§ Mr. MORRELL
On a point of Order. May I ask whether I shall have the opportunity now to submit my Resolution later this evening?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I cannot say whether there will be an opportunity before eleven o'clock. I will do my best to provide the hon. Member with that opportunity, but it does not rest with me.
§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Churchill)
I do not at all complain of any delay which may have occurred this afternoon, because what has happened illustrates a very important naval and strategic truth which I have several times endeavoured to impress upon the House—I mean the difficulty under which the 1750 strongest naval Power always lies of being ready to meet at its average moment the attack of the next strongest naval Power at its selected moment. If our proceedings this afternoon have inculcated that valuable principle to the minds of the Members on both sides of the House, the Admiralty, at any rate, will have no reason to complain of any inconvenience. I imagine that the House will wish me to enter fully on this occasion into the general Admiralty policy of the year, and it will perhaps be convenient if I summarise the course which my statement will take this evening. First, I shall explain by tracing the general causes which are at work why the Naval Estimates have increased this year and will increase again next year, and I will deal with some of the financial questions involved. Then I shall examine the standards of relative naval strength which we recommend should be maintained, and the bases and limitations of any possible naval agreement with Germany. In this connection I will speak of the general development of the Dominion navies and will indicate so far as it is proper to do so what is, in the opinion of the Admiralty, the best course for such development to follow.
Next I shall deal with the development in the type of the British capital ship so far as it is proper to touch upon such matters, and with the development of the 1751 minor programmes. In this connection I will refer to certain special questions like oil, air, armed merchantmen, and wireless telegraphy. Leaving materiel, I shall then come to various questions affecting the welfare of officers and men. I will then explain the scale of the fleets which we should maintain in this and future years in the various standards of commission, and show how the scheme of organisation which was last year submitted to the House of Commons is being and will be completed, and how that process relates to the large augmentations which are in progress elsewhere. From this I shall pass to the manning of the Navy; discuss the provision necessary for the future, and will finally state the present position in the event of mobilisation. Thus the Committee will be placed in possession of the Government view upon all, or almost all, the principal naval questions which are of current importance.
Let me begin with the causes of the increases in naval expenditure. Those causes are not to be found in the numbers of new ships of various classes begun last year or projected for this year. The programmes of 1912–13 and 1913–14 follow conventional lines. More great ships have been built in previous years when the Estimates were lower. The minor programmes, except so far as light cruisers are concerned, do not exceed normal limits. If we go back over the last five years, and compute the amount of "Dreadnought" construction which accrued for payment in the currency of each, we shall see that the volume of "Dreadnought" construction falling due in the present year is less than that which fell due in any year since 1910–11. Let me illustrate this by a brief calculation. Every capital ship sanctioned by Parliament affects the finance of three years. There are, therefore, in each year, ships which are begun, ships which are finished, and ships which are under construction throughout the whole twelve months. To compute the aggregate "Dreadnought" construction in any one year, it is necessary to multiply the number of ships building by the number of months when work was being done on them. The comparable figures for the five years will be found to work out as follows, in months multiplied by "Dreadnoughts":—
1752 and the Estimate for the present year, 1913–14, is 134. Taking a "Dreadnought" month as costing, on all Votes, roughly £100,000, there ought apparently to be a relief of £1,200,000 from that cause. How, then, it will be asked, are the Estimates of the present year so much above those of the year 1911–12, when the minor programmes are constant and the capital ship construction is actually less? The increases in the Estimates, past, present, and prospective, arise from five main causes: first from the decisions of policy to increase the number of ships maintained in full commission in consequence of the new German Navy Law, and to increase the numbers and the pay of the personnel. Secondly, from the increase in the size, speed, armaments, equipment, and cost of warships of all kinds necessary to keep pace with the similar vessels building all over the world. Thirdly, from the introduction and development of new services, principally oil fuel, the air service, and wireless telegraphy. Fourthly, from the general increase in prices and wages, and particuarly in the cost of coal, oil, steel, and all materials used in connection with shipbuilding. Fifthly, from arrears of shipbuilding in the last two years, arising from the failure of contractors to earn their proper instalments, as manifested by the delay in executing the current programmes. Speaking in general terms, one may say that the increase in the numbers and pay of the personnel costs, in this year, £730,000; that the new services, oil, air, and wireless, are responsible for an addition of £1,500,000 above the similar charges of 1912–13; that there is a million and a half on account of the increase of prices; and another million on account of arrears of shpibuilding; and that these factors, together with the increased size and power of each vessel under construction, sweep away the reductions which might have been expected in consequence of a smaller "Dreadnought" programme, and constitute the great increase which has raised the Estimates for the year to £46,300,000.
1909–10 … 91 "Dreadnought" months. 1910–11 … 130 "Dreadnought" months. 1911–12 … 146 "Dreadnought" months. 1912–13 … 146 "Dreadnought" months.
The Estimates of this year would, indeed, have been substantially higher but for the extreme congestion in the shipyards arising from the extraordinary demands upon our shipbuilding plant, and especially upon our skilled labour supply, which are the characteristics of the present moment. It would be no use my asking Parliament for large sums of money which would not, so far as can now be foreseen, be earned 1753 by the contractors, but which would only inflate the Naval Estimates purposelessly, and have in the end to be devoted to the payment of the National Debt. I have therefore, upon past experience and upon the best advice that I can secure, thought it proper to make, so far as the Contract section of Vote 8 and Votes 9 and 10 are concerned, an estimate not of the total nominal cost of executing the programmes, if nothing went wrong and if nothing were delayed, but of the maximum which the contractors will, in all probability, be able to earn. If my expectations should be exceeded, and if, as I hope, better progress is made in executing the programmes which Parliament has sanctioned—there is no question of new charges; it is a question of executing decisions which the House has already come to—it will be necessary for me to come to Parliament later in the year for a Supplementary Estimate. Every effort has been and will be made to carry out with all possible punctuality the work which Parliament has sanctioned. It is my duty to inform the House at this stage that, large as these Estimates are, it is possible that they will have to be supplemented, not because of new liabilities being incurred, but because of existing liabilities accruing for payment at an earlier date than it is now reasonable to expect. Lest delay in the execution of the programmes should occasion undue apprehension, I must observe that, so large is the scale of Admiralty business, a delay of six or seven weeks in the execution of current programmes makes a difference of nearly £2,000,000 in Estimates of the year. This powerfully affects naval finance, but does not appreciably alter the margin of naval strength.
The whole of the Estimates this year have been examined, Vote by Vote, with the utmost care by the newly constituted Finance Committee set up by the Board of Admiralty under the direction of my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, and every effort will continue to be made to scrutinise and control in detail the growth of naval expenditure. There is, however, no reason to doubt that the main causes of the increase in past years, which I have mentioned, will continue to operate in the immediate future. The Navy is passing through a period, not merely of expansion, but of swift and ceaseless development. It is, in fact, a vast scientific business of ever-growing range and complexity, stimulated and governed by inventions and improvements in almost every sphere of 1754 applied mechanics, forced without cessation to enter upon new paths of research and of the application of the results of research, and fanned to the highest point of activity by the rapid advance in every direction of rival Powers.
As I stated last year, the latest German Navy law has increased the number of vessels we require to construct each year, and that law and Mediterranean requirements have still more increased the numbers and proportion of ships which must be maintained in the highest condition of readiness. To man and maintain the resulting war fleets a continual large increase in the number of officers and men of all ranks and ratings is required. To keep pace with labour conditions outside and other circumstances, increases have had to be made in the pay of officers and men and in the wages of dockyard employés. The growing complexity of the Service—because the House must realise that from month to month the complication and refinements of the machinery on board ship are making advances—steadily increases the proportion of the higher-paid ratings required; the maturing of schemes of good conduct and other non-substantive rates of pay, together with the automatic growth of the non-effective Votes, insurance charges, and the like, must augment the Estimates of each successive year, and we are confronted with a steady and resistless movement in the general cost of the scientific establishment of the Navy.
The increase in the size, cost, and speed of capital ships, compelled by the general developments of naval science and the types of ships building abroad, is marked and unceasing. The increase in speed affects, not only capital ships, but destroyers, light cruisers, and submarines. Increase of speed involves immense increase of horse-power—since we have been in office the horse-power of the Navy has nearly doubled—and the increase in horsepower is almost directly productive of increase in the consumption of fuel. The increased cost of fuel—particularly of oil fuel—is very serious, and shows no likelihood of immediate abatement. On the other hand, it is not possible to reduce the number of days steaming at sea without falling behind the necessary standard of sea-going training.
The adoption by Germany, America, and Italy of larger guns for their primary armaments, and of larger and more numerous guns for their secondary armaments, has necessitated a further advance 1755 by us, thus very greatly increasing the outlay on these weapons, and, still more, on the ammunition they require both for practice and for war. No abatement in the annual consumption of practice ammunition can be looked for, but, on the contrary, increases are certain. The increased power and size of the new and more expensive torpedoes have led to an increase in the number of torpedo tubes, and the increased facilities for firing them makes it necessary to increase the supply of these more expensive torpedoes which have to be provided for use in each particular tube. There is a greater complexity and finish required for all apparatus on board ship, especially fire control apparatus, upon which we have had to make very large expenditure this year—gyro-compasses, range-finders, and other delicate machines of that class.
Larger ships and guns involve larger docks, and an increase in the scale of all appliances and yard machinery used in the construction and repair of the ships. Not only the size, but the complexity and finish of yard machinery is steadily increasing. I will speak of the important new services which are developing later. Their cost is heavy. On the top of all this comes the influence of large increases in prices, of which every Member has personal experience, and sooner or later on top of that will come the weight of delayed liabilities from arrears of shipbuilding, which I have already mentioned. The moment there is the slightest slackening in trade in the shipyards all the arrears of shipbuilding will be worked off, and at the very moment perhaps when the trade of the country is not at its best the Navy Estimates will automatically take an upward lift. That, however, will not have a bad effect upon the stability of employment in the great shipbuilding yards.
I think the Committee will see from what I have said that there is no prospect in the future of avoiding increases of the Navy Estimates unless the period of acute naval rivalries and rapid scientific expansion through which we are passing comes to an end. Of all nations we are perhaps the best able to bear the strain, if it should be continued. There are greater accumulations of capital in this country than anywhere else. We are freed from the necessity of maintaining an Army on the Continental scale. Our fiscal and financial system enables us to make large expansions of taxation without directly, at any rate, raising the cost of the living of the 1756 masses of the people. [An HON. MEMBER: "Question."] But although we are not likely to be in any difficulty in regard to men or money, and although the upkeep of our Navy will always be regarded as the first charge on the resources of the British Empire, the folly, the pitiful folly, of what is taking place here and all over the world is so patent to the meanest intelligence that a concerted effort to arrest or to modify it should surely rank amongst the first of international objects! There is, happily, a way which is open which would give almost instantaneous mitigation to the nations of the world from the absurd thraldom in which they are involving themselves at the present time. We are all in very much the same case. A good deal of what I am going to say could, I think, be repeated by the Minister of every other Great Power, or almost every other Great Power, without the slightest prejudice to his own national interests. In the sphere of naval competition everything is relative. The strength of one navy is its strength compared to another. The value of a ship depends almost entirely upon the contemporary ship which it may have to meet. The usefulness of a naval invention ceases when it is enjoyed by everybody else. A 30-knot ship has no greater advantage over a 27-knot ship than has a 20-knot ship over a 17-knot ship. The results are the same. The conditions of their competing are exactly the same. The cost alone is perhaps double. The same may be said of guns and armour. Their value is purely relative. There is no practical naval advantage to be gained by improvements in matériel, except where one nation possesses over others the monopoly for the time being of a secret, or where it has been able to make some advance which the others have not been able to share.
