Navy Estimate, 1970–71, Vote A

Order of the Day – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9 March 1970.

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Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen 12:00, 9 March 1970

The Amendment standing in the names of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott Hopkins) and the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles)— That the Vote be increased by 5,000 men— is out of order and, therefore, cannot be selected.

The hon. Member and the hon. and gallant Gentleman will find from page 759 of Erskine May that Amendments to increase the proposed numbers of men have always been ruled out of order.

3.50 p.m.

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Sutton

I beg to move, That 90,000 Officers, Ratings and Royal Marines be maintained for Naval Service, for the year ending on 31st March, 1971. Although this Motion is in the same form as in past years, the House will observe that the detail of Navy Vote A is to be found in a slim volume, H.C. 109, separate from the money Estimates. This is one of the consequences of the change in the form of Defence Estimates.

This year, for the first time, there is no self-contained set of Navy Votes. Provision for the Navy is made in Votes 1, 4, 5, 6, and 7. The first of these is the naval pay vote; the others contain elements for all three Services. However, the House may find it convenient to refer to page 88 of the Defence White Paper, which compares 1970–71 Estimates with those for the current year on the basis of the old Navy Votes.

This shows an increase of £17 million. However, this is only a crude comparison. The 1970–71 figure includes £30 million for ration allowance improvements which are part of the military salary package. In addition, there have been pay and price increases amounting to another £30 million. Both these factors should be discounted to give a true comparison. At constant prices, therefore, there is a drop of £43 million compared with 1969–70.

In last year's debate I enjoined the House and those outside who have the best interests of the Navy at heart to look forward and to learn from, rather than vegetate in, past controversies. Hon. Members opposite might well take that into account. Against a background of stability, we have been able to achieve during the last year an immense amount. We are now building two new classes of surface ships, the Type 21 Frigate and the Type 42 Destroyer.

The cruiser's rôle has been announced and irrespective of whether the V/STOL option is taken up, a through deck for the cruiser will be needed to allow the most effective operation of the cruiser's complement of large anti-submarine helicopters, one of its primary functions. A through deck will also, of course, increase the flexibility of the cruiser which will be in service with the Royal Navy for many years; and it would offer significant advantages if the V/STOL option were to be taken up at any time in the future.

We have always made the point that, in designing new ships, we try to take account of possible developments in weapon systems that may take place during their operational life. These are the new ships which with our submarine forces will shape the Navy's rôle for the 1970s.

Most people now see that the development of a primarily European defence strategy offers a challenging rôle for the Navy. Though one still encounters a few who have a depressing tendency to look resolutely backwards. It is, I believe, vital, however, that this in some aspects changed rôle should be better understood both within the Navy and outside.

Anyone who attempts to define rôles treads in dangerous territory, but without some coherent view of the future it is hard to retain credibility with a general public which, on occasions, seems only too prepared to underplay the rôle of the Navy in the context of modern warfare. They may be over-influenced by some writers on naval strategy who argue that as we orientate ourselves towards a European defence strategy and, in particular, land defence, so we will have to reduce our investments in naval forces

Yet our own history teaches us that not only have the Navy's most famous admirals won their greatest victories in N.A.T.O. waters, which stretch, incidentally, from the North Pole to the tropics, but that a European commitment which is not matched by a credible maritime strategy has historically failed to meet the country's vital interests.

There are two major issues arising from a European maritime strategy which cause concern, namely, the effect of our European orientation on our worldwide maritime trade links and the difficulty some people have of envisaging a Second World War type war at sea in the current N.A.T.O. context.

I will try to deal, first, with the Navy's rôle in relation to trade, particularly outside the N.A.T.O. sea area, though it is worth remembering that in so far as our trade flows through the N.A.T.O. sea area it is to this extent already covered by a permanent maritime presence. It is true that the greatest proportion of our trade is seaborne and that the merchant fleet that carries our trade also carries foreign trade and at a profit to this country.

The Navy clearly has a responsibility for trade protection. It is true that trade flourishes where there is stability, but I do not accept as part of this argument the completely unproven contention that the effective protection of merchant shipping requires a continuous deployment of maritime forces outside European waters.

This does not, however, mean that we will cease to be an ocean-going Navy, nor that we will not deploy maritime forces outside the N.A.T.O. sea areas, as and when we think it appropriate. Indeed, the exercising of a general capability worldwide is one of the rôles for which the Navy, with its well developed system of afloat support, is uniquely well equipped to provide. No one would wish to deny that maritime power can be used to apply political, economic or military pressures worldwide.

The sea environment contains many uncertainties that are not encountered to the same extent on land. For example, there is no international agreement on the limits of territorial waters and this can give rise to disputes or misunderstandings. The Gulf of Aqaba and the Cuban blockade are by any standards significant events in considering any modern maritime strategy and a possible outcome of the Cuban incident has been the now worldwide deployment of the Russian Navy.

All these facts can and should form the background to the development of our future naval strategy. It must and does form the basis of our wish to maintain naval forces capable of operating in the multitude of rôles which the Navy performs day in day out, whether it be the deplyoment of our frigate force to the West Indies, ships operating in N.A.T.O. exercises on the south flank in the Mediterranean, or indeed on the northern flank using in many exercises the Royal Marine Commandos now specialising in cold weather warfare and the amphibious ships which make up our amphibious forces.

In his speech during the defence debate last Thursday, the Leader of the Opposition stated that naval forces were to be pushed into the Mediterranean where they were not necessary. This is a travesty of the truth. There has been mounting pressure from the responsible authorities for an increased naval presence in the Mediterranean and considerable pressure from hon. Members opposite. The N.A.T.O. commanders have stressed the need for enhanced forces levels and last year it was announced that an on-call allied force was to be established in the Mediterranean area. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that there has been a substantial increase in Soviet naval activity in the Mediterranean during the last two or three years, so any suggestion that allied naval forces do not need to be strengthened in that area is highly misleading.

The major rôle for the Navy, and its most controversial one, is—and this too often tends to be forgotten—a wholly new rôle. The maintenance of the strategic deterrent which passed from the R.A.F. to the Navy last summer is an onerous and exacting task which is of major significance in any assessment of the modern Navy. The Navy, by using what Professor Martin has called the shrouding quality of the sea is able to deploy a hidden dissuader of considerable importance to N.A.T.O.'s strategic deterrent not solely in terms of punch, though this cannot be ignored, but as much because it represents the only European contribution to N.A.T.O.'s strategic deterrent and underpins the multinational and interdependent nature of the alliance.

As our maritime strategy develops so we see that this strategic deterrent rôle is becoming inextricably linked with other elements of the Navy. The Fleet nuclear-powered submarines, anti-submarine surface ships, anti-submarine helicopters all have an important rôle for themselves, but also they have a rôle in ensuring that the deterrent's whereabouts remain hidden.

It is extremely important to comprehend the specific make-up of the Soviet Navy. The fact that the Russians have no carrier force is well known. What it is necessary to appreciate is the emphasis which they are currently placing on the building of nuclear-powered submarines and primarily anti-submarine warfare surface ships.

No one can look to the future without attempting to assess the significance of this development and sometimes I wish that in the legitimate debate on defence priorities within a particular defence budget we heard a little more about this aspect of the Navy's rôle rather than our current obsession with bemoaning the phasing out of the carrier force at the end of 1971.

The submarine has, as the present Controller of the Navy wrote in a personal viewpoint in this year's Janes Fighting Ships, greatly diversified her rôles with the advent of nuclear propulsion. He said: The effect of this dramatic improvement in performance and diversification of capabilities is that, at this present moment, the nuclear powered submarine has far outstripped the ability of other forces to combat it; in its varied forms it is becoming the most formidable unit of the maritime power game.The precise balance between this and other essential ships and aircraft will vary over the years and in different navies, but as advanced methods of detection and reconnaissance, by satellite or other space body, of the earth's surface become more and more effective and continuous, the possibility of concealment will become exclusive to the submarine and the balance of the largest navies will certainly shift towards the deployment of a greater proportion of their weapon systems underwater. This is a judgment with which I whole-heartedly concur.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

Is the Minister aware that the Opposition also wholeheartedly concur with that, and that, so far from its not having been raised in the defence debate, we drew attention to the cutting of the hunter-killer submarine programme.

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Sutton

Is it now the Opposition's intention to restore it?

As the House knows, although it was necessary in January, 1968, to reduce the rate of construction of Fleet submarines the current programme is still a very significant one, not only in terms of its place in the new naval construction work but also in the number of these boats which will be equipping the Navy.

It is not the practice to give details of the rate of future construction of Fleet submarines, but I can say that expenditure in 1970–71 will be more than three times that in the mid-60s, when expenditure on Polaris boats was at its highest. This is sufficient indication, I suggest, of the importance that the Government attach to the place of these Fleet submarines in the striking power of the future Fleet.

A strategy to meet a situation short of all-out nuclear exchange in the N.A.T.O. sea area is one of the most difficult naval roles to explain, not because it is of any less importance than other naval roles but because its implementation and theory is firmly based on deterrence and not the offensive rôle to which many naval writers seem to cling with some nostalgia.

The concept of limited war at sea, at one stage an unfashionable theory with military strategists, is one that we are bound to consider. Yet the respective weight which one puts on various theoretical scenarios is open to question. The harassment of shipping, whether merchant or naval, in N.A.T.O. waters could, some argue, be so gauged as to reflect a whole range of initiatives in a calculated phase of escalation. It is argued that the deployment of such tactics in a period of tension offers a potential enemy scope to exert political pressure in a situation where some believe that the risks of uncontrolled escalation are much slimmer than on land.

The N.A.T.O. maritime environment has been described by some as politically neutral in comparison with the land environment. Thus, they argue, there will tend to be slower pressures to resort to nuclear weapons than on land. Whatever our views are as to those theories, N.A.T.O. strategy rests on the principle that provided the alliance maintains an evident ability and determination to counter any level of aggression, potential enemies will be deterred from initiating any action which could lead to major hostilities.

It is, therefore, vital that within a N.A.T.O. strategy we should be able to deploy forces at sea capable of matching each phase of any potential escalation.

Those critics, however, who find the strategy unconvincing should contemplate the complete absence of any such forces. There would be a very much higher degree of risk in not having available a graduated maritime response to a maritime situation, even to the extent of having no choice but to escalate on land or in the air, with all the consequences that this could entail.

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

The Minister has been talking about a war at sea. He will recall that in the defence debate the Secretary of State said that N.A.T.O. would not use her nuclear power on the Western frontier unless there was a major attack by the Soviet Union, an invasion by the Red Army—I think that those were his words. Would the Minister consider the deployment in an attacking rôle of, say, 200 of the submarines in the Russian western fleet, as a major attack?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Sutton

The hon. and gallant Gentleman must know that I am not going to be led into a detailed discussion on strategy. I have given the House a more comprehensive account of potential maritime strategy than I might have done, and I cannot go further.

I had hoped that I would not have to cover again the case for not running on the aircraft carriers in their existing rôle of flying fixed-wing aircraft after 1971, but it seems that hon. Gentlemen opposite are quite incapable of doing the necessary arithmetic. As I stressed in Portsmouth in December, in terms of manpower alone it would pose an almost impossible burden, demanding sacrifices in the manning of the remainder of the Fleet—already a difficult problem—which would totally unbalance its carefully calculated structure and shape.

To run "Eagle", "Ark Royal" and "Hermes" through the 1970s would require between 9,000 and 10,000 uniformed men in the ships themselves, in their air groups, and on air stations ashore—or 8,000 if only "Eagle" and "Ark Royal" were run on. Of these, about 4,200 would be ships' company—enough to man about 8 County Class guided missile destroyers or about 16 Leander Class frigates. The question that the House will ask hon. Members opposite is: do they suggest that we should make these sacrifices in the planned shape of the Fleet—yes or no? Since they will not answer, what are the alternatives?

Photo of Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles , Winchester

What about the 52,000 Royal Navy personnel ashore in the United Kingdom?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Sutton

As the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows better than most hon. Members in the House, it is vitally necessary to keep, for an operational fleet, a back-up ashore. One of the things causing us most concern is that people are spending too much time afloat, so that we do not have a reasonable sea-to-shore ratio.

I shall deal with this question in some detail. Hon. Members opposite should contain themselves. I suppose that they will argue that they can find this increased manpower, but I see no immediate prospect of an increased recruitment on a scale sufficient to meet this substantial increase. Does the party opposite claim to be able to increase recruitment to meet this manpower requirement? The only other alternative is conscription. The policy of hon. Gentlemen opposite—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is true.

These happen to be the facts. Hon. Members opposite will get them whether they like it or not. They may have shouted down my right hon. Friend during the closing stages of the defence debate, but they will now hear the facts as they affect the Navy. The policy of hon. Gentlemen opposite would carry more conviction if they faced the fact that this is the logic of some of their proposals—conscription in the Navy, as in the other Services.

In addition, we should forgo the savings in civilian manpower and money which will accrue at the Royal Naval air stations that we now plan to relinquish, and the savings in dockyard staff and stores, and afloat support ships, which will accrue from the phasing-out of the aircraft carriers. In money terms, running the carriers on would impose a financial burden that would inevitably postpone the vitally necessary new construction and new equipment programme. It is said by some that by virtue of their refits the two carriers "Eagle" and "Ark Royal" could continue in commission with minor refits for most of the 1970s. That is wishful thinking.

In fact, more than minor refits would be needed to keep "Eagle" and "Ark Royal" running throughout the 1970s. "Eagle" would require at least one long refit. If "Ark Royal" were to be retained in service beyond 1975 as an aircraft carrier she would need a further extended refit by 1976.

The cost of running on the carrier force for this decade was given by my right hon. Friend as being £70 million a year for three and £60 million for two aircraft carriers. These figures have been carefully costed; the £13 million costs for this year of the aircraft carriers allows for no refits, and for "Hermes" to stop fixed-wing flying in the summer. It also takes no account of aircraft costs or additional supply ships and tankers.

The utter unreality of so much of the criticism that still continues over the carrier decision needs to be exposed.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

On aircraft costs, surely the same aircraft would be provided for cover for our ships if cover were provided by land-based aircraft? Therefore, would not the cost be the same whether they were shipborne or land-based, and would they not be more effective if they were an integral part of the naval force?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Sutton

The difficulty for us in costing the Opposition's defence policy is that we never know what it is. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] The Leader of the Opposition is reported in The Guardian of 13th January as saying that he would get what use he could from the existing carriers, particularly "Ark Royal", but we assume that he means that he would run on the existing carriers as an addition to the force levels and not as a substitute for other forces, to ensure, wherever possible, that one of the carriers is deployed east of Suez in support of the military presence which he plans, mistakenly in my view, to maintain in that area.

In those circumstances, we have taken it that the Leader of the Opposition would choose to adhere to present plans for transferring aircraft to the Royal Air Force after the carriers go out. To do otherwise would be to deny N.A.T.O. aircraft which would otherwise be available to it, because of the deployment of carriers east of Suez reducing our air capability west of Suez. If the Opposition have other guidance to give, we shall be happy to listen to it and can then cost their new proposals.

Photo of Mr David Lane Mr David Lane , Cambridge

Will the hon. Gentleman be saying more later about naval recruiting? Otherwise, this is merely a smokescreen to hide the Government's failure during the last three years.

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Sutton

I assure the hon. Member, who takes a serious interest in these matters, that I will discuss naval manpower and will do so as honestly and frankly as I have done over the past year and a half that I have held office.

There were good reasons that persuaded the previous Tory Government continually to put off making a decision over building the new carrier CVA01. The right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) has honestly reiterated the position which he adopted as Tory Secretary of State for Air in saying last Wednesday that he fought a fierce and satisfactory battle to see that these carriers were not built."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1970; Vol. 797, c. 498.] That should dispose of the myths that it is only my right hon. Friend who had doubts about the cost-effectiveness of aircraft carriers.

By the time we came to power in 1964—

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

What we want to get at is the real position. My hon. Friend asked a perfectly straightforward question that would clarify the point. Have the Government costed into the aircraft carriers the cost of the aircraft that will have to be deployed from land bases?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Sutton

I answered that as clearly as I possibly could—

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

I am sorry, but I did not hear it.

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Sutton

—and the answer is, "Yes". I explained that if the Opposition wish to put forward different proposals, we will have to cost those as well.

I shall go back to the decision about carriers. By the time we came into power in 1964 the plan was to build not one, but three carriers, at a total estimated cost of £197 million at 1964 prices. In January, 1966, the decision was made to phase out the carriers in the mid-1970s. When, in my view, the historic and correct decision was made in January, 1968, to withdraw from the Far East at the end of 1971, it was a sensible and logical economy to phase out fixed-wing flying once the carrier force had completed the task of covering the withdrawal.

As I said in Portsmouth—and I say it here again—there is now a real need for the Navy and those who have its interests at heart to put this issue behind it—to tackle instead the real task of forging a new Navy in many respects quite different in size and shape from the past. We have enough problems in terms of recruitment and image without our friends constantly raking over old issues and often, in passing, making damaging assertions about the Royal Navy's relationship with the Royal Air Force.

In actual fact, in Whitehall and outside, the two Services are working together in a quite remarkable partnership both determined to work out a viable system of maritime air support to take over when the carriers phase out.

Photo of Mr Simon Digby Mr Simon Digby , West Dorset

Does the hon. Gentleman honestly say that aircraft carriers have no application in Europe, in particular, Norway?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Sutton

I have never said that they have no application. As the hon. Member is well aware, our American allies have a force of carrier aircraft which make a useful contribution to N.A.T.O. I am saying that in our circumstances we do not think that they are cost effective.

The important issue to stress in dealing with the question of maritime air support is the open-mindedness with which we are all exploring together the possibilities of organic V/STOL opened up by the decision to develop an unrated Pegasus 11 engine Harrier. The future holds immense possibilities and with further developments in V/STOL aircraft technology, as in other weapon systems, one can envisage a pattern of maritime air support emerging that could offer a flexible and effective method of providing strike, probe and reconnaissance.

There is no doubt that if they were cost-effective these would be useful additional capabilities to be able to deploy at sea, but I must reiterate the words of my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Equipment that a great deal of further work will have to be done before any decisions can be taken.

During the defence debate, hon. Members opposite referred on a number of occasions to the capability of the Royal Navy to operate effectively against surface ships, particularly surface ships armed with missiles, and they urged the introduction into the Fleet of guided weapon systems which would be effective against surface ships. It may help hon. Members if, in referring to those observations, I place the present position in perspective of the developments which have taken place during, say, the past four years.

The development of a guided weapon for use against surface ships has been considered on a number of occasions carefully and objectively and as the House was informed in 1967, during the Estimates debates and later in a debate on the Adjournment, this examination ranged widely—from ship-launched missiles with a capability comparable to that of the Norwegian Penguin missile through surface-to-surface guided weapons of greater range, to surface attack missiles launched from aircraft.

The decision taken at that time was that we needed a capability for light strike deployed in a large number of ships. That was why we chose an air-to-surface missile to be mounted on helicopters. The AS12 missile, with which our helicopters are now being armed, entered service last year and the helicopter light strike weapon system will be widely fitted in our surface ships.

The helicopter system which I have been describing is, as I have emphasised, a light strike system only, directed primarily at the threat posed by missile-firing fast patrol craft of the Komar type. It is not intended—and this has been made quite clear in the past—as a counter to more heavily armed ships, which, as hon. Members have rightly said, may deploy long-range missiles of the cruise type.

These vessels—and they could include submarines, which at present must expose themselves to detection by surfacing to discharge their missiles—pose a threat of a different kind to which a different response must be made.

The principal counter to these larger ships will be the shore-based strike aircraft of the Royal Air Force and allied N.A.T.O. air forces and our growing force of nuclear fleet submarines. But it must be remembered that besides direct engagement of the missile ship, a counter to long-range missiles will be provided by the surface-to-air missile systems now fitted in our warships and by the improved systems which will succeed them. We shall also have at our disposal electronic counter-measures which can confuse the enemy's missile direction radar and distract the missile, once launched, from its course.

We are also looking forward towards future generations of weapons that will improve still further the effectiveness of our naval forces in this area of operations. As an indication of one of the many areas in which we are currently conducting research, the Statement on Defence Estimates says that studies are in hand on naval anti-ship guided missile systems. Until these studies are completed and evaluated, it would be premature to speculate about the type of equipment which may eventually be produced and introduced into service as a result of them. I can, however, assure the House that the studies are detailed and will cover all the options open to us, including ship-launched and submarine-launched anti-ship missiles.

During our studies we shall also be considering what opportunities there are of entering into collaboration with our allies in N.A.T.O. in the introduction into service of any new types of weapon for which we may see a requirement. I hope that I have said enough to convince hon. Gentlemen opposite of our seriousness in looking at this area, to which, I know, they attach importance.

Photo of Dr Reginald Bennett Dr Reginald Bennett , Gosport and Fareham

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House how long these studies have been going on?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Sutton

They are part of a continuing process. These particular type of studies were looked at the same time as the initial decision in 1967, and they have been looked at constantly since.

My hon. Friend dealt in the defence debate with other aspects of the equipment side of the Navy. I will be happy to cover, if I catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, any points hon. Gentlemen raise in the debate when I wind up, and I will, of course, be dealing in some detail with the Mark 24 in the Adjournment debate this evening.

I now wish to turn to two important areas—first and foremost, naval manpower, which I stress, once again, will, I believe, be the main limiting factor on the size of the future Fleet; also the Royal dockyards—of prime importance in assuring the increased availability of our existing ships.

The shortage of recruits is still one of the most important problems facing the Navy, and I have no wish to disguise my concern from the House. At the beginning of 1969–70 recruiting was continuing to give us cause for serious concern, bust towards the latter part of the year there has been a modest but welcome improvement and I hope that the new military salary will reinforce this. It is estimated that about 5,300 R.N. ratings and R.M. other ranks will be recruited against 4,700 for 1968–69. Officer recruitment is, however running still about 22 per cent. below requirements, which is little changed from 1968–69.

A new engagement was introduced last August for men aged 18 or over in the Seaman and Electrical Mechanic Branches which gives them the option of transferring to the Reserve after only four years' service. It is, however, too early to judge the success of this scheme, but I think that it is implicit in our approach that we do recognise that some people find a long engagement initially a daunting prospect.

One bright feature of the manpower picture is the steady and consistent improvement over recent years in the re-engagement rates for Royal Navy ratings and Royal Marine other ranks. The rate for men on nine-year engagements rose from 31 per cent. in 1968 to 33 per cent. in 1969, whilst for men completing 12-year engagements the figure rose from 51 to 57 per cent. We hope to do even better in 1970. Once again, this illustrates the attractiveness and satisfying nature of a full career that many men find when in the Navy and the Marines.

I would like now to cover some of the changes we are making which indirectly all affect recruitment and job satisfaction.

I have already stated that officer recruitment is below requirements. I would now like to outline an important new initiative which we hope to take in the sphere of officer training. At this stage I cannot, since negotiations are still continuing, do more than report general progress, but I felt it important to let the House know the present position regarding a possible in-service degree.

In last year's Statement on the Defence Estimates, we announced the start of discussions with a university on introducing a degree course for young men entering the Navy straight from school for a career in the Royal Naval General List as Seamen or Supply and Secretariat specialists.

The aim is that, in addition to the existing university nomination scheme, we should provide a voluntary degree opportunity for other seamen and supply officers of the General List who have degree potential and to provide this opportunity in the form of a course which is directly relevant to the naval profession with a degree at the end point. It is hoped that the first year will be able to be designed as a self-contained academic year for naval students who do not take the full degree.

I can now say that the university concerned is the City University at London and that the discussions are going well. Progress has been made in working towards a syllabus mutually satisfactory to the Senate of City University and the Navy, but much remains to be done before we can reach final conclusions. There are also practical problems of administration, including the location of the naval students.

Our current thoughts on this are that they will be housed at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, and if further negotiations show that a final solution on this basis is, in fact, practicable much of the future rôle of the college would be settled.

Photo of Sir Eric Errington Sir Eric Errington , Aldershot

Will that opportunity be open to ratings?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Sutton

Inasmuch as it is already open to ratings, either through Upper Yardsman or through the S.D. list to become officers, it would be extended to them. But, as the House knows, the Navy offers immense opportunities for a young man wanting to advance himself to become an officer. In that way he would be able to benefit from the opportunity of an in-service degree.

The House has taken a continuing interest in the future of Greenwich, and, in particular, of the Royal Naval Staff College, which we had thought of moving to Minley Manor. We shall be giving further consideration to the possibility of moving the Staff College when the prospects for the in-service degree are clearer, and I would not rule out the possibility that we may wish to reconsider the case for a move at all.

In the meanwhile, Minley Manor is to be adapted as the Officers' Mess and Brigade Headquarters for the Royal Engineer Training Brigade as an alternative to new buildings to save both time and money: and a guaranteed site in the same area at the Army Staff College, at Camberley, has been reserved for the Royal Naval Staff College, should it be needed.

The middle range of officers are the people who have perhaps been most affected by changes in defence policy and they are a group to which we must give considerable attention.

It has always been the aim of the Royal Navy to ensure that outstanding young long-service officers should progress rapidly through the promotion zones, and, by careful appointing, gain the necessary experience to fit them for flag rank.

However, in order to give longer careers to the majority of officers and to maintain their promotion prospects, there has been a tendency recently for the average ages of promotion to rise. In due course, this could be reflected in the ages at which officers might reach flag rank.

To correct this, it has been decided to lower the age of entry into the promotion zones to both commander and captain in the Seaman specialisation by one year, and to commander in the Engineering and Supply specialisations by two years.

I must say personally that I look on this as only a first step, for it is all too easy to forget that most currently serving senior naval officers all won promotion at a far earlier age than is now possible.

Last month, I announced the new rate of warrant officer. I believe that this change, strongly urged in the House by my hon. Friends, will help in the running of the Fleet and shore establishments, and that it will give proper recognition to the talents of the best of the ratings.

