§ Resolution [2nd August] reported,
§ 11. "That a sum, not exceeding £22,298,400, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1910, for Expenditure in respect of the Navy Services." [Details of the Vote were published in the OFFICIAL REPORT (cols. 1675–1676), 2nd August.]
§ Resolution read a second time.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ Mr. W. W. ASHLEY
There are various matters, some important and some of less importance, which were not discussed in the Committee stage when this Vote was taken, and which I wish to bring before the House. I wish also to get an answer from the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty as to why these matters were not dealt with by him or the Financial Secretary when we had the discussion last week. In the first place, I wish to ask some explanation with reference to the reduction in the Royal Naval Reserve. In the last three years the Royal 1712 Naval Reserve has been reduced by 6,500 men. That is a very large and important number as the House will agree. On the other hand, of course, the Royal Fleet Reserve has been increased by 4,800 men, leaving a net reduction in our Reserve for manning the Fleet of 1,700 men. I certainly think that is a matter which requires explanation to the House, why when we see so many foreign nations increasing their personnel and endeavouring to increase their reserve, we should just choose this very moment to reduce the number of reserves of our regular fleet by 1,700 men. In answer to a question of mine, the First Lord of the Admiralty explained that the reduction does not amount to very much, because most of those 1,700 men who would be reduced and done away with were over 40 years of age. Apparently he agrees with the Secretary of State for War that no man over 40 is useful for either fighting on sea or land. I do not take that despondent view of men over 40. I believe many men over 40 are perfectly well able, certainly until they are 45 or 50, to take part in active life. An hon. Friend of mine says between 50 and 60, but I think he takes an optimistic view. I do in all seriousness think some explanation is due to us of the statement that men over 40 are of no 1713 use, and that therefore he has turned out all men over 40 in the Reserve of the Navy. Even if his argument that men over 40 are no use is true, there are a certain number of those 1,700 men who are not over 40. I think, therefore, we ought to have an explanation on that point.
Another point which we have not discussed at all in these Navy Debates, and which, to me, is a matter of very great importance indeed, is the question of withdrawing stores without replacing them, and using them up. In Vote 8, in the sub-section for shipbuilding and repairs for this financial year, we see that in addition to cash expenditure that stocks of naval stores purchased in previous years were drawn upon without replacement during 1909–10 to the extent of £50,000. We have thus the declared policy of the Government that we have got more of those stores for shipbuilding and other matters than we want. In addition to that £50,000 which they are not going to replace, we see that the same policy is being carried out in naval armaments. On page 5, as to naval armaments, we read:—In addition to the cash expenditure, stocks of Naval Ordnance Stores purchased in previous years will be drawn upon without replacement to the extent of £105,000There we have got the statement that it is the declared policy of the Government that they have got more armaments, ammunition, guns, projectiles, torpedoes, and stores of that sort than they want, to the tune of £105,000. By what appears in the Press and by what rumour spreads abroad, the very reverse is the case. We are led to suppose by people who should be well informed that the condition of the stores, guns, and ammunition, instead of being up to the mark and what they should be, are very considerably below the mark. Therefore, when the Government comes here and proposes to draw £105,000 worth of stores without replacing them, they ought to give some explanation why they propose to do so. This is not a new policy, because if we look back to the last year we see that they have used up half a million pounds' worth, in 1907–8 they used up £1,300,000, and the first year they entered office they used up £1,024,000. Therefore, since this Government has been in office they have used some three million pounds' worth of stores and not replaced them. This year they propose to use up another £155,000 worth of stores and not replace them. I know that the right hon. Gentleman, if he is so 1714 good as to answer, will say that that is only the policy which was started by the late Government. Even if it were the policy of the late Government, it does not follow that some of those on these benches must agree with the policy as being a sound one. Surely we are not so bound to party in this matter that we ought to be criticised because it might have been the policy or might have been started by the last Government. That would be no answer. Supposing you have £4,000,000 worth of reserve stores; you might very well, as the last Government did, use up £700,000 perfectly rightly and properly, but not continue it and use up three and a half millions. After all, the Government might as well say that because the Government raised the Income Tax from 1s. to 1s. 2d., therefore it would be perfectly right to raise it to 2s. You may go a little way in that direction, but not go the whole way. Therefore I think the answer the right hon. Gentleman may make would not justify this action. He may have some other reason which may be excellent, but to give simply a tu quoque argument does not apply to this inroad on our stores which we have put by for use in time of war.
Passing to another point, I want to bring before the House the great danger of deferring the laying down of the four conditional "Dreadnoughts" till the 1st April next year, and the accumulation of materials and the giving of orders until the autumn of this year or 1st January next. My idea is that it will be disastrous; although no doubt, from the financial point of view, it may be very convenient for the Government to supply no money for the ships this year, but to lay the whole burden for the first three or six months upon the shoulders of the contractors. Whether or not that is a policy which has been previously followed I do not know; but it seems to me a very extraordinary one, and one which is not quite worthy of this great country. By deferring the laying down of the ships the Government will undoubtedly defer until April, 1912, a much needed addition to our "Dreadnought" fleet, which, if they gave the orders at once, might be added in November, 1911. What is, perhaps, equally important, they may also cause a great congestion of shipbuilding in 1910–11, and thereby delay the speedy completion of ships which are urgently required for the fleet. If the German acceleration continues this year at the same rate as that at which it started in 1715 October last, we shall undoubtedly require a very large shipbuilding programme next year, and the laying down, of these ships in April next instead of now will add considerably to our difficulties from a shipbuilding point of view in the financial year 1910–11. Moreover, we may have to have an enlarged programme next year, because the four "Dreadnoughts" which are being laid down by Italy and Austria may make more progress than the Government imagine. Hence the deferring of the laying down of these ships may, by causing great congestion, prevent the carrying out of the declared policy of the Government of having these ships finished in 24 months from the time the keels are laid down. What is the shipbuilding programme of the Government? They say that in April, 1911, we shall have 12 "Dreadnoughts"; in July, 1911, 14; in November, 1911, 16; and in April, 1912, 20. That is running it very fine indeed. It is running shipbuilding like an express train—to the minute. You have not any weeks or months to play with; you have to finish the ships exactly to the time. Can we hope that the ships will be finished in the 24 months? Judging from past experience, I am afraid we cannot. In answer to a question of mine, the First Lord of the Admiralty stated that not a single battleship, cruiser, or destroyer of the 1904–5 programme, or of any subsequent year, was finished in contract time. If that is so, why should we imagine that future ships will be finished in contract time? It is running the margin of safety very close, especially when you are dealing, not with a two-Power standard, but with one ship more or less over one Power alone, to rely upon these ships being ready to the moment. I think the First Lord of the Admiralty was a little unfair to the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Arthur Lee) last week when he lectured him for having cast some doubt on whether the battleships would be finished in the 24 months. The right hon. Gentleman said that he regretted my hon. Friend had not taken the trouble to inform himself of what the Government were doing. But when we ask questions we are almost invariably met with the reply that it is not in the public interest to give the information for which we ask. How, therefore, can we inform ourselves of what the Government have in their mind? A short time ago I myself was told that I asked questions which I ought not to ask. For instance, I put what I thought and still think was a very proper question, namely, 1716 whether the three new ships of the "Dreadnought" class were to have thinner armour than the "Dreadnought." The right hon. Gentleman replied in the affirmative, and when I asked the reason, I was told it was almost unpatriotic to ask such a question, and that it was against the public interest that any information should be given. I cannot see why, if one hears that the new battleships are to have armour an inch to an inch and a-half thinner than the "Dreadnought," one should not ask what is the reason. There may be a very good reason, but to the lay mind it certainly seems strange that we should be content, in the newer battleships, with armour 1½ in thinner than the first "Dreadnought," especially when we remember that our "Dreadnoughts" have armour an inch thinner than that of the German ships. Unless there has been some new discovery in connection with armour, it seems the height of unwisdom to increase the margin of disparity.
Another point of which I do not quite approve is the form in which the Dilke Return is made out. In the Dilke Return this year it was stated that the "Barfleur" and the "Centurion" were effective, and able to lie in the fighting line. Will the House believe that the very next day after the making up of that Return, those two ships were removed from the active list? No doubt the Return must be made up to a certain date, but the right hon. Gentleman must- have known that those two ships were condemned, and it gives a wrong impression of our fighting strength if ships which the Admiralty know will be removed from the active list on April 1st are included in a Return made up on March 31st. Moreover, this Return, although dated April 1st, was not issued until May 6th; so that on that date we had placed in our hands a document describing as effective and able to lie in the fighting line two ships which, as a matter of fact, had been taken away six weeks before.
I think there is one estimate of the two-Power standard—to refer to that for a moment—which has become important at the present time, and which was not of such importance a few years ago. A few years ago the next two strongest Powers to this country were, more or less, on an equality. France was the strongest Power, and the next came some distance behind. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that this country had 20 battleships. The next strongest Power (A) had 12, and the next (B) had six, that is a total of 18. 1717 We had 20, and A and B had 18. That was a very satisfactory two-Power standard. What do we see at the present time? The proportion is not 20 and 18 in that sense, but we have got 20, or hope to have 20, whilst the next strongest Power has 15, and the next strongest Power again has three. What I want to put before the House is that the next strongest Power has become so much nearer to us in strength that the two-Power standard has been changed, and at the present time does not really fulfil the conditions which the two-Power standard, as originally laid down, was destined to fulfil. As the present Government have apparently thrown over the two-Power standard as originally laid down, having eliminated the United States, considering that the European Powers alone are to be considered, surely they ought to throw it over altogether, and build two ships to every one laid down by the next strongest Power! Then there will be no more dubiety on the matter, and we shall know where we are; and instead of Ministers saying one thing inside the House and another thing outside, the House will really know what it has to deal with. I wish very shortly—because I have had no answer to questions I put on the subject, and I think I am entitled to put the matter before the House again— to deal with the question of small fast cruisers. At the present time Germany, when her 1909–10 programme is completed, will have 29 small fast cruisers of over 21 knots an hour, each with a least maximum coal capacity of 580 tons. When our 1909–10 programme is completed we shall only have 27 of these vessels (including eight of the scout class, with a maximum coal capacity of 380 tons). Surely that must be a very unsatisfactory state of things! I admit, and I am glad to say, that in armoured cruisers we have an overwhelming superiority. In first-class cruisers we have an overwhelming superiority. But I am afraid that at no distant date that superiority will vanish. It is in these small fast cruisers that our actual inferiority is marked, instead of having, considering the amount of mercantile tonnage that we "have to protect, an overwhelming superiority. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Admiralty gave us some very startling figures as to the cost to this country to run its Navy in terms of the mercantile marine. He said—I think I am right in this—that our Navy cost us £3 per ton of the mercantile marine, and Germany's mercantile marine cost the country 1718 £5 6s. per ton for the Navy. For France the figure is 10 guineas per ton. Surely when here we are running our Navy so comparatively cheap, in view of the large tonnage of our mercantile marine, the Admiralty ought to spare a little more money, and the nation I am sure will willingly spare it, in order that our trade routes may be properly protected for our commerce. It would appear that the Admiralty have somewhat recanted the position they took up with regard to our trade routes. A few years ago they withdrew our cruisers from the trade routes. Now they are sending them back as fast as they can. When we consider the overwhelming importance to this country of our mercantile marine, of the necessity that our cotton, corn, and everything else should come here without let or hindrance, then I think this question of fast cruisers, and the fact that one Power alone, when its programme for 1909–10 is completed, will have a superiority over us, is one that deserves the attention of the Government. Last month I dealt with a statement that was circulated, and that has been almost universally accepted, that the German Government, in the exercise of their undoubted right, have taken steps, in the event of war, to turn some of their fast mercantile ships into cruisers. I do not wish to go into detail on this matter; but I do bring it up again, without making any apology, because it is one of the very numerous matters which have had no answer from the Admiralty. I put a question to the Admiralty on the subject, and their representative said that they would neither deny or affirm the truth of the statement in the question. I do not know whether or not the Admiralty have any information on this matter, but if they have I should like them to say what steps they are taking to guard our ships in time of war. The 19 special cruisers which are told off in time of war to guard our trade routes are not manned altogether by active service ratings. They are intended to have two-fifths active service ratings and two-fifths reserve ratings. If that is the state of things, how can we expect to get our ships out to our trade routes before war is declared? It is well known that in this country we never call out our reserves till war is declared, and it would take 10 days or a fortnight for these cruisers to get out to the trade routes. If, in addition to that, they have to wait until the men are properly trained—which may be six months—by the time they get out every one of our merchant ships will have 1719 been snapped up by the enemy. I think the way, if you really want to do the thing properly, is to have these ships on the station where they will be required in time of war, so that they may be able to look after the ships as soon as war is declared, or before. I do not want to repeat the figures I gave last week, but I do hope we shall have some more satisfactory answer with regard to the destroyers than the Financial Secretary gave us last week. I pointed out then, and I do not think it can be denied, that at the present moment we have built and building under 12 years of age 83 destroyers, whilst the German Government have 88. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] If the hon. Member will consult the Dilke Return, which, after all, is the one we have to work upon, he will find that that is so. I am crediting the Germans with eight destroyers, which their 1909–10 programme will give them. In April, 1907, they started their destroyer programme at the rate of two a month. Therefore, I think I am not in the least unfair to give them a start, and make the figures 88 against 83. What are the hon. Gentleman's own figures? Surely they are nearly as disquieting as those I have given. Last month the Secretary to the Admiralty said: "In boats launched in or since 1903, or provided in recent programmes"—and that includes this year— "Great Britain has got 84 destroyers to Germany's 72." Why he takes only six years instead of 12 I do not know; but even so, is it satisfactory? Do the Government consider it satisfactory? It is surely a matter that requires some better defence than the hon. Gentleman has made. That being the situation, what does the Government propose to do this year? The past cannot be changed, but the present can be changed. I do press this matter most seriously upon the First Lord of the Admiralty, whom I hope in this question of the destroyer-building programme will be able to give a more satisfactory answer than we have had hitherto. At the present time our programme is, as I understand its 20 destroyers to Germany's 16.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
Sixteen, I think—well, 12, I apologise. Ours is 20. Theirs is 12. Ours are going to be laid down in November, and the contract time for their completion is within 20 months. The Germans on each of their 12 are going to spend before the 31st Decem- 1720 ber this year £41,000. We are going to spend on each of our ships, the keels of which we do not lay down till November, only £5,500, and this only before the 31st March. Therefore we are presumably laying down our destroyers some months later than the Germans, and we are going to spend only one-eighth of the amount that the Germans are spending on theirs. I do not think anyone will deny that in the past our position with respect to destroyers has been one of marked superiority. If we are in that position, surely it is the height of unwisdom to spend only one-eighth compared to the Germans? I hope the First Lord of the Admiralty will be able to give us some assurance that though, perhaps, he may not lay down the ships any sooner, he will take steps to accelerate their completion so that we may continue to be beyond the Germans.
Finally, I wish to bring before the House a question which I think is of very great importance—that of the armaments of our "Dreadnought" battleships and cruisers which are now under discussion. I brought this matter forward at the first opportunity, on the 16th March, when the Naval Votes came on, and the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty very kindly promised to answer the matter on the Vote of Censure. When the Vote of Censure came on other matters had apparently occupied his attention, and he forgot to answer, and no answer has been given to my queries as to the guns that our ships are to carry as compared with the German ships. At the present time there are under construction (or at sea) in England and Germany battleships as follows: 13 German "Dreadnought" battleships and cruisers, and 12 British "Dreadnought" battleships and cruisers. We have got eight battleships either built or building; Germany has 10. Our eight battleships carry only 80 big guns, against 120 big guns which the 10 German battleships carry. The primary armaments on our ships is represented by a weight of fire of 68,000 lbs., compared with a weight of fire of the Germans of 130,000 lbs. In battleships Germany has a superiority of two, 40 big guns, and a weight of gun firing of 45,000 lbs. We have got four cruisers under construction, or built, and Germany has three. Our four cruisers carry 32 big guns, whereas the German three carry 36 big guns. If one only looks at these things as an outsider, and not as an expert, they present a most unsatisfactory state of things. The gun power of our four cruisers is 27,000 lbs. as compared 1721 with the weight of gun fire of the German three of 29,000 lbs. Therefore we have in the "Dreadnought" battleships and cruisers a German superiority of one armoured ship, 44 big guns, and 47,000 lbs. of gun fire. There may be some reason why the Government consider it is not necessary to have as many big guns as Germany, but if we look round the world we find in all the navies of the world, except the French, the armaments which the German ships carry are much more closely followed than those we carry in our "Dreadnought" cruisers. Our "Dreadnought" cruisers have only eight big guns; the German "Dreadnought" cruisers have 12 guns, besides secondary armament and 6-inch guns. Surely it cannot be regarded as satisfactory that while our "Dreadnought" cruisers have eight big guns and no secondary guns, the German cruisers have 12-inch guns and twelve 6.7-inch guns. This is a matter which the First Lord of the Admiralty promised to answer on the Vote of Censure. He did not do so on that occasion, and I now bring it forward again in order that we may have some explanation as to why it is so, because I think it is a matter in which a very large number of people take a very deep interest, and which has produced, and quite rightly, a feeling of great disquiet.
§ Sir THOMAS BRAMSDON
I desire to call attention to a very important subject, namely, that of the men on the establishment in our dockyards. Owing to an alteration which has taken place in recent years in the system a very important question has arisen in consequence. As my right hon. Friend is aware, there are altogether, I think, something like 33,000 men employed in our dockyards, of which, I believe, 7,000 are on what is known as the establishment. The establishment system is this: There is a certain number of men from whose wages certain sums are deducted in the nature of deferred pay, and in due course these men become entitled to a pension. The men like the system, and it has worked for many years in a most satisfactory manner, so much so that I think I am right in saying that during the whole period over which this system has been in operation we have never had what I may call labour troubles in our dockyards. The men and the Admiralty have always been on the very best of terms, and the position of employer and employed under the system has "been most satisfactory, and if it is continued, I do not think that any trouble is 1722 ever likely to arise in the future. I submit that this is a very important question in connection with the employment of men in the yard, where there should be good feeling and contentment, and the certainty that that good feeling and that contentment should be maintained, so that the men should always be there, and in time of war should be available for the very important duties of repairs and works of construction in connection with shipbuilding in our dockyards.
This system of placing men on the establishment has, during the last three years, been discontinued to some extent, with the result that something like 800 men less are employed in the Dockyards upon the establishment now. The idea prevails amongst the men that it is an advantage for them to be on the establishment, and, considering that under that system men working on the establishment have always given satisfaction, I am in hopes that my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty may, on consideration, be able to reopen this question. I cannot for the life of me think why it has been discontinued. As far as I have been able to ascertain, every administrator of the dockyard has been most satisfied and spoke most highly of the establishment system. The only reason I can see for any effort to curtail it is that the amount of money deducted from the men's pay does not meet the whole expense of providing for that which falls to the men in old age. They have a certain amount deducted by the Admiralty, and there is no question upon the men's part in connection with it. If it does cost a little more money to the Treasury, having regard to the fact that it produces contentment and good feeling in the men towards their employers, it seems to me that the extra cost is very little indeed. If the First Lord of the Admiralty says that the reduction in the establishment has been adopted because it costs money, then I submit to him very strongly, and to the consideration of the House, that such small economy as would be made by the Treasury should not be persisted in, considering the good results which followed from the establishment system as it existed heretofore. I believe that the first step towards curtailment took place in 1907. I do not think my right hon. Friend is responsible for the principle of it, but I am sure he will agree with me that there can be no question as to the contentment and satisfaction which the system brings 1723 about in the yard, and I do hope that he may find it in his power to give some encouraging answer to the appeal which I have made to him this afternoon.
