§ * MR. VIVIAN (Birkenhead)
said he desired to call attention to public expenditure and to move, "That this House is of opinion that the growth of expenditure on armaments is excessive and ought to be reduced; such expenditure lessens national and commercial credit, intensifies the unemployed problem, reduces the resources available for social reform, and presses with exceptional severity on the industrial classes; and it therefore calls upon the Government to take drastic steps to reduce the drain on national income, and to this end to press for the inclusion of the question of the reduction of armaments by international agreement in the agenda of the forthcoming Hague Conference." It seemed to some of his hon. friends a proper time to press the consideration of this question upon the attention of the House. The Resolution was brought forward in no spirit of antagonism to the Government; indeed, quite the reverse. They felt confident that they had in connection with this Resolution the hearty sympathy and support of His Majesty's Government. This was a new Parliament returned after a great campaign in which the importance of a reduction in non-productive expenditure was one of the issues. They realised that the Government had only been a short time in office, and that it would have been very difficult for the Government to remodel the Estimates which they inherited from their predecessors, but during the next twelve months both the House and the country would expect the Government to do something in the direction of a reduction of expenditure in order to carry out the pledges of the Party, and it was partly with a view to strengthening the hands of the 1384 Government on this question that he pressed the Resolution on the attention of the House. It must be obvious that a declaration by an overwhelming majority of the House was of value as a moral support to the Government in their task of retrenchment. He also ventured to say it would have great effect on the other Parliaments of the world in considering the question of bloated armaments. Practically the Liberal Party had not been in power for twenty years, but they now had an enormous majority behind them, and he believed he spoke for the majority of the Party in this House when he said it was expected that as soon as possible they would reorganise the spending departments of this country on lines that would keep up the great traditions of the Party. Few Members believed that the abolition of armaments was practicable, but they believed it possible greatly to limit this expenditure. The Resolution incidentally mentioned the importance of the question from the standpoint of the burden on industry. Unless some step could be taken to reduce expenditure substantially a demand would be made that the burden should be apportioned in a different way from that in which it was at present proportioned. The burden fell too heavily upon the great mass of the badly paid and these who had an insufficiency of this world's goods. Those, therefore, who believed it was essential to keep up the present expenditure on armaments would have to face the alternative of shifting the burden from the industrious to the idle. Roughly speaking, we were spending 100 millions a year in preparation for coming wars or in interest on the capital cost of past wars. Such a sum seemed discreditable to a so-called Christian nation. The sum mentioned, if capitalised, represented little short of 2,500 millions of money. But the most remarkable figure in connection with this matter was the enormous increase during the last ten years. Including loans for naval and military works, we had added during the last ten years about forty millions a year to our expenditure. He was glad to hear from the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day that these loans were to be stopped, for the expenditure should at least come out of revenue so that the country should not 1385 be misled. The capital sum represented by £40,000,000 was £1,000,000,000. Was it realised that in ten years these responsible for the finances of this country had for all practical purposes more than doubled the National Debt? Our burdens would have been no greater if £1,000,000,000 had been borrowed, and we were paying an interest of £40,000,000 a year on it. These who were connected with business had known during the last few years what effect this enormous expenditure had had in depreciating our credit. Further, it had deprived the country of funds which could have been otherwise used to carry out social reforms. The guarantee of £40,000,000 a year would represent the housing of 4,000,000 people at £250 a house. He merely mentioned that to indicate the enormous bearing this subject had upon social and economic reform. But they could not have it both ways. If they went on in the present lavish way with regard to armaments, the money could not be available for building up the happiness and prosperity of the people of this country. He would cite one or two facts to show the close relationship between expenditure and the condition of the people of this country. The statistics of crime and pauperism followed the lowered credit of the country which sprang from wasteful expenditure. During the period in which our credit had been going down as a result of this excessive expenditure, pauperism had increased by 10 per cent. Beggars had increased by 30 per cent. What to him was of even greater moment was the fact that whereas before this crisis in our financial position our people were able to increase their savings at the rate of more than £9,000,000 a year, since our credit had been depreciated the increase had dropped to £3,000,000 a year. Whatever was the condition of the people, one would have to admit that if this expenditure were needed for the defence of our country and homes, it would have to be borne, but those who demanded a reduction of the expenditure contended that the increased expenditure had not been accompanied by increased efficiency. The cost of the Army was now nearly double what it was in 1894, and he asked, had that increase been 1386 accompanied by double the increase in the strength of the fighting force. They had poured out money too lavishly to this Government Department, and they had not had that check upon extravagance which ought to have been exercised. He could give the evidence of expert after expert showing the inefficiency of our fighting forces. It was the duty of this House to see that public expenditure was properly checked. Recently in the Far East a new power had come into being, and fortunately this country was on the best terms with it. He was also pleased to note that we were on the most cordial terms of friendship with France. The race with regard to armaments which had been going on between this country and France for a good many years could now, to a large extent, be regarded as unnecessary. There was no need for them to continue to keep up that keen competition with regard to the relative strength of armaments that used to exist before the conditions changed. With regard to Russia, her Navy was practically no more. He submitted that these were facts that should cause them to consider expenditure in this direction with a view to pulling up the credit of the country. They should nurse their commercial strength in order that they might be able to command the sinews of war for any struggle in which they might be engaged. This was not the time to be wasting our resources. He submitted to these of a warlike tendency that this Resolution was one which should commend itself to them. Then there was a question of a limit in this race. We had increased our expenditure by £40,000,000 during the last ten years. What guarantee was there that there would not be another £40,000,000 increase in the next ten years? Were we to continue in this mad race without any attempt to check it. He thought there was want of strength and character in the demand that we should always have sufficient fighting strength to overwhelm everyone else. The House must have more confidence in the people to rise to the occasion, should an emergency arise. He had confidence in these who lived in the British Empire to meet any such emergency. The object of the fighting force of this country should be a defensive and not an aggressive 1387 one. If we were going blustering all over the world in connection with an expansive policy, then there would be no limit to the expenditure that would be required to satisfy the demands of experts. If we confined ourselves to the defence of territories which we had already acquired, then there would be no need for the immense annual burdens which were now being placed upon the country. He ventured to suggest with regard to the power of defence that there were two things which were occasionally overlooked in connection with preparation for war. One of them was the power to borrow £500,000,000 quickly and cheaply, and in his opinion that was worth an Army corps. If the country continued to waste its resources and keep its credit down, the difficulties of meeting an emergency would be enhanced by the policy which it was now pursuing. If only to get the credit of the country up, the House ought to take the course suggested by the Resolution. Then there was something in having a contented population. Speaking from the artisan's point of view, he might say they had no intention of encouraging or even permitting, if they could stop it, the continuance of the race in which this country had been engaged in regard to armaments. He realised that these burdens must fall upon these who worked for daily wages. