On a point of order, Sir William. I have a copy of the Defence Estimates and I note that, on page 50, reference is made to the
Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy…
As I understand it, no right hon. or hon. Member bears that title.
The Defence (Transfer of Functions) Bill is now before the House and on Wednesday, after ten o'clock, three Amendments to that Bill will be considered. These Amendments refer to the desire of hon. Members—and this matter was raised in another place, where the Government were defeated on the issue—to substitute for the word "Navy" the word "Admiralty".
At present, we have the First Lord of the Admiralty, who, presumably, is responsible for these Estimates, and I assume that the Civil Lord of the Admiralty is anxious to address the Committee. But if there is no such person in this assembly who is entitled to describe himself as Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy, are not these Estimates out of order?
No. It is for the Civil Lord to explain his Estimates. It is not for the Chair to hazard an opinion one way or the other. It is perfectly orderly to debate the matter and the Minister is in charge.
Further to that point of order, Sir William. I agree with you 100 per cent. The Civil Lord is entitled to address the Committee. Indeed, that is his purpose today; but that is not the point I am making. I have no objection to his addressing us. I am concerned with whether these Estimates are in order.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman and I can be in unison on this matter. He has read out from page 50, which is Appendix IV. The Vote I have just read is the Question,
That 103,000 Officers, Ratings and Royal Marines be maintained for Naval Service, for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1965.
The debate should take place on the subject of that Vote, although, of course, other subjects are germane to it and may be referred to.
Further to that point of order. May I direct your attention to what appears in Appendix IV? It refers to
Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy and Personal Staff".
Five persons are involved, including the
Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy….
The Bill which provides for such a person being appointed has not yet passed through the House.
I am sure that the Committee is obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for raising this point, but I am equally sure that it is not one for the Chair to deal with. If he looks carefully at Appendix IV he will appreciate that that involves a question of finance, whereas the Question I have put before the Committee is a question of the number of personnel.
I am extremely sorry to appear to be engaged in a dispute with the Chair, Sir William, but I have read these Estimates very carefully and, since it is an undoubted fact that a Bill is now before the House which provides for the reorganisation of our Service Ministries—
Order. There is no Bill before the House now, because we are in Committee. What we have before us now is the Question which I have read out, and we should debate that. The tight hon. Gentleman referred to Wednesday and the possibility of certain things being discussed then, but Wednesday must take care of itself. It is not for me to rule upon it today.
I should be extremely sorry if any action were taken by you —quite unwittingly, of course—which would transgress the rules of order, Sir William. I am well aware that we are in Committee. But we are in Committee considering the salary of a person who has not yet been appointed.
Order. We are not discussing a salary at all. Whatever decision we take on the Vote that I have read out has nothing whatever to do with what the right hon. Gentleman has raised concerning a salary, which can be debated at a different time.
Further to that point of order, Sir William. Perhaps I can draw your attention and that of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) to page 1 of the Estimates, which makes it absolutely clear that, having said in the White Paper on the Central Organisation for Defence that a single set of Defence Estimates would be presented to Parliament, we have framed them
in the light of the provisions of the Defence (Transfer of Functions) Bill now before Parliament".
The date, of course, is relevant. The intention is that 1st April next shall be the date when the changeover takes place. These Estimates run from 1st April, 1964, until 31st March, 1965 and, therefore, they must be in order.
I think that the Civil Lord has made the matter even more complicated. What he now suggests is that these Estimates run from 1st April, when a Bill before the House, providing for a Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy, may be passed, although that is not certain. That depends on what happens on Wednesday. These Estimates are to be finally disposed of today.
If I may interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, what we are debating is Vote A, which is on page 19 of the Estimates. This has nothing to do with the matter in which the right hon. Gentleman is interested. I feel sure that the Committee would be well advised to get on with Vote A. Many things can be raised during the course of the debate.
This is a very serious matter and could easily lead to further complications. I am trying to disentangle it for the benefit of the Committee. I do not want any action to be taken which is regarded as a transgression of the rules of order. Let me read what the Estimates say:
These Estimates have been framed in the light of the provisions of the Defence (Transfer of Functions) Bill now before Parliament.
That Bill has not been disposed of, but these Estimates will be finally disposed of today.
Perhaps I can satisfy the right hon. Gentleman. On Monday next, 9th March, there is the 11th Allotted Supply Day, Committee, Services Money Votes. That would be an opportunity when the right hon. Gentleman could debate what he has in mind, as by then the Lords Amendments to the Defence (Transfer of Functions) Bill will have been debuted in the House of Commons.
But not necessarily passed. If the House decides to reject that Bill, then my right hon. Friend may not have that opportunity of putting the point which he is trying to make today.
We may be in danger of looking too far into the future. What I am anxious for the Committee to do is to get on with the debate on Vote A. That is the Question which I have already put to the Committee and I think that the Committee should allow the Minister to begin the debate.
On a point of order. The point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) is covered by Vote A, on page 19 of the Estimates. We are debating numbers and it is clear that some of the numbers included in Vote A appear in Appendix I and are part of the Ministry of Defence and can become effective only when the reorganisation of the Ministry of Defence becomes law.
I therefore respectfully submit that my right hon. Friend has a valid argument, although he used the illustration of money, because he was talking about the number of men on Vote A, which we are about to debate, and which are allocated for a purpose which is not yet lawful.
I had not altogether expected that the question which the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) has put as a point of order would be raised so early in the debate. I make no complaint, because for the second year running there is a change in the form of the Navy Estimates and the change which the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned is only one of those changes bound up in that statement.
For the first time, in anticipation of having a new unified Defence Ministry, we have bound up together all the Defence Estimates in one book. In anticipation of not only the legislation which has been mentioned, but the exercise of the Royal Prerogative in a certain way to set up this new Department, we have prepared the Estimates on the basis that these changes would be made. If they were not, of course a new situation would arise.
The arrangement of the Defence (Navy) Estimates is substantially the same as that of the Navy Estimates for 1963–64. The Vote structure is the same and it is only in the place mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, where the change of the titles of Ministers is mentioned, that the point has any significance at all. You, Sir William, have already ruled that the main purpose of our debate today, as by tradition is always the case, is Vote A, for the men, in the course of which we shall discuss the affairs of the Navy in general. With the Committee's permission, that is what I should now like to do.
It will be within the recollection of the Committee that I said that the change was in the form of the Estimates and in the way in which they are described. This is in anticipation not only of the passage of legislation, but also of the Royal Prerogative being exercised in a particular way. The actual change in the Department would be exercisable by the Royal Prerogative. I must not anticipate future debate, but the House has had the Bill before it on earlier occasions and has passed it through all its stages. It simply provides for a transfer of functions from the existing Service Departments to a single unified Ministry of Defence.
I also said, within the recollection of the Committee, that if, perchance, the House of Commons disagreed with that legislation, a new situation would arise —a form of words hallowed by tradition, as is our debate today.
Does it amount to this: we are to have a discussion on Vote 3, although not being asked to pass it, in respect of a Navy Department headquarters which does not exist, on the £10 million to be allocated to it and on the salary of a non-existent Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy, and that we are to be asked to make no provision for the First Lord but to discuss the salary of a Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Defence for the Royal Navy who does not exist, but no salary for the Civil Lord, all in anticipation of a Bill which the Civil Lord says he must not anticipate?
Of course, I have a lively interest in the salary of the Civil Lord, but it is not unknown for Estimates to contain material relating to the future. It is not unknown for Estimates to refer to matters which do not exist at the time of the presentation of those Estimates. All we are doing is taking what I imagine the Committee as a whole would regard as the reasonable step of putting these Estimates in anticipation of these changes.
Then I rise on a point of order. What the Civil Lord is putting to you, Sir William, may or may not be in order, but he is asking us to do something in anticipation of a Bill about which there is controversy. It is not as though there were agreement in this or the other place about the matter. The Government have been defeated in another place in connection with the Bill. In these circumstances, it is rather too much that the right hon. Gentleman should expect us to vote on Wednesday in a way which will enable him to get his Estimates. Can we be assured, Sir William, that our position is safeguarded and that when, on Wednesday, we come to discuss the issue which, apparently, we are not allowed to discuss today, we shall not then be told that the thing is over and done? Can we have your Ruling?
Perhaps I may now turn to the actual financial provision.
First, we are asking Parliament to vote £496 million, which is an increase of £55 million over last year's provision. To get the real comparison, just over £1 million should be added to take account of money which has been transferred to Defence (Central) Votes as a result of the forthcoming defence reorganisation. The main component of the increase is for the Polaris programme—£38 million as against £6 million in the current year.
The provision of £38 million is for a force of four submarines.
As the Committee knows, a fifth submarine is now to be ordered. This will involve extra expenditure in 1964–65, and if and when it is necessary we shall have to approach Parliament again. Other significant increases are £7½ million for the new Service pay and pension codes and another £8 million on building ships for afloat support. We are also asking Parliament for an increase in Vote A—103,000 as distinct from 100,000 last year.
The other day I noticed that 50 years ago tomorrow Navy Estimates were presented which, in fact, were the last before the outbreak of the First World War. There is a great deal in those Estimates which is of interest today, but I was particularly struck by the fact that three names appear at the bottom of the Estimates which are not unknown in the Royal Navy today. The Estimates were formally presented by the then First Lord of the Admiralty, my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), who is Father of the House and who was here with us only a few minutes ago. He was supported by the then First Sea Lord, the father of Lord Mountbatten, who is now Chief of the Defence Staff, and by Admiral Jellicoe, the Second Sea Lord of the day, who was the father of my noble Friend, the present First Lord. That was 50 years ago tomorrow.
One other thing that also struck me was that among the ships in the new construction programme for 1914 were the names of Her Majesty's ships, "Resolution", "Valiant" and "War-spite." Hon. Members who have had the privilege of serving in the Royal Navy will remember with pride and affection the work which those three ships did in two world wars, and will be delighted to know that their names will be perpetuated in three of the ships which are building now, 50 years later, and which are mentioned in this year's Estimates.
That is a matter of history, as is also the fact that few people either in this House or outside it have said nastier things about the Labour Party than my right hon. Friend has said in his time.
I was about to say that the three ships that we are building with these traditional names are all submarines, and not surface ships. This in itself is a measure of the tremendous changes which the Navy has undergone during the last 50 years, as well as of the potency of naval tradition.
Turning to the present-day Navy, I make no apology for reiterating its purpose and its place in our defence policy. The Navy's main roles remain what they have been for centuries. But, in addition, it has now been charged with a new task in the future—to carry the British nuclear deterrent. I should like to say something about these roles and how the Navy is organised to perform them. The main purpose of all our Armed Forces are, first, to ensure the security of this country, secondly, to contribute to the keeping of the peace and, thirdly, to aid our friends and allies wherever in the world our political responsibilities require it. Our planning and organisation to discharge these defence tasks have to be conceived as a single whole, to which each Service contributes its part. Our forces overseas are under unified commands, and we think in terms of joint operations to a single plan.
What part does the Royal Navy play in the achievement of these objectives? Because our political responsibilities are worldwide, and because the life of our nation depends upon our worldwide seaborne trade, we must strive to maintain a worldwide naval presence. These are the basic and enduring tasks of the Navy: to keep the peace; to help our friends, and to protect our ships. The industrial West depends heavily on seaborne trade. The sea is the one free highway open to all. The great bulk of our imports of food and raw materials and of our exports must be carried by sea, and will continue to be for as far ahead as we can discern. Every day there are no fewer than 1,200 British merchantmen on the high seas and another 1,000 in port. As for our exports, 94·5 per cent. by value and over 99 per cent. by tonnage go by sea—and all the lime the ships of the Royal Navy are there, by their very presence deterring any interference with the movement of our shipping.
Next, I must remind the Committee of the Navy's contribution towards the defence of our friends and allies in peace, and, if it is forced upon them, in war. In this task nothing counts more than the visible presence of armed forces to deal immediately with trouble. Where-ever our political responsibilities require it we must not only have, but be seen to have, a convincing ability to bring conventional military forces rapidly to bear. A very recent example, which will be within the recollection of the Committee, is the action taken at the request of its Government to quell the mutiny in Tanganyika. Having been ordered to carry out the operation the previous evening, and after planning it throughout the night, H.M.S. "Centaur" and. H.M.S. "Cambrian" closed the coast at first light. The airlift of 45 Royal Marine Commando was completed in a little over an hour, and the mutinous Tanganyika Regiment at Collito Barracks was brought under control without casualty to the commando. Later, H.M.S. "Centaur" and the Royal Marine detachment landed a party for guard duty at Dar-es-Salaam. Then her Sea Vixens supported the landing of commandos to deal with Tabora Barracks.
Then again, if a friendly nation is defending itself against an aggressor and seeks our aid, the Royal Navy can provide air cover, put troops ashore, and provide communications. If operations are likely to continue, it may be necessary to follow up the introduction of the first troops with reinforcements, heavy support, and logistic backing. This entails further movement by sea. For example, units of the Far East Fleet and, in particular, the Commando ship H.M.S. "Albion" and her two helicopter squadrons, have done spendid service in the Borneo operations in support of Malaysia.
An impressive example of the "Albion's" help is quoted in the Statement on Defence. Last year, she made 15 appearances off the North Borneo coast, and her two helicopter squadrons, which had spent an appreciable period based ashore, completed 8,000 operational sorties. If I may say so, it has seemed to me, as these operations in and around Borneo have developed, that they have provided an admirable example of the tri-Service co-operation and planning to which I referred earlier.
The task of preserving peace and freedom in these dangerous and difficult days requires a complex of alliances, and these alliances require the use of sea power. Therefore, in some areas of the world, our task is shared with other maritime nations. Conversely, we have a duty to contribute to the sea power required by the alliances to which we belong—N.A.T.O. in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, S.E.A.T.O in South-East and the Far East, and CENTO in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea.
In the sea area East of Suez, a significant proportion of the Navy is deployed around the Indian Ocean basin. Two aircraft carriers and a commando ship are the nucleus of the fleet there and during the year they will be augmented by two of our new guided missile destroyers. Escorts for this force, and for many other tasks, together with the amphibious warfare squadron, three minesweeping squadrons and a submarine squadron, will he kept in the area with sufficient afloat support for the entire force.
Besides these traditional rôles, it now falls to the Royal Navy to be entrusted with an important task, entirely different from and additional to the conventional rôles I have just briefly described. I refer, of course, to the nuclear deterrent. To succeed the V-bombers, the Navy will provide a force of nuclear submarines equipped with Polaris missiles.
As my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence announced in last week's defence debate, the Government have decided to set the level of the force at five submarines. That decision was taken after full consideration of the many issues involved—operational considerations, refit cycles, and the like—and we are satisfied that a force of this size will constitute, in the words of my right hon. Friend, a most formidable deterrent.
The progress that has already been made with the Polaris programme has been most impressive. The design of these large and complex submarines has been completed, and contracts for the construction of the first four have been placed. As the Committee knows, two are to be built by Messrs. Vickers-Armstrong, at Barrow, and two by Messrs. Cammell Laird, at Birkenhead. The first section of the first boat was laid on the slip on Wednesday last at Barrow. She is to be named "Resolution". It is our intention that the next three to follow shall be named "Renown", "Repulse" and "Revenge". "Resolution" should be ready to go on patrol in mid-1968, and we shall have these four submarines by the end of the decade.
Great strides have been made—
While dealing with Polaris, will the hon. Gentleman be good enough to confirm that the Government's reason for deciding on five submarines instead of four was that unless they had taken that decision they could never have been sure of having more than one vessel at sea?
Only a moment or two ago I said that a number of factors played their part in bringing about this decision. I specifically mentioned operational considerations and refit cycles, but I can assure the hon. Member that these are not the only factors—
Last year, we were told why these vessels had to be in pairs. We were offered various arguments about that, and there was also the question of the production schedules in the yards concerned. Why do we no longer hear that argument about pairs in relation to the fifth submarine?
I do not know exactly to what the hon. Gentleman refers. I have given the position as I see it now, and as it stands, and there is nothing I can add to it.
I want to turn to the planning of the Polaris base at Faslane, which has an equally important part to play. The design work is now well advanced, and orders for the equipment for the principal buildings are being placed. The contractors have started work on the site and, during the course of the coming year, the tempo should increase rapidly.
In the meantime, Rosyth Dockyard is being prepared for the task of refitting the nuclear submarines.
It may be within the hon. Member's recollection that I said that the main component of the increase in this year's Estimates is the Polaris programme. I mentioned £38 million, as against £6 million in the current year. That is on the things that fall to the Navy Vote. The Ministry of Public Building and Works has a number of items in the Polaris programme generally, which it will carry through itself—
I am talking about Faslane now.
The submarines themselves will have two crews each, and in that way the very great endurance of these vessels can be put to the best advantage. The crews of the first two boats will be trained in the United States, starting in the summer of this year. Subsequently, training will be carried out at the Royal Naval Polaris School at Faslane. Already, Royal Navy instructional staff are under training in America. The project teams that have been set up in the Admiralty and Ministry of Aviation to drive the programme through are firmly established. We have received the very greatest help and cooperation from the United States authorities.
I had the personal satisfaction of a brief visit to the United States last autumn, when I was able to see for myself something of the building and equipment of Polaris submarines and their missiles, something of the logistic support required for them, and, particularly, something of the training facilities that we shall be using, as I have said, for our first four crews, and which we shall then duplicate later on, on an appropriately smaller scale, at Faslane.
This visit was of the greatest possible value to me, and if there was one lesson that I learned it was that nobody should underestimate the magnitude of the task that we have undertaken—not just in money, but in manpower, both Service and civilian, and in industrial effort. No one who has not had the opportunity of going aboard a Polaris submarine, and inspecting the mass of electronic and other equipment with which it is crammed, can have any idea of the size of the task of building one. Even though we shall enormously benefit from the United States' experience and help, the job of building these boats will set the builders and the Admiralty a tremendous task if we are to keep to our planned times. I hope that we shall be able to do it; we can at least say that we have made a very good beginning—
I must ask my hon. Friend to forgive me; I am not sure about that, but I will try to see that he has a reply by the end of the debate.
I have now spoken about some of the major tasks that the Navy performs, but I should like just to interject one other matter that is cognate to what I have been talking about. I do not think that any picture of the activities of our ships could be complete without some mention of their rescue operations. Two examples are given in the Statement on Defence, but there have been several others.
The Committee will remember the admirable part played by the aircraft carrier "Centaur" in the "Lakonia" disaster. Then H.M.S. "Barbain" and H.M.S. "Barfoil" and H.M. tug "Nimble" between them spent nine days undertaking one of the most hazardous salvage operations ever known in the Far East. It needed a great deal of extremely skilled seamanship before they were able to pull a cargo ship clear of the rocks of Horsborough Reef. These tasks, although unspectacular in many cases, are of great value to our shipping.
Before I pass from the tasks of the Navy, I am sure that the Committee would wish me to make particular reference to a part of the naval service which this year is 300 years old. I refer to the Royal Marines. Their tercentenary will be marked this year by a number of ceremonies, and I think that I can say without the likelihood of any contradiction from any quarter of the Committee, that all hon. Members will have the greatest pleasure, as well as pride, in wishing the Corps a happy birthday. Our appreciation of their Service is particularly great this year. Hon. Members will recall from recent events in Borneo, in the Aden Protectorate, and in East Africa, how the commandos have given splendid and devoted service. At the same time, detachments of Royal Marines from ships of the Fleet have been active in the West Indies, British Guiana, the Persian Gulf and the South Atlantic. In future, the Corps will receive added flexibility from the provisions which are being made for their even more rapid deployment in times of need. This year, Wessex V helicopters, specifically designed for the rapid transport and landing of Marine commandos, will come into service, and before long Royal Marines will be embarked in the two new assault ships, about which I would like to say something a little later.
All I need add, I think, is that I am confident that the next 300 years will see as distinguished a record for the Royal Marines as the past 300 years have done. [Laughter.] I wish that some of the Royal Marines could have been here, to hear some hon. Members laughing when I said that.
I have spoken of the many and varied tasks which fall to the Royal Navy. I now turn to the ships the weapons and the aircraft we have in the Navy today. Incidentally, I hope that many hon. Members Hill have visited the small exhibition we have arranged in the Upper Waiting Hall to show some of our ships and aircraft.
Hon. Members will see from page 25 of the Statement on Defence this year and the corresponding section of the 1963 Statement that there has been little change in the numerical size of the Fleet. In 1963–64 we have had 142 ships of all sorts in the operational Fleet and 48 on trials and training; in 1964–65 there will be 145 in the operational Fleet and 49 on trials and training. But the similarity in numbers means a continuing improvement in quality.
During the past 12 months, three more 6,000-ton County class destroyers, H.M. Ships "Hampshire", "Kent" and "London" have joined the Fleet, making, with "Devonshire", a total of four vessels of the class in commission. Their armament consists of the Seaslug guided missile system incorporating a twin missile-launcher, four radar-controlled 4·5 inch guns in twin montings, and two Seacat close-range weapon systems.
For anti-submarine work these ships are fitted with the latest underwater detection equipment and a Westland Wessex helicopter to carry dipping sonar and homing torpedoes. They are fitted with the latest air- and surface-warning radars. The combined operations room and weapon direction room is fitted with electronic plotting facilities similar to those installed in the aircraft carriers "Victorious" and "Hermes". By any standards these are powerful and versatile ships. Two more, "Fife" and "Glamorgan", are now in course of construction.
On the subject of the County class guided missile destroyers, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he would not agree that the balance of power—and these are powerful ships—is very much more directed towards the sky than towards surface combat? When one thinks of the more powerful surface armaments of the ships of other navies one wonders whether the balance is right.
I know that my hon. and gallant Friend is most interested in this point. He and I debated it on the Adjournment some time ago. All I need say at this stage, because I do not want to spoil the wicket for my hon. and gallant Friend if he wants to make a speech on the point later, is that the argument often ignores the fact that the main striking arm of the Royal Navy is the aircraft carrier.
Our whole purpose is to see that these aircraft carriers are there.
Four "Leander" class frigates, and two "Tribal" class frigates, have also joined the Fleet since last year's Estimates debate, and three more new "Leanders" and a "Tribal" will join the Fleet shortly. The "Leanders" displace about 2,800 tons and carry two 4·5 inch guns, two 40 mm. anti-aircraft guns and a triple barrelled anti-submarine mortar. Later, we intend to replace the 40 mm. guns by a Seacat ship-to-air launcher and director. They carry the latest anti-submarine detection equipment, and all will shortly have a Wasp helicopter for anti-submarine use. The "Leanders" stem from the "Whitby" class of anti-submarine frigates, but they have developed into very successful all-round general purpose frigates. We are very satisfied with them.
The "Tribals" are a little smaller than the "Leanders" and, like them, are general purpose frigates. They have a combination of both steam and gas turbine machinery. Their armament consists of two 4·5 inch guns, antisubmarine mortars, and they are being fitted with Seacat. The latest types of warning radar and submarine detection equipment are installed, and they also will all carry Wasp helicopters.
Turning to conventional submarines, three more Oberon class, "Ocelot", "Osiris" and "Otus", were accepted into service during the past year. They are capable of high underwater speed and are able to maintain continuous submerged patrols in any part of the world. I believe that in the Oberon class Britain has the finest conventional submarines in the world. It is a matter of general satisfaction that both Australia and Canada have decided to equip themselves with Oberons, to be built in this country. The first Canadian "Oberon" was launched at Chatham last Saturday.
H.M.S. "Dreadnought ", the Royal Navy's first nuclear submarine, joined the Fleet last April, and during the remainder of the year was continuously in operation. She has steamed about 20,000 miles since her completion, and has gone faster and dived deeper than any previous British submarine. Her performance has been satisfactory in all respects and she is providing experience which will be of great value to our future nuclear submarine programme. Progress with H.M.S. "Valiant", the second of these boats, is well advanced and the third, H.M.S. "Warspite", has been laid down.
I must tell the Committee, however, that we have recently suffered a setback in the prototype nuclear submarine propulsion plant at Dounreay. The Committee will recall that this is a nuclear submarine reactor set on land which has been built for research and training. During the final tests before criticality, unexpected material failures occurred. These have meant that some piping has had to be renewed, and certain other components altered. This will delay the completion of the plant by a number of months, and that is disappointing, but a prototype is, after all, meant to enable difficulties and dangers to be forestalled before the submarines themselves, with their crews, go to sea. Although some delay will in consequence now be caused to H.M.S. "Valiant", the Polaris programme will not be affected.
Three new ocean survey ships have recently been ordered for delivery during the second half of 1965. They will replace the four old "Bay" class frigate conversions, and have been designed with primary emphasis on the increasing importance of oceanography as well as to meet the greater hydro-graphic interest arising from the growing size and draught of merchant ships.
A notable event in the coming year will be the return to service of the aircraft carrier "Eagle". "Eagle" is now undergoing her final period of dockyard trials. There is still much work to be done, but we hope that she will complete her modernisation next May. This modernisation will have cost £30 million to £31 million and is by far the largest single job ever undertaken in a Royal dockyard. This is a very large sum, I do not pretend that it is not, but to get it into perspective it should be set against the £60 million which a comparable new carrier would cost. "Eagle" will now be one of the most up-to-date aircraft carriers in the world, able to keep her place alongside the new carrier through the 1970s.
The hon. Gentleman has now given the Committee the stunning news that this modernisation is to cost £31 million. In June last year a newspaper not unfriendly to the Government, the Daily Telegraph, said that the modernised "Eagle" would cost £20 million. Have the Government been con- cealing a fact from the House? Why did they not come to the House and tell the truth about this matter?
The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) is very apt to quote figures from newspaper reports as though they were gospel truth and then to charge the Government with misleading the House and failing to give information. He may have got away with it on previous occasions, but he will not do so now. We have never said that the cost of modernisation of "Eagle" would be £20 million. I do not care what the Daily Telegraph said. What I have told the Committee today is the truth. This is the first figure we have actually given.
I turn from that to the new carrier. Following the Government's decision, last July, to build a new aircraft carrier to replace H.M.S. "Ark Royal" in the early 1970s, the detailed design of this large and complex ship is being pressed forward al high priority. It should reach the stage where tenders for building can be invited in the spring of 1966. We shall place the order in accordance with our normal contract procedures and tenders will be invited from all shipbuilding firms which have the facilities and experience for building this type of ship. The order will, of course, involve sub-contracts providing opportunities for other firms in the allied industries. I can assure the Committee that we are determined to get ahead with the new carrier just as fast as we possibly can.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again. I am grateful to him for giving way. Will he clear up one point? We have been told it is to be an aircraft carrier of just over 50,000 tons Is that standard displacement, or full load displacement?
That is a rather fast ball. It is a very important point. I am obliged to the hon. Member for calling attention to it, but I do not know and I had better tell the Committee so instead of trying to muff the answer. I shall find out and let the hon. Member know.
In the Statement on Defence the progress on the new assault ships "Fearless" and "Intrepid" was mentioned.
When they come into service in 1966 they will be complementary to the commando ships and will increase our ability to mount amphibious operations. They will be fitted out as modern headquarters ships and will be able to land heavy equipment, vehicles and tanks.
I would now like to say something about our future plans for the "Tiger" class cruisers. The Committee will recall that, in an Adjournment debate last July, initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), I said that we were interested in the idea of carrying helicopters in ships which could combine the special characteristics of the cruiser with those of the helicopter carrier. We have been giving careful thought to this concept. We are still considering long-term possibilities; but we have decided that we can achieve a major improvement meanwhile by adapting the "Tigers", which already have the valuable characteristics of long endurance, bombardment capability, command facilities, and troop-carrying capacity. In brief, the plan is to remove the after 6 in. armament and then provide a flight deck and hangar sufficient for the operation of a flight of four Wessex helicopters. We do not expect this conversion work to be difficult or particularly expensive, and we are planning to carry it out in the dockyards, starting next year with H.M.S. "Blake".
After their conversion and long refit, the "Tigers" should have an operational life well into the 1970s. The Fleet will benefit not only in anti-submarine defence, but also in the kind of naval tasks with which we are constantly dealing. Once equipped with a helicopter platform, these ships could be deployed in any emergency with an effective military force on board; and troop carrying and reconnaissance helicopters could also be operated from them. I hope that the Committee will welcome what we believe to be a most effective and certainly economical adaptation of these cruisers.
I now turn to aircraft. This is another anniversary, the fiftieth of the foundation of the Naval Air Service, although military flying from ships started a few years before that. I have already referred to the 1914 Estimates and to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Woood-
ford said on that occasion. It is interesting to find that he also drew attention to
the increasing utility of aeroplanes for war purposes''.
That statement is still valid.
The most important new development has been the Government's decision that, subject to negotiation and further technical evaluation, an improved version of the American Phantom II aircraft will be introduced into the Fleet Air Arm. I should like to say a special word about this. Wherever ships of the Royal Navy operate the Fleet Air Arm plays an integral part in the application of naval power. For example, strike Buccaneers, Sea Vixen fighters, airborne early warning Gannets and anti-submarine Wessex helicopters are taking part in a major Commonwealth exercise in the Indian Ocean. I rather doubt whether there is in any of the Services today a more challenging job than that of the Fleet Air Arm pilots.
There can be few defence requirements of greater importance than that of ensuring that the aircraft to be operated by our aircraft carrier force are capable of matching whatever opposition they may be called upon to face. It is, therefore, essential that we should replace the Sea Vixen by the best aircraft we can get at the time we require and also at the lowest possible cost. As the Committee knows, a great deal of study has been given to this problem. There is not a shred of justification for the suggestion sometimes made that the Navy did not seriously try to achieve a common aircraft and lightly rejected the possibility of a naval version of the P1154. The reverse is the truth, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence made clear in opening the defence debate last week. It could never have been anything but the most difficult task to reconcile the primary requirement of the R.A.F. for a ground attack aircraft having a vertical short take-off and landing capability with the primary requirement of the Navy for an all-weather fighter of high supersonic speed and good endurance for carrier operations.
If a common aircraft suitable for both the Navy and the R.A.F. could have been successfully developed nobody would have been better pleased than the Admiralty. But this, proved to be impossible. Of course, it is true that a naval version could have been produced, but it would have been virtually an entirely separate development and, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence pointed out in the debate last week, it would have been an extremely costly business for the comparatively small numbers required by the Royal Navy and it would not have been ready in time to replace the Sea Vixen before that aircraft is outclassed.
I do not think that I need tell the Committee that the Navy has the greatest confidence in the British aircraft industry. The aircraft which the Fleet Air Arm is flying today are perfect proof of it. But in the past, when it has been necessary and clear that they would meet the requirement best, the Navy has adopted American aircraft. The Phantom II aircraft, in its present form, is a fighter of outstanding performance, as its world speed and height records have shown. The improved version which the United States Navy is planning to introduce within the next few years will be, we believe, the best naval all-weather fighter in the world. The installation of the Rolls-Royce Spey engine which we intend to adopt will significantly increase its already high performance.
I am quite sure that investigations have been carried out, but there is a little concern in some quarters about changing the engine to the Spey. Although it is often successful, there have been occasions on which a machine has been over-engined, and that can cause difficulties. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give an assurance that before this step is taken a thorough investigation will have been carried out to ensure that the Spey engine is a practical proposition in this aircraft.
I was going on to deal with that and similar problems. I was about to say that, as with all new developments, there are technical problems to resolve. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) has mentioned one.
It will be essential for us to have the planned modifications we propose which will enable the aircraft to be operated effectively from all our carriers in the 1970s. Some of the modifications required are still subject to successful tests. We are in close touch with the United States Navy about them. It will also be essential to negotiate the production and delivery of the aircraft, its missiles, and its logistic backing. From the investigations we have already made with the United States we are confident that we shall achieve these objectives. If we can do so we shall have a superb aircraft for the Fleet Air Arm's task at an earlier date and a lower cost than we could have hoped to get elsewhere.
Does the hon. Member hope that it will be possible to operate a Phantom II from all our carriers in the 1970s? Is he assuming that no carriers under 40,000 tons will still be in use in the 1970s?
I am not sure of the exact phase-out date of "Hermes" and "Centaur," but we are planning now for the 1970s, as we must. That is the time schedule. As I said earlier, the intention is that these aircraft will be the standard aircraft for our carrier fleet in the 1970s. If so, and if we can get the right sort of aircraft, we shall have a superb aircraft, but at this stage I cannot say exactly when it will come into service and from which carriers it will fly. Everything will depend on how our further investigations proceed.
