That 100,000 Officers, Seamen and Juniors and Royal Marines, who are borne on the books of Her Majesty's Ships and at the Royal Marine establishments, and members of the Women's Royal Naval Service and Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service, be employed for the Sea Service, for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1962.
Before the House went to the other place to hear the Commission read, I was saying that if possible I should like to hear something about the system of cross-operating, the R.A.F. being able to operate to and from carriers and land bases. Two other reasons why the carrier is essential in this context are, one, that then we would not upset national susceptibilities by having a ship off shore as opposed to making a definite landing at some trouble spot, and, two, the inevitable and increasing difficulties of holding on to British bases overseas. This is something which is not going to get easier. For these and other reasons. I cannot agree with the assumption of my hon. Friend that carriers are no longer needed in the Service.
One thing which is stressed on all sides is the high cost of all modern naval equipment. I hone that at the end of the debate we shall be told something about the possibilities of interchangeability of the next generation of aircraft between the Air Force and the Navy. I know that all-up weight is a difficult problem, but I think it can be solved. There seems no reason why the future generation of aircraft should not be common to the R.A.F., while it still has them, and the Navy. That would save a great deal of money in research and development and would be of use, also, for the reasons I have stated, in cross-operating. I hope, also, that we shall be told something about research projects, including vertical take-off aircraft. This kind of thing could be done very much better if we integrated all research and development of the three Services rather like they do in France, so that they came under the Minister of Defence. I should like to see the Ministry of Aviation taken out of this sphere.
I was pleased to hear the Minister of Defence say the other day:
Having selected our fields of endeavour, we have to work out whether we are now successfully operating a better method of selecting our projects…—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1961; 635, c. 1214.]
He went on to say that the Government were going over to the idea of five-year Estimates, or five-year appraisal of projects. That seems to be the kind of thing which could save the Navy a great deal of money. With yearly Estimates, a spending Department says: "We have so much to spend. If we do not spend right up to that amount this year, we shall be cut down next year." If in some fields we could have five-year Estimates, or five-year planning, it should be a great advantage to the service and the taxpayer.
Turning to the question of smaller ships, I see that on page 8 of the Explanatory Statement it is said, in paragraph 15:
Coastal and inshore minesweepers will operate with the Fishery Protection Squadron
I am glad to hear that. I think there can be an immense amount of good seamanship training done in these smaller ships round the coasts. With the complexty of modern equpment and the cost of modern vessels, it is exceedingly difficult to get adequate sea time for the numbers who require training, and in this kind of craft that can be done. Recently, when doing a little training myself, I discussed this matter with the division to which I am attached.
It may be worth while the Admiralty considering the building of a new edition of coastal minesweepers, rather bigger but anti-magnetic, like the present ones, which would be thoroughly unsophisticated, the idea being that they would be purely for seamanship training. We would not have to put in the black boxes and all the complicated pieces of equipment we have at the moment because these vessels would be used just for seamanship training. As and when the need arose, or an emergency arose, the black boxes could be put in and they would not be out-of-date.
This might not only be helpful to seamanship training, but in giving work to smaller yards which could keep their hand in at building these ships. It might be useful, also, in such a case as I heard of the other day from a naval officer in which a university wanted to give students certain aspects of naval training but was not able to do so because ships were not available. I do not know whether it was a kind of cadet force attached to the university which was concerned. This seems to be something worth looking into.
There has been some talk today about foreign visits. These must help recruiting, but it is not fair to expect anyone —particularly officers—who goes on these flag-showing foreign visits to be badly out of pocket at the end of them. I know that commander-in-chiefs' funds, and so on, are available, but I hope it will always be borne in mind that these "ambassadors" cannot be expected to be out of pocket in any way.
My hon. Friend touched on training and quoted various exercises. I declare an interest here, being in the R.N.R. myself, but it is quite a feather in the cap of the Royal Naval Reserve that on minesweeping exercises we get minesweepers manned entirely by Naval Reserve officers and men. I know that it amazes Service people of other N.A.T.O. countries to find that purely Naval Reserve officers and men are sufficiently highly trained to do this. My hon. Friend was kind enough to say what tremendous value these exercises have.
Paragraph 23 of the Explanatory Statement says:
The growing strength and importance of Commonwealth and Colonial Navies is hearten-
ing to those who believe in the rôle the Commonwealth has to play in world affairs.
We keep on saying that we are thinly spread and that it is difficult to provide enough ships, but many hon. Members may not realise that the active strength of the major Commonwealth countries is at present more than 58,000 men. That is a large number of naval officers and ratings to be on active service. Instead of what one might call flogging "old carriers to Cuba or someone else, why cannot we give one of them to Australia to be manned as a commando carrier by the Australians, thereby letting them share in the naval task in the Far East? It would be a great example of Commonwealth co-operation.
These navies all round the world are the most wonderful form of N.A.T.O. I know that the Explanatory Statement talks of the number of courses that have been taken by Commonwealth naval officers and ratings, but I wonder whether we are giving the Commonwealth countries enough of what I might call the really big help— providing them with the ships and helping them in other ways? The spirit amongst these navies is second to none, and could be of enormous help to us throughout the world.
I was glad to read in paragraph 47:
Two fleet replenishment tankers of improved design have been ordered in the past year.
Those who did not attend exercise "Shopwindow" last year would be amazed at the speed and efficiency of replenishment afloat. They would be amazed, too, to see it done at night and to realise how carriers and other ships can even alter course during replenishment. This is of immense importance, and if we are to accept the floating-base concept it is essential that we have adequate replenishment ships.
Turning to research and development, what percentage of the Estimates is being spent on underwater weapon development? In the Estimates debate last year I said, and it was never queried, that out of £14 million approximately £1·6 million was being spent on underwater weapons. What we must always remember, and what may not have been taken adequately into account by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, is that while we obviously cannot have all the things we want, research and development is essential. If we have a major breakthrough in some particular aspect of naval equipment, adequate money should be available for its development. We ought to be told how much is made available for research.
I am glad to read about maintenance support of destroyers and frigates, and I hope that as time goes on more of that support will go afloat. I see that "Manxman" is to do this kind of job. It is rather a pity that "Apollo", the sister ship, was done away with, but there was probably a good reason for that.
I have asked enough questions, so will finish with a question asked by a certain very senior person of a certain Minister. He asked, "Do you wish to exercise military influence outside Europe? Because, if you do, you cannot do it without a Navy." If I sense the feeling of this Committee, it is that this is getting truer with every year that goes by. If we believe that, we must also believe that we need a properly balanced training Navy, if I may so term it. We need a navy that is keeping up with all the developments in every sphere possible. I do not see why, for flag showing, we should not use one or two ships that are not, perhaps, quite so good as the others, but we must have an up-to-date Navy, and I am sure that my noble Friend and my hon. Friend, and all those who are concerned with keeping our Navy the best in the world, are doing a very good job.
Every hon. Member who has so far spoken has been more or less a regular contributor to these debates, with practical experience of the Royal Navy in one way or another. I do not pretend to be a naval expert; my only modest experience came some time ago in the very minor capacity of P.P.S. at the Admiralty. However, like every other hon. Member, I get questions asked of me by my constituents, and I find it difficult, sometimes, to give the answers. It is to try to get the answers to some questions that I venture to intervene.
I would add that although my connection with the Navy was a very slender one, during even that short time I developed a tremendous admiration for the Royal Navy and, I may add, for the efficiency of the Admiralty. As the Civil Lord said, the best tribute the Royal Navy has had from the general public is that it is not experiencing any real difficulty in recruiting. Nevertheless, with estimates of the magnitude with which we are faced today, our duty is to ask probing questions to see whether we are getting full value for the money.
We notice that expenditure has gone up by nearly £16 million over last year. Such a tremendous increase needs a great deal of justification, and although I have read the Explanatory Statement, I am not at all satisfied. Reference has been made to the Estimates Committee's Report on the organisation of Admiralty headquarters. That Report pointed out that despite quite a large decrease in the number of ships, expenditure had risen by some 50 per cent.
The hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) has pointed out that despite that Report of the Estimates Committee, we are again faced this year with an increased expenditure on headquarters of no less than £618,000. That too needs a lot of justifying. I am very glad to hear from the Civil Lord that he has instituted what he called an "internal select committee" to examine the expenditure heading by heading. We all wish him success in that venture.
We are faced with the fact that though the number of operational ships has fallen, and although there are some 2,000 fewer seamen this year, expenditure has again increased. So we may start by asking for what purpose do we need these 100,000 men and women in the Royal Navy?
Let me start with the admirals—my old King Charles's head. We were told a year or two ago that there were over 100 admirals, and we were delighted to hear today that the number has been reduced to 83. The Civil Lord, however, did not mention the 15 Admirals of the Fleet listed in the Navy List. Of course, some of those are purely ornamental—at least I hope that they are not being paid—
Surely, the Duke of Windsor is not on half-pay. Something should be done about this. Some of these are purely honorary ranks, and I hope that they do not incur expenditure. In his explanation, the Civil Lord said that five admirals are doctors, one is a dentist and four have jobs with N.A.T.O. Are there not too many ceremonial posts being occupied by people of that rank? I will not specify them, that would not be customary, and I have nothing against their ability—but are they all really necessary?
As this debate will he wound up at a late hour, it might help if I were to tell the Committee that ultimately we intend to have one medical admiral for our Malta hospitals and one in London, and that is all. The Malta hospital will be an inter-Service one. It is being taken over from the Army and will be an important hospital. If we are to recruit, and look after our personnel it is important to offer opportunities of rising to flag rank. These, of course, are not all full admirals. I used the word "admirals" in a more general sense, but most are well below the full rank.
One is a dental admiral, who will remain at headquarters, one other will remain at headquarters, and one will go. We shall cut a further eleven flag officers in the next few years.
I am not too certain of the necessity to dangle gold braid before people in order to encourage them to remain in the Service. If it is a question of salary, that could be met in some other way, but the idea of dangling gold braid in this way does not seem to fit in with the modern conception of the Royal Navy. I would regard an admiral as being the highest ranking officer. I should like to feel, when I saw an admiral, that I was seeing someone really at the very top of the Navy, and not be disillusioned by hearing that he was a dentist—
The hon. Gentleman seems to be worried about the dental admirals. Perhaps he is under a misapprehension. A rear-admiral does not look after the hinder parts of humanity.
An admiral involves an admiral's staff—flag lieutenants, secretaries and the like. If it is a question of salary or status for encouraging people to remain in the Service, I suggest that there might be a different way of doing it than by creating artificial ranks of that kind. The Civil Lord told us last year that the number of admirals was being run down fairly fast. I give him full credit for reducing the number by eleven. I do not know whether he regards that as being fast, but I hope that he will keep up the pace and give us even better news next year.
The Navy has 100,000 men and women, or 2,000 fewer than last year, but we also see from the Estimates that there is a civil staff of 144,200, or 200 more than last year. This is a substantial outsize tail even for a fairly big dog. One hon. Member has mentioned that the Navy is two-thirds shore-based. Whilst we realise that there must be a number of shore-based people behind a sea-going Fleet, that number seems to me to be out of proportion to the size of the sea-going Navy.
I sometimes wonder whether tasks are not being deliberately invented to keep the Navy busy between wars. Possibly, some of the visits are done to keep ships afloat and to give people so many seagoing hours.
We must all look upon this in a rather different way from when we were in the Services. Nowadays, men go into the Fighting Services to carry out the duties of those Services and not to do so much of the carrying of water and the hewing of wood. The only way to maintain the establishment of the fighting side of the Services is to delegate to civilians as many as possible of the menial tasks connected with barrack cleaning and the like, which formerly was done by men in the Navy as well as in the other Services.
Perhaps the hon. Member will think, for example, about how many man hours are spent in practice for the naval gun race at the Royal Tournament. When the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) tells us that minesweepers are to be exercised with fishery protection vessels, I wonder what minesweeping has to do with fishery protection.
It is not minesweeping, but it is the same type of ship which goes to protect our fishing vessels to see that foreigners do not come inside the three-mile limit. This entails a good deal of knowledge and expert navigation. If a "trot of pots" is found just outside the three-mile limit, one must be sure that it is outside and not inside the limit. This is the type of vessel which today is readily used for fishery protection. That is why I referred to these vessels.
I am getting the answers to some of my questions, but it is strange to read in the Memorandum about coastal inshore minesweepers operating with the Fishery Protection Squadron.
Let me get down to one or two other questions about the use of manpower and whether we need all these people in the Navy. The Memorandum tells us that there is a quota of frigates in certain parts of the globe and we are given an interesting map. There is a quota of frigates, apparently, at Hong Kong, among other places. I wonder how many naval people there are still at Hong Kong. I know that the naval base there has been reduced to a very small area of water, but I was there recently and saw quite a lot of buildings which, I was told, were Admiralty buildings and residences. I wonder whether there is not a hang-over there which could be cleaned up a little quicker. Whilst we are not told—and I do not suppose we should be told—exactly how many frigates are there, I imagine that the number is fairly small. Perhaps there are too many nice little naval jobs still waiting to be cleaned up at Hong Kong and a few buildings to be released.
Why does the map show us that there are submarine squadrons in Canada and Australia? I asked one of my hon. Friends this question today and I was told that they were there for training purposes, but is that really necessary nowadays? The hon. Member for St. Ives quoted from the Memorandum about the growing strength of Commonwealth and colonial navies. I intended to do the same, but I wanted to draw a rather different lesson from it. The hon. Member for St. Ives wondered whether we were giving these Commonwealth and colonial navies enough help. I want to put the question the other way round. Are they giving us enough help? Now that they have expanded to a fair size, I imagine that it is no longer necessary for us to keep submarine squadrons in Canada and Australia at what must be considerable expense because of the long distance.
Perhaps some of the tasks that the Navy formerly fulfilled in different parts of the world, particularly around the Commonwealth, might be undertaken by some of the Commonwealth and colonial navies. Indeed, they might regard it as a compliment if we suggested that they should do so. I know that this would not please some of the officers of the Royal Navy, who, perhaps, find it rather pleasant to be stationed at some of those places. That, however, is one of the jobs that the Civil Lord must face.
When the Civil Lord told us that there was no lessening of the traditional tasks of the Navy I am afraid that the voice was his own but that the words were those of the Board of Admiralty. I beg to differ from the hon. Gentleman. I think that there is a considerable lessening of the traditional rôle of the Navy because, for example, of the growth of the Commonwealth and colonial navies. Similarly, when we joined N.A.T.O., in addition to the desire for collective security we had the idea that by combining our defence forces under N.A.T.O., we would enjoy a certain amount of economy. Instead of that, by going into N.A.T.O. we are spending more money. Why? Can we not arrange things with our allies in N.A.T.O. so that they share some of these traditional tasks of the Royal Navy and save us a little money in that way?
I thoroughly agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) about the peacetime rôle of the Navy to keep the peace. My right hon. Friend went as far as to say that that was even more important than the Navy's possible rôle in war. I am not sure that I agree entirely, but I remember being in Trieste in the troubled days at the end of the war when there was likely one day to be a great deal of civil disturbance. One night, I went to bed wondering whether it would be safe to get up in the morning. When I looked out of my hotel window in the morning, I found a British battleship within yards of the hotel window. I was never so pleased to see the British flag in all my life, but I should have been equally pleased to see an American flag on that ship. [Hoist. MEMBERS: "No."] Certainly. The Americans are our allies in N.A.T.O. and they should be sharing the task of keeping the peace of the world. That is something that should be considered.
Do not let us get silly about the business of waving the Union Jack. By all means, let us give every credit for what the Navy does in that way, but it is not our job entirely. I suggest that by being members of N.A.T.O. and of the Commonwealth, we should be in a position to run down some of these traditional tasks of the Navy and save a little bit of money by other people taking over part of the burden.
As to whether the Navy would have a less important task in a nuclear war, I have vividly in mind a book which read recently called On the Beach. The story was also filmed. The rôle of the Navy as shown in that film was not a very glorious one. It finished by the last submarine being sunk by its own crew. That might have been a wild exaggeration and a flight of imagination on the part of the author, but at least there may prove to be an element of truth in it.
Several hon. Members have referred to the future rôle of aircraft carriers. I speak with reserve, but when I am told by naval experts that the carrier is the capital ship of the future, and when the Civil Lord told us today that carriers remain an absolute necessity, I question that. As a layman, it seems to me that the aircraft carrier is far too big a target. We have been told today about the large number of Russian submarines. The Civil Lord mentioned that Hitler had fifty in 1939 and that they did not include atomic submarines. They certainly did not include any Polaris submarines. Are we sure that our gigantic aircraft carriers are immune from destruction by that vast fleet of submarines? I am not at all happy about it. Even if they are immune from air attack, which I am not at all happy about, they are far too vulnerable and they require very large crews. I wonder why the Russians do not seem to have any aircraft carriers. Have they any?
Has the Admiralty asked itself why the Russians do not have any aircraft carriers? It cannot be because they do not know how to build them. All this is worth thinking about. We must not simply accept the conclusion that aircraft carriers are the capital ships of the future.
Looking at the Estimates, I noticed that while there is a new aircraft carrier called the "Leviathan", which has been launched but is not yet in service, no others appear to be under construction. Is there any significance in this? It may be that the Admiralty has begun to turn the matter over on the lines I have suggested.
Other hon. Members wish to speak and I must not ramble on. I cannot conclude, however, without referring to the other matter mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich: that is, the visit to South Africa of H.M.S. "Victorious". I hope that the feeling which has been shown everywhere about the discrimination against some of the coloured members of the crew of that ship will be taken to heart.
There was no discrimination. because the Admiralty did not send the coloured members of the crew, apart from a few who had relatives there. The fact that the Admiralty had to make that decision is rather degrading. I should not have thought that we would be in the position that we had to take notice of a thing like that. I am surprised that the Admiralty—
I hope that the hon. Member and his hon. Friends will weigh their words carefully in this matter. Very often, what is said in the House of Commons is read in ships far more than people think. Although I know that it was said sincerely, a lot of sailors might get the impression that hon. Members opposite did not want them to have shore leave while they were in South Africa.
The Civil Lord told us that a high degree of intelligence was required in recruits for the Navy and I cannot imagine that anyone in the Navy would read into what I have said the imputation made by the hon. Member for St. Ives. The hon. Member and I were both Boy Scouts. We believe that a scout is a friend to all and a brother to every other scout, irrespective of his colour. I wish that that would apply in the Royal Navy. It does not apply when we send a ship to South Africa. That is what I am objecting to.
I have said some of these things deliberately so that they will be read. I know that people read what is said in this House, and so they should. I am being deliberately provocative, and I hope I have emphasised at least one or two things to give the Admiralty food for thought.
I sympathise with the Civil Lord, from my own short experience of the Admiralty, in the battles he must have with the rest of the Board of Admiralty. The Board is a tradition-ridden body which cannot believe that anything is good unless Nelson did it. I know the difficulties of some Ministers of the Labour Government in trying to get reforms past the Board.
The hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East advocated a merger between the Services, and the hon. Member for St. Ives talked about cross-operating between the Navy and the Air Force, but no one realises better than they do what resistance there will be because of inter-Service rivalry. They are up against something in trying to get the Board of Admiralty to co-operate with the other Services. They will find Service susceptibilities more prominent in the Admiralty than anywhere else.
I wish the Navy nothing but the best, but the public will want to feel that it is getting full value for the money spent on the Navy, and that the Navy is being run with a view to the problems of 1961, and the possibilities of what the next war will be like, rather than on the lines of what Nelson thought and what the last war was like.
I am glad to have an opportunity of joining in this debate, especially as I failed to get into the defence debate. I am also glad on this occasion to follow the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd), for I feel rather diffident—I am always a little nervous in addressing the House, anyway—in speaking on a subject on which so many other hon. Members have more experience.
I want to follow one or two points which the hon. Member raised. I cannot agree with his description of the gun teams. We have an excellent one in Devonport. These teams do a great deal for the Navy. A member of them has to be physically fit, there is good discipline, they have to have the team spirit and a spirit of competition. It would be a pity to do away with these annual competitions, and the money which they raise from their performances goes to Service charities. It would be a great mistake to do away with this tradition of service.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned Hong Kong. The Admiralty should be congratulated on the way in which it has got rid of its buildings there. I gather that it has sold them to the Hong Kong City Council for £5 million.
Yes, and the buildings around it. The Admiralty has done extremely well. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) also referred to Hong Kong. He said we are there only by consent of the Chinese, but we have a treaty which has another thirty-one years to go. Are we looking forward to the time when that treaty comes to an end? Are we considering any other bases in the Far East, perhaps in the island of Borneo?
I want to thank my hon. Friend the Civil Lord. He holds a very difficult post, being the only representative of the Admiralty to whom we can come to in this House, and I want to thank him for the personal interest in what I call "shore cases", which include such things as commutation of pensions. He has shown a very helpful spirit.
