asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty whether he can give an assurance that anti-submarine craft now under construction have an adequate margin of speed over that of submarines belonging to foreign nations.
In view of the extreme importance of this matter, can the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that Admiralty experts are absolutely satisfied that there is an adequate margin of speed over that of Russian submarines?
There is a later question about that.
Is the Admiralty bearing in mind the paramount importance of the speed and number of anti-submarine craft?
Would the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that it is essential that these vessels, besides having extra speed, should have equipment suitable for use at that speed?
That is also under consideration and is being implemented.
Dockyard Labourers (Wages)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty what steps are being taken to improve the wages of labourers in His Majesty's dockyards.
The wages of labourers in His Majesty's dockyards are determined by negotiations on the Shipbuilding Trade Joint Council for Government Departments which has under consideration various claims made by the trade unions. It would be inappropriate for me to attempt to forecast the outcome of the negotiations now proceeding on these matters.
Is the hon. Gentleman of the opinion that £4 15s. a week is sufficient for a labourer to raise a family at a time when the cost of living is sky-rocketing, unofficially?
Hms "Ceres" (Transfer)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty whether he is aware of the dissatisfaction in the Medway towns at the Admiralty's decision not now to transfer H.M.S. "Ceres" to Chatham; that this decision is likely still further to increase unemployment in the area; and if he will take steps to have this decision reversed.
There has been no decision in the Admiralty that H.M.S. "Ceres" should not be transferred to Chatham. The position is that the adaptation of the Royal Marine barracks to accommodate the "Ceres" involves a substantial amount of building work which has had to be considered in the light of the requirements of the Defence programme. The decision has now been taken that the work involved in adapting the premises for H.M.S. "Ceres" should proceed. I must make it clear, however, that it will be some time before the buildings at Chatham will be ready to accommodate H.M.S. "Ceres."
May I take it that the "Ceres" is going to Chatham as soon as those buildings are ready?
That is right.
Chatham Dockyard (Incidents)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty whether he will make a statement on his investigations into sabotage in Chatham dockyard.
There have been no incidents at Chatham dockyard during the last two years which, on investigation, were found to be attributable to malicious damage.
Is the Minister aware that considerable disquiet has been caused in Chatham dockyard by a report that appeared in the "Daily Express" on Saturday, 23rd September, quoting a statement of the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd)? If and when sabotage is suspected in His Majesty's dockyards, could a statement be made so that the men working in the dockyards, most of whom are loyal, can themselves look out for sabotage?
We cannot be responsible for issuing denials of things which are said by hon. Members or even by the Press. We would have a busy time doing that and we should not be able to get on with our work at the Admiralty.
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty if he will consider extending prize money to all naval personnel who were sunk at sea and taken prisoner regardless of the length of time they served at sea.
No, Sir. Prize money is payable only to those who qualified for it under the Royal Proclamation, which was drafted in accordance with the wishes expressed in this House and in another place during the passage of the Prize Bill in 1949.
Does the Minister not think that it is now time we revised those rules? A small number of personnel in the Navy were sunk in the early days of the war and were unable to get either the Atlantic Star or their prize money. These men could not have done more for their country except make the supreme sacrifice.
I have great sympathy with the point that the hon. and gallant Member makes, but it would be presumptuous for me to say that the rules should be revised in view of the fact that all this was taken into account when the Royal Proclamation was under consideration.
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty whether it is proposed to reopen Bermuda dockyard, in view of the re-armament programme.
Does the Minister think it wise to dispense with these facilities at a time when there is danger to this country of an international conflict? Does he not think it would be prudent to maintain a dockyard which is remote from potential enemy bases?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that careful consideration has been given to the position, but the dockyard has become uneconomical in many ways. I would point out that the America and West Indies Fleet is still operating from there and will be able adequately to carry out its duties.
Has any action yet been taken to dispose of the Bermuda dockyard?
I could not answer that question without notice, but we are continuing the process of getting out of the yard.
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty whether he will make a comprehensive statement on the progress and programme of naval construction, conversions, &c.
I apologise for the length of this answer.Of the new vessels to be built shown in the Navy Estimates 1950–51, H.M.S. "Ark Royal" and three destroyers of the "Daring" Class have been launched. Six new aircraft carriers will join the Fleet between now and 1954. The number of warships under construction has been increased by two anti-submarine frigates of new design; and 41 new design minesweepers, including those approved under the recent additional defence measures, have been or shortly will be ordered, in addition to some small craft. The conversion of fleet destroyers into anti-submarine frigates is already well under way, and six of these vessels will be in dockyard hands by the end of 1950. More are planned to follow during 1951. A programme of converting war-time submarines to higher speeds has also begun. The aircraft carrier "Victorious" is in hand for modernisation to enable her to operate future types of aircraft. The number of refits for ships in the Reserve Fleet that will have been undertaken during the three years ending in March, 1951, is 450, including 88 which were part of the recent additional defence programme. Virtually all the ships of the operational reserve have now been refitted at least once since the end of the war. A start is being made on the building of stocks of degaussing and other equipment for the protection of the Merchant Fleet in war.
The hon. Gentleman referred to two further anti-submarine vessels of a new type. Could he say what the programme of these vessels is to be?
Not in answer to a supplementary question. Questions of public security are involved.