I prefer not to give way again. I have given way a great many times and I hope that the Committee will let me continue. There are plenty of opportunities for the hon. Member to put his point of view, and I shall have the opportunity to wind up the debate. If I have not satisfied him on any point, perhaps I can do so then.
I prefer not to do so. I have given way on a number of occasions and, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence comments, this is, after all, a debate.
Before I pass from our ships and their equipment there is one point I should like to develop a little further, that is, the importance and the cost of the equipments—radio, radar, sonars, and the like—which go into them. Because of these equipments, the destroyer or frigate of today is a totally different proposition from its predecessor of 20 years ago. The cost of equipment of this kind in the old "Ark Royal" in 1938 was little more than £10,000. In 1962, in the present "Ark Royal," it is worth over £500,000. In "Eagle," on completion of her modernisation, the figure will be over £2½ million. Destroyers, in 1938, had equipments costing little more than £5,000. In the "Leander" frigates of today the cost is over £250,000.
This is not money wasted; it is money well spent. Our ships have great hitting power, but modern, science-based armaments are very costly. Our, potential enemies have great hitting power, too. The self-defence of our Fleet demands that enemies shall be detected at great ranges and that their missiles or their aircraft shall be shot down in full flight. Science can do that for us, but only at a price. The cost of our ships goes up for the simple reason that their performance goes up, too.
It is not only the number of ships that tells the story, but what goes into them and what they can do.
I would like now to say a few words about one element of our naval strength which does not normally attract much notice on these occasions and which I feel is important and should have more attention directed to it—the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service. As we move to a more mobile strategy, the techniques of replenishing the Fleet under way with fuel, stores, ammunition and food is increasingly practised and it is here that the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service plays its important support rôle. For example, more than half the fuel used by the Fleet nowadays is supplied when the ships are under way. It is a technique not employed elsewhere in the Merchant Navy and is one which calls for a high standard of seamanship and training and constant practice. I would like to pay a warm tribute to the 4,000 officers and men of the Merchant Navy who man the ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service.
As to the ships themselves, two improved "Tide" class tankers joined the Service early last year as replacements for older "Wave" class ships. Three more replenishment-at-sea tankers are building, which are larger and faster than the improved "Tides". All five ships are equipped to operate helicopters, and the three ships now building will incorporate remote control of main engines, boilers and fuel systems. Two fast fleet replenishment ships, larger, faster and more versatile than the existing ships of this type, "Retainer" and "Resurgent" are being built. We have invited tenders for three other support ships.
All these new ships will be capable of replenishment at sea while keeping station with the Fleet at speeds of more than 15 knots.
I should now like to turn to the problems of naval manpower. For the first time since the end of the war, apart from the Korean War, we are asking the Committee to approve an increase in Vote A, largely to prepare for the Polaris commitment. It takes some years to produce fully-trained ratings, especially in the skilled categories. We have to start now to meet the Fleet's needs later on. This, in turn, means that we shall have to increase both our rate of recruiting and our rate of re-engagement, and this, too, in the face of increasing competition from industry in the buoyant economic conditions of today for men of the quality we need.
As the Committee will know, each category of officer and rating presents special problems of its own. I hope that I may be forgiven if I do not at this stage go through the list in great detail; if Members of the Committee would like more detailed information about our needs and recruiting prospects I will gladly do what I can to provide more information when I wind up the debate. For the present, I would like to confine myself to a few remarks about our manpower and recruiting problems in general.
Provided that we can maintain and intensify our recruitment effort, the prospect for officer entries is, broadly, quite encouraging. Cadet entries have been going up steadily for the past three years and are continuing to do so; we are having to give special attention to aircrew and electrical officers. To give only one example, the provision this year of 100 naval flying scholarships for members of youth organisations, including Combined Cadet Forces will, I hope, be of help in stimulating interest in naval aviation and thereby help to produce more pilots for the Fleet Air Arm.
So far as ratings are concerned, we think that in the long run we should be able to eliminate the shortages of certain technical ratings which have been causing some difficulty. In view of this it is perhaps surprising that we should be less optimistic about the recruiting prospects for seamen. where we think that we may not be able to get quite as many as we would like. This may be partly because of the impression that the seamen of today, by comparison with his more modern sounding colleagues, needs no particular skill or qualification. This is, of course, a wholly false impression; the seaman of today spends much of his time operating complex ship weapons and he has to be both skilled and intelligent. I hope those who have the interests of the Navy at heart will help us to make much more widely known what a worthwhile, interesting and rewarding career is open to those who enter as seamen.
Finally, a word about re-engagement. This is doubly important to us, not only because a high rate of re-engagement will help to reduce our recruiting problem to manageable proportions, but because with a long total period of service, a man's experience and his value to us increases and the better return we get for the long and expensive periods of training which are now required.
Re-engagement is a rather difficult problem. We are devoting a lot of effort to find out in detail what it is that discourages men from re-engagement and what might have the opposite effect. I hope that we shall get clearer data on which to work, but it is already apparent that a sailor's ability to live a normal family life for a reasonable period of his total service is of cardinal importance. This, in turn, highlights the need for more married quarters. About 8,500 quarters are already built or building in this country, and the building programme is continuing. We have also about 4,500 furnished hirings for naval families. But I must not conceal from the Committee that we are a long way behind the other Services in this field. We started much later and have a big problem to catch up.
To sum up, we need more men to meet our larger commitments. Generally, recruiting is improving, but we shall have to do better still. Our re-engagement rate is high; we must keep it high. And we have real shortages in certain specialised fields. All this amounts to a continuing challenge and we are resolved to meet it.
Before my hon. Friend comes to the end of his excellent speech, may I put this to him? It will be within his recollection that in 1959 his predecessor sold to private enterprise a firm in my constituency called S. G. Brown, which, over the years, had amassed a scientific and technical team of considerable magnitude. Since the firm has come, or is coming, to the end of its contract, will my hon. Friend, provided that it is competitive, undertake to consider it favourably for future Admiralty contracts?
I think that at this stage I had better say to my hon. Friend that I will just take note of what he says. I believe that this point will be raised during the debate. It might be a little more appropriate if I were to reply at the end, rather than to remark about it now, during the course of this passage on manpower. I will certainly look at what my hon. Friend says.
Before I close, I would like to say something about the Royal dockyards. The Committee will recall that in my statement of 29th May, 1963, I explained that we expected the work load in the three Southern yards for the year 1964–65 to decline, and that it would become necessary to have a limited rundown in numbers employed in these yards. In my statement to the Admiralty Industrial Council of September last I gave the figures for this rundown as 500 each at Portsmouth and Devonport and 300 at Chatham. Rosyth was not affected. We do not think that any increase in these figures will be necessary; on the contrary, subsequent developments, particularly the very welcome order from Canada for three "Oberon" class submarines, will tend to ease the position, particularly for Chatham. Later, the "Tiger" conversion programme which I announced this afternoon will also help.
We have, of course, recently come up against a special difficulty at Devonport Yard, where, because of a combination of factors, it became necessary to bring forward the timetable of reductions to the beginning rather than the end of the rundown period, and as a result we had to declare a limited redundancy in certain trades. But this involves no increase in the total of the reduction to be achieved at Devonport, or elsewhere. Although I appreciate that discharge may involve hardship for some individuals affected, which we greatly regret, one must keep the matter in proportion. The number of jobs in which we had to declare redundancy at Devon-port amounted originally to 120, that is, less than 1 per cent. of the total. We have continued to examine all possibilities of reducing the number of compulsory discharges and we have had very comprehensive and detailed discussions with the unions. The number who left the dockyard service on the expiry of their notice or in anticipation of their notice amounted, in the end, to about 60; the balance has been made up of men not under notice who resigned voluntarily and men who accepted alternative work in the dockyard or transfer to other yards. The offer of alternative employment in non-craft occupations remains, of course, open to any of those who were actually discharged.
As regards the long term, it is still much too early for me to attempt an assessment of the work-load for succeeding years with any fine degree of accuracy, but I can certainly give this assurance: that I am sure that in the foreseeable future there will continue to be a need for all the four home dockyards on something very like their present scale, although, of course, internal readjustments from time to time to meet the changing nature and volume of the work, will continue to be necessary in the future, as they have been necessary in the past.
I think that I have said enough to show the Committee that the Navy has had a very successful year and can look forward to another next year. There are many challenges to be met and difficulties to be resolved, some of which I have indicated, but we have every confidence in being able to maintain the high standard for which the Royal Navy and Royal Marines are famed.
This is the last occasion on which Navy Estimates will be introduced to the House of Commons by a Civil Lord of the Admiralty or by a First Lord of the Admiralty. These ancient titles will disappear on 1st April, as will the Admiralty itself as a separate Department of State. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".]Yes. The Admiralty will disappear. That is the point. I think that we can be forgiven if we feel a measure of regret at this time at the formal demise of an institution which has served the nation well in peace and war and which has always been something a little more than another Government Department. The Admiralty exists now, and it always has existed, for one purpose which I hope will be approved and appreciated by the whole Committee—that is, to serve the Royal Navy first. Although it may no longer be a separate institution, the task which it performs now, and those who perform it now, will continue in the new organisation in which it will merge.
I believe that in the years to come those of us who may be responsible, and those who come after us, will be able to say with the same confidence, as those who have served in the Admiralty up to now can say, that we have served the Navy well and, through the Navy, have served the country.
Over the years we have learned to appreciate the efficiency with which the Civil Lord of the Admiralty handles his briefs at the Dispatch Box. He has run true to form today, because I think that everyone will agree that at least he has presented the Estimates in his usually competent manner. I am not so certain that there would be such wholehearted agreement about the contents of the Estimates, but we can agree about the manner of their delivery.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman was rather anticipating events when he suggested that the term "Admiralty" was about to disappear. I should have thought that it would be better to have waited until Wednesday night before making that pronouncement. I thought, too, that the hon. Gentleman was rather wandering into the realms of phantasy when he spoke of the rôle of Royal Marines 300 years ahead. This does not say much for the efforts of the Foreign Secretary, who is at present in Geneva trying to bring about some disarmament.
Some of us hope that there will not be any need for national Services in 300 years' time; in fact long before that.
I want, first, to express my thanks and appreciation to the Admiralty and to the Ministers responsible for the very fine list of visits which they arranged during the past year. During the past year I visited various naval establishments and ships and was treated with the utmost courtesy and civility. I should like to thank the officers and men for the way in which they put themselves out to make the visits enjoyable. I am sure that other hon. Members who also took part in visits would join me in expressing our thanks and appreciation.
Although these visits help us to keep in touch with what is going on in the Navy, let us see what is happening to the money that the taxpayer is spending, and let us keep in touch with what naval men are thinking, they do not supply the detailed information on which we can make accurate assessments of the Estimates that are placed before us. I add my plea to those which were made during the course of last week's defence debate for more information. I suggest that many of the remarks in the White Paper about this are rather banal.
I could quote at length from the White Paper, but I will not delay the Committee. When one compares the information contained in it with what Mr. McNamara is able to tell the American Senate one sees that the information we are given leaves much to be desired and that we should take heed of the American example. We are, after all, asking the British taxpayer for an enormous sum of money and he should be told the purposes to which it will be put.
The Government should also be willing to follow the recommendation in paragraph 20 of the Plowden Report which, dealing with defence, stated:
…we hope that it will gradually become possible to develop the system of five-year 'forward-looks' into a system of provisional and tentative departmental allocations five years ahead"—
I commend that to the Minister of Defence.
firm for the first year, firm in the second year subject to major changes in the military and economic situations, provisional for the third year and tentative for the fourth and fifth years".
I am confident after examining the Estimates and the individual items in them, that the Departments concerned should be able to follow that recommendation.
Although wages account for an enormous amount and the normal services account for another large sum, great variations arise as a result of different forms of expenditure in Votes 6 and 7—armaments, ship building, and so on—and I do not see why we cannot be given more information rather than being given the sort of overall figure presented to Parliament in Cmnd. 2235, which simply presented an estimate for defence as a whole. This is particularly important when, as now, we are embarking on programmes which are enormously expensive to carry through. If this information could be Oren hon. Members would be in a better position to see what our programmes are likely to cost in the future.
Before proceeding with the main burden of my remarks I would like to ask a few questions. We do not disagree with the decision to buy the Phantom II as the replacement for the Sea Vixen, which is a fine aircraft, but the Civil Lord was still "cagey" on this subject. He told us little more than the Minister of Defence told us, either about numbers or costs. According to reports in the Press, the number involved seems to vary. I have heard it estimated that there will be from 50 Io 112, although the Glasgow Herald said that here would be 50 of them at a cost of £60 million. Nor did the hon. Gentleman tell us how they will fit in with the programme of bringing into operation the Sea Vixen 11s, which, I understand, are at present still being brought into operation in the Service. How will this be done?
The Glasgow Herald has suggested that the decision to accept the Phantom II suggests that it, in turn, will be replaced in the 1970s by the naval version of the American TFX. Can the Civil Lord say what effect this will have on the carrier programme in the 1970s? As has been pointed out, one of the aircraft carriers which it is proposed to leave in service in the 1970s is the Hermes, which has a standard displacement of 23,000 tons. This would appear to be too small, although I am willing to be corrected and its size may be about right.
Do these decisions affect the design and size of aircraft carriers? I have in mind the announcement made last July by the Minister of Defence. I still find it difficult to understand why a decision was made in favour of a carrier of more than 50,000 tons, because if that is the standard displacement the loaded carrier will be equivalent to about 65,000 tons.
I promised to find the answer for the hon. Member. I admitted that I did not know the answer offhand. I am now told that the new carrier is to be of just over 50,000 tons deep displacement; that is, full laden.
In which case it does not appear that it will be as heavy as I had at first thought. Nevertheless, it displaces the "Victorious", which is about 30,000 tons, and the "Ark Royal".
At a time when the rôle of the aircraft carrier is becoming generally accepted as of support rather than attack, the task of the carrier will, in future, seem to require not very large vessels but, rather, smaller carriers. I therefore still find it difficult to understand why the Government have not provided us with the information on the thinking which has led them to make these decisions. This lack of information is another important omission from the White Paper.
We get none of the thought which guides the Government into making their decisions. The Government should give hon. Members the fullest possible information so that we do not have to rummage through newspapers, periodicals, and so on, in an effort to discover the defence thinking of the Government—the thinking which leads them to make decisions which we are asked to endorse. In other words, we are being asked to endorse things about which we have very little information.
When does the Civil Lord expect that the "Centaur" will go out of commission, for I understand that it is to be dropped before the 1970s?
Can he also say what was the first estimate of the cost of modernising the "Eagle"? I have never been told the original estimate, and I have been staggered to learn that the cost was £31 million. We should be given information about an item as large as this. We all recall the spiralling costs of the "Victorious", which started at a cost of £2½ million and ended up costing about £20 million. Is this another case like "Victorious"? If so, it seems that a great deal of the time of the Estimates Committee, the Plowden Committee and other committees which have considered this matter of forward estimating has been wasted.
In the debate last year I had something to say about weapon systems. I will not cover the same ground on this occasion, except to ask the Civil Lord, who placed such a nice picture of the county class destroyers before us, when it is intended that the Mark II Seaslug system will come into operation. I understand that it is to be fitted into the last two county class destroyers. When will it be fitted into the four destroyers at present in commission? Perhaps he will also tell us whether it is intended—because we have never been told about this and the White Paper is not particularly helpful on this score—to augment Bullpup "A" with Bullpup "B" on the Buccaneers, Scimitars and Sea Vixens. And what about Buccaneer II? The White Paper tells us nothing more than that the programme is going ahead. It is always useful to know that a programme has not been cancelled, although one could not call the White Paper's comments particularly informative. We should be given more information than we have been given.
We then come to the story of the Wasp helicopter, a story of shilly-shallying on the part of the Government. Do I notice the Civil Lord shaking his head in disagreement? He should recall that he was not in the Government at the time—the time when the Government delayed placing an order for this helicopter, with the result that despite the picture which he painted for us this afternoon, only three of them have been fitted to "Leanders". It will be recalled that I was given some information about this in reply to a Question which I asked last week. Three years ago we were told in the White Paper that work was well ahead on the first four "Leanders" which, like the "Tribals", would carry the Westland P531 helicopter. That, of course, is the Wasp. Today there are three—that is all.
I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman whether the fact that we are to supply, I believe, 16 of these to South Africa—I understand that an order has been placed and I further understand that some deliveries have been made—is holding up the supplies of these helicopters to our own ships. I wish to ask, too, about the Mark V helicopter which, we were told, was to come into service at the end of 1963. Is it in service, or when does it go into service?
I hope that the Civil Lord will give us some information about some of these things when he winds up the debate. Up to the present, he has not told us very much.
During the past 18 months the Government have, of course, completely changed their policy both in relation to Polaris and the aircraft carrier. Before then, they were both out. Now they are both in. This means that we are faced with an enormous increase in the Estimates.
This year, we plan to spend no less than £496 million, and this represents, I think the hon. Gentleman said, £55 million—I had £56 million down—above the Estimates for last year. But if we include the expenditure which is borne on other Votes and look back a year or two we find that this year we shall spend a total of just over £542 million on the Navy. We must not accept the fact that because certain expenditures have been transferred to other Departments they no longer concern the Navy. The Vote in connection with the Ministry of Public Building and Works concerns the Navy very much, of course, and a large part of it is in connection with the building of the base at Faslane. The total of £542 million is £106 million more than we were spending two years ago.
These are vast increases in expenditure, but they represent only the first instalment of the additional burden that the taxpayer will be called upon to bear as the result of Government decisions. What the next instalment will be is indicated by the increase given of the total cost of ships at present under construction and those to be started this year.
This year, that figure is £319 million. Last year, it was £241 million. The year before it was £187 million, and so, in two years, this figure has gone up from £187 million to £319 million. Of the figure of £319 million less than one-quarter is in the present Estimates. All the rest is to appear in future Estimates. This is an indication of the burden that we are being called upon to bear as a result of recent announcements of Government decisions regarding naval programmes.
Apart from the financial considerations, we also have to examine the effect of the Polaris programme upon our ability to provide and maintain adequate naval forces for the purposes outlined in the Defence White Paper for 1962, purposes which, generally speaking, we on this side accepted and with which we agree. After all, in 1959, we were told by the then Civil Lord that Polaris was something quite beyond our capacity to develop without a radical recasting of the whole of our naval expenditure. Since then a very great number of other people, in many cases people connected with the Service, and others deeply concerned about the Service have expressed concern as to what the effects of this programme will be on our conventional naval forces.
I propose, therefore, to look at this question rather fully. For some time now it has been generally accepted that our naval forces are too thinly scattered over too wide an area. The results of this have been seen in most of the incidents in the past two or three years. At Kuwait, when the trouble arose, "Bulwark'', fortunately, was at Karachi, but the two nearest aircraft carriers were at Gibraltar and Hong Kong. The "Victorious", which was approaching Hong Kong, had to turn round and steam about 5,000 miles to Kuwait. It took her eight or nine days to get there, by which time "Centaur" which had left Gibraltar, had reached Aden. Other naval forces there were quite minimal, so that the forces landing at that time could not have been assured of air support from either of these aircraft carriers during that period.
Turning to the incident in Brunei—
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that we now have a policy of keeping two aircraft carriers east of Suez at all times. I think that if that policy had been in operation at the time of Kuwait the situation would have been different. I think that what has been happening recently in Borneo and East Africa shows the validity of the new policy.
I shall say something about that a little later.
When the incident happened at Brunei we had neither a Commando carrier nor an aircraft carrier in the vicinity. "Bulwark" was returning home and "Albion" was on the way out. The "Ark Royal" was on the way home and "Hermes" was on the way out, so that neither was in the area at the time of the incident.
Coming to a more recent incident, on 17th February the naval correspondent of the Glasgow Herald reminded us that in connection with the crisis in Cyprus we have certain naval forces in the Mediterranean. I will quote what he said, because he is rather generous. He places them rather higher than dos the hon. Gentleman. He said:
The so-called Mediterranean 'fleet' is now reduced to three destroyers or frigates, the fourth ship of the squadron having been detached for service in East African waters. The only other effective warships are four small wooden coastal minesweepers based at Malta and two submarines used for antisubmarine training. About six more minesweepers are in reserve, either at Malta or Gibraltar, and there is also an anti-submarine frigate in reserve at Gibraltar. In addition, the Commander-in-Chief's yacht, the 'Surprise', can be used as a frigate if required
That is rather more generous than the hon. Gentleman was in the statement he gave to me, for which I thank him, concerning the disposition of our Fleet. That was the position.
We were told by the Daily Mail, however, on 31st December, that "Centaur" was making her way slowly through the Mediterranean, in case she was needed in the Cyprus crisis. But her real destination was the Middle East, where she was due to relieve "Ark Royal". One thing is certain, she could not have been in two places at once, but, fortunately, she was able to proceed to Aden, embark No. 45 Commando and a squadron of helicopters and proceed to Mombasa. Had she been required in the Mediterranean, "Victorious" would have had to steam another 5,000 miles to get to East Africa. That was the position at that time.
While dealing with this, may I ask a question about commandos? I understand that as a result of recent incidents we have four Commando units abroad and only one at home. How does this affect the tour of duty of these units because, I think that the tour of duty required of these men should not be too long. I should like to take this opportunity of associating my hon. Friends and myself with the congratulations offered by the Civil Lord to the men of the Royal Marines. I cannot associate myself with the expression of opinion that we hope to see them still doing well in 300 years' time, but for what they are doing we are certainly grateful to them.
As I said, the hon. Gentleman gave me an indication of the dispositions of the Fleet, and I am very grateful to him for doing so, but will he look at these dispositions and compare them with the language which he used at the beginning of his speech today, when he said that we must have a worldwide presence, that everywhere where we have commitments it must be seen that we have the strength to bring adequate forces to bear? These were some of the things he said. I ask him to compare these words with the dispositions of ships at the present time.
I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree, as many naval experts recognise, that our forces are very thinly scattered over a wide area. One thing that illustrates this is in an area that was peculiarly ours, the Indian Ocean. America now considers that we have reached the limit of our capability in this area and intends to have a naval presence in the area herself. That seems to me to indicate the sort of problem we are faced with.
I could deal with this at much greater length, but my hon. Friend who is to wind up the debate for the Opposition will deal with this problem from a different point of view, although making very much the same point. I wish, instead, to follow this up by looking at the Estimates and the White Paper to see what is being done about this. Before doing so, however, I should like to pay my tribute to the officers and men of the Royal Navy for the fine spirit and manner in which they carry out their duties in the widely varying conditions in which they are called upon to serve, and in spite of the difficulties with which they are too often faced.
To return to the White Paper and my argument, seven additional "Leander" class frigates have been ordered, and one helicopter support ship. Apart from these and the Polaris programme, the other ships mentioned as being under construction or on order are all in completion of earlier programmes. I refer to the missile destroyers, completing the programme of six; the assault ships; the conventional submarines, of which programme the "Oberon" class is now finished; and the nuclear submarine which has been brought to a halt.
The Polaris programme has definitely meant the bringing to an end of the hunter-killer nuclear submarine programme. That programme has been stopped for five years and probably will be stopped for another year or two as a result of the Government announcement that we are now to build five instead of four Polaris submarines. On the face of it, it seems that this Polaris programme is holding up what I would call conventional shipbuilding.
Let us look, again, at the Estimates, and, in particular, that part of the Estimates dealing with the construction of new naval shipping. If we look at Table I, which covers the list of ships in the course of construction, but not launched, we find that whereas the number was 12 in 1962–63 it fell to 10 in 1963–64, and this year it is down to seven. In Table II, which gives us the ships under construction, which have been launched but not accepted into service, we see that the number was 12 in 1962–63, 13 in 1963–64 and nine in 1964–65. I accept those figures because we are completing programmes which were begun some time ago. But there is no evidence in the White Paper that there are any new programmes being considered, other than the Polaris programme and the aircraft carrier.
If we are to start new programmes, the expense will be enormous, much more than it is now. This seems to me to give an indication of the effect that the Polaris programme is having upon our conventional forces. I agree that the completion of these ships goes some way towards meeting the problems that I have indicated exist. I agree, too, with the hon. Gentleman when he talks about the improved quality of the various ships now coming into commission. But it does not matter how good or how modern a frigate is, or how valuable the equipment is, when it comes to a question of numbers. One frigate cannot be in two places at once, no matter how good its equipment might be. These are the sort of problems to which we ought to address our minds.
I turn to the question of manpower. From my reading of the situation, it is not so rosy as the Civil Lord has indicated. We are being asked this year for a Vote of 103,000 men and women. I mention women, because the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) usually picks me up if I miss out the women. This increase, as we have been told, is to make it possible to meet the demands for the Polaris programme. On the face of it, this sounds fair enough, but there is within the problem of overall numbers, as the hon. Gentleman knows full well, the problem of getting the right numbers and the right kind of manpower.
This is particularly true of skilled technical manpower. For several years now there has been a permanent shortage of technical manpower. It is not something that has happened during the past year or two. It has been in existence in the Service for eight or nine years. I have a large file of letters, answers to Questions and replies to points that have been raised in previous Estimates debates.
Going back to 1962, I was told on 1st August that nine ships were without their full complements of chief electrical artificers and chief electrical mechanicians, whilst 46 others carried first and second-class electrical artificers and mechanicians instead of chiefs. On the same day I was told that the rosters for promotion to chief rate in all the artificer branches, with the exception of the engine room branch, were empty. The shortage of manpower was highlighted at the beginning of last year, when the Government decided to place H.M.S. "Blake" in reserve because of the shortage of skilled manpower. This ship cost £15 million and it had only done two years service, but it could not be manned.
At the same time, last year the then Civil Lord—I see that he has left the Chamber now—admitted that "Tiger" was also under-manned and that certain items of its equipment could not be operated. Although it was still in commission, some of its equipment was not operational. This was the situation of "Tiger".
These were the ships which, in the White Paper of 1960, we were told had long endurance, good command and communications facilities, and the ability to move troops and equipment quickly in an emergency, while still retaining their full fighting efficiency. I would have thought that ships of this calibre during the past few months would have been exceedingly valuable. Instead of that, today "Blake", I understand, is in permanent reserve, and I am glad to hear the announcement that something is to be done about it. Till today the position, as I understand it, has been that "Blake" was in permanent reserve, that "Tiger" was little more than an office because of the lack of manpower. This is what was actually said by one correspondent—"little more than an office", and that "Lion", too, was badly undermanned. Why is it that both of them have been brought home?
Let me quote from The Times, which is not a newspaper that is given to making rash statements—[Laughter.] I apologise, I meant the Glasgow Herald. [Laughter.] All right, we will accept that the Glasgow Herald is more responsible than The Times. As a Scottish Member, that is a correction that I am willing to accept. It said:
Yes, in the Glasgow Herald, and it is quoted in the Digest of Current Opinion on Maritime Affairs, published by the Navy League. This is the situation about those ships—£45 million of shipping. I am glad that something is now to be done about that.
The hon. Gentleman gave us no indication at all of what the estimated cost would be, neither did he indicate where the manpower was to come from to man them. If we cannot man them now, how can we man them if we put a helicopter platform on them? A helicopter platform does not produce manpower. It might make for better ships, I agree, but it does not solve the problem of manpower.
On 26th June last year, I was told that there was a shortage of skilled manpower in the weapons, electrical and radio departments and—I hope that the hon. Gentleman will notice this—" That complements in these Departments have been temporarily reduced."
Last Wednesday, replying to a Question of mine, the hon. Gentleman told me:
All ships, other than submarines and ships below frigates, are to some degree short of senior skilled electrical ratings."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1964; Vol. 690, c. 78.]
According to my calculations, that means that about 60 ships are to some extent short of senior skilled electrical ratings. The hon. Gentleman went on to say that a number of junior ratings on the ships were doing the job of senior men. What does he think will be the effect of this upon a junior rating?—[An HON. MEMBER: "Very good."]— If one is doing the job of someone senior to oneself and who would be earning £2 or £3 a week more, one would have a bit of a grumble.
It is human nature. There are two things to be considered about this. In the first place, a junior rating has not the skill and experience, otherwise he would be a senior rating. He is asked to do jobs which ought really to be done, in the view of the Admiralty, by a senior man. Secondly, I suggest that from the point of view of the man, it is most unsatisfactory that he should be called upon to do these jobs without receiving the pay for them.
I am today doing a job, which, in the other Services, is done by a senior man, and I do not feel any sense of inferiority in any way. I am sure that the junior ratings who are being given these extra responsibilities are thoroughly enjoying them, and making a jolly good job of them.
I was one of these junior ratings. I have lived with them for years, messed with them and worked with them. The hon. Gentleman can take it from me that I have a great admiration for the qualities of these men and also a very great respect for their skill. I think that they are some of the most highly skilled men that we have got. But that does not lead me to expect them to be other than human. They have all the human weaknesses and failings that other men have, and other men do not like doing jobs for which they are being underpaid.
I would ask this question: to what extent does this form of manning of these ships mean that the equipment that these ships carry cannot be used—is, in fact, non-operational? This is important. There are also shortages in the engine room branch. I have here Admiralty Fleet Order 2145/63, It states in the first paragraph:
In view of the overall shortage of E.R.As which is expected to rise in 1964 and continue for a number of years, it has been decided
and so on.
That does not indicate that the shortage will be surmounted very easily. I have letters which talk in terms of a crisis, but I understand that at the present time the rosters for promotion to chief artificer are empty, with the exception, I think of E.R.As. I may be wrong about the E.R.As, but certainly the rosters, so far as I know, are empty. This is a very serious situation.
What we are doing is to commence a programme which will call for hundreds of similar men. The Polaris programme requires, for crew purposes alone, 1,250 men, and a very large number will be required for logistic support ashore. So let us put the number at 2,000 altogether. The hon. Gentleman himself mentioned what a Polaris submarine was like. I, too, was privileged to go down in a Polaris submarine and I know what it is like. The hon. Gentleman knows it to be true, that, by the very nature of it, a large proportion of those 2,000 men must be skilled technical ratings. In spite of the fact that we cannot man ships and that other ships are undermanned, we are now starting a programme which will call for hundreds of additional skilled technical men. I know that the Admiralty is devoting a great deal of thought to this, but I do not think that the problem will be solved quite as easily as the hon. Gentleman suggested. Concerning skilled ratings, the intake of artificer apprentices has been substantially increased, but this carries with it problems of quality and wastage. The important thing about it is that it dose not really answer the problem of the senior skilled ratings, because this problem, as the hon. Gentleman says, depends on the number of men re-engaging.
The White Paper tells us that the number of 12 year men re-engaging—and these are the technical branches—has fallen by 5 per cent. this year. A fall of 5 per cent. means a loss of 100 skilled men and more. Therefore the important question is how we can get them to re-engage, and to push up the number of re-engagements is exceedingly difficult in view of the long list of jobs now being offered by private enterprise to men who are prepared and anxious to leave the Service at the end of 12 years.
The White Paper is not very optimistic about manpower at all. If we look at the paragraph on Manpower, we find that men completing their first continuous service engagement are now being re-engaged at the rate of 55 per cent, compared with 50 per cent. in 1962. We are told concerning the general list that entries are still below what are needed. We also find concerning the supplementary list that there are still insufficient applicants of good calibre as fixed wing pilots and helicopter entries. This is important. If we are now making Tiger Class cruisers capable of carrying helicopters, we have to have pilots for the helicopters. We are also told that we must have more skilled electrical engineers coming forward for entry to the Service. This is not a very optimistic picture. That is not my picture. That is the picture presented by the hon. Gentleman's Department.
I would make one or two suggestions about this, not that I think that they will make a peat deal of difference, but which ought to be looked at. I think that the opportunities for further promotion after re-engagement—because a great number of these men become chief petty officers before re-engagement—ought to be re-examined, and once again the Admiralty should examine the question of a master rating. I know that it was turned down two or three years ago, but it is important that some inducement should be given. One of the inducements that a master rating would give is that of a very much higher terminal grant. I think that the question of the size of the terminal grant ought to be looked at again. The size of the terminal grant could quite well determine whether a man intends to stay. This is an important consideration in the minds of men who expect to leave the Service at the age of 40. One can go on from that to pensions, if one likes. The Navy, as the hon. Gentleman admitted, must do far more about married quarters. This is one of the constant sources of irritation that I have met, and which I know has faced a number of my hon. Friends during the past few years.
