Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £5,836,600, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Works, Buildings, and Repairs, at Home and Abroad, including the cost of Superintendence, Purchase of Sites, Grants-in-Aid, and other Charges connected therewith, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1922.
§ The CIVIL LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Commander Eyres-Monsell)
It is an old custom that the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, when that office is held by a Member of this House, should present and defend Vote 10. For the first time in this Parliament, that office is held by a Member of this House, and, in presenting this Vote to-day, I am reverting to the old custom. I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I were to make a short statement on the general question of Vote 10 and were to review, quite briefly, some of the principal groups under which the chief or greatest number of items fall. One of the first questions that naturally arises on the presentation of any Estimates to-day is how much is being asked for compared with pre-War days, but before making that comparison, I should like to point out that nearly all the money in this Vote is concerned with building and engineering operations, the cost of which, as everybody knows, has increased by nearly 240 per cent. We are asking this year for a total of £5,836,600. In 1914–15 the Vote for the same services was £3,595,500. That shows an increase over the last pre-War Estimate of only 62½ per cent., and, if the Committee will take into consideration the enormous increase in the price of everything affected by this Estimate, they will agree that is very satisfactory indeed. If everybody could come forward with an Estimate increased by only 62 per cent. they would be very pleased. 64 I would next ask the Committee to compare the Estimate for this year with the Estimate for last year. If hon. Members will look on page 97 of the Navy Estimates they will see various sub-heads ranging from A to O, and if they will look at the last two columns giving the increases and decreases they will see that on some Votes there have been increases and on others decreases. They will notice that for the first time there is given a very full description of the causes of the increases or decreases. That is done this year for the first time, and I hope that the Committee will find it convenient.
Compared with last year the net increase on every sub-head is £682,600. There is an increase of £932,970 under sub-head (b) New Works, Additions, and Alterations, and, as that more than accounts for the total net increase of the whole Vote, I propose to concentrate my defence on sub-head (b.) Before doing so, I should like to point out what large deductions have been made on items which were considered and which were put forward as vitally essential for the needs of the Service. Out of a total of £3,044,660 under sub-head (b), £2,496,660 is required for the completion of work which has been already voted by the House, and to-day I am asking for new works only to the amount of £548,000, that being on account of items which will total £2,446,040. This figure was arrived at by investigating proposals estimated to cost over £8,000,000. The Committee therefore will see that, as a result of the recent deductions and adjustments in the schemes asked for and put forward as representing what was urgently required, 70 per cent. of the suggested outlay was disallowed, and we have satisfied ourselves with only 30 per cent. of the amount that was put forward as urgently needed. A large proportion of the items under sub-head (b) fall under three groups. The first is stowage for oil fuel, the second welfare items, and the third the provision and extension of naval armament depôts. I want to take, first of all, the biggest expenditure, which is that on oil fuel stowage. The present policy of the Admiralty is to build ships to burn oil fuel only, and in a short time the Navy of this country will consist only of oil-burning ships. I do not think that in this year, 1921, there will be many people in this country who will contest the wisdom of this policy.
65 There are some hon. Members who make numerous speeches in this House, and, to my mind, a just retribution always comes to them, because sooner or later they are bound to be confounded by their former speeches. I have not been guilty of making many speeches in this House. The last time I opened my mouth here was in July, 1914, and it is rather hard that in the first speech I have to make since that time I find myself confounded by one of my very few former utterances. In pre-War days I did question the policy of oil fuel. In those days I had three arguments against it which I thought were good then, but which do not apply now. My first was that the oil resources of the world had not then been sufficiently explored to admit of a very wide policy of oil-burning ships. My second was that, as we were entirely dependent on overseas supplies of oil, it was very unwise to embark on any far-reaching policy of oil-burning ships before we had made adequate provision for the storage of oil in this country. Neither of those arguments holds good to-day. Even less does the third of my old arguments hold good. It was that we had in this country a priceless possession in a fuel that was cheap and abundant, and the supply of which would never fail—I refer to coal. I have had a calculation made comparing the prices of oil and coal. The Committee will understand that we have all sorts of different contracts in both oil and coal, and I have had worked out very carefully, the world flat-rate for oil and the world flat-rate for coal, and at the present moment, as far as we can see from our contracts, we are actually paying less money for the oil taking into consideration the respective calorific values. That is not the only advantage by a long way. Where you have to handle three tons of coal you only have to handle two tons of oil, and the handling of oil is much easier than that of coal when you consider that very often it can be carried out by means of a pipeline instead of by the most laborious process of filling coal bags, hoisting them on board and putting the coal down into an almost inaccessible stokehold. When you consider the amount of fuel handled every year by the British Navy, the Committee will realise the immense amount of labour, time and energy that can be 66 saved by the use of oil fuel. Further, the efficiency of oil fuel is very much higher than that of coal. I will only give the Committee one illustration. Destroyers, when they have to be refuelled, if they are coal-burning, must travel to some port and go through the laborious process I have briefly indicated. On the other hand, oil-burning destroyers have only got to go alongside a battleship, and in two hours they can be filled with oil and they are ready to go out again and pursue their duties. Another very important question in connection with the increased size of ships to-day is the amount of room that oil occupies. It is much easier to stow than coal, and although that may seem a small thing it is of vital importance to-day, when one of our greatest difficulties is that of fitting ships of ever-increasing size into existing docks by which an enormous amount of money is saved. Lastly there is the point of personnel, and that is one which speaks for itself. There is a large reduction of personnel in oil-burning ships as compared with coal-burning ships. If hon. Members could see the stokehold and engine room of an oil-burning turbine driven ship they would find it presenting a marvellous contrast with those in the ships of the old days.
I hope the Committee will concede the point that the oil-burning policy is a wise one, and is indeed the only policy which the Admiralty can pursue. If they concede that point I have then to ask for the money to meet the requirements of the stowage of oil fuel, and it is necessary to find the money under this Vote. What we are asking for may be divided into two parts. First we want to establish an Admiralty reserve at home. This was authorised by the Cabinet in 1919, and it is estimated the work will be completed in 1929 of building various places around the coast for the home reserves of fuel, and we are asking this year for a total amount of £958,000. Besides that we have naturally got to provide supplies for oil-burning ships abroad. The total reserve required for that purpose has not yet been estimated and it is hoped that it is one of the questions that will be discussed and settled at the forthcoming Imperial Conference. For the moment the provision which is included in the Estimate under discussion is to meet the ordinary peace requirements of His Majesty's ships while cruising in foreign waters, and the Com- 67 mittee will see on examining the Estimate that we are asking money for such places as Cape of Good Hope, Falkland Islands, Rangoon, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Sierra Leone, and Singapore. There is nothing strategic about these points at the present moment, they are simply to provide fuel for our ships on the ordinary ocean routes. The amount required this year for the foreign service is £428,000, and the total for the whole of the oil service is £1,386,000, an increase of £724,000 over what was required last year.
I next come to the provision for the welfare of the men of the Navy. The Admiralty have known for a long time that many of the existing arrangements for naval ratings in dockyards and other naval establishments are totally inadequate for the comfort of the men. The War prevented a great deal of necessary rebuilding and remodelling, and to-day there is a very big accumulation of work of this kind, the need for which is urgent. A Committee was formed in 1919 to consider the welfare of the men, and the proposals now included in this Estimate are to enable the more urgent works to be started. We shall want more money for this in the future, and I should like to take the opportunity of warning the Committee that with the present stringency of money we are only doing what we can. The larger items consist of adaptation of rooms for mess purposes, alterations of buildings to provide better sleeping, messing and recreation accommodation, and to improve the cooking arrangements for the crews of ships in dry dock, which is a very important thing and has been a long-standing grievance in the Navy. I am sure the Committee will not grumble at the inclusion in the Estimates of these items which are long overdue and which will materially assist the comfort and well-being of the sailors. The total amount I have put under this leading of "welfare" is £100,000.