A recent attitude survey has shown the need to look at the present uniform of ratings. Design studies have now been put in hand at the Stores and Clothing Research and Development Establishment to produce prototype uniforms in radical new styles for comparison with the modernised square rig uniform already developed. Although not significantly different in appearance, the modernised prototype incorporates, amongst other refinements, a jumper with integral scarf and easily detachable collar and slimmed trousers with vertical creases. The new, more radical designs will include jacket and trouser suits to be worn with ordinary shirts, collars and ties. Fleet trials of new uniforms considered practicable are likely to be undertaken in 1971 and will take about a year to complete.

Many people have argued that the Navy needs a seagoing allowance to compensate for the nature and restrictions of life afloat. The recent pay review excused those who live on board or in the field for more than two days from deductions for lodging and food. This is very welcome, and was welcomed by the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) in the defence debate.

The efficient use of manpower is a major objective in the Navy, and one source of economy in this field is through rationalisation of support facilities in the United Kingdom—hence cutting down the tail. Here we have reported further progress in the Defence White Paper. In the area of general naval shore training we have approved a radical long-term plan under which, over a period of years, training will be rationalised in five major centres with the closure of a number of existing establishments. Under the plan we shall save nearly 500 live posts, both naval and civilian, and at least £1 million a year.

In naval air support, too, we have planned major economies through the closure of the Naval Store Depot at Perth and the Store Depot and Air Workshop at Llangennech. The eventual saving from these measures will amount to about 1,300 civilian posts and about £2 million a year. But it has also been our policy, as far as possible, to alleviate particularly serious effects which our rationalisation methods would have on development areas.

In Scotland, we have retained the naval workshop at Perth and a new R.M. task found for Arbroath.

In Wales, we have accepted the regional arguments and moved to Llangennech the Coventry Naval Store Depot. These are clear-cut examples of the Government's regional policy being put into practice by a Government Department.

Photo of Mr Ian MacArthur Mr Ian MacArthur , Perth and East Perthshire

Does the Minister recognise that, while the workshop at Perth will continue, the closure of the store depot will cost the locality nearly 500 jobs?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Sutton

The hon. Gentleman knows that I am aware of this, because I have discussed it with him and with the Provost. I can understand his concern. But equally he must realise that people in Llangennech, who have had the air workshop and store depot closed, feel that they have had jobs taken away from them.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

Does not my hon. Friend find it odd that there are many hon. Members against public expenditure increases in general, but who, as soon as anything affects them, are the first to complain? Is not this a strange attitude?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Sutton

It has not escaped my notice that from time to time there is a firm constituency interest, particularly among hon. Gentlemen opposite, which does not comply with their criticism of the Government's overall policy.

Hon. Members will recall that when we announced, in the 1969 Defence White Paper, the forthcoming closure of the R.N. Air Station at Brawdy, Pembrokeshire, we said that the Army and the R.A.F. were actively engaged in a thorough examination of alternative uses for the establishment.

I am now able to say that we have decided to move to Brawdy the Rotary Wing Element of the R.A.F. Central Flying School, at present located at Tern Hill, Shropshire. It has not been easy to find a defence task for Brawdy; but we have been very conscious of its position in a development area and of the impact which closure of the air station would have had locally.

Following the announcement in the 1969 White Paper, as the House knows, a Chief Executive, Dockyards, was appointed in September, 1969, to be the responsible authority for managing all the yards. He is urgently examining the various problems concerned in depth, bearing in mind the recommendation of the Fulton Committtee on the importance of developing the concept of managerial accountability, but since this is, in effect, a major industry, we cannot, and should not, divorce managerial accountability from greater managerial freedom, and this freedom we are determined to achieve. I know that my hon. Friend from Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) attaches great importance to this.

We need to extend the application of the concept of project management which has been used with conspicuous success in the refit of H.M.S. "Ark Royal", and also the development of a system of accounting in the dockyards which will enable the performance of individual managers to be measured in financial terms by creating a relationship between the resources they have consumed, and the results obtained.

I am very anxious to obtain general acceptance of the use of the £ as the general unit of measurement. Once such a system is operating it should be possible to give individual managers targets in financial terms against which their performance can be measured, no matter how technically abstruse the field may be in which they are operating.

Where possible, commercial pricing standards could be adopted for this purpose. Where this is not possible, accounting conventions would have to be developed, and for this reason it might take some time to develop the system as a whole, but I believe that the twin application of principles of modern technology and modern accountancy to the unique problems of the dockyards will do a great deal to raise the existing standards of management.

We are also making appropriate provision covering the next 10 years for the most extensive programme of development and modernisation in the history of the Royal dockyards. These developments will mainly be concentrated at Portsmouth and Devonport since Chatham and Rosyth have already been equipped for their principal rôle—the support respectively of nuclear fleet submarines and Polaris submarines.

Some of the developments have already been announced, such as the construction of a covered Leander complex at Devonport, and we hope to announce soon a similar type of complex for the refit of guided missile destroyers at Portsmouth. The House is also aware that we intend to develop Devonport as the third nuclear dockyard, involving a substantial capital investment over the next few years.

Additionally, expenditure will be required to provide more sophisticated maintenance facilities than now exist for modern warships in the form of Fleet maintenance bases, and also to provide facilities in the United Kingdom for those ships which are at present supported in the Far East.

One of the difficulties arising from the technical sophistication of modern warships is that it is no longer possible for the ship to tie up at a buoy and close down its power plants when it comes to port for maintenance or leave. Power and chilled water must be immediately available to keep its various systems alive, and this, in turn, means additional expenditure on berths. Further details of our development plans will be announced as they are worked out, but the House, at this stage, will wish to be aware that they are likely to involve the expenditure of many millions of pounds over the next decade in order to provide the Fleet with the support that it must have.

In the Defence White Paper last year we also announced that we must plan for reductions in the dockyard labour force and for greater output in the dockyards. The developments I have just described are an essential element of this programme.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

The Secretary of State for Defence said during the defence debate that considerable reorganisation of the dockyards would be taking place. I am sure that the House would wish to have these proposals in the form of a White Paper as soon as possible so that we can consider them. When is the Prices and Incomes Board likely to report on the wage structures in the dockyards?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Sutton

The reorganisation of the dockyards to which my right hon. Friend referred concerns mainly managerial changes. He mentioned the introduction of a dockyard board. The decision on investment will come to the House for approval in the normal way. In the last Defence White Paper we gave a detailed indication of the way we were reorganising the typing of the dockyards and repair by replacement. These things have been happening over the last year, and will continue to take place, but they take time to work their way through.

On the second question, the report will be a recommendation to the Government, and we shall consider it as soon as it comes.

This last year has seen many changes in the Royal Navy, and I have been able to mention only a few. It is my firm belief that we are all of us witnessing the emergence of the most modern and effective Navy that this country has ever had. The Navy's traditions and history are, we are often told, its very foundations. I agree, but they can only ever be our guidelines. They will not, nor should they ever be, changed lightly, but to be the slave of history and tradition is something that no fighting Service can ever afford.

The country needs to be told loud and clear that they have a modern and well equipped Navy, of which it can be proud, and this is the message that, I hope, will emerge from this debate.

4.36 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

I had thought, when the Minister rose to speak, that we would have a calm, well-argued, objective speech explaining the position of the Royal Navy, and most of us on this side were sorry that for five out of the 45 minutes of his speech the Minister followed his right hon. Friend in what turned out to be a blatant bit of party propaganda. It is unusual for Ministers of Defence to start the General Election campaign perhaps a year before the election. If any Minister can quote a blatantly political speech or a White Paper of comparable inaccuracy issued by any Minister of Defence during the Tory regime of 13 years I shall be glad to hear of it.

Photo of Mr Denis Healey Mr Denis Healey , Leeds East

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that two years ago his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made two proposals on defence policy which he said he would put to the British people at the next General Election? First, there was the proposal to maintain a lasting presence east of Suez. Second, there was his proposal to restore cuts made by the present Government in defence forces. The Tory election campaign on this issue started two years ago. Is it not the case that, whereas the Government have costed the Opposition's proposals, the Opposition take refuge in vulgar personal abuse?

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

I remember the speech opening the defence debate. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman remembers a reference to a cat with a plastic smile? Was that a pleasant and constructive way to open the debate? Was that not personal abuse? That was the standard set by the right hon. Gentleman, and, once a debate has started, and the standard has been set, we are entitled to hit back. This animal is dangerous, and if attacked it defends itself. I could go through all the misinterpretations of the opening paragraphs of the White Paper. Some of them were repeated, and I shall deal with some of them.

It is right to say that the nation is not tending, or wishing, to be "backward looking". It should be more seaward looking, and what worries us about the cuts in the Navy is that they are a disproportionately large share of the cuts made in all three defence Services. It was said that the Leader of the Opposi- tion had objected to the deployment of naval craft in the Mediterranean. I think that what we criticise is that of all places the Mediterranean does not seem to be the ideal area in which to deploy an aircraft carrier. It is Government policy to provide air defence for naval ships from shore bases, and there can be no sea which is better equipped on its perimeter with shore bases and N.A.T.O. bases than the Mediterraneon. If we are to have an aircraft carrier, this does not seem to be the ideal area in which to deploy it.

Photo of Mr Denis Healey Mr Denis Healey , Leeds East

The hon. Gentleman is misrepresenting what was said. On 5th March his right hon. Friend said: … the Government are to push naval forces into the Mediterranean where they are not necessary, and will do so to get them out of Singapore and the Far East."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March 1970; Vol. 797, c. 642.] We have made it clear that we would not run on carriers in the strike rôle after withdrawal from east of Suez. The right hon. Gentleman was objecting to the build-up of naval forces in the Mediterranean after 1972. If the right hon. Gentleman had explained why he took that view, the House would have been interested to hear it.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

We have had two long speeches from the right hon. Gentleman and I cannot give way again.

I was glad that we did not have any reference in this debate to the fact that the N.A.T.O. area had been strengthened by a run-down in the Far Eastern fleet. I have looked up the numbers in Cmnd. 2902 and found that we had a Royal Navy deployed in the Mediterranean and home waters of 22,520 on 1st January, 1966, and virtually the same on 1st January, 1970. So any argument that we have strengthened the Navy in home and Mediterranean waters as a result of the withdrawal Is fallacious.

I also want to correct one small piece of history. The Minister in opening said that we had planned three new aircraft carriers. I remember listening to Lord Thorneycroft, as he now is, on 30th July, 1963, when he made a statement about this to the House. He said: A decision has, therefore, been taken to build one carrier replacement".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th July, 1963; Vol. 682, c. 237.] He went on to make it clear that the "Hermes" and "Eagle" could be run on into the 1980s and that during the 1970s the Government would make a decision as to what the replacement might be. It is ridiculous to try to cost the three new carriers, as the Minister tried to do. When the decision was taken to start £3½ million was spent on the CVAO1 partly in this Government's time and partly in ours. So we had started the design, building and ordering of long dated materials for that ship and that ship only.

I was also perplexed—and we are all deeply perplexed—at the way in which the hon. Gentleman and his Minister use figures and costings. When the Minister addressed the R.U.S.I. he said at paragraph 20 What I ask you to recognise is that we could only have continued a carrier force through the 1970s if we had been prepared to spend what could well have been over £170 million a year …". Today we have a figure of £70 million a year. But all the figures are absolutely misleading. We do not understand. They are always exaggerated. I think that the hon. Gentleman dealt a little too lightly with the criticism whether alternative defences could have been provided for in this costing.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), a former Minister for the Navy, made exactly the same point in his resignation speech when he said, in relation to ten-year costings which had been put before the House by the right hon. Gentleman, that This is misleading, because some of the carriers functions were essential and could not be replaced by other means, which the White Paper points out. What the White Paper does not do is to cost the reprovisioning of the essential functions of the carrier. If that is done the total cost of the carrier comes down to a small fraction of the £1,400 million; and it is a factor to be borne in mind."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 258–9.] That is why we asked whether those costings take all that into account and we do not get a satisfactory answer.

The Minister also gave us an announcement on the trial arrangements for alternative arrangements to the square rig. I wonder why this was done. From such soundings as I have made I do not find that it is unpopular. But let him do his trial. It will not cost a great deal, and I am sure that he will bear in mind the fleet reactions to it.

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Sutton

It was in response to the reaction by the Fleet and as a result of an attitude survey. The hon. Gentleman has been repeating what I have been told on so many occasions—that it is popular. But on the basis of attitude surveys, many people are finding it unpopular. Surely, it is our job to try to take account of what ratings think of their own uniform, and not what we think ratings should think of their uniform.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

It is a passing point. I have taken my own Gallup poll and I found the reverse, but social scientists can find any result they want from any poll, and I have no doubt that when this is tested in the Fleet we shall get a sure and considered result.

The Minister of Defence during the big defence debate accused us of bad housekeeping and said that we had not spent the full 7 per cent. in 1963 and 1964 which was the target, and that we had spent 6·7 per cent. of the G.N.P. in both the last two years of our 13 years. During those years the G.N.P. was expanding at just twice the rate at which it is now. I have the figures since then and I find that during our last four years the G.N.P. expanded by 11·2 per cent. and in the years 1965–68 expanded by 6·2 per cent. So we were getting an expanding G.N.P. and, therefore, the same percentage produced very much better value, whereas the Minister is getting a more or less static G.N.P. for many of his years. This makes these cuts in the G.N.P. much more harmful to our defence forces.

The Minister also accused us of bad housekeeping. Surely it is keeping within one's estimate and producing the result which is the measure of housekeeping and not what percentage of the G.N.P. is absorbed.

I have looked at the figures in the Command Paper, and I find that the Government set a record for over-spending in defence. In the year 1966–67 they overspent by between £22·25 million; in 1967–68 they overspent to a total of £62·27 million, of, which the Royal Navy was £27·9 million overspent; in 1968–69 the figure was £37·2 million, of which the Royal Navy was £27·7 million overspent. This year we have an overall figure of £2,280 million and then the Supplementary Estimate which came along six days later of £121 million, which the Government did not incorporate because that would not have looked so good at the Press conference or appeared so good to the Left wing. No doubt there will be—as there has been in previous years—other Supplementary Estimates. I very much doubt that the Government will be able to fight the election on the cry that they have reduced the percentage of the G.N.P. below 6 per cent. When the 1969 G.N.P. figure is published I do not think defence spending will be very much short of 6·2 per cent.

This cut since 1964 is, after all the turmoil and all the breaking of treaties, something between 0·4 and 0·5 per cent. of the G.N.P. This is ridiculous.

This, I suppose, is the last Navy Estimates debate in which I shall speak. It has been an honour to be able to introduce and pilot through this House five previous Navy Estimates debates, and I only hope that my successor will enjoy himself as much as I have done in this capacity. I came into politics at the end of the war, and I was determined to do my utmost to see that the mistakes which were made in the 1930s on defence were not made again. It seems that I shall be leaving the House with the some mistakes being made. The Estimates of all three Services are being cut and cut again, and this really stems from that initial decision to peg at £2,000 million at 1964 prices. It does not seem to be related to the threat, nor to the firmness of our alliances; it does not seem to be related to anything except politics.

I discovered a statement made by the Prime Minister on 16th January, 1968, after the devaluation cuts; this is in the Command Paper. It showed that in 1969·70 he was going to cut Defence Estimates at 1964 prices to £1,860 million and in 1972–73 the plan was to cut them to £1,600 million. I wonder, with the growth of the power of naval forces potentially hostile to us all over the world, whether this is a realistic appraisal, and if our economy is stronger, as the Government assure us, then surely that ought to be re-examined again.

I want to know the source of the statement, which was used in the R.U.S.I. speech, that there would be a cut from 7 per cent. to 5 per cent. I cannot trace it. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will draw my attention to it. It was said "As you know, in the end we fixed 5 per cent. of the G.N.P. as our target." Where did that originate? I cannot find it in any statement in the House.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

Order. I must point out that this is a debate on the Navy, not a general debate on the Services and defence.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

Absolutely, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the senior Service, an important section of our defence forces, is most adversely affected by these issues. If the hon. Gentleman is not able to tell me, perhaps he will write to me and explain where that statement came from.

Despite all the criticisms of setting a ceiling, whether £2,000 million or 5 per cent., this mistake appears to be continuing, and the repercussions on the Royal Navy, and particularly on Vote A, are serious. On 1st April, 1964, the Vote A strength was 98,000. On 1st April, 1969, five years later, it was down to 90,000. On 1st April, 1973, four years after that, it is to be cut by a further 12,000 to 78,000. The Army is having its manpower cut by 10 per cent. Over the same period, the Navy is to have its manpower cut by 20 per cent.

Can this be in the long-term interests of Britain, an island Power so much more dependent than other Western European Powers on its raw materials and with half its food coming by the sea lanes? It must put those sea lanes at considerable risk.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

Can my hon. Friend confirm that there are now fewer naval ratings than there are employees in the Inland Revenue? Can he explain on what basis of national security or priority it can ever be right to have more tax collectors than sailors in an island nation?

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point in his question, but, if I were to answer it, I might go outside the bounds of order. What is alarming is that the plans to cut our defence forces will take 75,000 away, but already there are 77,000 added to the number of our civil servants. It is not only in the Inland Revenue that one sees it; it is over the whole field. There are many extra local government officers, too. It is essential that the people should be aware of these facts, and, no doubt, they will be when the election comes.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

Before his last controversial remark, the hon. Gentleman was dealing seriously with the question of numbers. Will he say what numbers he thinks we ought to have? Having criticised my right hon. Friends, will be give us a serious estimate of the level of numbers which he would like to see if there were a Conservative Government?

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

I am glad to be able to respond in the terms used by a right hon. Gentleman opposite, when a year before the election in 1964 he said: It is not our function in a debate of this sort to explain the Opposition's defence policy. This is, essentially, a time when we want from the Government a statement of their policy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1963; Vol. 673, c. 146.] That was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley). I do not depart from that expression of view, and I have a lot of other quotations from the Prime Minister and others which I could use. That is not our object now. The Government are responsible. The hon. Gentleman must ask his own Front Bench if he wants his question answered.

Now, the number of recruits. It is the deliberate run-down which, above all else, gives us cause for concern. I see on page 76, paragraph 5, of the White Paper that 2,840 people are to be made redundant in the Royal Navy. In relation to the rundown, the shortfall in recruiting is really alarming. The hon. Gentleman did not burke this issue. It is challenging and difficult, and one has to face the fact, as the White Paper in 1967 said—as recently as that—that recruitment for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines had been running at a fairly steady rate of 7,400 per annum, and now, only three years later, the total is only 5,091. This is a cut in recruiting of 33 per cent. in five years, and it is most alarming for the future.

I notice also that the figures of recruiting are no longer expressed in man-years. As both commissions and periods of service tend to be shorter nowadays, I sus- pect that if the figures were converted into man-years they would show an even more alarming downturn.

What we fear is that the Government will tell us that they no longer have the men to man the ships, and, therefore, the ships will have to be put to reserve or, perhaps, not even be built. Such actions would affect the whole shape of our fleet for a decade to come.

I turn now to that most important section of recruiting the juniors; 70 per cent. of Royal Navy personnel comes from juniors between 15 and 20 years of age. I concede that new methods of teaching and new ways of attracting young boys must be developed. What always alarmed me in my five years at the Admiralty was that something over 20 per cent. of Royal Navy personnel was always in the training machine. This is an alarming figure, and we must speed up our training. We ought to take cognisance of the fact that young men can assimilate training much more quickly now then they could ten or 15 years ago, and that teaching methods have improved.

Captain Corbett, writing in the magazine Navy, for December 1969, said that the intelligentsia persistently knocks qualities such as tradition, service, loyalty, discipline and the maintenance of law and order as desirable ends, and this is having an adverse effect on recruiting for all three Services, not least the Navy. He went on to say that, as a consequence, too many young men will not commit themselves to a period of service but wish to float in and out of jobs, which is wholly undesirable both for the nation and for their own characters and well being.

We must—this is said in the White Paper itself—go for worth-while qualifications which are of value outside if we are to attract naval ratings in sufficient numbers.

There is a woeful shortfall in officer recruiting as well. As recently as 1963 there were 198 cadets at Dartmouth. That had run down in the 1967 White Paper to 182. In 1968, it was 175. in 1969 it was 159, and in this White Paper it is down to 112. The hon. Gentleman says that this is 25 short of the target. It is a substantial percentage down when taken with the shortfall in earlier years. Again, imagination and every method available must be used to attract people to a worthwhile life.

Now, the Fleet. The Defence White Paper of 1964 reads very differently in this respect from the present White Paper. In 1964 we had 181 operational ships and ships in trials and training. This year that figure has fallen to 143, and this despite all the assurances by the Prime Minister in the dockyard towns about strengthening the conventional forces and, in particular, the Royal Navy. It is woefully short, and if the right hon. Gentleman has any responsibility for drafting next year's Defence White Paper—

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

—I mean the defence portion of their manifesto—I hope that he will do it rather more accurately than was done last time. I do not want to embarrass the right hon. Gentleman by quoting again. He has been quoted so many times. Perhaps he will do better next time, after five years of experience.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

An Hon. Member:

Sit down.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

If the hon. Gentleman asks me to sit down, I can only conclude that he does not want to hear the point made. It is a simple question. We are rebuked for cutting down the number from 180 to 143. What is the optimum number? Is it 160 or 170? The hon. Gentleman speaks from the Front Bench, and he must have some idea. We are criticised for making cuts, and he ought to state a substantive figure; otherwise, he is dodging the issue.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is teasing; he is too wise a bird to expect me to answer that. We shall take the advice of the chiefs of staff, and we shall not impose a political solution when we come to power.

Now, the question of aircraft carriers. Let us first have clear that a decision to make a contribution east of Suez does not necessitate the deployment there of an aircraft carrier. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has made that plain. Sometimes, the Minister tries to cost our east of Suez policy and add the cost of aircraft carriers, but the two do not necessarily go together.

The sum of £9½ million was spent on H.M.S. "Hermes" between 1964 and 1969; £30 million was spent on "Ark Royal" between 1967 and 1970, and £31 million on "Eagle". That information comes from Janes. That amounts to £70 million on three aircraft carriers. The useful life of the "Ark Royal" is calculated to be until 1985, while the "Eagle" will last until 1980. Again I am quoting Janes, and I recognise that some refits would be necessary.

One wonders whether it makes sense, after spending all this money, wilfully to retire both these ships. I recognise that "Hermes" is being kept in case it is needed as a commando carrier, but both "Ark Royal" and "Eagle" are modern, capable ships and are particularly valuable. The conditions in which they were to be phased out do not now apply. First, the economy is stronger; therefore, let us attend to this matter and spend on defence that which we could not afford to spend in more difficult times. Secondly, we were assured that the Fleet and the merchant fleet would be provided with air cover and a reconnaissance capability from long-range R.A.F. aircraft operating from land bases. This has become increasingly impossible, and the abandonment of the F111 makes it even more impossible.

Lastly, we have not been provided, although we were assured that we would be, with an antidote to the Russian short-range or long-range surface-to-surface missiles, the short range being 20 miles and the long range about 150 miles. I want for a moment to give the House some of these facts, because they are alarming. Although we hear that we are to start yet again on re-examining this problem, one cannot help feeling that there is no chance of a sufficient antidote to these weapons coming into operational service for another five years. It therefore makes logic to stretch the life of our carriers for as long as we economically can until such time as there is an alternative defence, or until the new through-deck command cruiser comes into service.

The Russian Navy is equipped with large numbers of cruisers—the "Krestas", which have three launchers, the "Krupnys" and "Kyndas" and the "Kildins", and of the four types there are some 20 hulls all equipped with the long-range 150 nautical mile missiles. This is a cruise missile, as the hon. Gentleman said. During its cruise phase it is at low level and therefore below the radar coverage of our own ships. It can be directed from a remote aircraft, and it is therefore a very formidable weapon.

The Russians have been practising launching these missiles in salvoes. It may be possible to defend a group or a ship against one missile, but the Russians launch up to 12 in salvoes and the mind boggles at the task of defending oneself against such a formidable weapon. This is one of the reasons why I ask the right hon. Gentleman to think again about phasing out the aircraft carriers until some alternative defence is available. Certainly at the moment, there is no-surface-to-surface missle equipped to attack these launching ships.

The short-range missile is also difficult to counter, as the Israelis found. What was interesting about that incident was that four missiles were fired—these are the missiles with a 20-mile range—and all four hit. This is a missile with an active homing head, and it is not easily fooled. Having grown up in the electronic counter-measures world during the war, I know something about infra-red and other finger printing and about such devices, but so do the Russians and it should not be too easily assumed that this missile can be foxed by electronic counter-measures. With its active homing head, it is not easily fooled.

The short-range missile is fired from a fast patrol boat and takes its information from an aircraft, and the boat can be manœuvred into a launching position from that aircraft. There are 150 of these Komar class or OSA class patrol boats in the Warsaw Pact and they are also distributed to the friends of the U.S.S.R. The U.A.R. has 20; Syria six; Cuba 18; Yugoslavia three; Indonesia 12; and North Korea four. We shall see them being spread further in the next few years. I cannot help returning to the feeling that the counter is a built-in integral air strike—until such time as we have a missile counter-measure—and for the present that means a fixed-wing aircraft.

It is the Tory intention to make use of one or two carriers until other means of defence are available. It has been argued by the right hon. Gentleman, and it was argued by the hon. Gentleman today, that we must have three carriers or nothing. The French do not find it necessary to have three. They have two carriers, the "Clemenceau" and the "Foch". The Dutch, the Canadians, the Indians and the Australians all have one carrier, and find it useful to their navies. Why should it always be assumed that three must be operational, presumably one "in the wash", one refitting and one at sea?

I am glad to learn that at last the Minister is beginning to see some sense and that a through-deck command cruiser is being designed. I understand that it is to be a ship of about 20,000 tons. But the corollary of this is to push ahead with the Super Harrier. I know that the engine has been up-rated, but we still need to go to the next phase, which is to indoctrinate the Royal Air Force and give some sense of operational priority to the use of the Harrier at sea. If we are to go ahead with this ambitious ship, the command cruiser, we should have for the Harrier rather more operational trials and a sense of purpose behind it.

