§ Motion made [4th June, 1913], and Question proposed, "That a sum not exceeding £4,063,100, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expenses of the Personnel for Shipbuilding, Repairs, Maintenance, etc., including the cost of Establishments of Dockyards and Naval Yards at Home and Abroad, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1914."
§ Question again proposed. Debate resumed.
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Churchill)
I venture to deprecate the habit which seems to be growing up of expecting that every speech made on the Navy Estimate, and on behalf of the Admiralty, will contain some momentous announcement or other. There is, in certain quarters, such an insatiable appetite for new programmes that we are expected to produce them, not once or twice, but three times in a single year. The programme of the year is unfolded in the First Lord's statement issued with the Estimates in March, and it is only very exceptional circumstances that make any departure from it necessary. The Debate on Vote 8 is not the occasion for the announcement of a new programme, but rather for a review of questions, many of them of a technical character, connected with the Shipbuilding Votes. There are several of these questions which may be advantageously discussed on the present occasion, and I understand that the one which holds first place in the public attention is the engaging topic of oil fuel. It is to that I will first address myself, and I hope the House will believe that I shill do my best to give them all the information in my power. In the year 1909 the first flotilla of ocean-going destroyers wholly dependent upon oil was created, and since then, in each successive year, another flotilla of "oil only" destroyers has been built. There are now built and building more than 100 destroyers—I purposely leave the number rather vague—including coastal destroyers, which are solely dependent upon oil fuel. Similarly, during the last five years, oil has been employed in 1466 coal-burning battleships and cruisers, to enable them to realise their full powers in an emergency. At the time when I became responsible for the Admiralty administration, in the autumn of 1911, there were more than 150 vessels built and building which were dependent wholly or partly on oil. Provision had been made from year to year both for the storage of oil, for current expenditure, and for building up an oil fuel reserve, which, of course, increases with the number of vessels added to the Fleet and in proportion to the number added to the Fleet.
One of my earliest inquiries at the Admiralty, in November, 1911, was directed to the position of the oil supply of the Fleet, and I find that no difficulty had been experienced in buying all the oil that was needed. The supply, storage and distribution had not presented any serious difficulties other than the transport of the oil. The price of oil was then—that was less than two years ago—practically equal to that of coal, after making due allowance for the reduced stoking and for the increased energy of the fuel ton for ton. In short, our partial reliance on oil fuel was already established as a policy, and its development was being actively and prosperously pursued under conditions favourable alike to the economy and the efficiency of the naval service. I have on previous occasions referred to the advantage of using oil fuel in ships of war. There is no doubt that with otherwise similar warships the one that burns oil possesses a large excess of speed over that which burns only coal, and even exhibits its superiority in this respect over that which burns coal and oil. The radius of action of a ship of war when using oil instead of coal is increased, I am informed, by at least 40 per cent, for the same weight of fuel. Moreover, oil can be stowed in some places in a ship from which it would be quite impracticable to bring coal to the furnaces with the certainly of still further increasing the radius of action. Oil bunkers can be replenished with great rapidity and without interference with the fighting efficiency of the ship, and a few men suffice for the work. On the other hand, the operation of recoaling is, as everyone acquainted with the Navy knows, lengthy and laborious. It necessitates the exertions of the whole of the crew, with the result that the men are physically exhausted by the effort, and the ship is for a time rendered unfit to fight. The use of oil is also attended by the saving of a large 1467 amount of labour involved in coal trimming and stoking, as well as in the removal of ashes, clinkers and soot when coal is burned. This enables a very large reduction of stokehold personnel to be made.
Oil gives the very great advantage, as compared with coal, of admitting of a rapid increase of steam production, and enables variations of steam pressure due to the necessity for cleaning coal-burning furnaces to be eliminated. In a coal-burning ship, after part of the coal has been used, the ship cannot attain her full power without throwing a great strain upon the personnel, who have to be brought from other stations to trim the coal from remote or inconveniently placed bunkers; whereas oil is delivered to the furnaces with continuous facility until the whole has been consumed. The use of oil as fuel instead of coal makes is possible in every type of war vessel to produce a ship which will fulfil given conditions of speed and armament upon lesser dimensions, and consequently at smaller cost, than could be done with coal. But further than this, the great advantages which liquid fuel presents in solving the problem of our naval design makes it possible to obtain vessels of very high speed compared with the dimensions—a speed compared with other dimensions which could never be attained if coal remained the only fuel. All these advantages attendant upon the use of oil can be reaped by every other nation that chooses to employ it, but, as I explained last March, there is one great special advantage which oil confers upon the British Fleet which would not be enjoyed by any weaker naval power—I mean the special advantage to the strongest navy of not being forced to leave its fighting position in order to refuel. It may be assumed that the weaker navy will bide its opportunity in port, while the stronger must keep the seas continuously. Recoaling, therefore, imposes a continued strain on the stronger fleet without any corresponding deduction from the weaker. Oil which can be fed so easily from one vessel to another would, therefore, add an appreciable percentage to the relative fighting strength of the British Navy, without any corresponding discounts in other directions. So much for the general advantages of oil fuel, which I think it will be admitted are considerable. During the winter of the financial year, 1911–12—that is from November, 1911, to January or February, 1912—the Admiralty addressed 1468 themselves to a general reconsideration of naval types, with the result that it was decided to lay down a division of fast battleships, and the battle-cruiser was put into temporary and perhaps permanent abeyance. Secondly, a very fast light cruiser was designed, and eight of them were included in the programme for the year. The regular destroyer programme was continued, the vessels being increased in speed. Everything that has since occurred has justified the view then taken of the proper evolution of naval construction. The fast battleship armed with 15-inch guns seems likely to be imitated, though at a considerable interval, by our principal competitors, and these vessels, together with the light-armoured cruisers, command a very wide and general assent throughout the higher ranks of the Navy. There is no reason to doubt that in both these departures we have successfully maintained that leadership and superiority in materiel which can be traced throughout the naval history of the last twenty-five years, from the "Royal Sovereigns" and the "King Edwards" through the "Dreadnoughts" and the super-"Dreadnoughts," with their 13.5-inch guns, down to the present day. Both the new types of battleship and cruiser were conceived in relation to the tactical needs of the kind of war and the kind of battle we are most likely to fight.
The speed of the Fast Battleship Division have a certain relation to the speed of the various divisions of foreign fleets as they would be during the next five or six years. The fast light cruisers play an essential part in our tactical conception. Neither of these vessels could have been satisfactory constructed on a coal-burning basis. It was not possible to give the fast battleships the necessary speed, having regard to all their other qualities, on a coal-burning basis without inflicting extraordinary hardships on the personnel and sensibly increasing the length and, consequently, the cost of these vessels, which is already greater than any other vessels for the British Service have been, and to have increased the length beyond the present dimensions would have raised the whole docking problem in a new and most formidable shape. It was, therefore, decided to make these four ships what may be called "oil only." The gift of the "Malaya" later in the year increased their number to five. The light-armoured cruisers simply could not be constructed on a coal-burning basis; they would either have to be greatly increased in length and consequently in 1469 displacement, in which case they would become too expensive craft for the numbers and service required, or else they would lose from three to four knots in speed, and consequently be quite unfit for the tactical duties for which they were designed. Without the use of oil, and oil only, these excellent types would have been permanently denied us. Oil has been used for some time for the new flotillas of torpedo-boat destroyers. The increased speed of these vessels renders them all the more dependent upon its use. A coal-burning destroyer does not bear any comparison in speed or endurance with an oil-burner of similar size and cost. In this branch of construction, cost and size are the limiting factors. The destroyers can scarcely advance beyond their present dimensions without merging into cruisers and becoming too expensive for the work they have to do. It will be seen, therefore, that we were compelled to use oil fuel over almost the whole field of the new construction programme of 1912–13.
These conditions and the reasons which produced them are, with one important exception, repeated in the present year 1913–14. There are another eight light cruisers; there are sixteen destroyers instead of twenty, but these sixteen are of superior speed and power, and for both these types oil must be used or they could not be built to discharge their tactical purposes. The five battleships of this year, however, are to be coal-burners, using oil as an auxiliary only, The Committee will ask: why has this been possible? The following is the reason: Oil is only required in big ships when an exceptional speed has to be reached with a vessel of exceptional quality. The ordinary speed can be effectively realised with coal as the main motive power. The Fast Division of battleships of the year 1912–13 consisted of vessels of exceptional speed, and therefore required oil. But the essence of a Fast Division consists in the relation of its speed to that of the enemy's main fleet, and consequently to your own main fleet. Speed is only relative, and, if the general speed of the Line of Battle were raised until it was equal to that of the Fast Division, the Fast Division would, ipso facto, fall back into the ordinary category. In creating a Fast Division, we therefore had no intention of raising the ordinary average speed of the Fleet of the Line of Battle which remains at a maximum for individual ships of from 20 to 21 knots, and coal will continue to be the main 1470 basis of our sea power in the Line of Battle for the present, and this year we revert to building battleships of ordinary speed for the ordinary service of the Line. It is therefore possible to use coal as their main motive power, and this, it must be admitted, is convenient in view of the very high prices now ruling for oil. I have now dealt with the general advantages of oil fuel; secondly, I have dealt with the extent to which we are committed for its use; and, thirdly, I have dealt with some of the special reasons by which we have been guided in taking these important steps. If I have appeared to the Committee to go rather freely into these subjects, it is because I have ascertained that the material facts are already known elsewhere.
I came next to the supply of oil fuel. Let me deal first with the military aspect and with the question of contraband. Our power to obtain additional supplies of oil fuel in time of war in excess of those which are being stored in this country, depends upon our preserving the command of the sea. If that is endangered, oil is not the only commodity which will be excluded from these Islands. If we cannot get oil, we cannot get corn, we cannot get cotton, and we cannot get a thousand and one commodities necessary for the preservation of the economic energies of Great Britain. If we are unable to bring in the comparatively small number of vessels which would be required to maintain a full supply of oil for our Fleet in time of war, we shall certainly be unable to conduct, as we hope to conduct, the whole vast oversea trade of this country, export as well as import, in spite of the utmost exertions of the enemy. Some very clever people have pointed out that oil is different from other classes of supply, because it will be in part the means by which the initial command of the sea is maintained. This argument is quite fallacious. It is not upon oil-burning ships that we depend, or are likely to depend for many years to come, for the protection of our trade routes. That protection is maintained by coal-burning cruisers, operating along the trade routes, while the enemy's main Battle Fleet is being dealt with in the decisive theatre wherever that may happen to be. Then we have been told that our supplies of oil fuel from overseas will be stopped in case of war by being declared contraband. A great many people would appear to suppose that in order to stop any article 1471 reaching this country in case of war, a foreign country has only to declare it contraband. This point, strange as it may seem, has already received the attention of the Board of Admiralty. An enemy might, and probably would, declare oil fuel contraband. The effect of that upon our arrangements would be very small. Almost all our oil is arranged to be imported in British tankers which, in case of war, are liable to be captured by the enemy whether carrying contraband or not. Those vessels would have to depend upon the arrangements made for the protection of sea-borne commerce, and that is a matter which continually engages the closest attention of the Admiralty and forms one of the most important items in our war plans. It is upon our command of the sea that our power to bring British vessels carrying commodities of all kinds into these islands that we must rely for the maintenance of our strength in time of war.
We might, of course, attempt to reduce the risks to British vessels carrying oil by employing the tankers of neutral countries, if such a course were possible, but, in view of the limited number of such vessels and their full and constant employment on other services, this course might be difficult or even impossible; but we do not attach great importance to it. If it should be adopted, however, the effect of oil being declared contraband would render vessels liable to be captured if the oil were destined for a port in this country, but it could at extra cost be consigned to some agent in a neutral port not far distant from our shores, and from whence it should be quite easy to reach our shores unmolested. The fact of oil being contraband is not likely to cause foreign neutral Governments or companies voluntarily to prohibit the export of it to this country. Such a course would be opposed to general International procedure and their own interests, and there is no rule of International law or any obligation on the part of a neutral Government to prohibit export products or manufactures of its country except armed and war vessels to a friendly country during war. That is the principle on which we have always acted and acted with considerable effect in modern experience. Should, however, one of the many countries from which we obtain our supplies be forced by a threat, or fear of future pressure that might be brought on her by other belligerents, to prohibit the export of oil fuel to this 1472 country, we should for a time be deprived of that source of supply. That is to be met by widening and multiplying, as far as possible, the sources from which we draw our oil supply. Surveying the whole position, my advisers are of opinion that, although some losses by enemy action may be anticipated and is taken into account in our estimates, no serious effect on our naval movements need be feared from this cause in war if the reserves now being worked to are maintained in peace and as long as the British command of the sea, on which all else depends, is effectually maintained.
I now come to the quantities of oil and the sources of oil which are at our disposal in the world, and here I hope no spirit of exaggeration will enter into the mind of anyone who approaches this question or in the mind of any of those who comment afterwards upon our discussions this afternoon. There is plenty of oil in the world. The total output of crude oil last year was nearly 50,000,000 tons. The total consumption of the Navy last year—and this is the only figure I am going to give on this subject—I give it in order that a proper sense of proportion in this question should be established from the outset—the total consumption of the Navy last year was less than 200,000 tons. We are, or soon shall, be able to draw oil from Burmah, California, Persia, Texas, Roumania, Borneo, Egypt, Mexico, and Trinidad. The prospects of further development or discoveries of natural oil fields are very extensive. The high prices now prevailing are calling from the world, from the great centres, a very remarkable response. Apart from these natural supplies of oil, which have been summed up in the form of "oil below the ground," there are the processes of manufacturing oil from other substances which are numerous, important, and rapidly increasing. The most promising feature which the ceaseless investigations of the last eighteen months or two years has revealed is the great potentialities of the home supply. It is calculated that Scottish shales alone, if developed to their fullest capacity, would yield between 400,000 and 500,000 tons for 150 years—at a price. Immense deposits of kimmeridge clay, containing the oil-bearing bands or seams, stretch across England from Dorsetshire to Lincolnshire. There are extensive shale beds in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. There are many other possibilities, such as coal oils and creosote, on 1473 which I need not dwell at this moment. It would be foolish to suppose that the wealth of Great Britain cannot command from the vast oil resources of the world the comparatively modest supply which, even at its maximum, the Navy would require.
The problem is not one of quantity; it is one of price, and here we enter a field of operations full of intricate and novel features, in which a Government Department will require, in a special degree, the confidence and support of the House if it is to make sure, thrifty, and judicious arrangements in the public interest. The first and greatest of all new features in the oil market in the last two years has been the great upward movement in prices. Oil, which in 1911–12 could practically compete on favourable terms with coal, has now almost doubled in cost. At the same time, owing to a temporary scarcity of oil transport, freights have risen by 60 or 70 per cent. The cause of this is the growing demand for oil fuel on account of its many advantages, and this demand, coupled with that for petrol, has given rise to vast and formidable schemes on the part of a comparatively small number of wealthy combinations to control the oil market and raise and maintain prices. It must be admitted, however, that to a very large extent the causes which raise prices and create stringency are natural and automatic. Many private businesses, when they lay down an oil ship, or build an oil engine, have been making long forward contracts for the supply of the necessary fuel to drive it. In certain cases companies selling engines sell with them guarantees to supply oil during some years of their anticipated lifetime of the engine. The consequence is that the oil market in future years is going to be greatly divided up and pegged out among different consumers, all of whom are taking steps to protect themselves against artificial manipulation for which the present state of the market at the present time affords so promising a field. In other countries whose navies are adopting oil fuel similar measures have been or are about to be taken. We have ourselves taken certain steps to protect our interests with regard to Colonial leases in oil-producing Colonies of the British Empire. But, speaking generally, the British Admiralty has so far adhered to the system of annual contracts, which is enjoined by our regular departmental practice, and so far we have found them 1474 quite satisfactory. So far, but no further.
Hitherto we have been in a position to make our own terms. We have selected, with almost fastidious discrimination, exactly the kind of oil that suited us best, irrespective of whether it was particularly convenient to refiners to make it or not, and irrespective of whether it was particularly abundant or not. And we have bought it both for consumption and for reserve as we required it from year to year and from month to month, according to the strictest rules of financial correctitude in what might, without a stretch of imagination, be called "the open market" Those days are done. The quantities of oil we shall require have increased beyond the modest limits which were filled by occasional purchases. The kind of oil we prefer is no longer the kind it suits refiners to make, and which it pays them best to make. The open market is becoming an open mockery. Our stake in oil-burning, ships is becoming so important that we must have the certainty of being able to buy a steady supply of oil at a steady price. Not to take proper steps in time would mean we should gradually but rapidly get into the position of being forced purchasers. We should be grossly overcharged. It does not mean we should not get the oil. At a certain price it would pay nobody else but us to buy it. It does not mean we should not get the oil. Let that be dismissed from everyone's mind. It would mean, however, that we should be made to pay an excessive price for it.
I have only unfolded the general outline of the problem to the Committee. What is our policy towards it? It is a twofold policy. There is an ultimate policy and there is an interim policy. Our ultimate policy is that the Admiralty should become the independent owner and producer of its own supplies of liquid fuel, first, by building up an oil reserve in this country sufficient to make us safe in war and able to override price fluctuations in peace; secondly, by acquiring the power to deal in crude oils as they come cheaply into the market. When a new field is developed, and those who are producing it have exhausted their original capital and have not yet opened up new lines of consumption and customers, there are opportunities of purchasing large quantities of oil, if the means of storage and transport are available, at prices which bear no relation to what that same oil will afterwards be sold 1475 at when the field is firmly established and when its customers and markets are clearly marked out. This second aspect of our ultimate policy involves the Admiralty being able to retort, refine, top—top means driving lighter products off by evaporation—or distil crude oil of various kinds until it reaches the quality required for naval use. This again leads us into having to dispose of the surplus products—another great problem—but I do not myself see any reason why we should shrink, if necessary, from entering this field of State enterprise. We are already making our own cordite, which is a most complex and difficult operation. We already keep our great system of the dockyards in full activity in order to provide a check on prig ate constructors, and I see no reason, nor do my advisers, why we should shrink from making this further extension of the vast and various businesses of the Admiralty.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The third aspect of the ultimate policy is that we must become the owners, or at any rate, the controllers at the source of at least a proportion of the supply of natural oil which we require. On all these lines we are advancing rapidly and we are moving towards that position of independence outside the oil market which it is our ultimate policy to secure, which we are quite strong enough with the power of this country to secure against any combination, and which must be secured before any fundamental change is made in the main coal burning basis of the fleet.
I come to the interim policy which is required for the building up of the oil fuel reserves and for the period while the complicated, administrative, scientific and financial questions involved in the ultimate policy are being settled. The interim policy consists in making at once a series of forward contracts for about five years, with a certain power of renewal, to secure a regular and an adequate supply during this immediately future period at reasonable and steady prices. It is the need of concluding promptly this series of forward contracts now being prepared which is the principal and immediate reason which leads me to open this subject so fully to the Committee to-day. I have one difficulty in presenting my case satisfactorily 1476 to the Committee, and that is that this, subject is highly confidential. These oil contracts are well within the ordinary competence of the Admiralty to settle subject to Treasury control. It has never been the practice of the Admiralty to, publish the terms of its contracts or even the names of its contractors for important munitions of war, such as oil must be regarded. Parliament has always approved that course being followed, and it never was more necessary that this rule should be adopted and observed than in regard to oil contracts. When you are carrying through a series of complex and delicate negotiations which may powerfully affect a market limited and controlled like the oil market, or when you are trying to hold a balance between various oil combinations, and preserve and develop independent sources of supply you do not exactly want to go and tell everybody what you are doing beforehand. Our power, such as it is, to make good and thrifty contracts for the public depends very largely on our being preserved by the House in our right of confidential negotiations. But quite apart from commercial reasons which, though important, are not comparable in importance to the other aspects of the subject the quantities of oil needed for the fleet, the amount kept stored in reserve, the amount consumed by various vessels under various conditions—all these facts are as secret in a military sense as the supply and reserve of ammunition or torpedoes. I cannot, therefore, attempt to discuss in public the details of these contracts. I cannot give an exhaustive list of the contracting firms nor state the quantities of oil we derive from each, nor the exact duration of the contract, nor the price, nor the other conditions.
I can, however, state the principle on which we are proceeding. The future of the oil market is so uncertain, the subject is so specialised, and present prices are so unfavourable, that a balance has to be struck on the one hand between the relative advantages and disadvantages of making forward contracts at fixed prices, and of providing for rapid periodical revisions of price on the other hand. This has been kept carefully in view. In framing the tableau, if I may use such an expression, of the contracts which have now been prepared, three governing principles have been observed: First, a wide geographical distribution, to guard against local failure of supplies and to avoid undue reliance on any particular source so as to 1477 preserve as much security and as much expansive power or elasticity in regard to each source as possible; secondly, to keep alive independent competitive sources of supply, so as to safeguard the Admiralty from becoming dependent on any single combination; and, thirdly, to draw our oil supply, so far as possible, from sources under British control or British influence, and along those sea or ocean routes which the Navy can most easily and most surely protect. Let the Committee observe that it is not a case of choosing between alternatives—it is not a case of choosing this course against that. On no one quality, on no one process, on no one country, on no one company, and no one route, and on no one oil field must we be dependent. Safety and certainty in oil lie in variety, and in variety alone.
I will make one exception to what I said about the non-publication of the names of firms with whom we propose to make contracts, and only one exception. I do not defend the principle of making the exception, but I make it because I should not like it to be thought that I used the plea of secrecy as Minister for the Admiralty to shirk any point on which prejudice may be raised, or out of which people think political capital is to be made. So I shall pick out one firm and one firm only, because it is the firm which has been specially open to challenge, and which is the one which has been the subject of many insinuations and suggestions. The Admiralty consider it indispensable to the proper solution of the question of oil supply to make a contract for a portion—a comparatively small portion, but still a substantial portion—of our oil supply with the Mexican Eagle Company. That is the company directed by Lord Cowdray, with which Lord Murray is connected. It is also the greatest British controlled oil company in the world, and is one of the comparatively few great British oil companies in the world.The contract, I am advised by my officials who have been engaged in its detailed negotiation—and I can confirm it so far as my opinion is worth much upon these intricate questions—the contract, I am advised, is one that is extremely advantageous for the public and for the Navy. The Mexican supplies of oil are abundant, and cannot be neglected by the Admiralty. They are a necessary feature in our interim arrangements. They come to us over an ocean route which we can easily and effectively control. My Board are unanimously of opinion that we should 1478 be wrong if we were to allow ourselves to exclude this valuable source of supply from our general arrangements. No contract has been made hitherto. All rumours to that effect are absolutely false. Indeed, it is only within the last few months that the experiments have been completed—the experiments were made at Haslam—which have decided the Admiralty engineers that Mexican oil can safely and conveniently be used in our warships. This, as the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth (Lord Charles Beresford) said some months ago, is an expert question, and it has been settled to the entire satisfaction of the expert engineers on whom we have reliance.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
They are chemists, experts, and engineers, and it has been settled by practical experiment. The hon. Member for Central Finsbury (Major Archer-Shee), in putting a supplementary question some weeks ago to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, asked whether it was not a fact that 1,000,000 tons of oil had been obtained for trial purposes from this company. One hundred tons were obtained for that purpose. I do not know whether we should take the ratio of fact to suggestion in the hon. Gentleman's question as the measure of the reliability of his statements generally, or as the measure of the care and accuracy with which he studies the question upon which he seeks to guide the House. But though no contract has yet been made with the Mexican Eagle Company, one is going to be made, unless the House in its wisdom, by withdrawing its confidence, changes altogether the composition of the present administration of the Admiralty. I must decline to approach this question, and my colleagues must decline to approach this question, from any but the purely naval point of view. I cannot help it if it exposes the Government or the Liberal party to some embarrassment, to the embarrassments of imputations or attacks; we must not fail in our duty to do the best we can for the Service for fear that we may subsequently become the objects of insult or insinuation. It is no part of my business to go into such matters, but I have been assured by my hon. Friend the Chief Whip that no funds of the Liberal party have ever been invested in the shares of this company, and I have been told, on high authority, that Lord Murray himself has 1479 bought no shares in it. But even if there were twenty Lord Murrays, and if every one of them had 20,000 shares, and if all the funds of the Liberal party, past, present, and prospective, were exclusively invested in this company, we cannot see in what way these facts would be relevant to the decision which the Admiralty have to take, or how they could be held to debar us from doing what is profitable to the public and necessary for the Navy.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The Admiralty must do what is right and true, and must not be influenced by evil or unfounded suspicions. It is hard enough to settle these questions well and satisfactorily, but it would be almost impossible to settle them satisfactorily if one had, at every stage, to think of what the most malevolently-minded person in the moment of extremist partisanship might be inclined to whisper or suggest. I assure the Committee that there is no difficulty, if the proper measures are taken, in providing fully and certainly not only for the regular supply of oil for naval consumption, but for the maintenance of the necessary reserves upon a scale which must increase in proportion as our stake in oil-using ships increases. Up to the present moment all necessary measures have been taken, and the situation is under complete control. If we are given the Parliamentary support and confidence required to enable us to act freely and effectively, without undue disclosure of matters which, both from a commercial and military point of view, are necessarily confidential, if we are not hampered by political considerations or by injurious suspicions—I am speaking with the full authority of my naval and civil colleagues on the Board—we are prepared to guarantee a safe and satisfactory solution at every point of this complicated, but, at the same time, perfectly manageable problem.