The last point is that of Naval Armaments Depots, and the amount we are asking for is £94,000. Provision for the stowage of high-explosive material falls under three heads. The first is the creation of new depots. During the War the centre of gravity shifted up North, and we have made new dockyards. We have to provide accommodation for explosive material in connection with those 68 dockyards. The second head is the increased accommodation necessary in existing depots. The Committee will realise the enormous increase in the use of high explosives brought about by the experience of the War, and the consequent necessity for additional stowage. Take the case of mines. It was one of the things the British Navy was deficient in at the beginning of the War because of the stringency of money in old days. During the latter period of the War we were using enormous amounts, and we have got to have these mines ready and to have stowage for them. Then there are some forms of explosives, such as depth charges, which were not used before, and for which we have to find house room now. There are also bombs for air purposes which are practically new; war-heads and other things, all apart from the ordinary shells and cordite.
During the War, accommodation had to be found in a very hurried manner for a great many of these high explosives, and undoubtedly grave risks were taken, but we cannot permit these risks in peace time, and we are asking money to remove these risks or to reduce them as much as possible. The third head is protection for old depots, new and old alike. Not only has the quantity of high explosives in use altered, owing to War experience, but the quality has altered in a very marked degree, and nearly all the high explosives used now are far more powerful than those of the old days. These high explosives are liable to detonate if a fragment of shell or bomb is projected through their outer covering, and in connection with the possibility of air attacks that makes necessary a radical change in the arrangements for the protection of these explosives, I will only recall to the Committee two of the disastrous explosions which occurred during the War. One was at Silvertown in January, 1917, when 53 tons of T.N.T. detonated with the result that 73 men were killed, 900 were injured, and a large amount of destruction was done to property. At Halifax a much larger explosion took place when 2,600 tons of high explosive detonated, resulting in a death-roll of 2,000, and the devastation of two square miles of country. When we realise the proximity of some of our magazines at the present moment to large centres of population, I hope the Committee will concede the 69 necessity of paying a premium, even if it be fairly high, in the endeavour to secure the utmost possible immunity from such catastrophes in this country. That is all I propose to say in my opening statement. I have endeavoured to defend the one subhead under which there is a big increase. I should like to remind the Committee of the amount of increase on this Vote over the pre-War days, which is only 62 per cent. I hope to be able to answer any questions or criticisms that may be raised during the course of the Debate, and I trust that in these opening remarks I have not taken up too much time.
§ Captain REDMOND
On a point of Order. Would it be in order on this Vote to discuss the proposed closing down of dockyards such as Haulbowline?
§ The CHAIRMAN
No, I think not. That would have to be on the Admiralty Vote. This is a Vote for new construction, and I think the question of dockyards, as a matter of Admiralty policy, would have to be taken under the Admiralty Vote.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
After the very charming, concise, and lucid speech of my hon. and gallant Friend (Commander Eyres-Monsell), we hope that he will speak oftener than once in seven years now, and I also hope that we shall hear speeches of a like character often delivered from that Bench. He has added much to our information, and I have never heard a Civil Lord's statement delivered with greater simplicity or a more frank avowal of having been sometimes wrong. I take note of the fact that the Estimate is £5,800,000, while before the War it was £3,600,000, and that the hon. and gallant Gentleman congratulated himself upon only a 62 per cent. increase. New works, I observe, in the Estimate amount to £3,000,000, and before the War they amounted to only £1,800,000. Even last year, 1920–21, the Estimate for new works was £2,100,000, which has gone up £900,000 this year. The question I ask—and I am always asking it from this Bench is, has there been a war, and is the German Fleet at the bottom of the sea? Why is it that we require this enormous expenditure upon new Admiralty works when the War, happily, is over, and the German Fleet, against whom we were preparing in 1914, is now at the bottom of Scapa Flow? In my judgment, the Government have 70 allowed the military, naval, and air experts to run away with the financial prudence that ought to characterise the Government's handling of finance, and I do not believe the country can stand this enormous expenditure.
I pass to the direct Vote that has been introduced by my hon. and gallant Friend, and as I was Civil Lord for a good many years, I know my way about this Vote pretty well. There is one thing I note, and that is that there are a considerable number of new depots. New depots really are the most extravagant form of naval administration. They require guarding and they absorb a large number of non-efficient fighting men, who must have their opposite numbers at the Admiralty, because every man who is in some depot in the country must have his opposite number at the Admiralty in order to check him and pay his wages, and so on. These new depots are costly to erect, especially at the present moment, and they have to be maintained and supervised, and the great reform which was initiated by the late Lord Fisher was the closing of a large number of what he called useless depots. I am sorry to say the Admiralty to-day are going back upon that policy, and we are having a number of small depots maintained all over the country. You, Mr. Chairman, I think quite rightly ruled that we cannot discuss dockyards to-day. I have said here before that we had six dockyards before the War and that we have seven to-day.
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
On a point of Order. When you, Mr. Hope, ruled that we could not discuss the question of dockyards to-day, is the right hon. Gentleman in order in introducing the very argument that he has always introduced on dockyards and endeavouring to frame his speech upon that statement?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I was waiting for the process whereby the right hon. Gentleman would connect his argument with the Vote.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Because I happen to criticise the Naval Vote from the point of view of economy, the hon. Gentleman opposite always thinks me an enemy of the dockyards, and he is nearly always interrupting me on this point. I wish be would allow me to continue my argument. I am one of those who do not 71 really maintain my seat by using the taxpayers' money to bribe my constituents.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
My hon. Friend opposite can reply later. I realise that the Admiralty are about to close two dockyards, namely, Haulbowline and Pembroke.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I ruled, in answer to the hon. and gallant Member for Waterford (Captain Redmond), that that is a matter of Admiralty policy, which will be appropriate to Vote 12.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Perfectly true, but surely on this Vote the Admiralty have announced that they propose to close Pembroke Dockyard.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
It was announced in the First Lord's statement, and here you have a proposal to spend £500,000 on an oil fuel installation at Pembroke. Is that intended?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Then is the policy of the Admiralty altered, that it does not propose to close Pembroke Dockyard?
§ Commander EYRES-MONSELL
The building of the oil fuel tanks at Pembroke has nothing to do with the closing of the dockyard or not. There will be oil fuel tanks at Pembroke in any case.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
It is very difficult to argue whether you should have a very large oil fuel installation where there is not a dockyard. I cannot at present say whether it is right or wrong, but I should have imagined that if you proposed to put up oil fuel installations all over the country, at any rate they should be in close contiguity to where the ships have to be refitted and fuelled. If this £500,000 is to be spent on a tank at Pembroke and the dockyard is to be closed, it seems to me that public money would be better spent elsewhere. My hon. and gallant Friend has told us that he has a very large number of oil fuel installa- 72 tions in progress, and he frankly avowed—and I am very grateful to him for the avowal—that when he made his last speech in this House it was against us on the question of oil fuel policy. There again Lord Fisher was absolutely justified, and he had an uncanny insight into the future when he advocated oil fuel. We are told to-day—and this is a very important question of policy—that we are to have a reserve of oil fuel in this country. Would it be right for me to ask what amount of reserve you propose to have? If the Admiralty do not think it wise to answer, I shall not press the point. If you propose to have a reserve, it depends on the size of the fleet. Has the Admiralty decided upon the size of its oil-burning fleet in the future? I do not think anybody can say what is to be the size of the fleet in future, and therefore I would urge on the Admiralty to go very slowly with regard to the provision of oil fuel installation.