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said, it was practically impossible absolutely to arrange the finances of the country in watertight compartments. Any wasteful expenditure must fall with bad effect upon these engaged in daily toil. If it were put upon the income-tax payer he might go short of some little luxury, but it would be found that he would curtail the employment of some kind of labour. They could frequently connect large dismissals in trade with the increase in public expenditure, notwithstanding the fact that that expenditure might be coming directly out of the pockets of the class that might not be described as the working-class. Indirectly, however, it found its way down to the pockets of the poor, and in the long run any extravagant expenditure fell on the great mass of the working classes of this country. 1388 If this expenditure was to be maintained they would have to demand that the burden should be placed in some direct way upon the gambler and the speculator. The people had stood too long the present method of taxation, and he hoped the Government would so arrange taxation that it would fall upon these who got rich while they slept and not upon these who got poor while they worked. That was the line he and his friends intended to follow up. It was unreasonable to expect that the great mass of the working people were going to tolerate the burdens that had been imposed upon them without some protest. With regard to the Hague Conference, he learned with regret that the Czar had left out in his notice the question of the reduction of armaments, although at the first Conference that question was considered. He hoped at that Conference that the representatives of the British Government would be instructed to press for the inclusion, amongst the subjects discussed at the Conference, of the question of the reduction of the armaments by international agreement. Some years ago Lord Goschen expressed his willingness to consider that question, and perhaps he would be permitted to read his Lordship's words. Lord Goschen said—;I have now to state on behalf of His Majesty's Government that similarly if the other great European powers should be prepared to diminish their programme of shipbuilding we should be prepared on our side to meet such a procedure by modifying ours. The difficulties of adjustment are no doubt immense. Our desire that the Conference should succeed in reducing the tremendous burdens which now weigh down all European nations is sincere, and if Europe comes to no agreement, and if the hopes entertained by the Czar should not be realised the programme I have submitted to the House must stand.All that was asked on this particular point was that the House of Commons should renew that appeal, as it were, to the other nations of Europe, and to express here and now their willingness to discuss the possibility of a reduction of armaments by international agreement. He hoped that a representative of the Government would be able to tell the House that they viewed this proposal sympathetically, and that they were prepared to accede to the recommendation, in the Resolution. In connection 1389 with the expenditure for warlike purposes there was a tendency for vested interests to perpetuate their existence. An increased expenditure of about £40,000,000 a year brought within the zone of vested interests a vast number of human beings, and if hon. Members thought of that for a moment they would see how dangerous it was to continue along that line. He viewed with alarm the enormous extension of our arsenals and our yards of a Royal character. After the necessity for them had ceased they had officialdom and other interests all determined to perpetuate themselves at the expense of the industries of the country. It was the duty of the House to see that they did not intensify that evil—;that they did not create more than was absolutely necessary. He was glad to note the other day that Lord Tweedmouth referred to the value, in the case of a crisis, of the private yards, and of private methods of producing the things which were required. It was practically impossible, except at an intolerable expense to the people of this country, to keep up the Royal yards and methods of production which would give us in time of war, or in time of danger, all that we required. If that was attempted, a burden would be created in time of peace which the people would not tolerate. What was the result of a policy of that sort? Fits of economy were followed by fits of expenditure, and nothing was worse for efficiency than that method of going on. He urged, therefore, that a watchful eye should be kept on the growth of the permanent non-productive expenditure. The political influence represented by £40,000,000 was enormous, and it had its effect on the House. When speaking of the enormous increase in expenditure during the past ten years, he should like to say that it took over a century of wars and preparation for wars to get our expenditure up to between £36,000,000 to £37,000,000 annually on armaments. During that period, which embraced the time of Napoleon, England had been engaged in some of its greatest conflicts from which she had emerged with some amount of honour and glory—;certainly rather more than she got in her latest straggle—;yet in the last ten years we had run the expenditure on armaments up to 1390 £76,000,000, or more than double. The explantaion of the increase was that those responsible did not exercise sufficient check on the experts who recommended the expenditure. He was always willing to consult experts on technical details, but it was for this House to say how much in the aggregate it was prepared to spend on matters relating to the defence of the Empire, after consultation, of course, with the responsible Ministers of the Crown. He denied that it was wise to allow generals, captains, and other officers to decide how much should be spent in these directions. He believed the present Government were prepared to stand boldly out for economy. Parliament would not deny them the money required for securing efficiency. He and his friends were as anxious to defend the interests of the Empire as these who were in favour of this lavish expenditure, but they said that efficiency was not necessarily obtained by wasteful expenditure which threw an enormous burden on the taxpayers. The Resolution did not call upon the House to do anything of a revolutionary character. Most hon. Members were pledged to economy when they were returned to the House. He saw no reason why hon. Members in all parts of the House should hesitate to support the Government in any effort they might make to have this question of armaments considered by the different nations of the world when they met at the Hague Conference. They were all proud of what England had done in the past in the cause of progress; they would love her more if she would take her proper place in regard to this great question of lessening the horrors and evils of war. We had an enormous responsibility in connection with the question raised in the Resolution. We were an island, and had natural means of defence that many other nations had not got. We ought, therefore, to be prepared to risk something and to take the first part in bringing about conditions that should make it possible, not only to reduce the cost of armaments in our own country, but also to make the burden lighter for the artisans and labourers in every country in Europe. He begged to move.
§ * MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
said his duty in seconding the Resolution was considerably lightened by the exhaustive and able speech of the hon. Member for Birkenhead. The Resolution asked the House to declare that the expenditure on armaments at present was excessive; that being excessive it weakened our national credit; and that, in so far as it reduced our credit, it tended to intensify and aggravate the problem of finding employment for the people at home. This expenditure also tended to reduce the resources which ought to be available for the carrying out of great projects of social reform, and it fell with greatest severity on the industrial classes. No one would deny that our expenditure on armaments had been growing with alarming rapidity. It might be that he was getting into the reminiscent stage and was inclined to review the work they had accomplished, or attempted to accomplish. He would like to point out to his right hon. friend that when he with himself entered this House for the first time a good many years ago, our expenditure upon the Army and Navy was only £30,382,000. In the present financial year the estimated expenditure on these services was £62,345,000. Our entire national expenditure at that time was only a little over £89,000,000. To-day the cost of the Army and the Navy, with the interest on the National Debt, amounted to over £5,000,000 more than the entire national expenditure at the time the right hon. Gentleman and himself entered the House. He wished that we had received satisfaction for that expenditure in the way of necessary and legitimate reforms or in the way of honest value for the proportionate increase in the national expenditure. Had we to-day the sense of efficiency and security which we ought to have for the money we were expending? He maintained that we had not that security; that the Empire was in no better position to-day though the expenditure on the Navy and Army had more than doubled during the last twenty years. If they were to take the authority of Lord Roberts, expressed in the other House, it was doubtful whether the security of the Empire 1392 was as good to-day as it was at that time. No one would deny that this excessive expenditure ought to be checked. He believed that it was the deep intention of the present Government to reduce the growth of that expenditure. Nobody would deny that the national credit to-day was not what it was ten or fifteen years ago. We could not borrow money now so readily and cheaply as then. Anything which tended to weaken the nation's credit made it more difficult to raise money cheaply, and to intensify the problem of dealing with the question of the unemployed. When money was cheap public bodies were induced to put into operation great constructive works necessary for the comfort and convenience of the people; but when money was dear these great constructive works were left undone and the nation was made to suffer thereby. If we went on wasting our national resources, we could not hope to see these great problems of social progress, which we all had at heart, carried into effect. He had always understood that the Empire was run in the interest of the whole, and not in the interest of only a portion of it; and he believed that there were others outside the United Kingdom who might reasonably be asked to share the expense of the Empire. He regretted that there had not been a free offer of such assistance in the cost of running the Empire. To-day we were in receipt from the whole of our Colonies and Dependencies of less than £500,000 towards this heavy burden. He anxiously looked forward to the time when some Minister or some Government, even at the risk of diminishing his or their popularity, would face this question boldly and courageously and seek to bring about an international agreement for the reduction of expenditure on armaments. Any Minister or Government who undertook that duty would in his judgment command the eternal gratitude of the industrial classes of the country. Nobody rejoiced more than he when such a proposal was put before the last Hague Conference. He thought that at last an honest attempt was going to be made to reduce the cost of armaments all round. That hope, however, had only been raised to be 1393 disappointed. He knew that the mind of the Foreign Secretary ran in that direction, and he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would be able to tell the House that night that so far as he was concerned, and so far as this Government were concerned, they would do their level best to have a proper discussion with the view of arriving at some amicable international arrangement by which these huge armaments should be reduced to reasonable proportions. What was the relative advantage derived from this increased expenditure on armaments? When we built a "Dreadnought" at a cost of £1,000,000, the United States decided to build a battleship which would be larger and more efficient and cost not £1,000,000, but £2,000,000. If the nations went on in this mad way what was to be the end of such foolish expenditure? It was far better to come to some common arrangement whereby these huge armaments should be reduced to more rational and reasonable proportion. For these reasons he seconded the Motion presented by his hon. friend.
Motion made and Question proposed, "That this House is of opinion that the growth of expenditure on armaments is excessive and ought to be reduced, such expenditure lessens national and commercial credit, intensifies the unemployed problem, reduces the resources available for social reform, and presses with exceptional severity on the industrial classes, and it therefore calls upon the Government to take drastic steps to reduce the drain on national income, and to this end to press for the inclusion of the question of the reduction of armaments by international agreement in the agenda of the forthcoming Hague Conference.—;(Mr. Vivian.)
§ * MR. BELLAIRS (Lynn Regis)
in moving an Amendment to the effect that the House relied on the Government to maintain British Naval supremacy, and that it was inadvisable for this Government to initiate a discussion concerning the armaments which foreign Powers deemed necessary for the defence of their territories, said he could not hope to rival the eloquence of the mover and seconder of the Motion. These hon. Gentlemen, 1394 however, had no monopoly of the hatred of war or of bloated armaments. He did not believe that any Member in the House was not in favour of efficiency and economy. The whole question was a question of means. The Resolution stated that the expenditure had not been accompanied by efficiency. If that meant that the "Dreadnought" battleship was not a good substitute for the "Royal Sovereign," that argument was fallacious, because one "Dreadnought," although it cost £1,800,000, could blow ten "Royal Sovereigns" out of the water though the latter each cost nearly half as much as the "Dreadnought." Therefore there was a greater increase of efficiency. His hon. friend had taken the House back to the expenditure on the Navy a hundred years ago, but his answer to that was that the British Empire would not be in existence at the present moment if the expenditure on armaments had not increased. The Empire would have been distributed among more powerful foreign nations. In his opinion the one hope of reduction of armaments was in an Anglo-American alliance by which each Power would guarantee to come to the assistance of the other if attacked by two Powers. On the ground of continuity of policy he also contended that it was undesirable that this country should press for a reduction of armaments, and pointed out that, as far as the late Government was concerned, the then Prime Minister, with the advice of an excellent Defence Committee, refused to pledge himself, and always refused to pledge himself, to take any steps to initiate such a movement. The policy of the speech of Lord Goschen delivered in March, 1899, to which the mover of the Resolution and his hon. friend referred, essentially differed from what was now being pressed for. If the Motion had merely embodied what Lord Goschen said, there was not a man in the House who would oppose it. Lord Goschen said—;I have now to state on behalf of His Majesty's Government that if the other great naval Powers should be prepared to diminish this programme of shipbuilding we should be prepared on out side to meet such a procedure, by mollifying ours.It would be seen that the noble Lord expressly stated that the initiative as 1395 to the reduction of armaments must come from foreign Powers. [Cries of "Why?"] Because we regulated our armaments by these