once more. There is a little footnote saying that she will be transferred to the Royal Netherlands. Navy. What is the reason for listing her at all? It is simply for the purpose of having another name in the list, to make it sound a little better and a little stronger. There is the question of the "Glory." She is to be operational, but there is a little footnote to say "date uncertain." Is it not deceiving the public, and deceiving the House, to put things down in this manner?
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman kindly allow me? I should have thought that with his experience, of which I knew in the war, he would have understood a description like that in a list of what ships are operational or not, and would have known what is meant by "date uncertain." When he was on the naval staff at Newcastle, if a ship's operational date were marked "uncertain," he would still have had the ship ready for me in a week or two.
We will let it go at that. Now I want to talk about the withholding of information from the House and the public on the ground of security. We have pressed and pressed that people should be told the truth, that the people should be told the facts. In the whole of our long history the people have never shirked when they have known the facts. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition largely achieved his popularity and won the esteem that he has, because he told the people the facts, and the people know that whatever he told them was true and correct. This Government, for the first time in our history, are concealing the facts from the public on the grounds of security. Yet anybody can know them who takes the trouble to find them out. Curiously enough, the Parliamentary Secretary, having recently told us that none of these facts was procurable, proceeded to tell us the strength of the Fleets of the Dominions and even in one colony, Malaya. He might have told us that Malaya had presented us with a battleship in 1914.
It is possible to find out all these things, but the Navy League's paper, "The Navy," was the first paper to take the trouble to find the facts and to publish them. I have a list of quotations here from all the responsible papers. The Minister of Defence referred to the Opposition Press. I do not know what he meant by that. The Press welcomed these figures, and had some comment to make upon them. I remember, too, that last Monday the Minister of Defence, in that fine quarterdeck manner of his, referred with some derision to the fact that in the U.S.S.R. there never is a White Paper on Defence. That was on Monday, 1st March, but we got this statement only on Friday, 27th February, so there was not much in it in that respect. We still may not know what the U.S.S.R. have, but we have only known about our own figures for 10 days or so.
With organisation, information of the strength of any fleet is easily acquired; everybody, in each particular port, knows. One can take a dockyard labourer on one side, and he is not violating any secret if he says that so many ships are in the harbour, or that he is working on such and such a job; it might have been illegal in wartime, but it is not in peacetime. Most of the Navy League's information was obtained from newspapers and periodicals sent from the Dominions and other countries overseas, who know perfectly well what ships are at these different stations; indeed, there are so few that it is not very difficult to find out.
The only criticism I have is not on the general run-down at all. As far as the main Fleet is concerned, that is a general risk which we had to take. During this year the Fleet has been practically demobilised, and although, no doubt, big ships could go to sea in a few days, it is very misleading to say that they are thereby operationally fit. It would take them a long time to achieve full efficiency. In the view of myself and many of my hon. Friends, it was a reasonable risk to have a general run-down of the Fleet in order to get it up to full strength at an early opportunity. My criticism is on the disposition of those ships that we did have. It would have been far better to have deferred the battleships, even for another year, and had smaller ships, such as cruisers and destroyers, distributed about the high seas in various places in which troubles and disturbances are taking place or are threatened. If we kept one ship of the "Duke of York" class back a year we could have had in various seas, six big destroyers, with the hitting power of the old pre-war cruiser. It is almost pathetic to read the strengths of the various squadrons. One cruiser and two sloops—which seems to be the average fleet—have to move around and do a great deal of work.
I should have thought it was obvious to everybody that in Guatamala, and in the islands south of the Falkland Islands, and elsewhere, the reason these smaller naval countries are getting, let us say, rather pushing, is because they find it difficult to believe that we have a Navy. In the old days, as was mentioned last week, we had a South American squadron. That was done away with on the assumption that every year two ships would be sent from the West Indies squadron to tour South America—which had always been done before—and the flag would be shown. In those old fleets there were always a couple of small ships, which we still have in the shape of frigates. It was not a question of expense, but merely because they were the only ships which could go to all sorts of ports in which the bigger ships, with their larger drafts, could not penetrate. They did 'invaluable work, and certainly showed the White Ensign in places where it was never seen before.
Recently, I was speaking to a friend of mine, who was captain of one of those ships, and he described a visit to a Brazilian port, where no red ensign or white ensign ship had ever been. His total complement was 76 men. The mayor of the port asked that none of the sailors should be allowed to stay ashore after dark, because of the well-known propensity of sailors for' breaking up the town at night. However, after a few days the mayor asked that all the men should be allowed to stay ashore every night. That is the sort of reputation our men get. Long ago, in my travels, from my observation I realised that the general admiration of other countries for our own is derived not only from the great people at the top, or from great displays, but from the ordinary people they see. In many a foreign port I have been full of admiration for the commercial houses there established, who have kept up a standard of commercial morality, and whose managers and clerks have advertised our way of life. I saw the merchant ships bringing in goods, or taking goods away, with punctuality and speed; and, above all, there were the men of our Navy who were seen in these places. The people in these foreign parts realised what the British Navy was, and what Britishers are like. Trade follows the flag, and where there is no flag there is no trade.
I would draw the attention of the Minister to the behaviour of our sailors in the islands south of the Falklands. The Financial Secretary, in opening the Debate, talked with some indignation about the malicious criticism of the Navy. Let him get the picture right. He talks as if he belongs to the Navy—which is right and proper—but let him realise that there is no criticism directed against the Navy. There is criticism directed against the political and civil administration of the Navy, which is quite a different story. Part of our criticism is that these ships have been badly distributed about the world, which has led to an unnecessary belief that our Navy is down and out. The small ships can always be trusted to keep their end up. A week or so ago there was a paragraph in "The Times" about the "John Biscoe" a small ship, which found an Argentine vessel at one of those island bases. The report says:
It was with the utmost charm and courtesy that the leader of the Argentine base presented his note of protest at the intrusion of 'John Biscoe' into 'Argentine' waters and the erection of a hut on 'Argentine' territory. With no less refinement of feeling the British replies were delivered drawing attention to the confusion of thought on this subject.
Perhaps that might be drawn to the attention of the Foreign Secretary, because if there is any diplomacy to be carried through, the Navy have always been the best diplomats in this country—and they have been so much better with a striking, hitting force behind them. On this occasion it was the "John Biscoe." Also, we must not forget—I hope we shall not—that we had a lot to do with the training of those navies in Argentina and Chile, and at least they have learnt the ethics and manners of seamen, wherever they may be.
I see nothing wrong with this big rundown of the Fleet. The Government are taking a chance in the hope that the Fleet will be brought up to full commissioned strength, at a proper state of efficiency, before the year is out. Certainly, the news of a trip to the West Indies will be very well received everywhere. But do not let the Minister think that at present the Home Fleet are happy or pleased, although they have no grievance against this House for criticising the fact that they are staying in harbour. One of the most important officers in the Fleet is called the Master of the Fleet. He lives in the Fleet flag ship, which has not seen the sea for a long while, although we hope it will this year. A wag hung over the office door of the Master of the Fleet a notice reading "Harbour Master of the Fleet," as being rather more appropriate at that time.
The Leader of the Opposition made a wonderfully stirring speech which I hope will receive, through the Press, a larger audience than it had in this House. He will not convert anybody to the belief that we need a strong Navy, but will rather fortify their realisation that we always should have a strong Navy, so please do not let the Lords of the Admiralty imagine that any criticism is directed against the Navy. There is criticism that, with only 157,000 men and £153 million to be spent, we are not making adequate or proper use of the Navy. We are not showing the flag enough, and these distant ports are not getting enough attention; and so, gradually the general idea goes round, whatever we may say and declare, that Britishers are down and out, and that we are being reduced to a third-class Power. Therefore, the more men we get to sea the better. Men may learn to use weapons on the land, but the place to learn their trade is on the high seas.
I must apologise to the hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden) for not following him in the observations he made. I want to devote the short time at my disposal to what the Financial Secretary said in regard to repayment work in His Majesty's dockyards, and also to the provision in the Navy Estimates for repayment work. I was very glad that the Parliamentary Secretary evinced a considerable degree of satisfaction about the service the dockyards have been able to render the nation in civil production quite apart from the work they have done in relation to naval vessels. I was disappointed, when studying the Navy Estimates, to find that the amount of money allocated for repayment work represents an increase of only £80,000. I should have thought, in view of the excellent work which has been done under this head in the past year, that there would have been a more substantial increase in the amount of money allocated for this purpose.
There has been a general assumption in past years, in relation to dockyards, that a considerable proportion of the men must be either idle or only partially employed. Today, the men in the dockyards, and all those who are associated with the yards, are convinced that we cannot tolerate this state of affairs any longer. I would like to quote a letter I received from a constituent by today's post. He is a man regularly employed in the dockyards. Commenting upon the Navy Estimates, and putting forward his own views and the views of some of his colleagues, he says:
The dockyards have men and machines not working to capacity, while for a long time we have been told of a production crisis and that we must "Work or Want." We in the Devonport dockyard want to work. We can produce many things suitable for the export market. I suppose, above all, we are admirably suited to producing merchant ships. We have the machines, the men with a vast knowledge of shipping, and above all the will to work in the national yards in the interests of peace as well as we have done in the preparation for war.
I wish to emphasise this desire of the men engaged in H.M. dockyards to cooperate to the full in this time of national emergency. I would also remind Members that in the naval dockyards we have not only high standards of skill and craft, but we have a very high standard of equipment. These skills and crafts, together with this equipment, ought to be used to the full to help the nation. There is inevitably a slowing down of naval activity in the dockyards following a war and in a transitional period like the present. There is also an urgent need to maintain within the yards a proper balance of trades. I put forward these arguments as reasons for increasing repayment work not by £80,000, but by a much higher amount.
I wish to ask the Civil Lord to the Admiralty why there has been an almost phenomenal rise in oncost charges for repayment work in recent months. I am informed that in certain yards oncost charges have almost doubled in the last six months. I should like to know whether that is correct, and if so, to what factors are these high oncost charges due. Are they due to over departmentalisation in the yards? Is it a fact that, in the yards, engineers in some departments can be idle or very slack, while in other departments engineers are in very great demand? Is it a fact that the same thing happens as between departments in the case of electricians? Are the high oncost charges due to the desire of some individuals to keep repayment work out of the yards, or at least down to the minimum?
Is the Civil Lord quite sure that his highly-placed officers in the yards are as desirous as he is that the yards shall play their full part in the present national emergency? Is it that the high oncost charges are due to a wrong balance of administrative staffs? On page Too of the Estimates, under "Personnel—Dockyards at Home," I find that those covered by salaries and allowances are being decreased by one-nineteenth only, but in the case of artificers the decrease is very much higher, being one-eleventh of the personnel. We find the same thing if we turn to the cost of salaries and allowances on the one hand, and to the wages of artificers on the other. Between the same two years, salaries and allowances have been decreased by only one-thirtieth, whereas in the case of artificers there is a decrease of approximately one-seventh on last year's figures.
If these figures are correct, it appears to indicate, as far as the administrative and productive staffs are concerned, that there is an over-emphasis on administration as compared with the number of men working on the production side. Or are these high oncost charges due to the fact that we have not the right type of persons in control of the dockyards? Are we sure that we have the high business efficiency we should all like to see? I wish to make one practical suggestion, and that is the urgent need, in the opinion of many of my dockyard constituents as well as of myself, for some kind of working party to overhaul the whole of the dockyard machinery in this country and to produce a report. I therefore ask the Civil Lord to consider whether the time is not ripe for a detailed inquiry into the working of the Royal dockyards, so that they may not only do with efficiency the job which they have hitherto done historically for His Majesty's Navy, but may also be able to play a full part in assisting the nation to overcome the difficulties with which we are confronted today.
A few weeks ago I put a Question to the Civil Lord about the establishment of joint production committees in our dockyards. I am glad to say that my hon. Friend's "bite" has been rather better than his "bark." I seemed to get from him that day a rather unhelpful reply, but I have heard since that in one yard—and there may be more—in so far as it is engaged on repayment work, joint production committees are actually in operation. I hope these committees will be extended to all yards and beyond the sphere of repayment work. I hope the time has come when the Government will say to the men engaged in our dockyards, "We not only want you on the production staff, but we want to use to the utmost the immense resources of knowledge and experience which you have, so that our dockyards may be run in the most efficient possible manner." I can assure the Civil Lord that if the Admiralty will move along these lines any such action will be heartily welcomed by the men working in our dockyards today.
Although fate took me to the constituency of the hon. Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Mrs. Middleton) for a considerable time recently, and I saw a great deal of the dockyard there, I hope that on this occasion, when we must all be brief, she will forgive me if I do not follow what she has said. The Parliamentary Secretary, opening the Debate, seemed to complain of the criticism which had been levelled at the Admiralty about the state of the Navy as the public considered it to be today. I think the hon. Gentleman must be aware, from what my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) said, of the reasons why that criticism has been levelled. It was because of the presentation of what really amounted to false information. If the defence was that it was just bad luck, that it slipped out and that the Press was hostile, I must say that that would be a very weak defence. I believe that we have not done nearly enough, in a positive way, to show how strong our Navy is today.
We ended the war with a great Fleet; we now have great trained reserves of men and great stores. Surely these things could have been presented more clearly to the world at this time, when we need every bit of prestige we can get. That is why we complain about the present administration of the Navy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford referred to, and the Minister of Defence defended, the speed of the run-down of the Navy. The criticism is that the Admiralty did not, early in 1945, or as soon as might be, set a manpower target to which the Navy could plan and work. I have learned that officers in charge of departments have been finding it almost impossible to plan the future of the Navy when target figures were being altered from time to time. Our Navy is strong today and ready to do its job, and these criticisms are not levelled at the Navy. They are merely levelled at the presentation of the facts, in the hope that some of them may help in the future.
We should like to hear from the Civil Lord a little more about the expenditure of the re-equipment of H.M.S. "Valiant." I put a question to the Civil Lord last week on this matter, when he stated that £250,000 had been spent, and that there was further expenditure for large hull repairs. That, if I am any judge, probably means another quarter of a million pounds. That ship was taking up dockyard space, manpower, and money which we needed urgently for so many other things. Why did we spend so much money on the conversion of "R" class battleships into the "Imperieuse"? The hon. Member for Sutton must know how much is being spent on that scheme. It seems that all that money has been wasted; it has gone down the drain. The Admiralty might well look at the building programme for some of the ships now being built. For instance, H.M.S. "Magnificent" is under construction. How many times has she been altered? All this involves a waste of money, which we cannot afford.
I should like now to deal with some specific points. There is the question of a reserve for the future. We stand, at the moment, in a stronger position than we have probably ever stood, with masses of trained men available. But are we in touch with those men? Is there a scheme whereby they can come back to the Navy quickly, or have they all faded into industry so that they cannot be brought back at once? As anyone who has listened to the Defence Debate and the Debate on the Air Estimates must realise, these are days of crisis. Do the men themselves know that they may have to come back? Serving naval officers realise that they owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve for what they did in the last war. They were so much better than anybody ever believed. Volunteer reserves were not well treated by the Navy or the Admiralty before the war, yet they turned out to be a magnificent force. How are we to get a volunteer reserve after the older men who served in the war have faded out of the picture? The Minister of Defence went out of his way to tell us that that reserve can only be drawn from the token numbers going through the National Service scheme. Is that so? In our last Estimates, we voted a lot of money, and made considerable plans, for building up a volunteer reserve. Is this a fading asset? Is that the intention, or is there something different in mind. We would like a clear answer. We would like to have confirmation of the statement by the Minister of Defence that only men who have done their National Service time in the Navy would be eligible. I would like to know whether men serving in other Services will be eligible? What is the situation?
Perhaps the question which troubles the Navy more than anything else is by what time they are to be in a state of readiness. During the war we drifted into a 10 years' scheme which was a movable feast. It was a very poor arrangement. We got into a bad way because of it. I do not expect an answer to this, but it would be a great pity if the time were too long or if it were not fixed—if anyone were allowed to think that he was working on a 10 years' basis. If we do that we shall never make it possible for the departments in the Admiralty to fix their priorities. From what I have heard and from reading the Admiralty Fleet orders, I believe that is what has been happening. The priorities have not been correct in the Admiralty.
There has been criticism about the correct use of manpower—the correct number of people ashore and afloat. I would like the Civil Lord to look into this question, which I have raised in two previous Debates on the Estimates, of the way in which the new pay code is operating, particularly in regard to the technical side. It was unfortunate that with this vast training programme, which is very necessary, there were certain readjustments between the various Service Departments of the Navy, which would have happened anyway; and it seems ridiculous to superimpose on these difficulties of training the technical effect of the pay code. I have seen orders which seem to me to bring the position back, so far as technical trainnig is concerned, to almost exactly where it was before the new pay code was introduced. Can the Civil Lord confirm or deny what has been happening there? I ask him whether it would not be possible to look into that side of the new pay code to see if we can make the Navy more efficient and help the people who are carrying out the training.
During the war a new technique of training arose. It was then vital to do as much as we possibly could to see that men, when they manned a ship, were able to fight for their lives as soon as they went to sea. We lost many ships by not being able to train the men sufficiently well. It was the aim of the training services to carry out that work. I believe that very correct war-time spirit has gone on into the peace. I am not sure whether it is the right idea in peace-time; whether we should not accept a lower standard of training to get them to sea as soon as possible so that they may learn their profession and their trade in the environment in which they will have to practise it.
I now come to the question of the financial incentives for chief and petty officers. I remember that in the last Estimates Debate I was told that all that had been done was that the pay telescope had been closed. What had happened was that there was less difference between the higher grades and the lower grades. I suggest that the time has now come to realise that the telescope has been closed too much, and there is now not sufficient incentive for an able seaman or a leading hand to become a petty officer or chief petty officer, and also to sign on for his full length of service. I hope that the Civil Lord will realise that figures do not really give a clear picture of this particular problem. The Navy is at present overborne with petty officers and that disguises the numbers who are signing on to complete their service. I think that it is frightfully important to the Navy to get as many men going in for long-time service as we can.
A very simple but vital request which I would add to the question of the pay code, concerns the feeding of the Navy. Many hon. and gallant Members in this House know what good feeding meant to the small ships in the Navy during the war and how they did everything in their power to get good cooks. That means a great deal now. There is always a good deal of talk about this question of feeding, but not very much is done. It would he a great move, although perhaps not one carrying much glory with it, if the Navy could get down to the business of seeing that the food is properly cooked. It is no good saying that we have not got the equipment. There is no doubt about what a good cook can do with bad equipment. If the Civil Lord will let me show him over some ships and how they get on with bad equipment he but see this but I am sure that he realises that this is so.
In conclusion, I think that it would be impossible to pass the Navy Estimates without saying something about what has been described as a very great step, and that is the changing—I do not like the use of the word "reformation" or "reform" used by the Parliamentary Secretary—of Dartmouth. It is no good our looking back. The thing has been done, and it is no. use pulling it to pieces now. But it seems curious to me that the First Lord and the Minister of Defence have gone out of their way to eulogise the officers which the Dartmouth system produced, and, in the same breath, have altered the thing completely. I do not think that the present system will produce quite such a good type of officer because it does not fit in very well with the educational system of the country. It is a scheme which has been hawked round the Admiralty for years and always turned down. Nevertheless, we have got it, and we have to make the best of it.
I believe that on the efficiency and high standard of the officers of the Navy depends more than anything else the happiness of the men in the Navy. That is one of the basic facts which hon. Gentlemen have to realise. We cannot make a man very comfortable in a ship, despite modern equipment, but if we give him bad officers we are going to make him unhappy anyway. If we put him in a tough, difficult ship and give him good officers he will be a happy man. It is a tremendous responsibility to change the general stream of the selection of officers, as has been done recently. Nevertheless, I wish it every success. It must be realised that being an officer is not a career which has to be thrown open to people; it is a life service, and while that is remembered we shall not go far wrong.
This Debate on Navy Estimates has followed a somewhat different course from our usual Debates, largely owing to the intervention of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). He made a most interesting and amusing speech, as usual. I think it is only proper for us to point out from this side of the House that the case against the Admiralty as made by him was a quite different case from that which has been made by other of his hon. Friends during the past two years. If it were the fact that the Admiralty has been making such an appalling mess of the run-down of the Forces, then surely we might have heard something along those lines in the Navy Estimates last year. The right hon. Member for Woodford did not turn up for those Estimates. He sent along his understudy, who has a vast knowledge of naval affairs, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken). We did not hear anything from the right hon. Member for Bournemouth about all these terrible things which the right hon. Member for Woodford says were happening a year ago——
The hon. Member will forgive me, but the point he is making is quite misleading. Last year we criticised the Estimates very strongly and we got no more satisfaction than we have obtained today.
I do not mean to suggest that the right hon. Member did not manage to rake up a few criticisms last year, but I am saying that those criticisms were quite different from those advanced by the right hon. Member for Woodford in the Debate today. If anyone disputes that they have merely to turn to the Debate
which took place in this House when an Amendment which might be termed a Vote of Censure was put down against the Government by the Opposition Front Bench. Unfortunately, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth did not move that Vote of Censure. It was moved by' the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas). His criticism was quite different from the criticism advanced today because the hon. Member for Hereford was saying very much what was said by the Minister of Defence today. He said the Navy has an immense task.
For the Navy, as the Minister of Defence knows well, demobilisation is the most difficult task of all. It needs very careful and very long-sighted preparations.
He also said on 27th October, 1947:
It becomes completely inexplicable that the carefully considered demobilisation plan for the Navy should have been torn up and substituted by a wholesale slashing such as that which has sent the Home Fleet flagship and her consorts to their home ports and to immobility, or worse."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1947; Vol. 443, c. 609–10.]
That is a quite different criticism from the criticism advanced by the right hon. Member for Woodford today, because he assures us that there should have been exactly the kind of run-down which the hon. Member for Hereford was condemning in his speech which he made only a few months ago. The case which they were making a few months ago was that there should not have been this run-down which is now being carried out. Later the hon. Member for Hereford made a comment on the announcement that had been made which the right hon. Member for Woodford today said was so misleading, the announcement revealing the weakness of the British Navy. The hon. Member for Hereford said:
How was it that no official announcement was made as soon as the full effects of these new decisions to accelerate the demobilisation had been appreciated? If the news had not come out in this way, when did the Government propose to tell the country? Certainly, not on the first day of this new Session of Parliament, or the Prime Minister would have known something about it. Surely, it was not hoped that grave news of such devastating effect to the fighting efficiency of this Service could be kept in the dark indefinitely." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1947; Vol. 443, c. 613.]
That is exactly what the right hon. Member for Woodford was asking for today. He said it was absolutely wrong to
give out this information and that it should not have been revealed. We should have kept it dark. The hon. Member for Hereford, speaking presumably on behalf of the Opposition Front Bench, was saying that we had taken an action which was having a devastating effect on the efficiency of the Navy. I think that the next time we are discussing the state of the British Navy the Leader of the Opposition should consult with the other hon. Members of his party and give them some idea, at any rate, of what he is going to say. It must be very embarrassing to hon. Members of the Opposition for the right hon. Member for Woodford to get up and make hay of everything they have been saying for the past 18 months. The hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden), who has now left the House, said he approved the run-down in the Navy as it was being carried out by the Admiralty at the present time.
What it amounts to is that the right hon. Member for Woodford thought that he was on something big and he was going to make a great scare about the weakness of the British Navy, but when he looked at the facts, and found that he could not do so, he turned a somersault and ran the other way. That is a most flippant and scandalous way to deal with this House of Commons. If the Leader of the Opposition wishes to go on drawing his pay, as the Leader of the Opposition, why does he not come and attend to these matters? Why does he not attend the Navy Estimates and really present the comment? I am sure that that is a view which will find commendation on the opposite side of the House. The right hon. Member for Woodford apparently has a complaint that not enough facts have been given out. We do not give out facts about the battleships. He is not sure how the battleships ought to be used, but we ought to give out a lot of facts about them. His principle seems to be that we should give out a lot of information so long as that information is misleading.
I welcome the remarks of the Parliamentary Secretary regarding warrant officers and Dartmouth. I am sorry that he did not have anything further to say, in addition to what he said last year, about the position regarding married quarters and periods of foreign service. In the Debate last year we asked for more details and we were told in May of last year that the Admiralty had a plan for reducing the period of foreign service. We have not had real details of what that involves and we would like more information on that point.
Like the hon. Member for Sutton (Mrs. Middleton) I will turn to the question of the Royal Dockyards. I know that hon. Members opposite profess not to have any interest in the Royal Dockyards, but they would not be able to talk about the Navy at all were it not for the work done in the dockyards. I wish to congratulate the Civil Lord on what he has done in the matter of the system of establishment and the great advance made in that respect. We welcome the interest which he has shown and in the change in a system which has existed almost unchanged since the days of Lord Nelson. We would like some further information about the details of this system of employment in the Royal Dockyards. There are several points of explanation and matters which require practical action regarding the dockyards which we would like to urge.
What are the real, precise prospects of employment in the dockyards during the next year? On the figures in the Estimates, it is said that there is to be a total reduction of about 5,000, but from the figures I understand that we should subtract about 2,400 who are to be engaged in repayment work which leaves a total under 3,000. This figure we are told can be accounted for by what is called normal wastage. We should like to know if that is the case. Our actual experience in Devonport and some other dockyards does not quite accord with the prospects held out by the Admiralty. We have the beginning of an unemployment problem in Plymouth. It is not as bad as at the end of the last war, but we have over 1,000 men unemployed in Plymouth, and there are the beginnings of quite considerable discharges from the electrical departments in the dockyards. We wish to know what is the real prospect and if we can have some further explanation of the figures in the Estimates.
There are several anomalies about the immediate employment situation in the dockyards arising from the fact that a considerable amount of work is done outside the dockyard which we think could be done inside. Road haulage contracts go to people outside the yard, notwithstanding the fact that some of the people now being discharged are road transport drivers who could take on that work. There are on the books of the employment exchange several road transport workers, some of them dockyard employees. It seems hard that they should stay unemployed while road haulage contracts are being given outside the clock-yard. The same remarks apply to other forms of work, such as "lagging" work in the dockyards. Contracts for this work are being placed outside the dockyard but could be kept inside.
On the books of the employment exchange are about 600 men who are classified as being fit for light engineering work. We think that they could be kept employed in the yard. We should like to know what view of its responsibility to the City of Plymouth the Admiralty are taking. We think that the Admiralty have a very special responsibility for a situation like ours in which the dockyard is almost the only main employment. When we have wanted to start some other kind of industry we have usually been faced with the fact that the Admiralty owned the premises. We have wanted premises for training people for work in new kinds of industry, but we have been told by the Admiralty, "This place belongs to us, and when we have finished with it we propose to hand it on to some other department in the Admiralty." The very fact that so many of these places are used by the Admiralty prevents us very often from getting new employment to the yard. That fact imposes upon the Admiralty a very special responsibility to a dockyard city.