§ Mr. E. G. PRETYMAN
I only desire to return for a minute or two to a subject which we have had under discussion recently, namely, the position which this country now holds in regard to destroyers. I hope the First Lord of the Admiralty, when he gives a reply to the House upon this point, although it will not satisfy the House that what has been done in the last few years was satisfactory, may give some hope for satisfaction as to what is being done now. I am bound to revert to what has been done, but what I really wish to obtain from the First Lord of the Admiralty is an assurance that the Board of Admiralty do realise that we have fallen behind in the last few years both in the amount of projected building and in the amount of realised building. They have, I am aware, in this year's Estimates, undertaken to lay down a larger number of destroyers, but if this programme is to become effective it is essential that the rate of building should be increased and systemised. It is obvious that what is important to us is not what we lay down so much as when the ships that we lay down will be available for service, and the Admiralty have in the matter of destroyers ever since the present Government came into office, or at any rate within the last three years certainly fallen seriously behind. In order to establish that fact it is only necessary to look at the Dilke Return, which shows that since the River class were completed in 1904–5 only four destroyers have been completed. That is a fact which I think ought to impress the House. There have been two to replace two which were lost. They are small vessels of only 440 tons, about half the displacement, and very inferior in sea-going qualities to those now undergoing construction. From the figures in the Dilke Return and in the Naval Estimates, it is quite clear that only four destroyers have been completed since 1905. That seems a most astonishing fact. Another astonishing fact is that these four destroyers which have been quite recently completed for sea were in the 1905–6 programme, and I believe I am correct in saying that some of the destroyers in the 1905–6 programme are not yet completed for sea. I am not positive about that, because I am not positive of what has been done or have 1724 been completed for sea during the last month or so.
§ Mr. McKENNA
There were 13 destroyers of the Tribal class—five in the 1905–6 programme, six in the 1906–7 programme, and two in the 1907–8 programme.
§ Mr. McKENNA
There were 12 boats in addition built in each of these years. They were called coastal destroyers.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
There were 36 of them. I want to put this matter perfectly fairly. I am not speaking now with the object of finding fault with the present Board of Admiralty apart from their pre decessors. I am putting this from the point of view of reviewing our position quite irrespective of who is responsible, and looking to what our position is and ought to be, and what we desire to make it. From that point of view, taking the destroyers simply as such, in these three years—1905–6, 1906–7, 1907–8—we have only laid down 13—
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Yes, they were to be of a special class. There were 12 and the "Swift," and besides that we have laid down and completed 36 smaller vessels called coastal destroyers, but, owing to their small size, they are now included as torpedo-boats. They have not the same sea-keeping qualities and areas and radius of action as the destroyers proper ought to have. They have not an equal value with the destroyers which Germany has been turning out in the same time, and therefore of destroyers proper we have only laid down these 13 in three years.
When we come to the comparison of destroyers, I admit we are upon very difficult ground. My hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Ashley) very properly took the 12 years' date, and he compared the destroyer programme and performance of Germany with that of tins country on that basis; but it is not really, I think, a tenable basis in the matter of destroyers, because if we had a permanent type which remained the same from year to year it would merely mean a matter of age to indicate a proper comparison. That is not the fact; the real fact is this, that Germany has maintained a much more staple type than we have. The German type of destroyers is much more like our River class. They built 1725 destroyers of a similar type to our River class. Up to the moment that the River class were designed, we had been building destroyers of a very high speed, but deficient in stability. There were one or two disasters which showed their weakness. It became obvious that these 30-knotters and their predecessors of 27 knots were deficient, because, although they had a nominal speed of 27 knots under ordinary circumstances, when they were put into the North Sea they had a much lower speed, and would not stand any knocking about. Consequently, for real service work, they were inferior to the destroyers of less speed, but of greater sea-keeping capacity. It was out of that state of things that the River class was constructed. There are 34 River class destroyers. They were commenced building in 1903, and were built in 1904 and 1905. I think I am not far wrong in saying that none of the destroyers of the pre-River class are really reliable, because they have not— and I do not think the First Lord will claim for them that they have—anything approaching a 30 or a 27 knots speed at sea. I saw the other day with my own eyes in Harwich Harbour in the same flotilla with the "Tartar," a 33- or 36-knot destroyer of the new Tribal class, and next to her was the "Panther," an old 27-knot destroyer, only capable of doing 14 knots at sea. In what position is a division of destroyers where you have one capable of steaming 14 knots and working with her a modern destroyer capable of steaming 33 or 36 knots. It is quite obvious that those two types cannot work together, and they would not be put to work together. The reason I quote this instance is to show the position to which we are reduced at the present time. We have now 16 destroyers built after the Tribal class. I wish to point out that the Tribal class were all laid down to burn oil, but the next 16 are to burn coal. I know there are reasons for that, and I do not criticise the policy of the Admiralty in that respect. It will be at the discretion of the First Lord of the Admiralty either to make an explanation or not, as he thinks fit. All I wish to point out is the fact that there has been a change of policy with regard to fuel from oil to coal. I should like to know when those 16 destroyers in last year's programme will be completed.
§ Mr. McKENNA
Yes, I think the whole 16 will be completed by that date. The latest will be completed by September, 1910.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I hope the Admiralty will press forward with their construction. While we have been building at this slow rate and falling behind, Germany has been steadily building upon a system under which she turns out a destroyer within a year. Germany has systematised more than we have her construction of destroyers, and she does build more quickly and regularly than we do. This has some bearing on the position in regard to first-class battleships. Germany is just now beginning to do in regard to battleships what she did in regard to destroyers, and if she succeeds in arriving at the same relative position in turning out first-class battleships ready for the line of battle as she has done in regard to destroyers our superiority will very soon be gone. I take it now that we have 49 or 50 destroyers really fit for service in the North Sea exclusive of the 36 coastal destroyers. I am, of course, excluding the 30-knotters and the 27-knotters. One of the most important tests is not that a destroyer shall be able to get across the North Sea and begin work, but that she shall be able to maintain herself at sea, and after a considerable period of hard work still be fit for sea. The right hon. Gentleman will not suggest that he can rely upon these 30 and 27-knotters doing hard work for any considerable period and still remain fit for sea. Why destroyers are so important is that it is the general opinion of those most competent to judge that the first stage in any naval war will mainly consist of a struggle for mastery between the opposing torpedo flotillas, and when we realise the enormous importance of establishing a superiority in the first onset of battle and the moral advantage which will accrue to the Power which wins in the first stage I think the right hon. Gentleman will realise how very important it is that in destroyers we should not be behind any other Power which we are at all likely to be brought into conflict with. There are other matters to which the House might well devote its attention, but I think at this moment the destroyer question, next to what may be called capital ships, is the most important. With regard to battleships, the country thoroughly understands the question, but I do not think sufficient attention has been devoted to the question of destroyers. This is a matter of the very first importance, and I will therefore 1727 confine myself to what I have stated, and I hope the First Lord of the Admiralty, in his reply, will assure us that the Admiralty will spare no expense or effort to place us in a satisfactory position in this respect, because it is just as necessary and important that we should be superior at sea in destroyers as in large ships for the line of battle.
§ Mr. W. P. BYLES
I do not pretend to have any expert knowledge as to the details of naval warfare which have been so abundantly paraded in this Debate. What I wish to say is that the comparisons which have been made with the navies of other countries are producing quite a false impression in this country. In my view England is not in any danger from Germany. My opinion is that war will not break out because we are a month or three months behindhand with some particular type of ship, and our safety does not depend upon the exact balance of tonnage and gunnage. What did his Majesty the King say in receiving the Czar?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman is not entitled to introduce the name of His Majesty in regard to questions of this sort.
§ Mr. BYLES
I ought to have remembered that that would not be in order, but I was only going to speak with the greatest possible respect of His Majesty. If these vessels are to be looked upon as symbols of peace, and not as symbols of war, surely we are getting a long way from that idea when we are perpetually entering into a close analysis of the comparative fighting strength of the navies of other nations. I look at this question of safety, and our relations with other countries, from a somewhat different point of view. I went down to Spithead on Saturday with a number of my colleagues, and there we were surrounded by these grey, ugly, costly monsters of destruction. Royalty was there, and peers and commoners were present with their wives, and everything was done to magnify the importance of the occasion. No doubt a great majority of the nation looked upon the event with pride and rejoicing, but I could not help feeling that this sight ought to make us more sad than glad. I could not help realising that all these vessels are not methods for defence, but for defiance. They are methods of barbarism, and not methods of intercourse between nations which are worthy of a Christianised and civilised twentieth-century people like curs. It is now 15 years ago since I put 1728 a question to the then Prime Minister in this House on the subject of the mutual and reciprocal limitation of armaments. The answer which Mr. Gladstone gave me on that occasion attracted great attention, not only in this country but in the whole of Europe. I have been distressed that 15 years should have gone by and that no progress, or comparatively no progress, should have been made, but recently matters have come a great deal forward, and quite serious attention has been given to the subject by our own Colonies, by the present Government, and also by the Government of Germany. During the spring there were very important Debates, both in the German Parliament and in our own Parliament, and with the permission of the House I should like to recall a sentence or two spoken during those Debates in order that the House may realise how very forward this question has been during the present year. First of all, I would quote one sentence from the speech of Count von Buelow, where he said that—Serious conversations have taken place between authoritative British and German representatives with regard to the question of an Angle-German understanding on the subject of the extent and cost of the naval programmes.Then our own Foreign Minister, speaking in this House on 29th March, used these words:—Some hon. Members on this side of the House have a difficulty in understanding why there should be any difficulty in coming to an arrangement. It is no ground for complaint or reproach against the German Government that they do not enter into an arrangement. We should be very glad if they did.He then went on to state on what basis such an arrangement would have to be proposed. It was not on the basis of equality; it must be on the basis of a superior British Navy:—No German, so far as I know, disputes that that is the natural point of view for us to take, but it is another thing to ask the German Government to expose itself before its own public opinion to a charge of having co-operated to make the attainment of our views easier.I want to meet that point by two other short quotations. The difficulty, namely, of expecting Germany to enter into an arrangement with us when we must claim it must be on the basis of a superior Navy on our side. Count von Buelow, in the speech I have quoted, used this sentence:—The Federal Governments have no intention of entering into competition with the British sea power.Then our own Foreign Secretary subsequently said:—No superiority of the British Navy over the German Navy could ever put us in a position to affect the independence and integrity of Germany.These two sentences, one from the Foreign Minister of Germany and the other from 1729 the Foreign Minister of England, disposes of the difficulty that we could not ask Germany to enter into an agreement when we had to claim we did not go in it for equality, but for superiority. There is very much more in that Debate and in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and I hope the House has not forgotten it. The foreign and German correspondents of that time were all assuring us that an agreement as to naval armaments was a possibility, and that a great many deputies in the German Reichstag were turning their attention to the subject. It will be remembered that a large section of the Reichstag, the Social Democrat party, sent a telegram to a Member of this House as to the introduction of a Motion to approach the British Government for the limitation of naval armaments. I am anxious to bring to the notice of the House the fact that this question, which has for many years been an academic question, and has been regarded as outside the realm of practical politics, is now becoming a practical question. We had grave warning from the Foreign Secretary on 29th March. I am quite sure this House can never have forgotten his words:—It is true to say that half the national wealth of half the nations of Europe is being spent on what is after all, preparations to kill each other. Surely the extent to which this expenditure has grown has become a satire and a reflection on civilisation. Not in our generation perhaps, but if it goes on at the rate at which it has recently increased, sooner or later I believe it will submerge that civilisation and lead to national bankruptcy.Surely I need only quote these words from a statesman who always well weighs and moderates his language to impress upon the House the great gravity and importance of this question. I believe an arrangement might be effected, I believe it will be done whenever a statesman is big, strong, and brave enough to attack it earnestly. It has been brought near; it used to be far away. It used to be a dream. Is it always to be a dream, and nothing more than a dream? Does it really baffle statesmanship to bring this matter to achievement? Both nations desire it. Neither of them can apparently get it. Both nations are in dire need of money. Both of them think it folly to be spending money on the Navy, one against the other, and yet both persist because neither can desist until both can desist together. Is there no Minister strong enough to bring this within our reach? Is there no one skilful enough in the arts of diplomacy? Must they all confess themselves beaten? I think it is quite possible, even in my lifetime, that this great 1730 desideratum may be accomplished. I appeal to-day to the Government, who have gone some length, who have tried to initiate, who have opened conversations of a most important character on this subject, and who told us to-day the door is not closed; and I will ask them whether they will not earn for themselves immortal fame by accomplishing that end which is so pregnant of blessing, not only to our own nation but to all nations.
§ Mr. J. D. REES
My hon Friend who has just sat down says he is tired of these comparisons between British armaments and the armaments of another nation. How can any strength be estimated except in relation to other strength? If my hon. Friend was engaged in business, would he not be continually comparing his business with that of a neighbour and a rival, and would he not preferably compare it with the business of a neighbour near to Salford rather than with that of someone at the uttermost parts of the earth, particularly if his rival at Salford was working him off the road? The hon. Member offered the policy of The Hague and the Ostrich as distinguished from that policy which holds that history repeats itself. How can the hon. Member have overlooked the fact that Germany has successively, and in a very short time, been at war with Denmark, Austria, and France. What is there inherent in the British Empire—is it its poverty or the fact of it having no desirable possessions in the world— which should enable this great Empire, now somewhat supine in character, to escape the fate of others? The hon. Member's reflections upon the naval review at Portsmouth produced a feeling of despair. He saw the battleships, this magnificent fleet, which is the greatest peace-keeper in the whole world, and which has for decades maintained the peace of the world, and he calls them "monsters of destruction." How different is the description of the greatest of living uncrowned peace-makers, President Roosevelt. When he built the biggest battleship of the United States he appropriately called it the "Pacificator."
§ Mr. REES
Of destruction? They are monsters which keep the peace and preserve nations from destroying one another. The hon. Member's history was painfully at fault when he referred to the twentieth century as the time when the Millennium shall come. He has forgotten that one of the greatest wars by land or sea 1731 happened only the other day, and in the twentieth century. I think my hon. Friend might have remembered, when he spoke in terms of great sincerity reminiscent to some extent of the pulpit—he might have remembered the words of the text:—When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace";and also that other text, so often repeated, so often wrested from its context, and so grievously misused, about "beating swords into ploughshares"—a text which is commenced by a passage qualifying the whole chapter:—It shall come to pass in the last day.It will come to pass, and we shall very soon come to the last day, whenever the views to which the hon. Member has given expression find any large amount of support in this country. I did not rise to make these remarks, although I was driven to do so by the speech of the hon. Member. My object was to congratulate the First Lord and the Government upon having taken in hand the extra four battleships, which I believe to be the very minimum required in the present condition of the world, and of the shipbuilding programme of Germany. Last year, when the hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr. J. M. Macdonald) moved a Resolution which has this year been moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Rushcliffe Division (Mr. J. E. Ellis), many of us were greatly exercised in getting together a counter movement, and no fewer than 85 Members on this side signed a protest against the spirit of that Motion, I think that at this moment there must be many more than 85 Members who agree in thinking that it was a disastrous Motion, and that the shipbuilding programme of the Government decidedly does not err on the side of being excessive or beyond the needs of the situation. So far as I can understand, we shall have a very small majority in these great capital ships in 1912, and to treat any engagement or any statement of intention as reliable as between competitors for the command of the sea seems to me to be the most absolute folly conceivable. I have here a statement by Colonel Gädke, a great military authority in Germany, in which he asserts that the words used with regard to future policyare only harmless acknowledgments of the fact that no more money could be got from the Reichstag.It is an acknowledgment, in fact, that they will not build ships faster than they 1732 can get the money with which to build them, and I venture to suggest that any such statement might be made by any great patriotic Power which was on the up grade in this world. Hon. Gentlemen opposite state that expenditure on armaments is unproductive, but I would remind them that the moment any reduction in any particular establishment in any particular dockyard in an hon. Member's Constituency is suggested the Member is immediately up in arms, and says it must not occur there—"let it be in any constituency but my own." How can this expenditure be other than productive? You spend about £2,000,000 sterling on every capital ship built. Seventy-five per cent, of the outlay is on British labour and British materials, and you employ from 1,500 to 2,000 men continuously in this island. Is not that just exactly what we want to do? How can it be held that the time when shipbuilding is rife, when the Government defences are being well looked after, that that is a period characterised by decay and decadence? Is it not notorious that during the whole period when Germany was building up her great armaments she was at the same time building up her industrial greatness even at a faster rate? The two things have gone together; the one has helped the other. History repeats itself, and we must not shut our eyes to what is going on in other parts of the world. For my part, I wish the First Lord could see his way to get rid of the Appropriation Bill procedure, with all its difficulties about surrendering grants unexpended, and thereby either breaking up works nearly completed or squandering money so that the amount may be expended by a particular date. Why should we be hidebound by an ancient custom of this sort? I am sufficiently a Radical to desire to abolish it out and out. [Cheers.] I am glad that hon. Gentlemen recognise the robustness of my Radicalism, and I repeat I think it will be a welcome change if this system can be abolished and the work on our programme can be extended over a series of years, as is clone by our rivals, the Germans.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite who support the Motion for a reduction of our armaments appear to want the policy of Lord Palmerston revived. They want us to interfere in the Congo, in Turkey, and in Bulgaria, and, indeed, the hon. Member for South Donegal (Mr. Swift MacNeill) said that our largest "Dreadnought" might be floated on the innocent blood which had been shed in the Congo. After 1733 that we shall surely no longer hear the Labour party describe our "Dreadnoughts" asthat perfidious barqueBuilt in the eclipse, and rigged with curses dark.If a spirited policy is to be adopted, how is it possible for us to warn other nations and to interfere with their proceedings unless we have behind us these "keepers of the peace," as I call them, or, as the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Byles) says, these "monsters of destruction." They would not listen to any Power which has not behind it these strong armaments to back up its diplomacy. In Germany in peace time the expenditure on armaments has been found to be productive, and Ruskin, who, I believe, is the great prophet of Socialism, has declared that the lack of preparation for war, for just war, is the thing of which a great nation should be ashamed. I do not mean to suggest for one moment that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty has failed in that respect. My firm belief is that in his great office—one of the greatest in the world—he is as anxious and as determined to uphold the strength of the British Empire—perhaps in circumstances of some difficulty—as any of his predecessors. The difficulties under which this great task is performed are continually increasing. I see the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie), in a recent speech, appealed to his hearersto stretch out their hands across the North Sea to their German colleagues and co-workers, and say to them, 'We are not your enemies; you are not our enemies. We have one enemy in common, the capitalist system. Join hands with us, make war upon war, and bring to an end that system which is making life difficult for all of us.'It is one of the great difficulties Ministers and Governments have to face in performing their duties when these sinister international views are openly voiced. These observations seem to imply the abnegation of public and almost all private virtues. Some hon. Gentleman may think that that is a subject for laughter. I hope they will, in their reading, make themselves acquainted with what has happened in France, where a Radical Prime Minister has declared it necessary to deal with this spirit with strong measures. Again, our own Foreign Secretary has declared that it is practically necessary to rebuild our fleet, and how, in the face of that, hon. Members can support a reduction of our armaments is absolutely incomprehensible. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil says:—We have no quarrel with German workmen.1734 Was there any quarrel between the Japanese cultivator and the Russian moujik? Has it ever happened that correspondence in the choice spirit of Socialism between peoples of different nations has produced a condition of universal peace? The Colonial Defence Committee is now sitting, and I should like to quote words used by Sir Hugh Graham, one of the chief men present at the Imperial Press Conference, as to the attitude of Canada towards the Navy. He says that the Canadians'whole reliance on British prowess rests on the idea that the British Navy will be kept up to a strength and efficiency to meet any possible combination of enemies.The fact is, there will be no help for us in any direction unless we keep the British Navy in its position of relative superiority to other Powers. To suppose you can say to a great Power like Germany—as a grown man might say to a boy—let us remain in exactly the same relative position as we are to-day, is simply ridiculous. They are bound to go on building, and it is equally incumbent on us to maintain our relative superiority. What is the cost of which I hear so much complaint? It represents 3 per cent. on annual income and 4 per cent. on capital. Was ever a great business insured at so low a rate? And yet I note that the Vote for construction and armaments is half a million less this year than that of Germany! And yet we are told that the promise not to accelerate the German programme is merely a harmless acknowledgment of the fact that more money cannot be got out of the Reichstag! I believe that is the proper gauge of the value of statements made with reference to the intentions of Germany. I was also greatly astonished to hear hon. Members for Ireland, when they spoke upon the Navy, decrying the necessity for preparation, for as late as 1798 a raid upon Ireland took place from France, and a foreign invader came in and maintained himself with ease for 17 days right inland in Ireland, from which place he could not have been expelled without the help of the British power. I refrain from saying anything about the figures as to the relative strength of the German and British Navies and the date at which our superiority will have almost disappeared, not because I do not think it is important—indeed, of the greatest and utmost importance—but because it has already been sufficiently dealt with, far more ably than I can do, by my right hon. Friend upon the Front Bench and by right hon. Gentlemen upon the Front Bench opposite, but I would like to 1735 read an extract from the speech of Herr Bassermann, the National Liberal Leader in the Reichstag. He sadd:—Germany can as little conclude an agreement with Great Britain, regarding naval construction, as a man could agree with a boy, regarding their rate of growth. Such an agreement would be an abdication of Germany's status as a great Power, a capitulation to Great Britain.That appears to me to be perfectly obvious, and seems once for all to dispose of the statement made in regard to going to Germany and asking them to postpone their construction. It shows it is a perfectly hopeless proceeding, and can only lead to our own detriment without succeeding in limiting at all any of the armaments. I asked a question of the First Lord to-day, to which he gave me an answer, and I do not mean here to delay the House, because I am not competent to deal in detail with the matter, but only speak as one who has lived for many years the East; but I do very much regret that the present disposition of the ships, though I know it proceeds upon the soundest strategical lines—I do regret that there is nothing better than a second-class cruiser in Indian waters. I think there should be in the waters that surround our great Indian Empire some ships belonging to the British Navy, which alone preserves that Empire; because our Army in India would melt away like mist if we had no British Navy and the command of the sea, and I think this fact should be emphasised by our keeping in the Bay of Bengal or in other Indian waters some proper symbol of the might of the British Empire rather than a cruiser such as we have there, which I have myself boarded in the Hoogly. The ship is known as the "High Flyer," and I would urge whether it would not be better to send a very much higher flyer to represent this country in those waters. The same remark applies to China, where America and France are represented by first-class battleships. I know how difficult it is to have first-class battleships all over the world, and I know how many are required at home and in the North Sea; but, still, I do beg the Board of Admiralty and the right hon. Gentleman, in the disposition of the Navy, to consider whether they cannot place something more suitable and more typical of the might of Great Britain at sea in these waters than a second-class cruiser in Indian waters and the ships which are at present in Chinese waters. Why should we not have some first-class cruisers, at all events, at these stations?