of foreign Powers, and because our naval armament was vital to us. It was kept up solely for defence, and we could not carry on great operations against foreign Powers by means of our Army. If once the Navy was defeated we were "done," as our food supply was cut off. But though our Navy was vital to us, theirs was not vital to foreign Powers. He would point out that, as the mover stated, the Hague Conference was especially summoned to bring about this reduction of armaments. They passed an amiable resolution in favour of the reduction of armaments; but since that there had been an increase of armaments by every Power. Germany gave effect to the resolution by building in the next seven years fourteen battleships to our seventeen, which latter figure was not out of the way having regard to the margin of safety. France also had increased the number of her battleships. Last December Lord Cawdor, referring to the large reductions which had taken place in British naval expenditure, said—;The public cannot rely on this reduction being continued in future years if foreign countries make developments in their shipbuilding programmes which we cannot now foresee.The reply of the Emperor of Germany shortly after the utterance of Lord Cawdor was contained in his speech from the Throne this year, in which he said—;Our continually growing economic intercourse with all countries beyond the seas demands now urgently a stronger naval representation of the Empire abroad. For this purpose there will be laid before you a Supplement to the Navy Law, and it will provide for the increase of the number of ships on foreign service by the addition of six large cruisers. Moveover, the allied Governments find themselves compelled to propose to you a considerable increase of the battleships and large cruisers which were asked for in the Naval Budget of 1905 so that our German warships shall not be inferior in fighting strength to the ships of other nations. Finally, you will be asked to grant money towards bringing about a greater power of readiness to strike on the part of our torpedo-boats. I cherish the confident hope that the German Reichstag is prepared to increase our naval defences.It was also a significant fact that the German torpedo flotilla had been sta- 1396 tioned in the North Sea opposite Great Britain since Lord Cawdor's statement of Admiralty policy. In view of that he thought the best thing we could do was to remember Napoleon's declaration, and that our obvious reply as to policy was contained in his werds—;The only way to prevent the Continental Powers from bridling you is for England to proceed in her proper sphere as an insular Power possessing the command of the sea.That was, he thought, good advice to-day. When Lord Palmerston instructed our Ambassador to remonstrate with Napoleon III. on the increase of armaments, the answer was the snub which we were still liable to receive to this effect. "Let each look after his own business; you ought to be twice as strong as I am." That was sound advice. Cobden originally urged that free trade and commercial intercourse would make nations so dependent on one another that war would be impossible. That prediction had been falsified. [Mr. VIVIAN: We have not got free trade.] Cobden, as he got older, however, became disillusioned. In other words, in 1836 he was a Manchester doctrinaire on the defence question, but in 1856 he was a blue-water school man, and had abandoned all fanciful ideas about disarmament in our time. Mr. Cobden would have been still more convinced if he had lived to-day and saw how the only economists who had achieved anything were the blue-water school. There was no critic who deserved praise more than Mr. Courtney for the sincerity of his intentions. He had the courage of his convictions. Mr. Courtney, forgetful of the fact that his policy cost the Northerners, through want of preparation, in the Civil War 320,000 lives, said—;He admitted that it wanted some courage to face the risk of reducing armaments. Were they prepared to run that risk? In the matter of military preparations, as in the matter of free trade, they had better not wait for the co-operation of other nations, but they must run the glorious risk in leading the way.Hon. Gentlemen cheered that statement, which was logical from their point of view, but he would remind them of some recent history. The Afghan frontier incident in 1885 cost us £12,000,000. It was a panic expenditure which had been wholly wasted, and arose because we had allowed the Navy to run down. 1397 A few years afterwards there was the Fashoda incident, when the country was prepared. There was no panic on the Stock Exchange, and it cost only £13,000 in Admiralty expenditure. If at that time the Navy had been allowed to run down there would have been a financial crisis in this country. During the South African War there was a reasonable chance of attempted coercion of this country by a combination of European Powers. There was no panic, but had the Navy been allowed to run down there would also on that occasion have been a great financial crisis. Our wisest policy was the policy of Chatham, who said in 1770—;The precaution that meets the disorder is cheap and easy; the remedy which follows bloody and expensive.We had given proofs of pacific tendency; we had given up Heligoland and made a reduction in our Navy Estimates of £7,086,000 in two years, as compared with Germany's, without exercising any perceptible influence on German feeling, which was obviously one of great antagonism to us. ["No, no." | That was the fact, however much we might regret it. It might be due to misrepresentation. He thought it largely was; but it existed during the South African War, and through the influence of the German Navy League, which had a membership of 600,000, as compared with the Navy League membership of a few thousands; in this country, it existed very much now. He would echo the words of the French Minister two years ago, who said—;Other nations can follow our example; acts are worth more than idle words.So far from following our example, France had recently laid down six battleships, compared with our two, and Germany two battleships every year. He thought that disarmament was proceeding at present in respect of the guns in our battleships, as we were not replacing obsolete guns or providing a sufficient reserve of heavy guns, while not long ago thirteen battleships and sixty cruisers had been put aside as obsolete, six battleships and about ten cruisers only taking their place. This surely showed a considerable reduction in armament. But let them suppose that an agreement 1398 were made to reduce armaments, no force existed by which the agreement could be carried out. There existed only public opinion, and nations had violated public opinion before now. Again, what standard were hon. Members going to adopt? Was it to be a money standard? If so, then the voluntary services in the navies of Great Britain and the United States could not be compared with the systems of enrolment elsewhere. If trade, shipping, colonies, or coast-line were the standards then either the British Navy was already too weak, or the French and German too strong. If the standard of the number of battleships were adopted it could be easily got over by an increase in tonnage among the other powers, and if armoured vessels were not built the torpedo power might be increased. Then as the armoured ships became through obsolescence less and less able to defend themselves, the little torpedo - craft world become more and more developed and dangerous. The final result might be that Great Britain would find herself placed in the position of having lost her naval supremacy. In his judgment the Navy preserved peace, and history had shown that the Navy had preserved the liberties of the country throughout the centuries, protecting us at the same time from invasion. He probably spoke with a more sentimental interest in the Navy than hon. Members generally would care to show.
MR. MOKTON (Sutherland)
Nothing like leather.
§ * MR. BELLAIRS
But he did not think that the British Navy was a thing to be bartered about among the foreign powers. At present a committee of foreigners regulated the sugar policy of this country, and he would certainly think twice before he entered into any agreement by which foreigners should be allowed to regulate the maritime policy of this country. The Government should not go beyond an expression of their readiness to enter into a conference provided the initiative came from foreign powers, who were not so dependent on their navies as Great Britain undoubtedly was upon hers for the preservation of liberty and peace. He begged to move.