Can my hon. Friend say a word more about the repayment work which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton? There was a reference to it today by the Financial Secretary, when he said that the Admiralty would maintain that system of employment on repayment work, but there was a considerable decline in the enthusiasm with which he greeted those prospects a year ago. He then said that he welcomed the repayment work as a big development in the dockyard, and that it was a practical example of public enterprise. We greatly welcomed that statement when he made it, but the hopes then held out have been disappointed to some extent. We are sorry to see that no expansion of that work is contemplated in the Estimates. The Admiralty must knew that there is a widespread sense of frustration on this matter in the dockyard, a frustration which is nearly boiling over. The men have a patriotic discontent. They want to do more work for the nation, but they feel that they are not being permitted to do all that they desire.
The impression has been given to the men in the dockyard, in official conversation with the management there, that this repayment work should be considered only as some kind of stopgap. There are a number of examples of contracts which have been rejected. We think that it is of paramount importance that the sense of frustration should be removed and that repayment work and civilian work should be contemplated on a big scale. It is no use saying to the people in the dockyard that there is plenty of naval work to be done, and that that will take care of the situation, when so many discharges are taking place. The men believe that they could do much more if they could see what kind of contracts for repayment work are available.
It is no use the Admiralty thinking that this is merely a concern about repayment work. The general criticism affects naval work as well as repayment work. The general criticism is that administrative costs inside the dockyards are far too heavy and are greatly overloaded. I believe it probably is the case that the administrative staffs of the dockyards are about twice the size they were in 1935 There has been an enormous growth on the administration side and there is a great feeling that efficiency has not been brought up to the standard which is required. I plead with the Civil Lord to ensure that we shall get a real working party of inquiry into the dockyards and that it shall be composed of independent persons who have nothing to do with the Admiralty or the Navy but can inquire into the situation on a business basis. I can assure him that many people in the dockyard think that they can make a very much bigger contribution to the national effort than they are able to do at the present time.
I wish to turn to the subject of H.M.S. "Impregnable." Let me say that this is one of the four training establishments for boys I believe there is some question of cutting these establishments, and I would like to know the exact reason, and how many of them are to be cut. I have already discussed this matter with the Civil Lord. It causes great concern throughout the whole of the West Country. At one time there appeared to be a question of cutting either the "Impregnable," which is situated in Plymouth, or the H.M.S. "Bruce," which is situated in Scotland. I have since been informed that both may have to be cut or removed. I wonder whether that is a fact. If there is to be any comparison between the "Impregnable" and the "Bruce," I am sure of the view that the House as a whole would take, because H.M.S. "Impregnable" has existed in Plymouth since 1862 except for a short interval, whereas H.M.S "Bruce" was only commissioned in 1947. I have found upon considering this matter objectively that the argument in favour of H.M.S. "Impregnable" is overwhelming.
There is a further argument. I understood that the Admiralty think that the total number of boy entrants taken ino the Navy should be round about 2,800. It would be perfectly proper to maintain the H.M.S. "Impregnable," in order to provide for a part of that figure. If the Civil Lord works out the figures he will discover that my arithmetic is correct. I hope that this matter will be very carefully considered before there is any question of closing down the "Impregnable." I think the argument has been that it is necessary to cut one of these boy-entrant establishments because of the reduction in the total number of regular entrants into the Navy in consequence of the National Service entry. That is a very curious argument. It is proposed to deny entry to the boy who wants to go into the Navy as a permanent career in order to enable the National Service man to opt for the Navy.
I hope that that aspect of the matter will be considered. I warn the Civil Lord that he will get into great trouble if he closes down the "Impregnable." After all, H.M.S. "Impregnable" has West Country associations. Plymouth was a famous sea town when Portsmouth and Chatham were scarcely anything more than inconspicuous little market towns. Every child knows that Plymouth Sound was famous when the Solent, the Medway and even the Clyde itself were scarcely heard of. I would ask the Civil Lord to ensure that H.M.S. "Impregnable" stays in Plymouth as it has done, except for a short interval, since 1862.
I listened with great pleasure to the last few broadsides from H.M.S. "Impregnable," but I regretted that there were not more Scottish Members in the House because there might then have been some answering salvos. One thing which is rather puzzling is that both the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) and the hon. Lady the Member for Sutton (Mrs. Middleton) seemed to express considerable anxiety about employment in their constituencies. Why are the Admiralty proposing to take in more land for the dockyards at Devonport and Portsmouth if there is at present some doubt whether there is enough work to go round? Why should they require more room in which to do less work?
The Minister of Defence was very much shocked at the reaction to the announcement of the smaller Home Fleet, that is, one cruiser and four destroyers, and put it down to party prejudice. The right hon. Gentleman should be less insular. No man knows better than he does that the Navy is dear to the heart of this country to a far greater degree than the Service in which I was a humble member, the Army, or the Royal Air Force. The general shock which the country suffered when it heard that the Home Fleet, normally the core of British naval strength, had been reduced to this fantastically low figure was very serious. I do not think there was a newspaper in the country, except those pledged through and through to support of the Government through health and illness, times grave and gay, which did not suffer a feeling of shock to find that the strength of the Home Fleet—temporarily, I agree—had sunk to the ridiculous figure of one cruiser and four destroyers——
If such a shock went through the country, can the hon. Gentleman say why at no by-election which has since taken place has any question about it been raised?
I do not know that the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) is an authority on elections, because presumably he does not believe in them. The shock is a national one. As I pointed out, this is not a question of party prejudice but a question of national feeling, and the country at large was very much disturbed. I was very glad to hear the anxieties of the country allayed as far as they have been today, and as they have, I think, rightly been allayed. I appreciate the point made by the Minister of Defence that we cannot compare the manning of the ships of today and the ships of 1912, and I appreciate that while a battleship in 1912 required about 800 to 900 men, a modern battleship will require 1,400 men. At the same time, it seems quite fantastic that the position should be as it is at present.
The Parliamentary Secretary said that the same percentage of the Navy was on shore in 1921 as now. I have looked up some details and made a note of the strength of the Fleet in various periods between the wars, and one of them happened to be 1921. Vote A was then less than it is now and yet at that time we had 20 capital ships in commission—16 battleships and four battle cruisers—37 light cruisers, one aircraft carrier—of course, there were not many aircraft carriers in those clays—between 90 and 100 destroyers and a large number of submarines——
I do not know where the hon. Gentleman checked those figures. His first figure seems to be wrong. There were 20 battleships, but in the Home Fleet there were 10 battleships 'in commission and four battle cruisers. Another four were in reserve.
The right hon. Gentleman did not quite appreciate what I meant. I was comparing the ships in commission all over the world then and now. As he has checked me on that point, I am quite prepared to go into detail. In the Home Fleet there were the "Queen Elizabeth" and four "Queen Elizabeth" class battleships, five "R" class battleships, four battle cruisers, including the "Tiger," and, in the Mediterranean, six "Iron Dukes." I will not weary the House by giving any more details, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I did not come unprepared. It is astonishing that at present when, according to the White Paper, we have only two battleships—not 20 ships of the line—no battle cruisers, four aircraft carriers, 15 cruisers and about 34 destroyers in full, active commission, there should be the same percentage on shore now as then. It is rather disquieting.
It is difficult to accept in their entirety the arguments which we have heard from the Parliamentary Secretary. There were some with which I entirely agreed. One of them referred to a naval and air establishment in my constituency, the anti-submarine school. That school has been particularly fortunate in its senior officers of both Services throughout its existence, and is so now. I have taken a keen interest in that school, as I should, being the local Member of Parliament, and I have been very much impressed with what I have seen, especially the cooperation between the Navy and the Royal Air Force, although the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence knows my opinion that maritime war being now over the sea, on the sea, and under the sea, all weapons and craft habitually used for maritime war should be under the Navy because they are, in fact, parts of the Navy, although they may be called Coastal Command and put under another Ministry.
There were several features in the Parliamentary Secretary's remarks which rather puzzled me. He prided himself on the armament of the Weapon class destroyers as being higher than the armament of destroyers used to be. So far as I can see, it is less than the "J" class destroyers which were in commission before the war. The main armament of the Battle class and the Weapon class is only four four-inch guns mounted forward and certain anti-aircraft weapons. The armament of "J" class destroyers was more than that and the armament of the Tribal class was very much more than that, although their torpedo armament was less. I make these remarks because it is a pity that we should get a misleading impression, if it was misleading——
My hon. Friend was referring to the Battle class. The latest class of destroyers now mount twin 4·5 turrets with a very high angle, and some of them carry five other guns and eight very modern anti-aircraft guns.
The anti-aircraft gun is a smaller gun. The main armament is less than the "J" class. They have a more modern mounting, though the "J" class had dual purpose mountings, even if they were less modern.
A comparison of scrap-pings with the early 1920's is not a fair one because those scrappings were a matter of scrapping by agreement under the Washington Treaty. It was a plan to reduce the weight of armaments on the peoples of the world generally. Every nation which took part in the Washington Conference agreed to a formula of strength which involved scrapping by the United States and ourselves. A lot of the ships then scrapped would probably have been of very considerable use in the last war had they existed, but in order to gain the benefit of a great reduction in naval strength generally they had to go because we had undertaken to do that at Washington. That is not comparable with a decision to scrap made under no such pressure. There is an aspect of naval strength——
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of the Washington Treaty, may I say I agree that that is a good debating point; but today there are no nations possessing navies with whom there can be a treaty to scrap. We have, in fact, done by compulsion with Japan, Germany, Italy and the other countries who were fighting us, what we then had to do by agreement.
I am not suggesting that it would at present be possible to have a naval agreement which would be of much use. I was only pointing out that the argument of our having scrapped so many ships was not comparable with the present situation.
That is what the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) thinks; he can continue to think so. The point I was about to make was the importance of the numbers as regards the protection of trade routes and the commerce of this country. It used to be the accepted thing that 70 cruisers were the minimum to take care of the trade routes of this country. After all, that is the prime function of the Navy. We are inclined to be obsessed with the very latest weapons. It is, of course, absolutely necessary that every step should be taken for protection against such things as atom bombs, but let us not forget that sufficient surface raiders have done infinite harm to British commerce in their day, apart from the submarines, which are even more deadly. Seventy used to be taken as the overall figure that was necessary. I think at the present time we have only about 29 according to the White Paper and, on consulting the Estimates for 1937, I found that at that time we had 36 under-age cruisers, 18 average and 16 building. I hope the Admiralty will bear in mind the use of these ships for the protection of commerce against distant disguised armed merchant ships, which have been a real trouble in the past, because one must have numbers in order to cover the ground.
The Prime Minister said the other day that the proper way to keep a Service expending its money usefully and to the best advantage was to give it a definite financial ceiling. I do not think there is much doubt that that is generally accepted, but in the Navy there flows from that the tendency to scrap old ships in order to have a better chance of getting new ones, and the professional elements at the Admiralty think that the comparatively small sums required for keeping such ships could be better used to build new ones, or for other purposes which they have in mind.
I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Member, but surely he must keep to the same argument? I do not like to quote HANSARD, but on 20th March, 1939, in taking part in the Debate on the scrapping of ships, he quoted the "Canopus" case as a bad example of scrapping a ship and at that time he admitted that old ships should be scrapped.
I am delighted that the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull has brought that up, and I am flattered to think that he has read my remarks in Debates on these Estimates in years before the war. However, he cannot have read them carefully because he has failed to see that I urged the importance of having more destroyers, which would have saved our merchant fleet many thousands of ships, and that I forecast the failure of the pocket battleship as a useful investment. I am interested to hear of his attachment to the "Canopus," a stalwart old craft, as I think we should also describe the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull. What I said about the "Canopus" was that the case established the fact that old battleships were not very good for checking eight-inch cruisers, which was one of the suggestions made. The incident of the "Canopus" in connection with Coronel was before convoys existed at all and, therefore, to suggest that this is inconsistent is rather harsh. On the other hand, I will heap coals of fire upon the hon. and gallant Member's head and say that in naval affairs he has always been most consistent—he wants the smallest Navy possible, officered exclusively by those who are exactly like the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull——
It fills me with some apprehension. I return to the point at which I was interrupted—the question of keeping these old ships. How far has the system progressed of keeping ships by the dynamic dehumidification method, the method of shutting them up in something like cellophane with a drying process inside? I was told that it was being used in the Navy. To how many ships has it been applied, and could a party of us go down to see how effective it is? Is it, as I hope, making a great economy in the number of ships' personnel? There is no doubt that not only do ships deteriorate in reserve, but the crews deteriorate with them, so I hope this system can be applied.
I want to put in a special plea for the "Nelson" and "Rodney." I know the "Rodney" is leaking and that to make these ships seaworthy substantial sums would need to be spent on them, but I cannot suppose that merely to make them seaworthy—I do not mean to bring them up to date—would require the enormous sum of £11 million. One should not forget, however, that as regards their main armaments they have a gun which is larger and more modern than the main armament of the "Vanguard." In the days when ships had a definite life, before the London Treaty of 1936, those two ships would not come to an end under ordinary circumstances until 1953. They have five or six years more to run according to the old formula of 26 years for a capital ship before it becomes overage, and the uses to which they could be put include bombardment and in a task force, such as the one which Admiral Kincaird was in charge at the battle of Leyte Gulf, when ships a great deal older than the "Nelson" and "Rodney" performed very useful functions. Then there is the escort of convoys, if heavy cruisers are at sea, and their use for training, for which they are better than using brand new modern battleships. I ask the Admiralty to consider carefully whether it would not be wiser to keep the "Queen Elizabeths," all of which were practically rebuilt 10 years ago, and the "Nelson" and "Rodney" for the present at all events, until the situation is a little clearer.
There is an anxious thought in the minds of many of us: are we getting value for the number of men and for the amount of money that is being expended? In 1937 Vote A was only 112,000 men as opposed to the much larger figure of 167,000 gross and 145,000 net which we have now. Yet there were far more ships at sea and, as far as I can work it out, the sea-going complements are much larger. Then, again, the expenditure on some things is rather puzzling. For instance, although naval armaments, which were £13,300,000 odd in 1937, have now dropped to £17,600,000, about half, and the expense of everything is much greater, the Admiralty Office has swelled to a degree which is fantastic. It is now £14,624,000, but there are no more naval officers. On the other hand, the civilian side has increased very largely. It owns all the Admiralty, Queen's Anne's Mansions, the City of Bath, and I do not know what else. The expenditure has gone up to a very marked degree, and I cannot understand why.
Above all, I hope—and I am rather reassured by some of the remarks of the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister for Defence—that it will be always remembered that to the world at large the prestige of this country depends very largely on the British Navy, which is the outward and visible sign of the vigour of this country. Whenever the White Ensign departs from a sea or ocean, the people in that part of the world feel it is a symptom of the decay of this country. I am glad to think that the Fleet should always be adequate to perform all these duties.
I beg to move, to leave out from "That," to the end of the Question, and to add:
this House, recognising the importance of new discoveries and inventions affecting naval warfare, invites the Government to refrain from procuring technical equipment of existing types until it is certain that no more effective devices for the purpose will be available in the near future.
I wish to treat "technical equipment" in a rather broad sense. In any Debate on the Navy in these days one is tempted to think of the general political background and international circumstances, as has been clearly shown by many speeches today. I propose, however, to approach the problem from what I would call the engineering or technical point of view, and for the moment to disregard hopes and fears, and the general political background, and to deal with the problem as it appears to one whose training has mostly been in science, technology and engineering.
The conclusions I come to are the opposite of those arrived at by hon. Members of the Opposition. Whereas they are mostly looking backwards to the past and hoping to retain the vessels and equipment which have served their purpose, my conclusions are in the direction of looking forward into the future, and making extremely drastic changes. Changes are coming anyhow, and my line would be that by looking forward we can anticipate changes which will have to be made, and it is in our interests to hasten those changes. Taking a very wide survey, the Secretary of State for Air the other evening said that his job was the creation of a third Air Force, as distinct from the two previous types. We can express our object today as being the creation of a third Navy.
Looking right back into the past, one sees that the earliest navies were made of wood, and driven by wind, or human muscle power. That period lasted, perhaps, 1000 years, and then came the period of iron and steel for construction, and the combustion of fuel for propulsion, and in the combustion of other materials in the form of explosives as weapons. Now we are entering a third period when sub-atomic forces, electronics we call them in radio, and nuclear disintegration in the atom bomb, are entering the picture, and many other new devices are thrusting themselves on us. These, taken together, will transform the Navy out of all recognition. We should be looking forward to these great changes, and preparing for them if we are to manage our affairs efficiently.
So much for generalisation. Now I come to particular examples. The tests at Bikini have already been mentioned, and newspaper accounts and American reports which have been issued since throw an intense light on those problems, which we can only disregard at our peril. The first of those experiments was an atom bomb dropped from a great height on to a cluster of 8o ships or so in an enclosed harbour. Actually the shot missed by about a quarter of a mile. The results were extremely illuminating all the same. Summing up as briefly as I can, I would say that of the ships within a quarter of a mile about five were sunk, those within three quarters of a mile had their decks, bulkheads and superstructures crippled, the death-dealing radiations extended for about one mile, while fires of inflammable material were set up in ships two miles away.
The second bomb created results which were less expected. The first results approximated to what one might have anticipated from the explosions in Japan during the war, but in the second case the bomb was lowered under a ship, some depth under the water—the exact depth has not been stated—and there exploded. The result was to sink immediately one battleship 500 yards away and an air-craft carrier sank later on. The most remarkable feature was what happened to the water. It is estimated that about one million tons of water shot up from the sea into the air. That sounds a great deal, but it is not a great volume. A vessel less than 100 yards in each direction would contain roughly one million tons of water, but, when broken into spray the water occupies an immense amount of space. It is the vast volume of spray which becomes radio-active through the explosion which is the real cause of extensive damage to human life which would follow such an explosion. This column of water when it shot up into the air went up over a mile, and was roughly a third of a mile across. Some drifted away as spray and the rest fell back into the water with a tremendous splash, creating waves and further spray, and
the whole of this water was dangerously radio-active. It washed over some of the ships, and fell like rain from the sky, while the mist drifted over other ships. From the American account one gathers how extremely deadly this radio-active water is. The actual words are:
The second bomb threw large masses of highly radio-active water on to the decks, and into the hulls of these contaminated ships. They became radio-active stoves, and would have burned all living beings aboard them with invisible and painless but deadly radiation.
This is the striking phrase—
radio-active stoves, and would have burned all living beings upon them with invisible and painless, but deadly radiation.
The great effect we have to take into account in all future naval craft which are constructed is the possibility of the action of this radio-active water. Admiral Blandy said in regard to the first test that it
has provided adequate data of a sort necessary to redesign naval vessels to minimise damage to superstructures and deck personnel.
The one experiment showed the necessity for redesigning ships above the waterline, and the underwater explosion showed, from the damage to the hulls, the need for strengthening hulls below the waterline. As for the radio-active water, it seems that the Navy must either go into the air or go below the surface or reckon on the maximum dispersal in order to avoid that particular danger. Already, we have such vast changes to make that the Navy will have to be altered almost out of recognition to meet them.
To turn to the aircraft carrier and the battleship, I have been astonished, after the controversy about the capital ship has been going on for some 20 years, and after so much has been written in favour of the abolition of the battleship, to find so many champions of it here today. I do not say that we should always follow the American example, but in this case the American precedent is extremely illuminating. It has been mentioned that the Americans are retaining only two battleships in commission, one for the Atlantic and one for their Pacific Fleet. The other components of their Fleet, in addition to the two battleships, are 25 carriers, 25 cruisers, 150 destroyers, 200 lesser vessels and 8,000 aeroplanes. We cannot neglect to examine the picture which the Americans have found suitable for their needs when we are considering the plan or the pattern which our Navy will need to take in the future.
The battleship was built and designed as a platform for the big gun. What of the future of the big gun? It looks as if the Americans are already discarding that weapon. The reason is plain. To fire a shell and speed it up sufficiently for its long journey of 20 miles or so, provision has to be made for intense pressures in the gun barrel itself. It means a great weight of metal in the gun itself and the strengthening of the whole ship's structure to deal with the great forces of recoil. If the shell is designed to fly by itself, as a rocket propelled missile, it may require a long launching platform but it does not require much in the way of weight or strength at its starting point. The Americans are already making big ships to fire rockets and not to carry big guns at all.
Other items which are coming into use —and the information about these comes chiefly from American sources—include the self-directing missile, which has been mentioned. That is a missile which follows its own echo and so arrives at its target, even if the target is moving during the course of the missile's flight. Then, the directed missile is something which in its passage can receive radio messages which deflect it to the right or left so that it may arrive on the target for which it is intended.
All these things affect the structure and components of the Navy. Torpedoes have a much longer range than was formerly the case. There is talk of fitting them with jet engines so that their speed will be enormously increased. We have heard something this afternoon about developments in the submarine. In whatever aspect or feature of the Navy we consider, there are rapid changes in progress, inventions and discoveries which will alter the shape and character of the Fleet. Bearing this in mind it seems that we should do wrong to manufacture, order or build any particular type of vessel or adopt any particular appliances simply because we have had it or them previously. We should be looking ahead in this brief interval of peace, as it may be, so that the apparatus upon which we spend our money will be the best and most suitable for its purpose.
So much for the material equipment. What can be done about it? I admit that the Amendment I am moving expresses it rather crudely, but the intention behind it is quite plain. Against the taking of the line which I am advocating there is the inertia to change of all great institutions. We have heard a good deal from the Minister this afternoon that has been encouraging, which showed an almost unexpected alacrity and leaning towards new devices, but the great organisation behind the Minister is very slow to move. In fact, it is one of the characteristics of human beings to hanker after obsolete weapons. I believe that the age of bronze weapons lasted for a thousand years. Before that the Stone Age covered roughly 3,000 years. The actual geological periods earlier than that are named after particular types of implements which were in current use for 5,000, 10,000 to 20,000 years with scarcely any change. There seems to be a tendency on the other side of the House strongly to favour the production of what they have become used to, weapons which have existed for a long time. Enough has been stated to show that that attitude of mind really belongs to the past. Events are moving so fast that we must stir our minds into greater activity and our organisation into greater alacrity to deal with the problems which face us.
I ask the Minister if he is satisfied that the organisation behind the Navy is suitable for the rapid changes which are demanded? We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. M. Foot) that the administration of the dockyards leaves something to be desired. From my own experience in World War I when I was in the Naval Air Service and saw something of the working of the Admiralty, I found the same sort of thing. In that case it took the form of a serving officer of the old type being in charge of a technical establishment manned by civilians or by people or had shortly before been civilians. There was a certain inefficiency which arose from their differing attitudes of mind. It reminded me of the saying of the wise woman of the village to the young woman of the village about husbands," If you get a bad 'un he's a bad' un; if you get a good 'un, he's only middling." That is the feeling we had about our commanding officers, although we did not say so.
Other hon. Members wish to speak, so I conclude by repeating my view that our efforts at the present time should be in the direction of speeding up change, looking ahead, realising what shape inventions and discoveries are likely to take in future, so that when the time comes we may not be found wanting.
I beg to second the Amendment.
Originally my service in the Merchant Navy made me tend to become somewhat kindly critical of the Royal Navy. Latterly, as a supplier to the Navy, I became very doubtful indeed about some aspects of the efficiency of its supply organisation ashore. In that respect, I should like to invite attention to the supply aspect in regard to technical equipment. The first point which I wish to put to my hon. Friend concerns the function of the Ministry of Supply as a supplier to the other Services as well as the Navy. Is the Ministry of Supply acting as a common supplier? Is it, in fact, acting as a supplier to the Government, and if so, to what extent is it acting as a supplier? I should like also to ask whether the Admiralty want the Ministry of Supply to act as common supplier, because some of my experiences lead me to believe that there might be some doubt about it. I see my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence smiles when I say that, but that is my experience and that of other suppliers. I have not many definite facts to go on, but I have a strong hunch that there might be a reluctance on the part of the Admiralty to use the Ministry of Supply as a common supplier. I do not suggest that this should apply to the supply of ships and other vessels, but I see no reason why the Ministry of Supply should not act as a common supplier for technical equipment.
I should like also to put this other question—does the Admiralty needlessly insist on special designs and specifications to the detriment of cheap and quick production? This is a point to which my hon. Friend might direct his attention. The Ministry of Supply should be a coordinating agent on research, development and production, and should supply at least technical equipment for all the Services, including the Admiralty. My feeling is that the Admirals in charge of the shore establishments want as it were, to row their own boats a little bit too much without reference to the Ministry of Supply.
The second point I should like to raise is that of standardisation. I believe there is great room for improvement in the standardisation of technical equipment in all the Services. It is not necessarily correct that a piece of equipment for the Admiralty need be different in design from the same kind of equipment used by the Army and the Air Force. There is great room in the development stage for ensuring that we achieve a common fundamental design for the equipment in the three Services. While there may be some doubt and difficulty about complete equipment, when we come to the question of components there is a far greater case for standardisation of those components which go into equipment supplied to the three Services. Especially is that the case when mass production of components is needed, which is the case in wartime. There is a tendency on the part of all Services to ask for special components, but of all the people who ask for them the Admiralty stands at the top of the list. More ingenuity and freedom of thought on this particular point could lead to the greater standardisation of components which go into the technical equipment used by the Admiralty and the other two Services.
A further point on standardisation is in regard to reference numbers. Could my hon. Friend visualise, having achieved some degree of standardisation of components, the Admiralty, the Air Force and the Army insisting upon different type numbers and reference numbers? This costs a considerable amount of money in the aggregate, and there is every reason why these common components, which are identical in specification for all three Services, should have a common reference number. I agree it would require a great amount of work, but do not let us wait until another emergency is upon us. I know a great effort was made in this direction in the last war, but war is not the time to start a comprehensive and difficult task of this description. Now is the time to bring our attention to this matter. On this question of standardisation, I should like to ask my hon. Friend why there is no inter-Service standardising organisation? Its duties would be to ensure the maximum degree of inter-Service standardisation of all technical equipment, and avoid overlapping in research, development and production for all the Services.
I am sure my hon. Friend will forgive me for interrupting him, but I feel certain he has overlooked that fact that there is such an organisation, and that the Joint War Production Staff, composed of the joint production staffs presided over by the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, with sub-committees radiating from it, forms the kind of machinery for the very kind of thing to which my hon. Friend is referring. If my hon. Friend has any suggestions for improving that organisation, I shall be only too happy to consider them.
That may be, but I query whether that organisation is really acting as a standardising organisation. I had a note here to ask my right hon. Friend this question—did the disbanding of the inter-Services production committees——
I am afraid it is I who must now interrupt the hon. Gentleman. We are discussing the Navy Estimates, and it seems to me that the hon. Gentleman is discussing a Defence Estimate or a Ministry of Supply Estimate, because standardisation in all three Services goes outside the Navy Estimates.