Have the Admiralty considered, too, the question of aircraft in the installation of these oil-fuel installations? Here, again, I differ from the policy that has been adopted. I think aircraft should be under the Admiralty, but have the Admiralty considered this question of aircraft in putting down oil-fuel installations? It is very wrong that one Government Department should act independently of the others. We have got three Services to-day, the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, and if they are all going to act independently of each other, the country will be landed into great expenditure. I observe that in the Vote there are new Estimates for oil-fuel installations at Jamaica; in the Falkland Islands, which is to cost £100,000; Ran-goon, £150,000; Sierra Leone, £70,000, and Singapore, £260,000; and my hon. and gallant Friend said, quite rightly, that we must expect a large increase in this Vote in the future. Is it really essential to build up an enormous oil-fuel reserve at these outlying points in the Empire at the present moment, when coal is very dear, when oil is very dear, and when the cost of building is extravagantly dear? If the Admiralty and the Government propose to prepare for the next war at once, all I can say is that the country must be ruined. We cannot go on preparing for the next war. If the 73 Prime Minister and his colleagues at Versailles were not able to ensure peace for more than a year or two, the world would be bankrupt indeed. Has this question of the defence of these stations at the Falkland Island, Rangoon, Sierra Leone, and Singapore been considered? Is it proposed to put up oil reservoirs like the great tanks we have got to-day down the Thames, at Glasgow, on the Humber, and at Portsmouth, and if so, how are they going to be defended? I assume that all the Admiralty preparations are made with regard to having an eye to a future war. A hostile cruiser would smash up an oil fuel installation in a few minutes. I am not sure that aircraft could not do it, and have the Admiralty taken into consideration the question of the defence of these oil fuel installations in the outlying parts of the world? It is a very important question, and I would be very glad if I could have an answer.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman talked about bringing a tank steamer alongside a ship and fuelling her. Is it not possible that you could supply these outlying stations without erecting large costly installations? That is a point that occurred to me during my hon. and gallant Friend's speech. Of course, we must all agree that if the British Navy is to discard coal and adopt oil as the sole propulsive power of the Navy, there must be an adequate reserve. I claim that, during the Administration of which I had the honour to be a member, we tried to do that, because we took a controlling interest in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, and I want to warn the Admiralty—I remember it perfectly well in my day—that if you have the whole of your ships burning oil fuel, unless you are very careful, you will be in the hands of a small number of people who control the oil fuel resources of the world. That is one thing you will have to consider very carefully indeed.
I pass from the question of oil fuel to come to the question of the explosive establishments. My hon. and gallant Friend told us—and told us truly—that at the commencement of the War we were short of efficacious mines. I agree we were, and no one, I think, regretted it more than the civilian members of the Board of Admiralty. But it was not due to stringency of money. One of the reforms I hope the present Board of 74 Admiralty will insist upon is that there should be a thinking Department, and that our men should have the very best instruments of war, if ever such a contingency again occurs. The Admiralty to-day have got a new explosive factory at Holton Heath, near Bournemouth. Is that going on? I see there is a considerable sum of money, £13,000, for police residences, and £100,000 for work in connection with plant to deal with cotton sliver. I do not know what that is, but I have no doubt it is something important. But here again, has the Government considered the whole explosive establishments of the country? There is a huge establishment at Gretna Green. Is that to be closed? The Admiralty used to have its explosives from Waltham Abbey. I simply ask these questions in order that there may be some co-ordination in the Government Departments, so that in the manufacture of explosives each Department shall not have its own factory, and thus involve a considerable amount of waste.
I refrain from asking about the capital ships. I can bring it in order by asking whether any alterations are proposed in the Royal Dockyards which come under Vote 10, but I do not want to embarrass the Admiralty in their policy in the slightest degree. Theirs is the responsibility. There is one subject to which my hon. and gallant Friend has not alluded, which, I think, is probably one of the most interesting things in the whole of the Vote. There is in this Vote a provision for a certain number of men to destroy the fortifications of Heligoland. My hon. and gallant Friend has not noticed that in his speech. I am delighted that we are destroying the fortifications of that hornets' nest. The item in the Estimates isCommandant and Technical and Clerical Staff to supervise demolition of fortifications, works, etc., Heligoland, £6,400.If it can be done for £6,400, it will be very cheap. These fortifications have to be destroyed, under the supervision of the principal Allied Governments, by German labour and at the expense of Germany. If that be so, I presume this will be balanced by the Appropriations-in-Aid. I am very glad indeed that these fortifications and military establishments and harbour at Heligoland are to be destroyed. Heligoland was handed over to the Germans without the knowledge of the Admiralty of the day, and it was a terrible 75 menace to our Navy during the late War. I hope that never again will these fortifications be allowed to be erected. Having made these criticisms—and I give them to the Admiralty as the result of the best consideration I can give to these matters—I do ask them to go very easily, very delicately, into the provision of the large item of oil fuel installation in distant parts of the Empire, believing as I do that in a year or two the cost of building, oil, coal and all these requisites will be immensely reduced. Meanwhile, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his admirable speech which should enable him to get his Estimates through easily.
§ Rear-Admiral ADAIR
I take exception to the enormous sum that is being spent on oil storage in home waters. What is the use of it? If this money were going to be spent in those parts of the world where we are likely to fight in the future—I hope we never shall, but there is a possibility of it—I should not take exception to it. Here is a sum of £1,500,000 in the Glasgow district of which £300,000 is to be spent this year, and then there is £500,000 at Pembroke. If we are going to build all these storage depots, I say the right place for them is at the strategic points of the future. I can only perceive the Pacific and the Atlantic as big enough to employ these four ships we are going to adapt to oil, and, to my mind, our depot in the Pacific, as near Japan as possible, or as near the United States as possible, I am sorry to say, is the place where we should have oil stores. There are very small sums being taken for such places as Singapore and Jamaica. I see nothing for Bermuda. I have already expressed my views about the building of capital ships, but if we are going to build these ships, and use them effectively, then the foreign depots are those which we should develop, and not those in the North Sea. We have got to get rid of this North Sea habit of mind, and we have to cultivate, I am sorry to say, a Pacific frame of mind—I regret we cannot use the word "Pacific" in the proper sense—I mean a warlike Pacific frame of mind. There is another point. I see that a certain amount is taken for the alteration of Locks C and D at Portsmouth. I should be very much obliged if the Civil Lord would tell us what docks there are in the United Kingdom, first, that will take the "Hood," and, secondly, 76 what docks there are out of the United Kingdom that will take the "Hood," and which we might have to use in case of war with the two countries I have already mentioned, and which I regret to have had to mention at all? It would be very interesting to know whether the ships to be built will go in the same docks as the "Hood." I do not, however, press that, and if the hon. and gallant Gentleman will answer for the "Hood," I shall be satisfied.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I beg to move, "That Item B [New Works, Additions and Alterations, £3,044,660] be reduced by £10,000.
I would like to join in congratulating the Civil Lord opposite on the speech he made, but, if I may be permitted to say so, it gave me one or two shocks. I would like to know whether he deliberately used this expression. He was referring to the provision of these oil fuel depots in different parts of the world, and I agree with the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down that they should be provided for one purpose only, and that is a strategical purpose. My hon. and gallant Friend said there was nothing strategical about this large expenditure of £7,000,000, because we are only voting something on account in each case. I think he went on to say that this was required for peace-time purposes of the Navy. Does he mean to abide by that sentence, or was it a slip? Is it the Admiralty policy, as naturally voiced by the Civil Lord, that these depots are established at this expense, not for strategical purposes at all, but only for peace-cruising work for the Navy? That is what I understood him to say. I take it the hon. and gallant Member adheres to that statement, and, if so, it gives me a very considerable shock, and I am quite sure it gives other hon. Members rather a shock, because the Navy exists for one purpose only, and that is for war. Any expenditure on oil fuel depots should be solely for use in a possible or probable war, and for no other purpose. I must say, if the strategical side of this matter has not been fully considered, someone at the Admiralty ought to be hauled over the coals, and very quickly, too. The hon. and gallant Gentleman excused the lack of mines at the outbreak of war owing to financial stringency at the time. As a matter of fact, I think we had not 77 mines because the staff were so ill-informed that they deliberately reported against their provision. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman turns to the record, he will find I am right about that. But if there was financial stringency before the War, what is the position now? Here we are burdened with debt and with unemployment growing, which will have its effect on our finances. If we are really voting on this Item B £3,044,000 not for strategical purposes, then I say it is a scandal, and I am very shocked indeed. I hope my hon. and gallant Friend, at any rate, will have seen the strategical side of things, in view of his distinguished service in the Navy before and during the War, and if he is voicing the views of the staff, I hope the First Lord will correct those views at the earliest possible moment.