I turn to the subject of submarines. Here the threat is all too evident. Paragraph 19 on page 4 of the White Paper says that the Russian western fleet now consists of 250 submarines of which a proportion are nuclear powered. My information is that the Russians' total fleet of submarines is 320 conventional submarines, including 60 nuclear-powered submarines, and that the Russians are building the Polaris type at the rate of four a year, a very formidable threat. In addition, there are 400 Russian strike and recce aircraft and 90 sizeable surface ships, as is mentioned in the White Paper.

In 1966 we had 46 submarines, including those in refit. According to this year's White Paper, we now have only 27 patrol submarines in service, about half the number of 1939. Of course those submarines are much more formidable than the submarines of 1939, but so are the submarines of our enemies, and we must look to the threat from potential enemies to assess whether we are under-equipped in this respect.

I hoped that the Minister would announce to the House that the Fleet submarine nuclear programme was to be restored, that the cut made in the crisis of January, 1968, was to be made good. It was not quite fair for the Minister to say that the Government were now building at twice the rate of 1960, because we then suspended the submarine building programme and gave priority to the Polaris programme, so that of course the building rate of Fleet submarines was adversely affected.

The availability of submarines gives us some cause for concern. "Dreadnought", the first nuclear submarine—I was present when it was launched, and also when it was laid down, if one can talk about the "laying down" of a nuclear submarine—went into refit at Rosyth in April, 1968. I understand that the reactor core was changed a year ago. Perhaps we may be told when it will be at sea again, whether it will be at sea in time to make room at Rosyth for the refitting of the first Polaris boat, which is due in July, 1970, and for the second Polaris boat, which is due for a refit in April, 1971. Unless the yards are released fairly soon, we shall have a pile-up of pending refits, and that could be serious, because we want to keep the Polaris boats operational and at sea to the greatest extent possible, as the hon. Gentleman will agree.

We were promised a stronger Navy, but the Government have been palpably shown not capable of providing it. In a desperate anxiety to impose cuts down to 5 per cent. of the G.N.P. is it wise to lose another 12,000 men in the next three years, and would it not be better to run on with the carriers and get better value for the £70 million spent?

I come to the cut in naval research and development. Between 1964 and 1972 naval manpower is to be cut by 20 per cent. The Government have already cut the number of naval ships in the operational fleet and trials and training by 26½ per cent. But defence research and development have been cut by a much greater extent. The Minister of Defence for Equipment took pride in the fact that the cut had been not from £275 million to £222 million a year, but in real terms from £325 million to £222 million. Therefore, this is a 31½ per cent. cut in our research and development.

It is comforting that the one area in which expenditure has expanded is ships and underwater warfare. It has increased from £14 million to £21 million, which is right. On the other hand, expenditure on guided weapons, on which one would think the Government would try to make up the leeway, has been cut from £53 million in 1966–67 to £44 million this year. I wonder whether that is right in view of the figures which I have given.

To summarise what I have said, during the six years of this Government defence is the only sacred cow which has been constantly slaughtered and reslaughtered. The Government's lack of enthusiasm and consistency has had an effect on the morale of all our forces, not least the Royal Navy, particularly in recruiting. The cuts so far are bad enough; they are unrelated to the threat and the solidarity of our alliance. But the next round of cuts will be even more painful, and, in the uncertain conditions of the world, it seems ridiculous to continue with them.

We are not advocating larger forces. But we are advocating that the next steep section of the run-down should not be so steep. We do not want this country, faced with its obligations to its allies and its obligation to defend its homeland, to be unable to do so. We must not lack either the weapons or the manpower. That is why we are very critical of the right hon. Gentleman's régime as it applies to the Royal Navy.

5.12 p.m.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) will forgive me for saying that in many ways his speech makes the case for a Select Committee on defence. I wonder whether it is sensible to have this kind of confrontation in politics, which may be necessary during the major defence debate, but which is not very satisfactory when the Opposition, having made criticisms, are unwilling to say what they would do.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

The hon. Gentleman does not have to convert me. A main point in my speech last Thursday was that I should like an all-party Select Committee on defence to be set up.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

That's true. Before going into detail, I should like to make a point which I feel is central to our debate. It raises the whole issue of the purpose of a Navy at present. Some hon. Members opposite may have their doubts, but I hope that I am neither more or less concerned than they are about the welfare of those in the Navy. We should have effective forces.

People, like myself, who have been against east of Suez policies and a number of other expansionist policies are in a genuinely difficult dilemma. It is very difficult to argue that we should keep a Navy and then say that we should contract it to such a size that it no longer offers legitimate career expectations. On an occasion like this, it is useful to face this dilemma. It is exceedingly difficult to know how to increase the number of people going to officerships in the Navy to the number apparently required. I think that an increase of 22 per cent. is needed. I am not at all sure that this is simply a matter of money.

I welcomed the military salary, which will change the situation and may have an effect on recruiting, but I have the gravest doubts whether the military salary or any pay which potential naval officers are likely to get in the foreseeable future will bring in the numbers which the Ministry of Defence says are required. I suspect that people going into the forces must have other incentives. If they do not, whatever the salary is, it will be seen as a career which does not lead very far.

Perhaps the basic issue is legitimate career expectations. I should therefore like to offer some reflections on the rôle and shape of the Navy in as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence called it during the defence debate, an "era of negotiation"—that is, the time when few people believe or think that the Navy will be used at all because no longer do many of us even envisage the sort of operation which some of us saw at first hand in the Straits of Malacca. Whether confrontation was a reasonable and sensible war to fight in the Far East—and I am referring to confrontation in Borneo—I do not deal with at this moment. But no one can dispute that the Navy personnel played a very worthwhile and creditable rôle in that extremely uncomfortable war. But if one says, as I say, that this country should not meddle and should not get involved in wars of this sort, one must take the point of some senior naval officers who say that it is difficult to attract personnel to a Service in which the sense of excitement which went with maintaininig the panoply of empire is no longer with us.

Therefore, my right hon. and hon. Friends should focus their minds and the minds of others in their Department on what I can only call Operation Military Aid to the Civil Community as applied to the Forces. A Member of Parliament can easily destroy his case by overdoing it. I realise that this kind of argument lends itself very easily to ribaldry and exaggeration and that one's ideas can be ruled out of court by exaggerating. I do not propose that either the majority of naval forces or the majority of time in the Services, particularly in the Navy, should be devoted to Op.M.A.C.C.-type operations. I understand that the first function of a Navy is defence and that there should be a training element in almost anything that the Navy undertakes.

Having said that, I should have thought that some good work which has been started could be enlarged and built upon. I acknowledge three examples given to me by the Department. First, in Plymouth, there is a clearance diving team working on the disposal of the explosive cargo of a German vessel sunk off Jersey in the Second World War. Secondly, a Far East diving clearance team apparently spent three weeks in the Seychelles widening the channels between reefs and blasting underwater. Thirdly, H.M.S. "Mohawk", carried surplus school equipment provided by an organisation in the United States on the last leg of its journey from Roosevelt Roads to Anguilla. These are small items and I do not pretend that they constitute a full-time job for the Navy, but they are a start in the sort of undertaking and project of which the Navy could, I should have thought, do far more.

When we in the House are rebuked and berated for not doing sufficient about overseas development, it should be remembered that in a number of countries, even in countries where one might not expect it, such as Indonesia, Army and Navy help would be welcomed in certain circumstances for joint development projects. The Navy has amassed a degree of skill which could be used in helping developing countries in sensible and practical projects. This is not to overdo the argument. All that I am saying is that it is worth thinking out in some detail how this can be done.

I come nearer home and say a few words about the sort of scheme which could be worked out to create the legitimate career expectations which I believe are the only answer to the recruiting problem. I very much welcomed the announcement which my hon. Friend made some time ago that there would be in-service degrees. I know at first hand, from at least three young naval officers, of the advantage to those in their 20's of the possibility of spending time at a university. May I ask my hon. Friend what will be the obligations of those who are preparing for some kind of university degree? Will they be obliged to remain in the Forces for three, or five or 10 years? It would be quite reasonable that they should enter into some such obligation and not at all unreasonable that that should be part of the contract. Once a man has been to university, the Navy having borne the expense of sending him there and having based their plans on the expectation of his service in the Navy, it would be unreasonable for the man then to go immediately to some more lucrative civilian employment.

I should like my hon. Friend to tell me about the courses which they are encouraging young naval officers to take. I agree with the point made, I think by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) in an intervention, when he emphasised the importance of naval ratings in that connection. What initiative are the Services taking in getting young Service men to enter for this kind of university degree?

This ties up with another subject. In all the arguments about which Department of State should be responsible for a national marine science programme, which we should like to see in this country, I have made no secret of the fact that in my opinion the Ministry of Defence is perhaps the most suitable point in Whitehall at which to start co-ordinating. Paragraph 142 of the White Paper states: The Navy Department are, of course, preeminent in their experience of practical operations at sea. About £1·4 million a year of their research programme is spent on research and development in marine technology which may have some commercial potential. The Ministry of Technology, on the other hand, are the sponsoring Department for the instrument industry and also have the responsibility for arranging adequate technological programmes to meet national needs. I come back to the view that the old Admiralty, as it was, possessing the hardware, is the most appropriate Department of State if we are to run that co-ordinated marine science programme which many of us think should be run, if only because of our foreign relations requirements. I quote Hubert Humphrey, who was Chairman of the American Marine Sciences Committee, to the effect that international co-operation with the British would be much easier if there were a single department with whom other countries could deal". My hon. Friend knows that there has been considerable correspondence on this subject and perhaps he will tell us, in winding up the debate, what are the current thoughts in the matter.

That may be grandiose, but I have a point of a more practical nature to raise with my hon. Friend—that of what service the Navy can give to the young people of this country. A great deal of heat has been engendered in the discussions about conscription and I do not want to go into those discussions this afternoon, although I am bound to say that any man who begins to look seriously at some plans which have been put forward by the Opposition is left with the inevitable deduction that at any rate a degree of selective conscription would be involved if certain plans put forward by certain hon. Members opposite were to be completed.

The fact is that the Navy can render a service to many teenagers in this country, and I will give an example in practical mathematics. It is known to my hon. Friend that here I do not speak entirely as a novice. In a previous incarnation, before I became a Member of Parliament, I worked for 18 months on the school ship "Dunera" as one of the first directors of studies, and I know what I am talking about in this matter. Taking teenage boys and girls to sea even for a short time can be extremely valuable in their education and seven or eight years later, perhaps, it may be found to have been of lasting value, particularly in the application of practical mathematics, because in schools it is very difficult to persuade pupils that mathematics have any relevance to real life. If we can devise an imaginative mathematics programme, as has been done by such gifted people as Mr. Lionel Joseph of Dorking, based on problems not only of navigation but of other matters arising at sea, down to the victualling of ships, a practical course can be provided.

Undoubtedly I shall be told that I must realise that the Navy is not an educational organisation. Nor is it. But if we are to ask talented and gifted people, as many naval officers are, to spend over 15 or over 20 years of their lives without prospect of a war and yet to maintain a high morale, it may well be that they should be doing something other than purely naval routine. In the recent seminars organised by the Royal United Services Institution—other hon. Members, too, have attended them—there has been much serious discussion on the whole issue of what the Services could do for young people. I believe that they have a part to play both in shore establishments and in going to sea.

Without being laughed out of the House, I should like to ask two or three questions about the future of the carriers which are superb ships. I will not lend myself to ribaldry by supporting the suggestion that the "Hermes", the "Ark Royal" and the "Eagle" should overnight be turned into school ships, but I should like to ask a general question about what is to be done with them if they are to be phased out. One suggestion which needs an answer is that they might be used as industrial fair ships going round the world displaying British goods. I will content myself at the moment by asking my hon. Friend what is to be done with these extremely valuable craft. Now is the time to start thinking about the matter. I do not suggest that we should be given a definitive answer tonight, but if they are to be phased out I hope that they will not go the way of some other valuable ships and be left lying in Loch Long and elsewhere rusting away.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

As the commando carriers are nearly reaching the end of their life, would not the first use of H.M.S. "Hermes" be to replace one of them?

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

That may well be so. I would not care to dispute that with the hon. Gentleman. There may well be a good case behind his argument. But this raises a wider issue of what is to be done with ships that are out of date. It is a very sad and distressing sight to see valuable ships lying, unused, in such places as Gare Loch and Loch Long. Surely the British India Steam Navigation Company has fully demonstrated what can be done by imaginative schemes. I do not suggest that the Navy Department can do exactly what British India has done, but at least some thought should be given to the problem and, in particular, to the practical way in which the Services can be linked directly with certain educational authorities, because all these schemes depend very much on people.

One can suggest most grandiose and perhaps impractical propositions, and nothing ever comes of them. My experience of working with British India was that the most valuable situations arose when there was a consistent and sustained link between, in that case a great maritime company and in the case which I am advocating, the Admiralty, and particular education authorities. Granted that there could be these links, there are imaginative people in our education service who will devise the worthwhile schemes. This can and should be done. Will the Government reflect on taking the initiative in educational links?

I turn to now to say a word about the Hydrographer and his staff. This House pays very little attention to the work done by the Hydrography Department, and as one who knows something of it at first hand I feel that this is a great pity. In the Department there are a lot of talented and able people and I wonder whether their talents are not partly going to waste. There could certainly be links between the Hydrographer's Department, Alverstoke, and perhaps an institute of further education.

I feel strongly about those who talk too long in defence debates, and I could go on for a great deal longer, elaborating what I have said, but I conclude by saying that the defence of this country must be the Navy's prime concern. There is a great deal that this country can do, as some developing countries have done, to establish a socio-economic function for the Forces. The Army has shown the way in the development of Op.M.A.C.C. With the Navy it is not so easy, but at least a sensible case can be made out for trying, and I hope to have an undertaking from my hon. Friend tonight that serious thought will be given to a maritime equivalent of Op.M.A.C.C.

5.32 p.m.

Photo of Miss Joan Vickers Miss Joan Vickers , Plymouth, Devonport

I hope that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his remarks, except in the comments he made about the Hydrographer as I am extremely interested in that subject.

I would like to quote from President Nixon. He said: There is an irreducible minimum of essential military security, for if we are less strong than necessary, there will be no domestic society to look after. What I am worried about is the Royal Navy reducing to below the minimum. There is also the naval prayer, security for such as pass on the seas upon their lawful occasion; that the inhabitants of our island may in peace and quietness serve Thee our God. This is what naval people are continually saying, and this is what the Navy wants to do.

Is the Navy being given sufficient equipment? Page 88 of the Defence Estimates shows that there has been a cut in ships, aircraft, and weapons, new construction and repairs of £8,820,000. This is even worse than it appears, because there are other things offsetting the figure such as rises in wages for some personnel.

My chief fear is that because we live on an island, we could easily be starved out of existence, and as other countries are building up their navies we could be forced to surrender. In the last war, gallant efforts were made by the convoys to bring food to these shores, and we had to operate on short rations.

We have still in peace-time to guard the trade routes of our Merchant Navy, the second largest in the world. A total of 95 per cent. of our trade is carried by sea, worth about £140 million. We have also our fishing fleet and cable communications to protect.

Should, for example, the Russians station some of their submarines at strategic points, perhaps around the Cape, the situation could become critical. Although we know N.A.T.O. exercises take place, in the Mediterranean for example, can we be told whether there are any exercises related to the protection of the trade routes to Europe, as this is essential?

Recommendation No. 191(4) of W.E.U. states that to promote the elaboration of a common defence policy in N.A.T.O. and: in particular to improve their defence effort by the joint production of armaments and by the establishment and joint operation of a fleet of nuclear-propelled submarines armed with solely conventional weapons. During the defence debate last year it was stated: The Navy will still be ready and able to protect our dependent territories".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1969; Vol. 779, c. 995.] We still have 27 dependent territories to protect, over a very large area. We also have treaties with the States in the Arabian Gulf. As we have cut the Navy since last year, will we be able to fulfil this promise?

How effective is our close support? How many ships will be available for the regular exercises to which the hon. Gentleman referred in last year's debate, when he said that ships would exercise regularly with our S.E.A.T.O. partners in the Far East? There was a recent exercise in Norway for which a ship had to be borrowed to take our equipment, but even that broke down and so the commandos went off without full equipment.

As the Royal Navy does not appear to be taking part in the April exercises in the Far East, will it participate also with amphibious forces taking part in the exercise called Bersatu-Padu? What ships will it use? My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) mentioned the "Bulwark" and "Albion". These are two very old ships, particularly the "Albion", which will need replacement. Will they be used in the coming exercises in the Far East? If we over-fly troops there in time of war we may not have over-flying rights with certain unfriendly countries.

Have we now satisfactory minesweepers for dealing with the new mines, which I understand are extremely advanced weapons, much more powerful than those used in the last war?

Paragraph 1 of the Defence Estimates talks of equipment in service or in "immediate prospect", but on pages 48 and 49 it is worrying to find that so much of that which is vital to the Navy is listed under such headings as: Major development projects on which work will be carried out …". There seems to be little equipment in the future for the Navy since we have been told that it takes about ten years to produce weapons of these types. So matters do not look very favourable for the Royal Navy.

What is happening to the W.G. 13 helicopter, which I understand was to replace the Wasp? No mention is made of that as I read the white Paper.

Two ships which are well-equipped, well-manned and well-fitted to give excellent service are H.M.S. "Eagle" and H.M.S. "Ark Royal". Why was the refitting of "Ark Royal" continued if it is not to be used? There was a period of anxiety during the refit when I could get neither favourable nor unfavourable answers from the Minister as to whether the refit was to continue. I sent a telegram to the Minister of Defence asking what was going on and he wired back saying that no decision had been made but that no cows are sacred". That did not mean anything. But I would like to suggest that a decision should have been made about what is to happen, because if the refit had been stopped we could probably have had three or four frigates instead. This would seem to be a waste of money if the carrier is not to be used in future.

In this context I would remind hon. Members that the Minister of Defence said at the Staff College that the carriers are the virility of the Royal Navy. Having visited the "Ark Royal" during the many stages of the refit, I should like to pay a tribute to the work done on it and to the fact that, despite all the difficulties, she was commissioned in the month when it was hoped she would be commissioned. I should also like to pay a tribute to the men of Devonport who worked on the ship. They are among the finest craftsmen in the world in this type of work. I know that I can say that without any contradiction. They have done a magnificent job, and it is even more to their credit that they did it when at one time there were at least 2,000 men working day and night on the ship not knowing whether they would be allowed to complete the job.

It was suggested that a public relations officer should be appointed to the "Ark Royal", and it is a great pity that this appointment will now not be made. It is desirable to have publicity, especially now to obtain recruits. I should like to pay tribute to the public relations officer at Culrose who has done a tremendous job. He has done a great deal to help with recruiting and good local relationships.

I should now like to follow what was said by the hon. Member for West Lothian about hydrography. I am pleased that H.M.S. "Fawn" and H.M.S. "Fox" have now been recommissioned and will be starting their work in the Caribbean in the near future. I am also interested in oceanography, and I regret that there is not more mention of this subject in the White Paper. We have discussed this matter on several occasions in the Council of Europe and in Western European Union, and it seems that Great Britain is lagging behind other countries, particularly France, in this excellent work.

In his studies for the Institute of Strategic Studies, David Wood quoted from Mr. McNamara in 1968. He said: In the last eight years there have been no less than 164 internationally significant outbreaks of violence. In the period covered in the study, from 1898 to 1967, there were 127 conflicts in 85 of which the Navy played a considerable part. These are all conflicts which killed Service personnel and they all, with one exception, involved the use of conventional weapons. The one exception, of course, was the last war. The Labour Party manifesto expressed a wish to see the strengthening of conventional weapons, and I hope that this will be the policy in the future.

On the question of reorganisation of some of the establishments, which I think may have some influence on the recruiting and training of personnel, I am pleased that H.M.S. "Dauntless" is to leave Arborfield and will go to H.M.S. "Dryad". But I also hope that it is recognised that when this move is made the W.R.N.S. personnel will be in this area possibly for the whole of their naval service. I want to avoid this because there are very few places to which they can go overseas; perhaps the Minister will deal with this point when he winds up.

I hope the Minister will change his mind about H.M.S. "Caledonia", for I very much regret the proposal to move this establishment. I know something of this establishment. Not only is it a good establishment, with good buildings, but it also has the best extra-mural occupations that I have known. It is possible to do everything from ski-ing to fishing, from diving to painting. You mention it; they can do it. It will be a great pity if H.M.S. "Caledonia" is moved, because it will not be possible to have the existing facilities which are now enjoyed, and this has been a particularly successful unit.

Another point that I should like to raise is nearer home and concerns the Royal Naval Hospital in Plymouth, which is very dear to my heart. This is a very nice building, and I understand it needs about £1 million to be spent on it to bring it up to date. It is, I believe, a scheduled building, and I do not know what use it will be put to if it is discontinued as a hospital. I do not think it is a very sensible idea to build another hospital, which I gather would cost even more than renovating the present one. I am not happy about these large hospital complexes, although I realise that this hospital would keep its own identity. At this hospital there has been a splendid spirit ever since the days of Nelson. Hon. Members may smile, but this hospital can be improved by the expenditure of a considerably smaller sum of money than would be required to build another hospital. To remove traditions from the Navy is bad for recruiting. I therefore hope the Minister will reconsider this matter if a definite decision has not already been made.

I wish to pay a tribute to the Admiral Supertintendents of the dockyards. Whatever job they have had to do, they have done very well.

Now we are to have a dockyard board. Very little has been said about this and I should like to know how it is to be formed. There are 18 unions in the dockyards. Are they to have representations on the board or are the men to have any form of elected representation? One of the difficulties in the dockyards is that communications are not too good, and if we do away with the Admiral Superintendent I should like to know what is to be done in the matter of communications. We had a major strike in the dockyards—the first for many years—and we want to avoid this sort of thing in the future.

I should like to mention briefly the Royal William Victualling Yard and ask what job will be found for the coopers when they have finished making the rum barrels. They are experts in this work, and they may have difficulty in finding other employment.

I should now like to say a word about the wives of Royal Navy personnel. At present they get a marriage allotment. What will happen in the future? Will there be a discussion with the men, and will there be a suggested sum which they should allow their wives? Some men, when they go overseas, may not find it easy to send their allotments, and I hope that some arrangements will be made, perhaps through a banking system or with the assistance of welfare officers, to ensure that this important matter is not forgotten. I am not suggesting that the men will not pay their wives, but there may be difficulties at times.

I conclude by expressing the hope that the Royal Navy will continue to get the support that it needs and deserves.

5.48 p.m.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

I join with the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) in expressing concern that H.M.S. "Caledonia" is to be closed. I hoped that it would not be closed but would be used for some other purpose. Undoubtedly this is a fine establishment. A great deal of money has been spent on it. It is the centre of numerous activities which cannot be carried out in other parts of the country. In addition, there are marginal benefits to be derived from it in the form of increasing the interest in the Navy and recruitment in Scotland. I understand that Scotland is not a very good area for recruiting, and I believe that the retention of H.M.S. "Caledonia" could improve it.

I venture to take part in this debate because it will be my last Navy Estimates debate in this House. Since 1945 I have taken part in most Navy Estimates debates. In many of them I have faced the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) across the Dispatch Boxes. We had many exchanges in those years. I have always enjoyed these debates, primarily because the aim of hon. Members on both sides was the same—the well-being of the men in the Service, for whom we all have a great admiration, and a general concern for the Navy. Although we may have differed on occasion—and even had political quarrels, for one expects politicians at times to be slightly political and it would be almost impossible not to be—on the whole the atmosphere has been very good indeed. I therefore felt impelled to take part in this debate.

I do not judge our security in terms of the money we spend on it. That seems to be one of the standards which a number of hon. Members apply. I judge it in terms of our relations with other countries. As a sort of fall-back insurance, we have to have defence forces, but the better the condition of the world itself, the greater the sense of being willing to negotiate and talk rather than to fight, the less becomes the demand for defence as we know it. Therefore, I am concerned to see an international system built up which would enable us to enjoy a greater amount of security with far less expenditure on a spectacular and fascinating service which brings out great courage in people, but which, on the whole, is rather wasteful.

Another point which struck me, listening to the defence debate and to my hon. Friend who opened this debate, was that we tend nowadays to talk in a rather unreal way. All the time we are measuring our defence forces against those of Russia. Never can we have a picture of what are the defence forces opposed to Russia. Yet we are part of a great alliance and it is nonsense to talk about Britain's 27 submarines and Russian's 300. What above the Americans? It is nonsense to talk in this way about aircraft carriers.

It has long been recognised by both sides that today we cannot secure our own defence by ourselves. We cannot carry out by ourselves the tasks which hon. Members have suggested are ours, protecting all the trade routes of the world and being able to go to the assistance of everyone here, there and everywhere. There is hardly a country in the world which can afford its own defence, or this kind of responsibility. Therefore we have to think all the time of alliances and strategies. To the extent to which we do not hear about things which are assisting us and what other members of the alliances are contributing, these debates seem rather unreal.

Clearly we have to contribute our share to the alliances. This has to be measured in terms of what we can afford. In a country such as ours which rejects conscription and whose economic resources are tending to fall behind the economic resources of other countries, it is a very difficult question of balance as to how much we can afford in money and men. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are very conscious of this. We are not the only party which has made cuts in defence. We are not the only party which has made difficulties by doing this. I remember when the party opposite introduced the strategic conception of massive nuclear retaliation. That caused a bigger upset in Whitehall than anything this Government have done.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

I have entirely followed what the right hon. Gentleman has said up to now and agreed with him, but when we talk about nuclear concepts we are talking about the strategy of the alliance and in so far as that changes our strategy.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

I agree, but this caused a greater degree of upset in Whitehall than anything else that has happened since the war. The Air Force ran its own demonstration in Whitehall, so as to convince everyone. It was almost unheard of that one of the Forces should demonstrate that it had to have the continuance of manned aircraft. We were told that aircraft carriers were out of date. The right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) told us that we could not afford them, that they would cost over £100 million and this was quite beyond our resources. So this question of finance is not something new. It is an assessment by Governments of what we can afford.