With great respect, it is very difficult to look at supply to the Admiralty alone, because there has been some effort to standardise supplies to the various Services, and in order to look at the efficient supply of technical equipment to the Admiralty it is necessary to look at the standardising effect in all three Services, in order to see whether the efficiency of the supply organisation to the Admiralty is functioning without any undue overlapping with the other Services, and thus wasting the taxpayers' money. That was the point to which I was directing my right hon. Friend's attention.
To keep within the bounds of your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, I will come back to the point I was making before my right hon. Friend made his suggestion. That point was does the Navy keep this technical equipment up to date? I reminded him of this point before, but I mention it again, because it is possible for technical equipment to get out of date. Such equipment may have been designed for the Admiralty and put into service afloat. A number of years pass, during which the equipment is not kept up to date. Suddenly, when an emergency arises, large orders for it are given to the mass production factories of the country, and then it is discovered that its manufacture, by reason of the length of time which has elapsed since it was first made, has been relegated to the limbo of forgotten things. The result is that when the order for the manufacture of this obsolete equipment—or so it appears, to the manufacturer—comes along the output per man-hour on its production is very low indeed. This, in fact, in my own experience, happened in the last war, and I hope we can make sure that some effort will be made towards keeping our equipment up to date, so that if it has to be made in large quantities in wartime we can get a very high degree of manufacturing efficiency in the making of it.
There is one other point I should like to bring to the attention of my hon. Friend, and that is in regard to the tendering system. Is the Admiralty really mass-production minded? The tendering system as operated today really amounts to what is, in fact, the throwing overboard the system of inter-Service production planning which was built up during the war. The tendering system is the antithesis of good planning. No manufacturer who is compelled to operate under the tendering system can perform long-term planning. It causes dislocation of production, high costs, and waste, particularly if the requirements are for a nonstandard product. The Government are exhorting industry to do the primary job of management, which is long-term forecasting; but the system to which the Admiralty has now reverted makes the job impossible. In days when a modern mass-production factory must plan 18 months or two years ahead in order to get its material, the tendering system, which now operates, makes long-term planning impossible.
This is what happens. A firm is asked to tender, it puts down the price, makes its estimate and puts in the tender. Then suddenly, either the whole or part of it is accepted, and the firm is expected to start delivery within say two or three months of that date. An order cannot be injected into a mass-production factory in these days at two or three months' notice. I cannot understand why we have reverted to this system. Is it beyond the ingenuity of the Admiralty to devise an alternative?
I come back to the question of the inter-Service committees which were set up to make sure that adequate supplies were available to the Admiralty without overlapping and waste. These committees have been disbanded. Were the men on the job consulted before they were disbanded? Were their opinions asked? Is this the unimaginative hand of the Treasury at work? Ought we not to look into this matter? I would like also to know whether the effects of this move have been measured in costs to the taxpayer and loss of efficiency in the factories. Do we realise what effect this is having on the production of peacetime goods in factories which produce supplies for the Admiralty and other goods for the public and for export? I hope that my hon. Friend will look into this serious matter.
I ask my hon. Friend to inquire into the question of joint consultation in the scientific and production establishments of the Admiralty. Our Ministers rightly exhort industry to foster joint consultation. I do not mean Whitley Councils, but works councils of the most modern and progressive type where each section of the working community in a factory is elected to a council. The technicians, clerical and production people each have their elected representatives who can discuss with the management matters affecting the efficiency of the organisation. Where is the logic in exhorting industry to —do this if the shore establishments of the Admiralty do not do likewise? If my hon. Friend looks into this matter, he must make it clear that there will be no victimisation. These elected representatives must be able to have discussions with the management as equals. There must be no victimisation, or the plan will not work. It will not work in industry if there is victimisation, and I am sure it would not work in an Admiralty establishment.
In conjunction with that, there is the question of training within industry. An admirable organisation known as T.W.I. has been set up by the Ministry of Labour. I ask my hon. Friend to consider letting T.W.I. loose on some of the shore-based Admirals and their staffs. The job of T.W.I. is to create a new attitude of mind towards old problems. It has proved its worth in industry. I am sure it would prove its worth in the shore establishments of the Admiralty. I would like my hon. Friend to tell us whether the naval establishments concerned in production line up with the most progressive thought in the Civil Service and in industry. If not, then a change is overdue, and I think that attention to some of the points I have raised might produce it.
We are all very glad that the hon. and gallant Member for Dulwich (Major Vernon) drew one of the lucky numbers in the ballot this year because, with his technical experience of, I believe, all three Services, he is a most suitable person to raise this subject which, as I think the Parliamentary Secretary will agree, is probably one of the most important in this year's Estimates. I was particularly interested to hear what he had to say. He will understand me when I say that the Amendment in his name on the Order Paper really makes the problem sound too easy, and rather centres round the final words "in the near future." I was also glad to have the opportunity of again following the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Cobb). I think I followed him on two occasions last year. I was most interested to hear his views on the subject of standardisation and the importance of keeping our equipment at sea up to date, a matter to which I shall refer in a moment.
It was interesting to hear the hon. and gallant Member for Dulwich refer in such detail to the atom bomb tests at Bikini for, as he no doubt knows, I was one of the two Members who went there from this House. I am pleased to be able to confirm the accuracy of all the information which he gives. In fact, if he had not vouchsafed the source of his information, I should have thought that he had been reading the report which the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) and I tendered on our return. The House will agree that it is by no means an easy problem.
As the Parliamentary Secretary will remember, I made a great point of it in my speech on the Navy Estimates last year. As I said then, the problem of weapons and research really boils down to the question whether we can afford the scientific manpower for a short-term and a long-term plan. Can we afford the research and, finally, the production necessary to have the most up-to-date weapons after a period to be decided upon, which, in these days of tension, should not be too far ahead? At the same time, can we keep the modern units of the Fleet modified with up to date equipment? If we make this jump ahead to get the new weapons without modifying the Fleet, we shall find that the material in the ships at sea will gradually become more and more out of date. We must have an assurance that we are able to carry out both the long-term and the short-term plan. I think it is quite unnecessary for me to say what would happen if we carried out the short-term plan only; it is quite obvious that the result would be that, in a few years' time, we should find ourselves hopelessly out-of-date and that we then should not have the time to attempt the research and production which would be needed for the new equipment.
Let us examine for a moment what has been said in this connection, both in the White Paper on Defence and in the First Lord's explanatory memorandum with the Navy Estimates this year. In both of these statements, under the heading of research and development, the import-Vance of research and development is stressed, but, in each case, its importance is qualified to some extent in the Navy Estimates White Paper by saying that development work continues under handicap, and, in the Defence White Paper, by saying that, in spite of research and development receiving a high priority, difficulties are being experienced. The Parliamentary Secretary will remember that my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) made a great point of that in his speech. Let us make quite certain that research and development really is getting the high priority which it deserves. I know that we are told that it is getting a high priority, but I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us tonight that that is really the case.
I would like to deal for a moment with what the Minister of Defence said in the recent Defence Debate, because I think it has a great bearing on what we are discussing now. The right hon. Gentleman then said:
The only prudent course is to defer committing ourselves to definite lines of development until we can see the future with greater certainty, and, whilst retaining such Forces
as are necessary, press on with research and development.
The Minister of Defence went on to say:
The amount which can be done in the way of re-equipment and modernisation must, unfortunately, be extremely modest. This must add to the burden of defence expenditure in later years, as it may not be possible to spread the production load as evenly over a period of years as we should desire in the best interests of efficiency and economy.
Later on in his speech, and this is the most important quotation which I shall make, the right hon. Gentleman said this:
It is well known that the intricate apparatus of modern war demands many months —even years—to get production in quantity of an accepted prototype."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 5948; Vol. 448, C. 47–59.]
That, I think, has a very direct bearing on this Amendment. From those remarks from the Minister of Defence, there can be no doubt that we are pursuing the long-term policy, and, to some extent, the short-term policy, but I would like to ask the House particularly to remember the last quotation which I made from the right hon. Gentleman.
In the Defence Debate, I particularly stressed the hope that the Government were not getting too involved in a "No war for a number of years" policy, and that is borne out by the quotation from the Minister of Defence which I have just made. In this jump ahead for new weapons, a line has to be drawn somewhere; otherwise, we shall find that our modernisation programme—the short-term plan—has been unable to keep up and that our weapons are out of date, when we have not got "many months or even years" available to us. It must be remembered that, in scientific research, it is very easy for scientists to say that, in a few days, months or perhaps years, there will be a tremendous change, and that new weapons or equipment will be involved.
I think that is a very natural and enthusiastic failing of scientists—and I know they will understand what I mean —and, therefore, the only way to come to a decision in such a case is that those in authority, the Admiralty, must set what perhaps one might call a point of periodic finality—I think the House will understand what I mean—and that weapons must then be put into production, even at the risk of their being superseded by new and better ones. In these days, that is probably very difficult to do, because such progress is being made in new weapons, but I feel that our scientists must by now have some very good idea of what the weapons of the future are going to be and should be able to choose that correct point of periodic finality.
Probably, we all read in the papers this morning about the new American rocket, the "Aerobee," which, in its trials last week attained a height of 78 miles and speed of 3,000 miles an hour. It may well be that, in a few weeks, it will go much higher and faster, and that, in a few years, even higher and faster still, but, sooner or later, the United States naval authorities will have to decide to put it into production and take the risk of future improvement. There is another point which I will put to the Minister of Defence, who said we were spending only a "modest sum" on re-equipment and modernisation, because this must add to the burden of expenditure in later years. We have got to keep a very close eye on Votes 8 and 9, because this year they are being decreased by something like £24 million, and, on the other hand, research and development shows an increase of only just over £500,000, or, at any rate, under £1 million. Taking one from 24, that means that the £23 million should be looked up as a saving.. We should, theoretically, put it in the kitty and keep it until we have decided what the new weapons are.
I am very glad to see that in the Amendment the references to discoveries and inventions apply not necessarily to weapons alone, and I am particularly interested in this connection to hear what the Parliamentary Secretary said when he referred to the progress made in machine tools, the speed of submarines and that of course must refer to escort vessels as well. I was also interested to hear what he said about gas turbines, but I was surprised, when he talked about atomic power, that he did not refer to the possibility of the gas turbine used in conjunction with atomic materials, as that is one of the ways in which atomic power will be used in future. The Financial Secretary went into some detail about atomic power, and I think this is the first occasion on which one of His Majesty's Ministers has done so, and I am very glad that it was the Admiralty which was the first. It shows that the ideas behind the report of the hon. Member for Uxbridge and myself have got to even higher levels than those to which I referred at the beginning of my speech.
We read in the newspapers that those American warships which were used at Bikini are still radio-active. I think it will be some years before atomic bombs are plentiful enough to be used as anti-ship weapons as such, though there is no doubt that the conditions appertaining to the Bikini tests have not been exaggerated in any way, and that they would be very much increased and be far worse in the crowded harbours of this country. I will touch only for a moment on the aspect of this question which, as the Parliamentary Secretary has said, is the most important, and that is the radio-active effect of the bomb, which calls for special protection for personnel, both at the time of the explosion and afterwards, and which also requires some means of decontamination. So far as I know, neither of these things have yet been accomplished, but they are just as important in the Navy as they are in Civil Defence, concerning which a point was raised in the recent Defence Debate.
I will sum up what I have tried to say in this connection. The hon. and gallant Member who opened this Debate is quite right in drawing attention to the fact that our equipment today is rapidly becoming more and more out of date. We must take a jump ahead in order to get the new weapons on a long-term plan. We shall find that, in connection with the Navy, any ships completed since the war are, in certain ways, out of date even before they go to sea. My object, in the Defence Debate, in pointing out that no ships were laid down this year was, to use the words of the Minister of Defence, that it takes many months, and even years, to get production in quantity of a prototype. As I said in that Debate, if we do not start soon, we may find that it is too late. We must take the risk, from time to time, of choosing at a certain stage of progress what I have already referred to as a "point of periodic finality." At the same time, we must try to modify, and to keep up to date as far as possible. It is most important that, at some time, this chosen date should be taken.
No discussion such as we have had on technical equipment could finish without a word about the personnel who are going to use it. We were told by the Financial Secretary this afternoon that those who are making the Navy their career are now being trained in that connection, and that is one of the reasons why there are so many men on shore. We must move forward just as quickly in training these men to use the equipment, as we do scientifically. We ought to remember that, in this connection, we shall be getting men of, perhaps, a much higher intelligence than before, and that they may expect conditions of service rather different from those of their predecessors. This point has been gone into in some detail today by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland). Let us consider living conditions, food, pay, and personal liberty in this connection, and not, perhaps, in the form of democratisation of the Navy, about which we hear so often.
I am not at all happy about the Reserves. As I have said before, they, too, have to have their technical equipment with which to train. But who are those reserves to be? The R.N.V.R. is now down to under 1,000 men whereas before the war it was over 5,000. The Navy is only going to take a token number of 2,000 National Service men. Where is this highly trained technical reserve, which is going to use these new weapons, coming from? I have seen the Navy Estimates of the last two years described as "shadow boxing." I think, perhaps, that was inevitable after a long war, when we finished with a large quantity of ships, men, and material. But I do not think that anybody could apply that description to the opening stages of this Debate though perhaps the Financial Secretary was a bit elusive. He likened himself to a destroyer in the presence of a battleship, but I noticed that, very soon, he took the trouble to get another battleship in the vicinity to come to his assistance.
I do not intend to speak for long because I have already spoken much too long today, and I know that there are many other hon. Members who wish to take part in the Debates. However, I should like to reply to one or two of the remarks that have been made.
I welcome this Amendment. I am glad it has been brought forward, because it deals with a most important subject. I would assure the mover that it is a subject which the Admiralty has fully in mind and which it is constantly considering day by day. I will not say any more about the atomic bomb; the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble) has already said that more has been said on that topic by Government spokesmen today than has ever been said by them in the past. It is apparent that we are examining its results, and it may be that, in due course, we shall learn more about it and how to counter it.
I was asked a question about the organisation for the provision of technical equipment, and how we got that equipment in the Navy. The Royal Naval Scientific Service is represented on Sir Henry Tizard's Research Committee, and we have day-to-day contact with them. We can tell them what are our needs, and they can supply them, and go into research on our needs as far as possible. But, as the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea said, we cannot scrap or refrain from acquiring equipment in the meantime. That leads me to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Elland (Mr. Cobb). He made the point about acquiring old equipment. There may come a tinge—I admit that, although I hope it will not come too often—when we have old equipment such, for instance, as radar or radio sets, and when we may, from time to time, have to buy out-of-date valves—for instance, in the middle of a war—to fit in those sets because we may not be able to get new ones. We may, therefore, have to re-equip them with old material. That position will arise during war, but I do not think it is likely to arise now. I can reassure my hon. Friend on that point.
I was asked whether we received common supplies from the Ministry of Supply, and whether we welcomed using them as suppliers. I would make it quite clear that we certainly do welcome them as suppliers, and that they supply us with a great deal of things we need, varying from munitions to aeroplanes. But there are certain things which, of course, we can best supply ourselves, such as, for instance, ships. The Ministry of Supply would not want to embark on the production of ships. In so far as it is economical we rely on the Ministry to supply all those things which are common to all three Services. I hope we shall use them to an increasing extent.
I was also asked by my hon. Friend about standardisation. I would assure him that we are giving this matter very careful thought. We realise the full importance of it, and we are standardising various equipment nowadays, such as, for instance—to give two obvious examples—ball-bearings and screw threads so that we shall have the same types of those articles throughout the Services. We attach great importance to this, but it is something which, naturally, cannot be done in a few moments.
Another question put to me was whether we keep our technical equipment up to date. As far as possible, that is done, though, naturally, I cannot say that at every moment every piece of technical equipment is completely up to date. Obviously, we do our best in that direction, and, by and large, I can say that it is up to date. Then I was asked about the tendering system. I did not quite understand what my hon. Friend meant exactly. I can only suppose that he wanted to revert to the system of cost plus which was used during the war, but which, frankly, I do not think was a very good system.
That was not my point at all. If my hon. Friend would consult with the officials of his Department who have to operate this tendering system as against the admirable system set up during the war, he will have the matter made quite clear to him.
I submit that the tendering system used throughout industry is, in fact, the system which provides the cheapest goods. I should have thought that to get the cheapest tender was the best way of doing it, and the way which, by and large, Members would like from the point of view of safeguarding the national finances.
I was also asked about joint councils. The Admiralty have a very good system of joint councils. The Admiralty Industrial Council, of which my hon. Friend the Civil Lord is Chairman, is the principal committee, and there are a number of sub-committees—production committees and joint committees. These committees take an interest, not only in welfare matters, but in production. They give frequent advice on production, which is very often taken.
In conclusion, I am glad to tell the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea that we attach high priority to research and development. As I said in my opening speech, we are spending, this year, £9 million, as against only £700,000 in 1934. I agree that prices are higher but, of course, they have become nothing like so high as this figure is greater than the 1934 figure. We have to strike a balance between short-term and long-term policy. We cannot say that we shall produce nothing now because there may be such important developments later that it would be stupid for us to produce anything now, but, equally, we cannot say that we shall go on producing from day to day without any idea of what may be developed in the future. We have to strike a balance and, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, produce a point of periodic finality —an expression I have never heard of before, but with which I am in general agreement. By and large, that is our policy, and I think it is bearing fruit successfully. I hope that in due course we may be able to see the results of some of our research and development in new weapons for the Navy.
In the Defence White Paper there is laid down the policy of the Government, and the objective of the Defence Services. With that statement there can be no disagreement whatever, but I think it can be said without fear of contradiction that in relation to the position of the other two Services His Majesty's Navy is today quite unable to fulfil any of the objectives that are laid down in that White Paper. After every war it is right and proper that there should be reductions in our Forces, which during a war are immensely increased. That has always been the case and was done after the 1914–18 war. Some comparison has been made between what was done then and what has been done after the recent war, and it is with this point that I would like to deal.
After the 1914–18 war the Navy disarmed unilaterally. The Government were satisfied that there was no possibility of a future war for 10 years. The Services had to plan on that basis. We also relied upon collective security for our security, through the League of Nations. The position of the world in general was very different then from what it is today; it was much less serious then. When war broke out in 1939 we had a naval power which was quite insufficient to meet the duties it had to perform. There is no one in the country who is more aware of that fact than the present Minister of Defence, who so ably filled the position of First Lord of the Admiralty during most of the war years. We won the last war. But nobody will maintain today that there will be no war for the next 10 years. That is the great difference between the position after the 1914–18 war and now. Nobody knows what will happen in a year or two. The world is in a most serious and dangerous state. The position in Germany is most unsatisfactory; Europe is unstable. The whole of Eastern Europe is under the domination of Communist Russia; the "Iron Curtain" extends from the Adriatic to the Baltic. Eastern Europe is under the power of Russia, and that is a most dangerous threat to the peace of the world. There is hardly a Member of this House who will dispute that fact. The United Nations Organisation which has superseded the League of Nations cannot function. These are very different conditions from those which followed the 1914–18 war, because of the action of Russia.
The position of the Navy today is also very different. Again, we have brought about reductions, but there is a limit beyond which those reductions should not take place. We went below that limit after the 1914–18 war, and we have done the same again this time, only worse We are always told that there will be no time to prepare when the next war breaks out, that the attack will be sudden, that probably the first intimation will be the dropping of bombs, and that the country must be instantly prepared to meet another war. Does the Financial Secretary or the Minister of Defence suggest that the British Fleet is instantly ready to carry out the objectives set out in the Defence White Paper? It is quite impossible for it to do so. The country was rightly -alarmed and upset at the declaration of the Minister of Defence that our striking force in the Home Fleet was one cruiser and four battle destroyers, as he
called them. The Parliamentary Secretary said today that at the end of this year there would be an addition of several ships to that striking force. The First Lord of the Admiralty states in the White Paper:
It is hoped in the course of the current year to effect the steady build-up of the Fleet to appropriate peace-time strength.
paragraph 58 of the Defence White Paper says:
The share of the national resources which can be made available for defence will inevitably be limited for some time to come by the need to restore the general economy of the country, on which everything else depends.
That is putting the cart before the horse. The recovery of this country depends on the defence of its vital sea communications and on the defence of the Empire from any possible attack.
To my mind these two statements, and the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary indicate that the need of the Navy to be efficient and powerful is to be subordinated to the economic recovery of this country. I would like more details as to the buildup of the Fleet, not only during this year, but during the years that follow. The country is very dissatisfied and it is perfectly ridiculous to suggest that it has a sufficiently powerful striking force. It cannot strike at anything. We have not a sufficiently powerful Navy in being. We have potentially an immense strength in ships, and manpower, but the strength of the Navy does not depend on what we have in reserve. The security of this country and the Empire depends on the strength of the ships in full commission and at sea. To put these ships in reserve into full commission and efficient fighting units will take a considerable time, and it is foolish to suggest otherwise. We must have in being sufficient naval forces to carry out the function for which the Navy exists.
I am also very concerned about the training of the officers and men. It is quite true that officers and men can be put through various courses—gunnery, torpedo, navigation, signalling, etc., ashore. That has always been so, but when they have gone through these courses the next most necessary step to take is to see that both officers and men are appointed to sea-going ships where they can put into practice what they have learned. Some hon. Members opposite seem to think this amusing, but it is only by being appointed to ships in commission at sea that officers and men will be able to put into practice what they have learned in their courses ashore. In no other way can we have an efficient Navy. We must have ships in commission at sea, and we must have the officers and men trained at sea.
The hon. and gallant Member is in the unfortunate position, like Mr. Harry Pollitt, of finding himself on the last party line but one.
Let me get on with my speech. Do not make foolish interruptions——
I do not wish to give way because I do not want to take up time.
I want to put one question to the hon. and gallant Member which is purely a naval question. He has referred to one cruiser and four destroyers in the Home Fleet. He has made no reference to the Mediterranean Fleet, fully operational, and to the ships on the foreign stations. Moreover, his speech does not tie up with that of the Leader of the Opposition.
I will deal with that point in due course. We cannot train officers and men to be efficient for their duty unless they are trained at sea. How are the junior officers who are being trained today to gain their sea experience? There are not enough ships in commission for them to do so. How are the officers who command the ships to get any practice in handling those ships of which they will be in charge? How are the senior officers promoted to admirals to get any practice in exercising the Fleet if there is no Fleet for them to exercise? It is quite impossible to maintain the immense experience gained during the war by officers and men unless ships are put into commission and they continue at sea. It is also impossible for the men now being trained and undergoing their courses ashore to become proficient in their duty unless they can go to sea.
I heard with the greatest pleasure that we are to have some additions to His Majesty's Fleet during this year, but I would have been much more pleased if I knew the number of ships. The hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) said that I had taken no notice of the ships in commission outside the Home Fleet. After the last war we had 25 cruisers to safeguard our trade routes and they were totally insufficient. We have not 25 cruisers today for that purpose.
There is no question that we have not sufficient naval forces to carry out the duties for which the Navy exists. Therefore, we must, if we are to have an efficient Navy, get far more ships in commission. It seems to me ridiculous that with the immense manpower which we have, and the ships ready in reserve, that we cannot commission some of those ships now. It is imperative that we should do so.
I want to deal with a question raised by the Parliamentary Secretary concerning the contribution made by the Commonwealth of Australia. He also mentioned that others of our Dominions were going to assist in this matter. I have said before in this House, and I say it again now, that, in my opinion, it is quite impossible to have an effective imperial defence at all, unless we are absolutely certain that every unit of the Common-wealth and the Empire—the Colonial Empire we can, of course, vouch for —will, when war is declared, if it should unfortunately break out, play its part for certain.
All the Dominions have the choice of whether they will come into a war or not. The latest additions to the Commonwealth of Nations are India, Pakistan and Ceylon. Burma has gone out of it altogether. Today those other countries are members of the British Commonwealth. They may, should war break out, come in with us and they may not, but there is a vast difference—and I am not saying anything against them on this account—between the people of India, Pakistan, and Ceylon and the people of the great Dominions of Australia, New Zealand and Canada, etc., who are our kith and kin. Is anyone quite certain that in the future we shall always have those Dominions coming in should war break out? Supposing they do not; we should have no base whatever in the Eastern part of the Indian Ocean. Supposing during the last war the Mediterranean had been closed, and South Africa had remained neutral, we should then have had no base at Cape Town. What would have been the position of our country? It would have been quite impossible for us to continue the war. Therefore, every new addition to the British Commonwealth makes it more and more difficult for us to get efficient Imperial defence, unless we can rely implicitly on every unit coming in to fight alongside us, should war unfortunately break out. The question of bases is all-important. Without them, the Navy cannot operate.
I hope I shall not be out of Order if I refer to the Merchant Navy. It is of the utmost importance from an Imperial defence point of view. The Navy would have no function were it not for the Merchant Navy. It is absolutely essential that we should build up a strong Merchant Navy at the same time as we are building up a strong Navy. We lost many ships during the war. We had magnificent service given to this country by the officers and men of the Merchant Navy during the last war. We will get the same again, but we must have the ships. Therefore, I urge upon the Government that they should give every possible encouragement, and every facility and priority, to the great ship building firms and shipping companies to replace their fleets with the most modern and up-to-date ships that we can possibly have. Then, not only in peace time can we rely on our merchant ships to carry our own trade and that of the foreigners, but should war break out again we could rely upon the sufficiency of our own Merchant Navy.
We are all indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor), because from him we have heard what hon. Members in the party opposite have been saying up and down the country for months. Of course, it is entirely opposite to what they and the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) are saying tonight. This is the sort of line which has been taken up and down the country. Why, bless my soul, we have had resolutions from the Women's Institutes and the Mothers Unions to the effect that we have given the Fleet away and that there is nothing left to defend them. That is the sort of propaganda which has been put out up and down the country. I do not mind—
Has the hon. and learned Member any evidence of the statement which he is making, because if so, he should produce it?
I will produce the resolutions. I have not got them here at the moment, but that is the sort of line—the sort of things which the hon. and gallant Member has been saying—which has been plugged up and down the country by the irresponsible party who sit opposite.
The hon. and learned Member knows that what I say is a fact and that the Minister of Defence has told the country about the strength of the Navy. I have taken up that point. Is he saying that is propaganda?
I am saying, quite frankly, that what the hon. and gallant Member has said is fantastic nonsense, and the party opposite knows it is fantastic nonsense. They knew it could not stand up for a moment in Debate, and for that very good reason they have taken precisely the opposite line in the Debate today. Unfortunately, they have not told the hon. and gallant Member, who was still one party line astern. I have every sympathy for him, but that is the situation. The trouble is that when, for party purposes, hon. Members opposite behave in that sort of way, what they say is heard abroad, in places like Chile and the Argentine and Guatemala, and things happen which are annoying for us and humiliating for them. We do not want to humiliate South American Republics. We want to be on friendly terms with them, and a republic which has been humiliated somewhat resents the process. I feel that the Government have dealt with these antics with great restraint and tact. If it had not been for the sort of speech we have heard from the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington plugged up and down the country, nothing of that sort would have happened. It is a very mischievous performance.
