§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]
§ (IN THE COMMITTEE.)
§ Motion made, and Question proposed [18th March], "That 136,000 officers, seamen, and boys be employed for the Sea and Coastguard Services for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1913, including 17,200 Royal Marines."
§ Question again proposed. Debate resumed.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. LEES SMITH
I wish to refer to only one point in the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty. In the course of his most interesting speech, he stated that if these Estimates were high the responsibility would rest upon this House. That appears to me to be a misleading statement upon the situation, and I think that someone, during the course of the Debate, ought to point out that in reality this House has very little voice or choice in the Estimates put before it. The First Lord of the Admiralty pointed out that our Estimates depend upon the Estimates of foreign Powers. The vital factor in the Estimates of foreign Powers is the policy of this country. This is not the place to discuss whether that policy has been good or bad, but, in view of the First Lord's statement, I think it is the proper place to say that, for all practical purposes, this 1899 House has no control over that policy at all. There is no Government Department that is so much outside the purview of this House, which is so entirely outside any sort of democratic control. It is for that reason that I dissent from the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty. While I have been in the House I have always supported the Estimates put forward, because it has always seemed to me that those who are called economists have made a mistake. They have agitated against the Estimates instead of agitating for more effective control over the policy on which those Estimates depend. Given a policy which we do not control, and given a set of actual circumstances, it is not more in our power to seriously curtail the Estimates than it would be if we were discussing them in the midst of a war. For that reason I do not think this House is in any real sense responsible for these Estimates, and until some constitutional machinery has been been devised by which we can secure a more effective control ourselves over foreign policy, all discussions on the Estimates, although they are interesting, will be for their main purposes and objects more or less a mere formality.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Of course, everyone will agree that naval policy must depend upon our foreign relations generally, but what we are now discussing is the policy of the Admiralty, which is not a question of our foreign relations. It is to provide for the safety of the country under the conditions existing at the moment and the conditions which are probable in the immediate future. The one essential, to my mind, for Admiralty policy is that there should be continuity of policy and continuity of effort in the broadest sense, and although I should be the very last to rake up ancient history, and I do not desire to say it in any contentious sense at all, I am entitled to point out that, so far as we on this side of the House are concerned, our policy in the broadest sense has been continuous, whereas I do not think the policy on the other side of the House has always been continuous. I say that somewhat feelingly, because I have a most vivid recollection of standing where the right hon. Gentleman stood a few days ago to defend Estimates which were most violently attacked from this side of the House from a totally different point of view from that which was so ably put forward by the First Lord in his speech on Monday. I certainly, for 1900 one, and I think every Member on this side of the House, rejoices that the party opposite and the First Lord now are in complete unison with us in their view on that matter, and I would never say one word which should in any sense bring naval matters into the arena of party politics. Naval policy must be a national policy and never can be anything else, and to my mind it is no longer a real danger, certainly not a danger at this moment, and I hope it may never be a danger again, that our naval policy, which is a national policy, should be subjected to any changes of any kind which are not dictated by national necessity, but which are merely dictated by the party requirements of the moment. I hope that condition may never arise, and I am quite sure it never will arise from this side of the House, and I hope never again from the other side.
The First Lord opened his speech with a statement with which I think we shall all agree, that finance was at the root of naval power. But he went on to add that his present ability to meet our naval needs was due to the successful finance of the Budget of 1910. I do not think he looked quite deep enough. I think that remark was quite justified so far as the immediate yield was concerned, but I think he might have said that naval strength depends not only upon finance in the narrow sense of being able to meet the needs of the moment, it depends upon the financial strength of the country in the widest and deepest sense, upon the abilty to meet our requirements for the future; and whether the Budget of 1910 has really increased our national wealth and our resources and our ability to meet, the requirements of the future, is a matter on which there is at least a great deal of doubt. Then the First Lord made a general survey of our naval position, and he made a very important statement as to the standard which he and his naval advisers considered necessary to meet that situation. I listened with great pleasure and very great attention to that statement, and, for what my opinion is worth, I do not differ from a word of it. I believe that the standard, so far as it applies to the situation with which we are now faced, is a standard which does, so far at any rate as battleships are concerned, meet the requirements of the situation. What was more important in the statement was the spirit which was behind it, and I think I may congratulate the First Lord upon having so rapidly imbibed the 1901 spirit and atmosphere which prevail at the Admiralty itself. I do not believe it is possible for any man of ability who desires to do his part in the service of his country to go into that office of the State and to meet there the naval atmosphere, which I am glad to say pervades the Admiralty as well as the sea service itself, without imbibing that spirit, and when the First Lord has the ability which the right hon. Gentleman possesses, and when he is imbued with that spirit, I hope we may expect results which will be satisfactory to the country. I come now to the statements which were made as to the right hon. Gentleman's intentions. It is hardly posible to exaggerate the importance of the strength of our destroyer flotilla, and our position in the past has been not at all satisfactory in that respect. The Committee can cast its mind back a few years to the time when the River class of destroyers were first designed and established, and that is the turning point when our Navy began to find itself in a more satisfactory position from the destroyer standpoint. I was a little anxious for one sentence of the First Lord, namely, that he proposed to form one or, I think, two flotillas from the older class of destroyers.
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Churchill)
I did not say that. We are building a flotilla every year. As new ones join, instead of striking off twenty at the bottom as we should have done, certain increases will be made: seven this year, eight next year, and nine in 1915.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
That amounts to the same thing. Instead of striking off at the bottom, the older destroyers are still to remain to form new flotillas. If these flotillas consist of River class or post-River class destroyers, they may be regarded as at any rate of considerable efficiency; but I say with, I believe, full knowledge, and I assert it without fear of contradiction, that no destroyer of the pre-River class is fit for anything than coast defence, although they may be very valuable for coast defence purposes, and I note with satisfaction the intention of the First Lord to have two, or I think three, flotillas purely for coast defence purposes. I hope flotillas may not consist wholly of pre-River destroyers, which are intended for offensive work. That is a point on which the Committee would be glad to have information. So far as the quality of our destroyers is concerned, in the 1902 earlier days to which I have referred we were distinctly deficient, but since that all the destroyers of the post-River class are, I believe, quite equal in efficiency to any which may be brought against them. But I question the sufficiency of numbers. Even by building these twenty destroyers which are now about to be laid down immediately, which is a new departure of great importance and great value, I doubt the sufficiency of numbers. Before Vote 8 comes up for discussion I hope the First Lord will be prepared to give us some definite information on the point with figures of the number of destroyers. I know he will bear in mind that in all probability the first phases of a naval war will consist of establishing the supremacy, in the theatre of action, of flotillas. Of what value will it be to have battle fleets which are unable to go into the open at night to use their strength until flotilla supremacy has been established in the theatre of action? The importance of that can hardly be exaggerated. The work which will fall upon destroyer flotillas will be work of such a character that neither the crews nor the vessels will be able to remain in the first line for more than a very short period at a time. Frequently relief will be required, and for that purpose numbers are the only security. If the First Lord of the Admiralty will be prepared to discuss the question in some rather more detail from that point of view on that Vote, I think the discussion will have considerable value in relieving to some extent the anxiety which exists upon that subject.
The next point in the programme is in regard to small cruisers. I would only say on this matter that the kind of small cruiser which the First Lord indicated appears to be an ideal vessel. I am not going to ask for any details. The First Lord expressed the hope that they would not be asked for, and I would be the last to ask details of any description. I would only say that, so far as I understood him, the ideal of the naval architect ever since armoured ships have been known has been to produce a ship with vertical armour, with good protection of armour, high speed—those vessels of course have very high speed because they must be capable of dealing with destroyers, a speed certainly of thirty knots—with adequate guns, and with good radius action. It has been the wish of the naval architect to include all these vital qualities in small compass. So far the problem has never been solved.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Yes, at a cheap price, but that I consider to be of even less importance than the others, though it is important. If the Admiralty are able to produce an armoured cruiser of only 4,000 tons with adequate protection, high speed, adequate guns, and good radius action at a cheap price, then I think they will certainly deserve the thanks of the country. I hope and trust that result will be attained in a high measure. I cannot pass from that subject without expressing the thanks which the country owes to Sir Philip Watts, the late Director of Naval Construction, who has retired. The country owes a very high debt of gratitude to him for the service he rendered with respect to naval construction. The next subject the First Lord touched upon was that of docks. There again there are questions of important detail which have to be gone into, and which will be appropriate on Vote 10. May I ask before that Vote comes up for discussion if the right hon. Gentleman will be good enough to furnish us—I do not think that there are any secrets involved; at all events, he need not disclose any information in that Category if it would be against the public interest to do so—with a statement of the localities, and, so far as possible, of the dimensions of the docks he named. There is great anxiety on that subject, and it is impossible to discuss it and to reassure the country unless we can have that information. If that information were furnished, and if it were satisfactory, it might save considerable time in Debate, or Debate might even be avoided altogether. It would be satisfactory to hear the First Lord say that his investigation of this matter had greatly relieved his mind. He, no doubt, shared the general feelings to which I have referred. I must say that I am greatly relieved, but I should like to be able to look into the facts for myself, and I hope we may be furnished with the information.
Then the First Lord referred to another very important matter, namely, oil fuel. That matter came to the front for the first time during the administration of Lord Selborne and Lord Cawdor. At that time we did realise fully the future importance of the capacity of this country to obtain both in peace and war supplies of oil which will be always available to the Navy—first of all, from the point of view of the country of origin being available in time of peace, and secondly, the possibility of transport 1904 to this country in time of war. Steps were then taken which were by no means without results. I believe they had very considerable results, but from the information that has reached me it appears that since the Liberal party have been in office and have had control of the Admiralty there has not been quite the same attention paid to that subject—I know I am stating a fact —as was paid by us when in office. I was extremely glad to learn from the First Lord's statement that he does realise the importance of the subject. I hope he will take every possible step in conjunction with other Departments of the State—as it is not only the Admiralty that are interested in his question—to get information on the subject. Other Departments have been, and can be, of very great use in this matter. I am sure the First Lord will bear that in mind, and make it the special work of some individual to serve the Admiralty in that particular matter.
The First Lord told the Committee of of the very important changes which are to be made in the distribution of the Fleet. So far as these changes are concerned, it is thoroughly recognised by hon. Members, and certainly by the lay Members of Parliament, that however much they may think it right to criticise the administration or work of the Admiralty, it is not their province to criticise the distribution of the Fleet, and I should be the last to enter upon any argument of that description. But I may say that the concentration which was referred to in the First Lord's statement is the natural sequence of the beginning of the concentrations which were made during the late Conservative Administration. They have followed on on the same lines. They do not involve any sudden change whatever. There is ill that sense full continuity of policy. In regard to the particular item of withdrawing the Mediterranean Fleet to Gibraltar. I hope this First Lord will remember that we have a very important naval establishment at Malta, and that a very large number of people may be dependent on the work done at that establishment. Immense sums of money have been spent there, and work can be done there, as cheaply, perhaps more cheaply, than at any other ports. I do hope it will be possible for some of the ships which are to have Gibraltar as their base to be repaired at Malta. The First Lord did not tell us whether any cruisers will still be based at Malta.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
There will be a cruiser squadron permanently based at Malta, with destroyers and submarines, and the Malta Dockyard will be, I hope, kept in a regular state of activity.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
The next point I wish to refer to has reference to the First Lord's statement as to what is called the Immediate Reserve. That appears to be an excellent new departure which can only be of advantage in the event of mobilisation. That brings me to the question of personnel. Although we are increasing the personnel at the rate of 2,000 a year, from all the information which has reached me I am very much in doubt whether the immediate increase is sufficient for the requirements of the Fleet. All the evidence which has reached me tends to show that there is at the present moment, in view of the requirements of the Fleet, a very serious shortage of personnel, not only on the lower deck generally, but particularly in the Marines, and especially in the Blue Marines. The result of that is that the men are hardly ever in barracks. They are nearly always at sea. I may be wrong, but I hope the First Lord will make inquiry into that matter. That is the statement that has reached me, and I believe it to be well founded. So far as the seamen are concerned, the naval barracks are always practically replete. That makes it extremely difficult to train the men. There is congestion, which must prevent proper periods of time on shore, and I hope when the First Lord makes his reply he will say something as to the position of the personnel, and state whether the numbers are sufficient at the present time.
As regards the Coastguard, I do not know what provision is made for the performance of Coastguard duties in case of war when the men will be embarked. I do not want now to enter into the subject, but the calling of these men from their stations in case of war does seem to me to be a possibility. Full particulars and suggestions are now in possession of the Admiralty. I do not see why another Reserve should not be formed— not like the present Reserve, available for service on the Fleet itself, but a Reserve of our own coastal popu- 1906 lation, consisting of fishermen, yachtsmen, and ex-naval men who are to be found on every part of our coasts. They might be formed into what I might term a coastal reserve within proper and definite limits at small expense, and they would be able in time of war, when the ordinary Coastguards were with the Fleet, to do the duties which now devolve on the Coastguards and which will require to be done in time of war—certain kinds of signalling, and possibly even taking part in coast defence work. I do think it is worthy of the consideration of the Admiralty whether the coast population, which is one of the finest national assets we possess, might not be drawn upon to provide that coastal work in order to assist the Navy in its shore operations. I cannot help thinking that some such scheme might be made available which would be of great use as one of our great national assets. The next point referred to was the scheme for warrant officers. So far as I have learned from those with whom I have communicated, that scheme appears to be an admirable one. It will provide for a very deserving class of officers, and I only hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not consider the rank of commander as one of final limit. I gather that he only desired to indicate that that would probably be the ordinary limit which warrant officers, on account of their age, could expect to attain, but I am sure that it would be an additional incentive to warrant officers to know that in case of exceptional ability there was no limit either in fact or in theory to the rank of commander. I am sure that warrant officers will also very greatly appreciate the reduction of the period twenty years to fifteen years.
