It is my honour and pleasure to introduce the Navy Estimates to the House. The Estimates for the coming year total just under £621 million, which is about £24 million more than for the current year, 1966–67. However, pay increases since the 1966–67 Estimates were prepared account for about £4 million of the difference, price increases for a further £14 million, and Selective Employment Tax for £6 million.
This brings the 1967–68 Navy Estimates to the same level as the current year's Estimates. Moreover, because of the new arrangements for bringing to account receipts from sales of defence equipment, described on page 16 of the Estimates, appropriations in aid of Navy Votes are about £2 million less than they would otherwise have been. This £2 million appears as appropriations in aid of the central Vote.
Within the total there are a number of ups and downs compared with the current year. The aircraft and air weapons programmes are £6 million higher, mainly to provide for engines and weapons for the naval version of the Phantom. Expenditure on R & D is £4 million higher than in 1966–67 and on weapons £2 million higher. On the other hand, we shall be spending £8 million less on the Royal Fleet Auxiliaries, £3 million less on food, and clothing, £2 million less on naval pay and allowances, and £10 million less on new construction.
This is the money side of the Estimates—an important aspect but, after all, only one side of the Navy's expenditure. There are others equally important—the men and the hardware. I hope, in winding up the debate this evening, to go more fully into both recruitment and the re-engagement position. Enough for the present to say that in this most difficult of all markets we are holding our own. There are some areas of particular shortage, but, generally, recruitment to the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines is running at a fairly steady rate.
The re-engagement position has caused us considerable worry. It still worries us, but this year we seem to have halted the downward trend, I hope permanently, and we can now fight back to regain lost ground. The re-engagement rate for men on nine-year engagements fell from 33 per cent. in 1964 to 23 per cent. in 1965, and to as low as 21 per cent. later in that year. It rose to 25 per cent. in 1966. That is where we are now. The rate for men on 12-year engagements fell from 54 per cent. in 1964 to 45 per cent. in 1965. It has remained at that level during 1966.
During this financial year seven new warships will have joined the Royal Navy. H.M.S. "Intrepid", the second assault ship, will shortly be aded to our amphibious forces. H.M.S. "Fearless", the first of this class of assault ships, has been in service on station now for some six months. She has amply proved her worth. H.M.S.s "Fife" and "Glamorgan", County class destroyers with advanced guided missile systems, have been commissioned. "Valiant", the second of our Fleet submarines, but the first with an all-British nuclear propulsion system, was accepted into service last summer.
Three new Leander Class frigates—"Sirius", "Minerva" and "Phoebe"—have been added to the 10 already in service. During the coming year, therefore, the Fleet will consist of 138 ships of various types in the operational fleet or prepared for service with it, and 34 engaged on essential trials and training. together with the very important Fleet support ships and Royal Fleet Auxiliaries.
This force is in a state of constant readiness to meet the many demands which are made on it. It has to spend much of its time in training and in sea practice in order to be at the required state of readiness. Little time is spent in harbour during the ships' active employment. In fact, the level of activity and training now regarded as routine throughout the Navy is higher than in any peacetime force, certainly in the history of this country.
Even a cursory glance at the number and scope of the Royal Navy's engagements during the last year is sufficient to make this point. In the Far East three years of intensive and continuous day and night activity in connection with the confrontation were brought to a close by the ratification of the Bangkok Agreement. During that time a number of actions were fought by our ships at sea where, in the narrow waters of the Singapore and Malacca Straits, our frigates and minesweepers, together with those of our Commonwealth allies, were constantly vigilant.
Both in the Far East and nearer at hand the Fleet has been employed in operations which, though less prominent than those associated with confrontation, have been equally vital to the maintenance of our foreign policy and as taxing and as arduous for all those concerned.
I cannot give the answer offhand. I will certainly give it when I wind up the debate, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman is willing to stay to the end.
I was referring to the varied rôle of our ships. I referred to the Far East. Equally, I could refer to the Middle East and to the ships in the Persian Gulf which are active in patrol tasks which prevent the smuggling of arms to the States which border the Gulf. This is a powerful contribution to stability and peace in that area.
Our patrol off Beira, which was referred to at Question Time earlier, is maintained and has been in operation for almost a year since it was instituted to give effect to the Security Council Resolution of 9th April, 1966. Our frigates have been constantly patrolling the Mozambique Channel to prevent the arrival at Beira of ships suspected of carrying oil bound for Rhodesia. In this long and demanding task they have been entirely successful, as is amply demonstrated by the closure of the Umtali refinery. Since the inception of this patrol, no oil has reached Rhodesia by this most direct route, and I have no doubt that the effective interception of the tanker "Manuella" in the early days of the patrol by H.M.S. "Berwick" has had a considerable deterrent effect.
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for that question. If he had been here at Question Time, he would have heard the answer. Perhaps he will look it up in HANSARD tomorrow. It was, in fact, £100,000.
This work, in terms of the effectiveness of the Beira patrol, demonstrates once again the versatility of the Royal Navy and its willingness to support and enhance our country's foreign policy.
In other parts of the world, too, we have been busy. H.M.S. "Fearless", the first of the Navy's new assault ships, demonstrated the flexibility of our operational forces by effecting the withdrawal of about 400 men of the 1st Battalion of the Irish Fusiliers, stationed in Swaziland, together with all their stores and ammunition. To indicate the state of readiness, I can tell the House that the decision to use "Fearless" was made on 16th November. The following day she left Aden, and 12 days later she had sailed from Durban with all the troops and stores embarked—a remarkable feat which demonstrates the speed and flexibility of the Navy today.
In June, at the request of the Governor of the Seychelles, H.M.S. "Carysfort" arrived, and her presence helped significantly to restore law and order after a dispute. More recently, H.M.S. "Salisbury" played her part in assisting the police in Anguilla in the West Indies. These are specific examples of the continuous and wide-ranging readiness of the Royal Navy to give help and assistance when required.
In addition to these policing rôles, the Navy plays a considerable part in other ways to help civilian authorities. Perhaps the most widely known of these rôles is that of the Fishery Protection Squadron. The four frigates and five minesweepers which make up the squadron have continued to provide excellent service to the British fishing industry both on home fishing grounds and in far distant waters. The squadron has a wide area to cover extending from fishing grounds off Newfoundland to the West to the Norwegian areas in the East.
Before he continues, will my hon. Friend either confirm or deny the rumours which have been reported in the Yorkshire papers, for instance, the Yorkshire Post, and Humberside papers, that, as a result of the recent change, there will be a diminution or lack of efficiency in the protection given to our trawlermen and fishing fleets moving out of the Humber.
I take this opportunity to deny the rumours, which were referred to in one newspaper at the week-end. The position is that on 1st February this year we brought the Fishery Protection Squadron within the compass and competence of the Home Fleet. It is not the fact—I deny it at once—that the frigates on far distant patrol have all been withdrawn to home station. It is not true that the specialist officers who have been manning the Fishery Protection Squadron are being lost to this work. They are being incorporated in the new command. They are still there. It is true that the trawlermen's association, which seems to have been rather vociferous on the subject, was not consulted. It was not consulted because there is no diminution in the Royal Navy's effort throughout the whole field of this protection.
It is a great pleasure to hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say, but the report in the Press was very dogmatic on the subject, and there was a report, also, of what the chairman of the British Trawler Federation had to say. May we take it as right to assume—not only on the Humber but on the Tyne, in Scotland and all round—that there is no diminution in the services? Further, may I know whether we are to have an increase, because that is what we have been pressing for for a very long time?
I am sure that the hon. Lady herself needs no protection, but I can give her the assurance that the protection afforded to the trawlers both inshore and far off shore will be exactly the same as it has been in the past. If the need is there, it will be increased.
Instances of this service are known. The fishery protection vessels patrol the six-mile and 12-mile limits. They check international vessels, they check the size of nets, and so on. Because of their vigilance, there have in the past 12 months been 18 arrests and successful prosecutions. This is all part of the service which the Navy has in the past supplied.
Yes. The Fishery Protection Squadron as such has now been incorporated within the Home Fleet, which, as the hon. Gentleman will readily understand, makes it possible to deploy more ships if they are needed in this work. But the expertise and personnel engaged on the work are not lost. They are there and they are still doing the job. Far from there being a diminution, the possibilities are there to enhance the rôle of fishery protection within the broader framework of the Home Fleet.
There are numberless other activities in assistance to civil authorities. There are the search and rescue exploits in which men of the Royal Navy, sometimes at considerable risk to themselves, are ready to do what they can to help civilians in difficulties, or at times of national disaster. For instance, quite recently Oxfam had organised food supplies for India and there was difficulty in getting transport. It was the Royal Navy which quickly responded and made it possible to bring succour in an immediate way to certain famine areas in India.
There is also the assistance given by the Navy to local authorities with an oil pollution problem. There is the way in which the Navy's survey and hydrographic service continues to widen its scope and, apart from its normal activities, indulges, with other European countries, in special sea-water analysis work. Similarly, by other research work, the Navy assists the passage of large ships in the Thames Estuary. There is the dredging section. This is all part of the continuous work which the Navy has done day in and day out.
I come now to the subject of new construction. By 1st April this year, 16 of the 21 major warships on order will have been laid down. Four large Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels and an exercise minelayer also will be under construction. The ships on order include two guided missile destroyers, a Type 82 destroyer—this was referred to in the debate yesterday and in Questions today—nine "Leander" class frigates, two Fleet replenishment ships, the last of the "Oberon" class submarines, and, last but by no means least, four Polaris submarines and three Fleet nuclear submarines.
I take this opportunity to clear up some confusion which may have arisen over the Fleet's nuclear submarines. There are two in commission. One is due in commission in April. Orders for two more have been placed during the past 12 months. Work on these two is well in hand, and we have today placed the order for the sixth nuclear fleet submarine. As is stated in the White Paper, it is expected that, later this year, we shall place the order for the first of a new class of Fleet nuclear submarine which will incorporate a number of improvements over the "Valiants" which are now entering service.
I come now to the Polaris programme. It has its critics, I know, but its justification is clear and, in my view, incontrovertible. These submarines will take over from the V force in 1970, and they will make the United Kingdom contribution to the Western and international nuclear deterrent. That is the simple and compelling reason both for the importance of the programme and the importance we attach to keeping to the programe's timetable.
The achievement so far has been very considerable and I have no hesitation in saying, and I say it having visited both the base now being constructed at Faslane and the submarines now being built at Vickers and Cammell Lairds, that I am full of admiration for the way in which that most difficult technical task has been pushed forward.
This year has seen significant progress. The construction of all four Polaris submarines is well under way and the first two have been launched.
I understand that the Polaris submarines are to take the place of the V-bombers. Are they then to be handed over to the control of the United States and become part of their Polaris fleet of 34 submarines or are they to be kept independent of America and under the control of Britain?
My hon. Friend will be aware that that point was raised several times in the past two days and in Questions today. The answer is very simple. It has been our policy, which is referred to in the White Paper of 1965, that we would build four—not five—Polaris submarines and that they were our contribution to an international nuclear deterrent. My hon. Friend and others of my hon. Friends voted for that policy in the House in 1965. That was in the early stages of the programme. It would seem that now, as the programme develops, they are geting cold feet on the project. I cannot see the logic of that kind of attitude.
My hon. Friend's efforts to try to by-pass the substance of my question are understandable when he cannot give us a very clear answer. But I must press him on the subject. Irrespective of what people have said in the past—and I could quote a lot of speeches on the subject—let us know now what the Government's policy on it is. Shall we keep full control of the nuclear submarines that we are building or are they to come under the control of America and become part of their Atlantic nuclear fleet?
Under what agreement will they be assigned to N.A.T.O., when at the moment there is a committee of inquiry investigating whether N.A.T.O. should have a nuclear fleet? Why should Britain be committed to the vast expenditure of public money on a nuclear submarine fleet—whether of four or five? It may be four, but my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary at one time said that six would not be sufficient if we were to be a nuclear power on our own. We as a nation incur the cost of building those nuclear submarines. What will other nations in N.A.T.O. contribute?
I can put my hon. Friend's mind to rest. They will be assigned to N.A.T.O. in exactly the same way as the V-bombers were assigned in the past, and that was the policy presented in the 1965 White Paper. It might be unpalatable, but it is a fact on which my hon. Friend's voted to support the Government.
It is also a fact that since 1965 two of those submarines have been launched and that the other two are well on their way to construction. That is an inescapable conclusion of a decision taken and endorsed in the House by the Labour Government in a vote in 1965. All I am doing is to give a progress report on the development and construction of those four submarines.
It is anticipated that "Resolution", the first of those Polaris submarines, will start her trials this June and be operational by mid-1968, and that each of the other three will come forward at roughly six-monthly intervals. There is no doubt in my mind that the tightness of the programme has placed a considerable burden on the two shipyards concerned. There have been Questions and statements about that. On the whole, I believe that both yards have responded well and have undoubtedly benefited by the new and progressive techniques and methods. The experience they are gaining in the construction of those modern and complex vessels should be of great value both to the management and work force, and therefore to the country in general.
On the support side, the Clyde submarine base, which will support not only Polaris, but Fleet nuclear and conventional submarines, is proceeding to programme and is due to commission in the autumn of this year when most of its major elements will be complete. Eventually, over 2,500 naval and 1,600 civilian personnel will be employed there. We hope to recruit over half the civilians locally.
The Polaris school, which is a mass of complex technical equipment, was commissioned on 30th June and is now training the weapon system crews of two further submarines, "Repulse" and "Revenge".
I do not wish to intrude on what is from all appearances a private fight, but does the programme of which the hon. Gentleman is so proud happen to be the same as that referred to by the present Prime Minister on 27th September, 1963, as the Conservative pursuit of the nuclear illusion?
I am sorry. I cannot. But I shall look into the matter and if there is anything new to say I shall deal with it in winding up later.
I have attempted to describe how the Fleet will develop in the immediate future. But we must look much further ahead. During the past few years the foundations have been laid for naval planning of the shape of the Fleet in the 1970s and into the 1980s. The problem has not been simple. It is not simply one of re-providing the capabilities of aircraft carriers in the middle 1970s, but of designing a completely new Fleet for the tasks it is expected to perform in later years.
In that context, we have had to plan the ships and weapons system simultaneously. The day has gone when one could design a weapons system independently of the ship to carry it. They now go part and parcel together. The weapon must be designed in relation to the ship; the ship in relation to the weapon; both in relation to the shape of the Fleet; and the Fleet in relation to its Service commitments and the financial resources the country can afford to make available. All that must be projected forward. The ships we must plan now will not come into service before the early 1970s, and they will still be in service in the early 1990s.
The Statement on the Defence Estimates explains that final decisions for the Navy as well as the Army and Air Force must await the outcome of the N.A.T.O. discussions now in progress. Two aspects of the current study were mentioned during the previous two days' debate. One relates to the aircraft carrier decision and the second, raised constantly by hon. Members opposite, was the question of a surface-to-surface weapons system. I have no intention this afternoon of going over the ground fully covered in last year's debate on the question of the aircraft carrier. I can do no better than to quote again the words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence when he opened last year's Defence Review debate. He said:
We shall keep our existing carrier force as long as possible into the 1970s, but we shall not order a new carrier. In the light of the military tasks we envisage, and of the operational return we can expect from its cost of £1,400 million over the next 10 years, we do not believe that we should be justified in keeping a carrier force indefinitely. A new carrier could not become operational until 1973, when the rest of our carriers would be in the last phase of their active life. But by the mid-1970s we should be able to re-provide the necessary elements of the carriers' capability more cheaply by other means."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 241.]
In other words, we envisage the carriers continuing through into the 1970s.
The House will be pleased to know that already the first of the naval Phantoms is flying. They will be in commission in 1968. So the question that was raised so often by the Opposition—that there will be a tremendous gap—is invalid. The carriers will continue. This does not mean to say, however, that we do not need some form of surface-to-surface weapons system. We need a form of light tactical strike capability to introduce into our ships to complement the long-range strike power of the R.A.F.'s aircraft in support of future maritime operations and the anti-surface ship capability of our fleet submarines.
We have been studying various alternatives. This year's White Paper, good as it is, does not and cannot cover all the work we are engaged in. Our studies of a light tactical strike capability range from ship-launched missiles with a capability comparable to that of the Norwegian "Penguin" and from surface-to-surface guided weapons of greater ranges to air-to-surface missiles launched from helicopters and vertical take-off aircraft.
In deciding which alternative to adopt, we have to consider not only the capability provided, but also the relative costs, which include not merely the cost of development and production of the missile but also that of the vehicles to carry it and the effect of these on the shape and size and therefore the cost of the ships required to deploy it.
These issues are highly complex and, therefore, at this stage we cannot anticipate the final solution to the problem. I can say, however, that our extensive studies have shown three things. The first is that maritime forces can provide a particularly appropriate and flexible element in the British military presence overseas. Our ability to possess a local deterrent and to contribute to peace-keeping operations will be considerably enhanced by a capability to hold commandos ready for action by means of amphibious forces.
Secondly, air power will continue to be as important to the Navy of the future as it is to the Navy of today. The future fleet must, therefore, plan to take the fullest advantage of the R.A.F.'s land-based aircraft deployed in support of our ships and also to exploit the full potential of the helicopter as a maritime weapon. Thirdly, the importance of the nuclear-powered Fleet submarines in the 1970s will be greatly increased and will, in addition, through the anti-submarine role, provide the main offensive arm of the Navy. This is reflected in the buildup of our nuclear powered submarines.
I have talked a little about the Navy's finances, its manpower, its present strength, its taxing and worldwide role and have said, not perhaps as much as hon. Members would wish, but as much as I can now about its development in the future. I shall deal more fully at the end of the debate with the subjects of recruitment and engagement and with some, at least, of the many important factors in the officers' and ratings' conditions of service. I hope, also, to touch on the subject of Her Majesty's dockyards and the labour force, without which the Royal Navy could not hope to hold itself in continual readiness to meet its responsibilities.
I have spoken of the size of the present Navy. Part of the new construction to be undertaken will be in Her Majesty's Dockyards. In addition, many ships will be coming in for refitting. There is sufficient work at the moment and in the foreseeable future to keep all the naval dockyards at full strength. If this is any comfort to my hon. Friend, I am delighted. If it is any guide to him in terms of his contribution to the debate, I am happy to be able to assist. Clearly, there are many other questions which hon. Members will wish to put and these will be answered at the end of the debate when I reply.
The great lesson I have learned in my short time in this office is a realisation—one which perhaps I should have grasped more fully before—of the immense range of activities which go to make up this great fighting Service.
I can tell the hon. Lady now if she likes.
Commanders-in-chief have been consulted and asked to give their opinions with a view to trying to determine what should be the command structure at home and abroad—for the teeth and the tail, as it were. We shall make an announcement on these discussions in the near future. I regret that we have moved out of phase with the other Services in this matter. The Royal Air Force has already indicated its intentions, but we are still having these consultations with the commanders-in-chief and in the light of that I cannot make an announcement today.
Reports one sees in the newspapers, no matter how eminent, are not necessarily accurate.
From my first day in this office, I have had a sense of a common and strong sense of purpose in the Royal Navy, a loyalty to the Service and its ideals. I have found this to be so in Whitehall and in the few visits that I have managed to make I have found it in the naval establishments. Each part of the Service knows and plays its part.
I should pay tribute to the Wrens and the nurses—with proper naval courtesy, I put them first; to the officers and men of the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines; to the specialist branches, like the doctors, the dentists and the instructors; to the industrials and non-industrials—a horrible term. They are all part of a big team which is at once a big business and a big Service. It is on them, first and foremost, that the success of the Royal Navy depends. To the limit of my power, I will not let them or the Service down.
