§ MR. AMERY'S STATEMENT.
§ Order for Committee read.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Before the House enters upon the question of Supply today, I would draw attention to what I said yesterday, on the Army Estimates, about the presentation of the Estimates in full. On future occasions I hope that the Admiralty, as well as the War Office, will take to heart what I said yesterday.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
On a point of Order. May I ask whether it is possible for you, Sir, as the custodian of the rights of Members of this House, to bring any influence to bear to ensure that the Estimates shall be laid by the Executive at the very earliest possible moment?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I may say that I have already taken such steps as were in my power, and I shall exercise very vigilant supervision in future.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN (Leader of the House)
May I say that it will be the earnest endeavour of the Government to comply with the indications which you, Sir, have given? We regret that the Estimates are not ready for presentation in full, but I think the House will recognise that we had very little time between the presentation of the Geddes Report and the present moment in which to consider the very important and widespread reductions proposed in that Report, to decide our policy, and to frame our Estimates.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
In view of the fact that this is not the first time that this has occurred during the last two or three years—it occurred, I think, only last year or the year before—may I ask, Mr. Speaker, what would be our remedy if the Government did the same thing again next year?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think the remedy, if without due cause this happened again, would be for the House to refuse to let me go out of the Chair.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Amery)
I beg 2410 to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
I need not assure you, Sir, that I fully concur in what the Leader of the House has just said, and I hope to comply with the wish of my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) and lay the full Estimates before the House as soon as possible. I might only add, in reference to the difficulty of producing anything more than skeleton Estimates on this occasion, that that was created, not only by the investigation into the Report of the Geddes Committee, but also by the fact that our whole naval scheme was still in uncertainty until the Naval Treaty of Washington was actually signed a few weeks ago. I hope, however, that with these skeleton Estimates, and the fairly full explanation given in the First Lord's statement, hon. Members will not be without sufficient material to criticise and discuss these Estimates on the Vote on Account to-day.
When I dealt with the final revised Estimates of the current year, some seven months ago, I had to draw the attention of the House to a naval situation which was by no means free from anxiety. The policy of this country ever since the War has been one of drastic reduction in naval armaments. We had relegated to scrap or otherwise disposed of nearly 2½ million tons of warships. We had broken oft all new construction of capital ships with the Armistice. We had, in fact, given a lead to the world in the inauguration of a complete naval holiday. But, up to that moment, it did not seem as if our lead was destined to be followed. Two other great Powers, rich in every resource, human and material, for the building up of sea power, had not only initiated but had carried far towards completion great programmes of new construction. On the slipways of America and Japan whole battle fleets were being hurried forward, incorporating in their armament and design the complete revolution wrought in naval construction by the lessons of the War, and calculated from the hour of their completion to reduce to obsolescence, if not, indeed, to utter powerlessness, the splendid Navy which for four long years had maintained inviolate our mastery of the seas. Those formidable new developments were not 2411 aimed at us. But we could not afford to be indifferent to them. We can never afford to let our whole existence depend upon the sufferance of any foreign Power, however friendly. Consequently, without directly joining in any competition, we were compelled to abandon, and to abandon with reluctance, our policy of cessation from construction.
Confronted by a new situation, not of our choosing, we set ourselves, without haste but without hesitation, to the task of replacing, by gradual steps, our obsolescent fleet by ships fit to be matched in line of battle with any ships afloat and worthy of the skill and devotion of the men whose lives we confided to them. The first four of these ships were to have been begun before the end of this year, and others would necessarily have followed at more or less close intervals. I need not remind the House what a serious financial strain that programme of replacement would have imposed upon this heavily burdened country. In the situation of the world as it stood six months ago, there was no alternative. There was, indeed, a hope, in which all men of goodwill could join, that the forthcoming Conference at Washington might set some limit to this menacing and exhausting new competition in naval armaments. It might, we thought, at least secure that no additional American or Japanese programmes beyond those already sanctioned should be launched; we hoped it might even lead to the abandonment of some of the ships in the existing programmes on which comparatively little work had been done. We were not sanguine enough to imagine that it could affect our first four or even our first eight replacement ships, that it could, in fact, bring about a return to that complete naval holiday which we had been so reluctant to forgo.