The First Lord announced an important change in the matter of the commission of His Majesty's ships, namely, the change to continuous commission from two years' commission. The change to the two years' commission was made with the hope that it would be possible for the ship's crew to remain intact during the two years' commission, and it was not considered that that could be done for a longer period than two years, but as the First Lord has pointed out, that hope has been falsified, and owing to promotions and many other reasons it has been found practically impossible to maintain a ship's crew in its original unit. Therefore I do think that the change is a desirable one, and will make for efficiency. By continuous com- 1907 mission I presume the First Lord means —perhaps he will make it a little clearer —that there will never be any general change at all except on foreign stations?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Yes. Individual officers and men will not remain on the ship longer than three years, but the ship's company will continue permanently during that time.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
That is very important and desirable. That is just the point I wanted to get—that it would not be possible for one individual on a ship to remain there an indefinite number of years.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
As I understand there will be no case of an individual remaining more than three years in any ship. That seems to be a very satisfactory arrangement. I am particularly glad of the change with regard to the nucleus crew, which had learnt its duty upon a particular ship, and was bodily taken from that ship when some newly-built ship of similar size was commissioned, as there was no encouragement at all to that crew to perform their exceptionally difficult and trying duties of doing the whole work of the ship's crew, when their numbers were very largely reduced, and never being able to look forward to taking their own ship, the ship on which those duties have been performed, into action. I would like to say one word on the Memorandum appended to the First Lord's statement which was issued in last January on a point as to which I feel very strongly, the formation of the War Staff. The language used in that Memorandum is admirable in itself, but it did not convey to my mind a precise understanding on the footing on which the War Staff would be in regard to sea-time rules. I regard the sea time rules as the sheet anchor of our Navy. No single unit, no factor in our naval organisation has been of such enormous value to the British Naval Service as the sea-time rule, and I hope that no change of any kind will be made, even of the smallest character, in the sea-time rule, and that the sea-time rule will to the fullest extent apply to 1908 every officer of the Naval War Staff, as it applies to every other officer in the Service. I hope that the First Lord will reassure us on that point, because, once any inroad is made on the sea-time rule, I believe that the eventual consequences to the Navy will be nothing short of disastrous. I also hope that nothing will be done in any sense to elevate the Naval War Staff into a privileged class of officers. I feel most strongly on that point, that there is a danger there. It has, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, worked untold mischief in the Army, and it is of the most vital importance that the spirit of the sea Service should be as it is to-day, and that all ranks shall be capable, as they have in all times past proved themselves capable, of carrying out the service that may fall upon them. There must be a selection for particular work, but it will be possible, I believe, with care and judgment, to obtain from the proposals of this Naval War Staff all the results which the right hon. Gentleman hopes for without invading those two most important principles, the "sea-time rule" and "no privileged class among the officers of the Navy." I will go so far as to say that all the advantages which he hopes from the new Naval War Staff regulations would be too dearly obtained if obtained at the sacrifice of either of those two principles.
With regard to the appointment of the new Civil Lord, in my recollection, as things used to be, the work which the new Civil Lord has to do was sufficiently accomplished by the Civil Lord and the Financial Secretary of the day. Of course the work has grown since then. It is for the First Lord and the Board of Admiralty to know whether it has grown beyond the capacity of the Parliamentary staff. But I must say that I do personally think that the Parliamentary Members of the Board of Admiralty are better doing their duty to their country by working on ordinary Admiralty duty than at ordinary party political work, and, if that were recognised, there would be more time available for them to carry out their different duties at the Admiralty and less necessity for the appointment of new non-political Civil Lords. I admit that there is a special difficulty in Admiralty contract work. I do not think that it is quite sufficiently realised from what point of view that difficulty arises. We have had inquiries constantly made here, and inquiries constantly will be made, questions will be asked and objections taken, on the ground of trade rings, an armour 1909 ring and a gun-mountings ring. The real trouble at the back of that difficulty is simply this. The Admiralty has two kinds of requirements. In one class of requirements it goes into the market like any other buyer. You can have open competition for all ordinary stores, even for the hulls of ships, and much of a warlike character. You can go into the ordinary market where there is ordinary competition, and there you are perfectly clear of the trouble and danger of the ring. But when you come to such requirements as gun-mountings and armour, you are the only customer. There is no such thing as a market for armour or gun-mountings. You must construct them in your own country. There is no world market. What would be the value of gun-mountings or armour which were being constructed in a foreign country for a nation at war? And when you have to go into the market as an ordinary customer to ask for such requirements, and enormously costly requirements, as armour or gun-mountings it necessarily follows that the supply must be limited to two or three sources. And instead of there being an open trade competition, under which the Admiralty can go to the market like any other customer and obtain a fair and open tender, what really happens is that there is a sort of partnership between the Admiralty and those who produce these particular requirements, which are specially for the Admiralty and for which they are the only customers.
I admit that the matter is extremely difficult. New safeguards have to be invented. Either the Admiralty has itself to enter upon construction and so test prices or other means have to be obtained to keep prices down and to prevent overcharging by those who must necessarily have the orders conferred to them, and who supply without competition. I admit that it is a matter of extreme business difficulty to get your requirements fulfilled and at the same time to get them at a fair market price. If the Financial Secretary and the Civil Lord find that they are unable to solve that difficulty without other assistance, then it is the bounden duty of the country to supply it, but I do rather doubt whether that necessity ought already to have arisen. So far as the First Lord is concerned, I think he may congratulate himself on the success of his statement, which has been all the more remarkable in that he has not only not aroused any opposition through his straight statement about our naval requirements 1910 and how he means to meet them on our side of the House, but that apparently also he has succeeded in disarming the opposition of those on the opposite side of the House, from whom some very active criticism might have been expected. I think that that is a very great tribute to him, and I congratulate also the hon. Gentlemen opposite who have taken strong views on economy that they do now realise that there may be such a thing as economy which is misplaced. It is no doubt a great tribute to the eloquence and power of clear statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty that he has not only convinced us, who required no convincing, but that he has convinced hon. Members unanimously in all parts of the House that what he asked for the Navy is no more than what is really necessary for the defence of the country, and I think that no man can occupy a prouder position than to feel that when he speaks for the British Navy he has the support of the House of Commons in fulfilling the utmost requirements which the Admiralty can justly demand in the interests of the country.
§ The CIVIL LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. George Lambert)
May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman upon having restored our Naval Debate to a somewhat normal condition. He has not mentioned a word of party politics, and his criticism has been devoted entirely to the welfare of that great service to which he devoted some years of his life. I am very glad indeed to know that we have gone back to a more normal condition in regard to the discussion of our naval position. I have listened to these debates for the last six years, and, generally speaking, there were no party politics dragged in. There was in 1909 a somewhat lively discussion, and I think I may be pardoned for recalling in a word, without any political animus or bias, that we had a Vote of Censure moved on the Government of the day, and a considerable agitation in the Press, and that we were told that the year 1912, in which we now are, would be a year big with import so far as the naval strength of this country was concerned, as compared with foreign Powers. I was very glad last night to hear the hon. Member for Kensington (Mr. Burgoyne), who has devoted a good deal of study to our naval Service, and considerable ability, say, in, regard to the Navy, that to-day we are undoubtedly in a very favourable position. I am glad to have that tribute from a political opponent to the policy of the Board of Admiralty in 1911 the year 1909, when we had a Vote of Censure moved, and things were considerably more lively than they are to-day.
I am very glad indeed that in these Debates we have not had those minute and meticulous comparisons between the strength of this country and that of foreign countries with which we have been familiar. They are generally inaccurate; they were inaccurate in 1909; they are futile; these matters must be considered very gravely by experts, who are aware of the value of our ships in regard to the competing position which they will occupy. There is one other point in connection with the defence of the late Board of Admiralty: There has been a fiction current that the Navy last year was in a state of great unpreparedness. That is pure fiction. The Navy was as instantly ready last year as it is this year, or as it was the year before. It is so easy to make these assertions; they gain currency, and they are accepted as gospel. But I am glad to have been associated with the Admiralty, and during that time, if I may be allowed to say so, those discussions in the Service have ceased, and the Navy has reverted to its old role of the great silent Service. It would be unfair to the distinguished Admiral who was at the head of the Board of Admiralty last year, the great silent Admiral, who is one of the first and living naval strategists, to allege for one moment that the fleet was in a state of unpreparedness. So much for the defence of the Board of Admiralty during the few years before the present Board came into office. The hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir G. Parker) made a complaint to the effect that we were somewhat insensible to the Colonial contributions, and he led us to infer that the Colonial efforts for naval defence was somewhat despised in this country.
I think nothing can be further from the truth. I am quite sure that we welcomed heartily and spontaneously the efforts of Australia and New Zealand in 1909. We on this side of the House have never brought party politics into naval administration, and if Canadian Ministers come here, whatever party they may represent in Canada, they will receive from the Admiralty all the advice, suggestions, and assistance that we can place at their disposal. I have considerable sympathy with my hon. Friend for the Blackfriars Division (Mr. Barnes) when he states, as he 1912 did last night, that we want to get the best brains for the Navy; and I should be sorry to see any money-bar which would prevent our obtaining the best brains for the naval Service. I think it will be well worthy of consideration whether some scheme of scholarships could not be evolved for the benefit of those boys-whose parents cannot pay the fees. Personally I think in the case of the late Board of Admiralty my hon. Friend was rather severe, but we shall be very glad indeed to consider any well thought out suggestion that would be likely to attain that result. My hon. Friend the Member for the Blackfriars Division complained, as he has on several occasions, as to the engineering training which was instituted by the Board of Admiralty; and the hon. Gentleman opposite said that it would not prove to be sufficient and efficient. We are not wedded to that system. Of course, it will be watched with the greatest care. Those who instituted it do not now belong to the Board of Admiralty; fresh brains are brought to the problem, and if any amendment be required it will be made.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
The First Lord of the Admiralty in his statement distinctly said that there was no idea of changing the system of training. Now the hon. Gentleman tells us that they are not wedded to it.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I say that if there is any beneficial change that could be effected I am sure the hon. Gentleman would be the first to suggest its introduction. If any improvement could be made in the system of educational training surely no hon. Gentleman on either side of the House would object.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
No hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House would suggest for a moment that we should not improve the scheme which, admittedly at the time it was framed, was experimental. The distinguished admiral who was the mainspring of that system, is no longer at the Board of Admiralty, but it is being watched by men who are acquainted with the matter, and, if any improvements can be suggested, I feel quite certain we shall have the support of all sides of the House to carry them into effect. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) referred to the question of docking accommodation. He said that he had grave anxiety on the question of docking accommodation for the Fleet. I do not 1913 want to make a party point of it, but if there was this great anxiety, Vote 10 was not discussed at all last year. If hon. Members wish for any information we are quite ready to supply it.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to say so—I know what I am talking about—Vote 10 was not discussed last year, and Vote 10 is the special Vote dealing with dock accommodation.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Of course it was raised in Debate, as it is raised to-day, but the proper time at which to raise this question of docks is on Vote 10, and Vote 10 was never discussed at all last year. Still, I quite admit that it is a most important question, and if I can give the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Pretyman) any information I shall be glad to do so. In fact, he is very well acquainted with the question of dock accommodation, as he happened to be for several years Civil Lord, and I expect he knows pretty well what the docking accommodation is at the present time. The First Lord himself dealt with the question of destroyers, the Coastguard, and personnel, and I need not touch upon those points. I do think we were rather severely treated by the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Lee) when he suggested that the Admiralty was turning itself into a kind of outdoor relief agency in endeavouring to maintain and secure the continuance of the Thames Ironworks. We had first to consider the interests of the shipbuilding industry, because it would have inflicted enormous suffering on the district if they could not have had orders which would have secured the continuance of the Thames Ironworks. I must say that we only did our duty to the country and to the London district, which forms so important a part of the Empire. I think it was rather unjust to accuse us of political coquetting when we did all in our power to continue the Thames Ironworks. The First Lord of the Admiralty gave his close attention to this most important matter, and it is not quite fair to say that the Admiralty was turning itself into a kind of outdoor relief agency. The hon. Member for Fareham stated that three ships out of five of last year's programme have not yet been commenced. 1914 As a matter of fact they were provisionally ordered on 21st December, and as to two of them the date of completion will be February, 1914. Another ship, a little latter in construction, will be ready, I hope, two months afterwards. The point was made that we were spending only £2,000 on one big armoured ship this year. The figure has been quoted over and over again, but I have here the amounts which have been spent in proportion to the whole expenditure on the new programme. The amount spent this year in proportion to the total expenditure on the new programme is 15.2 per cent. If you take this or that part of the programme you can prove anything, but I am taking the whole of the new programme, and I am taking the years 1902–3, 1903–4, and 1904–5. In 1902–3 the proportion was 10.7 per cent.; in 1903–4, 9.5 per cent.; in 1904–5, 8.4 per cent. As I said, we are spending 15.2 per cent. this year, and the charge made by the hon. Gentleman therefore falls absolutely to the ground that we are not spending a fair proportion this year on the new programme.
