§ Considered in Committee,
§ [Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]
§ Motion made, and Question again pro posed, "That 450,000 Officers, Seamen, and Boys, Coast Guard, and Royal Marines be employed for the Sea and Coast Guard Services for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1919."
§ Mr. GEORGE LAMBERT
May I once more congratulate the First Lord of the Admiralty upon his Parliamentary utterance yesterday. It was a blunt businesslike performance which probably affects the House more effectively than most Parliamentary performances, and his words of warning to the country yesterday deserve the widest repetition in every quarter. Our shipping, and especially the mercantile shipping position, is critical and even menacing, and I regret to think that the full gravity of the situation is not realised by the whole nation. I do not believe that the House of Commons or the country realise how very serious is our want of mercantile shipping tonnage. We see these Benches here on exciting occasions very full, but yesterday the House was only about half-full, and was almost listless and un concerned while the First Lord was making his speech. I feel that the "S.O. S." signal of distress was that displayed with regard to our mercantile tonnage yesterday by the First Lord really deserves the utmost attention of every class of the community of the country.
I was rather puzzled yesterday to know why it was that the House was so empty, but this morning part of that solution came, and it was that a large number of our Unionist colleagues were engaged else where. There was a private meeting at which some ninety-two Members of the House were present, and the Prime Minister stated fully to them the reasons which influenced him in connection with recent Ministerial appointments. I am sorry, if the Prime Minister has any statement of that kind to make, that he does not make it to a full House of 2016 Commons, and I am more sorry because speeches by the Prime Minister to private bodies of this House must take away his time from the more urgent problems of the War. Reading history, as I have read it, I do not think that either of our great War Ministers, say the elder Pitt or the younger Pitt, would have addressed a private meeting of Members of Parliament and they would certainly challenge the judgment of the, House of Commons.
In the remarks I am about to make I do not propose to allow any personal considerations to enter at all. When some thing like half-a-million of the flower of our manhood have sacrificed their lives for their country that is not a moment to think of persons or politics. We seem indeed to be living in a world of dreams. I hear and read of peace aims, but the peace aims of everybody mean the defeat of German militarism, and that has not yet been achieved. To-day we have to consider, as the First Lord considered yesterday, what effect upon this country the striking of relentless and ruthless blows will have upon the communications of the Allies by submarine warfare. The most urgent and peremptory requirement to-day is the supply of mercantile tonnage to make up our losses. I do not think even the Government have yet realised its gravity I say with the greatest respect that I do not think even the First Lord himself has realised how grave is the position, because he has made a statement which I do not quote with a view of making any personal point against him. The right hon. Gentleman said quite recently something which showed me that he did not realise how grave had been the drop in our shipbuilding. On 2nd February, last month, he said:Great Britain is straining every resource to launch every ton of which she is capable. We are at the present moment building merchant ships at a higher rate than even in our record pre-war year.''That was in February, and yet we were told a day or two ago that the output for January was simply about: 55,000 tons, and that shows me that the First Lord has not been kept informed of what has been going on—in fact, he cannot have been in formed. The highest pre-war standard was 2,000,000 tons a year, and we are only turning out 55,000 tons a month. Of course that means that we are down by something like 600,000 or 700,000 tons a year. The First Lord yesterday blamed the shipbuilders and some of the labourers, but is he quite certain that all the blame 2017 attaches to the labourer and the ship owner I wish the House to remember, and I think it is too often forgotten, that British shipowners before the War, unaided and unsubsidised, built up a mercantile marine which is the envy of the world. They turned out in their best year 2,000,000 tons, but now they have been dragooned and drilled and their labour has been taken away. On this point let me read an extract from a letter I have received this morning from one of the ablest shipowners in the country, Mr. John Latta. He said:''The fetish of standardisation of ships was run to death to the exclusion of other far more important factors.He went on to say:Yesterday, Sir Eric Geddes seemed to reproach the apparent, lethargy on the part of shipbuilders themselves, and surely that class of patriotic citizen should not find himself in that position. The reason, as I have shown, is not far to seek; he has been standardised into a glorified foreman, and the one great asset in building ships, namely, the hustling of the shipbuilder himself, is vetoed.When this great drop has taken place in our shipbuilding output we must re member the policy of the Government in insisting upon standardisation last year is partly responsible for it. Men have been taken away from the shipyards. I remember when I was at the Admiralty, during the latter part of 1914, men were taken from the shipyards then and a distinguished First Lord said to Lord Kitchener, "If you do not take your ' crimps ' from the shipyard I will resign," and they were promptly taken away. We were told yesterday that our output would approach 3,000,000 tons in a year of mercantile tonnage, but we are not approaching anything like that figure. I wish to make another point. The Government, instead of fortifying the private shipbuilding yards, started off on a venture of their own. They started on a great adventure of national shipbuilding yards. The private yards of the country, as I have said over and over again in this House, were hungry for men. They could have employed something like from 60,000 to 80,000 more men. Yet the War Cabinet came to the most amazing decision in the most amazing circumstances in which I should think a decision was ever taken. There was at the Admiralty an Advisory Committee of distinguished shipbuilders. I had great difficulty to draw these facts from my accomplished Parliamentary Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (Dr. Macna- 2018 mara). Let the House remember that there was at the Admiralty a very distinguished Advisory Committee composed of private shipbuilders. This is the reply that I got on 19th December from my right hon. Friend:The policy of establishing the national shipyards was decided on by the War Cabinet—Quite right—but it is the fact that the Advisory Committee was not consulted by the War Cabinet.Is not that a most amazing thing When the War Cabinet actually start on an adventure of national shipyards, they do not even consult the Advisory Committee sitting at the Admiralty as to the wisdom of their policy ! Of course, no estimates were ever prepared. I say this is the most amazing decision taken under the most amazing circumstances of which I have ever heard in my Parliamentary life. The War Cabinet decided this matter without taking any advice. I do not know whether the Admiralty even re commended it. When the labour and the material had been diverted to these national shipyards, you could not expect the private shipyards to turn out as much as otherwise they would have done. The real policy of the Government should have been to fortify and supplement the private yards. They had the sites, the accommodation, the management, the foremen, the tools, the machinery, and, above all, the skilled labour. They had, as my right hon. Friend reminds me, the capital. Of course, the capital for the national yards is furnished by the Government. The Government start on the bare site. The only thing that they had was the waterway on the Severn. They had no facilities, no houses, no shops, no slips, no machinery, and no skilled labour. I am not going to say a single word against the gentleman whom they put in to manage this huge concern, but that gentleman, I believe, had been a great railway engineer. Were not these times of war, this adventure would be comical. To-day it is tragical.
I said some time ago that these national yards had been drawing men and skilled labour from the private yards. We were promised by the Admiralty over and over again that the private yards of the country would receive the largest amount of labour. They can absorb anything up to 75,000 men. They were supplied in October, November, January, and the first two weeks in 2019 February—the last four and a half months—with only 11,000 men. I am not sure that is not an over-estimate. Is it, therefore, to be wondered at that our ouput of mercantile tonnage is going down The most encouraging thing which the First Lord of the Admiralty said yesterday dealt with the destruction of enemy submarines. He told us that out of four or five submarines that left German ports and cruised about in these waters only one returned. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I will put it right. He said one was sunk. That is very encouraging—I say so very frankly indeed—because if a submarine comes out for a month's cruise and takes two months to refit it means that they will be all stink in the course of a year. I sincerely trust that my right hon. Friend is not mistaken in his estimate, and in this respect I wish him more power to his elbow, because doubtless the destruction of the submarine must be the main object of our naval policy. I do not think the Government, as I have said, quite realise the extent to which the submarine sinkings are affecting the economic life of this country, and the extent to which they will affect it. I gave some figures some time ago showing that the submarine sinkings for 1917 were three and a-half times the tonnage that we built in the same period. I do not think that those figures can be seriously challenged. The sinkings in January were light, but February, as the right hon. Gentleman said yesterday, was the worst month for six months, except the month of October. I cannot help thinking that the country never will realise the gravity of the sub marine menace so long as we are treated to optimistic statements from the Treasury Bench. I do not give the quotation again with any idea of making a Parliamentary point, but we cannot forget that on 19th November the Prime Minister came down to the House and said,I have no further fear of the submarine.He ended his speech with a great Parliamentary triumph. I have rarely seen a greater Parliamentary triumph, but it will have been a very expensive triumph; indeed, it has caused a reduction of our output of shipbuilding tonnage of 60,000 tons, which is the amount we lost in January as compared with the December output. You cannot disguise this sub- 2020 marine question from the country much longer. The looms and the spindles in Lancashire are becoming idle. Rations have come to us in the Home Counties, and probably will spread to the rest of the country. The real controller of our food is not Lord Rhondda, but the U-boat. May I allude to an incident which took place yesterday The man who had the foresight to see what would happen to our commerce in time of war and who put it before the Imperial Council of Defence no doubt was Admiral Lord Fisher. I know that to-day he is writhing and chafing at what he considers to be the inadequate methods that have been adopted for destroying the submarine. I saw him a few days ago, and he said, "I feel that I could do it myself." I pass that by simply as an expression of his opinion. There was one expression in the First Lord's statement yesterday which I wish to emphasise. I was really shocked to hear it. I do not mean that I was shocked at the right hon. Gentleman, but that it should have been possible for him to make the statement that there was delay in obtaining the apparatus necessary for the destruction of enemy submarines. He said that we lagged behind in that matter like we did in the output of shipbuilding tonnage. I cannot understand how that can occur in this country. Let anyone visualise a ship returning home with women and children hoping to be landed and the submarine striking it. Can any one believe that any decent, respectable working men in this country would refrain from putting forward their utmost effort, to destroy enemy submarines that are inflicting such damage upon our country I cannot believe it. It is incredible to me. Men that would do that are traitors to their country and deserve a traitor's doom. If the Admiralty had put this before the workers it never could have occurred, or I am much mistaken in my countrymen.
Naturally, we have great pride in the Navy, but the Navy has never been given a chance in this War. I has been used as a subsidiary force. There were various commitments entered into at Versailles. There was a suggestion made at Versailles that we should enter into larger military operations in the East. Was the Admiralty consulted about those military operations I feel that we must say something about this, because the naval strategy of the War has been dominated by the War 2021 Office. I remember when I left the Admiralty that there was a great armada being built for work in Home waters in conjunction with the Fleet. It was diverted to the Dardanelles against the advice of the principal naval adviser of that day. This went on until Lord Fisher resigned. What is the position to-day The Baltic is a German lake. The Ger mans have been able to get supplies, our blockade has been emasculated, and to day there is a danger of the Russian Fleet falling into the hands of the Germans. The northern coast of Belgium is a nest for enemy submarines to prey upon our commerce, and is used also as an outpost from which they can attack our communications with Dover. More than that, it is a jumping-off ground for all the air raids upon London and the Eastern Counties. Therefore, I am entitled to complain that this great naval plan was cast aside by the military authorities. The Versailles Military Conference has the right of moving men without reference home here. Has the Naval Council at Versailles the right to move ships without reference to the War Office That is an important point. May I say a few words about Admiralty reorganisation, to which my right hon. Friend referred yesterday? We had it with a great flourish of trumpets from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on 14th January. I have no doubt that the public were duly impressed with that reorganisation, but I seem to remember that a reorganisation took place at the Admiralty under the auspices of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson). He announced it to the House of Commons on 14th May, 1917. I have taken the trouble of examining these two documents. The present First Lord wished to free the First Sea Lord and his two chief assistants from administrative work. He said:The detailed arrangements have been carefully worked out so as to relieve the first three of these officers—the First Sea Lord and his two assistants—of the necessity of dealing with any questions not directly connected with the main operations of the War.What was the announcement read out by my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty?The changes that have been made in the Admiralty organisation have a twofold object. The first, is to free the First Sea Lord and the heads of the 2022 Naval Staff so far as possible from administrative work, in order that they may concentrate their attention on the important issues relating to the naval conduct of the War.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Of course my right hon. and learned Friend is much more able to draw the distinctions than I am. I hope the Committee will forgive me for drawing attention to the fact that I was not quite so much impressed by the First Lord's statement on the 14th January, which was issued to the Press, as possibly I might have been had I not read that this organisation had really been put into force by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University seven months earlier. Let me turn to something a little more serious still. Was this re organisation—it can hardly be called a reorganisation—simply an excuse for the dismissal of Sir John Jellicoe? About November and the early part of December methods with which we are strangely familiar in this country to-day were employed—methods that breed not only contempt but nausea. It seems to me that the Government can find no virtue in a distinguished naval or military officer until they have dismissed him. When Sir William Robertson was removed he had a beautiful character or epitaph from the Prime Minister. I have this announcement, which was issued by the Admiralty, with reference to Sir John Jellicoe on 27th December. The Committee will perhaps allow me to read it:The King has been graciously pleased to confer a peerage upon Sir John Jellicoe in recognition of his very distinguished services.During the War, Sir John Jellicoe was for two years and four months in command of the Grand Fleet before he came to the Admiralty to take up the position of First Sea Lord, which he has held with distinction for the last nineteen months.It is hoped that his services and experience may be made use of at a later date in another important appointment.The last news I had about Sir John Jellicoe and the important appointment that he is occupying is that he was in his shirt-sleeves hanging pictures a few days ago. Sir John Jellcoes dismissal— it was a dismissal—was done in rather a peremptory fashion. I am sure, and I speak as a colleague of Sir John Jellicoe and as one who served with him a good many years in the Admiralty, that after forty odd years of naval service he 2023 deserved somewhat more sympathetic treatment. There is one thing to which I must draw attention which is far more important than any personal matter or personality—that is, was this decision to dismiss Lord Jellicoe taken with the approval of the War Cabinet I have here a speech made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dublin University on 20th November, 1917, when he was speaking at the Constitutional Club. He said:He lead the other day attacks on Sir John Jellicoe. He, who served with him at the Admiralty, was a better judge of Sir John Jellicoe's abilities and service than some writer in Fleet Street. They could not go on if this sort of thing continued. How did they expect these men to sit down and do their works?I think I am entitled to ask my right hon. and learned Friend, seeing that he is not now a member of the War Cabinet, was he, when a member of the War Cabinet, consulted as to the removal of Sir John Jellicoe?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
My right hon. and learned Friend has given the answer. What is the position to-day with regard to the conduct of this great War There are Lord Fisher, Sir William Robertson, and Lord Jellicoe. The first resigned because he disapproved of a policy which has been proved to be wrong; the second was removed because there was a military organisation to be established which he considered to be unworkable; and the third, Lord Jellicoe, is dismissed, according to the Admiralty communique, because he did everything right. Compared with the names of the three distinguished naval and military officers I have mentioned, our Army and Navy to-day—and I say it with no disrespect to the present occupants—are directed by second-rate soldiers and sailors. The people do not know of these things. We are still rocked in the cradle of complacency. The Press is either controlled by the Government or controls the Government. We are drifting in the conduct of this War, drifting so that, unless we mend our ways, we shall have the bitter humiliation of a peace on German terms.
§ Sir E. CARSON
I had no intention until a few moments ago of saying any thing upon this Vote, but my right hon. Friend (Mr. G. Lambert) has very rightly quoted some observations that I 2024 made only as recently as last November with reference to Sir John Jellicoe, as, he then was—Lord Jellicoe as he is now. I cannot let the occasion go by without stating here what I stated then, that from my experience of Sir John Jellicoe when I was First Lord of the Admiralty during the few months I was there—from December until June or July, I am not certain of the date—I saw no one and I knew no one in the Navy who could advise me of anybody who was at all equal to, Sir John Jellicoe for the particular position that he occupied. When I made that speech at the Constitutional Club—I think it was in November—I was smarting under the constant and persistent efforts of a section of the Press, which might be said indeed to be associated with the Government, to try to get Lord Jellicoe turned out of his post. The whole time that I was First Lord of the Admiralty, one of the greatest difficulties I had was the constant persecution—for I can call it nothing else—of certain high officials in the Admiralty, who could not speak for themselves—constant persecution which, I have no doubt, I could have traced to reasons and motives of the most malignant character.