The extent to which the right hon. Member for Woodford succeeded in turning a somersault when he came into the Chamber spoke a lot for his unrivalled Parliamentary skill. I do not think his speech stood up very well to reply, but it stood up far better than if he had talked the nonsense about our being defenceless at sea which was what we had been rather expecting. At any rate, we are glad to see the more responsible attitude taken, and to find that the real complaint of the hon. Members opposite is not that we have failed to supply a fleet, but that we have been far too modest about our achievements. That is always a satisfactory thing for a Government to find as the result of a Debate on Estimates.
Having said that, I wish to put a few points with regard to the general subject under discussion. With a run-down, an efficient and smaller unit can be retained if men are got rid of by units; but if men are got rid of by an age and service system, then it inevitably means that the whole force becomes operationally inefficient. If the Navy is to be retained to be built up again to efficiency the process of running down must be a fairly slow one. I think the Navy are to be congratulated. They are the first of the three Services to be once again upon the upgrade, and once again moving from power to power, and every month becoming more efficient. I do not think that that can yet be said of the other two Services.
I think the Navy are to be congratulated upon having got through that particularly difficult period with extreme efficiency. Their) problem has been more difficult than that of the other Services. They have not merely had to turn over their personnel to a new system; they have really to adapt their equipment to a new sort of war. The revolution in naval warfare is quite as great as the revolution between wind and steam. It is a revolution between a two- and a three-dimensional war. We are now faced with a three-dimensional war at sea. In the last war there was no under-water fighting ship——
No, I am not giving way. The submarines were surface ships which could take cover under water—they could not fight unless they were at least at periscope depth, and, in the main, they fought from the surface at night. Most of their time at sea was spent on the surface, in order to charge batteries and in order to move about. Now, for the first time, we have a genuine under-water fighting ship, which lives under the water and which fights under the water. We have a ship which has a high speed under water. I do not know what sort of speed, but we shall have to calculate and think about speeds going up to 20 or 25 knots submerged. Further, we shall have attacks launched not from the surface but from 300 or 400 feet under the sea by automatically directed, echo-directed missiles, discharged from that depth. That is the sort of problem with which we have to deal, but it is wholly different from any problem that we have faced before.
The Royal Navy exists because we have a Merchant Navy. The first function of the Navy in the future will be a close escort job. I do not believe that it will be possible to deal with the new type of underwater attack from surface craft. To reach this moving, underwater ship with the existing depth charge technique will be quite hopeless. In the period the depth charge takes to sink the submarine can change direction quickly. Unless we have an atomic depth charge—[An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"]—It may be that we shall. I am told that the energy taken to make an atomic bomb is about equal to that taken to make a battleship. I do not know, but I should think that atomic depth charges are unlikely to occur. The trouble is that they would probably sink the convoy. We may have some form of rocket-driven depth charge which gets down much faster and reduces the opportunity of the submarine to move.
All this is somewhat speculative. The most likely close escort vessel of the next war will be the submarine itself. With the sort of attack I have mentioned one will have to go down into the sea in order to fight back; we shall have to rely to a very large extent upon submarines to provide our close escort force. They will work by underwater detectors, launching directed missiles which will get home guided by echoes. That will be the only effective method of meeting the other submarine.
I congratulate the Government upon the very large expenditure they are making in scientific research. I have no doubt that a great deal of the money is being spent upon the development of the new type of submarine and upon the new type of echo self-directed torpedoes which will be used with it. I urge the Government to realise, when developing their prototypes, that those prototypes will be required in very large numbers, if it comes to war. It is no use developing one type only for experimental purposes. The experimental vessel will have to be mass produced, not only here but all over the Empire.
During the Debate on the Amendment, I was somewhat alarmed by an observation made by the Parliamentary Secretary indicating that he imagines that the cost-plus system was the alternative to the tender system. If my hon. Friend really thinks that, it is rather alarming. Mass production is completely unsuited to the tender system. One cannot tender when one is contemplating a mass production run. That is an elementary idea in industry. I urge my hon. Friend, when working on the prototype of these vessels, to think in terms of eventual mass production and to lay his plans for components coming from different places to the assembly point, where we can really get the large supplies which we shall require of this type of weapon when the need comes.
The surface problem is a very secondary responsibility as against the close escort job, fighting the new type of submarine. I believe that the surface job will become more and more an air responsibility, and a land-based air responsibility, at that, as we increase the range of our aircraft and the effectiveness of our radar detection. In so far as the function of a Navy is the surface one of denying the use of the sea to the enemy and preserving the use of the sea to our own ships, the striking ship will be the carrier. To have old battleships capable of about 23 to 26 knots escorting carriers doing 33 to 40 knots, as the new design of carriers will do, would be quite absurd. Those old battleships as an escort to carriers would be a menace to the carriers because the best means of defence in sea war is speed. The speed of the carrier taking the aircraft weapon to an area of attack, defended by its jet- and rocket-propelled fighter, is the weapon of surface war. I suggest that preservation of the ancient battleships is not an economic proposition.
I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden) that if it came to war, those battleships would have their uses. They would not be used at sea but might be extremely useful as depot ships and for coastal defence. But we have also to look at the economic value of the 50,000 tons of steel in the battleships, the steel of which we are desperately short. Let us by all means keep the light ships which are insignificant units of metal but, since every defence programme has to fit in with our domestic economy—and that there is no such desperate weakening of a defence programme as one which put too much strain upon that economy—for so doing expends our reserves before we get to the war. That is what happened to France between the wars. The importance of 50,000 tons of steel which is urgently required must be weighed against the value of coastal defence or depot ships should there be another war. The steel which can be got from that break-up can be used in making the submarines and the prototypes of far more essential ships and is of infinitely greater value in that direction.
Britain has always started every war unprepared and has always won the last battle. That is not fundamentally a coincidence; fundamentally it is cause and effect. The measure of our initial unpreparedness has always been the measure of our potential reserves which have always, as they came into action throughout a war, proved conclusive when we reached the last battle. That has been our history. Through every kind of government which we have had in the last 500 years—absolute monarchy, oligarchy, parliamentary democracy, Tory, Liberal and Socialist government —one feature of policy has been common —Britain has always disarmed in peace time. It is an incident of our geography and economy that that must happen, and that we must think in terms of keeping ready the potential which will develop throughout the course of a war. That is why prototypes and scientific research is so important.
That is a measure of the importance of shore establishments which provide our reserve of trained men and, even more important, the reserve of people capable of training men. These large shore establishments are the means of expansion when the crisis comes. We cannot afford to expand before the crisis comes; all our history tells us so. We cannot devote our resources to immediately available forces—battleships sailing round and flying the flag—but must use the limited part of our economy which we can devote to defence to building up the potential which will develop in a war and to enabling that potential to become mobilised as quickly as possible. We must to a very great degree—it has been our story all through our history—leave the final stages of our preparation to the point when war has actually broken out.
I am sure that the House will not quarrel with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) in the historical review he gave us in his concluding remarks. The only observation I would make is that whereas it is true that in the past in time of peace this country has disarmed and has built up her potential after the outbreak of war, can we be sure that in the atomic age there will be any such interval of time to allow such a process to take place? I do not propose to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman who made such an interesting speech. To me across the Floor of the House it is evident that the mantle of the late H. G. Wells has descended upon him——
I would remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the late H. G. Wells has proved himself so far a staggeringly accurate prophet.
I do not think there will be time to develop that. He has been accurate sometimes and inaccurate sometimes, as has been the hon. and learned Member. It is not of things as they may be but of things as they are that I wish to speak. Two mundane matters found a place last year in the Estimates presented to us. The Parliamentary Secretary spent some part of his time in describing a scheme for the rebuilding of the naval barracks. I would remind the Civil Lord of what was then said:
Let me now turn to our barracks. Some of these, and let the Opposition note this, were actually built in Dr. Johnson's time, and the majority have had no substantial improvements made in them during the past 50 years. That is the position as we find it today. Architects' reports received show that in the majority of cases modernisation of the existing buildings is practicable, though the Royal Marine Barracks at Chatham and Devonport amongst others are of such an age and their sites so restricted that only by complete rebuilding on new sites can a satisfactory solution be found. In spite of the difficulty of
finding labour and materials, we hope to make a start this year with some self-contained sections at a few of the establishments. The full cost of the modernisation programme at present contemplated will run into many millions of pounds."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March, 1947; Vol. 455, C. 218.]
Then I had the good fortune to catch the eye of the occupant of the Chair a little later when I said:
I was glad to hear the Financial Secretary say that they now intend to make alterations and improvements in these barracks, and in due course to rebuild them. May I say in all good temper that I shall believe it when I see it, because the tragedy of the story of the naval barracks, put shortly, is a very simple one. In time of war there are neither the labour nor the material for the purpose. The barracks have to be used, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield described to us, for thousands of men. In time of peace the Estimates are generally cut, and there is no money for the purpose. I warn the Financial Secretary that before this Government is very much older, when the economic crisis which is now hastening towards us descends upon this country, one of the first things the Treasury will suggest is that they should suspend this programme for rebuilding the naval barracks.
Later in the Debate, referring to my remarks, the Financial Secretary said this:
I will not follow him in his dismal prophecy of a slump, and, indeed, I would be out of Order if I were to refer to the economic crisis. I can only say that, were such a thing to occur, we would take every step to see that it fell as lightly as possible on the welfare services of the Navy, but do not admit for a moment that it is going to occur."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March, 1947; Vol. 435, C. 218, 286–287 and 296.]
That was 12 months ago. Will the Civil Lord tell us what is the position regarding the building of naval barracks? The story in the White Paper is not encouraging. It says:
It is planned to begin modernisation of part of the R.N. Barracks at Chatham, Portsmouth and Devonport and the services of consulting architects have been engaged to work out the schemes and to prepare the working drawings. Similar works at the R.M. Barracks, Deal, have already begun.
Within the limits of available resources the construction of married quarters will proceed, but at home the national housing difficulties will have a limited effect on progress.
That is very cold porridge after what we were told a year ago. Has the scheme for modernising the Royal Naval Barracks gone out of the window? If so, for how long? Has anything at all been done during the 12 months beyond con-
Sultations with architects? Are we not, in fact, faced with a mirage placed before us a year ago by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury?
Another point I want to mention is that the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve has not found a single mention in the presentation of the Estimates this afternoon.
Not a word did the Minister think it proper to say to us. I think I know the reason. The question of the re-organisation of the R.N.V.R. is at present largely in a state of confusion. Financial restrictions are descending upon the Admiralty just as they did after the war of 1914–18. I want to make a suggestion, if I may. Quite apart from sea training, some of the older officers of the R.N.V.R. would be of great value on the outbreak of war in manning such services as defensive equipment of merchant ships, naval control, and the running of convoys. There are many shore duties which can be filled by them, but, as we all know, the technique is altering rapidly. The speech of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton is evidence of that. Surely, at no great expense, it would be possible for these officers, who would be valuable in those posts, to have refresher courses every two years in the technique of defence and equipment, naval control and the like. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) made a passing reference to this, but I was disappointed that the responsible Minister had nothing whatever to say on this subject.
Now I turn to another matter which would be a great handicap to us should war break out and, after all, these Estimate Debates always turn on that possibility; speech after speech from both sides of the House has dealt with that. Do the Admiralty realise the blow which has been struck at the training of a fresh generation of civilians owing to the fact that sea training is not available such as we had in 1914 and 1939? I refer to those who are accustomed to go to sea in small craft of one kind and another, motor boats, motor launches, yachts and the like. I am sure the Civil Lord, with so many years of service behind him, will not quarrel with me when I say that while theory plays a big part in seamanship, it is only by experience and studying the varying moods of the sea that any man can be relied upon to bring his craft safely through storms, emergencies and the exigencies of war. Between the wars young men were able to manipulate small craft all round our coast and, indeed, away from the coasts to their hearts content. The miracle of Dunkirk was not only a miracle of weather. The flat calm which prevailed through that 24 hours while a storm was raging in the Atlantic, was not the only miracle. There, navigating and handling small craft, were hundreds of purely amateur civilian sailors, who learned their craft in days of peace around our shores. In a similar emergency that would not be possible.
On the last occasion of the international cruise to Belgium, this country sent more competing motor boats than any other, but that is not possible now. Although this is not strictly relevant to the Estimates, it is not now possible to show the boat building designs which we have previously shown on those occasions. The admirable movements of the Sea Scouts and Sea Cadets rely to a great extent on the use of privately-owned motor boats and motor yachts for their experience of the sea. Great interest is taken in them by private owners who offer berths to enthusiastic Sea Scouts in their ships. I do not think I shall arouse controversy when I say that in time of war the Navy is strongly supplemented by civilians, many of whom go straight to commissioned rank by virtue of the skill and efficiency they have shown in handling small craft. The rising generation have already lost six years out of the last eight in which they might have been engaged in this kind of thing.
Now I come to the burden of my remarks. Will not the Admiralty make some approach to the Minister of Fuel and Power to abandon his astonishingly obtuse attitude towards these small craft? He seems to regard the small motor boats and motor yachts as a kind of luxury cruiser. Dunkirk would not be possible today if we had to fetch the Army from the beaches and the little ships lay immobilised, laid up for want of petrol. There is no potential to fetch the Army off the beaches, even if they were allowed to sail without a subscription to the National Seamen's and Firemen's Union, and even if they were allowed to take off those who did not matter "a tinker's cuss." The right hon. Gentleman should give the crews of small yachts an opportunity of training. May I say that the sotto voce remark of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport penetrated through the amplifying system?
As the hon. and gallant Member has referred to me, perhaps I might say that the invective he is using really does no credit to the sort of plea he is making.
The remark of the hon. Gentleman which reached me was to the effect that he was asking who briefed me to say this.
On the contrary, I said that now the hon. and gallant Member has returned from three weeks in Wigan he has brought a little of that atmosphere with him.
I do not think anything could be more irrelevant than the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I wish he had concentrated on bringing me back in a train which was not an hour and a half late. Let us leave the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport to the construction of his cat's cradle.
Could not this matter be seriously reconsidered? The mobilisation and laying up of these small craft is damaging training and preventing potential qualified sailors from being available in time of war. Much has been said in the Debate about larger Fleet units, but I do not touch upon that subject. I ask the Civil Lord if he can use his good offices in this matter, particularly in what is acknowledged on both sides of the House to be an hour of growing national peril?
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) will pardon me if I do not go into the field which he has already covered. I wish to enlarge upon some of the remarks that were made earlier in the Debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton, (Mrs. Middleton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot). When the Parliamentary Secretary was giving the details this afternoon of the strength of the Fleet which he hoped would be in commission by the end of December, and which I think reassured Members in all parts of the House, I could not help thinking how much the success of his expectations depended upon the work that will be done between now and next December in the various Royal Dockyards in our country.
A good part of the Debate has ranged over the various types of ships which it is considered our Navy should have. It has also ranged over the welfare and the fortunes of the men in the Fleet. It is not always realised, however, that there is a fairly substantial number of people engaged ashore on work without which the Navy itself could not function. Looking at Vote 1, one finds that for the current year the total personnel of the Royal Navy proper, including the W.R.N.S. and a few other subsidiary services, is to be 167,300. If one turns to Vote 8, where details of personnel employed in the various Royal Dockyards are set out, one finds that their number is some 59,000. This is no inconsiderable number of people, and I wish to make some suggestions as to how their efforts may be more valuably applied, if that is possible, towards the objects which the Parliamentary Secretary has himself stated this afternoon. It is in the nation's interests, especially in a time of economic stringency, that the efforts of the various dockyard employees in Portsmouth, Plymouth, Chatham, Sheerness, Rosyth, to name some of the principal ones, should be applied with the utmost efficiency at the present time.
It is not always realised that the nature of Royal Dockyards themselves does not always lend itself to their employment with the utmost efficiency. They have to be equipped with some of the most modern and expensive equipment in order that they can fulfil specialised repairs and refits which may only occur at intermittent intervals. This means that a good deal of expensive and complicated machinery has to be installed which is only intermittently used. Yet, it occupies considerable yard and factory space. The result is that the yards themselves tend rather to sprawl all over the cities and towns where they are situated. This makes it extremely difficult to arrange the Royal Dockyards in a similar manner to that in which one would be able to arrange, say, an ordinary production factory.
There is also a third factor which makes it considerably difficult for Royal Dockyards as such to be used to what we consider the utmost efficiency and economy. For the very specialised work that has to be performed in these yards it is necessary to maintain a delicately balanced labour force which consists of many varieties of trades, which are employed in the three principal departments, namely, the construction department, the engineering department and the electrical department. This unfortunately means that there are times in the Royal Dockyards when the men are slack. It is necessary that the Royal Dockyards be manned with a balanced labour force that can take the maximum amount of anticipated refit or repair. There are times when these repairs come up to nothing like expectations, and it means that there is bound to be a certain wastage of manpower within the yard. The House will be aware that on occasions in these dockyards it is possible for people to point a finger, and say, "There is slackness here and slackness there." What they do not realise is that at times when there is a large measure of refit or a large amount of repair there is a terrific amount of overtime and hard work put in by everyone concerned, as happened on numerous occasions during the war.
So far—and it is on the question of efficiency that I wish to address the House—there have been two methods of dealing with the periodical slackness which occurs in the dockyards of Great Britain from time to time. The first alternative has been to discharge large numbers of men on to the labour market. This happened many times between the wars, and in every dockyard town in Great Britain there is a hangover from the interwar tradition, which laid it down that every time there was a substantial reduction in the Navy Estimates automatically people would be thrown on to the labour market. This left a bad taste in the mouths of those people who are today employed in the yards.
There are, moreover, many disadvantages from the efficiency standpoint in pursuing such a kind of policy, and the first point I want to make is that if there are large discharges it may conceivably be very difficult to rebuild the same balanced force for emergency repair work, which in an emergency or in time of national danger might have to be done. There is the second point that it is extremely bad for yard morale for people to become used to the tradition of being sacked when times are a little slack or Estimates a little low. That does not put them in the best of good heart, and they do not apply themselves to the best of their abilities to the tasks which they are allotted.
Thirdly, it is very bad for the recruitment of apprentices. I do not want to enlarge on the subject of dockyard apprentices at any great length, but I feel I must say that there was a time in the Royal Dockyard towns when to be admitted an apprentice and to enter the service of the yard to become a skilled craftsman was the ambition of many a boy. That time is long passed, because in Portsmouth, in September last, although 310 vacancies were approved, in fact only 112 were obtained, so that there are 198 vacancies remaining. That is very bad indeed for the crafts that are employed in the yards, and on which ultimately the efficiency of our repair services in the yards depends.
There is another factor about this course of discharging people when things are slack in the yards which is also of importance. There is a moral angle to this matter. The Royal Dockyard towns, by reason of being the Royal Dockyard towns, suffered very severly indeed in the blitz, as anybody from Plymouth knows. Neither need I particularly enlarge on the tremendous damage sustained in Portsmouth. That means that what few alternative industries there are in those various cities and towns were, to some extent, destroyed during the war. If I may say so, the Admiralty frowns upon the establishment of any competing industries likely to influence its prestige. Consequently, alternative employment is not available for people discharged from the yards owing to redundancy. That applies to Plymouth and Portsmouth and, I have no doubt, to other dockyard towns.
I have mentioned the disadvantages of adopting the course of action taken before the war. There is a second alternative which I am pleased to see that the
Admiralty has adopted. That alternative is the taking of repayment work, civilian work, in the yards. I would say straight away how much the workers appreciate the introduction of repayment work. It means that, instead of there being redundancy in slack periods, there is security for the dockyard employee. He knows that he will not be exposed to unemployment. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Central Portsmouth (Mr. Snow) and myself were a little disappointed when we read in the White Paper that:
There is at present ample work outstanding on the maintenance of the Fleet to occupy the whole of the dockyard resources. It is, however, desirable from a national standpoint that some forms of repayment work which have been undertaken by the dockyards should continue, at any rate for the time being.
What is not liked in my city is the phrase, "for the time being." We do not see any reason why repayment work should not be adopted as a permanent policy, with an absolute assurance that whenever naval work did not reach the pitch required, repayment work invariably would be instituted in its place. Representations from the various trade unions concerned indicate that the range of repayment work which can be undertaken in the dockyards and assimilated within the balance of trade, which is extremely important, is very wide and can result in great economies.
At present there is some frustration in some of the Royal Dockyards. The men see that they have some of the most magnificent and modern equipment for shipbuilding and repairing that is in existence. They realise that the repair, refitting and maintenance of the Navy must have first priority. At the same time, they are conscious of the fact that much of this machinery is idle. They feel that, to some extent, it is unnecessarily idle. They are also conscious of many occasions when, through no fault of their own, they have idle time and are not permitted, under the present arrangements, to undertake as much work as they would wish to do in the national interest.
Moreover, they have a feeling that the idea, which we are so pleased that the Admiralty has adopted, is not finding as much favour at the lower administrative levels as it finds at the top level at the Admiralty. They feel that there is a resistance. An indication of that resistance, in their view, lies in a progressive seepage of redundancy. It is not a mass redundancy such as occurred after the first world war or such as is sometimes threatened when there is a reduction in the Estimates. It is a seeping redundancy which takes place in twos and threes week by week, and which helps to swell the number on the labour market who cannot easily find other employment in the blitzed cities. They would feel far happier if the system of administration in the dockyards come in for a certain amount of overhaul. They feel, and I think that examination would go to support their views, that, although Pepys may have been a very good administrator, he was no kind of nationaliser, and that the three principal departments in all our Royal Dockyard establishments tend to be much too much in watertight compartments.
It is felt that the practice, which is now obsolete, of working in the Naval Estimates to a fixed sum is a very mixed blessing. It may give to Parliament the right to control the total sum, but, on the other hand it does mean that, towards the end of the financial year there is a tendency to work the establishment to absorb the remainder of the money that is as yet unabsorbed in the Vote on matters which the men do not always feel are as necessary as they might be. The men are concerned, as I think every hon. Member of the House must be, whether the men are employed on strictly naval repair or refit work or whether on repayment work, that there shall be the maximum productive effort. It is only if we can he satisfied that this is, in fact, taking place that we can vote with a good heart for the sums contained in the Estimates concerned.
In the Ministry of Supply, it has been possible during the war to have joint production councils, and the whole constitution of these councils is laid down in a pamphlet published by the Ministry of Supply. So far as the Admiralty are concerned, it was the policy during the war, under an Admiralty Fleet Order, to encourage the Whitley Council machinery to be used as joint production machinery, but, towards the end of the war, this practice, at the lower levels, fell into disuse. In fact, I think it fell out of use altogether. Following the visit of the Civil Lord to various dockyard towns, there is no doubt that an effort is being made to revive this joint production machinery at the lower levels once again, but there is still evidence, and I could cite it to the Civil Lord case by case, that the whole principle of these joint production councils is not yet accepted, and yet it is vital for increased production. This movement has not, in fact, occurred to the same degree as might have been expected, and as I am sure the Civil Lord himself would desire. There is still a tendency, which is denounced in the Ministry of Supply pamphlet, for the management side to reserve certain matters of its own to the management and not to discuss all matters of production as fully as it might do with the staff side. We rather hope that, where the Civil Lord can find traces of this reluctance to use the joint production machinery at the lower levels, he will see if he cannot bring those concerned into line.
We think, and, indeed, a wide section of the trade union movement in the various dockyard towns also thinks—and I would here endorse what has been said by the hon. Members for Sutton and Devonport—that it is really high time that a working party inquiry or some other investigation was made into the Royal Dockyard system of administration itself, which, although several improvements have been incorporated in it during the passage of time, is nevertheless fundamentally inadequate to meet the essential construction, engineering and electrical purposes which it has to perform. The Royal Dockyards have a great deal to be thankful for, both to the Civil Lord and to the First Lord, in the reforms which have been granted in their own particular field during the last year. All that the dockyard workers ask is that they should be allowed to work to the maximum possible extent either on repair and refit work, which we know is so urgent, or else on work of national and vital importance which can easily be done with the machinery in situ, provided that it is efficiently organised.
In following the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce) I would like to say that, as far as I am concerned, I found his speech on behalf of the Royal Dockyards of great interest and very clear and to the point. With reference to his mention of the hurt and damage caused to all Royal Dockyards, I sincerely trust that the Civil Lord will always bear that point very much in mind when taking a decision as to what should or should not be done with regard to those people working and serving in the Royal Dockyards.
At the beginning of this Debate my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) spoke about the wide policy of the Royal Navy and its repercussions on foreign affairs. To my mind, he spoke so clearly and so well that I do not propose to attempt to make mention of those affairs. But, before passing to some matters of detail, I wish to mention one factor in this White Paper where it has been seen fit to mention Palestine and the arduous and thankless task of controlling illegal Jewish immigration into Palestine, a task which bas been carried out in a spirit of resolution, cheerfulness and humanity always associated with the Royal Navy. At no time should this House ever forget those arduous and hazardous duties which H.M. Forces have had to carry out, both on the waters and the shores of Palestine.
On page 84 of the Navy Estimates, mention is made of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. No doubt the Civil Lord will remember a speech I made in this House about a year ago on this very subject. There are now 12 divisions of the R.N.V.R., and I would take this opportunity of drawing the Civil Lord's attention once more to the fact that Plymouth, Cornwall, and the whole of the West of England are still not represented. This is really a bad state of affairs, and the sooner it is remedied the better. The increase in the amount of money made available for the R.N.V.R. is small indeed when we consider the purchasing power of money today. The Estimate for 1948–49 shows an increase of only £4,000. This matter of the R.N.V.R. is one of vital importance to our security and I sincerely trust that the Admiralty will pay due attention to the matter.
In my speech on this subject last year, I also mentioned, as the Civil Lord may remember, the question of prize money. I pointed out the depreciation of the purchasing power of the pound, and said that if he did not do something about it pretty quickly it would be prize money plus, if it was to have any value at all. I very much hope that we may get a little information on that subject tonight.
There is another point which is worrying me, namely, the question of licences for fishing vessels. I feel sure the Admiralty fully realise the great strength that is drawn from our fishing fleets. Lately, as the Civil Lord is aware, I have had certain trouble in connection with these licences, but I do not feel that it is the Admiralty's fault; I believe the delay was due to the Ministry of Agriculture, but I cannot pursue that point now or I should be out of Order. I trust, however, that the Admiralty will see that there will be no delay in connection with licences for fishing vessels, and that every facility will be given to men who wish to go to sea to provide food and who are, at all times of danger, ready and willing to give their lives in the service of their country.