I rejoice to know that we were wrong. The wise daring of President Harding and of Mr. Secretary Hughes, the wholehearted co-operation, under the leadership of the Lord President of the Council, of the representatives of the British Empire, and the loyal concurrence and help of the other delegations, have achieved a solution going beyond our best hopes. It is not my business to-day to discuss the Washington Agreements, except in so far as they directly affect our Naval Esti- 2412 mates. I should like, however, in passing, to pay a tribute—and here I know that I am only voicing the views of the First Lord and of the whole Board of Admiralty—to the conspicuous services rendered by Lord Beatty, Admiral Chatfield, and the other British naval advisers in helping to adjust to the great conceptions of statesmanship a subject-matter bristling with technical difficulties, and to do so without impairment of those ideals or sacrifice of the interests committed to their charge.
The result of that Conference is, that, without any dereliction from the one-power standard, the recognised minimum of security necessary for our existence as a free Power, we have been able to make far-reaching reductions in our naval organisation, and to effect economies, very substantial, when compared with the expenditure of the present year, and immense when compared with the future burdens that otherwise we should have had to shoulder. The economies thus won for the long-suffering taxpayers of this country are only a part of the economies gained, in like proportion, by the other naval powers concerned. The total sum liberated may be reckoned, over the next 10 years, in hundreds of millions, and represents a powerful contribution to the economic recovery of a war-spent world. There are other gains, less directly susceptible of measurement, but even more worth their endeavours, that our representatives have brought home from Washington—the removal of suspicion, the growth of sympathy and mutual understanding among nations, and. not least, the increasing proof of the capacity of the British Empire, under its new organisation, to unite in, and give effect to, a single Imperial policy.
I turn now to the actual task which throughout the past year has been foremost in the thoughts of those responsible for the administration of our naval affairs. I mean the task of securing the utmost possible measure of economy consistent with the maintenance of the, standard of security laid down by the Government, accepted by Parliament, and re-affirmed as the minimum last July by the Imperial Conference. Throughout the spring and summer of last year the Finance Committee of the Admiralty subjected to the closest scrutiny the whole field of our naval expenditure. That expenditure, I may remind the 2413 House, had already been drastically reduced during the preceding two years. The gross Naval Estimates of 1920–1 and 1921–2 were £96,500,000 and nearly £91,250,000 respectively. Every item and every Vote was once more reviewed and passed under the pruning knife. In the end we were able to secure a total gross reduction of £15,348,000. A considerable part of that saving, roughly about £6,000,000, was accounted for by the anticipated fall in wages and prices, and by the clearing off of War liabilities. The remaining £9,250,000 represented the direct result of our efforts to curtail expenditure to essentials, and to postpone even essential expenditure if not actually urgent. That was a substantial achievement in economy. In the actual Sketch Estimates for 1922–3, which were presented to the Treasury at the end of July, and which were subsequently dealt with by the Geddes Committee, that achievement was neutralised and obscured by two adverse factors. One was an anticipated reduction of over £3,500,000 in Appropriations-in-Aid from the sale of surplus vessels and other munitions. The other was the heavy cost of the first full year of expenditure on the new replacement programme, for which we had to provide £11,750,000. The total net reduction in the Sketch Estimates below the Estimates of 1921–22 was only £1,295,200, a reduction from £82,479,000 to £81,183,800. But to have effected even this reduction at the very moment that we were called upon to shoulder this heavy new burden of construction, to have offset and more than offset that new burden, was, I submit, evidence of the effort which the Board of Admiralty were making to respond to the appeal of Parliament for economy.