As the science of the great nations advances, broadly speaking, together, it is probable that special conditions on the one hand or the other are soon averaged out, and that the general advance is uniform and equal for all. I believe that to be true in the main, though there are no doubt exceptions of a partial character. Yet we see the ship types of every naval Power superseding those of the previous year with remorseless persistency, scores of millions being absolutely squandered without any result, and the pace and scale continually increasing without any real gain in the relative position of any of the competing Powers. Every year the great nations of Christendom not only make obsolete the 1757 fleets of their rivals, but they make obsolete their own fleets. They do that without adding in the least either to their actual security or relative strength. We are in the position of half a dozen competing manufacturers who are each year perpetually scrapping and renewing their plant without adding either to the volume or the profits of their business. Could anything be more stupid? Could anything be more wasteful? There is no practical result so long as all are advancing equally. On the other hand, no one Power can stand still whilst the others are advancing without in a very short time being hopelessly outclassed. This is a question which I would ask, if I may presume to do so, and which ought to be asked, not only of the Great Powers, but of the great peoples. It is a practical question; I am not putting any sentiment into my examination of this subject. This is the question: If, for the space of a year, for twelve calendar months, no new ships were built by any nation, in what conceivable manner would the interests of any nation be affected or prejudiced? You have good ships to-day. They are the best in the world—till better ones are built. Can they not have at least one year's reign before they are dethroned? Why should we not take a naval holiday for one year, so far, at any rate, as new construction of capital ships is concerned?
That is the question that I foreshadowed last year. That is the proposal I repeat this year. It is a proposal, I should like to point out, which involves no alteration in the relative strength of the navies. It implies no abandonment of any scheme of naval organisation or of naval increase. It is contrary to the system of no Navy Law. It imposes no check upon the development of true naval efficiency. It is so simple that it could lead to no misunderstanding. The finances of every country would obtain relief. No navy would sustain the slightest injury. We in Great Britain can speak with simplicity and directness upon such a subject. Our naval science is not inferior to that of any other country. Our resources are greater. Our experience is far greater. Our designs at every stage in the world's competition have maintained their old primacy, and, judged by the custom which we receive from other countries, our prices and the quality of our workmanship lie under no reproach. Each year, so long as new ships are built, we shall build the best that science can project or money 1758 can buy. We shall do the utmost to preserve that leadership in design which is no less necessary to naval supremacy than is preponderance in numbers. Sir, it is no appeal of weakness, panting or lagging behind, that we make, but rather an appeal of strength striding on in front. It is an appeal which we address to all nations, and to no nation with more profound sincerity than to our great neighbour over the North Sea. Let me say at once how much we welcome the calm and friendly tone and temper which has characterised recent German naval discussions. After a period of active naval preparation and direct comparison of naval strength, it is very satisfactory to observe that the relations between the two countries have sensibly improved, and that from the perils and anxieties under which Europe has dwelt these many months Great Britain and Germany have known how to draw the conviction that both of them are earnest to preserve the peace unbroken. Sentiments of goodwill, the growth of mutual confidence and respect, do much to rob the naval rivalries of their alarms and dangers, and permit us to approach the iron facts of the situation with composure and with a certain sense of detachment. Consciousness of our strength and the resolution of all parties in the House to do what is necessary to maintain it, ought to banish from our discussions anything in the nature of scaremongering or bluster which when applied in distortion of military facts are a certain means of producing errors in one's own policy and illwill in the policy of others. There is another mistake which we ought to be able to avoid. We must not try to read into recent German naval declarations a meaning which we should like, but which they do not possess; nor ought we to seek to tie German naval policy down to our wishes by too precise interpretations of friendly language used in the German Reichstag with a good and reassuring purpose. If, for instance, I were to say that Admiral Von Tirpitz had recognised that a British preponderance of sixteen to ten in "Dreadnoughts" was satisfactory to Germany, that such a preponderance exists almost exactly in the present period, and that in consequence Germany ought not to begin any more capital ships until we did, that might be a logical argument, but it would, I am sure, do a great deal of harm, and if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for 1759 Foreign Affairs were to press this point upon the German Government and to urge them through diplomatic channels to build no new ships this year, it would only lead to a direct refusal and subsequent recrimination, which would be very injurious. As a matter of fact the increased German programme of three vessels for the year 1913 has already passed the Reichstag, and there is good reason to believe that they will be begun without delay, and no remonstrance or appeal on our part would have any effect that would not be regrettable.
The naval policy towards Germany which I have been permitted to lay before the House and which has so far received very general acceptance in the country and produced no evil consequences in any quarter, is based on strength, candour, and simplicity. It excludes all idea of entangling bargains which would only break down in disputes and irritations. Both nations must be perfectly free to take whatever course in naval armaments may seem to them at any time wise and right, and to modify and extend their programmes and elevate or vary their standards as they may see fit. It has long been the policy of Germany to announce beforehand for a series of years what their naval programme will be. It has lately been our policy to forecast, as far as we can, and subject to all necessary reservations against what cannot be foreseen, what consequences these German programmes will produce in our own construction over more or less the same series of years; and to state, as I now state, that if in any particular year, not as a matter of bargain, but as a matter of fact, the programme of causation is reduced or cancelled, the programme of consequence will, subject to all necessary reservations against what cannot now be foreseen, be reduced or cancelled, too. Thus a framework and structure for events is established by which dangerous ambitions and apprehensions alike are effectively excluded and under the shelter of which good will and all the forces of good will may work without misconception or interference.
All our forecasts in this swiftly changing human scene are liable to revision by unexpected events, but I am glad to say that nothing which has happened in the year that has passed has led us to alter the numerical programmes I submitted to the House in March and July of 1912 or 1760 the guiding standards on which they were based. 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 cent. "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 be 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 five, as against three of the next strongest naval Power. The British programmes as revised of the six years under review will thus, as I explained to the House in July last, aggregate a total of twenty-five ships against fourteen. Two ships will be added to this total for every extra vessel laid down by Germany. Additional to this total will be any ships which we may have to build in consequence of new naval developments in the Mediterranean. I am glad to say that no such developments are to be observed at the present time. Thirdly, the ship presented by the Federated Malay Straits and the three ships now under discussion in Canada will also be additional to the total I have mentioned, that being the specific condition on which they were given and accepted.
These are the bases of a naval policy which, coolly and inflexibly pursued during the next few years, will, we believe, place our country and the British Empire beyond the reach of purely naval pressure, and which need not at any stage of its execution be fomented into a cause of quarrel with our German neighbours. I will now examine three subsidiary objections which may, with some show of plausibility, be urged from different parts of the House. First, there is the obvious dilemma about the Colonial ships. Either, it is said, our standard of 60 per cent. is sufficient for the time being, or it is not. If it is not, prove to us that more is required, and if we are convinced we will increase it. If it is sufficient, then the Colonial ships and other vessels are ipso facto redundant, and from that very cause an unjustifiable extravagance. That is in my opinion a false dilemma; indeed, if I might emulate or borrow from the spacious vocabulary of the Prime Minister, I would call it a fuliginous dilemma. The people of these islands cannot be expected to go on 1761 indefinitely bearing the whole burden of Imperial naval defence. We have done, and are doing, our duty, and more than our duty, to the Empire as a whole. We are confronted with a great preoccupation in European waters in consequence of which we are making naval preparations hitherto unequalled in peace time. The maintenance of the strongest Navy in the decisive theatre is in itself the main safeguard for the peace and security of the whole British Empire. We have also now, and in the immediate future we shall have, the power by making special arrangements to send powerful squadrons to any part of the British Empire, which may be locally threatened. It is evident, however, that were the pressure in the decisive theatre to grow continuously, our power to detach local reinforcements would gradually become diminished. It therefore behoves the Overseas Dominions to make exertions for their own and for the common security, whether by what are called local navies, or by what, in the Admiralty view, is more effectual, by additions to the Imperial Navy. It behoves them to make exertions by the one method or the other to preserve, restore, or increase the world-wide mobility of the Imperial Fleet. 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 which 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 development, and it is for them to choose also whether any naval forces, which they may call into being, shall be additional to the British standards, or whether they shall be contributions in aid of the heavy burden now borne by the British taxpayer. 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 whole-world requirements of the British Empire.
May I, with the indulgence of the House, make at this point a digression from the main argument I am pursuing, in order to outline the scheme which we have in mind for employment by the Admiralty of any capital ships which may be provided by Canada for general Imperial service. Of course, it is understood 1762 that Canada will always retain a right to recall these ships on giving reasonable notice; but while they are under the direct control of the Admiralty it is not proposed to merge them in the regular squadrons of the British Fleet. We propose to form them with the "Malaya," and if agreeable to the Dominions concerned with the "New Zealand," into a new squadron of five ships of high uniform speed, to be called the Imperial squadron, which would be based on Gibraltar, and from that station could easily reach any portion of the British Empire in a shorter time than any European force of equal power could move. From that station it would be possible for such a squadron to reach Halifax in five days, Quebec in six, Jamaica in nine, the South American coast in twelve, Cape Town in thirteen, Alexandria in three, Sydney in twenty-eight, New Zealand in thirty-two, Hong Kong in twenty-two, and Vancouver in twenty-three days, and the Channel in a very much shorter time. Our intention is that this squadron should, as opportunity offers, cruise freely about the British Empire, visiting the various Dominions, and showing itself ready to operate at any threatened point at home or abroad. The Dominions will be consulted by the Admiralty on all movements of this squadron not dominated by military considerations, and special facilities will be given to Canadians, Australians, South Africans, and New Zealanders to serve as men and officers in the squadron. In this way, a true idea will be given of a mobile Imperial squadron of the greatest strength and speed patrolling the Empire, snowing the flag, and bringing really effective aid wherever it may be needed. The squadron could, of course, be strengthened from time to time by further capital ships, or by fast cruisers, if any of the Dominions thought fit.