I make no apology for dealing with this, because it is often stated that we are not providing money for the current programme this year. As a matter of fact, the completion of the destroyers makes a very large draw upon the expenditure of the present year. Let me deal, further, with the point raised by the hon. Member for Kensington relating to the Australian and New Zealand ships. He said there was a scandal attaching to the delay in the completion of those vessels. Of course that is a very serious charge to make against the Admiralty. He accuses us of incompetence. As a matter of fact the charge is absolutely baseless. There has been delay, but it was due to our endeavours to get the best armament for the ships. The type of armour two or three years ago was known as the K. C. armour. A big firm in the North of England produced something better; they had made experiments which resulted in the production of armour better than the K. C. armour. Unfortunately, uniformity of quality failed. They were not able to deliver plates up to the contract sample, and those plates had to be rejected. We have K. C. armour plates, and most of those we have accepted are very much superior. I feel perfectly certain that the hon. Member for Kensington, when he knows the facts, will acquit us of the charge of 1915 incompetence, for we wish to see those ships armed with the best possible armour that can be produced in these days of improvement. I will not go into the question of delay, or the reference by the hon. Gentleman to the "Ajax" and the "Audacious"—matters well known to the House. I should like to say a word or two upon the breaking up of old ships. We have got a profusion of counsel in this matter. Is the Admiralty to get the best possible price for those ships or is it not? As a matter of fact, those ships are sold under three conditions. Armoured ships possessing a potential fighting value are sold to be broken up under bond in the United Kingdom. A modification in this condition has been introduced which allows the removal of the remains of an armoured ship abroad after very extensive breaking-up work has been done under supervision here. As a matter of fact, no big armoured ships have been sold for the last five years except under that condition. There is another class of vessels of smaller potential fighting value which are allowed to be broken up either in the United Kingdom, or abroad, under bond for the due execution of the conditions. It was made the subject of complaint last night that foreign shipbreakers had bought those ships. In some cases they have done so, but in 1910–11 all the old armoured vessels sold in this country were to British shipbreakers, and in 1909 a similar state of affairs occurred. We have to consider at the Admiralty whether we shall stimulate competition and so get the best possible price for the ships. I cannot help thinking, but that it is our duty in this matter to make the best possible price we can for the ships which are no longer of use and have to be scrapped. An hon. Gentleman said last night that he feared that because of the unspent balances in the present year's finances, that the Navy would suffer. As a matter of fact that is quite contrary to the case. We should very much like to have spent the money because that would have obviated the necessity of the First Lord asking for a re-vote of the amount in the coming year's Estimates. Ships have been retarded for causes well-known to the House. There have been considerable labour troubles, and the shipbuilding industry has never been more flourishing in its history. We have had troubles like other people, and I can only hope that those troubles will pass away. I do, how- 1916 ever, assure the hon. Gentleman who made the statement last night, that the Navy has not suffered in the slightest degree. I wish there could be some system of carrying on the balance, but the law says that it passes into the relief of the National Debt, and we have to obey the law in that respect.
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down referred to the question of oil fuel, and said that we had neglected it. I do not think that that statement is quite fair and I do not think we have neglected it. The question is one of enormous complexity and magnitude. You have to go into an examination as to where you will store your oil with safety. You have to consider, above all, your source of supply. If hon. Gentlemen would cast their minds. round the world as to where the greatest sources of oil supply are situate, they will see that it has to be brought very considerable distances oversea. It is essential for the Navy that in any time of danger or emergency there shall be an ample supply of fuel, whether of coal or oil, for propulsion. We have been fully alive to the importance of this matter. The First Lord of the Admiralty has, indeed, appointed a Committee to go into the matter which is now being considered with the greatest care that can be bestowed upon it by the Admiralty. Coal, after all, does exist in South Wales. It is not obtainable at present, as there are troubles, but oil does not exist, at any rate, in any near British territory, and therefore it is essential for us to examine with great care the question of where a supply of fuel is to come from in time of war.
§ Mr. G. LAMBERT
In adjacent or near British territory, and it would have to be brought a long way over the sea. I would ask the hon. Gentleman where he is thinking of?
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
When the right hon. Gentleman says British territory does he mean the British islands?
§ Mr. G. LAMBERT
I said British territory which would be near. All those matters have to be very carefully considered in dealing with the question of fuel. We have been pressed to increase the pay of the dockyard men and of the sailors and of the officers, and generally to make ourselves agreeable all round. Of 1917 course it would be very popular from the point of view of the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Financial Secretary and myself to be able to distribute increased pay to the dockyard men or to the sailors or to the officers, but the gentleman who would have to bear the real brunt of that matter would not be the First Lord of the Admiralty, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who would first have to get the money from the taxpayer. I cannot help thinking that the lion. Gentleman was a little ungracious to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, after all, has constructed a financial instrument which has been successful in paying very large sums for the Fleet, and will pay a very large sum in the coming year for the same purpose. I think we are not sufficiently grateful to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for having, with so slight a derangement of industry, secured those very large sums for naval and other requirements. I believe I have answered nearly all the questions put last night, and the First Lord of the Admiralty will reply later on. It is a pleasure to one who has witnessed these Debates now for a considerable time, to know that the frank, clear and decisive policy of my right hon. Friend has, as the hon. Gentleman has remarked, won universal approval in the House. Personally, and I am quite sure I can speak for all on this side, large naval expenditure is not a matter in which we glory. It is forced upon us by circumstances, and I, for my part, should be very glad indeed if this crying folly of Christendom could be avoided, and if the money spent on armaments, which are primarily for the destruction of human life, could be used to ameliorate the conditions of those who have to work and toil for their daily bread. I can assure my hon. Friends, and especially my hon. Friend whom I interrupted just now, that we do not for one moment like this expenditure, or like to see it, but those are the minimum requirements which appeared to the Board of Admiralty necessary for the protection and security of this country.
§ Mr. SANDYS
I desire to take this opportunity of calling the attention of the Committee and also that of the First Lord of the Admiralty to a somewhat remarkable statement which appeared in the "Times" and in the other London newspapers of 22nd December of last year. Apart from the fact that that statement certainly conveyed a very unwarranted and, in my opinion, an exceedingly objec-1918 tionable personal attack on the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth (Lord C. Beresford), and to that portion of the statement I do not want to allude, I desire to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the fact that that statement published in the London papers of that date also threw a somewhat remarkable light upon the policy of the Admiralty with regard to the promotion of the senior officers of the Navy, and also a somewhat remarkable light upon the relationship existing between the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Board of Admiralty. The statement which appeared in the "Times" and in the other newspapers was, I understand, portion of a letter which had been written by the right hon. Gentleman who had previously occupied the position of First Lord of the Admiralty, to his election agent, Mr. Rhys Stephens, who acted for him, I believe—
§ The CHAIRMAN
These are the Estimates for next year, and the salary of the present Home Secretary is not included in the Navy Estimates, so that we cannot go back into what he previously did or wrote. The hon. Member, of course, is entitled to ask the present First Lord of the Admiralty as to the future policy.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
On the point of Order, is it not customary and usual for the House on Estimates to discuss the administration of the Department during the past year as well as during the year to come?
§ Mr. SANDYS
All I wish to do is to indicate the policy of the Admiralty during the tenure of office of the right hon. Gentleman who has now gone to the Home Office, and then to address an inquiry to the right hon. Gentleman who now occupies the position in order to ascertain from him whether it is his intention to carry on the same policy during the forthcoming year.
§ Mr. SANDYS
My point is that I cannot put that question in fairness to the right hon. Gentleman until I indicate from this quotation, which I should like to read, the policy with which the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Home Secretary during his tenure of office at the Admiralty. That is my object, and if I may be allowed to do so, I desire to call the attention of the Committee to this letter, which 1919 the right hon. Gentleman addressed, as I understand, to his election agent, and which was considered to be of such public importance that, as a matter of fact, it was forwarded to the Press for publication. The quotation to which I wish to allude—
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. McKenna)
On a point of Order, is the hon. Gentleman at liberty to read from a private letter of mine which was communicated inaccurately to the Press without my knowledge, without my authority, and, had I been consulted, certainly against my wish? Moreover, is the hon. Gentleman at liberty to refer to this letter, which in no way relates to Admiralty policy?
§ The CHAIRMAN
Clearly it would not be permissible to bring in a question of a letter written by the Home Secretary, not an official letter on Admiralty policy, and, in fact, a letter written when he was no longer responsible for the Admiralty. The hon. Gentleman will please confine himself to asking the First Lord of the Admiralty as to matters of policy, and not go into details, which, of course, might lead to the necessity for a reply. He will see that it would not be fair for me to allow an ex parte statement and not allow a reply.
§ Mr. SANDYS
I should not dream of saying anything to which there would be any necessity for the right hon. Gentleman to make any reply, but the right hon. Gentleman has already, I should like to point out, given an adequate and full explanation to the Press as to how—
§ Mr. CHARLES DUNCAN
If anything occurs in the speech of the hon. Member that may be assumed to be an attack on the Home Secretary, will the right hon. Gentleman have a right to reply?
§ The CHAIRMAN
He will have if I allow the hon. Member for the Wells Division to proceed, but I would ask the hon. Member not to enter into matters which might divert this Debate, which is purely a Debate on the policy of the Admiralty. Many hon. Members desire to speak on 1920 that subject, and it would be most undesirable to spend our time on matters which are not relevant. The hon. Member can ask his question as to policy without going into other matters.
§ Mr. SANDYS
I wish to ask the present First Lord of the Admiralty whether it is his intention to continue on the same lines of policy with respect to the promotion of officers, in the Navy and the relationship between the First Lord and the Board of Admiralty as were pursued by his predecessor and as are indicated in the quotation which I should like to read.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That would obviously call for a reply. The hon. Member can avoid that by asking the First Lord what is his present policy on the matter.
§ Mr. SANDYS
I should like to address myself to the First Lord of the Admiralty, and to ask him whether he proposes to adopt the same principles with regard to the promotion of senior officers of the Navy and to carry on the same relationship with the Board of Admiralty as have been indicated in the statement made by a predecessor of his? This statement referred to a particular instance, to which I do not wish to allude, as it is merely the question of policy that I wish to elucidate. It was published broadcast in all the papers; consequently I think we have a right to know whether it indicates the present and future policy of the Admiralty or whether the system has been given up. The statement, which had reference to one particular admiral, whose name it is not necessary for me to give, was to this effect—
§ The CHAIRMAN
Will the hon. Member be good enough to put his question in the form of an inquiry as to the policy of the First Lord? As far as I can understand, it can easily be done in that way, as a question dealing with the general policy of the Board.
§ Mr. SANDYS
The question I wish to put is whether the First Lord himself would be in a position to make a statement of this character with reference to any admiral or any senior naval officer about whom the question of employment or promotion came up. Would he feel justified in making a statement of this character—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is directly trying to get round my ruling. It 1921 seems to me that it is a very simple matter to put the inquiry as a question of policy, without quoting something in regard to which I should necessarily be obliged to allow an explanation and reply. That would be wasting the time of the Committee on a matter which is not relevant to the Vote.
§ Mr. SANDYS
What I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman is whether, in his opinion, the question of the employment or the promotion of an admiral is a matter which rests for ultimate decision with the general Board of Admiralty or is the personal prerogative of the First Lord?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like me to reply at once. All appointments in the naval service lie within the direct responsibility of the First Lord of the Admiralty. They are not matters for the Board of Admiralty. They lie within the personal responsibility of the First Lord of the Admiralty to Parliament and the Crown.
§ Mr. SANDYS
I should like further to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in his opinion—I will not allude to the letter, which is probably within the general knowledge of the Committee, as it has appeared in the Press, but I am not allowed to quote it—it is desirable that communications of this character, in which, in my opinion, information with regard to the policy pursued by the Admiralty is conveyed to the public in a most undesirable manner—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is really acting unfairly in trying to raise this matter. It is a matter to which I must allow a reply if I allow him to go on, and I am of opinion that that would be a wrong use of the limited time of the Committee.
§ Mr. SANDYS
What I wish to know is whether it is likely that under the right hon. Gentleman's administration similar communications—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think the hon. Gentleman sufficiently knows my view by now. I trust he will not pursue the matter further.
§ Mr. SANDYS
I will not detain the Committee longer, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, now that we have had a reply from him as to the principle on which his appointments and recommendations are made, will also, in view of 1922 the fact that the charge of misconduct and professional incapacity conveyed in this letter—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I must ask the hon. Member not to pursue these lines. He must surely understand that I should have to allow a reply if I allowed him to put a case of that kind. I have already staled that I do not consider it to be relevant to the current Estimates which we are now discussing.
§ Mr. SANDYS
I will not proceed further with the matter on this occasion, but I certainly hope that some opportunity will be afforded for the matter to be gone more fully into and an explanation of the whole circumstances given, namely, as to how this document unfortunately received publication, and why this attack was made; so that the right hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity of answering the charges which have been made against him.
Mr. MURRAY MACDONALD
The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Pretyman) congratulated the First Lord on the fact that he had met with no opposition to his Estimates this year in any quarter of the House. I intervene now mainly in order to prevent any misunderstanding with regard to that question. Last year I questioned the view taken by the Government in reference to the defensive requirements of the country, and I took the judgment of the House upon the question. That judgment was against the view I held. The Estimates we are now considering, as the First Lord has said, are in all essential respects the same as those of last year. So are the conditions in which they are being presented to the House. I therefore have not thought it proper to put down any Motion, or to take the judgment of the House on any point in the Estimates. I have too much respect for the House to ask it needlessly to reaffirm the judgment which I regard it as having already given. None the less I should like to enter my personal protest against the scale of the Estimates. The First Lord in his statement on Monday justified the Estimates, as his predecessors have done, absolutely and exclusively by reference to what other Powers are doing. It was their example that was compelling us to spend such vast sums upon our Navy and Army. If what other countries were doing was to be the sole influence determining what we ought to do, I should at once admit that the justification given by the First 1923 Lord was convincing and complete. But that is just the point which I, at any rate, have always, in a very feeble way, disputed. It has always appeared to me that we can go too far in following the example of other Powers in this regard. I do not say, and I have never said, that we can afford completely to ignore what they are doing. But it is one thing to say that, and another thing to say that, however far they may go in building up their armaments, whatever may be the burdens they impose upon their people, we must necessarily follow their example, or that in following their example we are really preparing ourselves adequately to meet a war, if a war came.
No one disputes that expenditure on armaments is in itself economically unremunerative; nor does anyone dispute that what we spend on armaments is taken from resources that would otherwise be available for furthering the welfare of the body of the people as a whole. No one disputes that you can carry expenditure on armaments to such a point as to undermine the internal welfare of the people; nor does anyone dispute the fact that by pursuing a policy of unlimited expenditure on armaments you may create internal dangers at least as serious as any dangers that you may have to encounter from outside. We have had that lesson illustrated over and over again in the history of European countries, and I think it is being illustrated in the present day. Germany has been quoted a great deal in these Debates. I, too, will quote it, though I wish to do so with the friendliest feelings to that country, and I hope without saying anything that would indicate any hostility to it. It is the example of Germany upon which the First Lord bases his expenditure on armaments, particularly upon the Navy; it is this example that is held chiefly to justify the First Lord and the Government in proposing their present Estimates. I should like the House to consider for a moment what effect, besides the creation of a great Navy and a great Army, that expenditure is producing in Germany itself.