Under pre-Washington conditions, those sketch Estimates represented practically the lowest point to which naval expenditure could be reduced in the coming year, or in the years immediately to follow. But for Washington those, or very nearly those, are the Estimates that I should have been submitting to-day. How comes it then that the Committee on National Expenditure were able to suggest that those Estimates were on a scale so lavish and extravagant that, apart from any change in the naval situation arising from the Washington Conference, apart from any possible reduction of ships in full or partial commission, apart from 2414 any reduction in the scale of manning ships or establishments, apart from any reduction of our provision for oil reserves and accumulation of oil stores, they could have been cut down by a further £21,000,000? I do not wish to say anything in disparagement of the great public services rendered by Sir Eric Geddes and his colleagues in carrying out, in so short a space of time, a complete survey of the whole field of our national expenditure. But the House will understand that I owe it to my Chief and to my colleagues on the Board of Admiralty, who are not represented here, to vindicate their administration against a charge which, however colourlessly worded, is one either of gross incompetence or of reckless indifference to the nation's crying need for economy. Even from my own personal point of view, I do not see how, with any self-respect, I could have moved this Motion if I had believed that the conclusions of the Report, or any large part of them, could have been sustained.
I confess, however, that I am more concerned to deal with this matter from an even wider point of view. There never was a time when there was greater need than there is to-day for confidence in our public institutions. That applies to this House of Commons. It applies equally to those great Departments of State and administrative and combatant services which are the instruments through which the policy of this House and of the nation is carried into effect. I believe that nothing could be more disastrous than that the opinion should prevail that those who are engaged in the responsible work of those services are wasteful, incompetent, selfishly intent upon their own interests or that of their particular branch or section of the public service. The House knows, of course, how utterly devoid of truth such a charge is. But it knows equally well that this is, in fact, the picture—the odious travesty—which is continuously being held up before the wider public outside. It will therefore, I trust, forgive me if I trespass a little on its patience in order to express the reasons for my dissent from a verdict which, delivered by so distinguished and well-intentioned a tribunal, must inevitably give colour to the charges so freely made in less responsible quarters.
The £21,000,000 of possible pre-Washington savings claimed to have been dis- 2415 covered by the Geddes Committee fall into three parts. About £7,000,000 can be credited to a number of detailed administrative recommendations, some of which I shall touch upon later. Another £7,000,000 was apparently to be secured by the immediate abolition of an alleged excess of 35,000 officers and men. The third £7,000,000 was, to use the phrase of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not specified. I wish to deal more particularly with the second item—that which concerns the manning of the Navy— because it furnishes, I believe, the key to the whole point of view from which the Committee approached the rest of their inquiry into naval administration. The conclusion of the Committee is that the Navy has been maintaining an excess of 35,000 officers and men over and above its reasonable requirements. They expressly make it clear that they do not mean by this that the number of ships kept in full commission has been too large or that the standard of manning is too high. Those are, in their opinion, separate and additional possibilities of economy deserving of investigation. The discovery they claim to have made is that apart from an excess of some 3,300 accounted for by certain recommendations —based on a complete misunderstanding— as to officers' servants and coastguards, there are nearly 32,000 officers and men-more than a quarter of the whole Navy— who are not needed at all. These are apparently kept tucked away in barracks or other shore establishments with nothing special to do except to wait for mobilisation.
Hon. Members may well wish to know by what process of reasoning or calculation this interesting discovery was made. Before doing so, however, may I remind the House of the general principles on which the Navy is maintained and trained in peace and on which its personnel is allocated on mobilisation? I will begin with the peace distribution. In a highly technical service like the Navy it is obviously impossible to give a specialist training afloat. That training must be given in separate schools on shore, and at any one moment a large proportion of officers and men must be in those schools either going through their training courses or forming part of the working and teaching staff of those schools. Add to these the inevitable float- 2416 ing margin of men crossing from foreign stations, sick, or on special leave, cadets and boys, and coastguards, and you will realise why it is that in peace there must be for every thousand men actually afloat in ships of war something like 600 men in these various establishments or in the floating margin. That is not a matter of extravagance in manning, but is a necessary condition of the war efficiency of the fleet.