We are grateful for the fact that the Royal Naval Hospital at Stonehouse, Devonport, is now allowed to take civilians. That may interest the hon. Member for Accrington, who was worried about the activities of medical admirals. It has certainly helped enormously to lessen the waiting lists at the civilian hospitals in the area. I also thank my hon. Friend for his battle to get the extra 6d. a day victualling alowance, it has been a great asset.
There is also the rebuilding of the ratings' accommodation at Devonport. I raised this, among other things, last year. I am grateful that it is now to be done. Is it true, as reported in the local Press, that the Admiralty expects to spend over £1 million on these buildings? I think that it could have got adequate buildings for naval ratings at considerably less cost, especially as we have no idea of the exact extent to which they will be used.
My hon. Friend the Civil Lord said that 4,000 recruits had been rejected because they were below the required standard of education. Would it be possible to take some of these men and give them educational classes when they are in the Navy? They do not want to join the Navy unless they are keen, and in businesses there are evening classes provided. I see that the Navy is putting up the educational vote by £254,000. Are we, perhaps, asking for too high a standard for stewards and cooks and others who are not on the technical side? Could we not educate them in the Service?
We looked at this matter, but the trouble is that if we lower the standard too much we have to recycle people through the training machine. That would mean a costly and totally uneconomic training machine, and to some extent the stronger and even the medium brethren who would be in the same classes would be held back. We have to find a standard which will not handicap either the training machine or any other establishment. That has been the disadvantage of lowering our standards further.
I am grateful for that reply. Perhaps my hon. Friend will let us know the exact standard required and will he circulate schools, so that they can put forward boys who have reached the standard and avoid disappointing those who do not come up to it? These latter could take extra classes before they actually volunteer if they knew what the standard must be.
I would suggest that one factor in the recruitment of the officer class is the question of education for their children. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Accrington has been to Hong Kong and to Singapore and knows the number of people now stationed overseas. One of the difficulties is that the extra facilities for wives to join their husbands raises the question of education for their children. Children can go to three or four schools before the age of eight, and even five or six before the 11-plus, that is putting Service children at a great disadvantage.
I am at the moment. because it is officers' wives who have greater opportunities of going overseas and for shorter periods. If the other ranks take their wives overseas, they do so for a longer period, taking their children, and education is not such a difficulty as it is provided for them. I am talking of short-term periods in schools for children whose mothers wish to go overseas to join their husbands. It is necessary for them to start as day pupils at a primary school at the age of six or seven if they wish later on to go as boarders. I suggest that consideration should be given to providing further educational tax allowances for these children. An officer's career is often a short one. He probably retires at the age of 40 or 45, which does not give him a very long period in which to provide for the education of his children.
I wish to refer particularly to the dockyards and to discuss, first, the dockyard at Singapore. During the Recess I had an opportunity of visiting that dockyard, and I was very impressed by the work going on there. I should like to know whether it is to be a permanent establishment. If it is to be permanent, I think that work could be done there to make it a far better base. It is not only a dockyard but a naval base. I was not at all pleased with the conditions of a great deal of the European and Asian quarters. Some of the conditions in the European quarters were very poor, and in the Asian quarters families were so overcrowded that they had to sleep under the houses. I have put forward the suggestion that these houses might be made larger, but apparently that is not considered to be practical.
I want to put forward another scheme if this is to be a permanent base. Could we not ask the Singapore local authorities to build within the compound houses for these people, because, whatever happens, in time, I suppose, those houses would be handed over to them and they would reap the benefit? I think it is important that there should be better housing for the local personnel. For schooling and medical care, particularly for the children of the European civilian population working in the dockyard, tremendous distances have to be travelled. The children have to travel at least 16 miles to and from school. If this is to be a permanent base, I hope that consideration may be given for the dockyard to have its own school and better medical and dental facilities on the spot.
I also want the Admiralty to provide for the rebuilding of the civilian club. I made certain suggestions that if it could not be rebuilt it would be perfectly easy to enclose and air-condition the existing building, and I gathered that the people would be happy with this arrangement. It would be more economical and, I think, much quicker than building a new club. I hope that this course may be taken in the near future.
There is a very good apprenticeship scheme in the dockyard for the local people of Singapore, but when they have finished their apprenticeship they are not "tied" to work in the dockyard. In other Services, in Malaya, apprentices training by the Government are tied to the Services for five years. With the coming possibility of television in Singapore, I think that a great many of these apprentices will be needed. I suggest to my hon. Friend that there should be some scheme whereby these young people are tied for at least five years after they have finished their apprenticeship.
I hope that consideration will be given to the rebuilding as quickly as possible of H.M.S. "Terror". I have raised this matter in Questions, and I feel that it is time that steps were taken quickly to make conditions better for the ratings who live there. It is a very hot climate and some of the ratings live there for a considerable time, a year or more, and they are living in overcrowded conditions. This applies also to a lesser extent to H.M.S. "Tamar" at Hong Kong.
I am very grateful to the First Lord for visiting the dockyard in Devonport recently. I am also pleased that there has been some increase in the wages of the dockyard workers and that negotiations have gone so well. We are always hearing that the average wage of workers are £14 a week. The average wage, I gather, for skilled men craftsmen is only £11 10s. per week and for labourers £8 15s. I hope that negotiations will continue so that the people working in the yards may have a still better standard of living.
Dockyards are headed by an admiral superintendent and it seems, with one exception at the present time, that this is the final job of his career. For approximately two years he has this very important job often looking after as many as 19,000 people. I suggest that it should not be the last job of his career. If we are to get the dockyards on a sound basis, it is necessary for the superintendent to stay there for more than two years, and I should like to see engineering admirals in this position.
Ever since 1955 we have been told about the reorganisation of the dockyards. I quote from Command Paper 674 of the Navy Estimates for 1959–60. which states:
The major reorganisaltion in the Royal Dockyards is going ahead. This involves not only changing the management structure from a professional to a functional character, but also developing improved techniques for production and planning control—including financial control—which will affect the work of all dockyard employees.
I have been able to speak in every debate on the Navy Estimates since 1955. We have heard about this reorganisation, and I regret to say that it does not seem to be getting on very well. I believe that the Admiralty has agreed that a review shall be undertaken of the necessary machinery of control and expenditure in the dockyard and that it should be widened to control the whole field of estimating and control the cost of products in the material departments. This was supposed to be instituted in the summer of 1960. I would ask my hon. Friend how this review is getting on and whether it is making some progress.
The Minister of Health announced that he was to have a five-year programme for estimating in regard to the building of hospitals. I think that it would be far simpler if the Admiralty could have a similar system. If it had a five-year plan it might be possible to see ahead instead of having the estimates from year to year. We are also told that modern management techniques are to be introduced. I believe that a pilot scheme has been started at Chatham and one is starting at the smaller dockyard at Rossyth. It seems, however, to be taking a very long time. I feel that some progress should be made. Why cannot it be now extended to the larger dockyards and have manpower trained for the job? It is necessary to get people trained for this "new look" in the dockyards.
It has been said on many occasions that many of the men of the Royal Navy are wasted in the dockyards. The Admiralty consider that one reason why it cannot do away with them is that there are no suitable civilians to take the place of the naval personnel and that they have not sufficient mechanical engineers within the Service. I should like to know if the Admiralty has tried to get them from without the Service. I believe that everyone in the Royal Navy wishes to serve in the Royal Navy and not necessarily in the dockyards. Is the Admiralty really trying to let these men go on active service and to get civilians in their place?
We hear about Part II of the Nibell Report. I have never had much opportunity to discuss Part I. I should be very grateful if we could know what Part II contains and if it means that further constructive suggestions are being put forward for improving the dockyards. We are told that repairs in the dockyards are cheaper, and I hope that is the case. It is difficult to know if this is a fact as there is no means of making actual comparisons. It has been stated that one can neither place fixed price contracts nor estimate work in detail. To my mind, that is most unbusinesslike, and I hope that in the future reorganisation about which we were told it may be possible to have better estimating.
In the Devonport dockyard which has been mentioned, H.M.S. "Eagle" is at the moment undergoing massive repairs which, we are told, will cost about £20 million. Naturally I am glad to have this work in the dockyard, but we must be realistic and wonder whether this is the right way of going about getting a new ship. When I have been round the ship I have been shocked at the manner in which the men have to work in it. I can only describe it as coolie-type labour. The question of manpower and the lack of automation for jobs in the dockyard should be considered as soon as possible. Surely it is possible in this age to make changes in the hard physical labour which has to be carried out.
In repairs everything appears to have to be taken out of ships, repaired and put back again. For example, I am thinking particularly of radios. Surely in the workshops in the yard it is possible to mass-produce a certain proportion of the equipment needed in a ship so that it can be put in much more quickly. I do not suggest that that which is taken out should be scrapped. It should be possible to repair it and to put it in another ship. If there was a standard equipment ready to put into a ship it would be possible to repair it much more quickly.
The drawings are not always made in the yard where the ship is being repaired, and sometimes they have to be changed. I gather that in certain ships the work is started even before all the drawings are finished. I should not have thought that that was a very good system.
Here I wish to quote from the late Admiral of the Fleet Sir Charles Lambe:
I think it is clear that, unless we find some entirely new strategy, we shall go on needing aircraft carriers.
If this is so, is it the Government's policy? Are we to continue patching up our aircraft carriers and are the Government basing their policy on this statement of Sir Charles Lambe? Are we to have the other type of ship which has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Northampton or concentrate on up-to-date aircraft carriers? Although H.M.S. "Eagle" has had a new angle deck, I understand that it is almost out of date. I am also told that in the new type of this ship the "island structure" will be moved from its position on the edge of the deck, where it is apparently vulnerable, to some other place and will have a narrower base. In fact, it is to be completely redesigned. Only the lower part and the angle deck of H.M.S. "Eagle" has yet been tackled. Are we to incorporate the new idea on this ship —I understand that it will take nearly another four years to finish—or are we
to have something which is already out of date?
I wish to say a word about the Royal Marines. I do not want to repeat what has been said about H.M.S. "Bulwark" and the efficiency of the Royal Marines, but the Royal Marines have a close connection with Plymouth and the surrounding districts. I was interested to hear that they will probably have combined exercises with the Artillery. We also have Artillery in the area, so this would work out very well. What we are worried about, however, is that no decision has been made about their being stationed in Plymouth in future. The Royal Marine Barracks at Stone-house, Devonport, a fine building, which I regret I had to draw attention to in the debate last year, incorporating a long room, theatre, and so on, have been empty for more than a year. If this building is not to be used for the Royal Marines, cannot it be put to some other use, because it is getting into a state of disrepair? I hope that it will be used, because Plymouth has been the home of the Royal Marines for a number of generations. I hope that a decision will be quickly made and that the building will be put in good order.
As I was not able to speak during the defence debate, I should like to mention civil defence, if I am not out of order, because I regretted that civil defence was not mentioned at all during the defence debate. What training is given in the dockyard in civil defence? There is a great many personnel in Plymouth and they will be invaluable in time of need.
I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton that the Royal Navy still has a great part to play in "local troubles", as I think he called them. If we are to continue to have an effective Navy, it seems a pity that the sum spent on naval construction should be down by over £8 million.
I should like to say how pleased I am that £24 million has been spent on the Commonwealth navies. These are very great assets, and the more we can co-operate with them the better it will be for all countries concerned.
Finally, I am pleased Ito see that a naval attaché has been appointed to Indonesia. I hope that it will be possible to have further co-operation between the Indonesian Navy, which is in the process of building up, and the British Navy. We have a good base in Singapore. I hope that at some time in the future it will be possible to send a naval mission to Indonesia, because these islands geographically are very important to us, lying as they do near Singapore, and stretching to the north of Australia. The better our friendship with them the better it will be both for Malaya and Singapore.
I am grateful for having been allowed to take part in the debate. What I have said was meant to be helpful, and I hope that the Navy will continue to be the foremost of our Services.
These Navy Estimates of £431 million must be considered against the background of three factors of primary importance: first, the total annual defence bill of £1,655 million secondly, nuclear weapons; and, thirdly, the fact that the Second World War ended over fifteen years ago. We ought by now to have made definite progress in disarmament and should have reduced these thousands of millions of pounds which annually are largely thrown away unnecessarily on armaments. is there no ceiling on the defence bill as there is on the National Health Service bill? The new savings to be made on the National Health Service will be largely cancelled out by the increase in defence costs. The shillings of the poor will be paying for increased armaments instead of improved health.
My first question is: who is the potential aggressor, and what are the possible naval threats? The only potential aggressor is Russia, and, whatever its land and air threats, its naval threats are somewhat limited. First, Russia's naval forces are divided into four widely spaced areas—the Pacific, the Black Sea, the Baltic and the Arctic. It is practically impossible to concentrate them and an appreciable number of ships are required for local defence. The Black Sea forces would have considerable difficulty in getting out through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. It would not be easy to get out of the Baltic with the Germans watching. It is not easy Ito operate from the Arctic, particularly in the long winter months.
There are no Russian battleships or aircraft carriers; only a few overseas cruisers and other surface craft which are unlikely to be used overseas. The Russian naval ace is the reputedly large number of submarines—450. However, some are of questionable value and others are defence purpose vessels. Again, these submarines are divided among the four areas and Brassey's Naval Annual, 1960, speculates the figures as being: in the Pacific, 120; the Black Sea, 60–80; the Baltic, 80–100, and the Arctic, 120–150. The Tory Party and Press scare of 450 Russian submarines to attack British ships is, therefore, nonsense. Reduced to one-third of that number and I take the higher figure of 150—
The main object of my speech is to deal with world-wide commitments and if the hon. Member will contain his soul in patience I hope to be able to assist him considerably. Admittedly, some of these submarines are nuclear vessels.
Who are we supposed to be defending with our naval forces, with whom and what is our global naval policy? We are not defending our Commonwealth countries, as we were fifty or sixty years ago, because they are largely defending themselves, and in practically all our commitments we are supported by other naval forces, Commonwealth forces, our allies or both.
The Minister of Defence, in opening the defence debate on Monday, spoke of "our world-wide commitments" and referred to the map in the White Paper. For Tory Ministers and hon. Members to talk of world-wide commitments today is only playing with lost empires like small boys playing with lead soldiers. Britain cannot, single-handed, defend the seven seas. That, obviously, is impossible. Nor is there any real reason why we should do so in this modern era of aircraft and high-speed movements. It is not the British task to be the policemen of the world. The obvious solution is that we must cut our unnecessary over- seas commitments to our limited economic resources.
Tory Ministers and hon. Members, in this second Elizabethan era of aircraft and nuclear weapons, are thinking still in terms of the Victorian era of sailing ships of a century ago, when we had no R.A.F. or aircraft. In other words, as far as Russia is concerned, they are planning in terms of the Crimean and Baltic wars against Russia at a time when our warships cannot possibly get into either the Black Sea or the Baltic.
The Defence White Paper deals with our contribution to N.A.T.O., CENTO, and S.E.A.T.O. but says practically nothing about our support from these three organisations. More important still is the fact that, although the maps in both the White Paper and the First Lord's Statement show our world-wide scattered forces, none of the Commonwealth naval forces is shown. This subject has been dealt with by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) and also by one of my hon. Friends.
I will go into it in a little more detail. In the main classes of ships—aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers and frigates—the Commonwealth navies, with their 118 of these vessels, have double the number of our own Navy of 63 vessels—even if not in the same classes. So we have two more equivalent additional navies largely flying the British flag. but nothing is said about them.
The Government's failure to disclose essential information, to make a proper appreciation of our global position, amounts to "fudging the books" and is certainly misleading to the British public, who have to pay for these Estimates. Admittedly, our Estimates are only for our own ships, but the existence of these two other almost equivalent British navies should be on the record.
The White Paper deals also with interdependence, and, in paragraph 23, states:
A narrow, nationalist policy for the choice and production of arms makes no sense today.
A most important requirement, and one which would save millions of pounds, is the rationalisation of both commitments and forces; first, among Commonwealth navies; secondly, among allied navies; and, thirdly, especially among our own three Services: the Navy, the Army and the Air Force.
We have the Commonwealth navies and the allied navies sitting and operating in a vacuum instead of working and considering combined commitments and resources. We have our own three Services and the Ministry of Defence sitting in a vacuum and working at their plans with little or no consideration for the other Services, or operating in conjunction with them with the idea of saving costs. We have the British, Commonwealth and allied navies all dealing with the same commitments and duplicating ships and efforts.
The Navy is doing the same job as the Army with Commando forces. The R.A.F. is producing the same type of aircraft as the Navy—admittedly, for a different type of take-off, but with vast duplication and unnecessary expense. Our policy should be to think in terms of continents and oceans, and not isolated pockets such as Hong Kong and Singapore, which we could not even hold in the last war, and to allocate areas and commitments to our Commonwealth nations.
Take the five continents: America, Australia, Africa, Asia and Europe. America is a United States and Canadian responsibility. There is no serious naval commitment or threat in the area and so no necessity for a separate naval allocation. The critical factor here is that the Canadian Navy totals about 50 major ships, including one aircraft carrier, 29 destroyers and 20 frigates, with 20,000 personnel, nearly 50 per cent, afloat. Admittedly, some ships are on the Pacific coast but even so, why cannot our small commitments in this area be transferred to Canada and the Canadian Navy provide the two frigates required for the West Indies station and the two frigates required for the South American station? This would enable the Admiralty to abolish those two tu'penny ha'penny stations.
The defence of Australia and New Zealand is the responsibility of their own Governments, not ours, and they have about 40 major ships available, including two aircraft carriers. There is no British naval commitment or threat in Africa that should need a separate allocation. South Africa has its own navy and other nations are building their own naval forces. Moreover, there is no major naval commitment in Asia. There is no naval threat, therefore, no need for a separate naval allocation. The result is that no major naval commitment or serious demand for a British naval allocation exists in four out of the five continents. I will deal with Europe later.
We come now to the five oceans, the Arctic, the Antarctic, the Pacific, the Indian, and the Atlantic. There is no naval commitment or threat in the Arctic or the Antarctic and there is no need for any special naval allocation there. In fact, there is none. The Pacific should be an American and Canadian responsibility, supported by Australia and New Zealand. The Indian Ocean has no major British commitment or threat. The requirements for its defence are, therefore, small and the responsibility of the seaborne nations. In any event, Britain cannot, single-handed, stage a serious naval defensive or offensive operation East of Gibraltar, as was shown by the Tory Government's Suez Canal fiasco.
Moreover, let there be no misunderstanding that in any future global war there is no certainty—in fact, there is very much the reverse—of our ships being able to pass through the Suez Canal. Consequently, they would not be able to go through the Mediterranean. The critical factor here, however, is that the Commonwealth or ex-Commonwealth nations—Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan and Ceylon—have 68 of the four major classes of warships, which is more in number than the British Navy, and these ships include three aircraft carriers.
Only today hon. Members will have received a CENTO pamphlet showing the activities of the Pakistan Navy in a recent combined exercise. Surely the British commitments in the East from Aden to Hong Kong should be transferred to the Commonwealth navies, and the two minor British naval commands in the Arabian Sea and Far Eastern stations should be abolished. If someone wants ships to go to Hong Kong let them be obtained from Australia and New Zealand who are concerned with defence in that area.
Here, I should make it quite clear that I am not arguing that British ships should not visit Commonwealth areas. I am arguing that the commitments should be Commonwealth commitments and that when our ships pay visits they should be exchange visits with local vessels. The naval commitments should be local commitments. Britain, therefore, has no major naval commitment and there is no actual naval threat in four of the five oceans. I have dealt with four continents and with four oceans, so I am not doing too badly up to now.
On this appreciation of the British global naval situation we are left with major naval problems in only one continent—Europe—and one ocean, the North Atlantic including, of course, the North Sea and the English Channel and surrounding areas. But even in these limited areas the Navy is supported by N.A.T.O. ships and aircraft and the Royal Air Force. The 64,000-ton question— [Laughter.] I mean, of course, the 64,000 dollar question—I am glad to see that hon. Members are paying attention—is what is the present justification for the vast aircraft carriers and their colossal expense and also of the smaller Commando carriers. Is it simply a question of keeping up with the Joneses—the Americans? [HON. MEMBERS: "The Kennedys."] I am dealing with the Joneses in America.
We have been told that these ships cost to build £20 million apiece for the big ones and £10 million for the smaller ones and millions more to convert and maintain. The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) mentioned H.M.S. "Eagle". I remember that I served in the previous "Eagle", or the one before that. She said that H.M.S. "Eagle" will have another £20 million spent on her for refitting. In these days, what other crazy action is there left to the Admiralty except to pour these millions down the sink?
What is the task of the big carrier in the unlikely event of war with Russia? Reference has been made in the debate to its being the battleship of the future. Anybody with any knowledge at all of naval forces knows that that is nonsense. In fact, there is no rôle for the large carrier in operations in Europe. As has been stated, these ships are the most vulnerable ships in the Navy. They could be sunk by one submarine or one aircraft attack. They carry too many eggs in one basket. There is no British fleet for them to accompany. They would not be used for convoys and they dare not approach the Russian Arctic areas. Are they intended for a strike force? If so, where, with what and to attack what? There is nothing in the plans for a normal conventional war with Russia.