As the great ships are delivered, the Reserves will be ready and the current supply will be assured. The storage will be erected in the right places, and the means of transport and distribution to the Fleets at sea will be at hand. Nothing has been neglected so far. Storage has already been created on a great scale, not only in the United Kingdom, but at naval bases throughout the Empire, and the work of extending it and increasing it has pro- 1480 ceeded with the utmost possible celerity. We have, without particularly advertising the fact, got built and building a fleet of thirteen oil transport steamers, some large for transport across sea, others smaller for distribution to the fleets and flotillas, which will be ready before the end of 1914—that is to say, before the important vessels dependent upon oil come into the Fleet. The carrying capacity of the five largest of these steamers is alone considerably greater than the whole quantity of oil which the Navy consumed last year. Of course, we do not rely entirely upon Government steamers but also upon hired freight to bring in our oil. Experiments of every kind have been made to secure the very widest possible power of utilising oils of different kinds. Negotiations have been carried to their final stage which promise to ensure a full and steady supply. It only remains to confirm them. Although this might have been disposed of in the ordinary course of Admiralty business, subject to Treasury control, there has been so much talk and chatter upon this subject that I thought it right to withhold confirmation until I had had an opportunity of laying my case before the House of Commons and until I had received from them what I now ask respectfully and claim urgently on behalf of the Board of Admiralty—that is to say, full confidence and, within the proper limits, a free discretionary power. There is no reason why the House should not give us its confidence. My naval and civil colleagues on the Board have expressly desired to associate themselves with me in the following statement:—We have not, and we have never had, any personal interest, direct or indirect, in the supply of oil fuel to the Navy. We do not hold, and we have never held during our tenure of office, any oil shares of any sort. We occupy a position of complete disinterestedness and impartiality in regard to all oil enterprises, oil companies, oil magnates, and oil combinations.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I said very clearly that I was speaking for myself and the Board of Admiralty, who settle these matters. If the hon. Gentleman has any charges to make against us or other persons, he will no doubt take advantage of this Debate and stand up in his place to make them, but I hope he will not interrupt my speech by doing it now. I am anxious to address my argument to the Committee in its completeness. The annual volume of Admiralty contracts must exceed 20,000,000 to 25,000,000, and over 1481 the whole of this area a very large proportion of the contracts are not such as can be determined merely by an arithmetical computation of prices. All sorts of considerations and factors enter into the decisions which we have to take, and yet on those decisions very large commercial interests depend for their profit. I believe that the combination of our Civil Service with the very large proportion of naval officers who participate in the daily work of the Admiralty procure a thoroughly clean and healthy administration over the whole range of that great body of public business.
Therefore, when this subject so nearly touches the life of the State, when it is in its nature confidential, when it requires prompt, bold, and skilful handling, think the House will be wise to afford its support and confidence to those on whom the responsibility rests. But let me make it quite clear that unless this confidence is freely accorded to us, if we are to be told you cannot make a contract in these terms because it is unusual, you cannot do this because it commits us for a long time ahead, or, because there is an element of risk in it, you cannot go to this company because they are foreigners, you cannot go to that company because they are Liberals, you cannot take this or that step because you will become the object of slanders, then I say emphatically, if we were hampered and crippled and trammelled, and fettered in that way, we could not guarantee the future of the oil supply, and if at any moment the Board of Admiralty could not give that guarantee, it would be their duty to ask for immediate release from responsibilities they could no longer discharge. The House in this matter, as in all others, is all-powerful and supreme. There is no secret business of government which the House cannot by its authority bring into the fullest publicity if it thinks fit. The House is sovereign in all these matters of administration. But the House of Commons has long remained the most powerful of European Legislatures, perhaps of Legislatures in the whole world, because it has deliberately and of its own free will set barriers in the path of its control so far as certain classes of executive action are concerned, where that executive action is necessary, to carry out policies of which the House generally approves.
Now I say to the hon. Gentleman who interrupted me just now, if he or the hon. 1482 and gallant Gentleman (Major Archer-Shee), who usually busies himself with Admiralty affairs, or anyone else, has charges to make, if there are any suspicions or insinuations to ventilate, here is the place and now is the time. Full notice has been given, the place is privileged, and the time is extremely convenient. If anyone has any charge to make against any Member of the Board of Admiralty or against me personally, or against any officer or official serving in a responsible station in my Department, let him seize this golden opportunity. We will address ourselves to the topic with relish. But if there is nothing but spiteful—[An HON. HON. MEMBER: "Rotten."] I suppose my hon. Friend has not followed all the subterranean snarling which has been taking place. I have, and if I allowed myself to be disturbed by it, I might have been very much moved. If there is any charge to be made, now is the time, but if there is nothing but spiteful and untruthful chatterings and vapourings I invite the House on both sides to join with the Board of Admiralty in treating these manifestations and their authors with the contempt which they deserve. Now you have heard all I have to say on the subject of oil.
There is only one other great subject which I propose to deal with in my opening statement, I mean the general progress and provision of shipbuilding. I made such a full examination in March of the whole position, and particularly of Anglo-German relations, that there is no occasion for me to go into that this afternoon except to say that I have no reason whatever to modify in any respect or any degree what I said in introducing the Navy Estimates to the House. But I am bound to refer to the questions connected with the maintenance of our over-sea responsibility as apart from the maintenance of the safety of this country. Apart from the 50 per cent. preponderance in "Dreadnought" ships which must be maintained above the German Fleet in Home waters for the defence of the United Kingdom, we require a powerful Fleet for foreign service in the Mediterranean and, if necessary, for the defence of the Oversea Dominions of the Crown, either in the Atlantic or in the Pacific. The station of this fleet is, during the present circumstances, the Mediterranean, because that is where there is the greatest need, as a general rule, during the present period. The strength of this fleet is regulated in the main by the naval 1483 programme of the other Mediterranean Powers. The facts of Mediterranean building are well known to the House, and I do not require to go into them this afternoon. The whole question, actual and prospective, was examined with the greatest care and attention last year by the Committee of Imperial Defence, and subsequently, with their Report in view, by the Cabinet, and the policy which the Admiralty is pursuing is not, as it is sometimes represented to be, the policy of one Department or of one Minister. It is the policy of the Government as a whole on which the Government have had to decide at every stage. Although this fleet of "Dreadnoughts" for foreign service will be maintained in or near the Mediterranean for the purpose of the whole world defence of the British Empire, it is of course absurd to suppose that ships are limited in their action to particular areas if a greater need arises, either in peace or in war, the Fleet in the Mediterranean can be quickly sent to protect the interests or the safety of Australia, New Zealand, or Canada, and of course all British ships of war, wherever they are stationed, however they are disposed, are at all times available, and will at any time be used by the Admiralty for the purpose of obtaining the main decision on which the command of the sea depends. I have as yet no change to report in the building of the Mediterranean Powers. There is no doubt that new programmes are under discussion, both in Italy and Austria, but we must be guided by facts and not by intentions or rumours. I know of no new fact at the present time which makes it necessary to add to our programme of construction, and I do not believe, from the information at my disposal, that anything has occurred, or will occur, in the Mediterranean this autumn which will require to be dealt with by us in advance of the regular programme of, 1914–15.
There is a second important question which must be dealt with in connection with the general defence of the British Empire. Since I addressed the House on the last occasion a serious event has occurred in regard to the Canadian ships. The rejection of the Canadian Naval Aid Bill by the Senate of Canada has for the time at least deprived us of the aid on which we had counted, and unless that gap were filled by further sacrifices of the British taxpayer, the general defence of the Empire, apart altogether from the 1484 defence of the United Kingdom, would be three ships short of Admiralty requirements from the end of 1915 onwards. As soon, therefore, as the news was received of the rejection of the Canadian Naval Aid Bill, the Government determined that immediate action was necessary. There were two courses open to us. We could have laid down three extra ships in place of the three Canadians, and made them additional to our existing and prospective programme. We could do- so still, but it is not at present clear that this step, which would have meant the addition of £8,500,000 to the Naval Estimates, spread over the next two or three years, is necessary, and it certainly ought not to be taken unless it is necessary. Although the Canadian Naval Aid Bill has been rejected, the question of Canada taking an effective part in her own defence and in that of the British Empire is by no means dead. Whether we read the statements made on behalf of the Canadian Government or those put forward by the Canadian Opposition, we see that although there are differences in principle and in method, and although unhappily the matter has fallen into the sphere with which we are so familiar in this country of party disputation, there is an overwhelming consensus of opinion among all parties that in one way or another action should be taken and should be taken soon. The position is not yet clear, and I am very much inclined to think that harm, rather than good, might result from our attempting to debate about it much in public. Canada is absolutely mistress of her own destiny. I will quote, however, in confirmation of what I have said, two statements made by persons of high consequence in both political parties in Canada. The first is by Mr. Borden, in the Canadian House of Commons, and the second is by Sir George Ross, in the Canadian Senate. Mr. Borden said on 6th June:—As the construction of these ships is to he proceeded with by the British Government, as they are to he loved for the same purpose that of the common defence of this Empire which we had in mind, it is the firm intention and determination of this Government if it remains, as undoubtedly it will remain, in power, to bring down at a later date a proposal for the acquisition or construction of three battleships as was proposed in the Naval Aid Bill of 1912. In that way, before the completion of these ships, we hope and expect to be in a position to say to the British Government that Canada will take over and pay for and acquire these ships and will place them at the disposal of His Majesty the King for the common defence of the great Empire of which Canada forms a part.I am only reading these statements; I am not attempting to comment on them or 1485 debate them, but am reading them to justify what I have just said. The second statement is by Sir George Ross, the gifted Leader of the Opposition in the Canadian Senate. Sir George Ross said, on the rejection of the Bill:—That leads me to consider my first objection to this Bill, namely, that it is unnecessary, asunder the Laurier Act of 1910 all that is proposed to be done under the Bill before us, and much more, can be done for the defence of the Empire. In the first place, the Navy Bill provides for a contribution of only 35,000,000 dols., a very generous contribution which we would cheerfully vote if no other consideration were involved. Under the Laurier Act of 1910, now in force, any number of millions could be contributed by Parliament if so disposed. Why then harass Parliament with a Bill which is not required for emergency purposes and which is not as effective as the Act of 1910. If the hon. gentlemen are sincere in their efforts to meet an emergency, let them withdraw the Bill now before us and submit to the House a supplementary estimate for 10 or 15 millions for the speedy construction of battleships wherever they can be built, and then from year to year ask Parliament for such additional sums as may be necessary for their completion, according to the practice of Parliament in regard to all larger appropriations. I do not know that a single Senator would object if it was proposed in the regular and Parliamentary way to do that. If hon. gentlemen or the Government of the day wanted four or five ships, they could build them wherever they pleased under the Act of 1910.5.0 P.M.
I am avoiding expressing any opinion whatever on this subject, but I am entitled to read these quotations to the House, although I cannot attempt to forecast the course which will eventually be decided by Canada, because I think these two speeches taken by themselves, apart from all other public and private information accessible, plainly show that the question of Canada taking an effective part in the general naval defence of the Empire is by no means closed, and that we have no right to assume at the present time that we are to be left to face the emergencies of the future unaided, and left to bear the whole burden alone. That being so, the Admiralty have recommended, and the Cabinet have approved, the adoption of the temporary expedient. We are proceeding, not by increasing the programme of capital ships, but by accelerations in the construction of those which have already been sanctioned in such a way as to secure the requisite strength we require at the periods involved. We have, therefore, accelerated three ships in this year's programme which would not otherwise have been taken till the end of the year. We invited tenders for them last month, action has already been taken, tenders have already been received, and these vessels will be ready, if all goes well, by the third quarter, 1915. They will fully maintain, in the absence of new Austrian or Italian construction, those margins of 1486 Mediterranean and whole-world strength which I explained were necessary in the second speech I addressed to the Committee on the introduction of the March Estimates. Of course, the relief which is given to us, the accession of strength which is given to us, by the mere acceleration of ships is only temporary, but the effect of new construction is to raise the margin at our disposal for seven or eight months at the end of 1915 and the beginning of 1916 to the same level which would have been reached if the Canadian Bill had passed into law. After that period has passed away the advantage of the acceleration will be absorbed and the difficulty of shortage with which we are confronted will recur.
By next year it is probable that the Canadian situation will have defined itself and we shall be in a better position to judge whether a further acceleration of next year's ships, or, alternatively, a direct addition to our programme, will be forced upon us. That is the policy which we recommend to the Committee, and which we regard as a wise, sober, and adequate provision. We shall not be drawn from it by any agitation. [An HON. MEMBER "What will secure an acceleration in the yards?"] By ordering them seven months earlier than they would otherwise have been ordered. I have been trying to make out what is the Conservative view of the naval provisions which should be made in capital ships at the present time. So far as I can see from the criticisms which have been made from time to time in the House of Commons and in the Press upon the present Admiralty policy, the steps which the Opposition would appear to regard as necessary would be considerable. We ought apparently to assume that Austria and Italy have already embarked on a new programme of seven or eight capital ships, and I should suppose that on that assumption, judging from public declarations, the Conservative party would consider it necessary to build eight ships to provide a reasonable superiority over their combined forces.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I have dealt- with that. I say that I know of no facts which lead ate or my advisers to regard any new departure on our part at this moment necessary. [An HON. MEMBER "That is a different thing."]
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
That is not at all answering my hon. Friend's question. His question was, Is the right hon. Gentleman certain that they have not adopted a new programme since he spoke last? All the right hon. Gentleman says is that no facts have come to him which make it necessary for the Admiralty to make any new departure.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I have to be careful what I say about building by foreign countries. I am satisfied from the information at my disposal that there has been no change in the situation at the present time, although there is considerable discussion. I gather from various statements, and from the intervention of the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench, that if they were satisfied that Austria and Italy were embarking on a programme of seven or eight extra ships in the Mediterranean, they would think it necessary that we should lay down eight additional ships in this country. I am asked questions which have always that tendency. Of course, if it is not so, I shall be glad to be so informed. We are told that if the three Canadian ships fail, or even while there is any doubt, we ought to build another three to replace them. That is a total of eleven. I am continually criticised by the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Lee), in a very instructive manner, for counting the two "Lord Nelsons" as "Dreadnoughts," although their gun power at 10,000 yards is approximately equal to that of the four earliest German "Dreadnoughts." If they are to be excluded and replaced, it means two more ships, a total of thirteen. I presume another ship should be built to replace the "New Zealand," that is a total of fourteen. To these must be added four ships we shall have to build next year against two German ships, making a total programme of eighteen capital ships, all of the superlative class, for the year 1914–15. There is not a single point in that category of claims that has not been made in the questions repeatedly asked me across the floor of the House, and the articles which appear every day, and will appear tomorrow, on the subject of the naval position. I am entitled to show you where you are going. These vessels would cost with all their reserve of torpedoes, and spare guns, over £2,750,00 apiece. There would be on this item of our programme alone an addition of about £50,000,000, assuming it were physically possible, without revolutionising industry in tins country, to make construction on such a scale, 1488 which it would not be. The Navy Estimates in 1915–16, I fancy, when the charge fully matures, would reach an approximate total of between.£70,000,000and £75,000,000. All I can say is that such a crazy expenditure would form a very proper counterpart to the Tariff Reform finance by which the money would be supplied. I am bound to bring it to the notice of the Opposition, not that I think seriously it is the policy they advocate, but because I wish to bring home the fact that in these questions you have to draw a line between the extreme views of irresponsible people and what is reasonable and sober provision for the security of the country.
I have finished, and I thank the House for the great attention and courtesy with which they have heard me. The general progress of shipbuilding has been very good since I last addressed the House. Everywhere through the vast area of warship construction, the contractors are earning their money, and vessels of various types are advancing rapidly towards completion. At any time, however we may have a set-back, either partial or general, which, even if it only extends a few weeks would throw hundreds and thousands of pounds back upon our hands as unexpended. It would be premature to judge what the shipbuilding year will be after a survey of its first quarter. By November or December next, the position will be much clearer. At present I can only say the progress has been good. The hon. Member for North Birmingham (Mr. Middlemore) obtained from me yesterday a statement of the number of ships delivered since January, 1911, for the British and German navies, respectively. I readily admit that the picture ingeniously disclosed by the figures is unpleasantly suggestive. The prospects in the future show a favourable contrast with the last eighteen months, a contrast favourable, both actually and relatively. What with the arrears of shipbuilding which are being worked off, the new ships which are approaching completion, and the general activity which is being maintained we shall receive in the near future incomparably the greatest delivery of warships ever recorded in the history of the British Navy. According to the latest figures supplied me at the beginning of this month, we are due to receive a torpedo-boat destroyer, on the average, one a week for the next nine months, besides a very large delivery of submarines. During the next twelve months we shall 1489 receive, on the average, a light cruiser every thirty days, and—this is the most impressive fact of all—during the next eighteen months we shall, on the average, receive a super-" Dreadnought" of the latest possible type, and of the highest possible cost every forty-five days. Full crews will be available for all this Fleet as it is completed without laying up any serviceable vessel of real value. The accession of strength which the next strongest Naval Power will receive during the same period, will be considerably less than half of this tremendous reinforcement. We are very soon going away for our holidays. I wanted the hon. Member for North Birmingham to have these figures to take away with him for consideration during the vacation. When the hon. Member, in the watches of the night, fixes his mental eye on the grim and menacing figures in the collection of which he is such a master, I trust he may derive some comfort, and even some refreshment, from this alternative picture.
§ Mr. LEE
The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty has made, I venture to say—and perhaps he will do me the courtesy of listening to my remarks—a speech which is almost unprecedented, certainly in my experience, for a Minister in his position. He has made a speech which may have been extremely suited to the atmosphere after luncheon at the National Liberal Club, but the like of which I should say has never before been heard during a Debate on Navy Estimates in the House of Commons. He has gone out of his way, without any kind of excuse or provocation, to adopt a deliberately party tone in dealing, not merely with the subject of oil, but in dealing with the subject of our shipbuilding programme. Apparently he got himself launched on the cataract of a prepared manuscript tirade and did not know how to readjust himself to the atmosphere of the Committee. He lashed himself into a state of weird and unnatural excitement about phantom slanders, which, so far as I know, have never been directed against him or his Department, and then he mentioned the Chief Whip, and it became pretty clear what had happened. The Chief -Whip and he had evidently had a conference before the Debate, and the Chief Whip had said, "Whatever else you say about the Navy, for God's sake make it clear that neither I nor you are in any way implicated in anything which has to do with oil shares! "He showed, as he has 1490 done on other occasions, the utmost indignation at the possibility of a suggestion which has never been made that he in some way is implicated, or could be implicated, in contracts affecting his own Department. I really think he would have been better advised if, upon an occasion of this importance, he had left out that portion of his speech, which would have done very well for the platform, I have no doubt, but was unsuited for the present occasion. I will say at once, in answer to his challenge, that I, and so far as I know, speaking for my Friends behind me, they see no, objection whatever to the Admiralty making contracts with any oil company in any portion of the world, if thereby the oil fuel reserves and supplies of the Navy will be more effectually guaranteed. That is the position which we take on this question of the oil supply of the Fleet, with which I shall deal first. I may say, in passing, that the tactical arrangement of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was a great deal better than his matter. He dealt with the really critical and important questions at the end of his speech in quite a perfunctory manner, and then he proceeded to pour oil upon the troubled waters, and he dealt with very little else during the remainder of his speech, and in the manner to which I have already alluded.
At the same time, I admit that this oil question is one of the most serious and anxious questions with which the Admiralty have to deal, and I think that he has shown that he is fully alive to it. If I have any criticism to make of the actual proposals which he has laid before the House, it would be directed not so much against the present Board as against previous Boards of Admiralty, from 1906 to-1911, during which period the whole question of the oil supply of the Fleet had apparently been allowed to slide. Before the Conservative Government went out of office in 1905, we had sitting for some time a strong Committee dealing with these very questions, and right hon. Gentleman opposite, when they came in, disbanded that Committee, and the whole subject was allowed to lie fallow for five or six years. One result of that is that we find ourselves in our present admittedly anxious position. Whatever excuse there may be found about contracts, there was no excuse for not proceeding with the question of storage capacity -and transport capacity. Apparently nothing whatever was done. I am not going to deal with this question 1491 of oil in great detail, because hon. Friends of mine who are much more familiar with it can do so; but two points emerge perfectly clearly with regard to this question. First, it is necessary that we should have, either in this country or at some accessible point in the Empire, a national supply, which shall be adequate for our needs, and not only accessible, but available at all times, or else we must establish a huge, elaborate, and protected system of storage, not only against ordinary risk, but against attack from overhead as well. I am glad to know that the Admiralty are proceeding on both those lines. The right hon. Gentleman gave, what I thought was a very cheering report—because, of course, I accept his statement—with regard to the possibilities of the home supply, and he also gave us what, on the face of it, was a satisfactory assurance with regard to the action which the Admiralty are now proposing to take, although I think they are taking it much too late, and his account of their proposal to have their own supply in situ, and a storage of crude oil, and to undertake their own refining, and so forth, was all extremely interesting. I do not blame him for putting those proposals before us in rather vague language at the present time, but I must take note of the fact that he has given to the House of Commons and to the country a most sweeping guarantee that the arrangements which he is proposing to make will render our position in this matter absolutely secure in years to come.
In all this very difficult question about oil, there is at any rate one comfort: oil is like gold. Its capital value does not depreciate. It does not, so far as I know, deteriorate when kept in storage. Against that it is very highly destructible. When I come to the subject of aerial attack, I shall have, very shortly, to refer to the danger to our oil supply from this new development of aerial warfare, and I trust that no system of storage, which is being adopted, will be unprotected from overhead attack. There was one point that made me feel somewhat uneasy. The right hon. Gentleman explained how the design of the capital ships of this year is being affected by the shortage of oil, and he told us in what was a very ingenious passage, which sounded rather like special pleading, with regard to the advantages of having a slow squadron of battleships in this year's programme, as compared with continuing the fast type of 1492 battleships which he laid down last year. It sounded a, little bit as if he were adapting his design to the unfortunate necessity of the case, and while there may be something in his strategic theory, we are not competent to judge upon that. What is he going to do if those great naval countries which have secured a supply of oil at the present time are going to persist in building fast battleships of the type which we constructed last year? What is going to become of your slow divisions then? Nothing brought home to my mind more clearly the great urgency and grave character of this difficulty about oil, than the very fact that the right hon. Gentleman disclosed to us about his modified design for speed in his new ships However, that is a highly technical question about which I doubt if any Member of the House, except possibly my Noble Friend (Lord C. Beresford) behind me, is competent to express an opinion.
§ Mr. LEE
I do not know what foreign countries which have got their oil and are not placed in these difficulties may do in the immediate future. Therefore, I think that the announcement made is full of grave potentialities so far as we are concerned. I now come to the second part of his speech with regard to the shipbuilding programme. I must confess that the statements which he has made are very disappointing to me, and left me, as his speeches so often do, with the uncomfortable impression that he is not doing in this matter what he believes in his own heart he ought to do, and which the circumstances of the case demand. There is no one who has done more than he has to bring home to us the menacing character of the new era of competition into which we have been unfortunately and most unwillingly dragged. But just as we are expecting to hear of the practical steps which logically follow from his brave and always interesting speeches, he seems to falter in his stride, and baulk at the fence. He now accuses us of insatiable appetite in these matters, whilst admitting that it might be necessary to do more in very exceptional circumstances. But we claim that the circumstances of the moment are very exceptional. We claim that new 1493 facts have arisen which require a revision of our programme, and I shall endeavour to explain why his actual proposals, apart from any verbal treatment of the case, are disappointing and inadequate. I am going to criticise on two main heads. The first is that he is not fulfilling the undertakings which he has already given to the House of Commons and the country, and the second is that even if he were fulfilling those undertakings the results would not satisfy the needs of the new situation. I feel bound to begin with a preliminary protest, which arises out of something which he said to us in his last speech which has rankled a great deal in my mind since—that is, that in considering these questions of relative standard it would be safe to abandon the established and well-recognised custom of computing in numbers, and to adopt in its place the perilous and, as I believe, quite impracticable method of estimating the relative fighting value of ships in different countries which are of the same class and of the same date.
If our designs are a little better than those of our rivals, let us thank God for that, that we have got that little in hand to enhance the slender margin which the right hon. Gentleman has provided; but do not let us make that an excuse for reducing or shuffling with our building programme, and still less the programme which he himself had previously announced. I am bound to say that to admit such a principle as that would open the door to possibly fatal miscalculations, because you might have a very optimistic designer, who might be so pleased with his own new hyper-super-"Dreadnought" type, that he would say that it was equal to an entire squadron of ships of a previous type. The torpedo and the mine are great levellers of all these pretensions, and, as my Noble Friend says, the development of aerial attacks. But a principle of that kind would open the door to all kinds of insidious abuses. If we were unfortunate enough, which I am glad to say has not yet been the case, to have a slack or unscrupulous Minister at the head of the Admiralty, he might make use of that principle of relative fighting value to cover up his neglect and the deficiency of the Government, and, further, it would deprive the House of Commons of any control or any check whatever over the naval policy of the Government, and the Board of Admiralty would be practically in these matters relieved of any kind of control or criticism whatever. Therefore, I do emphatically protest against the 1494 suggestion which the right.hon. Gentleman made last March, that ships of the same class and the same date in different countries should not be considered, for the purpose of computing their relative strength, as being equal. The other preliminary point I want to make is this: I do not want people to suppose from the arguments which I am using that we on this side of the House consider that it is capital ships alone which should count. Just as an army cannot consist entirely of artillery, so a fleet cannot consist entirely of battleships.