§ * CAPTAIN HERVEY (Bury St. Edmunds)
said he rose to second the Amendment of the hon. Member for King's Lynn. He thought, however, that a Member of this House other than a naval officer might with advantage have risen for this purpose. He agreed entirely with the hon. Member when he said that he did not think it would be a good thing that the naval policy of this country as a whole should be discussed and decided by a committee of foreign naval experts. That was the line he took upon this question and that was the reason he had risen to second the Amendment. The House should consider what duties our Navy had to perform and what duties foreign navies had to perform. We were in a different position from any other country in the world. It was true that we had the biggest navy in the world, but then we had the largest responsibilities in the world for our Navy to carry out. We had to protect 54 per cent. of the whole merchant service of the world with our Navy, and in addition to that to protect the coasts of a world-wide empire. If we were to sit round a board and discuss the Naval necessities of each country with a foreign committee we could not take ship for ship with any one country or with any two countries and say we were in a position to carry out our responsibilities. The real reason why we were not in a position to discuss our naval affairs with the representatives of foreign countries was that in order to make it clear to these people that it was necessary for us to have any particular number of ships, we should have to disclose the plans of action, which obviously determined the extent of our armaments, and that was a thing which we must necessarily keep to ourselves. We should always be pleased to meet other countries and do all in our power to reduce the armaments of the world, but we could only do that with safety by having regard to what our necessities were. Let the other nations propose a reduction of armaments; we would consider that proposal in a most conciliatory spirit, but such proposals must in the first instance come from them. On these terms we could meet them and still occupy the position it 1400 was necessary for us to occupy—;namely of being able to determine the armament we considered sufficient to protect what we possessed, and to protect our commerce. The building programe of this country as now laid down was only a programme that would in a few years time bring us to a simple equality with the next two naval Powers. The programme as laid down was no more than was absolutely necessary, and to go below that would be to go below the margin of safety, which no one would for a moment tolerate. He was quite ready to admit that we were at the present time in a slightly better position than under normal conditions we should be, owing to the disaster which had overtaken one of the great naval Powers of Europe, but that was not the fault of the Admiralty. The Admiralty had their eye glued on the results of the war between Japan and Russia, not only as it affected the ships themselves, but also in the way in which it affected the building programme of this country in the future. These considerations determined our present policy of building four armoured ships every year. If that were not continued, if it were dropped for only one year, there would be a hiatus which, though it might not be evident now, yet when our ships began to get obsolete we should find some time in the future one year when we had four obsolete ships passing out of our Navy and no new ships to take their place. All objected to building our ships with borrowed money, and therefore the object of the Admiralty's programme of building at the present time was to ensure that, as each year some ships became obsolete and went out of commission, others should be built annually to take their place. Believing the policy he had referred to was the right policy he was very pleased to be able to second the Amendment of his hon. friend.
Amendment proposed—;In line 6, to leave out all the words after the word 'income,' and add the words 'but this House relies on the Government to maintain British naval supremacy, and is of opinion that it is inadvisable for the Government to initiate a discussion concerning the armaments which Foreign Powers may deem necessary for the defence of their territories,' instead thereof."—;(Mr. Bellairs).1401 Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. CHARLES WILSON (Hull, W.)
said he should like to support the Amendment because he thought that the country ought to keep up its Navy, whatever it did about the Army. He should like, however, to call attention to the fact that it would be a long time before there was a homogeneous squadron of ships of the "Dreadnought" class under the present proposals. He considered it would have been better policy to put off building some of the smaller vessels in the present programme in order to have started the building of four "Dreadnoughts," so as to get ahead of other Powers in this matter in a year or two. As it was it would be three years before we had three "Dreadnoughts." He thought it would have cost even less than the programme before the country. He would also like to suggest that before the Admiralty decided on the question of turbines for these ships, some information ought to be laid before the House to show the grounds on which the Government based their preference for this type of engine. It was a question very much debated by marine engineers—;[Cries of "Order."] He would bow to the wishes of the House and not proceed further with the subject than to ask the Government to consider whether they were doing the right thing in regard to turbines.
§ MR. HUGH LAW (Donegal, W.)
said he rose to support the Motion from an Irish point of view. He should like first of all to say, however, that his hon. friend who moved the Resolution had under I estimated the growth of expenditure. According to evidence before the Committee on National Expenditure the amount had grown from £53,000,000 in 1883–84 to £109,000,000 in 1903–04. Out of that increase £38,000,000 were due to the Army and Navy, leaving £18,000,000 for all other services. This was to be remembered when Members were frequently told that they were responsible for increase in expenditure by pressing for outlay in different directions. All these items—;many of which, small though they might be, were of vital importance to the people concerned—; 1402 were but flea-bites, as an hon. Member had said, to the expenditure on the Army and Navy. Both as regarded this country and Ireland they could not leave out of sight the question of the growth of local taxation. This advanced pari passu with national expenditure, and the two together had become in many parts of the United Kingdom perfectly crushing. Especially was that the case in Ireland where there were boards of guardians which found it impossible to meet the most necessary demands of common decency and humanity. Allowing Sir Robert Giffen's figures of £12 per head for mere subsistence, Great Britain was left, after paying taxes, with £1,000,000,000 of money for all other purposes. If they allowed £12 per head in Ireland there was only left £15,000,000, from which they had to take £9,000,000 in taxation, leaving £6,000,000 for other purposes, compared with £1,000,000,000 in this country. It could be imagined how heavily a comparatively trifling increase of taxation weighed upon Ireland. Unhappily there were evidences on every side that Ireland was a dying nation. His hon. friend the Member for East Clare had recently obtained a very interesting Return giving monthly statistics of emigration since 1885, and it would probably surprise the House to hear that of the 30,000 emigrants who left Ireland last year Ulster sent most, namely, 10,000. In two months of the present year 10,000 people had left Irish shores. They were sometimes told that Ireland ought to rejoice in its British connection. All he could say was that to the mass of the Irish people the effect of the Union was chiefly visible in a steady increase of taxation. For the sake of the people of both countries, and for the sake of Christendom he hoped the Government would accept the Motion and take the steps suggested, with the honourable position of being the first to move in the direction of universal peace.