Side by side with this the Dominions will be encouraged by the Admiralty to develop the necessary naval bases, dockyards, cruisers, local flotillas, or other ancillary craft, which would enable the Imperial squadron to operate for a prolonged period in any particular threatened theatre to which it might be sent. There is no more valuable principle of Imperial federation than this principle, which I am bringing forward to-night, of inter-Dominion action. The homely old tale of the bundle of sticks, each of which could be snapped separately, but which bound together were unbreakable, is the last word 1763 in the naval strategy of the British Empire. We cannot, of course, direct or control these developments. Each one of the Dominions is absolutely free to take its own course, and the Admiralty will do its best to work loyally in naval matters with the responsible Ministers of any Government that may come into power in any part of the British Empire. That is our duty; but it is also our duty, with our knowledge and experience in naval matters, which is necessarily greater, to state clearly what we believe to be the right and sound plan for these important developments to follow in the future, and endeavour to combine, so far as possible, what is best for each with what is best for all. I return to the main argument I am submitting to the House. It will be said with great relevance at this point: if you are contemplating these external developments of the Dominion fleet; if all this is so; does not the possibilty of an indefinite development or extension of the naval power of the Dominions make it practically impossible for Germany, even if she were so minded, to accept the sort of proposal you have been making for a naval holiday? That is a fair question, but the answer is clearly "No." Any such proposal would have to be limited, in the first instance, to one particular year, and would naturally take into consideration all the circumstances of that year all over the world. This time last year I offered, on behalf of the British Government, publicly and openly, not to build any British capital ships this year, if Germany built none, and I pointed out how advantageous such an arrangement would be to the relative strength of the German Navy.
That proposal has not so far borne fruit. Since then we have had the new German Navy Law, and since then the German ships of 1913 have been sanctioned. Every event in this world brings its consequences with it. Since then, all over the British Empire, men's minds have been turned to this subject. Canada has come forward, the Federated Malay States have come forward, Australia and New Zealand are already acting, and South Africa is already on the move. A sustained impetus has been given to the opinions of millions of men spread all over the surface of the world. Great communities under their different conditions of sky and climate have shown themselves actuated by a common impulse. The results, so far as can be foreseen, are that nine capital 1764 ships will be constructed on behalf of the British Empire in the year 1913. That year is settled, and there is no going back on that. Take the year 1914. I have no reason to believe it is the desire of the German Government to postpone or cancel their programme of construction for that year; but, if it be their desire, they have only to make it known. No one builds "Dreadnoughts" for fun, and we can see no practical difficulty, in the absence of any dangerous or unforeseen development elsewhere in arriving at a good and complete arrangement for that year, not only on behalf of the British Government, but on behalf of the British Empire as a whole. As the year 1914 is one of those years when we shall be building four ships to two, a mutual cessation could clearly be no disadvantage to the relative position of the next strongest naval Power.
It is clear, however, that such an arrangement would probably involve other Powers besides Great Britain and Germany. The programmes of France and Russia on the one hand, and of Austria and Italy on the other, would have to be taken into consideration. I am sanguine enough not to see any insuperable difficulty in that. The influence of the British and German Governments, acting together for the peace and welfare of the world, is priceless and measureless, and, if an arrangement between them, be it only for one particular year, for the prevention of what can plainly be shown to be a wasteful, purposeless, and futile folly, were to acquire a wider international scope and significance, that would be all the more cause for general rejoicing and all the more honour to those who had taken part in bringing it about. Here, again, we are in a very good position to ventilate such ideas and to advance them to the best of our ability, because we have proved in recent years, and are increasingly proving, our capacity and resolve as a people and as an Empire to maintain and, as I shall presently show, to improve our naval position whatever action may be taken elsewhere. No one can accuse us of wishing to gain by negotiation or by supplication an advantage which we cannot win by sacrifice and effort. At any rate, there is the suggestion renewed again for 1914 or, if 1914 is too near, for 1915. Meanwhile, let me make it clear that while such a suggestion docs not bear fruit events will continue to move forward along the path upon which they have now been set, with 1765 the result that at every stage the naval superiority of the British Empire will be found to be established upon a more unassailable foundation. I make no apology for dealing thus bluntly and plainly with the whole situation as I see it, and I am absolutely convinced that this treatment of the subject at the present period is not only the best but the only way in which the present dreary and wasteful epoch will be terminated and a close brought to one of the most melancholy and stupid chapters in the whole history of European civilisation. I now turn to the third of these subsidiary objections. I am examining an objection of a very different kind which will be urged from quite another quarter. It will be said, it has been said, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Lee) I have no doubt is waiting to say, that the present total battleship strength of the British Navy, taking the "Dreadnoughts" and the pre-"Dreadnoughts" together, is about two to one compared with Germany. You, it will be said, proposed to replenish that strength during six years by programmes which maintain, and indeed, as these critics would argue, barely maintain, a ratio of sixteen to ten in "Dreadnoughts." In proportion, then, as the British ship superiority in pre-"Dreadnoughts" passes away, you will have exchanged the present general superiority of about two to one for a bare "Dreadnought" ratio of sixteen to ten. I think I have stated that objection fairly. It is one I have seen put forward in many quarters, and now I will endeavour to answer it.
The series of programmes which have been declared to the House, and which we see at present no reason to alter, take into full consideration the obsolescence of the British pre-"Dreadnoughts" in relation to the existing augmented German new construction, and they also take into consideration all other circumstances known to us at the present time. These programmes aggregate twenty-five ships to fourteen. Twenty-five ships to fourteen is not a ratio of sixteen to ten; it is a ratio of eighteen to ten. The difference between these programmes, which I declared last year, and a standard in new construction of two keels to one, uniform over the whole era, amounts during the whole six-year period to only three ships. But that is not all. The position cannot be completely appreciated by a simple statement of numbers. Hitherto, during recent years, we have been accustomed to speak of "Dreadnoughts" and of pre-"Dreadnoughts." 1766 There is another class which has now assumed great importance, though it has hardly ever been mentioned. I mean the super-"Dreadnought." British battleship types, which for a long period had remained practically constant, began in 1902, with the first of the "King Edwards," a marked and unceasing development, and the vessels of every year have been more powerful than those of the preceding year. In this ascending scale there are two main upward steps, the first, which separates the original "Dreadnought" from the last of the "King Edwards" (I omit the two "Lord Nelsons." which are exceptional ships, to avoid confusion); and, secondly, that which divides the last of the "Dreadnoughts," the "Colossus," from the first of the super-"Dreadnoughts," the "Orion." Here let me say a word about my right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary, (Mr. McKenna). I do not believe there has been in recent times any more daring, and certainly there has been no more successful step, in naval policy taken than that which was taken by him on the advice of the then First Sea Lord (Lord Fisher) in making that great advance with the eight ships of the 1910–11 programme, and increasing the size and increasing the gun power of those vessels. That was a most bold and decisive step; it was a big step forward; and it has had the result that we have sixteen ships built and building, armed with 13.5 inch guns which will be afloat before any ship armed with a weapon of similar power is on the water or in the possession of any other naval Power.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I mean super-"Dreadnoughts." I mean the great step by which he moved forward from the "Hercules" type to the "Orion" type. Those who wish to arrive at a true appreciation of the relative battleship strength of this country will make their comparisons on a three-fold basis of pre-"Dreadnoughts," "Dreadnoughts," and super-"Dreadnoughts." The differences between the super-"Dreadnoughts" and the "Dreadnoughts" are no less great than those between the "Dreadnoughts" and the pre-"Dreadnoughts." Surveying then these three classes, we find that our tail of pre-"Dreadnoughts" is enormously preponderant, but growing old; our middle piece comprises fourteen "Dreadnoughts," 1767 sixteen if the "Australia" and "New Zealand" are counted, eighteen if the "Lord Nelson" and "Agamemnon" are counted, against eleven comparable German ships. Our head which consists of twenty super-"Dreadnoughts," built and building, or twenty-one including the "Malaya," or twenty-four if the Canadian battleships are added, would be measured against a comparable German construction at present in view of twelve super-"Dreadnoughts." If to these totals were added on both sides the remaining five forecasted programmes which I indicated last year, namely, twenty-one to the British total and twelve to the German total, we arrive at the position in 1920 of forty-one British super-"Dreadnoughts" built and building, or forty-five if the Canadian and Malayan ships are included, against twenty-four German super-"Dreadnoughts," or a preponderance, in by far the most powerful class of vessel, which approaches two keels to one. Even at that date our superiority in pre-"Dreadnoughts" will not have wholly ceased to count, but the House will see that as it gradually passes away provision has been made in the Admiralty programmes, which I announced to Parliament last year, for counterbalancing what I may describe as the growing obsolescence of our once powerful tail by the increasing preponderance of our still more powerful head.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No, Sir. I am dealing with one particular aspect only, namely, a comparison between our standard and that of the next strongest naval Power. I am well aware of what he refers to—the Mediterranean Fleets.
§ Mr. BURGOYNE
When he said eleven ships of the pre-"Dreadnought" type in Germany and twelve super-"Dreadnoughts," did he include the "Kaiser" type?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I have taken this line—I am not giving the class or quality of particular vessels. I have taken the vessels contemporary with the vessels which we are counting as super-"Dreadnoughts." I do not think it would be advisable to go into a strict comparison with particular foreign ships, and I am only, 1768 for the purpose of my calculation, assuming that the ships which are contemporary with the British super-"Dreadnoughts" should be counted as super-"Dreadnoughts." Whether that be so or not, the hon. Gentleman is in a good position to know. It may well be, as I said last year, that as the decline of the pre-"Dreadnoughts" continues beyond the limits of the periods we are reviewing, or if that decline is accelerated by a more rapid construction of new ships elsewhere, we would have to consider the raising of the rate of construction beyond the limits at present defined, and of establishing a uniform ratio of two to one as against the next strongest naval Power. But that time has not been reached yet, and much may happen to delay or to prevent it, and I urge the Committee to rest content with the six programmes of new construction forecasted by me to the Committee a year ago, not to increase them except in consequence of new facts, which were not then and are not now before us, and not to reduce them except in consequence of some specific diminution in the existing German programmes as fixed by the latest Navy Law.
I must apologise for occupying the Committee for so long, but I hope I shall not be called upon to trouble hon. Members much during the Session. I pass now for the time to more technical matters. I see some of my most persistent questioners in their places, and I would like to say that I try to give to the House in my annual statement as much information as I possibly can without detriment to Admiralty interests, and I hope this will be borne in mind when I am somewhat chary at Question Time in renewing or reviving the discussion of these very complicated questions.