There are a number of other matters that I should have liked to discuss, but my time is up and I will come to a conclusion. In doing so, I return to my main theme, and that is the effect of the Polaris programme upon our naval forces.
Let me recapitulate the argument. Already we find that we have very thin conventional naval forces over a wide area. Some people say that they are too thin over too wide an area. In the Estimates, there is no indication of any programmes designed to deal with this problem. Although we are in this position, we still cannot find the technical manpower to man the vessels that we have. To inject into this situation a programme which calls for hundreds of skilled men and which calls for vast expenditure of money is to distort our conventional naval programmes and endanger our ability to provide effective, adequate and balanced forces. This danger is widely recognised by all who are seriously concerned with naval matters, except, seemingly, the Government.
The danger can be met in several ways, but whatever the course chosen it can be successful only if, at the same time, we make our alliances much more real than they are now, if we knit more closely together with our friends and allies to make these alliances effective and strive to build stronger international machinery and forces for the keeping of peace. This has now become a matter of the utmost urgency and importance, for only in this fashion can we hope to free our people from the intolerable fears and burdens which they presently face.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) always speaks on naval affairs with knowledge and responsibility and also with affection for the Royal Navy. He manages to combine criticism of the political heads of the Navy with loyalty to the interests of his old profession. I join the hon. Member in the tributes which he has paid to our officers and men in recent emergencies.
This afternoon, after the tributes which were expressed in the defence debate last week to all our Armed Forces for their work in recent emergencies, we think especially of the Navy's part. In recent months, the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines have been engaged in four continents—in British Guiana, in the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean, in the South Arabian Federation, in Borneo, in East and Central Africa, and in Cyprus. This time, at least, hon. Members opposite, who are sometimes critical of the part which our forces are called upon to play in emergencies overseas, cannot cry "Imperialism," or "Suez". Where, indeed, should we have been in recent months without the flexibility and mobility of our maritime power?
The work of the Royal Navy in these recent emergencies is very much in keeping with the naval tradition in situations of this kind. I wonder whether hon. Members, on both sides, appreciate how far and wide the White Ensign has ranged in support of British foreign policy and interests and in the cause of law, order and peace, quite outside the Royal Navy's commitments in world wars.
We all recognise the responsibilities and the work of the Navy in the two world wars, when our whole national life and our ability to continue operations on the ground or in the air hung on many occasions on the thin thread of sea communications. But the Navy's rôle in these lesser emergencies is not always so well understood, and I want to say a word about them.
I should like to recall to the minds of hon. Members how many times within our own lifetime the Navy has been called upon to deal with these sorts of situations in many different parts of the world. Hon. Members may recall that in the 1920s, the Navy was called upon at Chanak to stand between Europe and the outbreak of another European war, in support at that time of the Army ashore. At Smyrna we stood between the Greeks and the Turks in a situation full of grave possibilities. In the late 1920s, the Navy supported the Shanghai Defence Force, which went out to defend the International Settlement in conditions of civil war in China.
How many hon. Members remember that we had a Danube flotilla, quite apart from the Rhine flotilla, and that a British naval officer, the senior naval officer in Budapest, was for many months the de facto ruler of Hungary, being in charge of the only source of law and order?
In the 1930s, we had the Abyssinian emergency. We had the Spanish Civil War and the Nyon Patrols, which are fresh in our memories. We had the Arab revolt in Palestine, in which the Royal Navy not only took over responsibility for the port of Haifa, but also operated far and wide in Palestine and Transjordan in armoured trains and in armoured lorries on the roads in support of the Army. All through that period, we had a flotilla on the Yangtse River, in China, and since the last war we have had, first, Korea, and since then, Kuwait and situations such as we see today.
Never before has this thin blue line been quite so stretched as it is today. The Navy does not complain about this. It is proud to be called upon and to do its best to serve. But there are certain implications which this Committee would do well to ponder when we are considering naval affairs. First, it is right to remember that the greater the effort which is called for in these distant theatres in relation to the resources that the House of Commons provides for the Navy, the greater the separation and the disturbance and disruption of family life at the receiving end.
We cannot have this both ways. The Royal Navy will always meet every call upon it, but if we in Parliament do not ensure than the strength of the fleet in men and ships is adequate, it is Jolly Jack—that is, the men who man the ships at the other end—who will have to take the strain, and not those who control the purse strings at this end.
There are also, of course, other serious implications of over-stretching our resources unduly, the effect upon efficiency and the no less important human problem of the effect upon morale. It is not a simple matter of dividing the number of ships by the number of emergencies and saying that we have X number of ships to deal with each emergency. There are many factors which only the Admiralty can be fully aware of in such commitments as training, exercises, reliefs, leave, refits, modernisation and the rest.
This second problem created by overstretching and over-working ships and material applies particularly to the aircraft carrier. Only those who have knowledge of carrier operations can fully understand the extreme strain involved in these operations if one is working to a very tight programme. A very high standard of training and organisation is vital in operating modern aircraft from a naval carrier. Men's lives depend on it. Once the ship, flight, and maintenance teams in a carrier are trained, it is important that they should remain as a single unit as long as possible and not be broken up too soon.
The casualty rate in naval flying is invariably higher early in a commission than it is later. Yet this is what happens if we have not quite got enough naval air resources to meet all our commitments. Ships have to refit. Instead of enjoying, perhaps, a quieter period of relaxation in shore flying, the air squadrons have to leave the ship they worked up in and to be transferred to another carrier, and the whole process starts again.
I ask the Committee to spare a thought for the captains who have great responsibilities in these ships, operating as they do day and night, often at full speed, five or more days a week, with responsibility for the lives of their air crews as well as their ships on their shoulders. I ask the Committee to spare a thought also for the air crews themselves and the maintenance crews. We must see to it that the crews and the carriers get the best possible tools and enough of them.
I support wholeheartedly what my hon. Friend the Civil Lord had said about the decision to buy the Phantom aircraft. This decision, and the decision to build the new carrier and make it a big ship, are right decisions, but I must say that, I consider that my right hon. Friends have been an unconscionably long time in coming to them. We have been too long in getting the 1957 Defence White Paper and doctrine out of our system. Who knows?—if the decision to build a new aircraft carrier had been taken two years ago, when it ought to have been taken, and the design for the replacement of the Sea Vixen had been started three years ago, we might now have British aircraft coming along instead of having to go to the United States. Treasury resistance to defence projects may save pennies today but it often wastes pounds—and in this case dollars—later on.
I ask my hon. Friend to say something more precise about the state of play regarding the new aircraft carrier than either he today or his right hon. Friend last week has told us so far. The decision was taken last summer. It was a Cabinet decision, after who knows how great a wrangle. Then began the Treasury's rearguard action. It is not enough to say that design and planning are going ahead actively, because this is exactly what we have been told for the past two years. The only difference this year is that, instead of this statement being in the White Paper, it is not mentioned at at all.
I heard with surprise my hon. Friend say this afternoon that he expects that the new ship will go out to contract in 1966. If my arithmetic is right, that is more than two years ahead. I do not know how long it takes before a new ship is actually laid down after it goes out to contract. These contracts are quite a big business, with many dozens of millions of £s involved. It is not something one can lightly toss off in putting forward a contract. I imagine that it may be some time after we go out to contract before the ship is laid down. I do not know how long it will take to build the ship. When we pile year upon year and decade upon decade, it seems that we may well be into the 1970s before we have the new ship afloat.
I put to my hon. Friend this precise question. Can he tell us today when this ship will actually be laid down? If he can say how long it will take to build, the Committee will, I am sure, regard this as most valuable information. It is information which we really ought to have. I am very much behind my hon. Friend and his right hon. Friends in building the ship, but we are being asked to spend quite a lot of pocket money on it and I think that we should have all the information which, within the limits of security, we can be given.
This is also the time to ask whether one new carrier will be enough. We threw this thought out in expressing our gratification to my hon. Friend last July, but I think that we wish to press it a little more strongly now. We are told that we are to have a carrier force of three fine ships in the 1970s, one new ship and two modernised old ships.
I am not sure whether I have my figures right, but, if I am right, one of these ships would normally be refitting and another might be working up. By simple subtraction, this might leave only one ship afloat to meet all our commitments. I do not know whether my right hon. Friends expect a marked emelioration in the world situation in six or seven years—I hope that they do, though I do not know what evidence they have for it—but I do not think that we shall be very well situated if we do not have more than one new ship.
I have already referred to the problems—my hon. Friend understands them perfectly well, as everyone does—created by over-stretching our resources, the effect on men, materials, efficiency and the rest. In view of all this, I hope that the Government will think of two, or possibly three, new ships instead of only one.
This reinforcement of our carrier strength in the future is all the more important in view of the great changes which have come about in our strategic situation and military capability in recent years. I do not think that we always fully appreciate this. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence has done his very best, not altogether unsuccessfully, to instruct his colleagues in the facts of defence life, but I sometimes wonder whether he gets all the support I should like him to have from his colleagues in these matters.
When I was a joint planner, our defence policy was founded on what were then known as the three pillars of strategy. These three pillars were said to be the integrity of the United Kingdom base, the security of sea communications and the security of the Suez Canal—and that was not very long ago. Alas, these props begin to look a little shaky now. We have moved a long way from the planner's paradise which we enjoyed in those days.
I remember coming into the Strangers' Gallery in the House to hear the debate on the impending transfer of the Middle East base from Egypt to Cyprus. I have a vivid recollection of hearing the then Foreign Secretary, my noble Friend Lord Avon, and the then Secretary of State for War, my noble Friend Viscount Head, telling the House how much better Cyprus would be as a base than Egypt.
It had a friendly population, and no internal security problem, and many other advantages. I was Director of Operations in the Admiralty at the time. As I sat there I could hardly believe my ears. There was no mention of the arms which the Greeks were then running into Cyprus, and not a word about naval port facilities in Cyprus. The House, it seemed to me, looking down upon them in those distant days, sat enraptured by this easy, simple, happy solution. Only my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), at that time Prime Minister, sat in evident dejection, with his head in his hands.
I am not criticising the decision to get out of Egypt. I think it was inevitable. But it is one thing to face up to the facts of a changing situation, and quite another thing to misrepresent them. In these great issues—and that is what I will, if I may, say to my hon. Friend for the benefit of his right hon. Friend—in these great issues in which vital national interests are at stake, this Committee and the country deserve to be given the facts, however disagreeable. I say this most certainly not in criticism of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence who, I think, has been, and always is, so far as he can be, very frank with this Committee, but for the benefit of future Ministers of Defence from either side of it.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman must wait for another debate.
Whether we like it or not, we have great responsibilities, worldwide responsibilities of all kinds, and with these continuing resronsibilities and commitments has come about a relative decline in our military capability, and a marked change in our strategic situation. Our strategic situation has been transformed, and the process is probably not complete yet. Most of the overseas bases on which we formerly depended have gone. I think it is unrealistic to imagine we could ever have held them indefinitely, but I do not remember many voices being raised on either side of the Committee during the process of cecolonisation to point out the strategic price we should have to pay for shedding those positions.
But we still have two points of strength east of Suez, Aden and Singapore. From the naval point of view, to abandon those bases would indeed be, in my opinion, an unacceptable price. We still have important rights in the Union of South Africa which, from the naval point of view, if we can no longer make use of East African ports, would be of extreme naval importance in war. There are hon. Members on the opposite side of the Committee ready to criticise the sale of any arms to South Africa and to urge the severance of all connections with the Union. I wish they would ponder on this fact. There must also be anxiety about our ability to maintain over-flying rights in Africa.
In my opinion, there is only one effective answer to all this, and that is maritime power, and I believe the Government have come to this conclusion, too. There is nothing new in this. We have used the oceans as the medium for the deployment of British military effort for centuries. We have a maritime tradition. The sea is in our blood. Now, by force of circumstances, almost unconsciously, we look like coming back to where we came in.
This means a very great maritime effort, in all maritime arms. I have already referred to the aircraft carriers. I shall not detain the Committee with my views on the numbers of other ships, except to say that I think I share to some extent the views which the hon. Gentleman expressed so clearly about one ship not being able to be in more than one place at one time. There is no substitute for the mobility and flexibility of maritime power and for the self-contained mobile airfields which carriers provide. If there is any doubt about the future of our remaining bases and about our over-flying rights, then I suggest timely provision should also be made for adequate afloat support—which does not receive very much attention in the White Paper.
There are no physical difficulties about providing all the requirements we need to implement a true maritime strategy. The shipyards are crying out for naval orders. I really do not think that we are going to find any difficulty about naval recruiting. We certainly do not for the Royal Marines. The problem, as always, is to find the money.
Here I do not think the solution is quite as difficult as some of my hon. Friends imagine. The first principle of war is economy of force. If we apply this to the situation which I have been discussing I would say that there must be no costly projects which are not directly an essential part of the overall defence concept. We cannot afford the luxury of projects which, while they may, perhaps, add something in the aggregate to our military capability, are primarily designed to keep this arm or that arm of this Service or that Service in business. There must be total concentration on the essential needs of the overall defence concept, and defence projects must be justified by defence necessity, and not by Service interests.
The achievement of this object, and the ability to override vested Service interests, is the first and paramount aim, and the chief hope, of this great defence reorganisation which my right hon. Friend has initiated, and in which we wish all the Services good luck.
We are grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield). His speech was in two parts. First of all, it was a reminiscence and, secondly, he was inclined to lecture us to some extent. His reminiscent part was also divided into two sections, the first being rather romantic and the second being realistic. He was romantic in the first part when dealing with the Navy in the nineteen-twenties and the nineteen-thirties. Then he was very realistic in what he was telling us about his sitting in the Gallery and listening to the defence debate.
We on this side of the Committee, in debate after debate, quite clearly have been asking for facts. I can remember making a speech on the Navy Estimates a number of years ago and saying that our difficulty was that we had no information as to how the Navy Votes fitted into N.A.T.O. requirements and those of all the other alliances. How can we possibly say whether the money we are asked to vote is adequate or inadequate if we are unaware of the part that we are to play in the alliance and whether the ships provided fit in with the other part of the alliance? Until we have this broad picture we cannot say whether the money is sufficient or not. This is the kind of information that we have sought to secure.
I listened with great care to the Civil Lord. It has been my lot to listen to many Civil Lords making speeches. I could not help noticing the smile on the faces of three ex-Civil Lords sitting here who recognised the phraseology and the language used by the present Civil Lord, which to me was very reminiscent of many other speeches that I have heard. The speech was delivered with competence, as we would expect, although I remember one ex-Civil Lord dealing with much better results with part of the speech which indicated how much more expensive equipment is today than it was many years ago. I remember the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) saying that ships today were not like they were in the old days, with an engine stuck in a box; they were very much more expensive than that. He shocked many hon. Members on that occasion.
I want to deal today not with the general strategy but with some rather more mundane points. The Civil Lord said that ships, equipment and armaments were all very much more intricate in design, and that work on ships and armaments needed a great deal of skill and experience. Work on torpedoes is now very different from what it was. The torpedo is rather a guided missile compared with the form it took at one time. The whole attitude towards this weapon has been completely revolutionised over the past ten years.
I should like to know to what extent private industry is now engaged in research and development on this weapon. I ask this because some of us met the previous Civil Lord and other Admiralty officials on the subject of the removal of the Underwater Weapons Establishment from Greenock to Portland. We said that it was much better to have research and development associated with the production of the torpedo, the torpedo being produced in Alexandria, Dunbartonshire. As change takes place in connection with weapons, there is a tendency to go outside to private industry for weapons to be manufactured rather than to have them produced in Service establishments. Gradually as designs become intricate and more and more electronics is associated with the weapon, less and less is manufactured in the Government's establishment and more and more is produced by private enterprise.
I should like to know whether this is the decided policy of the Government. I ask this because in Alexandria we have the Royal Naval Torpedo Factory, which is a splendid, very up-to-date factory, with a great deal of space available. At one time it was the Government's policy to have extra space available in the factories, where, should an emergency occur, equipment, armaments and so on could rapidly be built up. But nowadays this is nonsensical. If there were to break out a war in which nuclear weapons were used, then no extra space available at these places would be any good. What any Government have to do in making preparations for present-day circumstances is to have a weapon which will deter and also sufficient conventional, up-to-date weapons, to do any job which arises at any point of time.
For this reason, any factory which is owned by the Government should be used to the best advantage, and machines, materials and space should not be allowed to stand idle. The situation which seems to exist here is that certain new developments of the torpedo and similar weapons are being farmed out to private industry. But in Alexandria we have a good factory, and in addition, unfortunately, we have 10 per cent. unemployment in the area. Skilled men are leaving the area to go to the South-East and the Midlands. I should have thought that it would have been in the best interests of the Government to ensure that as much work as possible was done in the areas where there was space and where work could be properly developed.
Since the decision to move the Underwater Research Establishment from Greenock to Portland, the Government have decided to put the greatest underwater weapon at Faslane. The new Polaris missile will be there. One would have thought that scientists and others concerned with this should have remained in Greenock and not been taken to Portland. I should like to know whether the Government have any views on this and whether some of the men will be coming back. I hope to hear from the Civil Lord whether some attention has been given to this matter and whether we can look forward to much more work being done in the torpedo factory at Alexandria.
There are several minor matters about which I shall write to the hon. Gentleman, but there are two others of importance on which I should like answers to day. He indicated that the increased cost, because of Polaris, would be £38 million and, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), said that this did not take into account the money to be spent at Faslane and, I assume, Gareloch as well. There have been indications that the cost of the installation at Faslane has gone up.
If the cost has risen, was this because of a revised estimate based on better information, or because the Admiralty decided that it needed more land and that further developments would take place? I need to know this because a great deal of land has been taken. The new installation will have very high security so that this part of Gareloch will be shut off completely from the public. There has also been a great deal of doubt and uncertainty because Admiralty surveyors and others came into the district and began to measure the land and the facilities. Has the Admiralty now made up its mind? Does it know exactly what land it wishes to take? Does it yet know what the line of the new road will be and what buildings are to be erected? Does it know just how many people will be affected?
A number of people bought houses in that part, modernised them and had expected to live there permanently. Because of the new installation, some have had to go. Can we now be clear that no one else is to be asked to go as well? May we have answers to these questions so that I may be able to tell my constituents, "This now is the situation" and so that these doubts and uncertainties may be cleared away?
The other important matter is associated with compensation. Quite clearly, a lot of money will be spent on the installation but some local people will have to move. I have written to the hon. Gentleman about this. Indeed, I wrote on 30th January, and I am sorry that I have not yet had a reply. I hope that no news is good news, that satisfactory arrangements have been made and that proper compensation is to be paid. People are being displaced from their homes because of this land being taken over. At the same time house and land prices have gone up in the area. I hope that all these factors are being taken into consideration in the assessment of compensation.
The hon. Gentleman paid tribute to all those concerned. I hope he realises how co-operative the local authority has been. While it has taken every step possible to ensure that it will not be left with any babies if the Government change their mind, it has been very co-operative.
Since I first came into the House of Commons, many years ago, the First Lord of the Admiralty has always sat in another place and we have had only one Minister from the Admiralty to answer this annual debate. Like other hon. Members, I have always noticed that the reply has been made remarkably easy to deliver. My hon. Friend the Civil Lord will not be in any difficulty in filling in time today, because a very large number of questions have been put to him. The speech of the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) was a good example of that. I, too, have some questions to put.
Like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield), I am worried about the delay in the new aircraft carrier. I endorse his criticism and add that all hon. Members should be very vigilant about this matter, particularly as, apparently, it is not a subject of party controversy, for the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) came down very firmly in favour of an aircraft carrier in the defence debate last week.
My hon. Friend the Civil Lord also mentioned the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, a small but important part of the Service. I have never understood why the Auxiliary should be manned by the Merchant Navy. At a time like this, when Regular officers and men of the Royal Navy find it difficult to get sea time, it would be better—as is the case with the United States Navy—if the Auxiliary were manned by Navy men. This would give a greater interchange of experience and more sea time while, if the Navy had to be expanded in an emergency, it would probably make matters rather easier.
The speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis)—made, it seemed to me, in conjunction with the Glasgow Herald—suggested that the saving which might be brought about by not building Polaris submarines could be devoted to more conventional weapons, which we all realise constitute the main active function of the Navy. I think that the hon. Gentleman forgot what his hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East said in the defence debate, when he suggested turning the Polaris submarines into hunter-killers, which, if we were not to have Polaris submarines, would be a sensible idea but would not save money. It would, on the contrary, be very expensive. For instance, there would be considerable compensation to start with. An alteration in the programme would result in considerable expenditure.
As a House of Commons, we must get into the habit of realising that the Polaris programme is a national and not essentially a naval programme. It is for the House of Commons to decide whether we have Polaris submarines, but if we are to have the nuclear capacity vested in them, in a rather curious way it is a sort of passive part of the Armed Forces, because such weapons could never be used unless all else failed. We must face the fact that this is a national responsibility and that we cannot the it to the Navy Estimates. I and others have often suggested that it should be a separate Estimate but, for reasons of which the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) is aware, that cannot be done.
I will give way in a moment.
I have been assured on many occasions that the additional expense of this great national project will not detract from the money spent on the conventional Navy, but I should like to be reassured that that is still what Government policy is.
It would be very effectively run and organised if that were so. I shall have something to say about that later.
In the last year, the value of mobility, on which hon. Members on this side of the Committee have always placed great stress, has become amply evident. We have begun to see what different types of mobility can be provided by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. A sort of partnership in mobility has been clearly demonstrated and the pattern of the partnership is becoming more evident—the support and build-up is for the Navy and the early and immediate action is for the Royal Air Force. One cannot do without the other. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East detailed where aircraft carriers and various other forces had been since the war. We have had these innumerable difficulties, but it is remarkable that we have always managed to solve them. We ought to pay tribute to the Royal Navy for having been able to discharge its duties so magnificently. I am glad to see from the White Paper that our amphibious forces are being built up. It is becoming ever more clear that the main active duty of the Navy is to prevent small wars all over the world, and other difficulties and problems, from escalating into larger wars.
I am glad that the Navy is expanding. It is very largely our Polaris commitment which is placing such a strain on our technical and technological experts in the Navy and it is difficult to get enough recruiting to satisfy the demand. I was glad that the White Paper referred to the educational side of the Navy and reminded us that degrees can be given at Greenwich, and diplomas and certificates by other types of training schools. This is the answer to the problem of recruiting the highly-skilled scientific, technical and technological manpower required in the Navy. If it can be demonstrated that one of the best ways to achieve technological status, or whatever it might be, in this ever more technical world is by joining the Royal Navy, we shall not have any trouble about recruiting such staff. This is exactly what is done in the United States of America. I have made two visits to Holy Loch when I have had the opportunity to discuss this problem with American officers and ratings. They tell me that they can get all the people they want, because joining the American Navy is the finest way of getting the necessary qualifications. Of course, this is much easier in the United States which has a vast navy and so on, but if we were to expand our work in that direction, it would undoubtedly cost more in the Estimates, but the value would be far greater than merely an increase in recruiting, for we should be sending into the world at the age of 40 or thereabouts more and more men who were highly qualified technically and whose skill would be greatly to the national advantage. The fact that the additional cost would be borne on the Navy Estimates should not detract from the idea. I am sure that this is the only way in which we shall be able to attract the sort of highly-skilled manpower which is needed in the Navy.
I got the impression from talking to Americans that their time of enlistment was much shorter than ours. I do not know whether that is so and perhaps my hon. Friend can confirm it. That would make it vastly more expensive.
It would be very expensive. I cannot answer the question about the comparable times of enlistment. I should have thought that they were about equal, because many of our Service engagements are very short. I was about to ask that an Admiralty Departmental inquiry should examine the American system. I know that the American educational system is very different from ours, but it would be worth looking into the American Navy's attitude to the education side and comparing it with our own to see whether we could improve our situation.
Several hon. Members have referred to married quarters. It is shameful—and I use the word deliberately—that the Navy should lag behind the other Services in the provision of married quarters. That must be remedied with the least possible delay, for there is no doubt that the lack of married quarters is one of the biggest disincentives to recruiting.
I want now to trespass into the province of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) and talk about dockyards. Now that the leadership of the individual Services is being brought more closely together, we must also consider whether the opportunities provided by Royal Naval Dockyards can be offered to the other Services.
Dockyards are really comprehensive factories, and there is little work that they cannot do. It is not difficult to adapt them to do things that they have not done before. It is clear that with a smaller Navy—and no argument will ever convince me that this is not so—they are not working to full capacity. Recent discharges have surely underlined that fact. It would be the greatest mistake if the dockyards, which are a valuable part of our heritage, were diminished in any way. I want to see the Army and the Royal Air Force given opportunities to have their work done in the dockyards.
I do not want to be told that such a procedure would create difficulties in the Estimates. I do not want any financial jiggery-pokery in this matter. That is what holds up the introduction of businesslike schemes such as this. It is ridiculous that efficiency should be spoiled just because an item does not come into the right Estimate, or some such nonsense.
The Government are right to modify the "Tigers", even though they have been in service only for a short time. In these days of rapid scientific advances, whose applications add to the complications and delay of production, it is inevitable that waste will occur. It is the easiest criticism to make of any Government, at any time, that they are being wasteful. The real sin arises when the Government do not cut their losses in time. The Committee should accept that with the rapid advance of science, the tremendous changes in technology and the new needs which appear every day, mistakes are bound to be made.
We recognise that. No Government should ever be afraid of making rapid decisions to modify, and we must support such Governments. The decision with regard to the "Tigers" is an excellent one, and I am glad that it has been taken.
The hon. Member is aware that not more than seven years ago we pressed the Government to make this very change, and to convert these ships into combined operations ships.
When I was in Opposition there was hardly anything that I did net press upon the Government of the day. I can assure the hon. and learned Member that I covered myself on every point. I give him credit for doing the same thing. If one criticises enough one is bound occasionally to get it right. The remarkable thing about the Opposition is that they are so often wrong.
Seriously, I want to ask again the question which my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) asked last week, namely, what would the Opposition do, if they ever became the Government, in respect of the American Polaris bases in this country? I know that the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) said that they would not be scrapped because—and who doubts it?—he and his party are loyal allies. But considerable difficulties are involved, and this is a matter of great importance. Recently, for the better edification of my constituents, I provided myself with a document entitled "The Constitution of the Labour Party" because I wanted to explain to them all about Clause 4, and to show them that if they voted for the Labour Party they were handing to its leaders a mandate for more nationalisation.
I then went on to read Clause 5, which says:
No proposal shall be included in the Party programme unless it has been adopted by a certain number of votes cast at the conference.
Last week-end the Minister of Defence said that a resolution passed in 1961 provided for the eviction of the Americans from their Polaris bases. In those circumstances I hope that we shall get a statement of future policy from the party opposite. It should he made. It is not good enough to say these things outside when so much is hanging over our heads. We know that the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) is not keen about these bases, and I should like to know who will be disciplined, the hon. Member for Rossendale or the right hon. Member for Belper.
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the fact that a resolution was passed by a certain majority. He also referred to the fact that the constitution of the party says that proposals to be contained in an election address must have been passed by a majority. The proposal to which he has referred was not passed by a sufficient majority. I would also point out that my right hon. Friends, the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, time after time, inside and outside the House, have said that a Labour Government would remain loyal to N.A.T.O. and would accept their obligations as a member of N.A.T.O. Included among those obligations is the base about which the hon. Gentleman spoke.
I understand that, apart from the Polaris issue, the hon. Member has consulted the constitution of the Labour Party, and has read Clause 4, which relates to public ownership. A few moments ago he referred to the need for providing more work for the dockyards. Does he appreciate that that means more nationalisation?
Not at all. My party uses both methods. We are not such mugs as the party opposite. We do not try to go round the golf course with just one club. We use the driver of public enterprise when the road is clear, but we fall back upon the niblick when things get into a mess, and we go for public ownership.
Will the hon. Member go back to his constituents and tell them about the question which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was asked on the radio on 16th January, by Mr. ffitch, namely, "Would you allow the Americans to continue to have a Polaris base in this country?" Will he also tell them that in reply my right hon. Friend said:
We are committed to that.
As long as it is required by N.A.T.O. We would like it to become a N.AT.O. base as soon as possible and we would take all these decisions in accordance with our obligations to the alliance, to N.A.T.O.
If I get the opportunity later on I shall make it clear that this statement was well knows to the Minister of Defence and that that question, coming at the end of a debate, was one of the most
dishonourable and disreputable I have heard.
I think that I have heard 16 out of the 18 speeches which the hon. Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Maitland) has made on the Navy Estimates over the years, but this is the first one in which he has managed to become involved in party controversy—much of which was irrelevant to the matter that we are now discussing.
It was interesting to hear the hon. Member charge us with wanting to have it both ways and then to hear him go on to give a performance of wanting to have it both ways that I have not seen excelled in this Chamber. He told us that when he was in opposition it was his habit to criticise on a wide front, apparently regardless of the merits of the case and merely to cover himself, and that now that his party is in power he supports a Government who are against nationalisation but in favour of public ownership.
Apart from the "fun and games" at the end of his speech, I agree, as usual, with very much of what the hon. Member said. I particularly agree with the phrase that we in this Committee should allow Governments to cut their losses when they discover that they have made a mistake. I wish to goodness that today the Civil Lord had been able to announce that the Government intended to cut their losses in respect of the "Tiger" cruisers. All that he could say was that the cruisers were to be changed. I should have thought that the best thing that he could have possibly said was that they would be scrapped.
I do not understand what possible rôle a cruiser can now play in any future war. In defending a convoy, the faster and smaller frigates would be infinitely superior, and, in attack, the aircraft carrier. The Civil Lord has said that the main armament of the Navy now is removed from the gun and is coming from the air. It is the bomber. What possible purpose can cruisers now serve? Merely to "bung on" a few helicopters will make no difference to that cardinal point.
This brings me to a main criticism of the Estimates. In recent years I have found it increasingly difficult to make any sense of the Navy Estimates. This, in part, may be a result of advancing age, a fact which I share with other hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. It may also be the result of the decrease in information conveyed in the Estimates. The Estimates with which we are dealing today and the White Paper are worse in that respect than any I can remember. The Civil Lord tried in his speech to remedy some of the defects and he tried to fill in some of the gaps in information, but I do not think that he did it at all completely.
I do not see how we as a Committee can evaluate these Estimates unless we have a much clearer idea than the Civil Lord was prepared to give us on the real job of the Navy. I do not think that we can evaluate these Estimates unless we know what share the Commonwealth navies and the navies of our alliance in N.A.T.O. will take in doing that job. I do not think that we can evaluate the Estimates unless we know what is intended to be the function of individual ships. This brings me back, for the last time, I hope, to those wretched cruisers. I should like to know whether or not they have a purpose.
We cannot evaluate the Estimates unless we know how efficient in design and in other ways these individual ships are to do their particular jobs. The Civil Lord referred to the job in front of the Navy at present and gave an example of what it had done in Tanganyika. But it was not a very difficult job for the Royal Navy to deal with a ruffled battalion of troops in barracks in Tanganyika. It is never a difficult job for the Navy to deal with a situation in which its opponents have neither aircraft nor submarines. I am concerned with what the Navy would have to do in a real war.
It is a difficult job if one does not do it quickly, even when dealing with those sorts of people. Is it not important to remember, in making perfectly proper criticism and comment, that speed of action makes the thing easy?
I agree. It can be difficult to move quickly from one place to another and I want to come to that point later, but it would be impossible to get there at all, in my opinion, in the conditions which we are likely to face in a future war, if we have to deal with attack from the air and from under the water.
It seems to me that we are still thinking very much in conventional terms of keeping the sea-lanes open. I do not see how that will be done in any sort of war that I can foresee. The picture of a number of merchantmen spread out in convoy and protected by warships coming through the seas, some going down and some getting here, is something which I cannot project into the future. I do not believe that it can happen. Rather than talk of keeping the sea-lanes open to bring food or materials into the country, we would do much better to think about concentrates of food and of storing up pills or even conventional food and materials underground. This would be much better than thinking that once a war has started we shall be able to bring food and materials in by sea.