Over and over again while I was at the Admiralty, I think it is right to say that, I had the most constant pressure put upon me—which I need hardly say I absolutely resisted—to remove officials, and among them Sir John Jellicoe. For what reason I had asked it over and over again. For what reason Look at the attacks in the Press. The sooner this country understands that these at tacks in the Press upon high permanent officials carrying out the anxious and nervous duties of this War can have no result but the one of weakening the whole administration of the War when it ought to be strongest—the sooner the country realises that the better. absolutely felt and meant that it is utterly impossible to expect a man like Sir John Jellicoe, working from morning till night, and sometimes all night, to go on to fulfil his necessary duties towards the State calmly and deliberately, and acting solely on his own judgment, if every second day he is to be attacked in some wretched rag of a newspaper—I do not care what is calls itself, whether it is the "Soldiers' Friend" or the "Sailors' Friend," or anything else. In my opinion, any Government worth its salt 2025 ought in future to take the most drastic steps that are possible—and if they have not got the power, they ought to come to this House to get it—to prevent officials, who are conscientiously carrying on their duties, from being maligned in this sort of way, and prevented from discharging properly the functions put upon them.
As regards Lord Jellicoe—I am not quarrelling in the least with his dismissal by my right hon. Friend who succeeded me; that is his affair and not mine —all I can say is that, down to the time I left, Lord Jellicoe had my most absolute confidence, and not only mine, but I believe that if you had asked 99 per cent. of the whole Fleet they would have told you that they knew of nobody who could succeed him. Where would you get a man with his experience He had held every office in the Admiralty with distinction. He was Director of Naval Ordnance, he was Controller of Ship building, which, mind you, gave him a pretty long experience of shipbuilding to which my right hon. Friend referred; he was Second Sea Lord; he was an expert in gunnery, he had specialised in gunnery; he had been 2½ years with the Fleet; he had placed every ship in the waters over the whole world for the purpose of frustrating German commerce. You had only to ask him at any moment, without even consulting a map, where is the Fleet in longitude so-and-so or latitude so-and-so in relation to a German ship which had turned up here or there, and ho would reply at once. I never knew a more competent man with greater knowledge. For my own part, al though I do not know the reasons for it, I looked upon his dismissal from the Admiralty as a national calamity. I am bound to say that in justice to Lord Jellicoe, who I notice has never said a single word since he left. The right hon. Gentleman asked me if I was aware that Sir John Jellicoe was going to be dismissed I was not, nor was the War Cabinet, nor do I complain about it. I was no longer the responsible Minister and it was a matter that rested with the First Lord to make such changes as he thought right. No one will contravene that as a proposition. The first I heard of it I happened to be snowed up at a railway station coming back from holidays at Christmas, and I heard two country men talking to each other at the fireside in the station, and one said to the other, 2026 Jellicoe has gone." I pricked up my ears. The other asked him what he meant. He said, "He had been turned out." The other man said, "That is a very strange thing. He is to be made a peer." "But," said his comrade, "I suppose, if he was turned out, it is because he was not fit for the job: why then should he be made a peer "I thought there was a good deal of common sense in that way of discussing the way people are got rid of by promotion. Is my right hon. Friend really going to tell the Committee that in this crisis of the country's fate, in this time when our nerves are strained to the uttermost in trying to forecast the conclusion of this abominable War, that the greatest living sailor is going to remain unemployed It would be an outrage, not on Lord Jellicoe, but on the country, and I believe what was written to 'me from America by a naval officer of ours who happened to be over there really stated the feeling of almost the whole Fleet. He wrote to me when he read of his dismissal, "Tell whoever is the author of this out rage, from thirteen of us here in America, that he has conferred the greatest benefit on the German Fleet that it has had since the commencement of the War."
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir H. MEUX
I should like to explain that although I have known Lord Jellicoe for forty years, and have always been friendly with him, I have never been in any way intimate, have never written or received a letter from him in my life neither have I ever in any unofficial conversation referred to the subject of his dismissal in any way. It was very clear to me that there was about May of last year a determined attempt on the part of some people un known to get rid of him. To put matters quite straight at the beginning, I absolutely and entirely exonerate the Prime Minister from any complicity in the matter. I asked the Prime Minister whether he approved the attacks on Sir John Jellicoe, and he said, "Certainly not!" I absolutely and unreservedly accept his denial. If the Prime Minister had nothing to do with those attacks the question is, who did and it is the duty of the country to try and find out. I believe those attacks came absolutely through ignorance. When Lord Jellicoe's predecessor was dismissed, or left the Admiralty, there was an idea in the Press, which had also previously pressed for Admiral Jackson's retirement, that 2027 the submarine danger would immediately cease. As we all know, it made very little difference who was the First Sea Lord, and the submarine menace rather increased last spring, upon which there were these attacks, and there was great disappointment, and many people thought that if some really young, inexperienced man was appointed we should get rid of the submarine danger. I do not know whether hon. Members remember Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress," a book I am very fond of. If we modelled ourselves more on Mr. Greatheart we should get on much better than we do now. In the very last chapter Mr. Ignorance took for a ferryman Mr. Vainhope. He took him a little way, it is true, but afterwards they went to hell. I think that was very much in the minds of these people. They were ignorant, and they said, "Let us have someone who will say he can do it." We know from Lord Jellico's speech a few weeks ago at Hull that he often used to complain to the Prime Minister about his optimism. He said to him, "Please do not make these speeches; some disaster always happens after them." I do not think it is a very wise thing for a naval or military officer to disagree with the Prime Minister. Officers who disagree with him are rather in the same position as the oysters in "Alice in Wonderland," when they went out for a walk with the walrus and the carpenter, and the same tears fall from their eyes when they are dismissed.
I cannot help feeling that if there had been any real desire to keep Lord Jellicoe's services, whatever difference of opinion there was might have been got over, and similarly with Sir William Robertson. I want to make it clear, and I think everyone in the Navy admits that the First Lord has a perfect right to get rid of any officer he likes. I think he ought to be the best judge, but that decision ought only to be taken after the very gravest consideration. I never was so surprised as just now when the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lambert) extracted the fact that this dismissal of Lord Jellicoe was not made with the knowledge of the War Cabinet. I cannot help wondering where the First Lord got his know ledge and inspiration. He has had a very distinguished career, but you do not learn his secret of the sea in a few months. I cannot believe for a moment that Lord Jellicoe's naval colleagues at 2028 the Admiralty, from what I know of them, would have been so treacherous as to recommend getting rid of their Chief, it is so serious a matter that you cannot help wondering where the First Lord got the advice to get rid of this most distinguished officer. Throughout this War, especially in the Navy, things happen, and one often wonders who is the real father of them. We know the War Cabinet is the godfather, and has to accept all responsibility. On whom can we put the blame It reminds me of the story of the little boy who got into trouble in the police court. The magistrate asked him who his father was, and he said he didn't know. The magistrate said he must know. "I do not know," said the boy. "Mother does not know. She only saw him once in the train. "Is it not the case that young people give advice to older people and it is taken in the most reckless manner Who gave the advice in the matter of dockyard construction Who is the father of that As to the actual method of dismissing Lord Jellicoe, I am perfectly certain the First Lord meant to do it in the most courteous manner but like a great many other strong men he is not, perhaps, very much endowed with the suaviter in modo. I may tell him, from what I have heard from his own friends, that Lord Jellicoe's feelings were immensely hurt. It may possibly be that it is a hereditary trait in the First Lord's character. I do not know whether it was a forebear or whether it was only one of the same clan, but was not there a Jenny Geddes who once threw a stool at a Bishop I think the right hon. Gentleman has flouted not only Lord Jellicoe, but the whole Navy. There are only two senior to me in the Navy. One is the King and the other is a senior Admiral of the Fleet When I saw this thing done in Dorsetshire at Christmas I was so angry that I would not go to church. I believe that is the feeling throughout the Navy. They were violently angry. They considered that their trusted man, who had done more than anyone else, and who had the highest reputation in the whole world as a naval officer, had been discourteously treated. I will leave that subject, and will only gay, with regard to the shipbuilding crisis, that nothing could be more serious than what we have heard, and if the Government is not strong enough to put this thing right we shall lose the War. We are not doing what we ought to do, and I hope they will 2029 take every step. If they will only go and tell the men, and their employers, that if they do not do their work and get these things right we are going to lose the War, there is yet time.
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Sir Eric Geddes)
I should like to reply to what has been said by the late First Lord (Sir E. Carson) on the subject of the attacks in the Press upon distinguished officers, especially distinguished naval officers. I entirely agree with everything he said. I deprecated it, and I still deprecate attacks like these, and I think I may say with perfect confidence that during the months that I was First Lord with Sir John Jellicoe as First Sea Lord, there were few subjects upon which we were in more perfect and complete accord than in regard to these particular attacks. I discussed with him the way in which I could do my part in pre venting them. They distressed me very much, and I did my best to stop them. On the 1st November in this House I said:I regret that in certain quarters there should be what I call unfair criticisms of distinguished officers in the Navy to-day. I would call it unfair criticism whether it is based upon inaccurate assumption, which I am unfortunately debarred from correcting, or upon incomplete information, which I am equally debarred from supplying. These attacks are either specific or take the form of ill-concealed innuendo against officers who in the nature of things cannot defend themselves. The senior officers throughout the Service are in their posts because they are believed to be the best men available to hold them. Did I or any First Lord retain an officer in a position of high responsibility at the present time for any other reason we would be unworthy to hold office. I appeal, therefore, to the public and to the Press to discountenance such talk and such publication."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, lst November, 1917, col. 1688, Vol. 98.]I do not think that I was capable of putting my views more strongly or more publicly than that.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
On the 8th November, my right hon. Friend (Mr. Lambert) asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether his attention had been drawn to attacks published in the "Daily Mail" newspaper upon the Navy, which are calculated to prejudice the Navy both at home and abroad, and whether he pro posed to proceed against this paper under Regulation 27 of the Defence of 2030 the Realm Act. The reply given by my right hon. Friend (Dr. Macnamara) on my behalf was as follows:The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative, and my right hon. Friend the First Lord strongly deprecates personal attacks which can only hamper his distinguished colleagues in the discharge of their duties. My right hon. Friend is convinced that such criticisms arise from imperfect appreciation and knowledge of the facts, and he hopes that his recent statement in this House will have removed many misapprehensions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1917, col. 2327, Vol. 98.]In addition to that, I personally—I think after personal consultation with Sir John Jellicoe—saw certain representatives of the Press and protested against these attacks. I also raised the question; I cannot say whether it was at the Cabinet, but certainly it was with certain Cabinet Ministers. I put the question to them, and got their advice as to how to stop these attacks, and I acted in accordance with their advice. I have been accused of conveying the decision of the Government to Sir John Jellicoe in a way which hurt his feelings.
§ Mr. ROCH
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not misunderstand me. The right hon. Member for Dublin University, in a statement which will create great public attention to-morrow, said expressly that the War Cabinet was not consulted about Sir John Jellicoe's dismissal. Therefore, it must be not the technical, but the actual responsibility of the First Lord.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
I was responsible for the decision, and I notified my views to and consulted certain of my colleagues in the War Cabinet.
§ Colonel Sir C. SEELY
May I ask whether there is any Government We ought to know who are the governors of the country. May I ask who were the people the right hon. Gentleman consulted Are they the real Government of the country, and not the War Cabinet?
§ Sir E. GEDDES
I was accused of communicating this decision to Sir John Jellicoe in a way which hurt his feelings. If I did so, I can only say I am extremely sorry. Nothing was further from my thoughts or my wishes. I did it, as I believe, in the most considerate and most tactful way, and after very considerable thought as to how I could do it. I wrote a letter because I thought a letter was the easiest way for such a distinguished man to receive such a communication. In the letter I said that I had done it in that way, but I was entirely at his disposal for the rest of the evening, or after wards, if he wished to talk it over with me. I felt I could not do better than that. As regards the employment of Lord Jellicoe, it is intended, when a suitable opportunity occurs, to employ Lord Jellicoe, and to make use of his great experience. Such an opportunity of giving an adequate position to an officer who has reached such distinction has not yet occurred. When it does occur, I hope he will see his way to accept it.
§ Mr. ROCH
I really think that on an occasion like this we might have had a member of the War Cabinet present to have thrown light upon which, I think, is a most extraordinary position, according to the statement just made by the First Lord. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Lambert), who was once at the Admiralty, called attention to the dismissal of Sir John Jellicoe, and he was followed by my right hon. Friend (Sir E. Carson), who was once First Lord, who said quite expressly that although he was then a member of the War Cabinet he never knew until he heard of it at some wayside station that Sir John Jellicoe had been dismissed. My right hon. Friend said he did not expect to have such a thing communicated to him. I hardly think that can be the constitutional practice. I can hardly think that a First Sea Lord has ever been changed without its coming expressly before the 2032 Cabinet for their decision. I think I shall be right in saying that when the First Sea Lord, Lord Fisher, resigned, that came before the Cabinet of the day, and we were all acquainted with what took place. My right hon. Friend (Sir E. Geddes) threw further light upon what is taking place in the Government of this country. He said he did consult some of his colleagues, but when he was asked on what is a somewhat grave matter, namely, the government of the country, who were the colleagues he consulted, he declined to make any further statement. We have been told expressly that one member of the War Cabinet who at all events had great admiration for Lord Jelliooe's services, and who perhaps had more opportunity than even the present First Lord, of seeing what those services were worth, was not consulted. It is somewhat extraordinary that the one man who was not consulted was the member of the War Cabinet who presumably would have been in favour of Sir John Jellicoe. We are, of course, in the hands of the Government of the day. No member of the War Cabinet has thought fit during the whole of this important Debate to be present, and I suppose we must leave it where it is unless one of them is good enough to throw light on it. Be fore I pass from the matter, I must say I wish the right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Carson) had thrown a little further light upon the statement when he said that he was constantly subjected to pressure. Where did that pressure come from I really think that, after all, the suspicion that has been aroused with regard to the Press we might be (old that. One might mention, in passing, that the owners of the Press who were employed in these attacks upon Lord Jellicoe have not only not been proceeded against, but have been honoured, and given positions of confidence in the Government. I would like to ask my right hon. Friend where the pressure came from of which he spoke in such an indignant way?
The other subject I had intended to call attention to is a very grave one. namely, the shipbuilding crisis with which we are faced.