1736 We hear that the Revenue about to be raised is to be devoted to social reforms and to defence, and there seems to be a perpetual struggle between these objects as to which should get the larger share, naval and military defence or social reform; but if our defences are not sufficient there will be no occasion for social reform. If we are not independent, if we are not strong enough to repel all invaders and prevent them coming here, there will be nothing left to reform, and it will not be a question of improving the condition of the poorer classes in this country, desirable as that is—it will be a question of fighting for our lives. I submit that there is no antagonism between these two objects, but the circumstances which make it proper that there should be an adequate provision for defence make that chronologically, at all events, the first of the two great requirements of the day. I hope that during the Session of the Colonial Defence Committee no effort will be made to force upon the representatives of the Colonies any system other than that which they themselves prefer, but I cannot help remarking that it seems to me a dangerous thing, and not the best way of helping the Mother Country, for each Colony to provide a little fleet of its own, with a protective programme for each individual Colony. No fleet such as any individual Colony could afford to construct could stand up against a first-class Power, and no Colony of ours could continue on its present footing unless we are sufficiently strong in Home waters to meet and defeat the fleet of any other Power.
It may appear preferable that a Colony should spend its money on ships for the seas around its coasts, but surely the existence of that Colony depends upon the fleets at the heart of the Empire, and a defeat in the North Sea or in home waters would at once lead to the disappearance of that Colony, although it might have such a small fleet in its own waters as would suffice, when it is a member of the British Empire, for its modest requirements. I also cannot help remarking that the assistance—the very great assistance—often rendered in the past by the Colonies to the Empire in time of trouble has not been sufficiently and adequately recognised and rewarded. On many occasions they have given us the greatest assistance, and I sincerely hope now that they will be allowed to work out some system as much as possible upon their own individual lines; provided only that it is all one homogeneous whole 1737 instead of each having a separate small fleet. They may contribute, either in men or ships, or money, as may suit the idiosyncrasy of each individual Colony, to the strength of the Empire, by the greatness by which alone they themselves can in any case survive. I am grateful to the House for listening to me at this length, because I feel that I have not been able to provide any of that effective expert knowledge with which Members commonly illuminate speeches on this subject, and I will only conclude by saying that I was greatly rejoiced that there were not more votes in favour of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Rushcliffe Division (Mr. J. Ellis), and whenever such a Motion is brought forward it will give me the greatest pleasure, and I hope I shall be doing some small service, in helping to organise a counter movement on the part of Members of this House.
§ Mr. J. T. MIDDLEMORE
Iamsurethe whole House will sympathise with that portion of the speech of the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Byles) that was prompted by his heart, but I think I can safely add that the great majority would dissent from those portions which expressed his judgments and the workings of his brain. The hon. Member asks why these monsters of the deep are built. You must search the human heart and its passions; you must search the records of history, that are the plain and express record of those passionate actions, for an answer to his question, but I can give none. He spoke of the friendly words that were uttered in the German Reichstag, in regard to this country, and we rejoice to hear them, but there are other words, not expressed in that Debate, that were also used, and which moved me very much more, than the words uttered across the floor of that Assembly. I allude to the words in the preamble of the Naval Act of 1900, which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. W. Dilke) referred to. As I said before, I rejoice it is a relief to me that the Government has promised us four extra "Dreadnoughts," but my relief is somewhat partial and somewhat limited. I want to understand very definitely their meaning. I want to know how far this will interfere with next year's programme. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that it would not interfere at all, but such a negative as that may be taken in two or three ways, and I cannot accept inconclusive negatives. What I want to know is: Are we to have eight more 1738 "Dreadnoughts" next year? That is what I want; that is what I should look forward to with all my heart.
We are surrounded by uncertainties. The only point of actual certainty is that the two-Power standard has been lost, has been given up. I take one or two uncertainties: First of all, the Dilke Return. If I was a little rude to the right hon. Gentleman in regard to it—he spoke of myself as a nightmare—I am sorry, and I apologise. I should like to be his guardian angel on these benches, and I will be, or might be, if he will turn over a slightly new leaf, and if he will give us a real defence and turn in defiance upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who seems very largely to dictate his policy. There has been considerable shuffling in regard to the two-Power standard, both in its definition and its final abandonment. It is hardly worth while to repeat what has been read half a dozen times, but the Prime Minister, on 12th November last, definitely explained the two - Power standard as meaning:—A standard equal to the two next strongest Powers, plus a margin of 10 per cent.What right has the President of the Board of Trade, when he was writing to his constituents in the North, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite, definitely to abandon that standard, and to say that one of the next strongest Powers could no longer count? There are two voices. Then, has the right hon. Gentleman given us a fair account of the German preparations? This is what he said on March 6th:—Two rears ago anyone familiar with the capacity of Germany would have ridiculed the possibility of their undertaking to supply all the component parts of a battleship in a single year. To-day this productive power is a realised fact.The right hon. Gentleman must be rather weary of having that quotation thrown at his head, and he must know it by heart, and so do most people with good memories. On 17th June he said he knew about this in 1906. There is a very serious discrepancy. Either the Admiralty was keeping this information to itself or else the right hon. Gentleman had a very serious lapse of memory; and I can only presume that this tremendous information, in which Krupps was spoken of as employing now 100,000 men, not including their mines, having risen from 32,000 to 64,000, and from 64,000 to 100,000, had escaped the right hon. Gentleman's memory. I think it was in 1901 that the right hon. Baronet (Sir C. W. Dilke) said, I think referring to the preamble to the German Navy Act of 1900, that our supremacy had been definitely 1739 challenged, and therefore he strongly dissented from the then Little Navy party in their efforts to have a further reduction of the programme. At that time our power was a three- or a four-Power standard. We have now no standard but the indefinite standard of the Government in power. We have a standard which may suit the exigencies of the moment. We have no standard that the average man can understand. It seems to me that means pretty much that we have thrown our compasses and steering gear overboard, and are getting wherever Parliamentary opportunism may suggest. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer wanted to win an election he might reduce our standard to a half-Power standard, and make us the appendage of a stronger Power. I earnestly hope that the right hon. Gentleman will state to us and to the country what the Government standard is.
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. McKenna)
The hon. Gentleman, although he charged me with every sort of controversial peccadillo, is so obviously sincere in the earnestness of his feeling with regard to the safety of the country that I shall endeavour, though not with much hope, to reassure him once more. He began by asking what next year's programme should be. It is difficult enough to forecast with any certainty in the month of March what the programme for the then ensuing year is to be, but to attempt it in the preceding August, and to lay down a standard of shipbuilding which will have to satisfy us until the close of the year 1913, would be to undertake a task which I hope the hon. Gentleman will not press the Government to do. I do not think any Government, at any time, has ever been willing to forecast in August what its declared programme would be in the following March.
§ Mr. ARTHUR LEE
You did it in 1906. The Secretary to the Admiralty (now Lord Lochee), in July, 1906, told the House what was to be the shipbuilding programme for the following year.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I do not remember his having done so, but if he did I will ask the hon. Gentleman whether he stated it accurately.
§ Mr. McKENNA
The hon. Gentleman says it was an unfortunate occasion. I think it is an example which I had better 1740 not follow. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Middlemore) asks me bow I am to explain the apparent discrepancy between a speech which I made in March and an answer which I gave in the following June. There was no discrepancy at all. In March I recalled what we knew as realised facts. In June I referred to information which we were given in 1906. The information which we were given in 1906 was nothing like the realised facts of March, 1909. I was not referring in the answer to the fact that in 1906 Krupps had developed a power of construction which they only had in 1909, because in 1906 they had not even begun to do so, but that they were intending to make some development in 1906 was known. That they were aiming at the power which they have at present was not and could not be known. It was only on realisation that such a great extension as that could be known. No one ever can forecast from year to year what the capacity of particular firms may be in the future.
I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Byles) as to the gravity, and importance of this huge naval expenditure. But I have also to agree with the hon. Member (Mr. Rees) that the security of this country must be our first care. However much we may deplore, as I certainly do, this growing increase in expenditure, I do not think the House will hold the Government justified if they do not take all necessary steps to maintain our lead in sea power. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Mr. Pretyman) asked whether we were taking full account of what he considered to be the dangerous position of our fleet in respect to the inadequate number of destroyers. It is perfectly true that part of the earlier programme of destroyers which ought now to be completed is not yet realised, and therefore I may agree at once with him that seven more destroyers ought to be in commission at this moment, and would have been in commission if the programme of the Government had been realised. But the fact that these destroyers are not ready is not our fault. They have been delayed unduly, chiefly by the strike which occurred on the Clyde and on the Tyne. The fact that the programme was not realised does not constitute the least danger. I do not say for a moment that if the naval situation 10 or 12 years ago had been what it is to-day the Board of Admiralty of the time would have built the destroyers which we now know as the 30-knotters. These destroyers 1741 are more suited to the Channel than to the North Sea, but that must not be taken to mean that they are incapable of use in the North Sea. That is not entirely untrue. The great majority of the 30-knotters are fully capable of every ordinary employment of a destroyer throughout the North Sea. They are as good or better than the majority of the destroyers of the Power whose fleet has been under discussion today. But we have 34 River destroyers, which are later than the 30-knotters, and all of which are very good, and we have two more, which we bought, making 36 of this type, and we have out of the programme of 13 laid down in 1905–6, 1906–7, 1907–8 six completed. We had altogether last March, of destroyers launched in or since 1903, or provided in the recent programme, 81 of from 540 to 990 tons, with the "Swift," of 1,800 tons, and the two to which I have referred just purchased from Palmers', making 84 altogether. Germany has 72 destroyers of from 400 to 660 tons, a mean of 530 tons against our mean of 770, and France has 60 of from 298 to 703 tons, or a mean of 500 tons. I am dealing only with destroyers launched since 1903.
Of those we have 16 in last year's programme and 20 in this year's programme. The 16 in last year's programme will be completed as to one by June next year, as to eight in August next year, and as to the remaining seven in September next year. The 20 destroyers in this year's programme will be completed in July, 1911, so that the figures I have quoted relate to the period covered by the present programme, which will be completed by July, 1911. At that time, on the dimensions we have given, we shall have 84 against the German 72, the German dimensions being considerably smaller, and not taking into account either our 36 ex-coastal destroyers, which are admitted now, after some experience of their work, to be most valuable for use in the North Sea. Nor do we take into account the preponderance of our destroyers launched earlier than 1903.
§ Mr. McKENNA
Yes, we consider that the provision made this year of 20 destroyers is completely satisfactory. I hope that the House will observe that I have stated all the figures in the worst form from the point of view of the Admiralty, and in the strongest form in support of the hon. Gentleman's case. I have taken 1742 only destroyers launched within the last six years, and I have left out the ex-coastal destroyers, 26 in number, and I have not referred to our overwhelming preponderance in destroyers launched at an earlier date than 1903. I have merely presented the case in the worst form for us, and yet, nevertheless, I have shown that our preponderance will be as 84 to 72, but in a much stronger type. If you add to that preponderance, our great preponderance in earlier types, and the 36 ex-coastal destroyers, you have a position in which the Board of Admiralty think that adequate and full provision has been made in the present programme. Besides destroyers we have another type of vessel—submarines. I do not wish to enlarge upon their qualities, powers, or duties in warfare, but they must not be overlooked. When you are taking the balance of our defensive or offensive powers, you must add torpedo-carrying submarines to the torpedo-carrying destroyers. Taking the two branches of our forces together, and looking, as I have said, to our earlier preponderance, I have no doubt whatever that, much as we regret not having had the seven now under construction of the Tribal class delivered, we are, nevertheless, perfectly safe at the present moment, and the provision we have made we regard as fully adequate. I think that was the main point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman). I have not referred to our old 27-knotters at all, and in" speaking of the earlier preponderance of 27-knotters, although they are still useful, I do not propose to put them in the same category as the 30-knotters or with the Tribal class and the river class of destroyers, but they must not be left out of account, because they are still available for service, and would still render service. If they were not available for service the Admiralty would be only too glad to save the cost of running them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth (Sir T. A. Bramsdon) referred to the subject of the reopening of the establishment in the dockyards. That matter has been for a very long time—and, I am afraid my hon. Friend will say, too long a time—under the consideration of the Admiralty. The argument which my hon. Friend put forward seems to me to carry very great weight. I feel the strength of the case which he makes, that the reopening of the establishment would tend to produce a good state of feeling among the men in the dockyard towns. It always has 1743 its influence upon their work, and upon all questions of necessary controversy which arise from time to time between the Board and themselves. I can only assure him at this stage that, for reasons which my hon. Friend will appreciate, I shall give the most careful examination I can to the whole case, and I hope to be able at an early date to give a definite answer to the question he has asked. I cannot go further than that, for he will understand that all questions of this kind, which involve more than one Department, have to be considered at greater length than questions in which only one Department is concerned.
The hon. Member for Blackpool (Mr. Ashley) covered a very wide field in his speech. I am sorry if at any time in answering questions I have appeared to the hon. Member wilfully to withhold from him information to which he was entitled, or needlessly to have alleged the excuse that it would be contrary to the public welfare to disclose such facts as he pressed me for. He gave as an illustration of my supposed misconduct in this respect a case in which I think, upon reflection, he will agree with me that I was justified, namely, as to the thickness of the armour of battleships now being built. I gave the information which he asked, and he then asked in a supplementary question the reasons for making the change. The battleships are at this moment being built, and I obviously could not give him the reasons without going into the whole question of the distribution of armour in our latest type of ship. I put it to him whether it is right to press me for information as to the strategical reasons we may have for the distribution of our armour?
§ Mr. ASHLEY
My objection was not so much to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman refused information, but rather to the attack he made upon me, as if I were guilty of an awful crime in asking the information.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I did not in the least wish to be discourteous, and I am extremely sorry if I did answer him in an unconciliatory way, but the hon. Member must understand that in all those questions I have to be very careful what I say, and I can assure him that on every occasion I endeavour to give the House the fullest information which the Admiralty consider ought to be disclosed upon any subject. I never attempt to conceal either 1744 from the point of view of keeping back an argument against myself or from the point of view of giving the House information which may be used in criticism of the Government's policy. I never attempt to withhold anything such as that, but matters such as the distribution of armour are obviously secret, and I do think that on that occasion I was justified in asking him not to put questions to me when the mere refusal of information is undesirable. That is what I dislike. I do not wish to say that we have made a change in our distribution of armour, or that I refuse to give information that we have. You cannot convey in answer to a supplementary question the particulars which the hon. Member asks. Unless I give the whole of our reasons for the change I could not answer the supplementary question. Therefore, I put it to the hon. Member that it is not desirable to ask me to give information the refusal of which is in itself either discourteous to the hon. Gentleman perhaps, or which may raise some inquiry outside and give a clue outside which we think it undesirable m the public welfare to mention.
Then reference was made to the subject of the Royal Naval Reserve. I have the latest figures as to the actual state of our Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Fleet Reserve. In answer to the hon. Gentleman's questions, I have endeavoured to explain to him that, although we have had reductions in the Royal Naval Reserve, these reductions have been compensated for by an increase in the Royal Fleet Reserve. The figures show that there has been a net increase of 25. We have had an increase of 340 in the stokers and in the Australian Royal Naval Reserve, although there is a total reduction in other ratings of 1715. This makes a net reduction of 1375. At the same time, there has been an increase in the Fleet Reserve of 1,400, making a total increase of 25 on the balance of the two.
§ Mr. MIDDLEMORE
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman how the Royal Fleet Reserve compares with the Royal Naval Reserve in efficiency?
§ Mr. McKENNA
The whole effect of these changes is, as we think, to improve the quality of the reserves. That has been our policy. The two reasons why the Royal Naval Reserve numbers have been reduced are, first, that the men have to serve in sea-going ships instead of shore batteries, which is obviously an improvement in training; and, secondly—
§ Mr. McKENNA
They are sometimes nucleus crew ships, but in every case they are sea-going ships. They have always sea experience. There is no distinction, such as the hon. Gentleman draws, between nucleus crew ships and others. I should think that, on the whole, on the nucleus crew ship they would probably get better training. Our object is to obtain an adequate reserve. That reserve may be composed of Fleet Reserve or Naval Reserve. The Naval Reserve, partly owing to the more stringent rules, has been reduced in numbers. There has been a compensating increase in the Fleet Reserve, consequently the policy of the Admiralty has been effected in producing the desired end. We have maintained our numbers, and at the same time we have got a reserve more capable than we used to have. Then the hon. Gentleman asked me some questions upon the subject of the small cruiser, and gave to the House some figures which appeared to be rather startling. He said that the present programme would work out that Germany would have 29 small cruisers of over 21 knots, and I understood him to say that Great Britain would have 27. The hon. Gentleman took precisely the 21 knots. If he had taken 20 knots, his figures would have been very different, or, if he had taken 19 knots, then they would have been still more different; but they were not strictly accurate even as they stood. Taking 21 knots and over, a rapid examination of the list shows me that we shall have 29, and not 27, on the completion of the present programme. But he also omitted, in speaking of cruisers, to refer to first-class cruisers. There, again, I do not think the comparison is quite fair, which does not include all arms of the same kind. Just as supplementals were omitted when referring to destroyers, so, in referring to cruisers, we are limited to small cruisers. This is purely arbitrary, because the small cruisers in this case run up to nearly 6,000 tons, and we are limited to a speed of 21 knots. Now, if the small cruisers had been allowed to go just a little over 6,000 tons, and had been allowed to run down to 20 knots, we should have been able to include some of our first-class cruisers, and been able to add enormously to the British figure. Of these cruisers we are building now six a year, six last year and six this year. We are laying 1746 down what the hon. Gentleman calls, small cruisers, but small cruisers of the "Bristol" class are a very powerful type of ship. At the same time—that is to say, last year and this year— the programme of the foreign Power to which the hon. Gentleman alluded was two each year. We happen to be building at this time precisely the same kind of small cruisers, and, therefore, capable of direct comparison with the kind built by Germany. We have in the two years 12, while Germany has four. Germany for some years has been building only more or less this type, while we have been building other types and conditions.