§ Commander EYRES-MONSELL
I said there was nothing immediately strategic about these oil depots abroad. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will look at the amount for which we are asking, he will see it is impossible with that amount of money to build up a large reserve. I pointed out that the question of the main foreign reserve would be discussed at the forthcoming Imperial Conference and that we should have to ask for more money. At the present moment, this is only to supply the needs of ships burning oil fuel in foreign waters.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I was hoping that the hon. and gallant Gentleman would interrupt me and give me an answer on the point. I therefore take it that these depots have been placed in the position they are for strategical reasons. That being the case, I must point out to the Committee that we are spending over £6,000,000 on Rosyth. I do not want to develop that argument, but I note that the total estimate is £6,803,000 and the probable expenditure to 31st March, 1921, is £6,273,000. The total estimate has increased at Rosyth by £400,000. There are very adequate docks there, and very up-to-date machinery, but I do ask this simple question of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who represents the Admiralty: are we cutting down expenditure at Rosyth? Rosyth was built specially to meet the German menace. Now that that German menace has been removed we should attempt to economise 78 there as much as we possibly can. I hope that that view is constantly before the Admiralty.
What, however, I particularly wish to raise is the question of the expenditure on Gibraltar. We are asked to vote the sum of £270,000 for oil fuel storage at Gibraltar, and I want to put this question very gravely forward. Before, however, I refer to it more particularly I should like to protest very strongly against the expenditure of further monies on Wei-Hai-Wei. We are asked to vote £8,000 for residences for senior officers and others at Wei-Hai-Wei. The place is unfortified to-day, as hon. Members possibly know. It is only a health resort for the Fleet, and in time of war, if, say, Japan was our opponent, Wei-Hai-Wei could not be held. That is a fact. To spend money on Wei-Hai-Wei is a useless extravagance.
However, to get back to Gibraltar. We are putting down a very big storage on the Rock for oil fuel. I take it is part of the plan of having fuelling stations on the routes to the East. Precisely as in the past we have had coaling stations from Gibraltar eastwards, we in future are to have oil depots as well as coal depots. Eventually, when all the ships are oil-burning vessels, there will be no coal depots, but simply oil-fuel stations. I am not questioning the plan. It is necessary for us to be able to move our ships. What I am questioning is the wisdom of choosing Gibraltar. First of all, Gibraltar, in face of a hostile Spain, would be indefensible. It is dominated by field gun fire to-day. It could be fired at from the mainland opposite, and the use of the harbour made impossible. I am aware that you could possibly place the tanks in a screened position, armour them, and so make them practically impregnable to all but the heaviest gunfire, but the ships that came in to oil would be exposed to the harassing fire of field guns and mobile pieces of ordnance of the greatest size which could fire at Gibraltar. Our relations with Spain to-day are of the very best, I am happy to say, and I hope that they continue to be So. Spain was the first of the neutral nations to enter the League of Nations. The feelings of the Spanish are most friendly, but we do not know, as the Prime Minister said the other day in his speech to the journalists, we do not know what combinations of nations the future will bring. There may be 79 new friendships, new alliances, new animosities. I submit that the policy of spending money on Gibraltar is wrong, in view of the development of modern artillery making it altogether indefensible. Some years ago there was an agitation against putting a dockyard on the western side of Gibraltar, but now every part of it is within the range of modern artillery, and that has completely altered the value of Gibraltar as a fortress, and also as a naval port.
This matter, I am sorry to say, is largely a matter of sentiment. A Government would need great courage to go to the country and suggest the exchange of Gibraltar for some other territory, or the selling of it, or even the returning of Gibraltar as a free gift to Spain. It would, I say, need great courage and every careful explanation. But this problem has to be faced some day. We have been brought up to believe that Gibraltar is an impregnable fortress. It is nothing of the sort to-day. Ask any soldier or sailor, and he will tell you that. We know its memories, its great history and traditions, and the number of regiments on whose colours Gibraltar is inscribed, but what we have now to consider in the matter is whether it is worth while spending the money suggested. Another fact is the artificial harbour is small. During the War convoys at Gibraltar had to anchor in the bay, for there was no room inside. No vessels were allowed inside except those requiring repairs. The bay has an immense depth of water, but there is only shallow water around the circumference in which ships can be moored at all. The place is very difficult to defend against the submarine. I was on the staff there during the War. We made no attempt to defend it. There was no netting across the harbour-mouth on account of the depth of water, and we relied on a few motor boats plying about. The Germans, for some reason best known to themselves, never made an attack on the shipping in Gibraltar Bay, and hundreds of ships waited about sometimes for their convoying ships. It was a most vulnerable position for torpedo attack. Submarines need never have gone inside. They could have taken long range shots in the moonlight. These, then, are two reasons why this matter should be reconsidered.
80 The third reason is this: Gibraltar has never developed for itself a trade. Smuggling goes on there; a very disgraceful trade in that way is carried on. It has never carried on much legitimate trade with the Spanish mainland. It has been run at a dead loss and great expense. What, hon Members may ask, is the alternative? Well, on the other side of the Straits of Gibraltar there is a town equal in strategic value to Gibraltar, much less vulnerable to attack and which I believe the Spaniards would most readily exchange. I refer to Ceuta. This place has a rich hinterland. Although the Spanish occupation has been unsuccessful commercially I believe we would have much more success in developing Ceuta as a commercial port. It could be made into a magnificent harbour. Its exchange for Gibraltar would, I believe, remove a rankling sore on the Spanish side. A while ago I described our relations with Spain as excellent, and so they are. But the Spaniards like the Rock. The soreness of 100 years ago is dying away, but there is still some of it remaining, and it can be used for propaganda purposes by our enemies, and would be if we were engaged in war again. It was so used in the late War. This matter, I suggest, should be carefully considered by the Admiralty and, of course, by the Cabinet, and I daresay the Dominions would wish to be consulted in the matter. I believe, however, that in the long run it would pay us to make the exchange. I know the first charges on the new place would mean additional expenditure, but I believe that by development there we would eventually get back what we spent, and in any case, I repeat, in war Gibraltar is now indefensible.
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
I do not propose to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Hull into his very interesting reminiscences of his stay at Gibraltar. They showed very great local knowledge of the place, and no doubt will be of great use to the Committee. No doubt, also, the First Lord will, take notice of what the hon. and gallant Member has said about Gibraltar. I am afraid I must pass from that to discuss matters which I think are of more importance. If the Civil Lord will allow me to do so, I should like to congratulate him upon the very excellent opening speech he made—an example for other Civil Lords, because it was very 81 short, very much to the point, and very clear. The Civil Lord said something about Rosyth Dockyard. I understood that the point he referred to was one which we are not supposed to discuss to-day. Although the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) infringed the rule, I do propose to follow his bad example. Another point which the Civil Lord mentioned was the question of the Welfare Committee. I should like to ask whether the Welfare Committee is to be called together this year. I ask this because the members of the lower deck are very anxious to have the Welfare Committee called together as they have several points which they would like to bring to the notice of the Admiralty.
§ The CHAIRMAN
May I interrupt the hon. Member to ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Civil Lord whether the Welfare Committee comes under Subhead B, because, in view of the Amendment moved, we can deal only with that Subhead?
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
I will not continue that argument and I merely suggest that an answer should be given as to whether the Welfare Committee will be called together this year. I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) present. So often I have had to reply to his speech in his absence: to-day he has done me the honour of returning to the House. If he will allow me to say so, one is getting a little tired of that slogan "The German fleet at the bottom of the sea." The right hon. Gentleman has used the same phrase in every speech he has made. I can assure him that it makes no impression upon the Committee or upon anyone outside, and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should cease to bore the Committee with vain repetitions. "The German fleet at the bottom of the sea" is only a platitude. It is a thing we all know and do not want repeated.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to speak very kindly of the late Admiral Fisher. When a man is dead we do not want to say anything against his memory. When the right hon. Gentleman says that it was the late Admiral Fisher who closed the establishments overseas during or 82 before the War, and when he endeavours to make a point of that in order to get some kudos from it, I am sure the Committee will allow me to say that during the War all those establishments had to be reopened. The right hon. Gentleman omitted to inform the Committee of that fact, possibly he did not know it, and probably he will be much obliged to me for giving him that information. The right hon. Gentleman, with that courtesy which he always shows, said the Member for a dockyard constituency must necessarily be a person who bribes the electors in order to be the Member for the dockyard.