As for the sort of ships which we are giving our seamen to sail, we do not have a good record in design. I have had occasion during the last one-and-a-half years to do some work about the Battle of Jutland. Those who are older than I am will remember, without having to reread what happened there, the disasters which occurred to the battle cruisers. Two of them went down in a matter of 20 minutes, and went down because the Admiralty of those days had never seriously thought about the effect of plunging fire. The Admiralty was back in the days of Trafalgar, where ships were broadside on and fired straight into each other. It did not realise what the effect of increased ranges of gunfire would be and how shells would come through the air in an arc. The Admiralty therefore did not armour the upper decks sufficiently.
Did we learn that lesson during the First World War? I know that the destruction of the "Hood" was not quite the same thing as the destruction of the battle cruisers at Jutland, but one shot was enough to send that wonderful ship down. The "Ark Royal" was sunk with one torpedo while it took practically half the British Navy to sink the "Bismarck". This was, in part, a defect in design.
We know why that was so. We were thinking before the First World War, and perhaps we are still thinking, judging from some of the comments made today, of ships which had to range the seas. They had to be homes for the men who served in them for months at a time. To provide what is laughably called comfort for the seamen, some of the safety factors which the Germans, with their short-range ideas, were able to introduce, were not introduced in our vessels, and, I believe, are still not being introduced into our ships.
We can vote a lot of money and that money can be spent on ships, but it will be wasted and the ships will be useless unless the design is so altered that those ships will have a chance of getting through. I said to the hon. Member for Horncastle that I agreed with him about the necessity for speed of movement and mobility. I believe we can get that speed of movement and mobility more easily if we co-operate a great deal more closely than at present with the nations of the Commonwealth. I believe we can get away from this idea of long-range ships and to the idea of short-range ships which are safely designed, if we think in terms of bases in Australia and elsewhere covering a comparatively small area and not thinking of a ship which will sail horn Devonport and fight in the Pacific.
The whole future of war at sea seems to be in doubt, but there will be no doubt about the result on any of our surface ships in any war if they continue to be as badly designed in terms of watertight compartments and the rest as they have been in the past. I should like the Civil Lord, when he winds up the debate, to say something about this safety factor. It is not merely a humanitarian question, although that is very present to anyone who has served at sea. It is also a question of efficiency. Whatever the value of the equipment, and whatever the skill of the fighting men, if the ship is to sink when it need not sink became of defects in design, all our efforts will be fruitless.
We have a habit of thinking about the past war instead of a future one. I am not sure that we are not all doing that to a very great extent this afternoon when we continue to put so much emphasis on surface vessels. I do not think that surface vessels beyond a certain size have any future at all in war. I cannot see that anything above a frigate would have the slightest chance, however well designed, of standing up to the attacks which would come to it in a future war. Therefore, we ought more and more to be thinking of submarines, not just submarines like Polaris or hunter-killer submarines, but submarines which can act even as transport and freight carriers. I believe the future of naval warfare lies beneath the waves, not above them and I hope that there are people in Admiralty who are thinking in these terms.
I had the pleasure of following the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) two years ago in the debate on the Navy Estimates and I listened with great interest to his speech tonight. Like a number of other hon. Members, he complained about the lack of information given in the Defence White Paper. I suppose that to a certain extent we can all grumble about that, but I often wonder whether, as hon. Members of this House, we could ever get into the Defence White Paper all the information we want.
I wonder whether, when hon. Members ask for more, they are not asking for too much detail, which, perhaps, is not our concern. When one has been in a fighting Service we know that one has to be out for only a year or two years to be completely out of date. I do not believe that any amount of information given to us in a White Paper, without taking up an inordinate amount of space, would be enough to keep us up to date.
The hon. Member commented on our record in the design of ships. In the past, I also have criticised that. For the record, I should like to put one thing straight about H.M.S. "Hood", a ship I served in before the war. I remember most vividly, I think two days after the "Hood" was sunk—and, as the hon. Member said, it went down very quickly —reading in The Times a letter from Lord Chatfield pointing out that before the war all the plans were laid down to re-armour the "Hood" so that she would be adequately defended against plunging fire. That the plans did not go through the Treasury was a tragedy. Perhaps that is a lesson to us not to save money at the cost of lives and material.
In the last war we also had our successes. For example, the "Illustrious" was very heavily and severely bombed. It was hit by the Germans in the Mediterranean, but it returned at 25 knots from the vicinity of Malta to Alexandria. In the Pacific, several of our carriers were badly hit by suicide bombers, but they survived and operated within two or three hours even after having suffered damaged, possibly damage which would have put American carriers out of commission for the duration. We should remember that we have had our successes.
The hon. Member asked, what is the job of the Navy? I should like to confine my speech to what I think its job would be in future. After some years in the doldrums, the Navy is emerging once more—perhaps in these days of close integration I should not say, as the first line of defence, but it is at least moving in that direction. I think that there are two reasons for that. The first is the decision to have as our deterrent the Polaris submarine. The second is the reduction in number of our overseas bases and the increasing insecurity of those that remain. We are, and will be increasingly, driven to rely on mobile bases if we are to have any at all.
In his masterly winding-up speech in the defence debate last week, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence said that however strong our conventional forces are they cannot give us security. We can be saved only if a potential aggressor is deterred by the fear of retribution. Although the balance of terror is not a state which appeals to us, we are likely to have to live with it for a considerable time. We shall have to exercise unceasing vigilance so that the precarious balance is not upset. In recent years we have maintained it only by the skin of our teeth, and complacency now would be fatal.
Although we may often be staggered by the enormous sum of money spent on the Navy, I believe that it is well spent. No doubt the two sides of the Committee will argue about priorities. In my view, during the last few weeks the House has greatly enhanced its reputation by the responsible approach which it has made to the defence issue. Great though the expenditure is, it has not become a party argument, and I am glad of that.
If I may turn to more particularly naval matters, I should like, first, to consider Polaris. Through the centuries the Navy has kept the peace not only for Britain, but in great measure for Europe and the world. Now it is to be entrusted with this powerful weapon. With Polaris in its hands the Navy once again will fulfil an historic task. When we talk of the Navy as the silent Service, we do not mean that the sailor is necessarily taciturn and uncommunicative. We mean that sea power is exercised silently and invisibly. Polaris is in this tradition.
In the calculations of our needs we are inevitably circumscribed by the amount of cash available. We should like far more if we had the money. We must consider carefully how we spend what we have got. Even so, the decision to have a fifth Polaris submarine increases the effectiveness of our deterrent out of all proportion to the amount of money spent on just one more submarine. It seems to me that there should he no hesitation in saying that if we had five instead of four it would ensure that we could keep two at sea, and that seems a very good reason why we should have five. Nevertheless, the amount of money needed is very great, and we have to do all that we can to buttress and support the weapon.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain to me something which I have not yet heard explained: how it can be believed that five submarines, two at sea, are an effective second-strike weapon when the Americans, having done a complete analysis, believe it necessary to have 41?
I do not want to embark too far into the question of the credibility of the nuclear deterrent. But aggressors always calculate the risk of damage to themselves when they weigh the worth of the prize which they hope to gain. If the risk of damage is too great compared with the prize, they will not take the risk. In my view, Russia would accept a far greater degree of damage to knock out the United States than to knock us out. For that reason we need a much smaller power in nuclear weapons to constitute a nuclear deterrent.
I do not know whether I have explained it. Perhaps I may put it more simply, as I did once before: if Norway, for example, had one Polaris submarine, and we were at daggers drawn with Norway, I feel that there is no prize which we could obtain from Norway which would compensate us for the amount of damage inflicted on this country by one nuclear submarine operated by Norway.
That is true. But I say that we should buttress and support this weapon to the limit of our ability.
It may sound paradoxical to say so, but one way to do this is to strengthen our anti-submarine forces. In the context of anti-submarine warfare, the job of the Nagy and, equally important, of R.A.F. Coastal Command, is to safeguard our sea communications in the Atlantic, the home waters and other strategic areas.
But although our dependence on the sea lanes is as great as ever, I agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East. I do not believe that we are likely to fight a major submarine war similar to those of the last two Great Wars. The immediate threat is no longer that we shall be strangled by the cutting off of our supplies. The overwhelming danger is the obliteration of our fighting capacity by sudden nuclear attack. Among the weapons used would be missile-firing submarines. The targets would be our nuclear bases, missile sites, carrier strike forces and centres of Government and military control.
Although the deterrent is still of prime importance, conventional forces which can be seen to support it are a growing requirement. Where do anti-submarine forces, and I include maritime air forces, figure in this? These forces not only support the deterrent, but also supplement it, and priority should be given to anti-submarine forces in that context. For they destroy Soviet missile-firing submarines and, therefore, protect our land-based nuclear striking forces. They protect our carrier strike forces. They support the deterrent by a contribution parallel to that of the shield forces in Europe. They support the deterrent by anti-submarine operations designed to protect Western missile-firing submarines. We have to develop a capacity to survey activity on or under the sea around the coasts of N.A.T.O. in exactly the same way as we need to detect the approach of aircraft or missiles. If we do not do so, such installations as Fylingdales will be outflanked.
The defensive shield should be not only on the mainland of Europe, but should extend right round our coasts. I suppose that if we consider what the Soviet Union might do with its missile-firing submarines we can say that it will deploy them against Europe and the United States and that there will be large numbers of submarines deployed to destroy our Atlantic striking force. A major task will be the destruction of Polaris submarines, and, no doubt, a small number of submarines will be deployed against our shipping.
The tasks of our maritime air forces now become clear. The highest priority should be given to the anti-submarine protection of the Atlantic striking force. The second task would be to oppose the enemy submarine threat as close to their bases as possible. Thirdly, the antisubmarine maritime forces would be needed to get shipping out of Europe and to fight in the supply convoys.
This brings me to the submarine threat, and it is a great threat. We know that the Russians have great numbers of submarines, and, in the future, changes will be likely not in increased numbers but in improved types and, above all, in a great increase in nuclear missile-firing submarines.
I have no time today to discuss the strength or the weakness of the antisubmarine forces available. Concluding this part of my speech, I should like to put some questions to my hon. Friend. I assure him that I do not expect an answer tonight, but I hope that he will consider the questions. I admit, frankly, that I put them to his predecessor, but they do not suffer by repetition.
First, is any surface anti-submarine vessel adequate to deal with a nuclear submarine which can go at 30 knots? Secondly, how is the helicopter getting along? Can it track a 30-knot submarine? I am told that there is an all-weather helicopter. Can it operate in a Force Eight gale? In those conditions can it take off from a ship? Can it work at night in low visibility and, if so, with what efficiency?
What of the conventional aircraft, whether shore- or carrier-based? In the last war the aircraft, particularly the shore-based aircraft, played a vital rôle in A.S. warfare. At the height of the crisis it turned the scales. Without it we would have been defeated. Because of its speedy, wide-ranging qualities, coupled with radar, it could locate the submarine and destroy it or, at worst, immobilise it.
Can the aircraft do it today? Can it locate a completely submerged nuclear submarine? If not, what research is going on in this country to restore to these conventional aircraft their power as a weapon against the submarine, or are they also obsolete? Are we as weak in numbers of maritime A.S. aircraft as we are in ships? It must be remembered that bombers can no longer be switched, as in the last war. The modern high-speed jet bomber is quite unsuitable.
What of the anti-submarine submarine? We have such vessels, but have we enough? How effective are they as submarine killers? Have they the necessary speed margin over their adversary? If they use that speed, can they use their locating devices? If they can locate, but not catch, what is the solution? Are they being trained to work with aircraft in exactly the same way as in the last war our surface ships were trained to work with aircraft and by that means achieved victory over the enemy? Have we an adequate homing anti-submarine weapon? If not, what research is going on in this country to get one?
I leave with relief those questions to my hon. Friend and turn now to the second aspect of defence where the rôle of the Navy increasingly gains in importance. This has been mentioned already, but I will mention it again. The loss of control of Suez inescapably changed this country's strategic outlook. This sounds obvious, but I am not sure that it is entirely appreciated or, if it is, that it is being translated into action. Not only have we lost Suez, but in the years since we have relinquished control over many overseas territories. In addition, the changing political climate has put all, or nearly all, our overseas bases at risk.
I think that it is agreed that, where we have no firm political control, it is not wise to rely on bases for fighting services in that Territory. East Africa has gone. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield) mentioned Aden and Singapore. Is Aden really tenable as a main base without control of the Suez Canal? Is Singapore secure in the light of political developments in the Far East? It was a death trap in the last war. By all means let us use them as advanced bases while we can, but I believe that we must greatly develop the concept of the mobile base if we are properly to carry out our responsibilities to stop war starting, wherever it may be.
I do not believe that the defence planners have really accepted this. They still hanker after permanent land bases, perfectly adequate if we can reach them, a death trap if we cannot in wartime. The fact is that if, as we have been doing, we give up overseas bases, or if, as is happening, these become insecure or untenable, unless we have mobile bases we will have none at all.
It seems to me that we can at present rely on two firm overseas bases only—Australia and South Africa. We must not forget, as has been said already, the vital importance of South Africa to Western defence, in spite of present difficulties over internal policies. On the whole, I think that those two countries give us secure rear bases, but the distances and areas to be covered from them are vast, but not so vast if we develop the concept of the mobile base to the full and provide the ships and equipment.
Careful planning can provide all that is needed. It was done in the last war. Provided that the rear bases are secure, an operation can be sustained at great distances for long periods. Mobile bases will be expensive, but we will need fewer of them. Nor are they subject to the winds of political change in the way that shore bases are. Have we not spent vast sums on shore installations for our forces since the war, only to see them pass out of our control? We have recently had a demonstration of the effectiveness of a small seaborne force by the use of our commandos in East Africa, but that is not enough. The whole concept of the mobile base must be geared to the need to transport and strike with a sizeable and balanced Army. On route it will need protection from air and sea power. It will need to be landed efficiently and will need support and sustenance once ashore.
This can be done. It has been done. I cannot see that we can do with less than two mobile bases with all the air and surface power that are needed in support. It is difficult to assess exactly from the Navy Estimates whether the resources are available to do what I want. I doubt very much if they are. For example, we see from the Estimates that only two assault ships are planned. I do not believe that it is the job of a Member of Parliament, least of all a back bencher, to consider the details too closely. But we would grossly fail in our duty it we did not say which territories are likely to provide secure bases in the light of political developments. I say that there are two only. If this is recognised, our obligations can be fulfilled only by gearing our efforts to these. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider this very seriously.
The way ahead points increasingly in the direction of a great development of a mobile strategy for this country, a strategy that does not rely on bases or airfields in advanced areas, a strategy that can therefore be nourished only by seaborne forces. It will need closer integration of our fighting services and more joint training. It will provide more effective forces and a greater economy of effort. The new Ministry of Defence is supremely fitted to plan and implement a mobile strategy in the light of the changing political situation. I trust that it will do so. I assure my hon. Friend that he will have my firm support and the country will be grateful to him if in the contest ahead he stands firm for the essential rôle of seaborne forces in the future defence of the country.
I wish first to associate myself with the Civil Lord's tribute to the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) as a First Lord of the Admiralty. I do so as I was in the Navy at the time. I do not need to call in aid my father, or even my grandfather, both of whom were in the Navy, my grandfather in the Royal Marines, but not 300 years ago. The first point about the right hon. Gentleman's greatest service at the Admiralty is that he performed it as a Liberal First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911–15. The second point is that, whenever he announced his far-reaching pre-war personnel reforms in this House, he did so to the hostile opposition of reactionary Tory Members of Parliament. I congratulate the right hon. Member on his first Navy Estimates speech in 1912, 52 years ago, when he introduced commissions from the lower deck. It was the first time for a century that such commissions were available and, under that scheme, I obtained my commission. Do I hear applause from hon. Members opposite? If not, they may be wondering how I got my commission; but I will answer that one on another occasion. The right hon. Gentleman said:
These are the days when the Navy…should be opened more broadly to the nation as a whole. The question…is fraught with difficulties. We have thought them well ever, and we are agreed…that there are no difficulties which…cannot be and ought not to be overcome. We propose. therefore, to select a considerable number of the younger warrant officers…for promotion to the rank of commissioned warrant officer, a rank…which is equivalent to that of sub-lieutenant". —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March, 1912; Vol. XXXV, c. 1570.]
Under that scheme, which came to be known as the "mate scheme", four contemporaries of mine reached the rank of flag officer. Three became executive admirals and one an engineer admiral. We all came from an orphanage which the Civil Lord now wants to close down —that is, as an orphanage for the orphans of ordinary seamen. He wants to make entry to it available only to the children of officers; but that is another subject.
Much has been said today by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. Some of my hon. Friends have agreed with the remarks of hon. Members opposite, and vice versa, but the obvious fact is that most hon. Members want even more money made available to continue with commitments and the establishment of bases, about which I will have more to say later. The Navy Estimates we are asked to approve amount to nearly £500 million, an increase of £56 million on last year's figure and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) pointed out, that is by no means the total sum.
This £500 million must be considered against the background of the total defence budget which has risen to the incredible sum of nearly £2,000 million, the highest even for peace-time purposes. This is at a time when the retirement pension, unemployment and sickness benefits and other benefits are £3 7s. 6d. a week, or less than 10s. a day—on which people are expected to try to achieve the breadline above starvation level. Millions of our people must plead poverty before the National Assistance Board.
The Civil Lord dealt with the problem of re-engagement. One of the factors contributing to this problem is the ridiculously low pension paid to ratings after 20 to 25 years' service—that is, the service they have put in along with the 18 years since the last war. I have with me an official letter from the Admiralty in which is detailed the amounts of pension paid to ratings after 22 years' service. It speaks of the new scheme Pension A, which is worth £1 4s. 10d. a week, not increasable. Under the old scheme Pension B, the basic pension, would be £1 Is. 7d. a week—or 3s. 1d. a day, the price of a packet of cigarettes. These pensions are based on the penny thinking of William IV in 1834. Admittedly the B Pension contained an age addition based on the age of 55—that is, after 15 years' of pension —worth 2s. 11 d. a week, or 5d. a day, or not even enough to pay for the person's bus fare. This pension has been paid for 16 years with no increase whatever, and the rating receiving it knows that there will be no increase in his pension for years to come.
Petty officers, the backbone of the Navy, receive a pension of only about 30s. a week, 4s. a day, after 20 to 25 years' service. I have other pension figures with me but, since I wish to refer to other subjects, I will not continue this argument now. Nevertheless, why should the Admiralty wonder why men do not re-engage? I wonder why any men re-engage and put in years of service to Queen and country, braving the hazards of overseas service, wars and other adverse conditions for such lousy pensions.
Why this vast expenditure of £2,000 million on defence nearly 20 years after the Second World War? Why, in particular, this vast expenditure of £500 million in the Navy Estimates when there is no possible major navy to oppose and when the largest navy to the world, the American Navy, is on our side and is our ally? The basic defence objectives of the Government in 1962, repeated in the 1964 Defence White Paper, were given in paragraph 4 as:
Nevertheless, the Government argue that we must have an independent nuclear deterrent in case we have no allies. The trouble is that no one supports our inane policy and, according to the Government, we need the deterrent so that we may stand alone. What a policy. What a party. This is the very time when we dare not use our independent deterrent, because it could result in national suicide. To suggest that we would fight Russia single-handed is just plumb crazy because we would never attempt to do so. In replying to the debate last Thursday the Minister of Defence said:
These weapons are under the control of the British military and can only be fired under the authority of the British Prime Minister."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1964; Vol. 690, c. 753.]
Let us assume that the Prime Minister will decide to press the button when we have the five Polaris submarines, which have been announced, each with eight nuclear missiles. What will he do? He will not fire one only, because that would be a wasted opportunity and there would be no tomorrow. So he would fire all eight from one boat. That would mace some mess of part of Russia, if some of the missiles did not fall short, or did not go beyond their target or too far right or too far left, or if they were not disposed of by the Russians. But the Prime Minister would know that there would be no second opportunity. Therefore, would he fire all 40 missiles from all five Polaris submarines, or as many as are available? That would create a "party" in Russia if they all found their target and exploded.
Hon. Members opposite are laughing, but this is the reality of the situation which they dare not face. What would be the result? I can produce the answer in twelve words—Russian retaliation, swift and decisive, and complete obliteration of the British Isles. It is as simple as that. So the Tory Government's independent British deterrent policy is ore big international bluff, with Polaris stakes of £70 million apiece, which we care not use because the only result would be Britain's obliteration. So the £350 million will be thrown away because these Polaris missiles will never be used. Again, it is as simple as that.
Nevertheless, the Government have decided to build five Polaris submarines at a cost of £70 million each; that is a total of £350 million. This sum was the total of the whole annual Navy Estimates not long ago. The United States already has flotillas of these submarines. I believe that a figure of something like 40 has been mentioned this afternoon. But why five British boats? Incidentally, I like the term "boats" because it sounds as if one can buy them in Woolworths to wind up and float on the Serpentine. These boats are being built in pairs, like semi-detached houses, and should be cheaper by the half dozen. With the Tory abolition of resale price maintenance we should be able to get six for the price of five. Or is there to be no price check, and vast profits made, as with other armaments?
This is a serious matter. Let me ask hon. Members opposite this question. If Polaris is the right policy for the defence of Britain—question mark, asterisk—is it the right policy for the Commonwealth? Do our long-trusted friends, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, approve? If not, why not? Does Britain intend again to go it alone, as in the disastrous Tory fiasco at Suez? Why should there not be a common defence policy for the Commonwealth, and why not a common Polaris force? The Times on Saturday last, in a Canadian supplement article, headed "Defence Reappraisal", stated:
Another likely development…is the acquisition of nuclear submarines"—
in the plural—
to establish a Canadian military presence in the Canadian Arctic.
Are there to be three allies with independent deterrents—America, Britain and Canada—with three fingers on the triggers, with no one knowing when the other one is going to fire and, if one is fired, with Russia replying to the wrong country? What fun! Are Britain and Canada to duplicate their Polaris submarines and wage quite separate wars, with the Canadian Prime Minister, Mr. Lester Pearson, releasing Canada's ultimate deterrent, only to commit national suicide, without even informing Britain?
Alternatively, if Canada provided one or more in a Commonwealth Polaris force, Britain would require only four, and would save £70 million. Moreover, if Australia provided one—and why not?—Britain would then require only three and would save another £70 million, a total of £140 million. This £140 million would be no small saving, I assure hon. Members opposite, and would help their Government to pay higher pensions, provide more houses and improve social services, all to the tune of £140 million. The Tory Government contend that the deterrent has prevented a major war in Europe. The deterrent is not the main factor. Both sides are bluffing one another. The main reason is that United States forces are on the Continent of Europe and are committed to the war, if there is one, before the bell rings for the first round of the contest. If United States forces had been in Europe in 1914 and 1939 there would have been no World War I or World War II. I have no time to debate that obvious point this evening. One fact stands out crystal clear above the Government's muddled thinking and policy. If the United States should decide to pull out of Europe, on the next day—
There is a reference in the Navy Estimates to the question of working with our allies and other forces. I have no wish to discuss American policy. All I am asking is, if something happens what do we do? That is what the Government are arguing they want the independent deterrent for. The Government's argument is that we must have the independent deterrent to stand on our own if we have no allies. That is what I was trying to deal with and I hoped that I was in order. With respect, Sir Ronald, I was not discussing American policy as such. Perhaps I may be allowed to connect up my speech. If the United States decided to pull out of Europe, on the next day nothing in the form of conventional weapons could prevent Russia from overrunning the whole of Western Europe and our troops and the troops of our allies. I hope that by adding that I have put myself in order.
Then, on the day after, the evacuation of the whole of Britain would have to begin—to Canada, Australia and New Zealand and also to the United States to form the 50th State. Consequently, all the countries of Western Europe, and especially General de Gaulle—whose intransigence will be limited by Father Time—should realise that we stand or fall together; and that we can stand only with the support of America. We must, therefore, hammer out a common defence policy with America, without being subservient to the Americans—or, alternatively, going off on our own on another Suez fiasco.
When dealing with the Navy, in the White Paper, the Minister of Defence talks in two voices. In paragraph 6 he argues that we must have the independent deterrent, which is to be the Polaris submarine; and, in paragraph 38, he states
The carrier force will continue to form the backbone of the Navy…".
What a backbone! What part of the anatomy is the Polaris submarine? What nonsense!
I can be quite blunt about aircraft carriers, even if I have not been about Polaris submarines. There is no real naval rôle for large carriers, either in a major war against Russia or in our proper—I underline "proper"—peacetime commitments. In a major war with Russia, these vast and expensive carriers would be sunk within a matter of days—if not hours.
Let me interpose to say that it is no good hon. Members opposite speaking about the marvellous combination of a carrier force, because its one requirement is a safe base to operate from, and they have admitted there is no safe base. The only reason for large and vulnerable carriers is a political one, to provide, as the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) said, a floating aerodrome for brush warfare against the emerging nations of Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. I could understand him using that argument. Carriers but not Aden and Singapore, but what we are to have are carriers and the shore bases of Aden and Singapore, which is contradictory. But what will be the position of these mastodons when the emerging nations have emerged, and we are no longer able "to butt in" on their affairs? These vast ships will then be colossal white elephants, with further hundreds of millions of pounds thrown away.
There is no question at all that the money for these big carriers should be used for smaller ships, because what is wanted is a greater number of ships. On this argumcnt that we must have a carrier to go to Zanzibar, we are using a five-ton hammer to crack a nut. A survey ship operating on the East Coast performed almost as good a service as a carrier, except for the fact that admittedly the carrier had a landing force. But a survey ship could also have landed a token force, with probably much the same object.
I pass to the problem of Cyprus. It was most interesting to hear the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield) giving all the disadvantages and all the arguments whereby we ought not to be there now. One special sentence of 12 words must be said about Cyprus, without any equivocation. I will give it word by word in order to get it right on the record: "there - should - not - now - be - one - single - British -Service - man - in - Cyprus ". Why are there any British forces there at all? Who do the Government think that they are pleasing?—to one. They are only annoying our allies—
On a point of order. The argument about Cyprus was advanced in great detail by the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield). Surely my hon. and gallant Friend is right in following it.
I did not advance any argument either for staying in Cyprus or leaving Cyprus. I told the hon. and gallant Gentleman, when he interrupted me, that it was a matter for a debate on foreign affairs.
I did not hear the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (CLptain Litchfield), but the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Commander Pursey) is definitely out of order in talking about Cyprus.
All that I want to deal with is Cyprus as a naval base in the absence of naval facilities then and the fact that the wrong base was selected. There is no question at all that in retaining Cyprus as a base for the R.A.F., Army and Navy, we are only annoying both our allies, Greece and Turkey, and especially other Islamic countries. The Government admit that our so-called rescue force cannot be kept there indefinitely. The sooner that it is withdrawn, the better. Everyone with any sense and any knowledge of the island, as I have had for nearly 50 years, knew that once our Tory Government in 1960, even retaining the R.A.F. base and supposed facilities for the Army and the Navy, granted independence to Archbishop Makarios, "the butcher of Cyprus", with his policy of "union with Greece", the Treaty would not be worth the paper it was written on.
As hon. Members opposite have said, we cannot hold a base against hostile local people. There should have been no doubt at all that it would only be a matter of time before the Greek Cypriots caused trouble with the Turkish Cypriots, with the object of forcing them to leave the island, and, later, forcing Britain to evacuate the base and thereby lose its use for the R.A.F., for the Army and for the Navy in such ports as there are there.
Britain wanted an aerodrome—it is always a question of having an aerodrome these days—in the Eastern Mediterranean; but there was no reliable country for our abstruse policies. So the only alternative was an island.
I have just referred to the need for an aerodrome. I served in an aircraft carrier which surveyed Cyprus with a view to having an aerodrome there for use by the Navy if required. However, I do not wish to introduce personal experience and reminiscence about Cyprus. There was the choice of two islands for a base for aircraft for the R.A.F., the Army and the Navy, Cyprus or Malta, and both are untenable in a major war.
I shall deal now with Malta.
I shall now deal with the question of Malta as a naval base, Sir Ronald. Admittedly, Malta is small, but not smaller than the Cyprus base, and it is about 1,000 miles to the westward, but I ask the Committee to consider for a moment the immense facilities on Malta. We have everything we desire, and we have been there for over a century. There is a large aerodrome. There are large-scale Army, R.A.F. and Navy facilities and, most important, first-class family accommodation. Above all—I hope I shall be in order in saying this—it was Britain's largest overseas naval dockyard, with important large dry docks.
Why did the Admiralty agree to the Tory Government's scuttling out of Malta and scuttling out of the dockyard with its immense facilities? Despite the immense advantages, the Tory Government decided to throw Malta away and concentrate on Cyprus with its R.A.F. aerodrome but with much smaller and more limited facilities for the Army and particularly the Navy, which is the subject of our debate this evening.
As a consequence, the Navy has been handicapped in its operations in the Mediterranean. It has not had as good or as many facilities in Cyprus as it would have had in Malta, and also it has from time to time been engaged in a blockade of Cyprus because of existing conditions there.
The question I put about leaving Malta is this. Will the Tory Party never learn from history that bases on a foreign site are untenable when it comes to a show-down? This is precisely what the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton said, though probably in different words. We have thrown away £200 million on Cyprus. If this £200 million had been devoted to Malta instead of Cyprus, we should have had on Malta a thriving island, with a friendly agreement, and the inestimable advantages of full-scale bases for all the three Services, particularly the Navy. There is no question about it. There is only the answer. The Government should decide forthwith to pull out of Cyprus lock, stock and barrel and transfer to Malta the base for all three Services, particularly for the Navy, and, above all, for the dockyard.
Now, a quick word about commitments. The whole issue of the Navy Estimates depends upon foreign policy and commitments. The lives of many Service men, including Navy men, have been lost in the sands of Africa and Asia and other—
I pass now to the North Atlantic. The false idea held by Tory Ministers is that this small island in the North Atlantic, with only 50 million, not the British Empire of half a century ago, can alone police the seven seas from the Arctic to the Antarctic. I hope that I am on better ground now, at sea. The whole idea is a complete illusion. We could not do so even in the heyday of the British Navy at the end of the last century, at the time of the Boer War. Britain has no heaven-sent mission to try to police the world alone, as was suggested by the Civil Lord of the Admiralty when he spoke about our commitments throughout the seas. This task should be shared with our allies, and above all, with our longstanding partners in the Commonwealth, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and particularly with their navies. I make a special plea this evening for a combined defence policy with Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The object should be the sharing of Commonwealth responsibilities—if they be such—and the pooling—
Order. This is general defence policy. I must again ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman to leave the general subject of defence policy and confine himself to the Navy Estimates.
I am in some difficulty, Sir Ronald, if I cannot argue that we should have combined operations by the British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand navies.
I was taking it in the global context, Sir Ronald, not only on the map but as regards the Services. One cannot get very far with a Navy alone, with a Royal Air Force alone, or with an Army alone. One of the major points made by the Civil Lord in putting he Estimates before us was to emphasise the importance of combined operations by the three Services. This is what is stated. This is the beauty of having an admiral in command in one place, a general in command in another, and an air officer in command in another. Admittedly, in the larger context that is a matter of defence policy, but I submit, with respect, that it is not possible simply to take the Navy out of the argument and talk about the Navy and the Navy alone. The Navy requires air cover. The Navy requires military support for its bases. In fact, the three Services are inter-communicating. But I assure you, at this stage of my argument, that I do not wish to go out of order and I shall narrow it as much as I can to purely Navy issues.
The object should be the sharing of Commonwealth responsibilities—if they be such—and the pooling of the large resources of our four countries in warships, personnel, aircraft and weapons. The first problem, of coure, is to decide on a common naval policy. Is Britain's naval policy a Commonwealth policy or not? For example, are all our commitments east of Suez, including East Africa, solely the concern of ourselves with our Navy involved, or should they be the concern of both Australia and New Zealand, and should not our few minor commitments in the Western Atlantic Ocean be the concern of Canada?
There is something amiss if our interests are common and our naval forces are stretched to the limit and yet our overseas partners take little or no part in the several current naval brush-war events which have been referred to this afternoon. Is it because of a British isolation policy to go it alone? Was this policy one of the reasons why Australia last year ordered three destroyers from the United States instead of from Britain?