My next point concerns the trade division of the Admiralty, and I would like to know from the Civil Lord whether there is direct liaison between the shipping industry and that section of the Admiralty which is concerned with this matter. I have always felt that there should be a refresher course from time to time, whereby men from the shipping industry can serve and then go back to the industry, so that if there is sudden danger the ways and habits of the Admiralty are known to those men when they are called up to serve in that division.
I now refer to the A.C.R. and his staff. According to the Estimates there is no Royal Naval Reserve or Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve officer serving in any capacity with the A.C.R. Although I fully realise that it is for the men of the Royal Navy to serve their full time in the Admiralty in peace time, I think it would be helpful if people were drafted from time to time, either from the R.N.R. or the R.N.V.R., to the A.C.R staff, so that the conditions of service of the Merchant Navy can always be readily understood in the Royal Navy, and there can be built up that spirit of friendship and understanding which is so essential for our security requirements.
Recently, I received a letter about conditions in the Navy, which I would like to draw to the attention of the Civil Lord. The cutting down of personnel means, of necessity, that men must serve abroad for
a longer period. A constituent of mine writes:
The demands of the Navy abroad, and the small size of the Home Fleet, causes us to spend far more of our time abroad than in England. This, even if not exactly fair, is understandable, as it would be impossible to send men who have only a short time to serve to the more distant stations.
Nothing could be fairer than the way in which that point is put, but the writer also says:
But surely we should be shown a little consideration, such as a more generous allowance of leave.
The Admiralty should bear that point well in mind. The writer also makes another point, which is small but which, nevertheless, means so much to people when they are serving:
We have even lost the privilege of sending concession parcels, in which we once sent to our families small presents, duty free.
Those are points which, I know, the Civil Lord will readily appreciate. Then there is the complaint about mail, which has come to my notice many times lately. They are very slow indeed in reaching our men serving abroad. Nothing can cause more disquiet than matters of that kind.
I would mention the question of fishery protection vessels. I raised this point last year, and I ask today: How many have we got? Is the number which I am likely to be told by the Civil Lord exist to be reduced? These vessels play a very great part in the protection of our fisheries. They play another important part in building up a link between the Royal Navy and the men who fish in small ships. There is an understanding that the Royal Navy is about and ready to protect them if necessary. I hope that these points will be taken into account by the Civil Lord and that he will be able to give an answer to some of them tonight. In conclusion, I am quite certain that all hon. Members realise that the Royal Navy, its personnel, and its prestige is entwined with the very power of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth of nations and should always be so regarded.
The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) devoted the major part of his address to disinterring the remnants of the speech which he made last year on the Navy Estimates. I have more respect for the dead, and I will not pursue the course he has adopted. I wish to interest the House in two or three points and I would like to deal with some of the aspects of the Debate mentioned by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). It is rather a pity that he does not stay in the House occasionally to hear the views of the back benchers. He mentioned, in passing, a message from the Lord President of the Council to Socialist simpletons. The message from the right hon. Gentleman to the Conservative candidate at Croydon was certainly just as much out of Order. He talked about the rumblings of war approaching us, when he, in person, has been beating the drum of war ever since his Fulton speech. In part, he may be responsible for the enormous amount which we require in this Estimate, £153 million. The Press and the Tories in general have led us to believe with great chuckles and chortles of glee that the right hon. Gentleman was going to launch a devastating assault on the fortress of the Government which would shake it to its foundations. His broadsides became damp squibs, or, perhaps, they were loaded only with blank.
We are discussing the Navy Estimates and not the speeches of the right hon. Member for Woodford.
May I point out that the right hon. Gentleman made certain assumptions and assertions some of which, in my view, were contradictory, and, if I may, I want to refer to two or three points.
We are discussing the Navy Estimates, and we must direct our attention to them. It is in Order to refer to what the right hon. Member may have said in Debate here today, but the hon. Member appears to be going right outside the Estimates.
I appreciate your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I think that I may get back within the orbit of Order, because the point I want to raise is that the right hon. Gentleman demanded that we should get back to the 1939 expenditure on the Navy and yet he was demanding, in contradiction, at a later stage, a greater expenditure today. Then he went on to say that we should retain the capital ships which it has recently been announced are to be scrapped. Yet he wants to modernise the Navy and bring it up to date with new and modern ships. It should be pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman that the scrap used as a result of scrapping capital ships often goes into the construction of new ships such as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) talked about in his thesis on three-dimensional warfare. The scrap iron so obtained may very well go into the new submarines which he was foretelling.
The right hon. Gentleman made a point regarding the inefficiency and maladministration of the Admiralty today. In 1940, we had the dreadful news of the penetration of the boom defences at Scapa Flow and the sinking of the "Royal Oak" with all the loss of manpower, and I would like the House to recall who was the First Lord of the Admiralty then and who was responsible for the maladministration and inefficiency leading to that disaster. Admiral Jackie Fisher's dictum "Sack the lot" has been recalled. I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman was not a Member of the Cabinet to which Admiral Jackie Fisher was then referring.
The best answer which I can see to the accusations and agitations of the Opposition in regard to scrapping battleships is provided by the organ of the Navy League. I propose to read a short extract on the question of scrapping the "Queen Elizabeth," the "Valiant," the "Rodney," the "Nelson" and the "Renown":
But, affection apart, these five ship are indubitably due for the scrapheap, for they could no longer be honestly counted as operational units, except for the less ambitious duties of escort or support ships. And it is certainly uneconomic to retain battleships in commission merely for those doubtful duties. They must be ruled out as Fleet units on the part of speed, for, with a maximum of 21 or 22 knots, they could never take their place in any line of battle under current naval conditions at sea.
That extract speaks for itself. What deprecate is members of the Navy League going about the country spreading alarm and despondency about the strength of the Navy in a manner which does no service to the country——
I am a member of the Navy League, the oldest member of the executive committee. We have told the country the facts. We have never preached despondency, and I challenge the hon. Gentleman to quote one word which shows despondency anywhere.
It is a question of what is meant by despondency. If a lecturer is going about on behalf of the Navy League addressing Women's Institutes and asking them to send resolutions to Members of Parliament saying we have not enough ships and men, that to my mind, is spreading despondency. I hope that answers the hon. and gallant Gentleman. The Opposition cannot have it both ways. They cannot accuse the Government of scrapping capital ships and then say that we ought to modernise the Navy. They must remember that ever since the days of the "Scharnhorst" and "Gniesenau" the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse," and those tragic losses, the whole strategy of naval warfare has changed. The striking force today are aircraft carriers. They must accept that, with the growth of naval aviation there is bound to be a bias on the aircraft carrier and no longer for the battleship, however dear the battleship may be to the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor)—who is well known as a gunnery officer—and other hon. Members like him—
I have not said anything about battleships at all today. It is quite obvious that the new Fleet must be modernised and will have different duties from the old, but none of it is being laid down this year.
I am grateful to hear that expression from the hon. and gallant Gentleman. We must take into consideration that radar and other technical developments call for a greater complement of men aboard the fewer ships together with more men based ashore. I am not surprised at the proportion of men in the Service who are today based ashore.
I am not talking about strategy, as some hon. Members opposite like to do, but we must all agree that if there is to be another war there will be an immense danger from under-water attack and that the defence will be by fast destroyers maintaining their escort duty, ready to deal with any raider who may attack the convoy. The bias must therefore lie in this direction and that of developing the aircraft carrier. I would like to reassure the Opposition that if there is another war there appears to be no naval force of considerable size that might face us. In any case, we should have the comfortable background of the colossus of the American Navy. I looked up "Jane's Fighting Ships" for 1946, and I saw that the American ships then in commission made a tremendous number. I presume that the number has since been cut down, but that Fleet, with our own, would constitute a tremendous naval force. There would be nothing in the world likely to stand up to it.
Now I would turn to naval aviation. I have commented in the past upon the number of accidents that have taken place in naval aviation. I was very pleased to see the prominence given for the first time in the Estimates, in Vote 12, to the department of the Adviser on Aircraft Accidents. I had always assumed in the past that the importance of aircraft accidents in the Navy have been under-estimated. A number of men needlessly lost their lives because sufficient attention has not been given to the subject. I notice that there are only 10 as the staff of this very important research department. I wonder whether the Admiralty are not still under-estimating the importance of the subject.
What are the reasons for the accidents? The figure of accidents has seemed to be a very high one, not only operationally, but during training. There seemed to be a large number of accidents which need not have happened if closer attention had been paid to safety. I would like to quote one particular instance. The Minister of Defence referred to the fact that a carrier squadron had been exercising off Australia last summer. That was the time when a series of most serious accidents occurred. On 20th July there was a collision between two Fireflies from H.M.S. "Theseus" when flying in formation. Both aircraft crashed into the sea. On the same day, a Seafire, when landing on H.M.S. "Theseus," entered the safety barrier and killed an aircraft handler. A Seafire, when landing on H.M.S. "Glory," cleared the barriers and crashed into aircraft parked on deck, damaging six other aircraft, killing one rating and injuring another.
In all, three officers and three ratings lost their lives in those accidents and one other rating was slightly injured. Three Seafires and four Fireflies were written off, one Seafire and two Fireflies were heavily damaged and one Firefly was slightly damaged. I admit that this was an exceptionally serious chain of accidents, happening in one day, but it seems obvious that the accidents were due to the fact that there had not been enough flying training. I suggest to my hon. Friend on the Front Bench that there must be a sufficient amount of flying training given to men who engage in the hazardous operation of landing an aircraft aboard a carrier.
One point which I wish to make is about the recent statement of the new democratic entry into Dartmouth. I would assure my hon. Friend that this has been welcomed all over the country. Quite apart from the hostility of the Opposition and those who are steeped in the old true blue tradition of the Navy, most people welcome this reform and the fact that it enables a greater number of working-class personnel to enter the commissioned ranks. It was very reassuring to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary that from the date of the announcement 540 applications for entry had been made. Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware of the fact that many of these boys coming from working-class homes, have not the poise and balance possessed by those who come from other homes and have been educated differently? While I know that the examination of these boys is now no longer 20 minutes but a full day, will he keep in mind in the future, in the light of experience, whether that whole day ought to be extended for another two or three days? Boys who come from workingclass homes are at a disadvantage in that they find it difficult to settle down in the strange surroundings for their first day or so. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will look into this matter as time goes on.
When he replies, will my hon. Friend tell us what is to be the strength of the Service in manpower? The Minister of Defence hinted last week that the basis would be something in the region of 145,000, but on reading the statement which has been issued by the First Lord of the Admiralty, I find that is not quite certain. I want to know the basis because I want to ask whether it is intended at some future date to make any contribution to the naval strength of the United Nations International Police Force. It is rather important from the point of view of the success of the United Nations that this country should make its contribution in the naval sphere as in other fields, and in the light of that information I for one shall be able to decide what support in my humble way I can give to these Estimates in the future.
The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin) started his speech by making some comments on the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall), accusing him—he might as well have complimented him on it—of repeating his last year's speech. I do not know whether that was an accurate statement, but I am going to do much the same thing. I am going to repeat a speech I made two years ago, laying emphasis on certain points. One reason for my doing so is that certain things need saying again and again. Another reason is that after I had made the one point in which I was really interested two years ago, the Civil Lord, who had unfortunately been having his evening meal when I made my speech, replied, not to the particular question I had asked, but to something quite different. I hope that this evening he will deal with the main point I shall try to make.
It is common knowledge to everybody in this House and elsewhere that in the 1914–18 war there was a period when our ability to continue fighting was nearly taken from us by the heavy loss of merchant ships. Convoys had not been established at that time and were only in process of being thought out. When the suggestion was made that convoy was a possible way of fighting the submarine, there was heavy opposition from the Admiralty, as is well known, on two grounds. The first was the most astonishing one that masters of merchant ships would be unable to keep station in convoy and that there would be accidents and smashes and that it would be a disaster from that point of view. The second argument was that, even if we could group ships together to sail in convoy, there was not enough escorts of any type available to cover them as they sailed.
On the first point no comment is necessary. It was proved in the first war that the merchant captain was as competent as anyone could be at station keeping, and everything to do with the disciplined work necessary in convoy; and the record of the merchant navy in that respect in the 1914–18 war and the last war is above all praise. On the second point, about adequate escorts, I understand on good authority that in the 1914–18 war it was a tremendous job to extract from the Admiralty and from the First Sea Lord any destroyers whatever from the Grand Fleet. The destroyers were essential for protection of the great capital ships and could not be spared, but in time they were withdrawn and, almost at once, the sinkings began to stop.
One would have thought that lesson would have been learned once and for all by the Admiralty, by successive Governments and by everybody concerned. But what did we find in 1939? The escort vessel need not necessarily be anything like as expensive as the great capital ships, but in 1939 we found that not only were we hopelessly short of escort vessels again, but there was good evidence that no serious thought had been given in advance to the provision of suitable types of ships. That is a charge against the past, and I am repeating it because the subject is so serious for our country. Even if it means making the same speech every year or at least every two years, one must do what one can to make certain that there are sufficient escort vessels if there is to be risk of war again.
What happened in 1939? We started off with the destroyers which could be spared from other ser vice doing the most magnificent work, some of them at sea continuously from September through until February, with the minimum of time in port; on and on, almost beyond the powers of the ships and the men to stand the strain. Through 1940 and 1941 we tried to keep the lifeline across the Atlantic intact; we tried to keep the ships moving. We had to take convoys of 6o, 8o, 100, and even 120 ships because there were not enough ascorts to split them up. Even more serious than the large convoys was the fact that there were not sufficient escorts to provide a frequent enough cycle of sailings. As a result, the loss of effective carrying power was terrific.
Another disastrous thing—and this appertains to the future—was that we had not enough escorts to provide convoys of different speeds, with the result that those merchant ships of 14 knots which were not fast enough to sail free of escort under the conditions prevailing in the last war, had to be held back to sail in 9½ and 10-knot convoys. I apologise to the House, and particularly to those hon. Members who knew what was happening during the war, for repeating it, but the more people realise how this shortage of escort vessels affected the war effort because of loss of carrying power, the better. It is again common knowledge that the turn in the battle against the submarine only came when there were sufficient escorts to provide killer groups in addition to the ordinary escort vessels going alongside the convoy. That is the measure of the problem.
Here are the questions to which one must hope for answers. In the plans for the immediate present and the future, will the paramount importance of the escort vessel be borne in mind? Are the developments in all kinds of warfare being borne in mind in relation to this problem? I shall not try to copy H. G. Wells, as did the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), for I cannot visualise exactly how the surface war can go at sea under new conditions, but I would like to know that the people who have more information at their disposal are putting their minds to the question of protection by surface vessels and the cooperation between the surface vessels and aircraft.
Also, what has happened to Coastal Command? I do not know whether the problem has yet been settled of whether Coastal Command should properly be the function of the Navy or of the Air Force. If there is not constant thought given to that, and constant training in co-operation between surface vessels and aircraft, full protection cannot be given. I would remind hon. Members that in a future war the Allies we are likely to have will undoubtedly be able to give us support in fighting vessels. It would be disastrous however if we became completely dependent on others for the ships necessary to bring our merchant ships into port with the food, raw materials and supplies we need, because we would be losing complete control of our domestic economy, which is an intolerable thought, even though we were having admirable cooperation with whatever Allies we had. I hope the Civil Lord will be able to give us assurances on these points, which may seem elementary today, but which also seemed elementary years ago. Whatever Government is in power, this must be remembered, as it is so important.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin raised the question of co-operation between the Admiralty and those civilians who in wartime come into the Admiralty but in peacetime return to their own occupations. I wish to move on from that to the work of the Shipping Defence Advisory Committee, which can be immensely important. It really is not practicable to produce in time of peace a Merchant Navy that can be a perfect war machine to work in with the Navy. We would have to go to unheard of speeds, which would be quite uneconomic in peacetime trading. In this case the Navy must adapt itself to the best possible peacetime Merchant Marine practice so that co-operation can be complete. Through the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee much useful work can be done. I believe that body is in existence, and is sitting and trust that very full use is being made of it. I hope that opportunity is being taken to see that such preliminary work in the initial construction of ships as can be done with little cost to anyone is done. Even with completed ships much valuable preliminary work also can be done with little inconvenience to anyone. I hope the Civil Lord has got my two questions straight and that he will be able to deal with them.
I was specially pleased to hear the emphasis which the hon. Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay) placed on the importance of escort vessels. The importance of those vessels was amply demonstrated during the last war. Although I am certainly no H. G. Wells, it seems at least on the cards that their importance will be tremendously enhanced, for a reason I propose to touch on later, in any future war. I was especially pleased that the hon. Member mentioned escort vessels, because the main burden of emphasis so far by hon. Members opposite has been on capital ships. Indeed, when they mentioned battleships they seemed to suffer from a rush of emotion to the head, and there was a sob in the throat, tears coming to the eyes, and a lowering of the voice, except for the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral
Taylor), who is incapable of lowering his voice for any purpose. That sort of feeling about capital ships was certainly not shared by the men with whom I served. One of my most vivid memories is of our singing from time to time a rather sad, cynical little ditty, which ran:
Roll on, 'Nelson,' 'Rodney,' 'Renown'
They can't sink the 'Hood,'
'Cause the blighter's gone down
except that we did not say "blighter"—we used there another word. That song was partly a reflection of the cynicism of men facing death and who knew it, and partly of the contempt of men in small ships for the big ships. But it might equally well have been a contempt expressed for people who really think that the strength of the British Navy in the future will depend on the number of ships which we have in commission and at sea at the present time, regardless of what sort of ships they happen to be. So many members on the other side of the House seem to have ignored entirely something which seems to me to be obvious. I refer to the point which was made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) that warfare at sea, since the end of the last war, has been dramatically and completely changed by two factors.
The first of these is the emergence of this "true submersible" submarine of which we have heard something today. The Parliamentary Secretary told us that it had a minimum cruising range beneath the surface of something like 3,000 miles. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton suggested that it would be cruising for that distance at a speed of 20 to 25 knots. I have been told, in addition, that it can go down to depths which place it right beyond the range of Asdics as we can manipulate them at the present time. Anybody who has been at sea even for so short a time as I have will realise that if these facts about that submarine are true, the whole future of surface craft has been brought into question. Therefore, it would be of the utmost folly to, persist in putting our main effort into the provision of capital ships no matter how well they have served their purpose in the past, instead of putting it mainly into the question of research, not only into better means of detection of these submarines when they are submerged so far down, but in the provision of a counter-attack against them.
The true submersible is not the only thing which has altered the prospect of naval warfare since the last war ended. The atom bomb, guided missiles carrying atomic warheads, etc., all that sort of thing has made an enormous difference to what the prospects of naval warfare are likely to be. I would say that provided that this Government really are spending time, money and energy upon research into these problems, then so far as the future defence of this country is concerned, it does not very much matter if we scrap those grand old ships "Nelson" and "Rodney," and the rest of them.
I wish to refer to a point which is near to my heart, and to which the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) referred, the matter of barracks. I wish to tie that up with the atomic age. During this Debate many Members have talked about the position of the dockyards. The position of the dockyards would be most unfortunate if a single atomic bomb happened to drop upon them. The position of our ports would be most unfortunate if a single atomic bomb were dropped upon them. I happen to be one of those in favour of dropping atomic bombs on naval barracks provided there is no one in them. But it would be a disaster if in time of war a bomb which could obliterate a whole town happened to hit one of the naval depots comprising the barracks and dockyards and wiped it out.
I know that the plans all of us had for rebuilding these barracks, and perhaps reshaping the dockyards, have had to be put on one side as often in the past they have had to be put on one side. I know that the immediate plans have had to be shelved, and on the whole it is right that they should be shelved. While they are shelved, I would ask the Admiralty to scrap the plans altogether and start anew. Instead of building a few large depots concentrated in the main ports, such as Chatham, Devonport and Portsmouth, they should try to build many more depots of a smaller size.
One of the reasons for doing that—and I will quote, too, from last year's speech—is that barracks of the present size are uncontrollable. They are cesspools, and the Civil Lord of the Admiralty knows a great deal better than I do the sort of things that go on in Royal Naval barracks, whether in peace or war, which cannot be stopped, because there cannot be control of establishments of such sizes. Therefore, in the interests of naval discipline, good conduct, and so forth, it would be a tremendous advantage to have smaller barracks. That reason apart, an overwhelming reason for having smaller barracks in the atomic age is that the men and their centres of living would be dispersed and would be less likely to be wiped out by one burst of a bomb.
When one comes to discuss matters of great strategy and literally earth-shaking affairs like the atomic bomb, there is a tendency to forget things which in a way seem smaller things because they have to do with man. It has always been my complaint about the Admiralty in so far as I have had any knowledge of it, that while it is prepared to spend very large sums upon the provision of equipment, it has never been prepared to spend large sums upon the provisions for man. Efficiency of machine is something on which money is spent; efficiency of man is something which is left to take care of itself. So often in the past the seamen of Britain have been allowed to work and live in shocking conditions.
There was some hope in the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary last year that that attitude was going to be changed. I have not the slightest doubt that he intends to change it, but I hear present rumours of ships coming into commission still having, for example, open gun shields in which men are sent out into the Antarctic with frozen fingers with which to try to fire their guns. That sort of thing is absolutely nonsense. I know that some of the older sailors in this House think that if an electric fire is provided in the gun shield for a matelot, he is being mollycoddled. We are doing nothing of the sort. Let them try under such conditions to fuse a shell, and they will see that it cannot be done and that efficiency is at once lowered.
While we are talking about efficiency in the Navy, we must establish the principle of efficiency of the men who comprise the Navy. However good the ships, however well thought out the plan, if there is not regard to the efficiency of the men then a lot of energy is going to be wasted. Much of the efficiency of the men depends, in my view, on two things, first, that they shall be reasonably looked after and reasonably content in themselves; and, secondly, that they shall be well officered.
There are still a large number of reasons why the seamen of the Navy may be discontented. I will touch on two only. The first is the question of boys who join up at the age of 15, before they know any better, and who are trained up to the age of DS and then find themselves bound until they are 31—bound for an unconscionable number of years. When our children look back on that system in 8o years' time, they will consider it absolutely insufferable that at the age of 15 we allowed boys to be committed to a career out of which they could not get for a period of something like 13 years after reaching the age of 18. I know the argument that if we spend a lot of money training a boy between the age of 15 and 18, we have a right to get some service out of him; but that sort of argument is simply chucking good money after bad. If, after the Navy have trained a man, he finds that he does not like the life, we will not get good service from him. Therefore, I would ask this Labour Government, who have done many good things for the benefit of the lower deck in the Navy, to consider this question of boys' time and see whether it is possible to say that a boy who is brought in at 15—if he must be brought in at that age—can have the option, at the age of 18 if possible, to say whether or not he really intends to make the Navy a full-time career.
The second point upon which I want to touch in connection with the contentment of the lads on the lower deck, concerns the question of the welfare committees, the old canteen committees which have been rejigged in the form of welfare committees. The idea of these committees, as explained last year in the Navy Estimates speech by the Financial Secretary, was a very good one. In one respect, it brought the Service into line with the industrial practice of having a sort of production committee. As I understood it, it really was intended that these welfare committees should be something more than the old canteen committees, that they should not have to deal merely with the dishing out of comforts and the management of funds derived from the canteen but that they should go further. My information, for what it is worth, is that they are not being allowed to go further.
I had an instance reported to me the other day where someone at a meeting of one of these welfare committees wanted to discuss the question of food. An hon. Member opposite raised the question of food. He said how very often even a bad cook with good equipment could produce good food, but failed to say how frequently it was that in the Service bad equipment ruined a good cook. Surely, such questions as the food in a ship should be proper subjects for discussion by the welfare committees. I would like the welfare committees to go much further than that, and to discuss all kinds of details about the working and management of the ship. But, at least, they should have the right to discuss such personal matters as the quality of the cooking and the food. I understand, however, that in some ships that has not been permitted and that the much vaunted welfare committees, which we welcomed so much last year, are being treated as being nothing more than the old canteen committees.
I wish to say a few words about the recruitment and training of officers. As has been rightly said from the other side of the House, some part of the happiness and welfare of the men on the lower deck is dependent upon the provision of good officers. Everybody wants to be sure that we get the best officers for the Navy, no matter how we do it. My view is that the change that has taken place in Dartmouth is a change in the right direction but, because it has not gone far enough, it will leave us with an awkward transition period.
As was rightly said by an hon. Member opposite, the new Dartmouth will not fit in in any way with the educational system of the country. For the State schools, the school-leaving age is too early; for the public schools, it is too late. Very few people are going to be anxious to leave public schools at 16½, and there is going to be a tendency for the boys from public schools not to go to Dartmouth from school at all, but to join the Navy by special entry a year and a half later. There is going to be this hiatus in the life of men from the State schools, the real "public" schools, in the interim period after leaving school and before going to Dartmouth.
We shall have to come down to the proposition that Dartmouth should not, in future, be regarded as a school at all, but should become a naval University, into which there will be entrance at the age of 18, and we shall have to devise, in our educational system, some pre-Dartmouth training to take care of those who leave school at 15 or 16 and give them special training in the period before they go to the naval university. I believe that will be the solution, and that one part of that period before anybody goes to the naval university should be spent upon the lower deck.
I believe that, and here I am subject to correction by the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey), it is possible to spend too long upon the lower deck to become a good naval officer. There are great exceptions to that, but, if one spends too much time on the lower deck, one sometimes picks up bad habits which are difficult to shake off. But if one is to be a good officer and know how to lead men properly, as a good officer should, one must have experience of the sort of thing that the men have to go through, and I wish to goodness that this Government would say now about the Navy what it has said about the Army—that, before a man can become an officer, no matter by what avenue he enters into his commission, he must first have had at least 12 months' experience of the lower deck.
My last point is one which I do not think has been touched upon in this Debate, but is one which will give rise to considerable controversy. It is about the National Service men and their intake into the Royal Navy. The officials of the Navy say that they do not want conscripts and National Service men, that they just want Regulars, and that they can get all the active service men they need. It is perfectly true that they can, because all the best people, if they go into the Services at all, naturally choose the Royal Navy. I believe, from the little experience I have had, that the existence of National Service men, or "hostilities only" men, as we were called, spending a part of their life in the Navy, will be of tremendous benefit to the Navy. There is a danger, in certain cases, where men are sometimes at sea for a long time and are living very much in a sort of closed corporation, they may become too narrow. But that danger can be minimised, at any rate, if from time to time there is a new, flow of people who have experience outside, who bring new ideas and a fresh outlook into the mess decks.