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
That is a most interesting accusation coming from the right hon. Gentleman, because I remember that he was a Member of the Government in 1910, occupying the position of Civil Lord of the Admiralty. At that time I was standing for the constituency of Devonport, and the crucial matter before us was the closing down of the establishment by what was then called a Liberal Government. What happened on the eve of the election? A telegram came down saying that the Admiralty had decided to re-open establishment in the dockyards. That was the bribery which the right hon. Gentleman used in order to get his friends into Parliament, and to oust me, and now he accuses me of endeavouring to bribe the same electors because I object to him saying that we do not want to close down all the dockyards. With regard to Rosyth, we wanted a dockyard there when the War broke out, and it was not ready, if we had had that dockyard we should have been much better off during the War. I can understand why the right hon. Gentleman has a tender point in his heart for Rosyth. So have I, but perhaps it is in the opposite direction. We have heard something about cutting down certain figures in this Vote. The policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton is to cut down everything, and as long as he can make a speech upon cutting down something, he is fulfilling his part and carrying out the brief he holds for his own party.
It is a great mistake for the right hon. Gentleman to try and cut down the Navy 83 or anything that has to do with the Navy, because unless we have a Navy we cannot exist either as an island or an Empire. If the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to come here time after time and criticise the Government on the Estimates because they desire to spend certain money on the Navy he is doing the worst thing he can for his country and for the Empire, and I can assure him his efforts are not appreciated either in the House of Commons or outside. The right hon. Gentleman is interested in farming, and he was interested in the Agriculture Bill which was passed through this House to assist the farmers. I do not say to him he is bribing the farmers. Why then should he say to me that I am bribing the dockyard men? The whole thing is futile. A Committee of the House of Commons is not the place to indulge in these personalities and absurdities, and I regret that the right hon. Gentleman has so discredited the Committee as to introduce this subject at all. I have now dealt with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton in the way he deserves, and I hope he feels thoroughly castigated. I notice that the hon. and gallant Member for Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) has disappeared. The statement he made that he was shocked by this Estimate somewhat startled me. I was not able to find out what had shocked him except it was the fact that money was being, spent upon something which was very necessary. This Vote refers mainly to the question of oil fuel. I understand there is a desire that more stations overseas for oil fuel should be erected, but this is a matter which will be brought before the Imperial Conference where the whole question of oil fuel and capital ships and contributions to the Navy will be gone into at length. For this reason I do not think we shall serve any useful purpose by endeavouring to forestall what will be said at that Conference, and I think I shall best serve the interests of the Navy and the Empire and the views of the Committee if I now conclude my remarks.
§ Captain Viscount CURZON
I would like to make a few remarks arising out of the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who introduced this Estimate. I should like to congratulate him on the 84 very clear way in which he explained this Estimate to us, and I thoroughly endorse every word he has said about oil fuel. The hon. and gallant Gentleman alluded particularly to the destroyer question. Those who saw the work carried out by the destroyers in the North Sea during the War, I am sure, will appreciate the extreme value of oil fuel to that particular branch of the Service. I am sure I shall be supported by naval opinion when I say that the destroyers in the North Sea could not have carried out their work so efficiently but for the fact that they were running on oil fuel. The destroyers were out at all hours and in all weathers day and night, and it was largely a question of how soon they could come in and refill and get out again. It was a question of how many destroyers could accompany the Fleet and this matter was of paramount importance in view of the submarine menace, and it was only the fact that they could refill within a few hours with oil instead of coal that enabled them to go to sea quickly and thereby protect the Fleet. Everybody who knows the wonderful part they played in the North Sea and the extreme difficulty of the position will appreciate that fact.
But that is not all. The saving of work to the crews was an inestimable boon, and the crews could not have stood the work but for the fact that they could refill with oil so easily. I notice there is an item for storage accommodation at Port Edgar. I would like to know if the hon. and gallant Gentleman could tell us anything about the policy at that port. This was a base constructed for the exclusive use of destroyers during the War, and it was constructed at a very considerable cost. Oil reservoirs, tanks and pipes and depots were erected there. I have already elicited in this House the information that all is not well with regard to Port Edgar, and the trouble is, I understand, that there is a great tendency there to silt up. Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman satisfied that this port does not still suffer from this cause. So great was this trouble that some of our largest destroyers were unable to get in and out without touching the ground at certain stages of the tide, and I would like to know whether the port still experiences this difficulty which was a very serious matter during the War.
I notice there is another item for an oil storage depot at Rangoon, I would like 85 to ask if it is absolutely necessary to put down a depot at that place, because oil comes from Rangoon from the Burma Oil Company, and already they have large tanks and accommodation there. They have piles for mooring while taking in the oil, and would it not be possible for our ships to go alongside the Burma Company's depot, and take their supplies? It is a most difficult harbour because there is a terrific tide which makes it difficult to handle ships there. It is scarcely a harbour in the ordinary sense. There is a river two or three miles broad there with a tide of about eight knots running down, and it is very difficult for a ship to lie there. I rather wish my hon. and gallant Friend would give us a little more information as to the real necessity for an oil storage depot at Rangoon.
There is one other item to which I wish to refer, and that is that for an engineering laboratory at West Drayton. It is only a small amount, but a certain sum has already been spent on it. It is another one of those little establishments that are growing up, and I rather sympathised with the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) when he alluded to the increase in the number of small establishments. If the Admiralty are to have sufficient money to spend on the Fleet, they should be out to save every farthing they can on bricks and mortar, for that is a policy which runs away with a lot of money. While this establishment may be well justified, I do not understand why it was necessary to go to West Drayton. Could it not have been arranged for a small portion of one of the existing established dockyards to have been fitted up for this work, rather than that we should have a new depot at West Drayton? I have been rather surprised to hear what the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) said on the subject of Gibraltar. I have a certain sentimental interest in that place, as I am ready to admit, and the day Gibraltar is given up would be rather a sad day for my family. At the same time, I would like to put the other point of view. The hon. and gallant Member suggested we should be in a much stronger position if we went to the other side of the Straits—to Cintra—and that we would be quite safe when we got there. But is it not a valuable restric- 86 tion on the policy of this country, and one which I should have expected the hon. and gallant Member to support, that we should be influenced in our policy—our world-wide policy—by certain questions? Looking at it more from the point of view that the policy of this country at some future date might be militaristic, and might prove very aggressive, would not Gibraltar constitute a valuable check, as this country would realise it would be extremely vulnerable to gunfire from the mainland. I do not think we need exaggerate in these days of modern naval warfare the menace to this country from Spain. Could Spain send an army to attack Gibraltar—could she attack it by artillery and at the same time provide the armies to give the necessary support? I do not know whether Spain is prepared to put armies into the field on the same scale as they were put in the late War, or if she would be able to maintain them as a country quite surrounded by British fleets. The late War has shown us the value of the blockade, and I very much doubt whether it is within Spain's capacity to wage war on such a scale, at any rate, against this country.
I agree with all that the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull said with regard to the strategic value of oil depots. I think it is absolutely vital we should be assured on this question of the strategic necessity for oil depots all over the world. I know that the present proposals are not concerned with the question of strategy, but my hon. and gallant Friend, in introducing this Vote, indicated that more money would be asked for later on to deal with questions such as this. I hope that our Naval Staff is fully employed in thinking out this question, because we have to go in for a large policy, and our money must be wisely spent. We should not therefore go too far with the present policy until the strategic policy has been well-thought out. I do not know whether I shall be in order in alluding to the question of mines. It has been touched on by other speakers, and money is taken in this Vote for mine depots. It may not be realised that we started the late War with only 30 mines for the whole Navy. That shows that the matter had not had much attention devoted to it by the Board of Admiralty before the War. I am sure 87 that that regime has now passed, and that a different state of affairs prevails to-day, but it is an interesting point which should never be lost sight of that the British Navy went into the Great War with only 30 mines, and it is important to remember it, seeing that hundreds of thousands of mines were required. I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will be able to give us a little more information upon the docking question. That is very serious, and I trust he will assure us on the point. While we may be to a certain extent deficient in graving docks, there are such things as floating docks. We have some that we built before and during the War, and we have others which we have taken over from the Germans. I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will be able to assure us that the floating docks we now possess, be they ex-German docks or docks of our own construction, can be adapted and altered so as to take ships of the very latest type. I do not want to press him to say much as to the ships we are about to build, but I hope he will assure us that the Navy can rely to the same extent as in the past upon graving docks on ordinary accepted plans. I have covered most of the points which have occurred to me on the Vote, and I hope the Committee will agree to pass it.