The expenditure of the German Empire has grown within the memory of some of us, and since the Empire was created, more than sixfold. It has grown very largely on account of the greatly increasing expenditure upon armaments. The debt of the Empire has grown from nothing to proportions which, though very much less than 1924 ours, are none the less very considerable. You have in Germany also a constantly spreading discontent among the mass of the people, due, I will not say altogether, but certainly due mainly to the burden that is being imposed upon them in consequence of the policy that their own Government is pursuing in regard to armaments. We are, I think, entitled to draw the lesson from Germany as to the effects that are being produced in that country by that very policy which the First Lord tells the House we must imitate, and which we have been told all through these years that it is our duty to imitate. It is not merely that there is widespread and deep-seated discontent in the German Empire at the present time in consequence of the burdens imposed upon the people by the naval and military armaments maintained by that Empire, but you have an immense section of that people hostile, not merely to the policy of the Government of that country, but hostile to the Government itself. This is true, not merely of a very large section of the German people; it is true of a very large section of all peoples in every one of the great military countries in Europe. The Governments are creating for themselves an internal danger, at least as serious, in my opinion far more serious, than any danger to which they are exposed by an attack from outside. That is one reason that has always influenced me—I am afraid I do not express it very clearly to the House—in holding that we ought to keep a stricter supervision over the distribution of our general national resources among the several needs of the country than we have done during the last six years, or than we have, in fact, done during the last twenty years.
Would the House contrast, for a moment the care and intelligence which we are devoting year after year to the best means of protecting ourselves against attack from abroad, with the care and intelligence we are devoting to problems of a domestic character that await solution, and that at least demand as much, care and as much intelligence as the problems of defence? We all of us listened with the greatest admiration to the First Lord's statement of the changes he was making in the administration of the Navy with a view to the improvement of its efficiency and the completeness of its organisation. Is there not also a duty on this House, which necessarily conflicts with this other expenditure, to take some care for the interests of education in this; country? The interests of education are 1925 more closely connected with the permanent interests of this country, with its real greatness and future influence in the world, than are the means of external defence, although I know we cannot afford to neglect those means. We are starving our educational system. We are neglecting educational organisation.
We expend money, and we give care and intelligence, without stint or limit, to the problems affecting our position amongst the nations of the world to the detriment of the problems that arise and confront us in regard to our internal interests. We have neglected our housing problem. We have failed to watch and study our labour problems. There is not a single problem connected with defence that has not been considered at the Admiralty by the Committee set up by the First Lord and which has not, to a certain extent, been anticipated and forestalled; but no similar care or intelligence applied by the Government as a whole has ever been directed to anticipating and forestalling the difficulties that arise in the internal administration of our country. That is another reason why I have always regretted both the amount of money and the amount of intelligence and care that has been sacrificed to the maintenance of armaments. I should like to go a step further. I once said in this House that I believed that we could in this country safely enough afford to reduce the strength of our Navy. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh!"] I still adhere to that. I believe we could not only do it safely, but with enormous gain both to ourselves and to the world.
Mr. MURRAY MACDONALD
Yes, the world. I do not fear to say that, although I know it may be said that my courage is greater than my knowledge. I am certain myself that the main argument that the German Government uses at this moment in order to induce the German people to accept the added burdens which it is now asking to be allowed to impose upon them is the argument of what Great Britain is doing.
Mr. MURRAY MACDONALD
The right hon. Gentleman thinks not? He thinks the German Government does not use the argument of our proposals with regard to the Navy as the main justification for the acceptance of their own proposals by the German people?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I think the German argument is based rather on what they should have, rather than what we should have.
Mr. MURRAY MACDONALD
Then I am afraid the First Lord and I do not derive our information from the same sources. Certainly from the papers I have read I have drawn the conclusion that the argument used throughout the length and breadth of Germany— surely it is common knowledge—is that the Germans must build because Great Britain is building, and that Great Britain is threatening Germany.
Mr. MURRAY MACDONALD
The right hon. Gentleman says we are ready to stop. I know what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I know he made a most ingenious suggestion in his speech, but I am afraid it will not be as effective as it is ingenious. [An HON. MEMBER: "Let us hope it will."] Well, I must express my fear that it will not. But to return to my argument, I repeat that there is nothing the German Government would more dread at this moment than a bold reduction of the building policy undertaken by this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh."] I am convinced we could do it without any risk to the interests of this country. I come to my final point. I assert that the policy that we are pursuing now, and that we have pursued any time since 1894 is a policy inconsistent with the old policy of this country. I am certain there was not one of the great statesmen of the nineteenth century who would have approved of the course we are now pursuing. They never allowed that it was the example of other countries that should be the sole dominating influence in the framing of their Naval or Military Estimates. On the contrary, they constantly watched the action of other Governments, with a view to determine whether or not they were putting pressure upon their people that was likely to produce domestic weakness and discord, and when any indication of that presented itself they drew the line, and they consistently asserted that it was the first duty of the Government of this country to look after the internal welfare of the people of this country. It was largely due to a consistent adherence to that policy that the British people have been more loyal, more 1927 contented, more ready to bear the strain of war, when war came, than any other people in the world. I have protested, I will continue to protest, against the course the Government are pursuing, on the ground that it is not really necessary in order to maintain our interests abroad, and that it is distinctly detrimental to our interests at home.
§ Mr. YERBURGH
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down referred to the opinions of the great statesmen of past generations, and said he was quite certain that there was no statesman who would ever have supported the present policy of His Majesty's Government. I have the good fortune to have here a quotation from a speech made by Mr. Pitt, on 9th February, 1790. Mr. Pitt said:—It is bad economy to attempt to attack in a state of weakness; thus by miserable saving utterly to incur the hazard of great expense.My hon. Friend below me reminds me that Mr. Cobden, an authority which I am sure will be agreeable to hon. Members opposite, declared in one of his great speeches that he would be prepared to spend one hundred millions of money on the Navy rather than allow France, which was at that time our possible adversary, to put her fleet on an equal footing with ours, because her doing so would argue some sinister design.
Mr. MURRAY MACDONALD
I entirely agree. I have never said we should not prepare ourselves to meet any probable attack from any Power. I yield to no one in my belief that we ought to maintain our Navy. Mr. Pitt, of course, was looking forward at the time he made that speech to a great war. When I spoke I had in my mind the men of the nineteenth century, Mr. Peel and Mr. Gladstone.
§ Mr. YERBURGH
The two-Power standard was founded upon the possible combination and antagonism of France and Russia at that time against our country. I think it is quite clear that the hon. Gentleman opposite in his zeal for economy would disregard the teachings of history. There is no Member of the House who will not agree with the remarks in reference to the waste on armaments. The point was put by the First Lord in his great 1928 speech introducing these Estimates. But I would ask the hon. Gentleman, if he has not already done so, to read the delightful book, almost an epoch-making book, by Sir Norman Angel. He puts forward the folly of armaments, and says no country gains by the defeat of an enemy, but is rather a loser. But again and again, in that book, he lays it down that owing to the present condition of European thought he would not vote for reducing our armaments by one single sovereign. He goes further. If I was to quote him in this respect it would be said I was arousing hostile feeling against Germany, but he says, in a letter to the "Spectator," since embodied in his book, what I would not have said, that he is in fear of German aggression. I am one of those who laments most deeply that any particular Power has to be brought into our discussions, but I could not follow my Noble and gallant Friend (Lord Charles Beresford) when he charged the First Lord of the Admiralty with girding at Germany. I regret very much indeed to find that my Noble and gallant Friend is smitten to-day in the house of his friends, because I see a quotation given from a German paper, the "Germania," in the "Times." which describes my Noble and gallant Friend, who is devoted to Germany, apart from these miserable disputes, as "the grim enemy of Germany."
The House listened, I am sure with the greatest interest, and received with approbation the remarks of the First Lord with regard to our being prepared to reduce our output of battleships if Germany did the same. He said he would like to see a blank page in the book of misrepresentation—very admirable words. I should like to point out to him that a similar speech was made in November, 1899, by the late Lord Goschen, who was then at the head of the Admiralty. He told the country and the world that we were prepared, if other countries would reduce their armaments, to reduce ours. That speech has never been withdrawn, but has been repeated with great force and picturesqueness by the present First Lord of the Admiralty. That is our position—nay, more. The hon. Member opposite suggested we should reduce our battleships. We have done that. There is nothing we have not tried in order to escape from this ruinous competition. This was done by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, but the answer that was made was an increase on the part of Germany. It is a hopeless position. To my mind one 1929 thing is absolutely clear above all others, namely, that we have to regard our great responsibilities not only in the North Sea, but throughout the whole of the Empire. We have the Mediterranean and the Pacific. We cannot shut our eyes to all these great possibilities, and we must see what is best for ourselves.
This standard of two keels to one has been attacked very scathingly by my Noble Friend. I do not stand here in sackcloth and ashes, but rather in a spirit of contentment and gratification of mind at a standard which has been devised by people of distinction. I believe the gentleman claiming to be the originator of the standard is a well-known Member of the Radical party and a leader of Radical thought. It is Mr. Stead who claims to be the originator of the two keels to one standard. After all, you must have a standard if for this reason alone. If anyone to-day reads the history of naval administration he will find that in the past, on occasion after occasion when the Admiralty have asked for financial assistance sufficient to enable them to develop the Fleet and make it equal to the duties it would be called upon to perform, they were told by leaders of the Government concerned—both parties are equally criminal—that the time was inopportune for finding the money. How were the public to judge? If you have a standard the public can judge, and for that purpose alone a standard is admirable. I believe, the First Lord will contradict me if I am wrong—we have practically two keels to one now. I know we have a margin of ships over the two-Power standard, taking the United States and Gtermany into account. I say we are in a most favourable position at the present time, and I do not want to see that position worsened; and I venture to say if the two keels to one is taken, and turning to the years 1914 to 1920, if you allow a margin of 20 per cent, superiority in European water over the forces of the Triple Alliance, you will find that in 1914 you will have only six battleships over, and that in 1920 on the same standard of two keels to one and the same measure of 20 per cent. over the Triple Alliance, you will find you have only got some eight ships over in the Pacific and elsewhere. Is that too much? I think not.
I am not myself personally persuaded by what the First Lord has said with regard to the margin to be maintained, yet I do admit we have a perfectly safe provision 1930 at the present time, and I believe the provision he is making will be sufficient, if properly carried out, with the reservation he has made that we must keep a jealous eye on every possible development of other forces. With that reservation I believe the margin is sufficient. Nobody would say to Germany that she does not require a fleet for her developing commerce and for the purposes of defence. She is the best judge as to the size of the fleet she requires. It is not for us to tell her. She has decided what she wants. She has in the preamble of her Navy Law told the world she must have a fleet strong enough in case of war with the strongest naval Power to enable her navy not only to guard against loss, but to threaten the supremacy of that strongest Power. Thus Germany has been an offender in building against us; we have not been the offender.
Coming from the general subject to some details, may I be allowed to congratulate the First Lord upon this? I was surprised at the impression his speech made upon his own side. I saw one Gentleman opposite (the hon. Member for Montrose), a stalwart economist and a rigid guardian of the public purse, rise, and I trembled for the First Lord. I thought it was Balaam coming to curse, but it turned out Balaam had come to bless. More than that, when my Noble Friend charged the First Lord with being too strong in his reference to Germany, the hon. Member for Montrose threw his cloak over him and protected him, so powerful evidently was the influence exercised by the First Lord's speech.
§ Mr. ROBERT HARCOURT
When I spoke I thought it was absolutely necessary to deal with the attacks of the Noble Lord, which I think were most unfair and unjust, and calculated to do great damage abroad.
§ Mr. YERBURGH
I appreciate the work of the hon. Member in coming to the rescue of his leader. I now turn to the question of gunnery. I listened with unfeigned satisfaction to what the First Lord said on that subject. I understood him to say he had a Committee sitting going into the whole question, and that he proposed to ask the House to grant him further money. When we consider that it is upon the men behind the guns that the whole fate of our Empire rests we can understand that the First Lord is justified in asking for this money, and I feel sure the House will grant it. You must have a 1931 gun platform, but it is upon the men behind the guns that the fortunes of war depend. I congratulate the First Lord upon his recognition of the absolute necessity of halving a Fleet and destroyers to patrol the North Sea. He puts a responsible officer over that Fleet, whose duty it will be to keep a constant guard over that sea. He has decided to adopt Prince Bismarck's advice to his country, that when fighting the Triple Alliance Germany must always be on the deck. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman most warmly.
I want to ask him one or two questions. One is with regard to the amount to be allotted to the battleship programme. It was dealt with shortly a while ago by a representative of the Admiralty, but I did not understand the right hon. Gentleman to deal with the question why so very small an amount was allowed for one of the battleships of the new programme. It appears that ship cannot possibly be completed before 1915. I would also ask whether something more cannot be done in reference to an improvement in the pay of the officers and men. The hon. Member spoke sympathetically at the work done by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in finding money for great social advancement, and for the expenditure upon the Navy. We must, however, remember that the pay of those in the Navy has not been increased for the last sixty years. You have increased the pay of the Metropolitan Police and those in the merchant service. Nay, you have done more. You thought yourselves so worthy that you have voted yourselves a handsome yearly allowance. What have you done for the men of the Fleet? I hope the First Lord will consider whether he cannot devise some means of dealing with this problem. With regard to our submarines, I wish to ask whether tinder the present regulations any system has been devised for providing reserve crews for the submarines, because this is a hard occupation, involving great strain on body and mind.