My first task is the pleasant one of congratulating the hon. Gentleman on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box as the First Lord of the Admiralty. The Navy has usually been very lucky in its First Lords. I wish the hon. Gentleman a happy and very active time in office, although I am sure that he will understand if I cannot wish him a long term of office.
No one can serve for 30 years and more in the Royal Navy without having a tremendous affection and respect for it, so I would like at once to join in the tribute that he paid to the officers and men of the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines who work cheerfully and happily and willingly for seven days a week without overtime and very often in conditions which would be a revelation to most civilians.
But the old prayer,
The Royal Navy, upon which, under the good providence of God, the safety, honour and welfare of this nation do most chiefly depend".
must not be invoked today as evidence that we need any particular size of naval forces in today's context. From this side of the House, therefore, we shall not be talking about Nelson, or rum, or quarter decks, or beards, but taking a cold and analytical look at the tasks which are likely to confront the Navy in future and the extent to which the plans of the Government appear to us to provide for an adequate supply of officers and men, ships, weapons and equipment for these tasks.
Let me summarise these tasks. First, we have what I suppose in present conditions is one of the most important tasks of all, which is to provide an independent British nuclear deterrent of sufficient size to be credible. I should like to add to the congratulations, already offered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), about the recent launching of H.M.S. "Renown". It is no secret that we on this side of the House would have preferred five of these submarines, but meanwhile we agree with the Secretary of State that four make a most massive contribution to our deterrent.
The second main task of the Royal Navy is to make a fair contribution to the forces of N.A.T.O. and our other military alliances and to support our Commonwealth partners. But this support of the Commonwealth is mutual, and I should like to take the opportunity to congratulate the Royal Australian Navy on its new White Ensign which has been hoisted for the first time at noon today in Australia House. I am confident that the next 57 years of co-operation with the Royal Australian Navy will be as close and as fruitful as have been the last 57 years. The third major task is to be able to defend Britain's seaborne trade, wherever it may be threatened, and particularly our Atlantic lifeline. This is a task of which it is very easy to lose sight, and it involves an enormous amount of antisubmarine training, a skill, almost an art, in which this nation is superlative. It also involves providing enough frigates and enough aircraft to keep up our expertise and to train men in the Navy in this absolutely essential task, which is really an attitude of mind as much as anything else.
The fourth task is to bear our fair share of peace-keeping whenever and wherever the peace of the world is threatened. I should like to make it clear that these are as much peace-time functions as war-time functions. To those hon. Members who abstained in last night's Division on the Defence Estimates, I say that it is not right necessarily to think that arms and weapons lead to fighting and to bloodshed, which every sane man deplores. It is an essential part of the functions of our Forces that they should help to maintain peace, and this they are doing every day, all round the clock, all day and every day.
I want now to refer to money. The Opposition do not argue for unlimited money to be spent on defence, as hon. Members opposite and even the Secretary of State himself have so often implied. No country can afford to do that, and, of course, I agree with last year's Defence Review that military strength is of little value if it is achieved at the expense of economic health. That is plain commonsense.
We think that enough must be spent to ensure that the country is adequately defended and that the provision of adequate defence is the first and most basic responsibility of any Government. There is nothing more important than that. We also believe that military support in time of need is often the most valuable form of aid which can be given to developing countries. Neither side of the House can claim a monopoly of concern for the problems of developing and recently independent countries, and it is a valid point that often these people run out of law and order before they run out of any other commodity. Law and order is a basic commodity and we have been able, and no doubt will be able again, to assist them militarily in this way.
Equally, I am not today seeking particularly to defend the previous Conservative Government's financial policy on defence. Personally, I think that they spent little enough. Evidently, that view was shared by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Prime Minister, because in his now notorious speech at Plymouth on 27th September, 1964, he said:
The Royal Navy is not adequate for our needs in the 'sixties. It has been run down to a dangerous extent.
I hope that the Secretary of State remembers that speech. If that were so, how can the remedy be to make further cuts now? The cuts which are now proposed in the White Paper are just sufficient to ruin the Navy's effectiveness.
Does not my hon. and gallant Friend appreciate that although we have that many admirals —and one is nearly 100—it is because admirals are always admirals, although not necessarily employed.
I am sure that nothing personal was intended by that intervention.
These cuts are just sufficient to ruin the Navy's effectiveness, particularly that of the Fleet Air Arm. The law of diminishing returns begins to apply very forcibly when one cuts down to an arbitrary figure.
The irony of all this is that the actual defence savings are illusory, as has been pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West; and even the savings which the Government claim are chicken feed as compared with the huge and ever-growing Government expenditure. Our accusation is that the Government are spoiling the ship for a ha'p'orth of tar. My first and foremost criticism of Vote A, which is concerned with just over 100,000 officers and men, is that the White Paper gives very little information about future prospects in the Navy. The Secretary of State is, of course, a very clever man and he has had great fun juggling with statistics and drawing little squares in Annex D in the White Paper and shopping from out-of-date price lists.
In his speech on Monday, he seemed suddenly to remember that he was dealing with 100,000 men in the Navy. He ought to have realised it before. He ought to have realised that these people have hopes and fears and ambitions and loyalties like anybody else. They are dedicated people, but they must not be taken for granted. They are accustomed to direct orders, but they are deeply suspicious of double talk. They must be told in explicit terms in what sort of Fleet they are to serve and what sort of weapons and equipment they are to have.
It is well known that the report of the Future Fleet Working Party was in the hands of the Admiralty Board as long ago as 12th September, 1966. Why has it not been possible to produce something other than last year's cold potatoes in this document? Why, as we were told by the hon. Gentleman this afternoon, is it necessary to await N.A.T.O. decisions? That might be so for the Army, but I cannot see why it is true for the Navy.
The one thing which would cheer up the Fleet more than almost anything else would be to publish a programme for the size and shape of the future Fleet. This is what all are waiting to hear. Why do the Government not publish such a programme? Is it because the size and shape of the future Fleet is so small that it would dismay the Navy, or, on the other hand, is it that it is so big that it would dismay hon. Members below the Gangway opposite?
I turn now to a new piece of jargon which has crept in in recent years. This is the subject of over-stretch. Over-stretch is a very real difficulty. Its effects were, to be fair, brought out very well in last year's Defence Review. For the men in the Fleet over-stretch means too much work and too little play. It means what they call "drafting turbulence" and "pierhead jumps". It means the problems which were well set out in a report sent in by the captain of an aircraft carrier a year or two ago which bore the title "Always on Sunday".
It means that the Government are hoisting Nelson's signal "England expects …" and so on but are not providing the men with the necessary gear. The White Paper says that the Government's aim has been to reduce this overstretch of our Forces. That is fine. It goes on to say that this is now being achieved. The plain fact is—ask any serving officer or rating—that the overstretch in the Fleet continues and is as bad as ever. It is sheer humbug to claim that this over-stretch has now been reduced, or that it can be reduced by cuts in naval Votes. That is not the way to reduce it. What it comes to is that many people feel that the Government's bland statement in the White Paper
… that the defence review must be a continging process and a permanent part of our policy making.
is merely a cover plan. What they fear is that this conceals the Government's real intentions to "bring the legions home" and then to demobilise them.
The subject of east of Suez has occupied our debates for a good deal of time. Under the headings "Redeployment of Forces", "South East Asia After 'confrontation'", the White Paper pays a well-deserved tribute to the achievements of the British and Commonwealth forces, and I join very heartily in that tribute. The White Paper continues:
There can be no certainty—so long as threats to stability remain—that those forces will not be required to give help to friendly Governments.…
I agree with this emphasis on the peacekeeping rôle, and I feel that this is a job which mobile task forces of the Royal Navy are very well fitted to carry out. A moment ago the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy made the point that maritime task forces are the way to carry out this job.
Having stated this commitment overseas, the Government's Defence Review deprives the Royal Navy of the one type of ship which above all others would enable it to make this rôle a reality, that is to say the aircraft carrier. I want to deal with the aircraft carrier in its own
right. The decision to phase out the aircraft carrier force is a catastrophic mistake whichever way one looks at it How can it possibly be reconciled with the Prime Minister's remarks in Plymouth in 1964:
We believe that in the present condition of the world we need a stronger and more effective Navy."?
This subject has been so much discussed that I will not take up the time of the House in making the case for seaborne air power all over again. I would like to emphasise one or two points. In the Defence Review last year it was stated in page 10 that:
… aircraft operating from land bases should take over the strike-reconnaissance and air-defence functions of the carrier…
One must ask the Government where these land bases are to be.
The Government have scuttled out of Aden, and the island strategy about which we heard so much seems to have been dropped, because there was no mention of it in the White Paper. The island-based strategy was a conspicuous omission from the White Paper, and we should like to hear more about this. The Defence Review also says:
Strike capability against enemy ships will be provided by the surface-to-surface guided missile mentioned in paragraph 2 above".
Here we come to the crux of one of the most important arguments about the aircraft carrier, because at least 15 years ago it was known to British naval intelligence that the Soviets were developing a surface-to-surface guided missile. At that time the Royal Navy took a definite and conscious decision not to go ahead with the development of such a missile, but to depend upon a much more effective strike capability of the Fleet Air Arm.
The position is that the Russians have certain types of surface-to-surface missiles with ranges from 15 to 300 miles and they have supplied other navies, notably the Egyptians and the Indonesians, with these weapons. Still for understandable reasons, the Royal Navy has no such missile. The proposal to start now at this late stage to develop such a missile is patently absurd. It will be infinitely expensive and will take many years to perfect. The Government have belatedly realised this, because there is no mention of it in the White Paper. Is it still being developed? Can we be told specifically how much money is being allocated and what is the time-scale, or has the project been cancelled? If not, what will its range be?
To sum up the technical arguments of the aircraft carrier, the Navy would be hamstrung without it and would be unable to operate safely anywhere outside the range of shore-based fighters, not just aircraft but fighters. The best proof of this professional opinion was provided by the resignation of the First Sea Lord, Sir David Luce, last year. T am sorry to say that the Secretary of State made light of this at the time with some rather cheap remarks.
Everyone in this House should recognise Admiral Luce's honesty and integrity and purpose, and certainly the Royal Navy understood what he did. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), who also resigned at the same time, said this:
But it is the considered professional view of the Navy, and the unanimous opinion of the Board, that the carrier plan in the White Paper is unworkable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 259.]
I see that he is in his place. No doubt he remembers saying this. I emphasise that I am not trying to criticise the new First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Varyl Begg, who clearly sees it as his duty to try to run the Royal Navy to the best of his ability under the directive which he has been given.
It was certainly the considered professional view of the Admiralty Board at the time and the Chairman of the Board, but that was based on the belief, which turned out to he mistaken, I am glad to say, that Fleet Air Arm recruiting would collapse when C.V.A.O.1 was not ordered. The Fleet Air Arm recruiting is almost embarrassingly high, too high for the training establishments to cope with. In other words, the reason on which this view was founded has turned out to be mistaken.
I quite agree with what the Secretary of State says about recruiting, and that is a tribute to the Fleet Air Arm. What wonderful chaps they are, even under this fantastic political directive, they still keep going and realise that somehow there will be some hope for them. The new First Sea Lord is loyally trying to carry out the political directive, but it is fundamentally mistaken. I emphasise that I am not trying to "knock" the morale of the Fleet Air Arm which in all the circumstances has borne up wonderfully well. Surely the remedy is to look again at the whole question with an unprejudiced eye. I am convinced that we could get away from the traditionally very elaborate and sophisticated aircraft carrier and that it will be possible to develop a new type which, for ease of reference, I will call the "harrier carrier" because that is the type of aircraft which might be embarked. I would not mind calling it the "Healey carrier", as long as we could have some! She would be basically a large commercial tanker-type hull with a relatively unsophisticated aircraft embarked.
These would be the VTOL or short take-off type of aircraft and, in my opinion, they could be flown by the Royal Air Force or the Royal Navy, equally and absolutely interchangeable. Such a ship would be just a mobile landing strip. I am the first to admit that naval opinion is not unanimously in favour of this type of ship. I know that there are arguments that the cost will escalate, and that it will cost as much as the traditional type and so on.
It would be appreciably less than the traditional type of aircraft carrier, and that should please the hon. Gentleman. Such a ship would be cheaper, although not necessarily very much cheaper. The point is that it would provide air support on the spot and on the dot, which is an essential requirement for any task force commander. Would the Secretary of State genuinely consider this possibility? Without something like this, the Royal Navy will be sunk, and the Government's declared overseas policy will sink with it.
Will the Ministry of Defence look again at the strategic aspects of Malta as a matter of urgency?
If I were to start discussing in a debate on the Navy Estimates where Army battalions should be located, I should soon be ruled out of order.
May I go on to the question of Malta?
I will just get started on Malta and then I will give way.
Would the Ministry of Defence look again at the strategic aspects of Malta as a matter of urgency so that they might be taken into account in the present discussions with the Prime Minister of Malta? There are various reasons for keeping a military presence in Malta. There is the importance of guarding the flank of N.A.T.O. There is our defence treaty with Libya. For this, one must have acclimatised troops somewhere in the area. The Secretary of State knows that if troops are not acclimatised they are liable to be prone to an undignified disease known as "dog" which is so debilitating that they would not be able to dig their own latrines for the first few days. If we fly troops from Salisbury Plain to Malta or Libya, they will be useless for the first vitally important week.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman said on Monday that he thought that we should play an active part in helping the Americans physically in Vietnam. The Americans are now shelling the coast of North Vietnam. This is a naval debate, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman says. Does he suggest that we should send our ships there?
I will not be drawn into a discussion of military forces in a debate on the Navy Estimates. I would see nothing inappropriate or objectionable if such units of the Far East fleet which can be spared from the patrol off Beira, which I do not agree with and which is using up a great many of our spare ships, were sent to assist our Commonwealth partners who are already operating in Vietnamese waters.
The second point which I emphasise about the strategic importance of Malta is as a training area. The Government always pay lip-service to cost efficiency, and cost efficiency in training is obviously better done in the clear, fine weather in the Mediterranean than in the difficult conditions of the United Kingdom which we know so well.
Thirdly, there is the business of Malta becoming a Mediterranean Cuba, which it very easily can if we do not keep a reasonable military presence there. I ask the Minister to say what our N.A.T.O. partners are saying to us about our proposal to reduce our forces to nothing in Malta. Would they be happy if we were to leave Malta?
On 2nd March, 1964, the Minister of Defence (Administration) said:
Look at the 'Med'. The Med. 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." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1964; Vol. 690, c. 1069.]
Look at what it has been reduced to under this Government.
I should like to make a constructive suggestion about the use of Malta. One of the Secretary of State's greatest difficulties must be where he is going to put the troops and families who come home from various stations overseas. Would it not be possible to look upon Malta as part of the United Kingdom base?
Then I shall confine myself to the naval men being brought home who need to be accommodated. Would it not be possible to use Malta as part of the United Kingdom base? If it is possible to fly men out there in a hurry, is it not pos- sible to fly them home equally quickly? This would make an enormous saving in barracks and married quarters and should be very good for training. It would also be a spur to recruiting and the Secretary of State would be able to continue the fascinating and glamorous advertisements which he had in the Press until recently about the delights of serving overseas.
What has happened to the A.N.F.? Is this project still alive, or has it at last been recognised as being what The Times called the "conning tower of Babel".
I come now to H.M.S. "Fearless" and H.M.S. "Intrepid". These are most valuable ships and are very much the shape of things to come. But surely their essentially peace-keeping rôle is not well explained by calling them assault ships. "Assault" is the one thing which the Secretary of State says we shall not do. Would it not be better to call them commando cruisers?
Would the hon. Gentleman, when he winds up, make a further statement about the Service colleges? The White Paper and the Minister's quick-fire explanation on Monday were very unclear on this subject. Would the hon. Gentleman answer these questions about Greenwich? Is it true that the Chiefs of Staff and the Howard-English Report separately recommended that the Defence College should be at Greenwich rather than at Shrivenham? Secondly, is it a fact that no detailed costings have been done to enable a comparison to be made? Thirdly, if the move is made, what will happen to the Jason nuclear reactor, which was specially installed at Greenwich for training officers and artificers of the Polaris fleet? How much did this cost, and could it be moved?
Why has the Naval Staff College been moved to Minley Manor?
Referring to the Naval College at Greenwich, is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that costings have been made which show that there will be a very serious waste of public money if the Royal Defence College is sent, not to Greenwich, but to Shrivenham? Nearly £1 million will be wasted.
I did hear something to that effect, and then I heard a rival argument that it would be very marginally more expensive to run at Greenwich than at Shrivenham. Shrivenham is a dreadful place, with groups of buildings separately located and red brick in outlook as well as in construction. It would be dreadful if the college went to Shrivenham.
If the hon. Gentleman went to Greenwich, he would be even more impressed.
Is it not a fact that the Minister of Defence (Administration) has been trying for years to get his hands on Greenwich? Did he not say to the House on 3rd April, 1963, that there was terrific wastage at Greenwich and that it would be put to far better use as a university? If so, should not the hon. Gentleman, now that he is in office, show a wider and more responsible outlook? Should he not show some regard for Service traditions and for the morale of the young officers of all three Services for which he is responsible? I have covered a great many points. I should now like to refer to dockyards. In view of the heavy load of refit and modernisation work, will the Minister say why new frigates are still being built at the Royal Dockyard instead of being put out to contract?
Housing loans for ratings are an excellent idea, and I am sure that everybody welcomes them, but why are they not being provided for officers, even officers from the lower deck? How can this distinction be reconciled with the Government's talk about social justice? The First Sea Lord's recent News Letter to Flag and Commanding Officers says—
In the present financial climate the chances of persuading the Treasury to agree to a scheme of this sort are, regrettably, very slim, and it would be a mistake to press our case too hard at the present time.
Would it be a mistake? I cannot imagine any more necessary task for the Minister to undertake in his new job. Will he say what he has done about this, what approach he has made to the Treasury, and what has been the result? I am sure that he will understand if I say that the Navy expects its Minister to stick up for it.
Regarding recruiting, Table 4 in Annexe A of the White Paper gives a disturbing picture of a short-fall in the recruiting of artificer apprentices. What remedies do the Government propose in this direction? It is a real difficulty in the modern scientific Navy.
In view of the remarks of the Secretary of State yesterday about overall manpower difficulties, which he indicated might be a bottleneck or limiting factor, will he say what approach he has made to the Secretary of State for Education about explaining to schoolchildren the opportunities which are offered by a career in the Services? My information is that last year Service career officers were denied admission to no fewer than 648 schools.
To conclude, the Minister will realise that the general air of uncertainty and indecision about the future of the Navy, which has been conveyed by this White Paper, must inevitably act as a great discouragement and is bound to be reflected adversely in the morale of the Navy.
I do not wish to say anything that would add to the loss of morale. I believe in the future of the Navy. It has weathered worse storms in the past than just a Socialist Government. If I had 10 sons they could all happily go into the Navy. Nevertheless—and I say this very seriously indeed—after talking to serving ratings and serving officers, I am left wondering whether those politically responsible for the present retrenchments really do understand what is happening to the morale of the Fleet. I direct this particularly to the Secretary of State. Does he really understand this?
I promised not to quote Nelson, but I will quote another great man, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Cunningham, whose memorial will be unveiled in Trafalgar Square next month. In a very dark period of the war he said:
It will take only three years to build more ships, but it will take 300 years to build a new tradition.
The Navy has served the nation well in the past, and beyond doubt it will have to do so again in the future, but I urge the Secretary of State and all those politically responsible for the Navy to pay heed to Lord Cunningham's words.