The present Government have done right in saying what are our commitments throughout the world and what would have been the effect upon our military commitments of all the changes which have taken place in the world. It is true that we maintain friendships, but to what extent does this mean continuing military commitments? The Government are right to have done this and to have said that we can afford to spend so much on those commitments. The Government have done this and measured these commitments in terms of manpower, as frequently was not done before. I remember many debates about the Navy and questions about from where we could get manpower and recruits and about our naval forces being stretched enormously. It was generally accepted that it is very unwise to stretch our commitments to the point at which we cannot supply the manpower to meet them. We are now getting down to a greater sense of reality.

I am as much concerned as anyone with the question of manpower. It is not just a question of the Government pursuing policies which deter people from joining the forces. Many other things are happening. Probably one of the things which has hindered recruitment for the technical and other branches in the boys' service, which is so important to the Navy, is the tremendous expansion in further education opportunities and university places.

There has been an enormous increase in the field now open to the bright young boy, whether he is technically minded or not. Opportunities have been increased almost tenfold. This has a bearing on the number of boys who will come into the Service. That is inevitable, although it has not been mentioned in this debate. We cannot ignore it. If educational opportunities continue to be expanded, as will happen under Governments of all political complexions, the problem will become increasingly difficult of getting people into the Services.

One truth which Lord Wigg postulated in the House was that without conscription there was a limit to the number of men who could be recruited: no matter whether the times were good or had, no matter whether the pay was good or bad, there was a limit. Anyone who has studied the position in the Navy today must be concerned about this. We can- not get officers. Dartmouth is 22 per cent. down. I understand that the same difficulty applies in most of the technical branches and that, for the first time for a number of years, there is to be no Easter entry into the artificer branches. There are other difficulties. A fleet which cannot be manned is the height of folly. We must recognise what we can man and do our best within those limits.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

I recognise the difficulties which face this Government and any future Government about manpower, but is it not extraordinary that, faced with these difficulties, this Government are making people in the three Services redundant?

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

I understand that much of the redundancy occurs in specialist branches. The redundancies that will occur in the navy are only in relation to aircraft because of the closing down of Arbroath and the contraction of the Fleet Air Arm. The number of men in the fighting arms is not being reduced. Those arms are desperately short of men. The White Paper says that recruitment has fallen.

The effect that the new salary scales will have can be exaggerated. What Lord Wigg used to say was true—that there is a certain number of people with the disposition to enter the Services. Above that number, no more will be persuaded to enter. When Servicemen get married, there is a number who will leave the Services because of the complaints their wives make about their being constantly away from home.

Something is achieved by the streamlining of teaching and training methods, but I hope that these methods are not so streamlined that there is a gradual lowering of standards. I hope that the fear that the recent reduction in the number of hours spent on craft training by artificers will result in a lowering of standards is unfounded.

As this will be my last debate on the Naval Estimates, may I say that I am glad to have the opportunity to thank those concerned for accepting something that I have advocated for 15 years—the introduction of a master rate on the lower deck. I thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, too, for his co-operation and for the manner in which he has discussed this matter, gone into the various arguments, and given it every consideration.

I have given reasons why this should apply to all chief engine room artificers, the chief reason being that chief engine room artificers attain the rank of chief petty officer before they become chief engine room artificers. The decision is a cause of some disappointment to me: after the technical tests and the various recommendations they must go through before these men can become chief engine room artificers, it is a disappointment to learn that they will have to go before a new selection board. I express my regret about this, because one of my suggestions was that this should be applied to all.

A man will not be able to become a fleet chief until he is 34. Why 34? Does this apply in the other Services? I do not think that it applies in the Army or the Royal Air Force that a man cannot be a warrant officer I until the age of 34. The letter my hon. Friend kindly sent to me on this subject says: We must avoid too as far as we can, the danger that ratings who might otherwise become Special Duties List Officers will settle for Warrant Officer … promotion to the S.D. List is possible up to age 34. Is this a good argument? Is it not possible that the person who does not go up to the Special Duty List takes this decision because he wants to leave the service at 40 and does not want to serve the additional time? If so, it is not a good argument for imposing the age of 34. It raises the question as to why this age should be applied in the Navy and not in the other Services.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

This is a very interesting point. If many of those who join on a nine-year enlistment could attain this rank before they were due to leave the Service, would they not continue?

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

There may be some truth in that. I am raising these points so that they can be borne in mind. I am sure that the consideration that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned will also be borne in mind.

The person who accepts this rank of fleet chief will have to serve an additional five years from 40 to 45, depending upon when his time for leaving the Service with a pension arises. It might arise when he is more than 45. I do not think that this rule applies in either of the other Services. Why should it apply in the Navy?

My hon. Friend's letter says: The Warrant Officer will serve on for another 5 years as compared with the normal limit for the C.P.O.; that is to the age of 45. To give a man his last promotion too long before he is due to retire we feel is inviting a slackening off in his effort and interest. For years chief artificers have attained their promotion at age 29–32 with about 10 years still to serve. So I am not convinced that this argument put forward by my hon. Friend is valid. By raising the age to 45 my hon. Friend may well detract from the value that the scheme should have in inducing people to stay in the Service.

At age 40 a man can leave the service and fit into industry very well, he does not run into trouble with superannuation schemes. Once he is more than 45 he runs into a number of difficulties when he wants to take a place in industry. I hope that this new rule does not prove to be a disincentive.

I have always argued that one of the best ways of maintaining the number and quality of personnel required in the Service is by having a Service which is so good that people will want to stay on in it rather than leave after an engagement of 9 or 12 years. The men who stay on for 20 years to get a pension are the most experienced. I have also held the view that a long-service Service, so to speak, is a better Service from the point of view of morale. We do much better to build up the morale of any force on the basis of long service. I am anxious for the success of the scheme which I used to suggest, which has been accepted as an inducement to men to stay in for that extra time, and I wonder whether the extra five years might mar that.

I would like to wish the scheme well, and I also wish the very best to my hon. Friend and all those in the Service and the Admiralty.

6.10 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ian MacArthur Mr Ian MacArthur , Perth and East Perthshire

The right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) always takes part in these debates with distinction and contributes largely to them from his long experience of Service life. I have not previously had the pleasure of following him on such an occasion, although I have often had the pleasure of doing so in our Scottish debates. I well recall one of my right hon. Friends observing in the Scottish Grand Committee some years ago that it always astonished him to remember that the right hon. Gentleman had spent so many years in the Silent Service. That observation reflected the deep affection we all feel for the right hon. Gentleman.

My purpose in taking part in the debate is primarily to raise a constituency problem which relates to this Vote and springs directly from the Defence Statement. Paragraph 46 on page 10 of the Statement refers to my constituency. It says: … the Royal Navy has completed plans to close the R.N. Store Depot and Air Workshops at Llangennech and to transfer there the task of the R.N. Store Depot at Coventry; the R.N. Store Depot at Perth will also be closed, but the Air Workshops there will be retained. The reason for the closure of the R.N. store depot at Perth is referred to briefly in the Defence Statement. It was explained more fully in a letter from the Minister to me dated 18th February, in which he wrote: The end of front-line fixed-wing flying in the Royal Navy with the disappearance of the carriers will have radical effects on the Fleet Air Arm's requirement for support establishments in the U.K.; and detailed studies have been undertaken into the implications for two Naval storage and repair establishments, one at Llangennech in Carmarthenshire, the other at Perth. These studies have shown conclusively that from 1973 the task of the Perth establishment will be roughly halved and that there will be virtually no requirement for the establishment at Llangennech. The letter also explained that the air workshops in Perth would be retained and that the store depot at Perth would be closed, and that to alleviate the employment situation at Llangennech the Royal Navy store depôt at Coventry would be transferred there.

In passing I should express my dismay that our carriers are to be withdrawn so brusquely, particularly in view of the £70 million spent so recently on their refits. This early sacrifice may sooth the spirit of the strident Left wing, but I do not believe that their early withdrawal will be welcomed by those who take a wider view of our international commitments and the rôle the Navy should play in meeting them; nor do I believe that it is acceptable in any realistic assessment of the strength of our potential enemies.

But my main purpose in raising the problem is to seek assurance and help, which we need locally in view of the impact of the Government's defence policy on Perth. The assurance I seek from the Minister is twofold. First, will he confirm that the workshops will not only continue but that there their development plan will progress, and that no shadow of a threat of any sort hangs over their future? Second, can he assure me that the rundown in the store depôt will not affect employment until some time during 1972, and that the run-down will proceed for a full year? In other words, can he give me an assurance that employment in the store depôt is secure for at least two years?

Before I turn to the help I seek for the future, may I remind the Minister that the decision to remove the depot from Perth and concentrate naval stores on Llangennech will eventually remove from Perthshire between 400 and 500 jobs? Certainly a small establishment in the store depot will be required to service the workshops, but even if this provides work for 50 people, which is probably a realistic assessment, about 450 job opportunities will be lost to the area. About a quarter of those employed in the depot are established civil servants and they will presumably be offered employment elsewhere, but their departure represents a severe loss to the economy of the district. The disappearance of this local entry into the established Civil Service removes an important career opportunity from the few professional options open to young people in Perth. However, the main problem is that the Government's decision will remove about 450 jobs from Perth and the district around it, on top of the 1,300 jobs already lost since 1964.

The Government have a double obligation in those circumstances. First, I know that the Minister will agree that the R.N. store depot in Perth has given superb service to our defence structure over many years. Industrial relations there have been a model of mutual co-operation, and the loyalty the hundreds of people there have given to the nation must be matched now by the Government. Loyalty in employment is a two-way process, and I trust that the Ministry of Defence will not take the view that Its obligations to its employees will end abruptly with their dismissal. That is why I ask for the Minister's help. Is there any prospect of alternative employment being provided by the Ministry of Defence in Perth? An alternative was found in the case of H.M.S. "Condor" at Arbroath, largely thanks to the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne). Will the Minister give priority to the provision of alternative employment in Perth? Second, if this is not possible, what steps are being taken or will be taken by the Ministry to create and develop the interest of other Government Departments in the attractions which Perth offers? What action is being taken as a matter of urgency by the Ministry, the Scottish Office and other Government Departments to call the attention of private industry to the early availability of a first-class labour force in an area which offers outstanding advantages to incoming industries? I hope that I may receive clear answers to these questions tonight.

Another reason for requesting special consideration for Scotland is that the constant run-down of our defence strength has had a particularly heavy impact there. The effect on the Scottish regiments cannot be debated today, but the House knows of the shock to Scotland of recent Government decisions. The naval cuts also fall heavily on Scotland. Last year we learnt that the work of H.M.S. "Condor" was to be transferred to Leeon-Solent. Certainly we learnt later in the year that H.M.S. "Condor" was to be used for a marine commando unit. and that news we welcomed.

At the end of last year we learnt that the Royal Naval torpedo factory in Alexandria was to cease production at the end of 1970. This was a scandalous affair. There was a declaration at the end of 1968—possibly as much as a promise—that production would be maintained in Alexandria until the end of 1972. Apart from its enormous contribution to torpedo technology, the factory represented a most important local employer, employing about 1,300 people. I understand that the reason for the closure now is the serious design difficulties which have arisen in the development of the Mark 24 torpedo. The end of production in the factory in 1970 not only appears to run contrary to what was said only two years ago, but represents a major collapse in the development of an essential weapons system for the Navy—

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Sutton

The hon. Member has referred to a scandalous situation, but surely he knows that this was a design fault, and not the fault of either the factory or the Government. What does he suggest we do in those circumstances? These faults do occur in highly sophisticated weapons systems.

Photo of Mr Ian MacArthur Mr Ian MacArthur , Perth and East Perthshire

But would the hon. Gentleman tell us what may now happen in Alexandria? He has run into a serious design fault in the Mark 24 torpedo, which removes from the Navy what was intended to be an essential weapons system. What will happen, not only at Alexandria, but in terms of the naval defence structure?

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

Does my hon. Friend recall that this torpedo had taken 10 years to develop and that we were told two years ago, I think, that it was about to run its operational trials? Of course it is not the Government's fault nor that of the factory, but the fault took a long time to discover—it was only at the end of the day.

Photo of Mr Ian MacArthur Mr Ian MacArthur , Perth and East Perthshire

My hon. Friend is right. It was possibly at that time that an undertaking was given that the factory would continue in production until the end of 1972. The Under-Secretary may blame design faults if he wishes, but responsibility for the future at Alexandria rests on the Government's shoulders and cannot be shrugged away.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

The hon. Gentleman is expressing great concern about the torpedo factory at Alexandria. Did he mention to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) that he was going to raise the subject of employment and so on, since my hon. Friend has had this under consideration for a long time?

Photo of Mr Ian MacArthur Mr Ian MacArthur , Perth and East Perthshire

No, I did not tell the hon. Member, and I apologise for any discourtesy, and for any embarrassment I may have caused him, but this was intended to be a passing reference.

The right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East referred to the closure of H.M.S. "Caledonia". The White Paper provides this further blow for Scotland. The depôt is to be run down by 1977. There is a prospect of some alternative use possibly for it, and I hope that the Minister can tell us more about that. He will understand that this yet again has caused wide concern in Scotland, which was echoed in the speeches of the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers).

From the latest Defence Statement, we learn also of the closure in Perth. Of course I am not advocating that defence employment should be preserved artificially in Scotland or anywhere else simply in order to provide a shaky protection for jobs. What I do suggest is that changes of policy inevitably affect employment and that careful thought should be given to the regional impact of these changes.

The Minister himself, in his letter to me, referred to the transfer of the store depôt from Coventry to Llangennech and said that this was being done to alleviate the employment situation at Llangennech. But, according to my figures, unemployment in Perth is more severe than in Llangennech. I should like to be reassured that, in reaching this decision, the Government took into account the unemployment position in Perth and the loss of jobs in the area over the past years.

Too often it appears that the cuts in the north are heavier in their impact on civilian employment than cuts in the south. Policies of concentration no doubt make for economy—no sensible person would challenge that—but where there is concentration, it always seems to be away from Scotland. We had the matter of H.M.S. "Condor" and now we have the problem in Perth.

This does not apply only to defence. Year after year, Government employment has been removed from Perth to achieve the objective of concentration. It would be refreshing—and right—if, for a change, concentration could be into Perth.

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth West

I will not contend the main emphasis of the hon. Gentleman's general remarks, but how can he put forward this case in the context of this debate? I have the honour to represent a constituency which has served the country well in defence for generations. We are seeing a significant cut in the labour force in Portsmouth which is employed by the Ministry of Defence. If we considered these policies objectively, we should see that the burden is being spread fairly and widely across the country.

Photo of Mr Ian MacArthur Mr Ian MacArthur , Perth and East Perthshire

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman was able to make his point in that way. My point is that, year after year, in my constituency, Government employment has been removed and virtually none has come into the district. In Scotland, there is a feeling that the concentration of Government employment is always out of Scotland and that it never works the other way about. I am not questioning the fact that concentration of organisation very often makes for economy. All I ask is that the concentration should be a two-way process and not always in one direction.

There is the additional fact that Scotland would welcome a better share of defence employment. Scotland's contribution to the Armed Forces is a large one and it is constantly applauded in the House. A cheering balance in our affairs would be introduced if Scotland could give similar applause for her share in the civilian rôle which has been so adversely affected by recent Government decisions.

6.27 p.m.

Photo of Mr Adam Hunter Mr Adam Hunter , Dunfermline Burghs

The statement on the naval Estimates is always of great interest to me and many of my constituents. I am relieved to discover that the Rosyth Dockyard area comes out very advantageously again. It is very gratifying to learn that there will be a continuity of work in the dockyard for many years to come. I do not think that the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) was right to say that everything seems to go out of Scotland. We in the Dunfermline area are very grateful that the prospects for working in Rosyth Dockyard for many years to come are very good indeed.

Last Thursday, under the auspices of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, a number of hon. Members from both sides of the House visited Rosyth. It was a very interesting visit, and I am sure, that, apart from me, hon. Members found it very interesting; I frequently go to the dockyard. It is a very good move by the Minister to introduce visits to the dockyards and I intend to take up his offer to visit other dockyards in the United Kingdom just to try to make some comparison with my own at Rosyth.

There is quite a number of problems in Rosyth Dockyard although generally things look very good. I raised a number of points in our debate last year. A number of criticisms was levelled at the Ministry on various aspects of the wages and conditions in the dockyard. There are many unskilled workers and labourers with a low minimum rate of pay. I hope that my hon. Friend will continue to look at this matter. I understand that plans are afoot to improve conditions in the near future, and I hope that they will soon be put into effect.

Another matter which I raised last year concerns the apprentice group instructors. This is a matter which has been going on for about 10 years. In 1967, these instructors got some improvement in their status and, like many of my colleagues, I thought that that would end the matter. However, it now seems that they are not yet quite satisfied with their status, and I should like my hon. Friend to consider their problem. We had a meeting with the appropriate Minister on 3rd December and I thought that the apprentice group instructors' representatives made a good case. We are still awaiting the Ministerial reply, and I hope that we shall soon have it.

Another category of workers in the dockyards has made representations to me on a number of occasions, and in turn I have made representation to my hon. Friend. These are the non-craft charge-men. They have an outstanding case. These are men who are working in a supervisory capacity who are not paid the rate for the job. They, too, are awaiting the result of negotiations. I hope that we shall soon have some information about bringing them into non-industrial status. The men under them have had a recent pay award and although their minimum, too, was increased, the differential between ordinary unskilled and skilled labour and the non-craft chargemen is very small. This is a glaring example and the Minister should quickly take action.

There are not many more complaints in Rosyth Dockyard. On our visit we found that relations seemed to be harmonious. We met the Admiralty superintendent and other managerial staff and chiefs and we also met the industrial workers and he Whitley Council and the staff side association representatives. We found that things we going fairly well.

As I said earlier, it is gratifying to learn that Rosyth has gained much from the last two Navy Estimates. Last year, Rosyth was the only dockyard to increase its labour force; all the others were reduced. This year it seems that we shall be in much the same position. This is gratifying for those who live in Dunfermline, because a total force of about 7,000 works in and about the dockyard, which is an important part of the economy of Dunfermline and the West Fife area. I am pleased that we are not to have the kind of run-down which the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire expects in the near future.

There is only one black spot in the Estimates. It was mentioned by the hon. Lady the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) and it concerns H.M.S. "Caledonia". This is an excellent establishment which I have visited on several occasions. Building has recently started which will cost £2 million when complete. I hope that my hon. Friend will look at his decision again. Seven or eight years seems a long time, but already the people of Dunfermiine and West Fife are concerned about the likelihood that this establishment may cease to exist seven or eight years from now. It has been a good thing for the town. It provides work for about 200 civilians and it has brought business to the business people and shopkeepers of the town.

We in this area are beset by a new dimension in politics—the Scottish Nationalist Party. Even in the dockyard, where men and women have nice, cosy, comfortable, well-paid jobs, with good conditions and pensions and so on, there are people who support the Nationalist Party. I have said in the Press in answer to the local prospective candidate that for people to continue to do so will mean a rendezvous with suicide for their jobs. I hope that my hon. Friend will take every opportunity to dispel the rumours, which circulate from time to time, suggesting a huge reduction in manpower in defence establishments in the area. I hope that as time goes on Rosyth Dockyard will continue to have the good prospects which it now seems to have.

6.37 p.m.

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

The hon. Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Adam Hunter) will forgive me if I do not comment on his speech in which he dealt particularly with his constituency problems.

The Under-Secretary ended his speech saying that the message which should go out loud and clear from the House was that today we had the most modern and effective Navy that we had ever had. I suppose that that is true at any moment in time, and it is a statement which his advisers write in at the end of a speech like that. But it is quite another matter if the hon. Gentleman was implying that the Navy is adequate for the job it has to do. The story is the same as in previous Navy Estimates—a further weakening of the Navy reported over the past year and a progressive weakening promised for future years; continued withdrawal from strategically placed positions of advantage; abandonment of solid assets of real defensive value. That is the story of today's Navy Estimates.

It could be accepted, or at least tolerated, if the world situation were such as to give us hope that peace might be lasting, or if our potential enemies were reducing their forces. But the White Paper tells us the reverse, that Russia and the other Warsaw Pact countries are increasing their forces. We seem to have coined a new phrase—it is in the White Paper, but others have used it—"The era of negotiations ". I hope that we shall not carry that too far. I do not believe that anyone can doubt the danger to world peace that lies, for example, in the critical nature of the confrontation between Arabs and Israel and in the tension between Russia and China and the situation in South-East Asia. Our naval retreat continues and each step is applauded by the party opposite.

In the last two White Papers, the stress has been on the defence of Europe and the seas around as being vital to our security. The Minister today kept referring to European maritime strategy and he even suggested that those who think otherwise would be looking backwards. It may or may not be the case that the European continent and the waters around are vital to our national security, but where the Government have gone wrong, and where politicians over the centuries have gone wrong, is in believing and saying that the survival of this country—or, for that matter, of Europe—is ensured by the withdrawal of our forces to the Continent and the seas around.

No one ever wants to fight in the last ditch and it has always been a fatal strategic mistake to withdraw all our forces to the immediate vicinity of these islands. The West may be weak but it is stronger there than anywhere else, and why should the enemy attack the strongest point? As the White Paper has told us, Soviet activities are increasing in the Mediterranean and further afield. However much we may like to operate with our naval forces in waters around Europe, our enemies are not obliged to conform to to our wishes.

The presence of the Russian forces far afield is part of what the Minister has described as the Russian political and psychological warfare. While we withdraw, they take our place. Once there, they phase in their maritime forces and this makes our return impossible. I have no doubt that a number of hon. Members remember the rather sinister connotation attached to the expression "German tourists" before the war. It usually meant the beginning of the end for one area or another. Now, the same sort of sinister connotation is attached to the expression "Russian technicians". The Communists are finding the political—

Photo of Mr Harry Gourlay Mr Harry Gourlay , Kirkcaldy District of Burghs

Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Member, but he cannot make a general defence speech on the Navy Estimates. Perhaps he will relate his remarks a little more closely to the Estimates.

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

I was just coming on to that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I wanted to set the background for my argument that it is a mistake to concentrate our naval forces in the seas around Europe, and I do not see how I can do that unless I sketch the background. However, I will certainly try to keep within order.

I am, of course, aware that Britain's naval security depends, as in the past, on ensuring that our political objectives are in harmony and move with those of a sufficient number of allied countries. I find it impossible, however, to believe that our European allies are solidly of the opinion that survival of the West depends only on the maintenance of the East-West frontier on the ground. It is on that alone that the Government seem to concentrate.

We have heard a good deal about trip wires, flexible responses and the like and we have discussed at length, both here and outside, whether nuclear weapons will be used in the event of an attack. At least, there is doubt whether they will be used on the land frontier because of the dreadful consequences to humanity. If there is any doubt concerning the land frontier, what about the sea frontier? Paragraph 19 of the White Paper refers to 250 submarines in the Russian Western fleet alone and 400 strike and reconnaissance maritime aircraft.

It is interesting that that paragraph has been included. It must be the first time that I have seen such a specific figure in a White Paper on Defence. I well recall that in the past, when we on this side quoted the figures of Russian submarines that were available, we were laughed at by the party opposite. I am very glad to see that these figures are at last being put out.

I should like to know from the Minister what our plans are for a trip wire or a flexible response if those forces are unleashed. The Russians are very realistic in their assessment of their defence needs and they do not have that vast submarine force for anything other than a specific purpose. If our use of nuclear weapons on land is questioned, how much more so will their use at sea be questioned?

In an intervention, I referred to the statement by the Minister that use would not be made of a nuclear response unless the Russians launched a major attack. If a major submarine attack were to be launched by the size of fleet to which I have referred, would that be considered as a reason for using Western nuclear weapons?

Photo of Mr Harry Gourlay Mr Harry Gourlay , Kirkcaldy District of Burghs

Order. It is again with some reluctance that I interrupt the hon. Member, but this is a debate on the Navy Estimates and he cannot go into a wide defence debate on Vote A. Perhaps the hon. Member will come to a little more detail in connection with the Estimates which are before the House.

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

This raises extremely serious issues for the country from a navy point of view, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because If our nuclear weapons are not to be used against an attack of that magnitude by a submarine force, bearing in mind the size of our anti-submarine forces available to combat it, we are the only country of Europe that could be starved by the cutting of our sea lanes.

If the issue is a starving Britain or an incinerated world, I believe that Britain would starve. This has great and serious naval implications. I do not believe that even the Government would argue that our maritime forces are strong enough to deal with the submarine forces ranged against us. It is no comfort to say that our military capacity is of such size that no other Western European country can surpass it, because it is the Russian submarines that are the threat and our anti-submarine forces are puny to deal with it.

The right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) said that no Western country would fight alone or could defend itself alone but would rely on the help of other countries of the alliance. In this aspect of anti-submarine forces, however, we can expect little help from our allies, because the 1967 White Paper stated that N.A.T.O. must be ready at sea, as well as on land, to demonstrate its will and its ability to respond appropriately to any act of aggression. But it is no longer realistic for the Alliance to attempt to provide maritime forces for conducting a prolonged war at sea. Therefore, our allies do not have the maritime forces either.

In the past the security of these islands has rested to a large extent on the vast range and diversity of our lines of communication. This advantage is going, or gone, as we turn increasingly to Europe and the seas around.

What can be done about it? There is nothing new about the British reluctance to pay for adequate naval forces or, for that matter, any other forces. It has always happened in the past and in the end we paid dearly for it. But we just survived because we had enough forces to enable us to endure, often at terrible cost, until we could mobilise, train, equip and go over to the offensive.

We endured and survived in earlier days because of our strong Navy. We have done so in recent years with a strong front-line Air Force added and behind strong Army reserves which can be brought to front-line readiness. Now we have the reverse: a weak Navy, a weak Air Force, weak Army reserves but relatively strong Army front-line forces. This has come about as a result of N.A.T.O. preoccupation with the land frontier and the nuclear response, and all else seems to be forgotten.