That is obvious. But for the purpose of Parliamentary discussion we are obliged to simplify details, and to take the strength in capital ships as an index of the whole strength, whilst assuming, of course, that there is a full proportion of all other classes provided for. Having cleared the ground in that way, let me apply the old-established test of numbers to the right hon. Gentleman's achievements, and see how far they fall short of the undertaking and promises which he made to the House of Commons only this year. Let me recall what they were. His first promise was that the Mother Country would maintain a strength of 60 per cent. over and above the next strongest Power in battleships of the "Dreadnought" type, and he added the reservation that it would only be sufficient as long as the pre-"Dreadnoughts" retained their present position of superiority, and also in the absence of new facts, to which I shall have to allude later. Secondly, he promised that the ships provided by the Dominion should be additional to the 60 per cent. standard provided by the Home Government, although, he added, they would not be additional to the whole-world requirements of the British Empire. I think he said then, and repeated it again to-day, that the Admiralty considered that 50 per cent, out of the 60 per cent. should be permanently retained in Home waters, to meet the next strongest Power, and he admitted that the other remaining 10 per cent, available for the whole-world service of the Empire would not be sufficient after the first quarter of 1916. He then went on to say that if new facts arose—by which he meant any development in the Mediterranean or in the Italian and Austrian programmes—we should have to reconsider the whole of our position, and further steps would have to be taken. Then there is the pledge of the Government as a whole, given in the most precise terms 1495 by the Colonial Secretary and endorsed by the Prime Minister, with regard to the maintenance of our power in the Mediterranean. I think I had better recall to the Committee the words of that speech, because they are of a very precise and sweeping character. The Secretary for the Colonies, speaking last autumn, said:—We shall maintain our position in the Mediterranean, both on hold and sea, to as full an extent as we have ever done in the past, and in doing so we shall depend on no alliance or understanding, actual or implied but upon our own forces.Finally, the First Lord of the Admiralty last March said the policy which he had outlined would be coolly and inflexibly pursued. These were the undertakings which he gave, and they were repeated and emphasised in very impressive language, and now I think we are perfectly justified in seeing to what extent his actual performances fit in with them. Let me come to the total numbers which he has actually provided. It is not denied by anyone that the next strongest Power would have twenty-six vessels of the "Dreadnought" type in 1916. The right hon. Gentleman, in order to get 60 per cent. preponderance over that requires forty-two, as he has already outlined, in 1916. But, he only gives us forty-two ships in all by 1916, if the "New Zealand," "Australian," and "Malaya" are included. On the 26th March he stated that these Dominion ships were to be additional to the 60 per cent. standard provided by the Home Government; therefore, the Home Government in this matter is providing only thirty-nine ships, and therefore, we shall have three short of the right hon. Gentleman's own standard in the early part of 1916. He said something about the "Lord Nelson" class. I am aware that those unfortunate ships have been used as jokers in the pack for the purposes of the game. They figure sometimes as pre-" Dreadnoughts" and at other times as "Dreadnoughts," according as the exigencies of the Admiralty position demand. The Prime Minister said in 1909 that they were not "Dreadnoughts." The right hon. Gentleman in the same year, I think, admitted that, We do not really know whether they are, but speaking as I do, without any technical knowledge, but as a member of the Board of Admiralty which was responsible for the "Dreadnought" design, I remember very well indeed that these ships belonged to the previous year, and that, in the opinion of Board of that day they were in no way 1496 comparable to the "Dreadnought" which was then under process of construction.
Further, if the right hon. Gentleman wishes to include them in his strength, then, at once, he must bring on the other side the three Austrian vessels of the Radetzky class, which will only tip the balance against himself, and our position will be in no way improved have shown that he will be three short of his own promised standard. Then there were the three Canadian ships to which he referred, and which he told us last March would be absolutely necessary from the end of 1915 onwards. He added that if they failed, the gap would have to be filled by the sacrifices of others—others being presumably ourselves. If that is so, it is quite clear that these ships must be laid down during the present financial year. If they are not laid down during the present financial year they cannot possibly be available for the service of the Fleet in the early part of 1916, which is the time at which he said they would be absolutely necessary. I quite agree that we cannot say, or that we do not know, what Canada may do in this matter, but the right hon. Gentleman has told us what is necessary for the safety of the Empire. He has told us that the Mother Country will discharge its full duties. I say that we have no right —it would be both unsafe and almost an affront to political opinion in Canada— to go on the assumption that the programme will probably be approved. At all events, it is not approved at present, and the matter being rejected, the responsibility does lie upon us to provide those ships and provide them without delay. If the Canadian Government later on offers to take them over I am sure we shall be very much gratified, but in the meantime the right hon. Gentleman must discharge the obligations for which he is responsible. It is clear that in the existing situation he is, first of all, three ships short in 1916, on his own programme. There are the three Canadian ships which he said must be ready by that date, and, therefore, on our existing shipbuilding programme we are six ships short of the strength which he has stated is absolutely necessary for the world-wide protection of the British Empire in 1916. The advancing of the three contract ships in his own programme this year really makes no difference at all to the position in 1916. All it does is that we shall have thirty-nine ships in 1916 in the British programme against the next strongest 1497 Power with twenty-six. We may get the thirty-nine ships before the next strongest Power has got its twenty-six but we shall have no more than thirty-nine ships after the next strongest Power does get its twenty-six.
§ Mr. LEE
It is certainly temporary; but we all agreed that the position in 1915 would be somewhat precarious, and that this was the only way in which it could be at all improved. It is therefore necessary for the Government to carry out its own promises to complete at the earliest possible moment six more ships to be ready in 1916 — that is, the three short of the forty-two, and the three ships originally offered by Canada.
§ Mr. LEE
I have answered the question. The right hon. Gentleman went out of his way last March to tell us that it was not either impossible or difficult to lay down these ships either from the point of view of construction or of finance. So far I have devoted my remarks to the Government's own programme. Let me show why I think that programme would not be adequate, even if it were carried out. We must look ahead, and we are bound to take the date 1916, because it is the moment at which the present programme materialises.
§ Mr. LEE
The programme of this year. It is quite clear from the figures I have given that at that period after we have provided 50 per cent. superiority against the next strongest Power in Home Waters, we shall have only two ships of the "Dreadnought" type available for the whole-world service of the British Empire. 1498 The result is that our Imperial Patrol has disappeared, and that all our interests in the Mediterranean are practically being abandoned in direct violation of the Government pledge that they should be maintained exactly as before. I am aware that the suggestion has been made that our interests might be looked after by another friendly Power, but I do not think we can accept that situation, which would be neither in accordance with safety nor with the maintenance of our prestige. Meanwhile the Mediterranean situation is becoming worse. The right hon. Gentleman, to my great surprise, although not very definite about it, gave us to understand that the Board of Admiralty does not believe that there would be any addition to the strength of the Italian and Austrian Fleets in the Mediterranean in 1916 beyond the ten ships which he forecast in March. He has stated that to-day. All I can say is that it is in direct conflict with the opinion published to the world, apparently on authority, in the Press, and I really think that the right hon. Gentleman has obviously got something up his sleeve in regard to this matter, because he did not give a straight answer to a straight question in regard to it. There is, I am afraid, reason to believe that whatever he thinks at the present moment, the strength of those two countries in the Mediterranean will be greater than the ten ships which he told us about in March. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman can be sure. He gave us mysterious hints, when he spoke last, that even if those ships were built we need not meet them like-for-like, but might spend the money on some totally different form of naval construction. If that is not the only reason for not increasing the programme, I think the House of Commons is entitled to know the other reasons. I think we are entitled to know what he means before the House of Commons acquiesces in his failure to build. It is not sufficient for him to say he knows a trick worth two of that. We have a great admiration for his zeal and earnestness, but, at the same time, when the House of Commons is called upon to vote vast sums for naval construction, I think that it should be placed in possession of the full facts. Then he went on in his speech—and I really think it was hardly worthy of him—to make a perfectly farcical travesty of what he claimed the programme of the Opposition was.
§ Mr. LEE
That makes it even better. We have claimed nothing whatever of the kind, nor is there anything in what I have said to-day which could possibly give justification for such a statement. We claim that the Government, in the first place, must build up to the forty-two ships which it said it would have in 1916, and we claim, in addition, that it must build, or commence building, the three ships which we hoped were to have been supplied by Canada. That is a programme of six, not of seventeen, and which, if carried out, would give us in the year 1916 only five ships of the "Dreadnought" type over and above the 50 per cent. which the right hon. Gentleman intends to keep in Home waters, available for the defence of the Mediterranean and Pacific and the trade routes all over the world. Surely that is a very slender margin, and one which the vital interests of the British Empire in the near future will require to be materially increased! I recognise the extreme delicacy of this question affecting the problem of the world-wide defence, because, whilst the defence of the outer marches does affect us very closely, it affects even more directly the great Dominions, and, despite our willingness and the intention, which we have expressed through the First. Lord, to continue to bear single-handed the whole burden of defence of the Empire, at the same time it must be becoming clear not only to us here, but to the Dominions themselves that it is impossible for the Mother country to continue indefinitely to bear absolutely alone the burden of the new and sensational competition which has been forced upon us. Whilst, of course, we ought not in any kind of way to attempt to bring any pressure to bear on the Dominions to do anything which they may not really wish to do, at the same time I do think it is essential that the situation as it affects the whole Empire, should be clearly explained, and that if the Imperial Admiralty is asked for advice, it should tender that advice and give the advice that it thinks best in the interests of the whole Empire. For that reason I, myself, cannot join in the criticisms which have been directed against the right hon. Gentleman 1500 for the nature and extent of the advice-which he has given to Canada. I think he would have failed in his duty if he had refused to give that advice, or, indeed, if he had coloured that advice in order to suit local political conditions, of which he could have no direct and intimate knowledge. I do not think justice has been done to him in this matter by some party politicians on either side of the Atlantic.
I go further and I say that this problem of the world-wide defence of our Empire is of such vital importance and so grave and so urgent, that plain speaking on the part of the Imperial Admiralty is absolutely necessary. What is the problem in a sentence? It is that, by the time the Home Government have provided the 60, per cent. standard above the next strongest Power for which the right hon. Gentleman is making himself responsible, for which standard the Naval Estimates will be approaching £50,000,000, even then there will only be three vessels of the "Dreadnought" type available over and above for the world-wide interests of the Empire. That margin only will be available for the defence of all those interests, and I say that is tantamount to-us throwing up the sponge and abandoning our ancient proud title of mistress of the seas, and doing it, moreover, on the first serious pinch of competition. I agree with the rule that it is not the business of an Opposition to lay down an alternative programme unless, and until it is in a position to give effect to it, but we are entitled to demand that the Government shall fulfil the undertakings which it has given in the House of Commons, and I think I have shown that they are not doing so. And if I would give any outline of the standard which I would regard as the absolute minimum compatible with that national security, it would be that in addition to the 50 per cent. which the right hon. Gentleman retains for service in the Home waters, we should at least have a one-Power standard in the Mediterranean and some kind of Imperial patrol, as the right hon. Gentleman called it, which is available to go to any portion of the Empire which may be threatened. The Government programme is only giving us a margin of three ships for all those purposes, and I say, without hesitation, that that is utterly and lamentably insufficient.
There is only one other subject with which I wish to deal, and that is the subject of air defence, upon which the right hon. Gentleman did not touch at all, and 1501 I think it must be largely because he recognises himself how unsatisfactory the position is. I do not know that he is altogether to blame. I have no doubt he is doing what he can, but the neglect in the past of this great problem on the part of the Admiralty has been unaccountable Here again the right hon. Gentleman held out to us certain promises in March. I hope very soon he will be able to decide what these craft are to be called. He has asked for suggestions, and I venture to suggest a term which smacks of the sea and Admiralty traditions, namely, to call the aeroplane an airboat, and the dirigible an airship. That would be a simple description, and at any rate I put it forward for his consideration with others in the competition.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
We have decided to call the naval hydroplane a seaplane, and the ordinary aeroplane or school machine, which we use in the Navy, simply a plane, which is, I think, an effective method of description.
§ Mr. LEE
I am glad that the competition has been closed, and I hope the prize has been awarded to the successful competitor. I am sorry I failed, but it was too late entry, because I think my name is very much better. The right hon. Gentleman promised us, as I understand, that there would be seventy-five seaplanes and seventy-five pilots by the naval manœuvres in July. Has he got them? The manœuvres have commenced.
§ Mr. LEE
Nothing like the seventy-five which he promised! Then, has he got the chain of those sea-plane stations which he promised round the coast? I hope those are progressing. They are comparatively of small importance, because they can be easily and cheaply built, but the airship harbours, which cost, of course, very much more, are at the present moment almost non-existent. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will remember the lesson we learned about the docks, and will make these air harbours large enough. With regard to airships, there has been admittedly 1502 lamentably slow progress, and the right hon. Gentleman gave us in March an almost incredible excuse. He talked about the unfortunate career of the "May-fly" and how when it was brought out it collapsed. He said that incident gave a setback to Admiral policy, particularly as it coincided with the period of depression in some other countries. I am really unwilling to believe that that was the real reason. It seems so contrary to British spirit in the Navy that a vital enterprise, of that kind should be almost totally abandoned for two years merely on account of a slight accident, in which I believe not a single soul was hurt. I am unwilling to believe that that was the real reason, and I think it was more likely due to the innate conservatism of Navy men, who for so many years fought the introduction of breech-loading guns into British battleships, and now seem distrustful of this new arm. At any rate, we have got to get on. Those early failures and mistakes are inevitable. The right hon. Gentleman himself told us that it was only during the last twelve months that the Germans had' been reaping the fruit of the experience of many years' experiments. That is absolutely true, and it is all the more reason why we should set hoeing the same long furrow without any further delay. [An HON. MEMBER: "Ploughing."] There is a conflict of agricultural experts as to the, term, but at any rate I hope the right hon. Gentleman will get on. He told us we-were going to have long-range airships of the largest type, but, so far as I know, he, has only provided two foreign specimens for trial.
The creation of our air fleet is, I venture to say, one of the most urgent and vital' of the needs of the Navy to-day. I can only wish that the present manœuvres had been a test of what would happen in war. If the Blue Fleet was unprovided with aircraft and the Red Fleet was given a proper complement, I think the lessons that would have been learned would have-brought home to the right hon. Gentleman with such force the absolute necessity of having a proper equipment, that he would not allow a single day to go by until he-had provided it in adequate measure. I have necessarily spoken at considerable length, because these subjects are difficult and complicated, and I would say this in conclusion: I think in the two questions of oil and air that the charge of neglect that can be brought against the Board, so far as it can be brought, is that they showed a lack of foresight in dealing with 1503 those matters early enough. With regard to the shipbuilding policy, I think the right hon. Gentleman has shown a lack of consistency and a lack of determination to live up to the fine promises which he has made from time to time in the House and in the country. I sincerely regret that it should be so. In spite of the extremely provocative tone of his speech, I do not hesitate to say that I sincerely regret it, because I think he has missed a great and unique opportunity of lifting the whole question of national defence out of the mire of our present-day politics, and of becoming the mouthpiece for the time being of a common policy of national and Empire-wide defence. I do not know what malign influences may have been at work upon him to cause this falling away from grace. I really wish he would take heart. He really has nothing whatever to fear from the reduction of armaments party, who used to be so prominent on that side of the House. They really have not a kick left in them, and the right hon. Gentleman can treat them quite firmly without any material risk to himself. We on this side are both willing and anxious to help him in any task that he may undertake for the promotion of our naval efficiency, and in the situation which confronts him and the nation that offer of help is one which ought not to be despised. At the same time, we are unable to feel satisfied with the statement he has made to-day and with the present position of the shipbuilding programme. I feel bound to express the strong view that the provision which he is making for our naval security is both disappointing and entirely inadequate.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I approach this question, and I have listened to the two speeches which have been delivered, as an interested outside spectator, and as one who has to pay the penalty for the militant programmes put forward and the threats delivered from one side of the House to the other. I do not know if the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Lee) would class me as one of the Little Navy party.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
He is perfectly welcome to do so if he likes. I have listened to these Debates year after 1504 year in this House; I have heard these estimates of Imperial danger; I have heard of the gentleman named Mullins; I have heard the hon. Gentleman himself tell us about the enormous increase in the number of workmen that Krupps have put on. But we have had better sources of information than the hon. Gentleman himself has had. We remember the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor getting up to support the Prime Minister and making our hair stand on end, under the impression that Germany was at our very doors, and so paralysing this Committee that when he sat down nobody apparently had the presence of mind to rise and reply to him. Not a single one of those prophecies has been fulfilled; not a single one of those statements was true. Listening to the usual "annual," which is now becoming six-monthly, and will, by-and-by, be quarterly, this tirade and attack on the Admiralty, because its enormously swollen programme is not enormous and swollen enough, I am bound to say leaves my blood perfectly cold when it is concluded by a sneer at the party which is in favour of the reduction of armaments. If hon. Members would bring before the Committee facts and not scares, realities and not suspicions, I think they would be far more effective both in their arguments and in their sneers. There is one point to which I would refer more by way of parenthesis than anything else, and that is the magnificent Socialist position which the right hon. Gentleman has taken up in reference to oil. I congratulate him on his progress. In that respect it is not a rake's progress, however well that appelation might be applied to other parts of his speech. He has discovered that the ordinary operations of capitalism produce monopoly. He has discovered that in the supply of oil, which is the food of his ships, two or three gentlemen sitting in some back parlour or other, can manipulate his prices, collar his oil fuel, and make him very accurately describe the open market as something that requires a great deal of imagination to conceive. I congratulate him. He is perfectly right in his description and in his conclusions. The Admiralty Department of the State must protect itself against the ordinary operations of capitalism and monopoly, by establishing its own supplies to secure itself against these monopolists. What is true of food for the ships is true of food for the people but that is a field into which the Chairman will not allow me to go.
1505 We have listened to a speech which I am bound to say confuses me somewhat. I really do not know where the First Lord is. I thought I knew where he was in March, but whether he is now where he was in March I really do not know. I do not know whether he knows himself. [Cheers.] I am perfectly certain that those hon. Gentlemen who cheer do not know. We have been told a great many curious things. On the one hand we are told that there is really no change in the March position, but that the failure of the Borden proposals has necessitated the acceleration of three battleships; that at the present moment, if Canada were to continue her building, that would give us a margin, but that somewhere about 1915 or 1916 that margin would disappear. What is the meaning of that? That in order to keep up our relative position, even with the three extra ships, and in spite of the present acceleration, we would require to go in for more "Dreadnoughts." That is how I understood it. As the hon. Member opposite stated, in 1916 there would be a point of weakness, something similar to 1912 in the old Debates.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
You are accelerating three ships. But if the Canadian position remains as it now is what happens?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
When the seven or eight months have passed, over which the benefit of the acceleration of the three ships operates, we shall be in the position in which we found ourselves on the day when the three ships were rejected by the Canadian Senate, and we have to resurvey the situation and to take a new view.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
You never begin by taking a new view; you always begin by acceleration, and then you discover that is an organic part of your programme, and then you have to build up to it suddenly, more especially when hon. Gentlemen opposite discover some scare which can be sprung upon you. The repetition of the memorable years to which I have referred has taken place again today, and we are beginning to-day precisely the same vicious operation as we began in those years. I have risen to take the position of the outside man. I have a very great suspicion of the expert when he is allowed to run away with the public funds. 1506 I express that suspicion of the Admiralty experts because I hold it regarding myself so far as my own theories are concerned. If I had an unlimited supply of public money to spend on experiments in connection with matters in which I am interested, I would make the money fly. That is precisely the position of the Admiralty. If we may congratulate ourselves upon one thing more than upon another—I can say this as a private Member of the House when more responsible men could not—it is upon the failure of Mr. Borden's scheme in Canada—both from the Imperial point of view and from the point of view of the Admiralty. I defy anybody who follows the ordinary public Press of Canada to take any other view. The hon. Gentleman himself (Mr. Lee) wound up his speech by appealing to the right hon. Gentleman to take him into his confidence, and to drag Admiralty methods and Imperial defence matters out of the arena of party politics. What happened in Canada as a result of that scheme? For the first time in Imperial matters and matters of Imperial defence, the Liberals took one side and the Conservatives the other. From the Imperial point of view, matters that we cannot mention here because they are out of order, matters concerning the relationship between Canada and the Mother Country and between Australia and the Mother Country, were all involved in this scheme, and it was because they were so involved the House of Commons in Canada divided itself into two parties and fought the scheme upon partisan lines, until it was finally thrown out in the Senate. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman that his Canadian scheme did not come off. I think one may ask the Admiralty to try in future to acquire some elementary knowledge of Imperial politics before it tries to force schemes upon self-governing Colonies, or before it goes, as undoubtedly it did, to the responsible governing authorities of the Malay States and suggests that they should give a "Dreadnought," and also supports a scheme in India by which the independent native princes should make a present of another "Dreadnought" to the British Admiralty.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
Does the right hon. Gentleman tell us that no suggestion was made to the Malay States or to the native princes of India that these "Dreadnoughts" should be supplied?
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
Is that a technical answer or is it a real answer, that they themselves in the Malay States, out of their own brains, upon their own initiative, sat down and took it into their heads, without any suggestion or prompting from anybody except themselves, to supply a "Dreadnought," and that the native princes of India did the same?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I have always understood that the initiative came entirely from the Malay States. As far as India is concerned, I know nothing of any scheme ever being on foot to get the princes of India to move. Certainly no such scheme was ever encouraged in any way by the Government, so far so my knowledge as a Minister of the Crown goes.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
As a matter of fact, there was a scheme on foot, and it was the subject of very considerable pressure. As far as the Malay present is concerned, it is very odd that the Admiralty accepted the offer the very day they heard the news about it.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean seriously to inform the Committee and the country that if anybody offers the Admiralty a "Dreadnought" he will accept it within twenty-four hours, without considering the effect upon his programme, and without considering the effect upon the world at large? If the right hon. Gentleman conducts his business at the Admiralty in that gay and light - hearted sort of way, we can understand the whole of his speech to - day, and certainly understand his Canadian policy. Surely my right hon. Friend does not mean to give us that impression at all! I repeat, and I repeat as a charge, that unless the Admiralty had known of this ship coming; unless the Admiralty had been prepared to receive the ship before the official intimation was made, the Admiralty would not—I do not think so little of the Admiralty and their way of conducting business as that—would not have accepted the offer immediately it was made. We are sitting here day after day, and at Question Time we find our Question Paper laden with requests for particulars about ships, about their equip 1508 ment, about their coaling capacity, and so on—the whole body of particulars to find out which great armies of spies are paid by foreign Governments. I think we ought to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman that he at last has put his foot down, and has declined to answer some of these questions.
Might I put a question which, I think, is a little bit better and more specific? We were told in March—I think it was March —that negotiations were going to be started, or to be entered upon, between Germany in particular, about a shipbuilding holiday. May we ask what has been done to bring off this holiday? Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether any approaches have seriously been made, and whether any advances have been made towards securing this holiday? Certainly we did not expect that that specific statement was going to be followed up by such a threatening programme of acceleration and of increase, which, if it means anything at all, is a further statement to Germany that we are going to go on, irrespective of what she may do. Nor can we forget in all this the increased cost of armaments means an enormous and ever-increasing burden upon the industries of our country. It is not the duty of this Committee, nor of the House to allow statements like these evolved from the Admiralty, even accepted by the Cabinet, to be made without exceedingly close criticism, not upon this or that ship, not upon the workings of strategy—and the mathematics of the right hon. Gentleman opposite may be right, or not, that all ships of a certain type shall be treated as on an equality: that is not our business to-day. We must understand in connection with this Vote A, and before this Vote receives the sanction of this Committee, what the Cabinet and the Admiralty are doing in order to depress the Vote. I must believe, I cannot help believing, that what I have said will be the point of view of the ordinary man in the street who will read the statement of the right hon. Gentleman to-morrow, who still has a belief in economy in armaments, and who regards the whole burden of armaments probably as a painful necessity, but one, about which, at any rate, this sort of statement ought not, to be made in the light-hearted way in which the right hon. Gentleman has made it this afternoon. There is one new factor in this situation, not exactly new to-day—the same point may have been 1509 made last March—but every day it becomes more and more important in our consideration: that is the introduction of the International Shipbuilding Syndicate.