Why have the Commando carriers? We are to have one in the Mediterranean and one farther East, and others are to be built. Marines are to do the job previously done by soldiers. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) has argued that if the Army cannot recruit soldiers, and the Navy can recruit marines, why not let the marines take over the Army's job? I do not mind who does the job as long as we have an overall reduction of millions of pounds. But I should like to inform my right hon. Friend and the Committee that the marines will not join to do wholly a soldier's job. Marines have "cushy" jobs in ships from which they then very effectively carry out their other duties, but any question of being turned over to the Army and working with the Army under Army instructions is out of the question. There is the argument about the Navy taking over some of our overseas commitments. That is all very well, but it is a job for the Commonwealth navies to take over.
The great argument is for mobility. Mobility to go where? An aircraft force is the best example of a mobile force. Ministers refer, in documents and speeches, to brush fires and bush fires. I served in three aircraft carriers, an ex-battleship, the "Eagle", and two seaplane carriers, the last two on active service. I took part in the first R.A.F. war. The ship had to take the men and their aircraft to Somaliland before they could start. The object was to bomb the "mad Mullah" and his followers as the prelude to granting the country independence later. I received the African Service Medal for this operation.
After a spell in the Black Sea fighting for and against the Russians in the civil war—so I know something about that area and the Russians—I took part in another R.A.F. brush fire campaign. The R.A.F. wanted some aircraft in "Mespot" to quell the natives. The planes were at Constantinople, but no one would risk flying them the short journey overland in case they came down and the natives dealt with them. So the "Ark Royal", the first seaplane carrier, in which I was serving at that time, landed her naval aircraft at Constantinople, embarked the R.A.F. land machines and then started on a voyage through the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, round Aden and up the Persian Gulf to Basra. That is a typical example of mobility. The full speed of that ship was eight knots, and it took us weeks to get there, when the aircraft ought to have flown from Constantinople to Basra.
We did not get a medal that time. I do not know why. It was the same old firm of Carter Paterson for the R.A.F. This time, however, I do not believe that any natives were killed, so I suppose that that was the reason for no medals. Mesopotamia later had independence without the bombing. The ship was recalled to England empty, and I never heard what happened to the seaplanes we left at Constantinople.
Are Tory Ministers now thinking of using Commando carriers or our other air and land forces to attack natives again in their own countries? If so, they have another think coming. This country will not stand for that sort of nonsense again. It is not our business to interfere in everybody else's business, whether it concerns us or not. The old Victorian idea of giving them a whiff of grapeshot has gone for all time.
Having surveyed the world— [Laughter.] Well, it is high time that this was done by someone. This is the position, but no Minister will tell us because we should want to reduce the Defence Estimates by 50 per cent. if he did.
Having surveyed the world and dealt with only some of the problems, I turn now to the fifth continent, Europe, and the fifth ocean, the Atlantic. There are three major naval problems in the unlikely event of conventional war in Europe: (1) Russian surface ships: (2) protection for supplies to our forces on the Continent: (3) protection for supplies to Britain. First, surface ship attacks. From where, and at what? Russian Baltic forces are unlikely to emerge and Arctic forces are likely to be retained mainly for defensive purposes. Any emergers would be located by aircraft and other means and dealt with. So that is written off.
Channel crossings. There would be no surface ship threat and it is doubtful whether Russian submarines could survive and pass the Straits of Dover. Aircraft would deal with aircraft and submarines, and the naval escorts would be small craft. The Russian submarine menace. One cardinal principle is never to underestimate one's enemy. On the other hand, it would be just as great folly to over-exaggerate the Russian submarine menace and so be scared out of our wits by a bogey.
Speaking for myself alone, I am of opinion that Britain and her allies could master the Russian submarines, conventional and nuclear, with aircraft, surface ships, submarines, mines and other counter-measures which I shall not disclose.
Let us assume the worst, that these submarines could not be mastered with conventional naval weapons and the position became one of life or death to this country or Russian occupation. How long would it be before we resorted to nuclear weapons in self-defence to avoid defeat, or worse? The Russian leaders in the Kremlin realise that the nation which starts a war does not necessarily end it. They appreciate, also, that a conventional war may lead to a nuclear war. So we can reverse the sequence. No nuclear war. No conventional war. No war. It is as easy as that.
I am fortified in this argument by the words which the Minister of Defence quoted on Monday from something said by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill):
…I have sometimes the odd thought that, with the advance of destructive weapons which
enable everyone to kill everyone else, no one will kill anyone." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1961; Vol. 635, c. 1201.]
In my opinion, Russia could have overrun Europe or Asia at any time during the last fifteen years. Why has she not done so? The usual answer is to say, "Because of the deterrent". In my submission, the reason is that America is on the Continent of Europe and pledged to engage if Russia attacks. Had America been in Europe in 1914 and 1939, there would probably have been no First World War or Second World War.
In any case, the Admiralty is not seriously expecting a war, because it has its ships scattered all over the world with no chance of immediate concentration. For example, with the number of submarines shown as 30, it has the Fourth Squadron in Australia, the Sixth in Canada and the Tenth at Hong Kong They could not be placed farther apart or farther from England. Apparently. we do not want them. The admirals are simply playing chess on the world chessboard with no appreciation of the money being frittered away by their pawns chasing all over the seven seas.
It is not my task—not today, at any rate—to provide all the answers to all the naval questions. I hope that I have shown that the Government largely exaggerate our overseas commitments and that these should largely be transferred to Commonwealth countries. I hope that I have shown, also, that our proper commitments at home do not require either the vastly expensive large aircraft carriers or the vastly expensive nuclear submarines. The Government, therefore, should give the Admiralty the choice of either the large aircraft carriers or the nuclear submarines—not both. The carriers should be the first to go. What would be the result? The present surface ship fleet of cruisers, frigates, destroyers, etc., would be ample, with our allies, for any possible conventional warlike operations in this second Elizabethan era and nuclear age.
My final point—the Committee will be glad to hear the word "final"—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am much obliged—relates to disarmament. The Government pay lip-service to diarmament, saying, in the White Paper, that they will
press for this by all means in their power".
In fact, they are content to go on with endless discussions, making no headway, pumping money into armament firms, big business making big money, and all the rest, instead of making realistic proposals which would stir the imagination of the world, reduce arms expenditure by many millions of pounds, and bring hope to many underpaid people in this country and throughout the world.
Why do not the Government advocate the complete abolition of all submarines, conventional and nuclear? There is no reason why any nation should now have these vessels. By far the largest number is in the hands of the three great Powers, America, Russia and ourselves. It should be easy to reach agreement and dispose of them. The whole thing would be quite easy to check. Why not agree to scrap the lot, sail them all out into the Atlantic and sink them 100 fathoms deep in Davey Jones's locker? What vast savings could be made, not only in the cost of submarines, but in the cost of the vast and expensive antisubmarine measures in which we and other countries engage.
I appreciate the argument about the advantage of Polaris submarines and their missiles, but when the Russians have them the advantages will largely be cancelled out and both sides will be little better off, relatively speaking. I appreciate, also, the argument that nuclear propulsion should be developed. The answer is that the millions now allocated for nuclear submarines should be used for the development of nuclear merchant ships for peaceful instead of warlike purposes. For example, the Russians have a nuclear icebreaker.
It is no good saying that this is nonsense. The nations are bogged down trying to compete in everything—naval, air and military armaments. Let the British Government take the one specific step which is clear cut. It could be checked, because the ports could be supervised as easily as anything else, and if we could get rid of submarines and with them the anti-submarine measures and the aircraft carriers, we could cut the Navy Estimates by half and the R.A.F. Estimates by a considerable amount, and we should be able to devote that money in millions to far more useful purposes.
It is of supreme importance for our survival as a nation and the improvement of the standard of living of the poorer people in this country that our Navy and military and air problems should be given a new, forward-looking, realistic investigation in the terms of the 1960s and 1970s on the lines which I have advocated and with the object of vastly reducing arms expenditure instead of increasing it. Unless that is done by Britain and, for that matter, America, Russia will win the economic war without even firing a red Very light as a warning signal of success.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey), who brings a very specialised knowledge to these debates and to whom the Committee always listens with great attention. We got our money's worth from him today, although I was a little disappointed that he did not refer to a subject which I know to be close to his heart, namely, spectacles.
I do not intend to cross swords with the hon. and gallant Gentleman, as my service in the Navy was very limited, being merely in the form of a sea cadet. I served for a short time in the aircraft carrier "Theseus", namely, for seven days, during which period we were moored in Portsmouth Harbour the whole time. I apologise to the Committee that I have a very bad cold and that my voice is droning more than usual, but I will be brief.
This has been a wide-ranging debate and I shall deal merely with matters which arise under Vote 8, namely, the new shipbuilding and refitting now going on, particularly as it affects Belfast. I will begin by saying, on behalf of the 12 Ulster Unionist Members, that I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Civil Lord. We have had many meetings with him in recent months and he has always been most helpful and courteous and fair in the allocation of work which he has sent to Belfast. We are looking forward to his visit to the Royal Navy Yard at Sydenham which he is to make on Saturday of this week, and I am glad to note that he has recently transferred work to that yard from other yards.
The situation facing the shipbuilding industry in Belfast is very serious. There is a labour force of 20,000, plus a varying figure of sub-contractors. Within the next three of four months, 7,000 of those men, plus sub-contractors, will be unemployed. Hon. Members representing English constituencies may find the situation difficult to envisage, but we are to have one-third of our total labour force unemployed.
Today, there was a gigantic demonstration with marching through the streets of Belfast to coincide with the debate, and I have heard that 15,000 to 20,000 people took part in that demonstration, which was organised by the trade unions and which was reminiscent of the Jarrow marches in the 1930s. It underlines the serious situation facing the industry in Belfast. The tragic part is that unlike other shipbuilding areas, we have no other form of alternative engineering employment.
On a point of order. Is this discussion on the shipbuilding industry in order, and if so, will other hon. Members be entitled to make speeches about the shipbuilding industry in their constituencies?
Further to that point of order. Is it not the case that in previous years it has been decided that that is within the rules of order so long as we deal with shipbuilding repairs, maintenance, and so on, as mentioned in Vote 8?
I was merely briefly giving an introductory background which I thought would be of interest to the Committee, but I will not impose further on your good nature, Mr. Thomas.
It is commonly said in Belfast that the Admiralty does not give Northern Ireland its fair share of Admiralty work, but I repudiate that without hesitation. We have recently been given the figure that 24·9 per cent. of the labour force in Belfast is employed on Admiralty work, while the national average is only 8 per cent. That latter figure somewhat distorts the situation and I hope that my hon. Friend will not too much rely upon it, because many yards in Britain coming within the national average are by no means concerned with naval work, and there is a substantial amount of naval work in the Belfast yards which is now just coming to a conclusion. For example, a ship being built for the Indian Navy, "Vibrant", is soon to be finished, and within three months the figure will be reduced from 24·9 per cent. to about 10 or 15 per cent., so that the situation will become more serious.
On 7th March, 1960, my hon. Friend the Civil Lord, in a debate on the Navy Estimates, made it clear that the Admiralty intended to have the bulk of its work done by competitive tender and he said:
In doing so, the main considerations will he price and delivery dates; but we shall, naturally, take into account the employment factor".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1960; Vol 619, c. 41.]
My hon. Friend reiterated this afternoon that the competitive background would be predominant, but he did not re-emphasise that the employment factor would be considered, and I would be grateful if, in winding up the debate, he could reaffirm that employment as well as strictly competitive factors will play an important part in his consideration.
I want, briefly, to refer to some of the new work mentioned in the Estimates, especially building and refit work. The total is about £109 million gross, or £97 million net, the total amount going out to open contract in this year. I welcome the reference in the excellent Explanatory Statement on the Estimates to the Seacat missile. It says:
This close range guided weapon system has been ship-fitted for sea trials, and firings of fully guided missiles against drone targets have started. Seacat will become the standard close range naval anti-aircraft weapon.
This weapon is manufactured in Belfast and we greatly welcome its now extensive use and the fact that orders have been received from Sweden and possibly from N.A.T.O. countries as well as Australia and New Zealand.
I should like to examine the details of the new work mentioned in the Estimates. I welcome the reference to two new guided missile destroyers. Four of these ships are now being built in Britain and one in Belfast. I hope that when the time comes we may be able to put in a competitive tender and use the skill which has been acquired in the construction of that now being built, the "Kent", the keel of which was laid in March, 1960.
I also welcome the announcement about the assault ships. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) rightly emphasised the tremendous future of these ships in the small type of brush fire operation, and I hope that it will be possible to consider some of this pioneer work being done in the Belfast yards to get them over this difficult period.
Will my hon. Friend deal with conversion and re-equipment work? I am not clear from the Estimates, although I have searched diligently, what proportion of that work is being done and exactly what is in mind for detailing that programme. On behalf of the 12 Ulster Unionist Members. I ask my hon. Friend carefully to re-examine the whole situation, because this is short-term work to get over a difficult period.
The Belfast shipyards are facing difficult times, although other yards have similar problems which I do not wish to minimise. I appreciate that the amount of naval work now in circulation employs only 8 per cent. of the total labour force in British shipyards and that there is, therefore, no magic wand which my hon. Friend can wave to help us over this difficult period. We take the view that in the long term the yards will have to find the answer for themselves. I make no bones about that.
I do not ask my hon. Friend to provide some form of permanent relief to get our industry over this difficult time. But I would ask that he throw a lifebelt to us as a matter of great urgency, in view of the impending chaos. I appreciate that one cannot expect him to announce a vast series of orders, welcome as that would be. It would be impracticable coming from that Dispatch Box. But on behalf of the 12 Ulster Unionist Members, I ask for an assurance that he is fully aware of the difficulties of Belfast and that he will view them with great sympathy.
I hope the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his survey of the shipbuilding problems of Belfast and the possibility of orders resulting from his speech. I ask hon. Members on both sides of the Committee to forgive me if I do not follow the general trend of the debate which has ranged over what ought to be our future policy for the Navy. I wish to use this occasion—I think it right that hon. Members should have an opportunity to do so—to raise a constituency problem which has given me much worry and concern over the past few years.
I have been trying to find from the Estimates what action, if any, is to be taken this year to deal with bad housing conditions in the married quarters at the Admiralty Depot at Beith in my constituency. Perhaps there may be something of value to me buried away in these Votes, but it is hard to discover. The Explanatory Notes to Vote 10 are headed:
Works, Building, Machinery and Repairs at Home and Abroad.
The first paragraph reads:
This Vote provides for expenditure on works, buildings, docks, machinery and repairs at home and abroad, including the cost of superintendence, purchase and rent of lands and buildings and grants towards the cost of works, and for repayment with interest of sums issued from the Consolidated Fund under the Armed Forces (Housing Loans) Acts, 1949 and 1958.
There may be something buried there. Paragraph 4 of the same Notes read:
Provision is made under Subhead B for the cost of construction of married quarters, with the exception of those to be financed from the Consolidated Fund under the provisions of the Armed Forces (Housing Loans) Acts, 1949 and 1958 which are provided under Vote 14.
Under Subhead B I notice that for 1961–62 there is a decrease of £293,000. Much less than that amount would resolve my problem, and I hope that this decrease does not mean that we are restricting necessary housing work at home for the benefit of personnel working in Admiralty Departments.
In Vote 14 the first paragraph of the Explanatory Notes reads:
This Vote provides for expenditure incurred under the Armed Forces (Housing
Loans) Acts, 1949 and 1958, in building married quarters for personnel at certain naval establishments in Great Britain.
I hope that we shall be told that there is something buried in this Vote which will be of benefit.
I wish to tell the Committee about this problem over which I have had a lengthy correspondence with the Civil Lord. The married quarters at Beith are old army huts built during the last war. They are brick-built but with no cement roughcast, and they were never meant to be used for human habitation for such a long period. The huts are damp and, in my opinion, quite unsuitable for people to live in. The residents are sure that the colds and other illnesses from which they suffer, and which especially affect the children, result from the conditions under which they have to live. There are narrow corridors in these huts where the dampness pervades, and it is difficult to get furniture into the rooms which have been constructed. The people who live there are long suffering and are living under extremely trying conditions. The crowning injustice was the increasing of the rents by the Admiralty and that action was taken under the Rent Act.
I wish to give an idea of what is an average rent and the increases which have been made, and to do so I have selected six residences of different sizes. This information has been sent to me by the chairman of the tenants' association, and I think that things have come to a sorry pass when conditions are such that it is necessary to have a tenants' association in connection with property owned by the Admiralty. For residence No. 5 the old rent was £3 7s. 8d. per month and the new rent is £6 12s. 8d. For residence No. 12 it was £3 12s. and the new rent is £6 12s. It will be seen that the increases are substantial and, as I have said, that action was taken under the Rent Act. For residence No. 22 the rent was £4 16s. and the new rent is £6 6s. For residence No. 47 the old rent was £3 18s. 4d. and the new rent is £6 12s. 8d.; residence No. 7 the old rent was £4 4s. 7d. and the new rent is £5 2s. 8d., and for residence No. 46 the old rent was £3 18s. 4d. and the new rent is £5 2s. 3d. I have quoted those rents because in the correspondence I have had with the Civil Lord he has informed me that he cannot do much about it. I have had no real satisfaction.
The only step which might be taken is to get these people out of the huts altogether and provide houses for them for which the Admiralty could justify rents being charged. I ask the hon. Gentleman to take note of the fact that the new rating and valuation legislation takes effect in Scotland as from May. These unfit huts will be assessed by the county assessor, if he considers them of any value at all. We may find that a saving results because there will be a loss of rateable value and of course the tenants pay the rates. What will be the position if the valuer assesses these huts at a very much lower figure than the present one? The rates will be paid on the actual new valuation assessment. I think that here we surely have a case in which rentals ought to be considerably reduced.
I want to ask the Civil Lord quite definitely what steps he intends to take to rehouse these workers. The Civil Lord has taken up the matter with the Ayrshire County Council, and I have assisted in what way I could, and we have been instrumental in obtaining the promise of ten houses, but, of course, we need another 40 or 50, I should say, to clear up the problem. I understand that the Admiralty are very keen that the Ayrshire County Council should build these houses by getting an allocation over and above what would have been given for the normal housing requirements in the Beith area.
I want to tell the Civil Lord that, even if he finds out that the local authority—the Ayrshire County Council—finds that its own commitments do not allow it to do so—because it has a very heavy housing commitment—that would not relieve the Admiralty of its responsibilities in connection with the replacement of these unfit dwellings. As it is clearly shown in Votes 10 and 14 that the Admiralty can spend money in providing married quarters for civilian personnel, I think the Civil Lord must squarely face the problem now confronting him, and certainly confronting me as the Member of Parliament for the constituency concerned.
I urge him to face that problem, and I think that if the local authority cannot help, he must then decide that the Admiralty must provide suitable dwellings for these families under its care. I hope that today the Civil Lord may have some sort of message of hope that I can take to these families, who are suffering illness and great inconvenience and living in isolation where they are presently housed. I hope that the Civil Lord will be able to justify some action being taken within the course of this year and covered by these Navy Estimates to solve what has been a worrying problem for a long time.
I am well aware that it is the tradition of this Committee that subsequent speakers in debate make their comments upon the speech of the hon. Member who has just preceded them. As I represent a Sussex constituency, I am wondering whether you, Mr. Thomas, selected me because I represent a constituency which is about as far away from Scotland as it could possibly be. Even though I have had the privilege of serving on the Scottish Grand Committee for a very long period, I feel that I am hardly competent to make any comments whatever on the speech of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel).
As there are many hon. Members who would still like to speak, I should like to concentrate upon three major points and one small one which I want to put to the Civil Lord. May I, first, apologise to him for the fact that I was unable to hear what he said in the early part of the afternoon, because I was serving elsewhere on a Select Committee. If, therefore, any of the matters I raise have already been dealt with, I know that he will be able to explain that to me skilfully when the time comes.
The first point is one which I have raised before. It concerns the amount of information which is available to Members of Parliament when they come to a debate such as this. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the attractive way in which the comments on the Estimates this year have been presented. I think that they have given us a much better idea than has been available in the past. One of the things which we all have to do, as Members of Parliament, is to try to assess the information which is available and decide whether we think we can go to our constituents and say that we are satisfied that our naval strength is adequate for the demands that might be made upon it.
We have had a speech today from the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey), who has made it quite clear that there is no threat for us to face in a great many parts of the world, and that there is not very much for us to worry about at all. I do not accept that. I find it very difficult to accept some of the propositions which the hon. and gallant Member made, in particular, about the Russians and the enemies we might find ourselves fighting against. What I can accept from some of the hon. Members who have contributed to the debate is the proposition that, as we are now more of less in a nuclear stalemate, we might well not find ourselves fighting a nuclear war.
Most of us still remember the beginning of the last war, when we were walking round with gas masks on our shoulders, because we thought that there might be a threat of gas. In fact, as each side was well equipped with gas, the threat never materialised. Therefore, I want to address myself to the position in which we might find ourselves in the event of a non-nuclear war, and to the question whether we would be able to meet the demands likely to be made upon us at that time.