It may now be stated, without disadvantage, that last year we effected a far-reaching change of principle in the design of what are called battle cruisers. These vessels had gradually increased in speed and power until they had become the most costly ships in the service. They were more expensive than the strongest battleship, yet they were not upon an equality with their contemporary battleships in action. We laid it down as a principle that the most expensive ships in the world ought also to be for all purposes the strongest. We have therefore designed a ship, not indeed so fast as our latest battle cruisers, but possessing speed sufficient to overtake 1769 and manœuvre against any battle fleet which can be afloat in the next few years, and which, in addition to this speed, possesses heavier armament and better protection than any battleship yet designed. The cost of this vessel, after making allowance for the rise in prices, is slightly less than the cost of the last battle cruiser, the "Tiger," though more, of course, than any of the previous ships. Instead of laying down last year one battle cruiser and three battleships, we have decided that all the four ships of that year and the "Malaya" shall be of this new type, and it is not unlikely that it may be repeated in the vessels now under discussion in Canada. If that were so, we should have eight vessels capable, if desired—I do not say it would be desired—of being formed into a homogeneous squadron, against which no other squadron built, building or projected in the world, could be matched in guns, armour, or speed.
I make this observation on the ships of last year because a great many statements have been made in the newspapers about their design, and we think it advisable that the general aspect of our policy should be understood.
The time has not yet come to talk about the five ships projected for this year, but there is this one general observation I would make in regard to those ships and in regard to this subject generally. We must be very careful not to allow our development of naval power to be stereotyped or dominated by what I may, without disrespect, term a popular or uninstructed opinion. The public at large, in this and in other countries, is accustomed to reckon in "Dreadnoughts," and in "Dreadnoughts" alone, and these are the units which form the basis for all those intricate statistical calculations by which the newspapers of every complexion reach the conclusions which their editors desire. But the strength of navies cannot be reckoned only in "Dreadnoughts," and the day may come when it may not be reckoned in "Dreadnoughts" at all. When, therefore, I am attempting to forecast, not for this year only, but for a series of years ahead what our construction in capital ships will be, I hope it will be understood that numbers ought to be taken as units of war power and of money power which the Admiralty will, if they think fit, when the time comes, express in a different form. I think that is a very important observation to make at this stage. I will give an instance of what I mean. Supposing 1770 we were confronted with a new development of two foreign ships in the Mediterranean against which we have to make provision, it would not at all follow that we should build two other ships of equal or superior size and quality. We might spend the £5,000,000 to better advantage on a totally different form of naval construction, and I should certainly claim for the Admiralty full liberty, subject to Parliament being informed as soon as possible without public disadvantage, to give to the naval standards we are setting up whatever equivalent interpretation is held in the judgment of naval experts to produce the maximum development of war power for the money spent.
I turn to the minor programme of the year. Last year we laid down eight light cruisers of great speed, of good gun power and protection. These vessels were designed for the function of attendance on the battle fleets, for clearing the seas of hostile torpedo craft, and for the general services of observation. These vessels, which are in one respect destroyer destroyers, are much demanded by the admirals afloat, and are an important and essential feature in the policy of the present Board of Admiralty. The eight vessels of last year's programme were very well placed so far as prices are concerned, and for speed, size, and war power will prove the cheapest ever constructed for the British service. We propose to repeat this programme of eight this year.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
They have vertical armour, which is heavy considering the small size of the vessel. These two programmes of light cruisers are of course somewhat exceptional, and they must be taken into account in considering the destroyer programme for the year. All this fleet of light cruisers is, of course, of a smaller type than the cruisers Germany is building each year. But the House will understand that the British cruiser fleet is to be considered as a whole, and that we have, besides these light criusers which we are building, to consider the great preponderance we possess and shall possess in future years in fast and strong armoured cruisers, by which the light cruisers will be supported. These two programmes of light cruisers are somewhat exceptional, and they must be taken into account in considering the destroyer programme for 1771 the year. We propose this year a programme of sixteen destroyers instead of twenty, but these sixteen, I am sorry to say, cost as much as the twenty of last year, as they are of a superior type. There is a circumstance connected with the building of destroyers which I ought to bring to the notice of the House. The British torpedo-boat destroyer has been constructed with a double purpose. Its primary purpose is to cut down and drive from the sea by gun power the torpedo craft of the enemy. Its secondary, but not less important purpose, is to attack the great ships of the enemy's fleet by the torpedo. Both of these capacities of the destroyer are being intruded upon by other types. The small very fast cruiser, on the one hand, and the large submarine on the other, are making inroads upon both functions of the destroyer, and it is possible that future years may witness further reductions in the destroyer programme, to the advantage both of the light cruiser and of the submarine. It is with a view to preventing waste and loss to private firms, and giving ample notice, which will enable a gradual change to be made, we are calling the attention of the destroyer builders throughout the country to these possibilities.
I do not want to say very much about submarine construction. We have a very great superiority in numbers over every other country—excepting, perhaps, France—and we are providing over £1,000,000 this year for the further development of these very important vessels. The various types and sizes are being constructed in sufficient numbers, and the highly trained and experienced personnel, on which the utility of these formidable weapons depend, is being regularly and rapidly augmented. So much for the minor programme.
I now come to the four special subjects connected with matériel—oil, air, wireless telegraphy, and armed merchantmen. The labours of the Royal Commission on Liquid Fuel have been continuous throughout the year, and a succession of valuable Reports have been received by the Admiralty. The difficulties of this problem do not diminish with study. There is no disputing the immense advantages which the use of oil confers on ship design, in ability to maintain great speeds, not only to obtain them but to maintain them in a far wider radius of action, in the diminution of the numbers of personnel and the 1772 strain on the personnel, and, above all, in the capacity for refuelling at sea which oil vessels may be expected to develop. This last confers an advantage on the stronger navy which is not shared by the weaker, for it may be assumed that the weaker will bide its opportunity in port, while the stronger navy must keep the seas continuously. Recoaling, therefore, imposes a continued drain upon 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 appreciaable percentage to the relative fighting strength of the British Navy without any corresponding discounts in other directions.
But those great advantages, and others which are too technical for me to embark upon to-night, are almost matched by dangers and difficulties of the most serious character. First among these is the of any fresh supply of liquid fuel indigenous to these islands, and the scarcity of any such supplies in view throughout the British Empire. I need scarcely enlarge upon that difficulty, which I see is present in the minds of the House. We are also confronted with price movements of a far-reaching character which are, I apprehend, part of an attempt on a gigantic scale to corner the market and to control the output. We are confronted with a temporary shortage of tank vessels to bring oil from the oil fields here. The Admiralty have not only to buy oil at high prices and at high freights for current consumption, but we have also to accumulate and to store a very large reserve. Great numbers of oil tanks have to be built throughout the naval establishments and in other places. Vessels for the supply of oil to the fleets must be obtained and measures must be taken, both by land and water, to provide for effectual distribution. I do not propose to go into details on this matter, many of which are necessarily confidential, but more than £1,000,000 is included in the Estimates of the year for the purchase, transport, and storage of the oil fuel reserve, and that sum will be largely exceeded in the immediate future. It may also be necessary to make long forward contracts in various directions in order to secure an effective lien upon a proportion of the supplies available from several sources, and these contracts must necessarily open up a number of difficult commercial and administrative questions. I must, however, assert my confidence in liquid fuel for war 1773 purposes, and that the difficulties which now confront us will ultimately be overcome. We are not very far away—we cannot tell how far—from some form of internal combustion engines for warships of all kinds, and the indirect and wasteful use of oil to generate steam will, in the future, give place to the direct employment of its own explosive force. That position is not, however, reached at present, and pending such development, although oil is required in large quantities for the flotillas and small vessels, coal must remain the main motive power of the British line of battle. Meanwhile, every effort will be made to develop the very considerable potential resources in liquid fuel of this island and to accumulate the increased volume of our imported reserves.
I pass from oil to air—that other great new topic to which my statement ought to refer. My right hon. Friend (Colonel Seely) entered very fully last week into the progress and present position of Army aviation. The aeroplane service plays a much smaller part in the naval organisation than it does in military affairs, and, of course, in the Navy as well as in the Army it is in its infancy. This time last year the Navy had five machines and four trained pilots. To-day it has forty machines and sixty pilots. The anomaly of our having more pilots than machines is due to the unexpected non-delivery of machines which were ordered in good time, but, owing to one difficulty and another, have been delayed. Twenty more machines are expected to be received in the next few weeks. By the manœuvres in July we shall have seventy-five naval machines and seventy-five pilots. By the end of the new financial year for which we are now providing, we shall have a hundred pilots and considerably over a hundred machines in the naval wing. That will make, as I imagine, not far short of 300 aeroplanes, between the Navy and the Army put together, at the end of the year which the House is now asked to provide for. My right hon. Friend and I have presided over our respective Departments during the whole of this very remarkable development, and I think the scale on which progress has been, and is being made, and the rapidity with which the advance from nothing is being effected is really not a subject for levity and derision, with which I regretted to see one or two speakers in the recent debate were inclined to treat it. We have no reason to complain of the skill of the naval aviators. 1774 We have carefully studied the Report of the Glazebrook Committee, but the naval flying wing still use monoplanes. There are nine monoplanes in use. We consider it necessary to use them for the purpose of reconnaisance, training and scouting, and also in connection with the attack of submarines, an interesting by-product of this new form of warfare. It is also not so dangerous to alight on the water from a monoplane as to land on the unyielding surface of the earth, and no serious accidents have occurred with any naval machine to any naval aviator. We believe that the various types of hydroaeroplanes which we have evolved and which are being delivered, some of which carry guns and are fitted with wireless with a range of sixty miles, and which can rise and descend in comparatively rough waters, are, to put it, very modestly, certainly as good as anything which exists abroad, and as the result of prolonged exercises during the past year at the various naval stations between hydroaeroplanes and submarines, and in conjunction with the patrol flotillas, we have come to the conclusion that it is necessary that there should be a chain of hydroaeroplane stations at various points on the British coast-line for naval scouting purposes and for working with the patrol flotillas. Stations are being rapidly established and a number will be completed in the course of the present year. The problem of carrying aeroplanes in ships is also receiving attention, and a cruiser has been detached for work with the naval air service. Altogether, compared with other navies, the British aeroplane service has started very well. The preliminary difficulties have been surmounted, and we shall be able now to move steadily forward in several promising directions.
I have a less satisfactory account to give of airships. Naval airship developments were retarded by various causes. The mishap which destroyed the "May-fly." or the "Won't Fly," as it would be more accurate to call it, at Barrow, was a very serious set-back to the development of Admiralty policy in airships. It happened to coincide with a moment of depression about airships in Germany. It is only within the last twelve months that our enterprising neighbours have begun to reap the fruit of so many years of experiment and expense, and up to a very late period it was doubtful whether any valuable military results would be achieved. It is evident 1775 that the time has arrived when we must develop long-range airships of the largest type. That cannot be achieved by an impatient gesture nor by scattering money wildly, and the following measures are all which we consider it useful to propose at the present time. First, a naval airship section has been established, and five officers and fifty men have, by the courtesy of the War Office, been trained at Farnborough with the military airships. Secondly, two medium-sized, non-rigid airships have been purchased for training and experimental purposes. One of these, the "Astra Torres," is almost completed, and will shortly be undergoing trials. Another, the "Parseval," has its envelope completed, and the car is nearing completion. Provision is made in the Estimates for a double airship-shed in the Medway Valley; two others are already available for use, and steps are being taken to establish other large sheds in suitable districts. As the development of the naval personnel and accommodation for airships proceeds—these are antecedent conditions—we shall order other airships. We also propose to enlist the services of some great British manufacturing firm in the construction of rigid airships, and negotiations are on foot which will lead to that result.