We could agree that the officers and men of the Royal Navy have rendered a great and distinguished service to Britain. As one who, during 18 months on a ship's school, came in contact with officers and ratings of the Navy both in home ports and the Mediterranean. I have come to have a high regard for naval personnel. In particular, as a result of the experience of a day spent on board ship in the Malacca Straits in the congenial company of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles), in September, 1965, I know how difficult was the Navy's task in South-East Asia, particularly those of us who know something about the 3,000-mile coastline around Malaysia.
All this is not in question. The trying conditions of the odious, nerve-racking war, the great difficulties, for example, in searching sampans, the dangers involved, the midshipmen who lost their lives in this operation, and the strain of continuous day and night operations—all this is not in doubt.
What I question is whether it was necessary, whether it was right, and will we ever have to do it again? The purpose of my speech is to deploy the argument that the naval operations during confrontation were needlessly brought about, as was the entire campaign, in the first place, by the actions of a former Administration. They were not justified, on this occasion, and such operations outside European waters will never be justified again, in my view.
The navy Estimates should be framed in anticipation of an India-type operation, in which we bring our forces back from the Far East and the Middle East. This is a minority point of view, but it is fair, in the Navy Estimates debate, to go into some detail as to why this minority point of view should be put.
The first argument why the Navy was out in the Far East in this arduous campaign—and we do not disagree about this—was to uphold the political stability of South-East Asia. Here a great deal depends on the particular view of history that one has.
The White Paper presents a certain view of history. No great purpose would be served in delving into this view of history, were it not for the fact that, on page 6, a false view, a mythical view, is being used to create a basis for misleading conclusions about the future, particularly about the future strength of all Forces including, not least, the Navy.
Those who appeal to history to support their argument about future policy would be well advised to consider the full history and to survey all the facts before jumping to conclusions about future policy about the size of future Forces, and any other matter. The official view of this—
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is getting a little too far into a debate on general defence policy. He may adduce some of these arguments as incidental or he may refer to them, but he should not extend his speech to general comment on general defence policy.
This is a vital issue, because the assumption here is that the size of naval forces has to be determined by particular commitments. In my view, it does not make very much sense to argue about the size of naval forces unless they can be related to a view of commitments.
I will not go into the matter in great detail, but simply say that the official view claims that without the contribution of the Commonwealth effort, much of South-East Asia would have collapsed into disorder, perhaps inviting competitive intervention by other Powers, with the consequent risk of general war and that, to use the words of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, millions of people in South-East Asia have cause to be grateful to us.
Another view of history would come to a very different conclusion, namely, that had there not been ships manned by white sailors in Singapore and had there not later been white soldiers in Borneo, the circumstances that brought about confrontation would never have arisen. Can it be denied that Malaysia was one of those absurd federation concepts dreamed up in Whitehall in the 1950s? There may be reasons for this—complicated reasons would be out of place here —such as maintaining the superiority in numbers of the Malays over the Chinese. All these details, I agree, are not relevant to this argument. What is relevant, however, is that the fact remains that the union of Malaya and Northern Borneo was a European creation. The fact is that the Conservative Administration did not consult the Indonesians in the setting-up—
I will base my remarks on Vote A, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
No one likes a war with the unpleasantness of gelignite and sampans and all that our sailors went through in the Malacca Straits. But it is absurd for a Labour Defence Secretary and Labour Front Bench spokesmen to base an argument for planning east of Suez-size forces on experience of a war that would never have started but for the lack of understanding of a Conservative Administration.
I entirely accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I come back to Vote A.
We are concerned with granting vast sums of money. This is not in doubt. What appals me is the contrast between the sums of money that we are discussing in this sparsely-attended debate and the fairly modest sums for which some of us have been asking in vain in terms of E.C.G.D. cover, for example, for tin dredgers for the islands off Sumatra and for E.C.G.D. cover for trucks and tractors, crucial for Indonesian development, made by the British Motor Corporation. It is the contrast between these vast sums and the modest sums that some of us have been refused by the Board of Trade for development purposes, the real source of stability that should concern us when we are discussing these vast sums of money.
I have to draw other contrasts because it should not be done in terms of particular schemes. What about the contrast of the vast sums of money involved in these Estimates and the money which we have to raise in terms of fees for overseas students? When we are discussing this kind of money, it is meaningless unless one puts it in perspective.
I do not know whether it is in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to refer to a defence debate speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck). It may sound strange that I refer to that speech. The accents may have been those of Harrow, East but the trend of my hon. Friend's thoughts reveals his intellectual debt to a much more formidable figure in the military and naval affairs of this Administration, namely, my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General. No one else talks about Kipling's Tommies around here.
I am a sincere admirer of the Paymaster-General. He was the one man who had the prescience to forecast in the 1950s the troubles that would arise from the setting up of Malaysia. That is to his credit, as are many other things, too. He was, perhaps, the most effective backbencher of the last 10 years. At all times his views are to be taken seriously, and not least his views on Singapore.
I would like to concentrate for a moment on the question of Singapore Dockyard, which comes under Vote A. I admit straight away that Singapore certainly has its problems. It has its economic problems. The question which we have to look at, however, is precisely what are our obligations concerning the Naval Dockyard and to Lee Kuan Yew. If it is a justified proposition that we should give aid to Lee Kuan Yew, are we really sure that continuing a naval presence on this basis is the way in which we should do it? Is this the optimum way?
If the argument which is deployed is that we have obligations to Singapore, obligations which I would not care to deny, there are many better ways of fulfilling them than continuing a naval presence.
I think that it will be in order to discuss the Australia argument, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because this involves naval help to Australia and New Zealand and the terms of our obligations. Here I deny that we have obligations, since Australia has opted for A.N.Z.U.S. and did not invite us to be members of A.N.Z.U.S.
Before the hon. Member has to leave the question of the Australian and New Zealand Navies, I would like to emphasise, if he was referring to the point which I made about them, that I would like to see our Forces co-operating with the Australian and New Zealand Navies and giving them any help we can in consideration of the effort that they are making in Vietnam.
Order. The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) is hardly being very helpful. I am trying to be as patient as possible with the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), because I realise his difficulties, but this cannot be a general foreign affairs or defence debate.
I respect the Chair. On purely naval matters, may I ask what are our naval obligations to Fiji and express the hope that we will not meddle in the affairs of Fiji?
You have been very patient, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I will now come on to the questions which, I am sure, are of an unexceptionable nature. Could we know something of the maritime rôle of the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft? In the defence debate, we were told that its radius of action was enormous. I would like to know how enormous it is. May we have some facts on the maritime rôle of the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft, during the wind up?
May we also have some facts on the supposed lifetime of Polaris? How many years is a Polaris supposed to last? Is a Polaris supposed to be less effective than the nuclear strike Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft which is to follow it? Why do we need both Polaris and A.F.V.G.? What discussions are taking place at Geneva on the Polaris? Can the Minister tell us anything about the discussions which the Minister for Disarmament is conducting at present in Geneva?
May I then refer to paragraph 44 of the White Paper, where it says that extensive studies have been made of all possible ships and weapons systems which the Royal Navy will require as replacements in the middle and late 1970s? Could we be told why those replacements are needed, in the light of the question which was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) about the 7,000 missiles which were supposed to be based in the N.A.T.O. area in Europe? If the 7,000 already exist, it is legitimate to ask why we want a new series of sophisticated and expensive naval weapons systems. Are these new naval weapons systems to have a deterrent rôle?
Then I am a little mystified about dockyards. At the invitation of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Adam Hunter), with my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Oswald) I met a delegation from Rosyth. Its members were very much
concerned about their employment prospects. Some of those who work in Rosyth are my constituents from Queens-ferry, and I would like to put to the Under-Secretary the speech which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made at Plymouth, when he said:
… there is one thing that I want to add—the greater use of Royal dockyards, as well as Royal Ordnance Factories, for civil work.
He went on:
I believe the tasks facing Britain—modernisation of our industrial plant, building up of our exports, and the contribution it is our moral duty to make to under-developed countries—these tasks are so great that we shall need all our capacity and more, all our skilled workers, and we shall have to train more. I believe there will come a time when Plymouth's dependence on the Admiralty side of the Ministry of Defence will be matched by a growing interest in the work of the new Ministry of Overseas Development we are going to establish.
It seems to me that here is the basis of a very constructive and practical suggestion, and, if work becomes a bit tight, I should like to know whether the ideas of the Prime Minister at Plymouth on 27th September, 1964, will be put into operation.
I should like to know also what steps are being taken for naval personnel to be transferred to the Merchant Service should naval ships be withdrawn. My hon. Friend knows very well that there is a terrific problem. The Merchant Service is becoming desperately short of ships' engineers, and one would have thought that there was some scope for placing men who may be made redundant from the Royal Navy.
Then I want to go on to the subject of costs. I do not know whether it will be in order to say this, but the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) said in the defence debate that he had no responsibility for estimating the cost of the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft. I want to make the general point that, in presenting their plans, the Opposition have an obligation to look at costs—
There was an exchange between the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester and my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) on precisely that question. I would say to hon. Gentlemen opposite that those who were responsible for the escalating costs of Seaslug and many other matters which the Public Accounts Committee looked at, should bear in mind this fact. Part of my motivation in all this comes from three years spent in Room 16 as a member of the Public Accounts Committee looking at escalation. Before any policy is put forward by any political party, it would at least be wise to do a cost analysis as far as one is able. I marvel at the way politicians, in a light-hearted way, make statements about expenditure in these matters—
It is not for want of trying. In my view, the Government Front Bench have been more reasonable than the previous Administration, when it was really hard work getting cost estimates. I freely concede that those who are confident about cost estimates in these matters run the very grave risk of being proved wrong. Over the past 20 years, estimate has been exceeded by reality by a factor, on average, of two and a half to three. In the case of Fire Streak, Thunderbird and Seaslug, there were grotesque excesses, and these matters are extremely relevant to those which we are discussing.
Frankly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think that you would rule out of order the rest of what I intended to say, which I consider to be dealing with extremely important matters. It would be an abuse of the House, in those circumstances, if I were to continue, and I should not like to vitiate my argument by doing that.
It is the contrast between the vast sums with which we are concerned today and our inability to get small sums for our worthy purposes—and I do not want to ride my own particular hobby horses—which causes me to be extremely disconsolate about the total policy.
I am pleased to be able to follow the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) on one point, which is the subject of South-East Asia. I, too, spent a day with the Navy on a patrol boat and saw the excellent work which was done. If it had not been for the Royal Navy, we should not have had peace in that part of the world now. Indonesia would not only have over-run Sarawak and Sabah, but perhaps Singapore and Malaya itself. One has only to look at the White Paper to see the thanks which Tunku Abdul Rahman gave to our troops. Moreover, it should be emphasised that they were not only white troops, because Malaya also played a great part in the Royal Malaysian Navy and in the Malayan Army, and the White Paper draws attention to the way that British troops fought alongside Malay troops. In that connection, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will realise the tremendous part played by the Royal Navy.
I want to mention H.M.S. "Ark Royal" and H.M.S. "Eagle", both Devonport ships, and pay tribute to the part which they played off Beira. The length of time which both ships were at sea is a record. The "Ark Royal" was not in the best of health and is at the moment undergoing a refit. It is a tribute to her engineers that they kept her going for so long. The Navy has a tremendous part to play in future—in Aden, for instance. Even after Aden gets independence, I am sure that we shall need to have a Navy patrolling the seas to stop gun running and the entry of dissidents.
It is the future we must think about. The Estimates are vague about how big a Navy we need and about what type it should be. The White Paper says:
The Government remains committed to its policy of working towards general and complete disarmament.
But this is contrary to what we have been hearing today. I am glad to see the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy in his place, as he has been very helpful in answering Questions which I have put. Perhaps he can give some indication of the type of Navy which is intended for policing the seas in future.
Even if there is no future war, we must still give official protection to such places as the Falkland Islands. We should congratulate the Royal Marine detachment which recently acted so swiftly there, and H.M.S. "Tuma" and H.M.S. "Protector" which have played a very big part in keeping the peace which we all desire. Until a situation is accepted like Motion No. 415 on the Order Paper which is headed by the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), dealing with the "Defence of peace in the minds of men", we must have a practical means of keeping the peace.
I should therefore like to draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the expenditure and ask whether he does not feel that the Royal Navy, although its Estimates are higher than those for the other two Services, is in fact the least expensive in overseas currency. The Secretary of State is reported in the Daily Telegraph as saying:
The intention is to prolong the Navy's aircraft carrier force beyond 1975 and possibly to 1980.
This is very different from the previous policy. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could tell us whether it is the intention to keeping the existing aircraft carriers on until the 1980s.
The Fleet Air Arm was to be run down about 1975. If this is still the intention, how will the right hon. Gentleman get a sufficient Fleet Air Arm to make these carriers useful? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could co-ordinate these two statements about aircraft carriers and the Fleet Air Arm.
The Estimates are very vague also about the kind of ships which we shall have to the middle 1970s. We are told that the carrier force will continue to he a component of the highest importance. But what will take its place when it is finished in the 1980s?
We are told, too, that N.A.T.O. must be ready at sea as well as on land to demonstrate its will and ability to respond promptly to active aggression. Paragraph 42 says:
Since Britain's contribution to N.A.T.O. will have a critical influence on the composition and deployment of all three Services, final decisions on the shape and size of our defence forces in the 1970s must await the outcome of the N.A.T.O. discussions.
Can we be given a firm date for the N.A.T.O. Conference and when we may have any idea of the plans for laying down of ships in future?
We were told that, in a recent exercise, the Royal Naval Squadron was the largest contingent. Shall we be able to play our full share in future? I am sure—the hon. Gentleman mentioned this —that extensive studies have been made of possible ships and weapons systems which would be required in the Fleet in the middle and late 1970s, but these things take a considerable time to come to fruition. If we still do not know what type of ships we will have, how can we know what type of weapons we want to supply them with? This is what is worrying me.
We have the idea of the Sea Dart—I do not know how it has progressed—and the Seaslug. If we are to have no idea of the size of the Fleet and the type of weapons, it will make things extremely difficult for the future.
Present day ships are mentioned. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has had time yet to visit some of these ships, but I consider that the conditions on some ships are certainly not as modern as they should be. For example, many in the tropical waters of the Middle and Far East are still not air-conditioned. If the hon. Gentleman ever saw H.M.S. "Verulam", which is one of the scientific ships, and the conditions in which her seamen have to live, he would agree that this is not a credit to the Navy. Engineers, of whom we are very short at present, have to work overtime in many cases to keep the ships going.
In referring to the dockyard in Singapore, I should like also to draw attention to the Navy in Singapore, as the two subjects are tied together. I hope that, until the Royal Malaysian Navy can be adequately trained, we will not remove our forces from this part of the world. I consider that east of Suez is still our most important rôle, but I cannot go into details. The political situation is such that we shall need to keep our forces there for some considerable time.
We had the confrontation with Indonesia, which entailed sending our ships and men in great numbers to Singapore, but we may also have confrontation with China when she has settled her internal problems, which may result in further ships being needed to patrol those waters. As we have been saying today how successful our Navy was in keeping the peace in the Indonesian confrontation, perhaps we should consider not running it down too quickly in the Far East in case we face this difficulty again—
The hon. Gentleman may have observed that I was sitting anxiously on the edge of my seat, wondering at what point in time I ought to intervene to stop the hon. Lady from proceeding in the direction that she was going. I was hoping that she would conclude on that sentence. I would point out to her that she is now getting into a much wider field than the Estimates.
I was actually concluding on that point, and was mentioning the Royal Navy, for which we are asked to provide these Estimates. We have in the Estimates to pay for these ships in the Far East. My point was that the Estimates should be very much smaller if we are not to keep our Navy in the Far East. We might halve them if we decided to move everything back from the Far East as our presence there is one reason why the Estimates are so large.
I should like to refer now to the Templar Committee. There are several working committees and I should like to know what they are doing. It is extremely difficult to find out. We are told, in regard to the Templar Committee, that the system for logistic support in aircraft and guided weapons is continuing to receive detailed studies. The difficulty is to find out what these detailed studies are, and I should be grateful for some help.
I gather that the integrated system is being re-assessed in the light of the reserve plans for re-equipping the R.A.F. and Royal Navy with certain guided weapons which will have common support. We should be very interested to know what these guided weapons are.
I was interested also in the Howard-English Report and tried to get a copy from the Library, but was told that it was an inter-Departmental report, and so could get very little information. Could the hon. Gentleman place it in the Library? It affects the Navy very much and I should like to know the effect, particularly, on H.M.S. "Britannia". Will it have any effect on the cadets in H.M.S. "Britannia" from overseas and the Commonwealth, because of the different type of education which they may need to have in future? I gathered that from what his right hon. Friend said in opening the debate on Monday. Will the hon. Gentleman also tell us how the Joint Synopsis Scale Committee does its work? We have various committees dealing with the Estimates, but we do not have any idea of the progress they are making. Has the Defence Research Committee, which is mentioned in paragraph 2 of page 44, yet made a survey of the defence research programme?
We have an admirable gentleman, Mr. Raymond Brown, who is apparently selling equipment, but it seems difficult to sell naval equipment. When I came back from New Zealand, where they wanted to buy a naval ship, I put down Parliamentary Questions to the Prime Minister and it was months before a ship was sold to the New Zealand Navy. We have quite a number of mothballed ships which we might be able to sell to offset expenses.
The Hydrographic and Oceanographic Survey, which is mentioned in the Estimates, is a service that could probably be expanded very quickly. We cannot in our present economic state do very much in relation to space, but I understand that we are in advance of the world in this type of work. We shall have many more men from the Royal Navy back in this country in due course, and this might be one of the jobs they could do. It is vastly important that we should do more about mapping the seas, and know what is happening under the water. Such work might even help in connection with food, as mentioned by the Under-Secretary—taking food to India, for instance. This is extremely important work, and I hope that the Minister will agree to look at every suggestion.
I should have thought that recruitment figures would have been very much better because of the present rate of unemployment. Unemployment in Plymouth runs at 3·7 per cent., and when there is un- employment in a Service town men are more likely to turn to the Service connected with that town. But the fact is that we are terribly short of artificers, mechanicians, apprentices and engineers. This is not the first debate in which I have taken part when mention has been made of shortage, particularly of artificers and engineers. What special programme has the hon. Gentleman in mind for trying to recruit to this branch? Do men want more pay, or are they not getting adequate training, or are they not really interested in life at sea? Are individuals being kept too long overseas because of the present shortage? I think that in many cases they are.
I am glad that the Under-Secretary paid tribute to the women's services, where recruiting figures keep up very well, except for nursing sisters, and we know there is a demand for nursing sisters the world over. There is also a shortage of doctors, though not of dental mechanics. I hope that the Minister will see that far more use is made of the naval hospitals for civilian purposes. We have very good co-operation of this kind at the Royal Naval Hospital at Devonport. Most naval patients, however, are in hospital as a result of accidents rather than disease, so that the naval doctors do not get sufficient practice of the sort they would like. If we could have more civilians in these hospitals, where there are quite a number of empty beds, it would give the doctors greater scope. There might also be some interchange between naval and civilian doctors in the local hospitals so that they all got more experience.
Turning to recruitment and re-engagement, I understand that the Secretary of State has received from the National Council for Civil Liberties a very interesting memorandum on teen-age Servicemen and provision for their discharge from the Services. I will not go into details, but I should have thought that this type of document would be extremely helpful in finding out the reasons for people joining or not joining the Services. Research of this kind might be undertaken by the Department. We might have some personnel research to find out why people join the Services, and what they feel about the environment and stresses and strains of Service life. We talk a lot about mechanical equipment and armament but very little research is done into the human side, yet the happiness of the Service depends so much, especially in peace time, on seeing that the people working in it have the right environment.
I notice that cadets or junior ratings between the ages of 15 and 17½ years are coming in very satisfactory numbers. A study there might show how and why they are coming in, why they leave—and why they so often leave before they reach pensionable age. That information would be of enormous assistance to the Service in future, and it would also mean a saving of money.