§ * MR. J. M. ROBERTSON (Northumberland, Tyneside)
said the last speaker had usefully recalled the debate to a point in the Resolution which had been rather ignored by previous speakers, namely, the urgent necessity for a reduction of our military expenditure, having regard to the present social condition of 1403 the people. The hon. Member for West Donegal had drawn an impressive picture of the economic misery which Ireland suffered, and he wished to emphasise the fact that a large part of this House was profoundly concerned about the general question of a reduction of our expenditure upon armaments. He hoped they would have some assurance from the Government that they might look for some saving in the military expenditure of the country during the present year. Many of them looked to the Government to spend considerably less than their Estimates upon the Navy and Army; and if there was not a considerable saving the House and the country would feel that the promises that were given had been practically disregarded by these who gave them. He should have been more pleased if the Resolution of his hon. friend had asked the Government to return to the standard of expenditure set in 1898, for that would have been something definite to work upon. The arguments put forward by the hon. Member for King's Lynn offered no suggestion of the standard which he considered necessary. He wished to say a few words in regard to the attitude the hon. Member took up when he claimed that his studies of naval matters had given him a special insight into these problems. He would like to ask whether the mere study of the mechanics of naval warfare and maritime affairs and the relative fighting power of the different nations gave the hon. Member any special qualification for pronouncing upon the civic wisdom of such expenditure. The hon. Member for King's Lynn was no doubt an expert, and the House owed a great deal to him for the manner in which he had handled the statistics of foreign trade in the recent controversy. He wished to state that it was with no disrespect to the hon. Member that he ventured to challenge his special qualification to pronounce upon a question which was not merely one of naval strength or of the best kind of ship, but of the line upon which civilisation should go. He would remind the hon. Member that there were other naval experts who were absolutely at issue with him on naval questions, and therefore even experts could not be regarded as infallible. All the great empires that ever fell had been 1404 led to ruin by experts. He was only stating historical facts. With regard to what had been said about Holland in a recent debate by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon, that country was taken by surprise because she put too much faith in the word of a faithless English king, not because of any tendency on her part to abandon her military system. No nation in European history had ever done so. All the great empires that had fallen had been ruined by internal disease and economic decline, in which senseless military expenditure had played a part. The explanation was that great military experts always seemed to lack civic judgment. From what had been said one would suppose that the Roman Empire fell for lack of military preparation and military skill; but that was not so. To the very last the empire had captains who could easily out-general these of the barbarians; but the empire fell for lack of men who could fight. It fell because the very entrails of the State were gone; and the disappearance of this source of strength was the result of eternal military strain. At one time he had a great admiration for the heroes of antiquity, and he remembered that at a tender age he translated a life of Hannibal for his own satisfaction. When he arrived at years of discretion he saw his great hero was able to fight but not able to maintain a State in peace, and he had no insight into the conditions that made an empire strong from within. It was the same with Alexander and Cæsar, for they were wreckers of civilisation, and none of them were builders up. The hon. and gallant Member for King's Lynn had told them that he detested war and deplored the necessity for armaments. They were told that by every supporter of militarism. If the hon. and gallant I Member felt as some of the rest of them did, he would be glad to take the initiative in a movement for disarmament. But the hon. Gentleman and his friends refused to join in any such movement, and found something having the nature and semblance of argument for opposing it. When Mr. Gladstone in the last Liberal Administration was called upon in a similar way to take some steps towards inducing other naval Powers to reduce armaments, he answered that the time was not propitious. That answer was a matter of regret to 1405 many of his followers. No one would venture to give that answer to-day. If ever there was a propitious time it was the present. Would the naval experts give the House the reasons why we should not take the initiative now? An hon. Member opposite had said that proposals should come from the other Powers. Was it likely that other Powers, feeling themselves outnumbered, would come to us with a proposal for reduction? Surely the Power which would have the best hope of being listened to was that with the greatest naval strength. Nobody had ever proposed that we should go below even the two-Power standard. While recognising the madness of this eternal competition in armaments, we were maintaining practically a four-Power standard. We could make enormous reductions and still maintain our two-Power standard. We ought to take the initiative at the Hague Conference in striving for a proportional reduction by all nations. Our perpetually increasing naval expenditure saved us nothing from the demands of the army men for more Army expenditure. We were in the hands of experts whose one idea was, not to know what the nation could bear, but simply to create the largest mass of fighting power in each respective arm that they could plan. With Russia wiped out we found our naval experts asking for additions to the Navy, and army experts asking for additional expenditure to defend our India frontier, which Russia could not now attack if she would. Russia, who had just been overthrown by Japan, had been ruined by her exports. The same had been the case with Austria and France. Experts never had a glimpse of the necessity of retrenchment. We had had treaties of arbitration in recent years, and that was the most hopeful aspect of the foreign policy of the late Government, though Lord Lansdowne was led into a regrettable backward movement in regard to the Treaty with Japan. That Treaty had induced Japan to say to us. "You must arm more if you are to be our ally."
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir EDWARD GREY, Northumberland, Berwick)
She has never said that.
§ * MR J. M. ROBERTSON
said he was glad to receive that assurance. When 1406 he made the statement he was proceeding on what he had read in the public Press. We had all these arbitration treaties, and yet we were getting no advantage from them whatever in the lightening of our military burdens. What was the use of treaties of arbitration if all the while the nations were making their armaments stronger than ever? There was something in the nature of madness in all this growth of armaments. The truth was that vast vested interests had got hold of this matter; and if the cause of democracy was to go forward there must be something in the nature of a battle between democracy and these capitalist interests whose enrichment lay in the direction of the perpetual increase of armaments. The hon. and gallant Member for King's Lynn had told them that we alone among the nations thought solely of defence, and that the other nations of Europe were at all times lying in wait to attack us at a disadvantage. It was time that their discussions were delivered from these imbecilities. If there was one species of human nature which was British, and another sort for all other nations, no rational international politics would be possible. He asked the hon. and gallant Gentleman to reconsider the doctrine he had laid down about the unpreparedness of the United States for war. That was a civil war, and bad as that war was, it would have been much worse if the United States had then been armed to the teeth and had used all their forces for mutual destruction. He deprecated warmly the contention of the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the hopes of the lovers of peace depended on an Anglo-American alliance. A declaration like that would go forth to toll the French people that the entente cordiale was unreal, and that we were looking forward to an Anglo-American alliance which could overwhelm all the nations of Europe. The nation demanded a reduction of expenditure. If the world would spend in one year, for peace, a hundredth part of what had been spent for war in every year of the Christian era, universal peace would be visibly nearer. Government had had no difficulty in finding £220,000,000 for the abominable project of destroying two republics, but no Chancellor of the Exchequer could ever find means to pay old-age pensions. The people had at length realised that they must reverse the 1407 practice of the past and set up a policy of construction in the place of the policy of destruction.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (City of London)