It is one of those influences that are colossal in their magnitude and exceedingly subtle in their movements. Dr. Liebnecht, in exposing certain things going on in Germany, brought the whole world, and not merely Germany, under obligation to him. Something of the same kind is going on in this country. Let us see how the distribution of the work under Vote A has been working out. In 1900, according to the Navy Annual, and I have got the figures very carefully compiled for use to-day, 69.2 per cent. of the building and construction work done by the Admiralty was done in private yards. In 1905, that had been raised to 73.6 per cent. In 1911 it had got up to as high as 89.5. What is the meaning of it? If hon. Members would take up the reports of the annual meetings of these shipbuilding and armament companies, they will find chairman after chairman encouraging his shareholders to start agitations for more shipbuilding, because, he tells them, it is only upon these conditions and upon these conditions alone, that profits can be kept up, and that he would be able to tell them at the end of twelve months, that they had a favourable working balance. We remember perfectly well that when the "Thunderer" left the Thames how there was hardly a Member of this House who did not receive circulars, and did not receive some sort of pressure or another to try and get another ship to be laid down in the yard. It is the same all over. That I do not complain about. It may have been perfectly legitimate pressure, but it has an influence on public opinion, and it has an influence upon those experts who supply articles to a certain class of newspapers in the country, and try to work up these periodical scares which produce programmes, suspicions, and the charges which we are constantly hearing promulgated in this House. Moreover, look what it means to the workmen. It is all very well for hon. Members to say that this is giving employment to workmen. It is giving very bad employment to workmen, because it is creating a totally artificial demand for certain kinds of labour. In the normal development of this country you will have your labour distributed in certain sections which represent in their relative strength the organic needs of the land. With all your inflated shipbuilding, you are putting too much pressure, and 1510 too many men in certain directions, and as soon as you begin to retrench—and you are always professing that you mean to retrench—you are faced with an exceedingly grave industrial crisis.
Millions of pounds of capital of this country goes out of use. Thousands and thousands of men are turned out into the street. You do that in a light-hearted way, your only excuse being that you are patriotic Imperialists. Nothing could be more short-sighted Nothing could display more folly than the sort of programmes which are being produced here year after year, more particularly on this Vote A. Let me take a definite illustration and show the working of it. I turn to a statement made by the chairman of the Hatfield Company on 20th March, 1908, at the annual meeting of the company. He referred to the wave of pessimism that was upon the shareholders. He told them to have a more cheerful feeling. Why? Because they were going to get some Government contract. Admiral Sir Archibald Douglas, a director of that company, told how this cheerful feeling was to come about. He said:—The Government would contribute to their profits, because as mere ships were built the ammunition and other stores must be increased. Larger orders must necessarily come from the Government next year.No doubt. Agitations were started for the purpose of securing them. Then we get this: There has been something said about aircraft. On 29th March, 1912, a certain British Airship Building company issued a prospectus. I will give an extract from it:—The requirements of the British Empire should be much greater than those of other countries, owing to the large number of Colonies and dependencies td be protected. It is estimated that within the next two years at least, one thousand machines of all types will be required.[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes, but what happens? We know what happens. Shareholders invest on the strength of these promises; then within the next year or two these may not be required, or may not be built, and we will have pressure brought to bear from one side or other of the House asking why they have not been built. It is no longer a question of strategy. It is no longer a question of Imperial need. It is no longer a question of necessity. It is a question of profit on the part of thousands of people who have invested in the expectation that this is going to be done, and who are disappointed because it is not done. That is not all. The chairman of this firm, Admiral Sir E. H. Freemantle, who is patron of the Aerial League of the British 1511 Empire, and a member of the Expert Advisory Committee of the Navy League, seconded the following resolution at the last annual meeting of the Navy League:—That the Nary League do insist that immediate steps should be taken by the Government of this country under all conditions, and at any cost to make adequate preparations for aerial defence; and that it be an instruction to the executive committee to take this subject into consideration as soon as possible.What is happening? You are getting an enormous octopus of financial interest fixing its tentacles upon our Admiralty, upon our Admiralty operations, upon everything connected with shipbuilding and national defence in all its various forms and aspects. Is it not right, is it not natural, is it not justifiable that we should examine all these proposals with very great suspicion in our minds? We have been hearing about the Marconi matter and so on. Shareholders and directors of armament companies in this House should remember the statements which have been made outside this House on the platforms of the country about other men. All this is going on with hundreds of thousands of shareholders expecting profits as a result of all this agitation, and determined to get their profits as the result of agitation. Imperial needs may make good patriots. When you have got your money invested in your patriotic undertakings, then you become hot patriots. That is not all. Our ship building firms which to-day build our ships here are now starting places in Genoa, Fiume, Leghorn, Trieste, Naples, and so on. They go there and get orders in Italy. Then hon. Gentlemen opposite come and ask the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty, as to whether he is quite sure that there is no new programme being launched in Italy. "Are you quite sure," they ask, "That there is not something going on in Austria of which I know, but of which you do not know?" What an insane attempt to defend our Empire under such conditions. They build ships for Austria and for Italy, and they send over word of what they are doing, and then they ask to be allowed to build ships for us to knock into smithereens the ships they are building, or hive built for the other Powers.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
Does the hon. Gentleman deny that Armstrongs, Vickers Maxim, and other firms has estab- 1512 lished shipbuilding yards on the Mediterranean coast?
§ Sir F. FLANNERY
I have noted the statement the hon. Gentleman has just made about Austrian ships being built and promoted by English builders, and I challenge him to prove his statement. He cannot do it.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
Henry Whitehead and Company, Limited, have a torpedo factory at Fiume. Yarrow boilers are being used in the Austrian battleships built since 1910. Austrian destroyers are being used which are built by English firms, and so on.
§ Sir F. FLANNERY
That is not my point. The question is whether Austrian ships are being built by English builders.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
The English firms I have mentioned are now opening works in Fiume for the building of the larger Austrian ships.
§ Sir F. FLANNERY
Does the hon. Gentleman support his statement that English shipbuilding firms have built ships for Austria? He says they are now opening works. I know of no works being opened, and I think I should know if they had been.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I have given the statement regarding Austria. Does the hon. Gentleman deny that ships are being built by these firms?
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
Then the hon. Gentleman does not deny the statement I made? I confined myself to Italy, and next year perhaps I will come back and refer him to Austria. The statement I have made is perfectly true with regard to Italy, and so is the statement so far as it regards these firms in Austria. These things are the beginning. The point I want to make—and I began by saying it is not a new fact—is that we have not yet reached the full development of this system, and that as the years go on this is going to be a more and more pressing and a more and more serious factor in the consideration of these problems of Imperial defence. I am conscious of having taken longer than I intended. I do not speak as an expert; I have never been inside the Admiralty with any right of entry. I know nothing more than the 1513 ordinary outsider is expected to know, but I do speak as an outsider who has a right, and who will maintain that right, to speak with regard to the policy which is producing all those shipbuilding programmes and the regular scares which immediately precede them. I am perfectly convinced that unless we pay just as much attention to policy as we do to shipbuilding, and unless we remember that shipbuilding, after all, is really a secondary consideration in the work of Imperial defence, we will never get out of this tremendous rut in which we are going year after year deeper and deeper and deeper. I see nothing ahead after the statements which have been made on both sides to-day making the outlook blacker, but scares producing armaments, enormous estimates, swollen unnecessarily by altogether artificial forces, over-building going on year after year, the over-building of one year becoming the basis for the over-building superstructure of the next year—an extravagant, useless, needless waste of public money. And if the Canadian development is to be taken as a precedent, I see nothing but confusion and disaster for our Imperial responsibilities. The whole thing will bring the British Empire into a very dangerous state indeed, and will rivet inevitably and finally the shackles of poverty upon the great mass of the people of this country.
§ Lord CHARLES BERESFORD
The House will agree that the hon. Gentleman Las made a very interesting speech. I may say that I do agree with him on the question of these insane cries for additional armaments in all the countries, but I would like to ask himself how it is brought about. It has been principally brought about by the efforts of Gentlemen who think, and I believe honestly think as he does, that it is right to curtail our armaments at a critical moment, and it is being brought about by such speeches as the right hon. Gentleman made to-day, which are as certain as I stand here to bring about events, if he remains in office, which will make him utter panic remarks in. this House and enormously increase the Naval Estimates again, simply because of what he said to-day and simply because lie has not stuck to his own words. Of all the extraordinary gyroscopic efforts in his brilliant career he never made such a rapid and complete somersault in regard to what he said the other day. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said he approved of the line the Government have taken with regard to the three 1514 Canadian ships. The Canadians are quite within their right, but does he not see that the line which the right hon. Gentleman, in his speech in March last took, necessitates us building these three ships? I beg his pardon; he is shaking his head. What did he say? He said they were absolutely necessary for the defence of the Empire. His words could not have been stronger. No language could have been stronger than the right hon. Gentleman's language with regard to the necessity of building these ships for what he called whole-world defence, and now what is he going to do? He may take in the House, he may take in a few people in the country, but he will take in nobody like myself who knows anything about it when he says he is going to accelerate three of those ships which he is building.
The country thinks these ships will be built quicker. They will only be built quicker by being put down seven months earlier. The right hon. Gentleman smiles, but let him not smile yet. What position is he in now. He has eight ships, five of which for seven months have been over their time of building. What is he going to do by the acceleration? His wording was very clever. He is a very clever person. He said it was "temporary." Of course, it is only temporary, but he knows that what he said last March is true, and that he will have to build these Canadian ships—he really ought to build one more—if Canada exercises her right and refuses to build them at all. That will be the position. I say the right hon. Gentleman has entirely eaten the words he used last March. I should like to follow the right hon. Gentleman's speech right from the commencement with oil. Hon. Members laugh, but it is not a laughing matter at all. It is a question which will affect vitally the fighting power of our Fleet if it is not efficient and effective. As we all know, we have up to now depended upon coal which we could produce, but now we are going to depend on oil, which we cannot produce. I do not believe in the suggestion that at the present time or for many years to come we can produce oil out of shale in this country except to a limited amount. There are many new dangers in substituting oil for coal, and the right hon. Gentleman in March last put them much better than I can. He said, "Can we make sure of obtaining a full supply of oil at a reasonable price in time of peace and without restriction or interference in time of war." 1515 That was his question. I can prove that we can do neither. Although the right hon. Gentleman made a brilliant speech, there was nothing in it whatever that we did not know. We do not know what is going to be the situation, what the storage is going to be, what the transport of oil to this country is going to be, and what the transport and distribution to the ships is going to be. If the Committee will allow me I will tell them what it ought to be. We cannot get oil at a reasonable price now for the simple reason that when he designed those ships and made up his mind that he would have oil ships and would lay them down, he never made his contracts. He did not make them until afterwards. That was an unbusinesslike proposal, a proposal which this House ought to criticise most adversely. The Admiralty have to buy the oil, but he never made the contracts, and I defy him to tell me he could not have made them. That is why the price has gone up, and therefore he cannot get it at the reasonable price he suggested in March.
Oil, as he pointed out, would be contraband of war and will be interfered with in war time. He is going to add another article to our articles already existing, raw material and food, which are not properly defended. I said that often in this House. I recommended armed merchant ships, and sometimes I got rude remarks about it. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has found the necessity of following one of the things I recommended. It is the only plan, as we have taken the cruisers off the trade routes, to arm our ships and make them equivalent to the only ships that can attack them, which are the armed mercantile ships of the enemy. The relative values of coal and oil fuel are enormously in favour of oil. The right hon. Gentleman has told the Committee some of them, and if I may I will tell the Committee some more. First, you can re-fuel quicker, then you can refuel at sea without returning to your base, which makes an enormous difference in our position when we are patrolling at some distance away and we can float the oil to the ship for re-fueling. Another point I agree with, and that is as compared with coaling it will not wear out the whole ship's company at a moment which might be critical, and then have to send them out next day all weary and dead beaten. That would be a great disadvantage. Then we shall have less personnel, more cleanliness, and it is 1516 smokeless—that is a point he did not mention—and it is better combustion. There is a reduction in the heat below for the men feeding and working the boilers and ultimately greater speed and greater radius of action. I mention those things to show how entirely I am in favour of oil. Any criticism I shall offer is not against oil. I am perfectly in favour of getting oil if we can get it. There are one or two more advantages in favour of oil fuel over coal which makes the advantage of oil over coal about three to two. I am talking only of oil; there is also oil and coal, but if you get, as we shall get, I believe, an internal combustion engine, the advantage of oil over coal would be about four to one—but we have not got that yet. There is a neighbouring country fitting out a cruiser with an internal combustion engine, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will shortly make an experiment upon that principle, because there is no doubt it has got to come. Against all these advantages there are tremendous disadvantages at the moment. One is the question of the transport of oil to the stores in this country. That is the transport of the oil from the source of origin to where we have to store it. The second is the question of storage, and the third is another question of transport, which is the delivery of the oil to where the fleet is. That is from the storage to the ships. I think the counterpois of disadvantages at the present moment and for some time will kick the beam, and I think that being so we are placing ourselves in a very grave position with regard to this question of oil. I must blame the Admiralty for it. They designed these ships and laid them down before taking the ordinary business precaution of getting the transports from the source of origin, the necessary storage and the transports for distribution. The right hon. Gentleman asked us to trust him; but I have not the slightest reason in the world to trust him. I do not say they are dishonest, but they are often tied by exigencies. I have fought the Admiralty many times, and, without being in the least conceited, I may say that I have always won. [Hon. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh."] If you doubt it, look at the question of manning armed merchant ships, and my plan with regard to cruisers which the right hon. Gentleman is adopting, all excellent ideas of which I was the mouthpiece, although I was flatly contradicted when I produced them. The Admiralty said that they only wanted six more cruisers and that a larger number were not 1517 necessary, but in six weeks after that the construction programme provided for twenty-two. The Admiralty are very often -wrong, and I think we shall find them wrong again after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure he will be amazed when he realises how that speech will be received in the country. His proposals will run us into the expenditure of many millions eventually which we need not have spent, and it will not be many months before he discovers something, and then he will come forward and say things have altered.
The clever man who understands war always makes allowance for these contingencies, and when you see all this extra shipbuilding going on, and all this overhead warfare, we ought to make allowance for it all, because our very life depends upon being supreme at sea, and being absolutely effective in regard to our naval supplies of all sorts. The right hon. Gentleman ought never to have built those ships unless he had the oil in the tanks, and he has not. The least we ought to have for what the right hon. Gentleman has suggested for our oil-burning ships is 1,000,000 tons. I thought at first the right hon. Gentleman was not going to tell us anything about the oil fuel, but he is not quite correct in some of the things he said, although he is very nearly correct. At -this moment, for the 234 vessels burning oil and coal, the supply is about 50,000 tons. That is what is afloat in the tanks of the ships which are burning oil, but that has nothing to do with the expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman says that the expenditure last year was 200,000 tons. My point is that he expended every ton he, had in the country, and there is no reserve at all, and that is a very grave danger when there are strained relations.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Interjections of that kind ought not to be made unless the right hon. Gentleman rises.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Then I will rise, and I say that the statement is absolutely untrue. Of course, I do not mean wilfully untrue.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
The right hon. Gentleman has always got a rather rude way of putting things, and he is rather celebrated for that. I shall not, however, reply to him in the same rude strain, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell 1518 us what his reserves are. But perhaps it is wise that that sort of thing should not be brought out in public, although I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me when I say that our reserves of oil are not nearly what he would like them to be, and I am sure they are infinitesimal compared with what they ought to be. The reason for this is that the right hon. Gentleman has not put up his store tanks in sufficient numbers, and he ought to have put up a great many more of them before he started building these oil-burning ships. There will be 304 vessels burning oil. At the present moment there are 234 burning oil and coal, and some are burning all oil, and therefore we ought to have these reserves, and the storage should be provided as early as possible. The stock which the ships carry has nothing whatever to do with the expenditure. I will give an illustration to enable the Committee to form some idea of what the expenditure of oil is. In three days two flotillas of destroyers burn nearly 5,000 tons of oil. That was merely at manœuvres, and if you expend oil like that at manœuvres, just imagine what it means in war time! My point is that the Admiralty ought never to have agreed to the laying down of those ships for oil until they had provided everything that was necessary to keep them going if strained relations suddenly occurred. We have been told that oil would be considered contraband of war, and we must remember that if a foreign country captured our oil supply we should have to demobilise our Fleet at once. If once our supply is cut off we have not enough oil in store, and we are not likely to have. In this matter the Admiralty have made a mistake, and we shall all be very glad to help you to get out of it. On this question I never have said anything of a party character. [HON EMBERS "Oh, oh!"] If the right hon. Gentleman pays me the compliment of looking up my criticisms of my own party on this subject he will find that they have been far stronger than those I have used against the present Government, because you can always hit your friend harder than you can your enemy. If there has been a mistake of this kind it is one which will be of a fatal character, for it is a vital mistake if we were called suddenly to engage in a war without being prepared. Therefore, I think it will be better to own up to the mistake.
The right hon. Gentleman told us nothing about oil, and he never told us 1519 what he is going to spend. I maintain that he must spend a very large sum to provide storage, transport from sources of supply, and distribution transports to the Fleet. With regard to transport, the House must understand that any vessel can carry coal, and it does not matter what she is built of, but only a certain class of vessel can carry oil because it must be in a tank, and even those vessels cannot carry oil unless they are built to a certain specification; if they are too thin the oil will leak through, and if too thick you cannot pump the oil out, and so you have to have a certain class of vessel. You have not nearly enough vessels to supply the 1,000,000 tons which are required, and those vessels cannot be built by the time you have finished your five big oil-burning ships. I defy the right hon. Gentleman to tell me that you have your transport or distribution ready, and you cannot have the storage ready for 1,000,000 tons by the time your ships are built. The right hon. Gentleman said the transports were small in number, but we shall have to keep them going to and fro the whole time in order to fill up your storage tanks.
The right hon. Gentleman made a great point about getting oil from other countries. Look at the danger of that! We get in this country about 100,000 tons of oil from Roumania. She has just declared war against Bulgaria, and therefore the whole of our contracts with Roumania for the supply of oil are off at this moment. Something has been said about getting oil from Mexico. I have the greatest objection to that, not from any ill-natured remarks which have been made, but for other reasons. My point is that what has happened in Roumania may happen in Mexico, and a rebellion there might stop our supply. The Eagle Company has got enormous contracts with the Mexican railways and the Standard Oil Company take precedence over us. We may get a new Mexican Government, and they may repudiate the contracts we have got, and object to the methods by which they were obtained. All those are dangers which are happening, or will happen, with regard to obtaining oil from Mexico. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he is going to put up refineries here, and that is a good thing, but he has not said a word about the cost. It will cost a very large sum of money to make our oil-burning ships effective. There is another matter which the right hon. Gentleman will have to add to his expenses. He will have to 1520 provide a heating arrangement in every man-of-war and in every tank in a man-of-war and transport before he will be able to pump the oil out. There is no difficulty of this kind in Mexico, but when the oil gets over here it is not suitable, and unless the right hon. Gentleman brings the oil over here in its crude state, and provides his own refineries and brings it up to his own specifications, this cannot be avoided. The whole thing has been run in a most unbusinesslike manner, and the Admiralty had no right to build those five ships until they knew they were absolutely certain that they would not be laid up in time of war on account of the shortage of oil. The position is really this: We are the three Canadian ships short, because the right hon. Gentleman knows that his idea of acceleration is all nonsense, and that he will have to build those ships. He is those three ships short and he is one ship short of his own 60 per cent. That makes four, and he is in danger of having these five ships thrown out of action through being short of oil, because if we had any strained relations with other Powers the oil would not be there. With regard to storage, he has got some at Gibraltar and Malta, and there ought to be some at Singapore. There is some private oil there, about 20,000 tons, and there is some at Hong Kong. There ought to be, and I hear there is going to be, a storage at Alexandria. This storage abroad is very important. You want safe transports, and you do not appear to have calculated that at all. You will have to have transports to keep your storage full. You cannot afford to run the risk of supplying your ships abroad by sending out an oil tanker. You have got to have your storage abroad and fill up your storage abroad. There is another mistake which has been made. The tanks which have been put up are near the sea and every one of them in sight. That was a needlessly stupid thing to do. One shot may destroy the whole of the tank. They ought to be right away inland where they cannot be seen, with pipes to the sea, and they ought to be protected from overhead warfare. At present we can see all the tanks we have got miles out at sea. Oil is very easily destroyed. It is not like coal; you cannot destroy coal. If the storage is not sufficient, it should be made sufficient at once. Then, again, if you had strained relations with other Powers, oil would go up to a prohibitive price. It does not matter, however, what price it is, we must have it, and we have got to 1521 pay that price. But why should you have been silly enough not to have made your contracts long ago, and so have got your storage full? it is high now through your own fault; you should have made your contracts in time.
The right hon. Gentleman says that the oil is there. Of course, we all know that it is there. The coal is there, but you have got to dig it out of the ground, put it in colliers, and in store, and that is what you have got to do with the oil. The oil is in the ground, but you have to make proper arrangements to get it out of the ground and into a proper place of storage. The position with regard to this oil is far worse than that which turned the Government out on the question of cordite. You can use other explosives, but you cannot use anything but oil for oil-driven ships. You cannot alter them in any way. Therefore, the position is worse. I think that I have given the Committee the real points. The Admiralty had no right to build the ships without having the transports ready from the place of supply. It is a peculiar ship; only a tanker can bring the oil over. They ought to have their storage full with at least 1,000,000 tons, and they ought to have ships for distributing it among the Fleet. Those are my main points with regard to the oil question. It is very much like the "Dreadnought" question. That was pushed through without thought. We insulted other nations with it, and we made them all build "Dreadnoughts." I said so in the House at the time, and I wrote letters about it. I said, "We, are now supreme on all the seas, but what will happen if other nations build Dreadnoughts'?" What has happened? At this moment, through that policy, there are 154 "Dreadnoughts" built, building, and projected in the world, of which we have forty-two. My words have absolutely come right. We have placed the British Empire in a position of danger by that "Dreadnought" policy. I do not object to our having built the ship at all. I object to the line which was taken when it was built. The other ships, the "Nelson" and "Agamemnon" were better ships than the original "Dreadnought"; they were better defending ships and better gun ships. The single-gun ship was another grave and shocking error we made, and there were many of us who prophesied that it would be a mistake, but we were told we knew nothing about it. What has been the result? We are now going back to the auxiliary arm. Like everything else, it is going to be changed. We 1522 were only going to build "Dreadnoughts" and torpedo-boat destroyers, but that is all changed. That is why I say I do not always believe the Admiralty when they say, through the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman, "Trust us and we will pull you through."
There has been a, want of business arrangement altogether with regard to this question of oil. Will the right hon. Gentleman say that I exaggerate if I say that to get the transports, the storage, and the distributing vessels the oil will in the near future cost him, roughly, £5 per ton? Will he say that I exaggerate if I say that it will cost him £500,000 to put in the heaters? Will he say that I exaggerate if I say that it will cost between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000—I do not mean extra—to get the 1,000,000 tons of oil? And will he say that I exaggerate if I say this storage will cost at least £500,000? Why did he not tell us all these things? He will have to tell us next year. He is afraid of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. I say that his speech is delusive. I am most unhappy about it, really! I think that it was not worthy of him. It is bound to increase the expense to this country eventually. May I say a few words on the question of the contract and specification? The right hon. Gentleman will not tell us the contractor's name, and there I think that he is right. I do not think that it would be for the good of the country or anybody to tell us the contractor's name, and I agree with him that it is an old practice which should not be reversed without very good reason. But I do think that he ought to give us the specification. That is quite a different thing. Will he kindly answer these questions? I do not think that he ought to contract with any company that has not got its reserve tanks, so that there is no necessity for a force majeure clause. This matter is so vital that the Government should not take any contract unless the amount contracted for is in sight—captured in the reserve tanks of the company contracting.
Then the Government should not contract with any company without having their own geological expert to report on the locality. You can never, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, be quite certain about oil, but there are certain indications which will give a geological expert knowledge that it will last for such a time, and I do not think that the Government ought to have taken any contract without having 1523 a report from their geological expert. Then I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would be wrong to tell us the price. We shall have to pay it eventually and I do not see why we should not know it beforehand. Why should we not know what the contract is? We ought to know the date of delivery. There would be no harm in it. We should also know the flash-point and the viscosity of the oil. Those are all points in the specification which the House ought to know. There are plenty of people who could judge whether the conditions of the contract the Government have accepted are good enough. There is one thing I can state positively to the House: They cannot get the oil by any means in the world, although the right hon. Gentleman may say that it is under the ground somewhere, if they adhere to the original specification they made when they laid down the ships. If he has revised the specification so far as the flash point goes, he ought to let us know. He is quite right when he says that it is an expert question. It is a chemist's and engineer's question, and I believe that the engineers and chemists were strongly against the flash point being reduced. I maintain that he could not get the oil unless he has reduced the flash point to a considerable extent. It was 230 originally, then it came down to 200, and I am told now that it is 175, though I do not really know what it is. It is a question on which the chemists should give a clear and decisive opinion as to whether they consider the flash point specified safe or not.
Why will not the right hon. Gentleman tell us something about the interim report? If it were in his favour he would, I suppose, tell us. What has he got to conceal? Is he afraid of it? It cannot be in his favour. I cannot know, of course, what the interim report is because it is confidential, but I have a perfect right to say that I think it was to the effect that those ships should not be laid down until the stores and everything else were ready. I believe that I am also right in supposing that there, was something about the flash point in the report. Why should we not, on such a vital question, which may affect our lives and the future of the Empire if anything goes wrong with the flash point, know what is in the interim report? If it were in favour of the right hon. Gentleman, why of course he would tell us what it was, and he will not tell us anything about it. I must point out that the right hon. Gentle- 1524 man could not do what he told us in March he could do. He said he could have 60 per cent. in Home waters over and above the next strongest Power. He said that he could have an Imperial cruising fleet of six ships at Gibraltar, and he said that he could have a force in the Mediterranean suitable for the special duties they would have to perform in war. He could not do that in March. He could not then have those three squadrons or fleets, which he says are absolutely necessary for the defence of the Empire, and much less can he have them now. He has eaten his own words. He has told us about the acceleration rendered necessary because the Canadian ships are not forthcoming.