I now come to a quite different thing and that is the war allocation of this same personnel. That depends entirely on the kind of war that is contemplated, and upon the extent to which a Navy maintains a reserve fleet, in addition to the Fleet in permanent full commission. In 1914, as the result of continuous new competitive programmes, we had accumulated an immense reserve fleet of comparatively up-to-date vessels, as large as the active fleet itself. Consequently the whole of the men not already afloat were in the 1914 war allocation assigned to mobilising this great reserve fleet. Even the schools were broken up, their staffs pulled out, and only care and maintenance parties left in charge. Everything was concentrated on having the largest possible number of ships available for a decisive action in the first week. Our post-War fleet is of an entirely different character. The maintenance of the one-Power standard and the absolute necessity of training for fleet purposes made it impossible to reduce the active service fleet lower than we did. But it was obviously sound economy to cut down the reserve fleet to the utmost possible extent and not to waste money or men on vessels which were bound to be obsolete long before the next war. That, of course, meant a far smaller call on our peace margin and made it possible, consistently with the strictest economy in peace establishments, to carry out the lessons of the war and allocate a larger proportion of men in the War allocation to the very essential smaller vessels, and to retain the staffs of the schools at the critical moment of mobilisation.
I have, I trust, succeeded in making clear two things, firstly, that the War allocation of the active service personnel as between the three main groups of fighting ships, auxiliary ships, and shore establishments must necessarily vary widely according to the general strategic situation, and more particularly accord- 2417 ing to the size of the reserve fleet as compared with the active fleet, and secondly, that the variations in this allocation bear no fixed relation to the peace distribution between the same groups, which is determined in the main by the training requirements of the active service fleet. What the Geddes Committee did was to take the War allocation of 1915 and, treating it as an ideal allocation, to scale down the War allocation for the present year by taking the first group, the fighting ships, for granted and, reducing the other two groups, by a simple rule-of-three sum, in the same proportion as in the 1914 allocation. This naturally showed a very wide difference between the two allocations. Then, by a curious confusion between war allocation and peace distribution, which runs through every line of the pages of the Report which deal with this matter, they jumped to the conclusion that this difference of over 30,000 men was in fact an excess provision in the peace establishment of those groups over the 1914 standard.
One or two simple illustrations will show the obvious fallacy of such a deduction. If the Admiralty had saved a score of old ships from the scrap heap, and kept them moored somewhere in charge of care and maintenance parties, it could, on the same Vote A, and with the same peace distribution as to-day, have framed a war allocation on 1914 lines. It would have been a bad allocation, but it would, on the principles of the Geddes Committee, have shown that we have not a single man in excess. On the other hand, if for reasons of economy we had scrapped a few more reserve ships, our war allocation would on those same principles have shown an even more culpable extravagance of man-power than at present. Applying these principles to the Japanese Navy, which has no reserve fleet, I find that the thrifty Japanese are maintaining to-day over 33,000 unnecessary men out of a total personnel of 82,000—in other words, they are 50 per cent, more extravagant than we are. Applying the principle to the American Navy, I find that their extravagance in maintaining unnecessary officers and men amounts to nearly 60,000. I think the House will agree that there must be a serious flaw in a method of calculation which can lead to such impossible results. The attempt to apply that method in the 2418 case of our Navy involved a number of errors of detail which have been dealt with in the recent Admiralty Memorandum. I need not weary the House with these. The point I wish to make clear is that not a part but the whole of the alleged excess is a statistical delusion. The 35,000 surplus officers and men of the Report are like the Emperor's new clothes in the fairy tale: they are not there, and with their disintegration and disembodiment vanish, alas! £7,000,000 of the £21,000,000 of the Geddes economies.
I have dealt at this length with the manning question because it provides the key to the rest of the Committee's Report. It is only natural that if the Committee believed that the Admiralty were wasting £7,000,000 of public money on keeping in barracks and other shore establishments an excess of 35,000 men above our requirements, they should also, with such statistical proof of extravagance before their eyes, believe that another £7,000,000 of unspecified economies could be found in the Votes which they had not specially examined, or that in the specific proposals which they made they not infrequently assumed extravagance where a closer investigation would have furnished a better explanation. I do not propose to enter into a detailed discussion of our reasons for dissenting from come of these specific proposals. They are briefly given in the Admiralty Memorandum.