I am not sure that the moment which the hon. Gentleman has chosen for his onslaught on armaments is very happily chosen; for, if I understand the situation, we have presented an ultimatum, the terms of which have not yet run out, to a great military power, and a large fraction of the naval forces of this country are now concentrated in the Eastern Mediterranean with the view of seeing that the rights of this country are maintained. I do not know if the hon. Gentleman thinks that we should be more likely to obtain a peaceful settlement of the controversy between this country and that Power if we had no Fleet and no Army [LABOUR cries of "Oh"] or a smaller Fleet and Army. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman thinks we should be more likely to bring to a peaceful solution the difficulty in which his Majesty's present advisers and the country find themselves if our naval and military forces were not in that state of preparedness which as a matter of fact they have reached. If they were not, I do not think that one could have that confidence in a peaceful solution of the controversy which I for my part look forward to, and which I have no reason to doubt, simply because our forces are in the prepared condition in which they are. The hon. Gentleman spent a great deal of his eloquence on the military exports, and he prefers what he calls experts in sociology. He thinks we ought to take experts in sociology and consult them on this question of military armaments.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Or at all events people who talk about sociology without being exports. I rather agree with the hon. Gentleman. I have no great confidence either in naval or military experts or in sociological experts, taken by themselves, except under the cross-examination of these who have to do with the daily work of public affairs. Whether the hon. Member approves of the policy of the late Government or 1408 not, I can assure him they did not take that policy from the opinions or obiter dicta of experts, but did their best to arrive at what was the real truth as to the military and naval necessities of the country. The hon. Gentleman cannot accept so extravagant an account of our work. He has a different explanation of the magnitude of the Army and Navy. He thinks it was due to the vested interests of capital in keeping up a large Army and Navy. I do not know whether that is sociology, but it strikes me as being nonsense. What possible interest have the capitalists of the country in keeping up a large Navy and Army? They have got to pay a shilling duty in income tax. I do not underrate, and I never have, the burden which these armaments throw on the country; but the burden is largely, indeed chiefly, borne by the capitalist—;[An HON. MEMBER: The workmen.]—;by the very classes who the hon. Gentleman thinks have a vested interest in maintaining the1 Army and Navy at a high level. If armaments have the unexpected effect of stimulating industry in all its branches, the workman benefits as well as the capitalist, and I fail to see how this is a conspiracy of the capitalists any more than of the workmen. The hypothesis of the hon. Gentleman is one which no sober thinker could conceive for a moment would govern the policy of any Administration in this country. The interest of every Administration is to cut down expenditure and to diminish taxation, and if they do not do so, it may be because they are stupid or because they do not thoroughly understand the interests of their country; but it cannot be, and never has been, except in the days of corruption and bribery, that they were animated by self-interest. There is nothing an Administration more keenly desires than a successful Budget, a large surplus, and an increasing revenue. And if naval and military expenditure grows, as it undoubtedly has in recent years, it is partly because we pay our soldiers at a much higher rate than we did before, and partly because we have had to construct permanent works for the benefit of the soldier; but in the main because it was necessary, as we believed, for the defence of the country. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down seems to think it altogether absurd that we should pose as if we framed our armaments on a defensive system alone, when we do 1409 not admit that other nations do the same. I do not wish to attack other nations, and I do not suggest that they are less patriotic or virtuous than ourselves; but is it not perfectly obvious that a great Fleet is necessary to these islands in a sense in which it is not necessary to any other nation in the world? It is necessary on purely defensive lines, and would be as necessary if it were impossible, and I believe it to be undesirable, that we should ever add another square mile to the territories we already possess. For my part, the last thing I want to see is any extension of the British Empire. I want to see its strengthening and consolidation. I want it to be unshaken in any circumstances by the fear of hostile aggression, safe not merely within the four seas, not merely Scotland, Ireland, and England, but safe in our colonial possessions and safe on the north-west frontier of India. The hon. Gentleman opposite has told us that it is folly to consider the north-west frontier, because the only country that can threaten that frontier has suffered defeat and is in the throes of a great social revolution. Has the hon. Gentleman's historical study not convinced him that nations in the throes of a great social revolution are capable at the same time of foreign aggression? The greatest wars we have known have been carried out by nations in that condition; and though I firmly believe that the last thing the Russian Government contemplates or desires is an attack on this country—;I believe that the relations between Russia and England at this moment are of a most friendly description—;I fail to see why we should on that account not keep ourselves in a state of preparation against conceivable contingencies of policy on the part of a great and friendly neighbour, just as Germany and France and Italy and Austria keep themselves in a state of preparation against similar contingencies.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not admit that. The whole question of the expenditure on the north-west frontier of India is a matter which has not been, indeed, could not have been, adequately completed by the Committee of Defence, 1410 and at this moment it is under consideration, as it was when I ceased to be a member of that body. The truth is that this country has in the main to consider two great problems. We have to maintain an Army adequate for home defence, which need not be on a very large scale, and an Army adequate for the defence of the north-west frontier of India. We ought also to have some power of military expansion which would enable us to deal with a great war, and a Fleet which would make us absolutely secure against any possible combination against our shores. Is there anything aggressive in that policy? We have to protect our coasts at home and abroad and also the great commerce which comes and goes between our home ports and our Colonial ports. If foreign nations are ready to diminish their armaments let them begin and we will follow suit. [Cries of "Oh, oh," and laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen laugh, but this is a subject upon which I really venture to think they know less than I do—;of the questions of principle which govern naval considerations. I am not venturing to enter into competition with them with regard to the sociological aspect. The principle of this country has always been to watch what is being done by foreign countries, not to anticipate them, but to follow them; and foreign countries have only to diminish their fleet building, and they will find under this Government, as they would have found, I believe, under the last, that we should follow suit. But as our Fleet is for defensive purposes and their fleet is not for defensive purposes alone—;["Why not?"] Because their shores are unassailable, partly for geographical reasons and partly for the reason that they have great land armies which would make invasion by any Maritime Power absolutely ludicrous and futile. Therefore their navies are not needed to defend their shores—;not wholly or mainly needed to defend their shores. They are in an essentially different position from what we are; and if there is to be a diminution of armaments—;which all, not merely the sociologists, must desire—;it must begin with these whose armaments are kept up for purposes not merely defensive. There is no foreign nation who supposes we should invade them. Putting friendship apart, conceive as a military enterprise 1411 invading France, Germany, or Russia. Of course, you cannot; the thing is absurd; and their fleets are not maintained in order to prevent a great sea power invading their territory. That is not their purpose, and cannot be their purpose; and I would beg the hon. Gentleman before he asks us to diminish the securities of these territories to consider what is the true military and naval problem this country has to face. Whilst I agree with him that the armaments of the world might with enormous advantage be diminished, abolished if you will, that policy is one which cannot be carried out by one country; it is a policy which must be initiated by nations who, absolutely secure at home, so far as naval operations are concerned, may, if they will, diminish their fleets.