In the Explanatory Statement which accompanies these Estimates we have set out, for example, the fact that various ships have been given to Commonwealth navies. One hundred and ten ships are now available to Commonwealth navies as a result of the assistance which we have given. I recall the Civil Lord saying only a few days ago that there are now 15 Commonwealth navies. I should like to hear from the Civil Lord that there is someone, somewhere, to co-ordinate all these navies. I should like to know whether there is one person, or a committee somewhere, trying to help these navies and assess how they can best be integrated and provide the type of ship to fit in with other parts of the general plan.
We know that the Canadians have specialised in anti-submarine warfare What I should like to know is exactly where we are supposed to fit into this Commonwealth picture. I hope that perhaps the Civil Lord may be able to give us, if not tonight, at least on a subsequent occasion in the Explanatory Statement, an overall picture of what is going on in the Commonwealth, to see whether, in fact, the ships that are available, are designed to meet the various commitments which we can foresee for our naval forces.
Further on in the Explanatory Statement we have references to the various organisations to which we belong, such as N.A.T.O. There again, it is very difficult for a Member of Parliament to assess what part to play. We know that the Belgians have specialised on minesweeping. But what exactly is the part that we are supposed to play in N.A.T.O.? How do we fit in and how can an ordinary Member of Parliament assess the position to see how we fit into the picture in these various organisations?
Having looked at the forces which are at our disposal and the organisations to which we belong, the next thing is to have a look at the possible requirements for which our naval forces would be needed. It is a fair estimate that there are about 2,000 ships at sea in the Atlantic on any one day. At the beginning of the last war I found myself in the operations room of Western Approaches. I saw the convoys being mounted and sent to sea with one unarmed trawler as the only possible defence. The only thing it had which the others had not was a set of code books, with a little lead at the bottom of the bag. I want to be able to tell my constituents firmly that that is not a situation which will ever arise again
It may be that the Civil Lord can assure me on that point, but, having looked at the Commonwealth navies and N.A.T.O. forces, and divided them among the various commitments, if we should happen to be running convoys in the Atlantic I should like to know what number of ships would be available to defend each convoy. Probably we have better ships than at any time during the last war. They have greater hitting power and there are various methods of fighting the submarine which were not available before. But that is the type of problem to which, in the interests of my constituents, I must address my mind. If we can get some information at some time in the Explanatory Statement which would help in resolving that type of problem, I should be very grateful.
Another question I want to ask the Civil Lord is about training. Submarines have a jab to do and continue to do that job day in and day out. Aircraft flying on anti-submarine work are not designed to do anything else. Ships, however, which are at present engaged in anti-submarine work would find themselves, if they were fighting a war, in a situation in which they would be detected and attacked from very long range. Those likely to fight in an antisubmarine war must, therefore, have the best possible training and be absolutely on top of their job. With the number of ships available at the moment it seems that there must be many of our surface ships which are used for jobs other than anti-submarine work. They do extremely valuable work on visits to distant countries and there are plenty of other jobs for them to do, as hon. Members know. I should like to make certain that with all those jobs the men who would fight an anti-submarine war are receiving adequate training in anti-submarine warfare.
I had the privilege, last year, to have about a week with one of Her Majesty's destroyers on a N.A.T.O. exercise. When it was over I came back to H.M.S. "Sea Eagle", at Londonderry, to see the exercise worked out. I was very greatly impressed by the efficiency and the way in which the exercise was conducted. However, it seemed to me that the equipment available was not, perhaps, as modern nor as skilfully designed for the job as would be possible. Shortly after I came back from that exercise I found in a Canadian newspaper a picture of "a million-dollar tactical trainer with an electronic brain which is available at Halifax".
The report in that paper went on to say that the first such trainer was installed by the Royal Navy at Malta. in 1950. The picture of it certainly looks very much more up-to-date than anything I saw in Londonderry. I hope that perhaps even a small amount of money can be made available to bring the best possible equipment to "Sea Eagle". The work done there by navies from all parts of the Commonwealth and all the N.A.T.O. Powers is something so valuable that anything which could be done to develop its efficiency would be very well worth while.
Another point I want to make is that we have heard from various hon. Members who have taken part in this debate doubts about the position of an aircraft carrier in modern war. I accept a great many of those doubts, but the particular doubt that weighs most with me is the fact that we shall be spending such enormous sums of money and concentrating the power we have into so few places.
An aircraft carrier that really started to make a nuisance of itself would be in a very difficult position in modern warfare. I was, therefore, pleased to see that, according to the Explanatory Statement, two new guided-missile destroyers will be fitted with Seaslug. I am not aware of what the plan is for defending aircraft carriers, but I should like to be certain that if we have very valuable ships such as that afloat in the oceans they will be adequately defended.
I hope that the Admiralty will not find itself mesmerised by the fleet carrier. I would be happier if I knew that there was some way in which we were getting Polaris or something like that afloat, whether in submarines or other vessels. so that we would be able to play our hart in a hot war. I should also like to be certain that there were adequate numbers of surface ships for the type of operation in which we find ourselves today. I sometimes wonder whether the eyes of the Admiralty are not a little too much attracted towards carriers and large ships.
I congratulate the Civil Lord on paragraph 59 of the Explanatory Statement in which he speaks of the "normal practice" of giving ratings "four months' notice of overseas service." He also shows that the new centralised drafting system is working well. It seems to be a great improvement on some of the arrangements that were in force before. Are similar facilities offered to officers? I know of one or two officers who were not given anything like the treatment which it is stated is given to the ratings. It would be helpful if the Civil Lord could tell us something about that.
I want to fulfil the rôle that I usually adopt in these debates—that of the critic who wants a big reduction, under Vote A, in Admiralty expenditure and in the number of men in the Royal Navy. I suggest a reduction of 1,000 men. I find that I am fulfilling a rôle that has been carried on in the Committee for a very long time. It is a very important rôle, and one that if is necessary to maintain in this House of Commons.
I have some interesting predecessors in this task. In the debate on the Navy Estimates on 10th March, 1851, —110 years ago—a radical—a Liberal—Mr. Hume, a very unorthodox critic of the Administration of his time, moved almost the same kind of Motion that I intend to move later, just to maintain the traditional position. He was supported by a Mr. Cobden, and I commend hon. Members who are interested in the historical side of the Navy Estimates to read HANSARD for 10th March, 1851.
They will find that in that debate Mr. Cobden, who was a Liberal—and I do not see the Liberals here to back Mr. Cobden tonight—wanted a reduction in naval expenditure and in the number of naval personnel. It was argued by the then Civil Lord—although he may not have been known by that title—that all this was necessary to prepare for a naval war with France. At that time, the Admiralty was asking for 30,000 men at a cost of £5.700,000 for the lot.
Compared with those figures, the present Estimates are astronomical. We want 100,000 men and £413,000 million, and nobody has argued that we are to fight France. The Minister's argument is that these Estimates are justified on the assumption that we may have to fight the Soviet Union. There is a sort of continuity running through the Admiralty's philosophy—as the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) called it—and it is contained in almost the first paragraph of the Explanatory Statement, which speaks about the value of sea power.
The Statement says:
In a continually changing political and strategic situation the special value of sea power—its mobility and flexibility—remains constant.
That platitude runs through all these Admiralty arguments, very much as the "Thou shalt nots" run through the Ten Commandments. It is the good old platitude that helps to fill out the Admiralty's documents when it has nothing more convincing to say—as in this Explanatory Statement.
In various speeches, we have heard the Navy compared with a fire brigade. I recently read a very interesting letter in The Times, which I thought to be the most intelligent letter I have read in that newspaper while I have been one of its readers. It was a very short letter, and it dealt with this very argument. It was headed "A N.A.T.O. Fire Brigade", and it took only half an inch of a column. The letter said:
Sir, —I read of a ' N.A.T.O. fire. brigade' "—
for "N.A.T.O.", we can substitute "Navy" in the context of this debate—
equipped with tactical nuclear weapons. I must protest. What sort of fire brigade is it which, when called, immediately proceeds to burn down the entire city in which the original fire started? Yours faithfully, John Horner, General Secretary, The Fire Brigades Union.
I commend that as a thought to those hon. and gallant Members who during all these Estimates justify this huge expenditure on the ground that the Navy, the Air Force or the Army is like a fire brigade.
My hon. Friend is quite right. I do not follow all these things. I am not worried about Communists in the sense that I do not see Communists under the bed as the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) does.
I rather think that Mr. John Horner resigned from the Communist Party at the time of Hungary. I do not need to go into that, however. I merely quoted the letter as the most eminently sensible letter which has appeared in the columns of The Times for a very long time.
One of the most interesting features of this debate is the appearance of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton on the Front Bench. He and I have taken part in these debates together, with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey), for about fifteen years. Sometimes I have had the good fortune to listen to my hon. and learned Friend and he has had the misfortune to listen to me. It depended upon our place in the queue.
In his presentation of the case from the Opposition Front Bench, my hon. and learned Friend gave a far more intelligent and realistic view of the possibilities of future war than I have yet heard from the Opposition Front Bench. I hope I am not embarrassing my hon. and learned Friend, but he presented us with a realistic approach to the whole problem and the background of the Navy Estimates. I am not so sure that I agree with everything he said, but, to paraphrase a famous saying of the Duke of Wellington,
I do not know what effect this has on the Admiralty, but, by God, it frightens me.
I predict that my hon. and learned Friend will be so candid, honest and realistic in his approach that his life on the Front Bench will be a short and gay one and that in another fifteen years, perhaps, the outlook of the Labour Party—who knows?—will have become so sensible, realistic and intelligent that I might be occupying my hon. and learned Friend's seat on the Front Bench and he might be waiting in the queue to listen to me.
Certainly, it was a frankness which I much admired when my hon. and learned Friend said that this country could not survive a nuclear war. He said that the instructions to the Navy would be, "Get to hell out of it" as soon as the war was on the horizon. That is a very different kind of signal to Nelson's at the Battle of Trafalgar. I am sorry to say, however, that that is what some of the people on the Clyde are already saying before the "Proteus" and the Polaris arrive. They say, "Get to hell out of it". We will be greatly interested in what happens when the nuclear submarine arrives in the Clyde. There is a great deal of public interest in it and a great deal of public antagonism to it. It is no use blinding our eyes to the fact.
I have been against these Estimates for many years. I always had the opinion that I was a lone voice crying in the wilderness and that in about twenty or one hundred years' time somebody might be quoting some of my speeches, as I have been quoting the speeches of Mr. Cobden tonight. I never realised, however, that responsible bodies like the Scottish T.U.C. would ask me to speak at their meetings. I am so used to speaking to small audiences, like those I usually find here in the debates on the Navy Estimates, that I am surprised that I should he asked. There have been great mass meetings and there have been great marches, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) has taken part. This represents feeling and antagonism, which means that the people are not so sure that the Polaris will be such a useful weapon after all.
Although I am on the back benches and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton is on the Front Bench. I think I speak for a very large volume of opinion in the Labour Party that does not share his enthusiasm or his ideas about Polaris and that I happen to speak, along with Mr. Cousins, for the great majority of the Labour Party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense".] I have paid so many compliments during my speech that I should surely be allowed to say something about which there may be a little controversy.
When my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northamton talked about submarines, I rose to interrupt him at a critical point. He knew that it was a critical point and he did not rise to it—or rather he did not sit down to it. He is an old friend of mine, and I know that he used to have a horrible nightmare in which he was addressing a meeting of his constituents in a school and I was sitting in the front row ready to ask questions. Now that nightmare has become a reality.
My hon. and learned Friend was very interesting when he described the various types of submarine. He said that one could not look for a submarine in a haystack and we would have to go in and take the port. That was very reminiscent of what some of the Russian admirals have been saying. As soon as it heard about Holy Loch the Russian Navy began to get interested in Scotland, which, I thought, was very unhealthy indeed for Scotland. I have been closely associated with Russians in my time and I certainly got alarmed when I heard that a Russian admiral was saying something which could mean the obliteration of my constituency and of me. I do not think that that is gratitude.
If the strategy of this Government is carried to a conclusion, it means that the Russians will be interested in the places these missiles will come from, and they are taking an interest in Holy Loch. In a Russian magazine only a fortnight ago I saw a Russian writer's description of Holy Loch in a very long article. He succeeded in marching round Holy Loch before I did.
How did the Admiralty come to agree to having Polaris at Holy Loch? There is a lot of unwritten history about this. The Prime Minister has refused to produce a White Paper, although the decision represents a momentous change in British foreign and defence policy. How is it that, although it was at the end of 1959. at Service level, that the Americans asked for a submarine base in Scotland, ten months elapsed before the Government decided to grant the request? Apparently. the Admiralty was roving around Britain with its American counterparts in order to find a base where Polaris would be acceptable and popular.
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman offered them Portsmouth, and if the Civil Lord had accepted his generous offer, I am quite sure that there would have been great gratitude from the people of Glasgow to the hon. and gallant Member. To them, he would have been the most popular man ever to have spoken in this Committee.
I think the Civil Lord has probably fixed up for Polaris to come to Portsmouth but he is only kidding the hon. Member that it is going to Scotland because he does not want him to know where it is going.
I am glad if that is so. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) wrote to the Guardianattacking me because of my attitude in this matter. I suggested Southampton Water and offered to debate with him in his constituency about it, but I have not heard from him since. I am quite prepared, if Polaris is taken down to Portsmouth, to defend the hon. and gallant Member, to show him gratitude and turn the other cheek in a way that he has never done for me.
There is a certain interest in how we came to fix on this part of Scotland. To obtain an answer I suppose we shall have to wait, not for anything that we can extract from the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, because he is rather low down in the priority list of these plenipotentiaries, but until the Prime Minister comes to write his memoirs or appears on television when he becomes the Earl of Holy Loch in about ten years' time.
Meanwhile, I should like to know something about the negotiations. Where did the Admiralty go before it decided on Holy Loch. Did it go to Dundee? My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) asked this question the other night. There are two hon. Members representing Dundee who were enthusiastic supporters of Polaris. and they would not have the difficulty in trying to convince the local population that we have in the west of Scotland. I should like to know—I do not expect to have an answer—something about these negotiations which resulted in the Americans coming to Holy Loch
Perhaps the Civil Lord will be able to clear up the curious statement made by the Minister of Defence in the debate on Monday. There was a little altercation, and my hon. Friend the Member for Govan said that the Admiralty had asked for Polaris to come to Scotland. I rose to correct him and said that really the story was that the Americans had asked to come there first. HANSARD reports that the Minister of Defence nodded his head in disagreement with me. If this is so, then a good deal requires to be cleared up. That certainly was not cleared up by the not very candid answer which the Prime Minister gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) today.
When this submarine comes—it may be withdrawn almost as soon as it comes if the rumours from Washington are correct—the Clyde will be the scene of great naval activity. My constituency runs for many miles along the Firth of Clyde, and during the last war German submarines came up as far as Ailsa Craig. When I go to some houses in my constituency I find that my constituents have binoculars which were taken away from German submarines. When the Polaris submarines come sailing up and down the Firth of Clyde, shall we find that there are Russian submarines waiting for them outside? Is that the sort of thing that is likely to ease international tension? There may be an incident, who knows? But there will he greater naval activity in the Firth of Clyde than ever before.
I did not entirely follow my hon. Friend's argument. Is he saying that, knowing his constituents and knowing what they did with the German binoculars, they will "pinch" Polaris before long?
It may be; they are very good binoculars. It may be that in due course I shall be able to look across to the Isle of Arran through Russian binoculars. I can see a great deal of undesirable naval activity and naval expenditure in my part of the world.
Surely the hon. Gentleman realises that in the County of Norfolk, for instance, there have been large American air bases ever since the war. They are well known to be atomic air bases, but there has not been any Russian aerial activity over Norfolk or around the shores of Norfolk.
I am trying to follow this argument to its logical conclusion. If the "George Washington", the "Patrick Henry or any of the other American submarines go to Holy Loch, Russian submarines will be interested and they might follow them. This means that there will be a great deal of undesirable activity and naval expenditure on the Firth of Clyde.
If my hon. Friend explains that to one of the Members representing Southampton, perhaps that hon. Member will support me.
There has already been a good deal of naval activity as a result of the Polaris base being established in the Holy Loch. In the Clyde area there is an Admiralty contingent led by Rear-Admiral R. S. Hawkins, accompanied by members of his staff and the staff of the Flag Officer for Scotland. A Polaris base security committee was formed which local authority representatives were invited to join. The 'purpose of the Admiralty has been to damp down the idea that there is anything dangerous in submarines carrying Polaris missiles coming to the Holy Loch. But if it is found necessary to set up a committee composed of twenty people, surely there is a possibility of danger.
Among those who 'have been invited to join this liaison committee are the Board of Agriculture, the Scottish Home Department, the Department of Fisheries, the Atomic Energy Authority, the Milk Marketing Board, the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, the Clyde Pilotage Authority, the police, fire services, hospitals, the Civil Defence and local health services. Local people are naturally asking why all this is necessary if there is no likelihood of danger coming to Holy Loch.
My hon. Friend has reached a very important aspect of this matter. I have been informed that, in the event of conflict, the Holy Loch area was listed as an evacuation area for children and the weaker members of the community. Has my hon. Friend considered the effect that the coming of the Polaris submarines will have on this arrangement? Has he ascertained What will happen? Is it any longer an area for evacuees?
I am assiduous in attempting to extract information from the powers that be about what this means. The fact that a committee of this kind has been set up indicates that there is a good deal of anxiety about the future. We all understood that Argyllshire and the district around the Holy Loch was an area to which we would evacuate our civil population in the event of war. I will not ask the Civil Lord of the Admiralty that one because he will reply that it concerns Scotland. As a civil defence problem I am almost certain that that area is still an evacuation area. If it is not an evacuation area then it means there will be less security for the population who live in the neighbourhood of Holy Loch.
There is a great deal of interest taken in this part of Argyllshire as to what is likely to happen. A gentleman who lives on the shore of Holy Loch has sent to me a Blue Book and a document published by the Stationery Office which I had not read before. It is file Report of the Committee on the Safety of Nuclear-powered Merchant Ships. This came to me heavily marked from people who are interested in the development of the Polaris base. Mind you, these people are not Socialists; they are Conservatives and Liberals. Some of them are leading the Opposition.
There are several important paragraphs about which anyone living in the neighbourhood of the Holy Loch will, naturally, be very alarmed indeed, because it tells us about the possibilities. Paragraph 36, on page 6, reads:
A major reactor accident far out to sea could lead to the death of all people closely associated with the accident. In addition vessels within, say, a mile and to leeward of the accident might suffer contamination which could result in dangerous exposures of those on board. Ships outside this distance and under way would be unlikely to be affected severely, if at all, since they would have time to move clear of the line of any possible discharge. The effect on stationary vessels would vary with their position relative to that of the nuclear ship.
I think the hon. Member will recall that one of the most competitive tenders for the 65,000-ton tanker has come from one of the great Clyde shipbuilding firms. Presumably it wants to carry on and to introduce at some time this new method of propelling ships. It comes from the Fairfield yard, which, I think, is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin). I hope that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire does not wish Clydeside to stay behind and not take part in this revolution in propulsion machinery.
No. What I am saying is that there has been alarm expressed at the possibility of these submarines being stationed in Holy Loch in the area in which these people live. I am expressing the alarm that these people feel. Had it not been played down so much by the Admiralty I would not have been arguing on these lines. There is a very natural curiosity as to what this is likely to mean in that area.
I am sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite realise that nuclear-powered merchant ships and all merchant shipping of non-military or non-naval establishments are governed by Acts of Parliament relating to any dangerous radioactive substance which may emanate from them. The Polaris vessel visiting Holy Loch is specifically excluded from the Radioactive Substances Act, as are all forces which come under the Visiting Forces Act.
I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to elaborate that when she comes to speak, because I can assure the Committee that this alarm is genuine. I would draw special attention to paragraph 37 of the Report, which says:
The seriousness of the situation if a catastrophe took place near land would largely depend on the direction and strength of the wind at the time. In a range from 100 miles down to 25 miles from land, the effect could be one of ground contamination of some foodstuffs, particularly milk.
This presumably is why the Scottish Milk Marketing Board and the National Farmer's Union have been brought in. I have asked many times what compensation would be given if milk was contaminated and farmers' interests were in any way injured, but I have received no satisfactory answer. These questions need to be answered. They are questions which will be repeatedly asked.
The Report continues:
In this case, appropriate control action could he put in hand to prevent injury to people. The damage would be temporary and of local effect, though the need for appropriate emergency management should not be underestimated.
That being so, I think that the Admiralty should be more candid than it has been up to now.