With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's facts, the Committee will remember that, on the 24th July, he said there were twenty destroyers laid down at the beginning of the year. As a matter of fact, only three had then been laid down, and the other seventeen were laid down long after. They were laid down, not at the beginning of the year, but from that month afterwards on an average of three per month up to December, when the last two were laid down. I do not say that the right hon. Gentleman wilfully misled us on that occasion. But he was absolutely incorrect. If I were to say a thing like that, he would assert that I had told an untruth. He made some such statement in reference to what I said about the men. I had made the assertion that we wanted 20,000 men for present and future requirements. The right hon. Gentleman said that that was an untruth. But he joined 20,095 last year, including volunteers. In answer to a question within the last few days, he said he had joined 17,500. He ought to have joined, as I assert, 21,000. It was not an untruth therefore. I knew what I was talking about, and I say I was right, and he was wrong. It, therefore, does not lie in his mouth to say that I tell untruths. A man may always make a mistake, but to inform him that he is telling an untruth is not a courteous way of starting an argument. The right hon. Gentleman has given us a great number of words, but he has not given us a great number of deeds. Speaking the other day, he asserted that the British Naval Power had never stood upon a firmer basis than it now does. That statement was received with loud cheers by a distinguished audience, who evidently believed it. But the right hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well that he was not stating the 1525 real facts. His statement may have done for his audience; it might do for this House, but it would not do for the country, neither will it be borne out, if he is in office, which God forbid, when next March, the Navy Estimates come to be presented. Then there is the question of airships. Germany has got 469; France, 609; we have less than 200. Therefore, our frontiers are now on a level with those of other countries. In estimating our position we must compare like with like.
The position with regard to the British Navy is far more critical than in 1909. It has become more critical, because we have the new danger of the air, and we shall have the danger of oil unless the supply is made up to what it should be at once. We have to have a Fleet, as the right hon. Gentleman says, of 60 per cent. in Home waters, an Imperial squadron at Gibraltar, and a Fleet in the Mediterranean. He himself has declared that this is essential for the protection of this Empire, with its world-wide possessions. We cannot have such a Fleet, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it, on the lines on which he is now proceeding. He is playing a gigantic gamble with the British Navy" and neither he nor the Government have any right to do that. We come to the question of what was said by the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman—that brilliant statesman who is now at the Home Office. He said we had arrived at the zenith of our naval expenditure. But what did the Prime Minister say about the old pre-"Dreadnoughts"? He said they were hypothetical ships. Now the First Lord says that they are real ships, and he takes them into account in his calculations, to-day. I think the naval crisis is one of extreme gravity, and that the First Lord of the Admiralty is doing little or nothing to cope with it.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
I am very glad that the Noble Lord, who has just sat down, has not been quite so pessimistic on this occasion as on the last time he addressed the House on the subject of the Navy. He has not called up so many horrors and terrors, and I am very thankful that that is so. We have heard a great deal about oil. I do not propose to dilate on that question. I will only say we were glad to hear the First Lord of the Admiralty state that the new ships are to be ships that will burn coal, and therefore they will not involve us in all sorts of scares in regard to oil. After all, we in this 1526 country have an abundance of coal. We have the best coal in the whole world. We have hitherto done very well with it. We shall never run short of it, and, therefore, I am glad to hear it is still to be the mainstay of the Navy, although I quite recognise the enormous advantage of oil fuel. I want to speak on another question. I understand that this is an occasion for taking a survey of the whole of the requirements of the Navy in regard to building, and I should like to ask a few questions of the First Lord as to his statement that we are to accelerate the building of three ships in consequence of what has occurred in Canada. In the first place, the First Lord said nothing about the cost of this acceleration. We have already got enormous Estimates, is it to be taken therefore that this is a small detail?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I told the House some time ago that the cost was estimated at £550,000. There will be an increase this year, a slight increase next year, and a large increase in the following year, but the amount will depend on how much progress the contractors make in the next few weeks.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
I am obliged to the right lion. Gentleman for that explanation. It is of course a very considerable addition to our already swollen Estimates. In regard to the policy which has brought about the failure to produce these ships in Canada I should like to say a few words, because it seems to me that the Admiralty and the First Lord have gone on wrong lines, and we find this burden now placed upon us in consequence. There has been a complete change in the Admiralty policy and a complete reversal of the policy hitherto pursued in connection with the Colonial contribution. In 1902 the Admiralty very strongly advocated the desirability of contributions from the Colonies. It was then pointed out by Canada that there was a difficulty in agreeing to the principle of contribution. In 1907 Australia followed suit and stated there was no possibility of continuing the policy of contributions and that she must be permitted to develop a navy of her own. In that way only could they see their way to give naval aid to the Mother Country. At an auxiliary naval conference held in the Colonies in 1909 the Admiralty for the first time recognised the fact that, although, from a naval point of view, it might be desirable to have a single fleet controlled by the 1527 Mother Country, other considerations were bound to come in, and in the Memorandum they then presented to the conference, this important statement was made:—If the problem of Imperial Naval Defence were considered merely as a problem of naval strategy it would be found that the greatest output of strength for a given expenditure is obtained by the maintenance of a single Navy with the concomitant unity of training and unity of command. In furtherance then of the simple strategical ideal the maximum of lower would he gained if all parts of the Empire contributed according to their need and resources to the maintenance of the British Navy. It has, however, long been recognised that in defining the conditions under which the naval forces of the Empire should be developed other considerations than those of strategy alone must be taken into account.Further on, the Memorandum went on to point out that—Looking to the difficulties involved, it is not to be expected that tile discussion with the several Defence Ministers will result in a complete and final scheme of Naval Defence, but it is hoped that it will be found possible to formulate the broad principles upon which the growth of Colonial Naval forces should be fostered. While laying the foundation of future Dominion Navies to be maintained in different parts of the Empire, these forces would contribute immediately and materially to the requirements of Imperial Defence.Here was an admission that it was desirable to foster a local Dominion Navy, and it was agreed at that Conference that both Canada and Australia should establish local naval units. It was agreed also that that was the best way in which aid from the Colonies could be associated with the naval strength of the Empire. The "Times," in a forcible leading article, congratulated the Admiralty on having recognised this desire on the part of the Colonies. That being the case, there came the Imperial Conference of 1911, and there the results of the discussion on naval policy were embodied in a Memorandum, which states:—That the Naval Service and Forces of the Dominions of Canada and Australia shall be exclusively under the control of their respective Governments.It then goes on to lay down their spheres of influence, and it gives a promise that every assistance will be given by lending men and officers to the Colonies to train the personnel or to man these local navies. The First Lord has gone back upon that. He told Canada he was unable to carry that out, so that we have a complete reversal of the policy then agreed upon, the policy of local navies. He intimated to Canada that it would be impossible, if she insisted on having two complete local units to give her any aid or assistance in the matter. There is the crux of the whole difficulty. That is what has caused all 1528 the difficulty in Canada, and the Canadians, owing to that, have found themselves involved in domestic trouble. I need not further refer to the matter beyond pointing out that as these ships are not forthcoming we are now burdened with the cost of accelerating, and possibly of constructing, the new vessels. Last year the First Lord told us that in the provision he had laid before us he was making the Empire absolutely secure in every part. Then we had from Germany a recognition of that superiority which he had claimed. But no mention was then made of any other standard than the 60 per cent. standard of superiority. Last March, when the First Lord made his statement, he told us he had not considered the Canadian ships in the provision which he was making for our defence, and that that provision was entirely independent of us, because Canada stipulated that anything she did should be in addition to what was considered necessary by us. He told us that in considering the provision for our own building he looked upon the ships of Canada as a provision of extra security. The First Lard was then placed in this difficulty: that we were to have a 60 per cent. standard over Germany, and yet have a Fleet at Gibraltar. There must be some means of reconciling those two different standards, and he has now invented an "all world" standard. I ask the First Lord whether he does not consider he is wrong in ruling out from the European standard the ships at Gibraltar, which is only three days away?
§ Mr. MOLTENO
Not the all-world ships to which he alluded in March, and which he told us were to be composed of these three ships, the "Malaya" and the other ships contributed by the Colonies.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
If that be so, these ships are additional to the 60 per cent. standard he mentioned as being the standard for Home waters. Can the right hon. Gentleman give any reason for asking Germany, in its consideration of our superiority, to neglect the ships based upon Gibraltar, which is only three days from the North Sea, when he is asking the Colonies to consider as a defence ships which are not three but twenty-three days 1529 away from their port? Before I leave the standard of naval contribution from the Colonies, I wish to point out that not only did Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman repudiate the idea of asking for a contribution from the Colonies, but that the present Prime Minister did so as lately as 1911. At the Conference of 1907, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman said:—The view sometimes taken of the proper relations of the Colonies to the Mother Country with respect to expenditure on armaments has of late been somewhat modified. We do not meet you to-day as claimants for money.The present Prime Minister, in addressing the Conference of 1911, said:—Canada has never given us a naval contribution, and we have never attempted to exact one from her. Of course, the know our own business better than that.The First Lord has entirely abandoned those principles. He has told us that the three ships are vital, and that if Canada does not see her way to build them, we shall have to do so. What is that but asking a contribution from Canada? I would further remind the right hon. Gentleman that at the last Imperial Conference a proposal was made by Sir Joseph Ward that we should have an Imperial Navy, contributed to by all the Colonies, accompanied by an Imperial Council. That proposal was unanimously rejected by the Premiers of all the Colonies. If the proposal of contribution, when associated with representation in the Imperial Council, was entirely rejected, surely the right hon. Gentleman cannot expect it to meet with acquiescence or acceptance when it is put to the Colonies without any Imperial Council or without giving them any say in the control of the ships that are to be provided by the Colonies! It has become perfectly clear, and has been stated on various occasions that it is impossible to expect Colonial Ministers to obtain money from their Parliaments and hand it over to any other authority without any further say in the control of that money.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I do not think hon. Members ought to go very far into that question on Vote 8. It would, of course, be more pertinent to the original discussion on Vote A. It only comes in here in so far as it arises out of the question of the acceleration of the three ships already authorised in this year's programme.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
I bow to your ruling, Sir. I was endeaving to show that we had been brought to the position of having a heavy burden placed upon us because a wrong principle was followed. It appears to me vital that we should not get into this 1530 position by pursuing a wrong policy. I would rather be relieved of the whole burden, and therefore object to the acceleration of the ships. I think it is unnecessary, and that we have only got into the position by pursuing a wrong policy. Am I wrong in arguing that point?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am not taking objection to what the hon. Member has already said, but I was guarding against a diversion of the time on Vote 8 to what seems to me to be more appropriate to the original Estimate, namely, the policy which is discussed when we deal with the Estimates at the beginning of each year.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
In view of your ruling, Sir, I will not pursue the subject further, except to say that we strongly object to having to pay for the acceleration of these ships, which we think have not been provided in connection with our needs, but in order to meet a situation we were not asked to face so recently as last year. It is undoubtedly a new policy, which is being pursued without proper explanation or proper or adequate discussion. I will now turn to another aspect of the duties of the Navy. We have been asked to consider a new policy of armed merchant ships. This, I think, has a great bearing upon our building and our naval strength generally, because it appears to open up a very serious situation. We have never had any proper explanation of it. It appears to be an attitude of this kind towards the mercantile marine: The Admiralty say, "We are so occupied and engrossed in preparing for this great struggle, the great Armageddon which is to come upon us, that we are unable to protect our mercantile marine. We will hand you a few guns, and you must do what you can to defend yourselves. You can no longer rely upon the absolute and complete defence of the British Navy." I ask the First Lord why that is so, and why the Admiralty have abandoned the intention and expectation of being able to defend our commerce on the various trade routes of the world?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
We defend commerce absolutely from the attacks of foreign men of war, but commerce is invited to protect itself against the attacks of foreign merchant vessels converted into marauding cruisers on the high seas.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
I understand it now. I understand that they could be protected from foreign war vessels but not from 1531 armed merchant cruisers. A merchant cruiser is inferior in speed and strength to a foreign war vessel. Realise what a merchant ship is asked to do! The captain is asked to have on board two guns, with no properly trained crew and with no naval officer in command. He is expected to go on his ordinary business and perform the ordinary duty of carrying cargo and passengers, but he is asked to become a privateer at a moment's notice and actually to enter upon a naval engagement with all his crew and non-combatants and passengers on board. Is it not perfectly clear that he is to be asked to face a position which no officer or man in the Imperial Navy is asked to face? The Navy, when they go into action, are not asked to do this work. They are in a position to keep the enemy at bay and make themselves respected. What can a merchant ship do? She has no armour and no protection. She is exactly like a tin kettle. You fire a shot into her, and down she goes with all her crew and passengers. Shipowners have always done their best to prevent taking any risks of this kind, because they know they are not provided with proper material for such action. Of what value will these ships be? One little cruiser or torpedo-boat of the enemy will account for every one of these merchant cruisers. Are they suddenly to turn themselves into warships? Can it be done? This is a complete reversal of the policy of the Admiralty. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that it is a retrograde step. The Admiralty had arrangements with the owners of the mercantile marine that their ships should be supplied to the Admiralty on the outbreak of war, under which they were to be armed, manned, and controlled and worked entirely by the Royal Navy. That is an entirely different proposition. This is a return to the old indefinite form of a ship of a nondescript character, which was taken for a warship for certain purposes.
What attitude did we take up, what did Lord Lansdowne say to Russia when she sent. the "Smolensk" and the "St. Petersburg" into the Red Sea converted them there and captured our ships? Lord Lansdowne said, "It is wrong; you must release these ships." What was done? Not only did the Russian Government accede to that, but they released the ships and compensated the owners. Are we to go back and pursue a Russian method of protecting our merchantmen? It is a step which will never re- 1532 dound to our credit. The proper course, if merchant ships are running a risk in time of war, is to convoy them, even with a most inferior cruiser, because one inferior cruiser could meet any number of the enemy's merchant ships, arid no number of our merchant ships armed could deal with one single energy's cruiser.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
Why then this change? Where are these enemies to come from? Where are our own warships to be if they are not employed in keeping open the sea for our trade? What will happen if our merchant ships are to be at the mercy of one small enemy torpedo boat or cruiser? Is the position to be that we are to have a few guns and a few inefficient men on board to protect ourselves?
§ Mr. MOLTENO
What about the risk and danger of carrying high explosives on board merchant ships? According to the regulations, when you have high explosives on board you do not enter the harbour, but go to a safe place and take them out, and then you are allowed to enter the harbour. That happens every day. Are we going to have new regulations? I should like to know what is the view of the Admiralty in regard to that? This policy requires very much further consideration than it has yet received at the hands of the Admiralty. It is adding a most serious risk to our mercantile marine. What about our attitude in regard to the Declaration of London? We held it was illegitimate to convert those merchant ships into war vessels. Now we are abandoning all that, and taking the Russian line that we can alter ships at a moment's notice and convert them into privateers. I would urge upon the First Lord that all this means, as he himself has said, that we are taking a step of a retrograde character. Does he despair of our power to defend our shores and our possessions? I do not. I think that our Navy was never so efficient or powerful, and that its personnel never was equalled. I do not think it is right to abandon one of its main duties, which is to keep open the arteries through which we draw our food supply and our raw materials and those things we need for the very life and existence of this country.
§ Sir F. FLANNERY
I do not understand what is the object of the speech of the hon. Member, except it be to 1533 repeat the platitude that our Navy never was so strong as it is at present. No doubt he is correct in what he said, but the real test is, what is the strength of our Navy in comparison with the navies of other countries which we may have to meet. The hon. Member seemed to think that because British merchant ships, being armed, might, be subjected to attack from the regular cruisers of foreign countries in time of war, it was an unwise policy to arm them. The arming of British merchant ships is for the purpose of their meeting and protecting themselves against similar merchant vessels of the enemy which might also be armed, and, therefore, if you give to British merchant ships the same measure of certain perfection that foreign vessels have, having regard to the enormous number of foreign merchant vessels which are provided with guns, you are only placing them upon an equality of footing. The policy is one on which I think, quite apart from any question of party or of prejudice, the whole of this Committee will support what the Admiralty have done.
The hon. Member went into a detailed disquisition of the various arguments of policy in Canada which led to the failure of the proposal of the present Government of the Dominion to provide three ships for the defence of the Empire. I desire to emphasise in the strongest Tanner the importance of the defection of those ships, and the futile attempt of the First Lord in his proposals to meet that deficiency. The three capital ships which it was expected, when the Navy Debate was being held in March, would be at present well under weigh, have, for the time at all events, been withdrawn from the programme, and so far as I can understand the difficulties that there are in the Dominion, it will be quite an indefinite time before the Mother Country can count upon those vessels being arranged for. The Tight hon. Gentleman proposes an acceleration of some of the vessels which are to be ordered. They are to be ordered, he says, at an earlier period than they otherwise would have been ordered. I would hope that the Minister who replies to the Debate will reconcile what seems to me a fatal defect in the proposal. In March last it was stated by the First Lord that £1,600,000 previously voted had not been spent, and he gave an explanation why it had not been spent. The explanation was that progress had not been made in the ship- 1534 building yards because of congestion, and therefore the progress in the construction of the vessels has been less than the Admiralty desired, less than it was to the interest of the contractors to make it, and less from physical reasons which it was absolutely impossible to get over. That was the explanation, and it was the correct explanation. It was true, and it is true at this moment. You may give orders for ships, but you will not get any response to those orders in immediate progress with them. I speak from personal knowledge upon that point as regards the shipyards of this country, and since March, when that statement was made, nothing whatever in the shipyards has seriously or materially changed, and it is a mere paper attempt to throw dust into the eyes of this Committee and into the eyes of the country and the whole Empire to suggest that the lack of these three ships is to be made up by a mere acceleration on paper of shipbuilding progress on vessels which have already been sanctioned by this House, but which are not yet begun. This is not a matter of mere detailed criticism as to the number of ships. The hon. Member (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) asked for facts. This was the fact in regard to those three Canadian ships, that when Mr. Borden returned to the Dominion after his conference with the British Government he made a speech and publicly stated his reasons for asking the Dominion to furnish those three ships, and in that speech he said that the situation disclosed to him by the Home Government was so grave that it called for immediate action. That was six months ago. To-day the immediate action which the Admiralty propose is the paper acceleration of some of the ships which have been ordered. I hope wiser counsels may prevail, and that even now it may be within possibility that the First Lord will persuade the Government to do the right and patriotic thing in laying down at least three ships at once, which would take the place of the three which were expected and upon which the Navy Estimates in March were declared by the Admiralty to be based.
Now a word upon the question of oil fuel. I speak with some actual experience of oil fuel. I claim that vessels with which I was professionally connected were amongst the first to show the way to the Admiralty in regard to the use of oil fuel and I rejoice, from the national standpoint, that the Admiralty have at last 1535 thoroughly adopted the principle of oil fuel. It has all the advantages which have been claimed for it. It will increase the range, the speed, the power for offence and defence of every warship to which it is applied, whether large or small. The only difficulty which hitherto has kept the Admiralty back as a matter of policy has been the difficulty of finding a supply of that fuel in British territory. I well remember that when Lord Selborne was First Lord of the Admiralty, both he and the late Mr. Arnold Forster were fully persuaded of the advantage of liquid fuel. But they did not see their way to substitute for the fuel which lies in incredibly large supplies in this country—coalanother fuel of which this country, so far as was known, possessed only a nominal amount. So that on that broad question of policy rather than upon any mechanical difficulty the adoption of oil fuel was delayed. The Admiralty have adopted now a policy which differs from that policy and I think wisely differs. It is the policy of transporting and storing in time of peace sufficient of this liquid fuel to make certain that there will be an ample quantity in time of war. That sounds an excellent policy. Let us examine whether or not the Admiralty are taking proper steps to fulfil it in its entirety.
I think the criticism of my Noble Friend (Lord Charles Beresford) was entirely justified and that the Admiralty made a serious mistake, first of all, in not making their contracts sooner, and now in making a contract with a company which has not got storage for a single ton of oil in this country. You have to store a sufficient quantity of oil in time of peace to make you reasonably certain of a proper supply in time of war, because if you adapt your ships for oil, I will not say they are wholly unadapted for coal, but you discount them, and in many instances you make them entirely unfit to work at all with coal when they are adapted for oil. You must have a supply of oil in this country during the time of war. Your transport across the ocean is jeopardised by the very fact of your being at war. I am not quarrelling with the system under which contracts have been made. I do not associate myself with anyone who states—if there are such persons—that there has been any-thing objectionable in the method of making these contracts. I do say that you have committed a serious mistake in making your contract for the greater por- 1536 tion of your supply with a company which, whilst it has some tank steamers and is building a number of other tank steamers, has provided no supply or storage in this country.
§ Sir F. FLANNERY
I am glad to have elicited that interruption from the hon. Gentleman. I am merely stating what I heard outside. At any rate, it is a large supply. If the Admiralty have contracts with others who possess large quantities and storage in this country, they have done wisely, at all events, in distributing their contracts among those who are able to store oil. There is one technical point which has not been mentioned in this Debate, namely, that oil does not deteriorate at all by storage. When it has been properly stored—and it is quite easy to do so—it has lasted very many years without deterioration, whereas coal when exposed to the atmosphere after being won and brought to the surface, deteriorates so rapidly that two or three years altogether destroy its high steam qualities. I have nothing but praise to give to the Admiralty for their expedition and energy in this matter now. I agree with my Noble Friend (Lord C. Beresford) that they ought to have shown this energy earlier. I venture to say that neither this House nor the country will hesitate to vote any amount of expenditure necessary to carry out that policy and to secure for the Navy the most recent developments and improvements for increasing the fighting power of our ships. I sincerely hope that the Admiralty will not rest content with the measure of progress they have made, but that they will in the near future see their way to reconsider their position in regard to the Canadian vessels which are lacking, and that they will pursue energetically, and as rapidly as they possibly can, the making of provision for the storage of oil against the time which probably must come sooner or later when it will be required in the defence of the country.
§ Mr. ROBERT HARCOURT
I am inclined to think that my two hon. Friends who have spoken on this side of the House have in many ways done less than justice 1537 to the First Lord of the Admiralty. I think I am not the only Member on this side who rejoices in the fact that, at any rate, there has been no momentous announcement of fresh policy on Vote 8 by the right hon. Gentleman. It will be a singular disappointment to-morrow morning to nearly every great organ of public opinion, from the "Daily Telegraph" to the "Daily Chronicle," for their naval correspondents have stated that a new contingent programme of three vessels would be announced. I understand that the First Lord stands where he did as regards numbers this year, and that no fresh programme of construction need be discussed until the Estimates for next year are brought forward. I think I am not the only plain ordinary man who has begun to think that though the standard of the First Lord may be an improvement on other standards, it is at the same time a standard of an extremely complicated kind. It is not the old two-Power standard nor the two keels to one, nor the Triple Alliance. I have attempted to summarise them under ten heads. There might be a hundred heads, but I do not think one can do it in less than ten heads. There is, first of all, the single-Power standard with 60 per cent. over Germany. Then there is the 100 per cent. additional for extra German ships. There is an additional standard, this time undefined, for obsolescent "pre-Dreadnoughts" and even now for obsolescent 'simple' "Dreadnoughts." Then you have 10 per cent. deducted from the 60 per cent. standard and you get the North Sea standard of 50 per cent. Then to that you add a number of ships, and you call that the whole-world standard of superiority. Then you take account of Austria-Hungary and Italy without saying distinctly whether our margin over 50 per cent. varies directly with their construction, or, if so, to what extent.
Passing on to matters of high State policy, on which I am not competent to form an opinion, we emphasise our friendly relations with France. We all rejoice in that. We rejoiced to see the First Lord of the Admiralty fraternising with the French Minister of Marine. We ask ourselves what that may mean in this country in terms of "Dreadnoughts" in the Mediterranean. But then comes my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary—I should be the last to complain of him—and he makes the statement which was quoted by the hon. Member for Fareham to the effect 1538 that we shall depend upon our own strength in the Mediterranean. That is the sort of statement which the man in the street has somehow to interpret. Having done the whole of that, with units as the basis, you have got, if I understand my right hon. Friend correctly—I rather agree with him—to do it all over again with respect to type. The Member for Fareham repeated this afternoon a criticism which he delivered in March, when the First Lord of the Admiralty introduced the element of relative value into his calculations. The hon. Member said that was a very dangerous principle.
A Dreadnought' by the ocean's brim A simple 'Dreadnought' was to him, And it was nothing more.But in spite of the Wordsworthian Agnosticism of the hon. Gentleman, I should think that the amount of execution which a ship can do is a very material point if you happen to be on the ship she is firing into. You must argue these things practically, sincerely as one may hope that the arguments may never be put to the test. If the British "Centurion" and "King George," two "Dreadnoughts," meet four "Nassau" the British units might, according to this theory, as well put back into port, because they would be outnumbered. But if you take the test of broadside, these two British ships would considerably outclass the four German ships. Take two British ships in commission now. The "King George," has twice the broadside of the "Dreadnought, and from that point of view four "King Georges" are better than five "Kaisers." Surely it is riot a matter which can be dismissed by a wave of the hand, and saying that we must not take the element of value into our calculations! The First Lord has attached great importance to the distinction now made between "Dreadnoughts" and super-"Dreadnoughts." He draws a sharp line at the "Orion" class and the "Kaiser" class. I do not wish to go into details with respect to the earlier class, except to say that the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth, this afternoon, pointed Out that the "Nelson" and the "Agamemnon" were, in his opinion, more valuable fighting ships than "Dreadnoughts."