§ Sir A. SHIRLEY BENN
I do not intend to support the Amendment, neither do I propose to occupy more than two or three minutes. But there are one or two points I would like to raise in connection with oil fuel. I have been deeply interested in this question for many years, and over 20 years have elapsed since I got the present Admiral Bayley, then Naval Attaché at Washington, to come down to the Southern States and examine the fuel oil at Texas, because I believed that if our Admiralty could get sufficient fuel oil for the Navy they would be in possession of a cheap fuel and be able to get ahead of the world. We are now building ships to burn oil, and it is of course of vital importance to us that the Admiralty should do as they are doing, get such a supply of oil that it will never be found wanting for the Navy. I cannot help feeling, however, somewhat doubtful on the question of the establishment of these big oil-fuel depots throughout the world unless they are protected, because if they are not protected they would have to be given up in case of war. I want to ask the 88 Admiralty whether they have fully considered the taking of merchant ships or of any other ships and using them as oil-fuel depots abroad. It can be done, and there are to-day hundreds of thousands of tons for which work cannot be found. The ships could be bought quite cheaply; they could be sent out and kept filled with oil and used as fuel depots, and, what is more important, they could be stationed at places where naval and merchant ships could get alongside of them, and in cases where a vessel drew too much water to go into the dock the oil ship could be lying out in deep water and could supply her. It would be much cheaper than establishing permanent depots, as is being done at the present moment. Oil fuel is coming down very much in price. I am told by those who ought to know that it will be very much cheaper in the next few months, and we should be in a position therefore to get all we need. We could take the ships, put the oil into them and send them out wherever they may be wanted. I hope the Admiralty will consider that suggestion.
§ Sir T. BRAMSDON
I want to ask a question. At Portsmouth the Admiralty have always been very good in encouraging private work, and thus trying to lessen the evil of unemployment. We are all grateful for that. It is known there is a private firm—a well-known firm of shipwrights—started not very long ago at Portsmouth and doing private work, thereby keeping down unemployment. I want to raise a point in connection with that which is rather urgent. This private company—Framptons, Limited.—had an offer to repair or fit out a vessel of 20,000 tons, on which an expenditure of something like £20,000 would be required, and the job would, of course, provide employment for many people. It is an emigrant ship, and the firm wanted a berth at which she could be placed. I am told there is a berth at present occupied by an old monitor, which could be very easily removed in order to make way for this vessel, but if that cannot be done other berths could be found to enable this work to be undertaken. The officials in Portsmouth Dockyard have stated that this particular berth cannot be had, and consequently there is great danger that the work may be turned away from the place. Indeed, it may already have been done so. I 89 want to ask my hon. Friend if it is possible to make an arrangement for some berth to be made available, because otherwise it would be a great discouragement to this firm in regard to taking on future work that may be offered to them. I know it is work the Government is very willing to encourage, and therefore if the Department can see its way clear to appropriate some berth for this vessel it would be very much appreciated in the town.
§ Mr. MYERS
I want to say a word or two on this Estimate from a point of view which will not be considered quite orthodox on this occasion. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that if we are to have ships of war it is necessary that the services required for them should be supported by this House. Further, I agree that while we have such ships of war the tendency in the direction of oil fuel is a proper one, having regard to the economies effected in time and labour and in cleanliness and utility. Therefore, the movement in that direction is on quite sound lines, but I would like to make inquiry into this matter in another direction. I understood the hon. Gentleman to say that in a very short space of time the whole British Fleet will be composed of the type of vessel which consumes oil fuel, and I have some doubts—based on investigations I have made in respect of the world's supply of oil fuel—whether such supplies as are known justify a step of that kind. Expert authorities whom I have consulted suggest that the development of the oil resources of the world at present does not justify the step suggested by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. It would be desirable if we should be assured that there would be a certainty of supplies being available, having regard to the construction of the ships on the lines indicated. It would also be useful if we could be told that the ships, when constructed for the use of oil fuel, could be converted so that they could be again fired with coal. With regard to the danger of unreasonable terms being demanded for the supplies that are available, we cannot ignore the fact that those commercial and financial publications which are issued particularly for the purpose of setting forth the advantages and disadvantages of the production and distribution of oil have been booming, and we have been met on the streets 90 with glowing announcements as to the future of oil in its financial aspect. It is well known that ten or fifteen years ago the Government of the day were absolutely in the hands of a large armament ring, who extorted toll from the Government of the day for the work done for them in the construction of ships, armaments and the like. The extent to which that was done was clearly established during the War when the Government took upon themselves the responsibility of providing equipment of war, and were able to do it much more cheaply than it had been done by the armament ring hitherto. Is there not a danger at the present time of a corner or monopoly in oil, and are not the Government of the day likely to be penalised in the future by a ring or trust or combine in oil to the same extent as they were a few years ago in regard to armaments?
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Amery)
Does not the question of the cost of oil come under Vote 8, and not under this Vote, which only deals with the cost of putting up oil depots?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Sir Edwin Cornwall)
It does come under Vote 8. We are now discussing the Amendment to reduce Subhead B by £10,000.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
That difficulty the hon. Member will be able to deal with when we discuss Vote 8.
§ Mr. MYERS
I bow to your ruling, Sir Edwin, and merely suggest that these are relevant considerations for the Government to notice. The proposal for the setting up of these oil stores' depots in different parts of the world brought a declaration from the hon. Gentleman which was noted by the hon. and gallant Member for Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). The hon. Gentleman went out of his way to suggest that these various points in different parts of the world where oil stores' depots are going to be set up were not selected for strategic reasons. I wondered why he should commit himself to an observation of that 91 character, because it draws public attention to the facts, which are in the opposite direction to that which the hon. Gentleman indicated. Like the hon. and gallant Member (Lieut.-Commander Ken worthy), I was rather astounded to hear the hon. Gentleman refer to mines, depth charges, and bombs, and to hear him intimate that it was necessary under this Vote to make provision for the supply of mines, depth charges, bombs, and the rest of it, in order that we should be ready in the future when the use of these things became necessary. What a reflection it is upon many of our war-time pronouncements, that we now have to be ready with these weapons of destruction after so many pronouncements in quite the opposite direction.
Two very powerful arguments can be brought against the expenditure of money in these directions—one from the moral side and the other from the material side. We are to-day giving lip service to the League of Nations. It is incorporated in a Peace Treaty, and in the Covenant of the League of Nations there is a condition and stipulation in reference to the development of armaments on lines of agreement with other countries. And yet, in contradiction to the terms and provisions of that Covenant, we are going out of our way to provide for mines, depth charges, and bombs, upon which it is absolutely impossible to build a League of Nations or anything else that stands for that principle. From the material side, the country in these days cannot afford the luxury of this expenditure. I have been looking round in the Committee for those hon. Members who, day in and day out, are advocates of economy—who desire to cut down the supply of milk to nursing mothers, who desire to curtail our expenditure upon housing, who approve of circulars sent out from the Board of Education to restrict our educational facilities, who desire to curtail our public health administration. I wonder where those advocates of economy are to-day! I suggest without any reservation that, in the present conditions of our local and national finance, we cannot afford the "luxury of the expenditure set forth in these proposals. Every hon. Member who has spoken up to now recognises and accepts that this expenditure is for the purpose of the probabilities of warfare. We do not make provision for these things 92 without having some sort of idea that they may be required in the future. If the experience of the last few years has proved anything at all it has established the fallacy of the armed peace. It used to be recognised a few years ago that, in order to avoid war, we ought to be prepared for war, and we ought to build our ships and get together our naval and military equipment. The experience of the last six or seven years has disposed of that argument and proved it to be a fallacy.
§ Mr. MYERS
I join issue with that statement. I declare from a deep sense of conviction that if we want war the best way to get it is to prepare for it. If we get our ships of war and our implements of war, war will most surely come out of the preparation that has been made. I object to this expenditure on material grounds because the country cannot afford it, and on moral grounds because it is not morally right having regard to the pronouncements we are making in respect to the League of Nations. I urge also that in making these preparations for naval or military hostilities in the future, we are most certainly moving in the direction of creating an atmosphere which will make necessary the use of these implements which we are providing.