I believe that it is up to Defence Ministers of whatever Government to correct this situation. It cannot be done overnight, but a beginning must be made to correct it. In the past the adherence of this country to what is called a maritime strategy has enabled us to endure and survive within the budget which the British nation will tolerate. It gives us the best chance to do so in future and it will be the greatest contribution that we can make to the Western alliance.

6.51 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth West

The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) will forgive me if I do not echo his gloom and despondency in my remarks. What has been absolutely noticeable about the debate so far—it is not unusual in the context of recent defence debates—is the total absence of any coherent logical approach by the Opposition to naval matters, any more than to other defence matters. It has been almost only in the asides during the debate so far that we have found the most revealing commentaries on the Opposition's standpoint.

I was astounded when the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) referred in passing to the fact that the Opposition, were they unfortunately to be returned to office, would take the advice of the chiefs of staff. We were meant to believe that this would be the basis of their defence policy. However, it seems to confirm the misgivings and doubts that some on this side have had in that the Opposition refuse to take political decisions and responsibility themselves. Of course they must take the advice of the chiefs of staff, but that is not the end of the matter; it is the beginning. We want to know where they stand and what is their political judgment on the views of the chiefs of staff.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

I added that we would not impose artificial political ceilings or decisions.

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth West

With respect, the hon. Gentleman made clear that the Opposition are not certain about what they would do if they were ever confronted with the advice of the chiefs of staff.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths), who for once at least briefly visited the Chamber, commented at an earlier stage that it was a sorry position for Britain that we seem to put more emphasis on collecting taxes than on building up our Service personnel. This comment revealed the other lamentable contradiction in the Opposition's view whereby, on all aspects of policy, including defence, they are constantly urging the Government to spend more, but do nothing but ridicule pathetically the essential machinery for raising the revenue which we need to maintain our defence policy or any other policy.

I should like to start my main remarks by congratulating the Under-Secretary for what we have come to regard as a characteristically clear statement of policy at the beginning of the debate. It was the kind of clear statement to which it has been our pleasure to listen on a number of occasions when he has had the opportunity to speak to us.

I want to make one comment on overall strategy in the context of the Estimates. This matter has not yet been touched upon. I am always a little confused as to why the Government allow themselves to become, as I believe they do at times, acutely embarrassed by their involvement in the Republic of South Africa on naval policy, because of the importance of a base in that part of the world, when there are other opportunities that could at least be investigated—for example, naval bases in places like Mauritius. I hope that my hon. Friend will feel able to comment on this matter in reply.

My hon. Friend mentioned that conditions of service had to be attractive if we were to have people coming forward in sufficient numbers to man the Navy. He mentioned the Government's recent decision on pay. I should like him to know, if he does not already realise, that this decision was welcomed by many within the Navy, and it is a matter on which we should all like to congratulate the Government.

The Minister also referred to the uniform. I do not want to become involved too much at this stage in definite views on this matter, because it is in the nature of an experiment. But I urge the Government to avoid the unfortunate mistake which they made on the issue of the rum ration in appearing to become rather highhanded and paternalistic towards the lower deck. I believe that on this matter there is every opportunity for the Government to consult fully with the ratings on the lower deck about their views on the experiment. I am sure that the Government will want to do this.

Two other aspects of conditions of service should be mentioned at this stage. One concerns the problems still confronting naval families and the strains put upon wives separated for long periods from their serving husbands. I believe that this is sometimes a source of more concern for serving personnel than we always recognise. I urge the Government to watch this very carefully and to make sure that the welfare services are never allowed to go by default.

The Minister referred to promotion prospects. I believe that both for the lower deck and for commissioned ranks the prospects of rapid promotion can be a great inducement to recruiting. There has been some frustration in both the commissioned and non-commissioned ranks on this score. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will continue to watch this situation very carefully.

We have had reference to the conditions of service for serving personnel. I should like to emphasise that there is again something notable by its absence from the Estimates, namely, any concern on the Government's part for older pensioners and their widows. I ask—I will never miss an opportunity to ask—that the Government should look carefully at this problem of older retired members of our Services and their widows who are sometimes in real difficulties. When we talk about improving the conditions of service for Navy personnel, it is sad that we overlook the difficulties of these people.

In an Adjournment debate recently my hon. Friend said that he did not believe that the amount of the suggested increases involved would make much difference. I was sorry to hear him say that. I ask him to come and meet a number of the people about whom I was speaking in that Adjournment debate, because he will then be able to see for himself that even a small, modest improvement in their financial allowances will make a big difference.

The Minister dwelt at some length on dockyards, and I should like to say something about them in the light of my experience as the Member for Portsmouth, West. First, my hon. Friend referred to the appointment of the chief executive, and to the fact that following his appointment we were, as his colleague said during the main defence debate last week, to move towards the appointment of a dockyard board. Not for the first time I find myself reinforcing comments made by the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers). If this new board is to have credibility, which will be essential if it is to get the good will of the labour force, and its confidence, the nature of its composition will be very important indeed.

There is already a feeling—whether it is legitimate or not I am not saying—amongst industrial employees in the yards that there are too many people telling them what to do, but who do not really know what they are doing. If these doubts and misgivings were reinforced by the appointment of the wrong people to the board, a great opportunity would have been lost, and I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about the possibility, as the hon. Lady the Member for Devonport suggested, of union or industrial representation on the board.

The Minister also stressed the need for a new approach to the structure of management in the yards, and he was generous enough to mention some comments which I had made during the debates in the House on this issue. If we are to see the yards doing a modern, streamlined job, there must be greater autonomy within the individual yards. There must be more provision for genuine local bargaining. There must be more local accountability and responsibility. There must be something more like a profit and loss account for each yard by which its efficiency can be assessed, and we need to clarify the division of responsibility between naval and civilian management. There is still too much overlapping and lack of clarity in that respect.

I wonder whether I might now refer briefly to one or two specific local problems which are unnecessarily spoiling the atmosphere in the naval dockyards. First, I join my hon. Friend in referring to the apprentice group instructors. This is a source of real irritation and concern among the men affected. They are looking for regrading as instructional officers. There has been a three-year delay, and I think that they are particularly disappointed that, after their warm and friendly meeting with relevant Ministers before the end of last year, still nothing has happened. It is essential that we see some sort of movement on this quickly.

It is also sad that at the yard at Portsmouth the productivity talks have been hampered recently. It would be interesting to hear the Minister's comments on how he hopes this difficulty can be overcome. Obviously there is there a real issue of union membership. This is a sensitive matter on which to ask the Minister to express his views, but I hope that he will feel able to say something about it.

The dockyard incentive bonus scheme is still a highly contentious issue within the dockyards. Some men feel that they are getting a fair deal under the scheme, but a large number of men feel that there is no opportunity at all for getting a fair deal. The scheme is too inflexible. All too frequently timings are unrealistic for the sort of work which, by definition, is being done in a dockyard.

There is a great deal of anxiety amongst the men about what is to happen to the recommendations of the Prices and Incomes Board on a wage structure. Some of us may recognise that the Navy Department and the Prices and Incomes Board are not the same thing, but this is not necessarily widely understood by the men affected within the individual yards.

The other matter to which I must draw attention is the considerable number of men within the dockyards upon whom we are dependent in our defence policy and who are in the low paid category. There are still too many low-paid workers in the dockyards, and the Minister's comments on this aspect of the matter would be helpful.

While talking about pay within naval dockyards, I think that it would be useful to hear some comment about the Government's approach to the issue of equal pay for women. There is some feeling amongst managements and others that some of the bottlenecks in recruiting could be overcome if equal pay were introduced more rapidly, and the very understandable misgivings amongst the male labour force were overcome as they realised that cheap labour was not being recruited to take their place.

We ought to look a little more closely than we have so far at the unfortunate drift of well-qualified ex-apprentices from the naval dockyards. This has always been a source of concern to me, because some of the best young people leave the dockyard labour force almost as soon as they are qualified.

In the programme of work provided for the yards—and one is aware of the watchful attention of the Public Accounts Committee in this respect—it is important, in the view of a number of hon. Members on both sides, that some provision should be made for genuine construction work within each of the yards. This is essential to enable the labour force in the yards to maintain their sense of identification with the whole operation of shipbuilding and to remain efficient in the job of servicing vessels after they have been built.

I join the hon. Lady the Member for Devonport again in saying that it would be useful if the Government were to look at the contribution which the dockyards could make to the development of oceanography and to related work. I also wonder whether the civilian work as carried on within the yards could not be more methodically arranged than it has been in the past.

Talking about links between the yards and the world outside, one of the issues which worries men employed in the yards is the amount of work which, sometimes it seems quite arbitrarily, is put out to outside private contractors. Some clear statement, some better known guidelines from the Minister and his Department on how and when this should be done would be very good for the morale of the working force within the yards.

In summing up this part of my remarks, it seems to me that the theory of the new organisation of the yard is most impressive, but the problem is that in practice it has not always worked out as well as it might have done, and we have to accept that there is scepticism, and even exasperation, amongst industrial employees about the ever-larger managements and pre-work planning forces which seem to be weighing them down in their daily work. We in this House may see the need for more pre-work planning and more management, but this is not yet fully understood by the labour force, and we must therefore at this stage emphasise the importance of communication.

New experiments in communication, for example the publication of Trident, have made an important contribution, but still more must be done. It is my view that in Portsmouth, as we have heard there is in Devonport, there is a first-class highly skilled labour force ready and willing to serve as effectively in the future as it has in the past. I believe that my hon. Friend is to be congratulated on the determination, even perhaps dedication, with which he is approaching the job of reorganisation and streamlining of the work of the yards. At times we recognise that he must feel that he is trying to move a most obstinate bureaucratic beast. It is notable that the local manpower within individual yards greatly respect their local management, and sometimes the frustration within the yard seems to be a joint frustration between local management and local industrial employees in trying to deal with the amorphous Civil Service machine which stretches back to Bath and Whitehall.

In conclusion, may I say that as far as the Navy as a whole is concerned and for those of us who have the privilege of watching it at close quarters regularly in our political work, it is absolutely clear that the foreboding and the generally sad outlook of hon. Members opposite is totally unwarranted. We know that we have a hard-hitting, effective Navy which packs more punch than it ever has before in its history.

7.12 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I hope that the hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) will forgive me if I do not follow his speech in detail. Having served for a number of years on the lower deck in the Navy, all I say is that there is a good descriptive phrase which runs something on the lines of "telling it to the Marines". That is the sort of rejoinder which we would like to give to the hon. Gentleman's concluding remarks.

I should like to apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I was not here at the outset, but I am engaged in my fortnight with the R.N.R. at the Admiralty, which only enabled me to get away at five o'clock.

I should like to say straight away how sorry I was, on studying the Defence White Paper, to see once again how the effective number of the Fleet has decreased. Now we have about 98 effective operational vessels, if we exclude minesweepers, and if we take account of the fact that the three Polaris vessels, with their attendant force of 3,000–4,000 men, cannot be really classed as operational vessels, it reduces our effective fleet of ships, other than minesweepers, to about 95. In my view it is sad and very wrong to see year by year not only the numbers of the fleet but the numbers of active Servicemen in the Navy and the number of reservists decline. One can see that by looking at past statistics and by looking at projected statistics in this White Paper.

I do not wish to be partisan in the debate, but one must lay the blame for this position at the door where it belongs, and it can only belong at the door of a Government which are quite content to retire into their own backyard. They cease to honour any Commonwealth links. They do not concern themselves very much with what happens in any other part of the world except Europe, and it is this abandonment of any pretence of being interested in maintaining peace in some parts of the world where we were formerly predominant, or at any rate effective, which is one of the most disgraceful aspects of the White Paper.

One of the prides which this country still possess is its Merchant Marine, which I certainly regard as the best, and which is certainly the largest Merchant Marine. We have a magnificent fleet of merchant vessels. In the Navy today, in the event of any serious emergency whatever, we should have to go to our allies for assistance because we would be powerless, whatever our will might be, to defend this fine Merchant Marine. The situation in which we find ourselves in this respect is absolutely lamentable.

I should like to refer in detail to one or two parts of the White Paper and in particular to the carriers and the proposal to abandon any rôle for "Eagle" and "Ark Royal" in a year or two's time. It appears to me that if they go out of service we shall be absolutely powerless as far as any air cover is concerned for our vessels at sea in certain parts of the world. What is the intention as regards "Hermes"? I may have missed something in an earlier part of the debate, but I wonder whether there is an intention to use it perhaps with helicopters and not phase the vessel out altogether. One particular point I should have liked to put to the Minister—again I may have missed this in the earlier debate—was how we are getting on with our vertical take-off tests? Also, I should have liked to ask how secure the Minister reckons the Skynet system is which our assault craft are using. Skynet is a very effective means of communication, but is it a fact that we are entirely dependent on the good will of another nation whether communications continue through Skynet or not?

My main point is to call attention in the House once again to the very serious competitive position which we are in, not only as regards our fleet and the vessels in it, but as regards their defence capability. I refer particularly to the absolute absence of surface-to-surface weapons possessed by this country. I should have thought that the incident fairly recently when the "Eilath", an Israeli destroyer, was sunk by a U.A.R. gunboat some 20 miles away by a surface-to-surface missile would have spelled a lesson which people in the Admiralty would have learned. Surely it is useless to arm our new vessels with long-range guns of any type whatever when others have in their possession effective surface-to-surface weapons of a type which can completely home on and destroy vessels such as the "Eilath".

I am sure that the Minister knows his figures better than I do, but he must be aware that the forces of Russia and her allies possess a tremendous number of long-range missile launches. More than 200 missile launchers are possessed by Russia and her allied fleets, each capable of over 40 knots, some of the missiles having a minimum range of 20 sea miles and others having a maximum range of over 200 miles. Obviously, if we are to go without any form of air cover, it is useless to think of defending our modern ships, or, for that matter, any of our merchant vessels, with the conventional gunnery systems which seem to be deployed on some of our most modern vessels.

Are the Government fully aware of the tremendous damage which these long-range surface-to-surface weapons systems can do to our fleet, and, if they are aware of it, are they taking suitable steps to counter that threat and ensure that we are not dealt a knock-out blow such as Israel received on the "Eilath"?

Next, will the Minister give an assurance—he may find this easier—about the future rôle of H.M.S. "Endurance"? She is visiting the Falkland Islands regularly every year now, and I know that in recent times, when there has been pressure upon the Falkland Islanders from the Argentine Government, that vessel's visit has come to mean more than a normal routine autumn deployment. I hope that the House will have an assurance that "Endurance" will continue to call there, and, moreover, that the party of Marine personnel on the island at the moment will continue to stay there, as they are very welcome to the islanders, and, I believe, their presence there is welcomed by most people as enabling them to play a valuable rôle in that part of the world.

There is very little reference in the White Paper to H.M.S. "Sea Eagle" in Londonderry. There is reference to the naval establishment at Londonderry but not to "Sea Eagle" by name, which caused me not to spot it for a moment. I am glad that there is no reference in the White Paper to its imminent or early closure, and I wish once again to put in a plea for "Sea Eagle" and for what I regard as the major rôle which it plays at present in Northern Ireland and which it could and should play in United Kingdom defence.

Last autumn, at a time when it was being widely used, as it still is, by the Army Servicemen who are doing such a splendid job in Londonderry, I spent a fortnight in "Sea Eagle". I was struck once again not only by how efficiently the place is run and how harmoniously the three Services work together but also, in conversation and comment, by how important its rôle still is in anti-submarine patrol and naval scrutiny of the waters to the north-west of this country.

Apart from its naval rôle generally, and more especially in view of the increased activity of Russian war vessels in northwestern waters, "Sea Eagle" has played a useful part in billeting the Army during the recent troubles. I do not expect that it will be necessary for the Army to remain in Northern Ireland for very long, but, whether the Army remains or not, H.M.S. "Sea Eagle" is a big employer of local labour and it is of great political significance in Northern Ireland.

I thought it extraordinary, when I was there in the autumn, that there should be fears among all who work in the base, the hundreds of civilian employees, the naval officers running the base, the Service personnel who are there, and many of the local people, that the base would soon close, as when I went ashore each night I walked past an ever-growing American naval base. Even though one does not approve, one can, perhaps, understand the Government's decision to withdraw forces from bases in some parts of the world, but it is difficult to understand why it should be though necessary, desirable or justifiable for a naval presence to be withdrawn from Londonderry at the same time as in that very part of the United Kingdom the American navy is building a bigger base in its place.

I do not propose to follow my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Car- shalton (Captain W. Elliot) in his excellent speech, but I must say that I regarded as absolutely right the rôle which he outlined as the one which the Nevy should play in future years. The big fear is that it will be assumed that we can get away with a small conventional navy while we have the dreadful nuclear deterrent. I am convinced that, as science continues to develop the effectiveness of the deterrent, the time will come when it will no longer be feasible to use it, because both victor and vanquished will suffer equally from the use of nuclear weapons, so that once again we shall be back to the old traditional state of affairs in which it is vital for this country to rely upon a first-class conventional Royal Navy.

7.24 p.m.

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

I apologise to you Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the House, for not being present in the Chamber at the beginning of the debate to hear either my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State or the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing), but perhaps you may be aware—though you are not supposed officially to know—that it is possible to hear what is being said in this place, and we are surrounded by a crowd of witnesses, if not the host of angels, so that I heard a good deal of what was said by my hon. Friend and by the hon. Gentleman, as well as what was said by a number of hon. Members opposite and of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

This debate seems to be almost a repetition of the debate 12 months ago. The same stances are being taken, though with variations from time to time on one detail or another. I was pleased to note that my hon. Friend did not apologise for the Estimates when he presented them. He had nothing to apologise for. The information which comes to me is that he has been a good custodian of Her Majesty's Navy during the time he has had responsibility for these matters. I am not happy with his title, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy. I have always felt that there should be someone in the House responsible as the Navy Secretary. Whether that be his title or not, that is how I regard my hon. Friend, and how I should like others to regard him as well. As I say, my information is that he has done an effective and worthwhile job, exceeding, if I may say so, my expectation when he first took office.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

I agree that there should be a Minister in the House representing each of the Services, but the Government are proposing to abolish any such arrangement in their White Paper.

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

The name is of no great importance. What matters is how the responsibility in office is exercised and who actually does the job. The hon. Gentleman has had longer experience of these matters than I have. I am merely saying that there should be someone in this Chamber with responsibility for the Navy.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

That is not what the Government say.

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

I am entitled to disagree with my Government from time to time. It does not happen often, and I do not shout about it when it does. I do not greatly mind how it is arranged so long as there is one person, high or low, who can speak on these matters in the House.

My hon. Friend gave an excellent review and forecast of the changing pattern of the Navy in times of great change, and he looked forward—I took his concluding words seriously—to an effective and proud Service playing its full part in the defence of these islands and of our friends and allies. I contrast that with the speech made by the hon. Member for Hendon, North and some of his hon. Friends. I do no disservice to the hon. Gentleman when I say that in his absence. He told us a lot about the general aims which his Government would pursue if they had opportunity, but I remind them than 6th May, 1971, is still a long time ahead. He made a lot of general observations which might, to some degree, appeal to some hon. Members on this side and some on that, and he had many criticisms of detail to offer of the Government's proposals, but he said little specific about what he and his hon. Friends proposed in the way of firm provisions regarding ships, hulls, manpower, types, and so on, or how they would use the Navy.

It is time that the Opposition were specific. What worries me is that a General Election is coming along, and I do not want a "Knock the Govern- ment" campaign to become a "Knock the Services" campaign or a "Knock the Navy" campaign. I am sure that that is not the intention of the majority of hon. Members opposite, as it should not be the intention of my right hon. and hon. Friends, but there is a danger that, apart from proper comment on targets and policies, that impression will be created.

Photo of Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles , Winchester

I entirely agree that we ought not in this Chamber to appear to knock the Services, but it is not correct for the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends to ask us on this side for a detailed policy statement. The basic political decision has been taken on this side to retain a presence east of Suez. How it is done is a matter for professional advice when we take office.

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is entitled to take what professional advice he likes from any source. I am only saying that, if they say that they will stay east of Suez—or west of Ailsa Craig—hon. Gentlemen opposite should spell out the details. Just to call for a stronger Navy is not enough. We are told time and again that the Opposition will cut Government expenditure. I like one or two of their ideas; for example, the idea of a small effective—whatever it be called—carrier force in one part of the world or another, though not the huge things that we have rattling about all over the place at the moment. I want to know the size of the force required by hon. Members opposite, how much they will spend on it, and where they will employ it. I want details. They are asking for support from reasonable people. I have been dubbed a reasonable person in the House, and am therefore entitled to ask them for some information. They have not supplied it.

I wish hon. Members opposite would at least occasionally preface their critical remarks by making it clear that they are talking about the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom—the largest European navy, the navy with the best officers, men, ships and equipment in the Western world. Even if we spent all our national resources we could not hope to challenge in terms of numbers or equipment the United States Navy or the Russian Navy. Hon. Members opposite should temper their criticism with praise for the Service.

A debate like this almost inevitably turns into a defence debate, although we try to keep within the rules of order. It is not the responsibility of this or any other British Government to keep the Pax Britannica. That is over. I think that it was a good thing, but we cannot do that any longer. We cannot be expected to take sole responsibility for keeping the peace of the world. The Royal Navy is for the defence of the United Kingdom and its merchant service, and it has a share in the defence of the Commonwealth and friends and allies overseas. It is prepared to take a responsible part in any peace-keeping force of the United Nations. We cannot carry out such tasks ourselves. We must prepare ourselves for the task of the 1970s, and not the tasks that we may have been able to undertake in 1907.

I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) is not here at the moment. He referred to the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East. Everyone regrets it, but what the Royal Navy could do to solve the problem has not been explained by hon. Members opposite. Some years after the Royal Navy left Alexandria the Russians went in, but we can hardly call that a phased withdrawal by the British Government, or claim that as a consequence the Russian Navy went in, which is what the hon. and gallant Gentleman seemed to be saying.

The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) referred to the defence of the merchant service. The merchant service has been discussed in Committee and on the Floor of the House very often recently, and it will be discussed again on Wednesday. I have yet to meet a captain or a crew member of the British merchant service who is worrying about the degree of defence that the Royal Navy can provide for the merchant service in time of war. [Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Members opposite have, but I have not. This is not the time to worry. Members of the merchant service understand the present position and realise that with the forces available, or even with those that could be provided in a short time, we could not protect every British merchant ship on every part of the high seas, even if we devoted all our national resources to the task.

Mention was also made of the presence of the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean, but hon. Members have not said how many units there are compared with the units of our own Fleet or of the United States Fleet. There is nothing that we should be afraid of, operating either alone or with our allies.

My hon. Friend has given a factual report of a first-class Navy, well equipped to do its job and any task that it may be required to undertake in years to come, as far as we can see. We cannot foresee everything that may happen; we can prepare only for certain eventualities that we can see now. That job has been done well, honestly and fairly by my hon. Friend. Before hon. Members opposite criticise us further they should give us more details about their proposals, and how they would link those proposals with the other defence arrangements and promises that they are making. Once again, when they are making their criticisms I ask them not to change their "Knock the Government" campaign into a "Knock the Navy" campaign.

7.35 p.m.

Photo of Dr Reginald Bennett Dr Reginald Bennett , Gosport and Fareham

I endorse the last words of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden). To my knowledge nobody has offended against the excellent principle that he enunciated. I doubt whether anybody on this side of the House has any intention of knocking the Navy, or whether he has anything but the highest regard for the men in the Navy, their equipment, and the use to which it is put. The only knocking that is necessary is the knocking of those who have themselves knocked the Navy down to its present size, so that it is inadequate to carry out any perceptible functions. That is the only matter that I take up with the Government. We do not see eye to eye on this matter. We differ absolutely. I trust that the circumstances will soon arise when things are better for the Navy, so that it will no longer have to endure the endless cutting that has afflicted all the Services under Socialist Governments ever since the first came to office many years ago.

As behoves a Member representing one side of a dockyard port—one-and-a-bit sides in fact—I want to make a few observations which are not those of the dockyard speech that is usually religiously trotted out in every Navy Estimates debate. I want, first, to echo what was said in another speech about the readiness and excellence of dockyard services, and to give an example concerning a dockyard other than the one with which I am connected.

It was my good fortune to be off Ushant last Easter in a tank landing craft. I was at sea with the Army—an extraordinary fate for anyone like myself, who has been to sea quite a lot, but usually with chaps wearing dark blue. The Army landing craft was splendidly run, although some parts of its routine seemed a little strange to me. On the outward trip, round Ushant—on Good Friday, I believe—we had run into a Force 8 gale from dead ahead, and busted in our bow doors. We were able to make repairs at sea and continue. It was Sunday when we came round Ushant homeward bound, and this time we met a Force 10 gale, again from dead ahead—north-east—and then we really did some dancing. We smashed in our bow doors properly and had to limp across to Devonport Dockyard, which I regard as foreign territory.

We got to Devonport on Easter Sunday evening, quite late at night, and it was with the greatest pleasure and pride that I saw there all the dockyard boys turned out to meet us. They put the work in hand immediately, so that we were able to go to sea the following afternoon, bound up-Channel. The episode occurred during one of our main holiday festivals and I pay tribute to the readiness and effectiveness of the dockyard workers. I was profoundly grateful to them, and I hope that I showed it.

I have two questions to ask, on a parochial plane. Although the principal dockyard of the port of Portsmouth is neither in Fareham nor Gosport many of the outlying bases—usually the most important ones such as the Fleet Air Arm base and the submarine base, to say nothing of the stores—are on my side of Portsmouth harbour. I want to make two complaints and ask for some redress in respect of them. I do not suppose that the Minister is unaware of either of them. I have a sneaking suspicion that he will not be taken by surprise by my raising these matters.

