HC Deb 18 August 1919 vol 119 cc2018-20

But it is the permanent conditions that mostly concern the House and the interests of this country. What is the permanent charge going to be? There are certain things you cannot reduce. You must pay interest on debt and sinking fund on debt, and you must pay pensions. You cannot cut down education—that would not be a very good reduction. There is only one direction in which you can effect considerable reductions, and that is in your armaments. What does that mean? The conditions undoubtedly favour it. There is not likely to be great eagerness for war in this generation. I think we might take the lesson of the Napoleonic Wars. As soon as the Napoleonic Wars were over, the greatest soldier we produced in those wars—the Duke of Welling ton—advised the Government. He said, "You need fear no foe—at any rate for a generation. Europe has had enough fighting." He might have said, "Russia is stronger, Austria is stronger, Prussia is stronger, and, therefore, you must pre pare for some other war." He did not. He had a great Army, which had done glorious things, but he had the courage and the greatness to say, "There is no peril that I can see except the financial peril, the social peril, the industrial peril; reduce; cut down." Lord Castlereagh and all those who had charge of that great war fortunately took his advice, and there was no big war in Europe in which we were engaged until forty years later, although we were then engaged in one we should not have been. As Lord Salisbury said, we "put our money on the wrong horse."

That is the spirit in which we have to consider the situation. The great menace in Europe has gone. Who else is to keep great armies? It is in that spirit we are prosecuting our examination into the Army Estimates, and I think we can effect considerable reductions. But the House must always remember that reductions in armaments will not mean reduction in the cost of armaments. The pay is trebled, the cost of material is doubled; and although you may effect considerable reductions in your armaments, the cost will be up what ever you do, as compared with the pre war period. Those are the fundamental facts that you have to bear in mind. I have another thing which I want to say to the House, and if my hon. and gallant Friend opposite (Commander Bellairs) will wait for a few moments, he is one of those to whom I want to say it. Every body cries economy. Economy in the abstract evokes general appreciation; economies in the concrete provoke universal dissatisfaction. "Why don't you economise," it is said. If you economise on the Army the friends of the Army say. "Why don't you take the Navy?"

Commander BELLAIRS

I agree


If you start with the Navy, they say the Army should be reduced, and even when they agree with economy in the Navy they say, "Why do you take those ships?" You never can satisfy everybody. Everybody is pleased with economy in the singular, but every body is in revolt against economies in the plural. We shall put our proposals before the House—I hope soon after we meet. Their is one thing that matters in economy, and it is this, that the great nations that promoted the League of Nations should show their confidence in it and trust it. If those who promoted it increase their armaments, it is a sham; it will remain a sham; it will be a scrap of paper. Those who believe in it most must trust it most, and the rest will follow. That is the fundamental and first condition of real economy in armaments in the world. Britain is ready. Let all other nations do likewise.