What can be done? Together, the Commonwealth navies almost equal our Navy in numbers if not in size of ships. I have already dealt with contributions to a Commonwealth Polaris submarine force. Canada is also considering a Commando carrier with helicopters, which is just the class of ship that the Admiralty welcomes for use in conjunction with our forces in the operations which have been referred to.
The Canadian icebreaker the "Baffin" has carried out hydrographic work for the Royal Navy in the Caribbean Sea. Why cannot Canadian forces deal with other areas, and, in particular, British Guiana, instead of British naval vessels having to go hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles to get there? Today, we have another example, with the Press report of the rescue by the Canadian destroyer "Athabaskan" of the crew of 36 of the Liberian tanker "Amphialos", sunk in a mid-Atlantic storm. We should see and hear more of the Canadian Navy working in co-operation with British naval forces.
What is Britain's special prerogative in those areas which I cannot mention because they are matters of foreign policy as distinct from Commonwealth naval policy? Are not the interests of both Australia and New Zealand at stake as much as ours, if not more so? If so, why are these two countries not playing a full part at sea particularly, and in the air and on land? Have these British partners been asked to play a full part at sea? If so, why do not they play it? If not, why not?
There is no reason why British alone should bear the full brunt of these Commonwealth tasks at sea in men, material and money on the argument that we have world-wide commitments with our sea communications and overseas
trade. We cannot afford to let this Tory Government continue alone wasting our national effort in unnecessary commitments with the loss of naval service men's lives and our hard-won treasure in the sinking sands of Africa and Asia. There is only one message for this Tory Government:
Stand not upon the order of your going, But go…
I should find it difficult to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) even if I tried. [HON. MEMBERS. "Why?"] I should be out of order more often than not, and if I am to be out of order I will do it in my own way. If the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) will confine himself to the Army, and not laugh at me, I will confine myself to the Navy and not laugh at him later.
The hon. and gallant Member raised an interesting point when he spoke about sending an aircraft carrier to Zanzibar. That was one of the most brilliant operations which has happened for a long time. The aircraft carrier fired off a few blank shots and Zanzibar was taken overnight. Had we sent a little gunboat, as the hon. and gallant Member suggested, we might have had to fight for it. It was a brilliant operation and I am sure that every hon. Member would like to congratulate the Navy on what it has achieved during the past year, from Borneo to Zanzibar. Our small Navy has been stretched to the hilt—
Perhaps the two hon. Members opposite will sort it out between them.
Last week, I had the previlege of of going round Portsmouth Dockyard with the Admiral Superintendent. I always try to make a visit just before the Navy Estimates—[Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite think it funny, but most of them have no interest in the Navy. I happen to have a naval port to look after and there are a lot of matters which hon. Members opposite, judging by the last speech, would not understand even if I put it all in words of two syllables.
I was glad to see that the dockyard was a hive of industry, with plenty of work in reserve. A very large reconstruction rearrangement was going on and, surprisingly, everyone seemed happy and contented. I say "surprisingly" because not long ago many of them thought that there would be redundancy. Originally, we heard about a possible 1,500 becoming redundant, but finally, through the good offices of my hon. Friend the Civil Lord—and if I may say so, I hope, a visit which I paid to the Prime Minister—the redundancy was reduced to 500. However, there has been no redundancy at all.
There is normally an annual wastage of 1,000 or more in Portsmouth Dockyard alone, and at present there are notices outside the dockyard advertising vacancies for people to be employed. Therefore, the worry and fuss which occurred last May has proved to be unfounded. I am glad to say that this is chiefly due to the work produced by my hon. Friend the Civil Lord. We have a floating dry dock being built and another keel has been laid down.
The main grievance inside the dockyard—and my hon. Friend the Civil Lord should note this—is that the wages of the employees are extremely low. I admit that since 1951 their wages have been doubled, although the cost of living has not doubled during that period. Nevertheless, the wages are miles below the national average. That is not something of which the Admiralty should be proud. The wages are below the national average because there is no possibility of working overtime, as there is in ordinary yards.
However, many of the workers are fairly happy and they would not change their jobs for all the tea in China, because they like the camaraderie and friendship of the dockyard. They are mostly Service men and they have never had a strike this century. Nothing that the trade unions can do would get these loyal people out on strike.
My hon. Friend the Civil Lord should pay attention to loyalty, long service and skill in these yards. The men have skill which could not be found elsewhere. A man who has been there for 20 years is doing a special job on repairing propellers. I am told that the people on the civil side send propellers down there and beg the Admiralty to do something with them, because they cannot do that sort of work in some of the civilian yards.
One man complained—and I think that this is valid, because it is in the minds of lots of them—that after being 20 years there he gets no more as an unskilled labourer than a man who joined the dockyard last week, say, or the month before. The Civil Lord should do something about this, to see that these loyal people who have been there for 20 years or more do not get just exactly the same wage as men who joined only last week. There may be some trade union reason why they should get only the same wage, but I personally believe that the skill and the loyalty of those who have been there a long time should be rewarded.
Take-home wages are for a skilled man at present about £13, which is extremely low compared with the national average. I think that the Civil Lord has it in mind to increase these wages and to give some sort of incentive or bonus during the next pay review, and I hope that when April comes, and the promised increase in wages takes place, there will be some incentive for those who have given long and loyal service.
One thing that the Civil Lord has to guard against is the considerable amount of new industry which is gradually creeping into Portsmouth, despite every effort on the part of the Government to send these industries to the North and the Midlands. I welcome these factories to Portsmouth, because I believe that it is only by these means that the Admiralty will eventually see the truth of what I say, and that is that the Admiralty must pay these men higher wages to keep them away from industry.
They stay because of their loyalty, but if they are given a good deal more money to go elsewhere we may find that their loyalty is not so intense. I am suggesting to the Civil Lord that the men now coming out of the Services and going into the dockyard have an immense amount of skill—in electronics, television, electricity and other similar, highly technical subjects—and that they have very great value for employers outside the dockyard. If something is not done to give them an incentive to stay in the dockyard their loyalty may be stretched beyond the point at which we can retain them there.
I am glad to tell the Civil Lord that they are extremely pleased that there is now work for the future in the dockyard, because last May of thereabouts there seemed to be a feeling that the work was coming to an end, and then, when the Civil Lord made his statement, there was considerable worry in the yard.
I turn from the dockyard to Service personnel, for whom the Civil Lord is also responsible. Nowadays serving sailors, soldiers and airmen are well cared for and well paid. But many retired ratings, petty officers, and those who retired before 1950, have got only very small pensions indeed and very little is being done to increase them. I know that some of them, if they are 60, are entitled to certain pension increases, or alternatively, if they have fallen on hard times, and are sick, they can claim pension increases, but there are many who, not being 60 or sick, are still very badly off when they come to retire, because they fought in two world wars and had very little opportunity in between to earn much.
We have pensions associations and other things to look after retired officers. I do not say that they succeed in doing it very well, judging from my own position. However, warrant officers and other ranks have very few people to speak up on their behalf. I should like the Civil Lord, in conjunction with the Secretary of State for War—for I hope to say these things again on the Army Estimates—ito see whether something can be done to increase the pensions of these—what I may call—"old lags" who have served the country so well in the past.
Those over 60 now have a very small income compared with those now coming into the Service, and they are par- ticularly bitter. They say, "We fought in two world wars and the chap now coming into the Army is promised a pension which is like gold dust compared with what we get, who spent the best part of our lives in the Service in the earlier days." They do not get the same benefit because, after all, the cost of living, as we know, under both Labour and Tory Governments, has gone up, and these men's pensions have not gone up at all, whether they are 60 or incapacitated.
There is one more particularly bad case which should be put right and I hope that the Civil Lord can help me about it. When a court made a maintenance order against a man who was divorced or separated from his wife 20 or 30 years ago, that man may well have been allowing his wife 30s. or £2 a week, and at that time that may have been an adequate sum. The widow's pension could well have been more; it might have been £2 or £2 10s. The Services, though, in their wisdom, said that they could not give a widow more than the man himself had allocated to her before the separation. That sounded reasonable and fair. If the separation took place 20 years ago, and the man was allowing his wife £2 a week, the Admiralty said, "All right, we will give you £2 a week because that is what the sailor allocated to you", but it says that now, 20 years later, and she is still, so far as I can gather from the complaints I have had, getting only the £2 a week which she was getting 20 years ago; and the cost of living has gone up. There seems to me no reason why these pensioners should not get the pensions which are due to them, and why the pensions should not go up, in the same way as an ordinary Service widow's pension has gone up.
I wonder whether I can help my hon. and gallant Friend. With all respect to him, I do not think that this is a subject which falls directly for the Navy to deal with. If the position is that the maintenance order was made many years ago, and the amount of money ordered by the court is now out of touch with reality, having regard to the cost of living, it is always open to the wife to go to the court again and to ask for a variation of the order. That would be the better course, I think Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend will have a word with me about it some time.
That is as may be. I am glad of the information. I will Hass that on. But it seems to me she is a naval widow and that she regards the Civil Lord as both her father and mother. [Laughter.] Perhaps I am her grandfather! But I propose to try to help her to the best of my ability.
I have on many occasions in the past, with my hon. Friend's predecessors, raised the question of the salaries and wages of storehouse men working in the dockyard. They are still, so far as I know, graded as industrial, whereas in every other Service they are clerical, and they are still clamouring to be graded as clerical people. It makes an enormous difference to their status. I hope that one day my hon. Friend will be able to see his way to granting them the equivalent of what they would get in the Army and in the Air Force.
To turn to nuclear propulsion, for a long time we have been pressing both the Ministry of Transport and the Admiralty to go into this field. Perhaps the Admiralty will now consider the possibility of building some fast fleet tankers so that we can ascertain whether we may not eventually have carriers, frigates and, indeed, all our ships nuclear-propelled.
It may be that one of the reasons why the Admiralty cannot do this is that when one builds a nuclear ship one is at the same time virtually buying four years' fuel. That ought to come out of the Navy Estimates for the next four years. When one puts it all altogether in one year it makes it look a very expensive project. We now have nuclear submarines, and we are becoming more nuclear-minded. I hope that the Admiralty will begin, sooner or later, on ordinary nuclear surface ships, because we are falling behind in the race with regard to both civil and naval shipping.
As I always speak either before or after the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), I should like to ask him whether he still wants to get rid of the Holy Loch Polaris submarine base. Last year I offered him the opportunity of letting us have the Polaris submarines at Portsmouth. If he does not want them, perhaps he will let me have them at Portsmouth. We should like very much to have them there. But perhaps he does not want Polaris submarines anywhere in the United Kingdom, either the American or the British ones. I should like to hear from the hon. Member about the Polaris submarines in due course.
The hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) can be well understood when he wishes to take part in a debate on the Navy Estimates and make his number just before a General Election, but if he takes it upon himself to lecture those in the Committee who have spent many years in the Navy about not knowing about naval affairs, he should at least take the trouble to do his homework so that he would know which of the African States was recently visited by the Navy, in which he professes to take so great an interest.
The hon. and Gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain Elliot) complained—extremely reasonably, I thought—about our method of debating the Service Estimates when we really have not sufficient information on which to base our remarks. I have spoken about this on several occasions, and I thought that I had made an impression on the Civil Lord's predecessor. I accept that it is not an easy subject, because security questions might be involved, but this sort of thing has been overcome in other Parliaments.
I believe that the time has come when we should make an effort, even by means of having a sort of Navy Committee of the House, to which such things could be told and whose members would be trusted by other members of their parties to advise them on the subject without giving away confidential information. Anyhow, whatever the solution is, I hope that the matter will not be allowed to drop again, but that something will be done before next year to make it possible to debate these matters more intelligently than we have been able to do hitherto.
We are discussing enormous sums of money. Yet we do not really know the sort of war for which the Navy is to be used. Indeed, I do not even know whether the Admiralty does; very likely it does not. I do not blame it. It is very difficult to know what sort of war is likely to occur. But if the Committee is to be effective in these matters, it must have the best possible information. It will not be able to derive that information itself from the Library. It must have the best available experts to tell it exactly what the position is according to the latest thought on the subject.
The object of all expenditure on defence is presumably to give some security to the country. It is absolutely inconceivable that the leader of any country will start a nuclear war. The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton apparently thought that a head-on nuclear attack was the most likely form of warfare in which our Navy might become involved. I should have thought that it was just the opposite. But how do we know? Neither of us has had the benefit of the very best scientific advice on the subject, and without that, I do not see how we can make a decision
I must contradict the hon. and learned Gentleman. I never thought that. I merely say that the deterrent, the American, ours, or anything else, is the primary consideration today. I certainly do not look upon a head-on nuclear clash as a likely war for the Navy.
I willingly acknowledge it if I have misunderstood the hon. and gallant Gentleman. It looks as if his view is rather more similar to mine than I expected.
The fact is that it does not seem likely that any leader of a nation would start a war. I also do not believe that a nuclear Power—this is almost equally incredible to me—which was engaged in a non-nuclear war would willingly use its nuclear weapons except, as it is generally said, in the last resort, and I am doubtful even about that last resort, because it would be tantamount to signing its own death warrant.
But as there is nuclear stalemate in the world today, does it nit make it extremely likely that a country which has a superiority of conventional weapons will be able to bully, threaten or blackmail a nation which has not an equal strength in conventional weapons, and that it will be able to do so in the knowledge that the nuclear weapons will not be used by anybody else in the process of trying to sort the matter out? Surely that is the situation we have to face. Therefore, we must have the very best conventional weapons that we can afford. I do not think that any people will be satisfied with less than that, so long as that situation remains. We must have the most powerful conventional weapons.
Seeing that it is inconceivable that we should ever dare use our nuclear weapons—that is what it amounts to, in effect—I believe not only that it is muddle-headed to have a nuclear deterrent of our own, whether it be Polaris or in any other form, but that it is almost amounting to being vulgar to have it merely as a status symbol in order to be able to strut about the world and pretend that we are able to do things against countries when one is not able to do that at all.
I am trying to fellow the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument. Surely, if a country which has inadequate resources to enable it to match a bigger country in conventional weapons is threatened or attacked by that country, is not that the best possible argument for the smaller country having its nuclear deterrent? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Is not that the best argument that we could have for having our own nuclear deterrent?
I am sorry if I have not made myself plain. That argument by the Civil Lord is extremely poor. because nobody will ever dare use these weapons. I was pointing out that, even in the last resort, as it is sometimes called, I do not believe that these weapons will be used. I feel absolutely certain that, if this country came to loggerheads with Russia, for instance, we would not dare to use our own so-called nuclear deterrent. It is, therefore, muddle-headed—indeed, worse than that—it is vulgar, which I would have thought that the Conservative Government would not like to appear —to strut about the world pretending that we have the deterrent, knowing that we could not use it and that, in any case, we have not really got it, since it is not our own and not independent.
In looking back on the Cuba crisis, is it not obvious that the Americans were able to have their way because they had local superiority of conventional weapons?
Order. The hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) is now straying into foreign affairs. This is a debate on Navy Estimates and I hope that he will relate what he has to say to the Estimates before us.
I will certainly try to do so, Sir Robert. Indeed, before you took the Chair I was in process of doing so. We have a naval deterrent and I was pointing out that, although the Americans had such a deterrent in the Cuba crisis, they did not win by it—for there was nuclear stalemate between Russia and the United States—but won because they had local superiority in conventional weapons.
Order. I have already said that we cannot turn this into a debate on foreign affairs. The hon. and learned Member for Brigg can sketch out a background, but he must relate his argument to the Estimates before the Committee.
I was merely pointing out that we are going in for a nuclear deterrent which is, in fact, a naval deterrent and that this had been done before in another case. I would obviously be out of order in drawing the same sort of parallel in the case of Hungary. There was no naval deterrent in that case, but the same principle applied in that the Russians had local conventional superiority.
It is folly in the extreme to deprive ourselves to any extent of conventional weapons by the possession of a nuclear weapon which we shall never use and have no intention of using. The Russians have an immense fleet of submarines, many of them nuclear powered. They may have Polaris type submarines as well, but we do not know. They do not have these submarines for fun, but because they think that they can make good use of them. Does the Admiralty think the Russians can make good use of the submarines they have? If it does not, would it not be rather a good thing to say so? If it does, why has it been prepared to deprive us of hunter-killer submarines?
The Polaris programme will be expensive, costing about £350 million. For that sum we could have an extremely sizeable fleet of hunter-killers which would be of some effect against the Soviet submarine fleet with which we are likely to be greatly concerned in our part of the world, for we are rapidly coming to have influence in naval matters in one part of the globe rather than all over it, as used to be the case.
That the Admiralty should have consented to go ahead with vast expenditure on a nuclear deterrent when the Russians have such an immense fleet, and when we could have, instead, a sizable number of hunter-killers and other submarines to counteract that fleet, seems to pass comprehension. Would not a fleet of hunter-killers be an extremely useful asset in dealing with any threat by Russia?
Even if the Admiralty does think that, the Government are apparently prepared to put off the day when we shall have that sizable fleet of hunter-killers until 1970 at the earliest. In other words, we shall have to go through 10 years without the possibility of dealing with the Russian submarine fleet because of this decision by the Government. After 12 years of Conservative rule, the sort of skeletons we shall find in the Admiralty cupboard after the General Election will be Polaris and the over-sized, over-expensive find over-vulnerable aircraft carriers. This is a sad state of affairs.
But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) said, no amount of expenditure on naval or military equipment will bring the security we all want, and which we are spending all this money in an attempt to get, unless something is done to bring about sensible organisation in the world. After all, war between Scotland and England is impossible. If we did not spend all this money on armaments, but some little time in trying to persuade the nations that the best way to have security is through a properly organised system of peace keeping, we should really take a step forward to the genuine security which all these millions on armaments cannot bring about. That is, however, no reason why we should not attempt to spend the money we need to spend on armaments as efficiently as possible, ever though one might have that underlying fear about the whole thing.
The Foreign Secretary has gone to Geneva and has made his speech. I am afraid that it will be only a speech on these lines, because too often from the benches opposite below the Gangway there comes a hostile clamour against the United Nations and all that it stands for in these matters; and there is also the rather disdainful hauteur of the Prime Minister. He says that unless he has the Polaris deterrent, he will not be called to the conference table. That is a strange thing for him to say. If he is not of a sufficiently strong character to be able to stand up in these matters in the conferences of the world, it is just too bad that the Tories allowed him to be foisted upon their party.
I am pleased to be called in the debate after the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), who is very keen on conventional weapons. Hon. Members on this side of the Committee are as keen, but if we are to send men to fight—even in brush-fire wars, for we cannot tell that they will not go further—unless those men have the deterrent behind them, they might not feel very happy if the enemy has such a weapon. Nor would we get many hunter-killer submarines for this amount of money—only about 10—and the Polaris is therefore the better weapon.
But the five Polaris submarines would probably be more useful than 10 hunter-killer submarines.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) talked about various naval establishments. I always feel somewhat diffident when speaking in this debate, because I do not have the experience of many hon. Members. However, I regularly take the opportunity to go on the visits which are arranged. I should like to extend a welcome to the new First Sea Lord. At our last debate, we were saying how sorry we were to lose the former First Sea Lord. I am glad to be able to welcome the new one and to wish him every success in the difficult task which lies ahead.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East spoke of the recommendation by the Plowden Committee for making plans for five years. I have been suggesting planning even further ahead, but I understand that the Government have now implemented that Plowden Committee's recommendation. Potential recruits do not join unless they can see the picture clearly before them and know what is wanted of them.
We should ask members of the Commonwealth to send recruits to the Royal Navy. I have recently been to Nigeria and the West Indies and I found that they were very keen to set up small navies of their own. We could give them a great deal of help by giving their recruits training here. Ghana and Nigeria send many cadets to Dartmouth, but they would also like to be able to send ratings for training.
Will the alterations to H.M.S. "Blake" be done in Devonport dockyard, where there are difficulties about work?
We are in an interesting position, as several hon. Members have said. We are here discussing the Navy Estimates; we have recently discussed defence, and we are trying to get disarmament. It is clearly necessary to have a long-term policy. I am glad that we are to return to sea power. We will always need the Navy to police the seas, to protect our fishing fleets, to stop pirates and smugglers, to aid in national disasters and to guard our merchant fleet. For those reasons it is much more economical to concentrate on the Navy. I am as keen as the hon. and learned Member for Brigg that we should get co-operation with other nations, and I think that we get better co-operation through the Navy than we would through any other Service.
We have heard much about Polaris, but we still have no idea when the keel for the aircraft carrier will be laid. The White Paper says that carriers are to be the backbone of the Navy. I do not think that one extra carrier will be sufficient. We must make up our minds what we are going for. The "Ark Royal" and the "Eagle" are fairly ancient. The "Eagle" has had a complete refit, but the "Ark Royal" is being replaced by the new carrier. With the "Victorious", we shall therefore still have only four carriers in action, and it will never be possible for all to be in action at the same time. The "Hermes" is getting old, and will need further repair. I suggest that we need a complement of five if we are to make proper use of this brush-fire service.
I should like to know whether we are going to continue with the "Bulwark" and "Albion" type of ship. It is necessary to decide whether we should carry on with them or have another carrier, in the light of the fact that, as far as I can see, our commitments in the next 15 or 20 years will consist of helping in situations of the kind we recently experienced in Tanganyika, Cyprus and Malaysia. It would appear to me that another carrier would be of the greatest use, in view of the fact that we have lost several of our shore bases and are likely to lose some more in the future.
It was a great pity that it was not possible for the Royal Air Force and the Navy to settle for one aircraft. I appreciate the reasons, but I hope that this is not going to be the pattern for the future. I understood that when our defence services were reorganised all the Services would work together.
From page 27 of the White Paper it is clear that some ships are to be disposed of and some are to be scrapped. I suggest that we should give them to those members of the Commonwealth which require only small navies. Malaysia recently bought three minesweepers from us. I suggest that it would be a great help to Malaysia and similar Commonwealth countries, in training their navies, if we were to give them these ships as part of our aid.
Recruiting for the Navy appears to be fairly good, but I should like to make some suggestions for the future. When I visited H.M.S. "Collingwood" I found that there was up to four months' delay before young ratings were sent to sea, and that in the meantime they were given gardening jobs and other odd jobs around the place. For young men who join up in order to go to sea it is not very encouraging to spend a great deal of time on this kind of work.
Re-engagement is an important matter, and I want to emphasise what has been said about the importance of married quarters. I suggest that there should be unmarried quarters, and unfurnished rooms. Many couples have spent a lot of money on furniture. They do not want to store it. They cannot find unfurnished accommodation, in the ordinary course of events, and therefore they have to live in two rooms which are not very hygienic. I have visited a great number of these couples, and I know that this is the case. The Navy seems to be dealing with the accommodation problem much more slowly than is the Royal Air Force or the Army.
I have tried on a previous occasion to persuade the Government to give these people mortgages free of interest, but that suggestion was not accepted. If the Admiralty would now give them the deposit money it would make a great deal of difference to the ability of individuals to buy their own houses. The deposit money could be deducted from pay. In the 12-year period for which many of them sign on, this would be an economical way of overcoming the difficulty. As for going overseas, there is a great deal of delay when wives want to join their husbands in Singapore, Bahrain or Aden.
One of the difficulties about re-engagements is that very often this is the most expensive time for families. I suggest that better family allowances be given on these occasions. This would help tremendously. There is often a great deal of expense on education at this time because many of the children have to go to a residential school if the wives want to travel with their husbands.
Centralised drafting causes a difficulty about housing because the families cannot easily get their names on the housing list in places like Portsmouth, Plymouth and Chatham. The Royal Marines have excellent new buildings at Stonehouse and Lympstone and I am sure that this is a great help in recruiting. I congratulate my hon. Friend on making this provision. This is the 300th anniversary of the Royal Marines. I suggest that if we cannot secure a sufficient number of men for the other Services we might consider increasing the number of the Royal Marines.
When I visited H.M.S. "Collingwood" and found that the people there were working in difficult conditions I made detailed enquiries about rebuilding. My hon. Friend the Civil Lord answered in detail but I found that the rebuilding will take at least 10 years and will cost about £7 million. I should have thought that the work could have been hurried up. If men are to do their training there and if we are to encourage recruiting we should provide good conditions. There should be swimming pools at all the major establishments. I am told that it is not considered practicable to provide a swimming pool for H.M.S. "Collingwood", but a Command pool for the area has been suggested and I should like the matter looked into. Not only is it essential that sailors should be able to swim, but swimming in itself is a good exercise and recreation.
I am astonished that my hon. Friend made no reference to the Wrens. They have played an excellent rôle in the Navy. I suggest that they might become more mobile and be sent overseas, for instance to Singapore. I know that they already go to Malta and to Gibraltar. If they were made more mobile this would encourage recruiting, and no doubt it would help with manpower in the Navy as well. It has been said that many of the Wrens live in poor hutted conditions. I hope that this situation will be dealt with in the near future.
It is difficult to judge from the Estimates the amount of money that is spent on education and on medical establishments because they are differently orientated in the accounts. As it is said that there are not enough qualified doctors, I think that it is essential to consider the medical service with a view to paying the doctors on a National Health Service basis. Naval hospitals now accommodate civilians and many of the doctors are doing an excellent job, but they are short-handed and in many cases they are working in extremely old-fashioned buildings.
Another matter in connection with the medical service in which I take a particular interest is the question of obtaining almoners for the hospitals. When a man leaves the Service he often needs psychological as well as other assistance. If he has been long in the Service he is probably very upset because he has to leave it. He may have a long illness or a disability or even a malignant trouble. It is absolutely essential to have an almoner who can help him with domestic problems, with housing, and employment.
These Service hospitals are over-rigid in discipline. Many of them are far from the men's homes and the men have no one who can visit them. They are seldom visited by a naval officer because the ship in which the man concerned served may have gone overseas. It is a difficult time for many of them. I hope that this matter will be looked into seriously. The patients do not feel able to talk freely to the personnel in the hospitals and that makes a great deal of difference.
I was interested to see that since the 1958–59 Estimates there has been an increase of £1 million in expenditure on education. What progress is being made by the upper yardmen at Dartmouth? I also mention the question of the training of apprentices. Recently the number of apprentices in the dockyards has been cut down slightly. There is a particular difficulty about which I have been unable to get a satisfactory reply. Young men may take examinations and fail on medical grounds, particularly because of their eyesight. There seems to be a great waste when young men take examinations to go to technical colleges and are turned down on health grounds. It would be much more economical and there would be less waste of time if they had a health examination before the college examination.
I make a plea that Commonwealth students should be able to go to these technical colleges. It is extremely difficult for students from overseas to get any form of technical training. It would be very advantageous to them and to the Service as a whole if they could be allowed to take some training in technical colleges, which, after all, are Government concerns. I understand that the Government are thinking of setting up training centres, so this should not be an added expense.
I must make a personal plea in regard to Devonport Dockyard. Excellent work has been done on the "Eagle". It was a superb job. We had extremely bad weather last year, but the work is completely up to date. H.M.S. "Cleopatra", a frigate of the "Leander" class, will be launched shortly, H.M.S. "Ark Royal will be finished in seven-and-a-half months and "Hermes" will be finished in 21 to 24 months. This yard is extremely efficient. We have not had any difficulties until the present time.
We were told in the last year that we would have a run-down of 500 persons as the work finished, but now I regret to say we have a "go-slow" strike in the yard. I have received a great number of postcards from the Amalgamated Society of Boilermakers, Shipwrights, Blacksmiths and Structural Workers. I must mention this because there has been very bad planning by the Admiralty. I should like to know how the planning of the load was balanced with manpower. I had a very reasonable letter from the branch secretary saying:
It is not very often that dockyard workmen show discontent, but the discharges last Friday have really bitten hard to all, so much so that at our mass meetings of recent date the men of their own accord voted to stop working overtime in protest. The whole question is most unsavoury to us all and to this end our members took to taking action which although under control could be sparked off to greater things".
The letter goes on in a most responsible way:
It may be of interest to you to know that…we have acquainted the local management also to the effect that we will not put any ship or service in jeopardy in any way.
That shows responsible behaviour.
I feel that this could be said almost to have brought politics into the dockyards, which is most unfortunate. We were promised—and I am not saying that anyone has gone back on his promise —that there would be three years' warnning before any major change. I am not suggesting that this is a major change, but when we were told that 500 men were to be run down, the unions accepted it. Then 120 men were put on pay without work. The boilermakers agreed to allow the shipwrights to do work which, under demarcation, would have been done by the boilermakers. Then we were told that we were to have three 100-ton dumb lighters and three 200-ton dumb lighters.
An official speaking to the local paper is reported as saying that this would tide over a 51ticky period. We understood that these would be laid down in January and that therefore most of the men on the waiting list would he taken up. On 2nd January we were told that there was a shortage of work for craftsmen. We were told that there was a widening of the gap between the "Eagle" and the "Ark Royal" and that 120 men would be given notice by 17th January. It is interesting to bear in mind this reference to the widening of the gap between the "Eagle" and the "Ark Royal", because on 3rd January the "Ark Royal" was lit the breakwater. The gap at that time was not very wide. These men were given three weeks' warning and one week's formal notice, making four weeks in all. My hon. Friend mentioned this in opening the debate. We feel that the whole matter could have been arranged very much better. Some people received notice after ten years of work.
The yard is 200 labourers short and realise that, as my hon. Friend said, some of these men were offered this work. But he must realise that they would lose a great deal, for they would go on to unskilled work at about half their previous pay and perhaps less than they would receive from unemployment pay. Surely it was simple to see that this kind of thing did not happen again. My hon. Friend kindly sent me a letter telling me what was about to happen and, in view of the fact that the First Lord was visiting the dockyard on 10th January, I asked whether this letter could not be held over I was told that it could not because it was being tent at the same time to the Admiralty Industrial Council. In view of the fact that I tried to have this letter stopped for a week, I feel that some action could have been taken.
Because we are short of labourers, consideration was given to asking men from Falmouth whether they would like to come to Devonport, as there was some unemployment at the time in Falmouth. But it was not worth their while, because the pay was not high enough and the travelling allowances were insufficient. This, therefore, did not solve the problem. I feel it essential that the dockyards should know where they stand. We can get other industries to come to the area if there are sufficient men for whom it is necessary to find employment.
I suggest hat in future the allocation of money to the M.C.D., the M.E.D. and the E.E.M. Departments should be made separately. This would be an asset. At the moment, as was brought out very forcibly in last year's debate on the Estimates and in the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates, 1959–60, so much money is allocated for a certain machine; when that money is spent, one can go no further. I hope that in future planning, when this money is allocated, it will all be given to fulfil commitments in the M.E.D. department, for example, with the other two Departments waiting. The following year another department can be tackled, if there is sufficient money. At the moment a small job is tackled in each department, which does not help the departments, because very often the machines cannot even be used, or there is not sufficient work done to make the shop efficient. I ask that real consideration be given to this point.
It was also conceded by the Select Committee in 1959–60 that—
the present system of control of expenditure in the Dockyards was unsatisfactory in several respects and was under review".
This recommendation was made, which I had hoped would be acted on sooner, with results to be seen in these Estimates:
but your Committee recommend that the scope of this review should be widened to cover the whole field of estimating and controlling the cost of projects in the material Departments".
Up to date no action has been taken. I hope that as a result of this debate further thought will be given to it, since the Marshall Report said that there was a good deal of lack of planning and cooperation. The Ninth Report of the Estimates Committee, 1961–62, suggested that the Departments of Planning, Production, Personnel, Yard Services and Finance should be brought together. It said that at the moment there were three self-contained professional departments and this did not make for good work.
I suggest that, since we cannot get sufficient men to clean the ships, women should be employed on this task. I understand, for example, that the "Ark Royal" had to go out not in the best state—in other words, she was not as clean as she should have been. If we could have had 50 women working on her for two months, we could have sent her out in a much better state. This applies also to the "Bulwark". We have not pressed this point before, because we thought that the unemployed men of Falmouth might have been helped. As we have not been able to get them, I ask that further consideration be given to this point.
I am grateful for being given the opportunity to say a few words on these Estimates. I hope that my hon. Friend will pay particular attention to what I have said about Devonport Dockyard.