The money taken in the new financial year for the naval air service is about £321,000, which, added to that taken by the Army for their aeroplane service, makes a total for the year of about £850,000. I do not think it would be practicable to spend a larger sum of money without wasting it at the present time.
No reproaches are deserved by the Admiralty for any time that has been lost in the development of dirigible airships. I do not suppose that there is any Admiralty in the world which runs more risks and spends more money on new ideas and new experiments than we do. Before these vessels emerge from the experimental stage, before they become within the restricted limits of their military action really potent factors, we shall be provided both with the means of using the advantages which they offer and of combating the dangers which they threaten. Meanwhile, I do trust that we are not going to have any silly panic language used about the dangers we are supposed to run. If war breaks out to-morrow foreign airships, no doubt, might do a certain amount of mischief and damage before they got 1776 smashed up, which would not be very long, but it is foolish to suppose that in their present stage of development they could produce results which would decisively influence the course of events. The hon. Gentleman opposite made our flesh creep the other night by suggesting the dropping of bombs from airships on the House of Commons. If that event should happen, I am confident that the Members of this House would gladly embrace the opportunity of sharing the perils which the soldiers and the sailors have to meet. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, who, like all his predecessors, comes in for a great deal of criticism when the Army Estimates come round, has, however, made arrangements which will shortly be completed to distribute thirty or forty guns with improvised mountings, capable of vertical fire, at places of military significance, and a better and more powerful gun is being manufactured in sufficient numbers for the Army and the Navy as quickly as possible, and these will be ready towards the end of autumn. The results of the trials of these improved guns have greatly encouraged those who disbelieved in airships as effective machines in war, apart from scouting. A number of vertical search-lights of a satisfactory pattern for night firing are nearly completed. In these circumstances I trust that the public, without losing interest or failing to give us support, will await future developments with composure and sobriety.
I turn to one aspect of trade protection which requires special reference. It was made clear at the second Hague Conference and the London Conference, that certain of the Great Powers have reserved to themselves the right to convert merchant steamers into cruisers, not merely in national harbours, but if necessary on the high seas. There is now good reason to believe that a considerable number of foreign merchant steamers may be rapidly converted into armed ships by the mounting of guns. The sea-borne trade of the world follows well-marked routes upon nearly all of which the tonnage of the British mercantile marine largely predominates. Our food-carrying liners and vessels carrying raw material following these trade routes would in certain contingencies meet foreign vessels armed and equipped in the manner described. If the British ships had no armament, they would be at the mercy of any foreign liner carrying one effective gun and a few rounds of 1777 ammunition. It would be obviously absurd to meet the contingency of considerable numbers of foreign armed merchant cruisers on the high seas by building an equal number of cruisers. That would expose this country to an expenditure of money to meet a particular danger, altogether disproportionate to the expense caused to any foreign Power in creating that danger. Hostile cruisers, wherever they are found, will be covered and met by British ships of war, but the proper reply to an armed merchantman is another merchantman armed in her own defence.
This is the position to which the Admiralty have felt it necessary to draw the attention of leading shipowners. We have felt justified in pointing out to them the danger to life and property which would be incurred if their vessels were totally incapable of offering any defence to an attack. The shipowners have responded to the Admiralty invitation with cordiality, and substantial progress has been made in the direction of meeting it by preparing as a defensive measure to equip a number of first-class British liners to repel the attack of armed foreign merchant cruisers. Although these vessels have, of course, a wholly different status from that of the regularly commissioned merchant cruisers, such as those we obtain under the Cunard agreement, the Admiralty have felt that the greater part of the cost of the necessary equipment should not fall upon the owners, and we have decided, therefore, to lend the necessary guns, to supply ammunition, and to provide for the training of members of the ship's company to form the gun's crews. The owners on their part are paying the cost of the necessary structural conversion, which is not great. The British mercantile marine will, of course, have the protection of the Royal Navy under all possible circumstances, but it is obviously impossible to guarantee individual vessels from attack when they are scattered on their voyages all over the world. No one can pretend to view these measures without regret, or without hoping that the period of retrogression all over the world which has rendered them necessary, may be succeeded by days of broader international confidence and agreement, than those through which we are now passing.
The development of wireless telegraphy in the sea-going ships and in the shore stations has during the year been very satisfactory. All the details are strictly 1778 confidential and it is sufficient for me to say that good progress has been made, and that the immense utility of wireless fully justifies the considerable sums spent last year and the still more considerable sums which are included in the Estimates for this year. In one respect, however, Admiralty interests have suffered a grave and to some extent irreparable loss to which I am bound to draw the attention of the House. The delay in ratifying the Marconi Agreement and the consequent prevention of all progress in the Imperial chain of wireless stations has deprived us of the advantages in regard to wave-length and priority which we hoped to gain through being first in the field, and now that the company has refused to carry out the contract—and it is manifestly impossible to compel it to do so—new arrangements of a different character will have to be devised, and it is possible that additional charges will be incurred by the public. No step, however, which will now be taken can put us back into the position which has been lost.
I am now leaving matériel. I have dealt with matériel of every kind. I am now coming to personnel. The past year has been marked by several important measures affecting the pay and conditions of service in the Royal Navy. First among these is of course the increase of pay which I announced in November, and which is now included in the Votes presented to the House. From the inquiries I have made and the information which has been received from many quarters, I am satisfied that these increases of pay—although perhaps they were not in many cases all that I should have liked to see given—and the methods in which the funds available have been distributed, have produced a very good impression throughout the naval service and have been gratefully received by that loyal body of men. Of course, the First Lord of the Admiralty always gets the credit for any such increase of pay, but I am bound to remind the House that it is my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer who has the burden of finding the money and upon whom all the labour and stress falls. This advance of pay need not be taken as finally exhausting the good will of the State. The fact that nothing in the nature of trade unionism or organised agitation for redress of grievances or petitions for advances in pay can be permitted by naval discipline imposes upon Parliament and the Board of Admiralty the special duty 1779 of exercising a just and attentive guardianship over the interests of those who serve the Crown so well.
The changes which have been made in disciplinary methods also repay the close attention given to the subject. As a result of Admiral Brock's Committee several objectionable and unsuitable punishments have been abolished. Care has been taken to reduce to a minimum punishments which would produce a lasting effect on a man's chances of pension. The petty officers in the Navy have been accorded the right to claim a court-martial before being disrated, thus being placed on an equality in this respect with the noncommissioned officers of the Army. One point which attracts attention in the House is the rum ration. The present practice is to issue the rum ration to all men who do not specifically apply for the money compensation of a halfpenny in lieu, and the men who apply for compensation in lieu of the ration are marked "T." They are stigmatised with "T," meaning "Temperance." We propose to reverse the process and presume that all men will draw the halfpenny in lieu of the rum ration and mark with the letter "G," "Grog," any man who decides to take the rum. We believe that this will produce a considerable reduction in the consumption of liquor on His Majesty's ships without at the same time depriving the men of any right which they have hitherto enjoyed.
There is another matter which is causing me a great deal of concern and anxiety at the present time, and that is the drain upon the men's earnings caused by railway fares. The habit of week-end leave has become very general, but in the naval service the short week-end leave produces a great many rather serious consequences and leads in many cases to a waste of the sailor's hard-earned money. I discovered upon one of my visits to the Fleet this case on one of the great battle cruisers at Portland: 350 men obtained leave from Friday afternoon to Monday morning. They travelled from Portland to Devonport, where their homes were, in a special train at a cost of 12s. 6d. per head for a return ticket. When we consider what the wages of the stoker or the bluejacket are, we see that a very large proportion of the fruit of a month's severe and constant duty was simply swallowed up in this way. The men arrived at their homes with very little money left, and had to hurry back 1780 to their ship almost as soon as they arrived, the money which they needed for their wives and families and their own use having been largely squandered in the mere process of getting to a place which they had every right and reason to live in. Various remedies for this evil suggest themselves, and I propose to appoint a Committee to examine the whole subject of leave with the least possible delay. It must be remembered that our sailors are not taken compulsorily, like those of European nations, for a brief period of service, after which they return to the landsman's life, but that more than half of them serve as boy and man from twelve to fifteen years at sea, while a large proportion go on for upwards of twenty-five years in a professional career which practically occupies their whole life. We are bound, therefore, to study the social and domestic aspects of the naval service. The ultimate strategy of the British Navy consists in basing contented men upon prosperous and healthy homes from which the children, generation after generation, can return to the ships which their fathers have taught them to honour.
I now turn to the group of questions connected with the education and supply of officers. The Report of the Custance Committee is now in the Vote Office, and the Report upon Osborne and Dartmouth by the inspectors of the Board of Education will, too, very shortly be issued. I propose to state the policy which the Board of Admiralty are adopting in regard to this matter. We adhere to the system of common entry for all branches of the Service. We regard service in the engine-room as in no respect less honourable than service on the bridge. We consider it vital that a sound and practical knowledge of engineering and mechanics should play an important part in the education, and professional advancement of every naval officer. We have adopted specialisation for navigation, gunnery, torpedo, and engineering to a greater extent than exists in many foreign navies, and the great advantages of this system would be lost and would be converted into positive disadvantages if any one specialist branch were considered a closed book to the officers of the others, or if any part of a ship or its machinery, or any functions connected with it were a mystery to those who command her. The Report of Admiral Custance's Committee accepts and confirms these conclusions, and it is the duty 1781 of all who serve in the Navy and of all who have ceased to serve actively, but still cherish its welfare, to do their utmost by precept and example to make the new scheme, which has now received the deliberate support of so many Boards of Admiralty, a complete and permanent success. The immediate question before us is, however, of a more specific character. We have swiftly and effectively to increase the numbers of lieutenants in order to officer properly our growing fleets. As I told the House last year, ships can be built in two years; but men take four, and lieutenants, under our existing system, take nine years. In addition to ordinary administrative improvements you have, therefore, to take measures of emergency. We propose to increase the lieutenants' list from three separate sources, all additional to the regular entry through Osborne and Dartmouth. We propose first to take 100 to 120 lieutenants from the Royal Naval Reserve, following the precedent employed in 1895 and 1898, but we propose to select them with very great care, not in one batch but gradually, over a period of two years; secondly, we propose to continue the system of promotion from the lower deck which I announced last year. Twenty commissions as acting mates have already been given. Another batch of twenty will be selected almost immediately, and we expect that in the next three years more than 100 seamen, marines, and other naval ratings, will, by their merit have won the epaulette. I have noticed a tendency in some foreign newspapers to speak slightingly of this development, as if it were a desperate expedient to which our shortage of officers compels us. I therefore wish to make it clear that we regard promotion from the lower deck, with possibilities of advancement for merit to the highest ranks, as a permanent and essential feature in our naval system. The third method by which we shall increase the lieutenants' list is by offering from thirty to forty cadetships a year to competition, after selection, by young men of between seventeen and a half and eighteen and a half years of age, taken probably mainly, though by no means exclusively, from the public schools. There has been a very large number of applications already and we believe that this offer of 100 or 120 commissions obtainable by direct entry will yield us a thoroughly good and competent class of young officer. Although we are strong advocates of our existing system of exclusively naval train- 1782 ing from the age of about thirteen onwards as a preparation for a naval commission, yet the practice of Germany, France, and the United States is wholly different, and it will be a great advantage to us to expand and refresh our lieutenants' list by means of an experiment which will enable new classes and new methods to be brought into close comparison with the old. So far as the direct entry to Osborne and Dartmouth is concerned, we propose to make two important modifications, both of which are intended to increase, broaden, and vary the sources from which these very young cadets are drawn. Although it is not the recommendation of the Custance Committee, I am satisfied, and the Board concur, that the age limit of thirteen which is at present the maximum at which entry is allowed, does not fit in harmoniously with the practical needs and requirements of the preparatory schools. We propose therefore that the age limit should be raised to thirteen years and eight months. We shall also offer further incentives to preparatory schoolmasters to encourage their very best boys to enter the Navy. Although we regret the loss of several months in beginning the training of these cadets, there is no doubt that the increase in the age will enable them better to appreciate the excellent instruction they receive at the colleges, and possibly lead to a diminution in the puerile diseases which have hitherto embarrassed us at Osborne. The other measure is to reduce the cost of the Osborne and Dartmouth course, in order that a larger class than is at present possible—among whom we hope to see the sons of naval officers increasingly represented—may be able to afford to enter the Navy. Whether this will be done by extending the system of bursaries as recomended by the Custance Committee, or by a general lowering of the fees is not yet decided. Let me in concluding on this point make it clear that we do not anticipate any difficulty in providing by all these methods for a full supply without any deterioration in quality of good officers for our expanding Navy.