§ [Mr. Bonar Law entered the House]
§ Mr. ROCH
As we are now fortunate enough to have the Leader of the House 2033 with us, perhaps at the risk of repeating myself I might call his attention to the somewhat grave question which has arisen in the course of this Debate. The question which has arisen and upon which there had been a good deal of feeling, is the dismissal of Sir John Jellicoc. A statement to which I wish to call attention was made by the right hon. Gentleman's late colleague (Sir E. Carson) to the effect that when Sir John Jellicoe was dismissed it never came before him as a member of the War Cabinet, and that he first heard of his dismissal at a way side station. The right hon. Gentleman also made the somewhat serious statement that while he was at the Admiralty there was constant pressure being brought upon him—pressure I presume to get rid of certain highly-placed officers at the Admiralty. He did not tell us where that pressure came from, or the persons who made it, but what seems most extra ordinary to me and the House is that a distinguished servant of the Government should be dismissed not as a result of a Cabinet decision at all. I question whether as a matter of constitutional practice, a First Sea Lord has ever been dismissed on the single action of an important Minister of the Crown, and not as a result of the collective decision of the Cabinet as a whole. The First Lord has called the attention of the House to the fact that he did consult some of his colleagues, but what was extraordinary was that although some of his colleagues were consulted, and evidently approved of the decision to dismiss Lord Jellicoe, one of his colleagues who has had as great, if not a greater opportunity of judging the merits of Lord Jellicoe than anyone else, was not consulted at all, and, in fact, his attention was not drawn to it. I had intended to call attention to one or two other matters, but as we would not wish to delay the Leader of the House, and as I shall have an opportunity later of dealing with the other matters, I will reserve what I have got to say
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EX CHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law)
I am under the disadvantage of not having had a report of the discussion which has taken place so far, but the hon. Member did me rather less than justice by suggesting that I did not attend to my duties in this House. It must be obvious that I cannot attend during all Debates.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
In that case I will not pursue the matter. As regards the subject under discussion, it is difficult for me to say anything about it, and for 'this reason. The last thing I would dream of doing would be to use any word which would imply anything but great liking, great admiration and great belief in the ability of Lord Jellicoe. I start with that. But a position of that kind must always be something for which the Government of the day is responsible. The decision as. to who is, or who is not to occupy a position which is vital for the safety of the nation must be a decision for which the Government is responsible. But the suggestion has been made—I have heard it for the first time—that this is a responsibility which must be taken by the War Cabinet as a whole. I say, so far as my experience goes, that that has not been the method, and never has been, in which appointments of this kind have been regulated under our system of government. I cannot recall cases of First Sea Lords; I do not remember the case of a change during the time I was a member of the Cabinet, but my recollection is that in one case, which I remember perfectly well, Sir Henry Jackson, the change was made before the Cabinet were aware of its having been made at all. But I do know this, that, in the case of other appointments, which are equally vital, the rule has always been that the Minister in charge of the Department is the Minister who is responsible for the men serving under him. I think my right hon. Friend the late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. McKenna) will bear me out when I say that, during the Government of my right hon. Friend the late Prime Minister, two of the biggest changes were made, that of the Commander-in-chief and that of the Chief of the General Staff, by the War Secretary, without my, or so far as I know, other members of the Government, being aware of what was going to be done until it had actually been done. But I go further, and I say that is the right method. It is the First Lord of the Admiralty who must be responsible for those who are to serve under him. The same with the Army. Whether the change is a wise or an unwise one, I should say it would be a bad precedent for the House of Commons to try to lay down the rule that a change of that kind is not to be made except after agreement and full discussion in the ordinary Cabinet. I do not make an exception for the War Cabinet in 2035 that respect. It is a responsibility which, in the main, ought to be the responsibility of the man at the head of the Department concerned. What invariably happens in such cases is that the Minister in charge does consult and does obtain the approval of the Prime Minister of the day. It is obvious it could not be done in any other way.
There is nothing I like less than to seem to be taking a part in a controversy affecting Lord Jellicoe, but I do wish to point out that our whole system of government; is the result of the growth of centuries. Under our system the Prime Minister has got a position which is never recognised by any Act of Parliament or by any other way. But, as a matter of fact, in ordinary times it is he, and he alone, who selects all his colleagues, and in reality, so long as the Prime Minister commands the confidence of the House of Commons, he is in a position entirely different from that of all his other colleagues, and his responsibility is infinitely greater, both to the country and to the House of Commons, than that of any of his colleagues. In such circumstances it is inevitable that responsibility in cases of this kind must be divided between the Minister at the head of the Department and the Prime Minister. I understand that my right hon. Friend (Sir E. Geddes) says that some of his colleagues, in addition to the Prime Minister, knew of it. I was one of those who did know, but it was by accident. I am sure the House of Commons will give him credit, which he absolutely deserves, that there was nothing personal, that he had, like me, the greatest respect, the greatest liking, for Lord Jellicoe, and, if he found it necessary in the public interests to make the change, he did it for that reason, and for that reason alone. What happened was this: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister sent a messenger to me—we are in the same building—and asked me to come into the Cabinet Room. I came there, and my right hon. Friend (Sir E. Geddes) then said he had come to the conclusion that it was in the public interests that there should be a change in this respect. I believe the Prime Minister sent for me, not because I was the Leader of the House, but because I was available, and he told me. I feel sure that if my right hon. Friend the Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson) had been in the building, he would have told him also.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I quite agree; but, after all, any of us are liable to make a mistake. It is quite possible that my right hon. Friend (Sir E. Carson) is right—Mr. FRANCE: From experience.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
—from experience—and that my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, who has had some experience also, is wrong. But that is not the way the Government have to judge. One man, and no other, is First Lord of the Admiralty. He is responsible, and as long as he is retained as First Lord it is his advice, and his alone, which must be followed by the Government. No other course is possible.
§ Sir E. CARSON
When I was speaking, I claimed no right to have had my advice taken; on the contrary, I said it it was the duty of the First Lord.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am glad my right hon. Friend agrees with me, as I knew he would. But it is obvious, from what he is reported to have said, that if he had continued to be First Lord he would probably not have made the change.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
That raises a question which I really think the Prime Minister should have been informed about, for it concerns him and not me. But I am bound to say that when my right hon. Friend (Sir E. Geddes) told me that he had come to the conclusion that he must make the change, he told me, at the same time, that for more than two months the subject had never been mentioned to him by the Prime Minister, that he had come to that conclusion absolutely on his own initiative, and that the responsibility for what he was doing was his alone.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I think the matter ought to be cleared up. The First Lord stated to the House that he carried out the decision of the Government. Now it appears that he personally was responsible.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
The House will excuse my inexperience of the way in which these things are put, and I can only tell the House—and my recollection is very clear 2037 —exactly what happened. When I said I conveyed the decision of the Government, I thought the advice that I gave, and which was accepted by the Prime Minister, became the decision of the Government. If I was wrong, then it was my decision that I conveyed. But what actually happened As we have got on the subject of pressure about the retention of Lord Jellicoe, I would like to say that from the day I accepted the position of First Lord—I say this deliberately and positively, because I have had it in my mind for a long time that this question might be raised—from the day I accepted the position of First Lord until the day Lord Jellicoe left the Admiralty, never by word or suggestion was there any pressure brought upon me to change any officer in the Admiralty. I am absolutely positive of it.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I had almost for gotten I was speaking, but my right hon. Friend has said everything that has to be said. The case is in my recollection as clear as anything can be. When I was sent for to have that interview, my right hon. Friend told me what I have told the House. I was anxious to have that in formation, and I say with absolute confidence that to my certain knowledge my right hon. Friend was so unwilling to take a step of this kind that, more than once, he has told me he would have been glad if it had been possible for him to get other employment so as not to be compelled to undertake a duty which he regarded as so disagreeable. My right hon. Friend may be right or may be wrong, but he has done what is the duty of everyone in his position—he has made a change which he thought right in the interests of the country. There has been nothing unusual in the way it has been done. It was done on his own responsibility, without pressure from anyone, and I believe no one who has heard his statement will doubt, whether it was right or wrong, that he did what he believed was in the interests of the country. We have heard a great deal about the Press campaigns. The Prime Minister has assured me in private that he had absolutely nothing whatever to do in any shape or form with anything that appeared in the Press in this connection, and my right hon. Friend beside me (Sir E. Geddes) has not only said that in private, but over and over again he has said it in the House, and I think it is entirely unfounded to 2038 have any suggestion that any member of this Government, either the Prime Minister or the First Lord, has taken a course which, I venture to say, there is not a member of the Government or of this House who would not think was an utterly despicable course—the course of trying to put pressure to discredit the reputation of men who were serving the Government.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
We have now two official explanations from the Front Bench of the circumstances connected with the dismissal of Sir John. Jellicoe, and those have been supplemented by what is, perhaps, the most illuminating statement of all, and that is the very interesting statement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson). It seems to me that, as the result of these two statements, certain points which were raised by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College have not been cleared up. That right hon. Gentleman told us, and I think this was the most disquieting thing in his speech, that during the period he held office as First Lord of the Admiralty he was continually subjected to pressure to get rid of Sir John Jellicoe. I do not think I am overstating, but rather understating, what he said. We heard that statement, and we find subsequently that Sir John Jellicoe has been dismissed without any reason alleged, because at no time has there been any reason given. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has told us to day that he, indeed, had the favour of being called into the War Cabinet Room, and of hearing of the decision, but he never seems to have asked why it was being done. According to the statement which he has made to the Committee all that occurred was that he agreed to the decision as the decision of the First Lord of the Admiralty, who, to his mind, was alone responsible. I think, perhaps, the most significant thing is that throughout the whole of this Debate, while we have had all these speeches, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College still adheres to the opinion which he expressed in the constitutional manner of Sir John Jellicoe, on his merits as a First Lord, and able strategist and administrator, and he told the Committee that had he been First Lord he would 2039 never have agreed to this change. What has brought the Government to make the change?
The members of the War Cabinet may accept the decision of the First Lord without asking for any explanation, but it seems to me to be the constitutional duty of the House of Commons to ask for an explanation. I do not say that we ought to overrule the decision of the Government, but I think in a grave matter of this kind, when, according to general assent, we had in this position an officer pre-eminently fitted for the post we should know why he has been summarily dismissed. That explanation is not given. We have been told by the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite that Sir John Jellicoe commanded in a peculiar degree the confidence of all ranks in the Navy and that his dismissal has caused the greatest amount of discontent and irritation in all ranks. That is a situation which no patriotic man desires to see in this country. We all desire to see the best feeling throughout all ranks of both our fighting Services, and anything that is calculated to cause discontent or dissatisfaction is the very last thing we should desire to see occur. Surely, if the Government desire to put an end to this they should come frankly to the House and tell the House what were the grounds of public policy which led them to take this action. The First Lord made a considered, statement yesterday on Admiralty policy in moving the Speaker out of the Chair, but in the course of that statement he did not give the slightest indication as to what reason had led him to take that action. To-day, when the question was raised, and in particular when the Press attacks upon Sir John Jellicoe were brought to his notice he contented him self with reading some jejune extracts from former speeches and from formal and official replies to questions put in this House.
We know two facts. We know, first of all, from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College that when he was First Lord pressure was constantly brought to bear upon him to bring about this result, and we know that since he has ceased to be First Lord that there has been an almost continuance campaign in the Press against Sir John Jellicoe. We know that as a result of that campaign, although it was deprecated and discouraged in those formal utterances of the 2040 First Lord, and although we heard that the Prime Minister never had anything to do with it, that it had the desired result. We know that Sir John Jellicoe is not now at the Admiralty and that Lord Rothermere is at the Air Board and that Lord Beaverbrook is Minister of Propaganda and that Lord Northcliffe is at the head of the Propaganda Department in enemy countries. We can only judge from the rewards to people. The man whom the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College was so anxious to protect is in disgrace, and the people who were attacking him are in the seats of the mighty. What is the use of attempting to deceive this House There is no use talking about there being no Press influence from Downing Street. Everybody knows that there is. I have said so in the presence of the Prime Minister, and I repeat it now, although he is not here, that he is the first Prime Minister for this country who has had a properly engineered Press Bureau. And I say this, that in the pages of the kept Press nothing appears that is not approved of at 10, Downing Street, and that if a campaign is initiated without their knowledge and without their assent, if they disapprove of it, it can be turned down within twenty-four hours. That was not done with regard to Sir John Jellicoe. No reason of public policy has been alleged, and no ground of inefficiency has seen put forward against Sir John Jellicoe. His dismissal was announced in convenient terms of fulsome praise, and he joins the Peerage and the ranks of those in the Peerage who, in the old phrase, are enriching the blue blood of our ancient nobility with a fresh infusion of printer's ink. He is to be found employment, and the First Lord of the Admiralty is anxious to find him suitable employment, but, presumably, there is no vacancy at Greenwich Hospital. We see that it is not on the ground of efficiency or on the ground of public policy that the First Sea Lord was dismissed. We know that there has been this Press campaign, a Press campaign which could have been stopped if the Prime Minister had lifted his little finger. That Press campaign was designed to bring about Sir John Jellicoe's fall, and the people who have brought about his fall are members of His Majesty's Government.
I am only going to draw one moral from this. The First Lord of the Admiralty yesterday, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackfriars (Mr. Barnes) last 2041 week, spoke in very grave terms regarding the shipbuilding situation, and, in particular, they spoke of the gravity of the Labour position. There is no place where the labour situation is graver than on the Clyde, and there 80 per cent. of our mercantile tonnage is now under construction. I think I can claim to be able to say something from personal and direct know ledge of the feelings of the men, and it is not strange at all that there is unrest on the Clyde. There is a very simple explanation. The Government think they are on stable ground, and that they are on a sure foundation, when they have the support of a servile House of Commons and the adulations of a kept Press. That has no effect on the working men in the country, and if there is unrest on the Clyde to-day, and if those men are not working as they ought to be working, and remember that they have worked sixteen and eighteen hours a day, week ends and Sundays as well, in the early days of the War, accelerating naval ship building, it is because they have no confidence in the men who are sitting on the Front Bench. They cannot believe a word they say. They do not believe in the policy they are pursuing, and they will not until this country is governed by a Government which does not simply rely upon an effete and moribund House and upon a reptile Press outside, and until it will appeal to the patriotic sentiments of the country on the ground that it is an honest Government. It is only by having other men and other methods—
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The hon. Member is anxious to know my alternative, and I will tell him that my motto is, "Passengers off the car first."
§ Mr. RONALD McNEILL
I have no intention whatever of following my hon. Friend who has just spoken in his very impassioned and Ciceronian utterance, but I do want to say something on a subject of which we have heard a good deal, and that is about this Press campaign. My hon. Friend and some other hon. Members seem really to have got a bee in their bonnets about this Press campaign. There is no Press campaign in the sense in which they understand it. This talk about a kept Press and a Government Press Bureau is all beside the mark, and when my hon. Friend talks as if some sort of association between the Government of the day and the Press of 2042 the day was anything new, I know from old experience that he is entirely mistaken in that respect. There is, of course, and there always has been for generations past a close connection between the Government of the day and the Press of the day.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
There never has been a situation before in which the Press, in close collusion with the Government, carried out attacks on the military and naval officers of the Government.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I am not saying that I am disagreeing with everything my hon. Friend said. I only want to clear up a point on which I think he weakens his case and many others weakentheir case when they talk as if this were entirely a new development, and when they speak of a corrupt kept Press by the present Government in a way never known before. That is not true. What is true is this: that new methods have been introduced in recent times in the conduct of our Press. The Press is a different Press from what it was thirty years ago, and when the Press wants at the present time to carry a policy, or to enforce any idea, partly owing to the fact that a number of papers are in one ownership, and partly owing to new methods which have been largely introduced from America, the actual method of attack in the Press does lend itself to the phrase, "A Press campaign," because if a certain group of newspapers make up their mind that a certain naval, military, or political policy should be carried out, they are not content, as in former generations, to write a couple of telling leading articles on the subject and leave it there. They mobilise all their resources in the form of telegrams from every quarter of the world; special articles are written from one particular standpoint, all concentrated on this one object; and probably they induce hon. Members to put questions in Parliament upon the same subject. They have illustrations which they probably get put on the cinema, and they use every sort of device to concentrate on the object they have in view. What happens, of course, is—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Sir Donald Maclean)
I have allowed the hon. Member to make a reply to one or two sentences which were used by the hon. Member who has just been addressing the Committee. I cannot allow a general discussion on the conduct of the Press. As the hon. Member knows, we are dealing with Vote A of the Navy Estimates.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I am afraid I was travelling too far, and I leave that part of my digression. I want to come to the point at which I agree with my hon. Friend opposite. Apart altogether from his question of the Press, we have had the constitutional position with regard to the responsibility of. the First Lord of the Admiralty discussed at some length, and I have no doubt that the constitutional position was quite accurately put before us by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. The responsibility, as he has told us, does not rest—and, I think, ought not to rest, except in a technical sense— with the Government as a whole. It rests directly upon the shoulders of the First Lord of the Admiralty, who is responsible for the officers whom he appoints and whom he dismisses. We have heard to-day from my right hon. Friend who was recently First Lord of the Admiralty that while he was there, and so long as he had remained there, he would not have consented to the dismissal of this particular admiral. Obviously, if he had the right and the responsibility to retain a certain admiral, his successor has equally the right and the responsibility to dismiss that admiral. But I want the House, and I want the right hon. Gentleman, to realise the actual weight of responsibility that does rest upon his shoulders, on that statement of the case, for this particular transaction. We have had it a good deal thrashed out. We know now that the War Cabinet was not, as a whole at all events, consulted. I think we may take it that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer's responsibility appears, at all events, to have been limited to acquiescence. We know from what my hon. and gallant Friend beside me has said, and we know from many other sources, that certainly the enormously predominating feeling in the Navy was against the dismissal of this distinguished admiral. We have had the statement from the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord that he was not subjected to any pressure. He entirely denies that he received pressure either from the Prime Minister or from the Press. Under those circumstances, what I think the House ought to know is, what actuated the right hon. Gentleman—what was it that moved him to take this very drastic action?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
May I interrupt my hon. Friend I would like to put this to him and to the Committee: Is it not obvious that if, every time a change of 2044 this kind is made, we have got to give reasons, it implies that you will never make a, change unless a man's incompetence is proved, and that a change will never be made for the simple reason that, however good he is, you think somebody else will do the work better?