As regards the publication of that document, which seems to have aroused some comment and misunderstanding, still persistent in certain quarters, I need only repeat that, as stated by the Leader of the House, it was issued in pursuance of the Cabinet decision authorising Ministers to take such steps as might be required to rebut reflections made upon their Departments in the Report and that it neither discussed nor prejudged the issues of policy which were still before the Cabinet, but was simply intended to correct, and to correct immediately, certain misconceptions and errors of fact in the Report which I believed might do grave injury to the Navy if left uncorrected to sink into the mind of the public.
§ Mr. AMERY
I think that matter has been fully dealt with by the Leader of the House. After the example I have given of one striking instance of such misconceptions even the most rigid economist in this House may be inclined to sympathise with the Admiralty in its reluctance to lay its head meekly on the block awaiting decapitation and to agree that in this matter we did not, if I may scurrilously misquote poetry—Call upon the gods in vulgar spiteTo vindicate our helpless right,But with our keener eyeThe axe's edge did try.I do not propose to revert to the various points of controversy dealt with in the memorandum unless the necessity for doing so should arise out of this or subsequent discussions on these Estimates, but rather to indicate the points on which we have been able to find ourselves in agreement with the Committee and have seen our way to adopt in whole or part the suggestions which they have made. Of these suggestions, the following could have been adopted, apart from the Washington Agreement, and have in fact been adopted. We are abolishing the Scottish and Western Approaches commands, involving a saving of £73,000. By doing away with the "Alexandra," of which His Majesty has patriotically approved, the "Enchantress," and other yachts, we shall save £80,000. The closing of the War Signal Stations will save another £50,000. We are reducing stocks from three to two months —a saving on the pre-Washington Navy of £319,000. We are abolishing a hospital ship and making other reductions in medical establishments to the extent, apart from the effects of Washington, of £58,000. We are saving a further £13,000 on Dartmouth. Of the dockyard reductions, including the reduction at Gibraltar, some £800,000 might conceivably have been carried out before Washington. The saving on the policing of our dockyards and depots by the substitution of a special marine pensioner police force for the Metropolitan Police, whose recent increases of pay have rendered them far too expensive for us to keep, will amount to £40,000 in the current year and eventually to about £100,000 a year. We are saving a further £483,000 on Vote 10—Works. The figures I am giving are all as compared with the July sketch Estimates upon which the Geddes Committee worked, and not with the Esti- 2420 mates for the current year. There is £100,000 in reduction of Admiralty staff, in addition to the reduction of £265,000 effected in July. Lastly, there is a saving of £390,000 in the withdrawal of the travelling concessions, which I hope the railway companies may be able to see their way to restore on the pre-War basis. With the decision of the Government that we shall omit the proposed officers' marriage allowance—a regrettable necessity— and minor savings not actually suggested by the Geddes Committee, this brings the total administrative economies which we have been able to carry out in compliance with the recommendations of the Committee, or at any rate on similar lines, to nearly £3,000,000. There is a further saving due to the continuing fall in prices and wages below the fall estimated for in July last of not far off £1,600,000 over the whole of the Votes. That is the utmost by which the Estimates could have been reduced, apart from the Washington Conference.