In page 72 of the Statement, one reads:
The time when standards ashore could be ignored in the interests of maintaining the ships afloat is past.
I agree to some extent with that statement, but men often have to remain on board for considerable lengths of time, and the actual comforts provided—I have mentioned air conditioning— when they are at work must not be overlooked when we are considering the type of accommodation they are to have ashore.
I was rather disturbed to hear about the mobile houses and caravans, because in Plymouth I have seen very poor caravan sites for naval personnel. I also got in touch with the hon. Gentleman's Department and with the Minister of Public Building and Works with regard to future accommodation. I was asked to send them lists of accommodation that might be available, but when I did send lists they were rejected as containing accommodation of too high a standard. Perhaps we may be told what standard the Department intends to observe.
As to the dockyards, we were told by the Prime Minister in his celebrated speech in Plymouth:
We believe in fair wages, fair conditions. Under the Tory pay pause (which they would now like you to forget) it was public servants. Government employees who got the rough end of the policy.
It fell on me as Labour Party spokesman to lead the attack on the Government's pay pause policy and to censure their wanton breach of national agreements, agreements to which their word and honour were pledged, in respect of a whole range of Admiralty employees, here and elsewhere.
We are still waiting for that pledge to be honoured, because wages and conditions
in the dockyards are still anything but satisfactory.
In this leaflet "Industrial Civil Servants' Pay—A New Deal" we find, when we work it out, that the new deal means that a number of men still take home less than £10 a week. That is not an adequate living wage. Whichever scheme is used, I trust that the wages paid under it will apply to all people employed by the Department, and that apparently is not the case at present. I also hope that it will be ensured that nobody has a basic wage of less than, say, £13 a week. No worker should be expected to try to keep a family on £10 or less a week. I have a number of details with me showing what is happening under the present system. I will give the figures to the Minister later and not delay the House by quoting them now.
If one is a pensioner of the Royal Navy and wishes to work in a dockyard after the age of 60, one is allowed to receive one's Navy pension. On the other hand, if one is an established industrial worker in a dockyard and has to retire at the age of 60, then, on being re-employed as a non-established worker, one cannot draw one's dockyard pension until the age of 65. Many of the dockyard workers must go on working because they do not receive their retirement pensions until they are 65 and their dockyard pensions are certainly not sufficient on which to live. I hope that the Minister will consider this matter and ensure that those civilians who work in the dockyards are placed on the same footing as Royal Navy personnel in this matter.
I hope that—from the point of view of Plymouth—we will be told what decision has been arrived at about the question of command, and also whether a change is proposed in the date when H.M.S. "Sea Eagle" will come from Londonderry. Previously the date 1970 was given. I hope that these matters will be finalised soon, because it helps with planning to know as far in advance as possible about these important matters.
The question of apprentice group instructors is of great importance and has been raised by several hon. Members. As a deputation went to see the Minister's predecessor about this matter, I will not go into the details of the issue now. It is very much regretted that what we thought would be a satisfactory agreement is apparently not working out satisfactorily. It is unfortunate that those teaching apprentices in the Royal Naval dockyards are not, even now, on a par with those who work in H.M.S. "Fishguard" and similar establishments elsewhere. This state of affairs exists, despite the attempts of the Minister to get an agreement in January. If he cannot answer this question tonight, I hope that he will forward details to me because, as he is aware, I have been fighting this case, not only with the present Government but with previous Administrations, for about 10 years. It is time that we had a settlement and it is a pity that one was not reached recently, particularly since the Minister appeared to be so close to reaching one.
I thank the Minister for the courteous way in which he has answered my questions in the past and I trust that he will consider the points I have put today, because there is real concern that the Navy is at present in such an uncertain state about its future that this uncertainty may affect not only recruitment but the whole idea of what I believe the Minister is trying to achieve—a Royal Navy which can play its part, if necessary in war, but certainly in peace.
The Under-Secretary made a remark when opening this discussion which I must take up straight away. He said that certain hon. Members on this side of the House who were now complaining about the tremendous expenditure on Polaris voted for the Government in the two previous Defence Estimates debates, in which the question of Polaris was discussed.
I wish to make it abundantly clear that we were told at that time that the four Polaris submarines were an essential part of our Atlantic Nuclear Force. In voting for the Government on those occasions we were giving them the benefit of the doubt. We believed that they would bring about an Atlantic Nuclear Force. That being so, we must now be told what has happened to that concept. The answer to that question will be relevant to future discussions about Polaris submarines.
If we are not to internationalise the Polaris submarines and if they are part of N.A.T.0.—which is not exactly the same thing—we should be told. Are we now to believe in the independent nuclear deterrent, with Polaris as the weapon involved? If so, the Government should state so openly. Do not let us slide into anything. In the debate on the 1966 White Paper— although on that occasion it was a red paper—the question of the A.N.F. was raised. That whole issue had been completely dropped.
As the hon. and gallant Gentleman aptly puts it, it has been sunk. As I say, we gave the Government the benefit of the doubt, but that, even though we had a majority of only three, was given with a heavy heart. On the first occasion the Labour Party had just been elected to office. On the second we were going into a General Election. We gave the Government the benefit of the doubt, but now, with a majority of 94, we appear to be saddled with this independent nuclear deterrent and it no longer appears to be the case that the A.N.F. is involved. This raises the whole question of whether or not we need this vast expenditure on Polaris submarines, and I shall concentrate my speech on this issue. At the beginning of 1963 my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said:
Let me again state our position. We on this side of the House have not been arguing either for Polaris or for Skybolt. We support neither.".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1963; Vol. 670, c. 1239.]
On 27th September, 1964, my right hon. Friend said in that famous speech from which hon. Gentlemen opposite so often quote:
The commitment to spend hundreds of millions of £s more on an all-American British deterrent, the Polaris programme, has pushed back for five years the important programme of nuclear-powered Hunter-Killer submarines. Nuclear-powered submarines we need. Nuclear vessels carrying missiles add nothing to Western strength and simply mean more and more pressure from other countries to become nuclear powers. Does anyone here view with any peace of mind the possibility of Germany as a nuclear power, for that is the logical conclusion of Tory policies?
My right hon. Friend was talking about the British independent nuclear deterrent developed by the Polaris submarine. I do not see any difference between what is now being done and what was being
done then. The only difference is that we have four in the programme whereas hon. Members opposite had five in the programme. So we are to save a certain amount of money because we cut one submarine out, but the basic strategy and policy are obviously the same.
Last Saturday the second Polaris submarine was launched at Birkenhead. In my mind I can still see the picture on television of the Minister's very charming wife allowing the bottle to go down—[An HON. MEMBER: "British wine I hope."]—and saying, "God bless her and all who serve in her". What was she blessing? According to a very interesting article this is what we were blessing:
Each submarine is costing an estimated £45 million to build and equip and each packs an awesome punch. With a range of 2,500 miles, the missiles it carries can reach anywhere on land, world-wide, and the explosive content of the 16 warheads carried in this one submarine is equivalent to more than the explosive content of all bombs dropped by both sides in the last war, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.
I do not know whether that statement is true, but it is what was said in an article in the Liverpool newspaper in relation to the launching of that vessel. We were blessing a destructive machine whose 16 missiles could produce more destructive bombs, including the nuclear bombs, dropped in the last war.
This is a Socialist Government. I am not a pacifist; I believe in defending our country, very much so. I spent four-and-a-half years in the last war playing my part in the defence of my country. But I see no point in accepting the tremendous financial cost for this sort of destructive weapon, particularly because it may not be absolutely correct that it has a world-wide range. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence said in the defence debate on 4th March, 1963:
Now we are committed by the Nassau Agreement to buy four or five Polaris submarines, one of which will always be in dock and the others, in a crisis, will be lurking around in easily identified and restricted areas in inland waterways, the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Baltic and the Barent Sea because their missiles cannot reach Soviet targets if they are put anywhere else.
Of course this is a different opinion from that in the newspaper article. Perhaps we can be told tonight whether these missiles have a worldwide range or would have to be in inland waterways.
It is an interesting point. My right hon. Friend went on to say:
Surely one major fact stands out a mile. It is that the American thermonuclear capacity for deterring aggression is infinitely more than sufficient of its rôle.… It is ludicrous in the face of this American capacity to talk about any need for a contribution from America's allies in this field.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 4th March, 1963; Vol. 673, cc, 50, 57, 58.]
My right hon. Friend said that in March, 1963. If it was true then, is it not equally true now? Why must we be spending this enormous amount of money, £370 million, for these four vessels in total while at the same time my city and Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester and London are crying out for houses required by their people? Is it not recognised that every £100 million spent in defence expenditure means so many fewer houses, so many fewer universities and schools?
Has my hon. Friend not heard the most despicable argument yet profounded, namely, that the four submarines which are to be launched were allowed to stay in the programme of development because it was cheaper for the Government to allow them to be launched rather than to compensate the manufacturers for cancellation?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I was coming to the question of whether we had always to continue with a programme with which we were saddled by the previous Government. It is very difficult to explain this, but the same argument can apply in relation to our commitments overseas.
We still built more houses than the party opposite. My argument is that we are not building more than we are building because of the wasteful expenditure on missiles and submarines such as the Polaris.
I do not want to take up the time of the House for very long, but I have been in my place for two-and-a-half days trying to take part in the debate. I wanted to develop points in relation to defence expenditure in general, but that I am not permitted to do in this debate; I have to confine myself now to remarks on the Navy Estimates. I wish to quote from a poem which I hope my right hon.
Friends on the Front Bench, particularly the Minister of Defence, will bear in mind. It was written by C. Day Lewis:
who raised his hand to brand the Cain
And blessed a submarine?
Time is up,
The medicine man must take his medicine.
That is an apt poem in these particular circumstances. The submarine at Birkenhead was blessed by the Bishop of Chester, who incidentally made quite clear in the process that this was a tradition and it did not mean that he accepted the expenditure on the submarine and the fact that it was for destruction. That was not said by anyone on our side of the fence, unfortunately.
In the context of the present political situation, when it is recognised that there is a déetente in Europe, when it is recognised in the White Paper that the possibilities of a war breaking out in Europe have diminished and under existing circumstances that is practically impossible, and that we have 7,000 nuclear weapons at our disposal now as part of the alliance, my argument is that these four Polaris submarines are totally unnecessary.
It is true that we inherited the programme. It is true that hon. Members gave the Government the benefit of the doubt on the basis of the A.N.F. In these new circumstances, now that 600,000 people are unemployed, now that we have a wage freeze and increased taxation, which is due to a large extent to the high level of military expenditure, we cannot afford this expenditure for the future. Let us cut our losses and let us not go ahead with at least two of these terrible weapons of destruction. Turn the other two into something else, if that is possible. That is my plea.
Before my hon. Friend leaves the point about the disposal of the submarines and the difficulty of cancelling the programme once it is started, is he not aware that a prominent member of the American Administration was here not long ago canvassing the proposal that the whole programme might be sold to the United States?
I am all for selling them to the United States, but I would be much happier if we could reach a situation in the world where the whole idea of Polaris submarines was abandoned. This is more easily said than done.
The hon. Gentleman said a short time ago that nuclear defence would be available to us if we abolished our own. Presumably he was referring to the American nuclear defensive umbrella. If that is so, I find it very difficult to follow the argument of some hon. Members opposite who do nothing but denigrate America and curse America's policy in Vietnam and elsewhere but yet expect the Americans to support us if we are in need and are attacked and have no weapons with which to defend ourselves.
It is a little difficult not to reply when someone alleges that I am denigrating America. For the hon. Gentleman's information, may I point out in passing, and without going too wide of the debate, that I have never attacked America? It is American Government policy that has been under attack. That is a very different thing. I was associated with and attached to the Eighth Army Air Corps during the last war and have many American friends from that time and since. A criticism of America's policy is very different from attacking America. I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I cannot pursue the point.
I want to see the Polaris submarine programme abandoned by the Government, first, because it is far too expensive and we cannot afford it. We particularly cannot afford it when people are unemployed and when there is a wage freeze which is partly due to this high military expenditure. I want to see the programme abandoned, secondly, because in present circumstances it makes no contribution towards a détente in Europe, towards a peaceful settlement of the European problem. My third reason is this. I want to see the money which is used on this programme used to build houses and schools. For example, I want to see the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board get the £31 million for the new container and bulk carrying docks which it requires. That would be a greater contribution to the real strength of Britain than any Polaris submarine programme.
I urge my right hon. Friends to think again and not to be tied to the policies we inherited from the Tories. Let us return to the ideas that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence expressed in the House and elsewhere on the Polaris programme prior to the 1964 General Election. That is what I am arguing for. I hope that my right hon. Friends will seriously take note of the points which have been raised by myself and my hon. Friends.
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). I accept that he was entirely sincere in what he said. Another point which has great merit is that, although I profoundly disagree with him, at least he is consistent, which is a refreshing change after listening to so many hon. Members opposite.
I remind the hon. Gentleman of something said by a very wise man who came from the same party as he does, no less a person than Mr. Ernest Bevin. Mr. Bevin made a statement which has many times been quoted, namely, that he never wanted to go naked into any negotiating chamber. That mean that Mr. Bevin was not prepared for Britain to sacrifice her defences for whatever ideals might have been thought to have been sincere at the time. Mr. Bevin's view was that, living in the dangerous world in which we live, we could not afford to do that.
The hon. Member for Walton spoke of the need for more houses and better housing conditions for many people. We all know the need for this, not only in Liverpool but elsewhere. What would the hon. Gentleman say if the Liverpool Council went flat out building houses galore without provision for hospitals, for roads, for sewerage works, and for all the other things which are necessary in a great new municipality like that? The hon. Gentleman would be the first to offer criticism.
That is precisely the argument that we on this side adopt. We say that we are in great need of social improvement. A great deal was done during the 13 years in which the Tory Government had charge of the nation's affairs, but not enough. Never is enough done in this sphere, and we want to see further progress. But it would be foolish to make progress only in that direction and neglect our defence needs.
I come now to the observations made by the hon. Member for West-Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) in the earlier part of his speech. I shall be very careful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know how thin was the ice the hon. Gentleman skated over, and I do not intend to venture out that far. The hon. Gentleman criticised the risks to which naval personnel were put during the confrontation between Malaysia and Indonesia. He deplored what had happened. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there are still young men, both ratings and officers, in the Royal Navy and young men in other walks of life who are adventurous and like risk-taking.
Not only is this noteworthy in the Royal Navy. One thinks of the numbers of young people, men and women, who go mountain climbing, potholing, sailing, water ski-ing, swimming the Channel in very unpleasant and adverse conditions. One thinks even of the "ton-up" boys on their motor cycles. Why do our young people indulge in these dangerous and, some of us might even say, foolish sports?
The answer is that there are risks to be taken. The same answer applies to the criticism which the hon. Gentleman made of the Royal Navy and its operations during that difficult time in the Far East. The chance of combat in far-away places with strange-sounding names is still a great call to adventure to the youth of this country. Dangerous episodes in our history have always given a great boost to our recruiting.
Deplore it as one may, the world is a dangerous place, horrible things can happen in distant quarters and even here at home, and these dangers are a great attraction to our youth. Nowadays, young people are often criticised in many ways, but I regard it as very good that they respond to the challenge of danger.
I cast no reflection on the adventurousness of the young men. I was merely saying that this particular war was one which, in my opinion, was unnecessary, was brought about by a combination of certain Foreign Office officials and the hon. and gallant Gentleman's Government, and was the type of war on which we should never again embark. I cast no aspersions on the Navy or its men.
All wars are unnecessary. They are all due to mistakes on the part of politicians on one side or other or in one country or another. If politicians were perfect there would be no wars.
No; I must get on. There are many others who wish to speak and the hon. Gentleman had a very good chance.
I come now to re-engagement, and I address myself to the Under-Secretary of State. On page 44 of the Estimates there is a complete schedule of Navy rates of pay showing the differential in pay between the man on a short engagement and the man on a long engagement. It is right and proper that there should be this differential, but, in order to improve our re-engagement rate, something more must be done.
Cannot re-engaged men in the Royal Navy have some sort of higher status, with privileges both at sea and ashore, longer leave, for instance, longer notice of drafting changes whenever the service permits—I know how difficult it is to promise such a thing—priority on the waiting list for married quarters and, perhaps. greater financial aid towards their children's education? Advantages of this kind might well be a spur to men who are uncertain about whether to reengage. They are after money, of course, but they want other things as well. Money is a consideration, but there are other things in life just as important, if not more important.
Again on the subject of money, I turn to the Navy's pay accounting system. I have recently been in correspondence with one of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues on this subject. A bad feature of naval pay accounting—it has been bad for many years, certainly for all the time that I can remember—is that when men are paid they are given the sum of money which is due according to the terms on which payment is made but no brief statement of how the sum is made up and what their outstanding balance is. In self-accounting ships and establishments, a man can go to the ship's office, examine the ledger and have the amount standing to his account explained. This is fine in a self-accounting ship, and it is fine for a man who is willing to take the time and trouble to go and find out. But some men are shy and diffident about going into a ship's office. They think that they will be cursed at for being a nuisance, or something of that sort.
Would it not be sensible to give every man with his payment a slip of paper showing the period accounted for and, in two sections, his basic pay and his allowances lumped together, with the deductions made for allotments, Income Tax and so on. Lastly, there could be shown the balance remaining on the books and the amount which he is being paid on that day.
This sounds rather complicated as I describe it, but it need not be. It is time that the Navy came into line with industry and other Government Departments so that officers and men on the day when they are paid can have a brief guide as to the amount they are receiving and why they are receiving it. As I say, I have been in correspondence with one of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues on this matter. My correspondence began, in fact, some months ago with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew). So far, we have not come to a satisfactory conclusion, save that there is a promise of a centralised computer nay system to come in some time in 1969.
I do not believe that the computer will solve all the problems. What the man wants is a way of knowing how. say, the £10 19s. 6d. which he receives on pay day is made up and what it corresponds to.
Now, the Simonstown Agreement. Towards the end of January, there was a meeting in Cape Town. So far as I know, there has since then been only a Press release, but no White Paper and no official communiqué. It is evident from statements made in the House that the new agreement is satisfactory to both sides from an operational point of view and for the purposes of personnel as well. But what is the position now regarding stores and equipment?
I was recently in South Africa and I heard many expressions of grave dissatisfaction at the recent behaviour of Her Majesty's Government regarding the provision of spares and stores for ships which were built in the United Kingdom, and particularly regarding the provision of sharp ammunition for those ships. I use the naval jargon, sharp ammunition —I am sure that the Minister knows what I mean—that is to say, ammunition loaded with high explosive as opposed to practice ammunition. What will happen when the initial outfits of ammunition for those ships, which were built in the United Kingdom, are near the end of their proper storage life. As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, all naval ammunition has a safe and efficient storage life. After that it must be taken to a remote place and destroyed, and replaced with new ammunition. I believe that it is possible to take out the explosive and refill some ammunition, but I could not say whether that is so in that case.
There is grave dissatisfaction in South Africa that Her Majesty's Government supplied the ships in accordance with the original Simonstown Agreement, supplied the outfits of ammunition, stores and so on, and is now being very difficult about supplying replacements. I would like a definite reassurance tonight from the Minister that that state of affairs will not be allowed to continue.
After all, we have had so recently—we discussed it only at Question Time today—an example of the grave results, grave in the true sense of the word, the loss of human life, of this Government's running out on a defence agreement, or an agreement to make a defence agreement, in Aden. If they are going to do the same in South Africa, heaven help them.
I echo the congratulations already offered to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, from both sides of the House, on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box in a debate on the Navy Estimates.