I believe that, from the influx of "hostilities only" men in wartime, the Navy did benefit tremendously, and certainly anybody who had the privilege to serve in the Royal Navy for a short time benefited by it. I believe the Navy will continue to benefit from it in another way. The people of this country, as a whole, are proud of the Royal Navy in a sort of abstract way. They used to look upon it somewhat as they look upon the Royal Family, as something to be proud of, something very nice, but something that has very much to do with them. That was the attitude towards the Navy before the war. But during the war, because of the fact that so many people from outside civilian life were going into the Navy, the Navy became, in real measure, a part of the life of the people. There was not a single town or village, and hardly a street, which had not some direct contact with the Navy. That fact made the Navy a real part of the country. I believe that wartime experience was good for the Navy, and good for the country. Although there are difficulties about having conscripts in the Service just now, I would ask the Financial Secretary, the Minister of Defence, and the First Lord himself to remember that from that contact between the people and the Navy good things did come in the past, and I would like to see them maintained in the future.
I wish to refer to several points in the White Paper which gives the First Lord's statement and also to comment very briefly on the answers given to one or two Questions which I have put to the Parliamentary Secretary and the Civil Lord within the last month.
Referring to page 5 of the White Paper, we see a list given there, in somewhat general terms, of the ships which are described as being in operational service, in reserve, and so on. Undoubtedly, this table adds to our information and to some extent removes the "iron curtain" of secrecy in that it gives us some idea of the strength of the Fleet from a purely numerical angle. Quite a number of us are not very happy about the figures revealed therein, although it is only fair to say that, in his opening speech, the Financial Secretary has made it clear that there are going to be additional ships in commission by the end of the present year.
I quite agree that it is not an easy task to transfer a large Navy from a wartime to a peace-time footing. I can sympathise with the Admiralty staff, and with the dockyard and drafting authorities over the difficulties they must have encountered, but I feel that the timing of the run-down has not been very satisfactory, and that the major part of it should have been completed long ago. It has been a mistake to allow a period of what I might call disorganisation to continue up to now when as it so happens we are being confronted with a number of awkward situations in different parts of the world necessitating the presence of some of His Majesty's ships.
Reference has been made to the rundown by a number of hon. Members; it was also mentioned in the Defence Debate last week, when the Prime Minister condemned the Opposition for having, in the autumn of 1945, advocated the rapid demobilisation of the Forces. As we know, and as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made clear this afternoon, he suggested on 22nd October, 1945, in a speech of considerable detail that the figure for the strength of the Navy ought to be reduced as soon as possible to 150,000 which, in point of fact, is slightly lower than the figure mentioned in Vote A of the present Estimates.
I maintain that my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) was perfectly correct in the view he took, because as hon. Members will remember, the original demobilisation scheme was worked out on the assumption that the war in the Far East would be continuing, and that only the war in Europe would have finished when it came into operation However, in point of fact, the war in the Far East came to an end only two or three months after the end of the war in Europe, and that fact produced a rather different state of affairs. I feel that if the suggestion which my right hon. Friend made in October, 1945, had been adopted, and there had been an immediate and drastic run-down in the strength of the Fleet, the manpower figure would have been stabilised long before now. If, as it might well have been, an increase had later been considered desirable, there would have been no difficulty in finding extra recruits for the Navy. The First Lord states on page 9 of the White Paper that recruiting is entirely satisfactory, and we know that the Navy is a popular Service. This is also made clear in the Defence White Paper. Indeed, it is so popular that it is scarcely necessary to make use of the National Service men to make up any deficiencies in manning.
It is quite clear. I have tried to make the point several times. Any such recruitment would have left us without anything like the number of trained men to form training cadres. As to the other assumption of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, that the whole of the demobilisation scheme was based on a long continuing war in the East, that is not wholly the truth.
I beg to differ from the Minister of Defence. It is within my recollection that the House was told that the scheme visualised the continuance of the war in the East for a period—I do not say necessarily a long period. I myself have heard that statement on more than one occasion. Putting that aside, it is a matter of interest that there is strong support forthcoming for the view expressed by the Leader of the Opposition in 1945 from at least one influential supporter of the Government in 1948. Unkind people might say that that is just about the time lag in intelligence the country has begun to expect from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I want to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for East Coventry (Mr. Crossman) on manpower in the Forces in the Defence Debate last Monday: he said:
The real criticism is that we should have reached this stage 18 months ago. We might well have studied the Americans in this respect. They suffered a period of chaos in their Armed Forces immediately after the war which, after all, is the safest period in which to suffer it. We, by postponing the stage, have increased the risk to this country in terms of strategy, and we are suffering it at a period when we are even weaker economically than we were in 1943."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1948; Vol. 448, c. 84.]
I could not agree more with that observation put forward by the hon. Member for East Coventry, which entirely endorses the line taken by the Opposition in this matter.
My next point concerns the employment of naval personnel. This has already been the subject of some comment earlier in the Debate. From the replies given to some Questions which I put to the Parliamentary Secretary on 1st March, I ascertained that at the present time there are 8,50o officers and 77,500 ratings borne in shore establishments, as compared with 4,000 officers and 41,000 ratings borne in shore establishments on the 1st January, 1939. Furthermore, I also ascertained from the reply given by the Parliamentary Secretary to another question, that only 4,600 officers and 39,700 ratings are actually serving in fully commissioned ships or in ships which are engaged in sea-going training duties. In other words, even allowing for the admittedly rather abnormal circumstances to which the Parliamentary Secretary alluded in his reply, only slightly over one-quarter of the personnel borne on Vote A are actually serving afloat. I feel that this is not a very satisfactory state of affairs for a sea service, even allowing for the difficulties of reorganising our various squadrons and flotillas. If some of our famous sea captains of the past could revisit us tonight and express their opinions here, I feel sure that you, Sir, would probably regard their language as being quite unparliamentary.
Quite apart from this question of the disposition of the Service element which comes under the Admiralty, what also disturbs many hon. Members on this side is the enormous growth in the civilian element in the employment of the Admiralty. According to the answer to a Question which the Civil Lord gave me on 23rd February, it appears that—and I ask the House to notice this particularly—exclusive of civil servants employed in dockyards at home and overseas, that is excluding dockyard employees altogether, on 1st January, 1948, there were 25,65o non-industrial civil servants, and 57,100 industrial civil servants in Admiralty employment. These figures compare with 1939 figures of 7,650 non-industrial and 22,850 industrial civil servants. In other words, the total number of Admiralty civil service employees, excluding all dockyard employees, today is more than three times as great in the non-industrial category and something like two and a half times as great in the industrial category as compared with the prewar strength.
I must say that I think this is a ridiculous state of affairs and one which deserves the censure of this House. Furthermore, apart from these figures, I also ascertained from the Civil Lord that there has been an increase in the number of Admiralty dockyard employees of 2,550 non-industrial civil servants and 18,150 industrial civil servants as compared with 1939. I do not feel that there should have been such an increase, though I agree that it is less objectionable than the earlier figures, inasmuch as quite a number of these people should be doing useful practical work in the maintenance, repair and construction of ships in the dockyards.
Talking of dockyards brings me to my last point; that is, the works programme for 1948–49, which is outlined on page 8 of the White Paper. I note that some preliminary work has been done in connection with the modernisation of the barracks at the three great manning ports, and also at Deal. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend, the Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) in hoping that good progress will be made with this necessary work. As everyone connected with the Service realises, living conditions in many of these barracks are most unsatisfactory. But while I welcome the developments foreshadowed, I hope that no bad fairy at the Treasury will wield a wand which will cause the plans to disappear indefinitely into a pigeon-hole, as I think the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mallalieu) also fears. In this matter the Admiralty will, I am sure, have the support of most hon. Members if it sticks to its guns, or perhaps, more appropriately, to its trowels and mortar, and goes ahead as quickly as possible with the reconstruction and reconditioning of these living premises.
Incidentally, I note that re-construction and development work is to go on in certain of the main dockyards. Portsmouth and Devonport are specifically mentioned, and in both of these ports there is to be some further acquisition of land; but I observe with great regret that no mention is made of Rosyth. I must press the Civil Lord, in his closing speech, to say something about our only northern dockyard. I and other hon. Members from Scotland have spoken on this subject very forcibly on many occasions, and I do not propose tonight, to go over all the points in favour of Rosyth again. But, surely, recent developments on the Continent of Europe must show that it is essential, on strategic grounds alone, that we should maintain and develop Rosyth as a first class naval base. I hope that, in the reply from the Civil Lord, we shall be given some information on this subject.
I would like to say at the start of my remarks that I am one of those who feel that these Debates on the Service Estimates ought to be entirely on a non-party basis. After all, on whichever side of the House one sits, we are all Members of the House of Commons, in whom reposes the responsibility for safeguarding the survival of this nation. I would say, therefore, that I welcome the several speeches we have heard from hon. Members on the back benches opposite. Those hon. Members have completely refused to follow the very bad example set by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Churchill). Surely it is our duty to treat this subject seriously and without party rancour.
Even the interruption of the hon. and gallant Member would tend to open controversy; I wish there were none. I would go so far as to support a proposal that there should be a joint committee, representative of all parties of the House, something in the nature of what there is in the United States Congress, where these Service matters are considered before the Estimates are published, so that perhaps we should get more information from Ministers than we get now and discuss what should be a purely technical problem in an atmosphere of calm.
I am perfectly serious about it, but although the hon. Member for West Fife has been sitting in his place all the time today, I do not know if he would be in favour of it. If he were, so much the better. After all, we have Committees upstairs on most Bills.
I would like now to speak of some small points of detail, important however in themselves before coming to a broad issue. I would first draw attention to the importance of the figures mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison) when referring to the number of civil servants at present in the employment of the Admiralty. My first point of detail is the establishment of the Naval Intelligence Division; the estimate for that is 54,000, and the establishment of it, apart from the director and his deputies and assistants, consists of only three officers, but a hundred civilians; I agree that of the hundred, nineteen are draftsmen, and twenty-four are temporary, but is that the kind of proportion which exists as between uniformed and civilian personnel throughout the Admiralty today?
Further, is the Board of Admiralty satisfied that the N.I.D., the most important division of the naval staff—still the biggest in point of numbers—is adequately manned? Even the most ferocious critics of the "tail" of the Navy on all sides, if they knew the importance of maintaining that organisation not only in time of war but also between wars, would say that that particular "tail" had been docked too much. On this subject, I would like to ask if the Admiralty relies only on the Naval Intelligence Division for its information or whether it has different other sources, such as a combined intelligence organisation. If so, where does one find any reference to it?
May I turn now to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve? I am very glad that hon. Members opposite have drawn attention to this, and I was particularly pleased to hear the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) make the proposal, supported by other hon. Members, that some use should be made of those who served in the R.N.V.R. during the war by giving them refresher courses. Exactly what is the present "set-up" of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve? Is there a special Reserve, or a supplementary Reserve? Is the experience of the last war being used to train those who cannot be employed in the Executive branches for work in the technical branches for service with the Royal Navy if ever there is again a war?
I would like to know whether consideration has been given to revision of the status of the R.N.V.R. The other day there was a disorderly scene at a dinner of some R.N.V.R. Club, and when I read of the disgraceful insults offered by members there to the Board of Admiralty, I could not help wondering how many members who thus indulged themselves were volunteers in the true sense. Ought it not to be reorganised on the basis of those who give up their spare time in peace time to join the R.N.V.R. and maintain that status? The R.N.V.R. is diluted in time of war, as it inevitably was in the last war, by large numbers who are not volunteers at all, but by mere conscripts who, as this incident showed, have no knowledge of, and do not understand the true traditions of the Navy or of the R.N.V.R.
Then there is this question of the University Divisions about which there was some talk in the papers. I would like to know whether that is still under consideration, or are we to be kept to those 12 mentioned—I think the pre-war ones—in the White Paper and the Estimates? I would like to put in this plea—that some University Divisions should be established, not on the American pattern, but in order that those undergraduate students who have served their 12 months of National Service in the Navy should carry on as they are now requested to do in the Volunteer Reserve when they are studying at the university or college. In that respect I would like to put in a special plea for the University of Oxford which gave such immense help to the Admiralty and the Navy during the war and in which there is such great interest in naval matters.
Leave it to the Members representing the University to say so.
They ought to be here and they ought to deal with this point. I can assure the hon. Member that this is very strongly felt in the University, especially amongst those who gave such great assistance during the war, and they are just the type of people who could give good assistance now, especially in the N.I.D. and similar organisations. I suggest that members of the University might help with the R.N.V.R., perhaps by giving voluntary assistance in their spare time. Oxford has the advantage of being near the great centres of population in the Midlands. It is also near one of the R.N.V.R. air stations. I urge the Civil Lord to have this matter considered very carefully.
There is one final point of detail. I see on page 103 of the Estimates that the Admiralty still has three police forces. It is true it is stated that the merger of these into one is under consideration, but how long are we to go on with this nonsense of having these services within a Service? The Navy has its own army, its own air force, its own police force. The only thing it lacks, so far as I can discover, is mounted marines. It would perhaps be getting out of Order a little to point out that the R.A.F. has its own navy, its own army and, I believe, its own mounted police. How long are we to go on having these split-up services? It may be that it is impossible to solve the problem until there is one service. I realise the difficulties, but do let us at least co-ordinate all three police forces under the command of the Admiralty.
The Financial Secretary said a good deal, I am glad to say, about co-operation between the Fleet and the Na vies of the Dominions. I do not think that the amount of co-operation and co-ordination which he detailed went far enough, but I would like to ask whether there has been any co-operation with our allies, for example, with the French Navy in the Mediterranean. My information is—and I think it is on very good authority—that the French Navy is in the process of being reformed into very good shape both in the equipment of its ships and in the standard of training and in the standard of new entries.
Now, I hope that hon. Members will not misunderstand, but will agree with me, when I say that traditionally the French Navy has been somewhat jealous or suspicious of the Royal Navy, and certain incidents which one does not want to refer to which occurred inevitably in the last war did not tend to remove that feeling. It is, therefore, highly important that there should be the fullest co-operation between the Royal Navy and our allies in the Mediterranean, and that opportunity should be taken no: of making courtesy visits to Marseilles and Toulon and that kind of thing—showing the flag—but of having, at least, combined exercises with the French Fleet and continuously the closest possible cooperation, for, after all, they have got some very good ships and their standard of training is being raised to a very high degree. One important thing at least our ships would learn, was mentioned by an hon. Member opposite, and that is about cooking, although from my experience—and some hon. Members will be able to bear me out—this might almost cause a mutiny in some of our ships if comparison was made by the ratings. But I do seriously put forward this proposal, and I hope it will be given suitable consideration.
To come finally to a matter of vital importance which, so far as I know, has not been mentioned specifically by any Member, although it was touched upon for an instant by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mallalieu), it is stated in the White Paper—it has been described as a platitude—that
the safeguarding of our communications is vital to the defence of the United Kingdom.
The Parliamentary Secretary, in his peroration, dealt with it a little more strongly when he said something like this—"unless we can maintain our communications we are sunk," or words to that effect. Everyone regards that as a truism, but repeats it and subscribes to it, but do we understand what it really means at the present time and in the foreseeable future? I make no apology for referring to the principle upon which that is based and make no apology for repeating something which I said two years ago, supported as it was, and still is, on the best possible authority, namely, some of the learned writings of the Leader of the Opposition.
Here I would like to refer to what the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) said in the Debate on the Air Estimates, which was repeated, I was sorry to hear, by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) today, in which it was stated, putting it shortly, that we were saved from invasion in 1940 by the Royal Air Force. That just is not true. We were saved from invasion, and I make no apology—all glory to the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain—by the Royal Navy, which provided the deterrent. The Royal Navy would have foiled an attempt, if it had been made, for we never had such a complete command of the air over the Channel that we by air power alone could have prevented surface craft crossing. It was the Royal Navy that prevented surface craft crossing. It is more obvious that had it not been for the Royal Navy bringing our supplies of oil the Air Force would never have been able to leave the ground.
Our strategic position is now, therefore, this. We can no longer rely—I do want to stress this—upon the fact that we are an island in order to prevent invasion or bombardment, but more than ever we depend upon our seaborne supplies. I want to ask the House seriously to think about this and to remember that throughout the whole of this Debate we have been discussing almost every aspect of naval matters except this most vital one. One hon. Member opposite was speaking about the importance of escort craft. Mention has been made of the new submarines and how they will be a menace to our shipping. Not one word has been said about our bases and ports. I ask how it is possible to maintain our naval bases and keep our ports open when they are subjected to bombardment by guided missiles and other long-range weapons.
I am prepared to discount the use of the atom in the warheads of rockets or similar missiles. The atom may not be used, either because the enemy has not got it, or because it is too costly or because the reprisals are too great. But it has been published in the papers—and I do not know whether it is true or not but I think it probably is—that since the war a new explosive of the orthodox type has been invented and developed which, I read, is between 60 and 600 times more powerful than the most powerful in use—the atom apart—during the last war. Surely, this will be used in any case. With it there is no question of a radioactive aftermath or other effects at long range caused by atomic explosives. There may be, as the Hon. Gentleman for Woodford predicted, a ceaseless stream of these missiles on our ports and dockyards.
Now, it may be possible to operate escort craft from bases outside the United Kingdom. Let us assume that possibility for the moment. But how are supplies going to be maintained if docks, ports and harbours are not serviceable to load and unload merchant vessels? How is it to be done? Not one word has been said about it tonight. Apparently no thought has been given to it although I emphasised it in the Debate two years ago. I would like to suggest that the most serious attention should be given to consideration of this problem in all its aspects.
I strongly urge that a new Division of the Naval Staff should be set up for this purpose—to examine and make recommendations and then to see that those which are accepted by the Board are put into effect. One can make suggestions such as mobile, artificial harbours; refuelling and recoaling at sea; landing across beaches and matters of that kind. Also large reserve stocks of food and other essential supplies should be built up. That, obviously is not a subject for debate here, but I ask that due consideration should be given to this matter, for it is absolutely fundamental. It does not matter how many ships you can get across the Atlantic, how many warship you have to protect them from surface craft or submarines or other attack while they are crossing if you cannot get them into harbour and successfully unload them: you might as well leave them on the other side.
The Debate so far has been typical of those which have taken place from time immemorial or at any rate within my memory of this House, displaying the weakness of the defences of this country. Hon. Members on one side or another have accused each other of having displayed our weakness in the Press or in speeches here or elsewhere, to an extent which will alarm our allies and encourage our enemies. I have been wondering whether these displays of weakness ever did impress the potential enemy. I remember before the war there was an officer at the Admiralty whose duty it was to maintain liaison with foreign naval attaches. He was asked by a foreign naval attache to tell him the strength and numbers of the destroyer flotillas. The officer told him the truth, and the foreign attaché said, "But that is what you published in your Estimates and we have heard it in the House of Commons. Do you ask me to believe that? I thought you might give me some idea of the real truth." The British officer, try as he would, could not convince the foreigner that he was speaking the truth, and that the truth had been published. The more he tried, the more the foreign attaché became convinced that Britain was very much stronger than he had been told she was. The conversation ended with his saying, "You English are so clever, so subtle."
There is, however, another form of alleged weakness to which I should like to draw attention; a weakness which is being talked about and is much more dangerous in these times. I will give an illustration of it. Not long ago I introduced here, in the Lobby of the House, a well-known journalist to the military attaché of a certain foreign Power. The journalist took the occasion to inform the foreign attaché that if war broke out—or, at any rate, the danger of immediate war appeared—between this country and the Power which the attaché represented, the people of this country would not fight—that they would strike and down tools. I immediately contradicted that remark I am glad to say that the military attaché said that, in any case, he did not believe what the journalist had said, or that our people would do that; and he was not taken in. I have heard that sort of remark made elsewhere, however; I have heard it rumoured. I think that it is not only quite untrue, but that it is a very dangerous thing to be bruited abroad, because it may be believed. It ought to be remembered, as has been pointed out already, that however weak we may appear at the moment to be, we have within modern history, at any rate, always, with the help of our allies, defeated every great Continental Power in a major European war.
It should be known that the last thing the people of this country want is war, and that they, more than the people of any other nation, detest it; but that, if it should ever become necessary again, however weak our defences may appear at the moment, or at the beginning of the conflict, the people of this country, and the officers and men of the Royal Navy, will fight as they have fought before, not merely to save their own skins, not only to save their country, but to preserve the liberty of Europe and the freedom of the world.
We have just listened to a very interesting and a very reasonable speech; but, as a member of a junior Service, I shall not attempt to follow hon. Gentlemen who have served in the Senior Service, and shall content myself, moreover, with mentioning but a few dockyard matters. These are of concern to the Royal Navy. I would preface my remarks, too, by observing that we are all proud of the Royal Navy, and that we all want to keep the Navy clear of party politics, and that I shall follow this desire.
Like other Members on both sides of the House, I am worried about the cutting down of the size of the Fleet, and, above all, by the scrapping of any ships that might otherwise have been available in case of emergency. As a dockyard Member, I am particularly worried about the fears of unemployment of both skilled and unskilled workers in the yards. I shall not repeat the arguments that have already been made, but there is one point I should like to mention. Surely, the more that dockyard costs can be cut, and the more that waste can be eliminated, the more work can be done for the amount of money allowed by the Estimates.
I understand that in certain cases the men can now be employed on a payment-by-results basis. I was delighted when I first heard of this, but, if my information is correct, the whole thing is apt to be rather a farce. Instead of reducing costs it may increase them; for I am told that a man working on this basis automatically starts with pay about 20 per cent. above the standard time rate of pay. That means that if his earnings on the time rate arcs a week, he cannot, on the payments-by-results basis, earn less than £6, irrespective of however much or however little work he does. Naturally, if the man exceeds the normal amount of work, he gets more money. However, the whole idea of reducing costs by increased production is defeated. The only result is if a man has been unlucky enough to lose money by betting or getting into trouble in some other way and needs money, he can be put on piece work to help him out. If my figures are inaccurate possibly the Civil Lord will tell me so, but my informants should know, and I feel sure that the basis of my question is sound.
I should also like to know if the efficiency in the yards is increased by trying to eliminate old established craft unions and others which have been recognised for negotiating by the Admiralty for years. Let me give the House one example—the Chargemen's Association. This Association comprises the men responsible for the discipline of, and for the work done by, the dockyard workers. They may have anything between 20 to 60 men under them, the usual number being about 30 to 32. There are several grades of chargemen, and the lower grade is equivalent to a petty or chief petty officer, and the higher grades to commissioned officers of various ranks. Of the 2,000 odd chargemen in the dockyards, I believe some 1,600 belong to the Charge-men's Association, which has been established for 46 years.
In future they are not to be allowed to negotiate their grievances through their own union, but they must go through the men's unions or through the Whitley Council, largely composed of the men they employ. How can they maintain discipline if they have to go to the men they control and whom they sometimes have to discipline and say, "Please, chaps, will you put forward our claim for a rise?" It is the same as if a commissioned officer had to apply through the lower deck if he had a grievance.
I know that I shall be told that there is another smaller and more recently founded Trade Union Chargemen's Association, through whom they may apply if they join it, and that they can apply through the 17 individual craft unions from which their own members are drawn. This is nonsense, and the withdrawing of recognition is absolute folly. I feel that if the Admiralty take more steps to get efficiency and to eliminate waste and less to strangle unions that may not support one political party, the better it will be for the dockyards and the nation as a whole.
I know that there is little chance of the Civil Lord altering his decision, or indeed of his being allowed to do so, but I would remind him that Conservatives can be just as good trade unionists as any other people, just as Socialists can be just as good patriots. In the interests of national unity as well as of dockyard efficiency I urge the Admiralty to avoid aping the Communists, and beg them not to eliminate an organisation such as the Chargemen's Association, which has served its members so well for such a long time, with a sense of responsibility which does it credit.
Having listened to this Debate, I have had a feeling that at times it has been rather unreal. I have had that feeling at those times when hon. Members have spoken of the number of ships we want on the seas, and the disappointment it has caused them that we are smashing up those ships which are at present out-of-date. It seems to be rather unreal to be discussing Service requirements, which can only be met from the resources of the country, without considering the economy of the country. Because of our economic position I welcome, in these Estimates, the fact that, for the time being, at least, the Admiralty is not engaging upon any new programme of capital expenditure on ships.
One or two of the criticisms that have been made during the Debate I agree with very heartily, particularly the criticisms of the very large staffs at Admiralty headquarters. One person there for every 12 or 13 in the Navy is far, far too big a proportion, and I cannot see how it can possibly be justified unless these people are required to enable the run-down to be made. If that is so, then perhaps the Civil Lord, when he comes to reply, can give us an indication of the figure by which this 12,000 will be reduced during the ensuing year.
The second criticism made by some Members with which I find myself in agreement has been the failure on the part of the Admiralty to make up its mind as to what its policy is for the future. We have suffered from that in Scotland, particularly in the case of Rosyth Dockyard. It is not often that I find myself in agreement with the hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison), but on this issue I do. The Admiralty knows all the facts about Rosyth. There is no need for a reiteration of the arguments. Why cannot we have a decision about it? The local authorities do not know what to do. What is going to happen? Should they build houses, or what should be done? Should we plan industries, or what? None of these issues can he settled until the Admiralty makes up its mind, and I really think that the Civil Lord should say a word about this tonight.
We should also like to remind him about what undoubtedly, sooner or later, will be required, and that is a graving dock on the Clyde. There is another issue in Scotland about which we think the Admiralty should make a decision, and that is the reserve air station at Heathfield. Possibly I should not say too much about that because it concerns my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), but there is no doubt that by the retention of this airfield—and I understand there are suitable alternative airfields in the West of Scotland—the development of Ayr is being seriously held up. We would like to see the Admiralty get out of Heathfield altogether.
I should like to remark on the proposals for which we have been waiting for so long concerning the warrant officer rank. Whilst we welcome the announcements, they really do not settle many of the problems which have occupied the minds of people who have given their time and attention to this aspect of the Service. Probably the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) would agree with that when he comes to speak.
On the last Navy Estimates, I drew attention to what I considered to be conditions calling for criticism, affecting, in particular, the artificer branches of the Navy. In spite of the very glowing reports from the Government Front Bench, actually these branches are worse off today than 25 years ago. They have had their status lowered, and the new pay code has done nothing to make them better off, or give them a standard of living above that of 25 years ago. During my speech on that occasion I made a number of practical suggestions concerning pay, promotion, and status, to which I had at the time not one word of reply, and I have never had since a word of reply. Whether or not my suggestions were ever considered, I cannot say, but when I look upon what is happening today, I am quite positive that they should be considered now. Certainly nothing has been done about them during the past year. Pay scales remain the same with all the disadvantages that arise from the dis-incentives of the new pay code.
Judging from the figures supplied to me in reply to questions during the past few weeks, there are far fewer opportunities for promotion today than there were a year ago. That may be due to the fact that the personnel of the Navy is being reduced, but maybe my hon. Friend will say something about that. Nothing has been done to try to arrange for service certificates of qualification to have any value in civil life. That is an important matter. Finally, steps are now being taken, once again, to reduce still further the status enjoyed by these branches by having the privilege of separate messing taken from them.