As I have said, there are small cruisers and first-class protected cruisers, and we have our overwhelming preponderance in other cruisers. It is quite true that many of the duties which small cruisers can perform are duties of a kind for which an armoured cruiser would be wasted, but there are other duties which a small cruiser may be called upon to perform for which an armoured cruiser is infinitely better; and our superior strength in armoured cruisers is such as altogether to outweigh any supposed inferiority—and it is only supposed—in the smaller type of ship. Even if the case were as the hon. Gentleman said, what more can we do in this year than lay down six? After all, it is only this year's Estimates we are considering, and in our programme for the year there are 20 destroyers against 12, and six fast cruisers against two. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the House is making heroic efforts at very great cost to ensure complete superiority in every type of vessel. The hon. Gentleman has referred to the Return which stands in the name of my right hon. Friend. What answer am I to give to a complaint that the Dilke Return, which relates to the period up to 31st March, includes two ships—the "Barfleur" and the "Centurion"—which, as he says, were condemned on the following day? The fact is that the two ships to which he refers as being condemned on 1st April are at this moment perfectly available for use, but we take them out of special service and put them on the Mother Bank. That does not deprive us of those three ships. It is true that they are deteriorating rapidly on the Mother Bank, but on 1st May and 1st June I venture to say that those ships were almost, if not quite, as useful as they were on 31st March. I should be misleading the House if I did not include 1747 them, as they were still available, and what the hon. Gentleman called "condemned" is a process which takes a very long time. Ships have been kept on the Mother Bank so long as they are useful for any purpose in war. These ships, in no common sense of the word, have been condemned on 3rd August.
Then the hon. Gentleman went back into some very ancient history. He spoke of the withdrawal of stores without being replaced. This practice is nothing new. I should be the last to assert as the justification of it that it was the policy pursued by right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen who now sit on the benches opposite. The reasons for the policy were sound. The withdrawal of stores without replacement is the necessary consequence of the closing of a number of storage depots. Nothing is more wasteful than to maintain an unnecessary number of stores. You have got to have clerks in each. You have got to have the whole machinery of a store or warehouse and everything that is necessary for the delivery of the goods, which would be just as well delivered from a central store. Every subsidiary store which is closed, provided it is not required for any strategical reason, conduces directly to economy. If you look into the conditions of our stores before the Government of the day inquired into the subject and cut down the Government stores, you will find, for instance, that such articles as chairs, the demand for which in any case would be extremely small, were kept in large numbers in a great variety of stores, whereas they could always be delivered when required from a single store. By eliminating that article and other general articles of supply which can be just as well delivered from a general store as from a dozen subsidiary stores, by cutting down the storage, or by closing the subsidiary stores in which these articles were kept, we are obviously adding to the economy effected without any loss of efficiency or without any fear that we should be unable to supply the necessary quantity in time of war. Again, as regards a great many things which we used to keep in stores, it has been found far cheaper and better to obtain them direct from the manufacturers. In a country like ours there is no difficulty in getting supplies direct, which would do away with the original outlay, and the cost and maintenance of warehouses, when merchants are only too willing to supply us to any 1748 amount at contract prices and deliver to us on demand as much of the particular stock article as we could want. The late Government were perfectly correct in their policy. They made a very real and genuine economy as the result of their policy. There is no doubt whatever that these accumulated reserves were not wanted for any strategical reason, and they have been gradually reduced without replacement; and, for my part, though I cannot take the smallest credit for the policy, I can only wish that I had had a hand with the late Govarnment in adopting these measures, which actually add to the efficiency of our storage arrangements and at the same time effect a very real economy. I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Mr. Pretyman) will settle his accounts with his hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool (Mr. Ashley) for criticising what is one of the very sound reforms executed by him on the Board of Admiralty.
The last question to which the hon. Gentleman referred was with regard to the payment for the second four large armoured ships of this year's programme. I wish I could dispel from his mind the illusion that the contractors are going to pay for the ships. The contractors will expect to be paid for them by the British Government, and I know of no contractor who makes a contract except on the terms of cash on delivery. We shall pay for these ships, but we do not pay for them before the work is done upon them, or day by day as the work proceeds. We pay in instalments when certain stages of construction have been reached. The object of the Government being to secure that these ships shall be completed by March, 1912, and not before March, 1912, there is no need to lay a keel during this financial year. The only thing which is necessary in this financial year is to see that the gun mountings, and possibly some other parts of the equipment of the ship—perhaps the machinery, though that depends upon the state of the trade at the time—and perhaps even the armour, shall be taken in hand before 1st April. If the contractors for that equipment have completed a stage of manufacture before 1st April, which will call for payment of the first instalment, it will be paid. As I have stated to the House, Supplementary Estimates will have to be introduced next February or March m order that the House may Vote the money. But that I regard at the present moment as an unlikely hypothesis. In all probability the contractors will not have 1749 reached that stage of construction which will call for payment of the first instalment unless the hon. Gentleman suggests that we should pay the contractors in advance, a proceeding which I believe the Treasury will not sanction, and which also, if I remember aright, is contrary to the financial rules laid down by Resolutions of this House, though I will not be certain on that point. The contractors would be the last to ask to be financed by the British Government, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman and the House that no financial consideration will be allowed to defer the construction of these ships. They will be laid down, and the equipment of them will be done in sufficient time to secure their completion by March, 1912. Provided the House is satisfied on that point, as to which they may take the absolute assurance of the Board of Admiralty, I think I may leave it to the Comptroller and Auditor-General and to the Treasury to see that there are no financial juggles. We shall pay when the money is due, and, as I have said, Supplementary Estimates, if necessary, will be introduced into the House in order to provide for payment.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
Has the right hon. Gentleman any reference to make as to armaments in comparison with German armaments?
§ Mr. McKENNA
I do not know that it would be desirable to disclose the reasons which have led us to adopt a particular type of armaments. It is a question for naval experts and contractors. I venture to think if the hon. Gentleman calls upon the Comptroller and asks him for the reason he will be quite willing privately, as I should be quite willing privately, to inform him as to the main reason why we have adopted the particular type of armaments; but I do not think it is desirable, even if I could, to give a public lecture on the grounds upon which we have acted. Suffice it to say that the best expert opinion that we could obtain leads us to the conclusion that we have adopted the right kind of armaments for ourselves, and for ships of a certain size and of a certain power we think it is the best distribution we can make. Others may think differently, but it is not for me to criticise the German type of armaments or give the reasons for the kind of armaments we have adopted. Now I think I have covered all the points raised so far. My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary or the Civil 1750 Lord will be able to answer any further questions that may be put.
§ Mr. MIDDLEMORE
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that he has not answered the question as to the two-Power standard or what he has adopted in place of this two-Power standard?
§ Mr. McKENNA
I confess I had hoped to escape the hon. Gentleman on that point. It has been so frequently debated in this House, and I think that though the hon. Gentleman—I took down his words— is perfectly satisfied that we are shuffling as regards the two-Power standard, I do not think that is really what he means. I think what he really means is that we have given an explanation which he deems unsatisfactory. We have not shuffled about it, but he does not like the explanation. I have read the Prime Minister's speech several times, and nothing in the world could be clearer than the words he used. The Prime Minister in the Debate which occurred on the Motion of the hon. Member opposite as clearly defined our policy as it is possible for words to do. The hon. Member might not like it.
§ Mr. McKENNA
If the hon. Member likes it there is nothing more to be said. It is perfectly clear, and I have nothing more to add to it. I have certainly done my best in previous Debates to make it as clear as words can make it, although the hon. Gentleman does not agree with it. I have endeavoured to make it as clear as possible what is the construction which the Government put on the two-Power standard. I cannot add to it. Though I do not expect the hon. Member to agree with the Government's statement, nevertheless I must beg him to accept it as final, and I cannot offer any further explanation than that which I have already given.
§ Mr. ARTHUR LEE
I am sure nothing could have been more reasonable and conciliatory in tone than the speech the right hon. Gentleman has made, but I am afraid some of us, at any rate, do not think it is as satisfactory in substance as it was conciliatory in manner. I will refer, first of all, to the question of the destroyers, about which a good deal has been said this afternoon, though I think not too much in view of the great importance of the subject. I think, possibly inevitably, too much attention may have been concentrated upon one class of ship in the Debates during the present Session. That 1751 is because, until the last Debate, we really did not know what the Government's intentions were, and therefore it was necessary to keep to the most important subject, possibly to the exclusion of others which ought to have been dealt with. But to-day we have come to this very important question of destroyers. I must say that the information which the right hon. Gentleman has given us this afternoon does not appear to me to leave the situation in a more satisfactory position—in fact, in some respects, it is in a far less satisfactory position. I do not wish to quote again that much-cited remark of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs about the rebuilding of the entire fleet; but surely, if it applies to battleships, it applies in even a stronger sense to our destroyer flotilla, because a very large proportion of them are obsolescent merely on account of age, quite apart from the increasing programme of any foreign Power. The right hon. Gentleman, in defending the policy of the present Board of Admiralty with regard to destroyers, admitted, in the first place, quite frankly, that there had been serious delays in their building—he said that seven more ought to have been ready at the present time—due to facts over which he had no control. But, however that may be, it seems to me perfectly clear that the admission constitutes all the more reason for pushing on without any kind of delay with the programme which the Government has proposed to the House during the present Session, in order to redress this balance against us, and to make up for these arrears and delays in the past.
What are the Government doing? They are proposing to build in this year's programme 20 more destroyers. The right hon. Gentleman spoke just now about the heroic efforts that the Government and the House of Commons are making in regard to this class of craft. What do these heroic efforts amount to? The right hon. Gentleman says that these 20 will not be completed until July, 1911. That is a long way ahead. Why will they not be completed until then? Simply because they are not going to be begun until an abnormally late period of the present financial year. Here you have vessels of which we do not know the details, but they must cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of £100,000 each; the last one cost, I think, £120,000, but I have reason to suppose that these will not cost so much. We may take the approximate figure of £100,000 each. 1752 The Government decided last November or December, or thereabouts, that these vessels were necessary. They announced the fact to the House of Commons in March of this year. They then allow 12 months to elapse before they take any active steps with regard to the building of the vessels. They may be letting the contract—I cannot tell about that—but we know that they only take the sum of £5,000 For a vessel which is going to cost £100,000, showing that they are not going to make any serious beginning with these ships in the present financial year. Against that we see the practice in Germany, where vessels only announced at the beginning of this year have had £41,000 spent upon each. In one case there is the immediate attempt to push forward the programme, while in our case there appears to be no attempt, and certainly there is nothing which could be by any stretch of imagination dignified as heroic effort. The right hon. Gentleman says there is no need to go on with these ships, that we are in no danger without them, and that we have as many vessels as are necessary, but I think that the fact of the Government bringing in this programme rather refutes that theory in advance. But the right hon. Gentleman based his theory about there being no danger upon two facts. First of all he referred to what he called the "30-knotters," the value of which, he said, had be no greatly underestimated, and which were by no means incapable of service in the. North Sea. He went further, and said they were suitable for all ordinary purposes of warfare in the North Sea. It is very difficult for one civilian, who cannot be an expert, to argue this point with another civilian who also, despite his knowledge, cannot be an expert. The right hon. Gentleman has to rely on the opinions of his professional advisers in this matter.
It is a very unfortunate thing with regard to this matter of destroyers that there is no subject in connection with the Navy upon which I, simply as a civilian who is in contact more or less necessarily with naval opinion, have received such overwhelming and unanimous evidence from all grades that, these 30-knot destroyers are not suitable for service in rough weather in the North Sea, and that they have been so proved during the course of the recent man œuvres. There is almost an overwhelming, as far as my experience goes, consensus of naval opinion against these vessels for that purpose. The right hon. Gentleman's statement is in direct conflict with everything I have heard on 1753 the subject. Of course, we cannot prove that across the Table, but what I have said justifies us, I think, in adhering to our belief that those vessels should not be counted as forming part of our full efficient strength for service under those conditions. Then the right hon. Gentleman said we had not counted submarines. Here we come to another very technical point. I have always been given to understand that submarines, whilst they are torpedo craft in a sense, are designed primarily for what we call home defence, and that they are not suited for the sort of work, such as blockading work at an enemy's port in all weathers and for long periods, that torpedo destroyers are expected to perform. I should be very much surprised indeed if the right hon. Gentleman's statement with regard to submarines and the sufficiency of destroyers would be borne out by any expert naval opinion outside. Even with regard to these points, what is his conclusion? He told us, as the net result, that by a certain date, when the existing programme would have been carried out, we should have 84 destroyers suitable for the North Sea to Germany's 72. Is the right hon. Gentleman really satisfied with that proportion? I know he also referred to the earlier types.
§ Mr. McKENNA
Eighty-four as to 72 launched less than six years ago. That qualification has to be put in.
§ Mr. A. LEE
The right hon. Gentleman is introducing the element of age, which I think in this matter is very misleading. What we were referring to were ships of a type suited for the purpose of service in rough water, and that is an independent type, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) pointed out, Germany had begun building that type of vessel at a much earlier date, and we have no vessels previous to the River class which are comparable in sea-keeping quality with the German 72 vessels to which the First Lord has just referred. We feel that that proportion or anything like it is almost ludicrously insufficient for the services which the British Navy might be called upon to perform. I think that has been proved up to the hilt during the recent manœuvres. I come now to a subject of some little delicacy, because for some reason or other the Government declined to allow anything to transpire officially with regard to what took place in the manœuvres. That is a custom which has not been the custom in the past, and I am not sure it is altogether a salutary 1754 custom. There are certain things which must be kept secret, but there are many other things which, being kept secret, prevent the country becoming aware of grave defects in our fleet, and particularly the strength and efficiency of different classes of vessels. I think this secrecy has been a great deal overdone, and is really absurd, because after all it cannot be supposed that this information is not going to leak out. There are, I do not know, how many thousands of officers and men, and they would naturally talk about them. With regard to this question of destroyers, it is quite common talk in naval circles as to the hopeless insufficiency that was revealed in the recent strategic man œuvres in this matter of sea-keeping destroyers. There was a strategic scheme to which I do not wish to refer, but which credited to the British fleet twice the number of destroyers that the theoretical enemy was provided with. I think in the first place that was a somewhat misleading or unpractical hypothesis, because we are not fortunate enough to have that strength as compared with our potential enemies. But even with the superiority which was given in the manœuvres, it was found practically impossible to maintain an efficient watch over the imaginary enemy's coast line unless the whole of the destroyer force available for the theoretical British fleet was employed at the one time without relief.
It is well known that if destroyers are operating a considerable distance from their base they ought to be organised in at least three reliefs, to allow of such ships going, coming, and coaling, and also giving a reasonable amount of rest to the officers and men. During those recent manœuvres not a moment's rest was given either to the destroyers or to their officers or their crews. They were kept at it continuously day and night; that threw an altogether impossible strain on them. If that had been attempted in war, in the case, for example, of blockading an enemy's coast in rough weather or in winter, it would have led in practice to an inevitable and early breakdown in the blockade. The trouble is that really we have no reserve of boats and of personnel in connection with the destroyer flotilla, and, as a result, you have no reserve beyond your blockading line. In the event of the enemy breaking out, as an organised body going out to sea, you have no reserve division, or divisions, of destroyers for battle purposes if they are all engaged in the blockading line, with no reserves to draw 1755 upon. This kind of continuous, unrelieved duty such as was forced on our destroyer flotilla during the manœeuvres is bad for material, leads to dirty boilers, to reduction in speed, to the slackening of rivets, and generally deteriorates not only the fitness of the fighting personnel, but also the actual condition of the ships themselves. Our shortage in this class of ship is notorious throughout the Navy. I do not believe the right hon. Gentleman really himself is satisfied with the position. He must make the best of it, but I do not believe in his heart he is satisfied. I think he has shown it by coming forward with a courageous programme. Our complaint is that, having decided on that programme that he does not get on with it and is putting off the evil day of paying for those ships until a dangerously late moment.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke with some feeling about a charge which has been brought against him of withholding information. I admit sometimes he has been justified in refusing information on points which might be of benefit to a foreign Power if they were unable to obtain that information in any other way. But there are more in which I think he has not been justified. Perhaps, as he has defended himself in one case, he will allow me to refer to another case in which I have been refused information within the last few days. I asked a question arising out of a matter upon which I feel very deeply, the recent accidents to submarines. I asked him a question about life-saving apparatus. I asked him in perfect good faith, because I felt that the Government had not done their duty in the matter of providing their vessels with safety appliances arid had not carried out the promise which was made to me in May of last year, and that there had been quite inexcusable delays. I asked a simple question in order to show how trifling the expense is as to what was the cost of one of those safety helmets which should be supplied to submarines. The right hon. Gentleman refused to give me that information because he said no information could be given about the equipment of submarines of His Majesty's fleet. It happened just before I received a printed answer from the right hon. Gentleman with regard to a companion question with regard to air-locks, in which he told me that the amount was £200 per vessel. Why it should be considered impossible to give information with regard to one portion of 1756 this life-saving apparatus and why he should be quite prepared to give information with regard to another I fail to understand.
§ Mr. McKENNA
We inquired about this very point, and we found that the airlock was a commercial article, the price of which was known. The particular helmet supplied is not so, and it was part of the equipment of the submarine, the expenditure upon which—following the policy from the hon. Gentleman's own time—and the details of which arc kept quite secret.
§ Mr. A. LEE
Does the right hon. Gentleman really suggest chat there is any analogy between secrecy as to the equipment of guns and so forth and that of appliances meant for saving life. Does anyone wish to prevent the navies of foreign nations from possessing appliances for saving life? It really seems to me it is stretching the point too far to refuse information on a matter of that kind. I believe if the House had been aware of the extremely small amount of money involved there would have been some indignation shown at the neglect on the part of the Government to provide those appliances, which are the only means at present by which the men in a foundered submarine can escape. I do think that the Government have been guilty of very serious neglect, on a comparatively small point, with regard to this matter, and I hope that the Financial Secretary when he comes to reply will explain why this matter has not received attention. The right hon. Gentleman said something just now about the stores. He said that it was our policy, or the policy of the late Government, and that it was a very good policy. Of course I agree with him. Originally it was sound enough, but what we complain of is that he is running it to death. He put the case of chairs, iron bedsteads, and, I think, also that of glass tumblers. No doubt it was a great mistake to keep enormous stocks of those article, which could be purchased at almost any shop in any town in the kingdom; but whilst it was perfectly right to sell the superfluous stocks of those articles, and while that may have accounted in the first place for getting rid of a certain amount, does the right hon. Gentleman really suggest that a policy which amounts, I believe, in the first year, 1905 –6, to a sum of £768,000, in the next year £1,024,000, the next year £1,294,000, and last year £500,000, that the whole of that immense sum can be justified by any 1757 such articles? I do not of course mean the three particular articles I have mentioned.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I can assure the hon. Member that in this respect there has been absolutely no change of policy. Precisely the conditions laid down in respect of these articles by the Board of Admiralty of which the hon. Gentleman was a Member have been followed to the present day.
§ Mr. ARTHUR LEE
We are in this difficulty: We have not access to official information on the subject. I can only say again that we have access to a great amount of unofficial information, and, as far as my experience goes, there is a concensus of opinion among officers in command of ships that during the last few years they have experienced the greatest possible difficulty in getting necessary stores for the efficiency of their ships when they come into port—stores which used to be kept always ready in the dockyards, but which now very often cannot be obtained for quite unaccountable periods. There is no stock of even such things as ordinary Steel plates for destroyers, to enable repairs to be carried out quickly in case of accident. I still believe, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, that this policy has been carried too far. He has cut right down to the bone in this matter, and, as a result, our reserve stock has been dangerously depleted, a circumstance which might lead to very serious consequences in the event of war.
The right hon. Gentleman said something about the two-Power standard. I do not think there is time this evening to initiate a Debate on that subject; but I must say, in passing, that we on this side, at any rate, do not consider that the statement made by the Government in the course of a very brief Debate a few months ago was at all satisfactory or in any sense coincided with the definite and absolute pledges which they gave only a few months before. As the result of the explanation which the right hon. Gentleman says was so lucid, but which only succeeded in confusing almost everybody in the House, we have really completely lost any definite value which was hitherto inherent in the two-Power standard.
I come lastly to a point with which the right hon. Gentleman dealt in the beginning of his speech, namely, the knowledge which the Admiralty or the Government 1758 had of the recent expansion of German shipbuilding capacity. The right hon. Gentleman said it was quite true that the Admiralty knew of it in the year 1906; but he tried to draw a distinction from the fact that what he was referring to in his recent answers was the realised capacity, which was not reached until late in the year 1908. It is perfectly true that impending developments and realised capacity are quite different things; but our charge against the Government is that they had full and fair warning in 1906. According to their own account they knew what was going to take place. But, although they had this warning, what did they do? Instead of making counter preparations, instead of making arrangements to extend their plant in case of need, they chose that precise moment— and this is the extraordinary thing to us— for initiating a policy of cutting down their shipbuilding, of starving the plant, and thereby necessarily reducing our capacity; with the result that we have at the present moment to deal with a situation which which is extremely difficult internationally. We have to deal with a situation where we have an immense accumulation of arrears, notably in the two classes of battleships and destroyers. During the last few years, since that warning was received by the Government, we have had a state of affairs in which there has been spasmodic convulsions in the shipbuilding and armour-producing trades—gun-mountings and so forth—which have not only inflicted great and unmerited losses upon firms who have installed plant in order to satisfy the requirements of the Government, but have actually crippled our power of output in the time when it would be most needed. In addition to that there has been produced a situation which hon. Members on the other side of the House deplore—even if they do not deplore the shortage of vessels, they deplore the financial results necessitated by the immense effort which is necessary in the current and the next financial years in order to deal with these arrears. The state of affairs which has been produced financially, necessitating an enormous increase—an increase which I hesitate even to forecast—in the Shipbuilding Vote of next year, is primarily due to the Government's slackness in shipbuilding during the last four years, in spite of the ample and admitted warning which they received with regard to the developments of our rival. It is on that ground that not only we on this side, but Members in every part 1759 of the House, and the taxpayer outside, have good and grave reason to be dissatisfied with the policy of the present Board of Admiralty.