I should like to make four specific points very briefly before coming to the main subject which I want to raise, a subject which has already been touched on by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers).
My first brief point is that I am afraid that I must correct one thing said by the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon). The quotation he attributed to the late Ernest Bevin should be attributed, I very much regret, for various reasons, to say, to another much-lamented former colleague, Aneurin Bevan.
I thank the hon. Gentleman.
Secondly, the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) referred to Greenwich and to changes taking place there. No doubt my hon. Friend can assure us on one aspect of that matter. Whatever happens at Greenwich, I hope that infinite care will be taken to see that no damage is done to Wren's masterpiece, that superb building, the college with its painted hall, chapel and the rest. Will it continue in the care of the Royal Navy or pass to the Ministry of Public Building and Works?
I can give my hon. Friend the answer now. On Monday evening my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence (Administration) said that a decision had been taken that Shrivenham would be the centre for the defence college. The question of making full use of Greenwich is one that we are actively pursuing.
I gather, then, that it is not yet finally settled what its complete future use will be. However, I have made my point.
My third brief point is that I was much interested to hear the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester reinforce what he said in his speech on Monday. Speaking from the Front Bench opposite, he said that he was in favour of sending British ships to join in the war in Vietnam.
If HANSARD got down the hon. and gallant Member's original words correctly, as I have no doubt HANSARD did, we shall be able to see in the morning exactly what the hon. and gallant Member said. I am aware that when my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) was speaking the hon. and gallant Member rose again and slightly modified what he had said before, after a rather anxious discussion with others sitting on the Opposition Front Bench. I am not surprised that he tried to wriggle out of it. If he looks at HANSARD he will see that what I said is correct. Perhaps he has already seen the typescript?
The hon. and gallant Member tried to wriggle out of it later on, but if one takes what he said this afternoon, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, in the context of his observations on Monday, when he was expressing his personal opinion, I think that we shall agree that he did really mean what I have attributed to him. It is true that he said, "to assist our Commonwealth allies, Australia and New Zealand". But after all, if their ships or forces are in Vietnam assisting the Americans it would be impossible, under a unified command, to assist the Australians without also assisting the Americans in the war in Vietnam. I am afraid that I must continue to take it that that is what he really meant, in his heart of hearts. If he was advised afterwards that it was indiscreet—
I can only guess what the hon. and gallant Member meant, but I am sure that when he next speaks from the Opposition Front Bench he will be extremely careful to prepare a script beforehand, in consultation with his seniors, and stick to it rather scrupulously.
That point was not quite so brief as I had hoped because of the interventions, which I had expected. My fourth brief point concerns Polaris. Tempting as it is to embark on that subject, it has already been dealt with at some length and very ably, by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), and I know that others may wish to speak on it. I shall therefore only say that I also thought it a little less than fair of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to taunt some of us with having voted for the Government in 1965. As he well knows 1965 happens to fall chronologically between 1964, when there was a General Election, and 1966, when there was a General Election. It is a reality of Parliamentary life, which everybody understands, that when the Government one supports have a majority of only three or four in the House, it is impossible to indicate one's views by abstaining from voting. I should have been extremely happy to abstain from voting for the A.N.F. or any other force containing a nuclear element.
In the absence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, I do not think that I had better criticise him for what seemed to me to be the ultra-clericalism of his speech at the Polaris submarine launching luncheon last weekend.
The main subject that I want to raise is a somewhat more personal one. It was touched on briefly by the hon. Member for Devonport. It is the system under which boys of 15 can sign on for nine years in the Royal Navy, many of them not realising that the nine years only start when they are 18 and that they are therefore, in fact, signing on for 12 years without the hope of a break, and without any open options, to use a fashionable phrase, except after only three months—so my hon. Friend need not make a note to correct me: I knew that he was putting that down. That is when a boy is only about 15½ and cannot be expected to have made up his mind about his whole future career.
I am sorry to say that that seems to me to be a form of legalistic tyranny utterly inappropriate in the voluntary forces of a democratic State, and also anachronistic at a time when those forces are being reduced. I say "legalised" tyranny because presumably the Ministry of Defence believes that it has the law on its side, since, as it insists, these boys have taken an oath to serve for all these years. The validity of this arrangement appears to rest not on a strictly contractual basis but on the single act of attestation administered, as I say, at as early an age as 15. It also seems possible, however, that the ordinary law governing infants' contracts may not apply. On this legal aspect, counsel's opinion is now being taken by the National Council for Civil Liberties.
What is surely more important than the purely legal aspect is the human aspect. There is ample evidence to show that a certain number—by no means most or all—of these boys come to regret bitterly the decision which they made at an age when, as I say, no one can possibly foresee what his views will be and how he will like the career he has chosen in 10 or 12 years' time. [Interruption.] Does the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) wish to interrupt?
The right hon. Gentleman has a great reputation as a wit in this House, but just occasionally his wit is misapplied. I am trying to deal with what I regard as a tragic human dilemma for a relatively small minority in the Royal Navy and I do not think that his flippancy is particularly in order on this subject.
In my opinion, there should be a chance of break for these boys either at the age of 18 or at least at the age of 21. I am aware of the arguments always put forward by the Service Departments, including the Navy, on this matter. I shall deal with them briefly in going through a letter I received last evening from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State.
He will, I hope, have seen the memorandum on this subject which the N.C.C.L. recently sent to the Secretary of State. The memorandum makes what seems to
me to be a very strong case for changing this practice. There is only one point on which I do not altogether agree with it. It refers to an incident that many of us I think had almost forgotten—the curious incident of the by-elections in 1963, when about 670 people, mostly Service men applied for nomination papers. It had been widely publicised at that time that this was a way of getting out of the Armed Forces. The memorandum suggests that this
… indicates that the probable proportion of dissatisfied servicemen must be much larger than is generally supposed".
The memorandum may suggest that—be that as it may; but I also suggest that, in view of the fact that this curious outlet had been widely publicised, 670 is a trivially small number in relation to the total strength of the Armed Forces and that therefore it could not be argued by the Navy or any other Service Department that they simply dare not risk letting these boys have a choice at 18, say, for fear that they would lose all the personnel of the Navy.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that, whereas the number of dissatisfied people in the Royal Navy may be small, it is the basis of any successful career, whether in the Navy or anywhere else, that people should be happy in it? Is he aware that in my constituency there is the example of a promising young naval heavyweight who has consistently been refused release by the Navy to carry on a professional boxing career in civilian life? It is true that the number of dissatisfied people may be very small, but I repeat that the basis of any career is that those who work in it should be happy to do the job.
I am sure that that is true. I believe that the case my hon. Friend refers to is one of many very difficult cases that are quoted in the N.C.C.L. memorandum. It is a particularly sad case, as I recall. The Navy will not release this man and his father has deteriorated in both physical and mental health as a result of his anxiety about his son, and is now just about to go into hospital.
I am sure that if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has had the opportunity to read the memorandum and the case-histories contained in it, he will have found some of them disturbing and moving. But this is not merely a sentimental case. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Gwilym Roberts) has suggested, what possible use to the Navy can a sullen, reluctant, unhappy sailor be? Can he contribute usefully to the atmosphere and discipline of a happy ship? We all know that there are such ships, and I am sure that the hon. and Gallant Member for Winchester has commanded such ships and knows them very well.
I am sure that we would all be a happy ship, serving under him —so long as he did not send us to Vietnam.
If, as may happen, such a sailor deserts again and again and is then punished by prolonged periods of detention, that is surely using public money without any reciprocal service.
It was just such a case of a constituent which recently drew my attention to this subject, A young man of 18 came to see me when I was seeing constituents with problems, as many of us do, one Friday evening in the town hall in my constituency. He was clearly in a state of some anxiety and uncertainty, and after some time he disclosed that he was a deserter from the Navy. This was his fourth desertion since he had signed on at the age of 15. He had been on the run for several months and was naturally worried about his future.
I do not know what hon. Members would have done, or would have felt they should do, in such a case. I am afraid that I felt obliged to advise this young man to give himself up voluntarily. I said that, if he did so, I would take up his case with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and try to ensure that the fact that he had given himself up voluntarily would be taken fully into account at his court martial, and that I would also ask my hon. Friend to consider the possibility of discharging him when he had served his sentence. Naturally I could not give any guarantee, but I had some hope that the case would be treated with humanity and common sense. This lad, of course, expected some punishment, but I think that his chief motive in agreeing to give himself up was his hope that he might eventually be discharged. He is now serving 90 days' detention, but so far the authorities are adamant in refusing to discharge him.
Last night, I received a letter to this effect from my hon. Friend. I am grateful to him for the personal attention that he has paid to the case and for arranging that my constituent should be seen by a second psychiatrist, the first psychiatric report having been negative. We know that my hon. Friend is personally a most kindly and humane man, but he has not been very long in his present position. The status of the Navy Minister has recently been down-graded. Since he represents the Senior Service, I think that my hon. Friend should be at least a Minister of State—of course, without any immediate increase in emoluments. But we may, therefore, suspect that he has not yet acquired sufficient experience and authority in his Department to temper the somewhat anchor-faced inflexibility of some of those who take these decisions.
I want to quote a few sentences from my hon. Friend's letter. He says of my constituent, whose name I will not mention, because I want to avoid causing unnecessary distress to his relatives:
Unless this new psychiatric report, however, is markedly different from the present one, I am sure it would be wrong to release him only on the grounds that he does not like the Navy and is therefore not likely to do well in it. As you know, we take great pains to ensure that a boy of 15 and his parents are fully aware of the terms of the naval engagement before he enters into it.
Perhaps that is so now, but is my hon. Friend absolutely convinced that it was so three years ago? Is he convinced that they all understand the terms of the engagement? That is not the evidence available to the N.C.C.L., who produced this memorandum.
My hon. Friend's letter goes on to talk about arrangements for discharge by purchase on compassionate grounds and the new right of discharge by purchase within three months of entry, about which I have already spoken. This is not, in my view, a very big concession. He adds, in any case, that this new rule is not retrospective and will, therefore, not help my constituent.
Then my hon. Friend adds sentences which do not seem to have been originally
drafted by him. I say this with all respect to him—they smack so much of the familiar bureaucratic line:
Once a rating has finished his naval training, he has to abide more strictly by the terms of his contract. It just would not be possible to run a disciplined Service if we let out any and every rating who expressed the desire to go.
I consider that to be absolute rubbish. Are not the police a disciplined service, and cannot policemen leave the police force when they want to? Is not the fire service, in its way, also disciplined? Apprentices in industry are bound for the period of their apprenticeship, but they are then free to get a job wherever they want to. It is rubbish to say that it would not be possible to run a disciplined Service unless there were absolute compulsion all the time. That is a ridiculous argument, and it suggests that the Service is a tyranny from which everyone must want to escape: we know that, for most people, that is not so.
Then comes the familiar argument:
We would be wasting the valuable training we give our ratings and, of course, involve ourselves in an indefensible waste of public money.
Again, the police have a good deal spent on their training, as do firemen. Anybody who acquires a skill, a man who has learned about electronics in the Royal Navy, or whatever it might be, has a skill which is an asset to the nation, wherever he may be employed.
There is also the provision for discharge by purchase,although that does not come until later on. To make up to some extent for what is called the waste of public money, a fairly high figure is often imposed when people want to buy themselves out. On the question of discharge by purchase, my hon. Friend says:
-Currently we are allowing those who have completed two-thirds of their engagement—counting from the age of 18—to apply for discharge by purchase".
That is to say, my constituent, who is now 18, would have to wait another six years. He would be 24 before he could even apply for discharge by purchase—and that in any case, as we are always reminded, is a privilege and not a right. So he might get out in about six years—a long time to look forward to in a job which one intensely dislikes.
I am sorry to say that one further sentence seems to me intolerably smug. It is:
You can see, therefore, that it would be very unfair to give preference to the few who cannot, or will not, make the effort to settle down.
That is a mid-Victorian, "Boys Own Paper" sort of comment. It is also extremely illogical. If it is only "the few" who "cannot, or will not, make the effort to settle down", presumably the majority do make that effort, or settle down anyway, because they like it, without much effort. Therefore, the Navy would be well rid of the few who cannot, or will not, make the effort. Why is it giving them "preference" if most of the chaps want to stay in, anyway, as we gather they do and as I believe that many of them do?
There are only one or two other points from the letter with which I need trouble the House, but they raise an important point of principle. In one paragraph of the letter my hon. Friend deals with the detention which my constituent is at present undergoing. He says:
Detention in the Navy is, of course, punitive. It is particularly suitable as a punishment for the serious offence of desertion.…
I wonder whether my hon. Friend thought out that sentence before signing it. Why is it "particularly" suitable as a punishment for desertion? I should have thought that the claustrophobic small cell in which people are locked up for considerable periods of time would be an incitement to seek freedom anew at the earliest opportunity.
Of course my hon. Friend adds:
… but it is also reformative. Every effort is made to administer it in a way which will help ratings, particularly the young and immature, to acquire a better sense of values as well as that valuable asset, self-discipline.
I make no reflection at all on those who are concerned with administering the detention quarters in which my constituent is imprisoned. They are doing the best they can in what are probably rather old-fashioned but hygienic buildings, but the way in which my constituent is being taught to acquire a better sense of values is that he is locked up in his cell stitching rope together to make matting. I hope that this will teach him to acquire a better sense of values, but I somehow rather doubt it.
For the reasons I have given, I feel particularly badly about this individual constituency case. All of us regret it whenever we take up a matter and fail to persuade a Minister. But in this case, as I have told the House, I played some part in persuading a constituent to return to a Service which he regards as a servitude and which he fervently detests, and I must continue to plead with my hon. Friend for his release. In the light of what has happened so far in this case, I do not see how I could be expected to give the same advice again.
Nothing I have said should be taken as a reflection in any way on those who have been concerned with the trial and detention of my constituent. I am not on this occasion raising the question of conditions in which Naval prisoners are detained; I do not think that they could be expected to be ideal. But I am sure that the lieutenant who was his defending officer did his best for him. Least of all would I presume to criticise or depreciate the Royal Navy itself, for which all of us feel the regard which the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester expressed in his closing words, or the officers and men who serve in what is, for most of them, the finest of Services and of vocations; but the whole of this practice about which I have been speaking needs urgent review, and I know that many hon. Members on both sides of the House feel that it ought to be reviewed.
I hope that the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) will not think me discourteous if I do not follow him in the special points which he has raised. I have a good deal of sympathy with the point about the boy of 15, in the Navy for nine years, who cannot start to count the beginning of his time until he reaches the age of 18. One must also consider the naval side. The hon. Member mentioned the electronics artificer as being an asset to the nation, and this is perfectly true. But the Navy has trained him and it has cost a lot of money. It will be expensive for it to retrain another man, and inefficient to change him.
The particular case of the heavyweight boxer was interesting. I have seen it in the papers only, and I would not try to judge the case, but although one may sympathise personally with an individual wishing to get out because he can earn a good deal more money as a professional boxer, I am not sure if those are the right reasons for discharge. I understand that the Minister's predecessor gave an undertaking that he would look at this, and I hope that that still holds good and that, in due course we will hear what the investigation has produced.
I want to wish the Minister good fortune in his great responsibilities, particularly at this time. I should like to express the hope that he will not yield to the pressures, not only from his own Left wing, but from this side of the House. However, hon. Members on this side who hold similar views to his Left-wingers about economy are not quite so vocal. There are pressures from the country to cut back on our defence expediture too. I hope that he will lean the other way, to redress the balance. Over decades his predecessors have always gone through this period and sometimes the pressure is irresistible, and in the end they have had to give way.
This has led to very much greater expenditure in the end. It is hard going in time of peace. I always feel an air of unreality when I speak in this House or anywhere else about the possibility of war. After 25 years or so of peace, war seems far distant but I feel that we must remain vigilant for generations to come. I was not entirely encouraged by the contents of the hon. Gentleman's speech. This is nothing personal, and it was probably because he did not mention the subjects in which I am interested, and which I raised in the defence debate.
The Minister mentioned the surface-to-surface guided missile which I agree is important; he mentioned carriers which are also important, but he said nothing about our anti-submarine forces, which was a subject I raised in the debate and which I think is of paramount importance. One thing that I have to support me in saying that is that there is in existence a large submarine fleet operated by, one hesitates to use the words "a potential enemy" about Russia, but they have that great fleet, and, of all countries, we are most threatened by it.
The hon. Gentleman referred to amphibious forces, air power and nuclear
submarines. All of this is very important but he mentioned the phrase "antisubmarine" only once. Because of that I want to assure him that I do not intend to repeat my defence debate speech, but I will read a short paragraph from the White Paper at paragraph 15 which has fundamentally affected our position in the realm of anti-submarine forces if not naval forces in general. It says:
…it is no longer realistic for the Alliance to attempt to provide maritime forces for conducting a prolonged war at sea after a strategic nuclear exchange.
I take the view that we could have a prolonged war at sea. The only prolonged war that I can think of is a submarine war, without a massive nuclear exchange. We are told now that it is no longer realistic for the Alliance to attempt to provide forces for that sort of war. For years, and the Foreign Secretary repeated this yesterday, the Services and the Navy, from my own experience, have been told that this country will never fight a major war again, and that therefore our forces can be looked upon as a pool with the N.A.T.O. nations, and as such they should be enough.
Now we are told that the pool will not be there. I will leave that thought with the Minister, having drawn his attention to it. I hope that he will consider it. There is a most interesting line at the end of the paragraph which says:
Deterrence must be the first purpose of N.A.T.O.'s naval forces too.
That is very important. It obviously does not refer only to Polaris submarines. They are part of the deterrent, but it also refers to the whole of the N.A.T.O. naval forces. How are they to be related to the deterrent? I agree with the statement and I will give reasons for it. Has the Minister given any thought to this? I do not want to press him too hard, because he has not been in his office all that long, but I hope that the one or two ideas that I shall put forward will give him a line of thought. If the statement is properly implemented, that is that deterrence must be the first purpose of N.A.T.O.'s naval forces, then it nullifies, to a large extent, the first part of that paragraph, which rather worries me.
It may seem paradoxical that if we strengthen our anti-submarine forces, we buttress and support our nuclear deterrent. We not only support it, we supplement it. I have mentioned the great Russian submarine fleet. In that fleet there are missile-firing submarines. If ever those were used, and we all hope that they will not be, one of their targets would be the land-based nuclear striking forces of the allies, including this country. Our anti-submarine forces should be able to destroy or neutralise those missile-bearing submarines, and that is one way in which they will support our deterrent.
I am talking about the deterrent. I am not talking about facing a nuclear war. Once the missiles are launched, the deterrent element has failed. I hope that I am building a case to show how anti-submarine forces can help to support the deterrent as part of a complete picture. If the hon. Gentleman allows me to develop my argument, I may make it clearer.
I believe still that the carrier strike forces are part of the nuclear deterrent. Whether they are as important as they were, with the development of missiles I am not sure, but they can still deliver the nuclear weapon. The protection of these strike forces with anti-submarine forces make our deterrent more credible. Our anti-submarine forces support the deterrent with a contribution which can be looked on as parallel to that of the shield force in Europe. They support the deterrent by anti-submarine operations protecting the Western missile-firing submarines. These undoubtedly would be sought out by enemy submarines.
To do all this, we must develop a capacity to survey activity on or under the sea and around the coasts of N.A.T.O. in exactly the same way as we have the capacity to detect missiles or aeroplanes. Our defensive shield should not only be on the mainland of Europe; it must extend right round our coasts. It is no good having a chain of Fylingdales if they are incapable, which they are, of detecting missile submarines in the ocean from where these submarines can attack us. The lack of discussion of these maritime problems at such gatherings as the Western European Union always worries me. We have tremendous discussions about the land frontiers, but no discussions about the sea frontiers, which are just as important.