§ Mr. McNEILL
I quite agree. I think there is a great deal in what my right hon. Friend says, and, of course, in all these cases it is a question of knowing where to draw the line. But I am sure my right hon. Friend would not say that when an event so very striking takes place that a man, who is universally recognised as the greatest scientific administrator the Navy has, is dismissed at a critical point in the War, therefore the principle, reasonable as it is which my right hon. Friend has just laid down, can be held to silence not only criticism, but inquiry in the House of Commons. I am not going to pursue it much further. All I want is to show exactly the responsibility resting upon the First Lord. He himself has only very recently come into that office. He is not himself a man who, with all his great gifts and all his great experience, is qualified by his experience or training to say what makes a good or a bad First Sea Lord. He did not consult, as we now know, his immediate predecessor in the office. He has not told us that he consulted any of his predecessors who have been at the Admiralty. He repudiates the idea of Press pressure, and yet, before he has been any length of time in his very responsible post, he comes to the conclusion—I have no doubt with the idea that he was serving the country, and that it would be a dereliction of duty to act otherwise—that this great administrator, this great sailor, could not with safety to the country be left any longer in his post. I do not want, after what my right hon. Friend has said, to press the Government to say precisely what it was that had destroyed their confidence in Lord Jellicoe. What I do say is—I do not think anybody can contradict it under the circumstances that I have mentioned—there must have been some very powerful influence at work. I do not mean pressure by the Press. What I mean is that there must have been some very strong evidence, such as. we do not know, that he was no longer fit for his job, and I doubt very much whether, under all the circumstances of the case, exceptional as they are—the position of the man, the critical nature of the occasion, the want of 2045 experience of the right hon. Gentleman who dismissed him—I doubt very much whether, on the whole, it would not be to the interest of the country for a clean breast to be made of it, and that the Government should do one of two things— either explain to the country that Lord Jellicoe was no longer competent for the work, or, if they feel they cannot do that, that they should restore him to the post in which the whole of the country and the whole of the Navy have complete confidence in him.
§ Mr. HOHLER
I doubt not my right hon. Friend the First Lord will have greatly profited by the lecture that he has had upon what the First Lord of the Admiralty should do; but, after all, I have always understood that he is the person who is responsible to the country for that which he does, and that he cannot be called upon to give grounds for his decisions at the beck and call of every body. In my judgment government would be quite impossible, and no office could be carried on if that were not so. An attack has been made as to the Press campaign in regard to Lord Jellicoe, and we have the assurance from my right hon. Friend the Member for Trinity College that it had no influence with him. We have the assurance from the First Lord to-day that it had no influence with him, that he came to his decision on grounds proper in his judgment, and that those he consulted in the matter, proper to be consulted, acquiesced in the view. The hon. Member for North-West Lanarkshire (Mr. Pringle) almost invariably makes, if I may say so, an amusing speech, but it always takes the form of a set of interrogatories, and he pauses for a reply. All I have got to say is that the First Lord of the Admiralty, if I may make the suggestion to him, after a little experience, will listen to those speeches with the attention they deserve, because the hon. Member has never sup ported a single Government from the beginning to the end.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I would inform my hon. and learned Friend that I was a member, with official position in the first Government.
§ Mr. HOHLER
That is a good reason for supporting it, and it is an excellent reason for never having supported another,
§ Mr. HOHLER
It is a form of reluctant support if you happen to be a salaried 2046 official, and if unpaid that is better still. My hon. Friend's arguments are excellent, but they are always the same. My recollection is they were always an attack, and perhaps I am right, because I suppose that in that minor position, important as it was, he probably never spoke at all. I really want to say a few words about the Navy and naval affairs. I think everybody is agreed that we are in one of the greatest crises of this War, on the question of the U-boat campaign. I realise that very little can be said in regard to the facts about it. In parting with Lord Jellicoe I cannot for myself see, great as his ability is, that since he has ceased to be First Lord our efforts to deal with the U-boat campaign have been less successful under the present administration. Therefore, I deprecate these attacks unless you are going to challenge confidence in the Government in their appointments and that which they think right to do. But with regard to the U-boat campaign, I would like to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty to consider whether or not in publishing—as I under stand he proposes, in consultation and in agreement with our Allies—figures of the tonnage that we, in fact, lose by this campaign, he could not at the same time give this country some information as to the U-boats we have destroyed. I, personally, have never been much impressed with the reason that there are some doubtful cases, but I do think it would give great satisfaction to the people of this country if you could tell them with confidence that so many have been destroyed and so many are believed to be destroyed. All we are allowed to gather is now and then a little flotsam and jetsam in the way of bodies being washed up on neutral shores, and also we get stories through of U-boats being fished out—we saw one the other day in the Press—at some pier alongside a quay in this country. I do think if we could, in connection with this matter, have the numbers of U-boats destroyed, not only would it be of benefit to ourselves, but also, I think it would permeate to Germany and increase the feeling of dislike that the sailors have for voyages in these U-boats.
I do not know how true it may be, but I am told that these U-boats come almost invariably from a fresh port and return to a port other than that from which they departed. If that be so, the reason seems obvious, which is that the Germans them selves desire that the number of U-boats destroyed should, as far as possible, be 2047 kept from the men in their Navy. If, on the other hand, we publish these figures, it is my hope that they might permeate into Germany through Holland, Denmark, and other neutral countries, and then those concerned would surely know the great losses and the great destruction they are suffering. There was a point made in the course of this Debate which I do think calls for an answer. I refer to the statement of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maidstone as to what happened the other day in the Dardanelles when we lost two monitors and a submarine, when the "Goeben" escaped and the "Breslau" was mined. The suggestion was that no proper precautions had been taken for the events that subsequently happened. I would suggest to the First Lord that he should make some statement upon the subject, that we should have an assurance that there will be an inquiry before a court-martial in order that the blame may be properly assigned in regard to those who were responsible for the state of things which permitted what did happen. It is exceedingly unfortunate that we should only receive information from the Admiralty that these stories are un founded after they have got about and have been suffered to go un-contradicted. If it be a fact that the Dardanelles sea was not mined and that no proper look-out was kept, and that these monitors were destroyed when proper scouting or proper seamanlike precautions which would have saved them, it is a singularly unfortunate thing, and should be dealt with, and dealt with seriously. Again, there is the raid on Dover. There is, I understand, a Court of Inquiry to be held in this matter. These things, Forever, do badly impress the country; yet, at the same time, I very fully and willingly believe that, in fact, the Navy of this country is doing splendid things for us.
I come to the question of shipbuilding. I cannot understand what is the policy of the Government in their undertaking at Chepstow on the Wye. As I and told, it seems to be a situation where you have everything to do. You have no housing accommodation, no docks, no slipways, or anything of the kind. I cannot think that if this question of ships is of such urgency that you are likely to impress the people of this country with your view when you are proposing to build where you have no accommodation for the various purposes concerned. More than. 2048 twice over a period of eighteen, months I have urged upon the Admiralty, that the existing facilities in their own naval yards for building should be utilised in the construction of merchant ships if, and when, they do not occupy them for the building of men-of-war, destroyers, or other naval craft. Why, if they are not so occupied, do they not occupy them in building merchant ships At Chatham at this present moment their policy is actually to fill up the slipways. They have got shops fully equipped. Since I last saw the Admiralty I am informed that another slipway is in process of being filled up. What is this policy of the waste of labour For what purpose Why are not these slipways utilised for building merchant ships The shops are fully and perfectly equipped. They have cranes and everything required for shipbuilding. They are doing none. They may be building a submarine or something of that kind; but substantially they are doing no shipbuilding. That is a state of things which, to my knowledge, has been en during for over two years. It has been apparent for that period. I cannot for the life of me understand why, when we require merchant shipping. Why have we not utilised these yards for that purpose That state of things, as I understand, not only exists at Chatham, but at other great Government dockyards—at Pembroke, at Portsmouth, and others. What I complain of more in reference to this matter is that the men themselves have approached the Admiralty with the view of their doing this very thing. They have said, and they have assured the authorities, that they could make better progress — personally I have been so assured by them—if they had more work to do, and under such circumstances they would make better progress with the work. There is a staff existing for the purpose of controlling ship production j it would be amply sufficient for these purposes. Yet you can get the Admiralty to do nothing, and we have come to a position when the shipbuilding of the country has fallen off: That is due no doubt to various causes. It does, how ever, seem to me to be a lamentable thing that nothing is done in the matter of utilising that which we have when we need ships immediately, instead of postponing the matter until some time when some works on the Wye are completed and the establishment is able to produce ships. 2049 There are, too, the other national ship yards. I cannot understand the position which has never been explained to me in all the conferences I have had. I have by the authorities been received with the greatest possible courtesy. At the same time I am at a loss to understand their explanations.
There is another point that I think really would have been interesting had the First Lord made some reference to It in his speech. It is a most interesting subject. He has personally visited the Mediterranean in order to take steps to counter the U-boat campaign. He has never made any clear statement that I am aware of in the short communiqués. We would like to know, too, why and how the "Wolf" escaped, how many merchant ships she really got or destroyed, and whether or not they have been included in the weekly returns? It would be of some, interest to know if, at any rate, steps had been taken to prevent her getting back home, and how it is that for how long a period this vessel remained at large raiding our commerce and getting ultimately safely home into German waters again. Of course I admit that these things are perhaps inevitable, that some of this may happen is highly probable, but for the moment it is not satisfactory. Everybody, I think, will agree that when such a vessel does escape it is desirable that we should be fully informed of what damage she has done, and so bring home to all concerned, to our mechanics and workmen in the shipyards, that even if we get the U-boat under there is another potential source of risk, and that you cannot for an absolute certainty guard yourself, especially in the night, against raiders of the sort doing this enormous damage. I have tried to follow what damage has been done by the "Wolf" and have not been able to discover. I am entirely ignorant, and I believe the public are ignorant, of what damage the "Wolf" did, and whether or not, as I say, it is included in the returns. The more information we give to our people as to what really are our needs the more likely they are to respond and see to it that, in so far as they are concerned, they will leave no stone unturned to supply what is required.
Having made those points in regard to the Navy, I should like to say a few words in regard to personnel. I can deal very compendiously with what I have to; say. My points are really points more of 2050 principle than of detail. I prefer to raise points of detail, either by question, or by Private Notice question, to the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary, who treats such with every sympathy. What I do wish to say on behalf of the personnel of the Navy is this, that there is a strong feeling throughout every rating in the Navy that they have not had that advancement to which they were entitled to look in times of war, particularly having regard to the great increase of personnel in the Navy. I do not min* what rating it is you take—whether you take the mechanical rating, the artificer rating, stoker or artisan ratings, stewards, or more particularly what I call the seamen rating, the A.B. and leading seamen, the petty and chief petty officers—all, and more particularly the latter, are very strong about it. Advancement to some of these, I am told, and I believe it, is as difficult as it was at the commencement of the War.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Dr. Macnamara)
To what is the hon. and learned Gentle man referring?
§ Mr. HOHLER
That is my point. If any hon. Member has studied the matter at any length he will know that I am stating it accurately that it takes a man many years before he becomes a petty officer. Starting at eighteen as a leading seaman, he goes on to rise to be chief petty officer. For a man with twenty-two years' service only to attain the rating of a chief petty officer in his twentieth year, or within a few years of his retirement, does not seem very great. That a man who has served the country for twenty-two years should only attain to the rating I have mentioned and have been serving probably for 2s. or 3s. a day is nothing more than a scandal. The men them selves bitterly complain of it, and then they say—I was told in conversation on going into the case with these men them selves not long since—that, not withstanding this War, the rate of progress is as slow as ever. That is true of the naval writers. It is true of the shipwrights. It is true of these ratings to which I have referred. What is the Admiralty doing? What do they propose to do I dare say 2051 those in authority think they are doing their best. I had an interview with the Second Sea Lord. Nothing could have been more pleasing. He said it was the desire of the Navy to do well for every rank and rating, but that the difficulty was the Treasury. The Treasury, I was told, would not grant a little more money. The suggestion was that if it were given, that if a man was promoted to chief petty officer, he would prospectively get a little more pension. In this matter the Treasury may take heart by considering that if he got his promotion he might be killed, and then the pension question would not arise in that form. But that is the Treasury throughout! Naval writers have desired and now have been promoted to be assistant paymasters. I really do not blame the Admiralty, except that they could expose the Treasury and see to it that something is done. As a matter of fact, I think I should not be wrong in saying there must be over 1,000 assistant paymasters from services outside the Navy. You want naval writers to teach these men how to do the work, but you will not give those naval writers the advantages to which they are entitled. It is the same thing with other ratings. T dare say it is due to Treasury advice that you should always give the preferment to men outside because, when they leave, they leave without a pension. You must not give the advantage to men in the Service, although they are the very men on whom you rely for the instruction of these outsiders. I do not believe it is the fault of my right hon. Friend, the First Lord. I speak with the full acquiescence of every officer of the Navy when I say it is not the Navy or the Board of Admiralty that are responsible; it is the Treasury who will not do this thing. I hope the First Lord, how ever, will put these matters forward in a very strong way, bearing in mind that these petty officers are necessarily men of good character. They must be entitled to "V.G." right through their service. They serve under captains some of whom are excellent, while others are very difficult to please. Why, then, should these men be denied advancement I hope they will have this real grievance, to which I have drawn attention many times, dealt with. There is one other point on which I desire to say a few words. I know that the pay of artisans and other mechanical ratings is 2052 at present under consideration, but it is a matter of regret to me that the change in the name of the carpenter was made without my being seen. I have always advocated the change of the name to "constructive officer." It was not wished that they should be called "shipwrights."
§ Mr. HOHLER
It is not an agreeable thing for men who are asking for one thing to have given them another thing which they do not ask or wish for. The only reason—and I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to name any other—why these men were refused the name of constructive officers was that there is what is called a. Naval Corps of Constructors.
§ Mr. HOHLER
But they are naval architects, they are not constructors at all. I suppose, because of their blue blood, they objected to these carpenters being called "constructive officers," and therefore they were called "shipwrights."