§ Mr. J. JENKINS
This is the only opportunity which some of us have to draw attention to matters of great importance concerning the workmen employed in His Majesty's dockyards. In 1906 I had the pleasure of moving, as an Amendment in Supply, the following Resolution:—That this House is of opinion that the Government, as model employers should pay workers in the dockyards not less than the standard trade union rate of wages paid for similar work in the district. Further, in order to maintain amicable relations between the heads of the respective departments and the employés, the right of negotiation through accredited representatives of the workmen should he at once recognised.So far as the latter part of that Amendment is concerned, it has been faithfully carried out. Many of us can bear testimony to the fact that since then every opportunity has been afforded us to place before the representatives of the Admiralty petitions of the workmen. But the Amendment has been carried out simply in part. The House will remember the statement made by the late Secretary to the Admiralty, that the Board of Admiralty had considered the position of the employés, and that an advance of £60,000 per annum had been given. Sixty thousand pounds appears to be a large sum, but as it had to be spread over 30,000 people, ranging from the Admiral of the dockyard down to the lowest grade in the service, the distribution, so far as the workmen were concerned, in the majority of cases equalled only 1s. per week. We were extremely thankful, however, that the Admiralty recognised the principle. But that was not the spirit of the Amendment. The late Secretary to the Admiralty declared that he accepted every word of the Amendment unconditionally; and on the strength of that declaration, I allowed the Amendment to be negatived. Taking advantage of the opportunities afforded us, some of us, as representatives of the trades affected, have gone to the dockyard and endeavoured to prepare a statement showing the wages paid to the various grades of employés. I have here a statement showing the wages paid to the men whom I particularly represent, namely, the shipwrights; but I can also speak for the other grades. As representative of a dockyard constituency, I have received from time to time complaints that the Government do not recognise the principle of trade union rates of wages in re- 1760 gard to many of their employés. Having prepared this statement, I thought I was fairly well fortified when I had the pleasure of meeting a representative of the Admiralty at the dockyard. I should like to say here that when from time to time I have met whoever was acting as representative of the Admiralty, I have always received the greatest possible courtesy and kindness. But that is not sufficient. In preparing the statement showing the average rate of wages paid to the people whom I represent, I was careful to compile a list of ports where work of a similar character to that performed in the dockyards is done. The Amendment was so drawn that it applied lo places where Government work is done. Taking the Clyde, the Tyne, the Wear, the Tees, the Humber, and the Liverpool and London districts, we went to the Admiralty and said: "Here is a petition of the employés, and here are statistics setting forth the averages wages paid throughout the country." But I did not know until recently what I learnt when I had the pleasure of meeting the Secretary to the Admiralty at Devonport Dockyard— and this is the reason I am making a representation to the House of Commons, who, I know, will not go back upon the acceptance of the Amendment in 1906 by the then Secretary to the Admiralty. I do not believe that the House of Commons will countenance the Government paying a lower rate of wages to their employés than they compel private contractors to pay. It is made a condition that contractors doing work for the Admiralty shall pay the recognised rate of wages in the district. That was under the old dispensation, but the Resolution has been strengthened within the last few months, and at the present time the trade union rate of wages must be recognised by every contractor who competes for Government work. If we compel private contractors to do that, surely it is only consistent that the Government itself should recognise the same principle. Regardless of the fact that I produced a statement showing the wages paid in this typical case—not the particular trade I represent—I say to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Secretary of the Admiralty that there are conditions in the dockyards that do not prevail in outside yards. That may be admitted. The Government many years ago gave the employés of the dockyards a 48-hour week, but the Government are not the only people that have done that. Municipalities, I venture to 1761 say—many municipal areas have recognised the principle of the 8 hours a day; and not only is that principle recognised, but the wages are far superior to those which are being paid in the Government dockyards, where ships of such magnitude as some of us saw on Saturday last are being built. Yet for all this, the men in these yards are not recognised to the same extent as they are by outside contractors and others. I appeal to the Secretary of the Admiralty to-day to let the House know whether they are going back on the Resolution or Amendment accepted three years ago, or whether they will consider the propriety of, as a Government Department, recognising the workers and placing the Government in the position of model employers? The 48-hour week ought not to be brought into comparison with the workers outside, because the Government, I well remember, took credit for being pioneers in this movement. Surely they cannot give with one hand and take away with the other. I ask the Government if they will have regard to this resolution, which does not come from any single trade, but which is a resolution passed year by year by the Parliament of Labour, the Trade Union Congress? I would just like to refer to one particular class—that of the skilled labourer in His Majesty's dockyards. I have mentioned the matter on more than one occasion, and I am not going to repeat what I have said on former occasions. But I would ask the Secretary to the Admiralty whether the Admiralty will have regard to the petition which has been sent in by the skilled labourers? The skilled labourer is equal to the mechanic outside, so far as the rivetters and the caulkers are concerned. They are equal to men getting higher wages outside, but we are not pressing that to-day. But I venture to press the appeal of their petition that the minimum wage of skilled men should not be less than 26s. per week, with a rise to 30s. by an annual increment of Is. I want to know whether that will be regarded, and whether in all the departments there cannot be an uplifting of these men, making them equal to their fellows outside. I am not going to lay great blame upon the Admiralty. Twelve months after the petition had been sent in they received a reply, and I must say that in nearly every case the petition of the employés has been negatived. I am not speaking to a large House, but all the Members of this House are, I venture to think, in accord with the principle of a fair 1762 day's wage for these men who do this very important work. I appeal again to the Secretary of the Admiralty that he will consider the petition that has been already presented, and those petitions which will be presented from other dockyards, and that the Admiralty will respond to the appeal of these men and pay them a recognised trade union wage. That being done, the House will acquit itself of the obligation which is imposed upon the Members in the interests of justice and fair play.
§ Mr. THOMAS LOUGH
It appears to me that the circumstances of Debate this afternoon have been somewhat extraordinary. One hon. Member on the back benches opposite started with what, I think, was imperfect information, and a new scare has been invented all at once this afternoon. We hear no more with regard to the great ships that we have been talking about up to now. This new scare is about small cruisers. We are told we have not enough of them. The safety of the nation is imperilled! Well, the Front Bench did not look with entire satisfaction upon this effort of one of their supporters, and so the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) started on another tack. He said that we were lamentably at a loss for destroyers, and if destroyers could not be produced by the dozen instantly— almost by magic—then the safety of the country was in serious danger! It was quite in vain that my right hon. Friend pointed out that we had 84 of these destroyers, none of them more than six years old. The Opposition would not be quieted. They said: "We are lost if we do not get destroyers! "Then my right hon. Friend asked a question, which I think for him was a most innocent question to put to the Opposition. He said: "Why have not submarines been mentioned?" I can tell him why they have not been mentioned. They are being kept for another day—kept up the sleeves of the Opposition. They will come down one of these days. Then they will say we are lost—we will be lost—because we have not got submarines! They ring the changes on these things. To-day it is one kind of ship and to-morrow it is another. The more you satisfy their demands the more some ingenious speaker on the other side invents another scare. These proceedings have been so marked that I cannot help calling the attention of the House to them and asking the House what we are considering? It is the largest Vote for shipbuilding which we have had for many years. The Government are asking for £16,000,000.
1763 Certainly I should not like to say that that sum is sufficient for the whole of the Navy, but I think it is desirable that we should look before passing such mighty sums. This increase in the Navy Estimates is significant in this respect, that it is not only for this year, but it is confessed by everybody that the great increase of some £3,000,000, which is entirely produced by the Shipbuilding Vote, is to be a matter of still greater increases next year and the years following. These are grave circumstances under which we meet together. This is the consummation of the naval policy of this year. The Session opened with the announcement of policy. Now— I was going to say as the Session closes— I thought it looked like it this afternoon, but it may go on for months—just as it opened six months ago with a slight increasing in the Vote for shipbuilding, we are now consummating that policy. For a month we never heard of the details. Suddenly the Estimates were published, and we had a Debate under the most difficult circumstances. It was the day of the great scare: a scare worked up by hon. Gentlemen opposite, just as we have had a little scare worked up in the same quarter this afternoon. It is worthy of the attention of the House to recall this Vote. The Leader of the Opposition came here, and, in a voice trembling with emotion, made the most astounding, definite, direct, particular statement, which he said any of us could test. Knowing he was an ex-Prime Minister, and a man with great experience, his speech naturally produced a mighty effect on the House and outside. He told us that by 1910 Germany would have 13 "Dreadnoughts" launched; in 1911 she would have 17, and by 1912 21 or 25. The Prime Minister got up after the right hon. Gentleman, and said that he found no fault with anything he had said. Thus the scare was launched. The Debate was almost abandoned and we all went out into the Lobby to inquire what was to become of us that night! Yet some of us had our doubts. We looked to the First Lord of the Admiralty to put us right. I want to recall what he said upon the point. He stated that he expected that Germany would have 13 of these great ships in July, 1911. I want now to ask the right hon. Gentleman, Does he stick to that statement? Did he afterwards discover—after the 16th of March—that he was correctly or incorrectly informed? He indicated that Germany would have 13 of 1764 these great ships in 1911, and 17 in March, 1912. Do the Admiralty think that now? That is all I want to say for the moment on that point. Then the Debate suddenly ended. It could not be carried on. We must believe the ex-Prime Minister and the Prime Minister. On that occasion— and afterwards—we had a feature which distinguishes all these Debates which develop in the most extraordinary degree. I refer to Front Bench speeches. We had no less than eight speeches from the Front Benches that afternoon. I would like to suggest, as one who is entitled to speak upon the point, that the Front Benches—especially the Government French Bench—assume too much with regard to talk. The Front Bench ought to talk less and listen more. If it is to govern the country seriously, a line must be drawn between the two Front Benches and the rest of the House of Commons, and upon a great question of policy like this it is the voice of the House of Commons which should be given expression to, and it is that voice that the country wants to hear. But on this particular occasion these eight eloquent Gentlemen—four upon one side of the House and four upon the other—monopolised most of the Debate. I do not make any complaint of that kind this afternoon; but even this afternoon it is difficult to get a word in edgewise about the economy which we have a right to expect. However, the last moment is even better than at no time, and I say to my right lion. Friend in all seriousness that the weight of opinion among the supporters of the Government with regard to the gravity of this situation is greater than he supposes. An hon. Member speaking from, here stated that he got together 85 Members to back the Government in this policy. We had a Committee of 144 Member—nearly l½ times 85—who took an opposite view. It is perfectly true that we could, not get the whole 144 to vote, but we got 41 of them into the Lobby, and I think 41 out of 144, when you consider the blandishments and other things which my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip is able to exercise, 41 in the Lobby out of 144 upstairs is not at all bad. These did not include the Labour party or the Irish party, and there is a very strong body of the Labour party and a very substantial opinion among them, as there is amongst the whole of the Irish party, in favour of this economy.
Men look with great gravity—I will not talk of economy just now because the days of economy seem past—upon the immense- 1765 extravagance incurred in connection with this Vote. I advised the Government before this to take that strong body of opinion into account which is sure to make itself felt some day, and I believe, from what I can learn from the opinion out of doors, that the vast body of opinion in the country sympathises entirely with the views on behalf of which I plead today. At any rate, this may as well be acknowledged by those who hear me, that the shadow of this shipbuilding programme and the huge expenditure which it involves rests like a great black pall over this Session, and I venture to think, over the labours of the Liberal party in this Parliament. I venture to think that every one of us is pledged to oppose this policy. This programme of shipbuilding is the secret and the difficulty with regard to the Budget. I wish the Chancellor of the Exchequer was here, because I do not like to mention anything in regard to what a Minister has said if he is absent, but I know Ministers cannot always be present, and one has to choose between saying it in their absence and not saying it at all. Of these two evils I choose the lesser, and refer to the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman only last week in a great speech made at Limehouse. He said he would have three or four millions to give next year in respect of insurances, and two millions for something else in the way of social reform. I would like to point out to my right hon. Friend that these are promises, but here is the Navy Bill we are footing this afternoon, and that is performance. Three millions additional this year is going to the Navy, and only £100.000 of fresh expenditure is going for social reform in this year's Budget. I know some of my hon. Friends near me say, "Oh, we will have social reform next year. Then we will pour out millions freely for social reform." I hope so, but I do not believe there is a more deadly enemy to social reform in the proceedings of this House than vast expenditure on armaments. I have a longer experience of the House than some of my hon. Friends. We did this before in 1894. The Liberal party then, with most disastrous results to itself, and, as I think, to the country, sprang the Navy Estimates up by three millions. What happened? In that same year we invented a new system of taxation, just as we are inventing a new system of taxation now. What did it produce? Including a few years afterwards, it produced 20 millions of money. How much of that went to social reform? Not a penny.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is getting very wide of the Naval Estimates in discussing social reform. That will perhaps be for next year.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I entirely admit the propriety of your rebuke, Sir. I hope you will not think I am persisting in that same vein when I merely wish to end that argument by saying that twice the amount raised by special taxation was spent on armaments, and so it may be now the vast sums we are raising will all have to go to this new field of expenditure opened up in shipbuilding. Everything looks like it. This vote of £16,000,000 will not be the end of the matter. It is only the beginning of it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says that the expenditure in shipbuilding this year will make the nation shudder—as soon as it gets time to shudder—and next year there will be a gigantic increase. Well, I suppose the. Secretary to the Admiralty will admit, when he comes to speak, that there must be, on account of what we are doing here to-day, a great increase in the Shipbuilding Vote next year. Do not hon. Gentlemen opposite think that? Where are the little cruisers to come from? Where arc the little destroyers to come from? All this brood of black things will not spring out of nothing, and therefore I say the House ought to consider this matter well, and those of us who believe with me that it is a great mistake, and is doing the Government no credit and the country no good, ought not to keep silent with regard to this matter now. Who drove the Government into this expensive programme of shipbuilding? Hon. Gentlemen opposite. I ask them are they satisfied? Not a bit of it! Why did they press the Government in this expensive programme? Do you think it was out of affection to the Government? Not a bit of it! They did it because they knew that they were dealing the Government a deadly blow. They knew that if they got the Government on to this plan of shipbuilding that after the big ships were built they would then demand little ships, and that the further the Government went the further they would have to go.
We have had in the Debate to-day an echo of former Debates running through it. There was allusion made to statements made by German statesmen. They were rather low class statesmen. [Cries of "No, no."] I mean comparatively low class—it is all a question of degree; and what I wanted to suggest was this, that we paid no attention to the official utterances of the 1767 statesmen in the friendly countries who occupy high positions. We did not treat Admiral Tirpitz very well. Admiral Tirpitz, who occupies a similar position to my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, told a deputation of English clergymen that he was greatly grieved that his assurances were not accepted by the British Admiralty. I say that is a painful incident. Can the Admiralty give any reason for disbelieving the words of this German statesman, for they did disbelieve them. I believe that is a very unhappy experience, for I believe that unless we had good reason to doubt it we ought to accept the assurances given to us by high officials who represent friendly and civilised Powers. "When we were building ships and counting every German ship this Session has there been any growth of hostility between our people and the German people? Not a bit of it. What seems to have taken place was a series of friendly visits between the people of Germany and the people of this country. My hon. Friends on the Labour Benches went over there a little before the clergymen; the boys of Germany are coming here and our boys are going over to Germany. The two nations have been drawn together in a spirit of friendly alliance. We are learning to talk to one another. The Germans are becoming vocal to us, and we have something in return to say to them. There is this growth of friendship between the two peoples on the one hand, but on the other hand, we have the Government raising huge sums at a most inconvenient time for war preparation against Germany. What is the meaning of it? It is war preparation, and I say that this whole shipbuilding policy is a policy of provocation at a most inopportune time.
We cannot afford the expenditure, we cannot afford it this year at any rate. We might have been allowed to raise from new expenditure this year enough to pay our way with regard to old age pensions. It was very inopportune for us, and it is extremely inopportune for Germany also, because at this moment there is a greater friendliness between the nations than ever there was before. A question was asked by my right hon. Friend this afternoon, and he really only repeated the words which the Prime Minister used in the House of Commons a short time since. He asked, "How are we to judge of what our naval preparation should be unless we pay attention to what those other Powers are doing?" To that question I will venture 1768 to give this short and effective answer: If we are to pay attention to what other Powers sire doing, we ought to include everything the other Powers are doing— those of a pacific, as well as those of an aggressive character. For example, France for years past has not been strengthening her navy much. Why did we not devote as much attention this year to the friendly attitude of France as to what we are pleased to regard as the unfriendly attitude of Germany? I should like to say another thing. We ought not to get into a panic. It was a sad afternoon of panic that 16th March, last If we are determined to raise money and to spend it like water let us keep our heads cool. Let us do it deliberately and quietly, so that there may not be too much advertisement about these engines of destruction. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Mr. Byles) was a little melancholy at the mention of Naval Reviews, and I think we have had too many Naval Reviews this year. For everyone who comes over here we get up a Naval Review. I think all this is bad, and I think the Government would do well to consider their ways with regard to this matter. I do not know how they will get out of the difficulties of next year. The question was asked from the opposite side—of course, I pay no attention to questions raised from that side; they are asked for the purpose of getting the Government info a difficulty—but the question was asked, Are you going to spend the money or are you not upon the four additional 'Dreadnoughts"? I do not think they got a very satisfactory reply. I was glad to see that the First Lord of the Admiralty said nothing very definite on the point. I would like them to get on with as much work as they can without spending any more money. Before the Government started this new programme we were spending a vast sum every year. I believe instead of increasing naval expenditure the Government would have done well to have invented some excuse for saying, "We will wait to see whether the Germans will put all those ships on the ocean." The hon. Member for Fareham does not now repeat any of those extraordinary things he said about the German Navy in March last, because he knows there cannot be 17 German "Dreadnoughts" by 1911.
§ Mr. LOUGH
Probably the hon. Member will take the opinion of the Leader of 1769 the Opposition, who said that Germany would have 17 "Dreadnoughts" in 1911 and 21 or 25 in 1912, and the hon. Member for Fareham was prompting him all the time. I would like to know if the hon. Member is going to withdraw his support from that statement made by his distinguished Leader? We were told there would be 13 German "Dreadnoughts" in 1910. Does the hon. Member for Fareham believe that statement now? Of course not. The German fleet spoken of at that time was a phantom fleet. As a matter of fact, Germany cannot have more than seven or eight "Dreadnoughts" in 1910, or more than 11 in 1911, and she cannot have more than 13 in 1912. I believe those figures are generally admitted.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I know the hon. Member for Fareham does not admit those figures yet, but he is going gradually on with his admissions, and he may take it from me things will be as I have stated. Under those circumstances I think it is a great pity we have gone so fast. On naval expenditure I recommend the Government to take less counsel with the Opposition, who will not befriend them under any circumstances. Let the Government take their own sturdy supporters into their confidence, and then they will take a path which will be followed by safety to themselves and to the nation.
