I hope the House will allow me to begin with a few words about a former colleague of ours who died last week, a colleague who contributed greatly not only to the Royal Navy but to the discussions in this House about the Royal Navy.
This House has always been fortunate in that senior officers of all three Services have sought to obtain election to it, and the State has been fortunate, too, in that very senior officers, after ennoblement and appointment to another place, have accepted ministerial office.
Jock Hughes-Hallett was unique in being the only such officer who secured election to this House as a back bencher and, through his abilities and talents here, was promoted to ministerial rank. Hon. Members who were in the House with him—I agree that this is going back a few years—will remember that he was a remarkable character who contributed greatly to our discussions, about not only the Royal Navy but a number of other matters. I feel it right not to allow this occasion to pass without expressing my personal view, and, I know, that of the Government, of our sorrow at his loss.
He would have been particularly caustic today about the nature of this debate—[Interruption.]—not about the Government; he would have the highest opinions of the present Government—because he always maintained that the House before the war scrutinised much more closely the Estimates that were laid before it than it did in the post-war period.
For the second year running, under the exigencies of the timetable, we are debating the Navy Estimates on the Motion for the Adjournment rather than on the approval of Vote A. On this account he might have felt that the rot had set in. However, we now have a Select Committee which scrutinises the expenditure of this House on the Royal Navy and it has taken over some of the work which the House used to do in days gone by.
I hope hon. Members will understand if I confine my opening remarks to a broad-brushed picture of the Royal Navy as it exists today, though I shall try later to answer any detailed questions that are asked.
It is indeed appropriate that the House should give first priority after the Easter Recess to debating the Royal Navy. Quite apart from introducing a welcome breath of fresh air into our proceedings, today appropriately marks our anniversary of a number of important naval engagements which have played a significant part in our survival as a nation; notably the first battle of Narvik in 1940 and, in the more distant past, Rodney's famous victory against the French in the Battle of Saints.
Not that I wish at this point to dwell on the fact that so many of our battles for survival have been fought against our present allies and future partners in Western Europe. Rather, I welcome the fact that the path of history has led us to the point where today the desire for co-operation within Western Europe has never been more evident.
It is very much within the context of European defence collaboration that I place what I have to say about the Royal Navy this afternoon, for the capability of the Navy today, and our plans to maintain and improve it in the years ahead, must be seen in the context of Western security as a whole and the continuing threat to that security throughout the world.
As the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1972—Command 4891—makes clear, the growth in Soviet naval capability during recent years has been astonishing, and there is every indication that over the next decade the impetus will be maintained. The Soviet Navy has emerged as a modern, powerfully-armed force, strong both in submarines and surface ships. Soviet naval forces capable of offensive action are now being deployed on a world-wide basis and thereby pose a continuous potential threat to vital Western trade routes and interests.
The scope and potential of maritime power to promote political ends and to extend political influence is now clearly recognised by the Soviet Government, and the effects are being felt throughout the world. The rise of Soviet sea power is one of the most dramatic and significant changes in the balance of military power since the war.
The Western response to this threat, as has been emphasised on many occasions, must be framed within the twin concepts of deterrence and detente. Our efforts to bring about a relaxation of East-West relations must, and do, continue; but, again the ever-mounting strength of the Warsaw Pact forces, we must always remain on our guard and do all we can to ensure that the Services are properly and effectively equipped, organised and managed to meet the threat with our N.A.T.O. allies should they be called upon to do so. The co-operation, strength and determination of the Alliance must be kept at a high level, and Britain must play her full part in ensuring that this is so.
The Royal Navy has a major and vital rôle to play in contributing to this Western response. As the House knows, virtually the whole of the Navy is committed to N.A.T.O., and improvements to our own maritime strength thereby automatically benefit the Alliance as a whole. The wide range of force improvements which have been put in hand during this year will be of particular benefit to N.A.T.O. and the European defence effort. But our national interests, and those of all Western Europe, extend beyond the defined N.A.T.O. boundaries. The Royal Navy has a particular responsibility in helping to deter the use of force against such interests and to preserve the stability of the areas in which they exist.
Naval and Royal Marine forces now deployed overseas include units in the Mediterranean, the West Indies and East of Suez, where our ships contribute to the A.N.Z.U.K. force as part of the five-power defence arrangements and to other commitments as well.
To perform this rôle a balanced fleet is needed capable of world-wide deployment and strong and effective enough both to provide a peace-time presence where required and to deter any aggressive maritime action and counter threats to British or allied responsibilities and interests. Since June, 1970, the Government have pressed ahead vigorously with the task of building up a navy well enough equipped for this rôle.
So far as the surface fleet is concerned, we have pressed on with the building of the new Type 42 destroyers and Type 21 frigates. This ordering programme has ensured that we have a steady flow of modern replacements for the Navy of the 'seventies. Concerning the through-deck cruiser, the House will be pleased to know that we have now placed a contract with Messrs. Vickers to cover all the remaining preparatory work on the design. The new cruiser will complement the frigates and destroyers, providing three main capabilities—deployment of anti-submarine warfare helicopters, command and control of naval and maritime air forces and a contribution to area air defence. It will also, as the House is aware, provide us with the option of operating V.S.T.O.L. aircraft should a decision be taken to equip the fleet with aircraft of this type.
These new classes of ships have also, of course, demanded substantial investment in weapons and equipment to fit them for their task. Good progress has been made with the development of both Sea Dart, the medium range surface-to-air guided weapon system, and Seawolf, the close-range self-defence system; and the capability of the Fleet will be notably improved by the arrangements which have made during the last year to purchase the anti-ship guided missile system. Exocet and the air-launched light-weight Mark 46 torpedo. We have also announced the first stages of development of a new helicopter-launched anti-ship missile. The Sea King helicopter is now in service in quantity, and plans are proceeding to equip our destroyers and frigates with the Lynx helicopter later in the 1970s.
So far as the submarine fleet is concerned, we have continued to maintain the order rate for nuclear-powered fleet submarines and plan to order the eleventh of this class later this year from Messrs. Vickers, the shipyard where the building of these vessels has now been concentrated. As the House will know, development of the Mark 24 torpedo programme is now at an advanced stage, and it is planned to bring the weapon into service in 1973. Studies of other submarine-launched weapons are continuing.
I should like at this point to dwell on the size of the naval construction programme. Last year in this debate I told the House that 19 major vessels were under construction for the Royal Navy in a programme valued at £180 million, of which £20 million worth was in Scottish yards. Today there are 33 vessels of ocean-going tug size and above building, worth a total of £300 million with over £86 million in Scottish yards.
The main reason for this tremendous upsurge in ordering is the accelerated programme of naval shipbuilding, details of which were announced to the House by my hon. Friend on 11th November last. I know that the House will welcome this acceleration—which represents a real advancing of orders—not only for the impact it will have on the capability of the Royal Navy but for the beneficial effect it is having on the unemployment situation. The benefit is not just in those difficult areas where shipbuilding is a major industry; it will be felt throughout the country, because every shipworker's job created or preserved means a job saved in one of the ancillary industries.
The current building programme includes four nuclear-powered submarines of the Swiftsure class, one of which will be accepted this year, seven guided-missile destroyers, among them six of the Type 42 Sheffield class, and 10 frigates, eight of which are of the new Type 21 Amazon class. These, together with support and specialist ships, make up one of the largest naval shipbuilding programmes for many years; indeed, it is worth noting that a total of nine destroyers and frigates were ordered in 1971, and this represents a threefold increase over the ordering rate of previous years.
The hon. Gentleman will recall that when we were in office we were chastised for cutting down on the facility for building nuclear-powered submarines in the concentration at Vickers. Although, on the one hand, the hon. Gentleman claims, rightly, to have an increased naval shipbuilding programme, the rate of nuclear-powered submarine building is about on the same level as was ours, and these are the capital ships of the sea.
I have just said precisely that. I shall be saying something about the balance between surface and submarine fleets shortly, if the right hon. Gentleman will be patient.
I can assure the House that the need to maintain a momentum in the ship-ordering programme is well recognised and the order of a further Swiftsure class submarine is planned for later this year. We also hope to order the first of the new cruisers towards the end of the financial year, and we are now proposing to move on to the new class of general purpose frigates on which early planning and design work is also continuing. We will also be placing contracts for four modified Seal class patrol boats.
The Royal Navy continues to take the lead in a number of important areas of ship technology. All our Type 42s and Type 21s will, for example, be wholly powered by marinised versions of the famous Rolls-Royce Tyne and Olympus engines. The first naval vessel of any size using glass reinforced plastic—H.M.S. "Wilton"—was launched at Vospers in January. The construction of this ship involved the use of technologies entirely new to shipbuilding, and much effort and ingenuity is going into this work in which this country has a significant lead and from which much valuable experience is being gained and used in the early planning and design stage of a new mine counter-measures vessel in glass reinforced plastic.
In this connection, I pay tribute to the Navy's shipbuilders. Co-operation between the Navy and its builders is of necessity very close because of the increasing complexity of warship building and the higher standards of quality assurance, support and standardisation that are now required.
Attention has been focused by the Select Committee on Expenditure—the right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) was on this point a minute ago—on the allocation of resources to the various parts of the naval equipment programme, particularly to surface vessels on the one hand and submarines on the other. This is a matter of crucial importance, and is at the very centre of defence planning. I do not conceal from the House that very difficult judgments are involved here. On the one hand, we must continue the steady build-up of the force of nuclear fleet submarines, which will be the main striking arm of the future Navy. On the other hand, we cannot allow the introduction of the new classes of surface ship—the Type 42s, the new frigates, and the cruisers—to slip behind without denying the Royal Navy surface units of the quality and in the numbers which it needs to perform its tasks. At the same time, the weapon and aircraft programmes, and the many vital support programmes, must be maintained at a level which matches as closely as possible the requirements of the ships and submarines which they are designed to serve.
We believe that the present balance between surface vessels and submarines in our construction programme is broadly correct. But there is continuing scope for flexibility within our broad strategic priorities. The option to increase the rate of building nuclear fleet submarines remains open to us. In the same way, there is an option to increase the rate of build of surface ships; and, as I have said, in the autumn of last year we took and announced a decision to accelerate orders for a number of warships and other surface vessels. As was made clear at the time, the decision to accelerate these orders was based on economic and employment as well as on military factors.
With the qualification, therefore, that there is scone for flexibility within our broad priorities, my belief is that at the present time and against the tasks which the Royal Navy must be expected to perform, we are allocating the resources available to the Royal Navy in broadly the right proportions. We do not underestimate the difficulties but our financial and manpower resources are necessarily limited and must be balanced against all our defence priorities, over all three Services.
The hon. Gentleman has referred to V.S.T.O.L. When is the decision likely to be made as to when V.S.T.O.L. will be introduced into the Navy, and what are the difficulties?
I thought that I had made that fairly plain in winding up the debate in February. There are various options which have to be studied in considerable depth. The questions whether the present form of Harrier is not suitable for maritime operation, whether we go for a purely marinised Harrier, or one with larger engines, and possibly a newly designed aeroplane, are being pressed ahead with as fast as possible, and I hope to be able to answer them within the next few months. But I cannot be more firm than that, because there are difficult options which have to be studied, and our relationships with other navies enter into this, as the hon. Gentleman will know.
In the Navy which we have today we lament the passing of great ships like H.M.S. "Eagle", but we look ahead to achieving a balanced and powerful Fleet which, operating world-wide, contributes to the security of Western Europe and is wholly integrated into the N.A.T.O. Alliance. We have made good progress in the past two years and I am confident that we shall continue to do so.
I have mentioned the importance which we attach to providing sufficient manpower of high quality to man the Fleet. The House is well aware of the great improvement in recruiting recently. The Royal Navy and Royal Marines have, of course, enjoyed their share of the upsurge. In 1971–72 the recruitment of young men as officers has gone up by 10 per cent., though the seaman and engineering branches of the Royal Navy are still recruiting below the required level. There has in fact been an enormous increase in the applicants for commissions, but there has not yet been anything like a proportionate increase in the number who meet the required standards for acceptance.
The final score for 1971–72 for ratings entering the Royal Navy is over 7,700 and for other ranks in the Royal Marines about 1,400—a grand total of some 9,100, about 40 per cent. more than last year. This is the best we have done since 1952–53. The critical importance of recruitment in maintaining the strength of the Navy is, of course, recognised by everyone.
It is natural to ask how this great recruiting success has been achieved and what the most important factor has been. There is no single simple answer to this question. Unemployment probably contributed in part, but there is no evidence that it has been a significant factor. Much has been done to make a naval career as popular as it is today. There has been the drive to improve conditions of service in the widest possible sense, and I shall have a great deal more to say about this a little later on.
I would stress, however, that especially for the Navy the move away from long fixed engagements was a most significant reform. Pay is much more attractive than in the past. Then there have been magnificent efforts by the careers service, which has been given the resources to do the job. More generally, a sense of stability has been introduced into defence policy.
Thus, I would argue that, although motivation to join the Royal Navy must often be very complex, the public at large and young men and boys in particular have had concrete and telling evidence that a career in the Royal Navy is worthwhile and well esteemed. It is our aim to maintain the momentum. The re-engagement of men already in the Service is another key factor. In the current year the re-engagement rate at the critical 9-year point is now about 45 per cent., which can be contrasted with rates of below 35 per cent. in 1968–69 and 1969–70.
Despite the success I have described, both in recruitment and re-engagement, we cannot afford to be complacent in any way, if we are to continue to be able to man the Navy throughout the seventies. With this in mind we have continued our efforts in the past year to improve service conditions in a way which will make the Royal Navy both more attractive to serve in while maintaining the Service's high standards of operational readiness and efficiency.
I cannot answer that question at this stage in the debate. I hope to be able to do so at the end of the debate, if I am allowed to wind up the debate.
Perhaps the biggest single change which has taken place in the personnel field during the last year is the decision to introduce the so-called "notice engagement" which is announced in this year's White Paper. As regards the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, this new engagement will be introduced in all branches. This will mean that all recruits to the Navy and Marines will have the choice of either the notice, scheme, with its right after an initial return of service to give 18 months' notice, or the more normal "career engagement"—that is, the traditional 9- or 12-year engagement.
We see this change as a further advance on the voyage on which we embarked when we decided to accept the recommendations of Lord Donaldson's Committee on Boy Entrants and Young Servicemen. The existence of this new engagement side by side with the career engagement will mean that we can cater for both the young man who wishes to try the Navy before finally committing himself to a career, and the man who has decided that the Navy is the career which he wishes to follow and who is therefore prepared to commit himself to us for a longish period.
I believe that it is difficult to overstate the importance of this move away from the traditional pattern of engagement to a very much more flexible open-ended arrangement, and it is our hope that this new scheme will be attractive to those young men and women—we are providing a similar notice scheme for the W.R.N.S. and Q.R.N.N.S.—who do not wish initially to commit themselves too far ahead. We recognise that, by moving away from long fixed engagements, we are taking a risk that outflow may be heavy, but we confidently expect that risk to be small and the decision to increase freedom of choice to be the right one. I am confident that management at all levels in the Navy will meet the challenge by ensuring that each rating feels that he is doing a worthwhile job and that he has chosen a career which is satisfying and rewarding and has great potential. Indeed, I believe that a liberal engagement policy will not only attract recruits, but also provide an incentive to remain in naval service.
The increased flexibility and freedom of choice given by the new scheme make it essential that we continue also to give the closest of attention to Service conditions. If these conditions fail to appeal to the serving sailor or marine he will exercise his option and go. In any case, if manning is to be at a satisfactory level, we have a short fall to make up from previous years and a great deal must be done to continue to improve conditions within the Service aimed primarily at persuading men to remain with us.
I fully agree with the concept of the new engagement. However, with the new engagement will my hon. Friend renew and revise the terms on which a young recruit can leave the Service about 12 weeks after he has first entered it, which is peak period of his rushing about the barrack square and doing other things which are not popular? I understand that it is at that time that both the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines lose many young recruits.
We have been looking into this question, but I have nothing to say about it today.
Re-engagement, with its advantage that those re-engaging are already trained, is vital to the voluntary concept. It is long-serving men who provide the backbone of skill and experience which is necessary for the efficient functioning of the Fleet. Many of these men will ultimately provide the petty officers, chief petty officers and warrant officers who play such an important part in the management of the Service. Not a few will go on to obtain commissions and make their contribution to management in this way.
In seeking to retain the services of men and to improve re-engagement we have to recognise that married men are in the majority in the Navy and that their proportion rises with increasing length of service and seniority. It therefore follows that if we are to achieve our aim of improving re-engagement, we must devote attention to the problems of the families and, in particular, to persuading wives that naval life offers substantial advantages to them. Our efforts in this field are aimed at four main areas—housing, leave, stability and welfare.
I will take these points in turn. First, housing. We are continuing our efforts to increase the number of married quarters. We succeeded in increasing the United Kingdom stock of naval married quarters by 6 per cent. in 1971 and our ultimate objective is to ensure that families may move direct from one quarter to another when a sailor or marine is drafted from one station to another. But it will be some time—probably about the mid-70s—before this objective is achieved. We shall of course continue to supplement where possible our stocks of married quarters by using furnished hirings, for which we are prepared to meet realistic rents. We plan also to improve the accommodation for single men.
Second, leave. I informed the House in last year's debate that we were examining leave allowances to see whether it would be possible, by making adjustments within the total entitlement, to provide the seagoer in particular with more time to spend with his family, his parents or his girl friend. We are doing what we can to ease restrictions on those serving in the United Kingdom and those, accompanied by their families, serving ashore abroad. The unresolved problem area continues, as it has always, to concern particularly the man at sea and also the man, unaccompanied by his family, abroad. This is the separation problem and is not easy of solution. It cannot be overcome simply by granting more leave more frequently. To do so would only mean that we could keep fewer ships fully manned for their tasks. A working party is examining alternative methods of manning and operating the Fleet aimed at reducing separation. It will submit its report in the near future and I hope we shall then be in a position to decide what can be done.
Stability is undoubtedly a most important factor. There is little doubt that one of the most disliked features of naval life is the uncertainty which often faces the sailor and his family. On occasions the family may not know until very close to the date in question precisely when the sailor will be home and for how long. This situation exacerbates the problem of separation and can make almost as great a contribution to discouraging sailors from re-engaging as separation itself. We have in hand a number of measures which should reduce this uncertainty. In particular, we now limit the period of each foreign deployment to one of nine months, with total foreign deployment in a 30-month ship's commission not exceeding 15 months. Thus the total amount of separation faced by a man whilst serving in his ship is reduced and he knows with some assurance the pattern of his seagoing time. The working party to which I have referred has been asked in particular to consider whether these deployment rules can be modified to advantage. A further improvement should be effected by the arrangements to ensure that particular dockyards deal with particular types of ship, since it should be possible for a man to move his family to somewhere close to the port in question knowing that his ship will return to that dockyard for refits, repairs and so forth. In addition, the change to a continuous commission is reducing a lot of the turbulence associated with the short term drafts which were often necessary to provide a relief when a man was drafted out of a ship towards the end of a commission.
Fourthly, there is welfare. We believe it absolutely essential to provide a welfare service to deal with the many problems that will inevitably arise while a family is separated. The Navy has for many years had just such a welfare service, and the Family Welfare Officers and the W.R.N.S. Welfare Workers are highly experienced in the sort of case that often arises. Nevertheless, we do not wish to find ourselves left behind by the general advances of the welfare profession in the United Kingdom, and we have therefore, as I announced last August, set up a committee under the chairmanship of Sir Frederic Seebohm—whom I am sure the whole House would like to congratulate upon his recent Peerage—to make a detailed study of our welfare organisation. Sir Frederic's committee has already made considerable progress in its work, and I look forward with confidence to receiving in about a year's time an expert and informed study in depth which will point the way to further improvements, reflecting the best modern thinking, in the welfare field.
We are also looking at the details of day-to-day Service life. In this field there are three areas which we are currently examining: the standard of habitability on board ship, the limiting of menial tasks and the removal of minor rules and regulations which may cause irritation to the sailor.
As to habitability on board ship, we have long recognised that there is a need for an improvement in standards. These, however, must be compatible with the fighting capability of the ship and, so far as existing ships and those at an advanced stage of design are concerned, with ship characteristics as well.
The age-old problem with ship design is fitting all the multifarious items which are required into an acceptably-sized hull. Essentially the design process is one of compromise, in that no single requirement can be permitted to dominate all the rest; the standards of accommodation provided must, therefore, to some extent be a compromise with those which we would like to see if there were no other limiting factors. The long-term aim is to provide an increase in space per man of approximately 20 per cent. over present design standards. This would allow the separation of recreational and sleeping areas for all ratings, increased space for stowage of kit and private belongings and greater privacy, by the use of fixed bunks and partitions for junior rates and cabins for senior rates. In the new construction, where the design has not proceeded too far, it should be possible to realise these revised standards in practice, although inevitably it will be many years before they will be seen in the Fleet. In existing ships steps are being taken to make improvements as far as the many limiting factors allow.
Measures that will be taken include the modernisation and streamlining of mess spaces, recreational spaces, cabins, etc., thereby screening unsightly pipes and cables; the use of modern designs for portable furniture such as tables, chairs and stools; the provision of additional stowage space; and improvements in decor. We are running a trial with a mess deck modified to these new standards at the present time and I hope that the experience of this trial will prove to be of value for the future.
In the case of what I call "irritating regulations" we are looking at the many minor rules which may seem to be unnecessary to the sailor. In examining this aspect of Service life it has to be remembered that every disciplined force must have its rules and regulations which may well prove irksome to some but which are generally for the benefit of all. Nevertheless, those in authority must always be prepared to ask the question "Why?" when faced with regulations of this sort. We are currently engaged in a review of the minor rules and regulations which may well come into this category, and are also devoting considerable effort to improving communications up and down the chain of command so that management is more readily aware of those items. In this connection we are giving every encouragement to the effective operation of the divisional system, and particular emphasis has been placed on the divisional meeting as a means of communication. As I told the House last year, a new publication, "The Board Bulletin", has been produced and is being used to keep the Fleet aware of the Admiralty Board's thinking on important topics. This serves in particular to inform discussion at the divisional meetings in ships and establishments and, as a consequence, we are getting most useful and strenuous feedback from officers and men. It is proving to be a valuable two-way means of communication between the Board and the Fleet.
We are also well aware of the effect on some sailors of having to carry out the many necessary but unglamorous jobs connected with domestics and ship husbandry and maintenance. As far as possible, the present practice is to share the less popular domestic duties among all junior ratings on board ship, so that the main burden of chores is not borne by one branch or group alone. We are also directing effort to reducing the volume of work which yields little or no job-satisfaction, requires no skill or is repetitive or dirty, by improvements in the design and finish of ships, by introducing mechanical aids and by intensive work and management studies of our current methods.
Frustrating or unglamorous duties also arise in shore establishments. In the other Services these are often performed by civilians, and, within limits, we follow the same practice. In the Navy we have to strike a balance between civilianisation of naval billets ashore and the retention of a sufficient number of posts to provide a reasonable period ashore between commissions afloat. Within this constraint and those dictated by life afloat, we are continuing our efforts to reduce by one means or another the drudgery which has often been the lot of the sailor, and where this is not possible, to share this work equally among all junior ratings.
As was announced in the Press last January, extended trials of 200 of each of three different uniforms of naval ratings are to be conducted afloat and ashore in the Fleet over a period of a year. Arrangements are well advanced and the trials will start in July, both seagoing and ashore. At the end of the trial particular importance will be attached to the analysis of detailed questionnaires which are being sent out with the trial uniforms. The opinions of ratings who have actually worn the uniform, as well as those of officers and other ratings in the Royal Navy and of the public, will be taken into account before any decision is taken as to which uniform should be adopted.
I have described changes in engagement structure and improvements in Service conditions which together represent a substantial enhancement of the sailor's way of life. Nevertheless, we do not propose to stop there. We are quite certain that we must and shall continue our efforts for a long period ahead if we are to attract, in numbers and in quality, the recruits that we need and to retain their services throughout a well worthwhile career in a truly volunteer Navy.
Before I leave the area of personnel matters, I should like to mention two questions in which this House has shown a close interest over the past two years. The first of these is the future of the 15-year-old entry into Royal Navy and the two other Services. As hon. Members know, recruiting at this age has been particularly important to the Navy and to a lesser extent to the Army.