§ Mr. HOHLER
The carpenters asked for a distinguishing ring and a distinguishing name. I understand the Admiralty gave them the ring, but called them shipwrights, although they wanted to be called "constructive officers." The Admiralty, however, would not allow that, and insisted upon calling them "shipwrights." I have been pressing this matter for years. I had hoped that the concession would have been granted, and I do think that before the Admiralty issued an Order in Council changing the name of these men from "carpenter" to "shipwright," instead of to "constructive officer," they should have endeavoured to see me or have communicated with the men. If they had seen me I would have taken the opinion of the men myself, and I think every one of them would have refused the proposed change of name to "shipwright." It only creates conflict in the rating, and, more over, it does not give the men the advancement to which their long service entitles them. I beg my right hon. Friend 2053 to consider whether he cannot do some thing so as to meet the request of the carpenters. Will he not further change their name? If he does not, agitation and dissatisfaction will still continue. The men think that they have been flouted; they never asked for the name which has been given to them, and they have been refused the name for which they did ask. I hope that even yet the desired change may be made. I should like, further, to call attention to the case of pensioners called up for service. You refuse to allow them to re-engage and you refuse to give them additional pension pay. That seems to be a great hardship. Surely, a man who re-engages is entitled to an increase of his pension in respect of the additional service he puts in?
§ Mr. HOHLER
Yes. You refuse to give these men the benefit of the extra pension which they are actually earning.
§ Mr. HOHLER
Yes, they get then pension; but they do not get any increase of it, because you will not allow them to re-engage. All men get their pension when they leave, but when you call them up they surely are entitled to more money, especially now that the War has endured so long.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I hope my right hon. Friend will give a most sym pathetic consideration to the appeals which ray hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Hohler) has put forward for improvements in the lot of' men on the lower deck. There is one other point in connection with the lower deck which I wish to raise. I know the Admiralty have done a good deal quite recently towards promotion from the lower deck through the mate system since I brought up this subject some months ago. What I wish to make sure of is this: that the Board will see that these officers can get the necessary training which will qualify them for getting higher responsibilities, so that they may reach even the captains' list or the nag list. We have an illustration of that in the Army in the distinguished case of Sir William Robertson. In the Army you have a training course for officers. I am not sure whether you have any similar training system in the Navy. Otherwise the argu- 2054 ment might be advanced by the Admiralty that these men are not fit for the higher positions, because they are not trained. I hope that the utmost will be done to see that they are given opportunities to fit the best of them for these high positions, so that they can secure the necessary qualifications.
I really rose to refer back to a subject which was raised earlier this afternoon, and which I deplore should have been raised. I do not think it redounds to the credit of Parliament that we should canvass the merits of distinguished officers to such a large extent in this House. It involves this difficulty. Everything was done to provoke the Admiralty into giving their reasons for dispensing with the services of Lord Jellicoe. The Admiralty cannot give reasons; the reasons may be secret. I know the event took me absolutely by surprise. I think the Admiralty were right. I am told that one reason was connected with the subject which was raised by the First Lord of the Admiralty—the successful closing of the Straits of Dover. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Subsequently to Lord Jellicoe leaving the Admiralty, the Straits of Dover have been closed, and the submarines have been excluded. I will not refer to that instance further. If, whenever the Admiralty or War Office makes a change, we are going to have a discussion around the merits of the officers it will simply mean that democracy cannot carry on the War. The principle, I venture to say, was very clearly laid down by one of the greatest Admirals who has ever been at the Admiralty, Lord St. Vincent, when he said that those who are responsible for measures must be allowed to choose their men. Lord St. Vincent brought to the Board of Admiralty two captains as First Sea Lord and Second Sea Lord respectively, and they did not attain flag rank until three years later. That was in 1801. Suppose my right hon. Friend had done that. Had I been in his exalted position I would have gone right down to the captain's list, but my right hon. Friend did not take any step like that. Imagine the outcry there would have been had he passed over all the admirals, and yet sub sequent events might have justified his action.
There is another point I could not help being struck by, and that is the fact that this Debate has brought joy to certain hon. Members belonging to the Dark Horse Brigade, below the Gangway—to hon. 2055 Members like the hon. Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Pringle), "whose breath is agitation and their life is a storm, whereon they ride." Throughout the War the one aim and object of these hon. Members, as far as I can gather, has been to embarrass the Government. As to the bona fides of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert), who provoked this discussion. I would like to ask who was the hon. Member who first put forward the demand in this House that Lord Jellicoe should go In view of what he has said to-day, I should have thought that he would have been the last man in the world to be suspected of having put forward such a demand. But I find that he tried to dictate to the Admiralty to bring Lord Fisher back to supersede Lord Jellicoe, not once, but on four or five occasions, in this House. He did so on the 22nd February, 1916, on the 7th March in the same year, and on the 15th February, 1917. Let me read to the Committee just one extract from what my right hon. Friend said. I am sorry he is not present. On the 15th February, 1917, he said:We are told, of course, that Sir John Jellicoe is head of the Admiralty."—This was the time when my right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson) was First Lord. He went on:No man has a higher admiration of Sir John Jellicoe than I have or a higher admiration of Sir Henry Jackson (a former First Sea Lord). But to compare either of these two men with Lord Fisher is like comparing Bethmann-Hollweg with Bismarck. These are my sincere convictions."—Then the right hon. Gentleman went on for another column on the same subject and wound up his speech by saying:I place my views before the Government now and here. If they want a man to save the situation and of assured vigour in dealing with it, it is Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher.That is an attempt on the part of an out side Member to dictate to the then First Lord of the Admiralty my right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University. Now, when my right hon. Friend comes here, just after leaving the Cabinet, and says that he was subject to pressure at all times, he must know that that would involve a demand being put forward as to who it was subjected him to that pressure. He must have thought out that these demands would be put forward. Personally. I think we had better drop the whole thing now and for ever, but it stands to 2056 reason that, having made that statement, he provoked the demands, and therefore led to the prolongation of this discussion, which is so highly inadvisable. But I have another reason for saying how much I deprecate the Admiralty having to fear these discussions in the future. The only time I think that I have ever tried to bring any sort of pressure on the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University, when he was First Lord of the Admiralty, was at the very beginning of his time, and was in connection with the very distinguished officers who are admirals in charge of the patrol areas and bases. These admirals have rendered great service to the country. No man can extol too highly some of these gallant officers who came for ward, retired from the Navy, and offered their services freely as captains of armed merchant ships, going many steps down in rank. They were subsequently rewarded by being put in charge of patrol areas and bases, and it is there fore a somewhat ungracious thing for anyone to come forward and say that these old and distinguished officers should be deprived of their posts. Yet I felt it any public duty to do that. The patrol areas and bases have to deal with the submarine menace. These officers were over sixty years of ago, they ranged up to sixty-seven and sixty-eight, and in private I urged on the right hon. Gentleman that he ought to employ younger men, between thirty and forty years of age, for such responsible posts as those dealing with the submarine menace. If this new principle were to be established, supposing the right hon. Gentleman were to be convinced that he must make changes in these positions, are we to canvass on the floor of this House the merits of those officers It would be impossible in such circumstances for the right hon. Gentleman to be responsible for the direction of the Admiralty, or for the Prime Minister to be responsible for the direction of the War.
§ Mr. PETO
I think it will be generally agreed that by far the most important part of the First Lord's statement to the House yesterday was that part in which he dealt with the failure of the merchant shipbuilding programme I have only one. thing I want to say to him to-day about it, and that is that I noticed, and I expect it was noticed outside the House too, that in addition to stating very 2057 plainly where he considered the principal cause of the failure in the January out put had been—namely, that it lay with the un restful condition of labour in the shipyards—he said that employers had not in all cases done all they could. To my mind it is really inconceivable that if that is the fact there is not a cause, and a cause, possibly, with which the Admiralty may have something to do. I would like to be assured that not only have the existing shipyards been used to the full—and I am afraid I share to the full with the hon. Member for Chatham (Mr. Hohler) some misgivings with regard to these great enterprises such as Chepstow, where there is nothing what ever and everything has to be, constructed, when it is a question of launching as much as we can, and everything^ depends on the next few months—but that there is no want of sympathy in the control at the Admiralty of the ship building programme, that there is no friction whatever, that the whole matter is handled as diplomatically as it can be, and that everything is done not only to enlist the sympathies of employers, but to show them and the men—and I lay emphasis on the men—that what they are doing or leaving undone practically means either being able to carry on successfully this War to a final conclusion or the country finding itself in a position in which it is almost impossible to continue. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is going to reply, but I would like him to elaborate a little what he said yesterday with regard to the employers, and to state whether there is any change in the shipbuilding programme contemplated in the Admiralty, or whether he is satisfied that those in charge of it' have dealt with the whole question with the utmost diplomacy that is possible.
I wish to put three small points to the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty. The first one relates to the pension scheme for those members of the mercantile marine who are under Admiralty employ. I understand that so far, whether under Admiralty employ or whether they are in the other part of the merchant service doing the ordinary civilian trade, the scheme which was put forward for the widows and orphaned children in cases where these men met their death, has been extremely low, and very much below —not more than a half to one-third—the Admiralty rate; that, for instance, the 2058 maximum educational allowance for a child was £ 13 a year, which, of course, the Committee will appreciate must be wholly inadequate to provide any sort of education worthy of the name I want to know whether that pension scale with regard to widows and orphans of men who are in Admiralty employ, men of the merchant service, has been actually raised to the Service level. I had a letter from the right hon. Gentleman nearly six weeks ago in which he led me to think that was so, but from inquiries I have made I am told that there is nothing known of any fresh- Order, or any fresh scale having been established, and if the Order has not been issued I should like to know when it will be issued, and if that will be at once. Then the right hon. Gentleman will know that there has been a good deal of dissatisfaction as to the delays which have occurred in making payments to de pendants of the men, and as to certain deductions, for the three weeks' pay kept in hand, and matters of that kind, which have resulted in two things; first, that the wife has been left for several weeks without any sustenance money at all, and second, that there has been a lot of delay in getting the claims admitted after they are made, and that there has been really no adequate machinery for handling the matter.
I want to know, and this perhaps more directly concerns the First Lord of the Admiralty, whether the question of the executive rank of Royal Naval Reserve officers is likely to be soon settled. I have no doubt the Committee know that no change has been made in this matter during the War. The War has now gone on for nearly four years, and as the personnel of the Navy has expanded so enormously—the First Lord told the House that the officers were now 30,000 as compared with 10,200 before the War—these additional officers have been got from several sources, and junior officers who were midshipmen, and perhaps not even that, at the beginning of the War are now lieutenants. There have been a large number promoted from the list of warrant officers to lieutenants, and the result of the present rule is that the experienced officer, the lieutenant-commander of the Royal Naval Reserve, who before the War was very likely in command of one of our great ocean passenger liners, or some vessel of that kind—a man perhaps of forty years of age—will find himself subordinate to a boy, who, at the 2059 beginning of the War, was receiving some naval instruction from him in one of our instruction ships. He may also find himself under the orders of a man who perhaps a couple of years ago was warrant officer on the very ship he himself was commanding. That is an impossible state of affairs, and the Second Sea Lord was good enough to inform me that steps were being taken with a view to revising this question of executive rank. I should like to know whether it is likely soon to materalise, because these are points of friction which, with an enormously expanded staff of officers, one wants if possible to avoid, by having the matter on such a reasonable basis that there will be no friction of that sort.
Then there is the question of what is known as the Mercantile Marine Awards Committee of the Admiralty. This Committee, I understand, among other functions, considers the question of any officer in command of a merchant ship who may be thought to have disregarded Admiralty instructions, perhaps not to have handled his ship in a case of attack by enemy submarine with every care or discretion, or who for any other reason the Admiralty may consider, after examining the case, it it not advisable should continue to command a merchant vessel.. It is a very serious matter for a merchant shipmaster or a captain to have a letter sent from the Admiralty to his owner to say that the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty do not consider that it is desirable he should have command of a ship again. It means entirely depriving him of his livelihood, a terrible slur upon his character as an experienced seaman, and makes it very unlikely that he will be able to earn a livelihood in the future. Obviously, the Committee who consider these cases should be, so to speak, a quasi-judicial Committee. At any rate, it should be a Committee composed so that it has the full confidence of the people who have to go before it. It should at least have one or two experienced merchant shipmasters who know the difficulties of merchant ship navigation, and I learned that it was intended to put at least two such merchant ship captains upon this Mercantile Marine Awards Committee. I will just give the Committee one instance where I believe the original decision has now been reversed. I will give them the case of a shipmaster who was in command of a vessel attacked by gunfire of an enemy 2060 submarine for two or three hours. He had, unfortunately, a crew which included fire men who were entirely Arab. These Arab firemen bolted, left the stokehold altogether, and refused to fire. That was the principal reason why this merchant ship captain was practically deprived of his command, to use a simple phrase—his owner was informed that it was not. advisable to give him another ship, because the Committee which sat found, apparently, that he was unable to keep discipline aboard his ship. I think the fault really lies with the Admiralty who allow our ships, particularly in time of war, to go to sea with a crew of which the stokers are entirely aliens of the character that you would expect from the ordinary Arab population. I do not think it really reflects on the master at all, and in any case I am glad to believe that that decision, which was a very serious one for the man, was afterwards reconsidered. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to tell me whether this Mercantile Marine Awards Committee is going to be so constituted that merchant captains will see that they have got the full right of bringing necessary witnesses, and having their cases fully heard, and that there will be among those deciding the matter at least two men in whose judgment they will have complete confidence. I was very glad to hear what the First Lord has stated as to what the merchant service has done. I would like the Committee to realise how the two services are working together. I may give one figure which goes a long way to show that. The First Lord told us that officers in the Navy in all branches have increased by over 20,000 during the War, and out of that number 5,000 have been drawn from the merchant service, from one guild or association of officers, the Merchant Service Guild, alone. I think that, that shows a wonderful degree of working together, and gives us great confidence that if this problem of the merchant service being utilised in peace time for all its potential worth, and being regarded as the natural recruiting ground of the Navy, is settled, we should always be able to depend on any expansion that is necessary in time of war, if only we see that our merchant ships are commanded by British officers and have British crews.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
I am afraid that I was a fairly frequent speaker on the topic of the Navy in the days long ago when the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord 2061 was concerned with other matters, but I do not think that I have ventured to intervene since the begining of the War on the Navy, for the simple reason that since then I have had a more humble but more intimate connection with the Royal Navy. I never realised the limitations of a Member of Parliament so much as when the chief petty officer said that he had never had to deal with more unpromising material. I rise now only for a few moments in order to amplify one or two points which I put to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty at Question Time, and to emphasise the points which were raised by the hon, and learned Member for Chatham with regard to promotion from the lower deck. Personally I myself am a lower-deck promotion. In 1914 I was an ordinary naval seaman and I rose through the position of chief petty officer to the giddy height of being a lieutenant. All the time I served I have been connected with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and the Royal Naval Air Service, and there are in my opinion quite a substantial number of men, as I know very well, who served with me in the early part of the War, in 1914, who have received no promotion at all. I do not blame the Admiralty in the matter. It is due very largely to the fact that the authority has changed so constantly. Sometimes, in a particular rating it is the Admiralty which is the controlling authority. Then for some time it is the War Office. Then there is pending a transfer to the Air Force. But it may happen, in consequence of those very necessary administrative changes, that the interests and promotions of quite humble individuals have not received attention, and men who have been on active service for a considerable time and are doing very responsible duties are still in the lowest rank and have received no promotion at all. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to say that if publicly or privately I put him in possession of information he would see what could be done. As the opportunity has occurred I hope that the Committee which he has set up, if there is any considerable delay in the transfer of authority from the Admiralty to the Air Board, will be empowered to consider what is a proper representation with regard to any promotion which may have been delayed; because I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that though a transfer may take and does take some substantial time to effect, it is not 2062 desirable that the interests of quite humble men, and the interests of officers as well, should be in any way hampered while that transfer is being effected.