§ Mr. C. BELLAIRS
I regret that I was not present at the commencement of my right hon. Friend's speech, but what I did hear of his remarks dealt with matters of general policy which, on the Report stage of this Vote, has generally been ruled out of order as not being germane. I have not heard from the right hon. Gentleman what I will call a reasoned argument on this subject. I admit that his speech was eloquent, but when he tells us what he did about German assurances, I have no hesitation in saying that we are justified from past history in regarding them with some slight suspicion. [Cries of "Oh!"] Well, I will take the assurances of the German Chancellor in 1898, when he said, "We do not dream of rivalling the great naval Powers." The German Chancellor went on to say that the great Navy Bill of that year was to form the basis of the German fleet for many years to come. Since then there have been very substantial increases in the German Navy Bill indeed. In the course of the Debate upon German expenditure upon new construction and armaments it was elicited that this year the I 1770 amount of expenditure was over £500,000 more than the British expenditure, and those are official figures. If the right hon. Gentleman would search the whole history of the past he would fail to find a single case where the expenditure on new construction and armaments of a single naval Power is greater than that of Great Britain, and, as a matter of fact, he would have difficulty in finding cases where the expenditure of two Powers exceeds the British expenditure in this respect. The First Lord of the Admiralty referred to the question of naval expenditure, and spoke of its gravity. But when we are talking about the gravity of naval expenditure I never hear any talk about the gravity of the great increase in our Civil Service expenditure, and all that civil expenditure by local bodies, and the immense increase in borrowings by local bodies. I will not speak on that subject now, because I shall be travelling away from this Vote, but I will give one figure from an answer which was given to me to-day by the Secretary to the Treasury. He said, in answer to my question:—The gross total of the original Estimates for Civil Services 1909–10 shows an increase, as compared with that for 1904–5, of £12,202,362. The corresponding figures for the Navy Estimates show a decrease of £1,544,848.When my right hon. Friend talks about the expenditure of the Navy being the only thing standing in the way of social reform, I call his attention to this large increase in the Civil Service expenditure which has gone on from year to year, and for which the Department with which the right hon. Gentleman was connected, namely, the Education Department, is largely responsible. The First Lord of the Admiralty referred to the two-Power standard, and said he could not make the question clearer, and I doubt whether he could. I know it is difficult for 20 men in the Cabinet to agree upon a common formula, but the standard we want is what we have always had in the past, and which is capable of being understood by the man in the street. The First Lord of the Admiralty has not given us, nor has the Prime Minister given us, a standard which this House or the man in the street can understand or which they can apply for themselves. They have given us a sort of geographical limitation of the two-Power standard, according to which, in some way or the other, distance lowers the value of a possible hostile navy. From the point of view of New Zealand, the distance becomes short instead of long. 1771 The Prime Minister of New Zealand, in promising two extra "Dreadnoughts," stated directly that New Zealand's object was the maintenance of the command of the Pacific. I asked the Prime Minister to give the Admiralty Vote for discussion, but, as the Committee is aware, and as the Prime Minister stated in the discussion on the Defence Committee, the whole question of Admiralty administration is at this moment sub judice, and we hope to have the Report of the Cabinet Committee shortly. Whilst that Report is under consideration it would be improper for hon. Members of this House to indulge in a general criticism of Admiralty policy and the distribution of the fleet. There was one question which directly concerns the Admiralty which was raised by the hon. Member for Fareham, and the hon. Member for Blackpool, and that was the question of the extension of Krupp's, and the First Lord of the Admiralty said he had already given an explanation on this point. The extension of Krupp's works was known to be in contemplation in the year 1906. In March last the First Lord of the Admiralty stated it would have been impossible to foresee last autumn the expansion of German resources in shipbuilding which has taken place. As a matter of fact, in 1906 the Admiralty received information that Krupp's had borrowed in the open market £2,500,000 and the extension took place in 1907. The hon. Member for Fareham has referred to the question of stores. As an illustration of the way in which the stores have been cut down, the hon. Member gave an excellent case, in the fact that torpedo destroyers had been held up for want of plates. I gave a case myself, not dealing with very material stores which concerned fighting efficiency, but with the ordinary rig-out of bluejackets on the Australian station. For months the sailors were unable to get such things as hats, caps, boots, shoes, towels, and all sorts of things, and the reason given for this state of things was that there were none in the store. That is the way the stores were cut down. At the time the American fleet visited the Australian station, our men were going about improperly clothed because the Admiralty had neglected to supply the necessary stores. At the conclusion of the First Lord of the Admiralty's speech, he was asked by the hon. Member for Blackpool why he did not reply to the question put to him as to the 20 battleships not being 1772 equipped with more big guns and smaller armaments, while the Germans, the Russians, the French, and the Japanese battleships were being equipped with mixed armaments, including smaller guns. The right hon. Gentleman advised the hon. Member for Blackpool to pay a visit to the Admiralty, and have a talk to the Controller. This question has long ago emerged from the point at which it is necessary that secrecy must be maintained, and this House is entitled in a matter so vital to the country, and upon which experts differ, to get a reasoned opinion from the Admiralty, more especially when they tell us that the future Navy will consist solely of "Dreadnoughts." I think we an entitled to have a reasoned opinion from the Admiralty as to whether we are travelling into danger or not in adopting a type of battleship which is totally different from that adopted by other nations. In the past we had absolute certainty on our side because although we had a type of battleship similar to other nations, they were bigger, and more strongly armed than those of foreign nations. At the present moment that state of things does not exist, and there is the gravest anxiety in regard to the future as to the type of armaments on the "Dreadnoughts" and "Invincibles" which we are putting into our line of battle. I think the Admiralty might reconsider that decision, and give us some reasoned opinion, or permit a discussion of the subject with the Society of Naval Architects. This course would help to educate public opinion, and would give confidence to the public on this point. There is no doubt that so far as we can judge by the lessons of the Japanese war, many of the Japanese naval officers admit that immense destruction was wrought by the secondary and smaller six-inch guns on board the Japanese ships. What is more, I do believe that the Admiralty will be forced to adopt the 6-in gun again. I said so in 1906 and 1907, and I say so again. I should not be in the least degree surprised if we find in the new ships the Admiralty are designing the old secondary armament, the 6-in. gun, reinstated; in fact, I should be not a little surprised to find that it is not the case. If so, it goes to show that the policy of the Admiralty was wrong in adopting a new type of ship in which we carried only one type of heavy gun as distinguished from the type of ship being built by foreign Powers. The First Lord of the Admiralty, in replying to the hon. Member for Blackpool (Mr. Ashley), 1773 pooh-poohed the idea that we want a large number of fast cruisers to be built, and he spoke of the heroic efforts the Admiralty were making in laying down six this year. That heroic effort has been necessitated by the fact that the Admiralty, rightly or wrongly, scrapped a large number of cruisers in 1904, and failed to build any afterwards to replace them. None were built in the ensuing years. I can scarcely call it an heroic effort to lay down only six cruisers in 1908 and another six this year when during the four years before we did not lay down a cruiser at all. The First Lord of the Admiralty found fault with the hon. Member for Blackpool for asking a question with reference to the number of cruisers of about 21 knots speed. We must adopt some standard of speed. The right hon. Gentleman himself, as far as I recollect, adopted a standard of speed. In his speech only the other day he referred to the new "Invincible." He said they were going to substitute a new "Invincible" for one of the "Dreadnoughts" and he gave this reason:—The Admiralty have come to the conclusion that one of the November ships should not be a battleship, hut should be an improved cruiser. We have information of cruisers which are more powerful and faster than the "Invincibles" and the "Indomitables," and I think that the Committee will agree that, as the safety of our commerce depends upon Our being able if necessary to outrun and capture any hostile cruiser, it is incumbent upon us to build cruiseis of even greater speed than the leviathans we have at the present moment.In that he adopted speed as the standard of a single ship, and surely the hon. Member for Blackpool is justified in saying you are not entitled to count your cruisers of from 16 to 19 knots in order to catch cruisers of from 23 to 24 or 25 knots which the Germans are building. Obviously a 16 or 19-knot cruiser cannot hope to capture a cruiser travelling at 24 or 25 knots. I said just now that one reason for this country building a large number of cruisers is that a very large number were scrapped in 1904. They were scrapped after the Admiralty had tendered evidence to the Royal Commission on Food Supplies, saying:—The Admiralty are not prepared to admit that a number of fast hostile cruisers could prey upon British commerce with impunity. If any of the enemy's cruisers escape from the surveillance of our squadron, we could always spare a superior number of vessels to follow them, and, even though they might have the good fortune to elude our vessels for the time, their freedom of action would be much hampered, and the damage they would be able to inflict would be limited.The Admiralty then proceeded to scrap no less than 53 cruisers, and they have failed to replace them. They are only now, in 1908–9, beginning to replace them. Surely the argument the Admiralty ad- 1774 dressed to the Food Supply Commission deserves to be reconsidered unless they do go in for a heroic cruiser policy.
There is another question which I should like to ask the Admiralty, and I hope the Financial Secretary will reply to it. We, secondly, have scouts included in cruisers, but they always omit to mention they have only 12-pounder guns. How are they going to stand up against the 4-inch guns which the German cruisers have? It is impossible for them to do so. I now come to destroyers—the third type of cruisers. There appears to be a general ignorance which requires to be corrected with regard to destroyers. I think the Financial Secretary will bear me out when I say that the Admiralty has been the subject of many ignorant criticisms with regard to destroyers. I will quote two instances. The "Daily News" and the "Nation" assailed the Admiralty for their policy of building destroyers for the purpose of destroying commerce. The impression of people who write these articles in these papers is that destroyers, from their name, are for the destruction of commerce. That, of course, is an absurdity. The destroyer, as it will be utilised by a hostile nation against England, would be for the purpose of destroying our battleships and fleets by firing torpedoes at them. We require our destroyers for the purpose of hunting down the hostile fleet's destroyers, just as the Japanese had an inner line of destroyers off Port Arthur keeping the Russian destroyers from coming out and attacking the Japanese battleships and cruisers. I cannot understand how the Financial Secretary arrives at the position that in July, 1911, we should have 84 destroyers to Germany's 72. Those 84 destroyers represent all embraced in the programme of 1902 onwards, including the programme of this year. I think myself he ought to have included the German destroyers of next year's programme. We know the German destroyers of this year's programme were anticipated, and, if the destroyers of next year's programme were anticipated, Germany would have 84 of these modern destroyers to our 84, and that is a very unsatisfactory position. I endorse absolutely the remarks which fell from the hon. Member for Fareham. You cannot possibly, as the First Lord of the Admiralty did, lump in coast torpedo boats, which used to be called coastal destroyers, and submarines with destroyers. They are for a totally different purpose. Coast torpedo boats, or coastal destroyers, are for coast defence, and when he men- 1775 tioned 36 of these coast torpedo boats, or coastal destroyers, as being most suitable for the North Sea, I happen to know the exact range of action of these destroyers. I know they cannot get more than half way across to the coast of Germany without having to come back to replenish for oil and fuel if they steam at full speed. How can they, therefore, be used for blockading operations on the coast of Germany.
I would ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he has even considered what is likely to be the state of affairs in a war with Germany? It is an entirely different one from what was the state of affairs formerly contemplated in a war with France. The British destroyers will have to work at a much greater distance from their base. In the case of a war "with France we should have our base in the Channel Islands and blockade off Brest, but in the case of a war with Germany our destroyers will have to work in three relays. One will be operating at the mouth of the Elbe, another will be on its way back to replenish, and a third relay will be resting their crews, whereas the German destroyers will choose their own opportunity for emerging and attacking our ships. Consequently, you want a very large preponderance indeed. There is one other question to which I wish to refer. Evryone has acknowledged that we are in for an immense expenditure next year, and the temptation will be very strong, when that time comes, to starve the Navy in many essentials, and just to make a parade with battleships. That will never do, and the only solution I can see is to adopt the German and Austrian plan of a loan. It is like a man fighting with one hand tied behind his back for this country to try and keep up competition with Germany and Austria when they are resorting to large loans and we are trying to meet it-out of revenue. Germany is this year meeting 27½ per cent, of her naval expenditure out of loans, that being exclusive of works like those at Kiel. I do think the Government would be pursuing a wise and courageous policy if they came to this House for a loan. The Government, by postponing the commencement of their ships as late as possible, are letting the country in for a great congestion of shipbuilding which will make it difficult indeed when the time comes to carry out the necessary work of next year and the year after; and even at this late hour I think the Government would be well advised if 1776 they were to hasten the "Dreadnoughts," the cruisers, and the destroyers which are being postponed to the end of the financial year. I trust that as they see the acceleration of the German's programme maturing, as it will mature, they will take that courageous course and inform the House of their intention to do so.
§ Major ANSTRUTHER-GRAY
I should like to say a few words about Rosyth, and to ask why so little has been done in the past?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Thai, Vote has been passed, and the works at Rosyth are not included in the Vote under discussion.
§ Major ANSTRUTHER-GRAY
I was afraid you would not allow me to go on. Nobody can fail to be alive to the very grave danger that we incur by having fewer guns, ship for ship, than Germany. If it is true that the Germans, ship for ship, can put in a greater weight of lead into her enemy than we can it certainly seems that we are in a very dangerous position. I hope very much that the new ships about to be built will have the secondary armament of 6-inch guns to which the hon. Member for King's Lynn has referred, because if we do not have that secondary armament we shall be at a very great disadvantage. Of course, with these big guns with which our larger ships are armed, if we can make a straight shot at a long distance, all is well, but it is not so easy to hit a ship at a long distance; and then if these other vessels come within striking distance with their 6-inch guns, it is patent that the weight of lead must tell. With regard to the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Islington (Mr. Lough) there is an old Latin saying, Si vis pacem, para bellum—"If you want peace, be prepared for war." It strikes me that the Government, in the heyday of its huge majority, may be tempted to sing the old song, which ran—We have got the ships we have got the men, we have got the money too.But it is well to remember that neither ships, men nor money will avail if time is wanted—time for preparation is a most important factor in warfare, and it must not be thrown to the wind. There has been much time lost at Rosyth, and I deplore that delay, I deplore the depletion of stores to the tune of £3,000,000, and I deplore the reduction of the Coastguards and Marines. If it is to be the case that the German ships can outdo us in artillery, I do not think we can look on this condition of affairs as at all satisfactory. Pitt said in 1801: "What has been 1777 the security of this country but its naval preponderance; if that were once gone the spirit of the nation would go with it." The country is awakening up to the realities of the situation, and the Government will do well to follow suit.
§ Mr. ROWLAND HUNT
The right hon. Member for Islington declared that Germany had given us many friendly assurances. She gave similar assurances to France before she attacked her in 1870, and I may remind my right hon. Friend that, in spite of these friendly assurances, Herr Bebel, who is an international peace advocate and Socialist, definitely stated in the German Parliament that the increase of the German fleet is directed solely against Great Britain. Hon. Gentlemen want to spend money which should be devoted to the Navy on social reform. If they would only recognise that social reform is quite impossible unless we keep up a very strong Navy it would be well. Everybody desires that the British Navy should be kept up for nothing but the maintenance of peace and to defend ourselves, and I have always understood that a strong British fleet makes for peace more than for anything else. The First Lord of the Admiralty said the Government had been making an heroic effort to build new ships, but why have they been making that effort? It is because they neglected to keep up the strength of the Navy during the first three years of their tenure of office, and now they have got so far behind it becomes a question whether they will be able to secure our safety. The Prime Minister told us the other day that as long as we kept up our unassailable supremacy at sea invasion would be impossible; but unfortunately our supremacy at sea has now been challenged by Germany. There is always the danger that we may lose our sea power, or some of it, for a time. A new invention may crop up or a sudden attack take place which will have that effect, and it appears to me that we are to-day running things too fine if we desire to maintain our naval supremacy. It was very different when the last Government was in power. At that time we had considerably more than the two-Power standard. I invite attention to this, because when we were discussing this matter in the House of Commons a few days ago we were told we should hardily have more than the one-Power standard, and had given up the two-Power standard. What the Government idea is as to what should take the place of the two-Power standard 1778 I have never yet been able to make out. Then there seems to be some difficulty in understanding about the modern destroyers. According to Returns of November last it appears that Germany has got as many modern destroyers as we have, if not more, but we were told in a Debate in this House a very different story, and nobody seems to know what are the real facts of the case. Then, in the case of war, we have to take into account that we shall have two exits to blockade, which would require an enormous number of destroyers, which we have not got. Therefore it will be impossible to do what used to be done in other days—to blockade the enemy's fleet within her ports. The minimum number of auxiliary ships laid down as absolutely necessary by Lord Charles Beresford has not been provided for, nor the men, stores, repairing stations, docks, or reserve of coal. And I would remind the House that big ships are of no use unless you have the smaller ships to surround them and see that they cannot be torpedoed at night. They would be of no more use than an army would be without its outposts and advance guards. Some hon. Members may think that this is nonsense. I have tried, however, to understand our naval necessities, and it does appear to me that we are not at all safe at the present moment. We really depend on our Navy, and if it were not for our Navy an enemy might walk into London at once. We are told that these four extra "Dreadnoughts" are not to be laid down until April. It is, therefore, unlikely that they will be ready by March, 1912. I believe it is a fact that only one "Dreadnought," and that under exceptional circumstances, has been built within two years, and if it is found necessary to still further increase our shipbuilding programme next year on account of the Austrian programme it will be impossible to do it. That appears to me to be one of the distinct perils of this country. In the last two or three years the Government has allowed Germany to build more big ships than we have built ourselves, and they set themselves to save a million a year for three years by consuming the stores and not replacing them. I think it is one of the very great dangers that exist now that we are so short, for a nation in our position, of fast cruisers and torpedo destroyers, and if foreign transports did reach our shores we have no real Army for Home defence. It seems impossible that we can protect 1779 our food supply and the shipping connected with it, as many of the German merchant vessels actually carry their gurus and ammunition always on board, and therefore the moment war was declared they would be ready and able to begin to prey upon our commerce. Then, as contraband of war, wheat would probably go up to 200s. a quarter, or a very high price, and it would be a great question whether we should not be starved into surrender before the war had gone on for over a month. That is one of the very great dangers that are before us, and it is immensely increased by our want of food-protecting cruisers; but, at the same time, with all these dangers in existence, the Government is really gambling with the safety of the country, and using the money which they have saved, not on necessary defensive purposes, but for vote-catching purposes.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer declared that he was going to find the money for social reform by reducing the amount spent upon the hideous mechanism of human slaughter. That is exactly what the Government have done, and in that way they have made the Navy a party question. It seems to me that a nation must either be so strong that other nations will be afraid to attack it, or else it must be so poor that it would not be worth attacking. There is no middle course. If our Navy is not able to protect our food supply and these islands against invasion, as we are a rich people and we are unarmed on land, it seems to me that we are inviting attack. The House will remember that in Prince Bismarck's Memoirs he tells us that he advised several wars, but he took particular care that he made sure that Germany would get sufficient advantage out of the wars to make it worth their while, and you get it from prominent Germans that war is bound to come with this country in time. It seems to me that we are very much in the same position as France was in 1869, and if the people of this country could only realise it, we are in greater danger now than we were at any time during Napoleon's career. The Government are deliberately risking the destruction of the Empire, just as the French political leaders did in 1869, with regard to the French Empire. They know how great our danger is. They know the reason is because they very greatly reduced the Army and Navy, whilst Germany has made 1780 great increases to her Navy. The Government know the only real remedy, and I am not at all sure that the Secretary to the Admiralty is not in favour of it—the Government know what would make us really safe, but are afraid of telling the people and trusting them, because they fear to lose certain votes. They know that every man should learn to be able to defend his country either by land or sea.
§ Mr. HUNT
I was under the impression that the hon. Gentleman belonged to this country, but if he docs not, and if he has got no country, what is he doing in the House of Commons. I have now finished, and I hope I may have some reply and assurance from the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty to show that we are not running the terrible risk at the present time that so many of the people of this country really think we are, and which, I believe, we are. I have tried, at all events, not to exaggerate, but to put the case before the Secretary to the Admiralty, just in the way that a very large number of people in this country who have studied the question put it to themselves.
§ Sir JAMES DUCKWORTH
The hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bellairs) commenced his speech by the statement that we ought not to place any reliance on German promises, and the hon. Gentleman, who has just sat down, also referred to the same topic, but neither of them gave any instances or gave the slightest evidence to show that any reliance at all could be placed on their statements in this matter.