I now come to the strength of the Fleet. Last July I explained to the House in great detail the scale of the fleet organisation prescribed by the new German Navy Law. The Committee will remember that it is an organisation comprising one fleet flagship and five battle squadrons of eight battleships each, and a complete supply of flotillas and all ancillary craft 1783 besides battle cruisers. I endeavoured to bring home to the House and to the country the formidable nature of this great and splendid Navy, nearly four-fifths of which will be maintained in the highest readiness for war, and the whole concentrated in close proximity to our shores. If we survey this remarkable organisation as it will be in the year 1920, note its progress to-day and contrast it with the German Navy at the beginning of the century, we shall be able to appreciate with feeling of unstinted admiration the wonderful achievement which the prolonged administration of Admiral Von Tirpitz has produced. On the political aspect of these developments, whether they have brought good to the world as a whole, there may no doubt be room for two opinions. But standing by itself, apart from the political reactions which are inseparable from all great new developments of military and naval power, it stands and must always be regarded as one of the most impressive monuments and manifestations which German foresight, resolution, and efficiency have ever presentde to the world. I proceeded last year to explain the consequential measures which in the judgment of the Admiralty were required for our own security. I proposed an organisation of eight battle squadrons, complete with flotillas and all auxiliaries, and independent of battle cruisers—an organisation which would be developed step by step as the progress of the German naval expansion required it—the whole of these eight squadrons being, of course, additional, like the five German squadrons, to all vessels serving abroad. I was very glad to read in the newspaper accounts of the recent discussion in the Committee of the Reichstag that the Grand Admiral, speaking on this subject, used the following language:—I said yesterday flatly that I consider the sixteen to ten ratio acceptable—a ratio which already exists—for we have eight British squadrons against five German, that is, sixteen to ten. Mr. Churchill gave the number of ships, and I count in squadrons of eight ships each. That is simpler and clearer.I agree that it may be clearer to count in squadrons when speaking of establishment, and to use numbers only when dealing with the programmes of new construction. I must also, however, read the rest of what I said last year, for it would be a great pity if misconception arose on such a point. I said:—This proportion would not be sufficient if numbers were the only test and measure of naval superiority, 1784 but it must be remembered that our superiority, ship for ship and squadron for squadron, can be traced all down the line, and that it is very great where the older classes of vessels are concerned. In proportion as our superiority in the earlier ships gradually passes away, and as what, if the House will allow me to coin an odious expression, I may call the 'Dreadnoughtization' of other navies progresses, it may be necessary to raise not merely the quality but the scale of our Fleet. But the new organisation which I have unfolded to the House would lend itself readily to any further requirement, and it would be quite simple, if need be, to increase the squadrons from eight ships apiece at first to nine and afterwards to ten vessels. This, however, is looking to a period beyond the four or five years which bound the utmost horizon of naval policy.That is what I said last year, and we see no reason at all at present to advance from this position. It would therefore appear that the two Governments are in practical agreement, not in a bargain, but in what I may call an independent coincidence of opinion, as to the relative proportions of their respective navies during the next three or four years. That, at any rate, is something. It may be that the day will come when we shall be able to advance from such a concurrence of opinion about relative proportions to a consideration of actual numbers. The views of the two Governments may agree most excellently in regard to a proportion, but they may carry it out upon an altogether unnecessary scale. It is clear, for instance, that the relative proportion between the two countries would be quite unaltered if squadrons consisted, instead of eight ships, of seven, or even of six vessels. If, at any time, we received information that such a change was impending in German fleet organisation, contingent on a similar change on our part, we would make a frank and loyal response. Pending any such development our organisation must, of course, proceed with all dispatch.
The increase in the number of ships maintained in full or in active commission is the direct and sole cause alike of the present manning stringency and of the large and cumulative increases which we propose.
I have already compared the scale and progress of our new organisation with those of the next strongest naval Power. Similar comparisons can be instituted in personnel. The German increase last year was 6,000, and this year 6,400. The average German increase during the next five years is estimated to be 5,000, and the total personnel of the German Navy will in 1920, according to the latest Navy Law, attain a total of 107,000 men apart from Reserves. By that year, in order to man the fleets we shall then require to 1785 maintain in commission, it will be necessary for us to have more than 170,000 men on a full active service basis, and about 62,000 Reserves. That will give us on mobilisation, by the time the present German Navy Law has reached its completion, over 230,000 officers and men, 90 per cent. of whom will have been trained for more than five years at sea in ships of war. We do not anticipate any difficulty in reaching, by the measures we are taking, the necessary result. The increase of 5,000 which Parliament sanctioned last year, in the total strength of the Navy, has been fully achieved, and the shortage of 2,000, which existed at the beginning of the year, and which was due almost entirely to the fact that we checked our recruiting operations until a new German Navy Bill was certain, has been more than half made up. This is very satisfactory in view of the facts, first, that our improved recruiting machinery is only just beginning to operate; secondly, that we have had to compete against an exceptionally good trade; and, thirdly, that the increases of pay, which Parliament has given to the Fleet, and which are expected not only to stimulate recruiting, but still more to prevent wastage, only came into operation at the end of the year. This year we ask Parliament to assent to a further increase in numbers, which will raise the total from 139,000 to 146,000–that is to say, for a total addition to the maximum strength of 7,000 men, which will be sufficient, if attained, not only to provide the necessary increase for the year, but to obliterate the remainder of the deficit which I have mentioned.
I may here explain that I Have thought it better to put the maximum estimate in the Estimates, rather than the average figure, which has been usual in recent years. Parliament has a right to fix the topmost limit to which the Admiralty may recruit, just as in the case of the Army, and the average figure, although needed for the purpose of computing how much pay will be needed through the year, is a fertile source of confusion and leads to all sorts of misconceptions. During the year, I have directed the attention of my naval colleagues continually to the question of increasing the number of active service ratings constantly available to man the immediately ready Fleet, with the object of having the largest possible number of ships ready to put to sea instantly without calling out the Reserves. Every effort has been made and will be made to cut 1786 down all employment of personnel in vessels or on duties which are not effective for the purposes of war. The number of hulks or receiving ships or vessels of no military value at the various naval ports which had gradually grown up was very considerable, and absorbed a great quantity of men, both in peace and in war. Careful and searching inquiry in each individual case has enabled the "Hood" at Queenstown, the "Orontes" at Malta, the "Imperieuse" at Portland, the "Renown" at Portsmouth, and several other vessels to be abolished, and the necessary functions which they have discharged have been otherwise provided for, with large economy both in men and money. The "Tamar," in China, will soon share their fate. The complements of all yachts, including the Royal yachts, are made instantly available on mobilisation. It has hitherto been the practice to use four very old vessels of weak fighting power as seagoing gunnery ships. A gunnery ship is always ready for service and constantly under steam with its stores, fuel, and ammunition on board. The four gunnery ships together absorb 1,650 active service personnel. It was a great pity that these complements, whose collective efficiency has, by regular association, reached a high standard, should be scattered on mobilisation and transferred as individuals to other ships of the Fleet. Yet that was necessary, so long as the gunnery ships were of an obsolete character. We are substituting for these four old ships, "Revenge," "Grafton," "Jupiter," and "Magnificent," four good battleships which will be constantly available and are a direct addition to our immediately-ready Fleet.
Close investigation of the duties discharged by naval ratings employed on shore, after mobilisation, has resulted in a decision to close the training schools immediately on the outbreak of war and to employ a number of pensioners and Reservists in place of active service ratings, and, as a consequence, upwards of 1,750 men, who would otherwise have been employed on shore about the naval ports in time of war, become available for the instantly-ready Fleet. The three Fleet repair ships and eight surveying ships in home waters are on the point of being manned in part by civilians and Reservists, and the former put under the blue ensign, thus setting free active service ratings for the First Line. A larger proportion of the 1787 Royal Marines have been detailed for service afloat concurrently with the granting of the extra afloat allowance. To this must be added the Immediate Class of the Royal Fleet Reserve which was instituted last year. This force has already reached a total of 2,200, and it is expected that its numbers will rise appreciably during the year. It is available within twenty-four hours. The whole force served for a month afloat during the manœuvres, and we have received the highest reports of their efficiency from the officers under whom they served. They can certainly be counted at their full value in the numbers available for the instantly-ready Fleet.