While it would be possible under the Education Act to give an exemption to allow boys to join the Services at the age of 15, this would have been the only group in the country exempted from the raising of the school leaving age. Even though we can fairly claim that the education we can give at the age of 15 is a very good one, we did feel very doubtful about the effects of isolating the Services in this way and so possibly reviving earlier criticisms. Moreover, once employers and educational authorities had adjusted themselves to the general raising of the school leaving age, it was far from certain that an entry to the Services at the age of 15 would continue to be effective.
In these circumstances we have come to the conclusion that when the school leaving age is raised to 16 we should no longer seek to enlist boys at the age of 15. This will mean a loss to recruitment in the year immediately following the raising of the school leaving age; we shall then have to concentrate on attracting more boys at the age of 16 than we have previously done, though this will be in a situation where no boy is seeking employment until he reaches that age. The current buoyancy in recruiting makes it rather easier to stand the temporary loss next year while we make the necessary adjustments in our recruiting and training plans.
Finally, on the personnel aspect, I would like to mention the outcome of the Maunsell Report on the Royal Naval Detention Quarters at Portsmouth. On 22nd December, 1971, I informed the House that I had received a valuable report from Brigadier Maunsell, former Inspector General of Prisons, at the Home Office, who had found no evidence to substantiate the exaggerated criticism of the establishment which had been made in the past. I wish to emphasise that.
We have already introduced a number of his suggestions—all of which are in line with current thinking on penology—to place increasing emphasis on rehabilitative treatment. In particular, we have cut down the number of drill periods and increased those devoted to training, and more detainees now have the opportunity to work outside the establishment.
The most important improvement in the facilities at the detention quarters is unquestionably the new purpose-built dining hall, which was brought into use in January. It has large windows, giving plenty of light, and houses the library and a television set. The opening of this building has meant more opportunity for the detainees to move freely between the dining hall and the main accommodation block, where we have now been able to set aside a gamesarea—for playing cards and that sort of thing—which is very popular. Indeed, one hon. Member has already forwarded me a letter which led me to fear that we had gone too far. It was from a detainee paying tribute to the improvements which had been made and saying how comfortable he was in the quarters.
The extension to the perimeter wall is in course of construction, and this will enable us to increase the overall area of the establishment and set up an adventure training course on the additional land which is being taken over. Work is also proceeding on the refurbishing of the old First Lieutenant's house to provide separate accommodation for young offenders necessarily sent to detention—and they, when we get this separate accommodation, are to have their own staff as well.
With the recent improvements and changes I have mentioned, I am satisfied that the régime at the Naval Detention Quarters is both purposeful and progressive and is the best we can do in present circumstances.
We all wish to see improvements in the detention quarters, but no doubt my hon. Friend will be aware of the danger of making them more comfortable than the messdeck of a minesweeper at sea.
That is precisely what we had in mind. Brigadier Maunsell insisted on seeing the messdeck of a minesweeper at sea fully manned before putting his proposals.
I do not apologise today for dealing at such length with the difficult question of achieving the right balance of priorities across the whole range of the Navy's requirements for improved equipment and for the skilled and high quality manpower necessary to operate it. I do not underestimate our task in making a leading contribution to the maritime strength of N.A.T.O., but I think it is fair to say that in the past year very definite and important steps have been taken towards improving our capability.
I am confident that as a result the officers, ratings and Royal Marines of the Service are better able to play their vital rôle in the security of Western Europe and in the ever-continuing duty of safeguarding such as pass upon the seas on their lawful occasions.
The Navy Estimates are the traditional occasion when the House looks at the Royal Navy with a mixture of respect and affection and with what I fear to be all too often a nominal democratic control.
During the past year, although the Royal Navy has not been greatly involved in Northern Ireland, the Royal Marines certainly have. I think that we would all extend to them our grateful thanks and admiration for the way they have conducted themselves in Northern Ireland. Many of them come from my constituency, and I know the difficult circumstances in which they have served the Crown in that part of the United Kingdom. I am sure that we all wish to draw attention to that.
Before I became rather critical, I want to say that the hon. Gentleman has given the House, as I think is apt coming from him, a great deal of information about personnel reform. I like to think that many of these reforms started when I was Under-Secretary of State, but he is carrying on with them, is building on them and has introduced many new measures. This reflects his own personal concern and liberal attitude towards the task of recruiting well to a volunteer navy. We on this side broadly give our full encouragement to practically all the measures he has introduced, and we look forward to the Seebohm conclusions on welfare.
The hon. Gentleman indicated that he was broadly happy with the state of the Royal Navy and its ships. He talked about the balance between surface ships and submarines and said that there was scope for flexibility. On balance he thought the allocation was broadly correct and that options remained open. I believe that the time has come when the House must face the realities a great deal more.
The history of the Royal Navy is one of unparalleled brilliance and courage in battle, bedevilled by reactionary and shortsighted administration by the Admiralty.
In recent naval history, for example, one sees the reluctance to switch from coal-fired to oil-fired boilers, the clinging to the battleship until one-third of its displacement was in armour plate, and the total inability to anticipate the potential danger of submarines, highlighted by the 1935 Anglo-German Naval Agree-men which allowed Germany to start building up its deadly U-boat fleet. The Admiralty Board over successive decades cannot claim vision and foresight as its most striking characteristics. Politicians, and this House, therefore, should not be too worried if they find themselves from time to time in conflict with and challenging the basic assumptions of naval policy.
I will deal with that. The hon. and gallant Gentleman knows that that decision was taken by the Ministry of Defence as a whole. He and his colleagues were largely unable to carry the other Services with them. I come back to the fact that the House can challenge the Admiralty Board without fearing that we are walking into areas on which the Board has an absolute power to make decisions. It is perhaps symbolic that the Board still sits in a room whose only technological aid is an indicator which tells it which way the wind is blowing over Admiralty House. The Navy has always been very good at telling that.
For nearly three years, it has been my firm and growing conviction that the future expenditure programme and the overall shape of the Royal Navy is fundamentally mistaken, and on that I find myself in direct conflict with the Under-secretary of State. We cannot ignore the fact that decisions taken today dictate the Fleet of the 1980s and beyond. We are approaching the 1980s with attitudes to naval warfare all too frequently still firmly embedded in the 1940s. It cannot be said too frequently that nuclear propulsion, particularly applied to submarines, has opened up a completely new era of underwater warfare. The facts are well known but their implications from the start have been consistently ignored.
The nuclear-powered submarine has the speed to out-manoeuvre a modern surface destroyer; it can cross the Arctic under the winter ice, relying solely on its own inertial navigation system. The submarine and not the surface vessel is the best vehicle for practically all antisubmarine detection equipment. This superiority is further compounded by the fact that any technique developed to enable the surface ship to detect a submarine is immeasurably improved when fitted instead to the submarine and the submarine will always be able to detect the surface ship first.
The ability to direct a submarine to a convoy or naval task force in the oceans of the world was once a big problem. Today, with satellite surveillance and improved communications technology, it is in large part solved, and I believe it will be wholly solved by the 1980s. Already photographic satellites have the ability in clear weather to pinpoint every surface vessel on the oceans of the world, if sufficient satellites are in orbit. With laser technology moving rapidly, even the weather constraint is likely to prove only a temporary barrier. Communication with a submerged submarine which does not wish to put up any surface link has been to date a limiting factor. But even here technology is moving rapidly.
Only in the area of underwater weapon systems has progress been slow. In this country we have had successive failures over various weapon systems, particularly the torpedo, which was often disastrous. But with the Russians already advancing fast in the area of firing underwater submarine-to-surface missiles, the full potential of the submarine is beginning to manifest itself.
The United States Navy has 53 nuclear-powered attack submarines, 40 equipped with Subroc. The Soviet Union has 25 nuclear-powered attack submarines and 35 nuclear-powered cruise missile submarines. The American lead in strategic ballistic missile-carrying submarines is being rapidly challenged by the current Soviet Union construction programme, which is likely to achieve numerical equality in 1974.
It is the Soviet Union's very rapid expansion of its nuclear-powered attack submarines which is in my view the most significant part of the current Soviet naval expansion. It is far more serious than any increase in its surface fleet or merchant marine. My views have often been stated. We tend to exaggerate the growth of the Soviet navy. Once a major nation decided to become a maritime power it was inevitable that it would expand not only in size but into waters it had not hitherto been in.
We have only six nuclear-powered fleet submarines. By 1980 we shall have four more, making a grand total of 10. The Expenditure Committee has been told—Question 1208, page 178 of its second Report—that the completion dates of these submarines are in broad terms taking 15 to 20 months. The present fleet of 26 conventionally-powered submarines will have gone out of service before 1990, and the intention is to go for an all nuclear-powered submarine fleet.
The Expenditure Committee was also told that by 1990 the nuclear-powered fleet would be less than 26. The exact figure has not been revealed, but anyone examining present trends would have to admit that an optimistic assessment would mean only 20 nuclear-powered fleet submarines, and the figure is likely to be less than that, in view of the recent calculated shift of naval expenditure in favour of surface vessels. It could well be quite a bit less.
The House would do well to look at pages 166–167 of the evidence to the Expenditure Committee, where it was admitted under questioning that in broad terms current expenditure on new surface ships, running at a little more than a ratio of four to one of surface ships to submarines, will rise to more than five to one over the next three years. The argument that this trend is only temporary is that it stems purely from the decision to increase the build rate of frigates and destroyers over the next three years. That argument does not stand serious examination. On pages 268–269 of the Committee's report we discover that the expenditure on cruisers over the past six years will have at least trebled by 1974–75.
I refer to the Expenditure Committee because I believe that for these debates to have value it is necessary for people to use the detailed figures brought out by the Committee and draw their own conclusions. I hope to give a factual analysis of present trends.
The Expenditure Committee was also told that the maximum expenditure on cruisers will come at the end of the 1970s, coinciding almost exactly with the heavy expenditure on the M.R.C.A. at that period. In current prices the cruiser is even now priced at more than £50 million. This costing does not allow for the complement of helicopters, missile systems and possible V/STOL aircraft that the cruisers may get. I believe the total cost in current prices of the first of class cruiser will be closer to £70 million, with a planned build of three cruisers, the minimum necessary to ensure that one is constantly at sea, it is clear that heavy expenditure will be involved in the cruiser programme well into the 1980s. In view of the increasing vulnerability of surface ships to submarine attack even with a full complement of Sea King helicopters, it is time the House looked at the justification for the cruiser programme. It needs to be very seriously examined.
The shift of spending over the past year in favour of surface ships is found to be even greater when we take into account recent decisions on weapons expenditure. Britain has recently decided to buy the surface-to-surface French missile Exocet, a very expensive weapon system. At the same time we shall soon be fitting the Sea Dart area defence weapon system to H.M.S. "Bristol" and the Type 42 destroyers. Exocet on these vessels is presumably in addition to the more limited surface-to-surface capability of Sea Dart. We are continuing with the development of the joint defence Sea Wolf weapon system for our frigates. It is a system whose severe escalation in cost has already been the subject of concern to the Expenditure Committee, which turned its attention to it only a few weeks ago. I am not at liberty at present to reveal its findings. The value of the system is obvious, but it is questionable whether better value might not be obtained by fitting a mini-Sea Dart to frigates, particularly when the destroyers and presumably cruisers will not be fitted with Sea Wolf and will be relying on Sea Dart's capability. Weapons expenditure on surface ships will also inevitably increase further with the decision to go for a new helicopter-launched air-to-surface missile. This is without adding the cost of V/STOL, if that option should ever be taken up.
None of these weapon systems is of itself without merit, and it would be foolish to try to pretend that it was. But such a pattern of expenditure cannot but have a restricting effect on the development of a new submarine-launched missile. The torpedo is a weapon system from the 1940s, wholly inappropriate in its effectiveness and potential for the sophistication of all other aspects of submarine warfare.
What has happened to the submarine-launched missile which was mentioned in the House in successive debates over the years? There is no mention of it in the White Paper, and there has been no discussion of it by Ministers. It appears at best to have been delayed and at worst to have been postponed.
The need to divert scarce research and development resources to a submarine-launched missile is manifest and urgent. Sacrifices must be made in other areas of the naval defence budget to allow this development. It must also be accompanied by a decision to increase substantially the build rate of hunter-killer submarines.
It is time the Defence Department collectively started asking some pertinent questions about the naval programme. I have mentioned this in mild terms for a number of years. Traditionally dominated by the attitudes of gunnery officers, the Navy is still suffering from an inability to adjust to the loss of the aircraft carriers, amply reflected by the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles). It resolutely refuses to face the need to make a decisive switch in defence expenditure in favour of underwater warfare. That switch, at least in terms of research and development costs, took place in 1969. I hope it was the start of a major switch which should have come with the demise of the aircraft carrier, a switch which with the vulnerability of the surface ship, particularly without air cover, cannot be shirked. It is very dubious whether any surface warships much over 5,000 tons should now ever be built.
The Admiralty Board, which historically has missed numerous opportunities to exploit to the full the immense technical skills and seamanship that exist within the Royal Navy, now has a duty to anticipate the future and to rethink its current strategy. If Ministers will not do it, the House must stimulate debate within the defence community to ensure that such a change and such thinking starts. The existing recipe of fair shares for all is a recipe for drift with no section of the Navy obtaining wholly adequate resources. The Navy needs a new Jackie Fisher to take a grip on naval priorities and to ask the fundamental questions which modern technology dictates.
A question which arises can be put like this: that if there are Russian ships armed with surface-to-surface missiles, one cannot stop them if they are outside the range of land-based aircraft.
This is an old argument which the hon. Gentleman has raised and there is no doubt that if one is outside the range of land-based missiles one is unable to shoot down the aircraft which are necessary for their guidance. One is vulnerable. I do not think I have ever shirked that problem, but it only reveals the problem of the Navy that with scarce resources it cannot cover every eventuality.
I am most interested in the hon. Member's submarine panacea. I very much agree with a lot of what he is saying, but surely the point about going all under water, which is rather what he is advocating, is that submarines can continue a war but cannot prevent a war, and what so many of us on both sides of the House want is to prevent war and not just slug it out by firing weapons from submarines or in any other way.
It was certainly not my intention to suggest putting the whole Navy under water. I am asking for a major shift of emphasis. That is very different from saying that all expenditure on the Navy should be to put the Navy in future all under water.
I think the hon. Member's question reflects the conventional attitude to naval power but it raises the question of how it is likely to be in the future. I believe that a naval blockade can be as effective or even more effective conducted by submarines—for example, the Beira patrol. It is a thoroughly successful use of maritime power. However, it needs to have constantly a lot of ships in the area and they could potentially be vulnerable to aircraft attack, as surface ships are if such ships are without air cover, a point with which the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester has made such play at various times when asking what would happen with the withdrawal of the aircraft carriers. There is no reason whatever why exactly the same effects on supply ships entering Beira could not be aciheved by the use of submarines, particularly nuclear-powered submarines, which would not need to return to base for refuelling as frequently as other ships. There is no reason why they should not be as effective or even more so. They have speed and ability and they could fire a conventional torpedo across the bows of an oncoming merchant ship.
Would not the hon. Gentleman concede that the success at Beira is largely brought about by the fact that the international community is prepared to comply with the requirement that oil should not be sent from Mozambique to Rhodesia?
Yes, the effectiveness of the patrol is to some extent due to that, but also to the use of power authorised by the United Nations. My own belief is that it should be extended and that the trouble about the Beira patrol is that it is limited in that it extends only to ships, because oil can reach Rhodesia from South Africa and Portugal overland. My belief is that there is a very strong case for extending the control.
However, I wish to come back to the question of naval weaponry. I have had some harsh things to say about torpedoes and the need to move towards an underwater-fired missile. I must draw the Minister's attention to our defence debate on 24th February and to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) had to say about the question of the M.46 torpedo and the question which he raised. It is necessary that it should be answered. The advice we were given on the M.46 seems now to be disregarded. I know that the Under-Secretary is not given access to the same advice as we were, but this raises very serious questions why Ministers can be given one indication and then it is suddenly discovered that M.46 should be purchased, and the more fundamental question of the tragic cancellation, no doubt for good reasons, of the Mark 31. Is the Minister happy about continuing the long-term project now in hand when we have lost the short-term expertise which was being devoted to the Mark 31? Is he not in effect by bypassing that important earlier second stage, prejudicing the effectiveness of the long-term solution of this project?
There is a whole history, affecting both sides of the House, about torpedoes. None of us can claim to have a monopoly of wisdom about them, but what we can claim is that by growing increasingly sceptical about the sort of division we are now getting in this area we can say that this requires at this stage a very searching examination. A searching look needs to be given to the basis of the advice on which many of us have been acting in the past.
I turn to recruitment, and if I do so briefly it is not because I under-estimate its importance. I appreciated what the hon. Gentleman said about recruitment and I welcome it. We welcome here my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) on our Front Bench today in this defence debate because he was a Royal Marine and has had a lifelong interest in naval matters—he is associated with the National Maritime Museum and he is well qualified to deal with this matter. I would just say that one effect of the short-service engagement is to take a slight risk in making comparisons about recruitment. A fact we have to look at is the necessary allowance we have to make for the natural wastage which will undoubtedly occur. I welcome the proposed notice engagement which, I think, will be a very substantial help.
Now I turn to the Royal Dockyards. This is one of my major concerns, because they comprise the largest Government-run industry and industrial work force. Their activity, their efficiency and, above all, their wage rates are very important to the Cities of Plymouth and Portsmouth and to the towns of Rosyth and Chatham. One of the achievements of the Labour Government was that while making cuts in defence expenditure we were able to start a real modernisation programme in the Royal Dockyards, for the first time for over a century, and for the first time to have a wage structure comparable with wage structures in outside industry and to provide for productivity bargaining which, I am glad to say, has gone on. I do not think this is the time to go into details, and a lot of the discussion on it goes on through the Whitley Council, but I have a number of points about dockyard policy.
First, on wage rates there is some indication that the Government may be in danger of using Government industrial workers in some way that they have used other workers in nationalised industries by holding down their wages rates discriminately. We on this side have always and consistently attacked this discrimination.
Again, the Government have shown signs of a change in policy firstly in that after some 15 years or more they have for the first time put out to private industry refit done at a Royal Dockyard. I do not detect any question of diversification within the existing dockyards. I would put this to the hon. Gentleman. I know that he has no prejudiced views about this. As we move into the new technology—I am particularly referring to the glass fibre technology—I believe that the dockyards should be allowed to switch to this technology. I know that glass fibre work is being done in the dockyards. I visited the glass fibre work at Devonport fairly recently. If we are to go in for this glass fibre work, a fair amount of this new construction should be allocated to the Royal Dockyards.
I must come back again to the whole question of new construction. There is a slip at Devonport dockyard which still remains empty. Many of us have all too often feared that where unemployment is severely high, and in the development regions, sufficient work is not provided on Government account. Although there are employment problems in my constituency, I appreciate that there are similar problems in other regions. I am thinking of Glasgow. Will the Government take measures to reduce unemployment. If they do, they surely ought to be prepared to realise that there are priorities, and they must be prepared to accept that the dockyards should not cease altogether to have new naval construction. It is a very important part of their work both in the training apprenticeships and for the whole morale. I am increasingly convinced that they are competitive in price.
This is particularly important now that the Ministry has broken precedent and allocated orders. The most recent orders for frigates and destroyers were allocated, and this is a move away from the previous system of free and fair competition. I ask the Minister to look seriously at this and to allow the dockyards to feel that they are participating in the changes in technology. This is important for morale and it can be helpful in avoiding redundancies. To achieve productivity bargaining and a degree of enthusiasm, it is important to avoid redundancies and it is worth carrying a little price for that.
I have had correspondence with the Minister about apprentice training, and I ask him to look at it again. In a time of high unemployment, with many school-leavers having difficulties in getting jobs, the skilled apprentice training facilities available in the four dockyards should be used. I am thinking of practical apprentice training. We understand that the dockyards cannot guarantee a future job in the dockyards. They have to match their capacity to their load, but the training would be invaluable.
Another issue I should like to raise with the Minister is that of pensions. Considerable anxiety has been expressed on both sides of the House about the widow who is unable to draw a pension for her husband's service if he left the Service prior to 1st September, 1950. I looked at this when I was Minister and I make no secret of the fact that it is a difficult decision to take. One problem is that there is not the same pressure for this change in the two other Services as there is in the Navy.
There is a social reason for this. Naval pensioners tend to congregate and retire in the dockyard cities, and in those naval areas they are brought in their daily lives into the situation where the widow of a man who left the Navy just after 1st September, 1950, gets a pension and the widow whose husband left the Navy before that date does not. This causes considerable social tension, and many of us think that it is an injustice.
When I was Minister it was agreed that this question should be looked at at the next review of pensions. That review is now taking place, and I am wondering whether the Minister will say that he can make a concession there. In answering a recent debate in the House the Minister used figures which seemed to predict that the cost of the concession would escalate from £2½ million now to £6 million to £8 million at some future date. I hope that he will reveal the basis upon which that calculation was made because it has caused a great deal of concern.
Another small but important matter which I wish to raise concerns naval archaeology. Again, I have been in correspondence with the Minister. The most pressing case is the King Charles II yacht "Mary" lying off Anglesey. I am well aware of local feelings, and no one has any wish to stifle local initiative and Welsh national feeling, but the nation as a whole must accept that a yacht of such rarity and antiquity is a national heritage. We would not dream of allowing just anyone to explore an ancient archaeological site on land, and it is not logical to allow completely uncontrolled exploration—and, I dare say, exploitation—of such a valuable archaeological relic off our shores.
The Ministry has recently refused to give an exclusive contract, which is completely within its power. Such a contract could be given to someone who would undertake not even to explore the project until legislation has come before the House. The danger is that in waiting for legislation the archaeological merit of this wreck may be ruined. It would be possible for someone who was given exclusive right to exercise through the civil courts restraining influence on other people.
The Ministry should look at this. I have looked at it with some care and I understand local feelings, but this is a national matter. I and many hon. Members saw what happened in the Scilly Islands and we do not want a repeat of that. I know the Minister is sympathetic, but the time is coming for action and I hope that he will take action as soon as he can.
The recent events in Malta have probably affected the Navy and the Marines more than any other section of the Armed Forces. I do not under-estimate the difficulties of the negotiations which were undertaken, although I have been critical of the Government's attitude in the early months of negotiation. The Government were slow to realise the potential of using the combined power of N.A.T.O. and the reasonable case that N.A.T.O. should make a contribution. I do not think that anyone would deny that Secretary-General Luns has played an important part in achieving a settlement, for which we are all very grateful. The House should be told the cost to the Government of this delay. It must be an expensive business to take out the installa- tions and to fly Service men back home, let alone the inconvenience of putting them all back. To judge the success of the negotiations we need to see it against the yardstick of the overall cost.
The Minister has dealt with personnel policy, and he is right to pay great attention to the conditions under which Naval personnel live, particularly ashore. We all know that there are limits to what can be done afloat, although I welcome all the changes of design to make life more comfortable on board ship. To civilianise the Navy ashore would not, as some admirals fear, destroy morale and undermine discipline but would make the Navy an extremely attractive career for a young person today.
I hope that in the reforms and changes he is making the Minister will not be put off by the persistent argument which is heard from the old salts that they will make the Navy not what it was". The Navy is not what it was. It does not now have to rely on press-gang labour. We live in a very different climate, and the Navy has made rapid changes over the last few years to its ultimate benefit, as is shown by the recruitment figures.
I will end on a personal note. For four years I have taken part in Navy Estimates debates, for two years with responsibility from the Government Bench and for two years with licensed irresponsibility from the Opposition Front Bench. No one who has had the interests of the Navy at heart for a sustained period leaves it without a strong sense of affection for all that it has done. Although I have today been extremely critical, it is because one stands not too long in one area in political life and it may be some time before I speak again from this Bench. It behoves the Navy to look seriously at the questions which have been raised. This is not nit-picking criticism but fundamental criticism of the way the Navy is going in the 1980s and 1990s. It behoves the Navy to put up better answers and to undertake more fundamental scrutiny than hitherto.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) has spoken with the advantage of fairly recent ministerial experience. I have been taking part in similar debates for the last 20 years and I am terribly out of date. Had it not been for my recent visit to Washington and SACLANT headquarters at Norfolk, Virginia, I might have hesitated to intervene today. I was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman laying down that the Navy Board is not infallible. None of us can be infallible in defence questions and it is our duty on these occasions to query many of our premises because it is one of the most difficult tasks to anticipate what will happen in a future war or crisis.