§ Sir J. DUCKWORTH
I believe that this feeling, which we have had shown in speeches such as those we have just heard, is at the foundation of many of the lamentable scares through which we have been passing in the last few months. It arises largely from suspicion and want of information of the real facts with reference to the aims and purposes of our German friends towards our own country. I have just returned from a fortnight's visit to Germany, and I have not returned to say in this House or out of it that I have less regard for my own country or for my own countrymen than I had before I went. I am not going to say that; but at the same time I feel certain that among the 120 gentlemen forming the party who visited 1781 Germany, including bishops, deans, and canons of the Anglican Church, dignitaries of the Roman Catholic Church, laymen, Members of Parliament, and ministers of the Free Churches—amongst them all, I feel certain, you would not find any who had not been most deeply impressed with the assurances of good will and friendliness towards our country from those with whom we came into contact on our visit to Germany. We not only came in contact with the officials of German churches, but everywhere we were also received by the municipalities of Germany, and surely the burgomasters and councillors and authorities on municipal matters in the different towns would not purposely deceive those who had come to visit them. At Hamburg we were received by the Senate in a way which we were told afterwards was generally reserved for Royalty, and the burgomaster in his speech deeply impressed us. He said:—We wish from all our hearts that your great, purpose, which is to promote peace and' good will "between our two nations, may be attained We at any rate wish sincerely to live with your country on the best terms imaginable, being quite aware of the fact that the relations between England and Germany are so complicated, so numerous, so loaded with economical and other interests of every kind, that seriously to disturb them generally might well arouse the deeply felt indignation of all right-minded sober Christian people. Thus thinks the German nation, thus think its representatives the Reichstag, thus thinks the Emperor.These are only a few sentences taken from the address of welcome delivered with great earnestness, eloquence, and sincerity. My host, who was a judge of the Supreme Court, and a very thoughtful and intelligent gentleman, in conversation afterwards said he agreed with all that the burgomaster had said, and in almost pathetic terms added, "I really do not understand the scare you have had in your country. I am sure there is no necessity for it whatever." In Berlin the over-burgomaster was even more emphatic in his declarations of friendship.
§ Mr. C. BELLAIRS
Is the hon. Member in order in dealing with all these details which have nothing whatever to do with the Vote?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Caldwell)
They bear on the extent of the Navy in the state of the relations with the different nations.
§ Sir JAMES DUCKWORTH
These things have been referred to, and the hon. Gentleman himself declared that we ought not to place any reliance on German promises.
§ Sir JAMES DUCKWORTH
I put it down as the hon. Member was speaking. I was saying that the over-burgomaster was even more emphatic in his declarations of friendship than the friends we had made in Hamburg. They have scaremongers in Germany—men who delight in war and profit by it, and would not mind if the two countries came into conflict, and he declared that the utterances of scaremongers in both countries were a real menace to the peace of Europe. In the printed report they say as follows:—We are one in the earnest desire to do, every man of us all that in our power lies to strengthen our bond—the bond of peace between our people. We are one in the sincere request to all our compatriots to aid us in our endeavour, so that the old voice of blood relationship may not call in vain and the old and the new voices of mighty spiritual influence and historical conditions may gain authority, and that the voice of the gospel of love may prove itself a sovereign power.We received in Berlin a telegram from Prince Bülow, who, no one can doubt, is a great authority as to what Germany thinks and feels, in which he regretted his inability to be present, but in the name of the Imperial Parliament welcomed us to Germany and assured us and our friends that, in the interests of peace, we should receive every encouragement from them, and he concluded in the following words:—May you and your Christian brothers carry home with yon and there proclaim the fact that here in Germany dwells a peaceful, industrious people, which, like its Government, cherishes a desire to live in peace and friendship with its brothers across the North sea.At Potsdam also we had a great reception by the civil authorities, and they also expressed their friendly greetings. My host at Berlin, who was the Governor of the Bank of Germany, had a private party at his house, and amongst those present, with their wives, were the American Ambassador, the Argentine Minister, the head of the Emperor's Marine Cabinet (Dr. Hoffman), the Director of the Ministry of Justice, the Vice-President of the Heraldry Office, the French Consul, and two professors of anatomy and medicine, with a leading electrician of the city. These high and important personages showed the greatest interest in conversing with me on these matters, and without exception expressed their friendly feelings towards us. We should look at it not merely from our own standpoint, but from theirs. These people said they had kept the peace at all events for 40 years. They were developing, they 1783 said, their Empire, which in the lifetime of many of those present had been welded together out of petty provinces. They were intent on extending their industries, and they reminded me that war to them meant much more than it did to us, and that under their system of conscription it meant that one at least would go from each home who might never return. This shows the serious view that these people take of the situation, and I hold that what we want in our country is more confidence. We want to try not simply how we are going to outdo Germany in the building of "Dreadnoughts," and in preparing to fight, but we want to try if we can to meet them in a more friendly and more peaceful and brotherly way, and instead of encouraging each other as to how he can best them and succeed in overwhelming them by our power of money, by our power of prestige, by our power of building "Dreadnoughts," if we would assume a more peaceful and friendly aspect towards them we should get out of the difficulty.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD BENN
I do not think that anyone is likely to differ from the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Stockport (Sir J. Duckworth). Everyone is anxious that the spirit of peace should prevail among the nations, but, whatever we may wish, we have to face the fact that, notwithstanding the peaceful utterances of the hon. Member and those with whom he dined in Berlin, the fact remains that the policy of Germany is not dictated by professors of anatomy or any other such peaceful citizens. We have to face the fact that since in this country a Government of well-known peaceful desires came into power Germany has twice strengthened her naval programme, first in 1906 and again in 1908, while the. British programme as regards battleships was reduced from four to three, and then from three to two. In the face of these facts, however much we may desire to promote peace, it is impossible for our Government to do anything else than prepare to secure the supremacy of our own Navy. I want to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Rowland Hunt). He made the astonishing statement that he and his party had no desire to make this a party question. That statement seemed to me to be most astonishing, because if anyone has made it a party quesiton it has been the hon. Member for Ludlow, and even the Leaders of the party to 1784 which he belongs have done so. I will read one sentence in proof of what I say:—If the national agitation about to be begun by the Opposition is to proceed on so-called 'non-party lines,' as it must proceed if the Navy League are to be associated with it, then the heart and soul of it are gone at once….That is contained in a manifesto issued by the Imperial Maritime League, of which the hon. Member for Ludlow is a vice-president, together with other Members on the same side of the House. The Imperial Maritime League has attempted to make this a party question, and the Leader of the Opposition has made it an opportunity for promoting the interests of his party. The light hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire has done the same thing. The Leader of the Opposition addressed a meeting not long ago at Islington, and, replying to an interruption "What about preference?" he said:—Surely this interrogation, was not an irrelevant one. Here we are accepting, and joyfully accepting, this immense boon, this gift. … Are we going to give anything in return? You are going to refuse to New Zealand that which New Zealand… has asked steadily, persistently, patiently, year by year.I think we may say, at least, that it does-not lie in the mouths of hon. Gentlemen opposite to claim that they have treated this question in a non-party manner. The hon. Member made the astonishing statement that at this moment we are in danger. In this year, even if we add together the battleships of Germany and of the United States—and that has never been accepted as a definition of the two-Power standard—we have a preponderance of three ships over the next two strongest Powers. The assumption that we are not more than equal to these two Powers can, I think, be dismissed as not worthy of serious attention. I wish to direct the attention of the House to the statement of the Opposition that they maintained the two-Power standard in some sense in which the present Government is not maintaining it. They have invented a definition of the two-Power standard as being the sum of the ships possessed by the next two nations wherever they may be situated. They have declared that we must add together the navies of the United States and Germany, and then make our own Navy equal to that plus 10 per cent, in capital ships. That is the line which they take in Opposition, but it is a line which they never attempted to follow when responsible for the government of the country. It was with them an arrière pensée. In the Cawdor Memorandum they said that four ships 1785 should be laid down each year and that that would suffice unless unforeseen contingencies arose. At that time the United States had a programme of three battleships, which was afterwards cut down to two, and Germany had a programme of three battleships, so that the combined programmes of these two nations represented five ships. Hon. Gentlemen opposite while in office proposed, as against that, a programme of four ships, and now they wish to pretend that they were building against the United States and Germany, and they wish us to enter on some such absurd programme as that.
Before we pass altogether from battleships it may be well to sum up what is the real difference in the policy of the Government and that of the Opposition in this matter. They are agreed as to the number of ships. Eight is the number which both Front Benches consider satisfactory, and the only difference between the Government and the Opposition is that whereas the Government propose to lay down the last four at the end of this year, the Opposition would have laid them down in years gone by. The first result would have been that we should have spent an additional £3,000,000 in the past three years. The second difference is that instead of having four up-to-date battleships, which will not be laid down until 1st April next year, we should have had one laid down in 1906, one in 1907, and two in 1908. Therefore we should have had four ships which might be described as comparatively obsolescent. The curious thing is that the Opposition themselves are constantly asking questions suggesting that the new German "Dreadnoughts" are immensely superior in power to the British ships. A question was asked by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Sir F. Dixon-Hart-land) specifically stating this. He asked whether the First Lord of the Admiralty was aware that the German "Dreadnoughts" were far superior in fighting power to the British ones. Well, it is of these ships which hon. Gentlemen opposite would have built more. If the policy of lion. Gentlemen opposite had been followed we should have had four more of what they describe as inferior ships. These ships are required because it is possible that the German ships of the 1910–11 programme may be ready in 1912, and in view of that contingency the Government decided that other four ships should be built. The difference, therefore, between the two parties is that whereas the Government propose to build four ships which will be 1786 laid down at the same date as the German ships, the Opposition would have built four ships which would have been two, three, or four years old. I think we may say that, however much the Opposition may indulge their passion for the obsolete when defending the House of Lords, it is not a policy which can be safely applied to the shipbuilding programme of this country.
§ Mr. A. FELL
I wish to take this opportunity of saying a few words as to the North Sea and the East Coast of England, which have at the present time assumed such immense importance in naval strategy, shipbuilding, and all the other questions affecting the Navy. The condition of things is different now from what it was in former times, and the Admiralty are loath to recognise the changed position of affairs— that these great dockyards which were established in the past are not in such positions as we would place them in if we had to choose the sites for them now; and the question is what the Admiralty are doing to meet the changed position of affairs! The change is a very great one, and one which, unless they do something to remedy it, may cause great difficulties in the future should troubles ever arise. It is natural to everybody that they are loath to admit that a great change is required which will occasion a large expenditure of money. Everyone is naturally loath to admit this past expenditure is, to a certain extent, under altered condition, rendered nugatory and, perhaps, wasted. The first great "Dreadnought" that was built was stationed off Sheerness. Now it is known that there is not sufficient depth of water for that type of ship at Sheerness or Chatham to get into the dockyards there, and if at any time they required to go into a dockyard to refit or to be repaired, or for any other purpose, they would have to go round to Portsmouth or to Devonport Dockyard. The "Dreadnoughts" can only anchor outside off Sheerness. They cannot get up to Chatham. I believe that at certain times of the tide, in spring tides, it would be possible for them to get up; but they might be kept there until the next spring tides, so that they would, in fact, be bottled up and not available if any cause to employ them should arise. The same would, of course, happen with regard to any other "Dreadnoughts." That shows the necessity we have for stations on the East Coast which would be available at the present 1787 time for these great battleships. We know that the North Sea last year was the scene of the great naval manœuvres, that between Norway on the one side and Scotland and the North of England on the other these manœuvres took place, and we know that in future it is expected that more and more the position of the country will compel us to concentrate everything on the North Sea. The question for the Admiralty to consider is how best they can maintain their position there, and whether they are taking adequate steps to enable us to keep our fleets in the North Sea when the dockyards are at Portsmouth and Devonport. We can picture what a future naval review may be when the Members of these Houses go down 10 years hence. Where shall we go? We shall not go to Portsmouth. It is perfectly certain we shall go to Rosyth. We shall go to the Forth. We may go up to Invergordon, to the Cromarty Firth, as I think it is called, and there these great reviews and stations of the fleet will be. And we may find at that time our fleets in proper docks, and we may find the arrangements that were suggested yesterday for using balloons in their garages, and so on.
But what steps are the Government taking at the present time to remedy the position in which we shall find ourselves in 1911 or 1012, when we shall have between 12 and 20 "Dreadnoughts" and not a dock on the East Coast where any of them can be put in? The Admiralty have realised this. They have realised that the policy which has delayed the construction of the dockyard at Rosyth for so long that it will be seven or eight years before it is available for use of large ships is a mistake, and that something ought to be done meantime, both to satisfy public feeling in the country and also to satisfy the demand of those ships for accommodation in those quarters. What has been done is this. They have proposed to build two floating docks; but there was a rather unfortunate answer given to-day to a question on this matter. The question was whether the plans of these docks had been approved, or whether the docks had been ordered? The reply was in the negative in both cases. So whilst we are, comparatively speaking, drawing towards the close of the Session, the plan for these two floating docks which we have been promised have not been passed and the contracts for them have not yet been made; 1788 so that they are a long way off from construction at the present time. On that matter I have myself, during the course of the last two or three months, addressed several questions to the Admiralty as to where they intended to place these floating docks, and what preparation they are making for the anchorage or mooring for them. You may make a floating dock, but I believe that even more important than the dock itself is the station where it shall lie, because I understand that these docks cannot work to advantage if they are in a strong tideway, or in a place where there is not a great depth of water.
In answer to another query it was stated that it would need a depth of 60 feet of water for a floating dock which would take a "Dreadnought." That would be at low tide, because, of course, there is great depth underneath the ship, and it would never do to allow a floating dock of this kind to ground in the river or the bay with the enormous weight of one of these "Dreadnoughts" in it. So we must have preparations for these floating docks, stations of great depths of water, which are shut off from the swift stream of the tide, where they can be safely moored. There is no use talking about floating docks without these stations where they can be moored, because without them they would be entirely useless, and would have to be left at Portsmouth. It was stated, indeed, that one of them would be at Portsmouth. There may be a position for it there, but the object of these floating docks is not to have another dock at Portsmouth. It is that we should have them on the East Coast, available for these manœuvres, and for further eventualities in the North Sea. I would ask the representatives of the Admiralty whether they are considering this question, and considering it earnestly and practically, and whether they have in view any places where they mean to put these docks, and where they can be safely moored and where they will be available for such purposes as I have indicated. I am told that Invergordon Harbour is the only safe place where they can be placed at the present time. That is very far north and is too far from Portsmouth. There is a long stretch of sea several hundreds of miles between these places without any station to which these ships can go, or in which a floating dock can be placed.
§ Mr. FELL
They could not get up the water to Chatham, and I am told that a floating dock there would necessitate a good deal of preliminary dredging, and that there is also a very swift tide at Sheerness. It may be available. That is a matter which I say I hope the Admiralty are earnestly considering, and I am quite sure they will have to make preparations for the mooring of these docks a long time before the docks are made, and it is by no means too soon to make preparations now. What I fear is that under the pressure of public opinion we shall have built these floating docks and we shall not have positions ready for them when the docks themselves may be ready.
I hope that is not so. I am only calling attention to the fact, and I think the Admiralty are business people, who will not object to be stirred up or reminded of these matters, although they may know them perfectly well themselves. Still, it may be that under the pressure of routine, which is so insistent upon us in all the affairs of life, they may be forgotten. When we have these floating docks we must have positions ready for them—places where they will be stationed to the best advantage. It is suggested that the Tyne is a good place, and that one might be put there. It may be so, but I do not know. I believe there are various suggestions made as to shelter, possibly one might be placed in the Forth; I cannot tell. I know nothing about it; I am only urging that the Admiralty should take care, that by the time these floating docks are ready, they have provided proper places for them. There is one other point which I believe arises on this Vote. I do not wish to repeat anything which was said yesterday in reference to war in the air which may arise in future from these new discoveries in aeronautics, whether they be dirigible balloons or flying machines. We had the representative of the Admiralty here yesterday, when the Debate took place. The Vote of money yesterday was for airships for the Admiralty as well as for the War Office, but it was only the representative of the latter Department who explained to us what was going to be done with this money and what steps the Admiralty were taking. Up to the end of the Debate I thought that the representative of the Admiralty would have told us directly what steps his Department were taking, whereas we only heard secondhand what they were doing from the Minister for War. I think we should have had something from the Ad- 1790 miralty, for I do not think it was quite right that we should have voted the money yesterday for this purpose without having had some explanation from that Department. The representative of the Admiralty now present heard the Debate yesterday, and perhaps he will be able to make some reply on the subject, and tell us whether a dirigible balloon is being constructed for the Admiralty. Of course we were told so by the Minister of War, that it is under construction at Messrs. Vickers, Sons, and Maxim, and that it would be ready next year. That is a most important fact, but I wish the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (Dr. Macnamara) may be able to confirm it and also tell us what his Department are doing in regard to preparing garages for the first airship or any further airships which may be constructed.
It may be said that this is a land matter which does not affect the Admiralty, but it does affect that Department very much indeed. When we are told that a big shelter or garage is going to be constructed at Aldershot, and another at Wormwood Scrubbs, I would ask the Admiralty whether those garages are for Admiralty purposes. I take it they are both for the War Office and not for the Admiralty, who must have some other plans totally different from those which have been disclosed to us up to the present time. In the course of the last few months, in reply to inquiries, we have been told what the Germans and their Government are doing in this matter. The German Admiralty, I believe, has erected seven of these monster sheds, and the Army of Germany have their own shelters. Five or six of these great garages are being established around the mouth of the Elbe, where the great German dockyards lie. It is perfectly clear that they are to be used for dirigible balloons, which will work in connection with their fleet. What is the Admiralty in England doing of a similar nature? They have had this money voted, and they are having a dirigible airship built. Have they got any garages ready at the right place? Because this ship is to be ready next year. Where are they going to keep it? In the middle of the country, at Army stations, or on the coast, or are they going to have it placed at Portsmouth, or, what is much better, are they going to build it on the East Coast of England? If I might suggest a site, I should say that one on the East Anglian Coast—I have no axe to grind of my own for places in which I am 1791 interested, or anything of that kind—would be advantageous. East Anglia juts out furthest towards the coast on the other side, and I should think that would be a centre where at any rate one large garage should be stationed for the use of a dirigible balloon. The men employed there would practice with it until they became experts, knowing the currents of air prevailing there, and the nature of the whole country around. I think a shelter in that position would prove most valuable as a centre where, operations in the air might take place.
I may give one experience of my own on this matter. When I was in France in the spring of last year I made some inquiries about what was being done, and I found that in a town of Meaux, about 40 miles from Paris, on the road to Germany, they were putting up, side by side, three enormous sheds. One was completed, and the others were being built. I suppose they were about 500 feet long, and they were being erected in a large cavalry ground. There they were being prepared in readiness for balloons which are now being constructed. I was told that between Paris and the German frontier they have three sets of these great garages ready, or nearly ready, at the present time. When we see such energy as that displayed by our neighbours across the Channel we may feel a little doubtful as to our own course of action. We are clearly not doing very much when we are building only two of these sheds for the whole of this country, while between Paris and the German frontier they are building eight or nine. I would ask the representative of the Admiralty whether the Department is making preparations for the provision of shelters for these dirigible balloons? I would ask whether, if we cannot have these floating docks on the East Coast, at any rate we could have some of these shelters for dirigible balloons which would accompany the fleet when it is manœuvring in the North Sea, and which would return to shelter in bad weather? I would suggest that there should be two or three such shelters on the East Coast as being absolutely necessary at the present time. If you are to have these airships to practice about the country, as they are doing in foreign lands, you must have two or three of these shelters where they can take shelter from storms. I will not give my opinion on those other questions which have been referred to, and I have tried to keep myself to new matters 1792 as far as possible. I would strongly urge this matter on the Admiralty, and I hope the representative will reply on this point whether they mean to put up garages of their own, and, if so, whether they will have one on the East Coast where this dirigible may be kept, and where it may learn, by going out to sea now and again to manœuvre, so as to be able, when the time comes, should it ever arise, to assist the fleet which will, no doubt, then be manœuvring in the North Sea.