From all these causes, and other minor causes too numerous to be specified, some of which affect the peace and others the war establishment, I compute an addition to the personnel available for ordinary peace purposes of 2,000, and an addition to the personnel available to man the instantly-ready war fleet of upwards of 6,000 men. All this has been effected during the year, besides the addition to numbers sanctioned by Parliament. The process is by no means at an end. As a result of these measures and of the increases in personnel which are now maturing, we have been able during the year, in pursuance of the new scheme of fleet organisation, to increase the number of vessels in full commission. Comparing our position with what it was a year ago, we have five more great ships, including "Centurion," two battleships and three battle cruisers, in full commission in the First Fleet. Our Mediterranean dispositions, which have been slightly delayed by the war in the East, will, when completed, give us twenty-nine battleships in full commission available in home waters, as against twenty-two this time last year. The Second Fleet last year consisted of one squadron of eight ships. In consequence of the administrative arrangements connected with manning which I have indicated to the House, we shall be able to form the sixth battle squadron of the Second Fleet more than a year earlier than I had hoped when the new organisation of the Fleet was announced. We shall also be able to provide reserve complements for the partially formed eighth battle squadron, which it had been proposed to keep only in material reserve without crews. The battleship strength of the First and Second Fleets in Home 1788 waters at the end of the new financial year will be forty-five battleships, all manned entirely by active service personnel, and none of them requiring the addition of a single Reservist, as against thirty battleships similarly available at the beginning of 1912. In the same time the battle cruisers will have been increased from four to eight, not counting the "Australia," which will be maintained by the Commonwealth. Of these battle cruisers four will be detached in the Mediterranean. During the three-year period, which will close in March, 1914, the heavy guns in the battleships of the First and Second Fleets in Home waters will have almost doubled in numbers, and in weight of broadside they will have almost tripled. So much for the capital ships.
Even greater expansion has been, and is being, effected in torpedo-boat destroyers. The number of destroyers maintained in full commission in home waters in January, 1912, was forty-five; to-day it is seventy-four; and by the end of the new financial year it will be ninety-six. The five great ships which have been added during the year and the increase in the destroyer flotillas have between them absorbed more than 5,000 men. Another important development is in progress in regard to the light cruisers. The eight scouts which were built in 1905 were armoured with nothing but twelve-pounder guns, and, with this feeble armament, were little better than encumbrances to the flotillas they were supposed to support. At a cost of about a quarter of a million we are rearming the whole of the scouts with 9.4 guns, thus, in the words of the "Navy League Annual," "practically adding eight effective light cruisers to our strength." With these light cruisers we propose to relieve from the flotillas and the battle squadrons eight cruisers of the "Active" and Town classes, and these, together with the new ships completed in the interval, will enable us to form during the autumn two new light cruiser squadrons of five vessels each. The arrival of the eight light-armoured cruisers of last year's programme in 1914 and of the eight of this year's programme in 1915 will equip the battle fleets in the North Sea with four squadrons, comprising twenty-six light cruisers, the whole additional to those now attached specifically to the battle squadrons and to everything that exists at the present time.
Surveying, then, the development of our naval organisation from the beginning of 1789 the old financial year to the end of the new one, it will be seen that in that period of two years we shall have added fifteen battleships to the First and Second Fleets in Home waters, raising our numbers from thirty to forty-five; we shall have added a new battle cruiser squadron in place of that sent to the Mediterranean; we shall have added two squadrons of five light cruisers each; we shall have added a new armoured cruiser squadron formed out of the training squadron; we shall have more than doubled the number of torpedo-boat destroyers maintained in full commission, and, if our expectations be realised, we shall have added to the total numbers 12,000 men by recruiting, and by administrative measures have made not fewer than 6,000 men available for the war fleets, making an ultimate total gain of 18,000 men. There are no developments elsewhere which these provisions do not fully meet.
I have now finished, and I thank the House for the indulgence they have extended to me. Our expanding organisation, no doubt, taxes our manning resources to the full, particularly in regard to the specialist lieutenants and the highly-skilled ratings which are so necessary. But no one should go away with the impression that we could not to-morrow, upon a general mobilisation, man fully, with trained men, every ship in the Navy fit to put to sea. In the whole of the First and Second Fleets, comprising 90 per cent. of our naval strength, there would not be employed one single reservist, and even after the Third Fleet had been fully manned, there would be a substantial reserve on shore, numbering several thousand, for whom no room could be found in any vessel of the war fleets. It is not for us to boast the quality of our race, but we are justified in putting our confidence in that thorough sea training and disciplined initiative which can be the product only of long years of service on the sea. In the 700 war vessels, which apart from auxiliaries, we could mobilise to-morrow, the service and training of every man would average at least twice, and probably three times, as great as that of the personnel of any other Navy in the world. That is a factor which cannot be measured, and it is a factor which ought not to be overlooked.
I must, before I sit down, explicitly repudiate the suggestion that Great Britain can ever afford to allow another Naval Power to approach her so nearly 1790 as to deflect or to restrict her political action by purely naval pressure. Such a situation would unquestionably lead to war. Small margins of safety would mean in the present state of the world a vigilance at the naval ports little removed from a state of war. It would involve a strain on officers and men intolerable if it were prolonged. It would mean a continued atmosphere of suspicion and alarm, with all the national antagonisms consequent upon such a state of affairs. It would mean that instead of intervening, as we now do in European affairs, free and independent to do the best we can for all, we should be forced into a series of questionable entanglements and committed to action of the gravest character, not because we thought it right, but as a result of bargains necessitated by our naval weakness. Margins of naval strength which are sufficient when the time comes to compel a victory, are insufficient to maintain a peace. We believe that the margins to which we are working are sufficient in the full sense of the word. If at any time we should revise our judgment, we should not hesitate to come at once to Parliament for further authority. His Majesty's Government in making these extensive preparations have to ask the House of Commons, and to ask our fellow countrymen all over the Empire not represented here, to trust them not to abuse the great powers placed in their hands.
For more than 300 years we alone amongst the nations have wielded that mysterious and decisive force which is called sea-power. What have we done with it? We have suppressed the slaver. We have charted the seas. We have made them a safe highway for all. Was there any State which during the last hundred years could, more easily than Great Britain, have closed her unequalled foreign possessions to the trade of other countries? Is there any other State in the world which leaves them open freely as we do? Is there any part of the world where the White Ensign does not revive associations of good feeling and fair play? Is there any part of your national life more healthy and more admirable than this great service of sacrifice and daring? Is there any small nation in Europe, any young people struggling to acquire or maintain its independence, which would not hear with rejoicing of a reinforcement of the British Fleet? Is there any Great Power which during these months of tension and anxiety has not 1791 been thankful that the influence of Britain in the European concert is a reality and not a shadow, and that she has been free and strong to work for that general peace, precious to all, and precious most of all to us? Sir, it is because these things are true that we may justly claim that that naval supremacy which is vital to Britain is also a part of the common treasure of mankind, and that in maintaining it effectually against any challenge we pursue no selfish or unworthy end.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I beg to move, as an Amendment, to leave out from the word "That" at the end of the Question, in order to add instead thereof the words, "this House, whilst cordially welcoming and appreciating the generous desire expressed by His Majesty's Dominions beyond the Seas to co-operate with the Mother Country in providing for the naval defence of the Empire, is of opinion that no steps ought to be taken by His Majesty's Ministers to recommend or accept any scheme for carrying out such co-operation until the matter has been definitely submitted to this House for consideration and approval."
After listening to the most interesting, eloquent, and comprehensive speech which the right hon. Gentleman has just delivered, I cannot help feeling the great difficulty that confronts me in asking the House to turn aside from the general subject that the First Lord has been discussing, in order to raise the more limited subject of which I have given notice—the subject of the contribution of the Dominions towards our naval defences. I hope, all the same, it is unnecessary for me to apologise for having ventured to raise a subject which has attracted the greatest possible attention for the last few years, and which is now attracting great and perhaps painful attention in Canada. While this is primarily a matter that concerns the Dominions it is also a matter that concerns very closely the people of this country. I hope also it is unnecessary for me to say that in raising this question I do not do so in any spirit of indifference to the magnificent patriotism and public spirit that has been shown by our Dominions in this matter. Whatever may be our views as to the wisdom or the unwisdom of any particular scheme, I am certain all of us, in whatever quarter of the House we sit, appreciate and welcome the desire of the Dominions to co-operate with 1792 us in the naval defences of the Empire. We are proud and we are glad to know that in these new countries there are thousands of men and women who are deeply concerned for the safety and welfare of the old country and of the Empire at large. We know quite well that when our hour of trial comes the Dominions will not be wanting. But when it is a question of the precise methods in which that co-operation may best be given, and of the advice which has been given, or will be given, by Ministers in this country to Ministers in the Dominions, I think we in this House are entitled to be consulted in the matter; and to be consulted in time, before we are finally committed to a policy of which ultimately this country may not be able to approve.
There are two main directions in which the Dominions can co-operate in naval defence. They can co-operate either by providing local naval services of their own under the control of their own Governments, paid for and maintained out of their own taxes, or they can co-operate by means of cash contributions towards construction or in the shape of an annual contribution towards Imperial needs. Both these methods have frequently been discussed at Imperial Conferences and other times; both have actually been put on trial by the Dominions with varying success, and subject to varying conditions. I think I am right in saying that until about a year ago the tide of opinion all through the Empire had gone very strongly in favour of local naval services as being more agreeable to the spirit of the British race and the local autonomy of the Empire, and more in keeping with the genius and traditions of the British Empire and the principles on which the British Empire has been built up. In Australia in 1902 they voted a cash contribution of £200,000 a year towards the Imperial Navy, but in 1907 they decided to withdraw that contribution because they had found it was not satisfactory to them, and they substituted a local naval service of their own. New Zealand still makes a cash contribution of £100,000 a year to the Imperial Navy. We have the battle cruiser "New Zealand," which represents the efforts made by the Dominion of New Zealand towards the Imperial Navy. I am informed that in New Zealand this is regarded as a temporary expedient, and already we have had a demand from them that the battle cruiser should be retained in their home waters, and it is not at all certain that 1793 their cash contribution will go on. South Africa last year passed a resolution in favour of a local naval service, and in Canada until a year ago or less opinion had been most decidedly in favour of the principle of a local naval service. In Canada there was a well-known resolution, which was passed in 1909, to the effect—that the House is of opinion that the payment of regular and periodical contributions to the Imperial Treasury for naval and military purposes would not, so far as Canada is concerned, be the most satisfactory solution of the question of defence. The House will cordially approve of any necessary expenditure designed to promote the speedy organisation of a Canadian naval service in co-operation with and in close relation to the Imperial Navy.Mr. Borden himself spoke most strongly in favour of that resolution. He said:—I am entirely of opinion that the proper line upon which we should proceed is the line of having a Canadian Force of our own.Mr. Foster said:—We must and will have in this country a naval force of our own for our coast and home defence.That resolution was passed unanimously by the Dominion Parliament. That is very different from what is now going on in Canada. Not only have we the opinion of the Dominions themselves, showing that the tide of opinion is in favour of a local naval service, but we have also the opinion of the First Lord of the Admiralty himself given less than a year ago on a public occasion in a speech he made at a dinner connected with the shipwrights on the 15th May, 1912. My right hon. Friend referred first of all to the fact that owing to the development of continental navies, the general mobility of our fleet is reduced, and the world-wide mobility of the British Fleet becomes restricted. He then said:—Here is the great opportunity, the great chance of the self-governing Dominions. … If the main development of the past ten years has been the concentration of the British Fleet in decisive theatres, it seems to me and I dare say to you, not unlikely that the main naval development of the next ten years will be the growth of the effective naval forces in the great dominions Overseas. Then we shall be able to make what I think will be found to be the true division of labour between the Mother country and her daughter States—that we should maintain a sea supremacy against all comers at the decisive point, and that they should guard and patrol all the rest of the British Empire.He added:—That is the principle which I have come here to-night to expound.And he hoped the observations he had ventured to make would contribute in some way to its furtherance. That was less than a year ago. I can hardly suppose my right hon. Friend has entirely altered his views since that time.