§ Mr. R. HARCOURT
He has rubbed that in before, and I wish he would rub it into his hon. Friend the Member for 1539 Fareham. I think it is not too much to say that the first four German "Dreadnoughts" are admittedly inferior to the British "Dreadnoughts." There has been some frank criticism on this matter in the "Navy League Journal." I take this point because it affects the calculations which have been made. The First Lord is perfectly entitled to say that if you are going to include the four German "Nassaus," you are equally entitled to include the "Nelson" and the "Agamemnon." Besides this the Home Secretary, in his speeches in 1910 and 1911, rather exaggerated the value of the German" Ostfriesland" type. It gives a 60 per cent. margin. That closes Chapter I. Chapter II. is far more interesting, and I hope to press the question of type a little hard. Leaving out all the Colonial ships, and dealing with all the ships down in the present programme, you have twenty-five to fifteen. There are two points in relation to that figure which are absolutely certain, although we, have not full information. The first is that every single one of ships is a super- "Dreadnought." They all carry 13.5 guns. The second point is equally certain, namely, that the fifteen German ships are not so equipped. When our programmes for 1909, 1910, 1911, and 1912, were laid down, as many as twenty ships were to have 13.5 guns, but Germany had not begun a single comparable vessel. According to that calculation, the super-"Dreadnought" comparison would not be twenty-five to fifteen, but twenty-five to three. In the admirable paper, which the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth does not always read, and for which the hon. Member for Kensington (Mr. Burgoyne) is responsible, he makes the Germans have eight of those ships. The First Lord, in another mood, says that you must regard all contemporary ships as being equal. That would make the Germans have thirteen super-" Dreadnoughts." But surely it is not maintained by the Admiralty that the German contemporary vessels arc really anything like equal in guns or broadside power. And, therefore, what I say is that the margin of units in super-"Dreadnoughts" is only 66 per cent., but, if you make a rough calculation of broadside fire, the margin would be far nearer to 90 per cent. I remember the hon. Member for Fareham picked out the worst period he could possibly pick—quite rightly from his point of 1540 view. He selected, I think, the second quarter of the year 1915, and said that the comparison would be thirty-three to twenty-two, or a margin of only 43 per cent. Counting the two "Nelsons," you get a margin of 56½ per cent, over all. Adding to that your enormous superiority in type, with twenty ships without any equal in the world, I say that on the first half we have got a margin of at, least 60 per cent.; on the second half we have twenty ships to twelve; and I believe that it would be at least fully two to one.
At any rate, I do say that the general expression of the hon. Member for Fare-ham, of a margin of only 43 per cent. is a ludicrous travesty of the situation. But of course it is not now the German menace. It never is at this time of the. year. We are told that Austria is arming. I very much wish that the hon. Gentleman opposite had read a sentence or two from the German correspondent of the "Naval and Military Record," which is quoted in the "Navy League Annual." It says:—Most of the talk of an Austro-Italian alliance against England in the Mediterranean comes front a subsidised source in the Austrian capital itself, and it is perfectly certain that the idea has never received serious consideration in responsible Austrian or Italian quarters. Those who believe that either of these nations in the absence of extreme provocation is willing to become Germany's cats paw, must be singularly wanting in common sense.That, if you will only read his book, is the view of General Bernhardi. And, again, if such a combination were to come about, we have the authority of an ex-Conservative Prime Minister, a Member of the Committee of Imperial Defence, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Balfour) that it is not to be expected that we should stand alone. However, I think that it is perfectly obvious that for all the time which lies in the immediate future, certainly for the period of time which is covered by the present programme, the Admiralty have made ample provision. The only point of just criticism, which I think is brought out from all these elaborate calculations, which relate to every single quarter of the year is this: My right hon. Friend has divided the year into four quarters, and what, I think, one observes, in looking down his table, is that the middle period of the year is, what I may call, the soft end of our battleship completion. The period of April to November is, in the year 1915–16, the lean period, while we are waiting for the material of our programme, which is laid down, not between April and November, 1541 but between November and April, and it seems to me it might be a matter for consideration whether you could not lay down a part of your programme, not between November and the following April, but in April or July of the year for which the ships are sanctioned, so that you can easily, by that method, strengthen the second or third quarters of the year, and instead of the margin of 56 per cent. in the third quarter of the year, and the margin of 78 per cent. in the last quarter of the year, you might do something to smooth it out and get an equal margin of every quarter of the year.
For instance, if our two dockyard ships this year had been laid down in April and July, we should have strengthened that very period in 1915, which the hon. Member for Fareham refers to, and I think that it never would have been arguable for a single moment that we should ever have fallen below 60 per cent. Exactly the same thing can be done with regard to the middle of 1916, if in the programme of 1919, if occasion arises, two ships were laid down early in the year, and allowing for our powers of speedy construction which we clearly possess—the German ships which have been built, have not been built under three years on an average—if occasion arose you could answer with the British programme of 1913 the German programme of 1912, and with the British programme of 1914 you could answer the German programme of 1913. But while I have a great respect for the declarations of the Opposition, I am beginning to be afraid that neither Ministers nor Parliament in the future may be able to make Navy Estimates. Newspapers perhaps do not make wars, but they certainly hypnotise us with their calculations. An hon. Gentleman on the bench opposite, the Member for Evesham (Mr. EyresMonsell), told us that we danced to the tune of Admiral von Tirpitz. But some of them occasionally tread a measure to the pipings of Mr. Garvin in this as in other matters, and you may be perfectly sure that at the psychological moment the "Observer" will step in where even the Admiralty fear to tread, and they will step in with a new danger period, which is always, I observe, another year remember pointing out to the House in 1911 that Mr. Fiennes at that time was a year ahead of his times. He then picked out the year 1915. He said that was the year in which the danger would come along, and he found Germany, Austria, Italy, and Japan with thirty-nine "Dread- 1542 nought" vessels, and he wanted forty-nine, or ten more than these four Powers combined. The Government, by the way, have given him forty-two, and that is not so bad. But 1915 is all right. It is to be 1916–17, and I observe that the First Lord has definitely laid it down that so far as is officially known there is no new fact in the Mediterranean. I understood him to say that not a single vessel, so far as he can get information, is laid down beyond the ten in the existing programme.
The "Observer" says that there are to be nineteen "Dreadnoughts" for Austria and Italy by 1916–17. That will make no doubt forty-five for the Triple Alliance, and adding the three "Radetzkys," the number would be forty-eight. Without adding a single vessel we should have, under the Government's programme in 1914, as many as the Triple Alliance even on that extreme computation. I think it is time we should face frankly and finally the sort of demands made by the Navy League. The "wild men," in the language of the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth, demand two keels to one; the "wild cat" standard is two keels to one by 1920. That means Germany thirty-five. Our normal programmes bring us to sixty. But they deduct two Nelsons and three Colonials. That makes us eighty-five. The "wild cat" demand for two keels to one therefore means that they are asking for fifteen more ships in four programmes—an additional, four, four, four, three, making eight for each of three years, and seven for one year—seventeen ships above the original proposals of 1912. Germany has two extra ships, therefore we must have seventeen. Austria is to have seven—can we look the world in the face with less than seventy? Apparently the appetite grows with what it feeds on, and it is these insanities which seem to put into the shade even the follies of 1909. It should be observed that this policy is only for these Islands, and that there is to be more for the Empire. I say that even the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Lee) has not carried his two keels to one so far as that. I submit that there can be no compromise with this crescendo of panic. You cannot make terms with it. You must be on one side or the other, and I who have never, so far as I know, belonged to the extreme Little Navy party—at any rate, I have never voted against the Navy Estimates—have thought it right to raise my voice against it.
§ Mr. HUNT
I wish to point out, in reference to the ship "Malaya," that it is presupposed that it has been offered freely by the Malay rulers to the British Government for the defence of the Empire. But that was not so at all. The suggestion really came from one who is now in the Colonial Office, and who was rewarded directly after the ship was given. There is no doubt about it, for in the dispatch of Sir Arthur Young it is stated that Mr. Brockman represented to His Excellency that he thought the Federated Malay States did not perhaps assist to the extent necessary. So the Chief Secretary (Mr. Brockman) interviewed the Sultan of Perak on the subject, and when he found he was willing he then went to the Sultan of Selangor and get him to agree also, so that really and truly the "Malaya" was given on the suggestion of people more or less in the employ of the Colonial Office of this country. The Federated Malay States possessed a surplus of £5,000,000, but the rulers could not touch that at all; so that they were really giving away money which did not belong to them, on the suggestion of the Chief Secretary (Mr. Brockman), who is comparatively a young man, and who was rewarded directly afterwards by the British Government. All this time the money was wanted in the Malay States in this way: The mosquito was carrying malaria to the people—black, white, yellow, and brown. The medical services and the hospitals in the States were starved and are starved for want of money at the present time, and although adequate hospital accommodation and medical men, are very badly wanted, yet £2,250,000 is given for a battleship to make up the deficiency in the defence of this country.
It is not true that the battleship the old Roman system of tribute from "Malaya" was a free gift from the inhabitants of the Malay States. It is which we have always up to now been supposed to be free, and have been free. It is a precedent that, at all events in my opinion, is fatal to British tradition. We are extorting tribute from the Malay States, who have accepted our protection, and it will have a very bad effect on cur subjects in the East. Neither the First Lord of the Admiralty nor the Colonial Secretary are justified in pretending that this is a free gift from the Malay States. It really is not true. We have had rather a fine lecture from the First Lord of the Admiralty, and I really began to think at one time that 1544 he thought he was addressing the Marconi Committee. He told us that the accelerated three ships would be ready in time in 1915, by ordering them seven months earlier. As I understand, the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, there are already about five "Dreadnoughts" seven months behind at the present time, and the First Lord of the Admiralty also said that we might have another set-back at any time; so that I do not quite see how the acceleration of these three "Dreadnoughts" is going to make up for the three Canadian "Dreadnoughts" which the First Lord certainly gave us to understand are absolutely necessary for the defence of the Empire. I should like to point out to hon. Members opposite, who are always complaining and opposing any increase in the Navy, that instead of our being much stronger at sea now than we have ever been, we are really in a far weaker position relatively to other nations than we were in 1906. In April, 1906, we had fifty-five first-class battleships to Germany's eighteen, or practically three to one. Next year we shall only be supposed, I think, to have a proportion of sixteen to ten. That surely is an enormous drop in our power on the sea. As to destroyers, it is very much the same. In 1906 we had 139 to Germany's forty-three, or three to one, while according to the First Lord the other day in January next year in Home waters we shall have only 110 large modern destroyers instantly ready, and that only, if the "Dragon" class have been delivered in time, which seems doubtful, to Germany's seventy-seven. That is a great drop. Then you have to take off the 25 per cent. which the First Lord said must be taken off for our average moment, and when you do that you get very nearly equal numbers. The idea of some people that we can reduce our defensive forces because war is barbarous and will not occur again, is realy not only absurd but is idiotic. The First Lord told us at the beginning of this year that it was absolutely necessary that we should maintain the 60 per cent. "Dreadnought" standard, and he impressed the House with the difficulty under which the strongest naval Power always lies of being ready to meet at its average moment the attack of the next strongest Power at its selected moment, and, according to his own statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT, we shall be in great danger next year because we shall not only not have 60 per cent. superiority ready for immediate war in Home waters, but we shall actually 1545 have less ships of the "Dreadnought" type in Home waters immediately ready for war than Germany. On 18th March he said:—We ask Parliament to assent to large margins of safety. There is a considerable difference between the number of our ships which are available any day taken at random throughout the year by chance and the number which could be got ready for a particular date marked Out in advance,and he continued—we must always have a sufficient margin because we must remember that we must take off from 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. of our ships to meet at our average moment the naval force of an attacking Power at their selected moment.He also said:—we must never conduct our affairs so that the Navy of any single Power would be able to engage us at any ingle moment, even our least favourable moment, with any reasonable prospect of success.He added that this was the first condition of our existence. Is the right hon. Gentleman opposite going to get up and tell the House that in April of next year those conditions in our favour are going to be the case? The First Lord also told us on the 18th of March last year that another reason why it was necessary to have a sufficient margin was because the consequences of defeat at sea were so much greater to us than they would be to France or Germany. He pointed out that our risks were greater, as our position was highly artificial, as we were fed from the sea, and were an unarmed people, with a. very small Army, while other nations had got large armies. But more serious still, he said, when they considered their naval strength, they must not think of their commerce, but of their freedom; not of their trade, but of their lives; and he reminded us that the German battleships would very often be within a few hours' steaming of our shores. On 16th January last, in answer to a question from the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth, the First Lord said that on the 1st of April next year we shall have twenty-nine ships of the "Dreadnought" type, and Germany will have twenty-one. He told us, I think, to-day, and he certainly told us before, that we shall have four in the. Mediterranean, and there should be one at Gibraltar, which leaves us five short. That reduces our number of "Dreadnoughts" to twenty-four, anti when you take off the 25 per cent. which the First Lord said we certainly must reckon on taking off for our average moment as against an enemy's selected moment, that only leaves us, as a matter of fact, with eighteen ships of the 1546 "Dreadnought" type in Home waters immediately ready for war to Germany's twenty-one at her selected moment. I asked the question yesterday of the First Lord as to whether that was true or not, and he could not answer. You can see it in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I say that is a very serious position, and it is not in the far future, but next year, and remember that we depend very nearly entirely in the sea for our defence. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Gentlemen cheer, but look at the position. We are outnumbered for immediate war in first-class ships by Germany alone, according to the First Lord's own statement in this House. We should be very glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman says about that, but those are surely the facts. We have only got four "Dreadnought" cruisers in the Mediterranean, while Italy has four and Austria three. I do not think we can rely on the assistance of France, because France might very well want the whole of her fleet to protect her soldiers being shipped over from Africa. The First Lord told us that we must rely on ourselves and not on any other Power. As far as the sea goes, we are in a very dangerous position, and the Government are certainly responsible. We are having manœuvres for this year this week. If the First Lord could not dispute the figures which I have given, why does he, in order to try whether we can be invaded or not., which I suppose is the object of the manœuvres, give this country twenty-five battleships and Germany only sixteen? Why does he give us over 100 destroyers, and Germany 57, when according to his own account the numbers are 110 to 77? That does not seem to me to be a sensible plan if you want to prove anything. If you want to humbug the people and make them believe that 200,000 Territorials are quite capable of defending the country, it may be all right. But it is nothing like the proper proportion, and cannot understand what it is done for, unless it is to deceive the people. It seems to me that the First Lord warns us, but he will not risk his position, as the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth did many years ago, in order to tell the people the real truth about our naval weakness next year. The danger was pointed out very plainly in a book called the "People's Army," published two or three months ago. A copy was sent to the Admiralty, who thanked the author for writing it. In that book it was pointed out that with floating mines the British 1547 Navy could comparatively easily be divided and attacked in detail by the whole of the German Fleet. That is another danger to which we are exposed in modern times.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends should remember the teaching of history. At all events, they might remember how France neglected her defences, and what frightful results of bloodshed, misery, and starvation there were. We do not want to have that here. History is full of warnings of nations which have been too idle to learn to defend themselves. The facts, as I understand them, about our naval weakness and dangers are, unfortunately buried in the columns of Hansard. If the words of the First Lord mean anything, we shall be in deadly peril next year from the weakness of the Navy. At all events, I think the people ought to know it. We are very much behind hand in airships. We do not know how much danger we are in really. The German authorities certainly hold that they can send something like a dozen big airships over here in anything like reasonable weather, and drop bombs on our arsenals, ships, and docks. That is what the Germans think, and that is what the French think also. I have quotations here, but I will not trouble the House with them. That certainly is a new danger. We have no first-class airships ourselves, and according to the First Lord we are not going to have any, although they are a lot cheaper than "Dreadnoughts." We have not got anything like the number of aeroplanes that Germany has, and France also has an enormous number. That seems to me to be an extra danger which apparently the Admiralty are not trying to guard against. They are supposed to have a gun, but you cannot move a gun about, and a rocking airship is a very hard thing to hit. I have known lots of men who could not hit a pheasant at 90 ft. with a scattering gun. As to airships, I do not believe you will have a gun which will hit them, even if you can get the gun there. I believe, with the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth, that we are in a dangerous position on the sea, in the air, and also on the land. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give some explanation as to the number of "Dreadnoughts" there will be next April, according to the statement of the First Lord himself.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
The. First Lord of the Admiralty divided his speech into two parts. The first had reference to the details of the new scheme with regard to oil fuel, while the second dealt with the acceleration of the building of our Navy. In my opinion the latter was the more important and it enables us to discuss the broader aspects of the case affecting the whole policy of armaments of this country. The question that always occurs to one in these Debates year after year is, what is all this tending to? Where are we going to arrive? The expenditure of the six Great Powers of Europe for naval purposes has increased in the last ten years from £71,000,000 to £118,000,000, an increase of nearly 70 per cent., and yet no Power can say that it is in the slightest degree stronger relatively to the other than it was before. Each year we have speeches made by the First Lord of the Admiralty, throwing out suggestions for solving this great problem; each year nothing comes of them. It is so easy to go on building ships. It is so easy for us, as we do, to lead the way. It is, unfortunately, only too easy for the First Lord of the Admiralty as he did to-day, to boast that in the coming year we shall have the largest delivery of warships ever made in the history of this country, and to state that a new super-" Dreadnought" will come into action every forty-five days. Are we sure that this policy is going to put a stop in any way to the race in armaments between the nations? I do not think that many Members or many people outside think that this increase in our armaments will debar other nations from taking the same course. I believe it has precisely the opposite effect. It will, and does, undoubtedly, seriously impede the work of those who are striving outside this House to bring about a better understanding, and a more peaceful trend of feeling between the various nations. We may go on building our warships, but it is really no solution to the question, arid we have to seek for that solution somewhere else.
The question we may ask ourselves is: "Do these programmes, and the programmes such as we have every year, assist or impede the process of improving the mutual relationship between the various countries?" Let us throw back our minds to the time when there was a scare about the German acceleration; when upon false premises it was stated in this House that there was an acceleration on the part of 1549 the Germans with regard to their Navy. What effect had that upon our minds and actions? Did it not make us immediately increase our preparations for war, and did it not affect the feelings of the whole country in a sense adverse to the Germans? Now we are doing precisely the same thing, not in quite the same way perhaps, but we are accelerating our building, as the First Lord of the Admiralty has said. We are accelerating our rate of increase of armaments, and we are actually adding three or four ships to the programme that was laid before Parliament only a year or two ago. I would like to say a word about the programme of two years ago, and the proposal which was made that our shipbuilding policy should follow upon the basis of a 60 per cent. standard superiority to the German Navy. I regard that policy as of very great importance, and made of more importance by the ready acceptance on the part of the German Government of the proposition made by us. May I ask the House to allow me to give a short retrospect of this question of the limitation of armaments? It was raised, first of all, in connection with the first Hague Conference. On that occasion Mr. Goschen, who was First Lord 'of the Admiralty, stated in this House, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government:—If the great naval Powers should be prepared to diminish their programmes of shipbuilding, we should be prepared on our side to meet such a procedure by modifying ours … Our desire that the Conference should succeed in lightening the tremendous burdens which now weigh down all European nations is sincere.The first Conference took place. As the House will remember, the programme put forward by the Russian Government included a suggestion for the consideration of the question of the limitation of armaments. The discussions were very much adverse to the proposal. Even our own representatives very bitterly criticised it. German, Austrian, and other Powers altogether objected to it. All that happened at that Conference was that a resolution was passed to the effect that—The Governments, having regard to the propositions advanced in the Conference, shall take up the study of the possibility of an agreement concerning the limitation of armed forces on land and sea and of military Budgets.9.0 P.M.