I will deal with only one other point. I had not the advantage of hearing the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maidstone yesterday, and I have no intention of dealing with the subject matter of it so far as it referred to certain recent incidents in the Mediterranean, for the best of all possible reasons, because I was a serving officer myself for a considerable time in the Mediterranean, not at the time in question but the year before, and it would be in the highest degree improper that I should refer to them in any way, and there would be no option for my right hon. Friend and the Board of Admiralty but to demand the cancellation of my commission if I did so. I will go so far as to say that I regret the manner and the method in which the hon. and gallant Member referred in terms of such precision to these incidents, but I only desire to refer to the topic of the Mediterranean to this extent to say, in my humble fashion, that I rejoice that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty did go to the Mediterranean. He thought it necessary yesterday at some considerable length in a very important statement, in the course of which he had to deal with many other topics, to refer to certain criticisms of his actions. If I recollect aright, I think that he referred to certain rumours. A number of unreasonable rumours were afloat. There was a rumour that he had resigned. There was another that he had gone abroad to attend to a railway. All these rumours are very absurd, but I wish in a humble, respectful fashion to assure him of this: that, though I was not in the Mediterranean at the time he went, I do rejoice that he has created this precedent, because a number of people in the some what distant theatres of operations felt from the start, and do consider that the Admiralty could not be as considerate of ':hem as it was to their brother officers in the North Sea, and I think that the public service was much encouraged by the head of the Naval Service going out and investigating on the spot a number of very complicated problems to which I may not refer in this House, but which certainly are worthy of the attention of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and there are no 2063 two opinions as to the great public service which he has rendered in initiating that department.
Mr. T. WILSON
There are two or three points which may seem small points to the two right hon. Gentlemen who represent the Admiralty but are very important to the main persons concerned. First, I would ask the representatives of the Admiralty to consider the advisability of placing the Royal Army Medical Corps men who are on hospital ships running between this country and France or any other place on the active list. They are on these ships running the risk of being torpedoed and losing their lives, almost in the same way as the men on the destroyer are running the risk of losing their lives. I would also ask that they should be allowed to wear the red and blue service chevrons. I do not know whether that is a matter for the War Office. They refer to the fact that sea men and gunners are allowed to wear them.
Another matter to which I should like to draw the attention of the two right hon. Gentlemen is the personnel of the carpenters' crow. I am informed that some shipwrights are rated as petty officers when they enter the Navy, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that since the commencement of the War quite a large number of extremely skilled men have joined the Navy who in ordinary circumstances would never have thought of joining the Navy. Some of these skilled men complain, and complain very strongly, that they are rated lower than men who are far less skilled than they are. For instance, I am told that painters, plumbers, and blacksmiths enter the Navy at a rating above that of ordinary seamen, while joiners, who are equally skilled, if not more skilled, than these trades, enter as ordinary seamen. They claim that, if they join the Navy, during the period of hostilities at any rate, they should be rated at a higher rating than that of ordinary seamen. Some of these very skilled men are called upon to perform the most menial duties, in charge sometimes of lads of nineteen, who may be rated at a rating above that of ordinary seamen. For instance, I have a case in point in which a blacksmith, aged nine teen years, had charge of really skilled men, who were carpenters and joiners— not ships' carpenters—simply because he 2064 was entered in the Navy at a rating higher than they, and I hope sincerely that the Committee dealing with the new rating of men will take into consideration the claim of the joiners. I do not know what procedure has been adopted in connection with the work of the Committee, but I do urge that if you take evidence you shall take the evidence of the men to whom I have referred. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has received a paper setting forth the claims with regard to promotion, pay, and other conditions of the Service. If he has not, I shall be pleased to furnish him with a copy of what. I think they are entitled to. These men. who are carpenters' crews, and who have entered the Navy for the period of hostilities, feel the restraints of the Navy much more than they would do if they had entered the Navy as boys or had been trained as boys.
I am informed that certain lieutenants who were trained at Keyham are not having fair treatment in connection with the increased pay granted to certain officers in the Navy. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look into the matter, because I am informed that these men are very highly trained technical officers, and some of (hem with long service have not got the promotion for that period to which they are entitled. I will give an instance of what I mean. Take the case of lieutenants-commander on promotion. These officers' rate of pay according to the old scale was 13s. per day and the new rate is 16s. per day. For the engineering-lieutenants the old rate was 16s. and the new rate is 16s. The old rate of pay of lieutenants-commander of six years' service was 16s. and the new rate is 18s. per day. The old rate for engineering lieutenants-commander after six years' service is 22s. and the new late of pay after six years' service is 22s, per day. These men have got no increase at all, and while there is a slight improvement in the new rates of pay of the engineering-lieutenant. it is not quite on all-fours with the rate of pay given to lieutenants who were trained at Keyham. That being so, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will go into this question with the object of levelling up the pay of these officers, and not levelling down. I take this opportunity of thanking the right hon. Gentleman for the very courteous way in which he has met me on many questions relating to the Royal 2065 dockyards, and in regard to questions which I have put to him. I feel sure his attention only needs to be called to the inequalities of pay to secure that the right hon. Gentleman will do his best to rectify them,
§ Mr. WATT
As the representative of a shipbuilding district I desire to make a few observations on shipbuilding and ship construction. I caution the right hon. Gentleman, the First Lord of the Admiralty, not to take the discussion in this House this afternoon too seriously, because hon. Members seem to blame him for having dismissed certain officials whom he thought ought to be dismissed. I want the right hon. Gentleman to realise that if a question such as that came to a vote, either in this House or in the country, it would be found that the great majority would back him up for having taken that line of action. The country requires a Minister who will dismiss some of the inefficients, both in the Navy and in the War Office, and we seem now to have struck a man in the First Lord who has begun his career by dismissing a certain number of officials because he did not think they were efficient for conducting our affairs. As to the Press campaign a good deal of nonsense is talked about it. It appears to be thought that when an official comes to be dismissed that he is worthy up to a certain point, and that after that he is unworthy, whereas, in point of fact, the unworthiness has been noticed all along and commented upon by the superior officers and others, and in that mysterious way which the Press have the papers have got to know of these comments on the work of certain high officials; they put these things in the paper, and it is called a Press campaign, whereas it is only really a comment on the inefficiency of some particular servant. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not be pre vented from dismissing other inefficients by the discussion which has taken place this afternoon.
I desire to speak on the shipbuilding question, which, of course, is very serious. Again and again we have in this House asked the First Lord of the Admiralty to give us the figures relating to tonnage destruction, and again and again we have been refused those particulars. We give the number of ships sunk every week, but we give no indication of their size except in so far as those vessels are above 1,600 2066 tons. They may be 1,650 tons or 30,000 tons each, but no indication is given to us; so that the country and the House of Commons are quite unable to gauge the amount of tonnage that is being destroyed. The whole question lies in the tonnage, and it does not matter so much how many vessels are destroyed. I ask; the First Lord if he cannot see his way to give the tonnage, because the public and the country should be told the facts and made a confident in this matter, and then they will rise to the occasion. On the other hand, when they are kept n ignorance it leads to false impressions and false lines of action. Notwithstanding the fact that the tonnage is kept back, we do get an intimation, sometimes, of what is the tonnage, and I am told on very good authority that it is 250,000 tons monthly, and that means 3,000,000 tons a year. When we realise that 3,000,000 tons a year of shipping are being destroyed by the U-boats, and that in the month of January we built only 58,000 tons, we realise the seriousness of the situation. Twelve times that amount comes to nearly 700,000 tons, and if we are losing 3,000,000 tons a year and building only 700,000 tons, it is very serious.
I come now to the main point of my speech. Seeing that the situation is so serious on account of this destruction by the U-boats, what is the Admiralty doing to push on shipbuilding Have the Admiralty not the power to press on the employers of labour and make contracts with them Many employers have given promises in their contracts to deliver by a specified date, and why does the Admiralty not insist upon such delivery If this was the case of a private trader, would he not do his utmost to urge on the employers I am told the employers are slacking more than the employed, and they take the view that, because SO per cent. of their profits are going to the State, and not into their own pockets —which is very unpatriotic—they are not urging on the men as satisfactorily as they might. What line of action does my hon. Friend propose to take Why does he not ask us to stump the country and go into the shipyards The safety of the country absolutely depends upon this question of shipbuilding during the next nine months. Let him indicate to the House to-night what he requires so that it will be placed before the country to-morrow morning, and let him tell us 2067 what action he proposes to take to deal with this very serious situation on the Clyde and in other shipbuilding yards.
§ Mr. ROCH
I wish to address a few remarks to the representative of: the Admiralty with regard to the question of shipbuilding, which after the very grave statement made by the First Lord of; the Admiralty is undoubtedly one of the most serious questions which we have to face to-day. The First Lord made a grave statement yesterday and called attention to various matters which were not satisfactory. But what many hon. Members and the country would like is to be satisfied that everything is being done from the top that can be done to meet the crisis with which we are faced, and therefore I hope the right hon. Gentleman who will reply for the Admiralty will tell us if he is quite satisfied with the management and arrangements which have been made for shipbuilding right at the very top itself. The history of the arrangements made for shipbuilding have received but little examination. Some twelve months ago the Government appointed a Controller of Shipping. Then there was tome chopping and changing and a Deputy-Controller of Auxiliary Shipbuilding was appointed and he appointed a Director of Merchant Shipping Construction, and he in turn appointed a Director of Auxiliary Ship Engine Construction, and they gathered together a staff of experts, who replaced the small staff previously under the Shipping Controller. Is the right hon. Gentleman quite sure that this chopping and changing has given us the best arrangement right at the very top for securing the maximum output of shipping That is the crux of the whole business. We are always having this constant chopping and changing. Great expectations have been raised that these changes in themselves would produce good results, but there is a feeling that all this control and constant interference has really impeded the progress of ship building.
There is one point I wish to mention about the system that is being carried out by building standard ships. I should like to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is satisfied with the plans that were made for standard ships is working well and that those plans are the best that could have been made. With regard to standard ships it is important to realise—I think I am stating what is an absolute fact—that 2068 fifteen months ago orders were placed for no less than 345 standard ships, and up to the present only seventeen or nineteen have been delivered. To the ordinary observer who looks at that statement it appears to be a confession that the largely advertised system of standard ships has broken down altogether, and that in fact the scheme of standardising has proved to be an impossible one lo carry out. On this point I should like to call attention to a letter which I have received from a prominent shipowner, in which he puts a criticism which I know is shared by many other people engaged in shipbuilding. I will read an extract to the right hon. Gentleman from this very experienced gentle man's letter. He says:In respect to standard ships, it may interest you to know that orders for these vessels were placed as far back as November and December, 1916, and numbers have been placed continually since then, and that the total number of orders for those vessels now amounts to 345, of which nineteen have been delivered; thus, in fifteen months' output of standard tonnage, nine teen vessels have been delivered. This, I think, you will agree, shows conclusively, and without the slightest shadow of doubt, that what I have always strongly maintained, is absolutely correct, namely, that the action of the Shipping Controller in entering into the mad scheme of building standard ships has had the effect of very materially reducing tonnage out put, and that if shipbuilders had been left to themselves to turn out tonnage of their own design and to the best of their ability, an enormously larger amount of tonnage would to-day have been afloat. Not only has the so called standardisation been a mistake, but even greater mistakes have been made by the Advisory Committee and by the Controller of Auxiliary Shipbuilding, in assuming that they knew better than shipbuilders in regard to details, with the result that not only has the cost of these vessels been very materially in creased, but the length of time occupied in producing the vessels is out of all proportion to the time required for the building of ordinary cargo steamers. The so called standardisation of vessels is such that I believe between thirty and forty types have already been evolved.These views are- from men of wide experience who are only too anxious to help the Government and the country in the crisis with which we are now faced. These men insist that the whole plan of standardising was really not carefully thought out, that most of this chopping and changing by the central control has caused the designs to be hastily conceived. They were constantly being changed, with the result that the much advertised system of standard ships has resulted in only some nineteen being delivered. That is a criticism not of the policy of the employers or of the workmen, but of the central authority here at the very centre. I hope 2069 that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us quite candidly whether standardisation has been a success or a failure. If it has been a failure, I hope that he will not allow all the past designs to check him from scrap ping the whole scheme as being the best policy. There is another point in connection with shipbuilding to which I should like to draw the attention of the Admiralty. Are the Admiralty satisfied now that the policy of putting up these national shipyards is the best means of giving the maximum output of tonnage now when it is so urgently needed Another correspondent, who is very well informed and a very shrewd business man, writes to me that at Chepstow largo quantities of labour and of material have been taken purely to create a shipbuilding yard, which he assures me will not be capable of making any appreciable output of ships and tonnage for many, many months, and probably not until after the "War is over. He insists that these national shipyards are really a post-war rather than a war policy. He points out to me the difficulties of getting labour in order to create this national shipyard. You have had to put up fresh houses for the men going to carry out the work. The contractor, owing to the urgency of getting on with his work, has had to make the labour market almost impossible, because be is ready to pay almost any rate of wages to get the houses built to house the men who are going to carry on the work.
§ Mr. ROCH
One does not get, perhaps, the most accurate account of the facts, but I understand from my correspondent that the contractor is actually putting up houses to house the men who are going to carry on this work, and that seems to me on the face of it not to be a very wise method of procedure. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us even now whether it is not better to concentrate his attention on the existing yards, rather than to launch out on these very wide programmes. There is another point with regard to the adjustment of wages. I think it was in connection with the Munition Vote that I called attention to the grant of the 12 ½per cent. bonus and the circumstances under which it was granted. I hope that these questions of wages, which are very difficult and delicate questions, will be dealt with with a little more care and a little more real 2070 inside knowledge than was the case with regard to the 12½ per cent. bonus. The right hon. Gentleman knows that there has been sitting now for two or three years a Committee called the Committee on Production. It is a Committee of highly-skilled men thoroughly competent to deal with these very intricate questions of wages. I am told, with regard to this 12½ per cent. bonus, which really upset industry from one end of the country to the other, that this Committee on Production was never consulted at all; and I cannot help thinking, when they have to adjust these questions, that the Admiralty would be better advised to have them considered by a thoroughly competent Committee of men who will look at them from a far wider and more generally economic view than was done when this unfortunate 12A per cent. bonus was adjusted in the way that it was adjusted.
The First Lord of the Admiralty in his speech criticised, I am sure quite correctly in substance, the action both of employers and of workmen. He said that the employers also are not, perhaps, doing all that they can do to increase output. I think we should be told what is the matter and where the employers are falling short in their duty. It is no good making a mystery of it. There has been too much of a tendency to speak in a kind of whisper of these things. You can get a far better healthy public opinion by stating the facts quite honestly and fairly and without heat and by allowing public opinion to work its own way out. The right hon. Gentle man referred to the unrest which unhappily exists in these shipyards. Of course, it is common knowledge that the unrest is chiefly on the Clyde, where, I think, it is correct to say that some 80 per cent. of our shipbuilding is now being done. Unfortunately, the Clyde has a history since the War, and the Admiralty are reaping the fruits of the deportations which took place without trial. They gave things on the Clyde a very bad start. I should like to make one or two suggestions for dealing with this unrest. I should like to ask whether what is known as the Report of the Whitley Committee has been put into operation at all on the Clyde It is a Report which has created a great deal of interest both amongst employers and employed all over the country and in every industry. It is a Report which has produced a bundle of literature of its own and of criticisms and of suggestions. Yet I am told by people that there has been no real 2071 attempt amongst employers and employed, in spite of the mass of good feeling on both sides which it has created, to get that Report in working order. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he would be well advised to get the Labour Adviser of the Admiralty and the Admiralty Department that deals with labour to try and see whether these suggestions that this Committee has made with so much approval could not be put into operation at once.