The continuance of this policy must have two results. It must have a serious effect on recruiting; and secondly, it must bring about a lowering of standards of skill and efficiency. Both these things are undesirable, yet they seem to be happening. The recently issued Atlantic Fleet Order dealing with the accommodation of mechanicians suggests that already fewer direct entry engine room artificers are available. My interpretation of that may be wrong, but the wider implication of that order is that engine room artificers will be replaced by mechanicians, which seems to indicate that fewer artificers will be available. I do not know whether that is a right interpretation or not; but if it is, why is this so? Is it due to a failure to recruit engine room artificers, or to a change in policy by the Admiralty? If the latter, we are entitled to be told what is the policy of the Admiralty regarding these branches.
Why is the Admiralty satisfied, precisely at the moment when the Service becomes increasingly mechanised and calls for a higher degree of technical knowledge and skill, with less skilled and less highly trained personnel? I say that with all due respect to the mechanician branch. I owe a great debt of gratitude to the chief mechanician in the first ship in which I served, the "Queen Elizabeth." But I think they would admit it themselves, and I would not like to think that the Service was going to be satisfied with less than the best. If, on the other hand, it is due to a failure to recruit, what is being done about that?
I once again ask the Admiralty seriously to consider the suggestions that I made previously. I made a number of suggestions about the pay code. There is no doubt that in the artificer branches today there is no incentive whatever for an engine-room artificer to become a chief engine-room artificer. I quoted cases on the last occasion in which a third-class engine room artificer could draw more pay than a chief engine-room artificer, who might quite well, in a small ship, be responsible for the entire engine-room department of the ship. That is all wrong. Certainly we want to get people willing to accept responsibilities like that. I ask once again that my hon. Friend should consider this matter. Secondly, I want to ask him a question on promotion. In reply to a question I asked a few weeks ago, I was informed that two E.R.A. apprentices had been promoted to cadetships during 1947. Two out of 528, which I think their number is, is really preposterously small. Similar figures apply to other promotions. Promotion must be opened up to these branches, and I ask my right hon. Friend to consider opening up the avenue of promotion to the scientific service to artificers who display the necessary abilities. One of the greatest difficulties in developing the scientific and research services is the lack of trained personnel. I would think it possible to pick out those with the greatest aptitude and make use of them in those spheres which are so important to-day.
Thirdly, there is the question of giving value to certificates taken by men in the Service. Take the case of the artificer who goes in as a boy of 15 and attends evening classes until he is 21 for three and four nights a week. He takes examinations every six months, and at the end of two years, and the end of four years. When he gets to sea he sits for other examinations, and takes his charge certificate and boiler room certificate and so on. When he leaves, his certificates are not worth the paper they are written on. That is all wrong. Surely it is not beyond the ingenuity of the Lords of Admiralty to arrange that these certificates should have some value outside. I should have thought it quite easy in the case of Merchant Service engineer's certificates, because the type of work is practically the same.
Lastly, I come to this niggling away at the status of these branches. At present the attack is being made—I am not sure it has not been carried out—upon the privilege of separate messes. This concerns most petty officers and chief petty officers. This is one of the most valued privileges on the lower deck. What is
more important, it has worked to the benefit of the service inasmuch as it has given to junior artificers the benefit of the experience of senior ratings, because messing together they have inevitably discussed together their work. It has helped to sustain the efficiency of the branch. I have seen numerous letters about this particular step the Admiralty are taking at the present time and have not yet seen one letter in favour of it. One E.R.A., who is now an engineer in the Merchant Service, wrote:
The main advantage of the mess is that young E.R.A's. who can be compared with 'journeymen' in civilian life, are always under the supervision and guidance of the senior men, who help them as to their jobs below, their conduct and discipline.
That that is so, and that it has been good for the Service and an inducement to recruiting would seem to be the opinion even of the Admiralty, because, in its publication entitled, "The Life and Prospects of a Royal Naval Artificer," the Admiralty puts forward the fact that he has a separate mess as an inducement. And in that publication, the Admiralty goes on to say that this arrangement helps to create a strong corporate sense among them. Either this is desirable, or it should be abolished. The Admiralty cannot have it both ways. But the arguments, as I see them, are in favour of separate messes being continued. I cannot see anything against that. I know that chief stokers like to have their own mess, mechanicians do, and practically all petty officers and chief petty officers like to have their own mess, just as other people like to have their own house.—[An HON. MEMBER: "Class distinction"]. Someone says this is class distinction. It is not class distinction if you want to live in your own house. No one suggests that we should all live together, that we ought always to dine communally. Everyone believes in a social life, but people like some privacy.
The Civil Lord was a stoker. The stokers had their own mess. I never heard that they wished to abolish their own mess. This is not a case of class distinction at all. It is simply the case that people like their own separate living quarters. I have seen the notice which the Admiralty has sent round some of the ships suggesting that if the men lived all in one mess they would get to know one another better. I never found that living in my own mess prevented my going ashore with the sergeant of marines, or the chief petty officer, or the stoker, or anyone else. I know that the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) has his own ideas on how people should live; but at least the people of this country like to live in quarters of their own.
In December, my hon. Friend informed me that while a decision had been made about this in regard to the messing in barracks, no decision had been made about the matter for those afloat. I would ask my hon. Friend seriously, to find out what the men afloat think about this. If he does, I am convinced, from evidence which I have on the matter, that he will find that the overwhelming opinion is against this new idea. If he has evidence to contradict that, I would like to see it, but I am sure he will find that the majority of the men are against the proposal, and. I would like him to take account of their opinions before a final decision is reached.
I am quite certain that every hon. Member who has served in the Royal Navy will be in complete agreement with the hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) in the plea which he has made for an increased incentive to appear in the pay code. On that, all of us are absolutely agreed. Then the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Shawcross), in what I considered to be a very helpful speech, particularly in so far as he referred to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, said that my right hon. Friend and others of us should not make the Navy a party issue. In general, I do not think that in this House we do treat the Navy as a party issue; but surely, it is only right that when the Government is at fault, the faults of the Government should be pointed out and the Government brought to account.
Today, my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) dealt very faithfully with the Government's policy of scrapping the older ships. He fully exposed the folly of the manner in which that announcement had been made and the deplorable timing of that announcement and, to an impartial observer, it would appear that the Government have lost all sense in these matters; that they proceed, in naval matters, from blunder to blunder, just as in other matters they proceed from one crisis to another. The apprehension here, and, equally important, throughout the Empire, as to our naval strength was first aroused by the statement on 23rd October last by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence when, suddenly and without warning, he informed the House that the operational strength of the Home Fleet had been reduced to one cruiser and four destroyers. He stated at that time that other ships could be made available at short notice and that these could be made rapidly efficient.
I dared, on that occasion, to ask the right hon. Gentleman a quite simple and straightforward question and, as a result, with a show of righteous indignation today, he accused me of having run down the Fleet to the detriment of our country. I asked the Minister whether he could give the state of readiness of those ships—that is, the ships in the training squadron—and he replied that they were engaged in active training and that there were a large number of new ratings, National Service entrants, as well as Regulars, in various categories of ships. He also said that before that side of it could be ready for operation, it would obviously require some attention. The right hon. Gentleman suggested today that I was blameworthy in indicating that there would be a delay, but in that reply to which I have referred, he agreed that some attention would have to be paid to the matter.
The fact is that the Government cannot, by accusing single Members of the Opposition, or the Opposition as a whole, write off the responsibility for having brought about this situation. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman had no intention of misleading anyone, but he did mislead the House, and the public outside, as to the strength of the Fleet. He admitted in his speech today that the Paper on the Navy Estimates should have been laid before ever he made that statement on 23rd October last year. On top of that grave mistake, we had the announcement of the scrapping of the older ships. That was a political decision which the Board of Admiralty had to accept; it was a decision in accordance with Government policy, and there was no way but for the Board of Admiralty to accept it. But what nonsense for the Government to suggest that the "Rodney," the "Queen Elizabeth," the "Nelson" and the "Valiant" could serve no useful purpose. Is it suggested that two of these four ships could not have formed the battleships of the training squadron; that they could not have been retained for this purpose, and freed the "Anson" and the "Howe" for other duties?
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made reference to the great sum of money which, in recent times, has been spent on modernising the "Valiant," but the Minister of Defence made no reference to that in his reply, and I hope that the Civil Lord, when he speaks tonight, will find it convenient to give an answer, because it is a matter of considerable concern. The greater number of these old ships which have gone to the scrap heap have gone, not because the Royal Navy could not find a use for them, either now or in the future, but because the Government were unwilling to provide for their maintenance even on the lowest possible basis. The Minister of Defence spoke of the millions of pounds which would have to be spent on their modernisation. No one was asking him to make them modern ships. No one was suggesting for a moment that they should take their place in any task force, but there are lots of other uses to which they could be put if at any time within the next 20 years we should find ourselves at war. Where are the ships to come from to cover some landing of military forces; where the ships to undertake some more dangerous task in close touch with the shore? These ships, as my right hon. Friend said, are "expendable," whereas the few capital ships that we have left will have to be guarded with every care.
It is simply not true, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mallalieu), that we have on this side of the House some particular affection for the capital ship, as she has been known over the past quarter of a century. That is not the point at all. The point is that we do not like to see material which can be made use of lightly cast aside. Both these announcements to which I have referred have had a very damaging effect on our prestige, because it is a strange fact that the prestige of the British Empire all over the world is measured by our naval strength.
Let me look for a moment at the background against which we should consider these Estimates tonight. Three years ago, when the great destruction of war was fresh in the mind of the whole world, there were very high hopes that international machinery would be set up capable of settling disputes between the nations and of maintaining the rule of law. Most of us were very hopeful that that organisation would be effective. It appeared to be recognised that law must ultimately rest upon force. The new organisation of the United Nations was to have placed at its disposal forces which would enable it to enforce its decisions. On that I do not need to say more than was said by the Minister of Defence in opening the Debate on the Defence White Paper, when he said that the United Nations organisation
has not developed as we had hoped.
A few lines further on he said:
We must keep up our defences."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1948; Vol. 448, c. 59.]
That is one of the considerations we must constantly keep in mind at this time. There are other considerations also. When we look to the Far East, we find that China is in a turmoil and the lives and property and trade of British subjects have to be protected. The situation in the Persian Gulf is not entirely happy. In the Eastern Mediterranean there is cause for grievous disquiet and that also applies to the Central Mediterranean, where the forces of Communism are encroaching ever more closely on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
Conditions in Europe, we know to our cost, are very unstable indeed. If we look to the West, to Central and South America, the game of "grab" seems to have become popular. Indeed, as my hon. Friend said in his speech, the situation has indeed deteriorated during the past 30 months. There is one other matter we must take account of and that is that we are looking to more distant lands for our food supplies. We look to Australia and East Africa and there is a haul of thousands more miles compared with that from the dollar countries from which we used to draw proportionately more food resources. In other words, the Navy is going to be called upon to protect vital trade over much longer distances than hitherto.
That is the background against which we have to consider the strength of the Fleet today. As my right hon. Friend said, the strength of the Fleet is sufficient to meet the situation. Why were we not told—why was the world not told—that we would have four battleships in commission by the end of this year, that out of six fleet carriers three of them would also be in commission by the end of the year, that to the two light carriers at present in commission one more would be added during the summer and two more before the end of the year, and that we should have 13 cruisers in reserve and 15 in full commission at the end of this year, as well as between 30 and 34 destroyers fully manned and available? That was the picture that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence ought to have presented last October, and not that of the one cruiser and four destroyers in the Home Fleet, which had such devastating effects upon our friends in e very quarter of the world.
Looking to the future, it appears from the White Paper that the Government have in contemplation a Fleet in full commission consisting of two battleships, four light fleet carriers, 16 cruisers, and 34 destroyers. I think that my figures are correct; if not, the hon. Gentleman will, I hope, correct them. I would like to make one or two comments upon that Fleet. Many hon. Members today have drawn attention to the manpower available to the Navy. Excluding the Women's Royal Naval Service I make it that we have 139,000 men available. In 1939 we had 127,000; but in 1939 we had in commission 10 battleships, 28 cruisers, 4 carriers, and 64 destroyers. If that were possible with 12,000 fewer men in 1939, to man rob ships, why is it that we can only man 56 today?
The hon. Gentleman who introduced the Estimates gave us certain explanations. He spoke about the needs of naval aviation. I do not know how many men are required. He gave us a figure, I think, of 32,000, but I rather gathered from him that that figure also included the crews of the carriers. I may be wrong. If I am, perhaps he will correct me. I doubt very much whether the actual flying personnel, and those needed to attend them, could amount to 32,000. The whole question of manpower is extremely baffling. I find from an answer given in this House on 26th November that while the strength of the Navy had been reduced between 18th June, 1945, and 1st January, 1948—of course, the later date was an estimation—the reduction was 79.5 per cent.; that is, a reduction in the strength of the actual men of the Fleet; while the industrial and non-industrial civilians serving in the Admiralty have been reduced only by 36.8 per cent. Then again, if one turns to the staffs employed in Government Departments, according to the latest Returns, Cmd. 7277, one ascertains that on 1st October, 1947, 33,339 were actually employed by the Admiralty, that is to say, as I think has already been said in this Debate, that there was one civilian employed by the Admiralty to every four officers and men serving in the Navy. I suggest that that is quite an undue proportion.
There is another matter to which I would like to call the attention of the House; that is, the contemplated cruiser strength in the future. May I remind the House that it is not very many years ago since two of the most distinguished admirals of all time said that the minimum number of cruisers essential to protect our seaborne fines of communication was 70 We entered the last war with 55, and I think we often found ourselves short of cruisers during the war years; but now the White Paper seemingly is content with 32. The Minister for Defence and the Parliamentary Secretary have stressed the point that the modern destroyer is really a light cruiser and that she is capable of performing cruiser duties, but are we to have any destroyers available for cruiser duty should we find ourselves at war again?
May I remind hon. Members opposite of our experience in the last war? It was that the menace to our shipping was not so much from the air as from the submarine. We have heard today from the Parliamentary Secretary of the very great advance which has occurred in submarines and in the submerged speed of submarines during the last few years, and that they can now outpace—or so I gathered from his remarks—many of our existing frigates. In these circumstances, it appears to me that all our destroyers will be required on anti-submarine duties.
I did not say that modern submarines would outpace frigates. There were some remarks made by an hon. Member as to the speed of submarines. I dealt largely with the apparatus known as "Snort."
Naturally I am prepared to accept that from the hon. Gentleman. It may be that I was confusing him with some other hon. Member. But statements have been made in the House today which I do not think will be contradicted. Certainly the speeds which are to be anticipated from the modern submerged submarine are greatly in excess of the speed of any frigate in existence. When I say that all destroyers will be required on anti-submarine work, I say that because the destroyer strength contemplated is 127. We started the war with 149. They were many too few, and we were very glad indeed to obtain the 50 old destroyers from the United States.
Here I would like to refer to the remarks of the hon. Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay) with regard to the need for us to keep up a sufficient number of escorts. I suggest that we must never lose sight of the fact that escorts have got to be available in large numbers for the protection of our shipping against submarines. In these circumstances, I suggest that we should consider very seriously whether 32 cruisers are sufficient to ensure the safety of our shipping on the outer seas.
There is one other point which causes me concern in regard to the size of the Fleet which it is intended to have in commission. We have 44 ships in the training squadron. We have in reserve 218 ships. We have 56 ships in full commission. I wonder if this is a sufficient number to give experience in the tactical handling of ships and squadrons to those officers who are called upon in wartime to undertake the command of ships of the training squadron and in reserve. That matter, I think, has already been alluded to. It is certainly one of very great importance.
While I am talking of training, I would like to allude, in passing, to the remarks of the Parliamentary Secretary in regard to the new system of training for officers at Dartmouth. He claimed—I thought a little too early—that it had been a conspicuous success. We all hope it will be a conspicuous success. What some of us doubt is the wisdom of throwing away so rapidly a system of training which has served the Navy and the nation so well in two great wars. I really do not think that at any time in the history of this country was the Navy better served than it was while it had the products of Dartmouth of the public school entry during the recent war. What I doubt is whether the training which is to be given—the short period of training at Dartmouth—will be sufficient, or will equal the standard which was obtained under the four-year system which we have had up to now.
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman dispute that the vast majority of the officers were R.N.V.R. officers, without that training, and that they did good work?
I certainly would give all credit to those gentlemen who joined the R.N.V.R., and who served so gallantly during the recent war; but I think that even the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and the Parliamentary Secretary will doubt that all of them had the training necessary to take certain commands, whether of squadrons, or of large ships, or of complicated operations. The work they did was certainly very gallantly and very well done on every possible occasion. I think the Parliamentary Secretary was straining things a little too much when he claimed that this new system of training officers would remove the possibility of bias on account of wealth. I should have thought that could have been accomplished quite easily without in any way altering the period of training. It could have been accomplished by giving extra scholarships, and also, naturally, by reducing the fees—or even by doing away with them altogether, as has been done now—and by giving allowances for equipment and uniform.
We are all agreed, it seems—or the White Paper says so—that the main rôle of the Navy is the protection of our lines of communication. That protection today, of course, is not provided by surface ships alone; and it can be assured only if ships operate in the closest co-operation with both land based and carrier-borne aircraft. The White Paper is practically silent on the matter of naval aviation, and the hon. Gentleman, in the course of his speech, said very little about it. One can, therefore, only express the hope that the matter of the Air Arm in all its aspects is not being overlooked. In that connection, I think we were all very grateful to hear what the hon. Gentleman was able to say about what is going on at Londonderry. There is one other essential to the safety of our seaborne trade, and that is the provision of bases in every part of the world—bases ready to receive a fleet or a squadron, bases prepared to operate aircraft. In the Eastern Mediterranean, in India and in Burma, we have lost our bases. I assume that these losses are being made good elsewhere. The provisions in the Estimates give very little evidence that much work is being done in that respect.
At home, Devonport, Chatham and Portsmouth are still to remain the great home ports. Money is to be spent on each one of them. In previous years I have expressed the view that Rosyth should be added as an additional home port. I have been supported in that view by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mallalieu). I should like to see our home ports more widely spaced. It is with regret that I fail to observe any provision has been made in the present Estimates in regard to setting up a manning port at Rosyth. I believe the creation of such a port would be of the greatest possible advantage to the Service, and would yield a very good dividend in first-class recruits, which we need today as we turn over to long term for manning purposes.
There is one final question I want to put, and I hope the Civil Lord can answer it when he replies. We will have a small Fleet in the future as compared with the Fleets we have had in the past. I wonder whether in those circumstances it is really efficient to keep ships tied to one station with commanders-in-chief and their staffs afloat. We had to abandon that practice in the war. Should not the commander-in-chief and his staff be located ashore with the Fleet, instead of being composed, as it is at present composed, of task forces, moving about the world and able to proceed to any threatened area at once? That would not only be more efficient and far better from the training point of view, but from the point of view of the experience to be gained by officers and men.
In times past, particularly after a great war, there has always been the temptation—a temptation to which democracies are particularly prone—to concentrate all the nation's resources on the social betterment of the people to the neglect of defence. Here in this House we should never forget that the permanence of our social progress can only be assured behind the sure shield of our Defence Forces and particularly of the Royal Navy. The Navy must always be ready. It is for us in this House to see that it is. Ships cannot be built in a day, nor can the high technical skill required by officers and men be learned in a day. These things require long years of preparation, study and research, and there must be continuity of building. In that connection the Amendment which was moved earlier today was ill-advised and if it had been accepted—though it was indicated by the Parliamentary Secretary that it could not be—it would have been somewhat dangerous. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble) dealt with the matter very fully. The real truth is that we cannot put off things until the perfect weapon has been discovered. Progress must be continuous, otherwise the skilled personnel who are needed in regard to the production of weapons, equipment and ships will go elsewhere and will not be available when they are required. It is quite impossible to improvise a Fleet.
We realise that the Navy is going through difficult times. We recognise that such mistakes as have been made have been mistakes on the part of the Government, and for those mistakes the Government are responsible. We on this side of the House are always ready to acknowledge the great services which the Navy renders to our country, and we are proud and grateful to acknowledge them today. It is for us in this House to see that the men, ships and equipment required are made available to the Navy. If we do our part the Navy, on which the safety, welfare and prosperity of this country still chiefly depend, will not let the country down.
I think it can be said that this Service Debate today is certainly one of the most important, from the point of view of the people who have taken part in it, of all the Service Debates in this House since the last war ended. First of all we had the great pleasure of listening to the Leader of the Opposition who, we read in the Press last week, was determined to speak here today, rather than in the general Debate on defence policy. He wanted to point out all the things we were doing wrong, and tell us what we should really be doing. In addition, we have had the Minister of Defence taking part in the Debate, and no fewer than 18 other Members have spoken.
With great respect to the view of the hon. and gallant Member for Pollock (Commander Galbraith), I think that the complaints of the Leader of the Opposition were very adequately dealt with by the Minister of Defence. I am quite certain that the Leader of the Opposition has not felt quite so unhappy for a long time as he did when the right hon. Gentleman replied to him. It seems unfortunate, however, that the hon. and gallant Member was left more or less to say the same things as were dealt with by the Minister of Defence in his reply to the Leader of the Opposition. In fact, today there is very little difference, with exceptions here and there, between what one hon. Gentleman on the other side had to say and what the earlier Opposition speakers had to say.
I have now had the pleasure of replying to the Debate on these Estimates for the past three years, and I must say that in the two previous years there was a non-party atmosphere about the whole of the discussions.
That atmosphere was certainly not present at the beginning of the Debate to-day. I am absolutely certain that the Conservative Party from now onwards is determined to use the occasion of the Navy Estimates debate more for political purposes than for the benefit of the people of the country. That was shown very clearly indeed in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition and in the speech to which we have just listened.
In these discussions on the Navy Estimates one finds that one has to deal roughly with three sections of hon. Members. We have the section composed of those whose interest results from actual service with the Navy; another section whose interest arises from representing dockyard constituencies; and then we have a third which we may call "the also rans." I am certain that the House views with great interest the contributions which are made by those who have served in the Navy and by those who represent dockyard constituencies. One of those is, of course, the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken. He has tried to make great play with the scrapping of the battleships, which, as I have already said, I thought was very ably dealt with by the Minister of Defence. He told us that we had gone from one blunder to another, and also that we had told the House without prior warning of the temporary immobilisation of the Home Fleet.
I would draw the attention of hon. Members on the other side to the statement made by the Leader of the Opposition to-day, that the figure of 145,000 to which the Navy is reducing at the end of March, 1948, should have been the figure for the autumn of 1945. The right hon. Gentleman said that within a few months of the end of the war we should come down drastically from 850,000 to 145,000. We are now being blamed because we have only 145,000 men under Vote A and therefore are not able to man as many ships as Members of the Opposition would like.
The hon. Gentleman has got the point wrong. It is that with 145,000 men the Navy ought to be able, in our contention, to man many more ships than they are doing.
On a point of Order. Is it not a great discourtesy, to the House that the Leader of the Opposition, who has made this point, should not be present to hear the reply?
Has not the point already been made that the Leader of the Opposition was amply answered by the Minister of Defence?
On that point of Order. I think it is rather unfair for the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) to have made that observation. [HON. MEMBERS: Why?] The Leader of the Opposition came here today to make that speech, and it might well have been that if he had asked he would not have been allowed to come. He came because he thought the matter was of such importance that he ought to be present. At this late hour I do not think it is fair to make an allusion of that kind.
I do not think I will get involved in these personal quarrels. The point I was making was this: would anyone in their senses, who knew anything about naval administration, seriously suggest that the Navy would have been in a fit state to carry out its duties in the autumn of 1945 if it had come down from 850,000 to 145,000? The other question, how many ships we should have in commission, is a different matter altogether. The Leader of the Opposition endeavoured to make play with the fact that in 1948 we are coming down to a figure for Vote A which he said we should have reached in the autumn of 1945. The question of training and the numbers afloat I thought had been adequately dealt with in the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, and I do not think I ought to spend the time of the House in answering questions about scrapping when that has already been dealt with by the Minister of Defence. If hon. Members like to read HANSARD tomorrow they will see the explanation.
The House has not had an explanation of why, with the very large number of men we have today, we have not more ships in commission.
I am really talking about scrapping and not about ships in commission.
Would the hon. Gentleman before he leaves the question of scrapping, deal, if he can, with the expenditure on the battleship, "Valiant" so recently?
With regard to the "Valiant," there was an expenditure of £220,000 apart from the considerable damage to the hull caused in battle. It might interest the House to know that of the £220,000, £100,000 was spent between January 1945, while the war was still on, and VJ-Day, and the rest after VJ-Day. The repairs, which covered battle damage, cost £610,000, spread over 1945–46 and 1946–47—largely in 1945–46, when we obviously could not have foreseen that the "Valiant" would have to be scrapped in 1948.
Let me come to the serious complaint about the action of the Government in announcing the reduction of the Home Fleet to one cruiser and four destroyers of the battle class. If my memory serves me rightly, there is not the slightest ground for complaint about this rapid run-down of the Vote A strength of the Navy by the end of March, 1948. As most hon. Members know, the figures we had planned to come down to by the end of March, 1949, in the interests of the efficiency of the Navy, were brought forward to the end of March 1948. This led to considerable dislocation in the Fleet. At the time we announced those figures it was definitely stated—and I want to point this out as clearly as I can—that that temporary immobilisation would not last more than a matter of months. I fact, we hope after four or five months to be able to get many ships back in commission once we get over the task of demobilisation, and we have actually told the House today that we are achieving this. Are we to be criticised for giving the House the full facts and then acting in accordance with them—which seems to be the line taken by the Opposition today?
I would like to go back to one point with regard to scrapping, although I am not going into details. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok said that the Board of Admiralty had to accept the scrapping because it was a political decision. I completely deny that. It was a decision made by the naval members of the Board of Admiralty. It was not a matter of politics in any way, and I am very glad to have this opportunity of making the position quite clear.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Pollok again said that we had more ships in commission in 1939 with a smaller Vote A than we have today. Does not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman realise that it was a little bit different when we were mobilising in 1939, and when everybody was coming in and could be quite easily drafted abroad, than today, when the men are all coming off ships for demobilisation and dislocating the manning situation? That is one reason. Another reason is that whatever may have been the position in 1939 with regard to training, a tremendous change took place during seven years of war in the set-up of the ships in the Fleet. Much as I dislike seeing time spent ashore in training, it is very necessary indeed for the fullest possible training to be given to our sailors— even to many who have been in the Service for some time, as well as to the recruits—to ensure that they have a complete knowledge of the technical side of naval duties in this post-war period. That, of course, engages some of the people who in 1939, and in the earlier years, were able to be afloat. Again, the more men we have to train, the more men we need to train them, and that absorbs a fair number.