I have said that the Russian submarine threat is great. I am told that it is estimated that the Russian submarine fleet numbers between 500 and 1,000. I am told also that the numbers may not greatly increase, but that certainly the quality of the weapon will increase. Particularly there will be an increase in the missile-firing types. If our deterrent is to be fully supported and credible, we need anti-submarine forces to counter that threat.
The Minister said that we had 138 ships in commission. I asked him how many anti-submarine ships we had. I did not expect him to have the answer at his finger tips. He said that he would let me know at the end of the debate. There is no need for him to bother to do that, because I know that the number is far too small. At the height of the war when we were in such desperate straits in the submarine war, there were just over 100 Nazi submarines at sea but vast numbers of anti-submarine vessels were available. We can say that if we have only 138 ships in commission we have far too few antisubmarine ships. The same applies to maritime aircraft, which are an indispensable part of our anti-submarine forces.
It is well known that the nuclear submarine of various types was a tremendous leap forward in the technical development of that weapon. For many years it was well ahead of defensive weapons. Is the Minister satisfied with the development of our weapons designed to combat the submarine? In the swelling argument about east or west of Suez, in the context of anti-submarine warfare, it is accepted that Europe, including Britain and the North Atlantic sea routes, is the first priority. In this respect, our east of Suez policy, whatever it is, must take second place. If a choice had to be made because of lack of money. there is no doubt in my mind that we should have to go for our antisubmarine forces and not east of Suez. I hope that the choice will not be as stark as that.
I hope that I have put some ideas into the Minister's head and that in pursuit of the statement that deterrence must be the first purpose of N.A.T.O.'s naval forces he will consider the development of anti-submarine forces. This has the added merit that if the nuclear weapons are never used and if, as I think possible, a conventional war, particularly a conventional submarine war, is a possibility, the anti-submarine weapons will be available.
In this White Paper we are giving up or running down a great many of our bases. That is a serious matter from the point of view of anti-submarine warfare. We needed these bases before and we may need them again. But the running down or vacating of our bases raises wider problems for the Navy than purely anti-submarine warfare problems. I have found it distressing that so many hon. Members opposite should talk about withdrawing from our commitments. Even if our strength is limited, we can play our part. Unless we are prepared to shoulder our fair share of the burden and support our allies, how can we expect them to support us?
I move on to look at the Navy as a whole. The first requirement for any Navy is that it should be balanced. In recent years, and in the years before the present Government were in power, there was a tendency to try to build a Navy to serve in certain parts of the world. I have heard it said—I have an idea that the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) said it—that we needed a carrier east of Suez but that the Navy did not need one west of Suez. In any one particular situation, perhaps at present, that might be a true statement, but I believe that over the decades and over the centuries the Navy has served this country so well and faithfully because it has been a balanced Navy.
There is a great temptation to try to prophesy the nature of the future wars, but, of course, it is extremely difficult to be right. Although there may be a trend towards this or that particular weapon —for example, the anti-submarine weapon today—the Navy as a whole must remain balanced. We may, through not having enough weapons of one particular arm, suffer heavily, but we will get by and we will strengthen that arm as time goes on. What is called the "brush fire" rôle is important—the rôle of trying to stop small or incipient wars before they develop. That rôle has made a very big demand on Royal Navy resources. I believe it has made too big a demand.
It is with some trepidation, seeing my hon. and gallant Friend on the Front Bench, that I refer very briefly to the Royal Marines. No one has a higher admiration than I have for that corps. I think it is the finest corps in the world. If one looks at Vote A one will see that they are now about one-tenth of the naval manpower, which is a very much higher proportion than before the War. Their rôle now is quite different. Before the war and during the war they were an integral part of a ship's company. They manned their share of the armaments and they took on a lot of the ordinary jobs associated with ships.
Now, of course, they do not do that. I even see that the Royal Marines are part of the strategic reserve. I am sure that they are a very formidable part of that reserve. The fact is that that side of the Navy has become, perhaps for good reasons, rather too developed. There is no doubt that if the Navy does not have a carrier it will be unbalanced. The Minister of Defence yesterday referred to this in words which seemed to imply that shore-based aircraft were able to do the task. We should not fool ourselves about that. If the Government think that we cannot afford a carrier they will have to say so and presumably we will not get one. But it is no good pretending that shore-based aircraft can replace the carrier.
It is not merely a question of shore-based aircraft operating in the area. We learned during the War, and it is still true today, that unless the Fleet has the aircraft at immediate call, they are not close enough. It was a long time ago, but it was precisely that situation, relying on shore-based aircraft, that led to the sinking of the "Repulse" and the "Prince of Wales".
Do not let us pretend that shore-based aircraft can take the part of the carriers. They cannot. I must say that I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) that there is no need for us to think about these large carriers. I will go further. There are certain decisions that are made which just do not take place. The Government have decided that we shall not have aircraft carriers. A month or two ago I asked the Minister what different types of ships could carry aircraft. Of course, there are about a dozen different types. Although we can get rid of aircraft carriers, there are still ships that carry aircraft. I asked the Minister whether it was intended to limit the ships of the Royal Navy to carry one type of aircraft, to which the Minister replied that he hoped not. So we can get ships that carry aircraft, and I do not think that as the years go on we will confine them to helicopters. There are a variety of ships that carry aircraft, and I believe that that decision will go by default.
I should like to say in passing that there is no need for us to think about these great big expensive 70,000-ton carriers. As time goes on and with the development of aircraft, I believe that we could do with much smaller ones of an entirely different appearance.
I mentioned the reduction of overseas bases. Quite frankly—I am not speaking for my Front Bench or for anyone else, but for myself—I am not against reductions in overseas bases—they may have to go —or to reducing their status to the order of an advance base. I may say quickly that I am not considering the political problems of such a reduction. That may raise problems as we see them in Aden, but that is a different matter. I am talking purely from the point of view of the Navy.
I am not a supporter of these fixed bases. One of the most depressing features of post-war defence expenditure is the base after base that we built at enormous cost which we then have to get out of because the political scene changes and all the money is wasted. If we are not to have any fixed bases at all, then in order to be able to carry out our commitments in support of our allies we have to develop—or perhaps I should say redevelop—the concept of mobile bases. I say "redevelop" because we had such bases during the last war. I do not intend to go into detail, but these bases could be completely self-contained. They must have one requirement, and that is a firm rear base, perhaps thousands of miles away from the scene of operation. If they have that these mobile bases can operate over great distances for long periods. We read in the White Paper about the carrier patrolling off Beira for 71 days. That is a long time. I think I am right in saying the during the war the Fleets operated at sea for that length of time. It is an unusually long time for Fleets to operate, but they can do so if they are properly replenished. Whenever it is necessary they can exert pressure, reinforce forward bases, or carry out landing operations. I repeat that it makes me very nervous if we have a base which might be threatened and which in time of war might prove a death-trap, as was Singapore in the last war. It seems to me that as possibilities for two rear bases, South Africa and Australia are the points.
I have read about the Commonwealth Secretary discussing some sort of facilities in Australia and I hope that this is true. We know the situation in South Africa. I do not want to dwell on the political difficulties—
I merely wanted to stress that these bases were a key to the operation of mobile bases which are essential to the Royal Navy. I have, however, finished with that point.
Traditionally, this country has always got into financial difficulty when we have attempted to keep large standing forces in different parts of the world. Although circumstances change, we still remain an island. We still remain dependent on our sea routes. A trend back towards a maritime strategy—and this today concerns not only the Royal Navy, but the Army and the Royal Air Force, too—would not only bring our defence spending under control and keep it to a size which we could bear, but it would enable us to play our part with our Allies in upholding our principles of democracy wherever they may be threatened.
The Minister of Power said yesterday that our besetting fault was self-denigration. A form of national denigration is to press for Britain constantly to withdraw from her commitments. I was very glad when the Foreign Secretary yesterday paid tribute to the benefits which have flowed from the proper discharge of our obligations, and I hope that this will continue.
In following the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot), I should like at the outset to take up two points made earlier in the debate. The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) asked why the Government contemplated still constructing naval vessels in naval dockyards when it appeared on the evidence that the job could be done more cheaply elsewhere.
To make an inquiry of that sort is to ignore two fundamental points. The first is that if the dockyards are to do an efficient job in the maintenance which is required of them, they need the experience which is involved in constructing naval vessels.
Secondly, it ignores the point that frequently when ships have been built by civilian contractors, they are brought into naval dockyards after trial for extensive modification.
The second point which I should like to take up was one made by the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devon-port (Dame Joan Vickers) in what I regarded as a particularly thoughtful and constructive speech. The hon. Lady referred to the importance of welfare if we were to get recruitment on the scale that is needed for the modern Navy.
In the context of those remarks, I should like to draw attention particularly to the problems—psychological, health and welfare—of naval wives. Increasingly, naval wives seem to be younger, and the problems with which they are confronted as the result of prolonged separation from their husbands is something which we should not underestimate. There is also the difficulty that when naval personnel are seeking help on welfare problems, there is a certain degree of discouragement when they know that this will be recorded on their official documents. They know that frequently the visits, however well-intentioned, which Will be made to their homes Will he done by naval personnel in uniform. There is urgent need to humanise the Navy's welfare services, because this would be an important aspect in providing the general environment in the Service which will prove attractive. Of fundamental importance to an efficient and effective Navy are the dockyards in which our ships are built, maintained and repaired. Our dockyards contain vast resources of capital equipment and manpower. They are engaged in a process of modernisation to service effectively a Navy which, although smaller in volume, packs more punch than was ever dreamed of in the heyday of the battleship. To do this effectively, absolute efficiency is necessary. I know from personal experience, and with the co-operation of the Admiralty authority which enabled me to get this experience, that men and management in the dockyards are determined to ensure this efficiency in the process of change. In talking about the needs of the Navy, however, we should not underestimate the difficulties.
The yards and the methods of administration and work within them were not designed to meet the needs of the present Navy. I know of the present Minister's deep personal concern about this and I know that, from visits which he has made to the dockyard in my constituency, all concerned have been impressed by his determination to get to the bottom of existing difficulties. If we are to see a smooth transition in this period of change, we in the House of Commons this evening must grasp the nettle of certain key problems.
The argument may be used that we do not want unnecessarily to cause a crisis of morale among those working in the dockyards, but there are already signs that all is not well. There is a drift of manpower away from the yards. There is a drift of qualified young men from the yards after their expensive training at apprentice schools. There is the constant stream of individuals and representative groups of workers lobbying those of us who represent dockyard constituencies on a host of problems.
To analyse the basic difficulties, we must look first at pay. We all recognise the present economic situation, but as soon as we emerge from the current restrictions we must take into account the shockingly inadequate basic rates of pay within the yards, particularly for unskilled personnel. We must take into account that over the years a thoroughly pernicious system has grown up which has meant that overtime and incentive schemes have had to be used to give a basically adequate wage for people to take home at the end of a week's work. We know that the former job price contract system was completely discredited because it was used, and had to be used, as a means of making up basic pay. We know that, with the determination of all concerned, the new dockyard incentive bonus scheme is being more ruthlessly applied, but simply because it is being more ruthlessly applied the totally inadequate basic rates of pay are being shown up for what they are.
Secondly, we must take into account the working conditions of those employed in the yards. To put it mildly, those conditions compare not at all well with outside industry. The facilities for those employed in the yards are inadequate.
Thirdly, we must look at the problem of status of employment within the yards. There is an over-emphasis of the division between industrial and non-industrial employees. This consequently and obviously leads to tensions. It damages the team spirit which we would all like to see in the yards in the work which they undertake.
Inevitably there are delays in according changes of status to men who seek higher status for their employment. We have seen this, as the hon. Member for Devonport said, in the instance of the apprentice group instructors. We have seen it also in the instance of the chargehands. Some of us are concerned to know why these delays arise, because those involved in negotiating changes of status are aware of the chain reaction which may result from according a change to a particular group. That does not mean that the change should not take place, and some of the delays which have occurred recently are totally unjustifiable, but it means that we must call into question the whole basic division which exists in the yards between industrial and non-industrial employees.
All those points were brought out in the excellent Report of the Prices and Incomes Board. Those of us who have referred to the Board's recommendations have welcomed the Ministerial reassurances that these recommendations are under active consideration. However, every hon. Member is well aware of what this can mean when it is said by Ministers. Periods of "active consideration" at times can last interminably. All concerned must realise that it is vital that decisive and clear-cut early action is taken on the recommendations of the Prices and Incomes Board, and we should welcome from the Minister an indication as to when we can expect action and implementation of the recommendations.
In this period of change to highly streamlined modern dockyards, the importance of communication between management and men cannot be overestimated. Anyone who knows the yards is aware that, for a host of reasons, this communication is not all that it should be. Men do not feel that they are being involved in genuine consultations about the changes which are taking place. Because of the inextricably complicated network of management, it is almost impossible to pin down the blame for the imperfection in communication at any one point.
I pay tribute to those in management who are doing a great deal of dedicated and imaginative work in difficult situations, but the system is too rigid and inflexible. It leads to uneven distribution of the work load and to bottlenecks. It results in duplication between naval and civilian managements at all levels.
Any of us looking at the administration of the yards must see that some of the decision making is too remote. There is too much power concentrated in the bureaucratic machines of Whitehall. There is obviously a need for a much greater degree of delegation to individual yards and to individual departments within these yards. If we are to see the yards which we want to see servicing the modern streamlined and effective Navy which we are told there is to be, there must he greater independence in the yards, collectively and individually.
We should be looking at the possibility of a new system of administration, perhaps similar to that now proposed for the Post Office. There is no indication yet that anyone in a position of responsibility is taking seriously the fundamental problems which exist in dockyard administration today. Until we take those problems seriously, it will be impossible to achieve the degree of drive and dynamism which is needed.
Another matter to which I must turn is that of the economic and social pro- blems related to the yards. Round the yards, communities have grown up which are exclusively and almost totally dependent upon them. We must accept that there is uncertainty about the future within those communities. We need clear thinking from the Government about the foreseeable rôle of the yards. The Government must spell out the changes which are to come, and plan for them. For example, are the current extensive and large-scale investments at Chatham justified in the future overall long-term pattern? If they are, what is their longterm significance for the other yards? What measures will be necessary, and what thinking are the Government doing about alternative employment to meet run-downs when they occur, or shall we find that at some future date communities which have served the nation well in the past are confronted with the prospect of being pushed to one side and told that they are no longer necessary? This is the time when we must be thinking about these communities, especially when the Government are committed to comprehensive total disarmament as their long-term objective.
Anyone who cares to talk with people working in the yards will realise that at times there are elements of surplus capacity which could be used. During the past three days, we have been discussing the defence commitments of the Government, and the House can force itself into a downward spiral of despondency and gloom in discussing the negative concept of defence which is involved in the containment of violence when it occurs. It is absolutely logical to me, and there is nothing remote about it. If we are concerned about peace in the world, we must be as concerned about removing some of the causes of conflict as we are about containing violence when it occurs.
In the naval dockyards there is just the sort of engineering "know-how" available to make some of the simple engineering equipment which is desperately needed for the economic and social development of the developing countries. It would involve nothing complicated, but it is just the sort of machinery which could be manufactured without interfering with naval priorities. In trying to look after the interests of my constituents, it has been disheartening to me, whenever I have raised this possibility, to be met with unconcerned and unimaginative bureaucratic reaction.
If we have a defence policy which means anything, we must be concerned with this other positive aspect of defence. What a fine thing it would be if we could demonstrate that communities in Britain which have made a valuable contribution to the defence of the world in the past can now become involved in fighting for the peace of the world by making a contribution, however modestly, towards the aid and development programmes which make for more sense in the context of the future peace of the world community.
I wish to probe the enigma of the abolition of the Fishery Protection Squadron. I noticed that in his opening statement the hon. Gentleman brought in this subject very early on without giving any overall detail of how our trawlers were to be protected on their fishing exploits by a substitute programme to make up for the withdrawal and abolition of the Fishery Protection Squadron. I understood the hon. Gentleman to say when he was challenged with the fact that the announcement of this new policy had been publicised in the Press that what the Press said was incorrect and that we should not take any notice of what we read in the Press. For a few moments, I was under the impression that the situation about the protection of our trawlers at sea was to remain as it has been for a very long period.
In order to refresh my memory, I went immediately to my files to find out what had appeared in the Press on this very important issue. I know that it is fashionable in some quarters these days to say that what the Press says is incorrect, a scare or an exaggeration, or whatever it may be. I read this announcement in the Sunday Telegraph on Sunday and was therefore surprised at the terms in which the hon. Gentleman advised the House to pay no attention to what had appeared in the Press. I went immediately to get the account which I had read in the Sunday Telegraph, and here it is.
The heading was quite clear and accurate as regards the report itself, saying:
Navy's Fishery Protection Squadron To Go.
And this is so. The writer of the article was the Sunday Telegraph naval correspondent, Mr. Desmond Wettern, and I say immediately that I accept what this distinguished correspondent wrote.
If I interpret what the hon. Gentleman said correctly, the protection of the fishing fleet will now be part of the Royal Navy's duties under the Home Commander in Chief. That, however, does not do away with the fact that the abolition of the Fishery Protection Squadron, as presented in the Estimates, is a reality—
The statement made by the Navy Department, Ministry of Defence, was made on 1st February. Three weeks later, a delayed action article appears in the Sunday Telegraph. The heading is correct—the abolition of the Fishery Protection Squadron—but what follows is incorrect. As I have already said, we did not consult the Trawlermen's Association because the Navy will not give up any of the rôle which it has had in the past in fulfilling this task. What we have done is amalgamate the Squadron with the Home Fleet, so that, if necessary, more ships will be available to do this job.
Secondly, the article is incorrect because it refers to the fact that the experienced officers at present in the Fishery Protection Squadron will be lost and new men will do the job who do not know what it is all about. I have explained that these men will still be there and doing this job, attached to H.M.S. "Lochinvar". The work will, in fact, be enhanced rather than, as conveyed by the article, a betrayal of the trawler-men's interests.
I listened to the hon. Gentleman, but that was not the way he put it when the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) and I intervened. Having been in the House quite a long time, I think that this is a change of policy, in whatever way the hon. Gentleman likes to present it.
I do not at the moment challenge what he is saying. What I am challenging is the way he presented it to the House. I noticed that he repeated that he had not consulted the Trawlermen's Association. I regret that. Nor did he consult the British Trawler Owners' Federation. As we now assume, in Government and Opposition, that we believe in consultation, it was an extraordinary thing to do. The Sunday Telegraph naval correspondent was right to draw attention to it, because the details of the general objections of the British Trawler Owners' Federation are stated in the article. It had not been consulted either. As I represent a fishing port, I believe that when there is this change of policy, which causes great anxiety, whatever the hon. Gentleman may think, it would have been much wiser—I say nothing at the moment about the change of policy itself —and in the interests of the trawlermen and those who man our fishing fleets, as well as of the trawler owners, if the hon. Gentleman had, through his Ministerial colleague at the Ministry of Agriculture, kept in touch with the interests concerned and discussed this change of policy with them.
I greatly resented the way in which the hon. Gentleman threw out the suggestion that we in the House of Commons are not entitled to take what is written in a paper like the Sunday Telegraph as being correct—
I will be brief. There is no change in policy. There is a change in the administrative structure and control, which is an inter-Departmental or inter-Service matter. There is no change of policy, so there was virtually no need to consult anyone. If the Trawlermen's Association can give evidence after a while that the service which it has had in the past is inadequate because of our administrative changes, clearly we will look at it.