I have the deepest sympathy for the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers). It is very rough luck, a few weeks before a General Election, to be faced with a crisis in her own constituency, because of 12 years' mismanagement of the country's defences. I wonder where she has been when some hon. Members on this side, including myself, have made effort after effort. on a non-party basis—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes. In the 20 years I have been here I have often pleaded, in opposition to my own party, that defence should be elevated above party. I tabled a Motion—it was on the Order Paper day after day—pleading for an expenditure Committee, and that Standing Order No. 90A, as it then was, should be amended and that the Estimates Committee be given teeth, so that at least the House could find out what was going on. I certainly received no support from the hon. Lady.
Now she pleads, and rightly—she is doing her duty in pleading—for the workers of Devonport Dockyard. When some of my hon. Friends advocated a prohibition on the supply of arms to Africa, jeers were hurled across the House and remarks were made about the effect it would have upon workers here if we refused to supply the Buccaneer aircraft. Where was the hon. Lady then?
Then we came to discuss Polaris. We were jeered at by the benches opposite. Hon. Members opposite asked about the future of workers in the dockyards where Polaris is being built. Did the hon. Lady the Member for Devonport protest? If she does not wish to answer now she may care to think it over.
Can the hon. Lady or any other hon. Member opposite, including the Minister of Defence or the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey), give the date when they became so wildly enthusiastic about the efficiency and efficacy of Polaris? When did they discover that this country would be so well off with Polaris? When did the hon. Member for Devonport become convinced that it was the answer? Would any hon. Member opposite care to give the date of the recantation?
Exactly. It was Nassau.
I will leave that for a moment, because I want to make it clear that I have given notice to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence that I wish to address a few remarks to him. I have listened closely to the debate this afternoon and I have brought with me a photostat of a report which appeared in The Times on 11th February, 1959. As the Minister knows, it is the custom of the right hon. Gentleman occupying his position on the day the Defence White Paper comes out to see the Press. On this occasion—when The Times reported this matter—the right hon. Gentleman the present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations interviewed the Press on the merits of Blue Streak versus Polaris.
I will not read the entire report, but the right hon. Gentleman is reported to have said:
Why, for instance, should it be assumed that they will remain undetectable or invulnerable? Their numbers will be comparatively few, because of their great cost, and the movement of a very limited force could be closely watched by an enemy.'
Since reading that report I have kept the following words, which are particularly important, in mind. I have had these words underlined:
Certainly, it all sounds as if someone is determined to have a land-based Blue Streak deterrent.
As the hon. Member for Devonport told us, until Nassau one could not find a taker for Polaris on the benches opposite. First of all, it was Blue Streak and then it was Skybolt. Then they discovered the merits of Polaris.
I have given the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence notice that I intend to say something about him; and my remarks up to now are by way of introduction. I first made contact with the Minister of Defence when he was the dishing young Mr. Thorneycroft, a candidate for Stafford, in June, 1938. I h id just left the Army and he and his young bride were going around the constituency, not talking about politics but merely showing themselves and speaking in defence of Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Neville Chamberlain. The word "Churchill", to the young Mr. Thorneycroft, was a dirty word. I have watched his career with interest. I remember being in Stafford and hearing him speak and being greatly impressed.
When I came to this House and, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington Mr. Shinwell), took part in debates on fuel legislation I found the present Minister of Defence an extremely able Parliamentarian. I have never failed to pay tribute to that skill Even in the debate last week I said that his speech was a real tour de force although it had little or nothing to do with defence. I said that in my opinion it was designed to "sell the dummy" and secure an ovation from the benches opposite. It succeeded. It succeeded completely.
We then come to last Thursday night. As I said earlier I have given the right hon. Gentle man warning that I would be speaking about him. On that occasion he began his speech by asking the leave of the House to speak again. It was on the tip of my tongue to stop him. As long as I am in the House he will never get away with that one again. He is a Parliamentarian, and certainly he has been one long enough to know that when a Minister asks for leave to speak again he does so on the understanding that he owes some courtesy to the House. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman made no attempt whatever to reply to the debate. What he did was to build up a perfectly "phoney" case, culminating with a question to my right hon. and hon. Friends about Polaris.
Again, it is a courtesy of this House —I always observe it—never to make a speech without giving the Minister involved notice of the questions one intends to ask. I now want to refer to Polaris and to expose the nonsense that the Minister of Defence talked. He is not a bad man. He is a very clever politician whom the Prime Minister has asked to deal with defence. I do not think that he has any real interest in the subject. I will go further. I do not think that he has any real knowledge of the subject. So, at the end of the day, he asked my right hon. and hon. Friends a question, and it was a trick question. He has had some legal training so he knew the way to do it. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the party on these benches was unanimous on the issue of support for Polaris bases. [Interruption.] If the hon. and gallant Member wishes to interrupt, will he get on his feet to do so?
Perhaps the word he used was "solid". At any rate, he asked a question the answer to which he knows perfectly well.
On this side of the House there are hon. Members who are pacifists, and we have never disguised this fact. Indeed, I think that our party is the stronger for it. I do not accept the views of those of my hon. Friends; I have often discussed their views with them, and I reject them. But I wish to God that they were right. From the depths of my heart I wish I could believe that my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) was right and that it was possible for mankind, in the present state of its development, to throw its arms away. But I do not believe that it is.
I believe in the rule of law. That is why I oppose the deterrent, and am in favour of conventional forces. That is why I think that paragraph 1 of the 1958 White Paper was the biggest piece of nonsense ever written in the English language. I am not alone in that belief. Hon. Members opposite have said so. It poses the problem in terms of total war or total peace. We certainly do not live in a state of total peace. Therefore, the concept of a conventional force to which this country is committed in support of the Western Alliance is not only laying the foundations of the rule of law, but is creating conditions in which ordered disarmament is possible.
I have the deepest sympathy with the hon. Lady the Member for Devonport and her constituents, but the workers in the dockyard there are victims of a measure of disarmament and of the inability of the Government to have the four aircraft carriers that the hon. Lady wants. The situation that she has to face is created by the inability of the Government to replace the "Ark Royal". This is a similar problem which some day may face the country as a whole. For if we do not get some sense into our arms policy, we shall never be able to get sense into the consequences of disarmament which we have got to achieve. Hon. Members opposite pay lip service to disarmament and then they run away from its consequences.
Let me return to the subject of the Minister of Defence. When he made his speech he was fully aware of the pacifists on this side of the House. What he was seeking to do was to drive a wedge into the ranks of our party. If my hon. Friends had fallen into his trap, which is what he hoped, one of my hon. Friends might easily have got to his feet and protested, which would have caused immense delight to the audience on the other side of the House who had been conspicuous by their absence for two days. We all know the cheers that a Minister who is out for a cheap gibe can get.
But this is not all. The right hon. Gentleman, if he is competent, or has any claims to competence, must be fully aware of the declared policy of hon. Members on this side of the House in relation to Polaris. He must have been perfectly aware, because his public relations officers would have told him—[Interruption.] If the hon. and gallant Member wants to interrupt, will he get to his feet?
If the hon. and gallant Member wants to interrupt then let him get up and speak and not mutter. I cannot stand back-bench Tories who mutter. He asked which policy. It was the policy read out on 16th January. We have heard the hon. Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Maitland) this afternoon. He has been to see his constituents. One can imagine the heaving bosoms this weekend, in whatever obscure part of the country that he may come from, when he talked to them about the "wickedness" of the Labour Party which has been denying them access to Polaris, which, only 12 months ago, they were saying was fit only to hand over to Steptoe and Son.
The Minister of Defence knows as well as I do—and I shall read it to him again, so that it is on the record—that the question was put in the programme called "This Week", by Mr. Ffitch:
Would you allow the Americans to continue to have a Polaris base in this country?
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition replied:
We are committed to that as long as it is required by N.A.T.O. We would like it to become a N.A.T.O. base as soon as possible, and we will take all these decisions in accordance with our obligations to the alliance, to N.A.T.O.
I notice that the right hon. Gentleman, in his speech the other day, was saying how loyal he was to N.A.T.O. He was saying that he accepted that on this side of the Committee we are loyal to N.A.T.O. If he accepted that we are loyal to N.A.T.O., why did he ask his question. He said, "So are we loyal to N.A.T.O." But are they? They undertook to keep four divisions in West Germany, but they whittled it down to 77,000. Then they brought it down to 64,000, and they are committed on their word of honour to put 55,000 in this year. There is not a Member in this Committe who believes that they will do it.
I remember a debate in February, 1951, when the Labour Government had a majority of six. Hon. Members opposite who last week, were chiding us on our record in government forgot to mention the Korean War—when this party, with its large pacifist element. introduced two years' compulsory service and faced up to its obligations.
All right, the pacifist element did not support it then, and they do not support it now. I pay deference to that point of view. What did hon. Gentlemen opposite do? They used it for a mean party advantage. They tried then, as the right hon. gentleman tried last Thursday, to drive a wedge into the ranks of the Labour Party.
I must confess that I was shocked that day and last Thursday night. I was deeply shocked, because, again, I can say in all sincerity that no one in this House has tried more than I have to get defence, out of party politics. I have said before and I repeat it now that, if, as now it is inevitable, the defence of this country becomes the plaything between the two parties, I do not know who will win, but I know who will lose. The people who will lose are the men in the Aimed Forces, as well as the prestige and the authority of this country. As far as I am concerned, I backed my right hon. Friends when they proposed talks on defence. I know that some on this side did not agree, and now I hake changed my mind. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman and the action of the Prime Minister convince me that if we on this; side of the Committee now believe in the integrity and the honesty of purpose and, indeed, the truthfulness of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, we are walking into a trap. I do not say this lightly.
Last Thursday, I went for a walk and, when I cane back, I did a little reading. I am a deep reader of the writings of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill). I took up the first volume The Second World War. The right hon. Gentleman there tells the story of a speech made in this House on 12th November, 1936, when Mr. Baldwin, the then Prime Minister, said—I am quoting from the book—
Supposing I had gone to the country and said that Germany was rearming, and that we must rearm does anyone think that this pacific democracy would have rallied to that cry at that moment?
Then his next words are put in italics by the right hon. Member for Woodford:
I cannot think of anything which would have made the loss of the election from my point of view more certain.
Now we have the right hon. Gentleman's note on that:
This was indeed appalling frankness. It carried naked truth about his motives into indecency. That a Prime Minister should avow that he had not done his duty in regard to national safety because he was afraid of losing an election was an incident without parallel in our parliamentary history.
That occasion in 1936 was repeated last week in the defence debate. The right hon. Gentleman is a highly intelligent man. He resigned from the Government two years ago, and I pay tribute to his honour and honesty in resigning. We understood the purpose for which he resigned. If he does not know the purpose, he should go and look at the cartoon in this evening's Evening Standard. That will explain it to him. He resigned because he knew that this country was incapable of riding two defence horses at once.
The issue here is not in terms of whether my right hon. and hon. Friends want to throw anything away. Indeed, we have to some extent got caught up in an argument about semantics. The argument is not about deterrence in any true sense of the word. We have not got a deterrent. Over and over again, I have read to the House—I shall not weary the Committee with extracts now —what the Americans think of the V-bomber force. If the V-bomber force is such a formidable one, why did the Government cancel Blue Steel Mark II? Why have they only lately discovered the virtues of Blue Steel? The truth is that these aircraft have some sort of limited capacity and they give, so to speak, a nuclear capability, but we cannot base a strategy upon the possibility of four Polaris submarines, of which, in certain circumstances, we should have only one at sea—this is why the Minister has gone for five—or on the possibility that of 180 V-bombers a fraction will get through.
What the right hon. Gentleman said, in the course of his speech, showed not wickedness on his part, but appalling ignorance. Of course, the row is such, on a three-line Whip, when hon. Members opposite have dined well but perhaps not too wisely, that it is impossible to hear sometimes. However, the right hon. Gentleman used these words—and they got quite a cheer—
Whatever else he believes or disbelieves, he surely cannot believe that to announce that he will give up British missiles…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 27th February, 1964; Vol. 690, c. 757.]
What British missiles? We have no British missiles, not one. The right hon. Gentleman talked about British missiles being under our control as though we
on this side wanted to give them up. He told us that it did not matter who owned them but that what mattered was who controlled them. Do we control Honest John, Corporal, or the atomic howitzer? The key is held in American hands. If the right hon. Gentleman uses the argument that it is control here that matters, then the Rhine Army is powerless because effective control of these weapons is in American hands. He cannot have the argument both ways.
No, Sir Robert. I am referring to the right hon. Gentleman's argument about the control of missiles. In a speech which was devoted wholly to demonstrating the policy of the Labour Party in relation to Polaris, he said, in relation to Polaris, "It does not matter who built them. It matters who controls them." Very well. If that is so, if it is a question of who controls them, the Government might have found out the advantage of this before they had to accept Polaris because they could not get Skybolt, and they should think of the application of this argument to the Rhine Army. That is my point.
The interesting thing about the right hon. Gentleman is, again, his flagrant illiteracy. On the first day of the defence debate, speaking of Minuteman, the right hon. Gentleman said that
There were about 500 Minutemen, increasing to 1,700 in 1966…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1964; Vol. 690, c. 457.]
Is that statement true? Will the right hon. Gentleman answer? I will give him the answer. Those of us who are really interested in defence, and who want to understand British defence, have posthaste to get a copy of Mr. McNamara's speeches. I have his speech of last year and have loaned a copy of his this year's speech to one of my hon. Friends. One is able to understand what the right hon. Gentleman is getting at, not from what he says in the White Paper, but by equating the weapons in the United States with those here and seeing what Mr. McNamara says about them. The 1,700 Minutemen that the right hon.
Gentleman talks about are not Minutemen, but the whole of the American spectrum of missiles.
Of course, Sir Robert, I always defer to the Chair. In these matters, however, the Chair, which makes such an intimate study of Erskine May, does not know—and, therefore, I excuse the Chair for not knowing—that the warhead on a Minuteman is the same as the warhead on Polaris. Therefore, in talking about one, I am talking about the other. I hope that the Chair takes note of the fact. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will take note that there will not be 1,700 Minutemen, as he incorrectly or falsely informed the House, but a total of 1,700 American missiles altogether.
Enough of the right hon. Gentleman. If he likes, he can now go home. I want, however, to turn to another aspect of Government policy which, I am sure, is not understood. I am quite sure that the hon. Member for Macclesfield, one of the right hon. Gentleman's chief supporters in this conspiracy, is unaware of what the consequences are.
It will be noted—I drew attention to this in my speech last week—that we were told in the Defence White Paper a year ago that there was to be a replacement for the Hunter—the P1154. Then, the right hon. Gentleman, in what I described as a tour de force, the slickest trick I have ever seen, tied up the Navy and air lobbies together by saying that he would have one replacement for two aircraft. That kept hon. Members quiet on 30th July.
When we returned in November, the right hon. Gentleman kept it going by saying that the matter had been given further consideration. That enabled him to take three or four deep breaths until we came to the present Estimates. With these Estimates—I thought that this was a hot one by any standard—he says nothing in the White Paper whatever. He waited until last Wednesday afternoon and then broke the news, which by that time most of us had heard, that he would buy the Phantom. Then, he said that he could not tell us how many Phantoms we were to get. We know how many the Americans are to get. They have ordered 3,400 and they have got about 500.
My hon. Friend, when he winds up the debate from this side, will break them down by Services. They are getting 500. But we ale not told. Is it 50? Is this the replacement for 142 Sea Vixens? Or shall we say—the figure has been mentioned—about 112? The Phantom is an aircraft of great capability. It can fly faster in circuit than any British aircraft can fly in a straight line. It is marginally not much different in terms of performance from the TSR2 when that aircraft flies. It could he, even, that the TSR2 could have the edge, because its black boxes may he better. But this will be in the 1970s.
It is perfectly clear that the Phantom gets its speed and its performance because of the balance between the airframe, on the one hand, and the American J79, on the other. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman fought his rearguard action because he was afraid of the pressures of the air lobby, and of the political compulsion from the other side of the House. He was afraid of their insisting, "Fly British". So he had to break it very gently that we were to get the Spey 168. But the Spey 168 is a subsonic engine. I am told, having gone to the best opinion I could, that it is by no means certain that we can have the Spey put into the Phantom and be able to bring it off. What happens? If the Government do not bring it off in 18 months, what will they do? Will they buy the J79 so that the Phantom can do mach 2·5, or 22 mach when loaded? If they do, it is clear without any shadow of doubt that then the Navy will be able to assemble innumerably more Phantoms than the R.A.F. car assemble and those Phantoms will be the same as the American Phantom, with its undisputed performance.
The argument has been carried on for the last 30 years between the Royal Air Force and the Navy, and now the actual fact is that it has been settled by the Navy. But look how it has been settled. It has not been settled by having the argument put, but by actions little by little. First of all, the Navy got the Seacat, and then the Seaslug, which cost quite a bit, Seacat and Seaslug cost the better part of £100 million. Then it got four guided missile destroyers at £15 million apiece. There was a demand for more aircraft carriers. The hon. Lady the Member for Devonport, the honest hon. Lady, asked, what about the additional aircraft carriers? Because that is what it is all about. Then the Navy has the Phantom II, and wants aircraft carriers. It has got one and wants more. The one thing that the Navy does not want is the P1154. The R.A.F. can have that if it works, and the money can be found.
But there is something else. In all circles except British aviation circles V.T.O.L. is suspect. V.T.O.L. is something one can, perhaps, have, if one is prepared to pay for it, but if the Royal Air Force cannot get V.T.O.L. then the hon. Gentleman the Member for Macclesfield will be demanding Phantoms for the R.A.F.
Therefore, what happens to the aircraft industry? The Government may have put it out of existence. When we have a debate on aviation up gets the hon. Gentleman the Member for Macclesfield and his hon. Friends and they say to us on this side, "Will you nationalise it?" Nationalise the aircraft industry? Are we mad? Nationalise something which is "bust"? Not likely. I want to do something about it worse than to nationalise it. I want to investigate it. I would also tell the hon. Member for Macclesfield that I should like to investigate it retrospectively. I trust and believe that if we had a defence expenditure Committee of this House which was doing its job we should not have this nonsense about Ferranti's. We have handed over millions of pounds of public money. Look at what the aircraft industry has had since 1947. It has had £5,200 million, and £3,700 million of it has come from public sources. And yet hon. Members opposite say, "Nationalise it". As if anybody, except if they were off their rockers, would want to nationalise it! We must find out what has happened inside the industry first.
I turn now to a subject that we were told about this afternoon. We were told that the modernisation of the "Eagle" has cost £31 million. I have two cuttings here, one from The Times of June last year and one at about the same time from the Daily Telegraph. This is all the information I have to go on. There is nothing else. I have been through HANSARD; no Questions have been asked. I was mug enough to rely, in all honesty, on a Conservative newspaper. I know that that is extremely silly, but I have great respect for the Daily Telegraph and believe what is says. It said that to modernise "Eagle" would cost £20 million.
The right hon. Gentleman may wonder why I rely on newspapers. But I have to rely on newspapers. I cannot rely on him. I do not believe what he says. I appreciate, Sir Robert, that here I am getting near the wind. However, even last week I asked Questions about strengths in Cyprus, and I was given no Answers. But I know very well—I challenge the right hon Gentleman on this—that it was his public relations department which informed the Press of those "phoney" figures about troops strength, and if a Government will go as far as informing the Press and giving it "phoney" strengths, not to deceive our enemies, not even to deceive our friends, but to conceal the truth from the British public, there is not much that they will not do. [Hon. Members: "Rubbish."] But this is what they have done.
If I am wrong, then let the right hon. Gentleman, if not today, in the debate on the Army Estimates come to the Dispatch Box and tell the House the strengths of the infantry units in Cyprus; and if there is one infantry battalion there at more than 550 strength I will beat the bounds of Westminster in my birthday suit. The Minister of Defence has given the figure of 600. Then there are the artillery units. I am sure that there is not one at more than 450 strength. The Government have been playing the game of concealing the truth all the way through.
Let us go back to the "Eagle". Why has not the House been told what the estimated cost would be?
The hon Gentleman says that we did not ask. Does the House of Representatives ask Mr. McNamara? He gives information which fills 170 pages, and then he submits himself and his chief civil servants and his military advisers to cross-examination for a month, and the results are published. There is no excuse about ignorance. Why? Because Mr. McNamara, to carry through his budget, to get a sound defence policy for the United States, to carry the defence burden, has to have an informed public opinion. So he tells the American public the truth.
Our Government do exactly the opposite. They dare not tell their backbenchers the truth. If hon. Gentlemen opposite—who are patriots, who are honest, who are every bit as concerned as I am—knew the truth, they would throw that lot into the river.
Again on the "Eagle", I take it that the Civil Lord, by way of interruption, has said that I have not asked. So I now take it that any questions I ask about the "Eagle" will be answered.
Then let us ask the hon. Gentleman later tonight to give details about Ferranti's in relation to the "Eagle". He does not know this, but Ferranti's has been concerned with what is called "Action Data Automation"—A.D.A.—together with its sub-contractors. I want the details of all the A.D.A. contracts, if he will give them, entered into by Ferranti's and its subsidiaries in connection with H.M.S. "Eagle" and with the four guided missile destroyers.
I will meet the right hon. Gentleman's convenience if this involves any question of security. He can give notional sums in terms of percentages. He can say that the original estimate was £x in 1961 and what the actual expenditure was, in 1963, as a percentage above the estimate. I warn him, however, that I can give him the contract numbers. That will cheer him up.
I emphasise that there is no question of my making any aspersions, directly or indirectly, of impropriety—going back to my original questions about Ferranti's—but I stand by what I said. In my opinion, there has been no impropriety, but there has been incompetence, stupidity, and lack of control. And then, when the truth becomes known, the Government lack the guts to face the consequences.
Secondly, I ask the Minister of Defence to give an assurance that every single penny discovered to have been overcharged, wittingly or unwittingly, will be refunded to the public. When we are dealing with estimates totalling £2,000 million we owe it to our constituents to see that we get 100 per cent. value for every penny that is spent. That is what Mr. McNamara does. That is what Mr. Hitch means by "cost effectiveness". But the Government do not begin to understand the concept here—the concept of control.
Right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the Committee have protested about control of spending. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) made the point again today. What he said was absolutely sound. It is wholly due to the conservative-ness of our ways. It is because we have such a system and refuse to take action about it that, year after year, we go on piling up expenditure, hoping and guessing that we shall get some results but with the result that £20,000 million has been expended on defence; with much waste.
If it was well spent then all I say is, "Phantom to you". Or Skybolt. Or Blue Streak. But the point has perfecily well been put that it is unfair to make a catalogue of mistakes that have been made. Anyone who tries to score every time will not score anything. What was wrong with Blue Streak was not tint it failed, but that a whole year went by when the Government continued with it after it had demonstrably failed.
I am wriggling and I am slimy. Those are terms I do not mind in certain circumstances. If they were repeated in other circles, it might be a different matter, but not in this context. The hon. Member for Exeter has just come in after dinner, hands in pocket. We know him. I know him and know of him. I say sincerely that, if I had to choose between his insults and his compliments, I would choose his insults, because they at least would be sincere.
I return to the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton. The point I am making is that £20,000 million—I hope that I take him with me thus far—has been spent on defence under this Administration and yet there is not one battalion in Cyprus within 25 per cent. of its establishment. Hon. Members have talked about ships in the Mediterranean—two minesweepers. The P1154 is a mark in the future. We have not got adequate proper transport aircraft. The aircraft which went to Cyprus had to land on the way in either Malta or Nice. Where is this wonderful collection of armaments which inspires such confidence in the party opposite? What about the manpower commitments in the Rhine Army which we have left unfulfilled?
I do not want to get too near the wind, Sir Robert, but it is a fact that the only weapons of substance which we have in the Rhine Army are obsolescent American weapons, while the Germans are to get weapons which are advanced and which we cannot even order. If that is money well spent, God help us if the hon. and gallant Gentleman had said that it was badly spent!
Economy of force and conservation of force, the kind of things which one learned about when one went on a course as an unpaid lance-corporal are completely forgotten or completely ignored. Our strategic force is scattered all over the world in penny packets, under establishment and without means of rapid concentration. If we do not know it, our allies do. I was told last week—I have not checked it, but I rely on what was said—that the Australian papers are saying openly that we will defend Borneo to the last Australian. The reason why the Americans are dodgy about backing us in Borneo is not because they have any difference of objective—they share our objective—but because they think that we will let them "take the can back". Why cannot we get support in Cyprus? The reasons are the same. The general staffs of other Powers can do the sums—as our general staff can for that matter—that this is an exercise in which they might find themselves shouldering our obligations.
The speech of the Minister of Defence last week was a classic example of an abuse of the procedure of the House of Commons. He has thrown in the melting pot—at least until the election is over—any possibility of defence problems being regarded objectively. I assure hon. Members—although they may not like it—that I came here tonight with great reluctance to make this speech. [Laughter.] Oh, yes! I have waited all day. I ask hon. Members, if not hon. Members opposite, then my hon. Friends, to agree that I have never failed to quarrel with them over a long period when I have thought that they were wrong. I have often been in a minority of one. On the eve of the cancellation of Blue Streak a vote of confidence in the then Leader of the Labour Party was carried against one vote—mine—as was reported in The Times the next morning. I have never run away from the conscription issue and in the House of Commons and in my constituency I have stood my corner on selective service. Can hon. Members opposite say the same? When they laugh, I admit that I will play kiss-in-the-ring, provided that the other chap will play kiss-in-the-ring, but the moment he starts wielding the dry scrubber, I have a go with the dry scrubber, too.
Last Thursday night was the turning point for me. Until then I had striven almost to the point where the gramophone needle had got stuck and I had ended every speech on the same note-let us try to get above party and have a Select Committee on Defence; let us take the matter upstairs and hammer out the facts. But not now. If hon. Members want to play it rough, O.K.— I will play it rough, too.
That is exactly where we have got. That is what the right hon. Member and the Prime Minister have done, and for precisely the same reasons. The Prime Minister talks about "talking straight". What he should do is to alter his heraldic sign to that of a butcher's hook. He does not talk straight. He gives the appearance of talking straight, but he represents Conservative politics at their worst—unintelligent, stupid and, above all, based on a class outlook which, before the war, drove him with enthusiasm into the arguments that led to Munich and beyond. And he would do it again.
That is the policy that the Minister of Defence, when he first sat for Parliament in June, 1938, was extolling and supporting. That is where the story started. That is where I first met him. He was a Municher up to his chin, and so was the Prime Minister. What these boys are saying, on defence, is, "Any stick will do to beat with, provided we can once more get political power." It was not an accident that, at the end of his speech, the right hon. Gentleman said that what the argument was about was power. That is the language of Nazism and Communism; it is not the language of democracy. This is the old Adam coming out—"As long as we get power, we do not mind how we get it." That is what the right hon. Gentleman set out to do last Thursday night.
The right hon. Gentleman has something to hide here, and so he hides it. If, at the same time, he can arouse the enthusiasm of the Members on the benches behind him for 10 minutes, and persuade them to back his policy, even though they do not understand it, he has succeeded, because—as the hon. Member for Horncastle confessed that he had done, this weekend—they will go back to the country and spread the same story, whereas what is needed is for the British people to be told that they have a high standard of living but that they live in a dangerous world, and that the pressures on N.A.T.O. are such— and I believe that the Government's policies have increased those pressures —that that alliance may burst. Anybody here, including my pacifist friends, who thinks that if we can smash N.A.T.O. the bill will go down, is mistaken. if N.A.T.O. is smashed and we fail to keep our obligations and our pledged word about the troops we have in that organisation, the time may come when the Americans will say, "We will take the reins back".
One of the strangest arguments used by the right hon. Gentleman last Thursday was his argument about a distant deterrent—as if distance from the target was a source of weakness. Does not he ever read Mr. McNamara's speeches. Does not he understand that the whole concept of Atlas, Minuteman, Titan and Polaris is to get as far from the target as possible. If we honestly believed that a nuclear capability was essential to the security of these islands the one that we would not do is to station our deterrent in these islands. What we would try to do, if we were honest, would be to go to the Americans and say, "Sell us Minuteman. We will pay for it, and we will ask the Canadians to set it up in the wastes of Arctic Canada."
For hon. Members opposite the deterrent is a phallic symbol. It convinces them that they are men. They flex their muscles at the sight of it. The sight of Polaris to the right hon. Gentleman is almost an aphrodisiac. If he believes in his policy of nuclear deterrent he should adopt my suggestion. If we are to have a deterrent that matters we should not go cap in hand to the United States and take Polaris.
This was the point made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey), when he said "If we fire a Polaris, who knows where it comes from?" If we possessed Polaris and if, by chance, an American Polaris went off by accident we might be at the receiving end, because the Russians would never know where it came from. They would say, "It is better to hit them than the Americans. It is better to obliterate them."
I do not want to detain the Committee—[HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] No, it is very kind of my hon. Friends, but we have the Air Estimates to debate tomorrow, we have the Lords' Amendments to the Defence (Transfer of Functions) Bill on Wednesday and the Army Estimates on Thursday and. therefore, we must save a little for those three occasions, but I think that I have made my position clear to the Minister of Defence.
I think of the right hon. Gentleman as a Minister of Defence who the quicker he goes the better. He does not see the logic of his own policy. I wish he would take the trouble—at least it would give me a little more confidence —to borrow from the American Library at the Embassy in Grosvenor Square a copy of Mr. McNamara's words.
The right hon. Gentleman should have a look at it and hand a copy to his right hon. Friends. He would then see what a Minister of Defence who is really at grips with defence can do in his country's service. In terms, the right hon. Gentleman should ask himself, "What is necessary for the defence of my country and how do I set about providing the means?". He should then come to the point which I was making when we had our little fandango and ask himself, "How shall I bridge the gap? Where shall I get the resources, with our population of 52 million people, with our high standard of living, and our strategic requirements all over the world?".
It may be that the viability of the sterling area depends upon access to oil in the Middle East and that peace in Malaysia is essential to British requirements. How can we discharge this requirement and meet the bill in terms of manpower? If the right hon. Gentleman holds, as he does, that voluntary service is the way out and then in the end he has to say, "This means that I have not a single battalion up to strength," he should let the public know and the boys of the Forces know that their mothers and fathers and the people of this country generally were asking them to carry the can back if things go wrong.
The right hon. Gentleman should also list the weapons that are required and should not hide behind the obscurity and the whispered instructions to his public relations officers to lead the Press up the garden path. He should adopt the opposite policy. It is my reading of history that the British people have never failed when they have been told the truth. The periods of uncertainty and of appeasement before the last war and the doubts that have come from the campaign for nuclear disarmament are all born of ignorance. This is what comes of being free of invasion for 1,000 years, of having a common culture, of being agreed in terms of politics about more things than we are in disagreement, and of being prepared in the national interest to subjugate the things about which we disagree.
That is what I have striven for and will still strive for, but I shall not do so if hon. Members opposite do not do so. I shall not strive for it if hon. Members opposite such as the right hon. Gentleman ask leave of the House to address it in order to make a politically dishonest speech in the way he did.
If the right hon. Gentleman will put his hand on his heart and in the few weeks of life left to him as Minister of Defence will promise to turn over a new leaf, to come clean, he can instruct his hon. Friend the Civil Lord to start by telling us how many Phantoms he will order, tell us the cost of the "Eagle", answer the question about Ferranti's and its subsidiaries, and tell the hon. Lady the Member for Devonport what has happened in Devonport Dockyard. If he tells us the honest truth and stands by it and, if it is unpleasant, faces the logic, we for our part should make one promise.
We ought to get one thing clear. I do it on every occasion when I speak to my constituents. I say that when we take over, as we shall, the defence of this country will be in a mess and nothing in the lifetime of the Labour Government can be done to put this right for these policies are of long duration and the periods of gestation of weapons run into years. Therefore, we are in a period of unparalleled weakness which will last for a long time.
What we promise to do when we come in and make our assessment, or as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) said, discover how many skeletons there are in the cupboard is to frame our policies and tell the House of Commons and the British people honestly the truth. We shall ask, as Mr. McNamara asks, for support in putting right 12 years of wasted Tory rule.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence must have won a more considerable victory last week than I thought. The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), having made a 37-minute speech in the defence debate, makes an even longer speech in the debate on the Navy Estimates to attack my right hon. Friend to try to secure the political initiative for his own party.