§ Commander EYRES-MONSELL
The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Myers) has asked whether the supply of fuel in the world is sufficient to justify us in embarking upon the policy of oil-burning ships, and also whether we are taking steps to buy oil at the cheapest possible price. I wish I could follow him into that fascinating subject, but it is entirely out of my province. It does not come under this Vote. All I can say is that I think the world supply is sufficient, and I can assure the hon. Member that the utmost is being done to get oil at the cheapest price, and in many cases, successfully, although I do not pretend to say a word about our contracts, and indeed the Committee would not ask me to do so. The hon. Member said, "First of all get your oil;" but in the case of oil, unfortunately, you must first get your storage. You have to find somewhere to put it, and it is 93 very difficult to find storage for oil unless it is very carefully prepared. I do not propose to follow the hon. Member into the very high question which he raised, and which is really the question whether we should have a Navy or not. That is a subject which had better be left until the discussion on the First Lord's salary, upon which those high and important problems can be dealt with. At the present moment I am dealing with practical affairs of bricks and mortar, and I shall try to keep the Committee on that material level if possible. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Lambert) complained of the general expenditure, and asked, "Is there a war?" That is not the question to be asked. The real question is, "Is there a Navy, and is there to be a Navy?" If there is to be a Navy, Vote 10 has to provide the housing for that Navy all over the world, and while a Navy is necessary, the bricks and mortar and the engineering works for which we are asking under Vote 10 are necessary too. The right hon. Gentleman asked me to give him some figures with regard to the total stowage of oil, but I hope the Committee will not press me for information in that direction, having regard to our contracts with oil firms.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked questions with regard to the Air Service and the protection of oil fuel, and whether we are working in conjunction with the Air Service. If the Committee will look at page 7 of the First Lord's Memorandum on the Navy Estimates, they will find there a paragraph which answers the right hon. Gentleman. As he is not now in his place, I will not read it, but it does show that we are in very close touch with the Air Staff and with naval air developments. The right hon. Gentleman went on to recommend the keeping of oil in tankers afloat rather than having the tanks ashore, and in this, I think, he was rather joined by the hon. Member for Plymouth (Sir A. Shirley Benn). Really, however, to keep oil afloat in tanks is the most expensive form of stowage that could possibly be imagined. It is estimated that for the cost of keeping oil in a tanker for four years you could build the necessary permanent tanks ashore. The experts, who have carried out many experiments, say that it is very difficult to set fire to oil fuel. With regard to 94 defence, all sites for oil tanks are selected with the approval of the Imperial Defence Committee of the War Office, who are responsible for shore defence, and that Committee is satisfied that the tanks can be protected in the positions in which we propose to place them.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Commander EYRES-MONSELL
A tanker afloat can be hit by a shell just as easily as a tank ashore. You might save the oil in a tank by running it into a trough on shore, but you cannot possibly save it if it is carried in a hulk. My hon. and gallant Friend (Rear-Admiral Adair) complains of our spending too much money on home reserves of oil. This has been gone into very carefully indeed. During the War we were once or twice in a most serious position for want of oil owing to not having proper storage in this country. That is a thing we must avoid in the future. My hon. and gallant Friend thinks we should rather expend the money on oil fuel tanks abroad. That will be done soon and we are waiting for the forthcoming Imperial Conference before the total reserve abroad is finally decided on My hon. and gallant Friend went on to ask me to give him a list of the docks which will take such large ships as the "Hood." We have three docks at Rosyth, at Portsmouth we have one and another could take her with slight alteration, the British Commercial Dock at Liverpool, the Gladstone Dry Dock and a dock at Quebec called the Champlain Dry Dock. We have besides that some floating docks. We have three large German floating docks. At present they are not large enough, but two of them are capable of being made large enough to take ships of the "Hood" class.
§ Commander EYRES-MONSELL
No. I thank the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) for his courtesy in writing and telling me the points he was going to raise. He complained first of all of the expenditure on the dockyard at Rosyth, but I have just given a list of the docks which form a very large proportion of the docks in the world that can take these ships, and that is 95 really why this large expenditure is being pursued. I am not going into the question of high policy that the hon. and gallant Gentleman raised with regard to Gibraltar. I am dealing only with practical policy, and that is a point which it is not for me to decide, but Gibraltar will always be of the greatest strategic importance to the Navy, and any proposed expenditure there or at Malta has been closely scrutinised and no works are being undertaken that are not necessary for the efficiency of the Fleet. The hon. and gallant Gentleman proposed to reduce the Vote on the question of the oil tanks at Gibraltar, and the reason I understood him to give was because Gibraltar might be of no use to us in time of war, but I have explained two or three times that this expenditure is necessitated because we want oil instead of coal. Ships call there that burn oil and, war or peace, we shall want oil fuel there. It is required in peace time and as long as we keep Gibraltar we must keep oil there. The only other question the hon. and gallant Gentleman raised was with regard to the expenditure at Wei-Hai-Wei. The expenditure we are asking is a continuation service which has been approved by the House and is nearly completed. What happened at Wei-Hai-Wei was this. One of the chief surgeons afloat was made medical officer ashore during the War, and when he got ashore he condemned several of the buildings which had been housing various people, and when those people returned after the War they found their houses pulled down. We have been obliged to build some sort of cover for those officials and that explains this expenditure. My hon. Friend (Sir C. Kinloch-Cooke) spoke of the Welfare Committee. I am afraid that is altogether out of order on this Vote and I should be very wrong to pursue the subject. My hon. Friend (Sir T. Bramsdon) sent me a letter which I got as I came into the House. I have tried to go into the question but I cannot get hold of the details. I will have it looked into and I will write and give him full particulars. I hope now the Committee may see its way to let me have Vote 10.
Mr. T. WILSON
I notice the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to this as a bricks and mortar Vote and I should like to ask him a few questions. It is a large Vote for new works. I am not quite cer- 96 tain whether the present is the best possible time for entering into large expenditure on bricks and mortar. First of all many of these works will require a considerable number of bricklayers, and bricklayers are extremely scarce, and those responsible for housing schemes are crying out for them. If it were possible to postpone the erection of any of these buildings in the interest of the housing of the people we should be well advised to do it. I am not complaining at all of the proposals to improve the amenities of the staff at the various depots, but I suggest that it may be possible to postpone the erection of some of the buildings. I should like to ask whether in the case of schedule price contracts any provision is made for a reduction of the prices if the cost of labour and the price of materials come down materially, and whether any of these buildings are being erected on commission, on the same lines as many buildings were erected during the War. It would be far better to have them erected under lump sum contracts, or at any rate under schedule price contracts, provision being made for a reduction of the price if the cost of materials and labour comes down. I am afraid in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's Department, as well as in others, they do not take very much notice of this at the time they sign the contract. I sincerely hope none of the contracts are being carried out on the time and line system. I would also suggest, in connection with the engineering staff, that it is quite time some steps were taken to reduce the amount paid to these pretty well-paid people. The total amount for salaries is, roughly speaking, £105,000 and the bonus comes to over £69,000. I think there is room for economising in that direction.