One concerns the internal combustion engine testing plant in the middle of a residential area in Fareham. This appears to have been an outlying establishment which grew up, presumably, during the war in what was then rolling country, but which is now, like the rest of my constituency, almost entirely bricks and slate. This establishment is four or five miles from the nearest other cognate establishment. It is roaring away, testing engines all the time. Meanwhile the houses have encroached upon it. Now, we are told, there is to be a large extension of this establishment for the test running of even higher powered engines.

My complaint, which I hope I will not express as shrilly as others have been expressed, is that, in my constituency already, perhaps not even five miles away, we have that admirable establishment, H.M.S. "Sultan", which was engaged on this very matter of internal combustion engines when I last visited it. It occupies the hangars of the old aerodrome at Gosport, where the catapult was which I was once hurled off during the war. This has ample room all around. There is no close-knit residential area right alongside. It has appropriate access roads for a Service establishment and is admirably suited to accommodate this small part of its own functions.

The removal of this internal combustion place, which I am told is not to a standard, architecturally or otherwise, of which the Admiralty would be particularly proud, from Blackbrook Farm to H.M.S. "Sultan" would seem both appropriate and, surely, not unduly costly. I cannot believe the enormous figures which have been bandied about and I am not sure that I can agree that it would be a great inconvenience for 200 people to go to "Sultan" rather than the western end of Fareham for their daily work. The alleviation of the discomfort of the locals would be great and, at a time when the establishment is being expanded, we are told, because of its inadequacy for its intended task, this would be the right moment to move it into its parent organisation or, failing that, the appropriate place within the Royal Dockyard itself at Portsmouth.

Of course, I voice the protests of the locals, as I represent them, and also of the local authority, because this unpleasant mechanism by which Government Departments override and steamroller local authorities seems to have been put in motion on this occasion. This is known, I think, as "Circular 100 technique", by which a Government Department merely informs a local authority that it will go against all the authority's planning and do what it likes, and that the authority will have no redress. This is how this matter has been represented to me, and it seems largely true.

Therefore, there is substantial ground for grievance. This has been carried out in a way which is less than considerate. I ask the Government to move this place while there is time, so that an area which is scheduled as a residential area on the planning map shall not be given this growing menace and nuisance of an engine testing establishment among all the private houses.

The other point is another in which perhaps the civil and the military are not too comfortable together. When one lives in occupied Hampshire, there are occasional instances of friction. This matter is the railway line, which also the Minister has possibly heard of. It used to be a very fine railway line—the original line by which Queen Victoria used to go down to embark at Stokes Bay when the court went to Osborne for the summer. It antedated the Portsmouth line which hurtles one merrily up and down, swaying like a mad thing, because they could not make the appropriate tunnels on that one. This is one of the earliest railway lines in the country, and much of it is still in use.

The Lee-on-Solent stretch has gone out of0 use, as has the part which goes into that fine but empty station in Gosport, but from Fareham there is a stretch, which I heard about only the other day, which I have ascertained from the Ministry has absolutely no civilian use whatever. It is used by the Navy's ammunition stores department at Bedenham, Frater and thereabouts for moving explosives and ammunition, and it is used for that purpose alone. The Minister told me, with probably justifiable pride, that he pays only £14 a year for the privilege of keeping that up.

For £14 a year for a facility that is used microscopically little, we have the countervailing menaces of two tiny bridges over roads on that line, which are very little bigger than the door by which we enter this great and good Chamber. The roads carry quite sizeable vehicles since the Government have been licensing bigger and bigger vehicles, and these tiny arches form great constrictions to the traffic. They will have to be moved, because the traffic is now piling up at them in this built-up area. The vehicles must meet head-on, because there is room for only one stream of traffic at a time. These bridges must be replaced. For the sake of the Minister's £14, it looks as though we will have to find hundreds of thousands of £s for new bridges, unless he is going to pay, or we must do away with the railway line.

In an Answer recently, the Minister said that there was no alternative to this except taking the stuff by road through a built-up area. Is he not aware of the lighters and piers and cranes at Bedenham, by which ammunition is usually taken to and from the Fleet, by water, to Portsmouth dockyard, where, presumably, it will be embarked? The justification for the continued use of this railway, even at £14 a year, is very hard to sustain. Once again, I put this before the Government for serious consideration.

Those are my two parochial points. That is my dockyard speech for the year. I merely return to the general theme. These are, I think, the 21st Navy Estimates to which I have listened, and they are possibly the worst. I hope that this has now brought us to the very nadir of the fortunes of the Royal Navy, and that, from now on, they will be on the way up.

7.48 p.m.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

The more I listen to the debate, the more I am convinced that the right approach of the House to an investigation in depth of the enormous amount we spend on defence in general is by way of Select Committee. Some people who take part in these debates have much more experience than others. I do not claim to be a great expert. My service in the Forces was given under duress: I think that I was probably the worst soldier in the British Army. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I think that hon. Members will willingly concur with that, and I am not ashamed to say it.

Nevertheless, whatever one's experience and knowledge, we are all deeply concerned about the obligation of this House to ensure that we are not, should we go to war again—God forbid—found in the defenceless position in which we were in 1939, when the party opposite had been in control to do what they liked and spend what they liked on the Navy, Army and Air Force. It ill behoves hon. Members opposite to criticise the present Government for any inadequacies that there might be in our defence forces.

The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) made extravagant accusations and by inference suggested that if the Conservatives are returned at the next election there will be a very substantial increase in expenditure on the Navy in particular. I listened carefully to his speech. He said that the retreat by the Navy was in full spate and that we were concentrating our forces in home waters, the inference being that under a Conservative Government we should have enough forces to put ships in all the oceans of the world. We must spell it out. If the Conservative Party are to be credible to the electorate and to our Servicemen, they must say how much they will spend on the forces, where they will put the ships and how they will get the men to man them.

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

It is not necessarily a question of increasing the forces but a question of where they are used. They are not necessarily best used in the vicinity of Europe and very seldom have been best used in that way in the past.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

Is the hon. and gallant Member saying that we have the right number of ships but that they are in the wrong place? It is important for the country to know whether the Conservative Party thinks that we have enough naval forces but that they are wrongly disposed or that we have not enough men and enough ships to do the job. All the speeches of the Leader of the Opposition and the speeches of hon. Members opposite, not only today but in the general defence debate, have argued that our forces were grossly inadequate not only in equipment but also in men.

I have referred to the need to set up a Specialist Committee of the House along the lines suggested by the recent Report of the Select Committee on Procedure in order that we may discuss these matters in great depth to find out exactly what each party stands for and what is the Government's thinking behind the White Paper and the Estimates. A Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Estimates is investigating recruitment for the Armed Forces. The Chairman of that Sub-Committee is the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington). He told me today that information mentioned in the White Paper had been withheld from that Sub-Committee by the Department. If my hon. Friend will see the hon. Member for Aldershot before the debate ends and ascertain precisely what is his complaint, I shall be very glad. I am referring specifically to the Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Estimates when I say that if a Select Committee of the House is to do its job properly, information of that kind ought not to be withheld from it by the relevant Department.

The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton claimed that the N.A.T.O. anti-submarine forces were inadequate to meet the challenge of the Soviet Union. I am in no position—nor, I suspect, is he—to say whether that charge is true, but if he makes that charge, he and his party must say what they would do about it if they found themselves in power in a year's time. Despite what was said by the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett), these accusations weaken the morale of the forces. None of us in the House wishes to face such accusations.

If the Conservative Party argues that we have reached the stage under a Labour Government at which we have the weakest naval defences in the history of the country—that is the extravagant charge which is made—they must have some idea of what would not be weak in the international context. Would they spend more on submarines, anti-submarine devices and ships? They have said that they would have another Polaris submarine, although the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) was cagey about it, saying, "We shall have to wait and see". Shall we have to wait and see whether we have more aircraft carriers, too? Or is the Conservative Party saying, "We shall make sure that we get our money's worth out of the existing aircraft carriers"? That was implied earlier in the debate.

Where will it get the money to man these ships? There is no evidence to suggest that they would be any more successful in recruiting the required number of men than we are. Whatever Government we have will find it increasingly difficult, for demographic and other reasons, to get young men to join the forces. Civilian life is very much more attractive and remunerative in total, taking account of pay, conditions and discipline, than is life in the forces. The gulf between civilian and service life is great. In terms of promotion and domestic life, a civilian career is so much more attractive that it will be extremely difficult to man the Services up to the level the Conservative Party thinks we require.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

Does not the hon. Member agree that it is wrong to try to create deliberate redundancies among those who are already serving?

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

I do not accept that that is being done. Irrespective of party politics, in their quieter moments hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite agree that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has been the best Minister of Defence in this century.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

The Conservative Party does not like the face the facts and the figures. There has never been a Minister of Defence so much on top of his job as the present Secretary of State. He has given us more value for the money that the nation is prepared to spend on defence.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

What about the cancellations?

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

If the hon. Member wishes to talk about cancellations and the misuse of funds, there is a string of them which we could hang around the necks of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite.

The easiest thing in the world is to go round the country and say that we can provide more houses, schools and hospitals if we cut defence. Immediately the audience of 5, 500 or 5,000 will applaud until the roof shakes. As politicians we have to tell the people that we will spend only up to the amount that they are prepared to pay. I find in my constituency, as I am sure other hon. Members find in theirs, that the easiest way to get cheap applause is to say "Cut defence". My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Adam Hunter) spoke of the Rosyth Dockyard. When people make these demands in my constituency I say "Let us cut out Rosyth Dockyard". They say "Do not cut Rosyth Dockyard because we have several hundred thousand people employed there. Cut somewhere else."

If this is measured in terms of jobs in a particular constituency then every hon. Member wants defence. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing), who has not attended this debate, said on 10th March last year that the Polaris programme, and expenditure on it, was a misuse of public funds. She said that it was immoral. I can appreciate that point of view. I was a conscientious objector at one point. She went on It should never be in any part of the United Kingdom."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1969; Vol. 779, c. 1090.] I can understand that point of view, but Rosyth Dockyard is a nuclear submarine servicing station, and if it was not for that Rosyth would not exist.

As soon as my hon. Friend announces that H.M.S. "Caledonia" will be closed in the late 'seventies, the S.N.P. candidate in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunferline Burghs says "What a wicked central Government in London, shutting down all those establishments in Scotland". The S.N.P. candidate and the hon. Lady ought to get together and sort out whether they want these establishments. If they do, they had better accept the need for a nuclear deterrent. A lot of men in Scotland are employed directly with the maintenance and building of the nuclear element.

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris , Aberavon

Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, perhaps he would remind the House that the hon. Lady voted against the Navy Estimates last year?

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

I do not want to spend too much time on the hon. Lady. We have to appreciate her work. A passing reference is all right.

I want to make a point about the naval shipbuilding programme. It is the easiest thing to get applause for any proposals to cut defence expenditure. If we look at the naval shipbuilding programme as it affects Scotland, we find that in 1966–67 the Government spent £12·6 million on naval shipbuilding in Scotland alone. That was 19·7 per cent., nearly one-fifth, of the total shipbuilding programme for the United Kingdom as a whole. In 1967–68 there was virtually none; 0·1 per cent. is the nearest figure I can get. This is roughly 3 per cent. of the total shipbuilding programme, a much smaller proportion, although of course the amount being spent in 1966–67 naturally spilled over into the following year, so that it is not as jerky as those figures suggest.

The figures for 1968–69 amounted to £17·2 in Scotland, which represented 64·2 per cent. of the total naval shipbuilding programme in the United Kingdom. Two-thirds of it came to Scotland. The people who talk about cutting naval expenditure or defence expenditure must go to those shipyards and say to the workers there that it means that they will lose their jobs. We have to be consistent about this. I can respect people for holding those views so long as they are consistent and say that this will mean a loss of jobs in a particular area.

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Reading

Is my hon. Friend aware that I have people living in my constituency and working on the doorstep of it at Aldermaston, but I said very soundly at Aldermaston that I was prepared to abandon nuclear arms?

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

I know that my hon. Friend has a lot of wild ideas. I appreciate his sincerity, and I hope he appreciates mine. I have sometimes signed Motions suggesting that we ought to cut defence expenditure more than has been done. This is not hindsight, because I was one of those who in 1964 said that we should proclaim that we would get out of our east of Suez commitments. If we had done that then we would be reaping the rewards now and the balance of payments situation would be far more favourable than it is. That is water under the bridge now, and we are trying to reap these benefits in 1970, assuming—and it is a reasonable assumption—that our party wins the next General Election.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline Burghs has taken a very great interest in Rosyth Dockyard. He must visit it more regularly than any other Member in this House. It covers his constituency and mine. Psychologically this is regarded as being of some importance in the town, and I may say that it has some marital influence in that it provides a lot of eligible young men—"Tiffies" as they are called. Not a week goes by but one reads in the local paper of half a dozen artificers marrying local girls. There are less reputable stories as well, because the "Tiffies" are all-rounders.

The letter which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary sent to my hon. Friend and myself made it clear not only that the Government are to close H.M.S. "Caledonia". It made it clear that there are other naval defence establishments which are being transferred to Scotland, like the Joint Maritime Operational Training Centre, which has been transferred from Northern Ireland to Tumhouse, bringing the added spending power of 35 extra personnel and some increase in civilian employment. In addition, there is the need to expand accommodation provided by H.M.S. "Cochrane" at Rosyth, to provide for increases in various tasks, including the requirements of crews of nuclear-powered submarines during refitting. My hon. Friend also made the point that there are prospects for increasing the employment in Rosyth; indeed there is a shortage of skilled men there.

There is no better training anywhere than in the dockyards or in the Services. The trained personnel who leave the dockyards do a great deal of good when they go into civilian employment. This is not a loss but a national gain. The Government are providing well-trained personnel for industries which are probably engaged in exporting.

Generally speaking—and I speak as a layman—I do not think the Government have very much to apologise for in their defence efforts. Hon. Members opposite are perfectly entitled to criticise the Government for what they see as inadequacies in either equipment or personnel, or both, but it is incumbent upon them to spell out in much greater detail than they have done hitherto, in the two-day defence debate last week or in the debates this week, what exactly is involved in terms of manpower and costs. Until they do, they cannot expect to be regarded as a credible political force in this country.

8.10 p.m.

Photo of Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles , Winchester

I hope I shall not surprise the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) unduly if I agree warmly with several of the things he said in his thoughtful speech. I agree specifically with his opening point about the obligation which the House has to ensure that we are not found defenceless If trouble should come—a very concise way of putting the way in which these debates should be looked upon. I also agree when the hon. Member said that the easiest way to gain cheap applause is to say "Cut defence". I have even done what the hon. Gentleman asked, and, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins), have put down an Amendment for 5,000 men to be added to Vote A of the Royal Navy. Even though that has been ruled out of order, I am completely unrepentant. The hon. Gentleman will agree that I have done what he asked and he said what I should like to see done.

I thought that the hon. Gentleman's statement that Service life is less attractive and less remunerative than civilian life, if true, was a great indictment of the policy of the Government he supports, after some five and a half years in office.

However, I want to concentrate the greater part of my speech on the single subject of recruitment. In discussing this matter I believe that it is important to try to be constructive, and, although I think the shortage of recruits is largely the Government's fault, I do not want to say anything which will make the shortage worse. I hope the Minister heard me make that specific remark. From past experience and present contacts I still think that Service life has a great deal to offer to any enterprising young man. If evidence of this were needed, it is the wonderful re-engagement figures of those in the Service at the present time.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

May I interrupt my hon. and gallant Friend and make one point? The figures are not as good as they were in 1962 when 60 per cent. were re-engaging at the 12-year point. Although there has been an improvement, the figures are not as good as all that.

Photo of Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles , Winchester

That is certainly true. When I said that they were wonderful, I meant that they were wonderful in view of what has been done with the Service after these five and a half years.

The recruiting figures are nevertheless disappointing and they have been bad for several years now. More and more recruits are needed each year to make up the previous leeway. The White Paper does not make clear how great this leeway is, but I have some figures from an official document showing that the steady rate required for ratings to maintian a strength of 80,000 is 6,150 a year. To achieve and maintain the Government's figure we must have 6,150 a year. The actual figures recruited in 1968 and 1969 as shown in the White Paper were a little over 4,000 each year—to be precise, 4,105 and 4,219. This is an enormous shortfall of nearly 2,000 ratings each year.

Officer recruiting is equally a very sad story. As it takes longer to train an officer, the leeway here is even more serious than in the case of ratings. Looking back over the last White Papers I see that September, 1965, was the last occasion when the entry into Dartmouth was said to be up to requirements. It is four years since it has been up to requirements. The total shortfall of officers must be serious by now as well. The applications for naval scholarships to enable boys to study at school and to apply for Dartmouth in 1964 were 1,150 a year and these have fallen year by year to 177 applications in October of last year. Therefore, the outlook there is bad.

Talking of Dartmouth, I was delighted to see that his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales intends to follow his father and grandfather into the Royal Navy. I hope that when he does so he will be as quick in replying to signals as his father was when he commanded H.M.S. "Magpie" in the Mediterranean Fleet. Once, the then Princess Elizabeth was at sea, when the senior officer of the escort one rough morning said, "The Princess is full of beans this morning". H.M.S. "Magpie" immediately replied, "Surely you could have given her a better breakfast than that".

To return to the subject of recruiting, positive and constructive action by the Government is needed on several fronts to start to get things into bettter shape. Incidentally—and this has nothing to do with the Government—I believe the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. could help here also.

There are four main things which the Government should do. First, the forces must be seen to have a clear-cut purpose. Second, there must be reasonable pay and conditions for the men in the forces. Third, there must be adequate weapons and equipment to meet identifiable threats. Fourth, there must be a coherent strategy which makes sense to the ordinary person and which involves the idealism of our young men and women.

Taking the first requirement—the clear-cut purpose—the Secretary of State has been in office for five and a half years. The first sentence of the first paragraph of his first White Paper said: The present Government has inherited Defence Forces which are seriously over-stretched, and in some respects dangerously under-equipped … If this was a just accusation, the right hon. Gentleman would have presumably tried to improve the situation in the forces and not let it slide any further. But we all know what has happened. Every one of his many defence statements has spoken of cuts, scrappings and redundancies all round, and everyone has boasted of spending less and less money on security. Therefore, the first constructive thing for this Government to do is to stop talking in this lunatic and irresponsible way and admit that the Service has been cut too far and that the pendulum must swing back again.

The second point is about reasonable pay and conditions. The Government have been attacked from these benches for letting the Serviceman lag behind in pay. I have often attacked the Secretary of State, and I was suspicious of the whole concept of military salary. As I said in the debate last week, I now believe that it is better than I had hoped, and I hope that it will bring about a drastic improvement in recruiting. But do not let us think it will be Utopia. It is bound to contain anomalies, discrepancies and injustices. Certainly married lieutenant-commanders and commanders do not do very well.

The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) about the allotment arrangements for ratings was a good one. The X factor may also need to be increased, and I hope that we can have some assurances about this when the Minister winds up the debate tonight. The White Paper contains the words: … thus ensuring a square deal for the serviceman in relation to civilian earnings. Those are the Government's words. The Serviceman, in all conscience, deserves a square deal in relation to civilian earnings. He earns it many times over. He does a much better day's work than most civilians, in my opinion and experience.

I am particularly glad, in connection with this military salary, to see the benefit which it will almost incidentally bring to seagoers. For too long a seagoing draft chit has meant to a sailor domestic difficulty and financial disaster. This brings me to certain other conditions of service. The first is overstretch. The Defence Review of February, 1966, gave figures for overstretch. It referred to the average employment of destroyers and frigates and quoted figures up to 1963–64 and for the Navy and Royal Air Force up to 1965. Why does the Secretary of State refuse to bring those figures up to date? I have asked him many times in debates and by Parliamentary Questions to bring them up to date.

The Under-Secretary smirks, but will he say why the Secretary of State does not bring them up to date? Does he say that it is not in the national interest to do so? He always settles down a little when he is embarrassed. The statistics are about annual mileage of ships, annual hours under way, days of 24 hours under way and the ratio of sea to harbour duties. How could there be any security implications in those figures? If it was valid to publish them a few years ago for the Secretary of State to prove a particular point he was trying to make, why is it against the national interest to publish those same figures now?

One has to experience overstretch to know what these words mean and what they imply for serving officers and men. I shall read a sentence about overstretch from the Defence Review. The Review refers to these conditions for all three Services, and says: In these conditions, both recruiting and re-engagement have fallen short of the targets set; this in turn has increased the strain on our already over-stretched Services. Such over-stretch has the most damaging consequences in our defence policy as a whole. Besides restricting our military ability to meet the unforeseen, it limits our political freedom to adjust our defence programme from time to time as circumstances change. There in the Government's words is a terrible indictment of overstretch.

One must always look at boasts made by the Prime Minister about anything as to the rights and wrongs to find whether overstretch has been reduced or whether if the figures were published overstretch would be found to be far worse. The Secretary of State boasts that he has reduced expenditure by a third, commitments by half and manpower by about one-fifth. If it is all so good, why does he not publish the figures which he put in earlier Defence Reviews?

I turn to one of the most important aspects in conditions for men serving in ships. How many officers and men are able to take the full amount of leave? Will the Under-Secretary be able to give us figures showing how many men are able to take their full allocation of leave? Does he say that they have their annual allocation? I am speaking of men in the Fleet, particularly in the Fleet submarines, nuclear submarines but not Polaris, and especially engine-room complements. They are very rarely able to take their full quota of leave. It would be helpful if the Under-Secretary could give figures to reassure the House on this point

Leave is often taken in ports away from a man's home. Even on the home leg of a service commission, leave may have to be taken while a ship is in port away from a man's home. This is an inevitable disadvantage of a seagoing career and every sailor understands it, but overstretch makes a normal difficulty of this sort increasingly onerous when men are consistently unable to get their full quota of leave.

In 1966, according to the Defence Review, we had 37,000 officers and men at sea. After all the thinning out which the Government have done east of Suez, we have only 30,000 at sea now. Why the reduction? We have ashore in the United Kingdom 52,000 men and no ships for them because there are practically no ships in the reserve Fleet which has been decimated. The larger total at sea in N.A.T.O. waters which we are supposed to have thanks to the east of Suez policy comes out at almost precisely the same figure as in 1964.

Pensions is another extremely important aspect of Service conditions and is of course very important in recruiting. I understand that the military salary is intended to be part of a general new deal and that soon there will be a statement on pensions. Is that correct?

Photo of Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles , Winchester

I am glad to know that there will be a statement on pensions. Will it include provision for officers and men who have retired on earlier pension codes and whose difficulties are very great? They were vividly outlined in a letter by Group Captain Wright in the Daily Telegraph last week. A positive constructive thing that the Government can do to improve public opinion about recruiting would be to look at the matter of pensions. It is serious. After all, the Prime Minister wrote to one of his constituents in 1964: Since we feel that the position is a positive disgrace, we have persistently brought this matter up in the House of Commons and criticised the Government for its meanness. Out of the horse's mouth we know what an important matter this is.

There should be adequate equipment to meet identifiable threats. No one will disagree that Servicemen are dedicated and are becoming increasingly professional. There is a greater emphasis on professionalism in the Ministry's advertising. In 1964 there were 181 ships operational and 170 in reserve or undergoing long refit, etcetra. Six years later, we have come down to 143 in the operational fleet—that is everything that floats—and only 38 in the reserve fleet.

Service men know as professionals that their first basic task is, and always has been, to defend merchant shipping. Yet the Secretary of State seems to have an absolute obsession with N.A.T.O. He boasts that we have the strongest naval forces from the Arctic to the Caucasus. Why does he think that there is risk to our merchant shipping only in the waters around Europe? It is madness to ignore the oceans of the world, and particularly the Cape route while the Canal is closed.

To do the job of looking after our merchant shipping, now faced by 400 U-boats possessed by our only possible enemy, means having more escorts and submarines of our own. As is well known, a submarine is the best anti-submarine weapon. Also, Servicemen are particularly worried about the Government selling the Sea King anti-submarine helicopter to a foreign nation. Monitoring of submarine exercises, particularly in the Mediterranean, has shown that the Soviet Navy are considerably behind in the technique and know-how of anti-submarine warfare. It seems total madness to export the Sea King, with all its electronic equipment and sonar navigation system, to a country which does not face any great threat from the U-boat.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will say something about this decision and tell the House whether he will reconsider the decision to export these two Sea King helicopters. I understand that it has come about because each individual component of the Sea King is not highly classified. I make the point as definitely as I can that the Sea King as a weapons system is an enormous advance on anything that has gone before and it is vital to us, if we are to have a lead in this matter, to retain the lead.

Why is H.M.S. "Vernon", the Vatican of the anti-submarine world in the matter of anti-submarine training, to be closed, according to the latest White Paper?

Hon. Members have spoken about surface-to-surface missiles. I shall not enlarge on that subject, because I would rather have naval aircraft in some shape or form than I would any surface-to-surface missiles. Clearly a missile can only start a war or retaliate in a war, whereas a carrier can prevent a war. I am glad to see the Under-Secretary nodding because he takes the point that prevention of war is all important.

The argument for the carriers has been well rehearsed. Rather than even the existing carriers, I would accept happily a new generation of less sophisticated flat tops, whatever one likes to call them, to get away from the emotive word "carrier" and to make use of the godsend of VTOL aircraft.

The Government have shilly-shallied with the House over the business of the carriers. At the R.U.S.I. the Secretary of State said that the cost would be £170 million. The defence White Paper of 1966 said £18 million. The current White Paper says £13 million.

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Sutton

The hon. and gallant Gentleman must compare like with like. When my right hon. Friend gave those figures he was giving figures involving new construction.

Photo of Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles , Winchester

No, not in his speech at the R.U.S.I. I quote what the Secretary of State said just before the 1964 election: Let us not forget that, if we are to have an effective military capacity outside Europe, we must provide air cover for it in the form of naval aircraft … whether we build many small carriers or a new form of vessel with V.T.O.L. aircraft aboard, we are likely to incur very heavy cost. These commitments are commitments which we cannot avoid and which in my view … we should not seek to avoid in the years to come. That is what the Secretary of State thought then.

I am glad to hear from some of my hon. Friends that the command cruiser is a strange looking ship and has a through deck and looks in profile extremely like a traditional aircraft carrier.