One matter he referred to early in his speech struck a sympathetic chord in my mind. That was when the hon. Member chided the Government for their late conversion to Polaris, but many of us had been urging the Government to adopt Polaris three or four years before the Nassau Agreement, as he will see from my speeches in previous Navy Estimates debates. After this very long speech by the hon. Member I am still no wiser as to the exact policy of the Labour Party on the subject of Polaris.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), who opened the debate from the Opposition side, criticised the amount of money being spent on the Navy this year. He went on to say that the Navy was over-stretched round the globe and there were not enough ships. Obviously, he was advocating more ships of various types. More ships would cost more money. Where is that money to come from? If one draws the logical conclusion, one gathers that the Opposition would cancel the Polaris programme and use the money so saved to build more conventional ships. Is that or is it not the policy of the Opposition? I hope that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds), in winding up for the Opposition, will let us know because the Committee and the country are entitled to know the answer.
There are certain contradictions about what hon. Members opposite say. The hon. Member for Dudley spoke about the Polaris base in Scotland and said that the Opposition would continue to allow the American use of that base. I want hon. Members opposite to say what is their policy in regard to the laying down and building of the five Polaris submarines. If they say, as one of their leaders said, recently, that they would convert them to hunter-killers, they should realise that that is utterly impossible or, rather, completely uneconomic.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) spent an hour on this last week. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) spent a good part of his speech on it. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition spent 65 minutes on it in January. If the hon. Member cannot read and apply his intelligence to it, we cannot give him the intelligence.
This is exactly what I am complaining about. Hon. Members spend hours talking on the subject but they never come clean on their exact policy on the Polaris submarines.
I want to take the Committee from consideration of the most powerful and most modern of all weapons, Polaris, to 1664, when an Order-in-Council decreed that
1,200 Land souldgers to be forthwith rayzed to be in readiness to be distributed in His Majesty's fleete prepared for sea service.
That Order-in-Council was the start of the Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment of Foot. The Duke of York being Lord High Admiral, it became known as the Admiral's Regiment, and today we are celebrating the tercentenary of the Royal Marines. I will not take the Committee through the history of those 300 years except to say that in 1827 there arose the question of which battle honours they should carry on their colours. The reigning monarch, George IV, decreed that they should carry the
great globe itself, because only the globe could depict the battle honours of a regiment which had fought on land and sea throughout the world. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will agree that the globe depicting battle honours gained throughout the world applies also not only to World War I and World War II but to the years 1963–64.
I want to discuss some of the lessons which we have learned in the immediate past about the correct employment of the Royal Marines. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will agree that Britain's greatness has been founded on maritime strategy. But after every war—the Napoleonic War and World War I are examples—we tend to forget the lessons learned in the previous war.
In 1930 the Admiralty had constructed only three motor landing craft, and it was not until the Abyssinian War and the Japanese invasion of China that we started to get down to a study of combined operations. In 1938 the Inter-Service Training and Development Centre was formed at the Royal Marine Barracks, Fort Cumberland, Eastney, but there were only four officers, one from each Service, with a Royal Marine as secretary.
In the following year, 1939, the first L.C.A.S. were produced. These L.C.A.S. are still in use today, 25 years later. I hope that in winding up the debate my hon. Friend will tell me that new types of minor landing craft are now being brought into commission and that study is being given to such modern forms of bridging the beach gap as Hovercraft.
In World War II the Royal Marines were employed in manning the guns of the Fleet, in the Fleet Air Arm and in their traditional raiding rôle from the Fleet, for example at the capture of Diego Suaraz, Madagascar, and at Tobruk. This was the correct employment for the Royal Marines. But early in World War II a Royal Marine Division was formed and it was kept for three year virtually inactive. During that time the Army raised the Commandos. It was not until "Overlord" in 1944 that the Royal Marines were allowed to produce as many Commandos as the Army. After 1946 the Royal Marines took over the Commando rôle from the Army. At present it is clear that this rôle of the Corps operating from Commando carriers is extremely valuable for the country. We have heard today about the operation of Royal Marine Commandos in South-East Asia, Aden and East Africa.
They also man minor landing craft of the amphibious warfare squadron and provide pilots for helicopters. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say a little more about Royal Marine helicopter pilots. This is a very suitable rôle for Royal Marine officers. In the past they have joined the Fleet Air Arm and have served for one, two or three commissions in the Air Arm. Inevitably they have then had to return to corps service and have had to give up flying. Those who were particularly keen on flying and wanted to stay on in the Fleet Air Arm moved into the Navy proper, but I fear few of them got to the top of this new branch of the Service.
The Royal Marines serve on land, on sea and in the air. In the new defence organisation which we have been considering we are trying to get together the three Services—land, sea and air. It seems to me that in the new defence organisation the Royal Marines can either play a key part or be completely pushed to the wall. I hope that my hon. Friend will urge on the Minister of Defence and on the Chief of Defence Staff that the rôle of the Royal Marines, which is clear today, should be defined and laid down for the years ahead, otherwise I fear that this Corps, coming as it does between two Services, may decline in prestige or be neglected in the minds of the planners of the three Services.
At the moment the Royal Marines are well on top, partly due to their magnificent recruiting record. This record is due to the long training given both to young officers and young Marines and to the responsibility that the Royal Marine Officers and N.C.O.'s have to bear pretty early in life. It is also due to the smartness and the esprit de corps which exists wherever there is a Royal Marine.
My hon. Friend would agree that publicity is important to successful recruiting. I am sorry that in the Memorandum accompanying the Estimates only one small paragraph refers to the doings of the Royal Marines. However, I think that my hon. Friend made adequate amends for this in the compliments he paid them in his opening speech.
Further on the question of recruiting, may I ask my hon. Friend for an assurance that no definite ceiling will be placed on the Vote A strength of the Royal Marines? I appreciate that it has risen by 100 this year. Surely regiments such as this which can recruit should be allowed to recruit more or less to the maximum possible, particularly when other regiments in the Army are finding difficulty in obtaining sufficient recruits. I say this having in mind all the time the rôle of the Royal Marines. It would be disastrous—indeed, it would be harking back to the story of the Royal Marine Division in the Second World War—if, just because they could recruit, they were given Army garrison duties in various parts of the Commonwealth. They must maintain the forward offensive rôle which they are fulfilling today.
I turn to the question of promotion at the top of the Services. I understand that under the new set-up each of the three Service Boards will be responsible for senior promotions but that the Minister of Defence himself will actually make these promotions. I imagine that this applies also to the Royal Marines. My hon. Friend will know that there have been in the past some difficulties in senior appointments in the Royal Marines. I suggest to him that the retiring Commandant-General probably plays too great a part in the selection of his successor, because, as the Royal Marines have few senior officers, these officers are not very well known by their equivalents and their senior officers in the Navy itself. Therefore, the Board may tend to rely too much on the recommendations of the retiring Commandant-General. I hope that my hon. Friend will bear this in mind when future senior promotions are made under the new system.
In the new defence set-up is the Commandant-General, Royal Marines to be a member of the Admiralty Board? At the moment I understand that he is not, but surely the man who is at least administratively responsible for what is obviously one of the major striking arms of the Royal Navy should be a full mem- ber of this Board. I hope that my hon. Friend will give this careful consideration in the future.
I turn to another aspect of officer recruitment and officer morale concerning not only the Royal Marines but I suggest the Navy as a whole. I wonder if there is sufficient differential in these days between the junior officer and the senior rating. When I recently visited H.M.S. "Hampshire" I looked at the lunch which was prepared for the mess deck. There was a selection of six different hot dishes for the main meal and the seamen's dinner consisted of a choice of chicken or duck; first-class, as it should be. In the wardroom. now-ever, there was the same curry made of left-overs from the day before, served up for lunch in the way we all knew so well when we served in the Senior Service.
When I visited Whale Island a story was told, no doubt to some extent as a joke, that chief petty officers always arrived in cars whereas commanders arrived on bicycles. I am not saying that that is completely factual, but there was something in it, and I suggest that while great steps have rightly been made in recent years to provide better accommodation, food, facilities and quarters for ratings particularly senior ratings, too little effort has been made to provide the same amenities for junior officers, and there is a danger of getting the differential a little too close.
I now turn to the Fleet, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his announcement that we are to have a fifth Polaris submarine because I believe that the Polaris, with the A 3, is the best weapon in the world and is essential for the future defence of this country. However, there is another a quite different question of missiles at sea which we should consider. The Polaris will be the only surface-to-surface missile in the Navy. Should we not be thinking of other forms of surface-to-surface missiles? After all, the Americans have the Talos, a missile with a 65-mile range, beam-riding and dual purpose—in other words, for use against ships, for bombardment or anti aircraft purposes. I understand that this missile is mounted in seven cruisers and in other ships which are being fitted out.
Should we not be experimenting among those lines? Other than Polaris all our missiles are surface to air, and I feel confident that we must experiment along the lines being adopted by the Americans, particularly since this might lead to a saving of money as it might be found that smaller ships would be able to carry more powerful weapons.
I am aware of the argument that the aircraft can do everything that can be done by the missile. I accept that argument if we have enough aircraft in the right place and at the right time, which brings me to the question of aircraft carriers, and on this I must repeat some of the arguments used by other hon. Members.
We have an immediate need for six carriers. We now have five but, with a new carrier projected to replace two existing carriers, it is clear that we need a third Commando carrier. That will leave only three carriers for the early 1970s and that number, by any standard, is ridiculously small. We need two carriers for N.A.T.O. service in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, two east of Suez and two for training and repairs. We cannot fulfil our task unless we have at least six carriers.
I congratulate the Government on pushing ahead with the conversion of the two Commando carriers and the building of two assault ships. We need two assault ships and two Commando carriers in the Indian Ocean and another of each for training and repairs. I hope that the announcement for the conversion of "Centaur" into a Commando carrier will soon be made, but this will mean that she must be replaced by a new fixed-wing carrier.
There is a possible stopgap; the 10,000 ton helicopter carrier which I referred to in the last defence debate. We have today had the announcement of the part conversion of the "Tigers", which will undoubtedly be a help in filling this gap. Why not go the whole hog with the "Tigers" and convert them not only for carrying helicopters but also see that they are fully equipped as proper headquarters ships? Why not, for example, follow the American example of converting the cruiser "Northampton" into a headquarters ship, for should not we have experience of operating this type of vessel?
I recently had the privilege of visiting Middle East Headquarters at Aden, where I was struck by the enormous area for which this headquarters was responsible. The headquarters was originally in the Suez Canal zone but was then moved to Cyprus and from Cyprus to Aden and, later, who knows, from Aden to some other area. Would it not be better to put part of that headquarters—perhaps the communications part—afloat? A headquarters ship could operate afloat quite satisfactorily from the port of Aden. They could be more mobile, which would be particularly useful if our base had to be transferred elsewhere. Obviously, it is not possible to put the whole of the headquarters afloat because shore facilities, accommodation, recreation grounds, and so on, are required, but I do not see why the communications side of the headquarters could not be afloat. We would gain a great deal of experience if we were to experiment in this way.
I should now like to say a brief word or two about the fishery protection squadron. I believe there is to be an announcement on this subject tomorrow, and that our fishery limits will be extended to six miles, plus another six miles. In other words, we shall now have to patrol a belt 12 miles from the coast. Therefore, it is clear that we shall need more ships for the fishery protection squadron. I have mentioned this matter to the Civil Lord before. I hope that he will examine carefully whether more vessels, such as fast patrol boats, can be provided. It is possible that the R.N.R. might be able to assist the R.N. in this task. I hope that my hon. Friend will give this matter serious consideration.
I now come to two other points. One has already been mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke), and that is the question: when are we to have a ship propelled by nuclear power, other than a submarine? I remind my hon. Friend that the Germans last year laid down a 15,000 ton ship with a pressurised water reactor, which will be on trials in 1967–68. Japan and Sweden are both producing Government-subsidised nuclear-propelled merchant ships. It is true that the reactors in the "Dreadnought" and "Valiant" and the Polaris submarines are not suitable for surface propulsion. They are far too heavy. The equipment in the "Savannah" weighs, I understand, 2,500 tons.
I hope, however, that we shall get a move on with this project. I know that it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport. The Ministry of Transport needs a bomb put under it. It has had report after report, committee after committee and delay after delay. It is now studying six different designs. I hope that the Government will accept the fact that the first nuclear-propelled ship will not be economic, but will be prepared to accept a Fleet tanker or replenishment vessel to start with. To get a ship like this afloat will be of untold value not only to the Royal Navy, but to the whole of the shipping industry.
I should now like to say a word on youth training. The cruise by H.M.S. "Belfast" to Gibraltar last year is mentioned in the memorandum. She carried members of the Sea Cadet Corps as well as the C.C.F. That cruise was a great success. One Sea Cadet Corps unit that I know was almost paralysed because five of its key cadets immediately joined the Navy. I hope my hon. Friend will organise as much of this kind of thing as he can, and that in future he will include not only the Sea Cadet Corps and C.C.F. but the sea scouts as well.
On the subject of youth training, I should like my hon. Friend to look into the question of providing boats which are surplus to Naval requirements. At the moment they go to the sea cadets, but they do not go to recognised sea scout groups unless they pay for them, and they have to pay quite a lot, bearing in mind that the boats that they get are obsolete and have to be repaired. The Admiralty could do more in this way to provide the boats for training youngsters so that they become enthusiastic seamen and wish to join the Navy.
There have been rumours floating around that H.M.S. "Discovery" is to be disposed of. I hope that there is no basis of truth in these rumours. I hope also that my hon. Friend will appreciate the value of this ship not only to the Royal Navy but to the youth of London who use it as a training centre during weekends. My hon. Friend has spoken about the need for greater manpower for the Polaris programme and for Naval purposes in general. I hope that he will recognise that from the youth organisations, the cadets and the scouts he will get some of the best material he can hope to find, and I hope that he will use all the facilities available to him and to the Admiralty to help these youth movements in every way.
The Navy Estimates presented to us today show a return to a maritime strategy which should always have been the basis of our policy. I believe that we have the right men. We are now getting the right ships, and we certainly have the right ideas. Real progress has been made this year. We have had the announcement of the fifth Polaris submarine and the announcement that we have to have a new replacement carrier. There is the rapid coming forward of the amphibious warfare ships and the guided weapon destroyers. We have the success of the Buccaneer, and we have now been told that the Navy is to have the Phantom and will not be fobbed oil with some hybrid aircraft which might arrive too late.
The Government are to be congratulated on the Navy Estimates, but I still believe that we need more ships of certain categories, and we certainly need surface nuclear propulsion as soon as possible.
I hope that the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) will forgive me if I do not comment on his very interesting speech, particularly at this late hour when several other hon. Members wish to address the Committee.
Last January, I had the very great pleasure of being shown round the naval establishments at Portland in my constituency. I begin by saying how grateful I was to the flag officer (sea training), his officers, petty officers and ratings for the very generous way in which I was treated and for the extremely interesting day I spent there. I saw all the establishments in the Portland area. I visited the anti-submarine mortar calibration base at Bincleaves. I took a trip across Portland Harbour in a tug and visited the Admiralty underwater weapons establishment on Portland. I went on to H.M.S. "Osprey". I visited the naval base and also the Royal Navy air station at Portland.
As a result of that visit, I was enormously impressed by what I saw and also by the impressions I gained of the morale of everyone connected with the naval establishments in Portland. I am very glad to have this opportunity to make public—I have already expressed it to the flag officer himself, of course —my gratitude for the visit I was able to make. I was very glad on that occasion to meet the Whitley Council and also the shop stewards' committee and have the opportunity to discuss problems with them. I shall in a few moments draw attention to one of the matters which came up in discussion.
I admit that it was too short a visit for me to gain a full impression of all that is going on there. At the end of a day in which I saw a good deal, I found that it was impossible to have a detailed idea of everything that was done, and this makes me hope that there will be another chance for me to visit these establishments and spend longer at each in order to gain a more detailed and informed impression of what is happening. I hope also to have the opportunity to visit Holton Heath where more Admiralty work is done.
I spoke a few moments ago about the Whitley Council for the civilian employees, and I wish to raise a matter of some seriousness in this connection. I hope that the Civil Lord will be able to give me an assurance about it tonight. Since I have been connected with the constituency of Dorset, South, I have noticed that a very large number of the people employed in Government establishments, a very large proportion of whom are employed by the Admiralty, of course, are reluctant to engage in active politics. This can be a serious matter. I say, in passing, that the chairman of my own Labour Party is an experimental officer employed by the Admiralty, but there is, nevertheless, a very natural reluctance on the part of people of that kind of rank to engage in active politics or, perhaps, to make some contribution to local government.
I hope that the Civil Lord will be able to give those people a firm assurance that there is nothing to prevent them from doing this that is likely adversely to affect their career in their employment in a civil capacity by the Admiralty. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to give such an assurance, because it would be extremely serious if people employed in that capacity, whose work had no relation to the kind of contribution which they could make to local government, were prevented from making, or were made disinclined to give, the real contribution which several of them already make in local politics.
The second point which I wish to raise with the Civil Lord, who will be aware of this because of his recent visit to Portland, is the conditions under which Service men have to live in H.M.S. "Osprey". I impress upon the hon. Gentleman the importance of this matter. One comment which I heard recently about these conditions, although I have not been able to find out whether this is true, is that the state of accommodation compared unfavourably with accommodation at the Verne prison up the hill in Portland. If that is the case, and I have no reason to doubt it, having seen H.M.S. "Osprey" myself, I regard it as a serious matter in view of the Civil Lord's obvious interest in recruitment.
It is most important, to say the least, to ensure that ratings, petty officers, chief petty officers and officers are provided with quarters of really high standard. When I went round, I was impressed by the standard of tidiness, cleanliness and the general air of comfort that was given to quarters, although none of these qualities were due to the generosity of the Admiralty but were due rather to the hard work and ingenuity of the officers, petty officers and ratings and the people living in H.M.S. "Osprey". There is, I understand, a chance that H.M.S. "Osprey" will see some rebuilding in the near future. I very much hope that there will be no delay and that the matter will be dealt with as soon as possible.
On the subject of recruiting, I was very glad to hear the whole question of re-engagement gone into in the speech of the Civil Lord, because here we come up against the problem of married quarters. I was interested to hear the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) draw attention to this problem also, and I should like to bring to the attention of the Committee a case which I have raised with the Civil Lord. I prefer not to mention the name of the individual concerned, but it seems to me to be the kind of case which needs to be treated a good deal better than was, unfortunately, the case.
A few weeks ago, the wife of a rating serving at H.M.S. "Jufair", at Bahrain, came to see me about when she could expect to join her husband at his unit. Subsequently, I received a letter, which had originally been written to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition by the husband of this lady. I should like to read an extract from the letter, because it draws attention to the sort of problem which might well lead a young man to leave the Services. Only in the last year I have had two cases, one concerning my constituency and one concerning someone in the Army, as well as someone also in the Royal Air Force, who ultimately left the Services because married quarters could not be provided to enable the families to live together.
Here is another case. Here is a rating who has served 12 years of a 22-year engagement, mostly at sea. He received a notice of posting to Bahrain in August, 1963. It was to be an accompanied posting lasting two years. He
and his wife were naturally overjoyed at this opportunity of living together, and looked forward to it with great anticipation. In September he was informed by the married quarters of H.M.S. "Jufair" of the eight months waiting period he would have to undergo after his arrival there and then his letter goes on:
Upon my arrival in Bahrain I was told that I could expect my family at present living in a married quarters in Weymouth to arrive in April as there was a decrease in the number of families left in Bahrain. I informed my wife of this, and she was extremely pleased and went ahead with preparations for moving, and this included a good deal of heavy work, packing of freights, and so on. A priority families past age list was drawn up stating the names of naval personnel who could expect their families within three months, and it included myself.
Because of the delay the wife came to see me, as her husband says in this letter, because she considered that she and her husband were being unnecessarily kept apart. His letter goes on:
I have been informed by my commanding officer that a signal has arrived from the Admiralty stating that an increase in the allocation his not been sanctioned. Consequently I cannot now expect my family until July at the very earliest.
This does seem to me to be a very serious case. From the Civil Lord's letter which I received in reply to the inquiry which I originally made, I understood that one of the reasons why he was unable to sanction the passage of this family to Bahrain was the shortage of medical and educational facilities. So it appears that it is not merely the availability of quarters but also the availability of these facilities which is limiting the possession of young men in the Services having their wives and families with them. I hope that the Government will press ahead with this one particularly, not only because it has an adverse effect upon the morale of this Service as well as the other two, but also because it has a very serious effect, it seems to me, on recruiting to the Services, if these facilities, educational and medical, and also the provision of quarters, are not sufficiently up to standard.
Unfortunately, now there is very little time left to raise many of the points which I have beer endeavouring to try to raise for the last five hours. There was one raised earlier, about specialised defence committees. I am inhibited in discussing this, because I am on the active list, and therefore, I have got to be rather careful in what I say, but I can see the problem that that would be an inhibition against people saying very much even in the House of Commons if we were to have a Select Committee on defence.
I should like to touch on our helicopter operations in Borneo. I had a letter from a friend of mine recently who said that the two squadrons had made a wonderful name for themselves during their commission out there. The squadrons are both based on Culdrose, in my own constituency. The letter says that it is very difficult for people at home to know the sort of conditions those men were operating in. I have some photographs here which illustrate the sort of conditions—helicopters landing on river beds, closely surrounded by trees; difficult conditions of climate, and so on.
It was a matter of great pleasure and provided a lift to their morale when the Minister of Defence went there recently and found an outpost manned by men from the Royal Navy with their helicopters in first-class order. One wishes that more publicity could be given in this country about what they are doing. I was pleased to see that recently the Daily Mail mentioned a Royal Marine—it caught my eye because he happened to come from a town in my constituency—who was being maintained by helicopter in the jungle. We ought to congratulate these men and give them much more publicity, and I hope that the chief naval information officer will see to that.
I should also like to be quite sure that these men will receive the best possible support with helicopters and training. When training areas are wanted in this country, people ought to think of the men in the jungle before they object. These men are being supported by a wonderful service.
I turn now to the new carrier. In the early 'fifties I was present at the trials of a B.P. tanker in the Clyde. Even in those days the chief engineer told me that with the engine room provided it would be possible to turn over from conventional propulsion to nuclear propulsion. The ship had been designed in the hope that during her economic life it would be possible to refit her with nuclear engines.
It may not be possible with the new carrier—indeed, I am sure it is not—to install those engines straight away, but I hope that her design will be such that nuclear engines may be fitted at a later date. There are obvious reasons for this. A nuclear engine requires a smaller space, and this means that one can put more aircraft, equipment and so on into the ship. There is also the advantage of high-speed steaming and the fact that one has not to refuel every so often. The vessel has a much greater range. There are many other reasons why we should consider this. It may not be possible to install nuclear engines at the start, but one hopes that it will be possible at a later date.
On a rather more mundane point about design, the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) made a very good speech on this subject. He talked about what had happened in the two world wars. One hopes in connection with modern ships, especially when we are building our first new carrier since the war, that men who will go to sea in them or have some experience will have a hand in and the power to decide design. For instance, it is intolerable that officers in the wardroom of a modern carrier should be fed from a galley three decks up and with only one servery for approximately 250 officers. That is bad design. We must be able to do something better than that in the new carrier.
My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) spoke of the arrangements in the forward dining hall. I have had experience of this on many occasions when at sea recently. The food there is excellent. So it ought to be. Those operating in carriers work very hard indeed. The food which I thought was bad was that in the wardroom. Something ought to be done about it, and this comes back to design. But unless something pretty drastic is done, I am sure we shall not get much improvement there.
The cost of the Polaris programme has been touched upon often in the debate. I hope that my hon. Friend will give an assurance that our Polaris submarines will be looked upon as a national and not as a naval force. They will be the ultimate deterrent and not merely naval vessels. I hope that the S.S.K. programme will not be stopped because it is vitally important. So many people are talking about the rôle of the S.S.K.s. The hon. Member for Huddersfield, East mentioned how they might take over various rôles from surface ships. I hope we shall have an assurance about them.
I hope I shall not be out of order in what I am about to say, although the hour-long speech of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) dealt with the Navy Estimates for only about 10 minutes. We all acknowledge that there are difficulties in the Eastern Mediterranean and I hope that, even at this late stage, we can do something about Malta. The Malta area has unrivalled training facilities, although I do not propose to tell the Committee what they are. The Civil Lord knows what they are, however, and so do serving officers.
In view of our new kinds of equipment and weapons—and I shall not specify further—the trainingôis of great importance. I hope that, before it is too late, the question of Malta can be reconsidered. There is no comparison between the training one is able to do in that area and the training one can do in a certain area in United Kingdom waters.
Last week, during an exercise, an anti-submarine helicopter from Culdrose crashed into the sea but, thanks to extremely well-worked out drill and to the help of the ship stationed in the vicinity for the purpose, the crew was saved. But we must have flotation helicopters in the near future. I have done specialised courses on the subject and those of us who have seen theôof these helicopters know that the flotation capability of a modern helicopter, if it is to be all-weather, is of paramount importance. There must be something we can do to produce it. I hope we shall hear about that tonight.
All the training on rotary wing aircraft for the Navy is done at Culdrose and it is becoming more and more important. I have spoken of the wonderful work done by these helicopter pilots and crews and all those maintaining them. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence has now returned to the Chamber, and I will briefly explain that I have mentioned how impressed he was with what he saw of the operations in Borneo and how his visit encouraged our men out there.
I want now to say something very strongly about conditions at Culdrose. The mess of the chief petty officers and petty officers there and other buildings on the station are first class, and so they should be. But the officers' accommodation is in temporary war-time huts. It is about time, for instance, that the commander had something better to live in that he has at the moment. He is supposed to be getting a new house nearby, but there is some hold up. I hope that my hon. Friend will also tackle the wardroom and the officers' accommodation generally. It is high time this was done. The situation is a disgrace. I know that pay has been increased but I believe the officers have to pay increased rents for this dreadful accommodation.
I am sure that R.N.R. divisions would be only too pleased to help with fishery protection and that C.M.S.s, with their much greater speed, could do a splendid job with their good sea-keeping qualities. Helicopters might be used in the reporting of vessels within disputed fishery limits.
We have heard much about Common. wealth dispersal and there have been some cheap cracks about the Australians. No one who has had a chance, as I recently had, of seeing reports on a Far East exercise would make these cracks. It is most regrettable that anyone should make cheap gibes in a place like this, thinking it great fun and getting plenty of laughs, but forgetting that his words go out all over the world and have a very unfortunate and unpleasant effect on our splendid Commonwealth friends who are doing an extremely good job.
I hope that more and more people will try to meet the modern petty officer and rating and see how proud of their Service they are. Listening to speeches here one would think that everything was frightful. During my reserve training last year, in a modern Type 12 frigate, I went to Poland and saw what excellent ambassadors our sailors made in countries like that, how wonderfully they behaved and what their standards were. When we arrived at Gdynia, I saw only a few people standing about without much interest, but when we left there was a vast crowd, and I have since heard from the naval attaché, who came to see me after leaving the posting, that the visit would be talked about for months.
The standard in the Navy is the highest possible. It has the best equipment and best men in the world. To judge from some speeches today one would think it was a tattered crew with out-of-date equipment. It is a pity that the people who say these things do not inform themselves a little more so that we should not find it so disgusting and disgraceful to have to listen to them. At times it is almost more than one can do to listen to an hour's diatribe of utter rubbish about the greatest Service of which this country has cause to be so proud.
I have been here since half-past three and I have not heard one attack on the Royal Navy. All the attacks I have heard have been against the Government. We and the people are getting sick and tired of the Tory Party regarding any attack on the Government as an attack on the British people. What sort of democracy is it when a Government who are criticised challenge critics with attacking the people? No one is more loyal to the British people than hon. Members. The people of this country have a great admiration for the Royal Navy. Any individual who set out to criticise the British Navy would undoubtedly talk himself out of public life. We all have a great respect and admiration for the Royal Navy.
But there is one aspect of the Estimates that concerns me deeply, and which should concern every Britisher, whatever his political allegiance. These are the highest Estimates in our history, and for the first time this nation—the first nation to run a navy of iron ships, and the first nation to become industrialised—is depending, for the mainspring of its naval forces, upon the products of another country. We have to purchase the Phantom aircraft from the United States and also have to buy the guiding instruments for the Polaris submarines from that country. We have never done this before. One hon. Member opposite said that we have learnt a lot from other nations. That is true. We have learned from the Germans, the French and the Italians. But we manufactured the goods in our own country, perhaps under licence. Now we have to be dependent upon a maritime Power and an industrial base outside our shores. That is frightening.
Here we are, a maritime nation, denuding our industrial base. Here we are, an industrial nation, with our technical colleges, universities and scientific and technological background, in the process of passing Estimates amounting to £2,000 million, when we cannot generate sufficient scientific and technical knowledge to build weapons guiding instruments suitable for our warships in the twentieth century. We have to go to the United States.
It would be far better to put up with this gap in our defensive system and get to work to create our own facilities. I am shocked when I hear hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite urge the absolute necessity for a sovereign State to have under its own control an independent nuclear deterrent—something which is not to be used but is to be kept as a deterrent. Does this mean that every sovereign nation can have a Polaris independent deterrent? In fact, we know that it is not independent. In the Defence White Paper it is said that the Americans have agreed to supply the guiding mechanism and the missile itself, on a continuing basis. As I understand the term in connection with civil contracting in the engineering industry, "on a continuing basis" simply means that a product is continually supplied as it is being used.
The party opposite and the Government are deceiving the people when they talk about creating, by the expenditure of massive sums of money, an independent nuclear deterrent from this country's own resources. They are doing no such thing. They are misleading the public, and money is being poured down the drain to create defences that do not exist. We have not got them, and it is doubtful whether we ever shall have them —and in any case, if we do get them, by the time they are put into operation they will be out of date. We shall still be behind, because we have not equipped ourselves with sufficient technological bases during the last 12 years.
We have had our one-day debate on the Navy, as we usually do each year.
The point I want to put is the, quite simple one that for 12 years we have been attempting to do more than our resources could manage, and in the process we have been gravely weakening ourselves. We have, in a sense, tried to do two things at the same time.
First, we have sought to be a nuclear power, matching missile with missile and antimissile with anti-missile"
That was said in the House on 23rd January, 1958, by the right hon. Gentleman who will shortly become the Secretary of State for Defence.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:
Those are not unworthy aims, but let no politician, of any party, be under any illusions as to what all this has meant. It has meant that over twelve years we have slithered from one crisis to another. Sometimes it has been a balance of payments crisis and sometimes it has been an exchange crisis, but always it has been a crisis.
That is what the new Minister of Defence said only six years ago, in his resignation speech.
I can only suggest that we are in a similar position today. We are having this debate only a few days after the Bank Rate has been raised by 1 per cent. after the worst monthly trade figures since the end of the war, and after one of the biggest single drains, in one day, on the £.
Despite these crises, which the right hon. Gentleman in 1958 said were the inevitable results of our policy, he is now presenting to us, as is the Admiralty, Estimates of £2,000 million, part of which is to maintain, or try to provide, what is called an independent nuclear deterrent for this country.
The right hon. Gentleman, in that same debate, said:
It is not a mean thing to wish to be independent in nuclear power of both East and West, although it may be that in the West in future no-one really will be independent in nuclear power."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd January, 1958; Vol. 580, c. 1295–6.]
The right hon. Gentleman was right then. He is talking absolute nonsense now to try and make out that we can be what is really meant by being an independent nuclear Power. This would mean, if it is to mean anything at all, that we could create by our own efforts an adequate second-strike nuclear capacity. I do not think that anyone in this Chamber would be foolish enough to say that we can do that.
We are being provided under the Nassau Agreement with five Polaris-equipped submarines. We are told that this will enable us to be an independent nuclear Power. But the Minister himself told us last Wednesday that the Americans possess thousands of nuclear weapons of one kind or another. As he well knows, they have had a careful survey made of their defence expenditure over the last few years. They have rationalised and tried to work out exactly what benefit they get for every dollar spent on defence. They have come to the conclusion that to have an adequate independent deterrent they must have thousands of nuclear weapons, and 41 Polaris-equipped submarines to provide an effective part of that deterrent.