§ Commander EYRES-MONSELL
The question of bonus is not one for the Admiralty. It is fixed by the Treasury, and I think it will be coming down very soon. We are keeping away from schedule prices as much as possible, and we are getting on to the fixed price contract in every case we can, and we are getting away from time and line as soon as we possibly can. We are doing the absolute minimum in the building direction. We have cut down nearly £8,000,000, which were considered absolutely essential, to £2,000,000. I am sure the Committee will realise the difficulty 97 and the very real and necessary calls we have to meet, but we are keeping down expenditure to absolute necessities.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
I do not want to press the matter of Gibraltar. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has not really replied to the point, but I am sure he is interested in the matter, as I am, and that it is engaging the attention of the staff. I hope the Government will be courageous on this question, as otherwise we shall go on keeping obsolete monuments of this sort when their utility has long passed. I should like to ask about one other item on the Vote. This is a very substantial sum that is asked for and money is very short, and it is the duty of any hon. Member to suggest any saving he can. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman says, if we are going to have a Navy of a certain size, we have to have docks, harbours, barracks for the men, workshops and storage for munitions, and, once having decided that we are going in for the good old system of rivalry in, armaments, we cannot grumble at the amount of Vote 10 as regards the expenditure on necessities for the fleet. I quite accept what he says when he assures us that the expenditure on bricks and mortar has been cut down as much as possible. There is a saving that could be made, I hope, without loss of efficiency. Unfortunately, however, it is one of those sentimental questions about which people get very hot, and therefore we go on spending money on a service which is not needed to anything like the same extent of years ago. I refer to the question of the expenditure on coastguard stations. Up and down the country in all sorts of places we are apparently putting up new buildings or improving new buildings at a total cost of £148,000. This year we are only spending £48,000 of that amount, but it is an item in a very heavy Vote. Is it really necessary to continue putting up new coastguard stations? The coastguards are very popular, and rightly so, as part of the coastal inhabitants of the country. They look very well walking about with their telescopes, and so on. In the old days they did good service in preventing smuggling, and they are occasionally useful now. As the late Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Sir James Craig) used to tell us, they bury dead bodies, they notify the authorities of wrecks, and they claim all whales cast 98 up as the property of the King; but for war purposes the coastguards are really obsolete. The question of coast watching could be done by aircraft much more efficiently. We are voting £17,000,000 this year for the Air Service, and I think we should make a saving in the coastguard service. There are certain functions of the coastguard which really belong to the Board of Trade, and that part ought to be put on the Board of Trade Vote and not on the Admiralty Vote. The naval part of the coastguard service, in spite of its very fine traditions in the past, is obsolete. The late Admiral Lord Fisher—my admiration for whom is shared by the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert)—attempted to cut down the coastguard service, but failed because he found that the vested interests which had been created round this service were altogether too formidable.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Not to anything like the extent he might have done. He did away with the old obsolete coastguard cruisers, but he did not cut down the shore establishments, and it is for that service that we are now asked to vote £141,000. To-day things have altered. In the first place we cannot afford luxuries. We could in those days, because the country was rich. To-day the country is poor. The country was not poor in Lord Fisher's days. It is now heavily in debt, and many of its inhabitants have the greatest difficulty in living. Further, the Air Service has been developed, and can be relied upon with its aeroplanes to do coast watching in war time to a much greater extent and far more efficiently than can be done by the coastguards. The only thing that stands in the way of abolishing the coastguard service is sentiment and vested interest, but the need is so great that I ask for an assurance from the hon. and gallant Member, who has been very helpful to the Committee, that the coastguard service is not being kept on for sentimental reasons or for selfish reasons—because that is all that vested interests represent—and that not one penny is being spent on the service more than we can afford. Every penny should be spent for the purpose of improving the fighting efficiency of the Fleet, and money spent on the Coastguard Ser- 99 vice could be better spent in other directions. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Viscount CURZON
I should not have intervened had it not been for the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). I do not in the least agree with him in regard to his criticism of the coastguard service. I know of a case of a coastguard station which has been demobilised on the south coast. I am told that its personnel has been taken away, and if you go into any of the public-houses in the locality and you ask about the milk trade coming over from France, you can get champagne, duty free and pretty much all you want. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name."] I have not had an opportunity of investigating the matter thoroughly, but I believe the statement to be true, and I only quote it to show that the coastguard service is important. You cannot do away with the coastguard. Parliament is putting tariffs on many articles which come into the country, and I have no doubt that smuggling will increase, and we shall have special need of the coastguard in this respect. Therefore, we ought to act very carefully before de do anything to interfere with the coastguard. To suggest that the work can be done by aircraft is to delude the Committee. Aircraft on a very fine day may do a lot of coast watching, but how will they operate in a south-westerly gale or in foggy weather? We do not want to spend any more money than is necessary on bricks and mortar, but it will be a very bad day when we do away with the coastguard service.
§ Colonel CLAUDE LOWTHER
I take it that the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull did not want to do away entirely with the coastguard service.
§ Colonel LOWTHER
I understood him to mean that where aeroplanes could be substituted for the coastguard services aeroplanes should be used, and I think he is absolutely and entirely right in that. What the Noble Lord (Viscount Curzon) has just said does not influence me in the least. He said something about champagne coming in duty free on a wet night. 100 I think it would be better on a dry night. I do ask the representative of the Admiralty to take into consideration the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull.
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
I join in the protest against what has been said by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull. To attempt to do away with the coastguard stations would not commend itself to Members of the Committee, and would not commend itself to anyone outside. When the hon. and gallant Member talks about aeroplanes taking the place of the coastguards he must be dreaming. That would involve the question of starting and landing places for the aeroplanes, and that would involve large sums of money, in addition to the cost of the aeroplanes. If we are to have air stations all round the coast, it will mean an enormous amount of money being spent upon aeroplanes and aeroplane stations, compared with the very small sum which is expended on these very necessary coastguard stations. Let hon. Members bear in mind the useful work which is performed by the coastguard, and at the same time let them remember that a position in the coastguard is a reward for service in the Navy. These are positions which men in the Navy look forward to, just as men in other professions look forward to berths which give them emolument and a house to live in. The coastguard station provides a house and a little garden for the man who has served his time in the Navy and done good work for his country, and he continues to do good work for his country by watching the coast. As the Noble Lord has pointed out, it may be that in the future we shall require the coastguard stations more than we have done in recent years. I do hope that there will be no giving way on this point, and that we shall keep our coastguard stations intact.
§ Commander EYRES-MONSELL
The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) put forward the argument that the coastguard service interferes with the fighting efficiency of the Navy. That is not strictly true, because the coastguard service is a pensioner service, quite apart from the fighting efficiency of the Fleet. I do not think that the hon. and gallant Member or the hon. and gallant 101 Member (Colonel Lowther) quite realised the number of duties that the coastguard is expected to carry out. At the present time I am Chairman of a Committee which is going into the question very carefully. We are going through every coastguard station on its merits, to see if it can be closed. Sometimes we have asked for reports from the Commanders-in-Chief. Sometimes a Commander-in-Chief says that a station is not wanted for naval purposes. We then approach the Board of Trade, and ask them their opinion—because we do a great deal of work for the Board of Trade in the coastguard service—and if they say it is impossible to close the station, we have to keep open that station. We are looking at this matter with the utmost possible care. The principal reason for the coastguard service is to provide a means of communication between the naval authorities and ships and vessels at sea, and aircraft are not suited for these duties generally, particularly on account of their limited powers in darkness and bad weather. I hope the Committee will realise the multifarious duties that are required to be carried out by the coastguard. I will only name a few—boarding ships in connection with the collection of revenue, the prevention of smuggling, bad weather look-out for wrecks, manning the life-saving apparatus, etc. I am sure the Committee will agree with me that these duties are unsuited for aircraft. The question will be looked into, and if any economies can be effected they will be very closely investigated.
The hon. and gallant Member for Battersea (Viscount Curzon) asked me a number of questions. He asked about Port Edgar, and suggested rather an alarmist rumour that the harbour was silting up. There is no difficulty in maintaining the required depth by dredging, and the policy of the Admiralty is to do that, so that it is available for naval purposes. He also asked me why it was necessary for the Admiralty to build oil tanks at Rangoon, when the Burma Oil Company had large tanks of oil on the spot. I think the Committee will agree with me that it is most desirable to be free from oil companies; that it is very much better to be quite independent and to have oil of our own If we have tanks out there we can buy from the Burma oil people when the price suits us. It would be most ex- 102 pensive to provide tanks for keeping oil afloat. It is estimated that you can build storage ashore for the same amount of money that would be taken to keep oil in a ship four years. If you keep oil in a ship four years it will cost as much as it will cost to build permanent tanks ashore. The Noble Lord also asked me a question about West Drayton, an establishment which was taken over during the War, and it is now being used for a very interesting experiment in connection with a heavy oil engine. It is most desirable that we should keep this experiment to ourselves. A double-acting engine is being used which it is expected will give from 1,200 to 1,300 h.p. with 300 revolutions. It is expected that very valuable information will be got from this. The design is a very large one and cannot be housed in the present laboratories on account of restricted room. The requirements of the new engine will be met by the erection of a new bay alongside the existing bay and that is the money we are asking for.
§ Question put, and agreed to.