Paragraph 38 of the Report brings the matter nearer and nearer to the people who live on the borders of the Holy Loch. It states:
If the catastrophe occurred within 25 miles of land, the spread of fission products could have a direct effect on people living in the affected area. In some coastal regions, the numbers of people living in the area would be high—well over 100,000." —
Holy Loch is within 20 to 25 miles from Glasgow—
The major effect would be one of damage to the thyroid, particularly of young children, and although the damage might not be evident immediately it could develop after a period. The radiation effect on adults would be relatively slight unless the incident occurred within a few miles of land. If the catastrophe occurred within ten miles of land the consequences would be much more serious and under the worst circumstances could result in the death or injury of many people.
It is our duty to put these facts before the Committee and to ask why the Admiralty agreed to having the base in this area.
I could read a great deal more from this Report, but I will content myself with quoting three recommendations. The first is:
stringent fine precautions should be taken for a nuclear ship in port.
The next is that
explosives should not be handled at or near a berth occupied by a nuclear ship.
The third recommendation is that
a nuclear ship should not be berthed very near large numbers of people.
Did the Admiralty know of the contents of this Blue Book when it decided
to agree to having the base at Holy Loch? As far as we can make out, all that the Admiralty considered was whether it would be a useful and safe place for the submarine. It did not think of the civilian population or of the psychological effect. It did not realise that a great deal of protest would come from the area.
On 16th December, I said in debate to the Civil Lord:
The hon. Member is talking about the convenience of the submarine base from the point of view of the Admiralty. Did he at any time consider the fact that there was a very big civilian population within a very short distance?
The answer was:
No—our main concern was to make this operational facility as efficient as possible." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1960; Vol. 632. c. 832.]
He was thinking of the operational activities of the submarine not of the background at all.
I submit that when anything like this is planted down in the west of Scotland an effort should be made by the Admiralty to make contact with the local population and the local authorities. This was not done. So the protest has come. It has come from the Ayrshire County Council. It has come from Glasgow Corporation. It has come from Clydebank. It has come even from Tory local authorities like the Dunbartonshire County Council. ft has come from Greenock. Very many local authorities speaking on behalf of the people they represent are bitterly alarmed about this thing being brought to Holy Loch, and they wish their point of view to be expressed in the House of Commons
We have heard about the Russian menace. We hear a great deal about Russian submarines. I think it was put into something like reasonable perspective by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East. I have been where some hon. Members may have been, in the Admiralty school at Leningrad. I was a fellow traveller there with the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his Parliamentary Private Secretary.
I disagree with my hon. and learned Friend. I believe that the Prime Minister did a very useful service at that time by going unilaterally to Russia and breaking the ice. It was much appreciated.
I learnt quite a lot about the naval school in Leningrad, the place where the Russian admirals operate and where the officers are trained in naval strategy and warfare. I remember seing a very big relief map of the British Isles, which did not give me any sense of security at all.
Captain Liddell Hart has written a very interesting book "The other side of the Hill", in which he asks us to think of what the people on the other side are contemplating and what their line of strategy is. What will the Russians think of Polaris? It is all very well my hon. and learned Friend saying that it is a second strike weapon, that Polaris will be fired only as a second strike. That is after we have been struck. It will be no great satisfaction to the people of Glasgow to know that if a Russian bomb explodes over Glasgow there will be another one blowing up Leningrad.
What is likely to be the line of strategy on the other side? The Russians are likely to say, "What about this Polaris submarine coming within 1,300 miles of Leningrad or Archangel?" One of the American admirals said that missiles from this submarine could destroy every city in the latitude from Moscow to Omsk. The Russians will take their precautions. The result may be—who knows? —that one of these Polaris submarines may be destroyed. I cannot see that this line of strategy, much satisfaction though it gives to the theoretical strategists here, is likely to put an end to the tension which may lead to the sort of war we have all been talking about. I believe that the establishment of the Polaris submarine in Scotland adds to the tension. It will help to continue the cold war. At a time when we should be thinking of disarmament, we are indulging in this new line of advance towards bigger and more destructive arguments.
The Government are making a mistake. We are watching developments in Scotland with the greatest apprehension. In one of our debates recently the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean) said that one bomb dropped over Glasgow would destroy everything within A radius of 100 miles and reduce the place to cinders. Is that the way to security? It is the way to destruction. We say, therefore, that by agreeing to this line of strategy the Government are not making this country any more secure. They are embarking upon a strategy leading to greater and greater tension and increasing the arms race.
I warn the Government that they will meet opposition in my part of the world. There will be great opposition, and it will, perhaps, take forms which the Government do not expect. In this debate I have ventilated an important issue, and in speaking as I have and pointing out the dangers I have expressed the point of view of my constituents and of very many people throughout Scotland
I noted with interest the look-back into history which the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) took. I only hope that in the year 2061 people will look back again because, quite frankly, when he talks about Polaris I agree with almost nothing that he says. I go so far as to say that the Royal Navy should have the Polaris weapon. Of course, it is an extremely expensive toy, and we may well have to rely on the American deterrent, because it is without any doubt whatever the finest deterrent we have today. The hon. Member's fears about security are not well founded. I am convinced that the Civil Lord and the Board of Admiralty went into the whole matter with great care long before the decision was made. Hon. Members cannot have it both ways.
I am concerned with the rundown of the Reserve Fleet. We have had a Reserve Fleet at West Hartlepool for some time since the war, but there are rumours that it is to disappear. Ships disappear from time to time and do not return. This Fleet employs nearly 200 civilians and, with 3·6 per cent. unemployment in the area, the loss of the Reserve Fleet would have a serious effect on employment in my constituency. I hope that my hon. Friend can assure me that the Reserve Fleet in West Hartlepool will remain there for some time. It has been part of the scenery for a long time, and I would hate to see it go.
Turning to operational matters, our naval forces in the Far East are slender. We have a Commando carrier and one other, one cruiser and 12 frigates and destroyers. That is not enough and the area covered by the Far East station has now been considerably increased. Are we relying on the large United States forces in the area and on the Australian and New Zealand forces? I hope that my hon. Friend will comment on that aspect because our forces are very small, especially when, as he said earlier, the Chinese now have 30 submarines. This country still has considerable interest in the Far East, especially under S.E.A.T.O.
I congratulate the Civil Lord on allowing hon. Members to visit the fleet last summer. We had plenty of time to make our arrangements and the visit was worth while. We came into contact with every type of rating and all officers, informally and at every level, and we returned with a number of comments to make.
I was impressed by the improvement in conditions in the last few years, especially in catering and general welfare. The Home Fleet may be small these days, but its efficiency is considerable. Those who criticise the vast rundown of the Navy do not appreciate its cost. If we want the hardware, we have to have the best and the most efficient for the money available.
I am glad to note from the White Paper how much centralised drafting has improved conditions for ratings and given additional warning of posting to them. I have learned from many ratings that there is no difficulty about getting into a foreign service commission, which I gather to be extremely popular.
There is another most important aspect of recruiting for the Royal Navy with which I want to deal. The Admiralty has recently issued a number of pamphlets on the various types of entry into the Navy. They were of a high standard and the Central Office of Information and the Admiralty should be congratulated on the production of these documents. More money is to be spent on recruiting and I hope that as the years go on there will be a slightly greater increase.
I recently visited the advertising agency which deals exclusively with advertisements about joining the Royal Navy, as an officer or rating, and I spent some time going around and seeing how costly these things are. That is where much of the money spent on recruiting is absorbed. But it is correct that these advertisements should appear in newspapers like Reveille and Tit Bits. That is the right attitude and it is getting to the right men at the right time.
Another aspect of recruiting was brought to my notice in my constituency the other day. A rating who had served eleven years on a regular engagement came back for demobilisation to find a job in my constituency, but he could not get a house. He had no priority on the housing list and his two children had to live with his in-laws.
Does my hon. and gallant Friend know that two Minissters of Housing and Local Government, at the request of hon. Members, have sent communications to local authorities asking that men who apply to live in a certain area within a year from leaving the forces should be given priority on the local housing list? Probably his own housing authority has lost sight of that and it might help if my hon. and gallant Friend recalled it.
I am grateful for that information, of which I was not aware, and I hope that it will be noted in the right quarters.
In my constituency there is a recruiting centre which, I am glad to say, is situated in the centre of the town. The recruiting staff go to considerable trouble over their advertising displays and they get a number of callers. Unfortunately, in many parts of the country the Navy recruiting office is tucked away in an unfrequented back street. The White Ensign is dirty and few people go near the place or even know of its existence. I hope my hon. Friend will bear that in mind in connection with recruiting for the Navy.
Another point affecting recruiting occurs to me. Many men cannot be drafted to their home port prior to demobilisation. Many of them are skilled personnel who, because of the rundown of the Fleet, cannot be drafted home to make contacts with industry during the last six months of their service. That may seem a small point, but it has been brought to my notice on a number of occasions. I know what it means for a man who is leaving the Service, and who has to make up his mind what he is capable of doing. For a man who has been an executive rating all his life it is hard to fit into industry in the area in which he wishes to live. He needs opportunities to contact the local employment exchange and to get advice from local organisations or to take advantage of opportunities to train in advance. I hope that something can be done to mitigate this kind of hardship.
I have always taken a great interest in the Sea Cadet Corps and I am glad to know that there is a slight increase in the Vote for the Corps. The Admiralty does a great deal to help. In my constituency I have a very fine branch of the Corps, which increases in efficiency year by year. The greater the interest taken in the Corps by the public, the better, and people will be doing a very great service by supporting it. The Admiralty cannot be expected to do it all.
I should like some advance warning of visits by Her Majesty's ships to my constituency. These visits usually occur during the summer, and, so that arrangements may be made with the local authorities, more advance warning is required. Such visits are extremely popular and the more we can have, the better. Last year, because of operational reasons, the vessels visiting my constituency vanished overnight. That was a great disappointment and something which proved hard to explain. Naval visits, together with the publicity, are of considerable assistance to recruiting, and I hope that they will continue.
While I am on the subject of naval visits, I should also like to refer to visits to foreign ports which quite often occur when there is a trade fair or something of that nature. On these occasions, inevitably, the commanding officer receives some large present from the local mayor or other authority, but what happens so far as the Royal Navy is concerned? All he can do is to give in return a ship's crest or badge. I suggest that consideration should be given by all those firms which trade with these areas to the idea that trade could he helped in this way by promoting our own exports to those foreign countries through a courtesy gift by a commanding officer. I hope that the Admiralty will look into that matter to see whether it is at all feasible.
I have one last plea to make from a constituency point of view. There is a large shipbuilding and ship-repairing yard in my constituency where, very often, orders are thin on the ground, so that anything which the Admiralty can do, however small, would be of invaluable assistance to my constituency, in which we have 3·6 per cent. unemployment. Unless the Admiralty can find a way of helping these shipyards, by 1962–63 there will be a very serious rundown indeed; and once the labour moves out of the area it very rarely comes back again.
Finally, I consider, and always have considered, that the Royal Navy offers an excellent future both for the officer and the rating. It is the finest club in the world, the pay is good, and at least the young man sees the world, meets men of all colours and creeds. Above all, however small the Navy may be in these days, if something happens there is always a ship either close at hand or within a day's steam. Time and time again, the prestige of the Navy has helped people from this country now living abroad. Whatever the country demands, the Navy will answer, because the Royal Navy has never yet let the country down.
The hon. and gallant Member for The Hartlepools (Commander Kerans) has not allowed the opportunity of his being on his feet to pass without mentioning a plea for shipping orders for his own constituency. I should like to tell him that his constituency is not the only pebble on the Parliamentary beach, because on the other side of the Humber is a place called Barton-on-Humber, which is in my constituency, where there is a very good shipbuilding yard which has done excellent work for the Admiralty in the past, and, I hope, will have the opportunity of doing so again.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman also mentioned with gratitude the visits which he had been permitted to make to one of Her Majesty's ships last summer, and I rather think that he came shortly after my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) and I had a similar trip on the "Gambia". Perhaps I am mistaken in that, but I know that that was spoken of.
These visits are extremely helpful. They are helpful to us, because they give us a chance to learn something at first hand, and it is a two-way traffic, because it gives us an opportunity of showing the men serving in the Fleet that the House of Commons is really interested in their welfare. From both points of view, it is an extremely good thing that we should have these visits. We like to find as much knowledge as we can wherever we go, and we find quite a lot from these trips.
Personally, I should like to find a little more knowledge sometimes about the objects for which we are having this vast expenditure. Of course, I expect to find it, to a certain extent, in this Explanatory Statement, and we certainly do, to a certain extent, though I must say that paragraph (4) is just a little bit too platitudinous even for me, and I am generally complacent with the Admiralty, because I know of the extremely good work that it does.
What is the object of 'the Navy in a nuclear war? Paragraph 4 says:
In the event of all-out war, involving the countries of the N.A.T.O. Alliance, the Royal Navy's role would be as an integral part of the combined naval forces of the West.
Is anyone any further forward? It does not tell us what the function or rôle of the Navy is. I must be a little easy on the Civil Lord about this, because I should not like to have to describe what that rôle would be in a nuclear war. It is extremely difficult. I think that the truth is that neither he nor the First Lord has the slightest idea of what the rôle of the Navy would be in a nuclear war.
In the few moments of the time of the Committee that I shall take I want to return Ito the question of trying to find what the various weapons we 'talk about are for. I think I understand the function of the Navy in a "brush fire", as it is called in the Statement. I should have thought that the present Navy is very well suited for that sort of operation, but I just do not understand its function in a nuclear war. If anyone in the Admiralty or elsewhere understands that, some means should be found to communicate his views on the matter to the House of Commons, even if some very extraordinary means have to be found to do it. We cannot talk in public debate about these matters—they may be very secret—but some means ought to be found whereby the advanced thinking of the Admiralty on this subject, if it has any, could be communicated.
The view has been expressed that if there is a major war it must be a nuclear war. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) took that view. He may be right, but I confess that I could not be dogmatic about it. We do not know whether a limited war would develop automatically into a nuclear war. It is about a non-nuclear war—which has not yet developed, if ever it is to develop, into a nuclear war—that I want to speak perhaps at greater length than on other subjects, although not at any great length this evening. I could not possibly say, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) said, that with all these Russian submarines about—whether it is 400, 600 or 700 I do not know, but it is a great many, however small we make the number—in my state of knowledge, or ignorance, if my bon. and gallant Friend prefers that, that we should ignore those submarines.
The reason I say that is that the Russians have these submarines. Some of them may be nuclear submarines. They would not be of any use in a nuclear war—at least, no one has been able to say what use they would be. Therefore, I argue that the Russians apparently think that there would be a non-nuclear war and, presumably, that is what the submarines are for. If they are thinking on those lines, it does not seem possible or reasonable to suggest that we can ignore that. There is an enormous number of those submarines and I feel that we have not adequate means of dealing with them, even with our N.A.T.O. allies, although there is a slight caveat to that, because I am not fully aware of the capacities of our N.A.T.O. allies. One has certain information on these matters, but it is a serious business when there is this immense number of submarines which might at any moment be used in a non-nuclear war.
What sort of figure should we come to? We have, of course, a certain number of submarines ourselves—is it 20, or something like that? We also have destroyers and frigates, and so have our N.A.T.O. allies, but nothing like the concentration that could be brought by the Russians with those submarines of theirs on the areas for which we are likely to be mainly responsible. As there is this threat, for which no adequate preparation and counter-action on our part seems possible, I should have thought that the Civil Lord and the First Lord would come here on tip-toes, but one can hear them stamping all the way down Whitehall telling each other pretty stories about the mobility and flexibility of naval power. I should like the Civil Lord to give a reassurance, if he can, as to the way in which he hopes to deal with that submarine threat should a non-nuclear war ever come about.
I tried to raise the subject of information in last year's debate. How are we, as Members of Parliament, to be enabled to do our duty properly if we are not given the full information that is available? The hon. Gentleman may say, "I cannot possibly tell you in the House, nor can I publish what we really think about some of these matters." I would remind him that other countries seem to manage to give the information. They do not give it in public to the legislature, or in documents. They have commissions—the naval commission, the finance commission the economic commission, and so on—whose members are sworn to secrecy. Why cannot we have that?
It is just not possible for us to keep ourselves adequately informed, to bring informed criticism to bear on these matters, and really to understand what these vast sums of money we are asked to sanction are for, unless we are kept properly informed? The Civil Lord should give thought to the possibility of calling together hon. Members on both sides of the House. swear them to secrecy, if necessarily, and see that they get some information to enable them to come out more helpfully from the national point of view.
I have listened to most of this debate, and I confess that in my ignorance I have perhaps been blinded by a great deal of science from those knowing a great deal about these things. But my impression at the end of it all is that the whole strategical conception we are asked to try to digest and pass judgment on, and the relative merits of this or that weapon, is so complicated that it is virtually impossible for us as human beings to deal with it. Many people who are technicians have to do their best there, but my conclusion is that the sooner we get down to bringing about real disarmament, and the institution of a world authority, which alone shall have force to keep the peace, the better for all concerned.
I should like each Department concerned—particularly that of Defence, which we discussed earlier in the week—to be thinking along these lines: what are the safeguards we should need before we could embark on some such scheme? I am convinced that unless we do think in that way we are heading for disaster. That is not because I think that the deterrent will not succeed in stopping the all-out nuclear war at present, but because these brush fires could lead, almost certainly would lead, to the more serious war later. Let us get down to thinking about how to avoid this.
Ever since I have been a Member of this House I have taken a great interest in—and usually a part in the debate on—the Navy Estimates. That is probably because my constituency has a very great naval tradition, and I am sure that hon. Members on both sides will bear with me if I deal with what would appear to be an extremely parochial matter.
For over 400 years my constituency has played a great part in our naval history. The Royal Naval Dockyard at Chatham, of which 75 per cent. is in my constituency, was founded in 1545, and it dates right back to the appointment of the first resident master shipwright. The base was then known as Gillingham Water, and was in use as a harbour for the King's ships for some years even before the date I have mentioned.
Those of us who have been in Admiralty House, Gillingham, know that the first officer to command the Nore was Rear-Admiral John Campbell, hack in 1778. The last admiral to command the Nore is the present Admiral Sir Robin Durnford-Slater. He will remain commander until 24th March, on which date he will, for the last time, strike the flag of the Nore Command. Between those dates some very famous naval figures have been at Admiralty House as Commanders-in-Chief of the Nore. There have been such men as Admiral Sir George Callaghan, 1915–18; Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee, 1918–21; Vice-Admiral Sir William Goodenough, 1924–27; and Admiral Sir R. Y. Tyrwhitt, 1930–33.
There are great naval traditions associated with the Medway towns, and with Gillingham, in particular. As far back as 1666, General Monk, Duke of Albemarle, sailed from the downs for a four-day battle against the Dutch. In 1667, the Dutch fleet sailed up the Medway, while the English fleet was laid up, and the ships mostly dismantled in the dockyards in the basin. The Dutch admiral. De Ruyter, with 64 ships of the line and frigates, was able to enter the channels leading to the Medway, and sent part of his force, under Van Ghent, further up the river—
The Dutch force managed to pass Sheerness Fort. John Monk was sent with some forces to defend Chatham, but arrived too late and the day ended in disaster for the English fleet. Sixteen English ships were lost, the "Royal Charles" was taken and for the rest of the day served as the Dutch admiral's flagship. Peter Pett, the then Commissioner, was held to blame for the disaster and was deprived of his office and sent to the Tower.
Perhaps the greatest ship of all to be launched and first commissioned and manned from Chatham Dockyard and sail down the Medway was the "Victory". It was launched in 1765 and in 1803 it became Nelson's flagship. Nelson himself lodged in Gillingham, probably when he was commissioning "Vanguard", which was his flagship in the Battle of Nile. in 1798.
All has not always been happy, however, in the naval traditions and relations in the Medway—
We listened earlier to a great dissertation on ships that were not naval and which had nothing to do with the Navy, Sir William. What I am saying relates absolutely to the debate, because many of the Estimates in Vote A and other Votes, are affected by the closure of the Nore Command. Surely. therefore, in relating this matter I am at least entitled to outline the great part that the Nore Command has played and, as we consider it in my constituency, the great tragedy of its closure.
In 1797— [An HON. MEMBER: I shall finish all the more quickly if the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) does not interrupt. In 1797, there was a considerable mutiny there As a result, to bring the mutiny to an end, two Acts of Parliament were rushed through this House. They laid down that any person giving comfort or help to any. body engaged in mutiny on His Majesty's ships should suffer death without the clergy.
During the First and Second World Wars, Nore Command— [Interruption.) Hon. Members opposite must be as patient with us in these matters—and this is a naval matter—as hon. Members on this side have been with hon. Members opposite when talking about matters that did not in any way concern Vote A. During the First and Second World Wars, Nore Command controlled naval operations in the whole of the southern area of the North Sea and the eastern end of the English Channel, but perhaps the greatest action of all that was taken by Nore Command was the organisation and implementation of the evacuation of Dunkirk, for which the whole country was grateful.
Chatham Dockyard remains of tremendous importance to the Medway Towns, and particularly to my constituency of Gillingham. It is by far the biggest employer in those towns. We are happy that it was selected by the Government as the pilot yard in which the first great reorganisation scheme was carried out. We know that it is being fitted with equipment that will enable it to produce the nuclear submarine. I assure the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who seems not to want nuclear submarines under any circumstances, that not only have the men of Chatham Dockyard the ability to build and construct the finest submarines and the "know-how" to build our first nuclear submarine, but that they will be extremely happy if they are given the opportunity of building the first British nuclear submarine.