In regard to military operations, as I think our danger is not within these islands at all but on the frontier of India, there are other considerations which it would not be proper for me at this time to dwell upon. I would only ask the House to consider one more question. The hon. Gentleman said the Roman Empire sank under the amount of its military obligations. I believe that to be wholly unhistorical. I am certain that this country, at all events, heavy as the burden of its military expenditure is, is not sinking under it. On the contrary, whenever hon. Gentlemen opposite think they can make a point against my right hon. friend the Member for Birmingham, they say the country was never so flourishing, trade was never increasing by such leaps and bounds, the wealth of the individual, the well-being of the community, the prosperity of capital, and the healthy character of enterprise never were so marked. Whether all these good things be true or not, this country certainly is not sinking under its armaments. Nobody would rejoice more than I in seeing those armaments reduced; but I tell the House with all solemnity, after an experience extending now over many years, that my belief is that, if you mean to have peace in Europe, if you mean your diplomacy, while unaggressive, to be successful, if you want your Foreign Minister to carry out your negotiations with some chance of success, if you want to avoid one of those catastrophes which, in spite of great armaments, have been less frequent in recent years than they were 1412 in the days when armaments were small, not to neglect that military and naval backing without which national diplomacy is bound to fail, and national security itself may be threatened. This is the warning I give to a hostile audience, I am afraid; but I give it in all sincerity. If we, the late Government, erred by having too large armaments, we erred in the patriotic belief that these armaments were necessary. If it can be shown by the present Government, after considering all the circumstances of the case, that these armaments may be diminished, well and good. But do not in answer to abstract reasoning, based on no consideration of the real necessities of the case, plunge into a reckless course of diminishing the forces, naval and military, on which your dignity and security ultimately depend.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City has at the end of his speech, given us some counsels of perfection which still leave me in doubt as to what view he takes of the actual Resolution before the House. His last declarations were entirely abstract declarations, with which I shall not find fault, because they were simply to the effect that you must have an adequate Army and Navy if you are to have an effective foreign policy. That ignores what to my mind is the whole point of the Resolution, which is that these things are a question of degree, and for the same reason I think it was not relevant to the particular Motion before the House to bring into the question the dispute with the Turkish Government. With regard to that question the right hon. Gentleman asked what chance we should have of bringing it to a successful conclusion if we had no Fleet and no Army. But that has nothing to do with the Resolution. He went on to say that we had every prospect of bringing that to a successful conclusion because of the efficiency of our Army and Navy at the present time; but that condition is one coming after considerable reductions in the Navy Estimates which have been made by his own Government. There have been considerable reductions in the Navy Estimates last year, yet we are able to deal satisfactorily with such an incident as that of the Egyptian frontier. Is the right hon. Gentleman able to say that the reductions which his Government 1413 made before leaving office are the only reductions that would not jeopardise the national policy of this country? Our whole policy is that national expenditure has grown enormously in the last few years and that now we have reached the turning-point and there is a prospect that the expenditure can be considerably reduced without sacrificing national safety. I admit we may not be able to do all that we wish, and the limitation must be national safety. But the particular point, and the most interesting point, I think, in this Resolution is whether it would not be possible to increase the amount of reduction which can be made, compatible with national safety, by doing all we can to influence the policy of other countries in the same direction. Well, a good deal, no doubt, does depend on the policy of other countries, and when I say the policy of other countries I mean the general feeling amongst the peoples in Europe. And I do hold that a declaration of this kind from a British House of Commons is something that is worth having, if only for the effect it may have on other Governments. It is true that in this country there is a very strong feeling in favour of reduction, but it is not in this country only; in other countries, too, the burden is felt; and anybody who reads the Press of foreign countries will see that year by year in different contries of Europe there is growing a national consciousness of the enormous burden of naval and military expenditure. That is a tendency which we welcome abroad as we welcome it amongst ourselves. I do not believe that at any time has the conscious public opinion in the various countries of Europe set more strongly in the direction of peace than at the present time, and yet the burden of military and naval expenditure goes on increasing. If it be true that that is the direction in which the conscious public opinion of the peoples is tending, that ought to be realised sooner or later in the reduction of that expenditure. When The Hague Conference meets, what will be its object? To promote peace, to diminish the horrors of war. No greater service could it do than to make the conditions of peace less expensive than they are at the present time. To all the horrors of war which are commonly known there are, no doubt, certain off-sets on the other side. You may set triumph against physical suffer- 1414 ing, the fine qualities of courage and self sacrifice against wounds and loss of life in war; but against the expenditure which war entails you have no set-off of that kind. That remains, after all the excitement and passion of war is over, as a heavy dead-weight pressing on the national life, lowering the standard of vitality in the country. Nowadays the expenditure in Europe on armies and navies is so great that in a sense every year we suffer that depression of national life which, though we are at peace, is in itself one of the worst conditions of war. Now, there is no more profitable task to which any such thing as The Hague Conference might aspire than to produce some such practical result of agreement amongst nations as would lead to reduction of this unproductive expenditure. It is true there are difficulties about coming to any settlement. I will not dwell on these difficulties. They are there, and they make themselves easily felt without my dilating upon them. But it was the original object of the first Hague Conference to do something to reduce expenditure, or, at any rate, to stop the increase of expenditure. The reason for doing that is not less urgent now than it was then. On the contrary, it is more urgent. It is said we are waiting upon foreign nations in order to reduce our expenditure. As a matter of fact, we are all waiting on each other. Some day or other somebody must take the first step. I think it was the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite who said that our naval policy was dictated by the building policy of other nations. I am sure that, when we are all met together at The Hague Conference, if our policy is so inter-dependent on the policy of other nations, the possibility of reducing expenditure should be one of the subjects which should be discussed. As to the Amendment which has been proposed, I would suggest, with all deference to my hon. and gallant friend, that he should not press it to a division, for this reason. The last part of his Amendment would preclude us from taking any initiative at The Hague Conference in suggesting a reduction of armaments. We ought not to be precluded in any way. Before we can say in what form the question will be brought forward, we must know the wishes and opinions of other Powers. It may be that there is some other Power ready 1415 and anxious to take the initiative; but we certainly must not be precluded from taking that initiative. We must be there to do all in our power to encourage its coming forward in the most practical form. Therefore, I cannot in any circumstances accept the last, part of my hon. and gallant friend's Amendment. With regard to the first part, relating to naval supremacy, I would sugest that there never was a time when it was less necessary to insist upon that than at the present moment. I believe there never has been a time when the relative and comparative supremacy of the British Navy was greater than it is now, and that at the present moment it is at least as sure as it ever has been in our history. If that be so, surely we can, at any rate for one evening, devote our attention to pressing upon the House and upon public opinion generally, the need for economy. And, so far as the Government is concerned, though I cannot extend the promises which have been made by the Prime Minister and others of my colleagues as to specific reductions, and though what we can do with regard to The Hague Conference must depend on the response from other Governments—;which in turn will depend partly on the interest which other Parliaments take in the matter—;I do, on behalf of the Government, not only accept but welcome such a Resolution as this as a wholesome and beneficial expression of opinion. And just as in the time of the late Government Lord Goschen, then First Lord of the Admiralty, issued a public invitation on behalf of the Government to other countries to respond to the feeling of this country for a reduction of naval armaments, so I trust this Resolution may be taken as being an invitation from the British House of Commons to respond to their feeling in favour of encouraging a reduction of armaments.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.1416
§ Resolved, That this House is of opinion that the growth of expenditure on armaments is excessive and ought to be reduced, such expenditure lessens national and commercial credit, intensifies the unemployed problem, reduces the resources available for social reform, and presses with exceptional severity on the industrial classes, and it therefore calls upon the Government to take drastic steps to reduce the drain on national income, and to this end to press for the inclusion of the question of the reduction of armaments by international agreement in the agenda of the forth coming Hague Conference.