The next Conference came and the programme was sent round to the Governments. The programme suggested by Russia on this occasion contained no question whatever of the limitation of armaments, but in this House, on 9th May,1906, 1550 a Motion was made by Mr. Henry Vivian to ask the Government "to press for the inclusion of the question of the reduction of armaments by international agreement in the agenda of the forthcoming Hague Conference." Sir Edward Grey, then, as now, Foreign Secretary, accepted that proposition, and it was carried by the House. As the House well knows, when the Conference met Great Britain and the United States jointly insisted that the question should be included in the discussion, and it was included with the approval of France, Spain, and Italy, but with the steadfast objection of Germany, Austria, and others. Notwithstanding that, Sir Edward Fry, who represented this country, stated that his Government was anxious that the Conference should not separate "without having demanded that the Governments of the world should devote themselves seriously to the question of military expenditure." Sir Edward Fry communicated to the Conference the formal offer made by our Government—The Government of Great Britain will lie ready to communicate to the Powers that will do the sonic its plan of constructing new warships and the expenditure which this plan will require. Such an exchange of information will facilitate the exchange of views between the Governments on the reductions which by common consent may be effected. The Britannic Government believed that in this way an understanding may be reached on the expenditures which the States that agree to pursue this course will be justified in entering, upon their Budgets.That statement resulted in a resolution that the Conference confirmed the resolution adopted by the Conference in 1899, in regard to the restriction of military expenditure, and,since military expenditures have increased considerably in nearly every country since the said year, the Conference declares that it is highly desirable to see the Governments take up the serious study of this question.I have ventured to remind the House of the position of affairs, because it was clear that all through the discussions of these Hague Conferences up to that very moment the principal opponents of the proposition that this reduction of armaments or limitation should be considered, were the German and the Austrian Governments. I do not think that we need in any way blame them for it. Their position is one of extreme difficulty. It differs very much from our position. One can readily understand that the question of the reduction of armaments in the eyes of great Continental Powers like Germany and others assumes a very different complexion to that which we are able to regard it from in this country. Since that 1551 time there is no doubt that the opinion both of the Government and of the public in Germany has gradually changed. There is in Germany the power of the executive government and the power of public opinion. Two great Powers. In both cases there is more readiness to consider the question of the limitation of armaments than there ever has been before. Public opinion especially has changed very much. As we know, and we are very glad to know, the relations between our Government and the German Government are very friendly at the present time, much more so than a few years ago. It is public opinion in that country that it is necessary to have with us in order to obtain anything in this particular direction. Public opinion in Germany on the question of the Navy is very unanimous on one point; and that is that Germany requires a powerful Navy, and, having talked it over with Germans who are men of peace and men interested in peace movements, I can fully understand their position. They argue, and argue rightly, that Germany now has Colonies, that Germany has an ever-growing over-sea trade, and Germany has now very much the same need for a Navy that England has. Up to that point you will never shake any single German, I believe, in his pride for his Navy and his devotion to the idea that a Navy is a necessity for the German Empire. But when you have admitted that, and go beyond that, you will find out that there is a distinct divergence of opinion. There is in Germany a strong party who regard the Navy as a means of overcoming Great Britain. That is a party which has plenty of money for disseminating its ideas, and it is a party that has numerous newspapers run very often by great manufacturers of armaments for the purpose of making as much as possible of this policy, and it is a dangerous one I believe. On the other hand, there is also a party which is more and more coming round to the conclusion that our English claim to have a Navy superior to that of Germany is justified, and that feeling is snore and more taking shape until it has arrived at the point at which the suggestion that we should limit our Navy to a 60 per cent. superiority was actually accepted by Admiral von Tirpitz in the Budget Committee of the Reichstag, and recognised by many organs of public 1552 opinion in Germany. For the first time public opinion in Germany has arrived at that point at which they are willing to admit that in our race for armaments there is no reason why Great Britain, with all her world-wide Colonies, should not have the first place.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I only mentioned what Admiral von Tirpitz said in the Reichstag, and he said that arrangement was acceptable and that he had no objection to limitation in that direction. And, if you go further, you find that to which. I attach much more importance, namely, the feeling of public opinion in Germany, where undoubtedly there is a very ready acceptance of that position. The correspondent of the "Times" speaking of this declaration:—It confirms the inspired declaration of the 'Cologne Gazette' last March that Mr. Churchill's frank utterance would be received in Germany without a feeling of irritation or offence. Let us hope, continued the 'Cologne Gazette,' that it confirms Mr. Churchill's belief in a perfectly plain and simple plan whereby, without any diplomatic negotiations, without any bargaining, without the slightest restriction on the sovereign freedom of either Power this keen and costly naval rivalry can be abated.Now judging from one's own knowledge of Germanism over a period of years, I say that that marked a very remarkable change in the position of affairs in Germany, and that is why we ought to be very careful indeed not to do anything which by any possibility could put a stop to that feeling. The only way in which we can encourage this feeling in Germany is for us to adhere strictly to the proposals we have made. I must say I do not think that the First Lord has adhered strictly to the proposals made last year, and certainly this suggestion that we should accelerate our building and acid to our ships the three or four which were supposed to be provided by the Colonies is, to my mind, a step backward, and, therefore, a very dangerous one to take. May I make it clear why I say that I think one is justified in regarding the present proposals of the Admiralty as a step backward? In the Debate on 18th March, 1912, the First Lord of the Admiralty said:—I will state precisely the standard, which we regard as appropriate to the present situation. Before doing so I should like to make it clear that as a result of the measures taken by toy right hon. Friend the Home. Secretary there is no case whatever for alarm or despondency. The Admiralty are prepared to guarantee 1553 absolutely the mail security of the country and of the Empire day by day for the next few years, and, if the House will grant us what we ask, for the future that prospect may be indefinitely extended.There is no doubt that from that moment the First Lord stated the proposals then made were sufficient for the country and the Empire. I believe he had in his mind and that the Admiralty had in their minds that there was no necessity for more ships either for the North Sea or anywhere else in the Dominions across the sea. The standard laid down in that speech, and with which I need not trouble the Committee, was that we should build each year a certain number of ships which should keep the proportion of our Navy to the German Navy in the relationship of sixteen to ten, and that was the proportion laid down as necessary for the safety of this Kingdom and the whole Empire. Now that proportion was to be increased or decreased according to the increase or the decrease of the German Navy, and when the new German Navy Law was passed, the First Lord of the Admiralty dealt with this subject again on the 22nd July, 1912, and he said that:—To maintain a 60 per cent. standard, the number of ships we should have to build in the next five years will have to he raised from the figures at which we had hoped they might stand, namely, 3, 4, 3, 4, 3, to 5, 4, 4, 4, 4.That is, to provide for the security of the Empire we should have to build in this year five ships instead of three in order to maintain the 60 per cent. standard, which was then recognised as sufficient for all the circumstances of the Empire. And that proposition was understood to hold good until the 20th March this year, when for the first: time it was announced that this proportion did not hold good for the whole Empire. On that date the right hon. Gentleman said:—Had new construction under the German Naval Law remained at the augmented rate of two capital ships a year for six years, British programmes of four ships and three ships alternately would, in the Admiralty view, have sufficed to maintain the 60 per coat. 'Dreadnought' standard. As the German new construction has been increased by two capital ships in the six years' period under review, the British programmes will he increased by four capital ships, two of which require to be laid down in the present year, making, as I stated last July, our total construction in capital ships for the year live, as against three of the next strongest naval Power."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th March, 1913, col. l760, Vol. L.]He went on to say:—The ship presented by the Federated Malay Straits and the three ships now under discussion in Canada will also be in addition to the, total I have mentioned that being the specific condition on which they were given and accepted.Now for the first time we learn that those ships are to be considered as an addition 1554 to the programme, and that the 60 percent. standard is no longer to continue. The right hon. Gentleman solved the difficulty in this way. He said:—If, therefore, we are confronted with this, as I call it, false dilemma of the Colonial or Dominion ships, we may answer it directly. They are additional to the requirements of the 60 per cent. standard; they are not additional to the world requirements of the British Empire.I have explained that that was not the original proposition. The original estimate was for the requirements of the British Empire, and therefore this is an addition to the original proposal. The explanation that the right hon. Gentleman gave is a very reasonable one. He said:—It could never be supposed that the naval development of the Dominions, and of the great possessions of the Crown overseas could be restricted or discouraged on account of any European standard, widen we in this Island found it convenient for the time being to follow. They too, like us, must remain absolutely free; it is for them to choose the method of their naval developments.That is a policy which we can understand. It may be reasonable to say that what we require is a certain Fleet. If something more is necessary for the protection of the Dominions we should not be bound to reduce our Fleet because they thought some ships are required at Vancouver, the China Sea, or elsewhere. That is a legitimate argument to raise, and it is consistent with the principle of local navies in our Colonies; but, it is not consistent with our telling them that three more ships are desirable in the interests of the Empire, and it certainly is not consistent with doing what we are doing now, namely, increasing our Fleet by four ships. That is the position, as I understand it, and as I believe foreigners will understand it. They will feel that it might have been reasonable to say that Canada wants to build its own Navy or Australia desires to have its own ships, and that they should not interfere with the 60 per cent. ratio, but the moment you suggest there are not to be local navies but an Imperial station at Gibraltar, and that the ships are actually to be built in our yards here, the whole of the 60 per cent. standard has gone by the board. That raises a very important issue. The change in my opinion is one which is really dangerous to the relationship between ourselves and foreign Powers, and it will be very much wiser to leave this question for the present year and see what does happen in the Colonies before we start upon a system which undoubtedly will be considered as upsetting the original proposition. The First Lord of the Admiralty 1555 said we do not want to discuss too much the position of the Canadian Government at the present moment, and he said that he avoided giving advice to the Canadian Government. I am not sure that he was wise in adopting that course, because there is some advice which might have been useful, and I do not see why it should not be given at the present moment. That advice is to remind them of the decisions and discussions at the Conference in 1911. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries-hire has quoted an extract from the considered judgment of the Admiralty on that occasion, and it is not necessary for me to refer to it. I would, however, like to refer to another thing that happened in this connection. Sir Joseph Ward brought forward a proposition that the system of contributions to the Imperial Navy was the right one, and he was opposed very forcibly by our own Prime Minister. In arguing against this proposition the Prime Minister said:—The proposition yon are making contemplates the establishment of a policy of what is called naval contributions on the part of all the different parts of the Empire. That would involve the reversal of the new departure which has taken place in Australia and Canada of having separate local navies of their own.At the same Conference the Prime Minister used these words:—Two years ago, in pursuance of the first resolution of the Conference of 1907, we summoned here in London a subsidiary conference to deal with the subject of Imperial Defence. The results achieved, particularly in the inauguration of the policy of Dominion Fleets adopted by Canada and Australia are of a far-reaching character. The recent visit of Lord Kitchener to Australia and New Zealand has given a further impetus to the spirit of self-reliance in matters of defence in those two great Dominions. We adopt different systems in the raising and recruiting of our defensive forces in different tarts of the Empire, but everywhere and throughout the object is not aggression but the maintenance of peace.Those last words seem to me to rule the whole question. If we want our Navies for defence we had better have local navies in different parts of the world. It is far better to rely upon the Canadian and Australian Navies around their own shores rather than ask them to join a squadron which must be more or less of a defensive character. That is the only policy consistent with maintaining, as we do at large expense, a Navy for the defence of the Empire and not for offensive purposes. Anyone who has read the Debates which have gone on in the Canadian Parliament must have realised that they were discussing great Imperial questions much more than party politics, and one of the paints which appealed to them most was the argument that in order to help the 1556 Mother Country you want the help of Canadian men more than Canadian money. It is to get the help of the men in our Colonies that we ought to aim. The moral force of local patriotism and local navies would be a great help to us in times of stress, and that would be more helpful than contributing a certain amount of ships to our central Navy. I think it would be a great mistake for us to go forward and allow our brethren in the Colonies to imagine that it was more consistent with Imperial safety to have one navy than for them to have their own navy. It would be far better for us to postpone this question of building these three ships for, say, a year, or until we can see whether or not the scheme of local navies can be carried out, because then, and only then, can we justify our adherence to the 60 per cent. standard, and at the same time allow our Colonies to help us as we desire that they should help us, in any time when this nation may find itself hard pressed.
§ Mr. G. TERRELL
I should not have ventured to address the Committee but for the remarks the First Lord of the Admiralty made in his statement this afternoon. He was dealing with the question of oil contracts, and he read a most remarkable document which he said had been subscribed to by himself and the other Lords of the Admiralty. It was, so far as I was able to gather, that neither he nor they had had any dealings in the shares of oil companies. I ventured to inquire whether the other Members of the Government had also subscribed to it, and the First Lord challenged me—I do not know why—if I had any charge to make of impropriety or otherwise, to make them, I assume, on this occasion and on the floor of the House. I wish to say at once that I have no charge of any kind to make against any Member of the Government in connection with any rumours of dealings in shares of oil companies. There were rumours in the public Press, and notably a paragraph in the "Times" of 8th May, to this effect—I will read a short extract from it—that—Very circumstantial detailed rumours are being spread with regard to oil contracts for the Navy, and allegations are being made of the personal connection of Ministers and others with would-be-contractors. Very prominent names are being busily circulated throughout the country.Probably the statement which the First. Lord read was in reply to that paragraph in the "Times." As far as I am aware, these rumours have never in any way been 1557 explained or denied before by any Member of the Government. The statement which he read was, I venture to think, without precedent. I have never heard before of such a denial being subscribed to by the heads of a Department. It seems to my mind most extraordinary. The statement which the First Lord volunteered was somewhat similar to the statement which, something like a year ago, was volunteered by the Attorney-General and the Chancellor of the Exchequer when we were considering the Marconi Contract. That, as we have since found out, was a statement not entirely candid, but was subject to reservations, and, though I have no information of any kind, yet the statement which the First Lord has made does not in any way cover the whole ground of the rumours which have been circulated in the daily Press. If he wishes to make a disclaimer, I should like to know whether that disclaimer extends to the Members of the Government or not, and whether it is simply limited to the shares in the Mexican Oil Company, which he mentioned, or whether it applies to subsidiary companies or to the shares of any oil companies that are members or parties to the oil ring, because it is perfectly obvious that the shares of every company that is part of the oil ring must necessarily be benefited by the arrangement which has been made with His Majesty's Government. Of course, as I have said, I have no information of any kind. These are rumours which have occurred in the public Press, and I should like the Committee to consider for one moment what foreign nations must think of us. For goodness sake, do not let us have the Marconi business again! We have had enough of it. If there is anything more which should be disclosed, well, let us have it stated openly and candidly now, and have the last of it. I am not by any means sure that the statement of the right hon. Gentleman was a full disclaimer of all the circumstances connected with the rumours which have been circulated. That is all I wish to say.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman? I do not think that the matter should stop here after what the hon. Gentleman has said. I submit that, if he has said so much, he has said it obviously because he had something behind in his mind. Let him state it.
§ Mr. G. TERRELL
I think I made myself perfectly clear that I have no evidence of any kind. I have nothing more than 1558 the knowledge of these rumours which have appeared in the public Press, and which, except for the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made to-day, have been unanswered by His Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. GODFREY COLLINS
I do not think that the Committee will expect me to reply to the vile and baseless insinuations made by the hon. Member opposite. He has told us that he has no information, and he referred to rumours mentioned in the public Press. I was hoping that after what had transpired during the past few weeks the gutter Press would no longer receive representation in this House—
§ Mr. G. COLLINS
And that the House of Commons would go back to the high standard which it has maintained for generations past. I desire to pass from this unpleasant subject, well knowing that I can leave this matter in the hands of the First Lord or his assistant to reply more fully later on in the Debate. The question of the Canadian contribution to the needs of the Empire has been referred to this afternoon. The First Lord, as I understand it, was approached by the Canadian Parliament for his advice on this subject. His advice was given to the Canadian Parliament, and it rested with them either to accept, or reject, or modify the advice given. If we were to criticise the policy of the Canadian Parliament, there would be opened up for us a controversy boundless in extent and endless in duration. Although I prefer, personally, the old policy adopted in the Conference of 1902, yet, because the Conference of 1902 adopted a particular policy, I do not think by any means that should tie our hands in the year 1913. The First Lord of the Admiralty has been criticised freely this afternoon. I may describe the criticism under two heads. There has been what might be described as a super "Dreadnought" type of criticism, while other criticism might be grouped under the heading of pre-"Dreadnought" type of criticism. The First Lord of the Admiralty is well able to repel his critics for two reasons. He has behind him the loyal support of the keen, hard-working officers and men in the British Navy, and besides, this House has freely provided the Admiralty with the necessary money to maintain the Fleet. A few years ago the public were much concerned as to the naval position of this country. One set of speakers told 1559 the public that on a particular date, we would have so many "Dreadnoughts," and another foreign Power a certain number of "Dreadnoughts." Another set of speakers came along and gave the public some different figures. There was much confusion and uncertainty in the public mind. Now with a clear formula laid down by the First Lord of the Admiralty, this feeling of uncertainty has disappeared. The public have neither the time nor the desire to analyse fine distinctions of naval strength, but they are able to judge correctly broad statements of public policy. This 60 per cent. margin can be seen and read by all, and so long as this is the standard, there can be no fear of scares on the one hand, or a strong outcry for economy on the other.
§ Mr. GODFREY COLLINS
The speaker before me on this side of the House endeavoured to show that not only had this standard been maintained, but that the policy of the First Lord was to increase that standard. So I think from the two points of view put forward this afternoon the policy of the First Lord comes pretty near the mark. But I will come to the exact figures in a moment. A study of the Dickinson Return shows that in capital ships it is 7 to 4 on the British Navy, while, so far as the number of officers and men is concerned, it is at least 2 to 1 on the British Navy. As regards the efficiency, not only of the men, but of the ships it is also at least 2 to I on the British Navy. Taking these three factors into consideration — the number of capital ships, the number of officers and men and the efficiency of the ships as well as of the men—I am well within the mark when I say it is 2 to 1 to-day on the British Navy. This is the result of the seven years of Liberal ad-ministration. Year by year from the benches opposite we have been told that this Government have made insufficient provision for the British Fleet. If this were so and these arrears have been accumulating—that is to say, if the ships which the party opposite stated should have been laid down had been laid down in addition to the new yearly programme —they would by now have made a very large figure.
From the Debates in March, so far as I can gather, the only marked difference between the two great parties is that our 1560 opponents opposite think we should have laid down six capital ships in place of the five for which provision has been made. Reference has been made this evening to the competition between this country and other foreign Powers, but the extreme pressure in the competition of naval armaments may receive a check now that European Powers are turning their attention to vast military expenditure. The expenditure of these vast sums for military purposes may tax the financial strength of even the richest Continental countries. Here we are an Island Power. Let us trust in the great means of defence which has stood the test of centuries, and concentrate our attention upon our Fleet. Many persons now desire that this competition in naval armaments should cease. All men desire a little less competition in life, whatever their profession, business, or walk in life may be; but competition is inherent in the development of the world, whether in commercial or naval life, and success in this competitive naval struggle depends upon two factors: First, the spirit of self-sacrifice shown; and, secondly, the degree of efficiency attained. As we look at the amount of our Naval Estimates, it is apparent that the democracy are prepared to make the necessary self-sacrifice, whilst as regards the efficiency of the Navy, no one for a moment denies there is a higher standard of efficiency and keenness in naval circles to-day than exists in the keenest commercial circles in Great Britain or America.
Bearing in mind these two points, the country may rest content that the Navy is ready to meet any calls which may be made upon it. It has frequently been stated that our Naval Estimates account for the major portion of the vast increase in our national expenditure, but a close examination of our Naval Estimates, in comparison with our total national expenditure, does not bear out this inference, for I find that our naval expenditure six years before the Boer War amounted to 24 per cent. of our total national expenditure, while during the last four years our total naval expenditure has amounted to 28 per cent, of our national expenditure. The figures for the six years before the Boer War for our naval expenditure amounted to £119,000,000, our national expenditure for that year being £502,000,000. The figures for the last four years were: Naval expenditure, £164,000,000; national expenditure, £589,000,000. In these figures 1561 of national expenditure I have omitted the receipts from the Post Office, the telephone, and the telegraph—in other words, although our naval expenditure has largely increased, yet in proportion to other State services the increase is not so large, the total cost of the Navy to-day being only 4 per cent more on our total State expenditure than formerly. I humbly suggest that this is a very fair test of comparing our naval expenditure to-day with that of former years. These Naval Estimates are not oppressive. We have no desire to attack any foreign Power. We only seek such a margin of safety as will enable us to resist, and resist successfully, any foreign attacks, and I shall have much pleasure in supporting the First. Lord of the Admiralty.
§ Major ARCHER-SHEE
I only wish to intervene in the Debate for a minute or two in order to reply to an attack which I understand the First Lord made upon me this afternoon in his speech. The First Lord is very fond of making these attacks and hitting below the belt, especially when the person concerned is absent at the time. In this case I am surprised that the First Lord, who sets out to be such a purist in the matter of accuracy, should have been so inaccurate in quoting me, especially in view of the fact that his cheap sneers are generally typewritten. He said that I had asked the Prime Minister whether it was not a fact that one million tons of oil had been obtained for trial purposes from the Mexican Eagle Company. He went on to say that one hundred tons were obtained for that purpose. He then proceeded to make the remarks of which I complain. As a matter of fact, he omitted to state the important fact that I was quoting from a financial paper—the "Investor's Chronicle" of September of last year. He stated that apparently I had not taken any trouble to ascertain the accuracy of what I said. As a matter of fact, I took a great deal of trouble to get that paper, and I asked the Prime Minister whether the statement made in that paper was accurate. That is a very different thing from saying that I made the statement myself. Surely I cannot be accused of inaccuracy when I quote a paper and ask whether it is a fact! That is the only point with reference to that. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman included me in some reference he made to a golden opportunity about allegations with reference to oil rumours. He said there was a golden opportunity 1562 now of making good those allegations. Does the right hon. Gentleman include me in that? Does he ask me to make any allegations? As he does not, I presume he does not include me in those who have made these allegations. I have only asked one single question, the question the right hon. Gentleman spoke about with reference to the investment of party funds in the Mexican Eagle Oil Company. The facts which I mentioned in that question, or rather the alleged facts which I mentioned, were also quoted from a paper, and I asked the Prime Minister whether a Committee would be appointed to examine the books of Messrs. Montmorency and find out whether it was a fact or not. The Prime Minister said that there was no foundation whatever for that statement. That has been repeated by the First Lord to-day. As a matter of fact, there was foundation for that statement, and that will come to light later on.
§ Major ARCHER-SHEE
It was not with reference to the investment of party funds in oil shares. I believe it was not so. The foundation for the statement is a very good foundation, and it will come out later on.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
May we not be informed of it now? It is most interesting. May we not know now? This is a privileged place, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman can repeat any rumour he likes and any slander; he can repeat it now in this House.
§ Major ARCHER-SHEE
I said that the statement that the party funds had been invested in oil shares was perfectly correctly stated by the Prime Minister to be without foundation—that is to say, that the party funds were not put into oil shares. I said that the foundation lay in the fact that the investments were made by another person, and that that led to these rumours. That is all. There is no slander. [HON. MEMBERS: "What investment?"] I am not in the habit of repeating slanders.
Major ARCH ER-SHEE
I refuse to give way to the right hon. Gentleman, who has already made his attack upon me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who made the investment?"] I am not in the habit of making slanderous statements under cover of privilege. Every personal attack I have made in this 1563 House can be made outside on any day any hon. Member likes. I have only once made a personal attack. I suppose the right hon. Gentleman did not allude to that case. I repeated it outside the House, as I said I would. I am not like the right hon. Gentleman, who does attack people in their absence. When I brought up the case of Captain Carver and the "Torch" he stated and allowed it to go out to the House and the country, without any qualification whatever, that that officer had imprisoned a man in the refrigerating chamber, although if he had taken the trouble to verify the accuracy of his statements he would have found out that this man was put into the engine room of the refrigerating chamber when the engine was not running.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. Maclean)
I think the hon. and gallant Member is travelling a little far from the subject before the Committee.
§ Major ARCHER-SHEE
I only wish to say, in conclusion, that I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not misrepresent me in the future as he has upon this occasion.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
If I may for a minute interrupt the discussion, I should like to point out that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has made a speech in which he stated one point of great interest. He said that he has information that certain investments have been made in the Mexican Eagle Company of the Liberal party funds, through another name.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
That is what I understood, that this was an investment which had been made by some person—
§ Major ARCHER-SHEE
I am not obliged to state the name of the person. I said that would be revealed later on. I state here, now, that it was the foundation of the rumour, which was a wrong rumour. The only question I asked was 1564 with reference to the investment of party funds. I never said anything about any hon. Members opposite or anybody else having any connection with oil shares, or slanders, or imputations of any sort. They can be up to their necks in oil, for all I care.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The hon. and gallant Member has held an honourable position and has served with courage in the field. My memory of him goes back over many years. I do think I may put it to him, from the Committee, that having said so much he is bound to say more. Having gone so far as he has gone, he is bound to say what he has in his mind. He may possibly say something very trivial, but he is not entitled to go wagging his head and saying, "All this dark business will come out in future. I could, if I would, strike terror into the hearts of evil-doers, but I shall keep it for the day of judgment, or whatever the time may be." His duty, after what he has said, is to get up and say exactly what he has in his mind.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
At any rate, I suggest that to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I had not him particularly in my mind this afternoon, but slanders that are written and telegraphed out to Canadian and American newspapers, which do a great deal of harm, although I thought his question was a very silly one, considering that 1,000,000 tons is more than the Admiralty have ever bought.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Any reasonable man would have known, and anybody who in the slightest degree had studied the question would have known that the statement in that paper was an idiotic one. It was exactly 10,000 times wide of the truth. It bore no relation whatever to it, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman was anxious to take part in creating an atmosphere just before the big Debate on the Marconi contract.
§ Major ARCHER-SHEE
Is the right hon. Gentleman in order in imputing motives to me? He has said I was trying to create an atmosphere of some slanderous imputation with reference to oil. I never did anything of the sort.
§ The CHAIRMAN
An hon. Member ought not to impute motives. We try to deal with facts here. Let suggestions speak for themselves.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It is facts I am speaking of. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has told the House he knows of some scandal connected with these investments of party funds in the Eagle Company, or else of the investments of someone in the Mexican Eagle Company. He says he knows the name of the person. What harm can it be to state it? It may be a perfectly innocent matter which will lose all its significance when it is stated, but it may, on the other hand, be a very significant or important matter. After what he has said, be ought to go further.
§ Major ARCHER-SHEE
What led to the foundation of these rumours was the investment of a certain gentleman who had a perfect right to invest, and, therefore, I have no reason whatever to publish his name, or to mention anything more about it. I simply say that led to the foundation of the rumours. That is all. The further facts of that will be disclosed later on. There is no allegation of slander or imputation, either upon any right hon. Gentleman opposite or upon the Liberal party.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am sure we are all very glad on this side of the House of the good report and character which the hon. and gallant Gentleman gives us, but he says the name will be disclosed later on. I want to know why we should not have it now. I see right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench. Surely, they will take the line of saying that if there is any matter of this kind which has been broached to the House and brought before the public with the effect of undoubtedly exciting prejudice, the facts should be stated. I agree that if the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not know who it was, or if this was not a privileged place, that would be different, but this is a privileged place, and he is perfectly safe. No one can do anything to him. I want him frankly to tell the House who is this person who he says has made this investment.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Of course, I cannot compel the hon. and gallant Gentleman to tell, but I do not think in that case that he ought to have referred to the subject 1566 at all. He is entitled to refer to his supplementary question about the million tons of oil, but I am in the presence, not only of party men, but of a number of English Gentlemen, who have to live together and work together in the rough-and-tumble of the House of Commons, and. I think, after the statement he has made, he ought either to tell the name of the person he has in his mind, or else he ought never to have referred to it at all. Is there anyone on either side of the House of Commons, belonging to any party, who does not agree that that is a fair way of putting it? I know the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I know his fine record in the Army, but I do not think he is really acting up to what would be considered fair play in the Cavalry regiment he adorns in suggesting a dirty thing like this in public and now refusing to substantiate it.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I hope the right hon. Gentleman is satisfied with the atmosphere he has created. We are here in Committee on the Naval Estimates. The right hon. Gentleman has made several speeches on the Navy Estimates on which he has been rightly congratulated on both sides of the House, and if he had made to-day the same businesslike speech which he has made on previous occasions, we should not have been discussing this personal matter. The whole fault lies with the right hon. Gentleman. Who began it?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I noticed some hon. Gentlemen pointing across the House That is a very undesirable thing. The two hon. Members concerned, the hon. Member for Gloucester and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Finsbury, have been heard, and the First Lord has been heard, and now we have the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Mr. Pretyman). It is only right that we should hear what is to be said on either side.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
So far from either of my hon. Friends having initiated any reference whatever to this subject, it was 1567 initiated by the First Lord of the Admiralty, who directly challenged both my hon. Friends, and both of them, in rising, stated that they only did so in consequence of the expression directly used and the references made to them by the First Lord of the Admiralty. If he had confined himself to the subject of the work of the Admiralty to meet the naval requirements of the country, this Debate would never have arisen on these unfortunate happenings. I have further to say, in regard to the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I am ready to give my own opinion upon it, though I have never referred to any of these subjects, and I most strongly deprecate the. Hon. Members on both sides of the House know that that is so. My hon. Friend rose in reply to the challenge of the First Lord; otherwise he would not have risen at all. What he said was that he had asked a question conveying a suggestion of the investment of the party funds opposite in some oil company. He now desires to say that he finds that that suggestion was quite wrong. He accepts the statement of the Prime Minister that no party funds opposite ever were invested, and he adds that he now believes that the rumour originated in a certain private investment. He did not suggest in any sense or form that that private investment had any connection with the party opposite. He made no such suggestion. He made no imputation. I agree absolutely that if he had made an imputation he would have been bound to make it good on the floor of the House, but he made no imputation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, he did."] He may have said the facts would come out. If he made any suggestion that those facts would, in any way, tarnish the reputation of hon. Gentlemen opposite, he should withdraw the imputation or make it good, but I did not understand him to make any such imputation whatever. He merely said a person. He did not suggest that that person has any connection with the party opposite. He said the facts would come out later. I can quite understand that hon. Members opposite might have supposed that there was an imputation, but there was no imputation in that.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It is a great pity that there should be any heat. Do I understand from the hon. Gentleman that the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not mean in any way to make any imputation against anybody on this side of the House?