I do not wish to take part in controversial matters beyond saying that I agree with every word that was said by the First Lord on Monday last, and I do not agree with the Noble Lord opposite, who said that that speech was provocative. If it were possible to circulate that speech in pamphlet form amongst the German people, I think it 1932 would rid their minds of much of the misunderstanding which at present exists. I would suggest to the Anglo-German Friendship Society that instead of holding meetings throughout the country and passing resolutions, they might devote their efforts to circulating a translation of the First Lord's speech in Germany, and then they would be going a long way towards bringing about a good understanding between the two countries. Personally, I see no hope of an ending to this rivalry in armaments until there exists in Germany Parliamentary government in its true sense. I rose to refer very briefly to the policy of the Board of Admiralty with regard to the construction of certain vessels in which the element of superior gun power and armour is sacrificed to that of speed. I refer more particularly to the vessels known as battle-cruisers. There has been launched to-day at Jarrow a battle-cruiser named after Her Most Gracious Majesty, Queen Mary. I merely wish to draw a comparison between that particular type of battle-cruiser and our latest type of battleship, and for the purpose of that comparison, I will take the "Queen Mary" and the battleship "Ajax," which is shortly to be launched. The "Queen Mary" has a displacement of 27,000 tons with a horse-power of 75,000; her speed is 28 knots, and she carries eight 13.5 guns and sixteen 4 in. guns. Her armour main belt is 9 in., thickness above 6 in., and in gun positions 9 in. The estimated cost of the "Queen Mary" is £1,940,764. Now take the battleship "Ajax," which is to be launched at Greenock to-morrow. In this case the displacement is 23,000 tons, and the horse-power 31,000. That, however, is not a matter of much importance to my argument. The speed is 21 knots, which is 7 knots less than the "Queen Mary." The armament consists of ten 13.5 guns, or two more than in the battle-cruiser. She has twenty 4 in. guns, the armour main belt is 12 in., the thickness of armour above is 9 in., and on heavy gun positions it is 10 in. The estimated cost of the "Ajax" is £1,745,087.
I added to my figures the estimated liability, but if it is without armament it certainly does make a difference. According to my figures, the cost of the "Ajax" is £195,677 more than the "Queen Mary." The conclusion I draw from this battle-cruiser, the "Queen Mary," is that she gains 7 knots 1933 in speed, but she sacrifices two 13.5 guns, four 4 in. guns, and she sacrifices 3 in. of armour. I do not propose to enter into a discussion as to the relative merits of battleships and battle-cruisers, or of gun-firing, armour, or speed. Personally, I agree with an able writer who said:—The gun it the chief means of offence and the best kind of defence.I want to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty what particular part in this strategical and tactical scheme these battle-cruisers are destined to play. Several methods of employment have been suggested. For instance, it has been said that they should be employed as a sort of Expeditionary Force to be sent off suddenly in squadrons to attack or defend points of strategical importance, but if that be so I think it is a matter for consideration whether what they gain in speed for that purpose will make up for what they lose in respect of armament. As the First Lord has intimated that he will answer this question, I do not wish to detain the House any longer upon this point. No doubt there is some good reason for the construction of these battle cruisers, but if there is it has not yet been disclosed to the Committee. As one who believes that gun power is more important than speed, I ask the First Lord whether these battle cruisers are really necessary as units of our Fleet, and if so, how he proposes to use them?
Mr. SHIRLEY BENN
I am not rising for the purpose of criticising these Estimates, although I regret that they do not provide a larger sum of money in order that the dockyard men and sailors might get an increase in their pay so that the best class of men might still be induced to join the Navy. My object is to draw the attention of the Committee to the new condition of affairs which must exist as soon as the Panama Canal is completed, and on this point I hope to obtain the sympathetic interest of the First Lord of the Admiralty. The old American Trans-Isthmian Canal was always expected to be completed by private enterprise, and neither Great Britain nor America were to erect any fortifications along the canal. Unfortunately private enterprise failed, and it was found necessary that the American Government should complete the Panama Canal, and naturally and justly America must protect it. I have not risen for the purpose of attacking the Panama Canal, but simply to review the condition of affairs which will exist when it is com- 1934 pleted. After it is completed ships going from New York to Sydney and Australia will have 3,000 miles less to traverse than they have to-day, and New York will be 2,000 miles nearer to Sydney than it is Liverpool to-day. As a natural result we must expect that the trade from America, and from Canada to the countries lying in the East, must increase very largely, and as long as we are one of the great carrying countries of the world we must expect that our ships will trade from Canadian and American ports to the East using the Panama Canal.
What will our position be under those circumstances? Not only shall we have to defend our ships, but we shall have to defend our Colonies lying between Bermuda and British Guiana, having an area almost as great as that of the United Kingdom and greater than England and Wales. Those ships trading from Eastern Canada and the Eastern American ports using the Panama Canal will have to travel down through the Windward Passages, and they will be very liable to attack by European countries if we should be at war with them, and America happens to be a neutral country. My object is to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty if he has realised the importance of Jamaica to the Navy under these circumstances? Admiral Mahan has already pointed out that Jamaica occupies a great strategic point in the Caribbean Sea, and it would be of great advantage for the Navy to be able to use Jamaica as its base. In certain circumstances, unless we construct a coal depot and dockyard at Jamaica, the Navy will find itself at a great disadvantage. Therefore I hope that the First Lord of the Admiralty will take into consideration the necessity for establishing a coal depot in Jamaica, and providing, not only a dock for the ships of the Royal Navy, but also a commercial dock which our vessels trading from American ports to the East can use; and that he will do it now, so that when the Panama Canal is built nobody can say we are doing it for the purpose of waging war against countries in America. It would be the standard coal depot for the trade going through the Panama Canal out to the East, and it should be properly fortified and could be used as a base for the Navy.
§ Mr. CHARLES DUNCAN
I desire to draw attention to the position of the artificers in the Navy. It is true we do not seem to have made very much progress or to have made any great impression upon 1935 those who sit upon the Treasury Bench; but I do not think the fault lies at our door, because there have been many changes and many removals from the Admiralty to, I suppose, better positions. There are in the Navy, roughly, 3,000 men who are called engine-room artificers. We have heard a good deal about two keels to one, the two-Power standard, and the man behind the gun; but neither ships nor men will fight unless there is somebody to look after the machinery. If the engines of the ship are not capable of being operated, that ship will not last very long in the face of an energetic enemy. When all the schemes of mice and men are exhausted, the strength of the Navy inevitably lies with the human element on our warships, and nobody will dispute that the man who looks after the engineering part of the vessel must necessarily play a very highly important part in the ship. These men have been trained in the engineering shops up and down the country. They served their time to the engineering and kindred trades before they joined the Navy. They were induced to join the Navy by certain prospects being held out to them, one of them being that they should gradually be promoted to perform what are called watch-keeping duties. Latterly there has been a new scheme put into operation, arising, I suppose, out of the Cawdor Memorandum. I have read the whole of that Memorandum. I find only five persons were examined, and no man, so far as I could see, was invited from the artificer rank to give any evidence. One can only come to the conclusion that the opinions of these men were not worth a moment's consideration. Even amongst the five who were examined there were some who, at any rate, were certainly not favourable to the change. There is in the Navy some 27,000 stokers.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Dr. Macnamara)
§ Mr. C. DUNCAN
The idea of the Cawdor Memorandum was to give the best men amongst the stokers a certain amount of training, and to make them, in a sense, accessories to the engine-room artificers, and for the mechanicians to practically take the watch-keeping duties out of the hands of the engine-room artificers. I can understand those who have to run the Navy desire to open avenues of promotion to the stokers, and I have every reason to sympathise with the desire of the stokers, 1936 but I know, and I suppose the right hon. Gentleman (Dr. Macnamara) knows, that the stokers largely desire—and it is the only claim. I have heard them put forward —an increase in their wages. We never hear anything from the Treasury Bench in regard to that case. A certain number of stokers are to be taken from stoking, although they joined the Navy to stoke, and they are to be given two years' mechanical training in certain ships which are fitted with machinery, and the men who are to teach them their new duties are very largely the men who are afterwards to be superseded by them. The position of the artificer engineer is being very seriously and gravely menaced. If the stoker mechanician is to be promoted to watch-keeping duties, the prospects of the artificer and the artificer engineer are very seriously menaced indeed. I would like to give an illustration from the mercantile marine, because, after all, you have the same class of men in the mercantile marine as in the Navy. The artificers in the Navy are exactly the same kind of men who develop into first, second, chief, and superintending engineers in the mercantile marine. We say that by taking away the watch-keeping duties from the artificer engineer they are being largely deprived of all chance of promotion. We say this because we know that promotion very largely depends upon the watch-keeping duties.
The scheme brought into operation as the result of the Cawdor Memorandum is not new, though it is supposed to be, and though it is foisted upon the Navy as a new scheme. My experience as an engineer tells me that the scheme is at least thirty years old. It has been tried in the mercantile marine, and it has hopelessly broken down. It is amusing that the Board of Trade, which governs the mercantile marine, and over which only a short time ago the First Lord of the Admiralty was presiding with his usual genius, lays down specific conditions with regard to the men who aspire to occupy positions as engineers in the mercantile marine. It lays it down definitely that these men shall serve at least four years in the engineering shops of the country, that they shall have a certain experience at sea, that then they shall be permitted to be examined, and that, if they are successful in their examination, they shall have Board of Trade certificates. This is the scheme in operation in the mercantile marine, which is not run for 1937 fun, but for profit, and we ask that the scheme which has been found by thirty years' experience to be the best scheme should be adopted in the Navy. If we are told, as we have been told, that the shipowners would not look at the scheme in operation, in the Navy and would not touch it with a 40 ft. pole, I think we are bound to protest against it. It will be granted that in the working of machinery a great deal depends upon the man who is in charge of that machinery. Experience teaches that if the man who is in charge has had an extended mechanical training he can by his knowledge and his experience handle, and humour the machinery so that repairs may be largely prevented.
We shall be placed in this position in the future. The stoker mechanician will be placed on watch-keeping duties, and he will be the superior officer of the man who has had the greatest experience and who, in the past, has taught him to be the man he is. The illustration would not be an inapt one if I took the profession of the right hon. Gentleman himself. It would be a rather strange proceeding to argue that the caretakers of schools and school attendance officers should be promoted to inspectors under the Board of Education, and that school teachers should be kept to their proper duties of teaching the children in the schools and be debarred from that opportunity of promotion. That, in my judgment, is a complete and an exact analogy to the cases of the artificer engineers in the Navy, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take a little notice of my illustration. I venture to say, if the right hon. Gentleman were sitting on these benches, he would be the first to protest against such a scheme being brought into operation. I can quite understand, if he were in our position, he would feel as keenly as we feel the position in which the members of our trade are being placed as the result of this Memorandum. We are told there is some gonius in the scheme. I have here a quotation from the Cawdor Memorandum which discloses the genius which exists, or which is supposed to exist, in the scheme. I must confess that I have never, in all my experience as a trained engineer, come across a paragraph which contains so great a degree of nonsense. It runs as follows:—It appears that, under the present system, the engine room artificers, who are skilled mechanicians of various trades, are employed on board ship to some extent in doing watch-keeping duties and engine driving, which is largely taught them after having joined the Service.1938 It is, in my judgment, the greatest farce that could be put into that number of words to suggest these men are taught the duties after they joined the Navy. The experience of these men is to be in charge of machinery. They can not only make but they can operate and drive the whole of the machinery that makes the very machinery which is in the hull of the warship. Then it goes on to say:—and which itself requires no very considerable degree of workmanship or mechanical training.There again I question that statement. After all, these men, who have served their time in the various engineering shops in the country, are from their youth taught to drive and to make the whole of the machinery that is in the hull of a warship—In consequence, while they are so employed, their workmanship and mechanical ability is not being utilised to the best advantage, and the long apprenticeship which they have served in their various trades is being wasted. It is a matter for consideration whether competent engineers and drivers and stokehold engineers cannot be trained from the stoker ratings of the Fleet, and the artificer class in this way be free to perform their more legitimate occupations in the ships' workshops.That raises the whole position which I am ready to put. I venture to say that if these stoker mechanicians are seriously to be put to watch-keeping duties it will land our artificers in the Navy in this delightful position. The individual who will give the instructions over the artificer will be the superior officer. The superior officer will be the stoker mechanician on watch-keeping duties at the particular time the accident happens. The artificer who has been trained in the construction of all kinds of machinery will be under the instructions of a man not so trained, and will have to take his orders from him in the case of repairs necessary in case of a breakdown. I want to suggest that the position will be farcical. A somewhat identical system has been created quite recently in the Post Office. A certain accident took place and the skilled men absolutely refused to do anything until they were ordered by a less skilled man to do so. The man did not understand the business, and was afraid of the responsibility, and the result was that the skilled men were allowed to do the work as their own common sense and experience taught them. I venture to say that exactly the same thing will eventually take place in the Navy.
It is a matter of common knowledge that our warships are largely becoming simply boxes of machinery. We have this large number of stokers, and the Admiralty desire 1939 to give them promotion. I suggest they should make inquiry into the system which obtains in the mercantile marine, and see what promotion is given to these men there. Another problem about which we have heard a good deal in these Debates is one which is going to have, I think, an enormous effect on the personnel of the Navy. We see now that there is an engine being introduced into the mercantile marine, the Diesel oil engine, which constitutes one of the most startling factors in engineering. There is no end to the change. It is illimitable, and we do not know what progress may be made in the future. No doubt we are very near to the position when it is more than possible, and much more than likely, that practically the greater part of our Navy will be driven by oil, and you are going to be placed in this position, that you will have 35,000 stokers in the Navy with absolutely no stoking to do. That is a problem which should be considered by the Admiralty to-day, and considered before they begin to reduce in position the men they have induced to join the Navy as artificers, men skilled and versed in the making, working, and repairing of machinery in the Navy. Before they begin to dethrone these men they should realise the dangerous course they are on, and they should realise that the schemes they are inaugurating in the Navy may bring them to an exceedingly difficult position within even the next two years. However the Admiralty may consider the matter, they have every reason to act with very great caution. They do not seem to have realised the possibilities in the engineering trade, and they may very easily land themselves into the position of having 35,000 men on their hands with no stoking to do.
Even the boilers in the Navy to-day are very largely lumps of machinery. The boiler that was in use ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago is disappearing. The boiler of to-day is simply an array of pipes. We have an increasing amount of oil fuel being used to get up steam quickly in the Navy, and, to me at any rate, it seems obvious the possibilities are, that, instead of requiring stokers in the Navy in the years to come, you may simply require an increased number of skilled engineers to look after, not only your engines but your boilers. We argue that prevention is better than cure. It sounds very nice, of course, to suggest that the artificer should be kept on the duties for which he primarily entered the Navy, which, of 1940 course, means that the skilled hands employed in the Navy shall be kept solely and entirely to the business of repairing break-downs in the Navy, and, so far as the chances of promotion are concerned be practically up against a stone wall. Naturally we object to that, and the men object to it also. We have been told in this House that the argument against artificers in the Navy was that some of them were members of trade unions. I do not know whether that is true or not. One would suppose, when listening to replies to questions upon this matter, that there is a sub-stratum of truth in it, because it seems to me that a dead-set is made against this particular class of men, and against no other section in the Navy. I think we are in duty bound to protest against the system in operation. We think—we may be wrong —that the men who join the Navy as artificers have just as much right to an equal chance of promotion as the same type of men who are joining the mercantile marine.