They would be very happy to build nuclear submarines. The nuclear submarine is the vehicle that will carry the Polaris or a similar weapon. Without the vehicle, we cannot launch the weapon.
We have suffered another loss this year. The Royal Naval Hospital has been taken off the Navy Vote. It was built in 1895–98, at a cost of £405,000. It has been handed over to the health authorities and eventually will be returned as a hospital under the local hospital board. The present Commander-in-Chief of the Nore has suggested that, to retain the traditions that have been passed down through such long ages, after its reconstruction it might be called the Nore Hospital. It would remind us not only of the Command itself, but of the fact that this was a hospital built in association with the senior Service.
There is considerable unhappiness in my constituency this year at the decision of the Admiralty to close the Nore Command. It is with some satisfaction that we note that the naval barracks is not to be handed over to private industry or to another Service, and that naval ratings will still be lodged there. I hope that all this does not spell the cutting off of the naval association—apart from the dockyard—with my constituency, and that it is more a change of emphasis than anything worse.
It may well be that Nore Command is again the guinea pig for what may take place in other commands. Naval strategy is Changing, as is the type of weapon and the number of ships. The enormous shore establishments from which our ships have been operating may have to be trimmed very considerably. Nore Command, during the past years, has been presided over by an officer with the equivalent of field marshal's rank in the Army. There is no doubt that, if we are to streamline and trim our forces in accordance with modern requirements, the structure and chain of command must be looked at. Other areas may well find themselves faced with the break we are to experience on 24th March.
When the Admiralty is considering reducing establishments, particularly overseas units, I ask it not only to consider the question of initial cost, but to take note of what has happened in Bermuda. There, the dockyard has been closed down and the small garrison removed. A very eminent Bermudan said to me, "We feel now that we have been cut off from the old country. Even if it had kept a small garrison, or a physical and obvious sign of our association, it would 'have helped us to resist the encroachment that we feel more and more every year from the Americans and the American way of life." I hope that in future, when these decisions are taken, such factors as that will also be considered before the final break is decided upon.
I am grateful to the Committee for the tolerance it has shown me tonight, but the closing of Nore Command is an occasion that should be brought to its notice. After all, a 400-year break with naval tradition in my constituency is something that we there cannot look at lightly, and I am sure that this Committee does not view it lightly, either.
I am sure the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) will forgive me if, while expressing my sympathy for the problems in his constituency, I do not follow him in them, except on one point which he mentioned, the question of whether or not the people of Scotland were in any way resistant to the idea of nuclear powered submarines.
I want to make it quite plain that the people of Scotland, of course, welcome the advance of modern science and engineering and only wish that it were happening more quickly and that they themselves in their employment situation would be able to derive some benefit from it. What we are concerned about much more, particularly on this side of the House, is that each of the nuclear-powered submarines which are to operate from Holy Loch will carry on board the equivalent of 30 or 40 Hiroshimas. They are also concerned, naturally, as indeed would be the constituents of all hon. Members opposite if the Polaris base were to be near them, with the possible dangers to which the local populations may be exposed.
Earlier, when my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) was good enough to give way to me, the point that I was trying to make was that there is a large section of scientific development in this country which is excluded from the protection afforded to local populations and to the country as a whole by the provisions of many Acts of Parliament which this House has brought into being.
For example, the provisions of the Radioactive Substances Act, which this House passed last year, and which provides for the safety of local populations in any area from any release of radioactive substance, do not include visiting forces or, indeed, Crown defence establishments or the Atomic Energy Authority in so far as it is concerned in secret security work.
It is because of this that a special liaison committee has been brought into being on the Clyde in order that people in the area can at least feel that they will get some information about safety precautions and possible dangers.
There are three points which I wish to make, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will appreciate that to the best of my belief they are directly related to the Estimates that we are considering. The first is, I think, non-controversial. It is the question of scientific research carried out by the Admiralty, for which provision is made in the Estimates. I think that there can be very few people in the country who are not aware of and who do not fully appreciate the splendid laboratories and scientific staffs employed by the Admiralty in its Naval research departments.
There is, for example, the Admiralty Laboratory which deals with physical research at Teddington. There is the Admiralty Material Laboratory at Holton Heath, and other establishments. Serving in them are men of the highest scientific standard in Britain, Fellows of the Royal Society and others of equivalent merit. They are studying, as we also know, many of the fundamental and important problems related to shipping in general and not only the specific problems of shipping in the naval sense. They are studying the problems of corrosion and how to prevent it, the fundamental properties of metals and steels, the problems of giving stability to ships, and the special engineering problems which arise from development of the high-speed turbine engine.
It would be a great deal better for the nation and would offer a great deal of promise to our shipbuilding industry in particular and marine industries in general in this country if, on the basis of these research establishments, the Civil Lord were able to consider building up a field of research, the results of which could be offered freely outside the naval "wire" and afford a real hope of faster technological progress to industry outside. This could be done. Inside some research establishments there is work going on which must be kept secret, but there is a great deal of other work which need not he kept secret. Of course. much of it is published and the results are available, but it would be splendid if. using this part of naval research work as a basis, we were to build up in a field in which Civil research at the moment is very fragmentary and spasmodic, something which could be of great benefit to the nation as a whole. I hope that the Minister will consider that suggestion for the future.
The second point that I want to make concerns Polaris. In these Estimates we are voting money to provide facilities on the Holy Loch. As the Minister of Defence told us in the debate before Christmas, the Navy has been concerned in the question of the Holy Loch base since the inception of the idea to establish it there. I am a little concerned about the many easy assumptions which are made about the value and significance of Polaris in the next two or three years.
It seems to me that there is a tendency for Ministerial statements to be accepted without question and without challenge, whatever their merits may be. It is a tendency which relates not only to a consideration of defence Estimates. It is a tendency against which we have to fight all the time. I think that there has been a too easy acceptance of the idea that the Polaris submarines will solve the whole problem of the invulnerability and credibility of the Western deterrent and will provide the answer to many of the problems about which the military experts have been worried.
It seems to me that Polaris offers no answers but provides a great many new problems. As we know, N.A.T.O. submarines have been found operating in Arctic waters and have caused provocation to the Soviet Union—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] —let me finish—and Soviet submarines have been found operating in Canadian coastal waters—which has provoked the Canadians. Provocation is a two-way business.
I fully appreciate that, Sir William, and I hope that I shall not be led further astray by hon. Members opposite.
The point that I am making is that submarine warfare tends to induce provocative situations, whether from one side or the other. When we are providing money in order to give facilities in the Holy Loch for Polaris submarines which are armed with nuclear weapons capable of wreaking the most tremendous damage—it is a killer weapon on a massive scale—then we are likely to increase provocation. It is inevitable, as has been pointed out in the debate by several hon. Members, that the Russians should now build hunter atomic submarines and fast nuclear-powered submarines in order to chase and keep track of the Polaris submarines. This also is not a one-way business. As soon as a weapon is developed by one side a counter weapon is developed by the other side. This is the whole logic of military and naval strategy in the last ten years.
I am saying that in present circumstances the difference is that everybody, or at least all people whose opinions are valued in this country, and that includes hon. Members opposite—recognise that the only way to defend the people of this country in a nuclear age is to prevent the outbreak of war, and if one is concerned to prevent the outbreak of war— [Interruption.] What I am saying is that hon. Gentlemen opposite are not necessarily finding the best way to do it and, in the opinion of very many of us, are falling into the trap of creating the provocation which could start a nuclear war instead of relaxing some of the tensions and reducing the amount of provocation. I instance the Polaris base in Holy Loch as a supreme example.
It is very likely that within a few months or a year from now we shall find that Russia has a counter-measure to the Polaris submarine and that all we have done is to take the cold war and the danger of the outbreak of a hot war from missile bases and U.2 flights in the sky to the depths of the sea. This is one of the main reasons why the trade union movement in Scotland, and a very considerable section of opinion generally, including the Church in Scotland—
How is it that I have had only one letter against the Polaris submarine, and that from a Quaker? In my view, this is nothing less than a left-wing ramp led by MOSCOW.
I could hazard a guess why the hon. Member has had only one letter. It is because his constituents recognise that they could not expect a satisfactory answer from him on this question. In the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland this is one of the crucial issues of controversy at the moment. It is not only the Labour movement which is so upset today, it is a great section of opinion in Scotland which, as the hon. Gentleman must know, is very concerned. Indeed, much of it has committed itself to opposition to the Polaris weapon.
The whole basis of the opposition to the Polaris base on Holy Loch and the Clyde is that many people feel that by providing facilities for it we are not providing a contribution to peace but a contribution to the greater danger of the outbreak of war.
Another reason is that many are genuinely concerned about the safety aspects of the situation. They may be right and they may be wrong, but they have very certainly the right to be concerned and to be anxious. Many of us are now asking, in view of the events of the last week or two, just why it is that we are in fact still to have the Polaris base in the Holy Loch. We had understood at one stage that the only reason the Government was anxious to establish it there, in face of so much opposition from people living in the area, was that there was an absolute and dire necessity for it to be there and nowhere else.
However, as we know, there have been several reports that the American Government are giving reconsideration to his question. It began to seem that, after all, the Americans regarded Holy Loch only as a temporary convenience; that it could be somewhere else and that, in fact, they could do without it altogether by making the journey of the submarines longer. Many of us have been forced to the conclusion expressed in the Blackburn Evening Telegraph on 21st February this year, which my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) has been good enough to lend to me.
The Blackburn Telegraph said:
Mr. Macmillan was in direct contact with the President over suggestions in Washington that the American Navy would not, after all, set up the Polaris submarine base on Holy Loch. Mr. Macmillan would lose substantial political stature if the plan were abandoned … If the Americans were now to make an astonishing about turn. Mr. Macmillan would be placed in an embarrassing position in Parliament and the country.
If it is a question of making a choice between respecting the opinion of a considerable section of the Scottish people and of preserving, if that be possible, the prestige and stature of the Prime Minister, there are many people throughout the country who would have a great deal more respect for a Government which put the people before the Prime Minister, and respect for human feelings before the prestige of one individual. I hope that the Government even now may be prepared to reconsider the final establishment of the base at Holy Loch.
I turn now to another question and one in which I hope that I can take hon. Members apposite and the Civil Lord in 'particular with me to a considerable extent. They will know that there has been in the last year or so a growing anxiety about what 'has been often summed up as the accidental causes of war. Various people 'have pointed out errors that have been made in the defence system of the West, sometimes in Britain's and sometimes within N.A.T.O. and sometimes in America's system, affecting bases in this country and the facilities which we provide. Sometimes the reports of such events have been dismissed rather lightly and those of us who have tried to point out the implications of these events, taking them individually. as they occurred, have been scoffed at as being alarmist.
The Explanatory Statement which accompanies the Navy Estimates contains the following words under the heading "Research and Development":
Prominent among the projects in Admiralty research establishments are the long-range detection of fast, deep diving submarines, and the introduction of automatic means of handling the mass of tactical information which is provided by modern radar and asdic equipments.
The Civil Lord spent a little time in his opening speech today in telling us about this.
There was circulated in America recently—and I do not think that it has been published in this country—a brief report on a research paper presented by the Mershon National Security Programme at Ohio University, where several months were devoted to an examination by nine ot ten people of the possible accidental caused of war. By "accidental" they do not simply mean somebody pressing a button by mistake or something exploding by mistake. What they mean is the danger that a war can begin, which was neber intended by either side, through some miscalculation, through some technical or human error, through some diplomatic over-estimate of the situation or through some military miscalculation. There have military miscalculation. There have military miscalculation. There have been examples in history of such wars and the research team quotes many of them.
They quote various ways in which this might be likely to occur and they come to the conclusion that there is a considerable chance—though not yet a probability—of a nuclear war occurring within the next ten years as a result of a mistake. One of the ways in which this might occur, so it is believed—[Laughter.] Of all subjects which have been discussed here today, I think that the possibility of the world destroying itself through error is the least matter for laughter among hon. Members opposite.
One of the ways in which it may occur—[Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite are concerned only with fighting a war, not with preventing it. That is how it seems from their reactions.
The Minister referred in some detail to the introduction of electronic methods of calculation as an essential part of modern war. The Ohio report says:
The technical development of our over-all machinery of retaliation in the next decade presents some major problems with respect to safety and the avoidance of potentially dangerous accidents. More sensitive radars are more likely to give spurious signals. Faster reaction times will require less human decision making and a greater dependence on automation.
Here what the report says relates to the point the Minister made today—
Computers may be required to discriminate reliably between missiles and meteors in a few minutes at most. Increasingly reliable, un-jammable and rapid means of communication must be built
The report goes on to indicate that in nuclear warfare ultimate responsibility has had to be delegated to people lower down the ladder so that there is now no one man who can give the decision as to whether a war is to be begun. Indeed, a great deal in the making of decisions which used to be done by men is now being done by automatic machinery, with all the consequences that could be involved if, as has already happened on a number of occasions, the automatic machinery jams or goes wrong. This is particularly so now that we think less of the manned bomber and more of guided missiles. Guided missiles cannot be recalled once they have started out. Once the mistake is made, a war may have begun.
I want to know what steps are being taken within the naval research departments to ensure, as far as one can within the limitations of our nuclear deterrent policy and the Government's determination to continue with it, that safety measures are developed. What is being done to see that safety pre-cautions are kept up to date with the development of weapons? I realise that this is not a really practical possibility inasmuch as it is impossible to exclude danger completely. The logic of the whole of our military strategy and nuclear strategy, the logic of possessing the deterrent, is that the weapon must be ahead of safety precautions. Once one develops the weapon, one must begin to put it into operation. One must not hold back, or the other side will have it first. Therefore, one is bound to put into second place the development of safety precautions which might prevent the outbreak of accidental war.
As the Minister and hon. Members opposite know, there are many people in this country—we shall show a small reflection of how many we are when we march at Aldermaston at Easter this year—who genuinely and fundamentally believe that the whole policy on which Western defence and these Estimates are based, that of providing deterrence in order to prevent the outbreak of war, is out of date and dangerous. If it is accepted—I believe it to be true—that the greatest danger of war we now face comes no longer from possible aggression but from accident, the whole theory of the deterrent goes out of the window. I know that the Government will not agree now, but I believe that the time will come when they do agree.
In the meantime, recognising the big difference that there is between, for example, the Minister and my hon. Friends and myself on this vital matter of the deterrent and nuclear weapons, I hope that he is fully aware of the dangers implicit in the whole system. I want him to assure us that efforts are being made within his research departments to ensure that whatever safety precautions, checks and counter-checks can be introduced will come into operation as soon as possible.
The hon. Lady the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) referred to nuclear weapons as a provocation. I call them a deterrent—they deter other people from starting a war. To be effective the deterrent has to be kept up-to-date and the important fact about the modern deterrent is that it has prevented a third world war from starting, in spite of all the crises which have occurred since 1945.
I should like to bring the debate back to where it started and to discuss the rôle of the Royal Navy. The conventional war, which used to play a large part in the Explanatory Statement on the Navy Estimates, does not appear this year. It refers to limited wars and global wars. I hope this is because it is generally realised that if a conventional war started, involving a major Power in Europe, a nuclear war would inevitably follow as no one possessing nuclear weapons could allow themselves to be defeated by conventional weapons. Therefore, the task facing the Armed Forces is to prevent a nuclear war starting, and, if a nuclear war should start, to play their full part, as well as dealing with these minor conflagrations which occur in various parts of the world.
The question of the deterrent has been dealt with at great length in the two-day defence debate. The important point to bear in mind, however, is the time factor. At the moment the V-bombers carry the deterrent. We have a lot of work and money wrapped up in the V-bomber force. It is effective at the moment, but it will become less effective as the years go by. Therefore, it will have to be replaced. It will be replaced by some form of missile carried by a nuclear powered bomber or fired from the ground or from the sea.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) made a very good case when he suggested that within the next ten years the deterrent should be shifted from the bomber to the Polaris submarine, and I should like to make a few comments on this point. First, on the question of cost, some hon. Members opposite have said that the cost would be prohibitive. The cost of a battleship or an aircraft carrier is high, and in addition, these vessels have to be protected by appropriate escort vessels and aircraft. Considered on the basis of cost, it may well be that ten Polaris submarines would cost considerably less than half this number of aircraft carriers and their escort vessels.
I do not see how the cost of the mother ship Proteus enters into the question. The purpose of Proteus is to extend the range of American nuclear submarines to this side of the Atlantic. Obviously, large naval vessels need to have bases or a fleet train consisting of vessels capable of revictualling and refuelling them. The Polaris submarine needs no fleet of escort vessels or aircraft protection, which are both very costly.
The second point I want to make on this matter relates to the use and the cost of "Dreadnought." We are now to have a second nuclear submarine. The Admiralty should think very hard before building any more anti-submarine submarines. The cost of "Dreadnought" is about £20 million, about half the cost of a nuclear Polaris submarine. It would be much better if we put our money into developing the nuclear-powered Polaris submarine than going ahead with the killer submarine such as "Dreadnought," for if killer submarines are to be effective we must possess them in large numbers in view of the existence of the Russian fleet of 400 operational submarines and they in no way contribute to the deterrent. If we spent our limited funds on Polaris submarines we should, I believe, be doing a service to the country and the taxpayers who will get real value for money. We should therefore consider very carefully whether it is necessary to go into the next generation of aircraft carriers.
There is one other point. The question of the deterrent and who carries it is, I feel, bound up to a certain degree with Service jealousies. At the moment the R.A.F. carries the deterrent, and the R.A.F. will rightly do everything it can to hold on to the deterrent, for otherwise one of the reasons for the existence of the R.A.F. disappears. The Navy would like the deterrent, for it would help to build up the naval forces; so, presumably, would the Army if a properly mobile deterrent fired from the ground could be produced.
There is a case for taking the cost of the deterrent, which is some 10 per cent. of the defence Estimates, out of the Service Estimates altogether and carrying it in the Estimates of the Minister of Defence himself in order to ensure that inter-Service jealousies which are otherwise bound to arise do not influence the Government in their decision as to the right method of carrying the deterrent.
There is an awful lot in what the hon. and learned Gentleman says. I do not think that the Government or the country are yet prepared to go that far, though this suggestion may be a stage along that road.
The only other aspect in this connection to which I want to refer is that it will take us time to develop Polaris submarines. We have some 10 years for that while the V-force is still effective. We should, however, make progress with training and firing practice with Polaris missiles and it is not necessary at this stage to have them in a nuclear submarine. Indeed, it is not even necessary to have them in a submarine at all. I hope that the Admiralty will consider purchasing some missiles which can be installed in conventional surface warships for training purposes, which would also contribute to a degree to the deterrent. A start should be made straightaway, accepting the fact that we shall not start building up the Polaris submarine fleet for some six or seven years.
Turning to the bushfire war, that is, the more limited type of conventional war, here the key is mobility and inter-Service training. We have heard about Transport Command and the development of the amphibious warfare squadron. I am sure that both sides of the House welcome this development. The modern method of dealing with these wars is that the first flight from the Commando carrier would go in helicopters. supported by parachute battalions. Up to now it has been impossible to support these marines or soldiers with the armour, but armour is very necessary. The fact that armour has to be produced makes the planning very complicated. Now that it can be produced from the assault ship and the follow-up forces can be brought in by modern L.S.Ts. which will be built under the Army Estimates.
I should like to know when the first assault ship is likely to be completed. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman may not be able to answer my second question which is when a second assault ship will be built but I hope that he will do all he can to press next year for a second assault ship. It is not much use having only one; these vessels have to be able to refit and repair and there must be two to be effective and to marry up with the two commando carriers.
Also, will the hon. Gentleman do his best to get the Wessex helicopter into service as soon as possible, because only then will these Commando carriers be really effective. At the moment clouds of helicopters take off and land ashore but not very many men come out of them. Those forces will not be fully effective until they have a really effective helicopter such as the Wessex. I hope that the Admiralty will not, in order to economise, make what may be a mistake by trying to combine two functions in one aircraft—the anti-submarine function and the troop-carrying function. Troop-carrying capacity is very important to the whole concept of the Commando carriers plus the assault ship and is therefore a factor which should be stressed in this debate.
Inter-Service training is not, perhaps, too relevant a subject for a Navy Estimate debate, but my hon. Friend has already said that he intends the Royal Regiment of Artillery to co-operate with the Commandos. I hope also that he will see that the Royal Tank Regiment co-operates because tanks are to be carried in the assault ship and training between the Armour and the Commandos is extremely important. I hope also that the Commando Brigade Headquarters are going to get plenty of training in exercises both with parachute battalions with the emphibious warfare squadron and with armour because command and control are often the key factors in these small and rapidly mounted operations.