The hon. Member for Sutton spoke of the Royal Dockyards as though the idea of modernising them was a new discovery of the Labour Government, but that is not so; modernisation has been going on for many years. I hope that the more recent results are increasingly successful—more successful than in the early days.
The hon. Gentleman went on to say that the Navy Board sits in a room in which the way the wind is blowing is constantly indicated. I thought he was beginning to tread on dangerous ground because I imagine the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition does very much the same thing; he also seems to be susceptible to the way in which the wind is blowing.
The White Paper this year in terms of the Navy is not as satisfactory as one might have expected. The references to the Royal Navy are rather scrappy and run only to about three pages. Personally I should like to have seen much more information on this topic than one can obtain from the White Paper.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State admitted the importance of considering the increase in the Soviet Navy. There is no doubt that the most significant thing in defence matters lies in the increase in numbers and power of the Soviet Navy.
When we look at the situation from a broad point of view, we are entitled to ask two questions. First, why is the Soviet Union taking to the sea and devoting such tremendous resources and manpower to this end? Secondly, are we doing our part to match this activity? We can expect to do this only in conjunction with our allies, but this calls in question the whole shape of the fleet and leads us to pose the kind of ques- tions which the hon. Member for Sutton was rightly posing to the House.
The fact remains that the Soviet Union, which at one time had virtually four fleets is now in a position of having one very large fleet. The significance of such a fact might be considerably enhanced if the Suez Canal were to be reopened. This is a prospect which I feel would not be in the interests of this country, although it would be very much in the interests of the Soviet Union. I would go further and ask whether in the long run the victory of India over Pakistan may not turn out to be a victory for the Soviet Union in terms of the possibilities which it opens up. I cannot help recalling that the dockyard at Bombay is by far the best in that part of the world over an area of many thousands of miles.
We must look at the philosophy of the Soviet expansion. In the early days of the Sverdlovsk class of cruiser people wondered whether it was a mistake and whether it was a policy of Khrushchev which would be reversed. Then we saw the build up of the Mediterranean Fleet, no doubt because of the vulnerability of the Soviet Union from the South.
We now have to explain many other aspects of the situation. We now see a large fleet being maintained in the Black Sea, the doubling of naval activity in and out of the Baltic and further activity in the Northern Atlantic. This activity is extremely significant. Perhaps the hon. Member for Sutton was right to say that the most significant matter to be borne in mind was the number of attack submarines in the Soviet Fleet. I would be less certain about that aspect. Many commentators put down that sort of activity to the Cuban crisis and there is no doubt that the Soviet Union learned a lesson on that occasion. Undoubtedly, the Russians have seen the ease with which Soviet influence can be spread round the world by an increase in their fleet.
Other commentators maintain that this activity can be put down to an oil shortage in the Soviet Union and to the fact that Russian eyes are fixed on the oilfields of the Middle East. Yet other commentators argue that this is part of the policy of confronting China, and it is impossible to escape the conclusion that the rivalry between the Soviet Union and China has come to stay.
In the light of such a tremendous build-up of sea power, there are distinct limitations for N.A.T.O. and SACLANT. Furthermore, there is in the United States a disenchantment over defence. Nobody can go to the United States today without being struck by this fact, particularly as a result of the Vietnam war.
We must also remember what a small fleet SACLANT is given. We read in the White Paper that Great Britain's contribution is only a frigate and a guided missile destroyer in turn—not a generous contribution from this country, and it certainly does not seem very generous to those on the spot.
But ships earmarked in future are not the same as having ships under one's own. control.
A further feature of the difficulties in the way of SACLANT and N.A.T.O. are the sea boundaries of their area. It must be remembered that the area of the Cape, around which 40 per cent. of the oil comes to Europe passes, is outside the boundaries and therefore is not the responsibility of the N.A.T.O. command. This is a complication in the present state of affairs when Soviet ships and submarines—including, I imagine, nuclear submarines—are in the area.
This brings me to the important question of the Soviet submarine threat. This should be taken extremely seriously, and I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State did not have more to say about this matter. As I understand the situation, the Russians now have some 90 nuclear-powered submarines. When it is remembered that at the height of the Second World War there were only 10 German submarines operational at any one moment, this shows the size of the threat which exists. I am glad that the eleventh hunter-killer or attack submarine is to be ordered. This is none too soon.
I did not like the figures which were given by the hon. Member for Sutton. showing the increasing concentration of surface vessels as opposed to submarines. It is no secret that the concentration of the United States Navy on nuclear submarines and on Polaris was due to pressure, not entirely from within the United States Navy, but from outside it—and from politicians as well. This is a useful lesson to hon. Members in this House that we must look at these matters in the broadest possible way.
This brings me to the question of the S.S.M. threat. It is impossible for anybody interested in naval affairs not to have been impressed by what happened to the Israeli destroyer and the ease with which it was sunk by an S.S.M. Although it is difficult to know the exact strength of the Russians in this weapon, it must be assumed to be considerable.
We have been told over and over again that the answer to this weapon is air power, particularly that which is carrier-borne. But at a moment when we seem to be phasing out our carriers finally and relying on other people's carriers which are diminishing in numbers, this leads one to wonder whether there might be circumstances in confined waters where the S.S.M. threat would be very serious indeed.
It is curious that we should be phasing out our Fleet Air Arm and our carriers at the very moment when we hear strong rumours that the Soviet Union is building her first aircraft carrier for fixed-wing aircraft. I do not know whether this is correct, but there are many such rumours.
When we look at some of the other modern ships in the Soviet Navy, we see that the Krista class of cruiser carries no fewer than two twin missile launchers. There is probably a lesson to be drawn from this fact. I wonder whether these missiles or one pair of them are S.S.Ms. and what is their range.
I believe that this increase in the Soviet fleet poses a new psychological threat for us. It increases enormously the mobility of the Soviet Navy. It can influence and intervene in local situations in a way in which it could not do before. This brings up once again the question of the protection of our merchant fleet, happily larger than it has been ever before, partly because of the huge tonnage of some ships. But this country still needs her supplies and, in conjunction with her Allies, it is essential to protect the raw materials and food coming to this country.
It is very easy to foresee pressure on this merchant navy short of war which would be very difficult to meet or resist at present with the kind of fleet that we have and the kind of fleet that our Allies have. Already we have seen this expansion of the Soviet Navy brought to a stage where Norway and our northern flank is almost squeezed out. If that were to happen, it would be serious strategically from the point of view of the defence of the whole of the North Atlantic.
I wish to make one final point about manpower. We all recognise the difficulties of recruiting. I am not certain that the Government are setting about improving it in the right way. When we read that there are only 63,500 male C.P.O.s, P.O.s and ratings in the Navy today, to those of us who were used to the old scale of Navy it seems a very small number. Only a fortnight ago, I was in Kiel in Germany at the christening ceremony of a container ship of 57,000 tons, a speed of 30 knots and with only 37 officers and men in the crew. In civil life we are used to economising in manpower but in the Royal Navy and in many other navies the number of officers and men serving in ships is very large. I believe that the time has come to see whether numbers cannot be reduced.
We have this problem of making life pleasant in a mess deck. In Norfolk, Virginia, I went through the mess decks of an American destroyer. I was pleased to see that they were no better and probably worse than in a lot of our ships. I hope that there will be another look at the size of ships' companies in modern ships, however complicated. I hope, too, that there will be another look at the officer/rating ratio which has tended to rise over the years.
Although we all realise the restrictions on the Fleet in terms of money and manpower, I think that we must exercise eternal vigilance to see that the shape of the Fleet is correct, especially in changing times like the present when there is a new challenge to us from a completely new sea power which has built some excellent ships rather different from our own, with good weapons systems and new ideas. It takes so long to build a ship. It is essential to look ahead and to ensure that the proportions are correct within our limitations and those of our Allies.
The White Paper leaves a few doubts in one's mind on some of these points—torpedoes, S.S.Ms., aircraft and submarines as well. When my hon. Friend produces the Estimates next year, I hope that he will be able to enlighten us more on each of these four questions.
I was glad to hear the Undersecretary speak as he did about the late Jock Hughes-Hallett. His words of respect and admiration for that remark-able character certainly will be echoed from this side of the House. The fact that Admiral Hughes-Hallett thought that we were not giving enough deep consideration to the affairs of the Royal Navy nowadays will not, I hope, lead anyone to bring back what we used to call "the fourth day", which, in my opinion, was a total shambles. Equally, I hope that the murmurs that one hears nowadays to the effect that this House is spending too much time on defence will be ignored. These individual debates on the Service Estimates as well as the defence debates themselves give us a chance that we do not always take of asking detailed questions and of going into the wider aspects of strategy. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) did that very effectively in his speech today.
The purposes for which the Royal Navy exists sometimes get obscured. Certainly its stated purposes get out of date. At present they appear to be first the main source of the nuclear deterrent. Like everyone else. I hope that that deterrent will never have to be used, though I heard a comedian say the other day that the next war would have to be nuclear because the present-day British public would not do without television for more than two days.
However, the Royal Navy is our main armament in any possible deterrent. It would also have a major rôle were a conventional wax ever to develop. It would have a major rôle in conjunction with N.A.T.O., on which I wish to say a few words in a moment. It would have a major rôle in the prevention of the invasion of this country. It has a rôle still as a back-up for friendly countries which may find themselves being pushed around by others—countries in Africa perhaps. It has a minor though very important rôle in fishery protection. Despite assurances given by the Minister last year, I am still doubtful whether our ships are adequate to the work that the Navy has to do in that connection. Finally, it has the traditional rôle in peace-time that it has played so effectively in terms of rescue operations against natural and other disasters.
The hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) and I are veterans in these debates. It is more than a quarter of a century since I first spoke in a Navy Estimates debate, and I feel that this must be positively my last farewell appearance. Both the hon. Member for Dorset, West and my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton questioned whether the ships that the Royal Navy has today or has in prospect are fully satisfactory to the tasks that the Royal Navy might have to perform. I am afraid that I agree with them. I will not go on and on about submarines. We build beautiful boats; there is no question about that. But the weaponry for them has been grossly inadequate for at least a quarter of a century, and it is time that we looked at the weaponry and also at the quantities of submarines that we are building. I do not think that we are spending anything like enough of our resources on the underwater battle.
I hesitate to mention carriers for fear of stirring up the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles). I feel that we failed in carrier policy in years gone by because we tried to become too large and too complicated. The war-time Woolworth carrier probably was a much better job than anything that we contemplated in the 1960s. The large carrier was very vulnerable, not only from enemy weapons but especially from the sea. In that connection, I wish to ask a specific question about "Ark Royal". Just how extensive was the damage to the "Ark Royal" on her latest trip back across the Atlantic, how long will she be out of service, and what roughly will be the cost of repairs?
My main criticism of the type of ships we seem to be building at present is that they are far too sophisticated. The G.M.D.'s County Class are beautiful ships full of highly sensitive equipment, but I have a nasty feeling that one very good thump would put that ship or any County class destroyer out of action or make it extremely difficult for the ship's company to continue fighting. This sophistication is not only costly but wasteful. Surely the Navy needs speed and ruggedness in most of the tasks which it is likely to have to perform. Time after time in years gone by Bath or elsewhere has started off with a design which seems just right, quite simple, allowing for great speed, 40 knots plus, and then, as the design proceeds and the development goes on, further refinements and improvements are put into the design until the speed is hopelessly cut, the weight is up, and the cost is astronomical.
We need Navy Ministers, First Sea Lords and Controllers in the future who will be more strong minded than some of their predecessors—strong minded to the point of saying "Thus far and no further. This is the design. There will not be another new nut or bolt on it without the full authorisation of the Admiralty Board."
I plead for speed, ruggedness and simplicity in much greater quantities than we are getting from the present or projected mix in the Royal Navy.
The same goes for weaponry. If we have a guided weapon, what we want it to do is to hit the target. There is no need for it to play "God save the Queen" when it has done so. Make it do its job, but do not try to develop it to exotic refinements as we do so often.
I referred last year, and I have been referring for some time, to the question of small, fast patrol boats and the rôle that hovercraft could play in that sphere. We do not seem to be going very far with hovercraft. They seem a natural for certain jobs: for landing over beaches which are mined, for fast coastguard work, for immediate protection in narrow waters, and so on. I should like to hear from the Minister, when he winds up, how far we have gone with our thoughts on the use of hovercraft in the Royal Navy.
I do not think the incident to which my hon. Friend is referring is a real danger to the future of hovercraft. Since the hovercraft was invented only one other similar incident has occurred, making two in all in the whole history of the hovercraft. The number of times conventional ships have been swamped during that period is very much higher. That most unhappy incident really should not stop us considering hovercraft for naval purposes.
Another point, apart from going more simple in future than we have in the past, concerns collaboration with N.A.T.O. I see in the Defence White Paper that we refer to this matter, but in rather general terms:
Britain has taken a leading part in the activities of the Eurogroup…including its specialised sub-groups which are exploring the possibilities of closer European co-operation in logistics
and so on.
This seems terribly general. The Navy's major rôle in any future war will be in co-operation with N.A.T.O. Co-operation between us and N.A.T.O. ought to be very much closer than seems to be contemplated in the White Paper. I believe that we ought now to be having joint work on designs. We should not start a new design of ship without the fullest consultation with N.A.T.O. and its navies. The same applies to weapons: total collaboration, sharing in the design, agreeing on designs, and sharing in the cost.
Efforts were being made about four or five years ago with the Dutch Navy, in conjunction with the sale of Sea Dart, to get what would virtually have amounted to integration between the two navies, to have joint training as well as joint designs of ships, joint operations, and so on. I do not know how far that has developed in recent years, but this sort of thing ought to be applied to all the N.A.T.O. navies.
The Royal Navy has been and still is a great Service. We cannot now dominate the seas as we used to do. However, provided that we can have complete co-operation with the other N.A.T.O. navies, as I suggest, I am certain that in future, as in the past, this great Service will be able to make a major contribution to protecting these islands and to preserving the peace of the world.
I am very happy to follow the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) with his detailed knowledge of the Navy—whichhe has seen from both sides of the footlights, so to speak. I very much agree with many of the points he made. I know that he will forgive me if I do not follow him on those points now as I have some explaining to do about the attack which I made on the Government in the recent defence debate.
I felt then, and still feel, that the Army is very overstretched and has a tremendous task on its hands in Ulster; that the Royal Air Force hardly has a fig leaf to cover its nakedness; and that the Royal Navy, apart from being the subject of today's debate, is the Service in which the shortages are most glaring.
I fully agree that conventional armaments are by no means the highest priority for a Government which have a great many difficulties to deal with. I do not specifically blame the Secretary of State or his Ministers. They have done a lot for the Royal Navy by ordering additional naval construction: they have had a resounding success over Malta, where they were in a very difficult cleft stick: the A.N.Z.U.K. arrangements in the Far East are admirable.
Perhaps most important of all, their attitude towards the Services generally has done marvels for recruiting, as we have heard today. The freedom of choice, the "notice scheme", is admirable, and I am by no means reactionary about it. In view of the "notice scheme", I should like to ask the Minister whether he has done any further work within the Ministry about keeping in touch with Servicemen who have left the Service fairly recently. This is something which the Dutch Navy does. It writes to men a year or two after they have left the Service and says, "How are you getting on, chum? How are you settling down in civil life? Would you like to have another spell of service?" With shorter engagements it might be even more useful to adopt a similar scheme ourselves.
We must face the fact that all three Services, and specifically the Royal Navy, have been cut to beyond the prudent minimum. Like many things, this is an inheritance from the Labour years, and there is a lot of leeway to be made up. But that is no excuse for turning a blind eye to the real needs of national defence, and today I speak more in hope than in anger—in the hope that the Government can be persuaded to increase the funds allocated to the Royal Navy. It is no good twisting and turning within what the Minister calls his constraints. We must have more money if we are to produce an adequate Navy.
These Service debates tend to be happy hunting grounds for armchair critics and those who want to enthuse about weapon systems of their choice or eulogise about a particular regiment. Instead of trying to teach the three Service boards how to suck their eggs, Parliament should be doing three things. First, it should be discussing the broad strategic needs in a national and international context. Secondly, it should be monitoring the pay and conditions of Service personnel. Thirdly, it should be assessing whether defence has a big enough share of the national cake. Normally, a Conservative Opposition will complain because the defence effort is too small, and a Labour Opposition will complain because it is too large. On this difference between the parties, any sensible person wishes to see disarmament, but here again the divide is between those, normally on the benches opposite, who want to put disarmament before détente, and those who wish to see credible evidence of détente before indulging in disarmament.
There is a lot of talk of détente in the air, and one has only to pass the ticker tape today to see that the Americans, the Russians and ourselves have signed an agreement to outlaw biological warfare. That is fine, but the timing is peculiar. It coincides with a tremendous attack on American positions in Vietnam, and the Russians hands are not clean in this respect. In addition, there was the recent case of Sub-Lt. Bingham and the Russian Embassy's part in trying to subvert our officers. Incidents of that sort are clues to the intentions of the Russians, and we cannot assume that all is sweetness and light.
One aspect of policy affecting the Royal Navy which I want to ventilate is that of the protection of trade. We cannot provide full-scale defence for our world-wide trade without the assistance of our allies. That is fundamental. On the other hand, the protection of trade is of equal importance to all the nations of the free world, and specifically Britain has promised over and over again to make the E.E.C. an outward-looking organisation. Often we have heard the Prime Minister saying from the Dispatch Box that Britain will make the E.E.C. an outward-looking and not an inward-looking organisation.
I should like to quote from the Economist of 8th January, which I am sure the Minister has seen, but if not perhaps I may hand him a copy of it. Under the heading "The Unending War" it says:
If Mr. Heath and M. Pompidou and Herr Brandt mean what they say, when they talk about taking some of the burden off the Americans' backs, they will have to include sea power, especially the submarine sort, on their list of things they have to tackle. There is something not quite serious about a Europe that talks of unity but does not take the main responsibility for the sea and air around itself.
The punch line is in the last paragraph of that excellent article, which concentrates on the importance of trade protection.
I feel that there are many circumstances in which our trade will need to be protected. The hundreds of tankers going in and out of the Gulf as often as not pass within hailing distance of one of the 140 Russian ships which, according to the Secretary of State's own figures, are deployed in the Indian Ocean. A similar situation applies on the Cape route, and perhaps I may pass the Minister another little tribute, in the shape of a map showing the tremendous gap in our ability to protect our trade after the carriers have gone. The map emphasises how unhappy I am about the Government's policy over the sale of frigates and maritime aircraft to South Africa.
The conditions generally in which our trade needs protection are fourfold. First, against nuclear threats we can provide only a nuclear deterrent. This is very well done by the Polaris force. Perhaps when the Minister replies he will say something about the Government's attitude to the replacement of Polaris by Poseidon?
Secondly, in a declared conventional war our forces, at their present size, would be unable to make a respectable contribution to any alliance against an enemy which has 400 U-boats at sea, and is building new nuclears at the rate of one a month.
It is in the third, and much more probable, scenario of confrontation below the threshold of declared war that we need a greatly increased reconnaissance and surveillance ability, and here I agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East.
In the fourth and last scenario, the rivalry for political influence, which is the one that we face every day of the week, the map in the Defence White Paper puts the best possible gloss on what is really a thin performance by the British Armed Forces. I am referring to the map showing their deployment around the world.
Faced with these alternative situations, the Navy Board is concentrating its efforts on frigates. They are perhaps the finest anti-submarine ships in the world. But, in my submission, the great shortage is of seaborne aircraft and ships to carry them. Perhaps the greatest asset of sea-borne aircraft is that they can make an effective contribution to the prevention of war, whereas submarines, torpedoes and guided missiles can be used only for starting or for continuing hostilities, and when one is trying to persuade a democratic electorate to provide money for defence the point about the prevention of war cannot be over-emphasised.
What is required are ships of a new type to carry jump-jets and anti-submarine helicopters. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) spoke about anti-submarine warfare. I agree with him about that, but one cannot leave it there. He said that the new nuclears would be fast and would be able to run away from any surface ship, but that argues the case for ships to carry jump jets and anti-submarine helicopters, because using an anti-submarine helicopter is the only way to keep track of nuclear submarines.
That is true, and I paid tribute to the effectiveness of the Sea King, but this can protect the cruiser. The cruiser will have Sea King helicopters, both to protect itself, being a large and vulnerable ship, and to search out submarines. It is important that they are able to keep up with the pace of submarines and the newer technology of submarines which, if firing missiles, could do so 10 or 15 miles away from a ship. It would not need to come within torpedo distance. That is something that has to be considered in the future.
The hon. Member has made my case for the helicopter—to search out at longer range and higher speed to protect our merchant shipping, as well as the aircraft carrier itself, from these nuclear submarines.
I gather that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is dealing with what he regards as the most likely event; that is, the threshold before either conventional or nuclear war. Does he really think that one can have a submarine blockade attacking shipping generally at sea and remain below that threshold?
With the utmost respect, it was not I who promulgated the idea of submarine blockade but the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton. It was not a concept that appealed to me and I would not attempt to explain it. Perhaps the hon. and learned Member would discuss it with his hon. Friend later on.
Until these cheaper and less sophisticated aircraft carriers have been designed and built there is no option except to keep our two remaining aircraft carriers, the "Ark Royal" and "Eagle". It is this aspect of trade protection which has been underlying my campaign about H.M.S. "Eagle".
I apologise, belatedly, to the Minister for some words of mine in the defence debate to which he took exception. I have heard and read very carefully the arguments which he, the Naval Staff and the Secretary of State have deployed against retaining H.M.S. "Eagle". I understand them fully; they are technical ones which we need not rehearse again. I congratulate the Government on at least keeping H.M.S. "Eagle" in unmaintained reserve and deciding not to scrap her for the moment. However, I know how quickly a ship deteriorates in the unmaintained reserve.
A letter in The Times summed up this this matter very well:
This reprieve—for such it is, although Lord Carrington sounded rather less than enthusiastic about it—will allow time for further attempts to make the Government understand the importance of adequate protection for our trade routes.
I naturally agree with that, because I am the chap who wrote the letter.
On taking office, the Secretary of State said in a signal to the Fleet that he was
considering the implication of some continuance of naval fixed wing flying to fill the gap in our naval capability…brought about by the precipitate decision of the previous administration to phase out the aircraft carriers before providing effective weapons for their replacement.
It is this gap which the Secretary of State correctly identified but has done nothing to fill: it is this gap which worries me and constitutes the main argument against scrapping H.M.S. "Eagle": and it is this gap which the Naval Staff claim will be filled by the through-deck cruisers.
Yes—one. What is the good of that?
But the through-deck cruisers cannot be ready for five years or more. In the meantime, if the Navy scrapes along without any organic air at sea it will never make the case for getting it back again in five years' time. Once one shows that one can exist for five years without any air at sea, people will say "Why do you want it again now?" If this happens, the Royal Navy will indeed have reduced itself to the status of a coastal defence force.
I am not arguing for one Service against another. Although I deplore the end of fixed-wing flying in the Fleet Air Arm, I do not mind whether the jump-jets are flown by dark blue or light blue pilots. The essential point is that the Navy must have air power available to it on the spot and on the dot. The last paragraph of Mr. Chapman Pincher's article about Soviet submarines carrying these large long-range Shaddock missiles emphasises that. Perhaps, as my final gift to the Minister, I can hand him that article as well.
Air support from ashore for the Fleet or for our merchant convoys will, with the best will in the world, always be too late. I hope that the Minister will answer this essential point about the gap. As an old naval aviator himself, I hope he understands what I am driving at?
It will not be sufficient for the Minister to say that the Naval Staff have advised him that they cannot provide sea-borne aircraft within the naval budget. If they have said so, it is his duty as Minister to get the budget increased. Has he tried and failed to get it increased for this purpose, or has he not tried?
It is not fair for politicians to hide behind the skirts of the Naval Staff in such a matter. The Naval Staff are starved of funds. It is the job of the admirals to be ready to fight the war if the politicians have failed in their task of preventing it. This is why the admirals will always argue for missiles and submarines. But the Minister must take what the Naval Staff say with a large pinch of salt, if only because the admirals on the Navy Board are cocooned in the certainty of their own infallibility. How can they be otherwise? After all, for the last 20 years no one has ever said anything to them but "Aye, aye, sir".
There are two broad areas affecting the Navy Estimates in which drastic rethinking is called for. The first is the vast expenditure charged to Navy funds, which should more properly be charged to social security. It is admirable that such large and effective provision has been made for naval welfare in married quarters, service schools and so on, but certainly large items of housing and education would have to be provided for those families whether or not their husbands and fathers were in the Royal Navy. It is therefore arguable that provision under these heads should be made not through naval funds at all but in the same way as is done for any civilians.