We know that to-day you cannot get artificers to join the Navy as Freely as you once did. Is there not a reason for that? Can you expect a young man who has served his time in an engineering shop, and who knows that the chances of promotion in the mercantile marine will enable him to reach a higher, much more responsible, and very much better paid position, than he could hope to get in the Navy—can you be surprised that this man refuses to join the Navy. We know that an advertisement has appeared in the papers recently offering a reward of 10s. to anybody who can secure a real live engineer to join the Navy. It would be the easiest matter in the world to get artificers to join the Navy provided the Admiralty undertook to treat the men properly and give them proper chances of recognition and promotion. It would be one of the easiest matters in this world to obtain an unlimited supply of young men from the engineering shops if the conditions were as they ought to be in the Navy. I consequently think we are right in constantly pressing this question upon the House. Members of the House who have experience in engineering or who, like the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth, have experience in the Navy, will sustain us in this appeal which we make year after year. We get the usual stereotyped reply to our appeals; a reply which commits nobody to anything. I am getting a little bit tired 1941 of this kind of thing. I think I have a right to be jealous for the trade in which I was brought up, in the same way as the Secretary to the Admiralty, if he too were seated below the Gangway, would be inclined to be in regard to his profession: he too would use the arguments I am using to-night.
I ask seriously and earnestly that some inquiry should be made into this business. We believe we have a very real and substantial grievance that is causing a considerable amount of uneasiness and unrest among these men. We have patiently pleaded with the Admiralty to give attention to this matter, but so far we have only received happy phrases and pleasant sentences which lead us nowhere. We are therefore bound to persist in attempting to draw attention to this matter, and I ask that, instead of being given the usual soft answer that turneth away wrath, we shall have an understanding that this matter shall be inquired into. We object to the specially trained stoker being placed in a superior position to the man who all his life has been a trained and skilled man; we object to the artificer engineer being denied a proper share of promotion. We object to the artificer being weeded out of the Navy; we believe the workshops of this country can produce men with all the varied experience that cannot fail to be of the greatest possible service inside the Navy. We ask that these men should not be denied their chances; we ask that no Morant Circular shall be issued against the chances of promotion of these men. That is our request. I hope it will be treated as serious business, and I trust we shall have some assurance that inquiries will be made into the case of these men.
§ Mr. CROFT
I am not going to follow the hon. Member who last spoke in the various points he raised, although I find myself in cordial agreement with many of his remarks. I want to refer very briefly to the point of view put forward by the hon. Member for Falkirk who spoke earlier on. Every one in this House is well aware of the fact that the burden of armaments on this nation is a very great and serious burden, and it is admitted that the money could be spent very much better in other ways provided there were no armaments in other parts of the world. I speak on this question from the Imperial standpoint. Although I do not believe that the First Lord of the Admiralty in any way exceeded his duty, I 1942 think his statement was a bold and courageous one, and I hold, too, that throughout the British Empire his clear exposition of the situation will be received with gratitude. Neither do I think that anything is to be gained to the people of this country or to other countries by failing to face the situation as it is. I believe we gain far greater respect, and that far less uneasiness arises in foreign countries, if these facts are made perfectly plain, as was done by the First Lord of the Admiralty. With regard to the argument which is used by those who consider that even today the Naval Estimates are too high, I will invite their serious consideration of the position of the British Empire to-day, from the point of view of contributions to Imperial defence as a whole. It will be remembered that in 1903 this question was first raised at the Colonial Conference, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain) invited the Conference to consider a more effectual recognition of the obligations on all to contribute to the common weal. Oh the same occasion Lord Selborne pointed out that in no less than one quarter of the sea trade of the Empire we were in no way, directly or indirectly, concerned. I think that was the first occasion on which the question of Dominion co-operation arose. At the Conference of 1907 there was a further movement in. this direction, but it must be pointed out that upon that occasion New Zealand alone was prepared to go on with the old principle of contributing in money to the British defence. Australia declared for a local navy, as Canada had also previously declared. At the Defence Conference of 1909 it will be remembered that the Imperial Government supported the policy of distinct fleet units for the Dominions, and that the power of a single nation for a successful action in time of war depended upon unity of command and direction.
The present unorganised state of the Imperial Fleet units does not carry out this statement of the Board of Admiralty of that time. New Zealand agrees that the "Dreadnought," which is not yet completed, shall be the flagship of the China Fleet unit, and she contributes £100,000 to that squadron's upkeep. South Africa has not yet seen her way to make any contribution. The Conference decided that—each part of the British Empire is willing to make such preparations as will enable it, should it so desire, to take its own share in the defence of the Empire.I think it is our duty to quite frankly state in this House that no policy of union 1943 for the defence of the Empire can be of any use whatever so long as those words remain and that spirit is held to. I believe that this country has in the future opportunities, which few realise, of an alleviation of this burden of defence, if only we would call the Dominions to our councils and frankly tell them what we want, and that we shall be grateful for what they do. The important fact of that Conference was that the decision of the Board of Admiralty here that you must have unity of command was practically contradicted by that Resolution. Australia told us that their Fleet unit would be put under our control in time of war, but Sir Wilfrid Laurier said:—It is not desirable for Canada to mix in the armament of the Empire, and Canadians will only take part if they think fit.I believe no Canadian will blame me for speaking the truth on this question. The Resolution practically amounts to this: that whatever happens to any Dominion the Fleet of the Mother-country must take action; whereas, if the Mother-country is engaged in any way, it is only if certain Dominions think fit that they will join and take part with us. I maintain that that is contrary to the true spirit of Imperial union, and I believe the one and only way in which we can alter that is to say that the Dominions shall have some voice in the control of the Fleet. It is not unnatural that the great Dominions overseas are not prepared to put down large sums of money, or build ships or provide men to take part in naval engagements in which they have no say, or to put their Fleets at our disposal when they have no voice whatever in the control of those Fleets. I believe that these qualifications which I have mentioned destroy the cohesive value of the whole of the Imperial Fleet units. I make the suggestion that we can no longer ignore the fact that there is a vast oversea trade going on between various portions of the Empire, which it is the duty of the Empire's Fleet as a whole to maintain and defend. When we realise that of all countries in the world in the past year Australia purchased more manufactured goods from this country than any other country —I think that is a staggering fact with her small population—we can clearly see that it is our duty to combine with that nation 13,000 miles away in naval defence, so as to see that that trade is assured against any possible misfortune.
Everybody will admit that with the present Imperial position there is no good 1944 reason why we can criticise the Dominions for taking the somewhat detached point of view they did at the last Conference. The present position is strategically inefficient. There is the national pride of the Dominions, which we all like to see, which has carried them recently in the direction of separate fleet units. I believe it would have been better if we had several years ago asked the Dominions to join with us in a Defence Council, and to join in the arrangements disposing of the Fleet. If we had asked them to join, I believe we should have been in a different position. We did not take that line, and nobody can blame the Dominions, least of all would I blame them, for having now decided, in certain circumstances, to have national fleet units as part of the British Fleet. If these fleet units are going to spring up it is our duty to endeavour—and I hope the First Lord is giving his special attention to this part of the question—to see that these fleets are of such cohesive value as to be of real moment to the Imperial defence problem. For that reason I suggest that the First Lord of the Admiralty might be able, when he meets the representatives of the Dominions of Canada and the other Dominions shortly, to suggest some programme to the Dominions for the future. I believe it is of the utmost importance, if these Dominion fleet units are to be useful, that they should, as far as possible, be of one type. We should then be in a position of seeing fleet units of equal speed, of a similar tactical value, gathered together in such areas where they can be of the greatest use.
The Canadian Parliament having recently abandoned its decision, for the time being, to maintain a local fleet unit, is faced with the question as to whether she is going to give a contribution, or whether she is going to co-operate in the same way as the Commonwealth of Australia. I believe that whatever the Canadian nation decides to do we shall be grateful for it in this country, but I think that if the Admiralty will now speak out their minds to the Canadian people we shall find a far more ready response than many in this country think will be the case. The question of the Dominion of Canada is ripe for consideration, and if the First Lord of the Admiralty were to suggest to those Ministers that the Canadian Fleet unit for the future should consist of four "Dreadnought" cruisers, I do not believe he would in any way shock 1945 the Canadian people, but I believe he would find a ready response to that suggestion. Already we find that the Commonwealth, of Australia has one "Dreadnought" building, and that New Zealand has one building. I would suggest—I hope it is not impertinent for a layman to do so—that the day is not far distant when the Dominion of Canada will be prepared to put four "Dreadnought" cruisers at the disposal of this country, that the Commonwealth of Australia will be prepared to do the same, that New Zealand will put two at our disposal, that South Africa will put two or four at our disposal, and the Crown Colonies two, or one at the least. In that manner we could get assembled at various times, either in Australian waters or in South African waters, an Australian-South African Dominion Fleet which would be of great value to the First Lord, which would be far better if the Home Fleet has been temporarily hampered than his older ships, and he will have a compact Dominion Fleet able to come at the earliest moment to the assistance of the Mother-country. I hope that we in this country are not going to be in any way shy of expressing our views to the Dominions. I think they have clearly shown that they only want a strong lead. I think they will not respect us if we allow them to imagine that we believe that the phrases "may" and "if they think fit" are good. We should point out that these are destructive of all cohesive defence, and we should say that if they are prepared to do this for us that we are prepared, if not to give them representation on the Board of Admiralty, to immediately reopen the whole question as to whether the time has not now come for a Council of Defence to sit in London, on which we might have representatives of every unit-owning Dominion under the Flag, as well as of the Mother-country.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I can assure the Committee that the subjects referred to by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down have during the last few months been engaging our very earnest attention. It is not for the British Admiralty to initiate any proposals to the self-governing Dominions, but if they come to us and ask us for our guidance, and if they wish to be placed in contact with the accumulation of expert naval knowledge—which is considerably greater in this country than anywhere else in the world—we shall receive them with the utmost cordiality, and shall do our very best to help them to come to 1946 a wise decision, convenient, and agreeable to themselves, and also of sound military value, based on the true principles of national and Imperial defence. They may be quite sure that we shall place the facts of naval policy before them with absolute frankness, that we shall not in any circumstances try to treat them as if their proposals were not regarded as grave and serious contributions to the resources of the Empire. I was also struck by the reference which the hon. Gentleman made to some means of associating the Ministers of the self-governing Dominions with the consultations upon Imperial defence which proceed in this country. The subject is not free from difficulty, but as time passes it becomes, I think, less encumbered by difficulty. I purposely use indefinite language, but there can be no doubt that in the Imperial Defence Committee we have a machinery most flexible and comprehensive, which may well be found capable, at any rate in the intermediate stage of the relations between the Mother-country and the Dominion, of establishing that real and intimate connection which ought to exist in matters of Imperial defence between the responsible leaders of the Government and of opinion in the great Dominions, and those who are concerned with the defence of the Empire here at home. Any advance in that direction would certainly be facilitated by the Government and by the Admiralty. I thought the hon. Gentleman was rather optimistic as to the number of battle-cruisers which were to fly from all quarters of the globe to our assistance. These great vessels of enormous strength and cost will certainly be very welcome, but I do not anticipate that the great results which he has forecasted as being likely to occur in the future will make any immediate difference to the problem with which the Committee is dealing this afternoon.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am well aware of that, and I can assure the Committee that we will not undervalue, in the slightest, aid which has been so generously and spontaneously given. While the hon. Gentleman was speaking of the creation of fleets of battle-cruisers I could not help thinking of my hon. Friend behind me 1947 who asked me to say what such vessels existed for. I should hesitate as a layman to plunge into technical details of naval tactics, but I am informed that it is necessary that a Fleet should be supplied with a certain proportion of vessels of the greatest speed and of the highest power in order that those vessels might be used in the course of an action to gain an advantageous position in regard to the enemy's line, to cross that line or to turn it, and also that they may be available for the purpose of bringing a hostile fleet into action. Vessels of twenty-eight knots, and even more can, of course, overtake any battle fleet and, being armed with the heaviest gun now carried in the sea service, they are capable of bringing that Fleet to action and of forcing it to engage and, as the action develops, of compelling the rest of the retreating fleet to choose either between abandoning a portion of their force to be destroyed or coming back and fighting a general engagement. Those are the more obvious tactical uses which these great vessels are designed to fulfil.
I am not going to do more than answer some of the questions which have been put to me in the course of this Debate which has been so very agreeable to the representatives of the Admiralty. The hon. Member (Mr. Yerburgh) asked why we were taking so little for one battleship this year. Of course we are calculating the dates when we shall lay down each battleship according to the actual dates when we think we shall require them, and if we thought we should need one of these ships at an earlier month than that which we have fixed in our minds as being necessary, there would be no difficulty in beginning the vessel a little earlier, but the true policy is to wait till the last minute in order to get every advantage of design at a time like this, when naval science is moving on literally from week to week. We have taken a larger proportion than is usual of the new programme in the first year of its currency, and we have distributed that money, £1,950,000, among the different vessels of the programme with an eye to securing at the earliest moment those which are most required for the proper development of our Fleet strength, the most urgent claim upon us being undoubtedly an increase in our destroyers. We have at present 116 seagoing destroyers under twelve years of age. We have a great many more of an older period, but we have 116 which conform to the twelve years' standard which 1948 prevails elsewhere, bat owing to the steps which are being taken to begin the destroyers of this year at once, and owing to the fact that they take eighteen and a half months to build after the contract has been signed, the House will see that we shall get a great accession of destroyer strength about eighteen months from now. In addition to the 116 that we have at present, there are eleven from the 1910–11 programme not yet delivered which will come to hand shortly, there are the twenty of the 1911–12 programme which were given out in November and December, and there are the twenty of this year's programme, which will be given out at once, and therefore we may expect no fewer than fifty-one destroyers of the most modern type to join our flotilla at the end of about eighteen months from now, raising our total to 167, and, of course, materially altering the not very satisfactory ratio which prevails in this class of vessel at present. I think that is quite a satisfactory solution.