Wrongly, perhaps, but the trawlermen have just as much right to express their view and anxiety as the hon. Gentleman has to say from the Front Bench that this is merely an administrative change. He is not a dictator and we will not tolerate him as a dictator. I still say that it was very ill-advised to arrange the abolition of the Fishery Protection Squadron without consulting those who have had excellent service from it over many years. Those who earn their living at sea in the trawlers and those who administer the trawler fleet have had a great admiration for, and much support from, this Squadron. The hon. Gentleman has been too short a time in office to understand the relationships between the trawlermen and the Trawler-owners' Federation and the Fishery Protection Squadron well enough to know what he is talking about.
Whoever advised him to do this without consulting those who have looked to the Squadron for many years and telling them what his Department has in mind? The Ministry of Defence is vague about the reasons for the Squadron's abolition. This is exactly my point. The case has never been made. We have had no figures to show why this alteration is necessary. We do not know what the saving will be. I have a shrewd suspicion, of course, that this is to save money. If that is so, we want to know what will be saved.
I do not say that the trawler fleet will not be just as well served by the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy serves everyone's interests wherever it is called upon, and I am sorry that there are not more in the House of Commons today to listen to this debate. I do not say that the trawlermen's interests will not be adequately protected, but we must recognise that both Norway and Iceland are now doubling or trebling their protection fleets. The trawlermen and the trawler owners take very great exception to the fact that we are, so to speak, going out of line. If the position is to be exactly as before, why does the hon. Gentleman not seek an opportunity to explain the matter to the House in much greater detail?
The article states:
The Ministry of Defence counters such criticism"—
that is, the criticism that has been made by Mr. Laing:
by pointing out that in future the C.-in-C., Home Fleet will be able to assign as many warships as he thinks necessary for fishery protection.
The Under-Secretary should understand that if we are to get the best service from the fishing fleet—and, after all, that
fleet is not the responsibility of his Department but that of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—people like the trawler owners and trawler men must always have their interests and views taken into consideration.
What Mr. Laing says—and he is the Director-General of the British Trawler Federation—is:
In this sort of work you cannot have officers jumping in and out of the job.
The article adds that Mr. Laing had said:
Following recent international discussions it is hoped to establish the right of fishery officers of any nation to board foreign trawlers when necessary".
We are engaged in international discussions over all these matters. He also says:
We shall fight this plan. We have been trying for years to get the squadron built up.
That is true. We have never felt that our fishing fleet had adequate protection, and we wanted more ships made available.
What the hon. Gentleman has to show, as I hope he will later, is that this new administration—I will not use the word "policy", as it offends me so much—will have the confidence, and this is the important thing—of the trawler men and of the British Trawler Federation. This is where I think the Minister is very seriously to blame.
The British Trawler Federation and the trawler men have always been very co-operative in working with the Government in very difficult times. They have co-operated admirably for many years. Mr. Laing would certainly not have made such serious criticisms as he has if he had had all the facts in his possession and believed that the changed policy would be as effective as the old policy for the protection of our fishing fleet. The whole thing has been intolerably badly handled ministerially, and I look forward very much to hearing the real explanation. But I warn the hon. Gentleman that it is never a good thing to tell hon. Members who have had the honour of representing fishing ports for a long time that they should not believe all they read in the newspaper. We are just as capable of making our own choice of what we believe in the Press as he is or as anyone else is, and we do not want any advice or informa- tion on that from those on the Treasury Front Bench.
For a very long time—I think since long before the hon. Gentleman rose to office at all—I have felt that the electrical knowledge and "know-how" about our Polaris submarine have been confined roughly to one area of the country only. During the war—and I was in this House during the war, so that I have some recollection of some of the points that were then discussed—it was always felt that diversification of important industrial production was absolutely essential. As a matter of fact, the North-East Coast suffered tremendously because of that view, as it was always assumed that any bombing raids would be made straight away on the North-East Coast.
I now say seriously to the Admiralty that as far as I can make out all the "know-how" on the Polaris is confined to the West Coast. There are a great many hon. Members representing West Coast constituencies who do not welcome these submarines, apart from their nuclear deterrent aspects. They do not welcome the work provided by them. It might therefore be a good idea if the know-how were shared with other parts of the country.
I should like the work and the knowledge to come to my area. It is bad to have all this technical expert knowledge of new developments in the nuclear deterrent to be centred virtually in one part of the country only. If so much is to rest on our Polaris submarines, I hope that when we, perhaps, decide to build a fifth nuclear submarine—when we can do so under the present economic stringencies—a share of some of the work, the development and the technical knowledge will be given to other parts of the country.
I share the hon. Lady's concern, because I was born and grew up in the North-East, and I am fully aware of the need for industry to come into that area. But the decision that was taken to build the first Polaris submarine at Barrow by Vickers and the second by Cammell Laird of Birkenhead was taken by her right hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench when they were the Government. Therefore, any strictures she may have should be directed in that direction and not in this. I should also say that at least under a Labour Government there is no possibility of a fifth Polaris submarine.
The Under-Secretary has put that point very forcibly, but it does not make any difference to me. I asked my own Government about it when they were in power, and I would continue to press them if they were still the Government of the day. I am jolly sick of the way in which when any criticism arises from this side of the House up pops one of the little jack-in-the-boxes on the Government Front Bench and says, "This is what your Government did."
I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not believe that I or anybody else thinks the Government are always right. I did not always think that my Government was right—that is the good part of democracy.
The fact remains that the Polaris submarine programme was started in Barrow, a place now represented by an hon. Member who fought me in 1964 when, I am glad to say, I defeated him. He does not like the Polaris submarine at all. The Government get a great deal of support from this side of the House and a good deal of controversy on their own, and perhaps it might be a good idea for them to see that candidates for election to constituencies where this highly technical work is done were really interested in and approved of the defence work being done there. That would greatly help industrial relations and would not make workers on the Polaris submarine think that they were, perhaps, not doing a service to mankind. The hon. Gentleman tells me that there will nest he a fifth Polaris submarine, and that may be so. I only suggest that it would be good to try to spread the technical "know-how" and not concentrate it in just one part of the country.
Although I gave way to the Under-Secretary on three or four occasions, he did not say "Thank you". Nevertheless, I am glad to learn that he comes from the North-East Coast, because he will know that we in that part of the country speak hard words, face hard facts, and look at the realities of the situation. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman has handled the question of the abolition of the Fishery Protection Squadron particularly well—certainly not as well as it would have been handled by the people of the North-East Coast.
I am not sure that the Chair should announce what it would have done in a hypothetical situation but, if it helps him, I will say that I might well have called him. Mr. Brown.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) wishes to contribute to the debate and I assure him that I will not delay him very long. He may be interested to know that among the interesting things one discovers in an Estimates debate, I have discovered something that I have in common with the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward). Like her, I do not always accept that everything the Labour Government do is right. However, contrary to the impression which might have been created by some of my hon. Friends, I am prepared to give the Government credit for many of the things they have done.
I feel rather like an innocent afloat in this debate. Ranged round me is a galaxy of Ministers, ex-Ministers, admirals, former admirals, captains, various officers and other ranks. Despite this, I have discovered some interesting facts in perusing the Defence Estimates. For example, I note that there is not equality of the sexes in the Navy. The tuberculosis allowance for women ratings is only ls. 3d. a day, while for men it is 1s. 6d. It is also interesting to note that the harmonium allowance is 4s. a day.
From the lighter side, I come to the burden of my remarks, which is the argument for or against reducing the number of men in the Royal Navy by 1,000—the Estimates' way of putting it. There is a danger that, in considering this matter, some of us may get into the frame of mind in which hon. Gentlemen opposite think of restoring prescription charges in the National Health Service. We tend to think that if we could just cut defence expenditure, all our economic problems would be solved overnight. I wish it were as easy as that. Nevertheless, no one will deny that defence expenditure plays a big part in creating some of the economic problems facing the country or prevents us from solving them as quickly as we should like.
To build up my case for the reduction of 1,000 men, I shall resort to the usual Parliamentary tactic of quoting from some previous speeches. When the Bahamas Agreement—or the Nassau Agreement, as it is called—was debated in Parliament, the argument was adduced that the Polaris submarines would be a development of a multilateral N.A.T.O. nuclear force and that there would be the closest possible consultation with our other N.A.T.O. allies. I do not wish to make debating points, but since we have heard so much from hon. Gentlemen opposite about the independent nuclear deterrent, I remind the Under-Secretary that we made some extremely telling statements on this subject when we were in Opposition. For example, the present Foreign Secretary moved an Amendment on one occasion which stated that the House could
… have no confidence in a Government whose defence policy has collapsed and which, at Nassau, entered into an agreement which, by seeking to continue the illusion of an independent British nuclear deterrent, imposes further economic burdens upon the nation and makes more difficult the solution of Great Britain's defence problems.
On that occasion my right hon. Friend, commenting on Skybolt, said that precisely the same objection applied to Skybolt as applied to Polaris. He said:
How can something for which one totally relies on someone else to provide be prescribed as independent, especially when it is never final?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th January, 1963; Vol. 670, c. 975-83.]
In other words, there were always changes in techniques and nothing was ever final. He likened it, with his usual aptitude for descriptive language, to renting a television set. In that debate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said:
… Polaris or … Skybolt.… We support neither."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1963; Vol. 670, c. 1239.]
I am not interested in arguing across the Floor of the House, the question of whether or not we have an independent nuclear deterrent. I do not believe that it makes much difference whether it is a British nuclear deterrent or part of a N.A.T.O. deterrent or whatever concept it might be.
I have also been doing some research on what other influential people have said. For example, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that he was sacked from the shadow office which he had occupied for saying in 1960
… that it is silly for the Opposition to support an independent British deterrent which did not and could not exist!
He went on to argue that defence was never an issue which won or lost votes for either party. So, in spite of the abstentions last night, hon. Gentlemen opposite should not be too optimistic about that action weakening the ability of the Government to solve the major problems facing the country.
I did not attempt to speak during the two-day defence debate, although I listened to more of it than probably most hon. Members. I mention that to show that the disappointment which I am expressing is based on my feelings in the matter and not because I was thwarted in an attempt to speak in the debate.
I was deeply disappointed at the lack of philosophical content which came over in the defence debate. I link that with Polaris because, more than anything, this seems to epitomise the whole shocking obscenity of nuclear weapons. I get depressed when I hear my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite with their vast experience going into details about little things which are required to make the Services more efficient. When dealing with broad principles it seems an insult to our intelligence to reduce the matter to the level of playing about with words and an academic question of whether a conventional war is more likely than an atomic war.
This seems to be an emotive subject that we should attempt to illustrate to our own people, and indeed to the world, by showing the kind of world we are living in. In terms of men and money what does this mean? Presumably when operational the base will require 2,500 Servicemen, backed by approximately 1,500 civilians. I am not making a constituency speech, but at a time when it is recognised that in Scotland a quarter of a million houses are unfit there are something like 1,500 building trade workers on this site. We canot get all the details and information, but this number includes men with skills which are in short supply. There are 223 carpenters, 30 plumbers, 42 painters and almost 200 electricians and fitters in this one base.
I appeal to Members of the Government. I am not getting at them as a critic, but I ask how is it possible to sustain enthusiasm in this movement of ours if constantly we get this contrast of being able to find money for all sorts of obscenities when we cannot even find the energy, never mind the money, to cure some of the social conditions from which we suffer? We can find teachers and all sorts of qualified people in this base, but children in my area have been receiving part-time education for two or three years. How is it possible to suggest that Polaris should come first and that all sorts of demands for scarce manpower, for technicians or teachers, should come afterwards for these other objects?
I do not follow that, because it is too large a subject to deal with now, but I might have an opportunity of debating it with the hon. Member on some other occasion. It brings me, however, to another point I want to make. What ate we discussing? All this magnificent technique in strategy and weapons, what is it all about? Who is the enemy?
I appreciate your dilemma, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the Ruling you have given. I hope that you will be tolerant and will appreciate my dilemma, because it is extremely difficult to pick this out from the Navy Estimates. I am not trying to use this opportunity to widen the discussion, but it is very difficult to argue for a specific reduction linked to one item when relating it to some of the wider aspects. As four submarines are commissioned and are to be stationed 30 miles from my constituency, I am interested in Polaris and the rôle it is supposed to fulfil.
Who is the enemy? If the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) or some of his hon. Friends had been paying more attention in pre-war years to the real enemy, instead of fastening all their attention on what we now regard as the enemy, peace might have been secured. I hope that is not too ambiguous. I am not sure I have made the point I wanted to make.
Defence strategy, naval expenditure, and the question how we can make a reduction of 1,000 men, must be related, not to some academic intellectual exercise as to how we can use one type of aircraft or missile as against another, but to the question: who are the enemy? People will not come out into the open and answer this question. Is the enemy the Soviet Union?
I can only quote in support of my argument the statement made by the Secretary of State yesterday in relation to the changed political climate which exists in Europe. If this exists, it is high time that the Government took the Socialist precept to heart and, by setting a little example, did more towards securing the improvement in the climate which our own Secretary of State argued rises from a reduction in armaments.
Why at this stage can we not make a dramatic gesture? I do not like being personal, but I can give this assurance. I am never likely to be the Secretary of State for Defence, but I can promise the House that my wife will never launch a Polaris submarine. I hope that I am not being too personal when I say, from my experience in Pollok last week, where there is a by-election pending, that the launching of this submarine jolted people. I am not blaming my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence or his wife. Perhaps this is why there were so many abstentions yesterday. I was not one of those who abstained. I do not disagree with my collagues. Therefore, I do not say this as a regular critic of the Government.
I implore the Government to discard their delusions of grandeur. It is not enough to have this brilliant, detailed, pragmatic approach. We need an example which would stir the hopes and aspirations of those who support us and, above all, of the people of the world. However much of a cliche it may sound, I still do not think it is out of place, not to think in terms of an enemy or the enemy, but to think in terms that people are basically good and that, given the right conditions and the right example, they will respond to any cut in expenditure we make. I suggest that we start here and now by taking 1,000 men out of the Polaris base.
I do not wish to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown) in any detail, except to say this. Even if he has not practical experience, has he not read the history books? Did not we trust all these other people in 1939 and 1938? Did not Neville Chamberlain do just that when he went to Europe? Where did it get us? The hon. Gentleman argues that we should cast aside all methods of defence. If he applies his mind at all to the problem, he must realise that the peace we now enjoy in the world is a peace which was brought about by strength. It was not brought about by casting aside all the means and manner of defence.
The hon. Gentleman did no good to the Royal Navy, nor did he help his own cause, when he referred to any ship which will sail with the fleet as an obscenity. That is a phrase which he should withdraw. We on this side are extremely proud of the submarine which was launched, no matter by whom, a couple of days ago.
I cannot help thinking, as we discuss these Estimates year by year, that the occasion is rather like the annual general meeting of a company. Flowery tributes are paid to the staff, and the results are analysed by the various shareholders. The only trouble is that each year—this year is no exception—we seem to have fewer and fewer operating units at greater and greater cost. In his interesting speech today, the Under-Secretary of State estimated the total expenditure in the forthcoming financial year at about £61 million, and he gave the number of ships operational at 138, of which five are aircraft carriers.
Two or three years ago, I was fortunate enough to be selected to attend one of the Navy's "shop window" demonstrations at Portsmouth. I well recall the impression which that visit made on all my colleagues and on me when we visited the "shop window" and sailed on H.M.S. "Hermes". There were with us hon. Members who, probably, held much the same views as those held by hon. Members opposite who voted against the Government last night and by the hon. Member for Provan, but when they came away from that "shop window" they could not help feeling great admiration for the dedication, skill and courage of the pilots who were flying off and landing almost where we stood. One or two of those hon. Members were thereafter much more reticent in propounding the views which they had previously held and expressed.
I suggest to the Under-Secretary of State that when the next "shop window" is arranged he should invite the hon. Member for Provan and some of his hon. Friends sitting about him now to pay a visit. They may well change their views after seeing the fleet in action and the courage, skill and determination displayed by the men serving in it.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not imply that my hon. Friend or anyone on this side has not the highest regard for the integrity, courage and devotion to duty of the men in any of our Services. What we disagree about is the line of approach which this country should take to our future as a nation. This was the theme of my hon. Friend's argument. Moreover, he was not talking about the Polaris submarine as such. He was talking about the Gare Loch and the unsightly mess which has been made of that beautiful part of Scotland by the desecration which has taken place.
I know that the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) is too set in his views ever to change them, but I have hopes for his hon. Friend the Member for Provan who, if I may say so, is younger and, perhaps, has not seen quite so much of the world as the hon. Gentleman himself. I hope that after a little longer in this place and, perhaps, a visit or two to some of our ships the hon. Gentleman will take an entirely different view on these matters.
We have three aircraft carriers at present in active commission and two undergoing refit. Just about the most calamitous decision ever made by this Government was to abandon the plans for the new aircraft carrier, the design work on which had been almost completed by the Conservative Government. In a few years, it will be generally recognised for the bad decision it was. Moreover, people will fail to understand how, at the same period of time, when the aircraft carriers that we had were proving so useful in carrying out Government policy overseas, off Beira, for instance, in East Africa two or three years ago, and elsewhere—when their value was being proved almost daily—this Government took upon themselves the decision to abandon the new carrier which had been planned.
I was, of course, aware of that. But the interception of the "Manuella" was carried out as a result of information conveyed from a Fleet Air Arm aircraft when that vessel was sighted. No effective operation of that type can be mounted where carriers are not in the vicinity and land bases are not available.
One does not have to be a soothsayer or even a Mr. Harold Wilson to foresee that in a very few years there will be other trouble spots which will be beyond the range of our land-based aircraft. For instance, a trouble spot which one could envisage in a few years' time is the whole of the hemisphere of Southern Africa. Where will our F111s fly from land bases to get there? There might well be trouble around Hong Kong in years to come. Where will F111s operate from to do anything there?
If we are not to have a major fleet carrier we must have smaller vessels able to operate Fleet Air Arm aircraft in differing parts of the world as required, and I am sure that that view will soon be generally acceptable.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has many flights of imagination, as I know, because I live fairly near his constituency. I did not say anything of the sort, but merely gave it as an example of a possible trouble spot in the future. The hon. and learned Gentleman may well have to eat his words in a few years' time.
I had almost concluded emphasising how necessary it is that we should have in our plans in the years ahead some form of vessel which will fly off aircraft.
One other point in connection with the Navy Estimates is the fate of H.M.S. "Sea Eagle" in Londonderry. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) asked a Written Question about that subject today. He rightly called attention to the almost incomparable deep water facilities for training just off Londonderry and the fact that the Royal Navy may well lose the advantage of the training facilities in Malta. He asked if it would not be as well to reconsider the decision to run down H.M.S. "Sea Eagle" with a view to its closure in about 1970.
Apart from being a very useful base, H.M.S. "Sea Eagle" plays a great rôle in training naval reserve personnel from the Republic and the North of Ireland. It is very convenient for them to do their courses at H.M.S. "Sea Eagle". Northern Ireland is at present suffering what is, perhaps, one of its worst-ever spells of unemployment. The unemployed seem to become more numerous daily and, to say the least, the Government's decision to close down H.M.S. "Sea Eagle" not only causes despondency among the many civilians who work there but does no good to the name of England and the Royal Navy where, so near the border of the Republic of Ireland, the British presence has proved to be eminently desirable in the past. So I ask the Under-Secretary of State, especially in view of what might take place regarding Malta, if he will give further consideration to the necessity of retaining H.M.S. "Sea Eagle".
My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) referred to the disquieting report in the Sunday Telegraph on the Fishery Protection Squadron. The article was quite emphatic and definite. I accept the Under-Secretary of State's assurance that it was misinformed and incorrect. But then many hon. Members on this side have been naive enough to accept assurances of that nature from Ministers only to find days or weeks later that those assurances were wrong and that the Minister concerned was not stating the facts. We are often seeing statements in the Press proved correct despite Governmental assurances to the contrary. I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said on this subject, having faith in him. I hope that he will not let us on this side down because, if he does, we shall not forget it and we shall take an early opportunity of reminding him about it.