Then there is the point made by the Minister of Defence with regard to the extra complements. If we have to place 280 men in a battle-class destroyer of today, against 180 in a Greyhound class destroyer in 1939, is it not perfectly clear that we can only man one ship now instead of the two we could man in those days of lower complements? Those are some of the reasons which. I can give the House for the fact that we have a smaller number of ships in commission at present.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that there had been a 79.5 per cent. reduction in the naval personnel and only a 37 per cent. reduction in the civilians. Judging by the Debate today, one might imagine from what has been said by some of the critics that the war had been over for about 15 years instead of less than three years. Surely hon. Members do realise that after a seven years' war, despite the fact that the Service men are being released at a very quick rate, the civilians cannot always be released at the same speed. There cannot be a reduction of civilians employed equal to the reduction in the number of Servicemen. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done in the various departments of the Admiralty at the moment in clearing up the arrears of work from the war. I have, under my control, a department at the Admiralty known as the Surveyor of Lands Department. If the number employed in that department were reduced too much we could not carry out all the work of de-requisitioning. We have not sufficient staff in that department now, which has as much work to do today as it had during the war, and if it were still further reduced, hon. Members on both sides of the House would be complaining to me of delay in settling claims, etc. That is just one item. There are others, of course, such as the work of demobilisation.
I want to assure the House, however, that this question of the number of civilians employed at the Admiralty and at other naval establishments is receiving the closest possible attention of the Board of Admiralty. As and when conditions become more normal, the House can feel confident that we shall do all we possibly can to reduce the numbers.
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to put a question to him regarding the additional complements which the Civil Lord said are necessary? It was, I think, 90 per cent. in the case of destroyers. Is the House to understand that a destroyer built to accommodate a certain number of officers and men is to have an additional 90 per cent. on board? If so, I say that that is impossible.
These are brand new destroyers; they are built for the complement I have mentioned. I see that we are now in the early hours of the morning, and I do not want to keep the House too long.
I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman ought to be satisfied if I give him a last word about Rosyth. There have been 18 other hon. Members who have spoken and who want me to deal with each point they have raised. So far as Rosyth is concerned it is perfectly natural for him to raise it as it is a matter uppermost in the minds of hon. Members for Scotland on both sides of the House. The situation at Rosyth is, however, no different from what it was when we started using it again before the 1939 war, and its position is no different from that of any other home port in this country. When this run-down on Vote "A" was announced there were rumours that Chatham dockyard was to be closed, and, very naturally, there was concern among the population of Chatham. But the answer to all the people interested in the home ports—whether the interest be connected with employment or for any other reason—is that we have no intention of closing any of the home ports this year. We hope it will never be necessary, but if it is eventually decided to close one of the home ports, the fullest consideration will be given to the whole matter and the local people informed in good time.
I can now perhaps go on to one or two of the other matters which have been raised. The hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden) mentioned the scrapping of battleships. There again, I must draw his attention to the fact that that has been answered capably by the Minister of Defence. But he has, if I may say so, been very persistent during the year with regard to the publication of the Navy List and the disclosure of the fullest information. All I can say is that I find great inconsistency on the part of hon. Members opposite because, in one breath they want us to disclose all our information to the country—and, in fact, to the world—and in the next breath they tell us that we are going to have another war. If the second is right—and I most seriously hope it is not—I claim that we are absolutely right in not issuing these figures.
The allegation has been made that the decision to scrap some ships is a political decision. It is not. It is one taken in the fullest consultation with, and on the advice of, the Naval Staff. As regards the disclosure of information on the size of the Fleet, I think that up to now we have done the right thing in keeping these figures as secret as possible. The hon. and gallant Member then dealt with the point about there not having been enough information given on the "Venerable." Let me explain that, when ships are being sold to foreign countries, information may be obtained by them before it is announced in this country because the negotiations for the sale take a long time. It is true that people in Holland might have got information, but we could not announce the actual sale of the ship until the negotiations were completed. He will find, I think, that this is the correct answer, although I have not the full details here.
As to the strength of the Fleet, the hon. and gallant Member did say—and I am sorry he did so—that we should tell the truth. So far as we are concerned in the Admiralty, every endeavour is made to give the facts as clearly as possible consistent with the safety of our country, and we shall continue in this way. He also criticised the disposition of the ships, and due note will be taken of this criticism although I am afraid until we do get the ships re-mobilised there is not much we can do about it.
The hon. Member for Sutton (Mrs. Middleton) very properly and naturally mentioned the question of the dockyards, and she was followed by the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) and the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce). It is perfectly natural for Members who represent dockyard constituencies to raise these questions. They possibly have a dual interest—in respect of the men who man the ships from those districts and also with regard to the men who have to carry out work in the dockyards in order that the ships can be manned. If I may I will answer their points jointly. There were the questions of repayment work, of full employment, of apprentices, of joint production committees and of a working party to investigate the possibilities of a more efficient use of the dockyards.
I have been concerned with the question of repayment work a good deal since I have been Civil Lord at the Admiralty, because it commenced somewhere about 1946 when there was a possibility, as a result of a reduced Estimate for that year, of discharges in the region of 4,000 to 5,000. The Admiralty felt then, as indeed they feel today, that we should do all we possibly could within the limits of the situation for the men who had served us so faithfully during the war. As a result of that decision we commenced commercial work. Apart from the valuable effect it had on the national economy by carrying out certain types of essential work, we were able for a year to employ an average of somewhere about 4,000 people on this work, and last year almost the same number.
We anticipate that next year we shall have sufficient naval work for the yards, and there is a very serious backlog of work waiting to be done. Apart from the naval work in the yards we shall be left with somewhere about 2,400 people in the four professional departments to employ on repayment work. We are, quite definitely, endeavouring to follow a policy of full employment by this means. If the time should arrive when we have a smaller amount of naval work than we have today, the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth can rest assured that every effort will be made to provide within reason the necessary Commercial work to prevent discharges. You cannot always prevent discharges as there is occasionally an unbalance in the trades. Where this has occurred, I am quite certain that no hon. Member would wish us to keep people without having proper employment for them; but we shall endeavour to do all we possibly can.
I was rather perturbed to hear the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member with regard to apprentices, but I think that he knows—and it may be of interest to the House—that a committee is going into the whole question of apprentices. We do intend to improve their conditions and opportunities and we are hopeful that we may be able to get all the apprentices, and perhaps more, that we actually require in the not distant future.
Joint Production Committees have also been referred to. That matter is receiving my consideration and at the present time I am endeavouring to set up some sort of machinery which I think will be absolutely satisfactory to both the management and the workpeople. The House will realise, of course, that the trade union side of the Admiralty Industrial Council has a lot to do with the setting up of these joint production committees, and I am proposing to discuss the matter with them some time next week. We are working on lines suggested by the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth, the hon. Member for Sutton and the hon. Member for Devonport, and whatever we can do to improve the efficiency, and the contentment, of the men, and get rid of this awful word "frustration" we shall do.
There is the last point with regard to working parties. I would remind the hon. Members that the Royal Dockyards are not like private industries outside—for example the cotton industry—for which working parties have been set up. We are not unmindful that improvement can perhaps be made here and there, but at the present time I cannot commit the Admiralty to the setting up of a working party. My noble Friend has this matter well in mind and whatever we can do to improve the situation will certainly be done.
The hon. Member for Devonport referred to H.M.S. "Impregnable," and made a moving appeal for the maintenance of H.M.S. "Impregnable" as a boys' training establishment. I am absolutely certain that no one in the Admiralty, even without listening to his moving appeal, actually wants to close it. But the number of boy entrants is decreasing and that means that the number of training establishments required will be three instead of the four we have at the moment. I am informed that if H.M.S. "Bruce" were closed and "Impregnable" kept open there would not be sufficient accommodation for the numbers that we want next year.
Would the hon. Gentleman agree to pay a visit himself to H.M.S. "Impregnable" before he makes a decision and see for himself, on the spot, the comparison between "Impregnable" and "Bruce"?
I was told the other day that my noble Friend intends to go there as he has received an invitation. Perhaps it would be wise to leave it to him rather than that I should go and perhaps mess things up. It may be a matter of consolation that if we have to close the "Impregnable" then we have in mind—though I cannot definitely promise this—to use the "Impregnable" as a Wrennery for Devonport. Far too many matters have been raised today for me to deal with now, but I will go over them rather quickly.
There was the point raised by the hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) that the announcement of Fleet changes was a shock. I must say that I witnessed no shock in that respect, particularly in the district where I live, and I think there was a certain amount of unnecessary exaggeration about the whole thing which could easily have been avoided. However, now that we have got over the shock, I hope we are going to look forward to the future and give the greatest possible backing to the Navy. The matter of the "Nelson" and the "Rodney" has been fully explained.
The hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) wanted to know if the Navy is ready for an emergency. To be perfectly honest, I do not suppose we could go to sea with a large fleet tomorrow, but he can safely rest assured that the Admiralty have no idea of war tomorrow. Should an emergency arise every possible effort will be made to put the Fleet into a far better condition than it was in 1939. That can certainly be promised. I notice that we were congratulated by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) on our demobilisation arrangements. If I may say so, I would like to take the opportunity of congratulating the Second Sea Lord on the admirable way in which the size of the fleet has been brought down from 850,000 to 145,000, in so short a time with hardly any complaints whatever.
The hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) is not in his place, but he is particularly interested in the naval barracks and I assure the House that there is no one more interested than myself. I am certain that any reasonable hon. Member will realise that we cannot give priority, such as we would like, in these days of housing shortage, to rebuilding all naval barracks. We have this consolation at least so far as Admiralty policy is concerned, that it is our aim and our intention to see that these bad old barracks of the past are going to be changed into something decent for the men who have to serve and at the first opportune time we shall get on with the job. We have made a start by engaging the architects, and we are getting plans made up now for two or three of the projects. We shall do all within our power to speed things up as far as the economic position of the country permits.
Another important matter raised by many hon. Members was that of the R.N.V.R. I wish hon. Members would look back to the naval Debates in this House in 1921, and perceive the agitation that was being made then about the R.N.V.R. No one wishes more than I do that we should have a very proficient R.N.V.R., but we are just coming out of the throes of war, and there is some dislocation which, obviously, does interfere with the proper planning of reserves. Every effort has been made to provide the necessary drill ships and establishments ashore, and we are hopeful that, as soon as we can possibly get them going, our reserves will be every bit as good as they have been in the past. There are reserves, of course, for the National Service men, but we have no intention that they should replace the R.N.V.R. As far as the R.N.V.R. is concerned, we are taking only those men who have had naval service. We are imposing this limit upon membership because, unless we can provide more accommodation for their training, it would be a waste of money and time to allow more men to come into the Reserve.
The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) mentioned the fishermen. Many are being enrolled in the patrol section of the R.N.R., but their whole future in the R.N.R. has not been completely decided yet. It is being considered, but there are various points that have to be discussed with the Ministry of Transport concerning the use of those men in future wars. I hope I shall be able to satisfy the hon. Gentleman with the figures for which he asked about the number of fishery protection vessels. We have now one frigate, four minesweepers, two M.F.V.s and three fleet minesweepers—eight ships plus two M.F.V.s—as compared with two frigates, two minesweepers and five trawlers before the war. The ships are not as many as we should like, but are as many as we can provide at the moment; and we keep the question of fishery protection under constant review. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to excuse me from answering his question about prize money, because that has been dealt with in the House before now, and at the moment there is no appreciable change to report.
The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin) seemed to be having a bit of a war with the Leader of the Opposition, and found himself out of Order, but he discussed accidents in naval flying and the strength of the Royal Navy. I can assure my hon. Friend that every effort is made to reduce the number of accidents, the two to which he referred being the subject of inquiry. We were satisfied that they were accidents—very unfortunate accidents. However, what my hon. Friend has said will be noted. So far as the strength of the manpower of the Navy is concerned, at the end of March it should be 167,300. Of that number we shall have 20,000 men and women on dispersal leave, making 147,300.
The hon. Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay) raised a point which he raised two years ago, and on which, he said, he then received no reply. I hope that what I will now say in reply to him will mean he will not have to take the trouble to raise it again. It was the question of convoys as affecting merchant ships. He said that in the 1914–18 war we could not get destroyers, and that in 1939 we were hopelessly short of escort vessels. All I can tell him now, which might console him, is that at the present time, only three years after the war, we have 150 more escort vessels than we had in 1934, which was five years before the outbreak of the last war. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the matter is receiving attention.
Is it quite certain that the vessels which are available, which I assume are in reserve, are prepared to deal with the extra speed of the submarines about which we have heard so much tonight?
They are the latest type of escort vessel and far better than those we had in 1934 and 1939. The matter of escort vessels is one of the most important that we have to keep in mind, and the hon. Member can safely rest assured that attention is being paid to it. There was also the question of Coastal Command and the co-operation between the Shipping Defence Advisory Committee and the Admiralty. As regards Coastal Command, there is no change with regard to the actual responsibility, but there is close co-operation between the Admiralty and the Air Ministry. Three or four other hon. Members have also spoken, but I hope the House will excuse me at this late hour if I do not reply to them. I did all I possibly could in the 45 minutes allotted to me.
I hope I have proved that the Government have been doing all they possibly can with regard to the work of the Navy. We are not in any way ashamed of our record. In fact, I venture to suggest that no other administration has given so much thought to the detailed aspects of both the naval and the civilian sides than the present administration at the Admiralty. No effort is spared to see that the attention of the Government is drawn to every important aspect of naval life, and the Government are doing all they possibly can to assist the Admiralty to the fullest extent possible within the limited economic state of the country and within the framework of £153 million we have in the Estimates this year. The House may rest assured that, as in the past, those who serve its interests at the Admiralty will see that the very best possible use is made of the Money which has been voted to us.
Although it is rather a late hour, there are one or two points to which I wish to draw attention in this Debate. One is about information and facts, and it is tied up with the Navy's action in the Falkland Islands. The first trouble started early in 1947, and there was no question of the Tory Party getting all "het up" about it at that time. Similar incidents occurred and were dealt with and there were no complaints about them. The information about the reduction in the Navy's strength was published by the "Portsmouth Evening News," and there was the Debate on the King's Speech. Then came the hue and cry for details of the Navy. The Opposition, and in particular the hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden), whom I am glad to see is still in his place, complained about our having no Navy List, to which the Leader of the Opposition returned in his speech today. The Admiralty spokesmen have replied to this on earlier occasions. He also spoke about no Dilke Return of Fleets being published. I have got the last issue of Dilke Return here, dated December, 1938, and there is no information there that is not in the two naval "child's bibles," Brassey's "Naval Annual" or Jane's "Fighting Ships." In fact, the only point of advantage in that publication is that there is a numerical summary and a comparison of the Fleet with America, Japan, France, Italy and Germany. It did not even have the disposition of the ships. Therefore, it is true to say that there was no information in the Dilke Return which was not available in Brassey's or Jane's "Fighting Ships." The only advantage was the numerical summary.
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman not realise that we get the Dilke Return for nothing, while Jane's "Fighting Ships" costs two guineas?
That is not an answer to the information not being available, because both publications are available in the Library of the House and other libraries. I will explain why -ate Dilke Return will be of no value. At that time six navies were given, the British, American, French, Italian, German and Japanese. Of these, four no longer exist, so that it would simply mean that the report today would be showing a comparison between the British and American Navy, That, I suggest, would be quite unnecessary.
Since the Debate on the King's Speech, the Tory Party have organised a political campaign with Press announcements, and so on, to belittle our naval strength and cry "stinking fish." If there was more than one factor which caused the Falklands, the Guatemala, and other incidents, in my opinion, it was this crying of "stinking fish" by the Tory Party and their henchmen in the Press. Reference has been made to the campaign of "The Navy," the organ of the Navy League, and the hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey attempted to justify the Navy League and "The Navy." At this late hour. I will confine myself to a matter of three extracts from the paper. In this month's issue on page 80, it states:
Since the revelation of this country's naval impotence made in last month's issue of this magazine, the state of our fleets has been worsened. A new table printed on this page makes clear the present position. It is alarming, dangerous, damnable.
In the following column there appears:
The secrets are out. 'The Navy' and the Navy League have spilled the beans and blown the gaff.
Then it is stated on page 81:
The Navy League has no political axe to grind. It is entirely non-political and above party.
This is the old gag "non-political and above party" as long as it is supporting the Tory party against the Government of the day, whether the Liberal Government of bygone days or the present Labour Government.
Then, Archibald Hurd, writing in a letter in the current issue, states:
The saddest feature of the whole business is that, so far as is known, there are no plans for building new men-of-war.
That is quite untrue because both last year's and this year's Estimates give new ships building. Other hon. Members have referred to this complaint, but the fact is that there are 27 ships under construction, which include two large and 10 light carriers, and three cruisers; and 13 of these 27 ships have actually been launched. Moreover, since VE Day 87 ships from a battleship downwards have been completed and joined the Fleet, so that in that period 100 ships have been completed or launched.
My last quotation from "The Navy" is a further letter from Murray Barrow, Mansion House, Stone, Staffs. It is headed "Why not resign?" and reads:
To the Editor of The Navy,
Sir,—In regard to the complete or nearly complete annulment of our great Navy, I often wonder why the Board of Admiralty do not resign en masse. That they do not, indicates either acquiescence in the policy or a disregard of the welfare of the nation.
These quotations will stand for all time as examples of the Navy League and "The Navy" preaching alarm and despondency throughout the country.
The hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) in his speech missed the list of ships that the Financial Secretary gave that are to he brought into commission at the end of this year, but at this time of night I will not discuss either the cost of the Navy or the number of men. I do say to the Admiralty, however, that the same number of ships could be commissioned, and the same number of men trained, if certain important economies were effected. I am well aware that the Fleet Air Arm takes about one-third of the personnel, but that is not entirely new as we had large carriers and a Fleet Air Arm before the war. I am aware also of the increased complement required for radar. But a point that has not been mentioned during the Debate is that after the first world war it was decided to reduce complements to a peace-time footing, and I suggest there is no reason why these crews of 1,500 should not be reduced by 20 per cent., to 1,200 or less.
There is some special extravagance in the several mushroom establishments which grew up during the war. There are the large new training establishments, some of which may be justified, and others not. The hon. Member for Devonport raised the question of the boys' training establishment in his constituency. They were four, one at Harwich, Portsmouth and Plymouth, and in years gone by one at Port Edgar, Scotland. Later there was the training ship "Caledonia" at Rosyth. Now there are the normal three, but also the training establishment at Arbroath, which I am informed will train 700. Compared with that at Devonport it has the advantage of numbers, because the latter will train only 400. Nevertheless, I sug gest to the Admiralty that if Arbroath is retained it will be a sheer waste of money.
I will explain if the hon. and gallant Member will wait. I can appreciate the Scottish Members asking for a training establishment on the Firth of Forth, in the Port Edgar base, or on the Rosyth side where the Admiralty started to build a new establishment before they had the liner "Majestic." I am not against a training establishment in Scotland, but Arbroath, I understand, was built as a R.A.F. depot and it is unsuitable and expensive as a naval depot. I am informed it is several miles from the sea, and one of the fantastic things which happens is that to get the trainees down to the sea for boat training and other purposes they have to engage motor buses to take them there and back. That is quite fantastic when there are other establishments available. I suggest, in spite of the Admiralty considering that the "Impregnable" should be used for W.R.N.S., that it should be kept going as a boys' training establishment, and that Arbroath should be closed down as unsuitable and expensive.
There is another point about training in the Forth. I am informed there is a private navy there of four destroyers, in what is known as a boys' training flotilla. Boys are sent there for a fortnight to get their sea legs and then sent to the training ships at Portland. I am informed that boys not only from Arbroath but also from Harwich and, if I am rightly informed, on occasions even from Devon-port and Portsmouth, are sent up to this flotilla on the Firth of Forth. Yet there are destroyers at Devonport and Portsmouth which could cater for the boys and similar arrangements could be made for the boys from Harwich with a destroyer from Chatham. This is a sheer waste of money. I suggest to the Admiralty that this private navy should be cut down. The boys should do their fortnight's destroyer training either in the naval ports or in a flotilla at Portland attached to the training battleships there. It will save all the cost of travelling up and down the country. Another mushroom training establishment is the W.R.N.S. establishment at Wetherby, near York, and do not forget such establishments as the naval hospital still open in Dorset.
A brief word on the question of democratisation. The Admiralty have stated that up to 25 per cent, of officers are to be promoted from the lower deck. Last year 198 new officers were entered and only 25 came from the lower deck. Of that number only four ratings were commissioned in the rank of sublieutenant in the executive branch. This is the lowest number, except for one year, for the 35 years since lower deck promotion was begun. There are officers who have been promoted up to rear-admiral, so that there is no question of the success of the scheme. Last year, if the number had been 25 per cent., there should have been 50 officers commissioned from the lower deck and most of them under the sub-lieutenant scheme. Furthermore, there were only six artificers promoted to sub-lieutenant (E). What is the reason for these low numbers? Either the standard is too high or else the tuition is not sufficient. The Admiralty provide years of training for cadets and it is their responsibility to provide sufficient tuition for lower deck candidates.
Will my hon. and gallant Friend explain why it is necessary for the 25 per cent. promotions from the lower deck to continue in view of the fact that the new scheme of entry is available to boys?
The hon. and gallant Member, with his long service, must know there are several systems of entry—Dartmouth entry at an early age, special entry from public schools at 17 or 18, and from the lower deck at a later age. There is no justification for the hon. and gallant Member's point that the new entry into Dartmouth should rule out lower deck promotion. That is fantastic.
Lastly, I want to make reference to the announcement in regard to warrant officers made by the Financial Secretary this afternoon. As the only one in this House who has served as a warrant officer, I have naturally made a particular study of this subject and I spoke on it when the Navy Estimates were debated last year. The Financial Secretary said there were three main considerations—title, standing and messing. Then he stated what had happened. I want to suggest to him and to the Admiralty, quite frankly, that the results are simply a case of the mountain having been in labour for over two years and giving birth to a mouse. The title decision is being postponed, so we cannot discuss that. The messing concession, whereby the warrant officers will mess with commissioned officers and so get the abolition of class distinction, is one that will be welcomed. As regards standing, the concession is not at all satisfactory. To say that in future these officers will rank with sub-lieutenants instead of acting sublieutenants is simply a theoretical and not a real concession at all. What the warrant officers are concerned about is their relative rank and their promotion above the rank of sub-lieutenant. That is when they see commissioned officers sailing over their heads while they are still soldiering on, with the thick stripe on their arm, as sub-lieutenants instead of getting further promotion and a different title. At this late hour I will not detain the House with that point, but will find some other opportunity to deal with it.
On this side of the House, we are convinced—certainly I am—that at present, in spite of what has been said by the Opposition, and in particular by the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington, the Navy is fully able to perform all its duties in war—which we want to avoid—and, though doubts have been expressed about this on the other side of the House, fully able to do its duty in peace.
I would not have risen at this late hour if the Minister had replied to the question put by the hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis). It may be thought that we are pressing this point unduly at this hour; but it is a vital point affecting thousands of homeless people in our part of the country. I refer to the question of the Naval Air Arm's retention of the Heathfield airport. The Navy has met with persistent opposition for the last two years from all parties of every local authority in the area; and in spite of all the appeals we have made, the Admiralty remains adamant. It refuses to budge, and it remains in control of this airport when it is absolutely essential to the future housing development of the town of Ayr. I suggest that the Minister should convey to the Admiralty these one or two salient facts which are absolutely vital to the future housing development of that district.
In the town of Ayr there are some of the worst housing conditions in Scotland. The development of the housing schemes of Ayr depends upon the acquisition of the land now held by the Admiralty; and I do urge the Labour Government to put housing first in this particular—to put it before the needs of the Naval Air Arm. Surely, on the coast of Scotland the Naval Air Arm could go somewhere else instead of holding on, in the most stubborn and reactionary way, to a housing site which is very important to thousands of homeless people in that area. Surely housing should come before battle ships when our people are living in slums. The Naval Air Arm could find a site somewhere else. It is blocking the housing programmes of Ayr and the industrial development of that town. An area of 120 acres is concerned, and there have been several applications for industrial sites from various industries wishing to go into the town.
The Admiralty holds on to that aerodrome in spite of the opposition of every public-spirited person, whether Conservative, Labour, or anything else. The Secretary of State for Scotland met the local authorities there a fortnight ago, and he then said that the Admiralty was looking for another place. We have heard that story from the Admiralty for the last couple of years. But we do not believe that the Admiralty will shift until we bring the maximum amount of pressure to bear upon it; until we tell it that we believe that housing is of primary and essential importance to that area. We ask the Minister to convey to the Admiralty, and to the higher authorities, that the people in that part of the country want these houses built, and want industry developed there; and that they request the Admiralty to remove its activities.
I shall not detain the House for more than a few minutes. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has suggested that the Admiralty can go somewhere other than Heathfield, but he has not said where it can go. Wherever it goes, the Admiralty has no doubt asked itself of what use good housing would be without an efficient Navy. It is said that the land is needed for housing, but houses would not be of much use to the people if there were no Navy, and, therefore, I presume, the Admiralty is taking into consideration what is the most suitable place for the time being. The hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey), said that Arbroath was not a good place for sailors to be trained, and I am inclined to agree with him. But it is not right, as has always happened up to now, that Scottish boys should be trained in England, and for that reason, among others, Arbroath, although not the best place, is better than nothing.
I would like to refer very briefly to the absolute nonsense talked by the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull, about the Tories and the incidents in the Falkland Islands. The Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State have both said what a serious matter is this business in the Falkland Islands. It is not just a figment of the Tory imagination. The Tories are not trying to make party political capital out of it, any more than I believe the hon. and gallant Member opposite intended to do.
I made the point that the Falkland Islands incident started at the beginning of 1947 and it was the later crying down of the Navy, and the crying of "stinking fish," that led to the further incidents elsewhere. The reason why these nations took the action they did was because the Navy League and other people preached alarm and despondency about our having no Navy.
I must tell the hon. and gallant Member that I am not well up on the subject of "stinking fish" nor would I leave any doubt in the minds of the Guatemalans, the Chileans or the Argentinians as to whether we had any Navy. They well knew that position; they well knew that we had no Navy, and it was not due to the Tory Party that it became more known.
I come to my next point. It is no use having large numbers of men in the Navy and spending quantities of money on them unless one can be sure that, whether that Navy is large or small, it is an effective force. It is not any use having a sort of force here, there, and everywhere. The question that must be asked is, "Is it effective, or is it not? Is the money well spent, and is the manpower well used?" I am not at all sure, from what I have heard from the Minister of Defence or from the Parliamentary Secretary, that we have an effective naval force. After all is said, that is the one thing which we, on this side of the House, are worried about, and that is what is worrying people in the country who are interested in the Navy or in the defence of our country.
Just one last word: I have never heard of a warrant officer wanting to "soldier on" in the Navy, any more than I have heard of a warrant officer who is a soldier wanting to "sailor on" in the Army.