The welfare and personal services organisation is fairly top-heavy. Annex D of the White Paper shows that no fewer than 10,300 civilian personnel are employed in family and personal services in the United Kingdom, plus another 7,300 military personnel. So nearly 18,000 people are, apparently, solely engaged on family and personal services. That is a very large proportion of the total Service manpower. Perhaps the Minister could comment on whether or not this is top-heavy?
The age-old quantity versus quality balance has been tilted too far towards quality. All Departments in the Ministry of Defence stake their claim for their little bit of perfection, and the end result, after enormous expenditure of time and effort, is a finalised staff requirement so complicated that the whole picture is distorted. Sophistication in the name of progress becomes the enemy of progress.
As an example, the Navy seems determined to develop still further the idea of the jump-jet to increase its performance, instead of using it substantially as it is to fill the gap and cracking on with it really hard, so as to get some export orders. We have had a winner here for 10 years, but successive Governments have been slow in developing this marvellous concept.
The new through-deck cruisers, if and when we get them, will have immensely elaborate systems of automatic control to enable them to steam through clouds of fall-out and so on. It would be far more use to have a couple of quick and easy escort carriers built to merchant ship standards, which could be used now to keep track of Soviet submarines, to exercise with our allies and to maintain some naval influence in those parts of the world where the White Ensign is nowadays so rarely seen.
To sum up, I want greater emphasis on trade protection, more ships for the Royal Navy, and more evidence that the Navy will not be required to operate without air power in peace or in war.
It is always refreshing to listen to the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles), whether or not one entirely endorses everything he says. He brings to the debate a degree of experience which must be almost unrivalled, a degree of commitment which we all respect and a freshness of style which is excellent in these annual debates.
I was particularly struck by what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said about the need for flexibility in our naval operations and for sea-borne aircraft. I hope that his remarks will be treated seriously by the Minister.
It might be apposite if, in this context, I referred to some remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) because, as a complete layman in these matters, when visiting ships in the naval dockyard in my constituency the same thought as my hon. Friend voiced has occurred to me; that if we claim, on the one hand, that our small Navy has more punch now than it has ever had because of its sophistication, then we must recognise, on the other, that our potential enemies are probably in the same position.
I therefore find myself asking what one hit on one of these vessels would do to its capability and usefulness. It is clear therefore, coupling what my hon. Friend said with what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, that there is need for greater flexibility and variety in our approach.
Coming to the general strategy of naval policy, I am somewhat intrigued by the degree of ambiguity which surrounds the Government's policy towards the Indian Ocean. Not long ago we were told that the threat in the Indian Ocean was so great that we must collaborate closely with South Africa and be prepared to see an end of the new Commonwealth. Yet when we come to debate the Navy at this stage, hardly any arguments are advanced in favour of such a policy.
It would be helpful if the Minister would be more candid about the latest position of the Government in this connection. My fear, which I have voiced in defence and foreign affairs debates, and the most effective criticism of the Government's present policy towards the Indian Ocean and South Africa is that that policy is provoking what the Government want to prevent. By insisting on a closer degree of collaboration with the Republic of South Africa—closer than the United States feels is necessary—we are playing into the hands of those political forces which want to extend Communist influence in the Indian Ocean area and on the African mainland.
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that by failing to live up to our alliance commitments we could be equally damaging to the new Commonwealth? Consider, for example, the attack by India on Pakistan, to which we were allied through S.E.A.T.O. and C.E.N.T.O. Pakistan left the Commonwealth, yet Bangladesh has not acceded because the new African Commonwealth countries would not allow it so to do.
I would be happy to pursue that matter on a future occasion. We must be careful not to become prisoners of defence pacts simply because they are there. We must always be measuring their relevance in terms of political and foreign policy objectives.
When we consider the whole issue of the Indian Ocean area and the African Continent and our approach in naval policy to those parts of the world, we must accept that the position is complex and in many respects extraordinary. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the men of the Service who have faithfully taken part in the Beira Patrol.
However, I cannot help feeling that from time to time they must scratch their heads in perplexity in an effort to understand why they are carrying out that difficult assignment while we are taking every opportunity in other spheres of policy to embrace Portugal as warmly as possible and are insisting that that country is indispensable to our military obligations, a thesis which I regard as highly questionable.
Looking at overall naval strategy, particularly from the point of view of any future responsibilities of the Navy, I would be interested to hear, if not tonight then on another occasion, what Government thinking is about the feasibility on an international basis of giving more policing responsibilities to our naval forces.
For example, would it be possible for the Navy to police busy areas of sea traffic such as the Channel or Solent, where there have been immense risks in recent years and where the Navy might be able to make an important contribution? Might it be possible for the Navy to police international policy—I hope that we shall achieve such policy—on pollution of the oceans and the dumping—containerised and free dumping—of chemicals, radio-active waste and other toxic materials, which in the end may prove as great a threat to humanity as any future war with which we might be faced?
The Minister spoke at length about welfare in the Service. As the representative of a naval constituency, I congratulate him on what he said about priorities in improving welfare in the Navy and wish Sir Frederic Seebohm and his colleagues well in their important task. Service life imposes considerable strains on families. While there have been great advances in dealing with these problems, a recent visit which I made to one of our most important psychiatric hospitals in the Portsmouth area brought home to me that there are still serious difficulties which we must take on board, and perhaps these are more acute in the Navy than in the other Services.
I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) about the pensions of non-commissioned men who retired before 1st September, 1950. In the context of an economic situation in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently told us that he had been able to give away considerable sums of money, it would be deplorable if we continued to overlook what I regard as a grave injustice for this small and declining section of the population.
This issue was very well summarised in a concise and clear paper recently prepared by the Armed Forces Pensioners' Association; this paragraph from it put the case beyond doubt:
The case for the widows can be stated very simply. Forces' family pensions are based on long service their husbands gave in the Armed Forces of the Crown. They are not contributory pensions except in the sense of service. In this respect the service given by the older pensioners was a least equal to that given by those who retired more recently. They all served in one World War, many in two. The conditions of service in long periods of separation from home, harsh discipline, poor pay and living conditions have long since been vastly improved. The widows themselves are the oldest of the Service widows and generally the most needy. In their case the class distinction which the Scheme sought to abolish still persists and those who are forced by poverty to apply for Supplementary Benefit must still subject themselves to a means test, for one reason only—they married men who were born too soon.
I hope the Minister will not follow the style of so many of his predecessors and go into a long unconvincing rigmarole in an effort to justify doing nothing but will
instead seize the opportunity of the economic climate which the Chancellor says exists to do something effective for this section of Service widows.
I was glad to hear the Minister deal with the subject of naval detention quarters. These are situated in my constituency. I commend the considerable improvements which have been introduced, and I am particularly glad to hear of the emphasis on rehabilitation. I wish well to all the Service personnel carrying out very difficult tasks there. A specific question on this aspect of policy concerns the progress made with the proposals put forward at one stage for the establishment of a board of visitors. What is the composition of this board of visitors likely to be? I hope that there would be room for parliamentary representation in the membership of such a board.
The Minister referred to shipbuilding. I should like to talk about the difficulties of the civilian specialist naval shipbuilders. We all know that as a result of Ministry of Defence naval policy in past years there has been a tendency to encourage the development of a few specialist shipbuilders, such as the Vosper Thorne croft group in the Portsmouth-Southampton area. The objective in the development of such groups was that they could meet the limited requirements of the highly sophisticated modern Royal Navy. I am sure that all of us who have constituencies in the area of such groups would endorse what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton about our over-riding responsibility to the areas of highest unemployment at present. We would do nothing but encourage the Government in any action they feel able to take to alleviate the social distress of gross unemployment where that exists.
But, when we say this, we have to recognise the long-term problems we may be creating in the areas of the specialist naval shipbuilders, because if disproportionate assistance in the form of Royal Navy orders goes to industry elsewhere, the specialist shipbuilders may find themselves in grave difficulty. In effect, they may find themselves competing against subsidised firms. This matter has to be watched because it could well result in unemployment developing in these areas, which at present do not have the same degree of high unemployment but do not have the diversity of industry and heavy engineering which most of us would like to see. I should like some reassuring comments from the Minister about how the Government regard this particularly important issue of keeping the balance right. After all, the leaders of the specialist naval shipbuilding industry are always emphasising that the financial results of their operations of the past 10 years have been nothing like as good as some seem to suggest.
Not altogether surprisingly, I should like to speak about the naval dockyards. I do not apologise for doing so. As my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton said, they are among the largest Government industrial undertakings in the country. Obviously, we in the House have a very direct responsibility for them. Therefore, it is right that we should examine them in the context of this debate.
I refer first to shipbuilding. What my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton said about this is absolutely right. There has to be a place for continued construction within the naval dockyards if the maintenance work of the dockyards is to be kept up to scratch. Construction is valuable not only itself—I agree that it may be economically competitive with work done outside—but also because what is learnt through such construction obviously has a technical fall-out value which goes right across all the other activities of the dockyards.
I also endorse some of my hon. Friend's comments about pay and conditions of employment in the yards. It would be intolerable if we saw an extension to the dockyards of the unacceptable policies of the Government, whereby the Government would use this part of the public sector as a means of continuing to put a brake on the economy. Socially it is totally unfair that people carrying out a vital service of this sort to the community should be singled out for specially harsh treatment. A good deal of evidence is already available to indicate that workers in the dockyards are finding it difficult to keep pace with the rapidly rising cost of living.
When we ask Questions about this matter we are inclined to be fobbed off with average pay rates, but these can be tremendously misleading in the context of the yards because, for example, it seems likely that in the Portsmouth dockyard as much as £25,000 in one week is shared between a mere 10 per cent. to 12 per cent. of the labour force. This indicates that some 80 per cent. of the labour force are considerably below the average rates we hear quoted when questioning Ministers. As the time for the review of wage rates arrives, I hope the Government will give the priority due to these key public servants and ensure that the reward they receive is a sound one matched to the quality of their work and the importance of the dockyards.
As for the basic and fringe benefits in the yards, these may not be too dissimilar from those in the engineering industry generally, but when one examines something like the dockyard incentive bonus scheme one finds a considerable amount of resentment amongst the labour force because the scheme does not begin to compare with incentive schemes as they operate in the engineering industry generally. The scheme is too inflexible and the rewards do not offer sufficiently realistic incentive for many workers in the yards. It has a seriously adverse effect on morale. I should like to hear some of the Minister's thinking about how this particular problem can be tackled.
Regarding management organisation within the yards, there have been very impressive steps forward, on which all of us who know the yards would congratulate those involved. But there are still difficulties, and it would be wrong not to face them. The yards are still far too handicapped by so much centralised administrative interference. They are undertaking a very complicated, important and complex industrial task. Todo it effectively needs much more delegated front line management with real powers in the hands of those in the front line of activity in the individual yards. For example, I am concerned that men in my yard are losing confidence in the potential of the productivity policy because they know that local management are not their own masters and are subject to the whims, fancies and prejudices of people at remote distances from the work undertaken in the yards. It would be helpful if the Minister commented on how the productivity arrangements are going forward and how fruitful, for example, is the imaginative scheme of discussion groups about productvity throughout the yards is proving. Some comments on the degree to which the intended clearer lines of demarcation between civilian and Service management are working out would also be a good thing. It would also be helpful and useful to have up-to-date information—my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton referred to this—on the implementation of the modernisation programme.
Another aspect of the management of the yards which should be examined concerns the workload and redundancies. I frequently come across a good deal of scepticism amongst the workers in the yards about ministerial statements claiming full workloads for the yards. But the people who work there just do not see the evidence for these claims. They are also concerned that, even if the full workload is theoretically there, they are being subjected to a greater number of redundancies than expected. They had been expecting to see a decline in the work force through natural wastage but not through redundancies, as we now see them announced.
In this connection people working in the yards frequently bring to my attention their anxieties about the amount of work going out to contract labour and increasingly being undertaken by the Fleet maintenance unit, sometimes in areas where personnel within the yards is being run down at the very same time. It would be helpful for the maintenance of morale and the spirit within the yards generally if the Minister could take the opportunity of this debate or another early occasion to say something convincing about this.
I want to say a few words now about some of the sensitive areas of staff industrial relations in the yards. There has been a good deal of emphasis recently on differing conditions of service for those on the staff side as distinct from those on the industrial side. I hope that the Minister and his Department are watching this carefully. I will give one example of a small thing which can cause disproportionate resentment if not handled properly. Staff in the yards have recently enjoyed a reduction in the number of basic hours expected of them, yet they have to be available to supervise industrial workers for the same number of hours that the industrial workers have to be there. Staff are, therefore, asked to undertake compulsory overtime for this operation. Not unnaturally, the industrial workers see this as an indirect salary increase for the staff which has not been made available to them. This problem, although it may sound small in the context of a debate like this, has caused some sense of grievance in the yards, and I hope that the Minister will examine it.
Another problem results from the tightening up of the qualifications on those working on the staff side in the yards. This affects particularly progress men, estimators and technical grade 3. The problem is that men who have been considered good enough to do the job in terms of their practical experience for many years are suddenly faced with demotion and considerable cuts in earnings. This, too, causes a good deal of resentment.
It is related to a general questioning in the yards about the degree to which perhaps there may be an over-emphasis on theoretical planning, theoretical management and theoretical qualifications as distinct from good down-to-earth practical experience. This problem is particularly accentuated when the men who are being told that they can no longer continue to enjoy the status they previously had because they do not have the theoretical qualifications are nevertheless asked to go on doing the job until those with the theoretical qualifications become available. These men often say to me, "Either we are good enough for the job or we are not. Our employers cannot have it both ways".
In conclusion, I endorse the comment by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton that the last Labour Government were able to take dramatic steps forward in terms of working conditions, pay and modernisation programmes announced for the dockyards. When the time for the review arrives, I hope that this Administration will not allow those great steps forward to go by default through failing to give the same priority to the men who service the Navy and make it possible for it to operate.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd), because the areas we represent face similar problems. I support the hon. Gentleman on the question of incentive schemes and on the question of the very difficult position that draughtsmen face in not knowing into which sections they come. Unfortunately, political pressures on the dockyards are continual, and they are always open to discussion in a debate like this.
The other night in my constituency we had the pleasure of having Mr. Norfolk to dinner. He said this:
I suspect the answer lies in a far greater and deeper involvement in the Dockyard's task by those associated with it; by the Navy as a customer; and by all Dockyards as, so to speak, the suppliers.
What is greatly lacking at the moment are these all-embracing links between the various activities.
I want to add my tribute to those which have been paid to Admiral Hughes-Hallett. When I first entered the House Admiral Hughes-Hallett was the first person to take me in hand and teach me something about the working of the Royal Navy. I was then on the subcommittee of the Conservative Party dealing with naval problems, and he made me come to the House every Tuesday and put me through my paces. I have been very grateful to him. We were all very sorry to hear about the stroke that he suffered some years ago, though he made a marvellous recovery, which perhaps makes us all the sorrier at the realisation that he is now dead.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will convey to my right hon. Friend my gratitude for his having recently visited Devonport and H.M.S. "Drake" to see what is going on there; the new construction is very good.
In the debate we had last year my hon. Friend the Minister said this:
It is essential, in our view, to have the capability with our allies to meet at all levels—and world wide if necessary—any threat to our trade highways.
He took a rather different attitude today.
I should like to know how that undertaking can be carried out when Britain has only six ships covering the whole of the area between Hong Kong and the Indian Ocean taking in the Gulf area as well. I was in Hong Kong recently, and I realise that six ships visited there recently, but that is not the same thing, in that visiting ships may be suddenly called away to other areas.
We have a vast area to cover in peacetime. What would happen in the event of war? We received very little help from our European allies in patrolling the areas, even in peace. It would be impossible for the United Kingdom to patrol them in time of war.
In the same debate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said this:
The strength of the Fleet today comprises over 200 vessels the majority of which are significant fighting units."—[Official Report, 4th May, 1971; Vol. 816, c. 1183–84.]
Today that statement needs qualifying because unless the mine countermeasure force, the coastal minesweepers such as those at present stationed in Hong Kong, are included as "significant fighting units", and unless one includes all ships in reserve or undergoing what are in some cases very long refits, the statement cannot be accurate in view of the statements on pages 56 and 57 of Cmnd. 4891 that the number of significant fighting units, including minesweepers, in service is only about 130. Excluding minesweepers there are only about 90 ships available. The Socialist Government also gave inaccurate figures.
I should prefer to have the exact figures so as to know how the country stands. After all, if Major-General Walker, as I quoted in the last defence debate, can tell us the exact standing of the Russian Navy, surely the House can be told the exact standing of the British Navy. For example, what is happening about the construction of the nuclear submarines? This is a particularly anxious point for me as I represent H.M. Dockyard, Devonport. How are refits progressing with the Polaris submarines? How long are they behind schedule?
I am delighted that the Navy has got in hand the first oceanographic research ship, to be laid down soon—I should like to know what "soon" means—at the Scott-Lithgow Group on the Clyde. I gather that this is the first naval manned vessel designed for this purpose. It is intensely important, particularly in any form of submarine or under-sea warfare. I gather that this vessel will not be ready in any event until about 1975. Will this be the only one of its kind? Will there be others, and at what cost?
There is the question of protection of our fishing fleet. Recently a foreign vessel got away. It is important we should know, particularly if we are to enter the E.E.C., what protection our fishing fleet will receive.
I want also to say something about "bugging" by the Russian Navy submarine. It appears all the more dangerous now that we have only H.M.S. "Ark Royal" to tackle this type of submarine which carries the H-bomb, albeit obsolete now. How will we counteract this? The Minister said in the earlier debate that the first through deck cruiser will not be operational until 1978. What will take the place of these during this period?
What is meant by H.M.S. "Eagle" being de-stored—that is how it is described—and where will this happen? When will it begin? Will it be taken to pieces so that it can never again be used?
As for the Devonport Dockyard, I would like confirmation that £45 million will be spent over the next nine years. This is what I have been told and I would like to know whether it is accurate. At present there is a great shortage of draughtsmen in the dockyard and these are necessary if we are to provide for future work; they are about 120 to 150 short. There is talk about the need to improve industrial efficiency and organisation to deal with the upkeep of our operational fleet, but it is difficult to do this when no one knows whether the jobs of these people are secure. This must be straightened out. What will be the size of the work force in the yard? There is no more loyal or efficient number of men. The cutting down of the numbers is most unfortunate, as this means that the yard is thus handicapped.
We have a high unemployment rate in the area—4·9 per cent.—and it is unfortunate that the Government are prepared to put out work, for example, with H.M.S. "Otter". The reason given is that there are not enough people in the yard, but there cannot be if it is continually being cut down. It is being reduced because the policy of the Government is to have fewer civil servants, but these are civil servants doing a practical job and not pen-pushing like so many. Other Ministers such as those for the social services are increasing the number of civil servants. Cannot the Minister stand up for some of his own people?
I was on H.M.S. "Tiger" recently. How much would it cost to do the work being undertaken there and why is so much being spent? It has practically obsolete engines, and some of the younger men have never seen this type when they have to repair them. I would also like to know something about what is happening to H.M.S. "Blake".
It is essential that the repair yards should be given some new construction. Constant repair of old ships is devastating to morale and it has been proved time and again that the yards are capable of building ships. It is unfortunate that the Government should support inefficient yards, where work is often delayed by strikes, when there are loyal and efficient workers in Her Majesty's dockyards. The Government's first task is to show loyalty to their own civil servants. It is unfair to reduce the number of industrial and non-industrial civil servants who have contributed so much to the peace of the world.
I am sorry that the decision has been made about the 15-year-olds. I know a lot of young men who are not anxious to do this extra year at school and who would do very well in the Royal Navy. I would like to suggest that they be encouraged to join the Naval Cadet Corps because this would give them a good understanding of naval life. What will happen to H.M.S. "Ganges"? Will it be kept for the training of 16-year-olds, as there they can have a first-class training for the Navy with educational advantages not found elsewhere?
Many men would stay in the Royal Navy for 22 years, thus qualifying for pensions, were it not for various family reasons, and I am pleased to hear that the Minister is looking into the welfare of their families. Greater support is needed for the wives and I understand that there is delay in providing the promised community centres. I hope that this matter can be dealt with because they would be great assets. The advantages of Royal Navy life should be stressed to wives, especially in these days of high unemployment. The men receive good pay. Often they can enter a dockyard at the age of 40 and when they retire they can receive three pensions—naval, dockyard and State.
Dealing with recruiting, what is happening about the Maltese? We have had many Maltese in our Services and now that an agreement has been reached with Malta will these people be allowed to rejoin?
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, West mentioned the question of apprentices. I hope that the Government will allow apprentice recruitment to continue. This training has proved to be invaluable. The young men were not bound to go into the dockyards and some have gone to many parts of the world in various careers.
There is reference in the Estimates to the amalgamation of yards and I would like to know whether the Royal Victualling Yard is included.
I support the argument put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) about the widows of Armed Forces pensioners who had not received pensions before 1st September, 1950. I have seen the letters sent to my hon. Friend. The Government reply says:
I am sorry I can see no prospect of giving retrospective entitlement to these widows.
The over-eighties receive pensions for which their husbands did not pay. It is said that many husbands joined knowing that their widows would not receive any pension. However, they did not anticipate the First or Second World War and several served in both world wars. In one street in Devonport there were about 60 widows when H.M.S. "Courageous" went down, and many of these widows are still alive and they could feel very bitter. If we can help the over-eighties I do not think we need worry about repercussions in the public services as a whole, which I gather is one of the arguments, as most of them were in safer jobs. I hope that this will be reconsidered.
I welcome the increase in funds to the Hydrographic Service because this is an important part of the Navy's activities.
My other point concerns evictions of Service families. I hope that this matter will be looked into by the Welfare Committee. When a man leaves the Service he is, quite correctly, required to leave his house. But too many of these cases are left to the last moment. In Plymouth at the moment there are families, with a total of about 50 children, in need of housing accommodation. Surely evictions could be spaced out over a period or better warning could be given to the local authorities.
Following my accident recently, I had the opportunity of going to the Royal Naval Hospital in Devonport for physiotherapy, and I want to pay tribute to the excellent way the hospital treats Service people and civilians. I pay particular tribute to Captain Pugh and his staff for the services they render to the City of Plymouth as a whole.
One of my childhood memories is of H.M.S. "Courageous", the aircraft carrier whose loss the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) recalled. It is shattering to realise that of course there must still be many widows surviving of men who were lost in that ship, and I strongly support the hon. Lady's plea for such widows, who are often concentrated and perhaps have gone a very long time indeed without their husbands.
The Government might reflect that we have had first of all my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen), then the hon. Member for Devonport, then my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) and now myself, from my small constituency interest in Rosyth, all raising the question of whether contracting out to private firms is really the way in which naval construction and other naval work should be conducted. From what has been said in the debate, the Government should reflect on whether the policy should not be changed.
My first point may sound a bit curmudgeonly coming from a Scot in that, heaven knows! Scotland has the most terrible unemployment problem. But in his opening speech there was no question but that the Under-Secretary of State was going for battleships to create employment—echoing the old cry of the 1930s. We understand very well the importance of the employment which will be created on Clydeside by the £86 million programme, but it should be pointed out that to have 33 vessels were 19 were needed—presumably on worked out operational requirements—amounts to a social levy, a social investment. The extra naval programme in effect is social investment.
This may be right or wrong, but if the accelerated naval programme is social investment we are entitled to ask whether it is the right form of social investment and whether it is really sensible necessarily to have warships. It may or may not be sensible, but why bring forward an accelerated programme and why does a naval Minister in a Commons debate make, quite understandably, a virtue of extra employment? Why should we be precluded at the same time from asking two rather different questions?
First, if the object is to give extra work, why do we not consider greater investment in the oceanographic programme? Anyone who went to Brighton knows what extra work could be given by a coherent programme for oceanography. If this country is to have a coherent oceanographic programme, its direction could not be better based, Ministerially and otherwise, than in the Admiralty and the Ministry of Defence. Any coherent oceanographic programme, such as outlined at Brighton by many speakers during the past month, should be conducted on behalf of the nation by the Admiralty, which I am sure would do it very well. This would also have real advantages for recruitment.