There is something which anyone who reads the literature which is now circulated so largely amongst working men, particularly on the Clyde, and who reads the Labour newspapers which are circulated be widely, must feel that the Admiralty and the Government could do now to put an end to the unrest, and that is to try and put am end to the suspicion which exists as to what is to happen to the old pre-war trade union privileges and customs. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, when those conditions were abolished under the stress of the War, that there was given the most explicit declaration that could have been given that they would be restored. Unhappily, as the months have gone by, there have come from spokesmen of the Government statements which throw a good deal of doubt as to whether the Government are really honestly intending to restore those trade union conditions. The engineers and other trade unions feel that the whole position of the trade unions, which has been the creation of years and years of effort and of fighting, has been undermined and really destroyed, and that it cannot be restored. I myself said during the course of the Munitions Act that it would be impossible to completely restore the old conditions, and I think it would be better to deal quite honestly and fairly with the men and give them a reasoned statement as to what you really intend to do in the way of reinstating them. It would be better if you find, in view of the present conditions, that it is impossible to re instate them, to say so frankly and to tell the men what is your policy. It is a thing which I can assure the right hon. Gentle man is exercising the minds of the whole of the trade union world from top to bottom, and it is a matter which the Government would be well advised to take in hand and to deal with as frankly as they possibly can.
2072 There are two other points in connection with the unrest on the Clyde. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman be careful to send the right sort of people down to speak to these men I have had letters from men who talk of gentlemen in top hats going down and trying to talk to them with no real knowledge. They inspire no real feeling of confidence. The right hon. Gentle man will have no difficulty at all in getting the right sort of men to go down, men who command the confidence of the extremists if you like, and who can talk to them seriously and frankly in a way that some of the men who go down there are not able to do. I hope that the Admiralty will take in hand another point. I am told, not by one man but by ten, that the parcelling out of honours in a wholesale way to Labour men has done nothing but harm to the influence of the men who have taken those honours. I am told that, not by one person, but by a score of persons. These honours have been ladled out in a some what indiscriminate way. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, if he attends any Labour meeting in the street that he will find that the letters "O.B.E." are used as meaning "Our something enemy." That in the vernacular is the way men talk about these honours. No good at all has been done by the indiscriminate way in which these honours have been ladled out. It is a matter of supreme importance on the Clyde, and amongst the working classes generally, to remove all suspicion as to the policy which the Government are pursuing. We have had an example in the House earlier to-day of the kind of feeling which now exists among Members here and in London, but which has spread to the rank and file. There is a feeling of want of confidence in the men right at the top, and that confidence can only be restored by a much franker dealing, and by being ready to reason out with men the objects of the War, and the necessity for the drastic policy that you are pursuing. Unless that is done in a much more frank and honest way by what I call the right men in the right way the right hon. Gentleman will not achieve the objects which he has in view. Those are the general points to which I should like to draw the attention of the Admiralty. I have not spoken in any captious spirit of criticism. It is unfortunate that during this War that things are said in one's house which are not said in the House of Commons. I have ventured to get up and 2073 say with regard to the general organisation, and with regard to the general handling of labour, what people are saying in third-class railway carriages, and what the right hon. Gentleman can hear any afternoon in the smoking rooms of this House. It is in a spirit of asking the Admiralty to face things fully and frankly that I have spoken my mind this evening.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I desire to deal with the several matters which have been raised, apart from the personal issue raised in the earlier part of the Debate. I do not propose to go back to that matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham (Mr. Hohler) said, amongst other things, that we filled up slips at Chatham which would be of great value for building ships at the present time. I ventured to correct him and to say that there was only one slip, No. 6, a very old slip, and not at all capable of taking a modern ship. My hon. Friend said that there were more being filled up. He is quite incorrect. As I say, there is only one No. 6, and it is quite obsolete for any modern purposes. It is not correct to say that there are more than one. I do not think I need go into the other point raised by my hon. and learned Friend. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) raised several points, one of which had already been raised by the hon. and learned Member for Chatham, particularly with regard to promotion from the lower deck. I ought to say a word or two about that. We have a record of policy, particularly in recent years, upon which we may congratulate ourselves. Stating the case shortly, I go back to the introduction of the mates' scheme in July, 1912 Provision was then made for the promotion of a number of specially selected young warrant officers and petty officers to the commissioned rank of mate, and subsequently, after two or three years' service as such, to the rank of lieutenant. My hon. and gallant Friend cast some doubt upon whether these men would have open to them the highest ranks in the Service. That is the genius of the scheme.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
What I wanted to see safeguarded was that they should be sufficiently trained for the highest ranks.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
That is a practical point. If it needs to be safeguarded, it will 2074 be. The promotion of these young fellows to commissioned rank was a very great development and an honest endeavour to meet the legitimate aspirations of the lower deck. Taking all the opportunities that have been given, mates and all, the total number of commissions that have been granted since July 1912, is 960, including mates and other new commissioned ranks. The number of warrant and commissioned warrant ranks which are open to the men have been considerably increased in the various ratings in recent years. On the whole question, I would say that our main policy is to continue and develop the mate system, while at the same time keeping open the former channels to men to rise to warrant rank and extending them as may be necessary to meet requirements, always keeping before us the necessity of not having inflated lists at the end of the War. Warrant rank is to-day open practically to every class in the Navy. So far as regards the executive branch, writers, engineers, and shipwright classes, provision is made for promotion up to the relative rank of lieutenant for long and meritorious service. As I said at Question Time to-day, a Committee is sitting to go into the question of dealing with promotion and other matters. Certain of its members will visit the ports. Three warrant officers are attached to it as advisory members. The Committee is under the presidency of Rear-Admiral Hyde Parker, and when they come back from the ports with their Report they will make their Report to a Committee of which the Second Sea Lord is the President, and Rear-Admiral Sir W. R. Hall and myself are members. The reference is—To inquire into the question of pay, promotion, and minor questions of uniform, of war rant officers, commissioned warrant officers and lieutenants, promoted from those ranks of all branches, and to make recommendations for rectifying inequalities, and to propose any amendments in existing Regulations which may appear to be justified in the interests of general improvement."That Committee is now at work.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I am very-glad to hear that. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether there is an artificer warrant officer on the Committee
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
There are three warrant officers acting as advisory members. I cannot say whether or not one is an artificer warrant officer. If it is 2075 thought necessary, as ray hon. Friend suggests, to have one, I am sure the suggestion will be sympathetically considered. I do not suppose that even now the last word on this problem has been spoken, but sharing, as I do, most profoundly the aspirations of the lower deck, I am glad that so much has been done in the last five or six years to meet them. If I do not deal with the matter more fully or in greater detail, it is because I have a great variety of subjects to cover. The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr peto) raised the question of the widows and orphans of the men of the mercantile marine engaged in our Service. He wanted to know exactly how the matter stands. I can tell him, as a matter of fact, that the pensions granted to widows and orphans of the mercantile marine ratings in Admiralty employment have been raised so as never to be below the minimum of the scale for widows and children of the able seamen of the Royal Navy. It may be greater, but that depends upon the amount of the peace pay of the husband, but that is the limit— that is to say, it is the ordinary Service amount for the lowest rank.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I think not, but perhaps the hon. Member will put a question down—I am only dealing with the men of the mercantile marine. They cannot get less than the lowest service rank, they may get more if the peace pay is higher. We have done one or two other things in connection with that matter. It was found that men, having taken advance notes, were left in a position in which they were unable to make allotments for some week or two. These are men of the mercantile marine in our service. As a consequence, their families would, for a week or two, if the men went to sea, be very hard put to it to make both ends meet. We have got Treasury sanction to allow us, where an allotment is made by the man, to make it just as we should if he were in the Service, without waiting for the interval which might arise because the man had an advance note. We have also got per mission to pay three "weeks' pay at the close of a man's career before it is finally determined as to what the pension or gratuity should be. We shall pay three weeks' pay to cover the period before the 2076 decision is given as to what the pension or gratuity is to be. There is another thing we are now discussing with 'is Treasury. The local pensions committee are empowered to make grants of assistance to wives and dependants of Service men in proper cases, but they are not empowered to make those grants as regards the wives and dependants of mercantile marine ratings. We are now discussing with the Treasury whether or not the practice as regards the Service followed by the pensions committee in assisting proper cases where a man is not receiving pay for some reason or other, or because something may have gone; wrong with the allotment, and the family is in distress, shall be followed in the case of the mercantile marine ratings' dependants just as if they were in the Service. That we have not yet brought to a final issue.
§ Mr. PETO
Why have the Treasury anything to do with the matter Would it not be more proper to do it through the pensions committee instead of in the present haphazard manner When I raised the question of pensions, what I referred to specifically were the pensions and allowances to the wives and children of officers in the mercantile marine, and I suggested that a captain forty years of age, in command of a large merchant vessel, should get at least as much as r, lieutenant, Royal Navy.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I cannot give any information on that point. If the hon. Member will put down a question, I will tell him the facts. I have told him how the ratings stand now; the other matter I will go into and see how it does stand. As regards the point of officers, Royal Naval Reserve, who are not promoced and find themselves left in the rear, whereas Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve officers who are younger and have less experience find themselves in executive command over Royal Naval Reserve officers—
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I gave my hon. Friend an answer in the House which states fully the Admiralty position with regard to that. My hon. Friend said he had had some discussion with the Second Sea Lord on the matter. I will speak to 2077 him about it. As to the Mercantile Awards Committee, I understand my hon. Friend to mean the Committee which considers whether blame is to be awarded. Surely there are merchant navigators of experience on that Committee?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
He thinks there ought to be more. That is a point that certainly ought to be considered. He also put the point whether a merchant captain, against whom possibly a charge of negligence was made, or of failure to obey orders, ought not to be able to call witnesses on his behalf. I am not aware that he is not. It may be that he is not, but that is a matter which shall certainly be represented to the proper authorities.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
If it is suggested that he has not every facility, I will put that point. If the hon. Member will stats to me exactly what he desires, it shall certainly have consideration. My hon. Friend the Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Harcourt) said that if transfer to the Air Ministry of the Royal Naval Air Service is delayed a long time, we should do just as we are doing to warrant officers under the Committee I have mentioned. All I say about that is that if the member of the Royal Naval Air Service happens to be a warrant officer, any decision the Committee may arrive at would apply to him as a warrant officer. I think the hon. Member (Mr. T. Wilson) is wrong in suggesting that Royal Army Medical Corps bearers and attendants on hospital ships are under our authority, but I will take care to inquire exactly what the point is, and the same with regard to carpenters' crews. As regards the concessions to engineer officers which came into force on 1st October last year, we have carried out exactly what we undertook. If certain engineer officers think something more might have been done for them, that may be, but certainly the concessions which were set forth for the junior officers have been carried out.
My hon. Friends (Mr. Watt and Mr. Roch) referred at length to merchant shipping. I agree that that is the most important problem before us at this time. I do not know that I can just now go into the matter fully except to take up one or two of the more important points. As regards the Whitley Commission's 2078 Report, it would, I imagine, be a matter for the Ministry of Labour to consider the application of that to private yards which are working for us under contract. We are only responsible for the Royal dockyards, and the question of considering some sort of yard organisation for our own yards, which is the main pro position in the Whitley Commission's Report, has been the subject of discussion amongst us, and I have a Paper before me where the matter is very fully discussed indeed as to whether we ought not to get in front of the band, so to speak, and start something along the lines adumbrated by the Whitley Commission. I want to say something as regards chop ping and changing at the top. There have been changes, but they have been absolutely necessary. The recent changes resulted from the fact that a very great deal of extra work was thrown on the Department of the Deputy-Controller of Auxiliary Shipbuilding. It is necessary to introduce more men into the shipyards and to provide housing accommodation for them as far as we could, and to look after their food in many cases. These things were so urgent and the pressure on building facilities of auxiliary craft have so rapidly increased that there was a risk that the Department of the Deputy-Controller of Auxiliary Ship building would be overloaded, and so the Controller decided to relieve the in creasing pressure on the Deputy Controller of Auxiliary Shipbuilding by transferring the directorate of ship repairs of auxiliary vessels to the Deputy-Controllor of Dockyards and Shipbuilding, and Colonel Lithgow was appointed Assistant Deputy-Controller of Auxiliary Shipbuilding. If those are the changes at the top which my hon. Friend had in mind. I can assure him that they are in the direction of efficiency and greater expedition in this vital matter of merchant output.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
They could not achieve much, because they have only recently been made. With regard to the building contract at Chepstow, I was very anxious that when the fishermen came back from their fishing stations they should not find that they had no means of accommodation adjacent to them, so new houses were put up quickly. My hon. Friend would be the first to say 2079 that that ought to have been done. I have before me the other case of buildings being erected under contract, and I find that, I think at Chepstow, a con tractor is erecting a hospital. Perhaps that is what my hon. Friend has in mind.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Quite. I was not going to leave the matter there. We in tend to develop existing shipyards, and 136 schemes have been sanctioned for existing private yards. The majority of them are for improvements to yards and new machinery, and the others involve the extension of existing berths former chant ships and new berths for merchant ships and barges. The completion of a very few of these schemes is already reported, but we must push on with them as fast as we can. Then, supplemental to all that, there are the national ship yards. I am told they will never give you any ships till long after the War is over. The three national shipyards will give us thirty-four new slips. I have dealt with the national shipyards so fully in questions recently that I leave out all except essential steps which are being taken. They are not constructional, but assembly yards. The work will be brought there to be put together in the most expeditious manner on a simple standardised design. In other respects, particularly as regards the old original style of standard ships, we have eased the standardisation in order to meet the com plaint that the shipbuilders found them selves put upon a Procrustean bed. We have done all we could to ease that aspect of the matter. The national shipyard ships will be on simple standardised plans and the yards will be assembly yards, where the ships will be put together with great expedition. Two slips are practically ready now and it is expected that the three yards will be completed within twelve months. It is hoped to lay the first keel in April, and to launch the first ship about October. The other vessels we hope will follow at an increasing rate until the full resources of the shipyards become available. We are asked why we go there. The reason is 2080 that the Bristol Channel has a very great deal of repair work and very little new constructional work, and we are in close touch there with the steel-rolling mills of South Wales. So much for the national shipyards.
I do not know that I can add anything to what the First Lord said and to what the late Prime Minister said yesterday about the position in regard to merchant shipbuilding. We must get the maximum output in the shipyards and the maximum from the marine-engine shops. It is a case of everybody either being prepared to put their shoulder to the wheel or to put their necks to the yoke. I cannot put it in any other way. I hope and believe that the result of the statements which were made in the Houes yesterday will have good effect. Personally, I should have been pleased if the whole Debate had been devoted to-day to this question. I hope that, so far as the Debate went yesterday and to-day on this subject, it will mean that the men in the shipyards will realise that they are in the place of honour. I know their work is arduous, I know the strain has been long, and I know it is often bound to be done under severe weather conditions, and I know it is not always easy to realise when you are doing this work that the particular part on which you are working is a vital part in the War. You seem to be nearer to the soldier when you are filling the shell, but you do not seem to be near the actual operation of war when you are driving a rivet, bending a plate, or caulking a seam. Nevertheless you are working just as much for the War—indeed, your work is more vital than filling shells at the present time—and I hope for the sake of their own towns, for their own people, for the members of their own family, that they will give us at the present time the maximum output.