There are equally strong arguments for the carrier in a scenario below the threshold of declared war. In these debates, and in all discussions on defence matters, it is important to descend from the scenario of all-out war to the situation below the threshold of declared war—that is, a confrontation situation or harassment of merchant shipping.

It is, perhaps, rather difficult to explain what harassment of merchant shipping means, but, as an example, suppose that a Soviet task force served notice to the world that it wished to carry out manoeuvres in an area 1,000 miles by 1,000 miles south of the Cape. It would say to the world, "We do not wish anybody any harm. We have no hostile intent towards anybody, but it will be dangerous. There will be ships going round at high speed without lights on. Missiles will be fired, although they will not have warheads. It will, we regret, be dangerous for merchant ships to go through that area".

Our predicament would be to choose between saying, on the one hand, "We will keep clear of your ships and give them the freedom of this area", and, on the other, saying to our own merchant ships, "Come through. We will escort you". It would mean having enough escorts to do the job.

Another example of the type of help that merchant ships might require in piping times of peace is in the matter of hi-jacking. Who would have thought five years ago that giant airliners would be hi-jacked every week or two and taken to some destination other than that which was intended? A similar situation could occur all too easily with merchant ships. Let us remember what a large proportion of foreign nationals of one sort or another is employed among the crews of British merchant ships.

In this situation of the need to look after our merchant ships, I believe that surveillance is vital. Surveillance can be provided only by naval air. President Kennedy learned this lesson at the time of Cuba. The strategic lesson of Cuba was that surveillance by naval air is essential. Shortly after that, Kennedy enunciated what I believe was one of the wisest statements ever made on defence, namely, that the greatest danger to the West is of its being nibbled to death in conditions of nuclear stalemate.

The last question I want to cover is that of having a coherent strategy which Servicemen can understand. One of the factors which most affects recruiting is the nation's mood. This means that the man in the street and his son who might join the forces should understand and believe in the Government's current strategy. To the man in the street the present Government's strategy does not make sense. I believe that this as much as anything else is what is holding back recruiting.

The man in the street does not see the sense of cutting down our conventional forces on land or sea just when it seems that the Americans may decide to reduce the scale of their support in N.A.T.O. The man in the street cannot see how the threat at sea can be considered to exist only in the N.A.T.O. area when the trade routes are so obviously important. The man in the street does not see the sense in phasing out our aircraft carriers when so much has just been spent on refitting them. The man in the street does not see the sense in refusing to sell strategic weapons to South Africa; because the man in the street understands the importance of the Simonstown agreement. The man in the street does not see the sense in withdrawing from east of Suez when we have huge investments and treaty and moral responsibilities there.

The Secretary of State himself has said: There is no doubt whatever today … that we are infinitely more likely over the next ten or fifteen years to need mobile conventional forces for peace-keeping in Africa, the Middle East and Asia than we are to require atomic weapons, tactical or strategic, independent or collective. What is the man in the street to believe when the Secretary of State makes a statement of policy like that and then does something totally different? He does not see the sense in withdrawing from the Gulf when more than half our oil comes from there. He cannot understand how a Secretary of State can still cling to office and persist with a scuttle from east of Suez when he has said: I believe … that Britain … will continue to be great and a world power by performing this immensely important service to world peace … by using her capacity and experience in these parts of the world to prevent misery, to prevent avoidable suffering. and that this is the real rôle for Britain in the years ahead."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1964; Vol. 690, c. 469–75.] The man in the street does not trust the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State. He does not trust the Labour Government any more. That is why his sons and his nephews think twice before joining the Services today.

8.39 p.m.

Photo of Mr Albert Booth Mr Albert Booth , Barrow-in-Furness

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) in a debate on Navy Estimates. He always speaks on this subject with both knowledge and concern. He is probably the last man in the House to wish to denigrate the Royal Navy or place difficulties in the way of those who would seek recruits for it. However, it is very strange that he should speak of over-stretching in the Navy and the possibility of Navy men not obtaining leave at a time when we should be recruiting more men. The two things do not go very well together.

Photo of Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles , Winchester

Does not the hon. Gentleman think that if men in the Navy are short of leave the Government's attention should be drawn to the matter?

Photo of Mr Albert Booth Mr Albert Booth , Barrow-in-Furness

If any Serviceman is short of leave, or if anyone in industry cannot obtain his proper holidays, and the Government are in a position to do something about it, the matter should certainly be drawn to their attention. There is no argument between us on that point. My point was directly related to recruitment, with which the hon. and gallant Gentleman was obviously concerned.

Listening to some of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's hon. Friends speaking in the debate, one would think that the Government were hell-bent on either getting rid of the Navy or cutting it down to a shadow of its former glorious self. I wonder whether they and I have read the same Defence Estimates Statement this year. My reading of it leads me to believe that three classes of surface ship are to be introduced this year; that the first of the new frigates and the first of the new destroyers are under construction; that three more frigates are to be ordered; that a new cruiser design is being developed: that the fourth nuclear-powered submarine will be in service this year; and that the sixth, seventh and eighth Fleet submarines are under construction. That does not seem to accord with the idea of a Government trying to reduce or get rid of the Royal Navy. In addition, major new construction orders were placed in my constituency last year. This did not seem to accord with the general idea of getting rid of the Royal Navy.

Possibly I should declare an interest. It is a very good practice of the House for hon. Members to declare a personal financial interest when they have one. My interest is not a personal financial one; it is an interest which stems from the nature of my constituency and the fact that probably a higher percentage of the British Navy is built there than in any other constituency. In view of this, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will not mind my putting some direct questions to him about the nature of part of the Navy Estimates.

What proportion of the £222 million in this year's Defence Estimates for research and development is for research and development in shipbuilding and marine propulsion? It is obvious that in past years a high proportion of the total research and development expenditure on naval construction and marine propulsion in this country has been for naval purposes. However, when I tabled a Question to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology last week to ascertain the aerospace R. & D. expenditure for Royal Air Force purposes, I learnt that it was running at over £130 million for the past year. Therefore, it seems relevant to question what the level of research and development for naval purposes will be this year. I ask this particularly in relation to my constituency, because it is my experience that research and development for naval purposes is steadily ceasing to have a relevance to merchant ship building.

If one goes back far enough in naval history it is true that naval research had considerable spin-off effects. When Charlie Parsons showed up the Royal Naval ships by running around the Naval Review and thereby persuading certain gentlemen in the Fleet to revise their ideas about naval propulsion, he brought about naval research and development work which undoubtedly benefited merchant shipping propulsion. But, today, naval work is so highly specialised that the problems being solved for naval purposes bear little or no relation to what is going on in merchant shipping.

So the House has a duty to ascertain the amounts involved and question whether we are justified in building up a fleet to protect a merchant navy which might not exist in 10 years unless we have better merchant shipbuilding facilities, or at least facilities which can compete successfully with nations which have devoted a far higher percentage of research and development to merchant shipbuilding.

The Defence Statement says that Polaris submarines are now on a continuous deterrent patrol. I should like a little more information on this. I should like to know, specifically, whether the missiles have been converted to multiple individually targeted re-entry vehicle heads. No matter how much I may disagree—and I disagree very strongly—with the whole nuclear deterrent theory, in fairness to its advocates I have to ask whether this has been done, since in an age when the two major nuclear powers possess anti-missile missile systems it does not seem very sensible to hold that a Polaris submarine on continuous patrol is a deterrent, unless its warheads can make some impact against such systems.

If these warheads have been converted, when was the conversion project put in the Estimates, and what figures were produced to the House to show the cost of the project? In this year's Estimate we are told that the running cost of the Polaris force is £32 million. With four submarines, with home base facilities at Faslane and dockyard facilities costing £70 million, spread, admittedly, over a number of years, the £32 million would not leave much for further development of the heads, certainly nothing of the order of the sum indicated to the House when the Polaris programme was introduced.

I believe that the first entry made in "Janes Fighting Ships" for these vessels showed their cost as £70 million total, £15 million excluding all missiles, so that one can deduce that the total missile system of Polaris submarines was costed at £55 million. Since that is the cost per vessel, the £35 million operating cost for our Polaris fleet suggests that not much is included in this Estimate for providing nuclear warheads for the missiles.

A constituency point of some concern to me arises from the fact that the Polaris submarines are fitted out in Barrow Docks. There have been various scares about the continued commercial operation of these docks. I have made a number of approaches not only to the Ministers concerned but to the regional planning authorities about this. If Barrow Docks is to remain the fitting-out place for nuclear-powered submarines with the completion of the Polaris programme, I am concerned that the public money spent for this purpose should be spent in a cost-effective way. As the fitting-out bay is in that part of the docks furthest from the sea gates, I hope that the Minister will be concerned to ensure that the commercial operation of the dock is maintained in order that the overall cost of the docks may be shared and not fall wholly on the Navy Estimates, which he administers so effectively.

I now refer to recruitment. The Navy has many romantic associations which appeal most to young men probably round about the age of 16. That was the age when I was young; it may be a little younger now as young men seem to develop more quickly. The prospect for recruiting must largely lie among the younger men, and the fact that so many re-engage after 12 years may show that many regard it as a wise choice. However, I and some of my hon. Friends have found that some of our constituents, having joined the Navy at this tender age, greatly regret the choice and are concerned to leave long before the period of engagement is complete.

It is my experience that the Navy is one of the hardest Services to leave once one is in. This may be because of its historic association with the press gang. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that it is in the interest of recruiting to the Navy that there should never be undue pressure to keep men in the Service, but that the reverse is the case and that if it were made clear that if there were a clear and valid reason for a man to leave the Service he would be enabled to do so, one of the barriers to recruitment would be removed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) said that one could always obtain cheap applause by suggesting cuts in defence. That is not my experience in Barrow-in-Furness. I do not know whether Barrovians are more responsible than other constituents, but I assure hon. Members if one talks about cutting defence in Barrow one is liable to be faced, as I have been faced, with many critical questions. However, my hon. Friend was wrong to say that those who want cuts in defence have to tell people that the result would be that they would have to give up their jobs

These Estimates are part of total Estimates of £2,280 million for the coming financial year. We have 600,000 unemployed. It follows that this high level of defence expenditure does not guarantee the elimination of unemployment. I am certain that in so far as these Estimates represent cuts in defence expenditure, the cuts will find their way into other Government expenditure, or—and this may appeal equally to hon. Members opposite—cuts in taxation which will result in money going into the pockets of people to be spent otherwise, thereby encouraging demand for other goods.

I hope that the rest of these debates on Defence Estimates will not include bandying about the suggestion that those who want cuts in defence expenditure want to see unemployment. What we want is people usefully employed and cuts in unemployment.

8.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

I hope that the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) will forgive me if, in the time at my disposal, I do not comment on his speech in too great detail. I hope that in his anxiety that the Polaris force be effectively deployed from Barrow, the hon. Gentleman did not himself campaign on the Prime Minister's slogan to get rid of the "so-called British, so-called independent, so-called deterrent."

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

If he did and then adopted this position, he would make a very good understudy to the Prime Minister.

I want to deal with the broad strategic aspect of our naval policy and I start with the Soviet threat and our response to it.

I begin with the proposition that the expansion of the Soviet Navy is, possibly, the most important—certainly it is the least well grasped—political military development of the last 10 years. It reveals, I believe, quite clearly several bench marks of Soviet military policy. The first is a Soviet intention to exert its influence on a truly global scale, not simply as a Eurosian super-Power—the Soviet Union has been that since the war. It now seeks to exert its military influence in every continent and on every sea.

The second bench mark which is revealed by the build-up of the Soviet fleet and which is brought out in the White Paper is an intention to break out of the thermonuclear stalemate. This has imposed a posture of immobility on East-West affairs for many years, happily so. I believe that the Soviets are now looking for movement out of the thermonuclear deadlock, and they see in their fleet the means of achieving it.

The third bench mark is that the Soviets are plainly, through the development of their fleet, switching the centre of gravity of their pressure away from Europe and towards the third world, towards the oceans. In doing this, they may well be seeking to forestall China.

The development of the Soviet fleet, which is referred to frequently in the White Paper and which we are to debate—

Photo of Mr Harry Gourlay Mr Harry Gourlay , Kirkcaldy District of Burghs

Order. I should, perhaps, remind the hon. Member, as I have reminded the House earlier, that this is not a general defence debate but is a debate on the Navy Estimates. While incidental references may be made in the general sphere, the hon. Member must come to more particular points in the Estimates.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

Of course, I accept what you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but we are confronted here with the Government's response to the threat as they judge that threat to be. I am trying to deploy the evidence of the naval threat posed by the Soviet Union so as the better to judge the adequacy of the Government's response as set out in the Navy Estimates.

Photo of Mr Harry Gourlay Mr Harry Gourlay , Kirkcaldy District of Burghs

That can be done in a sort of incidental way, but not in a general way. We had the general debate on defence last week.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

No doubt, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will be the judge of the generality or otherwise of the remarks that I have to make. I have indicated that the Soviet fleet has built up extremely rapidly. It is important that we grasp how rapidly so that we can judge the adequacy of the Navy Estimates which are before us.

The Soviets ended the Second World War with virtually not fleet at all. Since then, they have built it up very rapidly and, as one of my hon. Friends has said, I believe that the turning point was Cuba. In Cuba the Soviets hoped to break through the American's military supremacy. They were beaten by a combination of nuclear parity and the naval supremacy which the United States alone was able to bring to bear. Since that time, the Soviets have learned their lesson and there has been a consistent, systematic and, about all, massive buildup of Soviet naval power.

I say that it has been consistent. In every annual plan of the Soviet Union which I have been able to study, the sums devoted to naval construction have gone up steadily and, as far as one can tell, in accordance with a carefully worked out and consistently applied naval planning policy.

I also said that the build-up has been systematic. This can be demonstrated from the research which is being done in depth at Soviet maritime institutes in hydraulic propulsion, hull design and sea-keeping capabilities. The Soviet fleet is a formidable opponent against which we must prepare.

I said, too, that the build-up had been massive. It is germane, since the Government have set it out for our judgment, to indicate what the dimensions of the enemy are. The latest evidence is that, in addition to about 350 Soviet submarines, there are two helicopter carriers, 23 cruisers, 30 missile-firing destroyers, 70 to 80 conventional destroyers and frigates, 130 missile-armed patrol vessels, and a large collection of deep-water minesweepers and fleet auxiliaries.

The important point is that less than 1 per cent. of this Soviet maritime tonnage is more than 20 years old, whereas the American Navy, by comparison, has about 50 per cent. more than 20 years old. We have here a formidable foe.

The capital question posed by this immense development can be summed up in one word—Why? Why are the Soviets devoting so much effort to their fleet? They have, as we have, immense pressure on their resources. They have, nevertheless, decided to spend about £2 to £3 billion each year developing their fleet.

Confronted with that threat to our security, surely the first matter that the House should examine in determining whether the Estimates are adequate is the purpose of the Soviet Union in building up its naval forces. I believe that it is a mix of offensive and defensive intentions.

On the defensive side, I believe that the Soviets are building their fleet to achieve regular surveillance of Western naval vessels. They are also building a substantial counter to the Polaris deterrent of the West.

Another factor is that before long the Soviets will be net importers of oil. They seek to assure themselves of overseas oil sources and the means of transporting oil safely to their own harbours.

I also mentioned China. I believe that the Soviet Navy is in part a response to the growing threat of China. It could be that time—

Photo of Mr Harry Gourlay Mr Harry Gourlay , Kirkcaldy District of Burghs

Order. I again remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing the British Navy Estimates, not the Estimates of Russia or of China. I have given the hon. Gentleman a fair amount of latitude in the time that he has been speaking. I hope that he will now come to the Navy Estimates.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

Far be it from me to argue with the Chair, particularly when I have so little time, but I submit that it is impossible to judge whether the Navy Estimates of this country are adequate unless we first measure the threat against which those Estimates are being prepared. I am seeking to measure that threat, first, by its dimension and, secondly, by its intention. I should think, Sir, with respect, that any naval judge would have to take into consideration both dimension and intention.

I have deployed the dimension. I wish now briefly to deal with the intention. I submit that, among other things, the problem of China to the Soviet Union is highly relevant here. Indeed, to put it graphically, I believe that the Suez Canal for the Soviet Union may one day become as important as the Panama Canal to the United States. But I leave that point.

I turn now to the offensive intentions and I judge them first, by what the Soviet admirals say and, secondly, by what they do.

Concerning what they say, there is a consistent development in the statements of the Soviet Fleet commanders. In 1962 they placed most of the emphasis on what they called the main striking forces—the submarines. In 1963 the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Fleet moved the emphasis towards a surface navy. able to perform independent missions, including military operations … directed at the destruction of the enemy fleet. That is a change from the submarine element to the surface element.

In 1965 Marshal Sokolovski said: Equipping our navy with atomic submarines carrying missiles and with aircraft carrying long-range and nuclear weapons permits a shift from carrying out war time missions along the coast to independent and decisive operations on the broad reaches of the oceans. More recently the present Command-in-Chief, Admiral Gorchkov, said: Our current fleet distinguishes itself by its freedom of action, its great fire power, unlimited navigability, and ability to destroy the enemy anywhere. I submit that makes it clear that the Soviets are not building up their fleets for fun. They confront us with a formidable capability and the intention to use it.

I must now judge whether our response is inadequate to this threat. In a word, the response is feeble. If the response of Great Britain is to be measured, as it must, by the nature of the threat posed to us, I say that, as an island confronting a land power, Russia, with a minimum number of overseas obligations compared with ours, our response is not sufficient. The Government, if they were honest, would admit that. But they are not prepared to admit it, and that is why I judge these Navy Estimates to be hopelessly inadequate to the scale and to the nature of the threat posed to our country.

9.6 p.m.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) has highlighted the fact that the most important problem facing any Minister of Defence in this country is to balance the often-conflicting claims of a continental as against a maritime strategy. We agree that both are important, for Britain is an island, and she must import her supplies by sea, and yet she can be invaded only from the continent.

Our charge against the Government is not only that an incorrect balance has been obtained but that maritime strategy has been almost wholly disregarded. The White Paper is almost wholly a continental or European document, and the Navy of the future appears to be regarded as an adjunct to land power, as was the surface German Navy in World Wars I and II, and we know what happened to the German surface warships.

Before going on to discuss maritime strategy, I should like, first, to discuss the naval rôle in a continental war in Europe. First and foremost is the nuclear deterrent which is maintained as an independent contribution to N.A.T.O., and I was glad that we had the Secretary of State's confirmation during the defence debate that it is still an independent nuclear deterrent, even though it is assigned to N.A.T.O.

In the past we on this side of the House have stressed the importance of having a fifth Polaris submarine, but now it appears that the problem of M.I.R.V. warheads is even more important. At least the Secretary of State gave us the assurance, in answer to questions the other day, that if we are not to get Poseidon our nuclear warheads will be kept up to date. After all, they are British made, and are the only strategic missiles which are not under American control in Europe, excepting the one or two French nuclear submarines which may be in commission. As was pointed out in a Daily Express leader on 28th February: It is sheer stupidity to dissipate the £400 million already expended on the polaris force by refusing a relatively small sum in maintaining this insurance policy. I am delighted that both sides of the House, excluding those below the Gangway on the benches opposite, are agreed on this most important subject.

The second rôle of the Navy in a continental war is the defence of the N.A.T.O. flanks, and the White Paper says that our forces make a significant contribution to this effect. Here our amphibious forces and Royal Marine commandos have a special rôle to play, and I was glad to see that the Royal Marine Commando Group had been given special responsibility for a reinforcement rôle on the northern flank. This illustrates the versatility and cost-effectiveness of the Royal Marines. In this rôle of protecting the flanks of N.A.T.O. the Royal Marine Commandos operate from the Commando Carriers "Albion" and "Bulwark", which are now nearing the end of their lives. As my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) and Harborough (Mr. Farr) said, these ships cannot last very much longer, and they asked what was to happen to H.M.S. "Hermes". I imagine that it is in the Government's mind to replace at least one of these ships by H.M.S. "Hermes", and I hope that we shall get some information about this tonight.

The Minister will recall that the Norwegian operation in the last war failed largely for two reasons; first, the lack of air support, as we failed to capture Norwegian airfields, and, second, the lack of facilities to land heavy equipment. Therefore we must ask certain questions. How does the Minister intend to provide adequate fighter protection without aircraft carriers, or is he prepared to let history repeat itself? How is the vital early air warning to be provided with no carriers from which the Gannets can operate? Again, without heavy lift helicopters how are bodies of troops or heavy equipment to be got ashore? The Wessex carries 14 men and certain underslung loads, but the larger Sea King is, I understand, equipped solely for anti-submarine purposes. How, therefore, are supporting artillery and light armour to be landed other than by the 4 LCM's carried in "Fearless" and "Intrepid"? Surely there is a need for heavier lift helicopters and for their proper palletisation to carry stores and could the Minister say whether in future, once there are sufficient for the anti-submarine rôle, the Sea Kings could be so fitted?

Turning from the northern flank to the southern flank, surely Malta, which has twice shown itself to be a bastion of Western civilisation, is still of great strategic importance, and this importance may even have increased during the past year due to the fact that the North African coast is now potentially hostile. It must be folly to quarrel with the Maltese Government over such trifling matters as whether 25 per cent. of the last five years of a £25 million aid programme should be a grant or a loan. This is made worse by the refusal of all aid to Malta since April of last year—for very nearly a whole year—and by an attempt to justify this decision by sending a letter to the British Services in Malta which unfortunately leaked and caused the Maltese people great annoyance and concern. I hope that the Minister will say something about Malta and the importance it still has to the Royal Navy and to N.A.T.O. as a whole.

Having talked about the northern and southern flanks, I suggest that even if we join the E.E.C. we shall still be an island and, therefore, particularly vulnerable to the interruption of our sea communications. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds pointed out the size of the Russian fleet. It is true that the Russian fleet contains oldish cruisers, but it has modern destroyers and a fleet of more than 400 submarines. As has also been pointed out, we have the support of our N.A.T.O. allies, but our merchant fleet will be subject to threat from under water, from the surface and from the air.

I shall deal with these threats in turn. The first is underwater attack. As the House knows, the best defence against this is a combination of anti-submarine frigates and hunter-killer or fleet submarines. We therefore agree with the need for the new small Type 21 frigate now under construction and the great importance of the hunter-killer submarine. One wonders how much the effectiveness of the hunter-killer submarine will be reduced by the failure of the Mark 24 anti-submarine torpedo and the failure to develop a modern anti-ship weapon which was referred to in the 1968 White Paper. I do not propose to deal with this in any detail in winding-up this debate as it is to be the subject of our Adjournment debate later tonight, when I hope it will be discussed in some detail.

I turn now to the question of surface warships and the threat from surface warships. Now that the "County" class of guided missile destroyers has been almost completed, the largest missile-carrying warships under construction, except for the "Bristol", will be the new Sea Dart Type 42 destroyers, which are about 2,000 tons smaller than the "County" class, and fitted with only one Sea Dart auncher. There is a great risk in having only one missile launcher. It can be put out by enemy action, and, moreover, with only one launcher, one can engage only one target. I have suggested in previous debates that we should have at least some "double-ended" ships.

The Government have scrapped or sold most of the "Daring" class destroyers, which are still effective ships, and the same applies to our light coastal forces, those fast patrol boats with which we led the world both at the beginning and at the end of the last war, but of which there are now only four left. Indeed, if we really look into it, we find that the Government have scrapped all the reserve fleet, except those ships actually undergoing refit, so that there will be very little reinforcement available in time of emergency.

I have dealt with under-water and surface attack, and I now turn to maritime air support. The Government say that we must now depend entirely on the Royal Air Force for maritime air support. In my view, the weakness of the B.A.O.R. function is in air support. I wonder, therefore, how many aircraft will be made available to protect our shipping. Many hon. Members will have read the recent book on the escape up-channel during World War II of the "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau". One hopes that co-operation between the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force has improved since those days, but perhaps the Minister will say something about co-ordination and the necessary training, liaison and exercises which must continue between the Navy and the R.A.F. if our merchant ships are to arrive safely at our ports in times of tension, and if the Phantoms and Buccaneers turned over to the Royal Air Force are to be put to proper use.

Now, the question of maritime strategy. As we are still an island importing 96 per cent. of our requirements by sea, maritime strategy is vital to our security. In the First and Second World Wars, when it became too dangerous to cut our supply lines close to the coasts of these islands, the enemy attacked our ships at the source. The danger areas are, therefore, in the Atlantic and from the Cape to the Straits of Malacca in the Indian Ocean. The North Atlantic may well be looked after by N.A.T.O. and the United States, but I doubt that there will be anything to spare for the Indian Ocean, where we shall largely have to provide for ourselves, in conjunction with our Commonwealth friends and our South African partners in the Simonstown Agreement.

It was said in the 1966 Defence White Paper: It is in the Far East and Southern Asia that the greatest danger to peace may be in the next decade. We believe that to be true. But what have the Government done about it? They are withdrawing from all our air bases except Gan and Masirah. They plan to phase out the aircraft carrier and all naval fixed-wing aircraft by the end of next year. They are giving up the only refrigerated missile storage now available at Singapore, which is essential for the storage of missiles for guided-missile destroyers since these vessels carry only a limited supply. They are throwing away a unique control, communication and intelligence system. They are withdrawing unilaterally from our alliances, thus leaving our shipping, our trade and our investments unprotected in what is generally admitted to be a time of growing world tension.

Why? It is because, they say, it is too expensive. Yet they can afford about 77,000 more industrial civil servants, and since 1964 there has been, I understand, an increase of 35 per cent. in the number of information officers accredited to the Ministry of Defence.

Too expensive? Yet we have investments worth £1,500 million in South Africa, about £1,000 million in the Middle East, and about £800 million in South-East Asia, not to mention the Indian sub-continent and Australia.

Too expensive? Yet we have £300 million a year coming from South-East Asia, and £130 million from the Gulf, together with two-thirds of our oil, and large sterling balances. Too expensive? Yet the U.S.S.R. is now becoming an oil importing nation and will want the Middle East oil which she may not have wanted in the past but now finds essential for herself and for her control over the Warsaw Pact countries.