Secondly, if it is a question of building ships, at Yarrow's or elsewhere, for social reasons rather than for purely naval operational requirements and military reasons, why not build ship schools, since the present ship schools, such as the "Nevasa" and the "Uganda", are approaching the end of their lives? Something should be done about this aspect. I am not saying that such ships should take priority over naval operational requirements, but when an accelerated programme has been brought about not for naval but for social reasons it is legitimate to ask the Government what is their philosophy in dealing with a major maritime oceanographic programme.
For the first time in my recollection of ten Navy Estimates debates, the Ministerial opening speech did not contain reference to the work of the Hydro-grapher to the Navy. It may be that the Under-Secretary of State wanted to keep his speech quite short, but it is strange that this work was not mentioned.
I want to pay tribute to the authorities and others concerned in converting H.M.S. "Belfast" into a museum. It has been a great success and great honour goes to the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles), whose imaginative scheme it was. Has any consideration been given to making H.M.S. "Eagle" into a museum? I do not have costings, and it might be too expensive an operation, but it is an interesting question. If the "Eagle" is to be maintained and not broken up, we should consider whether it could not be available to the public. These great ironclad carriers, whether we like it or not, are part of maritime history. If H.M.S. "Belfast" has been a success in London, why should not H.M.S. "Eagle" be a success in—it is not up to me to say exactly where—Plymouth, Portsmouth, Rosyth or somewhere else? The success of the "Belfast" has been very much greater than was hoped and if H.M.S. "Eagle" is to be kept we should consider keeping it as a museum.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said about the "Belfast". I learnt this morning that there have so far been 226,000 visitors to her. On the question of saving another ship, I think that perhaps ahead of "Eagle" in the queue is H.M.S. "Cavalier", the last of the big destroyers. I believe that active measures about her are now under way.
I am glad to hear it.
We know that the Seebohm Committee will be reporting within, we hope, 12 months. From constituency experience, I ask it to consider the question of payment of alimony. I have no reason to suppose that Servicemen are better or worse than anyone else, but the Service Ministers must recognise that there is a problem, when separation or divorce has been finalised, of non-payment of alimony. If the Seebohm Committee is going into this matter, there is reason to pay special attention to the non-payment of alimony, or aliment, as we call it in Scotland, in the case of Service families.
I echo the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West about the standard of training in naval yards. The Minister, who is not here, knows all about it. We have been on two delegations in the last 12 months on the question of whether the training at Rosyth should be expanded. It is of high quality and I am still dissatisfied by the whole attitude of the authorities towards the expansion of technical training in Rosyth because it is of such high quality and it should be expanded.
I want finally to raise a major point and then a minor one. The major point, on which there should be some questioning, is really best summed up in a long article by Admiral Sir Ian McGeoch, who was Flag Officer, Scotland. Writing in the New Scientist on 2nd December last, he said:
Neither the £50 million Polaris submarine nor the £30 million high speed nuclear powered attack submarine have any advantage over the small diesel powered smaller submarine.
This modern patrol submarine will be the most cost-effective of all warships.
I am not sure whether I believe the article, but I gently put the question as to what consideration is being given to the cost-effectiveness of the much less expensive non-nuclear patrol submarine. Do such submarines to any extent do the job done by much more expensive nuclear-powered submarines? This is the same argument as we had in the debate on the Royal Air Force, where I am on more certain ground, in relation to sophisticated and less sophisticated aircraft. I put this gently as a question without wishing to be dogmatic about it.
I end with a minor point concerning the whole question of marine archaeology and the views of the Committee for Nautical Archaeology. There has already been a cause célèbre, the case of the "Mary" off the Anglesey coast last summer. A number of amateur marine archaeologists, of whom there are now said to be some 18,000, plundered that wreck. After all the argument about Baynards Castle and the Roman basilica, are we to treat marine archaeology rather differently from land archaeology? There would be a tremendous outcry if a valuable land archaeological site were ravaged and pillaged in that way. Is it to be different in a case of marine archaeology? Do the Government think the Defence Department has a policing rôle here? It may be entirely a matter for the Department of Trade and Industry, but it seems to me that the Defence Department could do something about it, whereas perhaps the Department of Trade and Industry could do very little.
To what extent are the Government worried about marine archaeology? Do they think there is a need for a policy? Should it be implemented by the naval authorities?
I hope the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) will excuse me if I do not follow him along the charted and uncharted highways and byways of oceanography or even embark with him upon an educational cruise, although I point out with some pride that the splendid work that can now be seen aboard the educational cruise ship "Nevasa" was carried out in Falmouth docks, of which the area is very proud.
In my contribution to this far-reaching debate I want to deal with something that may well appear to be almost trivial, among the i's to be dotted and the t's to be crossed and almost a candidate for the waste paper basket, I refer to the rôle of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, which I believe to be vital to the Royal Navy. If the Royal Fleet Auxiliary's back-uprôle is not to be diminished, its ships must be tuned, maintained and refitted to a peak of super-efficiency. When one of its ships enters a yard for a refit, it must be completed within the minimum of contractual time to the highest possible standard, so that when she goes back into service she can continue her full, normal and useful rôle without being in any way an encumbrance upon the branches of the Royal Navy that may have to depend on her, wherever their duties may take them.
It is in respect to the quality of maintenance and repair work for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary that I have several times drawn the attention of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to the important and reliable rôle discharged by Falmouth docks. They have made outstanding strides in improved management techniques and labour relations, leading to a world-recognised hallmark of quality and, until recently, to the stability of employment in a hard-pressed development area. One example of the speed and efficiency of operation is the Royal Fleet Auxiliary "Resurgent", which underwent an extensive refit and despite all difficulties was ready for sea trials a week ahead of her scheduled completion date.
In November, 1970, I drew the attention of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to a widespread belief throughout the ship-repair industry that contracts were not always being awarded strictly on the basis of time-cost tendering but that other criteria were increasingly being applied. My hon. Friend promptly and properly replied that time and cost were paramount in allocating repair and refit work to private yards. He went a step further. At very short notice he agreed to meet representatives of the docks management and myself, and the docks were rewarded within days by the placing of two greatly appreciated contracts. One of them was for a job to occupy an estimated four weeks and the other was for a major refit lasting about three months. This guaranteed full employment at Falmouth docks over what had traditionally been a very slack time of the year for ship repairing. I am not suggesting that there was any question other than that Falmouth was able to provide an extremely competitive tender for the work, both in time and cost.
However, in the period from May to November, 1971, it again seemed throughout the private ship-repairing industry that the awarding of contracts was, despite the lame duck policy, being dictated by reasons other than the prime considerations of cost and time. It was Lloyd's List which drew attention to the situation suspected to be developing. In its issue of 11th November, 1971, under the heading
Poor year for shiprepairers",
Never at any time this year have the ship repair yards been really busy. Their best spell was around the end of July and early August when more than 30 vessels were overhauling in the river.
That was the Tyne.
Recently the average has been around 20 and below.
It has been noticeable in the past few weeks that the Ministry of Defence has been giving the repairers a helping hand. At the beginning of this month, four fleet replenishment tankers and two Army logistic ships were refitting on the river and together they represented about one-quarter of the total work in hand. Was it more than just a coincidence that at a time when Tyne ship-repairing firms have been experiencing a lean spell, there was this influx of Ministry work to the yard?
Management have been crying out for work and the Government seems to have answered their prayers. The naval supply tankers and logistic ships together represented the biggest amount of Ministry repair work on the river at any one time for several years.
Certainly it seems that the Government were providing a very welcome crutch to meet the need of the ship repair industry on the Tyne. I do not take issue with that, other than to query the lameness of that particular duck. For although it was a bad year for ship repairers generally, the Financial Times of 17th November, 1971, was able to report:
Shipbuilders, ship repairers and engineers Swan Hunter Group has returned to profits in the first half of 1971, and the directors expect the level to be maintained during the remainder of the year.
In the circumstances they have declared an interim dividend of 2 per cent. There was no payment at all last year, against 7½ per cent. (including 3½ per cent. interim) in 1969.
The dividend decision is arrived at having due regard to the need to rebuild reserves after the depletions of the last two years.
In the first half, the group made a trading profit of £551,000, compared with a loss of £1·72 million.
I do not take issue with any Government if they see fit to answer the genuine problems of high local unemployment elsewhere with whatever work they can offer, but I must stress that Falmouth must be considered on an equal basis if a social conscience factor is mysteriously and conveniently to be introduced into the basic tendering appraisal of time and cost.
While Lloyd's List and the Financial Times were dwelling at some length on the Swan Hunter Group's good fortune, my friends at Falmouth were doing their homework and they came up with two rather disconcerting discoveries as they went through their books. First, they found that in some respects the yard was subsidising the Government by not receiv- ing a fair return on Government work. Second, they found that the Ministry of Defence was not exactly a pacemaker in the settling of the bill when work had been completed. In August, 1971, the average credit taken by the Government in respect of Falmouth was 38 per cent. greater than that taken by commercial customers, and of £157,000 then owed to the Falmouth yard by the Ministry no less than £80,000 had been oustanding for more than six months.
While Falmouth will always be delighted to have the opportunity to tender for or to be considered for work and, where appropriate, to be awarded a fair share of Ministry contracts, it has a basic right to expect that, if it fully honoursits time and cost undertakings and is prepared to reduce its profits, it will be accorded the same consideration in terms of the offsetting of unemployment as, it is suspected, is accorded to yards elsewhere.
The Falmouth yard does not expect, or even begin to look for, a higher return on Royal Fleet Auxiliary refits than it can command commercially from other owners. But is seems a trifle ironic that a foreign tanker owner is more prepared to pay realistic prices for his work than are Her Majesty's Government in their reasonable expectation of the highest possible qualities of refit and repair.
I hope, therefore, that the Ministry of Defence will always give Falmouth a fair chance of consideration on every aspect of contract criteria, be it the twofold criterion based on time and cost or, if this third dimension is introduced, the criterion of social conscience towards safeguarding the reasonable rights and security of those employed in the ship repairing industry.
If the Government can undertake to give Falmouth that fair consideration, they will have three assurances in return. First, they will be assured that in the standard of work turned out, which is beyond question, the taxpayer will be rewarded with full value for money. Second, they will be guaranteed, as in the past, that ships will be ready on the appointed day and will be reliable for their required service. Third, they will be assured that Falmouth docks will continue to take pride in their responsibilities and obligations to keep safely and usefully at sea the ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, on which the Navy must increasingly rely.
It is now that, with deep regret, I have to draw the Government's attention to a tragedy which has hit the Falmouth dockyard in the last 10 days. An internal industrial dispute has seen the yard's labour force coming down in about two weeks from 1,500 workers to a probable maximum of 200 by the end of the next few days. It would not be right or proper for me at this stage to seek to pontificate or pronounce judgment on the issues in the dispute, but it seems to me that Falmouth docks are now in an almost impossible position as regards tendering for future work while the dispute continues.
This in itself gives rise to a nasty "chicken and egg" situation, for without a guarantee of orders the men who are on the dole cannot be drawn back from the employment exchange, while on the other hand, without being able to operate normally, the dockyard cannot hope to attract sufficient work to justify a step towards full employment.
If, as I believe it will, the dock company shows faith in restoring as much as possible of its labour force before there is work for it to undertake, it could be at risk of creating a dangerous economic vacuum of wage commitment without any guarantee of financial return in orders. Clearly the yard has to be operating as fully and as actively as possible before commercial owners will begin to consider it once more for the placing of contracts.
In this context I issue a strong appeal to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy. I implore him seriously to consider now the possibility of creating a bridging operation with the emergency allocation of Royal Fleet Auxiliary work as urgently as possible to Falmouth docks after the resumption of normal working. Second, I implore him in the allocation of work within this context to proceed with full awareness of social need, bearing in mind that, if the contracts show a minimal upward trend in relation to those competitively entered from other yards, this hurdle can be overcome if the work is assessed not on how much more it is costing his Department but rather on how much it is saving the Treasury, and how much it is easing human misery and suffering by transferring men from the dole queue back to the queue outside the pay office.
Finally, I implore my hon. Friend to do all he can to ensure that, in future, his Department is a little more prompt in paying its bills, because long-term debts will only add to the present problem and make it still more desperate.
I understand that, with the exception of one payment for work on the R.F.A. "Tidepool", which will leave Falmouth tonight, the slate is now completely clean. Reverting for a moment to the record of six months' delay in many cases, however, I cannot but contrast the Department's timetable in the paying of bills with the enlightened attitude of the United States Government, which sent a ship to Falmouth for refit at the end of last year and paid the bill in full within 28 days of the completion of the refit.
Inflation hits us all, but it does not hit all equally. It hits us increasingly over the period of a debt, and it falls unequally, therefore, on those with marginal profits who are already doing all they can to keep their costs down. It hits them far more if they have to wait to get their money and then find its value eroded. Second, it falls unequally, and particularly savagely, on those whose future depends on the ability of their employers to put money promptly into their pay packets. Money for that purpose can come only from the prompt settlement of bills.
I am glad to have an opportunity to intervene, and I apologise to the House for not being here throughout all the debate. I should be interested to follow the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) in some of his analyses of the ship-repairing industry, and I am much tempted to do so, but I realise that I might soon find myself straying out of order.
Some of the hon. Gentleman's strictures regarding Swan Hunter related to the current affairs of that group. With respect, I suggest that if he directed his attention to the previous year's results he would tone down somewhat his remarks about the company's profitability. My recollection is that the group lost about £10 million in the previous year. But it is heartening that, after being in severe difficulties, a company of such magnitude and importance to large areas of the country where regional unemployment is a pressing problem is now beginning to see its way out of troubled waters, although not yet entirely.
The transference of ship-repairing work from the Forth has created some difficulties in the past and we hope now, particularly in my constituency, that the Grangemouth Dockyard company, a subsidiary of Swan Hunter, will be able to secure remunerative ship-repairing orders there.
The main burden of my remarks will be directed to trying to ascertain the Government's thinking regarding the relationship between naval ordering and shipbuilding ordering as a whole. This is an important matter, since in the past—this is what history shows—the pattern of output and of skills in British shipbuilding has been closely tied to the standards which the Navy has required. This has had beneficial effects in raising the standards of performance and quality for which the world has looked to the British shipbuilding industry. But there have been deleterious effects as well.
If one brings a labour force up to the high standards called for in naval building, it is difficult then to ask, for example, someone who is welding to the high standard of naval construction to come off that type of work and go on to welding to the somewhat lower standards called for in the past on, say, bulk carriers.
If the Navy is to require British shipbuilding capacity to suit its purposes in the future, the Navy has some responsibility for seeing how it phases in its orders to particular yards and particular groups of companies. I am not making any plea on a constituency basis; I am making a plea on behalf of the British shipbuilding industry as a whole.
It is not enough that the two Ministries concerned with shipbuilding simply phase in their orders in the hope that the labour force will be there to suit their standards in particular. Unfortunately, this afternoon we had an indication that there are now three Ministries concerned with shipbuilding, but the same argument applies.
If I may do so without giving any offence to any other yard, I would use the example of Cammell Laird at Birken-head, for it provides a very good example of a yard geared very largely to naval output, and when it had to switch to other standards of output the yard found difficulties in accommodating to normal merchant shipbuilding its high standards required for the Navy. Therefore the Navy has a responsibility to discuss with the industry as a whole what its future requirements will be and what research facilities the Navy will make available to the industry in future to see that the industry can relate the requirements of naval construction to modernistic merchant construction.
I have made the point in the past that there has been a large difference between naval construction and merchant construction. Fortunately in many areas the gap is narrowing, and I would correct a misstatement by myself when the Minister responsible gave me an answer in relation to the Naval Research Establishments Association and the Shell Company, and I will use that as an example, and the ordering of seven natural gas carriers. Looking at research, the facilities at Rosyth and the assistance which the naval research establishment at Rosyth gave to the Shell Company after the order was placed, why was it not possible—I shall be pursuing this with the Leader of the House later this week—for that type of facility to be related to the potentialities of British shipbuilding capacity? If it had been possible for the very useful work done at Rosyth to have been used for other British shipbuilding capacity, it would have been very possible that that type of order would have come to British yards, because in this class of vessel—the gas carrier, the petroleum carrier, the liquefied natural gas carrier—there is a very close relationship between the high standard of welding required for naval construction and that for merchant construction.
I follow the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) when he asked the Government what facilities the Navy is devoting to analysing and researching oceanography. This is particularly important when we have discoveries of oil in the North Sea and the Irish Sea and the possibilities of oil and natural gas being discovered elsewhere, and particularly when companies exploring for oil require underwater vessels, semi-submersible rigs, and the rest, to chart the ocean floor. This should be possible through the research facilities of the Navy in association with some of our nationalised industries involved in searching for oil and natural gas, by entering into some association, perhaps some form of joint venture, to see how we can take a lead in this very important business.
Lastly on this point, I wonder what the Navy is doing to ensure that information on ocean and sea conditions and weather conditions is made available jointly to the Navy and other interested parties, so that we can build up more knowledge of sea and weather conditions, because while this may be outside the Navy's own direct interest it would be very useful to get from Ministers information about the Navy's thinking on association with the companies involved in exploring for oil and gas in the North Sea, and to see what relationships can be built up between the three Ministries concerned for the collecting of this useful information for all concerned.
I recognise that this Department has a very large budget. I deplore the fact that we are mainly concerned, in considering the social effects, with naval construction, because while we accept that it is a very useful boost to employment to get orders for frigates, and so on, it would be much more useful if the overall research capabilities available to the Navy and to British shipbuilding as a whole, could be directed towards ensuring that the British shipbuilding industry gets a higher percentage of the world's trade.
I hope the hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Douglas) will forgive me if I do not follow him in the intricacies of shipbuilding but bring the debate back to the general problems of the Royal Navy. I apologise to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House for not having been present throughout the debate. I returned from an Inter-Parliamentary Union conference in the Cameroons only on Saturday night, and I picked up some bug which has entailed my frequent absence from the chamber.
During the past eight years the Navy debates have focused on four basic arguments. The first is that Britain, being an island, depends on ships for everything—for her foodstuffs, for her raw materials, for her trade. One sometimes wonders whether the Government have grasped this fact. The second is that the Royal Navy is required to protect the sea lanes and is not a coastal defence force and that we have too few ships for this purpose. Thirdly, many people, as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) said, believed that the future may well lie with underwater vessels and that there are grave deficiencies in our submarine force. Fourthly, while sea communication will depend upon convoys in the future as in the past, convoys in the atomic age will have to be spread over many hundreds of square miles, and will have to be protected in areas such as the South Atlantic, the south Indian Ocean, where there are no bases available for long-range aircraft protection. These convoys, I submit to the House once again, cannot be protected. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force admitted this in the debate which we had about the Royal Air Force just before Easter. Yet we in this House must realise that conventional war can occur; it is most unlikely in Europe, and it can occur at sea.
The Government's answer to these four questions is so frequently "Well, we do not depend upon our own Navy. After all, we have N.A.T.O.; we are a partner in N.A.T.O. The free world works together to defend its vital sea communications."
I hope I shall not weary the House but I want to quote some figures. These are comparisons of warship strengths in the Atlantic area between N.A.T.O. and the Warsaw Pact—of N.A.T.O. excluding the French Fleet, which is not now in N.A.T.O. If we take attack carriers, N.A.T.O. has 10; the Warsaw Pact none. The Warsaw Pact countries are now reported to be building one. I see that my hon. Friend shakes his head and we are glad to see that he does, but according to certain Press reports the Warsaw Pact countries are building one, and I hope that those reports are proved to be wrong as it would only create further difficulties for us.
N.A.T.O. has four anti-submarine warfare carriers available in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, against two of the Warsaw Pact. N.A.T.O. has six cruisers, and the Warsaw Pact 15, of which 12 are armed with surface-to-surface missiles of considerable range. N.A.T.O. has 276 destroyers and frigates as against 150 of the Warsaw Pact. Again, some of these Soviet ships are armed with surface-to-surface missiles which the N.A.T.O. ships do not have. N.A.T.O. has 136 motor patrol boats and the Warsaw Pact 161. Again, some of the Soviet ships are armed with surface-to-surface missiles of short range. N.A.T.O. has 33 nuclear submarines in this area against 20 of the Warsaw Pact. For fleet and attack submarines the figures are 90 and 160 and for short-range submarines 30 and 22. These are the ships immediately available in the Atlantic and Mediterranean area.
The figures show that the Warsaw Pact can field 22 cruisers or destroyers with surface-to-surface missiles of 100 to 300 mile range against six cruisers and 10 attack carriers on the N.A.T.O. side. The Warsaw Pact has 202 submarines against 276 frigates and two A.S.W. carriers. That is nearly one to one. I think it is generally agreed that in antisubmarine warfare to protect convoys properly one needs a superiority in the region of three to one.
The power house of N.A.T.O. is, of course, the United States, and there may well be little left over for this country after protecting the sea communications of the Eastern United States. I often wonder whether the Government have remembered the lessons we learnt so dearly in two world wars.
I also wonder whether the Government remember that this country, excluding the flags of convenience fleets, has the largest mercantile marine in the world. Our maritime contribution to N.A.T.O. is far too small. We have too few ships. The cutting down of the Royal Navy started under the previous Labour Government. I have quoted these figures before, but they will bear repeating. In 1964 we had 181 operational warships and 170 in reserve. In 1970 the equivalent figures were 143 and 38. In other words, 170 ships have disappeared from the Navy list during those six years.
According to the White Paper the Government propose to scrap 22 more ships. The Minister told us today that 33 ships were building. That sounds a good ratio, but these 33 ships are spread over three years. According to last year's White Paper, about 20 ships were scrapped last year. By adding together the ships scrapped over three years we find that we are building far fewer ships than we are scrapping. The ships scrapped this year will include one-third of our cruiser force, H.M.S. "Lion", and one-half of our attack carrier force, H.M.S. "Eagle", if that ship is to be scrapped as previously planned.
There is not only the question of the number of ships but the standard and the amount of weapons carried on the ships. Comparing ship with ship, Soviet ships invariably out-gun our own in surface-to-surface missiles, in guns and in surface-to-air missiles. As I have said on previous occasions, our Corps of Naval Constructors needs looking into carefully. In the last war the Japanese out-gunned us. It was always said that our ships had superior sea-going qualities, but I do not think that can be said today when we consider the Russian Kresta class cruisers.
I have made these points on three occasions: in November, 1970, in May, 1971, and in February this year. Apparently the Government have no long-term marine defence policy. The Government say that the Navy must fit into the financial targets available whether or not we have enough ships to protect our sea communications. Yet the same Government manage to pay off post-war credits and plan to spend vast sums on draining river from pollution and Admiralty buildings in Bath. The Government have not got their defence priorities right. If we do not get answers and we rarely get answers to the four questions I have posed—my hon. Friend must realise that some of us will have little confidence in the defence team or in its long-term defence policy.
I turn now to underwater warfare which was dealt with extremely well by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton. I do not want to play party politics. I agree very much with what he said, but I must remind him that it was the Labour Government which stopped the fifth Polaris submarine and cut down on the production of the hunter-killer to one in every 18 months. The hon. Member for Sutton now seems to repent of this and to regard submarine warfare as extremely important, as I believe it is.
What has happened to the fifth Polaris submarine? What will happen when Polaris is out-ranged by Poseidon? It may be more important to look further ahead than to build a fifth submarine. According to The Times of 16th February Americans are hurrying up with a Polaris and Poseidon successor:
… the United States would accelerate its programme to develop a new long-range submarine missile …and would be able to deploy the first of the new generation of submarines in 1978, at least two to three years sooner than had earlier been planned.
I appreciate that the Government cannot say very much about their long-term plans, but I hope that they are thinking of the future. If the nuclear deterrent works, which it does, then it is extremely important to maintain it. One wonders whether Polaris submarines can be an effective deterrent in the mid-1980s unless something is done to improve or to replace them by improved missiles or improved ships.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said today that the rate of building hunter-killer Fleet submarines would not be speeded up, and we are building about one every 18 months. Again I ask him, as I have asked in every debate for the last eight years, what about submarine air flight missiles? I agree with the hon. Member for Sutton that these are vital. It is useless to build 10 nuclear attack submarines plus Polaris submarines and arm them with torpedoes which were produced between the two wars back in the 1930s. The last time I asked this question the answer was:
I can assure him that studies of such a project are under way."—[Official Report, 8th June, 1971; Vol. 818, c. 993.]
I have had that reply time and time again. What I, the House, and, more important, the Navy are interested in is: when are these missiles coming into service? Without them our submarine fleet is only half effective.