I hope, too, that on this matter of inter-Service training my hon. Friend is giving some consideration to bringing the three Staff Colleges a little closer together. I think that our inter-Service training at top level, that is at the I.D.C. and J.S.S.C. is good but the Staff Colleges are still organised as three separate services. It is at the lower level, the cadet colleges, where the Service loyalties are first imbibed and fostered. This is good in certain ways and bad in others and I hope that my hon. Friend and his colleagues in the Service Ministries will give consideration to combining the three cadet colleges under the same roof or rather that each of the three service colleges be organised on an inter-service basis.
Commonwealth exercises have been referred to. They are of great importance. and here, I think, the Navy sets a very fine example to the other Services. Commonwealth exercises continue throughout the year as is shown in the Statement.
May I mention very briefly the question brought up by hon. Members opposite of the visit of H.M.S. "Victorious" to Capetown? When I was one of the gunnery officers in a battleship which visited South Africa during the war, two of the best young officers in key gunnery positions were Indians. When we docked in Durban for a refit of some ten weeks, they were taken off the ship and put on another going to India. This was done to prevent them being subjected to the indignities of apartheid. We all dislike the racial segregation practised in South Africa. But this happened in 1943, a long time ago. Apartheid has been going on a long time, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will not go on using this kind of incident for political purposes, because it does not do the Navy any good and makes it very difficult for the sailors and ships concerned which have to visit these ports in the course of their duties for the security of the Commonwealth.
I now turn very briefly to the question of nomenclature. Would my hon. Friend give his attention to the ghastly description "guided missile destroyer"? These vessels are not destroyers. They are over 5,000 tons and in the light cruiser category. There are now frigates of 6,000 tons in the United States navy and frigates of 600 tons in some of the smaller European navies. I hope that my hon. Friend will initiate with our allies some standardisation of the various types of ships. I suggest that they should be classified according to their rôles and not according to their weapons. Let us stop talking about nuclear powered this and guided missile that.
The hon. Lady the Member for Lanark spoke about Admiralty scientists and their research work. I want to say a short word about nuclear propulsion of surface vessels. The Admiralty pioneered this form of propulsion with Dreadnought, and in 1957 initiated a study of a gas-cooled reactor for fleet tankers. That led to the Galbraith Committee which, in turn, led to the co-operation of seven firms and to a most interesting exhibition of reactors for surface vessels which many hon. Members visited at the Board of Trade some two years ago.
In 1960 tenders were asked for reactors for a prototype for the propulsion of surface vessels, but we do not yet know whether one or other of those tenders is going to be accepted. The Admiralty pioneered this work and when it was under its control there was a sense of urgency about it. Now the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and the Ministry of Transport are mainly involved and the sense of urgency seems to have gone. I hope that my hon. Friend will press the Admiralty's view. I am sure that the Admiralty would like to see a nuclear powered Fleet tanker. The trouble with the first vessel is that she will be uneconomic, and that is a very good reason why she should wear the White Ensign, and a Fleet tanker seems an ideal prototype for a study vital for the future of our shipping industry, which means so much to the defence and trade of this country.
We are told that naval and marine recruiting is good, and it has been suggested that the Royal Marines should therefore take over some of the tasks normally allotted to the Army. I hope that my hon. Friend will not pursue that suggestion too far. One of the reasons why the recruiting figures for the Royal Marines is good is that they have good morale and training and that their task fits in with their training. They are an active Service force and train in such matters as helicopter carriers, parachuting, underwater swimming and so on, and they do not want a lot of new static tasks such as guard duties and garrison duties which will certainly adversely affect recruiting figures.
I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to tell us that he is satisfied that recruiting is sufficient to man the new construction now coming along. There is nothing worse than having new ships coming out and going straight into reserve because there is not the manpower available. I do not think that the recruiting situation is anything like as bad as that, but I would like an assurance about it because there has been some doubt expressed in this matter.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Commander Kerans) referred to the Sea Cadet Corps. I hope that my hon. Friend appreciates the value of the use made of naval training facilities by both the Sea Cadet Corps and by Admiralty qualified units of Sea Scouts, which are both very appreciative of the efforts made by the Admiralty to help in their training. I hope that as the number of naval training establishments decrease—as it will in view of the decrease in shore training and in the number of vessels used for training in various ports, training facilities will continue to be available for these youngsters.
I also hope that my hon. Friend will give attention to the fact that Admiralty qualified units of Sea Scouts are not able to receive naval boats—whalers, dinghies and other small sailing boats—on permanent loan in the same way as is allowed for Sea Cadets. The Navy could do much more about providing small boats. We have all seen these excess naval boats, whalers and so on lying in the boat ponds. The Navy may not want to sell them out of the Service, but it can and does lend them to Sea Cadet units on permanent loan but the regulations prevent them being loaned to Admiralty qualified units of Sea Scouts. There is no reason for that rule, and I hope that my hon. Friend will consider reviewing it. I am sure he will agree that Sea Cadets and Sea Scouts provide some of the best recruits for the Service.
I do not think that any hon. Member has mentioned the W.R.N.S. and the M.W.R.N.S., as we called those who served with the Royal Marines. The W.R.N.S. have just celebrated their 21st anniversary and we should all express our appreciation of the great work that these ladies have done for the senior Service.
I was astonished a little while ago to discover that American submarines were not covered by the Vote, especially as the Civil Lord, the hon. and gallant Member for The Hartlepools (Commander Kerans) and my hon. Friends had referred to the American submarine missile ship arriving at Holy Loch. It seems strange that that should be ruled out of order when mention of the advent of the Dutch in the Medway has been accepted as perfectly in order. I would have thought that of the two the arrival of the American Polaris vessel in Holy Loch was the one which provoked most discontent, especially in Scotland. While those in the Medway area may regard it with equanimity, most people in Scotland associated with the Labour Party, the trade union movement and the cooperative movement have shown no support for the advent of this vessel to the Holy Loch.
The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) said that he would try to bring the debate back to its proper function, the rôle of the Navy. That is a most interesting point, and I am sorry that I have so little time to deal with it because, unfortunately for me, I have a great deal to say and only five minutes in which to say it. The hon. Member for Rye (Mr. Godman Irvine) was also interested in the rôle of the Navy. The point about its rôle was answered by the Civil Lord who said it was world-wide. The map which accompanies the Estimates shows that is so.
It is very appropriate to ask how we fit in that rôle with the rôle of the American forces. I pointed out on Monday that President Kennedy had laid down as policy that they must be ready with all speed to deal with any problem at any spot on the globe at a moment's notice. That is the American rôle and, from his speech, it would seem to be the rôle laid down by the Civil
Lord for our Navy. If his speech had had the chorus:
Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves
the music would have been a suitable accompaniment to his words. I hope that when he replies to the debate the Civil Lord will tell us whether the American military and naval forces are to be in the same spots as the British Navy at those times when they may be needed. Or is there some agreement or arrangement whereby the two forces will fit into each others rôles at a moments notice? From what we have heard so far from the other side and from this side of the Atlantic it seems that, despite the alliance about which we hear so much, when it comes to carrying it out in practice there is not a great deal of co-operation. I asked the Civil Lord yesterday if he could tell us when Polaris was arriving here; but he does not know. Yet it is in the Navy Estimates with which we are dealing—
I have only two minutes left or I would give way to the hon. Gentleman. That co-operation would seem to be not very close.
In his speech opening the debate, the hon. Gentleman said that the whole philosophy of his policy depended on the maintenance of our economic strength and keeping up the strength of sterling. He knows that in 1957 the present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations used almost the same words. He said that under his programme we would be able to stabilise the total cost of defence and the cost of the Navy. Exports would increase, and investment would increase.
I want to refer the Civil Lord to the available statistics. Investments have not increased. Exports at the moment are giving the Government the gravest worry because they, too, have not increased—
I must, of course, accept your Ruling, Sir Harry, but the Civil Lord himself referred to the need to maintain the economy and keep up the strength of sterling. That can be done only if we maintain our exports, and our balance-of-payments position. Based on those two items, the hon. Gentleman's policy has failed. He said that he wanted the Polaris-carrying submarine, but that costs too much£50 million.
One of the chief troubles that faces the Civil Lord is that when the five-year plan started the Estimate was £316 million; today, it is £413 million. That is an increase of almost £100 million over the period during which the plan has been in operation. The Civil Lord's Policy is failing, as he well knows, and it will continue to fail as long as he pursues the policy his Government is presently following.
On a point of order, Sir Harry. I, as an hon. Member for Portsmouth, represent 25,000 people who are defended on this Vote, and I have been trying to make a speech all the evening. I have taken part in 11 debates on the Navy Estimates and I have never known an hon. Member for Portsmouth not to be called. It is quite disgraceful that you should neglect the premier port of Great Britain in a Navy Estimates debate.
The hon. and gallant Member has been in die House long enough to know that the right to decide who shall be called is entirely a matter for the Chair, and the hon. and gallant Member must not challenge that right.
On a further point of order. Until very recently this debate could go on all night. Now we have made new rules and it stops at midnight. At five to eleven I got up—
Order. With respect to the hon. and gallant Member, that is not a point of order. I would say that the fact that he has not been called in debate must not be taken as a reflection on himself. It is simply that the Chair has the right to call whomsoever it chooses, and I have called the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East, Mr. Willis.
I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) has not been called. I would not have got up just yet, but I know that the Civil Lord needs a certain amount of time in which to answer—
The hon. and gallant Gentleman knows quite well that that is not a point of order, and it is an abuse of the point of order procedure for him to try to attempt to make that point.
We have had a very interesting debate, and, as usual, it has ranged wide, geographicaly, from Beith, in Ayrshire, to Hong Kong. It has also ranged wide historically—we have dealt with the development of the Nore Command, and with the Mad Mullah of Somaliland. I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West did not get into the debate, but the fact that one or two hon. Members have not been able to speak illustrates the interest there is in this Vote—an interest that is justified by the very vast sums that we are now considering, and also by the fact that these sums increase every year.
This year, the amount is £413 million, as against £397 million last year, and when we add to that the expenditure on the Navy, which, though coming under the Civil Estimates is still naval expenditure, we get a figure of £418 million as against £401 million last year. I should put out to the Civil Lord that there is a mistake in the Estimates in the sumnation at the foot of page 6. I think that the Admiralty is £30 million out. It might be a trifle to the Admiralty. but I am sure that the Treasury will be interested. I imagine that it should be something like £418 million instead of £448 million.
It certainly was not in the document that was issued to me. I was interested to notice that the Navy expects to spend 25 per cent. more on legal expenditure—I do not know why —and, what is still more alarming, 50 per cent. more on stationery and printing. Surely, having got more men ashore, we are not occupying their time more and more filling in forms and producing documents for fewer and fewer ships. At some time, if not tonight, the hon. Gentleman might let me know the reason for this big increase of 50 per cent. on printing and stationery.
Not only are the Estimates vast and increasing, but, like all Defence Estimates, they are by their very nature wasteful. They are made more wasteful by the fact that Government policy changes, which necessitates the changing of programmes, which necessitates numerous decisions, any one of which can result in the waste of many millions of pounds. That has happened frequently during the past few years. Having taken part in these debates and watched this process going on for a considerable time, I am bound to say that our procedure in the House of Commons over these Estimates is most unsatisfactory. I have said this before and I say it again.
A number of items in connection with these Estimates have been raised today, but it is obvious that only the fringe of the matter has been touched. We have the Public Accounts Committee, but it examines the expenditure only after the money has been spent. We have the Estimates Committee, but, as I tried to explain rather inadequately on 14th February, this is a blunt instrument. Then we have the Treasury control. It is almost impossible even for the Treasury to control some of these expenditures.
When a missile the original cost of which was £1½ million ultimately costs £40 million, or when we get a programme, such as that on the "Victorious," originally estimated to cost £3, £4 or £5 million, but ultimately costing £15 or £20 million, it becomes exceedingly difficult for the Treasury to check. I am convinced that sooner or later we shall have to do something about our procedures in connection with these Estimates.
Vote A is for 100,000 men this year, to be reduced with the ending of conscription to 88,000. By and large, no great problem presents itself, but I find it difficult to reconcile the statement by the Minister of Defence on Tuesday that there are more volunteers than the Navy can recruit. That hardly accords with the statement in paragraph 53 of the Explanatory Statement that during 1960 recruiting was below requirements. I am also fascinated by the fact that we recruited only 5,251 men out of some 15,000. I listened to the Civil Lord's explanations of this and could not help wondering whether some of the requirements were not too high. Re-engagement rates remain good at 65 per cent., but there are branches in which the figure is very low. I was disappointed that the branch with the lowest rate of re-engagement was the electrical artificer branch, which is one of the most important in the Service because of the expanding amount of electrical work.
I have always believed that the best thing is a long service Navy, and it is important that we should try to keep the re-engagement rate as high as possible. If we are to do that, the structure must be correct. I have frequently asked about the Committee on Lower Deck Structure, but I do not get much satisfaction from the Civil Lord's replies. I ask him again to say something more some time about what he calls the programme of experiments in the organisation of manpower which will be taking place in selected ships over the next few years and which will be based on the Committee's recommendations.
One of the events of the past year in relation to the rating structure which I very much regret is the rejection by the Admiralty of the idea of a master rating. That falls badly upon the mechanician and artificer branches, where a man has to spend a long period at the end of his service without prospect of further advance. There is no doubt, from the Civil Lord's own figures, that the chief petty officer is at a disadvantage compared with the W.O.1 or W.O.2 in the Army, and the W.O. in the Royal Air Force.
I understand that the Admiralty accepted that but it could not find an administrative scheme which would make the master rating possible. I hope that next time this is considered—as I have no doubt it will be—the Admiralty will try to put the job of making an administrative scheme into the hands of somebody who is determined to rectify this injustice.
I am also disappointed with something the Civil Lord seemed to be delighted about—that is, that 32 per cent. of commissions last year were made from the lower deck. That is the lowest figure for many years. I have the figures here. It was 39 per cent. in 1954; 45 per cent. in 1955; 53 per cent. in 1956; 44 per cent. in 1957; and 46 per cent. in 1958.
In answer to me a week or two ago, the hon. Gentleman said that the percentage of commissions from the lower deck last year was down to 32 per cent. That is unsatisfactory, and a matter which should be looked into, because if there is to be a proper promotion ladder then that figure might have to be higher.
I am glad to note the increase in the Vote for accommodation for personnel, but I was exceedingly disappointed that having raised so high the hopes concerning the rebuilding of the "Caledonia" he dashed them this year by not proceeding with the work. I hope that his promise for 1962–63 will not go the way that the promise for 1961–62 went. "Caledonia" has been a long time in the queue.
I was also interested in paragraph 75 on sea training, because I understand that this training is going exceedingly well. It has been suggested to me in respect of artificer apprentices in H.M.S. "Chaplet" that once the scheme is settled it might be extended. The reports I have had have practically all been favourable.
Paragraph 73 deals with the ships entering the Service in an efficient condition, and that links up with another matter I have raised recently—the question of availability. Despite the fine work of the Fleet maintenance units and the Civil Lord's assurance in December, and again today, I still understand that there is great concern in the Service about the availability of ships.
I am informed on very good authority indeed that there are cases where the availability has been as low as 35 per cent. This seems to be most serious when we are dealing with ships which cost many millions of pounds, and I hope that the Minister will look at the matter again. I am not satisfied because time at sea for one or two ships does not seem to me to be exactly the same thing as full availability.
I am glad that the number of admirals has been reduced and will be reduced still further. I hope that that will mean, in addition to reducing the number in the medical department, that there will be a reduction at the head of the training department of the Admiralty.
I come now to the ships and the fleet. Here we are at a disadvantage because we never quite know what the Government's policies are. The Government themselves, of course, recognise this by the fact that they endeavour to explain them each year in the Explanatory Statement, and each year we have a different statement of the policies and purposes for which we have a Navy. We also know practically nothing of the general pattern of alliances and commitments into which our naval defence effort has to fit. This has been said over and over again today in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) and I have raised it on previous occasions, and it has come out clearly again today. Without that knowledge, it is difficult to make judgments.
As I understand Admiralty and Government policy in the past few years, it has been, first, to produce the forces and ships for the purpose of dealing with what has been called the local conflict; secondly, to build up a strong antisubmarine force; thirdly, to back their efforts with an effective nuclear strike force.
With regard to the Navy's work in connection with meeting local conflicts, I welcome the coming into commission of the "Bulwark" and also the work
proceeding on the "Albion". I welcome also the decision to proceed with the assault ship mentioned in paragraph 30, but I think that the hon. Gentleman should give us more information about when we may expect this. He should elaborate on what the Minister of Defence said on Tuesday last:
As the Navy at the moment is a very profitable field for recruiting, and the Marines in particular, there is certainly every intention to recruit there to the maximum for which we can provide equipment and vessels ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1961; Vol. 635, c. 1507.]
That can mean anything, of course. It means that the Navy can proceed until it is doing practically the whole of the work of the Army. That might be a good thing, but we ought to be told what the Admiralty has in view. What is its programme, and at what speed will it proceed with it?
I think that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) made a very pertinent analysis of anti-submarine forces and their possible uses. I myself cannot visualise a war in which we suffer large-scale submarine attack in which we would not be going it "with our allies. Neither can I visualise a war in which we suffered large-scale submarine attack without the very great danger of it becoming a nuclear war. It is precisely for that reason that we must press the hon. Gentleman to give us an answer about what the Admiralty's policy is.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West asked the question two years ago. I asked last year. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton asked the question earlier today, and I ask it again now. Is it still the policy of the Government, first, to strike with maximum atomic capability the enemy airfields and naval bases which support the forces which would seize control of the seas? We ought to be told this. Or is the fact that we have be building up this antisubmarine force an indication that the Government are withdrawing from their policy?
The Committee is entitled to know. This is an exceedingly serious matter. If the submarine threat is the serious reality it is claimed to be—and I am not objecting to that claim at the moment—then the possible use of atomic weapons to meet it is as dangerous a possibility for this nation as the very much more frequently discussed first use of atomic weapons in Europe. Therefore, we should be told more about this. We have the right to be told more.
We should also be told very much more about the policy of the Navy and nuclear weapons. This has become very important at present, when the Navy is beginning to "fly its kites" and make its first claims for aircraft carrier replacements. I noticed that the First Lord, at the Trafalgar Day dinner, said:
We are at the moment discussing the problem of a new generation of aircraft carriers and, perhaps even more important, the aircraft which would go with them, because on the aircraft would depend the size and shape of the ship.
This was confirmed in a reply given to a Question of mine on 16th November. This is a complete reversal of Government policy announced in 1958, because the then Minister of Defence, now Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, told us that we could not contemplate building more and bigger carriers which, with their aircraft, would cost over £100 million each. We do not know what the Admiralty has in mind, but we do know they might even cost more than this, unless the Admiralty has in mind building much smaller ships than are being built in the United States at the present time.
Why has this policy been reversed? Surely, before we agree to be irrevocably committed to this programme, we should be given much more information about it. Can we afford to face up to the expenditure of what might be £400 million or £500 million in this way? The purpose, as I understand it, and as explained by the Minister of Defence, is to make a contribution to the Western deterrent and in order that our views might carry weight in the discussions going on. That is a very big price to pay for one's views to be listened to. Or is it part of the Minister of Defence's policy of having the maximum number of options about which he spoke on Tuesday? The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the TSR. 2, and told us what was being done in connection with Polaris—and we know the possibilities of this. It is very nice, all this, but the nation cannot afford these options, any more than we can afford to duplicate the overwhelming strategic nuclear power of our chief N.A.T.O. ally, America. The Government have a clear and definite responsibility to make some decisions at the 'present time if we are to avoid wasteful expenditure of many tens, and perhaps hundreds of millions, of pounds.
The Minister of Defence also spoke about the necessity for flexibility, but I suggest that flexibility can be bought at too great a price. In 'making the decisions which I believe have to be made, every argument, indeed, every trend, points to the necessity for making them on the basis of collective security as distinct from individual defence effort. When we measure the situation in these terms and have in mind our own economic capacity, it is very difficult indeed, if not impossible, to accept the need for a new fleet of aircraft carriers and aircraft as an addition to or replacement of our present nuclear capacity.
I stress this because I think that it is important that we should make our voices heard now. It will be too late in a few years' time. I can understand the Admiralty wanting to make these plans and proceed with them. I do not blame the Admiralty for wanting to do this. But this might well represent the thin end of the wedge which, when finally driven home, will cause us to repent.
I know what happens. The Admiralty says, as the First Lord said at the Trafalgar Day dinner, that we must have support aircraft carriers for our commando troops and our assault craft, and that sort of thing. But if we are to spend £20 million, £30 million, £40 million, or £50 million on an aircraft carrier, somebody at the Admiralty is bound to say, "We are spending £40 million or £50 million. Let us make it bigger and better. Let us put in bigger and better equipment. Let us build it to carry such-and-such an aircraft." This is how things are developed in the Navy.