Does not the hon. Gentleman think that this programme discloses a considerable weakness in numbers of escort vessels which are refitted and available for service?
No, Sir; I think nothing of the sort. It shows that we have an excellent number of vessels in reserve that would be available to do the job.
Has the construction of the three aircraft carriers, which was suspended in 1946, been resumed?
At the moment we are pushing ahead with the completion of other carriers, which are already further advanced.
Will the Admiralty consider re-issuing next year the Return of Fleets, without which it is almost impossible to know what the situation is?
I will certainly consider that.
Will the Minister say whether the undertaking he gave in answer to my Question applies only to the two new anti-submarine frigates or to others as well?
It applies to all vessels that are now being converted, including the fleet destroyers.
Will the hon. Gentleman say whether this re-fitting includes the complete rehabilitation of all radar equipment and gun directional equipment on those vessels?
Yes, Sir. This is a process of modernisation.
Will the Parliamentary Secretary confirm that there is no major work being done on battleships?
I think there is not.
Ship-Building And Repairing
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty when it is proposed to set up the development council for the ship-building and ship repairing industries.
The Government are fully alive to the position in this industry and will consider the setting up of a development council when they consider the time appropriate.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a considerable amount of unemployment in the ship-building and ship repairing industry today, and would the time not now be appropriate to give effect to the pledge made in "Labour Believes in Britain" that this development council should be set up?
We are aware that there is some increase in unemployment in ship repairing rather than in ship-building, but I believe the situation is a little more promising for the future. My hon. Friend's proposal will be kept under active consideration.
Is the Minister aware that all interests are represented on the Ship-Building Advisory Committee, with its independent chairman?
Submarine Detection Devices
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty what steps are being taken to equip naval air craft and surface craft with detection devices suitable for use against sub marines fitted with fast under-water batteries and snorts.
As far as I can tell, the development of anti-submarine detecting devices and weapons for both naval aircraft and surface ships is fully keeping pace with developments in the submarine's power and underwater evasion and attack. It would not be in the public interest to disclose details of what is being done in this field.
I quite agree with the Parliamentary Secretary, but will he give me an assurance that this position will be continuously watched, because the balance is likely to swing one way or the other?
The highest priority is being given to this work.
Mail Deliveries, Far East
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty if he is aware that delays, up to five weeks, are arising in the delivery of mail to His Majesty's ships in Far Eastern waters; and whether he will consult with the Postmaster-General to ensure a more prompt and efficient delivery.
Normally air mail takes from four to six days, and I can only assume that the hon. Member is referring to surface mail which takes between three and a half and eight weeks to get from the United Kingdom to one or other of the three Fleet mail offices on the Far East Station. I should like to remind the families of Service men that lightweight Forces letters can be sent by air for the normal cost of 2½d.
Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that anything but the very smallest letter sent by Services airmail is absolutely prohibitive in cost to the normal family and that it costs up to 25s. to send two cakes of soap and a packet of writing paper?
There is no limitation at all on the number of lightweight airmail Forces letters that can be sent for the cost of 2½d. each.
As the London mail is very limited, will the hon. Gentleman consider having it flown to Singapore, Hong Kong, and Korea?
I will certainly look into that. I am not acquainted with the exact route.
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty when duty-free cigarettes and tobacco are to be made available for sale to the personnel at Royal Naval air stations in Scotland.
Discussions are proceeding with the Customs about the Navy's duty-free privileges. I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that naval air stations have not been forgotten; but the subject is complex and it will take a little time before the regulations can be drafted.
Will the Parliamentary Secretary be able to make a statement on this matter in due course?
Yes, Sir, if a Question is put down.
Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that we hope this will apply to English air stations as well?
It certainly will.
Acting Rank (Pensions)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty if his regulations allow acting rank held for more than 12 months in peace-time to be counted for pension purposes.
All paid rank is now taken into account when assessing the rank element of ratings' pensions. Paid acting rank on the active list of a year or more between 3rd September, 1939, and 31st October, 1952, will also be allowed to count for increases in officers' retired pay.
Will the Parliamentary Secretary say whether or not such service in an acting rank can be confirmed after holding that acting rank successfully for 12 months or more?
That sounds far too technical for a supplementary question. I should like to write to the hon. Member on the subject.
Long Service And Good Conduct Medal
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty why service under pension should not be counted towards the qualifying period for the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.
All naval ratings and other ranks Royal Marines have the opportunity before discharge to pension of being recommended for the award of the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal on completion of 15 years' service with continuous "Very Good" character and with character before the 15 years not inferior to "Good." Pensioners who were unable to secure the award before discharge to pension after 22 years' service thus fail to maintain the very high standard of character for which it is the recognition. It is not desirable that any steps be taken which might depreciate the award.
Does not the Parliamentary Secretary agree that in the case of pensioners who had uniformed service during the war, even though, before that, they had not completed the necessary number of years, that extra long service and good conduct should be counted as part of the qualifying period?
The hon. Gentleman is asking me for an opinion. I have discovered that there are mixed views about this.
Has my hon. Friend observed that of the 12 Questions from the Opposition which he and his hon. Friend have answered ten have been demands for increased Government ex- penditure which, in their week-end speeches, hon. Members opposite are always seeking to reduce?