I notice that inquiries have been made as to the speed of destroyers. I have made very careful inquiry into that and I am satisfied that there are good reasons for the design which has been adopted by the technical experts and naval advisers of the Admiralty. They are perhaps not always described on paper as of the same speed as some which are being built for various other countries, but taking the whole problem of this class of vessel, the weather it has to encounter, the purposes it has to serve as a fighting craft, as well as a fast vessel, its sea-going qualities, its radius of action, the strength of its framework—taking all these facts into consideration, there really is no reason whatever for us not to place full confidence in the expert opinion which is guiding the development and evolution of our destroyer type. The hon. Member (Mr. Pretyman), as well as the hon. Member (Mr. Lee), asked me to give a little more information about dock accommodation, and I think the Noble Lord (Lord Charles Beresford), when I made some statement the other day, asked me whether I was referring to docks in the United Kingdom. I was, certainly. I do not propose to pick out a number of ships and say exactly which dock will fit those ships, because that would perhaps be stating it with unnecessary precision, but I will take one or two test cases. I will not assign ships to docks, but I will mention ships and docks separately. For instance, take the great battleship "Orion." That is the last to join the Fleet, and one of the 1949 largest vessels in the world. We have at present five Government docks which can take the "Orion," and there are also six private docks capable of accommodating that ship actually ready—that is eleven— and, of course, a fortiori, all previous types. Then we have five docks building, which will come to hand, as I described the other day, in the course of the next three years, exclusive of floating docks. There is another private dock building, which will also be capable of taking this ship. Many of these docks will take much larger vessels, larger than the largest yet built. That is, built and building, capable of taking the "Orion" class, seventeen and two floating docks—nineteen. That is quite adequate provision, whether for peace or for war. Taking a cruiser like the "Lion," we shall have four Government docks and six private docks capable of receiving it, and one private dock building and seven Government docks building, exclusive of floating docks. I could go on with these figures through all the classes of ships, but I can assure the Committee that they will be found satisfactory, because docks that can take these vessels can take any warship in the world. [An HON. MEMBER: "Without lightening the ship?"] I do not propose to go into details, but these are docks which are practically available for carrying out repairs of the largest class of vessels in the Navy. These docks are distributed, as the Committee know, at Portsmouth, Sheerness, Devonport, Haulbowline—although Haulbowline is not quite big enough for the biggest "Dreadnoughts"—and Rosyth; and private docks are to be found at Liverpool, Birkenhead, Bristol, Southampton, Belfast, and Glasgow, or will be. Of course, it is quite true that these docks are mainly on the South and the West of the Island, and that the East Coast, which has only in recent years attained strategic significance, and which is not very conveniently suited for the development of harbours and dock accommodation, is not supplied with large docks at the present time. There are two floating docks, one of which will be placed in the Medway, and the other is destined for Portsmouth, but it may be found—the matter is being considered—convenient to use the Portsmouth floating dock as a temporary and subsidiary base on the North-East Coast of Scotland at Cromarty, with floating workshops, while the Rosyth docks are attaining their full completion. I can assure the House that no anxiety at all is felt or need be felt on the subject 1950 by anyone who chooses to investigate this matter carefully with relation to each particular ship and each particular dock.
The hon. Member for Chelmsford asked about the Mediterranean. This, I think, was also referred to by the hon. Member for Central Hull (Mr. Mark Sykes) in his brief but interesting speech last night. The intention to base the battleships for the Mediterranean Fleet at Gibraltar does, not imply any neglect of the Malta Dockyard. We shall endeavour to keep that supplied with a proper share of the refitting and repairing work of the Navy, and the cruiser squadron, which will be based at Malta, together with the smaller vessels attached to the Mediterranean Fleet and the flotilla of destroyers and submarines, will, of course, continue to be based at Malta, and will be available for all the usual purposes of diplomacy in the Mediterranean. So far as the action of the battle squadron and the cruiser squadron attached to it is concerned, for both will be based at Gibraltar, I say it will be dictated by the main situation, but no doubt it will frequently be in the Mediterranean, and it will be available to act there whenever circumstances render its presence there necessary or desirable. The hon. Member for Chelmsford also referred to the question of personnel. He asked particularly about the pressure upon the Marines for sea service. I have obtained the figures of the number actually borne on 15th January. I do not know that there is anything significant in the date. I think it is really a convenient date at which the returns are available. There were 6,575 Marines ashore and 10,600 afloat. That is not an undue proportion, having regard to the great scale of our sea-going Fleet at the present time. I have myself questioned a considerable number of Marines as to their relative preference for service afloat and service ashore, and I find that in the majority of cases preference has been expressed for service afloat.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
As the Noble Lord says, "more pay." There is also better food. My next point will be the question of pay. It is often said that the pay of the Navy has not been increased for sixty years. That is true in form, but it is not altogether just in fact to the continual improvements which have been made during that period by successive Administrations in the conditions of service afloat. While it is true that the actual nominal pay of the lower ratings—the actual substantive pay 1951 of the lower ratings—has not been increased, there has been an enormous number of special ratings introduced with very much improved conditions. The emoluments of petty officers and warrant officers have been continually increased, and for all the seamen ratings there have been added allowances for all manner of particular qualifications. Of the 40,000 seamen in the Fleet, 23,000 receive allowances for gunnery and torpedo qualifications alone, earning in this way from 2d. to 1s. 7d. extra per diem. There are also special allowances for diving instruction, physical training, submarine service, and what is called hard-time money, which, with the increase in the flotillas, is a constantly widening area. It must also be remembered that large additions of pay can be earned by good-conduct badges. The result of the greatly improved victualling in recent years has relieved the men to some extent, at any rate, of the necessity of paying for comforts additional to the rations supplied to them. Of course, no one must rest satisfied with the present state of things in the twentieth century, and I can assure the hon[...] Gentleman and the Committee generally that we recognise it as the first of our duties to watch sympathetically over the interests, the comfort, and the contentment of the seamen of the Fleet, for all our great preparations in materiel would be absolutely futile unless we had at our disposal, as we certainly have at the present time, a loyal and contented Service whose conditions are satisfactory to them and afford a regular prospect of improvement and progress.
The hon. Gentleman threw out a very interesting suggestion in regard to the Coastguard Reserve. He said, why should we not form a kind of reserve of men who would take the places of the Coastguard when the Coastguard are mobilised for active service? I do not think that the present position of the Coastguard is at all satisfactory to the Admiralty. The hon. Gentleman spoke of continuity of policy, and this is a policy in which both Governments have practised continuity. There are several thousand men of the active service ratings who are available on paper for the immediate reinforcement of the Fleet, but who are allocated to duties at the present time largely concerning other Departments of the State —the Board of Trade and the Board of Inland Revenue—from which they could not be moved in a great emergency without causing very considerable dislocation. 1952 Of course, the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman is a very valuable one, and I will give it careful consideration, but when the plan of the immediate Reserve has come into complete operation I should expect the class of men in the Coastguard would be considerably altered from what they are at present, and consequently our reliance upon them for the purpose of rapid mobilisation will not be so great as it now is. Therefore they will themselves be more in the position of Reserve men than of active service ratings which they are at the present time. The House will, however, make full allowance for the fact that 3,100 men borne on Vote A as on active service ratings are practically permanently detached from the active service of the Navy, so that Vote A really ought to be reduced by that amount for the Coastguard, whenever you regard them, as they must be regarded, as being a reserve rather than an active service rating.
As I have mentioned the Immediate Reserve again, I would appeal to hon. Members in all parts of the House that they should, on their part, support and aid the formation of this Reserve, which will require the co-operation, not of a large number of employers, but of a certain number of employers all over the country, and I am quite confident, as we have seen how many Territorials are allowed by their employers to attend their training, that the Navy will not ask in vain for the comparatively small number of men who are required for this most urgent and important Service. When we think that the provision of this 5,000 men, which will cost with all expenses apparently considerably under £100,000 a year, will enable us to man a whole battle squadron, and a whole additional Cruiser Squadron, within, we hope, twenty-four hours. I am quite sure that the Committee will feel that any sacrifice made by individual employers or Reserve men for that purpose will produce a rich return to the country. The hon. Member for Chester (Mr. Yerburgh) and the hon. Member for North Kensington (Mr. Burgoyne) have both recognised the strength which the Government possesses at the present time, and I do not think that it would be possible to find two Members in the House who have more right to give an authoritative opinion on that subject, for both of them have brought to the consideration of naval matters the study of a great many years, and both of them are gifted with knowledge which far exceeds any that I have been able to acquire in the short time during which I have been 1953 at the Admiralty. I recognise very gladly the statement which they have made, that our position at the present time is a thoroughly satisfactory one, and I do not think that there is any danger or chance of its becoming unsatisfactory in future. If it is satisfactory now, and if that position is maintained in the next few years, let it be remembered that we owe that position to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, the fruits of whose administration the present First Lord of the Admiralty is reaping. It would be most unjust and ungenerous if the satisfactory position which we now occupy were to come by the public to be attributed to any efforts of mine, whereas they are entirely the result of what was done two or three years ago.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I do not wish to deprive the hon. Gentleman of any credit, but I do feel it necessary to try to prevent that sort of attempt, which I have seen in one or two quarters, to attribute to my right hon. Friend all the blame for circumstances for which I think there is certainly no blame attaching to any individual, and to attribute to me all the credit for circumstances the credit of which must properly be distributed all over the House. One word as to the weighty speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Murray Macdonald). The hon. Member has urged that we should endeavour to diminish naval rivalry by some striking act of retardation and renunciation. I must remind the Committee that Sir Henry Campbell - Bannerman, whose courage and whose sincerity in the cause of peace have never been surpassed by anybody holding the first great office under the Crown, made a most sincere, earnest, and bold effort in that direction in the first two years of his Administration. It is not right to withhold that tribute of justice to his memory. He was justified absolutely in what he did by the naval situation, and, as a consequence, we have today much better ships than we should have had, more modern and much longer lived ships, and ships with greater war capacity, as a consequence of the restraint which he then practised. We have been no losers by his wisdom and his statecraft. He built three ships in the year 1905–6, three ships in 1906–7, only two in 1907–8, and only two in the year 1908–9. The next strongest naval Power, according to their 1954 original programme, should have built two ships in each of those two years, and one would have thought that with this invitation, not by words or precepts, but by a great act of restraint, some slackening, or, at any rate, no increase, would have occurred, but their rate of building rose first from two ships to three and then from three to four. So every year, while we were building two ships, the next strongest naval Power began the construction of four vessels, which is the two keels to one standard from the other side of the picture.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I do not want to mention the name, because the Noble Lord (Lord Charles Beresford) has such an objection, and I should not like to harass his feelings, especially as he mentioned it himself over two hundred times. I wish I could bring myself to believe that a sudden act of restraint on our part would break the spell, and arrest the tendency which we deplore at the present time, but I do not think it would, and if that is so, there is not perhaps very much that we can do at the Admiralty to reduce the competition in armaments. There are, however, three things that we can do: First of all, we can remove from our naval discussions and naval policy the elements of uncertainty and suspicion. I hope the Committee will see that the institution of, I will not say a programme, but an attempt to look ahead and forecast future construction, may have the effect of removing uncertainty from our naval policy, in this sense that it may avoid each year the necessity for a long detailed argument in which hon. Gentlemen who take very large views will have to bring up all the most favourable facts of the situation, and those facts will be canvassed by those who are optimists like many of my hon. Friends on this side. I am sure that does no good. We have very heated debates, and an immense number of extensive and not always accurate statistics are exchanged across the floor of the House, and all sorts of references have to be made to the building of other Powers, which do no particular good. I am deeply sensible of the kindness with which the House has treated the Admiralty representatives this year, and of the general acquiescence which has been expressed as to the moderate, though sufficient, standard which we have, I will not say, laid down, 1955 but set up as a guide and an indication. There are things which we may be able to do if we remove suspicion. Negotiations have been for some time in progress between this country and Germany for an exchange of naval information, and I can assure the House that we shall certainly be very glad if those negotiations reach a satisfactory conclusion. We have nothing whatever to conceal in the scale of our shipbuilding. We shall always be ready to allow it to be known what ships we have in process of construction, and within general limits when those ships may be expected to be completed, provided of course that we will receive reciprocal facilities.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No. What we want to avoid if possible is suggestions that vessels are being constructed, apart from those which are published and shown in the regular returns. The House knows that a lot of suspicion and ill-feeling was caused on that subject in former years, and it would be a great benefit if at any rate that element of suspicion could be altogether eliminated from the naval relations of two great Powers. We would go a very long way on that road provided that reciprocal facilities are afforded to us. These are two things we can do: we can remove uncertainty by letting it be known quite clearly what we propose to do and what are the limits within which the Government increase or decrease from our prescribed course. I hope that we shall also be able to eliminate the element of suspicion; and lastly, if we assert our claim, as we intend to do, to the supreme position on the seas, it is also our duty so to conduct ourselves that other nations will feel that that great power and that great responsibility which are a necessity to us shall be used in such a manner as to be a menace to none, and a trust held for all.