Torpedoes have been referred to. The Mark 8 is to be replaced by the Mark 24, which I think my hon. Friend said would be in service next year, and this is good news. My hon. Friend referred to availability of the American lighter torpedo, and this is also good news.
Before coming on to my final main thesis, which is the question of the missile gap, I will digress to say a word about fishery protection. The Ministry of Agriculture recently said that £1½ million was now to be allocated for fishery protection. If I remember rightly, my hon. Friend said that a fast patrol boat would be allocated for this purpose. When he winds up, will he tell us a little more about his plans for the future. Our limits will be altered if we join the Common Market, and the Royal Navy will have to share a greater burden of fishery protection. I should like to hear about the Government's plans in this connection.
I should like to echo the suggestion about joint coastguard services using Royal Air Force helicopters and naval fast patrol boats, not only for fishery protection and coastguard services but for sea pollution work and for air-sea rescue operations. This would be a valuable service to the country as a whole.
I should like to make one more digression and mention the Royal Marines. I am glad that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton mentioned the two Royal Marine Commandos in Ulster. My hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) and I, both ex-Royal Marines, spent some days with those commandos just before Christmas. We were very impressed by them, the one serving on the Border and the other in Belfast.
The Royal Marines are now about to return to Malta, and I must congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his Defence team on managing to bring these protracted negotiations to completion. I realise how difficult was their task, and they have done extremely well.
Having said that, I should add that I feel the decision is a mistake and I was hoping that the negotiations would break down. I believe that since Mr. Mintoff has torn up one agreement he will be quite capable next year of tearing up the present agreement. I fear that the British people, particularly British troops, in Malta may be discriminated against. Mr. Mintoff loves being beastly to the British and he may react against our troops and also to the retired people from this country who have gone to live in Malta, to whom he now contemptuously refers as "settlers". I very much hope that I am wrong, but I must say this to the House, and I say it because I do not wish to see British troops in 1973 put into an invidious position by Maltese pressures. May I ask whether the extra £5 million involved in this operation is to be charged to defence funds? I very much hope that it will not be so charged.
In passing, I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), a fellow Royal Marine, who will speak from the Opposition Front Bench for the first time when he winds up this debate.
I turn to deal with the important question of the missile gap. Like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles), I do not regard aircraft carriers in the way that battleships were regarded in the last war as denoting naval supremacy. We shall be happy in due course to see aircraft carriers such as "Eagle" and "Ark Royal" disappear, but we are saying that they must not disappear until there is an alternative form of protection for convoys and warships in the Royal Navy. If "Eagle" is to go, we shall have only "Ark Royal" to protect something like 1,000 ships at sea on any one day and our convoys will be spread over hundreds of square miles because of the danger of atomic tests.
I am glad to hear that "Eagle" is not to be scrapped and I hope that "un-maintained reserve" will not be as bad as it sounds. I hope the Government will have second thoughts about this matter and will eventually decide that the best way of using resources will be to spend £30 million on "Phantomising" "Eagle", and perhaps not to spend so much on buildings and other matters. I have been told that the cost of building the through-deck command cruiser is in the region of £60 million, and I suppose it would cost about £100 million to build a carrier like "Eagle". Therefore, I feel that expenditure of £30 million on modernising "Eagle" would not be wasted.
Another problem is that of manpower, and I would remind the House of figures which were given to me in a Written Answer on 6th March this year showing that the number of Fleet Air Arm ratings who had left the Royal Navy amounted to nearly 5,000 over a period of four years. If there is said to be no manpower available for "Ark Royal", I should like to know what has happened to those 5,000 personnel. I of course appreciate that some of those men would have left the Service in any case, but they would certainly have provided enough manpower to run "Eagle" had it been operated as we orginally thought.
Once again I should like to clear up this point. We were talking in terms of manpower not in respect of aircrew but in respect of the crew of the ship. There are plenty of aircrew available; it is the crews of ships which are lacking.
I appreciate that there could be plenty of aircrew available, and they are now being thrown out of the Service and, as far as I can see, all the money spent on training them has been wasted. However, I take my hon. Friend's point about ships' crews.
I repeat what I have said in earlier debates on this subject. I believe that one aircraft carrier in the cold war is very much more effective than four or five frigates. We wish to know when "Eagle" and "Ark Royal" are to be replaced by through-deck command cruisers. The answer would appear to be by 1978. Presumably we should then have only one of these ships. Is it not a fact that seven through-deck command cruisers were originally projected and that because of cost this figure has now been reduced to three? If we are to get only one by 1978, we shall surely be in difficulties when trying to defend our ships against Russian surface-to-surface missiles in oceanic areas of the world.
I turn to deal with the aircraft which will operate from these through-deck command cruisers and from other ships. I should like to quote from the February issue of Navy.
Since there is no indication that the Government intend to start development afresh of a sub-surface launched tactical missile for the Fleet submarines, the only other weapon still in the running which could give the Navy an offensive capability of reasonable range is the naval Harrier. What, then, is the state of play today with this aircraft's development?
I appreciate that this is a complicated matter, but it worried me to hear my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State say that the existing Harrier is not suitable for use in navalships. I appreciate that there are certain metals in the aircraft which can become corroded by sea air and so on, but I am told by the manufacturers of the aircraft that the design is quite suitable for sea-borne purpose. They say that it has a long range and can carry an equivalent payload to a Phantom. They also say that it can defend the Fleet by idling over it for several hours, that its fuel consumption is a fifth that of the Phantom, and that six Harriers can take off simultaneously from one deck. The manufacturers also say that below 20,000 feet in a defence rôle the aircraft can out fly Phantoms and MiGs and that it is more effective as a maritime defence fighter than as a ground attack fighter. I do not know whether this is true since I have not the knowledge to judge these matters, but there seems to be a direct conflict between what we have been told in this House and what the manufacturers are saying about the Harrier. This is a most important matter since the American Marine Corps is purchasing such aircraft.
I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said. If it is true that the existing Harrier is not much use for the defence of the Fleet, the alternative seems to be the basic Harrier with new radar and avionics, or the basic Harrier with an up rated engine, the Pegasus 15, or a super Harrier with new wings and fuselage. This is a difficult decision to make, but I hope it can be made in the near future.
I am worried that these aircraft will be made in America rather than in this country, and that when the through-deck command cruisers come into the picture we shall have no aircraft to operate from them. If we delay much further MacDonald-Douglas may be producing 200 Harriers for the United States Navy. We shall need a reasonable number of through-deck command cruisers in the 1980s, including naval Harriers to go with them, either super Harriers or the existing ones up rated, and, since the Soviet Union has surface-to-surface missiles, these aircraft will become very important elements in sea warfare.
In the South Atlantic and South Indian Ocean there are no bases from which aircraft can operate. It must be remembered that half our oil and a quarter of our food must pass through these areas, and, therefore, we need adequate air protection from vertical take-off aircraft operating from the various ships of the Fleet. I believe that the merchant force is now building 60 dry cargo ships, 86 tankers, 109 bulk carriers and 40 container ships. What plans have the Government to mount surface-to-air missiles or vertical take-off aircraft or helicopters to operate from these ships? Surely this would be one way of protecting these convoys and as an adjunct to through-deck command cruisers. I hope that this whole matter is being thought through. We hear little about the defence of merchant ships of the future. In the last war the D.E.M.S. did fine work, this could happen again. The lads of air protection means that South Africa, with its anti-submarine navy and its bases and airfields, is vital for the protection of the shipping of the Western world. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will implement in the very near future the promise that he made as Leader of the Opposition to reverse the then Government's policy of not supplying naval arms to South Africa. I do not believe that supply of eight semi-obsolete helicopters is an implementation of that promise.
Perhaps I might remind the House of a few figures. The N.A.T.O. Secretary-General pointed out recently that the gross national product of the N.A.T.O. nations had increased by 26 per cent. between 1965 and 1970 but that N.A.T.O. defence expenditure in the same period had decreased by 3·6 per cent. The table of defence expenditures for 1967 to 1970 showed that all seven Warsaw Pact nations, except Poland, were spending more and that all 14 N.A.T.O. nations, except Greece, were spending less. I am glad that some of the N.A.T.O. nations now seem to have seen the light. President Nixon has decided courageously this year to increase American expenditure on defence by £2,420 million. The French are also carrying out a 15-year re-equipment programme for their navy, including new aircraft for their two aircraft carriers. Even the Japanese are spending 20 per cent. more this year on their defence forces.
I believe that 5·5 per cent. of our gross national product is not enough for our safety. The Government are doing something. They have announced the new frigates, the new destroyers, the survey ship and, above all, the Nimrods. Unfortunately, this announcement was based on the fact that work was needed in areas of high unemployment and not on the fact that the nation needed adequate sea protection.
The Navy of March this year had this to say:
The Conservatives' third Statement on Defence is a disappointing document. It provides the final confirmation, if such were needed, that by and large Mr. Heath's Government has accepted the Healey defence inheritance and even at a time of relative economic stability is not prepared to spend more on national security in order to restore at least some of the damage caused by the economic crises of the late '60s.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House receive letters from people in the Royal Navy and others who have recently retired from the Navy. I wish to quote briefly from a letter which I received not long ago. It has important implications. Its writer says:
I suggest that, by the standards of the 1970s, the Royal Navy is materially bankrupt; I find this very depressing. Why is the Navy in this state? In my opinion the admirals are as much to blame as the politicians—and furthermore there is the vast 'silent majority' of naval personnel of all ranks who have sat on their backsides and let it happen; we are well-paid and secure, so why complain—anyway, this is the Silent Service, and one doesn't complain. The admirals…have obviously forgotten the lessons they learnt during the last war as junior officers. The politicians have their jobs and therefore their constituents to worry about; defence does not win votes. And the huge army of 'established civil servants' mops up a fair section of the Defence Budget, endlessly pushes paper, and produces remarkably little useful as its contribution. Again. I find this very depressing.
The Minister may feel that that is perhaps an exaggerated view of affairs today. But I remind my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that there are hon. Members on this side of the House and perhaps on the benches opposite who are very concerned at the state of the Royal Navy and the impossible task
that it may have to face in time of war to protect our sea communications.
In the defence debate I said that it might be necessary to demonstrate our disapproval by voting against the Navy Estimates. The Government have made it clear that they are increasing the number of frigates, destroyers and Nimrod aircraft. The usual channels have staged this debate on the day following the Easter Recess and on a Motion for the Adjournment, so it would be very difficult to divide the House anyway. However, I do not believe that many hon. Members will now want to do so. But there are hon. Members who axe very keen on the Navy, who understand it, and who are very worried about its future. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to take them into his confidence more than has been possible in the past. The only way to get the Royal Navy in the right shape is for hon. Member's to act together as a team. If back-benchers are not satisfied, the only weapon they have is the vote however much they may regret using it.
I agree with much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) said, although I shall not take up any of his points. However, as one who accompanied him on his recent trip I am sorry to hear of his affliction, and I hope that he will soon be better.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen), as I did to that of my hon. Friend the Under-secretary. I hope that my hon. Friend will not be offended if I say that, having attended naval debates for a good many years, I suspect that at these debates it does not really matter which party is represented on the Treasury Bench. Always we get the usual optimistic report. Today we heard of the wide range of improvements in the Navy, the building up of the Service, the ship construction programme and the rest. I was waiting for the remark that we have the strongest Navy in Europe, but that was one which did not come.
Generally the picture given was optimistic, encouraging and reassuring. But I am sorry to say that Vote A still tells the same old gloomy story. We see from it that for 1971–72 the total of personnel was 87,000 and that for 1972–73 it is 85,000. However, it is rather worse than that because the number in the nursing service has gone up and the number of W.R.N.S. has gone up. I make no complaint about that. I am sure the increases are essential. But it means that the total of serving officers, ratings and Royal Marines has gone down by an even greater proportion. In fact, the Navy has continued and will continue to weaken.
It is not as if our potential enemies were also reducing their forces. In fact they are increasing them vastly. My hon. Friend will recall Clausewitz's book "The Principles of War", in which he pointed out that the principal object in a war was the destruction of the enemy's armed forces. I think we should be wise to remember that that does not apply to Britain. With the possible exception of Japan, we are the only country in the world which can be defeated without a blow being struck at the homeland or at our Armed Forces. It nearly happened in the last two world wars. The truth is that because of the weakness of the Royal Navy today this country is more exposed to defeat than it has been for hundreds of years.
Quite rightly, my hon. Friend said that if we had to fight we would fight with our allies. It is right that we should rely on help from our allies since, in certain circumstances, we should be quite unable to fight without them. In the first place, I believe we will get real help if we show that we are willing to help ourselves. Secondly, I believe that our allies are particularly weak in the maritime forces which are most necessary for our defence. That is not surprising. Their problems are quite different. They do not rely on sea communications, so I do not believe they have the forces which could help us in certain circumstances.
If we are to rely on the help of our allies in these matters, we ought to know what help they will give us. We know and they know that we have treaty arrangements about the number of troops in the Rhine Army. But does anybody in this House know whether they have any obligations to provide us with, for example, anti-submarine forces? I think we should know that.
It is my opinion that we as a country are so vulnerable that we have either got to be a force to be reckoned with or we are to be nothing. By "a force to be reckoned with" I mean that we must have the ability somehow to endure and to survive as we have done in the last two wars.
I am afraid that in this matter successive Governments, including the present Government, have not done very well. The decision has been made. It used to be called coming to terms with our new rôle in the world. I believe that is quite irrelevant to our defence needs. The result of that decision is the puny naval forces which we now have, which certainly will not enable us to endure and survive.
At best the effect of that decision is that in future we will have to acquiesce in the political shape of the world as decided by others. We may talk or criticise the form of government in, for example, Greece, the colonels'régime, Spain, South Africa, Portugal or Rhodesia, but we have to be careful that the countries which we criticise are small and not in a position to retaliate. On real issues—for example, the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia—we must look the other way and think about a far-away country of which we know little. At worst, I believe that our weakness may lead to starvation and subjugation. In my opinion our first step must be to show not only our enemies but our allies that we are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to enable us to endure and survive.
I recall that the Leader of the Opposition, when Prime Minister, I do not think in a defence debate, but on some other occasion, proudly saying in this House—he said it many times in the country—that for the first time expenditure on education had exceeded defence expenditure. I hasten to add that under this Government the gap has widened, so no doubt Government supporters may say it equally proudly. That is a typical political slogan designed to please the electorate. It is, of course, a good thing. No one would deny it in a peaceful, safe world. Those of us who take an interest in defence matters and sometimes speak of them in our constituencies know that it is difficult to convince people that expenditure on defence is necessary and is not wasted. I believe that it is highly irresponsible of politicians on both sides of the House to make that sort of remark about the difference between expenditure on education and defence, as that misleads people even further.
The first step is to show the will power to shoulder the task. The second step is to get the right priorities. Undoubtedly we have to be completely realistic in assessing what financial burden the country can carry. There must be a limit to what we can afford. We do not want to be over-insured. There is very little chance of that happening. It has never happened in the past and I do not suppose that we ever will be over-insured.
It has gradually become accepted—I have certainly held the view for some year—that there could be a non-nuclear war, particularly at sea. If so, we should refresh our minds with the classic strategy this country has had in the past which has enabled it to survive. Briefly, our island base has been defended and preserved until the Armed Forces have been built up in order to go over to the offensive. In order to do that our sea routes must be kept open as on them everything depends. Today our air space must be defended. That does not necessarily mean that our defence is passive. In that defensive posture as a whole the Army, we hope, will be given time to mobilise, train, equip and get ready.
If that is accepted—I believe that is a very brief description of our classic strategy—it follows that in peacetime there must be strong naval and air front line forces and strong Army reserves. It seems that successive Governments have got it the wrong way round, because looking at Vote A we see, as I said earlier, naval power decreasing and air power decreasing slightly, whereas the Army is increasing. I know that there are special circumstances at the moment. The situation is that both the Navy and the Air Force are weak and relatively the Army is strong. That seems the wrong way round.
I do not believe that we are acting responsibly if we give an optimistic picture of the Navy today. I believe that it is the responsibility of the Government to tell the nation that the real position is that we have a small, weak Navy utterly inadequate to provide for the security of this country, that if we are to survive in war we shall have to rely on our allies and that we are not certain what forces, if any, they will provide. We should say that our potential enemies have strong maritime forces and that they have never been stronger relative to Britain than today.
That is the message which should go out to the country from this debate. It is not a pleasant message, but too often in the past the nation has been lulled into a false sense of security, and when the crisis arrives the politicians round on the admirals, the generals and the air marshals who are so often put into this unfortunate position. If we cannot or will not afford the naval forces we need, do not let us conceal the fact. We suffered enough once before because a Prime Minister said that his lips were sealed on affairs of this sort.
The growth of Soviet naval power in different parts of the world's oceans clearly worries many hon. Members, and we have heard in different speeches today various ideas about the best means of countering the threat posed by this growth. But there is another development at sea with implications that are just as far-reaching for our national and, indeed, international security. Mindful of the strictures of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen), I feel it important that when speaking of the Navy we should not allow this new development to go without comment. I respect his view that we must try to anticipate trends.
I am referring to advances in ocean engineering which allow us to occupy and make use of the sea floor for military purposes. This is already practicable in the near-shore environment of the Continental Shelf, and a quick glance at any map will soon show the strategic significance of this region. At one time military circles in the United States seriously considered using this as a platform for a strategic missile force. The Polaris-type submarine enjoys the advantages of concealment and dispersal afforded by oceans and has, over and above that, the advantage of mobility, so one might wonder what the advantages of a fixed deterrent system would be. On the other hand, there are some strategists who affirm that advances in anti-submarine warfare are so rapid that the present nuclear-powered submarine, instead of becoming more invulnerable, will become very much more vulnerable, too vulnerable for comfort, and, therefore, it will be desirable to resort to stationary deterrent systems "hardened" in silos beneath the sea floor.
These "dangers in the deep" seem to have been taken sufficiently seriously for us to have negotiated and signed last February—though we have not yet ratified it—a Treaty on the Prohibition of the Emplacement of Nuclear Weapons and other Weapons of Mass Destruction on the Seabed and the Ocean Floor and in the Subsoil thereof.
There are those who say that this was simply an attempt to improve the climate for further strategic arms limitation talks, and that it did not really matter one way or another. Yet the treaty itself provides in ArticleVIII that signatories have the right to withdraw where extraordinary events
related to the subject matter of the Treaty
have jeopardised their supreme interests. Thus, those who framed this agreement clearly felt that there was a real threat of an arms race on the sea floor, and only last December we consolidated our claim to the Island of Rockall with the object, according to the Foreign Office, of denying to an enemy the use of the sea floor around it.
The treaty does not provide for an automatic right to enter and inspect suspect installations on the sea floor, but it provides for close-up observation of ocean floor activities, and this raises the question of how far the Royal Navy is equipped to verify the prohibitions in the treaty to which we are not simply a signatory but for which we are a depository power.
The Royal Navy has about 2,000 divers. This sounds impressive, but most of those are ships' divers. They can go down and clear a clogged water intake, remove a shackle from a ship's screw, or recover a lost anchor, but there are only about 300 clearance divers who have the ability to dive to depths of 400 or 500 feet with the right equipment. They are well versed in salvage and rescue operations, but very few have the necessary engineering skills which commercial diving companies would expect and require.
The Royal Navy has one diving trials ship, the "Reclaim". This is a modified ocean salvage vessel which was completed in 1948. I went on board the "Reclaim" when she visited the oceanology exhibition in Brighton the other week, and, while I should be the last to deny her the credit of the performance that she has put up in the past, it is clear that she is long overdue for the scrap yard.
The Royal Navy has no wet submersibles at all, though I understand that there are one or two experimental models, and no dry submersibles of its own. Nor is there any development programme for them, though there is one commercially-owned underwater vehicle, Pisces II, which is now on hire permanently, or on a continuing basis, to the Royal Navy, with a depth capability of 3,000 feet. The only encouraging news is that which I read in the Sunday Press, that there is now to be a new oceanographic research vessel for the Royal Navy. Somebody said today in the debate that we were—or it was hoped we were—still the most significant naval power in Europe. That may be true in general, but it is not true in the context of underwater developments. The French are some considerable way ahead of us.
Our effort compares very unfavourably with America's man-in-the-sea and deep submergence programmes. The American navy possesses one nuclear-powered ocean engineering vessel, four deep sea research vessels, one bathyscaph and two deep submergence rescue vessels. The Americans have also studied the need for a large-object salvage system for lifting submarines and missiles, and a deep submergence search vessel capable of operating on the deep ocean floor. The American navy also has at its disposal a large assortment of commercial submersibles, one of which, the "Alvin", recovered the H-bomb which was lost off the Spanish coast some years ago.
I think it is a mistake to imagine that weapons on the sea floor could be detected by surface observation alone. The treaty to which I have referred does not apply to the facilities for research and commercial purposes even if operated by military personnel, and these civilian activities can all too easily be used as a cover for aggressive intentions unless proper inspection and surveillance under water is assured.
The economic exploitation of the sea floor is now so widespread that there is a need to ensure that the terms of the agreement are being complied with. The Royal Navy ought to be in a position to verify the ban, and not only for the purposes of our own security. As a depository power, we ought to have the ability to be able to verify the terms of the agreement on behalf of countries which may have activities near their own coasts but cannot afford to be in this field. In that way we could help to eliminate suspicions and thus maintain a useful measure of preventative disarmament.
The seabed treaty does not provide for the complete demilitarisation of the seabed. It bans only weapons of mass destruction and their associated structures. There are other military uses for the seabed, and these include shore bombardment weapons, devices capable of disrupting air and navigation communications, devices to render ineffective defensive instruments, and undersea submarine repair bases, fuel depots or storage facilities. The technical means for achieving all those projects exist today.
The Geneva Convention is silent on the military uses of the Continental Shelf, but it seems that legally a foreign Power would be within its rights ininstalling such devices on the Dogger Bank or in the middle of the Irish Sea, provided that it kept outside territorial waters. In practice, no coastal State will tolerate offensive installations near its shore, but perhaps it would be prudent to do what the Canadians have done and make it clear to the international community that we regard our own shelf areas as a "defensive zone" in which we shall not accept foreign military installations of any kind. But there is no point in putting up "keep out" notices unless we have the wherewithal to detect and eject interlopers. At present, we simply do not have the hardware to check on clandestine happenings over the vast and murky area of ocean floor around our island. Nor do we know that our offshore areas have not already been effectively bugged.
The same technology which allows us to exploit the seabed for military purposes has also created economic and military interests in the oceans which require to be defended. Submarine cables are a case in point. Last year there was some bother with a Russian oceanographic ship prying and probing above one of our cables in the Indian Ocean.
But far more relevant is the question of how we find the means to protect our offshore oil and gas fields against harassment, spying or sabotage. Eighty per cent. of our natural gas supplies already come from offshore, and reserves of oil discovered in the North Sea to date are sufficient to meet three-quarters of our supplies. This is an event of major economic and political significance, but one that I have not heard readily recognised in this debate when I hear talk of the need to maintain a vast fleet in the Indian Ocean to keep 50 per cent. of our oil supplies coming in 1980 from the Middle East. It will not be coming from the Middle East in 1980 but from our own offshore areas.
For years we have prayed for deliverance from the accursed Arab. It has happened—a gusher, right on our doorstep, black gold. What fun it will be in 10 years' time when we can tell the Arabs to go boil in their own oil.
But what thought has been given to safeguarding these offshore assets in times of international tension, and what is being done to develop the engineering skills to defend the wellheads and undersea pipelines? Has there been a mock exercise, or will there be? Judging from the White Paper and the Defence Estimates, very little is going on in this field. I am unable to find any appraisal of our defence requirements in this sphere—not even an acknowledgement of the military implications of advances in underwater engineering.
I cannot believe that the Government are content to leave this task to friendly Powers. We should see that the Royal Navy enlarges its capability under water to ensure compliance with treaty restrictions, to keep our shelf areas free of foreign military installations and, above all, to protect our North Sea oilfields. It is far better to spend the money here than on another aircraft carrier. What is the point in building another aircraft carrier if we cannot ensure the supply of oil to drive it and the planes which will fly from it?
Throughout history the admirals have always wanted larger ships. They have wanted them not for defence reasons but for their own prestige and their ego. The plain truth, although it may be unpalatable to them, is that they want something smart and dapper in which to swank about the world.
I must get to my feet after those remarks. After a good many years in the Fleet Air Arm, I know that the reason why we want bigger carriers is that, to get the performance, modern aircraft become, bigger and heavier. Therefore, one needs stronger decks and bigger stowing space.