§ Mr. ARTHUR Du CROS
I should like also to refer to the subject of garages. If, as I suppose, the present British naval airship is being constructed in a shed specially erected for that purpose, it is obvious that by the time that vessel is completed, which, we have been told, will be in February or March of next year, that a new garage must be ready to receive the new airship, so as to leave the existing shed ready for the construction of the second ship. It wil no doubt occur, as that construction proceeds, that new designs and new plans will be prepared for a second improved ship, and that unless the second garage exists for the purpose of receiving the first ship that a long delay must necessarily take place. Obviously, if the case is as I suppose it, the construction of your second garage must be started in the course of the present year. It takes some four or five months to build a garage, and if this ship is to be completed in February or March then the second garage must be started in the course of the present year. I should like to know whether that is, as a matter of fact, contemplated by the hon. Gentleman (Dr. Macnamara)? There is one other matter, but I do not know whether this has been referred to before, and that is with regard to the question of personnel. I should like to know if the hon. Gentleman could till us what number of men at present are trained in aeronautical work in the Admiralty Department? As I understand it, the principal knowledge and experience on this subject at present lies in the Army Department, in the aeronautical department of which there are, I believe, some 50 men. This I regard as the most important branch of the subject, because airships will be of no practical use unless we have the personnel trained in their use. We know that there are in the Army department men who have had a very long and a very practical training in aeronautical work. I personally think that some of our officers in he Army know as much about this subject almost as any 1793 other experts in other countries. I should like to know whether the department of the hon. Gentleman could, by some arrangement, receive advice and assistance from officers trained in aeronautical work in the Army department. It would seem to me rather strange if we have practical knowledge and experience for which the nation has paid that it should not be used in the practical construction or airships which are now being constructed. I am sure the hon. Gentleman himself knows, as I know, that there are officers in the Army who have made a very special and close study of the whole science of aeronautics during the past four or five years. Is there no arrangement existing by which the Department of the hon. Gentleman can benefit by the knowledge and experience gained by the officers of the Army department? I cannot help thinking that if that knowledge and experience could be used in some way for the benefit of the department that it would greatly strengthen the whole position.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I shall endeavour to reply, as far as I can, to the comments which have been made since the reply of the First Lord of the Admiralty. As far as I can gather, the general effect of the Opposition criticisms to-day, as heretofore, not on the point just dealt with, but the criticisms generally, during the day come to this, that we are guilty of having neglected the naval defences of this country. I resent that charge very deeply indeed. I say the first duty of any Government is at all times to make national security amply secure, and I contend we have done that. There are a good many criticisms of this sort, the contradiction of which we too often let go by default. Let us take a particular instance often arising. It is constantly stated that we have reduced the personnel in the dockyards. As a matter of fact, at the close of 1905, when we took over the reins of office, there were 27,870 men employed in the dockyards. To-day there are 33,140. Take that as a typical instance which constantly arises. Then there is the charge of having cut down expenditure on dockyard works, which, I think, the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. A. Fell) more or less associated himself with to-night, although I make no complaint of his criticisms in regard to the need to provide docks for "Dreadnoughts," or the point he made that the Government should deal with the matter of a floating dock. I fully agree with all he said on that matter. But it is a common criticism 1794 in this House, if not to-day, at other times, and certainly outside, that we have cut down the expenditure on dockyard works, buildings, and repairs. What are the facts with regard to that? In 1905–6 the then Government spent directly on dockyard works, buildings and repairs, and to meet loan charges under the Naval Works Act, £1,829,273, and in 1908–9, on the same two items, we spent £2,340,700, and the estimated expenditure in the present Estimates on these items is £2,950,300. These are the sort of statements—and I am sorry to say there are a good many of them—correction of which I think ought not to be allowed to go by default. We have been charged by several hon. Gentlemen opposite with unduly cutting down expenditure on stores. On clothing and victualling the late Government spent in 1905–6 £2,157,437; we estimate to spend during the present year £2,416,800, which is the highest figure this Vote has ever reached. With regard to Naval stores, the late Government spent in 1905–6 £4,905,075, while the estimate for this year is £4,392,100.
§ Lord BALCARRES
The hon. Gentleman has omitted the figures for the intervening years, showing the amount of stores consumed without replacement.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I was coming to that point. It is the fact, and it is shown on the face of the Estimates, that in 1905–6, for which the late Government were responsible, and during succeeding years, the Admiralty have undoubtedly taken stores and utilised them without replacing them. The First Lord of the Admiralty, I thought, had sufficiently dealt with that point. The late Government in 1904—I am not discussing the policy, though I think from many points of view it was a very admirable one—closed a number of foreign stations and scrapped a number of ships. The Leader of the Opposition, at Glasgow on 13th January, 1905, made a most eulogistic speech in reference to that proceeding, declaring it to be one of the greatest reforms since the days of Nelson. He said that they had scrapped 130 ships. I do not know whether that was quite correct, but, at any rate, a great many were scrapped, and, as I have said, a number of foreign stations were closed. In addition to those two schemes, the late Government lowered the level of reserves of stores, as I think quite rightly, particularly in regard to perishable stores where you require to have a rapid turnover, otherwise the stores deteriorate. The result of 1795 that was that the late Government left itself in 1905–6, and left us in succeeding years, with a large amount of stores unexhausted. What does the Noble Lord ask us to do with those stores? Does he suggest that we should throw them away? Is that the proposition? Or should we use them? We have used them; that is all. We had them left on our hands because of the policy of the late Government, and in a prudent and economic way we have used them, as we were undoubtedly entitled to do, in the public interest. I can assure hon. Members that it is not true to say that we have left the reserve stock dangerously depleted.
In the matter of shipbuilding, it is the view of a number of Gentlemen opposite that the present Shipbuilding Vote is not adequate, and that we ought to have done more in the way of providing capital and other ships for the safety of the country. I would ask those who make that criticism to look closely at the nature of this Vote. The expenditure is £15,818,600, the largest Estimate since 1904–5, and the amount of the new Construction Vote is £8,885,194, the largest since 1905–6. A signal and striking feature of the present Estimate is that of this new Construction Vote; £2,285,770 will be spent within the financial year in making a start with the programme of the year. That represents a speeding up in the administration of the Admiralty in this particular, which, as far as I know, is quite unprecedented in recent Estimates. We take practically one-fourth—21 per cent, to be precise—of the new Construction Vote to apply to the programme of the year. I think it will be found that in the past about 10 per cent, of the new Construction Vote has been the usual amount taken for the programme of the year. Not included in that at all are the four additional "Dreadnoughts" which are to be laid down in April, 1910, and completed by 31st March, 1912. We may, and shall, incur liabilities in respect of those ships. We show on the face of the Estimates what we have taken power to do to secure the collection of materials for the rapid construction of those ships, and, although we may, and shall, incur liabilities, it is the fact that we cannot liquidate the liabilities within the financial year. I do not thnk that that will delay the proceedings at all; but, as the First Lord of the Admiralty has now twice stated, if it should be found necessary in the interests of national safety to expedite matters, even so far as to require the 1796 liquidation of any liabilities before 31 at March, it will be his duty to bring in a Supplementary Estimate in the early part of next year for that purpose. The hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bellairs) doubts whether the "Dreadnought" is, after all, the right type. All I can say is that the matter was very carefully considered by other great naval nations, the great bulk of whom decided that the best thing they could do was to imitate that design.
We have had a more or less cursory discussion on the two-Power standard. The hon. Member for Blackpool (Mr. Ashley) pressed once more the necessity of defining the two-Power standard in such terms that there should be no geographical qualification or anything of that sort. The hon. Member is quite definite as to what he wants. He wants two keels to every one in "Dreadnoughts" laid down by the next first-class naval Power. That also is the position of the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Arthur Lee). All I can do is to refer those hon. Gentlemen to Lord Charles Beresford, who asked: "What is it these wild men want?" and said that this "two keels to one" was the greatest form of lunacy that he had ever come across. At any rate, that is the substance of his remark.
§ Mr. ARTHUR LEE
May I ask if the Admiralty have adopted Lord Charles Beresford's views in this matter?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Certainly not. I was only asking hon. Gentlemen to settle this point with Lord Charles Beresford.
§ Mr. BELLAIRS
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Lord Charles Beresford was referring to the demand for two "Dreadnoughts" to one including all classes of "Dreadnoughts"? He was not referring to those who are demanding two keels to one in the future.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I hope I shall be the last one to desire to misrepresent the hon. and gallant Lord, and I do not accept him as a spokesman on behalf of the Admiralty in the matter. But I think those who pose as naval experts might compose their views as to what is the two-Power standard, because when I am told that the proper two-Power standard is two keels to one, then I cannot help calling to my mind Lord Charles's remark. I want next to refer to the repairs to ships. There again we have not, it is said, proposed a sufficient amount. We have estimated for 1797 the present financial year for the sum of £2,573,662, which is the largest amount since 1903–4. It is really a larger amount than the figures seem to show, because in 1903–4 a great many of the ships had fallen into disrepair, and were subsequently scrapped. Money was spent upon ships in the way of repair which were not of great value. To-day also the ships are getting repairs done by the ships' companies which do not come as a charge against this Vote. Then we come to the provision of cruisers and destroyers. In the early part of this year, at any rate, the two-Power standard was confined to capital ships. We have gone ahead of that, and the question of the two-Power standard I s now taken not only in capital ships, but in armoured cruisers, unarmoured cruisers, destroyers, and submarines. With regard to armoured cruisers, nobody in this House or outside will deny that we have an overwhelming superiority. We shall have in July, 1912, 35 armoured cruisers. I do not want to put the figure too high, but some of them, like the more modern "Minotaurs" are certainly as good as some of the battleships which figure in the lists of other countries, and perhaps this country. These 35 compare—although the figures that I give, I admit, are more or less conjectural—with Germany, 9; France, 22; the United States, 15; Italy, 10; Austria, 3; Japan, 13. Though these figures are in some respects conjectural, there need, at any rate, be no anxiety on the point of armoured cruisers in which we have overwhelming superiority. I take next unarmoured cruisers. If I take only those that are 15 years old or under, and only those of a speed of 19 knots, and more—that means scrapping nearly half of our fleet of unarmoured cruisers—then we shall have in July, 1912, 36 unarmoured cruisers—with scouts, 44—to Germany, 33; France, 7; the United States, 1; Italy, 3; Austria, 6; and Japan, 11. Taking unarmoured cruisers by themselves, I may be told that the figures do not give any countenance of our great superiority in them, nor, it may be said, have we here got a two-Power standard. Yes, but the House cannot hold us entirely responsible in this matter. It follows from the scrapping policy of the late Government. Speaking on 13th July, 1905, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said:—I do not think that as yet public opinion has thoroughly realised either the magnitude or the importance of the change which Lord Selborne and 1798 his Board of the Admiralty have recently effected in the British fleet. … They have abolished 130 vessels which figured upon the list of the British Navy.I want to say at this point I do not suggest they were all cruisers. I believe about fifty cruisers were scrapped, but I do not endorse that figure.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I am quite aware of that. Well, 130 vessels were taken from the list of the British Navy. Then follows a favourable description of the nucleus-crew system, with which I cordially associate myself. Then the right hon. Gentleman continued:—I do not think its magnitude has been yet realised by the public, but as time goes on I think they will feel that of all reforms that have taken place since the time of Nelson this is perhaps the biggest that has been made.We find ourselves to some extent as a result of that great reform challenged to-day because of the lack of cruisers. May I also remind the House that in 1904–5 the Government did not proceed with a fourth armoured cruiser and 13 destroyers which were put into their programme for that year.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I do not know why; I only know we have not got them. In 1905–6 a fourth armoured cruiser was again not gone on with. With regard to the destroyers, I need not again give the figures as to their number, ages, and sea - going capacity, as they have been given on other occasions and again to-day by the First Lord of the Admiralty. But I do venture to remind the House what our policy has been. In 1906–7 our programme was two ocean-going destroyers and 12 torpedo-boat destroyers. In 1907–8 our programme included one unarmoured cruiser, five ocean-going destroyers, and 12 torpedo-boat destroyers. In 1908–9 our programme was one armoured cruiser, five protected cruisers, and 16 destroyers. This year's programme includes two unarmoured cruisers, four protected cruisers, 20 destroyers. So that of our programme, from the date to which I have referred as the commencement of the scrapping period, our total building and projected has been nine protected cruisers, four unarmoured cruisers, 43 torpedo-boat destroyers, and 24 torpedo-boats. That is a programme which shows that we have, at any rate, under the circumstances with which we were confronted, realised 1799 our responsibilities and have endeavoured to meet them with a good deal of industry and with due regard to the national interests.
§ Mr. A. LEE
We credit the Admiralty fully with these 43 destroyers. Our complaint was that of that 43 only three are finished and 20 are not even begun.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
The hon. Member referred to the 20 in this year's programme. We have dropped nothing in this programme. The last destroyer was dropped in 1904–5. We propose to go ahead with all that are in our programme.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I believe that is quite true, but I have stated what remained in the programme. We have built and projected nine protected cruisers, four armoured cruisers, 43 torpedo boat destroyers, and 24 torpedo boats. That is the fact, but I admit at once that when I take the original programme of 1906–7 we had three ocean-going destroyers in it with which we did not proceed. In any case let me say this. I am fortified in this matter by the opinion of the Navy League. The hon. and gallant Member the Member for King's Lynn went to a meeting of the Navy League which issued a manifesto on the morrow of the publication of these Estimates, which he signed as Vice-Chairman of the Executive Committee, and what do I find that in that manifesto it is stated:—With the cruiser and destroyer programme the Navy League has no fault to find.When I get such a handsome testimonial as that from such a body the programme of the Government cannot be so bad after all.
§ Mr. BELLAIRS
Of course, I did sign the manifesto. But I dissented at first. As Members of the Cabinet have got to 1800 agree together in public so members of the Navy League have to agree. At the time we were not aware that the Government were going to lay their destroyers down at the end of the year.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I wish to be quite just to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I see that that manifesto, of which I only quoted a portion, said that they hoped the Government would proceed with their programme. It is only fair to the hon. Member to say that, and that it was on the assumption that the whole programme was to be proceeded with that the Navy League said they had no fault to find with the proposals outlined, provided they were to be carried out. We do intend to carry them out. But there was nothing in the statement of the Navy League about carrying them out forthwith. If the cruiser and destroyer programme were carried out the hon. Member was willing to put his name to a statement that the Navy League were satisfied.
The hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. A. Lee) asked me some questions in reference to submarines. I should like, in the first place, to express the deep sorrow of the Admiralty and of the House and of the country also for the gallant men who went down in submarine C 11, and also of deep sympathy for their relatives and friends. I do not think the hon. Gentleman is right in saying you can leave submarines out of your combination in considering the whole make-up of our naval equipment.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
The hon. and gallant Gentleman said you ought not to count too much on submarines. I think he said they could be used for coastal defences, but not for taking the offensive.
§ Mr. A. LEE
The First Lord of the Admiralty suggested that submarines could be used for the same purpose as destroyers for blockading the enemy's ports. I said I did not think they were suitable for that purpose, but I thought they could be used for home defence.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Their capacity is increasing. When the first submarine, No. 1, was designed in 1901 her displacement was about 100 tons. The A class reached 200 tons. The B and C class are already over 300 tons displacement, and they have a range on surface of roughly 2,000 miles, and they have a submarine range of 150 miles. They have a surface speed of 10 to 14 knots and a submarine speed of from four 1801 to nine knots, and I foresee the time when the submarine will be the day destroyer, when their range is so increased and when we get more sure as to the best way of handling them. The hon. Member also asked about the life-saving apparatus in submarines, and particularly with regard to experiments that have been going on for a long time as to the methods of life-saving. We have arrived at a method which in certain circumstances might possibly be of considerable advantage in saving life on submarines; that is the provision of the air-lock and of the helmet and tunic by which they will be able to breathe purified air which is furnished by these implements. The hon. Gentleman said—and here I do not think he was playing quite fair—it was a pity that, for the sake of saving a little money, we had not provided these men on submarine C11 with this provision. If that was so to that extent we should be held responsible for the fatal results which occurred. I think that is carrying the thing too far, and I desire to repudiate in the very strongest possible terms any such suggestion. None of us, no matter to what party we belong, would, for the sake of saving a few pounds or for the sake of saving a large sum of money, do anything to prevent a chance being given to these men to save their lives. It is not a question at all of saving money. I know these instruments, or life-saving apparatus, very intimately. I have seen it experimented upon in a large tank, and theoretically it is an admirable system, and if you had in one instance—that of submarine A8 in the accident of 8th June, 1905, when she sank and 15 men were drowned—I think if you had the airlock in use at that time its life saving merits would have been of service, because she, sank upon an even keel without collision. It is quite possible that the system of the air-lock and the helmet would, in that case, have given the men a chance of getting out with their lives? I do not want to say anything to discourage the efforts of scientists in providing life-saving apparatus, but when you get a collision and the boat sinks in any way but on an even keel the air-lock is destroyed, and the whole apparatus practically rendered useless. I do not know, but I certainly can well imagine, that with such a serious collision as that which befell C11 when she sank, nothing in such a case could have given a chance to the men of saving themselves. I think the air-lock would foe of very little use in that case, but I want to remove from the mind of the hon. Gentle- 1802 man any suggestion that for the sake of saving a little more we deprived this boat of any means that might have given the men the most remote chance of saving their lives. It is not true.
§ Mr. ARTHUR LEE
I did not mean to make that insinuation. The Government promised to fit all submarines with this apparatus, and they did not carry out that promise.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Every Government is bound to take every step that science and the development of naval construction can suggest in order to save life. With regard to airships, a full statement was made yesterday by the Secretary of State for War, and that is why I did not think it desirable to make any further statement on the subject. Under Vote 9 we propose to spend £35,000 in the course of the present year for the building of a dirigible balloon. This is now in the hands of clever scientists and a very clever sailor, and we are also making provision for the building of a garage for this particular airship. As to whether we are training men to be ready to use succeeding airships which we may build, should they be found practicable, it would not be right for me to say what is being done on this Vote, because the subject of personnel arises under Vote A. I will, however, make inquiries, but certainly those who are responsible for this provision by the Admiralty would feel it their duty to confer with the Army officers who have a great deal of knowledge on this matter.
§ Mr. Du CROS
Does the hon. Member say the Admiralty itself is providing a garage for the airship which the Admiralty is building?
§ Mr. Du CROS
In answer to a question given by the First Lord of the Admiralty lie stated that the Admiralty did not contemplate the construction of garages. Is it not the case that this new vessel is toeing constructed in a special shed built by the contractors?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Yes, that is so. What I meant to say is that there is a garage being prepared for this particular ship. I do not think provision has been made in this respect for succeeding ships, but at any rate I will take particular care to note the point which the hon. Member makes, and also the point which has been made by the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth. With regard to the question 1803 raised by the hon. Member for Chatham, he has referred me to an Amendment which he moved on 1st March, 1906, and he rather suggested that that Amendment had been carried. What happened was that the then Secretary to the Admiralty accepted the spirit of the Amendment, and undertook to consider whether it could be carried out, and the hon. Member for Chatham then withdrew his Amendment. The hon. Member says the Government accepted his Amendment fully, and undertook to pay not less than the trade union rate of wages. What the then Secretary to the Admiralty said was that he had no hesitation in saying that both propositions contained in the Amendment were reasonable. One of those propositions was the right of the men to negotiate with the Admiralty through their own representatives, and the other was the principle that it was the duty of the Government to pay the trade union rates of wages paid for similar work in the district. The Government at that time, however, coupled with this the condition that the difference between dockyard and outside work must be taken into account. We are carrying out that arrangement at the present time. We give every employé an opportunity of coming before us. They may come before us personally as they have done, or they may come accompanied by a representative, who need not be an employé. My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham has ably represented the dockyard men himself, and the Members of the Board of Admiralty, or a certain number of them, have sat with great patience hearing what the men have to say, and with a real anxiety to see that there shall be no legitimate ground of complaint on the part of the employés of the Government. In 1906, as a result of these representations, the wages of dockyard employés were increased by £60,000 a year. The present rates for shipwrights are for establishment men 34s. and for hired men 35s. 6d., or an increase of 1s. per week over what was paid in 1906. I do not think my hon. Friend is quite fair in his comparisons between the conditions in the dockyard and those outside. The shipwrights employed by the Government work 48 hours, whilst there are a great many cases outside where shipwrights have to work 53 hours. Not only this, but employment in the Government dockyard is more continuous than in the case of the men engaged on a job, say, on the Clyde. I do not think it is fair to say the rate of 1804 wages per week is so much outside and so much inside the dockyard without reminding the House that in one case the men worked 48 hours and in the other case considerably more. There are also other small considerations such as holidays with pay, which the men receive in the dockyard, and which they do not always receive in outside employment. If you take the average paid in the shipbuilding yards on the East Coast, on the Thames, the South Coast, in Scotland, or in Ireland, the average wage works out roughly at about 8¼ per hour, 8d. for new and 8d. for repair work, whereas in the Government yards the average comes out at about 8½d. Therefore, to say that the conditions under which the shipwrights work in the Royal dockyards will not compare favourably with those outside would require a little more proof than the hon. Member has given to-night. The Government must, of course, remove any legitimate grievance; but, so far as shipwrights are concerned, I do not think my hon. Friend has made out a case for an increased rate of wages, especially as there has been an increase so recently as 1906. I shall, however, be very pleased to go through the list of wages of outside yards with my hon. Friend and compare it with ours. I think I have covered now all the points raised since the First Lord of the Admiralty spoke.