§ Captain TRYON
I should like to protest against two arguments which have been advanced from the back benches opposite. The first is the argument of the hon. Member for Falkirk, who has presented the policy of naval defence and the policy of social reform as alternatives. 1956 We look on these things not as alternatives. We believe that you must have both or you will have neither. The way not to promote social reform is by putting down armaments. Just pause to consider what would be the position of social reform after a naval defeat. The same hon. Member told us that what was wanted was education. I hope the education of our people will include a sufficient knowledge of our naval history and the history of countries which have been defeated, so that they may decide more rightly in these matters than otherwise they would be able to do. I would further ask him to consider what the cost of a great naval defeat would be. We cannot add the cost of a great naval defeat to the already heavy cost of public education. The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Lambert) spoke with pleasure of the absence of party spirit from our discussion, but with all respect I would say to him that his own speech formed a somewhat unfortunate exception. He told us that three years ago, during the discussion of the question of four or eight "Dreadnoughts," the Unionist party, with regard to the Navy, undertook an electoral campaign. I would ask him, if our campaign in favour of eight "Dreadnoughts" was an electoral campaign, why His Majesty's Government built the ships? It was not an electoral campaign, it was a campaign honestly undertaken by the Unionist party in the belief that those eight "Dreadnoughts" were necessary, and the fact that the Liberal Government, in the end, built those ships has fully justified our action. I think the hon. Gentleman would have been fairer to the Unionist party if he had acknowledged the debt which his party owes to us for warning the nation of the danger which existed at that time, the best evidence of which is that although we have had those eight "Dreadnoughts" actually built they are now still generally keeping up the very large expenditure on the Navy, showing that in the past the expenditure did not exceed what was absolutely necessary.
A point on which I should like a very definite answer from the Admiralty is with reference to a hospital ship. I understand that in last year's Naval Estimates provision was made for the building of a hospital ship. That ship has not been built, and I should like to know, firstly, why provisions and plans which are made by the House of Commons are not carried out by the Govern- 1957 ment, and why this scheme has been dropped? I should like to emphasise the arguments, which I believe are sound, in favour of such a ship. We know that in every action there will necessarily be a large number of wounded. To keep those wounded on the ships would lead to the loss of a very large number of lives, which could easily be saved if a hospital ship were available. I believe that to take over a ship for the purpose of turning her into a hospital ship would not be so good a plan as to build a ship for hospital purposes. I would like to get a reply as to why this provision which was considered necessary by the Admiralty last year has not been carried out. We have had the privilege of listening to a very admirable Tory speech from the Radical benches in the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty. It is a speech containing a very fine statement of the need of national defence, and I think that speech is purely due to the wide experience which the right hon. Gentleman has had of fighting in various parts of the world—both at home and abroad. I do not know whether he can tell us how far the introduction of the automatic pistol is due to his knowledge of fighting in Stepney; at all events, we can see that his knowledge of fighting in three different continents has made him realise the appalling risks which our country would run if the Navy were cut down, or if we ran a risk of naval defeat.
It is said that we have to keep up a large Navy partly because of our commerce; and I believe it was suggested from the Labour Benches that if only we could have an agreement between the nations that our merchant shipping should be free from fear of attack in time of war, we could reduce our Naval Estimates very largely. I do not agree with that view. If you were to cut down the Navy you would be running great risk of invasion from those large Continental armies which unquestionably exist and to which the Labour party attribute such a strong fighting instinct, owing to that mysterious thing they call militarism. I have never yet been able to ascertain what is meant by "militarism," a term very frequently used. If training the people for war does create a great desire for fighting—which I do not agree with—then the Labour party ought to help us to keep up a very large Navy to protect us against those Continental armies to which they attribute such a very strong fighting instinct.
§ Captain TRYON
Well, some hon. Members oposite do. But it was noticeable that during the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty there was a very remarkable silence on the back benches behind the right hon. Gentleman when he was bringing in his programme, and I think a good many on the Radical Benches really felt what the hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr. J. M. Macdonald) has had the courage to say in opposition to this programme. The House, unfortunately, cannot fully discuss the whole question of national and Imperial defence, because we have to settle the Army Estimates before we know what the Navy Estimates are. I think it a very great pity that we cannot have a more general discussion on the whole question of National and Imperial defence. There have been three wars lately in which the Navy and the Army have co-operated in the closest possible way. More than that, there have been three wars in which I believe the naval situation has been decided largely by the action of the Army. There was, of course, the Japanese war with China, when the army operated against the fortress of Wei-hai-wei, and succeeded in effecting the destruction of the Chinese fleet. There was a very similar incident in the war between America and Spain in what occurred at Santiago. Again, in the Russo-Japanese war the co-operation of the Japanese army was largely instrumental in securing the destruction of the Russian fleet at Port Arthur. I am not suggesting any alteration or proposing any scheme, because it is a matter of extreme difficulty, but I have tried to point out what other nations do. I find that the army and the navy of Japan co-operated under the Imperial Government under a council, directed, I believe, at all events nominally, by the Emperor. We in this country, at this moment, have no effective machinery for securing the proper co-operation of the Army and Navy. The only body that deals with it, as far as I know, is the Committee of Imperial Defence, which really consists, so far as it has a permanent membership, of the Prime Minister, and of other people who may be called in. This body, which consists of the Prime Minister, has been described in the Debate as flexible and comprehensive. I do not know how far it may be flexible, but I do say that the Prime Minister, with all the work he has to do, cannot have adequate time to properly 1959 consider the co-operation of the Army and Navy. I think this matter deserves the attention of the Admiralty, and I trust that national attention will be given to the question of bringing, in the event of war, both the Admiralty and the War Office into the closest possible co-operation.
§ Mr. ATHERLEY-JONES
I rise to mention a matter of not very great magnitude, but one of very considerable interest, and that is the question of the treatment of the Greenwich Hospital old age pensioners. This matter has been brought before the House by questions recently, and I think occasional discussions by my Noble Friend the Noble Lord opposite (Lord C. Beresford), and it has been dealt with, or it may be dealt with, in a sympathetic spirit by my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (Dr. Macnamara). I do not propose for one moment to occupy the time of the House in referring to the historical circumstances connected with this matter further than to say, as many hon. Members here will be cognisant, that in the year 1692 Greenwich Hospital was established for the purpose of providing a home for aged or wounded seamen who had served their country in the Navy. Up till, I think, the year 1865, or perhaps a little later, Greenwich Hospital continued to fulfil this very useful purpose. In that year, owing to the opinion, no doubt very well founded, that Greenwich Hospital might be applied to more useful purposes, and in order that the funds which were allocated to the naval pensioners should not be diverted from their original purpose, a scheme was formulated whereby provision was made for the payment to a considerable number, some 5,000, of naval pensioners, I think correctly described as naval life pensioners, on their attaining the age of fifty-five years, of a pension of 5d. a day. Of course, that was in addition to their normal pension. To those who exceeded or reached seventy years of age, I think, there was an increment of 4d., making 9d. a day.
It is now felt by the Admiralty that the funds derivable from the Greenwich Hospital and from miscellaneous sources were inadequate for providing old age pensions to all. To put it very shortly, the result is that there are probably some two thousand naval pensioners who are, I will not say entitled—I think that would be inaccurate—but who are eligible for 1960 the Greenwich Naval Pension, amounting, as I have already said, to 5d. a day. These potential pensioners include all ranks, I think I am right in saying, but of course a very large number of them are in receipt now of the small ordinary naval pension of something like perhaps £14, £15, or £16 a year. I am speaking rather off the book; I cannot say what the exact sum is; it is probably there or there abouts. I do not impute any blame to the Government in the matter. I agree that under the scheme of 1865, according to the original conception, of the plan dealing with naval pensioners, it was not regarded as a matter of right that they should receive a pension. A Committee of this House sat on the matter in, I think, the year 1892, and they reported that although this legal right did not exist there was a very general belief amongst naval men that they were really entitled, in law, to a pension of 5d. per day.
They were rather encouraged, and here again no fault lies with the Government, by the practice of the recruiting officers for the Navy in holding out to the men who were enlisting in the Navy before 1878 the prospect that they would receive this 5d. pension when they reached the age of seventy, which was subsequently reduced to sixty-five. I do not think that anybody in this House, whether in favour of a large Navy or a small Navy or no Navy at all, so long as there are pensioners who have served their country would be averse to seeing liberal provision made for them. All that I want to do now is to try and get something more from my hon. Friend, of whose sympathies I am assured, than a mere non possumus. I agree that the money cannot come from the source originally destined for this purpose. Those funds are, I believe, practically exhausted. On the other hand it is not impossible, and especially in these days when the cost of living has materially increased the stress of poverty felt by old naval servants, that some contribution, which as far as my calculations go would probably not amount to more than £20,000, should be given from naval funds through a Vote of the House of Commons in the Naval Estimates. I do not suggest that that could be done this year, but I do suggest that an additional contribution of that kind would meet the justice of the case. I am sure the Committee will sympathise with me in bringing this matter forward. I do hope my 1961 right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary will find it in his power to give some encouragement to an object which undoubtedly is meritorious. I am perfectly sure that whatever the political opinions of hon. Members, none of them would grudge that comparatively small amount which, from testimony I have received from all parts of the country, is so strongly desiderated.
§ Mr. LEACH
I have noticed amongst hon. Gentlemen who spoke in this Debate have been those who have honourably served their country in one or other of the Services, and, perhaps, the House will not be unwilling to listen to a Member who is a layman, and who does not often trouble the House or occupy much of its time. I will try to avoid introducing any words that might create discord. I listened to the First Lord of the Admiralty with the greatest possible amount of pleasure. Though I am regarded as a man of peace, I was almost completely won by the very remarkable speech which he made to us the other day. Never before, I think, have I either heard or read any speech of any First Lord of the Admiralty dealing with naval matters which was so powerful, so convincing, and so able as the speech to which we listened on Monday afternoon. I am glad for the moment the right hon. Gentleman is not in the House, because it might look like flattery if he were to hear me say these things. There are two or three things that strike one about that remarkable address. In the first place, the subject was made very very attractive even to a man like myself, and even those on this side who do not often agree with these things were won completely by the right hon. Gentleman in the speech which he made. Another remarkable thing about that speech, and about the Naval Estimates generally, is that the right hon. Gentleman, I believe, has introduced to this House Naval Estimates showing the largest amount ever introduced either to this House or to any House in the whole world, except last year, when the Estimates introduced by the ex-First Lord of the Admiralty were rather higher. They are figures which will strike the imagination, and which will, I think, make men seriously consider the statements he has made respecting our Navy and its. requirements. I am not competent to enter into details which he and other right hon. Gentlemen have introduced into their various speeches. I have no experts to 1962 guide me in these matters, and therefore I speak as a plain man.
There are a few things which I can say, and which I desire to say, about these Estimates and as to the speech with which they were introduced. Whatever is true as to the feelings of Members of this House and this side of the House, I am bound to say that I think there will be some disappointment that there has not been a larger reduction in the Estimates than has been set before us. They are less, of course, than those introduced last year by a very considerable sum; for that we are all very grateful. At any rate, speaking for myself, I am deeply grateful that the First Lord has been able to satisfy the Service men with these Estimates, judging by their statements from the other side, without any increase in the amount to be spent during the present year. I do not forget that when this Government came in, in 1906 (I was not a Member then), that they promised a considerable reduction in armaments, both in one Service and the other. What has happened? This Committee cannot fail to see that there has been a large increase in the expenditure, which amounts to at least ten millions, and possibly more. I should like to say to the Financial Secretary—and he must forgive me for saying it—that, after all, those large amounts expended on the Navy are straining the loyalty of some of the warm friends of the Government. Not a few are looking for the time when other counsels will prevail, and when we shall not spend quite so much on armaments, and especially on naval armaments, as we are now spending. There are, however, some redeeming features in the statement, and I should be untrue to myself and to the Government, of which I am a very earnest supporter, if I did not mention them. First of all, though there has been an increase of many millions since 1906, and though the Estimates of to-day are larger in amount than ever were introduced I believe into the Parliament House of any country in the world with the exception I have mentioned, yet all that has been done without borrowing and all comes out of the income of the year. That is something for which I am deeply grateful, and most men will be. In addition to that, millions have been found for old age pensions, for which, though hon. Members opposite did not go for it in considerable numbers at the time, we are all grateful. The Government has paid off something 1963 like fifty millions of debt—[DR. MACNAMARA: "More."]—over fifty millions. Surely that is a record for which we are all very grateful.
In spite of it all, I should like the Financial Secretary to notice that there is a growing mass of opinion outside this House in favour of peace, and it seems to some that these large expenditures lead on towards warfare. I shall be told by the party opposite that the way to peace is by a strong and efficient Navy. I am not in a position to question that. I am not, and never have been, a man of war. My occupation most of my life has been rather peaceful. I know that statement will be made by hon. Gentlemen opposite and by those who are in favour of the Navy Estimates. I am bound to say, in my own judgment, a strong Navy is cheaper than a bitter war such as we recently had, and if I could be convinced, and if I really felt in my heart, as many men do, that a strong Navy will secure peace, I am not quite sure that I would not be more pleased to vote for the Estimates than I shall be now. I was greatly rejoiced to hear the First Lord state in his speech that our Navy is for defence and not for offence. That gave me immense satisfaction, but I could not help wondering since Monday if the First Lord and those associated with him had given as much thought and time in trying to secure a better understanding with that naval Power of which we have been so long suspicious, and if they had given the needful attention trying to secure an understanding could they have avoided this large expenditure? What are the Government doing? Is the last word they have to speak on Naval Estimates a sum approaching £45,000,000. If so, it seems to me there is a weakness somewhere. I should like to say I am, and always have been, in favour of a strong and efficient Navy. I do not think any hon. Member or right hon. Member on this side of the House would wish to have a Navy unworthy of the great Empire to which we belong. It should be equal to all defensive purposes. It should be equal to the protection of our trade and for preserving to us all our oversea Colonies. I agree to all that, but I would remind hon. and right hon. Members that there are other things besides warships which make and keep a nation great. The greatness that is built upon power can only be maintained by power. That greatness is most lasting which is built upon 1964 the loyal love and comfort of a peaceful and happy people, well housed, well paid, well fed and well clad, and such greatness endures when other so-called greatness will pass away. It will abide when the counsel of those who deal in war is brought to nought, and when the counsel of those who mean mischief is scattered to the four winds of heaven.
Mr. FRED HALL (Dulwich)
I heard a good many congratulations offered to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty, but if I may be permitted to say so, I think a certain amount of congratulation is due to the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House who consistently from 1906 to 1910 were continuous in endeavouring to bring home to His Majesty's Government the absolute need for an insurmountable Navy—
And, it being a quarter-past Eight of the clock, further Proceeding was postponed pursuant to Standing Order No. 4.