I am not altogether unaware—I spent two years on an aircraft carrier myself—of the various advantages. But there are new strategic requirements for this country which cannot be defended by the use of aircraft carriers.
The Navy must go under water; unless it is prepared to do so, it and its surface fleet will be delivered there involuntarily.
It is with real diffidence that I intervene on this Senior Service day. Particularly after hearing my hon. Friend from across the Pennines, the hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Laurance Reed), I could easily find myself right out of my depth. Such mariners' lore as I acquired I acquired indirectly in learning airmanship from a Fleet Air Arm instructor at the Central Flying School.
Nevertheless, this has been an interesting and instructive debate. The most significant sentence in the speech of my hon. Friend the Minister was when he said that the growth of Soviet air power is one of the most dramatic changes in the balance of military power since the end of World War Two. I agree whole heartedly, but he went on to debate the twin pillars upon which our defence policy is founded—defence and détente.
In the strictly naval sense, I can see no sign whatever of détente from our potential adversaries. It could be said conjecturally in the military land sense, looking at Central Europe, but it cannot be said in describing the naval scene.
My hon. Friend then went on, rightly again, to adduce that Britain's defence interests extend beyond the N.A.T.O. area. But in eulogising the new programme of ship construction, he said that these vessels were to be entirely devoted to strengthening N.A.T.O. His speech also showed very little realisation of the importance of air power. The modern naval battle is a war fought on a three-dimensional plane.
To be slightly unkind—I do not mean it as such—my hon. Friend's speech sounded more like a statement at a board meeting of Grand Metropolitan Hotels than a speech on the Navy's main political day, when he should be presenting to the nation the fighting capabilities of a fighting Service. We heard more about the depth of the pile of the carpets, metaphorically speaking, than about the capabilities of our sailors to fight—and it is to be ready to fight that this House pays them.
The debate came back on good lines when my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) spoke about the strategic realities today. Today we are seeing war engaged in by proxy by the Soviet Union, which supplies more than half the weaponry of North Vietnam in a war of aggression—and that war has to be countered by the American naval as well as air forces.
The Soviet Union has also conducted war by proxy in the Indian subcontinent and its naval capabilities are being augmented by a world-wide system of alliances. In May, 1971, it was a treaty of friendship with Egypt, in August, 1971, a defence and friendship treaty with India, in March, 1972, indirectly, a friendship treaty with Bangladesh, and at this moment Soviet technicians and experts are in the ports of Khulna and Chittagong.
This very month Mr. Kosygin has been signing yet another defensive pact with Iraq and saying at the same time that the Arab world should sell more of its oil to the Soviet Union. Finally, Admiral Gorschkov himself, in recent days has been on the Indian sub-continent—and not just holidaying in Kashmir. When a man of his seniority pays a visit of that type, it is for a real purpose.
In looking at these world-wide prospects, two things must be said. The first is that the very grave nature of the missile gap cannot be over-estimated. In the defence debate I described some of the naval engagements in the Indo-Pakistan war and showed the efficacy of Osa F.P.B.s equipped with surface-to-surface guided weapons. In that war there was another Eilat—the sinking of the Pakistan destroyer "Khaibar" by fast patrol boats equipped with Styx guided weapons.
We are also seeing in Vietnam at this time a carrier-based air arm being wielded as it should be: to provide rapid reinforcement and the maximum application of overwhelming military strength in a way that could not otherwise be done by land-based aircraft. This lesson should not be forgotten.
I wish, too, that my hon. Friend had described something of the exercises which the Soviet Navy has conducted in recent years. These exercises have not only been important in themselves but have been particularly apposite in view of what my hon. Friend said about the 1940 Norway campaign. Looking at the matter completely historically, that campaign in Norway showed almost more than any other in the Second World War the necessity for effective air power and, above all, for effective sea-based air power.
The Gladiators which were land-based in Norway were soon knocked out by the Luftwaffe. They were reinforced by Hurricanes, which had to be withdrawn, and attempts were made to get them aboard the "Glorious", which was not equipped with the proper arresting gear. In any event, she was sunk not long afterwards, primarily because she did not have sufficient air cover.
In the present context of the northern flank the same thing applies, as is clear from the exercises that were conducted by the Soviet navy in 1968 and 1970; Sever and Okean respectively. Both culminated in amphibious assaults on the North Cape of the Soviet Union and showed the degree of exposure which the northern flank faces.
Those exercises were also a test of the Soviet Navy's ability to resist what the Soviet Union—this is particularly important—regarded as the main threat, which was N.A.T.O.'s strike carrier force. This is another lesson that should not be quickly forgotten.
When speaking of strike carrier forces it is easy to be carried away with emotions about H.M.S. "Eagle". I do not intend to do that. I welcome the decision which my right hon. Friend announced in another place to maintain "Eagle" at least in reserve, even if she is to be cannibalised. I suggest, however—I make this appeal yet again—that she should be kept in maintained reserve with at least two squadrons of aircraft retained and shore-based so that, if necessary, in an emergency that vessel could be reactivated and recommissioned for active service.
This leads me to look at the disposition of the Fleet Air Arm. I do not think we could do more good for the morale of the Royal Navy as a whole than if my hon. Friend were to say that, as a matter of policy, the Government had decided that fixed-wing flying shall continue in the Fleet Air Arm. That single unequivocal statement would do the world of good for recruiting, not to mention to the view of our allies towards our defence posture.
In the work-up period to the through-deck carriers we should be getting more experience with V/STOL at sea. We should be doing this for operational reasons and I have suggested in the past, particularly on 28th May of last year, that we should deploy the navalised Harrier at sea. This would not be difficult—I understand that only corrosive and similar difficulties have to be sorted out—and it could be done for the close support rôle of H.M.S. "Hermes". This would be a worthwhile rôle to undertake and it would be relatively cheap. It would also provide valuable experience and show the world that we believe in this aircraft.
A most unfortunate impression was given in the 1972 White Paper in chapter II when it was said that the present versions of the Harrier had been designed for close support of ground operations and that no V/STOL aircraft at present existed with a capability for maritime operations.
I remember well, however, that in 1963, nine years ago, it was clearly shown that the Harrier was capable of operating from "Ark Royal". In June, 1966, it operated from "Bulwark" in concert with helicopters, which again showed the value of the Harrier in an amphibious context. There were then the exercises in March, 1970, on H.M.S. "Eagle" and in May, 1971, when No. 1 Squadron of the R.A.F. went aboard "Ark Royal" in the Moray Firth. Thus all the precedents are there. We now just need a statement of faith.
Such a statement would be particularly welcome at this time because in America the United States Navy is making a crucial decision about the V/STOL strike aircraft with which it is to arm its proposed sea control ship. If Aviation Week and Space Technology of 27th March is right, a decision may be expected within a month.
There are eight candidates and of these only one is the McDonnell-Douglas-cum-Hawker Siddeley Harrier possibility. An act of faith of the kind I have suggested would do a great deal for the export potential of the Harrier.
Looking at the Harrier from the point of view of beyond the amphibious role, I suggest that for the later 'seventies we should go for the Pegasus XV, with a radar fit and all that is necessary in that variant to keep the state of the art developed. Beyond this perhaps we can look for a fully supersonic variant of the aircraft for the 'eighties. In other words, there should be an organic and logical development of the airframe and systems, just as with other aircraft, for maritime or land-based use.
Having said that, how is one to make one's immediate dispositions for the Fleet Air Arm. I suggest that the Harrier for the amphibious rôle should go to Yeovil-ton to join the RoyalMarine helicopters when the Royal Navy Fighter School closes in a few months' time. This would be widely welcomed in the Navy.
Lastly on the naval air side, the design of the through-deck carriers is of considerable interest. In the April issue of Air Pictorial, the Air League journal, models were depicted of this type of cruiser. However, it looks suspiciously and incredibly like an aircraft carrier. Everything possible has been done to avoid it looking like one, but it is designed to carry aircraft and therefore looks like a carrier. The only surprising feature is that the island is rather bigger, that it does not have a fully-angled deck and that the deck parkis significantly smaller. This wil clearly be a very expensive ship and I would have thought that in view of the expenditure involved, a few more millions of pounds could have been made available to provide a vessel that could operate more conventional aircraft, and not just the Harrier type of fixed-wing airplane.
Does my hon. Friend appreciate that of all the conventional aircraft handed over by the Royal Navy to the R.A.F., the navalisation has been removed to such an extent that they cannot operate from any carrier, which denies us a great deal of flexibility?
I realise that and I deeply deplore it. It has seemed to me all along that at a time when we shall have vectored thrust, STOL like the Jaguar, or the variable geometry concept, making it easier for high performance aeroplanes to operate from the deck, the fact that we should be reducing our ability to do this is the height of illogicality.
As for the Royal Navy's reserve capability, this is a vital aspect because, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Capt. W. Elliot) pointed out, one might have to fight a prolonged war at sea. At present the Royal Naval Reserve consists of 13 Reserve divisions around the country equipped only with coastal minesweepers. I suggest that with the extra fishery protection rôle which is envisaged, the Royal Naval Reserve might be absorbed to fulfil a useful function in this respect. In the narrow seas around the United Kingdom there is a need for fast, missile-equipped patrol boats. These would be extremely useful. Such a rôle would give great heart to the Royal Naval Reserve.
The civilian population, sadly, has less and less contact with the Royal Navy. Only two months ago Captain Lygo had to come to my city, Bradford, to speak on behalf of the Navy, and very well he spoke, but I do not believe that this is right. More and more areas of the country should have effective Royal Naval Reserve units. I would hope that the Royal Naval Reserve would understand the value of an airborne reserve as well, because the Navy would need more helicopter pilots in an emergency, and probably more fixed wing pilots as well. Nonetheless, it is a political function for people to go round the country and speak up for the Navy. We should have, perhaps, a Minister or others on the Front Bench who are prepared, when Soviet naval strength is ever increasing, to go round the country and bang Drake's drum, and make people realise that the Senior Service still has a very valuable rôle in the years ahead.
I begin by joining in the tributes paid to the late Admiral Hughes-Hallett. I served under him in the last wax, in Force J, and I remember what a very inspiring leader he was in that force. We had a great respect for him. Unfortunately, I had not reached the House when he was here—possibly he left at the sight of me. But certainly our benches pay him tribute tonight.
I do not take the view of some people that having this debate on the Adjournment of the House is a detraction. On the contrary, it enables us to take a much broader view of naval policy and its various aspects than we used to take when we simply discussed Vote A. I remember being ruled out of order on several occasions when I tried to raise more general points than were possible under that narrow Vote.
One of the characteristics about these debates which I have always liked is that those of us, from both sides of the House, with an affection, respect and admiration for the Royal Navy can join hands, as it were, across the Floor, and that these are not occasions for the sort of stern party battles we may have at other times. It is always a great pleasure to hear some of my hon. and gallant friends on the benches opposite in these debates. I have listened to them with great interest today. I shall be returning to some of their remarks.
The House has now, and has always had, a respect for the Royal Navy. I suppose that is because we have always recognised that the Royal Navy is the linchpin of the defence of these islands. I shall not quote Earl St. Vincent, who talked about the Royal Navy as being so vital in our defence. I shall not use his words but paraphrase them: the Royal Navy is the linchpin of our defence and has been throughout the ages.
I refer to some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu), particularly about the purposes of the Royal Navy. My hon. Friend said that they tend to get obscured by events, that they tend at times to become out of date. Certainly those of us who have served in the past in one arm or another of the Royal Navy tend to look back on some of the old ships with an admiration and an affection more perhaps than they warranted. We tend, perhaps, to look at pictures of old ships and think what lovely vessels they were, forgetting that modern ships, perhaps of infinitely smaller size, have a much greater fire power than some of the older ships and are much more effective seagoing ships, and sometimes certainly much more comfortable than some of the older ships.
Sometimes, when people of our generation come to talking about the Royal Navy, we begin to see the Royal Navy through, perhaps, the wrong sort of spectacles. However that may be—I shall return to some of these considerations later—my hon. Friend also referred to something of much more immediate and practical importance; that is, the damage done to the "Ark Royal". I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to answer some of my questions on this matter. What is the extent of damage to "Ark Royal"? How much will it cost to put right? How did it happen? We understand that it happened when she was running into a storm. Why did she not heave to or run before the wind? Why did she rush back to Plymouth in a precipitate way? How much operability have we had from "Ark Royal"? When is she due for refit? These are important questions, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will come to them.
I want to refer first to one of the less controversial aspects of the debate, before coming to some of the important questions. I refer first to the question of archaeological wrecks. As the House knows, I am one of the trustees of the National Maritime Museum, and we are concerned with archaeological wrecks and with trying to tidy up the law in relation to such wrecks. I should like to refer to one or two points about the general question of archaeological wrecks and the particular question of the "Mary". I hope that the Government will be able to say that we shall have legislation quickly. It has been suggested to me that possibly a quicker way of achieving this than relying on the Government is for a private Member to introduce legislation. If I may speak in my normal, traditional rôle as a back bencher, as it were, with a great interest in Private Members' Bills, I should not mind having a go at that myself. There is certainly a need to protect wrecks from what one writer has called the cowboys, the pirates; people who would seek to strip and destroy them. There are legal problems concerning the differentiation between wrecks below high water and those above high water.
I hope that a permanent non-governmental body will be set up to consider the question of archaeological wrecks. We do not want what happened to H.M.S. "Association" to happen to the "Mary" and any other archaeological wrecks which may be discovered. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) played a notable part in seeking to prevent what happened to the "Association" from occurring.
H.M.S. "Association" was Sir Cloudesley Shovel's flagship, which sank in October, 1707, off the Isles of Scilly. In July, 1967, divers identified the site of a wreck, which later turned out to be this ship. Those divers managed to find certain objects—English coin, a number of Portugese coin, and' one three-ton bronze French cannon. Many iron cannon were seen in the area.
In the following four weeks Roland Morris took over the site with a team of young professional divers who recovered two further French bronze cannon. Then several other groups from various parts of the country descended on the site. The whole thing was not properly handled, and the wreck was plundered by several people. Whatever the initial motives on the part of certain groups, work on the "Association" became a treasure hunt. In this uncontrolled situation the use of explosives was a dangerous precedent. Nevertheless, explosives were used, and substantial damage ensued.
The "Mary" was Charles II's yacht, built in 1660 and presented to the King by the Dutch. After about a year as the King's yacht, the vessel was relegated to service in the Royal Navy. In 1675 she sank off Holyhead, Anglesey, and 35 passengers and crew perished.
The wreck was found by members of the Merseyside branch of the British Sub-Aqua Club in 1971. The Liverpool Museum began to undertake an archaeological investigation under the direction of Dr. Peter Davies. Other people also visited the site. Four bronze cannon were found to be missing from the site. The person who moved the cannon was found. He had apparently hidden them, and he at first refused to admit to the Receiver of Wrecks that he had possession of them.
In September there were five separate diving groups treasure-hunting on the wreck site, and a diver was hurt when one group used explosives to loosen up the seabed. The complete free-for-all and disorganisation on the site made it very dangerous as powerboats weaved about on the surface of the sea endangering divers below.
If this sort of situation continues, wrecks can receive no protection and plundering of wrecks can continue. I know that we in this country tend to regard our historical relics frequently with very slight concern, but those of us who are concerned about archaeological wrecks and marine relics take these matters most seriously. I hope that the Government will be able to tell us that stern action is to be taken to ensure that wrecks like the "Mary" are protected and that legislation will be forthcoming quickly.
Another matter of great personal concern to me and several other hon. Members is the future of the Royal Marines. The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) was kind enough to refer to the fact that we served together in the Royal Marines. In the Corps we have always had a concern about the rôle of the Marines not only in the Navy but in the defence of the country at large. That rôle has often been challenged. When I joined in 1941 senior officers were concerned about the future rôle of the Corps. They were congratulating themselves then that certain rôles had been given to the Marines, ensuring their continuance. Similar questions were again raised at the end of the war. By that time the marines had, in commando group, ensured one certain rôle for the future. They continued after the war to provide detachments on ships.
The coming of the assault ships and commando carriers ensured that Commandos could be used effectively and brought into action more quickly. There are questions being asked now, particularly in view of the doubts one reads about the future of assault ships, especially "Bulwark". "Albion" is to be replaced by "Hermes", and there might be questions asked about "Intrepid" and "Fearless" because they are large users of manpower. When we consider the attitude of the Government towards carriers we are entitled to ask whether these two vessels are to be brought into question.
The experience of the marines should not be lightly cast aside. They are accustomed, as those of us who have served in the Marines know, to working in small groups, in independent commands, to be self-reliant, to live off the land. They are well trained, and I pay tribute to the non-commissioned officers in the marines who so often do the sort of job which in the Army might be done by commissioned officers. They have the capacity to take command and exercise that sort of responsibility. Have the Government considered the more extensive use of the marines in mountain and arctic warfare, particularly in view of the vulnerable N.A.T.O. flank in the Arctic? I am confident that the marines could play a much more effective rôle here than they have hitherto been asked to do.
Is not what the hon. Gentleman is saying reinforcing the argument for assault ships and commando carriers because the availability of airfields, for example, to airlift personnel into those regions is slight?
What led me to make these observations was a doubt about the future of assault ships and commando carriers. There are ways of bringing troops into a theatre other than by ships. One of the remarkable things about most marines is that they are also trained as paratroopers—and even those who have not been so trained have been prepared to go into battle as paratroopers. As one marine said to his commanding officer, who asked him, when he joined the unit in Normandy, whether he would jump, "I will do anything you do, Sir". Yet he had had no parachute training at all. I suppose there is always a one time.
There are other aspects of the fighting calibre of the Royal Marines which are important. They can be mobilised quickly; they are well trained and versatile; they can land from ships or helicopters; they act as highly skilled infantrymen; they are mobile and well armed; they can operate in any terrain; they are well disciplined and have a highly developed esprit de corps. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us that the Ministry has the future rôle of the Royal Marines very much in mind.
The main burden of the debate has been the attack on the Government by hon. Members opposite. Their indictment of the Government has possibly been paralleled only by their indictment when we were in Government. What do the Government's critics want? They want preservation of the carrier force—possibly an increase; they want more cruisers equipped with VSTOL aircraft; they want more destroyers, more frigates, more missiles—particularly surface-to-surface missiles—and more attack and hunter-killer submarines. The hon. Member for Haltemprice even advocated the building of a fifth Polaris submarine—or at least he asked about it.
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. I said that it would not matter if we did not build one as long as we had a long-term plan to replace the Polaris fleet in the 1980s. He will find that his accusation that we are demanding all kinds of ships is not borne out when he reads Hansard tomorrow. What we want is adequate protection for our sea communications.
Certainly, listening to the speeches by hon. Members opposite, "adequate protection" was covered by all the points I have indicated. I hope to document that a little more. The hon. Gentleman will not accuse me of misquoting him when I say that he wants more money spent on the Royal Navy. The question is, how much, and certainly, how much all the various things being suggested by hon. Members opposite would cost. If the Government met all the various demands being made by hon. Members opposite, and taking into account the demands which might be made for the R.A.F. and the Army by some of their colleagues, I estimate that defence expenditure would rise to about £4,000 million. I think that is a reasonable estimate.
Time does not permit me to detail all the various remarks made, but I have particularly in mind the powerful speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Car-shalton (Captain W. Elliot) in which he said that Vote A tells the same old gloomy story. He said that this country is more exposed to defeat than it has been for hundreds of years; that our allies are particularly weak in those ships we need to protect our communications; that we have never been less able to defend ourselves, and our potential enemies have never been stronger. That sums up the indictment of many of his hon. Friends.
The hon. Member for Haltemprice said that convoys cannot be protected. He said that we are totally dependent on our merchant navy, that the Navy is too small, that our contribution to N.A.T.O. is too small, and that our ships are out-gunned by all other navies that we are likely to be engaged by in war.
Yet the Under-Secretary of State talked at the begining of the debate about quite an extensive construction programme, with 33 vessels building, what he called an accelerated building programme called an accelerated building programme. However, that is accompanied by an accelerated scrapping programme, and the ultimate will be a Royal Navy of pretty much the same size and composition as the one we have now. The Navy of 1972–73 is smaller than the Navy of 1970–71, and the Navy of 1974–75 is likely to be even smaller, despite the accelerated building programme.
Faced with the dilemma of how we are to have a viable Navy with limited money to spend on it and limited manpower, might we not ask whether we should try to build a larger number of smaller surface ships, armed more effectively than some of the large ships that we have now? The hon. Member for Haltemprice will remember a combined operation we mounted on a previous Government on precisely this matter. We sought from the then Secretary of State for Defence a programme of building many smaller ships armed more effectively than the ships we had in the Navy then—fast, small craft armed with S.S.Ms. There is no doubt that large ships are much more vulnerable to missile attacks than smaller ships, and they are very expensive.
We are spending about £9 million on frigates, and maybe in the next few years the cost will be up to £15 million for a frigate, which I believe was the cost of the "Vanguard". I have in mind some of the small Thorneycroft types which have been sold to foreign navies and which I regard as very effective ships, much less expensive than some of the larger ones.
I return now to what my hon. Friend said in opening on the question of submarines, which, I think, captured the imagination of the House. Without doubt, the threat to merchant shipping from a potential enemy with a large submarine fleet is very real, and would, in the event of war, be quite devastating. One thinks, in particular, of the giant tankers. A giant tanker of 250,000 tons, would be most vulnerable to missile attack. How should we protect these merchant ships? The giant tankers are nothing like as fast as the submarines which might attack a convoy.
In parenthesis, perhaps one may emphasise again what folly it is to talk about abandoning our native fuel, coal, in the light of what would happen to our fuel from overseas in the event of war. To keep our coal industry going as a viable industry is only common sense from a defence point of view.
What is our answer to the submarine menace? Surface vessels? We on this side have grave doubts about that. We believe that the best answer to the submarine menace is many more hunter-killer submarines, and perhaps much less reliance on surface vessels, certainly large surface vessels, than we have had in the past.
What research has been done on hunting submarines under water, and on weapons for destroying them? One hon. and gallant Member talked about S.L.A.M.s, but I am sure that the Ministry of Defence research people have been active in many other fields as well.
I come now to manpower, which is the key to the answer to many of the criticisms which have been made of the Minister. In 1963–64 naval personnel stood at 86,800. In the current year it is below 70,000. The Royal Marines still maintain a fair proportion in relation to that figure—7,700 in the current year, 1972–73, as against 9,450 in 1963–64.
Manpower is critical, and the use of manpower is critical. It must be used economically. "Eagle" is not being scrapped because the present Government have a predilection for scrapping aircraft carriers. Certainly, they took an entirely different line when in opposition. But the manpower facts of life have convinced them that we cannot man our carriers. That is why "Eagle" is going.
On the Polaris submarines we have 2,200 men, and on other submarines 2,500. On aircraft carriers we have 2,600. There is no question that the defence potential for this country of 2,200 men serving in Polaris submarines is far greater than that of one aircraft carrier manned by over 2,000 men. On our destroyers and frigates we have 16,900.
All this underlines the significance of what my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) said about our need to take another hard look at the rôle of the Navy. We must look at the possibilities and look at the manpower situation. Recruitment this year has been good. I add my congratulations on the success story which the Minister had to tell on this score, particularly regarding re-engagement and all the steps which the Government are taking to make the Service more attractive, and more attractive for the family man, in particular. I greatly appreciated that section of the Minister's speech. But, all that being acknowledged, the manpower situation remains critical.
The amount of money which the people of this country are prepared to give to defence is limited. Of all aspects of Government expenditure this House is very critical, and it submits all demands to very close scrutiny. We believe that the use of manpower and the use of the money would be much more effective if our naval defence policy took a new line and a new direction, and I hope that the Government will be able to say that they are looking at naval strategy with the very close attention for which my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton asked.
By leave of the House I would like to reply to the debate. I start by referring to a remark made by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) that debates on the Royal Navy tend to be of a non-party if not a cross-party kind. This has certainly been true today. I have had a few complimentary remarks addressed to me—all from the Opposition side of the House, which may or may not be an advantage in a situation like this. Perhaps I may, therefore, address a few back in return.
First, I should like to address one to the hon. Member for Woolwich, West upon his maiden appearance at the Dispatch Box. I think we have all enjoyed it enormously. That now brings up the heavy guns of the Royal Marines very strongly indeed, and that is clearly something to which I and those who in future hold office will have to pay close attention. The hon. Member raised a number of important points, to some of which I shall hope to be referring during my remarks. I need scarcely say that we look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman again for many years to come—from the Dispatch Box on the Opposition side.