When we look at the world today, and attempt to foresee the possible emergencies that might arise, it appears very difficult to visualise any wars in which the Royal Navy would be engaged alone. Inevitably, either our Commonwealth or N.A.T.O. or S.E.A.T.O. or CENTO allies would be involved. It is precisely on this point that we have failed to get much information. It is true that we got a list of the exercises that are carried out. The Civil Lord paid lip service to this co-operation at the beginning of his speech. We have also had some other references to the necessity for these exercises. But we never get the real pattern into which our defence forces are supposed to fit, and this makes an intelligent judgment on the types of ship and the fleet dispositions very difficult indeed far hon. Members.
I can understand that great difficulties are involved in trying to give this overall picture, but, making full allowance for this, I cannot help feeling that the real trouble is that the forward thinking of the Admiralty is still based far too much on our individual national defence requirements. At a time when every consideration drives us towards collective defence and we proclaim through the mouths of Ministers our acceptance of the necessity for interdependence, this does not seem to make very much sense.
Last year, I raised a number of points about the Western European Union Report, and I was shocked that the hon. Gentleman had not even seen the Report. One of the things that I raised with him was the question of an overall balanced force in N.A.T.O. made up of specialised units contributed by the various N.A.T.O. Powers. The reply that I got from the hon. Gentleman after the debate was this:
On the suggestion that N.A.T.O. should attempt to produce an overall balanced force by asking members of the Alliance to concentrate on the development of specialised units, we would support the principle of balanced collective forces. The world-wide national commitments of the United Kingdom do, however, limit the scope for implementation of this suggestion by United Kingdom naval forces.
I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that the so-called world-wide national commitments should really be matters for collective consideration and decision between as many of the nations concerned as possible. After all, the maintenance of peace in any part of the world is not the peculiar concern of Britain alone. It is also the concern of other nations. Indeed, as weapons are piled up throughout the world and destructive power is multiplied indefinitely, it becomes the primary concern of every nation. It is this fact which gives credibility and, indeed, urgency to the necessity for multilateral disarmament and the creation of a system of collective security. It is this fact which
offers the promise that ultimately we shall have no call for vast expenditures such as we are asked to approve tonight.
That is why I believe the House of Commons must emphasise and insist that the policies and plans of the Admiralty must be reconciled with the hopes of the next few years. This might, and no doubt will, entail the taking of risks, but these will be small compared with those we run if we fail to do so.
I should like to start by congratulating the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) upon, not his first appearance at the Dispatch Box, but his first speech on these Estimates for the Opposition.
I should also like to congratulate all the many hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. I do not think we have ever had a better attendance at a Navy Estimates debate. I am only sorry that many hon. Members have not had a chance to speak. There were one or two rather long speeches, so one or two hon. Members were kept out. However, the attendance and the vigour of the speeches show the interest that there is, the reviving interest, throughout the nation in the Navy's doings in the shape which is now emerging after the last five years.
I should like, straightaway, to associate myself with the remarks made by several hon. Members about the Secretary of the Admiralty who, as is generally known, is retiring at the end of this month. On behalf of my colleagues on the Board of Admiralty, I associate myself with the very warm expressions. Many hon. Members have served under him. I believe that there are seven First Lords and twelve Civil Lords and Financial Secretaries who have been guided through the Estimates season and guided in all their work by him.
Sir John Lang makes a worthy successor to Pepys. He has been at the Admiralty for fifteen years as Secretary and thus is the doyen of all the Permanent Secretaries throughout Whitehall. I know that the Lords Alexander, Hall, Pakenham—now the Earl of Longford—Cilcennin, Hailsham and Selkirk and my noble Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, who is at the moment in the Peers' Gallery, would wish to be associated with the expression of thanks. Two Members who have served under Sir John—the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby)—are with us during this debate.
I do not think that any Civil Lord, or anyone else winding up this debate, could have had so much contradictory advice given to him. One hon. Member wanted more nuclear submarines. Other hon. Members wanted more aircraft carriers. Some wanted no aircraft carriers. Some wanted no attention to anti-submarine warfare; others wanted far greater attention to it. Therefore, perhaps it is a little difficult to summarise all these views in a single speech of half an hour.
I should like to deal, first, with some of the points made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis). He queried the number of rejections among our applicants to join the Service. I undertook earlier to make a special study of this. As I said earlier, we have studied the eye-sight problem most carefully. Almost 40 per cent. of the medical rejections are on account of eyesight disabilities, including colour blindness. We have relaxed the requirements in one or two branches, and I do not think there is much more that can be done, but we will keep the subject under review.
On the question of the Committee on Rating Structure, I know that the hon. Gentleman has been extremely patient. It has gone on for a very long time. I can only say that when the experiments are undertaken I will keep him informed.
On the question of the assault ship, the hon. Gentleman asked me for a date. I am not in a position to give it. It will certainly be ready and operational before the present amphibious warfare squadron is worn out. We have yet to go to tender and when we do that we shall clear up the date when we may expect it.
On the question of aircraft carriers, I would like to refer—
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence said, and I confirmed this in my opening speech, that we would recruit a fifth Commando. We have to start organising units straightaway for the second Commando carrier, but it is much too early to start for the assault ship. As the amphibious warfare squadron is phased out the assault ship will be phased in.
The hon. Gentleman asked for a little more about the future of aircraft carriers. He asked whether they would really be necessary—I think that he implied that perhaps they were unnecessary—and whether we were changing our policy. I would reiterate the words I used in opening the debate. I said that if the deployment of sea and air power, including support of the Army abroad, is to continue to be one of the tasks of the Navy, then aircraft carriers will be a necessity. I did not state that it was to be, but if it is the Government's decision that it is to be a continuing task of the Navy, then we shall obviously have to have another generation of aircraft carriers.
I was asked by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) where we stood on vertical take-off aircraft, and whether, perhaps, these could be used on aircraft carriers. There are a lot of problems about the vertical take-off aircraft, not least the ground effect. When the aircraft comes in over a carrier there may be 60 ft. between the sea level and the flight deck. It is like flying suddenly over a cliff. The exact way in which ground effect will react on the aircraft in these circumstances is not known. Moreover, when the flight deck might be pitching to the extent of another 20 ft. it becomes even more uncertain. Will the around effect cushion the aircraft or will it destroy it? These are matters which must be carefully studied.
I must also add that it is by no means certain that the vertical take-off aircraft is the best solution for the Navy. If we have a ship with an air squadron personnel of probably 500, and a ship's complement of probably another 500, about 1,000 men in a ship, we might as well have a flat top on it making it an orthodox carrier. It is a debatable question and one of balance of advantage, when we have a ship of 20,000 tons with about 1,000 men in it. It may be better to use a catapult and steam, which can easily be raised, to get the aircraft off, with arresting hawsers to intercept aircraft when landing rather than impose the extra load on the aircraft required to give it a VTOL capability, a load which limits its performance throughout its sortie, There may be intrinsic disadvantages in vertical take-off as far as the Navy is concerned.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) spoke movingly about the closure of the Nore Command. On 31st March, the Commander-in-thief of the Nore will haul down his flag and the Command will cease to exist. We intend to mark its passing with a ceremonial parade, a march past, the laying up of the Queen's Colour and a service at St. George's Church and at the barracks at Chatham. I, for one, shall be present.
According to my researches, the Nore Command was established over 200 years ago, when Sir Isaac Townshend was appointed Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty's ships and vessels in the Rivers Thames and Medway. As my hon. Friend himself said, Chatham Dockyard is going on, and it is going on in the most vigorous way. In fact, it is the pilot yard for our experimental reorganisation.
I was asked by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton and the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) and other hon. Members whether I could give a further report about our combing of the Navy's tail—the number of shore establishments. During the last five years, we have seen a major reduction in the shore establishments and I would like at once to thank hon. Members for their co-operation. I know that it is sometimes difficult to be a good constituency Member and to guard the taxpayer's pocket with the same assiduity. Hon. Members have been most tolerant, especially when we have had to close shore establishments in an area where there has been temporary unemployment and when the interests of getting the best and the greatest number of operational ships to sea has necessitated closing our shore establishments.
The Way Ahead Committee has been tackling this problem with vigour and has done extremely well. We estimate that by 1962 about 7,000 naval posts ashore will have been abolished. Civilian posts will have been reduced by a total of about 40,000, and a financial saving of about £15½ million per annum will have been achieved. So hon. Members' tolerance and their co-operation have had a salutary effect.
The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) raised a matter on which he and I have had a great deal of correspondence. My predecessor went to inspect the quarters concerned and I am grateful for the help that the hon. Member has been able to give me in my negotiations with the local council to build replacement houses. The council has already agreed to build ten houses and we hope that it will build others. Before the council can be convinced, it naturally wants to know how many Admiralty tenants can guarantee that they will accept a new house, not at the rent which the hon. Member quoted, but, I am afraid, at the very much higher rent which would have to be charged for a new house. We have asked the staff association concerned for its views on the number of people who would like these newer houses at the higher rents, and as soon as we have those views, I shall be in communication with the hon. Member and the local authorities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills), on behalf of his Ulster Unionist colleagues, touched on the problems of Ulster. It is fair to say that he was not the only hon. Member in the debate who sought some of the orders which are to be placed in the near future. I am sure that he appreciated that Admiralty orders cannot solve the present recession in the shipbuilding industry on its own. It is a much larger problem than that.
As he knows, Harland and Wolff will have the opportunity to tender for the two guided missile destroyers. As the firm is currently building the "Kent", it will have a great deal of experience and should be able to cost very accurately. I therefore hope that its tender will be keenly competitive.
I assure my hon. Friend that Harland and Wolff will be given an opportunity to tender for all naval orders which it has the facilities to build. We take employment factors into account when deciding areas from which to invite tenders, but, when the tenders are in, my hon. Friend will understand that we must be guided by the price, because that is only fair to the other tenderers who have made an effort and who are competing.
I am going to Belfast tomorrow morning to watch the handing over of the "Vikrant" from Harland and Wolff's yard to the Indian Navy, and I will then have an opportunity to visit the yard. We understand the difficulties there and we are certainly considering them with sympathy, but I cannot be too hopeful about the outcome.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives raised a number of issues. He asked about cross-operating between the R.A.F. and the Royal Navy. Royal Navy Aircraft can, of course, operate from R.A.F. bases, but the current generation of R.A.F. aircraft cannot operate either on to or out of carriers, because they are not stressed for the purpose. Helicopters can certainly be cross-operated. As I said in my opening speech, the "Ark Royal", during exercises in the Mediterranean, had under its control both Royal Air Force and United States aircraft. This illustrates the comprehensive way in which our control facilities can be used by other Services.
My hon. Friend also asked whether we could not make more minesweepers available for seamanship training and the question of minesweepers was also raised by the right hon. Member for West Bromwich. We acknowledge that the minesweeper, the coastal minesweeper particularly, is an excellent means of seamanship training. It is cheap, comparatively easily manned and is becoming in many ways a maid-of-all-work. When the ceremony at Oléron took place last year, it was not possible for a frigate to get up to Oléron and an R.N.R. minesweeper had to convey the party ashore. I think that it was from my hon. Friend's division, the Bristol Division of the R.N.R.
Not only can the minesweeper carry out seamanship training cheaply and economically, but they can get to places which bigger ships cannot touch. Nevertheless, I do not see much case for building more minesweepers, however much orders may be wanted in smaller shipyards, because if my hon. Friend studies the numbers of those in reserve he will find that our stocks are considerable and many are laid up in cradles at Hythe and elsewhere.
My hon. Friend also asked when we could give an old carrier to Australia. I should point out that Australia has the "Sydney" already in reserve as well as the "Melbourne" in operation. If she wanted to introduce a commando rôle she has that means, and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend's remarks will be read there.
My hon. Friend asked me a question which I believe he asked last year and which I did not answer. It was: how much of our research and development effort is being spent on undersea warfare? Last year, it was £1·9 million and this year it has been stepped up to £2·8 million. This emphasises there is a tremendous increase in the attention we are paying to this aspect of naval warfare.
I am most grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton for his encouraging emphasis on the Navy's rôle in combined operations and on the underlying gravity of our anti-submarine warfare problems, and for again making my point about the advantages of mobility given by the sea. I have studied, as I expect he has, the Daily Herald and various cases put by the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Cross-man) and others—the official Labour party policy, or anyway the policy of the hon. Member for Coventry, East, who is Chairman of the Labour Party. As I understand it, it is, first, to end the present dependence on nuclear weapons of N.A.T.O. forces in Europe. I think that even the official policy says that ultimately Britain must opt out of the nuclear deterrent and depend upon the United States—phase out when we come to the end of the present generation of V-bombers.
I think that that has been said from the other side of the Committee. If that is so, it surely arises that we must have stronger shield forces. That does not mean stronger forces on the ground only or in the air only, but stronger conventional forces, ground. air and naval. If so, I cannot quite follow the argument of the hon. and learned Member that we ought not to be spending money on new frigates, new ships, but ought to be using, as he implied, 2nd XI ships and not modernising ships and building new ones in the way we are doing.
How could we carry out exercises with our N.A.T.O. allies and set the example that we have always set in naval spheres to the Dutch, the West Germans, the French and the Belgians if we are to field a 2nd XI and be playing with their 1st XI? If this matter is thought out fundamentally, it will be seen that Britain cannot afford to have a 2nd XI when she is so dependent on her alliances. I ask him to re-read what he said and, perhaps, read my argument. too. The hon. and learned Member may be persuaded that there is something in my case.
I think that every new Civil Lord comes to his appointment with sympathy for the 2nd XI argument. When I first arrived in the post to which I have been appointed, I confess that, I too, was one of those who were attracted by the argument that we were doing too much to our ships. I do not think so now. However, the stage comes in the life of every ship—about sixteen years in the case of a frigate, which is lightly built, nowadays—when it no longer becomes economical to go on overhauling the hull, changing the plates and, possibly, the propulsion machinery. It is then far cheaper to build anew rather than to try to put new wine into old bottles. I think that our policy of modernising existing ships, as far as possible, and a constant and steady new building programme, building the scientific developments of recent years into all our ships, is the right one—
My case is that we are giving much too high a priority to a generalised submarine war—which I think is most unlikely—as against an insufficient priority to the mobile, combined operations rôle which, within the limits of the things that are available to us, is, I think, much more important. That was my point. Of course, if we had unlimited resources we would like everything new, but we would rather have larger forces even if less new.
I do not disagree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. If he looks at my noble Friend's Explanatory Statement and at my speech he will see that in recent years we have moved towards a greater concentration on our cold-war capability—and I think that he acknowledged that in various ways.
I was asked by the hon. Member for Accrington and by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) about the run-down at Hong Kong. We are now down to total numbers of about 200, and I do not think that there is much room to go lower as long as we are to provide facilities for visiting ships and for the concentration there of a division of minesweepers. I do not hold out much hope of going much further in that direction.
My hon. Friend also asked about the Royal Naval Barracks at Devonport and the rumour that £1 million was to be spent on them. Those barracks, like so many of our barracks, are over 100 years old. At some time in the future we shall, just as the Army has had to do, have to modernise our barracks and spend—I do not know how much it will cost, but it will be a considerable sum of money. However, the complete plans are by no means finalised—the programme must be carried out in stages—and it is much too early to put in a detailed estimate of that sort.
My hon. Friend also touched on the Royal Marine Barracks at Stonehouse. Up to now, I have been talking about reduced shore establishments, so it might be refreshing to talk about pressure in the other direction. The future of Stone-house Barracks is still not settled. We hope eventually to deploy two Royal Marine Commandos in the United Kingdom. At present, our only home-based Commando is at Bickleigh, where the accommodation will need to be replaced within the next few years.
We are, therefore, looking for good quality accommodation for two Commandos. At one time, it seemed that it might be a good plan to house one of them at Pembroke Dock, but we dropped the idea largely because of the increased organisational problems and overheads if we had too widely separated Marine Barracks. There was room for only one Commando in South Wales. We are looking at other possibilities, including the modernisation of Stonehouse Barracks to take one Commando, but it is difficult to combine maximum efficiency and running costs with a minimum of capital expenditure. It is obviously more desirable to have the two together, and we are studying that problem.
I turn to the subject of cruisers. In his opening remarks, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton made disparaging remarks about cruisers, yet the whole burden of his remarks was that we should strengthen the Navy in the cold war. The cruiser is surely the ideal ship for the cold war. It has great endurance—which is tremendously invaluable in the open spaces of such areas as the Indian Ocean—high speed, good sea-keeping qualities, and very powerful armament for bombardment, and so on—
A cruiser can also help to "mother" small ships in their maintenance and carry, as we did in a cold-war operation, a whole battalion of between 600 and 700 troops from Jamaica to British Guiana, although in uncomfortable circumstances. This is of tremendous value in a cold-war operation. A cruiser can also land her own marines, which often is invaluable.
Because we wanted to come to a modern cruiser with a modern armament, and this we have in the "Tiger" cruisers. I know that there has been criticism in the past about the guns of the "Tiger", but these difficulties are now almost ironed out. The "Tiger" looks to be emerging as a very successful cruiser. I believe that vessels of this type will be some of our most valuable ships for the cold-war job. Each of the four 6-in. guns of the "Tiger" can fire at a maximum rate of 20 rounds per minute and its six 3-in. high-angle guns at a rate of 100 rounds per minute. Thus, it can deliver a broadside of 6½ tons of shell every minute. This compares with a rate of fire in the wartime "Fiji" class of exactly half these figures. Whatever aspect one considers, the "Tiger" is one of the most useful ships in the cold-war context.
I turn now to the questions of the hon. Lady the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart). Possibly the only thing I share in common with her is that we are both members of the same trade union. The hon. Lady asked whether we make available to industry the products of our research establishments. We certainly do in such things, for instance, as research on corrosion, propellers, and the cavitation problems which arise from propellers. All these are made available to the shipbuilding industry.
The hon. Lady asked whether we were looking into the question of accidents in relation to Polaris, and she related this to her own feeling—although she associated her hon. Friends with it. I do not know that there would be such a lot on her side—
Not accidents in relation to Polaris, but in relation more specifically to missile-carrying craft of one kind or another, in which accidents are particularly likely to occur. There was no specific reference to Polaris.
I am sorry if I misunderstood, but when the hon. Lady was referring to the accidents one of her hon. Friends was talking about Polaris.
I commend to the hon. Lady the fact that of all features and types of deterrent, the Polaris, because it is a far safer weapon, and because it is a second-strike weapon, is the least likely to be fired as a result of an accident, a miscalculation or error in our radar network. The hon. Lady referred to automation and the way that there might be misinformation and a lower-rank accident. If the hon. Lady feels sincerely about that, she should be one of the pickets, not marching against Polaris or to Aldermaston, but marching for those who favour Polaris as a very safe form of deterrent.
The right hon. Member for West Bromwich, a former Civil Lord, asked whether we ought not to have fewer cruisers—I have dealt with that—fewer minesweepers and more frigates. There is not a balance between minesweepers and frigates. Our modern frigate needs a ship's complement of 200 men, a coastal minesweeper 35 and an inshore minesweeper 12. That is why we use the minesweepers as cheap maids-of-all-work and we cannot put more frigates to sea simply by saving money on a few minesweepers, The right hon. Gentleman also urged us to undertake co-operative research with the Commonwealth. I can assure him we are doing our utmost to foster this.
I was asked by several hon. Members what we were doing about the submarine divisions based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for the Canadian Navy, and in Australia. We are responsible, and have always undertaken that responsibility, for antisubmarine training in the Commonwealth. We do our utmost to supply submarines for all the Commonwealth navies to train with.
I understand that Canada is considering starting her own submarine division. If that happens, we will withdraw. Both Canada and Australia pay their share of the operational costs. Those costs are being reviewed, and it looks as if they will pay an increased share.
This is an example of valuable cooperation within the Commonwealth, and something which is greatly appreciated by our friends. My hon. Friend the Member for Rye (Mr. Godman Irvine) asked whether we co-ordinated Commonwealth naval policy, whether there was an official committee. There is not an official committee. But on the highest plane, the chiefs of staff generally get together, often at the time of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, when great strategic prob- lems are discussed. At a lower level the representatives of the naval staffs of all Commonwealth countries frequently visit us and, of course, chiefs of staff often come individually. They stay for some time, tour a lot of establishments, and have complete access to a number of our research departments and to departments of the Admiralty. Chiefs of staff generally meet the Board of Admiralty, and we take every opportunity to exchange ideas.
But it is not possible to impose on independent Commonwealth countries a pattern for their navies. We can only advise them on what they can afford, perhaps tell them of the costs and other problems in running a particular type of service, an aircraft carrier, cruisers or submarines. We cannot impose our ideas on each of the fifteen Commonwealth navies, all at different stages of development. We give them all the advice we can and we regard this as a very important task.
I have tried to answer most of the points raised in the debate. I cannot answer all of them, but I will write to hon. Members whose points I have been unable to deal with. I hope that the Committee will feel that the Navy is proceeding on the right lines and will pass this Vote.
That 100,000 Officers, Seamen and Juniors and Royal Marines, who are borne on the books of Her Majesty's Ships and at the Royal Marine establishments, and members of the Women's Royal Naval Service and Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service, be employed for the Sea Service, for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1962.