§ Mr. MORRELL
The Admiralty have always said that it would be more convenient and effective and lead to more economy to have a cash contribution.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I am glad to hear the question is much more open than I thought. Certainly from the Memorandum issued and from some of the correspondence I was of the opinion that the Admiralty had pressed the idea of a contribution rather strongly. I am glad to know that the question of a local naval service is a matter which is regarded favourably by the Admiralty and by my right hon. Friend. If that is so, what happened soon afterwards when the visit of Mr. Borden took place and when we had the announcement, based, I believe, on the advice which Mr. Borden got from the Admiralty and from my right hon. Friend, that Canada was going to give up the local naval service, and was going to give instead a most generous contribution of £7,000,000 for the building of three ships, is the more remarkable. Supposing that had been a free gift unaccompanied by any conditions, it would have been very ungracious on our part to have made any reference to it except simply to say how grateful we felt. But I am sure the House will recognise that, although we do appreciate the spirit in which it is given, the fact that it is not a free gift but a loan accompanied by conditions, and very important conditions, does make it proper for us to consider the position in which this country will be placed if we are committed before hand to the acceptance of this gift. What are the conditions which will attach to this proposal to pay a sum of £7,000,000 towards the British Navy? In the first place, whatever contribution is to be made is to be considered an extra margin over and above what has hitherto been considered as necessary for our safety and above the margin of 60 per cent. which my right hon. Friend has said again to-night he considers a sufficient margin over the next naval Power. It is, in fact, to be in the nature of a luxury to make security doubly sure. The second condition is that these ships which by the nature of the case are more than we require, are to be manned and maintained 1795 by the British taxpayer. The third condition is that they are not to be considered as an absolute gift, but they may be withdrawn at any time on due notice being given by the Canadian Government. The fourth condition is that they are to carry with them a voice and influence in the councils of the Empire. At present Canada is to be represented by a member of the Committee of Imperial Defence, but even that I gather is not to be a final solution. "I am assured by His Majesty's Government," said Mr. Borden, "that pending a final solution of the question they would welcome the presence in London of a Canadian Minister to be a member of the Committee of Imperial Defence." These are the conditions. I do not for a moment complain of conditions being made. I say the offer made by the Dominion Government is a very generous one, and they are right to attach what conditions they please, but we have a right to consider it from the point of view of this country and this Empire. We must recognise that this is a very important departure in the policy of the Empire. These are very important conditions, which will affect the people of this country and the people of the Empire, and it is for that reason, more than from any desire to discuss it to-night, that I ask in my Resolution that we should have an opportunity before we are committed to this policy to consider it in all its bearings and to consider the advice upon which this policy has been based.
It is obvious that it is not going to be in any sense a relief to the British taxpayer. People have spoken, and have written in the Press as if this was a generous offer to relieve the British taxpayer and the British nation of some of the burdens which we have been bearing for naval defence. It is nothing of the sort. I listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Churchill). I listened to what he called the "false dilemma." It seems to me that the dilemma is a genuine one. I must say I do not quite follow my right hon. Friend. I do not believe this proposal is going to lead to economy. It is to be an extra margin above what we immediately need for our defence, an extra luxury which will have to be maintained at the expense of the British taxpayer What if these vessels are withdrawn? We know exactly what the story will be. We shall be told at once that the strength of the British Navy must not be allowed to be reduced from what it has gone up to. 1796 We should have to replace these vessels ourselves, and that it would mean an added expense to the British taxpayer. Beyond that, there is this particularly grave consideration as to our foreign policy—the share which the Canadians and the Dominions are going to have in our foreign policy if this scheme is carried out. I do not say that that is a problem which cannot be solved. I believe it can be. But, at any rate, there will be danger of great friction between the various parts of the Empire if it is not solved in a satisfactory way. Altogether I do venture to suggest that we are in danger of being committed to a scheme which has not been thoroughly thought out, a scheme which has written all over it the word "emergency," a scheme which was born at a time, I will not say of panic, but, at any rate, alarm. It bears upon it the shadow of the new German Navy Law. It is dangerous to make a departure of such importance, which is going to be, as I read it, a permanent departure in policy, without thoroughly thinking out the scheme upon which you are engaged, and without submitting it to the judgment of this House.
There is only one other point, the question of the influence exerted by my right hon. Friend in regard to this scheme. Very grave charges have been brought against the First Lord in this matter. He has been accused of endeavouring to hustle Canadian public opinion, of taking part in party politics over there, of making use of official dispatches in order to forward a particular side, and of exercising generally an undue influence. I do not for one moment support those charges. I am certain that my right hon. Friend would do nothing in the way of interfering in any way in party politics in Canada. It would be extremely improper of him to do so. I am glad to know from him to-night that he would support as cheerfully and readily another scheme of co-operation if it were acceptable to the Dominion themselves, a scheme of what I call local naval service and local fleet units, although on expert grounds he does not advise that, but advises a scheme of contribution. Whatever we may say as to the influence of my right hon. Friend, I am certain he has not consciously exerted undue influence, yet I do think the responsibility for this scheme does in the main, or in a large degree, rest with the First Lord. He is, if not the only begetter, the joint author of this scheme. 1797 With regard to the question of influence, I think that some of the charges made by people in Canada are made by those who do not understand my right hon. Friend as well as some of us. No doubt they expected that he would issue some sort of colourless official document that would carry no particular weight, but give the facts in a cold and dry manner. Those who know the First Lord know that he is incapable of issuing colourless documents of that sort. I do not believe there has been any attempt on his part to interfere in party politics, yet we must recognise the fact that he, and through him this House and this country is largely responsible for the direction which has been given to this particular movement.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It really is not so. I never asked for any particular scheme. When Mr. Borden left this country I had no knowledge of what he intended to propose to the Canadian Parliament, none whatever.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I am very glad to get the assurance from my right hon. Friend that there has been no request of any sort on the part of this country for any particular scheme. But I must say, reading the correspondence and the Memoranda, I am bound to adhere to my opinion that unconsciously and innocently my right hon. Friend has exercised a very strong influence upon the Canadian Parliament.
The First Lord has said on many occasions that, great as may be the material assistance given by the Dominions to this country, it is nothing to be compared with the moral assistance, the moral effect, which is given by the consciousness that they are prepared to co-operate with us in the naval defence of the Empire. That, I believe, to be profoundly true. Everyone must see that if that moral effect is to be really valuable we ought to be assured that it is not merely spontaneous, but comes from a people more or less united. It is a very deplorable thing, whatever may be the cause of it, that this matter should have become a matter of party politics over there. Even if the present Government in Canada win a party triumph, it will be a triumph which is dearly paid for if there is any sense of bitterness left behind on the part of a large party on the other side with reference to the help that they are giving to this country. I do not want to apportion the blame—but I cannot help 1798 thinking that this ought not to be a controversy incapable of settlement. If we could only get the unanimous vote of the Dominion Parliament it would incalculably increase the value of any co-operation they might give to us. I would ask my right hon. Friend, as he has unconsciously, as I believe, exercised a profound influence in this matter, whether he cannot now use his influence to promote some friendly settlement so that the offer whenever it comes to us in its final shape may come as the offer of a united people.
§ Mr. PONSONBY
I am glad my hon. Friend has raised this most important question, and I only hope there will be a further opportunity of raising what is a most important point in the naval programme of this country. Nothing is settled at present, and we are not interfering with the internal affairs of Canada in discussing a question which so closely affects this country and the Empire at large. I consider we ought not to sacrifice a far-sighted wise policy for the eventual welfare of the Empire to the immediate demands of the strategy of the moment. But there is a point which my hon. Friend has not touched upon and which I should like to bring before the notice of the First Lord. What service is the Mother Country doing to Canada in inviting her—because it is an invitation—to make her contribution to our naval defences in this particular way? We are drawing her into the European system. We are making her part of the intricate European system of diplomacy. We are making her defences depend upon all difficulties in the old world, from which hitherto she has had the inestimable benefit of being kept aloof. Canada will now find that the passive autonomous development which she has enjoyed all these years, with her unguarded frontier and with the contentment and progress within her boundaries is going to be endangered not by anything that happens upon her own continent, but by complications in Europe in which the Powers of Europe alone are concerned. I think it is doing a very bad service to Canada to draw her into the tangled skein of European diplomacy which is ever becoming more knotty and difficult. Mr. Borden in bringing forward this matter in the Dominion Parliament, clearly stated that he desires Canada to have a voice in the control of foreign affairs. His words were that no 1799 important step in foreign policy will be undertaken without consultation with a representative of Canada.
§ Mr. PONSONBY
No; at any rate, not at present. Sir Wilfrid Laurier has not expressed himself in that way, but Mr. Borden says that he considers that Canada should have a controlling voice in foreign affairs. [An HON. MEMBER: "An effective voice."] Yes, an effective voice in the control of foreign affairs. I certainly think if the Canadian contribution is to be in the form that Mr. Borden proposes, it is a perfectly legitimate demand on his part.
It is because I think that any country which is not already in the European system and cannot understand the intricate diplomacy of the old world should be kept away from it that I think Canada should neither have a voice in the control of foreign affairs nor make a contribution to a centralised naval force. I believe that as the autonomous development of Canada progresses it is far better for her to adopt the naval policy about which she was unanimous until quite recently. May I appeal to the First Lord, whose speech impressed me very much, to take into consideration this point, namely, that the note of alarm should not be sounded quite so loud? The citizens of the British Empire are ever ready in a real time of danger to sacrifice their lives and to come forward for the interests and the defence of the Empire, but that patriotism is a sacred sentiment which should not be exploited lightly, and those continual scares and those continual emergencies that are brought forward weaken 1800 very much the appeal which the Admiralty might have to make when a real emergency occurs, and I would beg of him, if he can in any way give his opinion, that he should use it in such a manner as to secure from the Dominion of Canada a unanimous and whole-hearted suggestion which would have the approval of both parties in the Dominion Parliament. It is not the size of the Empire of which we need boast, but the responsibility of Empire must impress us, and we do not want to suggest any new policy at this time which would endanger the unity of the Empire and bring disruptive forces into what has hitherto been one consolidated whole.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ It being Eleven of the clock Mr. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 17th March, to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.
§ Question put, and agreed to.