I ought to take up, too, a remark made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) at the end of his speech. It was not quite clear to me at the time he made it. Subsequent events have suggested that it may have something to do with things which have been happening outside this House during the day. The implication of the remark, as I understood it, was that this would be the last occasion on which he would address the House from the Opposition Front Bench on this subject. If that is so I would, I think, be echoing the views not only of hon. Members on both sides of the House but of the Royal Navy in expressing regret that this should be so. We have not always agreed, and I do not imagine that some of my present or former colleagues on the Admiralty Board have agreed always with some of the Gentleman's views, but that is understandable and, indeed, right. I think it would be true, however, to say that during those two years as Minister responsible, and those two years in what may have been the slightly more congenial rôle of what I would call candid friend of the Royal Navy, the hon. Gentleman has served the Navy extremely well, and I am sure it is with very great regret that his news will be received by the Navy when it hears it.
Having said that I ought now to turn to the subject of the debate as a whole. Let me begin straight away by answering the first question which was asked me, in an interruption during my opening speech, a question which has not been put again and may be disposed of at once. I must admit that I was completely bowled over by it, but I now have the answer and can give it with confidence. It was asked by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot). He is not here at the moment and so he will not be enlightened by my answer now, but he asked me the number of captains ashore and afloat in the Royal Navy. I could have done him admirals easily, but captains had me stumped. My hon. and gallant Friend will learn from reading Hansard tomorrow that there are 434 captains in the Royal Navy of whom only 205 are seamen. Of these 205, 35 are afloat and the remainder fill senior staff appointments in either Ministry of Defence headquarters, Fleet headquarters, N.A.T.O. headquarters or in command of training establishments or stations ashore. One would not expect senior doctors and other specialists to be afloat.
I come now to the main topic which we have been discussing. There have been two basic subjects: are we spending enough on the Royal Navy and, if we are, are we buying the right things? At the end of the defence debate a month ago I tried to say something about whether we are spending enough. No Minister in the Ministry of Defence—and I can see several eminent predecessors in that capacity on the Opposition benches—can ever be entirely happy that he has at his disposal every penny he needs. This is inevitably so and no Minister of Defence, in whatever capacity he serves, would be doing his job if he were not fighting for more. Equally, it would be wrong for anybody serving in the Ministry of Defence who felt that the amount of money he was able to obtain was so small as to be positively endangering the defence of the country to remain in office. Within those two brackets one has to strike a judgment.
Despite the more doom-laden remarks of some of my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton, I do not think that the House as a whole believes that we are spending so much too little of our national resources on defence that the defence of the country is endangered. It would be so if we contemplated defending this country by ourselves, but in the last 27 years no Government have based their defence policy on that concept. Certainly they have never based their naval policy on that concept and I do not think they have based their air and land policy on it. We base our defence policy, as both parties have done since 1949, on the alliance as a whole. I accept that there are weaknesses in the alliance as a whole, particularly in naval matters. We have been spending a lot of time in the last few months, as indeed the Labour Government did when they were in office, trying to eliminate some of those weaknesses from N.A.T.O. and more recently through the Eurogroup. The Eurogroup is an interesting development which started as a dining club and has now become a positive force in the defence of Western Europe and of the free world as a whole.
Neither this Government nor any Government since the end of the war have based their defence policy on the concept that this county can provide completely and in to to for its own defence. We have based our defence on the alliance and it is in the context of the alliance that we base our naval policy. Within the context of the alliance we are spending more in terms of proportion of gross national product—about the same, or slightly less, in the case of Germany in terms of actual spending than countries of a similar size in Western Europe—that is, France and West Germany. We have this yardstick of the size of the budget. Although we have increased this year the amount of defence spending we still remain roughly within the same bracket as the countries of similar size within the alliance. It may be that we should be spending more overall, but I do not think that in economic terms it either would or could be very much more. The broad general ball park in which we now find ourselves is about right.
The question which then has to be considered is whether within that ball park we are spending our money on the right things. In purely naval terms this has resulted in a fascinating debate today. It is a discussion which I shall read with pleasure, and I am sure that all my colleagues at the Admiralty Board will read it with interest. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Laurance Reed) that my colleagues do not spend all their time looking for a status symbol in which to travel around the world. They work very hard, and a number have taken the trouble to be not very far from this Chamber today and no doubt have heard what my hon. Friend has said about them and will wish to study this debate with great care.
It is not the first time this argument has been heard, but I believe it is the first time that the greater part of the debate has concentrated on whether we have been using our resources correctly in terms of above the water, on the water, or under the water. I would stress that there are three options, not two, and it is essential that we should recognise this. We are not talking about up or down, but we are talking about up, middle or down.
I believe that on our present priorities we have the situation broadly right. I have not been subjected to a lightning conversion in the course of the last six hours so that I would be prepared to admit I am wrong, but I should like to be able to study with my colleagues all the points which have been made.
There are three points I should like to make in reply to the general discussion. First, as regards surface ships generally one has to accept that there are a number of tasks, both peace time and war time, for which surface units are required and are inevitable, and that there is a point below which our construction programme cannot be reduced without running severe risks of providing fewer surface hulls than our commitment demands. I am sure that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and other hon. Members who raised this point will accept this. Despite what the hon. Gentleman said about the possible use of nuclear fleet submarines in operations like the Beira patrol, I do not regard this as a practical possibility. If the Beira patrol goes on that long or if we find ourselves involved in a similar commitment, this might be a possibility in future, but I certainly do not think it will happen.
We are faced with an irreducible construction programme of surface units which have to be constructed and then have to be provided with weapon support. The one field in which there appears to be argument about the surface fleet centres on cruisers. The House is well aware of the requirements which these ships are designed to meet, particularly the deployment of command patrol facilities and the development of large helicopters which are critically important weapons in anti-submarine warfare.
Unfortunately, the cruisers have turned out to be extremely expensive. The hon. Gentleman rightly referred to the coincidence between the heavy expenditure on M.R.C.A. and that on the naval building programme towards the end of the decade. He will not be in the least surprised, since he was in office at the time, that this cruiser-building programme will add substantially to the proportion of investment going into surface vessels when the nuclear building programme remains steady at the end of the decade.
The hon. Gentleman and others have emphasised the large number of nuclear fleet submarines which are in service or are coming into service in the Soviet and United States navies. The hon. Gentleman contrasted the number of these vessels which we can be expected to deploy. I would remind him that we have not the slightest intention of taking on—nor can we imagine any conceivable situation in which we shall be taking on—the Soviet Navy single-handed. Our nuclear fleet submarines are a contribution to the N.A.T.O. alliance, as are our S.S.B.N.s. The United States is also a member of that alliance. The submarines that we contribute, although we cannot hope to match the United States contribution in numbers, undoubtedly will represent a valuable strengthening of this component of the alliance maritime forces, whose importance has been rightly emphasised by a number of hon. Members.
On this point finally I refer to the U.S.G.W., the submarine-launched guided missile system. I know that this will be no comfort to my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), but there is nothing sinister in the absence of this from the Defence White Paper. All we could have done was to put in the words that we used last year and to say that studies of this weapon are continuing. They are still continuing. We are looking at the best way of doing this. No one has this trick right. It is very expensive. We want to be certain that we get it right if we try it.
A related question is that of Polaris and whether we intend to move from Polaris to Poseidon. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) raised this matter, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice. For obvious reasons there is little that I can say about it. The House is fully aware that we keep the effectiveness of the Polaris force under continuous review. I could not exclude any specific option. All I can say is that we have no present plans for replacing the present Polaris A.3 missiles.
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who has been kind enough to send me a note saying that he is unable to be here, referred to the cost effectiveness of conventional as compared with nuclear submarines. We have not closed our minds on this point. The idea that we have shut out any possibility of future conventional submarine building is wrong. The possible advantages of relatively simple submarines powered by conventional propulsion units are still very much in our thoughts. At present we have no plans to build vessels of this type. We are trying to get along as fast as possible with our other major building programmes. But the eventual possibility of doing this remains.
There were a number of questions about the Mark 46 torpedo. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton asked specifically about the problems involved in the choice between the Mark 46 and the advice that the previous Administration were given about it. As the hon. Gentleman fairly pointed out, I have not had access to the advice that he and his right hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) were given at that time. However, presumably when the advice was given it was given in the form of a choice between the Mark 46 and the continuing development of the Mark 31. I imagine that that is so. If the right hon. Gentleman can correct me, I shall accept it at once.
We were not faced with the same choice. We were faced with the stark fact that the Mark 31 had had to be cancelled because it had become too expensive. The only choice with which we could have met the threat was the Mark 46. It was all that was available at a reasonably early date. For that reason we decided to buy it. I can only say that the advice we were given on this torpedo was based on the latest development of the weapon. That again may be a difference between the advice given to the two Administrations.
I was asked two questions about the Malta settlement—
We are grateful for the hon. Gentleman's reply on that point, and I am sure he appreciates my difficulty in continuing any public debate on the matter. Will he also deal with the other and more important question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) and by me in the defence debate: whether it was right to continue with the work on the longer-term solution having denied ourselves the experience to be gained from the short-term solution?
On the advice which we have, and after discussions with the industry concerned, we believe that it is possible to proceed with the longer-term solution without necessarily having to go through the short-term interim solution. This, again, is obviously a matter which we have to keep under continual review, but at the moment the advice is that the replacement for the Mark 46 could well be British.
I come now to two questions which I was asked about Malta. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton specifically asked whether I could give an estimate of the cost of withdrawing from and returning to Malta. I have not got a completely detailed estimate, but in broad terms it looks as though it will cost us about £6 million.
My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice asked whether the United Kingdom share of the payment to the Maltese Government falls on the Defence Votes. The answer is that the £5½ million does.
We are still examining that question.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) asked about cruisers, a question to which I intended to reply earlier. She asked which ships they would replace when they entered service. We hope that they will begin to enter service in 1978. Their primary task is the deployment of large helicopters. They will specifically replace "Ark Royal" and the two converted Tiger class cruisers "Tiger" and "Blake".
Still in the wider strategic sphere, the hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd), who has also sent me a note saying very courteously that he is unable to be present at the close of the debate, asked for the Government's latest assessment on the importance of collaboration with South Africa in the context of the defence of the Cape routes and our presence in the Indian Ocean. We still continue to make use of the facilities at Simons town which we and our predecessors in the last Administration found extremely valuable under the 1955 Simons town Agreement. During 1971 some 70 ships of the Royal Navy and 50 Royal Fleet Auxiliaries called at South African ports, which is some measure of the use we make of the facilities. The numbers are expected to be somewhat lower in future years with revised deployment east of the Cape. The value of the agreement continues both in this respect and as regards the defence of shipping around Southern Africa where there is a threat which we cannot afford to ignore. The United Kingdom's position in this regard is recognised by those of our friends who have made a careful examination of the facts in geographical and strategic terms. There has been no change in our attitude towards South Africa's internal an apartheid policy. We have made our position perfectly clear on many occasions.
The Indian Ocean is one area which I had in mind when I referred in my opening speech to the special responsibility of the Royal Navy in helping to deter the use of force in those areas where the United Kingdom has special interests and responsibilities.
A number of unrelated but important points were raised by a number of hon. Members, and I will take them as they come to hand. One of the great virtues of a debate like this is its variety, but it makes it rather difficult to produce a coherent theme in winding up.
The hon. Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Portsmouth, West and my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport raised the very difficult question of pensions for widows whose husbands retired before 1st September, 1950. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, West, were he here, would recall that he raised this matter on the Adjournment some 18 months ago, which was one of the first debates to which I replied in my present capacity. I then explained as fully as I was able why we were unable to give pensions to these ladies.
However sympathetic one may feel towards these widows, the fact is that their husbands left the Armed Forces before the family pensions scheme was introduced and they are therefore in the same position as any other widow whose husband left an employment before his conditions of service provided for widows' pensions. However, in the light of the renewed representations that have been made to me in writing by many hon. Members and in the debate today, I undertake to give full consideration to those representations in the continuing examination that we are making of improvements in pensions generally.
The hon. Members for Sutton, West Lothian and Woolwich, West raised the question of the wreck of the "Mary" discovered off the Skerries. I gather that it was discovered simultaneously by conflicting or competing groups of divers last summer. Perhaps I might say something about the general question of historic wrecks, which is becoming a matter of urgency. I am sure the House will realise that I and, indeed, the Government as a whole share the concern of hon. Members about the safeguarding of historic wrecks of archæological interest. The law governing these wrecks is about 80 years old. It is embodied in the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, which happily is not my responsibility but that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
Apart from the fact that it will be necessary to decide whether a particular individual or organisation had a prior claim to be granted an exclusive contract, the wreck of the "Mary" was discovered by different groups at about the same time, so that will be a difficult adjudication to make. Such a contract will not by itself preclude other individuals from diving at the site.
The hon. Member for Woolwich, West mentioned the shambles over the wreck of the "Association". It is only fair to say that the previous Administration granted contracts in respect of the wreck of the "Association" but that did not prevent what eventually happened. Indeed, it is the experience of the "Association" that has led me to decide that I am not going to be in a particular hurry to grant contracts for the "Mary". I can, however, say that in order to improve the present state of the law it is the Government's intention to amend the Merchant Shipping Act so that particular wreck sites may be designated as protected sites where their preservation is considered to be of historical or archaeological importance. This, it is hoped, will prevent indiscriminate damage from occurring through unauthorised diving at such sites, and I am sure that will be welcome don both sides of the House. I cannot say today when it will be possible to produce the amending legislation.
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that the need is for urgency? Would he consider giving an exclusive contract, on the understanding that whoever was given it would guarantee to safeguard the rights, using the civil law, and, if necessary, not explore the wreck during the interim period while we are awaiting the necessary legislation? We need a holding operation before the legislation comes in.
That is an interesting point. The hon. Gentleman raised it in his opening speech and I had intended to refer to it. I shall consider the matter to see whether it is possible to produce the type of contract which freezes things where they are until we get the Bill through. The timing of the legislation is not for me but for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I agree that there is an element of urgency about this, but I cannot give any undertaking about when the legislation will be introduced.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport and the hon. Member for Portsmouth, West raised the question of new construction for the Royal Dockyards, with particular reference to the building slip at Devonport which I saw last week when I was in that great dockyard. It has been the general policy of this Government, as it was of the previous Administration, that the dockyard's efforts must be concentrated on its labour force, structured for undertaking, in the most efficient and economical manner, its primary task which is that of maintaining the Fleet. We intend, however, to continue to build small craft in the southern yards, and also to consider building larger vessels when the opportunity occurs. We have no immediate plans for doing so. The dockyards are now over-full with refitting and repair work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport also asked about the future of H.M.S. "Ganges". I confirm what (said in my opening speech, that we do not intend to apply for exemption under the 1944 Actto enable us to recruit any further at the age of 15. Therefore, we shall follow the long-term policy announced in the 1969 Defence White Paper, of concentrating the training of new entries in either H.M.S. "Raleigh" or H.M.S. "Fisgard" at Torpoint in the 1970s. Pending the rebuilding of H.M.S. "Raleigh"—Her Royal Highness Princess Anne intends to lay the foundation stone of the new building in the next month or so—the new entry training of the youngest recruits was to continue on H.M.S. "Ganges".
It is necessary to rebuild and modernise H.M.S. "Raleigh" to accommodate the increased numbers which have to be received there, but it is clear that this building programme will not be completed for some years. We are studying the problems raised by this, and it is possible that "Ganges" will have to be kept open to cater for the overflow of recruits until the rebuild of "Raleigh" is complete, probably in 1976. No firm decisions have been taken, and it is too early to say whether there will be a long-term defence use for the "Ganges" establishment at Shotley.
I should like now to come, once again, and, I am sure, not for the last time, to the question of H.M.S. "Eagle". I do not want there to be any misunderstanding. My right hon. and noble Friend made it plain in another place that "Eagle" will not be finally disposed of for scrap before the end of 1973. Her condition during this period has been described by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester as the "unmaintained reserve". I should be fair with the House on this point. That was my hon. and gallant Friend's phrase, and not mine.
When de-storing at Portsmouth has been completed later this year, "Eagle" will be towed to Devonport, where certain of her equipment will be earmarked to support "Ark Royal". Until the requirements for "Ark Royal" have been more closely defined, it will not be possible to say what this equipment will be. There is no change of policy here; this is what we always intended to do. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport I should say that "de-storing" means simply the removal of stores and equipment that we need for other purposes. This is now going on at Portsmouth.
Related to the question of "Eagle", of course, is the question of her sister ship "Ark Royal". I was asked about the present condition of "Ark Royal". Some damage was caused to the ship by heavy weather in her passage home from the Caribbean. The ship is now at Devonport undergoing the planned docking and attention to central defects, during which repairs will be undertaken. Her programme will not be affected.
She entered Plymouth on the revised date which we intended. We had to bring her in on that date because there is a minor industrial disturbance at Plymouth at the moment, which meant that we had to bring her in during the hours of daylight, when the tide was agreeable. There is no question of her accelerated return to the dockyard. She remains 60 per cent. operational, as we always intended she should be.
So far as I know, she will sail on the planned date; there is no reason why she should not. She was always coming into Devonport at this time for a maintenance period, and she will put right the damage caused by the storm at the same time.
I turn now to the question of the Royal Marines, which the hon. Member for Woolwich, West mentioned and once adorned. They still play an active part in operations. They have been deployed twice in the last year in Northern Ireland. We had two commandos there simultaneously. They also play an important rôle in the withdrawal from the Gulf as part of the covering force, when we had a commando group embarked in H.M.S. "Albion" and a commando in Malta which we shall have in Malta again.
There has been a steady backwards and forwards movement in regard to Malta which has upset the families slightly. However, I have kept in fairly close contact with the wives of the Marines concerned, and I hope that they have not suffered too much disturbance. The Marines have also been involved in the northern flank exercise "Clockwork". Not all the commandos were able to take part because some had just returned after serving in Belfast, and this exercise was limited to support groups and under-17 commandos.
I went to see them exercising in Northern Norway and was most impressed by the way they stood up to this morale-testing operation in repulsive weather. They came through extremely well and the Norwegian general commanding the exercise spoke particularly highly of the efficiency and determination with which the operation had been conducted. I also visited a number of other Royal Marine establishments and national units and I assure the hon. Member for Woolwich, West that his old Service is in very good heart and doing extremely well.
Our amphibious forces enable us to make the best use of the flexibility of maritime operations to put our Royal Marine commandos ashore when and where they are needed. Like everything else, we keep this aspect under review; but I have nothing to announce about the long-term future of our amphibious forces.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) asked about our plans for hovercraft. We have no plans for building them for national service but we are continuing to evaluate the hovercraft at the Inter-Service Hovercraft Unit as well as at the unit in the Falkland Islands. We shall, in the light of this evaluation, decide the case for or against building hovercraft.
As I announced earlier, we have decided to place an order for four Seal-type patrol craft and, as my hon Friend the Member for Haltemprice reminded me, this is vital in connection with fishery protection.
The question of the use of spare capacity in the dockyard apprentice training centres for training young people from outside is interesting and is under review with the Department of Employment, whose agreement we would need. However, the signs at present are that there would be difficulties in matching requirements against available capacity, particularly as they are distributed over a number of different trades.
Several hon. Members pointed out the need to increase our fishery patrol effort and asked whether we were making a sufficiently adequate effort in view of the changed circumstances which lie ahead. Entry into the Common Market will allow member nations to fish within a six- to 12-mile band round our coast in certain areas while excluding them from others, and this is bound to make the fishery protection task more onerous. There is, therefore, need to ensure that a high standard is maintained in the fishery protection service and we have decided to increase by one-half our fishery protection activities round the United Kingdom.
I informed the House a few months ago of our intention in this connection. I said then that the additional resources that would be needed would be met from the full-time deployment of two more minesweepers, from the fast patrol boats that we are buying for the purpose and from the increased use of the Royal Navy and R.A.F. helicopters. I appreciate that helicopters are not capable of making arrests, out they are possibly more efficient in terms of spotting and it is possible that they could help to increase the efficiency of the patrols.
These additional forces will be operated on the same basis as the present fishery protection squadron which is composed of the six M.C.M.V.s based on Rosyth. The new enlarged squadron will be based where required and our liaison with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland, will continue. These augmented forces will become fully operational from the beginning of next year, at the same time as the revised boundaries are implemented.
Ships with the ability to spend some time on patrol and face severe weather conditions are considered to be best for this purpose, and we still believe that the M.C.M.V.s are best. Speed is not considered a major requirement. Offenders seldom run for it, though the acquisition of fast patrol boats should enable us to react quickly in certain circumstances.
The House may be interested in the record of the fishery protection squadron. We can now claim over 190 convictions since 1964 for poaching and, more recently, for net stowage and gear offences. This demonstrates the effectiveness of our forces in this matter.
Information given to me indicates that offenders always run for it and that they pick up on their radar screens the pursuing vessels. What is required is some very fast vessel which can catch them. Has my hon. Friend considered hydrofoils in this connection?
It was a Frenchman who ran for it the other day, and we had an interesting confrontation before he returned to a particular Cornish port. He was trying to get hold of the owner of the boat, who was in Warsaw, so understandably there was a slight delay.
On the question of Iceland, as the House knows the Icelandic Government has announced its intention to introduce a 50-mile exclusive fishing limit around her coast from 1st September this year. I cannot comment very much on the negotiations with Iceland and the prospect of our court case at the International Court of Justice at The Hague which is going ahead, because these are matters for my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, and the effect of the Icelandic proposals on the fishing industry is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has already informed the House that we hope it will be possible to agree with the Icelandic Government on arrangements for British fishing to continue in the waters around Iceland. As the House will recall, however, he went on to say:
I cannot say that we would in no circumstances resort to naval protection for our fishing vessels, but I hope that protection will not prove necessary."—[Official Report, 6th March, 1972; Vol. 832, c. 1007.]
This is the present position. We now await the negotiations with the Icelandic Government and the case before the International Court at The Hague.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, West raised the question of the proposed board of visitors at the Royal Naval Detention Quarters, which is one of the proposals put forward by Brigadier Mansell. The difference in this degard between a civil prison and the R.N.D.Q. is that the R.N.D.Q. already has a monthly visit from the Commodore of the Royal Naval Barracks and quarterly visits from the Board of Naval Visitors. So we do not feel that it should necessarily be a completely independent board of visitors. We have not yet decided on the composition of the new board, about which we shall consult the Commander-in-Chief of the Naval Home Command.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester, referring particularly to a possible outflow from the Navy as a result of the notice engagement, pointed to the urgent need we have to keep in touch with those Servicemen who leave the Navy. I think he had in mind the sort of follow-up system that the Dutch Navy uses, and to which the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) referred in the debate last year and about which I believe I wrote to him at some time rather long afterwards. We are now using a similar scheme. Five months after they leave the Service, we follow up each able and leading seaman and their equivalents in other branches. We consider that such a follow-up will prove its worth and we shall continue it, amending it if need be in the light of the working of the notice scheme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, East raised the question of the banning of the use of offensive and defensive weapons on the Continental Shelf. As he knows much better than I, because he is an expert in these matters, proposals are in hand for the banning of military uses of the sea-bed, including the Continental Shelf, and such proposals are best discussed in such a suitable disarmament forum as the conference on disarmament in Geneva, which has the necessary experience on arms control, and negotiations in general and problems of sea bed arms control in particular, to enable it to handle further negotiations to the best effect. In this forum Her Majesty's Government would certainly be prepared to consider any specific proposals for measures of sea-bed arms control.
My right hon. Friend drew attention to the very difficult problem of verification. He also asked about the defence implications of the Continental Shelf for oil and gas. The effect of these, both as regards the protection of sea routes and the protection of exploration and exploitation devices, is currently under examination by the Departments concerned—not just my Department but the various other Departments involved. This is essentially a long-term problem. We hope to reach a solution in due time. We recognise its importance. It is, as my hon. Friend will appreciate, a very difficult and complicated problem. It may take a little time to find a solution.
I am conscious that I have spoken for far too long, for which I apologise to the House. I am also conscious that the House has been good enough to permit me to speak for far too long. I thank all those who have taken part in the debate, which has been very useful and helpful. I hope that over the next year we shall maintain the same cordial spirit towards the Royal Navy—even though some are critical of the Government—as has been maintained over the past year.