We were told last week and again today that it is worth while spending about £500 million in the end. The Civil Lord appears to be shaking his head at that figure. Judging by the estimate he gave us today of the cost of re-equipping one aircraft carrier at Devonport it certainly will be something like £500 for this nuclear deterrent. We shall have to provide facilities we have never provided before. We have had to re-equip aircraft carriers before and, therefore, presumably we have some idea of what that work will cost, but we have had no experience of the Polaris submarine. It is a completely new venture. It would not surprise me in the least if this deterrent cost us £500 million by the time we are finished. And we tire to spend this money to provide only a fraction of what is needed to meet the requirements of an independent nuclear Power.
The present Minister of Defence was right in 1558 in saying that if we spent the kind of money involved in an independent nuclear deterrent we would he forcing ourselves into economic crisis and would get the worst of both worlds, because we would not provide an adequate nuclear deterrent or adequate conventional forces or, as he added, adequate social services all at the same time. I do not know what dramatic improvements have occurred since 1958 to make the right hon. Gentleman change his mind, but obviously he has changed it.
The Government point out that we on this side of the Committee have said quite clearly that we would wish to renegotiate the Nassau Agreement and that we are the party which would leave the country defenceless. It is as well to look back on the situation when the Labour Party was in power. We are the party which is being accused at the moment. There is an attempt to create the impression that the country would be defenceless if we came to power. This obviously is to be one of the electoral strategies of the party opposite in the next few weeks.
Let us make the position clear. In 1951, we had a far stronger Navy and one better equipped to deal with the circumstances of 1951 than we have today to deal with the circumstances of today. Hon. Members opposite appear to be shaking their heads. We are short of aircraft carriers at the moment. We are talking in terms of building one more, and possibly a few after that. We have four in use at the moment. In 1951, we had nine aircraft carriers and there were nine under construction. Hon. Members opposite are making a great fuss in order to get one new aircraft carrier now. No doubt it is only part of the strategy to get a few more later on. We have been told that the country was in difficulty and we could not afford a new aircraft carrier. It has been postponed year after year. We are getting nearer having one, but presumably its arrival is still quite a long way off.
In 1951, there were nine aircraft carriers under construction. These are the carriers on which hon. Members opposite rely to provide air support for the Fleet. They were all under construction when a Labour Government were in office, and there has been none constructed since. "Eagle" and "Ark Royal" were under construction then—the two largest aircraft carriers we have; and the four "Hermes" class were under construction. They were being provided by a Labour Government with a majority of six in the House—in spite of the pacifist element which we had in the party and which I am glad to see in the party. We provided those ships in 1951, and yet hon. Members opposite are trying to make out that we would strip the country of its defences.
I believe that the Navy has been stripped to a large extent during the 12 years that the Conservatives have been responsible for looking after it. It has declined from nine to four aircraft carriers and from 15 cruisers down to two. I point out that the cruisers of 1951 were to deal with the circumstances of 1951; they may not be relevant to today's circumstances, but nothing has replaced them. They have gone. We have been stripped from 95 escort vessels—destroyers and frigates afloat and manned—down to 56 at present. We have roughly the same number of submarines—37 today and 32 in 1951. But in 1951 there were eight destoyers under construction, in addition to nine aircraft carriers, three cruisers, four frigates and 41 mine sweepers. They were all under construction.
The vast majority of the ships to which the hon. Member refers to show how modern is the Fleet, because of the number of ships which have come into service during the last ten years, were under construction in 1951—put under construction and being paid for by the party which hon. Members opposite are trying to make out cannot be trusted with the defence of the country. They are doing this for purely political reasons. It was costing only £278 million in 1951 for the Navy, and today we are being asked for £496 million.
I am glad to join in the congratulations on the tercentenary of the Royal Marines. There were 2,500 more of them in 1951; there were 12,000 compared with 9,500 today. We are being asked to vote on Vote A provision for 89,700 officers and men in the Royal Navy. In 1951 there were 126,000 officers and men in the Royal Navy. I argue—and it cannot be contradicted—that in 1951 to look after our world-wide conventional responsibilities the Navy was in better shape in the light of 1951 circumstances than it is today in the light of present circumstances.
Presumably this is the last set of Estimates which will be presented to us by a Civil Lord. I was flabbergasted, earlier, to hear the hon. Member speaking about the function of the Navy. He said that, first, its duty was to safeguard our 1,200 merchant ships at sea every day, and he referred to over 1,000 merchant ships usually in port. He said that it must be prepared to operate wherever required in the world and that we must be seen to have a conventional ability to bring pressure to bear anywhere where that was required.
We must ask how we do this. We must see which ships we have and where they are. We have two frigates in the West Indies. I do not know how many merchant ships there are in the West Indies—probably several hundred. I do not know what the two frigates could have done if anything had happened from the conventional point of view in the Cuba affair about 12 months ago. Would they have been in a position to protect our hundreds of merchant ships in the area? I doubt it.
Look at the Mediterranean. We have there four frigates, two submarines and six minesweepers. That is the Mediterranean Fleet, once said to be the proud emblem of British supremacy in the Mediterranean and one of the largest fleets in the world. Under the Conservative Party it has been reduced to four frigates, two submarines and six minesweepers. I gather that the Civil Lord asks whom we are to fight there. He said that we have worldwide commitments and that we must be seen to have conventional forces with the ability to bring pressure to bear. If he asks, "Who are we to fight there?", I must ask him, "Why the bases in Cyprus?" Why had it to be "Cyprus as a base" and not "Bases in Cyprus" a few years ago? If we do not know whom we are to fight there, why have a base in Cyprus in any event? We have responsibilities in Cyprus at present.
This matter is now before the United Nations. What would happen if the United Nations suggested that we should take action to prevent gun running into Cyprus? Would not such a suggestion be the sort of obligation which we would like to try to implement? I do not think that the insurance rates on freights going into Cyprus would be in- creased very much if it became known that our ships there intended to keep gun runnels out.
In the South Atlantic we have two frigates and an ice patrol ship. I do not know how they would look after our worldwide obligations. We were given by the Civil Lord a glowing picture of how the Service, our fleet, would and could maintain our obligations throughout the world. We must maintain 1,200 merchant ships, he told us, throughout the seven seas. I have given some statistics of the vessels at our disposal. I could go on and give the figures of ships in other waters, but I will not because the numbers are much the same.
I was rather surprised to hear, when we were discussing aircraft carriers, that the Buccaneer squadron afloat is engaged somewhere in the Suez area on exercises. That squadron would not appear to be of any great value at the moment if it was suddenly required in a naval capacity to perform, say, a nuclear task. It appears that it is somewhere east of Suez. It would be no good stationed there, although I suppose it might get near the Iron Curtain—but it would never get back again.
We are used to window dressing in Navy Estimates. Two years ago we had a magnificent picture presented to us in the Explanatory Memorandum about the amphibious task forces which were to be created. Each force was to consist of 27 ships. I suggest that we have not got even one of these task forces properly created, yet their numbers were in the plural two years ago.
We had a switch to another piece of window dressing in an effort to try to make out that the Government proposed to set up escort squadrons in all parts of the seven seas. Five such squadrons were initially to be provided, we were told. That was to be the number initially, although we were not told how many there would be in the end. Each squadron would have two Type 12 frigates. That means 10 ships. There would be two or three destroyers per escort squadron. Each squadron would have an aircraft direction picket; in other words, five of those. So far, I can find only three of these vessels, but because of the inadequate way in which the Navy Estimates and Explanatory Memorandum are drawn up I could be wrong. I would like to know what is happening with these escort squadrons and if any of them are in operation; or is this just another part of the annual window dressing act on behalf of the Navy Estimates?
We have a new form of Navy Estimates this year and we are asked, under Vote A, to approve expenditure of £496 million, an increase of £56 million on last year. There is one item which has been decreased; a reduction of £500 in the salary of the Minister who will be responsible for looking after Navy affairs. I can only regard this as a little adjustment that has been made on behalf of the Minister of Defence. When dealing with this matter in Committee upstairs, the right hon. Gentleman first of all opposed the idea of the Minister named for looking after these affairs having full Ministerial status. He insisted that he should be of Minister of State level. However, as a result of pressure from my hon. Friends and some hon. Members opposite he eventually agreed that the three Ministers should be of Cabinet rank, although he said, in effect, "They must have a smaller salary than mine."
I am surprised that he should have found it necessary, despite his higher position and power, to have needed to reduce the salary of these Ministers merely to ensure that they will be subordinate to him. It seems a petty action, particularly since no one claims that the salaries paid to Ministers are excessive. Only a few weeks ago the Prime Minister pointed out that many Ministers were paid at rates set in about 1832. Now it is being insisted that these three Ministers should receive even less money.
One question to which we have had no answer as yet is: what is going to happen to Admiralty House under the new set-up? Will the Minister of Defence (Navy), or (Admiralty), whatever he is to be called, live there, or will the Secretary of State for Defence have Admiralty House? If not—and I look at the salary differentials rather closely—one of his junior Ministers will be considerably better off than he, if the junior Minister concerned is to have Admiralty House slung in with his salary. The Navy kept a close watch on it when the Prime Minister was there. A naval officer went there every week to check the furniture to make sure that the Prime Minister did not "pinch" any of it. The Navy does not trust politicians in Admiralty House.
I am disappointed that in defence debates we have not had rather more information about how the new Ministerial set-up is to work. There is nothing in the Bill itself. It is only to be an enabling Measure. We were told by the Minister of Defence and by the Civil Lord that one of the objects was not only to get the three new Ministers operating as the persons responsible for taking the Chair at the various Defence Board meetings, but that powers would be granted to each of them right across the board. This new set-up comes into operation in about four weeks' time, I believe. Yet we have been told nothing about the first powers which will be carried out by individual Ministers across the board. Unless this is done quickly, there will be little difference between the new and the existing set-ups.
Surely the advantage to be gained from such an arrangement will be that it will enable things to be done right across the board. I should have thought that there should have been some thought devoted to that matter and that the House should be told what services will be carried out by what Ministers right across the board.
Is the Minister of Defence (Navy), or (Admiralty), to be responsible for Service education right across the board? I must mention Service education at Greenwich, because I am sure that the Civil Lord would be disappointed if I did not do so. Several hon. Members on both sides of the Committee were entertained right royally there only a few weeks ago. I understand that our principal host on that occasion hopes to join us in this place shortly. I only hope that he will appear before the appropriate committee and convince the members of that committee that he is a bona fide candidate before being pushed out of the Service and coming here via Winchester, as he hopes.
I am very pleased to hear that. I did not know whether it would apply to him because he resigned before he was selected for the post.
But is Service education to be dealt with right across the board? I hope that it is, and I hope that it is not the present Civil Lord who will deal with it, because he would not deal with it in the right way. Are medical services to be dealt with across the board; and what about chaplains, catering and communications? Are they to be dealt with across the board? I should have thought that they would come first, and I hope that we shall have some indication of how they will be dealt with under the new setup. I am disappointed that we have not been given that information so far.
I now turn to the Phantom II, which has caused so much discussion in the last few days. We are told that the Phantom II is to be purchased and that we shall use the Spey engine in it. So far as I am aware, the aircraft with the American engine in it is capable of flying at 900 m.p.h. at ground level, and at 2·6 Mach at greater heights, with a terrific rate of climb and carrying 22 500 lb. bombs under its wings and fuselage. It would seem to be a good aircraft. But we have to be satisfied that it will have the same sort of performance with the Spey engine. There must have been a lot of work done on this project. Surely the decision has not been taken without some technical work having been carried out. Is it expected that the aircraft with the Rolls-Royce Spey engine in it will have something like the same performance as the American aircraft? If it is expected to have roughly the same sort of performance, I think there are one or two other questions which have got to be answered.
Mr. McNamara, speaking to the House Armed Services Committee only a few days ago, pointed out that the F-8Es, a rather slower aircraft,
will be retained for use aboard the 'Essex' class carriers which have only a marginal capability for the safe operation of the larger and faster F-4Bs".
The "Essex" class carrier, as far as I can understand, is a 31,000-ton type of carrier, yet it is not possible,
apparently, safely to operate the Phantom II from this carrier.
On the other hand, it appears from what the Civil Lord said—I interrupted him on this point—that we are to equip all our carriers in the 1970s with the Phantom II Is the hon. Gentleman saying that, although the 31,000-ton "Essex" class American carrier cannot take this plane with safety, the "Hermes" at 23,000 tons, the "Victorious" at 30,000 tons, the "Centaur" at 22,000 tons, and the "Albion" at 23,000 tons can? It seems to me that only the "Ark Royal", the "Eagle" and the new carrier will be able to operate these aircraft.
Or are we to understand that, once a commitment has been made for this aircraft, we are at the same time committed to the building of not one new aircraft carrier but several of 50,000 tons and upwards displacement? On the other hand, if the answer to my question about the speed of the aircraft is that it will not be as good with the Spey engine as with the present American engines, we shall be going into the 1970s with a slower and inferior aircraft to the one which the United States Navy has today. In view of the importance of this issue, we should have more information on the expected capabilities of the aircraft with the British engine installed in it.
Also, we should be told more fully about the numbers to be ordered. I cannot accept that it is necessary, for security reasons, not to give this information to the House. We know that the initial order for the United States Navy in the 1960 budget was 192 Phantom IIs. We know also that the United States Army ordered 310 in the 1962–63 budget. These figures are given quite openly by the Americans. They are in Mr. McNamara's statements to Congress and can be seen by anyone who wishes to do so.
One can find out exactly how many have been ordered in the past and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said, one can have a good idea of how many are to be ordered in the future. I see no reason why we should not be given the figures, unless it is that the United States, because it has so many and is in such a strong position, can allow its strength to be published whereas we, because we are in such a weak position, have to try to keep our strength secret in the hope that other countries will think that it is better than it really is. That is the only conclusion one can draw, if we are not told the figure. Are there to be 50 of these aircraft, as some newspapers have said, or are there to be 112, as information reaching me a few days ago suggests? We should be given information on this point tonight.
There is a further point as regards the large carriers of 50,000 tons and upwards. We are still proceeding on the assumption that the Buccaneer as a strike aircraft will be on these carriers for many years to come. We shall build carriers capable of taking the Buccaneer but which, in my view, are larger than is necessary for ordinary support work east of Suez. Only a month or so ago, Mr. McNamara told the House that, by the early 1970s, the Americans would be reducing their strike carriers because, presumably, after a cost assessment survey, they had come to the conclusion that this was not a particularly good way of providing a nuclear deterrent. We should have more of this type of information which is available to American senators and congressmen about their own greater defence expenditure.
Now, the dockyards. I was not very reassured by the statement of the Civil Lord today. He told us that, a few months ago, at a meeting of the Joint Industrial Council, he asked for 500 reductions at each of two of our southern dockyards and 300 at another. He admitted later that that statement had been proved wrong and that some of the reductions at Devonport would have to be undertaken earlier than had been expected, but he said that the numbers would still be the same. I can only place about as much reliance on that statement of the Civil Lord as I could place on the first which has been proved to be unreliable. I do not see why he should expect us to believe that there is any more certainty in what he says now than there was in his first statement.
In the dockyards now everything possible is being done to keep them going until after the General Election. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are several marginal seats in the southern dockyard areas. The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devon-port (Miss Vickers) spoke about playing politics in the dockyards, and this, in my view, is the very thing that the Government are doing at present.
We have been told today of some new work which is to go to the dockyards for the conversion of cruisers with helicopter platforms. That is not in the Explanatory Memorandum or the White Paper. It was suddenly announced here today. Presumably, the decision was taken only in the last few days, otherwise we could have had it in the Explanatory Memorandum or the White Paper. There must be something more that we can be told about this.
Not only helicopter platforms, but, surely, more accommodation for troops, if they are to be carried, will be required, including air conditioning. Will there be workshops or hangar accommodation also on these cruisers? What will be the cost? After the rather startling information given by the Civil Lord about the cost of one project at Devonport, the hon. Gentleman should give us some information about the cost of this new project for the "Blake". If he cannot do so, I must assume that the statement is being made now as much for electoral as for defence purposes to reassure doubtful voters in the areas of the Southern dockyards.
We have £2,000 million Defence Estimates, a very large amount of it for the Navy, in this period of about a fortnight when we deal with most of the defence matters in the House of Commons. We are being committed by the Government to £400–£500 million on a Polaris submarine programme. We are being committed to an unknown sum for the purchase of Phantom aircraft, a further sum, probably exceeding £500 million, on TSR2 aircraft and further large amounts, the total of which is unknown. on transport aircraft, of which after 12 years of Tory Government we are woefully short. Orders have been placed for tanks, armoured personnel carriers and wireless equipment and one aircraft carrier, if not more, is to come.
Hon. Members opposite, particularly those on the Government Front Bench, seeing the straws in the wind and guessing what might happen at the General Election, are fixing as much as they can future orders for the Services which will involve large sums of money. I am not in a position to say whether they are necessary. I can only say that I should prefer to see more of that money spent on conventional equipment, of which all our forces are woefully short, than on the programme which has arisen as a result of the Nassau Agreement.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley that any Government elected after the General Election, which must take place in the next few weeks, will need all their period of five years to try to unravel the muddle that defence, and particularly naval, policy has got into during the last 12 years.
Looking back upon the various Navy Estimates debates which have taken place since I came to the House of Commons in 1950, this debate has been one of the liveliest that I recall. It may be that coming events cast their shadow before, as the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) indicated, but, certainly, the debate has ranged much more widely over far more general issues than has been customary in the past.
A great many hon. Members have made suggestions or have put points to me which, obviously, time does not allow me to answer in full tonight, but I will certainly study everything that has been said with those who advise me and I have no doubt that from the suggestions which have been made during the debate I can pick up a great many valuable ideas, which we will certainly be willing to examine carefully.
At the start of the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, North, I was in some degree of confusion. The hon. Member began by an attack upon the whole concept and idea of the Polaris programme as a deterrent. Unfortunately, however, the hon. Member had forgotten that when he was making that attack, he was wearing a tiepin which is cast in the model of a Polaris submarine.
And, moreover, an American one. It struck me as a very odd and Freudian thing to have done.
When, however, the hon. Member went on to point out that the United States, with its admittedly large nuclear capacity, is engaged in building and putting to sea fleet of 41 Polaris submarines and contrasted that with the five that we propose to have in our programme, I failed to see what the point was. Surely, the simple point is that we are building a fleet which, we believe, will provide the nuclear deterrence capability that we should have and which we can afford.
This is tie whole point. We are building a fleet which will give us what we need. We are not endeavouring to compete with he United States in the size of its fleet. What we are trying to do is to provide an adequate deterrent for this county', and which will be a significant contribution to the general overall deterrent power of the West. That has been made abundantly clear on a number of occasions.
The hon. Gentleman went to elaborate in some detail the numbers of ships which the Government of 1950–51 had built or provided, and pointed out how they had a very much larger Navy and a larger Vote A strength in those days. The one thing he did not mention, and which I think in fairness he might have done, was that those were the days of the Korean war. The hon. Gentleman need not laugh.
I think it very unlikely that we shall ever forget it, because, as I explained in the course of my speech this afternoon, our defence policy is postulated on a number of factors, one of which that we may at any time in this difficult world in which we live be engaged in another war of the Korean type. This might happen. That is why we are having to spend nearly f2,000 million this coming year on our defence. That is why we are doing it. That is why we are debating it in the Committee tonight.
The hon. Gentleman was right off target, I think, when he tried to cast some degree of ridicule upon my assertion this afternoon that one of the basic and enduring tasks of the Navy is the protection of our shipping. He pointed out that it different parts of the world at any given moment one could find a comparatively small force of Navy ships, an apparently small force. What he completely forgot was the fact that naval power, being based upon the sea, is infinitely flexible. It is possible, because one is operating at sea, to move forces very fast from place to place.
It is true that at the moment we may not have anything like the forces in the Mediterranean which we used to have in the years before the First World War, or, if hon. Members like, the Second World War. The truth is of course that the Mediterranean, as I said in an interjection, is not an area in which we expect to go to a limited war with anyone. It is an area in which possibly one of the police operations may be necessary: Cyprus has been mentioned today. But the fact is we can reinforce the Mediterranean station from home very quickly, and from the Middle East very quickly, if the need arises.
But so long as we are trying to keep our Navy within the limits of what we can afford for all our defences, and within the limits of what the nation can afford for all forms of Government expenditure, quite clearly, in certain places, the butter will have to be spread a little thin, but it does not mean to say we cannot reinforce if the need arise. Recent events in the Far East and East Africa, which I mentioned this afternoon, make it perfectly clear that when occasion arises the Navy can be there, can be there quickly, and can provide convincing strength at the point where it is needed.
I turn to some of the other points which have been raised. First, about Polaris. I was asked about the cost of the Polaris programme. I repeat what the figures are. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence, in the defence debate last week, said that the cost would be £70 million per boat. That includes, of course, the boat itself, the missiles to go in it, and a proportion, spread out over the five boats, of the total cost of spares, maintenance support ashore, and things of that kind. In the current year, as I said this afternoon, the cost which will fall on Navy Votes for which I am responsible to this Committee is £38 million.
I have just said that the £70 million includes a proportion—a fifth, if the hon. Gentleman likes, on average—of the total cost of providing all these facilities.
I was also asked whether or not it was true that the Polaris programme was being carried through, and would be carried through in future, at the expense of the conventional Navy. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) made quite a point about it. It has always been the Government's view that the Polaris submarine programme Polaris being the carrier of the nuclear deterrent, should be taken on the defence budget as a whole; that is to say, it should not fall entirely on the Navy. For that reason, the defence budget includes a Polaris element. The extra money that we receive for Polaris is made up partly from additional cash from the Treasury and partly from a contribution from each of the Services.
So marginally, of course, the Navy makes its contribution to the common pool. The amount is not very large. But I cannot stand here and say that it is not at the expense of the conventional Navy. The truth is that it is to a very, very limited extent. I am being as honest and as clear as I can about this. But in the sense in which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East put it—that in terms of both money and men the conventional Navy would suffer severely in the years ahead because of our decision to have the Polaris fleet—I must tell him frankly that he is quite wrong.
We must disagree about it.
I turn to some of the other questions about Polaris raised by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele). From the point of view of his own constituency, he asked whether our demands for land at Faslane for the base had been fully satisfied. We do not require more land than that which we have already declared, but we are negotiating at the moment with owners concerning plots of other land.
We have now finally agreed between ourselves and the local authorities what the line of the road diversion should be, and the statutory processes are in train. The basis of compensation for those who lose their property will be, as in all cases where the Government are the acquiring authority nowadays, the current market value. That will be taken as the basis for agreement between the valuer and the owner. There is provision for independent arbitration if necessary, as I think the hon. Gentleman knows.
The hon. Gentleman also asked whether I could guarantee that all those who would be affected had now been told and that no one who had not been told would be affected. He will, I hope, appreciate that that would be a pretty difficult statement for me to make at this stage. I hope that that is true. I hope that we have been in contact with everyone who will be affected, and I hope that there will not be others who will be affected, but I am afraid that I cannot give him the blanket guarantee for which he asks. As soon as we have reached finality I will let him know. That is as far as I can go.
My hon. Friend the Member for Horn-castle (Sir J. Maitland) asked about interchangeability of crew training between the hunter-killer submarines and the Polaris submarines. The training of both crews will be common except for one thing—the weapons system. The Royal Naval Polaris School at Faslane will be provided for training in the weapons system, and for that purpose, therefore, will be the exclusive domain of the Polaris crews themselves.
Several hon. Members were obviously worried at the thought that the Polaris fleet might have to be built at the expense of the conventional Navy's manpower. I have already made the point that the Polaris fleet is not a specifically naval but is an overall defence requirement, and I have explained what the position is about the Navy Votes. Similarly, I do not think I need add anything to what I have said about the size of the conventional fleet. It is what we feel we can afford and what we shall need to do the job. But as regards manpower, as I have already said today, we need to recruit more men and to raise the rate of re-engagement. I have also explained that we are already facing shortages in certain specialist fields.
But I must strongly emphasise that it is quite wrong to talk in terms of a manpower crisis facing the Navy. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East spoke of a serious shortage of manpower. That is a completely wrong way of looking at the situation. For a limited period, the present shortages make it necessary for us to consider certain economies in manpower. We have to lay up less important equipment which is not required for immediate peace time use, provided that it is safe and sensible for us to do so. But, of course, our aim is to meet our new recruiting and re-engagement targets as soon as we can.
I would like to address an appeal to both sides of the Committee, and to all who wish the Navy well, to help us in recruiting. Some very helpful suggestions have been made by hon. Members, such as the one that we might introduce a master rate and increase terminal gratuities, which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East mentioned. The idea of a master rate is not new and up to now, after full examination, we have always felt that it would not meet our real requirements. But conditions are changing a great deal in the Navy and I think that this is a proposal which we might look at again against the background of our present problems.
The question of terminal grants cannot be considered in isolation because it would affect all three Services, and the Committee will realise that substantial improvements in pay and pensions have only just been introduced as a result of the biennial review. But this, again, is a suggestion I will certainly bear in mind.
My hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle also suggested that greater opportunities might be given for technical ratings to obtain outside qualifications. There are already very extensive opportunities for this. For example, many artificer apprentices already acquire an O.N.C. qualification in engineering or naval architecture at public expense. I shall be happy to look further into this and satisfy myself that we are doing all we can.
A number of hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield) my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) my I on. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) and my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) referred to the question of the new aircraft carrier. I was asked whether we were satisfied that we were making sufficient progress with it, whether we were up to schedule and whether we could not hurry things up more.
I can assure them that the Navy was very anxious to get this new carrier and the very last thing we shall do is deliberately to drag our feet. We have made our plans for a long way ahead. The work, as I explained, is far advanced. We are getting on with it as fast as we can and I do not think they need have any anxiety. We shall get on as quickly as we can.
Another issue was whether one new carrier would be enough for the 1970s. We have taken a clear and firm decision to have three carriers for the 1970s but that does not preclude other possibilities or options which we might want to take up later. I cannot at this moment say that we are to have more than three, because we have said that, in our view, and the view of those who professionally advise us, three is an adequate figure, particularly as these ships will have the best aircraft and equipment available, to maintain our responsibilities.
That is as far as I can take it in 1964, because we are talking now about a period very far ahead. I was very interested—and I am sorry he is not here now—to hear the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) forecast what would happen if a Labour Government were returned. He gave a clear indication that the new carrier would be cancelled. I had hoped that he would be here so that I could cross-examine him a little on that statement.
The hon. and learned Member threw out the suggestion in a rather lighthearted way. Perhaps it is like so many of the promises being made by hon. Gentlemen opposite these days, but it seems rather significant that they are apparently proposing to abolish the Polaris programme and, in the next breath, the carriers as well. We will have to make sure that they do not get into a position where they can do either of those things.
I now turn to the "Tiger" class cruisers and their conversion. I must tell the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East that, whatever the Glasgow Herald says, these are not floating offices, but are excellent ships.
They are slightly undermanned, but not under-manned for the task they are doing and that is the task for which they were built. The Opposition appear to approach these problems of naval manpower on the basis that every ship should be manned continuously by their war-time complement, which is quite contrary to the normal facts of life in peace time.
The cost of the conversion will be about £5 million, of which £3 million will be for the long refit, which most of them will require anyway, so that we are getting a good bargain. We hope that this programme of conversion will go on between 1966 and 1968. We have carefully considered the subject of their manpower and the Board of Admiralty is satisfied that this is a task which we can carry without difficulty.
I do not accept as being accurate the rather fanciful version of recent events which the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) gave the Committee in a most amusing and interesting speech. The problem with the Phantom aircraft, as I explained earlier, was to see whether we could get a common aircraft. [Laughter.] Hon Members laugh, but the truth is that we genuinely wanted to get a common aircraft. Having studied our requirement and that of the R.A.F., we found that this could not be done, certainly not in this or the coming generation of aircraft. We were forced to this alternative version, as I have explained.
I was asked how many Phantoms we intended to buy and how much the aircraft would cost. I shall not give either the cost or the total numbers. I cannot divulge this information, because it would not be in the public interest and it would be contrary to precedents. I can say a little about the phasing out of the Sea Vixen which the Phantom, if we get it, will replace. We expect the Sea Vixens to be phasing out between the end of the 1960s and the early 1970s. The last carrier to operate Sea Vixens will be "Ark Royal". Phantoms will be operated from "Hermes", "Eagle" and the new carrier when it is built. I say "Hermes", because I made a slip of the tongue when I was interrupted earlier, in my first speech.
The Committee will recollect that I said that we were proposing to embark on a programme of technical evaluation, and one of the things about which we shall have to be completely satisfied is that the Phantom II will be able to operate from these three carriers. Our present information and advice is that the aircraft should be able to operate from "Hermes" after she has undergone her refit.
The hon. Member for Dudley and the hon. Member for Islington, North talked about the engine of the Phantom. The purpose of fitting the Spey engine is to get not a lower, but a better performance. That is why we want the Spey engine, not because we have some special national pride which we wish to satisfy but because we believe and are advised that with the Spey engine the Phantom II will have a better performance than it has now. This is the whole object of the operation and I ask the Committee to accept that.
According to the hon. Gentleman, it is safe to operate the aircraft with a more powerful engine from a 23,000-ton aircraft carrier, and yet Mr. McNamara has said that it cannot be operated safely with its present engine from a 31,000-ton aircraft carrier. The hon. Gentleman must have seen that speech.
I have a great respect and admiration for Mr. McNamara—as I believe every hon. Member must have—but I find it a little galling, whenever I say something at this Box, constantly to have Mr. McNamara's speech to Congress thrown in my face. I have told the Committee that the advice and information we have from those experts upon whom we are entitled to rely is that this aircraft could operate from "Hermes" and the other two carriers that I have mentioned. I must ask the Committee to accept that from me. I cannot he drawn into arguments about what Mr. McNamara has told Congress.
I now turn to the question of the "Eagle". I shall have to refer to it shortly, because time is getting on. Hon. Members expressed surprise at the cost of modernising "Eagle" and suggested that the final cost in this case would prove many times the original estimate. That suggestion is absolutely without any foundation. I shall not quote the figures. If I did so they would be extremely misleading, because the plans for the modernisation have been modified and developed since the original proposal to modernise the carrier was first approved, but I can say that the actual cost of the work originally planned, which leaves out of account the later additions, and also factors outside Admiralty control—such as wage increases, which are a very important factor—will be within 10 per cent. or so of the estimate we made four or five years ago, when the work was originally planned. When one thinks of the vast undertaking that this modernisation has been, that is not a bad performance.
Next, I turn to the question of the Seaslug Mk II. The first four county class destroyers are planned to be converted to Seaslug Mk, II at the end of this decade. The fifth and sixth ships of the county class—that is to say, "Glamorgan" and "Fife"—will be equipped with Seaslug Mk. II when they are built, and the others will be fitted retroactively. The Buccaneer Mk. II was also mentioned. We hope that this will enter squadron service before the end of next year, and as it joins the fleet the Buccaneer Mk. I will be progressively withdrawn for modification to Mk. II. Bullpup "B", which is an improved type of Bullpup, is still being evaluated in the United States, and at this stage we cannot be certain that it will be suitable for service in the Royal Navy. It may be too heavy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Horn-castle spoke about the need for flexibility in our dockyards, and said that one of the jobs of the dockyards might well be to take in work from the other Services. He expressed the hope that such questions as the technicalities of the Estimates would not be allowed to stand in the way of such a development. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that that is our intention If there is scope or opportunity for getting work done in the dockyards for the other Services we shall be only too happy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport, who made an excellent speech, as she always does in these matters, asked me about the future of the two ships "Bulwark" and "Albion". The intention is to run those two on until the middle 70s, so there is no question of their being scrapped at the moment. She also asked me about alterations to Devonport Dockyard. Here, we are planning to carry on with the £2 ¼ million a year rolling programme. There is not much that I can add at this stage to what my hon. Friend already knows.
My hon. Friend also made helpful suggestions about re-engagement. I shall take note of them. As for the future of the dockyards, I would ask her and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) to take careful account of what I said in my opening speech. I hope that that will give some reassurance to dockyard towns.
This has been an interesting debate—a little unorthodox in that it has not followed the normal pattern, but, none the less, one in which I have been delighted and honoured to participate.