§ Major ARCHER-SHEE
I said it was an innocent investment, and therefore there was no reason why I should mention the name, and I am not going to do so.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
When this matter comes up, does he mean that there will be nothing against the reputation of any Member on this side of the House in the Liberal party?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
He said there is nothing in what he said to make any charge which would be injurious to us or to anybody on this side of the House.
§ Major ARCHER-SHEE
I said that the explanation of that statement having been made would come out later on. I said that it was a perfectly innocent investment, and that there was no reason to give the name, and I am not going to do so. There is no imputation in saying that a man has made an innocent investment. I make no imputation.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The hon. and gallant Gentleman says he makes no imputation, and did not intend to make any imputation by what he said. If that is so, I do not wish any remark I made to be offensive to him.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I think that matter has been satisfactorily cleared up, and I do not think that there can be any further reference to it. I personally shall make no more reference to it. I desire to go back to the subject to which the First Lord of the Admiralty devoted the greater part of his speech, namely, the question of oil supply. He was quite right in thinking that there is considerable public anxiety about the question of the oil supply for the Navy, and I am bound to say that I was very anxious about it myself. It happens that while I was at the Admiralty I was specially concerned with the matter of oil supply, and I was a little bit surprised to hear the First Lord of the Admiralty laying down certain facts about the supply of oil fuel for the Navy, as though they were new discoveries. I can only tell him that not a single one of the considerations which he laid before the Committee in his speech was absent from the minds of the Admiralty in 1904–5. In that year the Admiralty appointed a Committee to consider the whole question of oil supply, and every single one of the facts which the First Lord of the Admiralty laid 1569 before the House was before that Committee and considered by them. When the late Government left office at the end of 1905, we were as regards oil supply at about the same point as the right hon. Gentleman appears to be now. It was obvious that we were in a very much better position to enter the oil market than the right hon. Gentleman is to-day. I do not wish this to be made a party matter in any sense, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman and the Admiralty may look to both sides of the House for support in putting this matter on the best footing to-day. No recriminations are necessary, but I would point out that if the Admiralty had retained that Committee in being—I am not speaking of the right hon. Gentleman himself, but of his predecessor, after 1905–6—and if the Admiralty had kept pace with the conditions of the oil market from then to the present time, this trouble would not have occurred.
What is the position now? We find ourselves in the position that the Admiralty have laid down a large number of destroyers and five battleships of the first class, to burn oil only. I wonder how the right hon. Gentleman obtained the assent of the Naval Lords to that policy. I think it can only have been obtained by assurances from the Civil side of the Admiralty that the necessary supplies would be available when required in the widest sense of the word. I need not repeat any part of the speech of my Noble Friend (Lord C. Beresford), who laid down with the fullest knowledge the conditions under which oil is used on board ship, and the many advantages it confers on a war vessel if properly supplied with it. But you cannot have these advantages—on the contrary you have absolute incapacity—unless you have got your oil at the right place and at the right time. I have no doubt these assurances were given, but I do not think they were well founded, because it is perfectly clear from what the right hon. Gentleman said that they have not got the supplies in sight. He assured the House in the very strongest terms that there is no difficulty in obtaining the required quantity. He said that the Admiralty are prepared to guarantee a safe and satisfactory supply equal to the demand as it arises. He said nothing whatever about the quality of the oil and about the specification except one thing which I am bound to say aroused great doubt and suspicion in my mind. He said the supply they were obtaining now under ordinary peace conditions was a supply of 1570 ordinary commercial oil which is available all over the world. But it is nothing of the kind. I took down the expression he used. I understood he said it was the ordinary commercial article. He said oil fuel could be bought in the open market as an article generally available. But it is not so.
I am sure he will realise that that is a misapprehension, because the oil fuel for naval purposes is an article used for no other purpose in the world. The flash point is different. The matter of flash point has alreadly been mentioned, and it is perfectly competent to state in this House that the Committee with which I was concerned, had the most competent advice on that point. It was considered, as my Noble Friend has stated, both by engineers and chemists, and it was decided that the lowest flash point which could be adopted was 250 degrees. There may be some hon. Members who do not appreciate what flash point means, and I hope I shall not be considered as going into too much detail if I state the meaning. Oil itself is not inflammable at all. You may throw a bomb into an oil tank and it will not explode. It is the vapour which is given off by the oil that is explosive, and it is simply the temperature at which that vapour begins to be given off to which you refer when you speak of the flashpoint. When you speak of flash-point of 250 degrees, what is meant is that there will be no inflammable vapour from the oil until the temperature is 250 degrees. The importance of that in the Navy is this. It does not affect very much the combustion of the oil, for when it is put into the furnaces the flashpoint is enormously greater, but the danger of having oil of a lower flashpoint is that oil may escape into some portion of the vessel where there is a high temperature, and if that happens, you will have a fearful explosion and the vessel will be wrecked. Therefore, in the Navy the risk is that oil may escape into the vessel, and being at a low flashpoint, disastrous consequences must ensue. The flash point of 250 was fixed as the lowest point for security. That flash point was reduced since then to 200. That may have been on highly competent advice, and it may be done with safety. Now my Noble Friend tells the House that he understands that the flash point has been still further reduced to 175. That awakens the suspicion in my mind that these large supplies which the Admiralty hope to get 1571 may only be obtained by the sacrifice of the flash point, and that the quality of the oil and its safety for naval use may be jeopardised. It is quite remarkable that the First Lord was quite eloquent, and I believe absolutely accurate, in his description of the immense advantages which were obtained by the use of oil in fast battleships, and he stated with perfect accuracy that we could not afford to build battleships of less efficiency and particularly of less speed than those of competing nations, and we could only obtain that efficiency and radius of action and that extreme speed by the use of oil only. That was the reason given by the First Lord for having laid down these five ships to burn oil only. Then he turned round, and almost in the same breath proceeded to explain that the next ships, which he was going to lay down, were to burn coal as well as oil, because he explained that speed would not be so necessary for them. It seems to me that the same considerations should apply to these also.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I do not suppose that they do. The different considerations I am afraid are not considerations of efficiency, but considerations of oil supply. I am sure that when the right hon. Gentleman goes back from ships that burn oil only to ships that burn coal as well as oil it cannot be merely for the purpose of efficiency. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to tell the House that the main reason for going back to coal and oil is not the question of supply?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
What I said was that these fast battleships were ships of quite unusual quality and quite unusual cost, and having established that division it was not necessary that these other ships should follow on the same lines. I fully admit that the high price of oil is a consideration in these matters.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Can the First Lord say whether the ships which are going to burn the coal and oil have any other compensating advantages? It becomes difficult for the Committee to form an opinion on it. I am afraid that my anxiety is not allayed in this matter because the First Lord is obviously anxious himself, and I am sure that he cannot deny that. If he asks the House as he did in so many words to give him its confidence and support he ought to take the House fully into his confidence in return. Nobody is infallible, 1572 and if he admits "We have not perhaps looked as far ahead as we ought to have done in this matter of oil supply, and we realise the mistake," of course we would have to accept the situation and make the best of it. That is, in my belief, what has occurred. There has not been sufficient foresight in this matter of oil supply. In opening my speech I stated that on the accession to office of the Liberal Government that the Oil Committee was dissolved, and the right hon. Gentleman has not denied it. All the work of that Committee was lost to the Admiralty, and five or six years elapsed after the accession of the Liberal Government before the question of oil supply, and the method of its use on ships, was dealt with. With regard to the best use of oil on ships, I do not allege any neglect on that side of the subject at all. The question of the oil supply in its larger sense, its larger commercial sense, which was referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, is not a question for the naval side of the Admiralty; it is a question for the Civil Lord, for the additional Civil Lord, and for the First Lord himself. The question of the oil supply is evidently one for the commercial side of the Admiralty. For five or six years it was obvious to the Admiralty—it was obvious in our time, and it was acted upon—that the question of the oil supply must be most carefully attended to by the civil side of the Admiralty. For five or six years it was absolutely neglected, and the trouble we are in to-day is mainly due to that fact. The general principles which the First Lord of the Admiralty laid down appeared to me to be admirable. They are exactly the principles laid down eleven years ago, without an alteration, so far as I know.
There are three principles: The first, is wide geographical distribution; the second, keeping open—and keeping alive independent competition, so far as possible—the sources of oil supply; and thirdly, drawing our supplies from sources as far as possible under British control, and from which transport is safest and most secure. Those principles have always been laid down for the supply of oil. I hardly think that the Admiralty will be able to carry out the policy of drawing their supplies from all parts of the world, in compliance with those principles, and at the same time go with the market as the owner of a great oilfield. That I understood to be the suggestion of the First Lord 1573 of the Admiralty. The Department are going into the oil market as the owners of oil territory, and they are going to exploit crude oil, which they will refine for naval use, disposing of the by-products in the open market. It is rather difficult to follow the policy of going into the market as the owner of oil territory and competitor, and at the same time to be the purchaser an a large scale from different oil companies throughout the world. I do not quite see how those two policies are to be worked together. However, I am quite sure the First Lord of the Admiralty will take care to obtain the very best advice that is obtainable outside, the best advice of experts in the oil world, which I know is at the disposal of the Admiralty. If he acts on that advice, and on his own commercial principles, I hope he may get the supply he requires. But I think he is a little overconfident. He is prepared to pay any price, and, of course, if he pays any price he can get anything. It is a very serious matter for the country; and, as my Noble Friend said, we ought to have storage in the country—that is to say, oil tanks ashore, in vessels afloat, and at foreign stations. We ought to have something like 1,000,000 tons of oil. We got oil at something like 40s., and you might have made forward contracts on favourable terms two or three years ago. The price is now between 70s. and 80s. a ton. If you are going to pay an extra sovereign per ton of oil, having told the House that you must have it, that is putting the country into a very unfortunate position, but it is only a secondary form of punishment which the country will have for neglect by the Admiralty. The worst form would be the loss of naval efficiency, and the best we can hope for now is that our naval efficiency may be preserved at the expense of an immense financial loss, due to the neglect of the Board of Admiralty in not carrying on the policy of keeping up the oil supplies of the world and putting the Admiralty in a favourable commercial position.
I should like to mention another subject that has not yet been referred to to-day, and that is the subject of wireless telegraphy. I do not propose to go into it at length or into the general subject, but I wish to make a particular suggestion to the First Lord, and to call his attention to the fact that so far as I know the only real centre in the country where scientific work connected with wireless telegraphy is carried on is by the Navy. The position 1574 is that for the work that has to be done by the Navy wireless telegraphy is of supreme importance, and as to the discoveries in wireless telegraphy it is of supreme importance for those who are working for the Navy to have access to all scientific information, and to have it available at a central department. The same thing applies to the Post Office. Last night we were debating here most important matters connected with the contracts for wireless telegraphy for Empire stations. It appeared to me, on hearing that Debate and from all the information I have gathered about what is going on in the Navy, that it would be a priceless advantage to the Navy, and to the country, and to all the Government Departments which are connected with wireless telegraphy if there were established a central national laboratory for the purely scientific work connected with wireless telegraphy. The Navy is now made into a sort of maid of all work for other Government Departments on scientific work connected with wireless telegraphy. Answers to scientific questions on this subject have to be obtained from the Navy or else, and what is very objectionable, the Government have to go to commercial companies with whom they are likely to have to enter into public contracts, and they have to obtain their scientific information from the companies with whom they are about to enter into commercial relations. It would be very much better for the Government and would place the Navy in a far better position to apply their brains to the question of the naval application of wireless telegraphy if there were a central scientific laboratory or institution where this study may be carried on by experts in Government employment, and to whom the Navy might apply, and for whom they might obtain that particular information. I hope the Government will take that matter into consideration, and that particularly from the naval paint of view the First Lord will influence his colleagues to provide that central station to which I have referred.
I wish to refer to the question of aerial defence. The First Lord did not mention it in his speech, but he must know that there is very great and justifiable anxiety in the country as to our position in regard to that matter. The position to-day in regard to aerial defence is very similar to what it was some fourteen years ago in regard to submarine defence. Steps were 1575 then taken which have resulted in our being to-day behind no other country in the matter of submarine defence. We are, I believe, considerably more behind in the matter o faerial equipment than we ever were in the matter of submarines. I am wholly incompetent to enter into any discussion of the details of aerial defence, but one requires no sort of technical knowledge to know that the really vital question is not so much the actual possession of the equipment, of the matériel, of the machines, as the provision of practical crews of men to man them. If it is true to say they take two years to build a ship, and four years to train the men to man it, it is far more true to say that it takes, say, six months to build an airship, and it will take at least three or four years to train a crew thoroughly competent to manage that airship. You cannot obtain accurate information with regard to this new science from other countries. You have to work it out for yourself. What the average man in the street knows to-day is simply that there are aeroplanes, seaplanes, rigid dirigibles, and non-rigid dirigibles. All those four types of machine will be certainly used in warfare, but we do not, and we cannot, know what particular parts they will each play, what their efficiency will be, or what we have to fear or hope from anyone of them. What we do know is that unless we ourselves as a country make experiments, train our men in the use of those machines, and develop for ourselves the knowledge of their use, we shall run the gravest danger in time of war. At present, we have a very indifferent supply of any of these four types. As far as airships, either rigid or non-rigid, are concerned, I believe we are merely on the threshold, whereas other countries are very far advanced.
It is not for me to say exactly what the Admiralty are doing. I cannot criticise them, as I have on the question of oil, from any point of knowledge whatever. But the First Lord knows that great anxiety exists in the country, and I think he might have told the Committee something about this matter, although, obviously, actual details could not be given. I merely desire to emphasise the matter, not from any point of detailed criticism, but from the point of the general anxiety. It must be obvious to every hon. Member that we are woefully behind in a matter which apparently is going to be vital to naval efficiency from every point 1576 of view. We can no more afford to be behind hand—and I think every Member of the Committee feels that, on whichever side of the House he sits—in an efficient form of airship, or of aircraft than we can in battleships. We are so far behind at present that we do not even know the kind of aircraft that is going to be most efficient, or how we are going to meet the attacks made by other aircraft. I think the First Lord a the Admiralty might tell us something on that point, something to reassure the grave anxiety which obtains, I believe, both in the Navy, and in the country on that subject. I will not say anything about the shipbuilding Vote, because that has been very fully debated already from both sides of the House. But I will say that the suggestion of the First Lord of the Admiralty, that the acceleration of three ships of last year's programme, which he has projected, will meet the requirements of the case and put us on the same footing, does not appear to me to be quite justified. We shall lose ground in one particular.
He has very truly told us more than once of the great advantage we gain—he has laid great emphasis upon this—in our building in laying down ships late in the financial year, and at the same time have them ready as soon as those other countries which have laid theirs down earlier, because it enables us to wait until we know something, not only of what is projected, but of what is actually being done by others. I fully agree with the First Lord in the importance that he attaches to that: that what we have to consider is not what other countries say they are going to do, but what they have done and are doing; and that we are in the fortunate position of being enabled to do that because we can build in less time than other countries. We make use of that advantage. Now he proposes to move up these three ships by seven months. Thereby he will throw away that advantage upon which he has laid such great emphasis. That is a factor certainly of our argument, and I do not know whether he has taken it into full consideration. He challenged my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fareham as to whether we on this side demanded that six ships should immediately be laid down; whether that was our programme? Surely the right hon. Gentleman knows that what my hon. and gallant Friend criticised, and what I desire to criticise, 1577 it is not for us to lay down programmes. The complaint of my hon. Friend was that the First Lord of the Admiralty was not acting up to the programme which he himself had laid down only a, few months ago. That was the point. I venture to suggest that it is not for us on this side of the House who have not at our disposal the full and detailed information which is in the possession of the right hon. Gentleman to lay down programmes. He may ask us what number of ships we should lay down. I should refuse to answer a question of that sort, and I think my hon. and gallant Friend would do the same. That does not deprive us of the right to criticise him and particularly to hold him to the absolute pledges which he gave to the country only a few months ago. That was the point of the criticism of my hon. Friend, and that is the point which I hope he will reply to.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The hon. and gallant Gentleman always speaks on this subject with a great deal of knowledge. I have no complaint to make of his line of argument. He is careful to say nothing which would have the effect of trenching upon any matter which is properly a naval secret. In that respect his speech might with great advantage be copied by some others whom we hear from time to time. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is a little unjust in suggesting that I have departed in any way from the various pledges I have made in the House this year. I think some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House have as much reason to complain that the standards of the Admiralty have been somewhat advanced during the last two years than anyone on that side has to complain that they have been reduced or unfulfilled. These Debates have only one feature in common. The Minister comes down with all his work of many months at the head of a great Department with a feeling of pride and satisfaction at seeing the great development of the machinery of national defence proceeding from day to day and from week to week, how care and attention is lavished upon that work, how public money is poured out with absolutely unstinted profusion to secure the highest proficiency. He makes his statement, and then there is nothing but lectures, censures, reproaches, comment, and criticism from the most opposite quarters and from widely different points of view, all very natural, most of it nothing that one can complain of; but the cumulative effect is to demon- 1578 strate that the British Navy is one mass of misfortune and mistakes, of defects and of negligence, such as have never been seen in any country or in any public Department. It is only when we get to the conclusion of the Debate, and either there is a Division or the House leaves the matter without the test of a Division, that there is some corrective to the unbroken stream of adverse criticism of an opposite and mutually destructive character which we have always found on these occasions. I cannot go in detail into the questions connected with the oil reserve. It is not at all unlikely that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke last, or, more particularly, the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth (Lord C. Beresford) may have something to contribute to that subject. The Noble Lord goes grousing in familiar pastures. He knows a great deal about the Navy. He gets a lot of information given to him. But I think he would be better advised if he would have, generally, a feeling of regard for its confidential character. He comes up here to lecture us with this information in an undigested condition, and many things which are wrong and erroneous come out. I am bound to say that I think it is desirable that the Noble Lord should try to confine himself to matters about which he is absolutely sure, and on which he can speak as a responsible person.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The Noble Lord says he has always done right, and that in everything we do we are doing what he has told us to do; that we are doing something which he has advised at one time or another. Well, really, he says so much and advises so many things that it is difficult to take any course which the Noble Lord has not advised. "That is what I recommended in 1884." "That is what I told you in 1892." "That was my advice in 1900." Although he makes many extremely erroneous and inaccurate statements, I will admit that from time to time the Noble Lord has some good ideas. I can assure the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down that there is no need for anxiety about the oil supply of the Navy. We have during the last few years taken the necessary measures to build up a reserve sufficient for the ships now using it, and we are taking measures —I admit the rise in the price of oil has increased the expenditure—which will 1579 secure the increasing reserves that will be required as the number of ships dependent on oil multiply, and when the Government ships are delivered we shall have a reserve which, in its proportions, will be absolutely satisfactory from every point of view. The quality of the oil is an expert question, and it has been the subject of very many experiments, and I am satisfied on the evidence of the engineers and those who have studied it, that all the steps we have taken are thoroughly justified and safe. The hon. Member dealt with the flashpoint of the oil, but that has not prevented us from widening our specifications. The Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth (Lord Charles Beresford) talked about the heating apparatus, or, I might call it, the thawing apparatus, which would be a great deal nearer the mark. All these problems are extremely difficult, but there is no difficulty in solving them, provided we are given the money, a free hand, and the support we require from the House of Commons. It is very important that they should be solved and adequately solved, and we have every reason to believe that the steps we are taking will lead to their effectual solution at the exact moment when a solution is most needed. The hon. Gentleman suggested that I was uneasy on the subject of air, but I was only uneasy because of the length of time I was trespassing upon the good nature of the House. We are making very considerable progress in regard to the development of the naval air service. The cruiser "Hermes" has been fitted with a launching platform and accommodation for three seaplanes, and has gone out to the manœuvres.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I think on the Red side. There are several shore stations in process of establishment which will be in action during the manœuvres, and will be provided with seaplanes which will take Bart in the manœuvres. It is true that I have not the number of seaplanes and planes that I hoped to have in time for the manœuvres, but that is not our fault. They are a little overdue owing to slowness of delivery in regard to the engines and so forth, but I have a considerable number—I would rather not say how many—but we have much more than the seventy-five pilots who are being trained. Owing to this rapidly expanding branch of the air service, it has been found necessary to 1580 purchase a considerable number of seaplanes and planes. I do not wish to state the detail of the number, although it is very considerable. I would rather have the opportunity, if I am still responsible to the House when we meet in February, of stating then what has been achieved. Now I come to airships. The policy outlined earlier in the year with regard to airships is nearly matured. The "Parseval," after a very successful trial, in which she attained a speed of forty-two miles an hour, has been accepted by the naval service. It is a model of German efficiency in this respect: The "Asorias," in her preliminary nary flight, showed that some modifications are desirable. These operations are now on hand, and the trials will he resumed very soon. With a view of carrying out our policy of developing large rigid airships, we have entered into negotiations with two of our largest and most experienced shipbuilding firms. Both these firms have shown considerable enterprise in agreeing to take up airship work, and the preliminary construction of two rigid airships of the largest size is now well advanced. It is generally recognised that the handling of these airships requires considerable experience. We propose, therefore, to build six non-rigid airships of considerable size, and they will be used for giving the personal experience in the handling of airships. By this course, it is hoped to provide a sufficient trained personnel. Probably a succession of these rigid airships will be ordered when it is proved that they are successful. We have very good hopes of building a vessel which in every respect will be equal to the latest on the Continent.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
They are of the best design we could get. The Medway Airship Station will provide accommodation for several airships, but in this branch of naval airship service a further extension is to be expected, and several other stations will soon become necessary. Perhaps it will be thought that I have indicated a rather considerable development of this scheme. On that I do not wish to be pressed very much. It is not possible to say at present in a service of so novel a description the amount which will be earned by the contractors during the current year, and I hope that I shall not be pressed until the House meets in February, when the general position of naval finances can be surveyed. There is one, other topic on which I should like to say 1581 word and to which my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Molteno) referred, and that is in regard to the arming of merchantmen. He made a speech which was full of well argued points. I have never doubted that it is a melancholy fact in the present state of European civilisation and at this period that we should have to go back to putting weapons of war on peaceful trading vessels. I most deeply regret that it has been necessary. These vessels have been armed to meet the threatened danger introduced by the claim of foreign Powers to the right to arm merchantmen for commerce destruction on the high seas. The Admiralty guarantee the defence of the trade routes against the war vessels of the enemy. Where it is an enemy cruiser or a potential hostile cruiser, we place another vessel of equal or superior power, and we have no doubt we shall be able in time to—though accidents will, of course, occur—to rid the seas of the regular armed war vessels of the enemy. But there is a form of warfare against which war vessels cannot very well compete, and that is the arming of a very large number of enemy merchant ships for the purpose; not of fighting ships of war, but of preying on commerce. Supposing it were possible for an enemy, by spending £200,000, to put guns on board forty or fifty merchant or passenger vessels of considerable speed to endanger our commerce, we should have only two ways of replying to that menace.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I do not like to go into these matters. It seemed to us a very real danger, and at any rate they have most strenuously claimed the right to do so. We should have the choice, in that event, of meeting that danger in two ways, and two ways only. The first way would be to construct a very, very large number of very expensive cruisers, because in this case what you want is numbers not strength. A vessel which has no weapon of any kind to fire is afraid of a vessel which has perhaps only a rifle if it is faster. Therefore, we should either have to build a very large number of cruisers or do what we have now done, arm a certain class of merchant vessels, but only so as to enable them to defend themselves against the attack of another merchantman. There are two quite different classes of merchant vessels which will be armed at present. There are the great big merchant-cruisers like the "Lusitania" 1582 and the "Mauretania," which will be taken over by the Admiralty, converted into ships of war, and which will definitely operate as ships of war. My hon. Friend does not quarrel with that. Then there are the smaller vessels which will not have any offensive character but which will simply carry these two guns for the purpose of defending themselves when they are bringing food to this country if they are attacked on the way not by a foreign man-of-war—the Admiralty will look after them—but by a merchant vessel which has been armed and is being used as a commerce destroyer.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
There are a good many questions in regard to this. As if we should, with the development of our policy at the Admiralty, aim at sending ships to sea with guns but no ammunition and men to work them.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Because I can choose, my own time and methods for making a statement of that kind. I have tried to cover all these various points.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am very familiar with the wireless point which my hon. Friend raised, and I shall consider it. Only a few days ago I was considering in what way the naval wireless developments could be brought into relation with a great scientific society or some central board or institution for the development of wireless. I think that ought to be very carefully considered. We are developing our wireless at a very great rate. The reason we have not wished to go into any undertaking outside the Admiralty sphere is that we want all our people to develop the purely naval aspect, and I have reason to believe that developments in that direction are thoroughly satisfactory.
§ Mr. GRETTON
I want to ask one question. The right hon. Gentleman gave a wholly unnecessary and uncalled-for certificate to the members of the present Board of Admiralty—to the naval and civil officers employed under him—that they were not interested in any oil companies. No one expected anything else. I want to ask this question: Does that certificate cover the members of the Oil Committee?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Lord Fisher, I believe, had a large number of shares in oil. When I invited him to become a member of the Oil Commission he sold all of them at once—on the same day, I believe. Although he did not hold them whilst doing work for the Government he had been abused and slandered, and I am glad to have this opportunity of saying he has exposed himself to serious private loss in order to clear himself in every way to perform this public service.
§ Question put, and agreed to.