At a time when the Suez Canal is closed, 12,200 ships a year use South African ports, and a large proportion of these ships are British. I hope that the Government will remember that in World War II 238 British ships were sunk off the Cape. Yet today they will not supply the ships and weapons needed for the joint defence of the Cape route, which, under the Simonstown Agreement, is our responsibility as much as that of South Africa. Indeed, the only positive action which the Government have taken in this area has been to maintain the Beira patrol, unaided by any of their partners in the United Nations. I often wonder whether they have asked their partners in the United Nations to help them. If not, why not?

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

My hon. Friend is not being entirely fair to all members of the United Nations. He should remember that South Africa has given assistance in maintaining the Beira patrol, by victualling some of the ships.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

My hon. and learned Friend is quite right, but it is not assistance in the sense that I meant, or that the Government normally mean. The Beira patrol is one of the most foolish exercises conceivable. It has not stopped oil from arriving in Rhodesia from other sources; indeed, oil in that country today is much cheaper than it is here. By maintaining the blockade we have attempted to intimidate the Portuguese, our oldest allies, and they have responded by making available hospital beds for the very seamen who are blockading their ports. The operation has been efficiently carried out by the Royal Navy, but it is a story in which the Navy can take little pride.

What is our need for forces east of Suez? The answer has already been made clear by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. In the short term the need is for small land forces in South-East Asia and the Gulf, to act as a deterrent until local forces can be raised and trained. I believe that in co-operation with our friends and allies we should supply the more sophisticated weapons for sea or air to a multi-racial joint force. Warships must be at sea anyhow, and it is not much more expensive to have them at sea in the Indian Ocean than in the Atlantic. That is the short-term need.

In the long term—speaking personally—I think that we should be wise to rely on mobile maritime forces, with commandos embarked. Such forces would have to carry their own air power, either in existing carriers or, later, V/STOL aircraft operating from ships of the fleet or, possibly, from "flat-tops" which cost about a quarter of a conventional carrier. I suggest that these maritime forces would operate in co-operation and in conjunction with Commonwealth naval forces and those of South Africa, our partners in the Simonstown Agreement.

In the past, as the House will recall, the Admiralty subsidised the construction of merchant ships so that in emergency they could be fitted with six-inch guns, or high-angle guns, to be used against air attack. I suggest—and again this is a personal suggestion—that consideration should be given to subsidising the construction of modern container ships so that they can act as reinforcements in an emergency operating V/STOL aircraft which could back the fleet, or "flat-tops", or whatever naval vessels will in future carry air power at sea. I hope that that suggestion will be followed up.

My reference to the concept of "flattops" leads me to ask for further information about the new through-deck command cruisers to which the Minister has already referred. He said that these will probably be capable of carrying V/STOL aircraft. To my hon. Friends and myself these seem to be carriers in disguise. I am glad that the Government are having second thoughts about maintaining the existing aircraft carriers and building ships capable of operating V /STOL aircraft. Although it is only an option at the moment, I hope that the Government will take it up. If they do so the appeals that my hon. Friends and I have made during the past three years will not have been made in vain.

I turn next to the question of the dual version or the up-rated version of the Harrier, referred to in the White Paper. Can the Minister say whether this is merely an aircraft designed for training—which is why it has two seats—or whether there is some idea of a Harrier for naval use, in which case it will require both a pilot and an observer?

The question of seaborne aircraft has been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough. As he pointed out, it is the only counter to modern Soviet destroyers, with their 200–300 mile range, surface-to-surface missiles and fixed-wing aircraft. The Secretary of State—perhaps in an aside—said on one occasion that land-based aircraft would be able to sink the Soviet fleet in the Mediterranean without much difficulty, but I suggest that the boot will be very much on the other foot in the Indian Ocean and other oceanic regions. There is no counter to Russian surface-to-surface missiles except other surface-to-surface missiles, which we do not have, or fixed-wing aircraft which we propose to phase out. These Russian destroyers are at the moment only in Russian command but they could be passed over to middle powers, like the U.A.R., and Indonesia, as has happened in the past.

There is the question of the development of British surface-to-surface missiles, which was referred to in the 1966 White Paper, but which was then dropped. This year, we read, on page 48 of the White Paper, of studies of naval requirements for anti-ship guided missiles". This is rather late in the day, if carriers are to be phased out next year, as these weapons will probably take about eight years to develop.

I say again that we believe that the carriers should be maintained in the 1970s until the gap has been closed by some other means, either by guided weapons or by vertical take-off aircraft operating from the Fleet or from some other vessel accompanying the Fleet.

We agree that there have been many arguments about cost. This was dealt with very well by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles). But manning will be a serious problem. The Secretary of State spoke of 8,000 men being required to man the two major carriers, "Eagle" and "Ark Royal"; yet page 95 of the White Paper talks of 4,300 men manning them now—and they are both in commission this year.

Photo of Mr Denis Healey Mr Denis Healey , Leeds East

That is the ship's company, and does not include the aircrew.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

But surely the intention is to pass over these aircraft to the R.A.F., so the aircrew will still, presumably, be available, even if there is a change of uniform.

That takes me on to my other point, which is on redundancies. The manpower of the Royal Navy is being run down by 2,840 men in this year. There are no redundancies this year, but next year there will be serious redundancies, from the Fleet Air Arm. It seems to us to be absolutely ridiculous to put pressure on men to leave the Service when their services are still needed.

I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has seen the Liverpool Daily Post today. In an article in that paper, it is suggested that the transfer of Buccaneers and Phantoms from the Royal Navy to the Air Force has been deliberately speeded up by the Government to make it more expensive and more difficult for the next Government to maintain "Eagle" and "Ark Royal" in commission—

Photo of Mr Denis Healey Mr Denis Healey , Leeds East

The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to know, given the source of that article, that it is quite untrue.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

I am glad to hear that, but the right hon. Gentleman will expect us to examine the position carefully, because we believe that this problem of manning will be a very difficult one, although we do not believe that it will be insuperable.

An Hon. Member:

Can the Rt. hon. Gentleman name a reliable defence correspondent?

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

I am asked whether the right hon. Gentleman could give us the name of a reliable defence correspondent.

Photo of Mr Denis Healey Mr Denis Healey , Leeds East

Yes. Mr. Gordon Lee of The Economist and Mr. Michael Donne of the Financial Times are both reliable correspondents. I will give the hon. Gentleman a list privately after the debate of such correspondents. He will probably find it helpful in preparing his material.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

I am grateful, and I am sure that the gentlemen named by the Secretary of State will be highly delighted with his praise.

I have pointed out some of the Navy's weaknesses in continental strategy, but our main charge against the Government is that they have virtually disregarded a maritime strategy. This is the fourth time that I have wound up in this debate for the Opposition, so I know from practical experience that this charge is becoming more and more relevant each year.

In 1965 the Government said that our forces were over-stretched and under-equipped. Now, they plan to withdraw our forces to Europe, having deprived the Navy and Air Force of their eyes and teeth and the Army of its reserves. In 1966 the White Paper said that we … will not undertake major operations of war, excepting co-operation with allies. … The aircraft carrier is the most important element of the fleet for offensive action against an enemy at sea or ashore and makes a large contribution to the defence of our seaborne forces. It was then decided to phase out the carriers, to build new missiles against missile-firing ships and to order 50 F111s, and it was said at the same time that the AFVG would be … both operationally and industrially the core of our long term aircraft programme. It was also said in the same White Paper that the Buccaneer 2 … could not compare in performance with the F111A, particularly in a reconnaissance rôle. Now we are to have no carriers, no surface-to-surface missiles, no F111, no AFVG and only 26 more Buccaneers, which, if I may quote again, do not compare in performance with the FII1A. In 1967 the withdrawal from Aden, Singapore and Malaysia, the South Atlantic and Malta was announced. But the Supplementary White Paper said that we were planning to maintain a military capacity and will probably keep some naval vessels and amphibious forces in the Far East". The Supplementary White Paper also said: from the middle '70s the main striking power of the Navy, apart from Polaris, will be provided by the growing force of Fleet submarines". The Minister must by now be rather tired of hearing that quotation.

What happened? The 1968 White Paper announced a reduction in the rate of building fleet submarines and stated: No special capability for use outside Europe will be maintained. For the second time we had a complete contradiction of what had been decided only a year earlier. That is the essence of our charge.

I will sum up. The story of the six Defence White Papers and three Supplementary White Papers for which the present Secretary of State has been responsible is presented as a study in reducing the percentage of our G.N.P. spent on defence from 6·7 per cent. to some 6 per cent. In fact, it is a story of neglect, of playing one Service off against another and then double-crossing both—a story of five years of putting party interests before those of the country and of neglect of history and common sense which will affect our nation not now but in five to ten years' time when the ships and weapons which the right hon. Gentleman should have provided will not be available.

In short, we accuse the Government of dereliction of their duty and of endangering the future security of the nation.

9.32 p.m.

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Sutton

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to address the House again.

This has been a wide-ranging debate and it is hard for anyone trying to sum it up to select the central theme. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) who, apart from the last few minutes of his speech, dealt with the problems concerned with the Navy, which we all face, with his usual degree of expertise and feeling. I should like to try to emphasise what I think are the two principal themes which have come out of the debate.

Hon. Members opposite made a great deal of criticism that the Services are overstretched. At the same time they wish to increase our commitments, and to increase them worldwide. One point on which the debate has shown a degree of unanimity is in the understanding that in the years ahead we shall have great difficulty in reaching our manpower target, I do not wish to sound pessimistic, but that was a theme which we all adopted. Having accepted that fact, it seems odd, to say the least, that hon. Members opposite should all the time be proposing equipment programmes and policies which will demand large forces and which will make it extremely difficult for us to meet these commitments. I say that in no partisan spirit, for the manpower problem faces us all. This applies particularly to the question of the carriers. I simply do not believe that the Opposition's policies are workable.

A large number of detailed questions have been put to me. Both the hon. Member for Haltemprice and the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) spoke in detail about the Harrier. I have been asked about the dual Harrier. It has an operational capability and will be used in a dual operational and training rôle by the R.A.F., but the extra weight of this version could make it less attractive in any area where it is being used in a V/STOL rôle. The Harrier has been designed specifically for close support of troops in the field and its characteristics are optimised for that rôle. We shall be studying closely the potentialities of the Harrier at sea. Much will depend on further developments, over and above the engine uprating programme, which may be required. A great deal more work will have to be done before we reach a decision whether it is worthwhile to use an adapted version for maritime operations to supplement the naval weapons system and land-based aircraft which will also be available.

I notice that the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) said that he preferred a fixed-wing aircraft rather than surface-to-surface guided weapons. The existing Harrier is an ideal aircraft for carrying out trials to evaluate this problem of operating vertical take-off and short takeoff landing aircraft on ships. The Royal Air Force has been co-operating to the full with the Royal Navy in carrying out such trials. These will be taking place again fairly shortly on H.M.S. "Eagle".

The cruiser has been mentioned by a number of speakers. The rôle of the cruiser will be threefold, to carry Sea King helicopters, to carry the command afloat and to contribute to the Sea Dart surface-to-air guided weapon system for the air defence naval forces at sea. The large Sea King helicopter has been mentioned and I have been asked by the hon. and gallant Gentleman whether I would comment on overseas sales. It never is the policy of the Government to comment on overseas sales so I cannot follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman in the line that he adopted.

The helicopter has a good range and high speed with great flexibility of opera- tion. Because of these characteristics its weapon system—which includes sonar, radar and all-weather flight control, tactical display facilities—will play a most important part in the sphere of antisubmarine warfare, complementing the Air Force's regular maritime reconnaisance aircraft and the Royal Navy's own destroyers, frigates and nuclear submarines. It will be one of the most advanced anti-submarine helicopters in operational service.

Heavy-lift helicopters have been referred to. There are real problems in using the Sea King for troop lifts. There are problems in moving the delicate sonar equipment in and out, but it is being looked at and we will continue to work on it.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

Could we have an assurance on security—because it is a very advanced weapon system—that it will not leave our shores during the early years of its operational usefulness?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Sutton

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are obviously concerned with the question of security and that no one would dream of selling it if there was any danger of our security being challenged.

I will deal now with amphibious forces. The hon. Member for Haltemprice spoke of these. He is a strong supporter of the Royal Marines and this is something which I share with him because I have them in my constituency. He mentioned the "Hermes". A decision on the future of H.M.S. "Hermes" has not yet been taken. I and my right hon. Friend have said in answer to questions about the aircraft carriers that there will be three options open to us—to scrap H.M.S. "Hermes", to sell her or to give her a new rôle. Each of these possibilities will remain open until a decision is taken.

There was a question about the H.M.S. "Bulwark" and H.M.S. "Albion" carrying on as commando carriers. We plan that both ships will continue in service as commando ships. There is no doubt that there is pressure on accommodation in these two ships. We take the opportunity during normal refits to make such improvements as are possible in the time available. This means that inevitably they fall short of what we would like. A significant increase in space on both ships could be provided only as part of a long refit and neither ship has had this since they were converted to their present rôle in the late 1950s and the early 1960s.

The recurring theme has been the question of redundancies in the Navy. I should like to make it clear that redundancies are only in the Fleet Air Arm. Inasmuch as we can, we do everything possible to encourage those members in the Fleet Air Arm to stay on in the Navy. There are obviously problems with the balance of trades and age groups. Certainly it is our wish that anyone in the Fleet Air Arm who wishes to stay on in the Navy should be allowed to do so. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the manpower situation is not such that we can allow highly skilled people to leave the Navy. We have a duty, in that their career prospects have changed, to allow them to take opportunity of the redundancies.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

So there will not be any compulsory redundancies?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Sutton

I cannot give that guarantee because it depends on the balance of trades and ages. It is important to take this into account. The hon. Gentleman also asked me about the "Dreadnought" refit. This is the first occasion on which a nuclear submarine propulsion plant has been stripped for overhaul in this country. For this reason "Dreadnought" has been treated as a matter of importance since it is vital to extract as much information and expertise from the refit to enable us to handle effectively subsequent refits, both of Polaris and Fleet submarines. We hope to obtain much first-hand experience and we are indebted to the United States for the amount of assistance and information which they have given to us.

I was asked whether the delay with "Dreadnought" had any effect on the refit of H.M.S. "Resolution". We do not expect, given the special measures we have taken, that the completion of the refit of "Resolution" will be delayed. In the event of something unexpected arising leading to delay, I can assure the House that our plans are such as to ensure the complete deployment of our nuclear deterrent at sea.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) spoke of the need to try to achieve legitimate career pros- pects, particularly for naval officers, in time of relative peace. He showed some real understanding of our problems and I was grateful that he welcomed our proposals for the in-service degree. He also spoke about military aid to the civil community, and I assure him that I believe there is possibly rather larger scope for naval maritime participation in this than hitherto.

He mentioned three interesting examples of where the Navy has given considerable aid. He also mentioned the Hydrographer. The Hydrographer's main function is to produce charts for the needs of the Fleet. His assistance to merchant shipping, as a fall-out from survey by H.M. ships, has long been recognised. The importance to the Navy of worldwide charts will continue to be recognised and we shall continue to produce these for sale at reasonable prices. The Hydrographer benefits from his association with the International Hydrographic Bureau which provides a free exchange of information between member countries, and he incorporates in his charts the results of surveys by other nations. Inevitably after 1971 we shall not be surveying in the Far East to the same extent as hitherto, and the surveys of the Persian Gulf and the Malacca Strait will be completed in that year. We have been discussing with the United Kingdom Chamber of Shipping how far our resources can go towards meeting the future needs of merchant shipping. These contacts are a continual part of our job.

The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) asked about the W.G.13 helicopter. Development is proceeding satisfactorily and is likely to lead to the start of production in 1972. The W.G.13 is expected to replace the Wasp helicopter in the Navy in the 1970s.

The hon. Lady also mentioned new mine technology. The Ministry of Defence has been investigating the suitability of glass-reinforced plastic. This has a special part to play in minefields because it exercises no magnetic influence. A prototype mine-hunter will be built by Vosper-Thorneycroft in glass-reinforced plastic. It will be similar in design to recent mine-hunters converted from the "Ton" Class with a length of 153 ft. and it is considerably larger than any vessel of this type yet made. Experience with this ship should provide valuable information for use in the construction of the next generation of mine counter-measure vessels.

The hon. Lady asked about the Royal Naval Hospital, Plymouth. Stonehouse was completed in 1764. It is now out of date and is uneconomical to run. This applies to ward and staff accommodation, as well as to galleys and the reception area which are below modern standards. As to the location, there is no need for me to spell out the benefits which will be obtained by patients and medical staff from having full access to an up-to-the-minute hospital. The capital cost will be higher than Stonehouse, but the improved medical service that could result will justify the outlay. There is no doubt that overall running costs in a new purpose-built establishment will be substantially less than in a modernised but basically old one. This matter is being looked at at the moment.

I was asked if the Royal Navy was participating in the exercises Bersatu-Pardu. The Navy is participating fully. Amongst the ships in the Far East fleet eventually will be one commando ship, one cruiser, one guided missile destroyer, frigates and other craft, as well as float support. The Commando Brigade also in the Far East will be heavily involved in this.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) said that he thought this was the last Navy Estimates debate he will take part in. If that is the case, I am sure hat the whole House will be very sorry. He has participated in these debates over many years and shown intense interest in problems of the Navy. He played a notable part in Parliamentary pressure for improvement of the warrant officer rates which I announced recently. He asked why the age should be 34 as there is no age limit in the other Services, but most of the equivalent officers in the R.A.F. and the Army are at least of this age. The rules are not hard and fast and we shall keep the position under review.

My right hon. Friend also asked why they had to serve until they are 45. This is a privilege—the equivalent of an assured "fifth-five". It is not intended that we should allow a break point after 22 years of service, but arrangements by which they may be permitted to leave the Service under certain circumstances are under consideration. The two vexed questions which he and I have discussed on many occasions about why not all the C.P.O.s are uprated would throw the warrant officers out of balance and vis-à-vis the other Services. The new posts are more demanding of responsibility and go further than the trade specialisation. As my right hon. Friend generously said, we shall learn as we see this in operation. I am perfectly prepared to consider any changes which may be necessary.

I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Adam Hunter) and Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) for drawing attention to our record in providing work for shipyards in Scotland. The nature of naval construction inevitably means that such work varies widely. A total of £30 million, or about one-third excluding specialist work on nuclear submarines, has been provided in Scotland. One cannot help wondering how much unemployment would be caused on Clydeside if the policies of the Scottish Nationalists were followed and all Ministry of Defence work was withdrawn from Scotland. I have no doubt that Scotland will continue to play a very important part in work for the Royal Navy.

Hon. Members have drawn attention to the present task of the "Caledonia". The aim of the plan is to achieve major economies in manpower and finance by centralisation of naval shore training. The move of the "Caledonia" will contribute to the savings we expect to achieve. As I said in the debate on the Defence Estimates, there are a number of possibilities, but it will be some time before the most appropriate uses for the establishment, can be identified.

In any case, this is not due to take place until the latter half of the 1970s. It was necessary to announce the decisions in order that planning can go ahead to give us time to see the future defence uses. As my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West said, we have to put this in the context of the transfer from Northern Ireland to Turnhouse of the Joint Maritime Operational Centre, formerly part of the Joint Anti-Submarine School at Londonderry, which will bring the added spending power of 35 Service personnel and some increase in employment to the area.

In addition, as both my hon. Friends mentioned, the dockyard at Rosyth is the one dockyard where there is no reduction in the labour force. In fact, we are looking for workers there. This and the decision to put the Royal Marine Commandos at Arbroath is a firm indication that there is no lessening in the contribution to defence spending for Scotland—in fact, rather the converse.

I should deal briefly with the productivity negotiations in the dockyards which have been mentioned by a number of hon. Members, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd). I share some of his views about the level of pay for the lowest paid workers in the dockyard. When the Prices and Incomes Board Report is received some changes will have to be made. I cannot commit myself at this stage.

After productivity bargainings had started early in the year, we became concerned that rates of pay in the dockyards were already lagging behind those paid elsewhere for comparable work. The outcome was that a substantial increase in dockyard rates was negotiated and became effective from 1st July. This settlement was negotiated centrally for the whole of the Industrial Civil Service—as my hon. Friend said, not enough people realise that we do not negotiate pay scales separately for the dockyards—and involved a major reorganisation of the wage structure. It gave increases in dockyard rates of between 8 per cent. and 12½ per cent. Under this revision the majority of dockyard craftsmen received an increase of £2 2s. a week in their basic rate. Nevertheless, the general level of earnings in the dockyards and elsewhere in the Industrial Civil Service is, as I have already said, being generally looked at.

As far as productivity is concerned, I must say that progress has been in some ways slow, but this is a difficult area. I do not pretend that there are not important hurdles still to be overcome. As the negotiations are still in progress, however, and as the issues involved are in some sense sub judice, I will not dwell on them here. The trade union side has, however, advised its representatives in the dockyards to proceed with the negotiations locally, subject to the conditions that agreements will not be signed until the issues still outstanding on the Shipbuilding Trades Joint Council have been resolved.

Progress in the Port Auxiliary Service has been made rapid and agreements have been concluded at Chatham and Rosyth under which agreement to run the service more efficiently with fewer men has enabled the payment of bonuses of £2 4s. and £2 13s. a week respectively to be made.

Questions have been asked about the proposed dockyard board. In running a complex and large industry such as the dockyards, the Ministry of Defence will benefit from advice from people with management experience from outside industry or accountancy. It is intended that the board under my hon. Friend's chairmanship will deal with broad policy issues, and it is likely that a management board will be formed for day-to-day management and execution of policy. In many ways this organisation is similar to that of large private industries. Within this framework we intend to ensure that there is a greater degree of delegation of authority to the general managers of the individual dockyards than there has been hitherto—the point to which I know that my hon. Friend attaches immense importance.

On the problem of communication, this criticism can always be made of a big industry. The dockyard newspapers which have been instituted have greatly helped. We are trying to do everything possible to help with communication.

The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) raised with me a constituency problem that follows some of the announcements in the Defence White Paper. I assure him that it will be 1972 before redundancy begins and 1973 before the process is complete. So there is good time for the attraction of suitable alternative employment into Perth.

The Government will do all they can to help. The Ministry of Technology will carry out its steering function of encouraging industry to go there. I confirm that the development plan will continue, and there is no need for people to fear for their future. I am very grateful for, and pay tribute to, the loyal and excellent service we have had from that area.

The hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) raised a number of specific constituency points. On the subject of the railway line, about which he previously asked me a Question, I was not certain what he was after. Now that I know, I promise to look into the matter closely. If it is possible to do anything, I will let him know.

On the question of Blackbrook Farm, I have written to the hon. Gentleman saying everything that can be said about the question. I took the opportunity to look into the problem on a visit to his constituency last weekend. I see the difficulty. The problem is that the factory existed before the houses and the private developer built the houses round the factory. We are doing everything possible to try to reduce noise and pollution. I am very conscious of these problems in general and I promise to look at it and keep a careful eye on the whole question.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) asked a number of detailed questions, particularly as to new ship construction and about research and development. I will look into these and as soon as we can work out the costs and a breakdown of the research and development for which he asked I will send him the information. On the question of Polaris, practically all my hon. Friend's questions were dealt with in some detail by my right hon. Friend during the debate and I refer him to my right hon. Friend's words on that occasion.

There have been a number of attacks on the Government's general policy concerning new construction. To hear some of our critics, one would assume that the Navy's new construction has been savagely cut by the Labour Government. The facts are quite the reverse. Between 1959 and 1964, at constant prices, £265 million was spent, a yearly average of £53 million. Between 1965 and 1970 we spent £348 million, a yearly average of £70 million. On repair, refit and modernisation, again at constant prices, between 1959 and 1964 £177 million was spent, and between 1965 and 1970 the figure was £183 million. This shows a continued high level of expenditure on modernising and re-equipping the Navy. The facts are that we are building a modern Navy.

Two speeches that were particularly notable were those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden). I was very grateful to my hon. Friend for his references to me. Both my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend made the point that the Navy and our contribution cannot be judged solely nationally but must be judged as part of an alliance. This is the main problem that some speakers did not seem to grasp. The size of the future Navy, if measured by the individual fighting ships, will be greatly reduced. I would not dream of denying that. But in terms of power and effectiveness the modern guided missile destroyer has a greater range of capability than a whole squadron of Second World War cruisers. The sophisticated equipment carried in the modern DLG enables the ship to be deployed over a far wider range than Second World War six-inch gun cruisers. The Sea Slug and Sea Cat missile systems give it an effective antiaircraft capability, and its modern information organisation and radars enable it to direct fighter defence, while its Wessex helicopter, with its homing torpedo in conjunction with the latest sonar equipment, enable the ship to conduct anti-submarine operations. I concede that much of this equipment was developed when hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

Has the hon. Gentleman ever compared the British DLG with the Russian equivalent, which outclasses it in practically every way?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Sutton

I do not agree with that comparison. Although it is not for me to make comparisons, I read those of my experts.

It is absurd to measure the Navy in terms only of size, but we have the third largest Navy in the world, larger than the total of the other European N.A.T.O. navies. In terms of quantity we cannot and do not attempt to match the expansion of the Russian fleet, but in quality we have even now probably the most modern navy in the world. To hear our critics, one would assume a very different picture.

By concentrating our primary defence rôle in the European N.A.T.O. theatre, we are increasingly able to match our commitments and ease the problem of overstretch. We can also plan, even within our overall reduced defence budget, to modernise and render more effective the smaller number of ships.

I am not complacent, nor do I believe that we have yet solved all our naval problems, but we now have a coherent strategy for the future. It is in the Navy's interests and the interests of the House to stick to it, and for its friends not to go off in search of short-term expedients at the cost of its long-term future.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That 90,000 Officers, Ratings and Royal Marines be maintained for Naval Service, for the year ending on 31st March, 1971.