The prospects for the Royal Navy are bad when one recalls that only a few years ago we had a great assortment of ships in different fleets throughout the world. Now we struggle along with just over 100 ships which are called major vessels. No cruisers are left in commission and we have five aircraft carriers.
One cannot help thinking at times that the Navy under the present Administration is in real danger of deteriorating to a type of coastal force. We all recognise that soaring costs and changing circumstances have perhaps made part of this alteration necessary, however undesirable it may be. But the crux of the matter has been the decision to abandon the new fleet carrier, and it is sad to think that in the years ahead the pièce de résistance of the Navy will not be a major capital ship but four Polaris submarines skulking below the off-shore waters of the Continent in depths where the White Ensign will never be seen.
The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) began with an attack on my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown), accusing him of bringing the Navy into disrepute. The hon. Gentleman finished by saying that the outlook for the Navy was bad. I can think of no greater contradiction in terms. He should appreciate that the day of military grandeur is gone and in the modern world we need a different kind of Navy to carry out the difficult jobs that it has to do.
Perhaps I may say to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that, in the short time he has been in his job, he has mastered to a great extent many of the problems with which the Navy is faced and I wish him well in the days ahead. I am sure that he will agree with me that his predecessor, our hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu), laid the foundations in many ways for an effective Navy and in so doing earned the affection and respect of the Navy wherever it might be.
It may seem rather strange that someone coming from the West Riding of Yorkshire, namely, Huddersfield, West, should intervene in a naval debate, but there are two reasons, as my hon. Friend well knows. The first is a constituency interest and the second is that 20 years or so ago I was in the Royal Marines, desperately trying to keep in order such people as the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett). Because of that period in the Marines, I developed a very fond affection for the Corps and for the Royal Navy itself. I want to press my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for a firm assurance that the Royal Marines will retain their individuality and their own organisation and will not be treated as a separate branch of the Navy, or anything else, but, as they have always been, as a separate force to which men are proud to belong.
My constituency interest arises because in my constituency there is the firm of David Brown, which is renowned throughout the world for a whole multitude of manufactured goods and which is supplying a tremendous amount of the gearing equipment for the Royal Navy. It will be found from the Estimates that among the ships in the course of construction, the Leander class frigate "Andromeda", and the ships launched but not yet accepted into service—the Leander class frigates "Juno" and "Argonaut"—and the ships already accepted into service, the assault ship "Intrepid" and the frigates "Sirius", "Phoebe" and "Minerva", are all equipped with David Brown's gearing equipment. It can therefore be seen that Huddersfield has a stake in the Royal Navy. There are many more ships in commission which have this equipment, and that in itself speaks very highly of the special skills and know how of the people employed in that firm.
Going through the pages of the Estimates one cannot help but return to the subject discussed by my hon. Friend the Member for Provan. Under the item "Naval stores, armaments and victualling" the expenditure is no less than £214 million, or almost one-third of the total Navy Vote, and the time has come for the House carefully to examine the way in which the money is spent, to see whether it is being spent wisely, whether it could be better spent and whether it should be spent at all.
The Estimates for armaments stores have risen from last year's figure of £30,890,000 to no less than £56,347,000, an increase of 80 per cent. or £26 million, which is £3 million more than the total increase in the Navy Estimates themselves.
We know that this is because of Polaris, and we have to ask the question which my hon. Friend the Member for Provan was asking—do we need it? Is it absolutely essential and crucial to the safety and defence of the country? Is it light that there should be a constantly escalating figure in defence expenditure and that expenditure on armaments stores should constantly be rising and that we should be spending £56 million on armaments stores out of a total of £620 million on the Navy this year? In 1966–67, it was almost half as much. This year we are spending nearly 9 per cent. of the total Navy Vote on armaments stores, whereas last year it was just on 5 per cent., £30 million out of £597 million. The year before that there was a 6 per cent. expenditure on armament stores—£32 million out of £544 million. At a time when the country is going through a very difficult economic period, which could not have been avoided no matter which Government was in power, it is crucial that we should examine expenditure minutely to see whether that £26 million could have been saved, or whether it should even now be spent.
As my hon. Friend has said it is true that we decided as a Government to hold back on the fifth Polaris submarine, and for that we should all be grateful. If we had gone ahead and spent more money on, for example, aircraft carriers demanded from the opposite side of the House, then taxation and everything else would have had to be increased and the social services would have suffered correspondingly. We are told, and I hope it is a fact of life, that the independent nuclear deterrent is finished, and that it will become part of a collective security system. This is the only future open to us.
We have to recognise that this great issue of defence must be tied up with our social services, and in all the things which are involved in trying to make this country more economically sound than it has been, and in trying to supply the people with the things that they so rightly deserve. We are spending a total of no less than £65 a second on defence, and the Royal Navy alone, in the Estimates we have before us, will be spending something in the region of £12 million a week.
We should ask ourselves whether we are getting value for money. I do not think that we are in every sense of the word. The attitude of the Navy Ministers towards the ratings and officers has been very good indeed, and great improvements have been made in their conditions. It is vital that we should examine every item of expenditure, to see where cuts can be made without impairing the efficiency of the Royal Navy.
I plead with the Under-Secretary of State to look again at this vast expenditure on guns and ammunition, torpedoes and missiles, to see where, if at all, it is possible to make any economies. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Harborough referred to the fact that we have no cruisers in operation. This is true. What truth is there in the rumour that H.M.S. "Blake" has been in Portsmouth Dockyard for a very long time indeed? I am told on reasonably good authority that she has hardly, if ever, been to sea. We should have a close look at this to see whether money is being wasted on the vessel.
I turn now to my own corps, the Royal Marines. Perhaps for a second I may unite both sides of the House in saying that this is a good opportunity to pay tribute to one of the good servants of this House, the Principal Doorkeeper, the very famous "Polly" Perkins, a former Royal Marine. Mr. Perkins is one of those individuals who seems to know what is going on in the House better than the Whips. If one wants to know what time one will get away, one sees "Polly" and he will provide the answer. He retires very soon from a distinguished career in this House, and we all wish him the very best.
Together with a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House, I went to the Royal Marine barracks at Lympstone, which is where I began my training 25 years ago. We saw the training and the character building and the high standard demanded of the Royal Marines producing men who were highly trained and capable of performing in any theatre of operation. It can be said that the marines do not just turn out a soldier or a sailor; they turn out a marine who is proud of the fact that he is a marine. Twenty-five years afterwards, it was almost catching, because after a pretty good lunch and following a visit to the sergeants' mess we were watching the assault course, and, in a rather adventurous mood, we said that we would like to do it ourselves. Thank God the commandant-general never took us up on it, otherwise we should not have been in the House today. We would never have survived.
The rôle of the marines is crucial. The hon. Member for Harborough referred to the fact that it represents one-tenth of the strength of the Royal Navy. But if we are to have an effective Navy the marines should be used much more than they are today as an amphibious force ready at a moment's notice on Commando ships or other ships to go into action. I am concerned with the defence of the country, but I wish to ensure that there is no wastage and that all our troops and ships and everything connected with the Navy can be operational as soon as is necessary. In that way, we could save a lot of money.
The "teeth-to-tail" ratio in the marines is the envy of virtually every other service in the world. This is something to be borne in mind. The cost effectiveness of the Royal Marines should be an example to other Services. I know that the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) would echo that sentiment. The marines, if used effectively, can save this country a tremendous sum of money and do the job which they have to do. I hope that we shall have from the Under-Secretary of State some recognition of the great work which the Royal Marines are doing and will be able to do in the future.
When I spoke in the debate on the Navy Estimates in 1965 I said that there was no point in having the most wonderful and grandiose type of Royal Navy if the net result meant economic bankruptcy. This goes for all forms of defence. Yet in the opening speech from the Opposition we heard phrases to the effect that the Government spent "little enough" on defence and on the Royal Navy. The implication is that we should be spending more. We can argue among ourselves on this side of the House about priorities, but surely there can be no argument between us when we hear demands from the Opposition for the spending of more and more money on defence. It begs the question which they refused to answer yesterday and tonight, and which they possibly will not answer when we debate the Army and Royal Air Force Estimates, namely, if they would not save money but spend more, where would they get it from, or what would they cut? The Opposition cannot have it both ways. They cannot demand, on the one hand, that there should be more Polaris submarines, more aircraft carriers, more anti-submarine vessels and more equipment, and, on the other hand, say that we must try to operate within the same budget framework. It cannot be done.
I do not think that the Government have gone far enough in their defence cuts. However, I assure them that, if it comes to a vote, I shall vote for them. I shall vote because of my belief in this Government. I am told that there are many hon. Members on this side of the House with consciences, and that the only way they can exercise their consciences is by me voting for the Government. They are under the misguided impression that I have not got a conscience. Well, I have, but I will make quite certain that they can exercise theirs and get their names in the paper, while I go through the Government's Lobbies tonight.
I would say in conclusion that what we have to strive for, as a party and as a Government, is for an effective, efficient, well-drilled, well-disciplined, and well-organised Royal Navy. We have to change completely our attitudes and our beliefs in the old system under which the Royal Navy was organised. We have to change our idea of the strategy that existed many many years ago.
We have to protect the future—of course we have. The defence of this country is an important factor in our lives. We have to protect the future, but, at the same time, we must not endanger the present by over-reaching ourselves or by over-spending.
If it were possible to find some way of reducing this tremendous amount of money, this expenditure of £65 a second, on defence, the money so saved could go to help many of those in this country who are today still living under the shadows of poverty, distress, and hardship. It could go to relieve those overseas who are in need of our assistance.
If we can get rid of the scourge and threat of war, and can use some of the money that we devote to the weapons of war to provide the tractors and the things which are needed to till the ground and feed the people, we will be doing a far greater service than voting year after year an increase in the Defence Estimates. I sincerely hope that the Navy, Army and Air Force Ministers will look at their Estimates carefully, will prune wherever they can, and will recognise that, although defence is important, it is absolutely crucial that we do not overspend and, by overspending, destroy everything that we have sought to create.
It is a very happy moment to be privileged to follow the honourable "leatherneck" from Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas), and to join with him in paying tribute to our very old friend "Polly" Perkins of the Churchill Arch, whom all of us know so well. He has been in the House longer than most hon. Members who are in the Chamber at this time.
I can speak with even more certainty than did the hon. Gentleman of his capacities in forecasting the course of events, especially as the evening draws late, because once when I was a P.P.S. to a Leader of the House he used to send me up to ask "Polly" Perkins what was happening and what was going to happen. This, I think, is the greatest tribute to him. He is the finest "galley wireless" I have ever served with, and I hope that he will enjoy many years of happy retirement. He is a great man.
The hon. Gentleman went on in part of his speech to make observations about the large increase or perpetual rise in the figures for ordnance and other armament stores that figure in these Navy Estimates. I am bound to say that he is in good company there, because he is, in fact, orthodox to the last degree of orthodoxy. In his party's manifesto in the 1964 General Election, his Leader announced to an expectant country
We are not prepared any longer to waste the country's resources on endless duplication of strategic nuclear weapons.
Apparently that, like one or two other points I have to mention, is not quite the same when he is in power. That was what he said when he was on perhaps a Front Bench, but not the Treasury Bench. His hon. Friend will have a bit of a job to persuade him to change when he has already changed from that to the antagonistic view which he obviously holds today.
Representing, as I do, a naval constituency, I can speak with some knowledge of the fact that there is probably no group in the life of the country which is more plunged into the witches' cauldron of politics, or is more aware of the fact that it is in this witches' cauldron of politics, than the people who serve in the Navy. For this we may thank more than anyone else the Prime Minister for the magnificent speech he made in Plymouth, to which reference has frequently been made this evening and which I would like to discuss a little, on 27th September, 1964. In an intervention I said that it was 1963, but it was, of course, made during the process of electioneering. These Navy Estimates can be considered only in the light of that prospectus, which was issued by the company promoter and which we are now to see translated by him into action when he gets into the chair. There are one or two headings in this which we cannot help attending to, because it is nonsense to discuss these Estimates without referring to what we were given to expect.
We must first consider the Polaris and nuclear submarines, which have been much discussed today and will continue to be discussed. The Plymouth speech referred to the Conservative pursuit of the nuclear illusion. This was stated in the aforesaid election manifesto of the party opposite in 1964, in a paragraph which I would like the House to appreciate headed "Tory Nuclear Pretence":
The Nassau Agreement to buy Polaris knowhow and Polaris missiles from the United States of America will add nothing to the deterrent strength of the Western Alliance and it will mean utter dependence on the U.S. for their supply. Nor is it true that all this costly defence expenditure will produce an 'independent British deterrent'. It will net be independent, it will not be British, and it will not deter. Its possession will impress neither friend nor potential foe.
That, to say the least, was a little surprising when seen alongside the remarks made today by the Under-Secretary, in perfect personal good faith, I am sure, which I wrote down because they were such a monolithic tribute to "the importance of the programme", meaning the Polaris programme, and "the importance which we attach to keeping to the timetable of the programme".
Was there ever even visualised by George Orwell a more magnificent volte face, a more superb specimen of double-thinking translated into the most costly units? I would love to know, do they really mean it? Does the Under-Secretary, nice chap as he is, really mean what he says? If he does, did his Prime Minister really mean it at Plymouth? This is a puzzle, the answer to which only hon. Gentlemen opposite can tell us. Some of them have expressed certain impatience with the processes of thought which they are expected to pursue in trying to keep up with that dexterous fellow, but this is one of the most superb exercises in cynicism whichever way we take these allegations. It is about as repugnant to us as it is to some of the hon. Members who sit below the Gangway opposite. But this is what we are discussing, and it is an answer which we have not yet received. I hope that the hon. Gentleman can tell us which is the truth. We would love to know.
Then we have this little question of aircraft carriers. The famous Plymouth speech devoted impassioned paragraphs to the allegations that there were not enough aircraft carriers to carry out the duties required of them. Now that the right hon. Gentleman's party is in power, the first thing that we have come across is the cancellation of the only aircraft carrier which was even projected. In the Navy Estimates this year, this wonderful flip-flap which has been performed by the party opposite is followed up by a studiously evasive paragraph, No.15, in Chapter IV:
New ships which the Royal Navy will need for its future tasks are being planned: until these are ready in about the middle 1970's, the carrier force will continue to be a component of the highest importance.
What does that mean? What sorts of ships? Apparently they are not carriers, because until they are built the carrier force is expected to continue.
The Minister has said that we must keep our aircraft carrier force as long as possible into the 1970s and that we shall not order any new ones. The functions served by the carriers after the 1970s, he says, must be provided by other means. Does that mean with aircraft, with rockets, with helicopters, with water skis, or what? This is the most fantastic piece of mumbo-jumbo to which we have been treated.
It is a matter of delightful humour and wit to consider this question, but it must be remembered that there are poor fellows flying round risking their necks by making night landings on aircraft carriers. If the carriers come to a full stop, pilots are liable to overshoot, and that is not a pleasant process even by day. The Government ought to take a more responsible attitude towards what is to be done. After all, who wants to fly around and have to land on a "clapped out" old carrier in the 1970s? That is no way to induce people to join up.
I can venture one explanation, and it is that wives are happy to let their husbands join now because they will not be able to fly. I know from personal experience that that is their attitude. The decision to cancel the carrier was a popular one. The wives thought that it was a spendid idea, and it is the wives who control recruitment nowadays.
In the debates on the Navy Estimates of 1962 and 1963, I said at prodigious length, which I do not intend to repeat tonight, that I was in favour of building a carrier. However, I pointed out consistently that I did not think that we ought to have a conventional carrier with all the arrester gear and other landing aids for high speed supersonic machines to land on the deck at a velocity equal to the world land speed record. I have always thought that that was wrong.
The decision must be re-examined. We cannot say that the carriers have now finally gone to the scrapyard, and that is the end. We must have something which will carry aircraft. What staggers me is the blindness of the Admiralty, or whatever it is called now, in failing to recognise the potential of vertical take-off and landing aircraft. Obviously there will be a need in the future for a type of aircraft carrier from which aircraft can operate, but taking off and landing vertically, by which I mean helicopters or V.T.O.L. fighters and other strike aircraft. After all, they are reality and not a mere pipe dream any more. They are rather a long-term dream, perhaps, but we know that such machines can fly.
Nothing is more appropriate for operating off ships than V.T.O.L. aircraft, and they can reach sufficiently high speeds to be serviceable in the sorts of operations which might need to be undertaken.
Those are points which I have made over the years, and I see no reason to change my views now—
In view of the serious weight: thrust ratio difficulties, as more and more airfields are developed all over the world, surely the need for the very difficult V.T.O.L. aircraft diminishes?
The V.T.O.L. fighter aircraft will always be needed for ground support. With wars breaking out constantly in some part of the world, usually in Asia and often in unmade country, the V.T.O.L. machine is the only one which can operate. There are still vast tracts of country where the ordinary high velocity machine does not have the standing control or ability to be ready on call at any period of its operational endurance. The vertical take-off machine is the operational aircraft of the future.
This is a long way from Vote A, but this is a question of the employment of the Navy. The ships of the future must include a sizeable vessel with a flat top which can take vertical take-off fighters—in spite of their slightly decreased efficiency, compared with those that use endless runways—and helicopters, and can be staffed with "leathernecks" of the type who has just left the Chamber. This is the obvious future of the Navy, beyond any contradiction.
So far, I have spoken about the ships, or hardware, but must now consider the bodies to man the ships. One of the fiercest reactions which I have ever experienced is that of the former comrades of my toil, the naval doctors, who have been double-crossed so flagrantly by Socialist Ministers in this latest phase. There is no doubt about what has been done. They have been "diddled" and double-crossed in a way which has never been seen before. This is a shocking affair and is not just a matter of choking off a few officers who cannot defend themselves.
This matter was debated in the House on a special Motion, but it is intensely germane to Vote A of the Estimates this year. If the doctors of the Services are given this scurvy treatment by a Government in their usual state of financial embarrassment, what can this portend? Surely it can portend only an indifference to whether they stay or go. This was as good as said by the hon. Gentleman's colleagues during that debate—that they can go, no doubt into the National Health Service, but probably abroad.
The Minister did not say that, but that is what they said. An indifference to whether they stay or go, which is undoubtedly that of the present Government, means that they are prepared to see a smaller establishment of such doctors, which in turn means that they must be envisaging a smaller responsibility for those doctors—in other words, a reduction in Vote A.
I did not invent this. This is the feeling which I have picked up far and wide in my constituency. The naval medical service is largely based in my constituency. They see that their own professed dispensability means dispensability of some of the men who should be in their charge. This might please some hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite, but I do not think that it will please the Government, who have set tasks which the limited number of men and equipment are already unable to carry out.
So it appears that medical recruitment will be stopped abruptly and a blow to naval recruiting generally must follow, despite the recent recrudescence in recruitment in the Fleet Air Arm.
I now quote again from our beloved Prime Minister, who said, in his famous speech at Plymouth:
And there is another issue. We believe in fair wages, fair conditions. Under the Tory pay pause"—
my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) quoted this earlier in another context—
which they would now like you to forget, it was public servants, Government employees, who got the rough end of the policy"—
not, apparently, the Service doctors—
It fell on me as Labour Party spokesman to lead the attack on the Government's pay pause policy and to censure their wanton breach of national agreements, to which their word and honour were pledged, in respect of a whole range of Admiralty employees, here and elsewhere.
Fine words, but we are accustomed to fine words from that quarter, are we not? Let us see some deeds and not words.
These words bring me to the next point, the dockyards—