§ Colonel GODFREY COLLINS
I am afraid that the answer of the Financial Secretary about the shipbuilding in this country is not satisfactory. He admits the gravity of the case, but we have no word from that bench as to the steps that are proposed to be taken to rectify the short output which has been continuing for at least two months. I am anxious to put certain definite propositions or suggestions before the First Lord of the Admiralty, and if we have no satisfactory answer this evening several hon. Members intend to raise the subject on the Vote of 2081 Credit to-morrow. I represent one of the largest shipbuilding centres in this country and during the next ten days I shall be in my Constituency and be brought face to face with these men, and they will ask me to tell them about the situation. As to the figures which are published, there is a feeling that they do not accurately or correctly put the facts before the people. I know that toe First Lord of the Admiralty has tried to get oar Allies to agree with him to some modification in the table which is published. I hope that will be done in the very near future, and that the statement will be so modified that the losses which are so grave week by week will be brought home vividly to the people of this country. As the House knows, in December, 1916. the Ministry of Shipping was set up, the idea at that time being that a Ministry of Shipping would control the construction of merchant ships, and naval ships as well. I think that the Ministry as originally constituted was a wise step, but unfortunately some months afterwards the construction of merchant ships was transferred from the Ministry of Shipping to the Admiralty, and very soon after wards the present First Lord assumed office as Controller of the Admiralty. We can only judge these things by result, and it may well be that if the present First Lord had continued in his office as Controller he would, by his energy, have constructed a far larger number of ships than his successor has done. If I may say so in his presence, the present Controller of the Admiralty has too large a sphere of administration for the work of one man. He has to superintend the construction of naval ships and the construction of merchant shipping. He has not put sufficient energy and sufficient drive into his work. It may be said that we must trust the officials whom the Government entrust with these various duties, but the results we know are unsatisfactory.
I would ask the Government what steps they are going to take to rectify this grave situation Not only has the Controller of the Admiralty failed in his work, but in addition he is surrounded by men who are not conversant either with merchant ship ping construction or labour in this country. A large number of the officials who are gathered round him are not conversant with the labour questions of this country, and are not practical shipbuilders. These are two points which I think the First Lord might consider, and he might see whether 2082 he could not take other steps in view of the present grave situation. He told us yesterday that the output in January was 58,000 tons and the output in December 140,000 tons.
§ Colonel COLLINS
Whether it is fair to compare the month of January with the average month of the previous quarter is a matter which is open to question. However, I put these two definite points to the First Lord of the Admiralty, and I will also put to him four points of detail in connection with the situation. Since Thursday last I have received many letters on this subject from my Constituency, and I received yesterday morning a very striking letter from a well-informed man on the Clyde. He puts four points. The first was with regard to the type of men who are being sent into the shipyards. He pointed out that many of these men were unable to do their work properly. My hon. Friend (Mr. Roch) has also drawn attention to the subject of dilution. Many of us in this House have been asked to represent the claims of certain men to the Ministry with a view to getting their services released from the Army, and I would ask the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty whether he could take further steps to see that men who are at present in the Army might be transferred from the Army and find their way back to the shipbuilding yards. I am constantly having cases brought to my notice of men skilled in this sort of work who are at present serving in the Army, and the War Office refuse to allow their services to be transferred to the private shipbuilding yards. My correspondent also draws my attention to the fact that in the construction of ships there is much unnecessary work. He says:As I have pointed out before, there is the matter of unnecessary comforts and luxuries supplied on vessels, such as mahogany, brass work, polishing wood, and putting in finished surfaces on articles and parts that are not necessary.I hope the Financial Secretary will take note of that point, and see if any unnecessary work can be deleted in the construction of ships in the near future. My correspondent further says:The slips, generally speaking, on the Clyde, are full at present, but the trouble is not in the berthing of ships but rather in the handling of the naval units.2083 He adds:I would point out to Ministers that when they appeal to us there appears to be on their part a lack of confidence shown in the rank and file. A more open policy and less secrecy with the people would pay in the long run.That is the burden of the point I wish to put to the First Lord of the Admiralty. Ever since 1915 there has been on the Clyde hostility between the workers and the Government, and I know that confidence once lost is very difficult to regain. I am sure that if the Government endeavoured to take further steps, perhaps on the line of the Whitley Commission, to set up some Board, consisting of three employers and of three men known in the labour world, with a chairman who has made his name during the War either as a great soldier or a great sailor, and who would bring to bear upon the problem the highest national interest, and that if they met these men face to face day after day, these men on the Clyde and in other centres, and endeavoured to satisfy them that the Government are anxious to remove every justifiable complaint, you would once again regain their confidence. In 1915 there was a shortage of munitions in this country, and at that time the blame was put on the workers. Experience has shown that the blame for lack of munitions in 1915 did not rest on their shoulders, but that the main cause was the lack of organisation and administration shown by the Government and officials in this country. That circumstance created a bad feeling at that time on the Clyde. They know now, as they knew at that time, that there were other causes at work which caused the in sufficiency of munitions. When the Government attempt to regain their confidence they must not forget that these men recollect these things, and that when they made their utterances three years ago, the men knew that they were not being told the whole facts of the case. Those of us who are endeavouring to get the utmost out of the men in the ship yards, and in other businesses, are handicapped by the utterances of the Government in past days. Any hon. Member who criticises the Government, his criticism is bitterly resented by hon. Members on that bench.
§ Colonel COLLINS
I exonerate at once any hon. Gentleman at present sitting on that bench, but I am in the recollection of 2084 he House when I say that last week, when criticism was directed against certain hon. Members on that bench, the Government resented that criticism very much, and, in addition to that, their organs in the Press unfairly stated the attitude of hon. Members; in this House. We are anxious to see that these ships are built, and built in larger numbers, and we ask the Government to say what further steps should betaken to increase the output. We hope that we may perhaps have to-night some further statement from the First Lord of the Admiralty on this subject, but if we do not have a statement to-night, we shall be forced to raise the subject again to-morrow. I hope that the Government may see their way to announce to the House some further steps, either by a change in the administration of the Admiralty, or by the institution of some such committee or board as I have out lined, so that those of his who meet these men day after day, may convey to them that the Government are anxious to take every step to remove every legitimate grievance.
§ Mr. TOOTILL
I do not, as you are aware, often interpose in Debates in this House, but to-night I realise the gravity and extreme seriousness of the position, and that alone has impelled me to attempt briefly to address the House. I think nothing can be said in the way of complaint against the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, in his desire to meet all the fair and legitimate criticism that has been offered on this occasion. I do not think I should have risen except for the fact that the hon. Member for the College Division of Glasgow suggested to the right hon. Gentleman that he should try a policy of bullying. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Admiralty will adopt no such suggestion. I think that the right hon. Gentleman put the matter very clearly and very suggestively when he said that it was for the honour of our class that every British work man employed in any industrial establishment that on the output of efficient means for dealing with the enemy by whom we are confronted he should perform his duty to his country, and that any man who does not do so is showing a most unpatriotic and disloyal spirit if he does not do his best to meet the situation. As a Labour man who has something to do with the efforts that were made to inspire the men of the 2085 workshops of the country, in 1915, with the seriousness of the position, and having addressed thousands of these men, inviting them and provoking them to ask questions relating to this great War and the difficulties with which we have to contend as a nation, I invariably felt that, by put ting the facts plainly and with the utmost candour before them, they were quite willing to respond to the invitation and showed that it was their desire to put forth their best energies and skill in helping the cause of their country. In this respect, as a Labour representative for nearly fifty years, although not possessing, it may be, more than very moderate influence out side my own Constituency, I am prepared to say here and now that there can be no justification for any representative in this House discrediting his own country and his own Government while causing disaffection and unrest among the workers of the country. I say that most emphatically, and in doing so let me emphasise it by the fact that I have worked as a workman for over thirty years in a cotton factory, and I know something of the desires, aspirations, conceptions, and obligations of duty of the men in connection with the work in which they are engaged.
I believe that much good could be derived from a system of direct co-operation between the employers, the managers, the foremen, and other subordinate officials in the workshops. Before ever the Whitley Report was dreamt of I held strongly to the opinion that we should best promote industrial peace in this country, and the more readily and with greater effect if we adopted a system of that kind, selecting two or more, or, if necessary, a greater number of the men employed amongst the most trusted and, capable and skilful men in the workshops, and let them enter the board room or the private firm's office and take counsel on the shop difficulties that arise from time to time. In due course let those representatives be in a position to go back to their workmates and to explain to them the extraordinary difficulties and even dangers which might arise in the management and control and efficiency of the particular workshop concerned. I believe in the direct association of work men or employers, especially in war-time, when it is more essential than ever it was in the history of industries in this country. If we could establish between the operative on the one hand and the employer on the other mutual confidence we would have 2086 gone a long way towards solving difficulties and towards removing any suspicions and doubts which now exist as between one and the other. I know it to be a positive fact. that grave suspicion and doubt does exist to the detriment of output and efficiency at the present time, and that is a matter of concern among the workmen of the country and employers and politicians and everybody else. We who are responsible to our Constituents ought to be ready at any moment to go inside these workshops and speak in plain, frank, understandable language, and in their own workshop language if necessary, in order to point out to them the real gravity of the situation in which our country is placed at the present moment.
Every Thursday morning I see that barometer of our ships which have gone down, and I think the Parliamentary Secretary will agree with me when I say that they never go down empty, and if they are taking food down the people must realise that they cannot have the cake and the halfpenny. To meet that condition of things the men in the work shops who desire to feed their children and to keep themselves and their families in proper condition and health must realise that the Germans are doing this by their strategy and desire for domination, and that it is necessary for them to respond to their country's call and do their best, so that the Germans may not have their own way in this respect. It is for the Government also to realise to the fullest possible extent its responsibilities in this matter, and especially by a united voice, and sometimes there has not been a united voice. It is for the Government to make a direct call upon the unity, devotion, energy, and interest of the working classes of this I country, and, in my opinion, if they do so, there will be a more full and ready response to that call. As I move among the work,-men from time to time they say, "Why not stop these profiteers "— and they use a very strong word with it—" and those employers who are exploiting our labour and taking advantage of the national situation to further their own capitalistic ends" Hon. Members must realize that suspicions of the kind exist, and we who are responsible to the citizens of thin country must bear in mind that we have got to eliminate feelings of that kind before we get a more settled and responsive feeling amongst the workpeople of the country. I believe that criticism 2087 should be of a character which is informative, helpful, and stimulating. As a workman, I desire to appeal to my fellow workmen, if my voice can reach them. I may be called one of the old gang. I do not care twopence about that description, but I desire, at a crisis like this, to do my share, if I die in doing it, to help my country out of its present difficulties, and I want that same spirit to animate my fellow countrymen, and especially my fellow workmen, throughout this great country.
§ Colonel COLLINS
Before the Vote is put, may I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he is in a position to give us any assurance regarding the release of men from the Colours, so that they may find their way back to the shipyards; and I would also ask the right hon. Gentleman if he can give us any figures to show what has actually happened in this respect during the last two months
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Before I do so, I would like to thank my hon. Friend who has just spoken for his very inspiring, sound-hearted, and patriotic speech. In reply to my hon. Friend (Mr. Alden) I said, on the 14th February:Arrangements have now been made whereby men in the Army whose services can best be utilised for shipbuilding purposes shall be transferred to the Reserve, and then dispatched to those yards who can absorb them to the greatest advantage for shipbuilding purposes. My hon. Friend will appreciate that some difficulty must of necessity be experienced in selecting for release from the Colours the men best suited for the work, but I am able to inform him that a few such men have already been dispatched to shipbuilding yards, and that it is anticipated that they will be forthcoming at the rate of 1,000 per week during the latter half of this month." —[Official Report, 14th February, 1018, col. 276.]That is the explanation of the undertaking of the 14th February.
As a matter of fact, up to the week ending 2nd March we have got released and sent to the yards 427 skilled men, and further, on the same date, the numbers in the depots waiting transfer to the yards were 381. Up to 2nd March, therefore, we have sent 427 skilled men, and we have on that date in the depots over and above that number 381 men released and waiting transfer. I will observe that I said it was anticipated that they would be transferred at the rate of 1,000 a week during the latter half of the month. That has not been realised.
§ Colonel COLLINS
May I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether the commanding officers of these men in various theatres and stations in this country are raising objection to these men being transferred from the Army back to their civil employment?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I cannot answer that. I cannot tell my hon. and gallant Friend. But if he will ask the War Office, if there is any suggestion of that sort, no doubt they can tell him; but undoubtedly difficulties of selection and release have delayed matters. I think the Committee should know the fact. I have given the fact. We have not realised anticipations.
§ Colonel COLLINS
May I ask whether the Admiralty have any assurance from the War Office that the War Office have ordered these men to be sent back from the Army to civil employment, or whether instructions have been issued by the War Office asking commanding officers to release these men?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
My hon. and gallant Friend knows that the War Cabinet decided some time before the 14th February that 20,000 men were to be released. I have told him what the expectation was and that it has not been realised, and I have given him the figures which have been realised. We have no doubt made representations to the War Office, but there are a good many difficulties, and I think the Committee should know the facts that in that respect we are not getting the figures we hoped. I want to say one other thing to my hon. and gallant Friend. If I did not deal more fully with the position of the shipyards, it was because there were so many other topics before us to-day, and if he desires to discuss this question of merchant tonnage sinkings and new out put, nothing will give me greater satisfaction than to discuss it on the Vote of Credit, so far as I am concerned, and I do not think this House could be better employed, if I may say so with great respect, than in dealing with this thing continuously until we get it on a more satisfactory basis. But my hon. and gallant Friend seemed to make the suggestion that we criticise the output, or rather the lack of it, because of some failure on our part, in order to cloak up some failure on our part or some failure of our organisation. That really is not very helpful. If our organisation is not 2089 what it ought to be, let us make it right. But what purpose have I to criticise these men in order to cloak my shortcomings I am a member of their own class and I am jealous for their good name and their honour at this time. They are in a place of honour, but it is really not helpful to suggest, that criticisms—
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Colonel COLLINS
I did not suggest for a moment that my right hon. Friend had anything to cover up, or that he put forward certain reasons that that. would account for the lack of output which he himself could get over; or, in other words, cover up any defects in his administration. But that does not prevent me as an independent Member of this House pointing out that in my judgment, and in the judgment of many hon. Members of this House—many yesterday and several to-day—one point which should be remedied, which the Government have in their power to remedy, is to take steps to see that men of virile energy, men of experience, are employed on this vital work at the earliest possible moment.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Let us make no mistake about this. I say the duty of the Government and the Admiralty to-day is to perfect organisation, but it does not help to suggest going to the very, very small number who are not minded to pull together at this time, and to say, "It really is not your fault. What is really happening is that they are trying to shove on to you shortcomings of their own." I shall be the last man to say my hon. and gallant Friend is not entitled to say that if our organisation is not right it ought to be made right, and that we ought not to put on the shoulders of men that for which they are not responsible. But I repeat that he ought to know that any appeal for further output is really urgent. Let us perfect our organisation, but do not let us suggest that it is a matter of trying to cover up our shortcomings, because that is not correct.
§ Colonel PENRY WILLIAMS
Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether it is the intention to withdraw any men from shipyards for Army purposes at the 2090 present time, or whether all men now engaged in shipyards will be left there, and not combed out; whether instructions have been sent down to withdraw a certain percentage of various classes of men in the shipyards?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I cannot answer that question, but I said in January that we were then in immediate need of 17.000 more men, and that the number would increase as the year went on. I know we have sent down during this year to the yards— I am dealing with private yards now—roughly about 8,000 men up to date. In January I said we wanted 17,000 men, and, that being so, I cannot imagine it is possible to release skilled men if in January we wanted 17,000 and we. have only been able to send down through the Ministry of National Service 8,000 since this year began. Therefore I do not see how it is possible to release skilled men from shipbuilding.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ WAGES, ETC., OF OFFICEKS, SEAMEN, AND BOYS, COASTGUARD, AND ROYAL MARINES.
1. "That a sum, not exceeding £ 1,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expenses of Wages, etc., to Officers, Sea men, and Boys, Coastguard, and Royal Marines, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1919.
§ Resolutions to be reported To-morrow; Committee to sit again To-morrow.
§ The remaining Order was read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. Deputy-Speaker, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 13th February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Five minutes after Nine o'clock