I now come to the most substantial part of our economics, those resulting from the Washington Conference. I treat these as assured, though I need not remind the House that they are contingent upon the ratification of the Naval Treaty by the Powers concerned, and would have to be reconsidered if the Treaty miscarried. The chief direct economy arises from the abandonment of the construction of the four super "Hoods" and the substitution in their place of two vessels of 35,000 tons, the maximum tonnage limit of new war-ships under the Treaty. These two battleships will, owing partly to the necessity of making out complete new sets of designs, and partly for reasons of economy, not be laid down till the beginning of 1923. The to1 al expenditure in connection with them is estimated at £721,000 in the new Financial Year as compared with £11,810,000 included for the four original ships in the July Sketch Estimate. This is a saving of well over £11,000,000, of which nearly £1,250,000 is an actual reduction on the amount provided for capital ship construction in 1921–22, while the balance represents the liberation of nearly £10,000,000 of our July economies. A further direct saving of £250,000 in these Estimates results from the reduction of our peace requirements by 2,700 men in consequence of the scrapping of a further 12 older capital ships.
2421 These are the only economies directly and necessarily following upon the Naval Treaty; but the whole international situation has been so profoundly modified, not only by the Naval Treaty but by the whole series of Agreements concluded at Washington, that the Admiralty have felt justified, in view of the urgent national need for economy, in re-interpreting the one-power standard, as fixed and laid down at Washington, on a definitely lower plane of preparation for immediate war than even the present, which itself marks a great easing off from the pre-War period. In pursuance of this policy we have carried out a further scheme of drastic reductions, carrying economy to the utmost limit compatible with the maintenance, in any sense of the word, of our accepted standard of sea power, and with the efficient training of the Navy in peace. While it is impossible to reduce the Atlantic or Mediterranean fleets any further without destroying the tactical training of the Navy, we have decided to place the "Renown' in reserve on the completion of the Prince of Wales' tour, to reduce the already inadequate number of light cruisers abroad, by keeping the "Birmingham" in reserve, to reduce to two-fifths complements yet another of the destroyer flotillas belonging to the Atlantic Fleet, bringing the total number in full commission with that fleet to 40 destroyers, a figure which no-one with knowledge of modern naval conditions can regard as more than the barest sufficiency. Another 23 destroyers of the Local Defence Flotillas will be reduced to reserve, and 27 out of our total of 85 submarines, at present in reserve, are to be scrapped entirely.
Again, while the Atlantic Fleet itself cannot be reduced, the naval staff have agreed on a reduction of the peace complements of the capital ships by nearly 16 per cent, below the establishment laid down as the result of war experience. Such other reductions as have been found possible are to be made right through the active fleet, and a total decrease of nearly 4,000 officers and men on Vote A will thus be effected. The reductions in the numbers afloat resulting from scrapping vessels now in reserve, transferring others from active service to reserve, and reducing of complements, all enable consequential reductions to be made in the peace margin of men crossing reliefs, sick, training, or on the staff of the training 2422 establishments. To secure the utmost economy of men in this respect we are abolishing two-year commissions and keeping ships abroad for not exceeding three years in order to keep down the numbers crossing reliefs, and we have rigidly combed out the staffs of all the shore establishments. In one way or another we are effecting a total reduction of 20,000 officers and men, from 118,000 (exclusive of coastguard) to 98,000, involving a saving of something like £1,300,000.
Other important savings over and above the July Sketch Estimate, include a further £920,000 by reducing the fuel allowance to the fleet to the lowest possible limit, by laying up some of the fuelling ships, by reducing the reserve stock of coal, and other similar economies, all involving considerable temporary in convenience and loss of efficienc—
§ Mr. AMERY
A reduction of £500,000 in the scheme of providing oil fuel reserves at various bases abroad—a reduction, I might add, only made with the greatest reluctance and anxiety in view of the serious immobility of our fleet outside European waters owing to the absence of the necessary oil fuelling bases; a yet further reduction of £350,000 in the dockyards, and a reduction of £800,000 by deferring the overhaul and reconditioning of surplus stocks of ammunition, by diminishing the reserves of mines and depth charges, and by delaying the completion of the necessary equipment of armour-piercing shell. In all these various ways another £3,900,000 approximately have been squeezed off the Votes, making a total economy resulting from, or made possible by, the Washington Conference of over £15,200,000. The position as regards the dockyards is clearly set forth in the memorandum attached to the First Lord's statement, and will no doubt be fully discussed during the further progress of these Estimates.
§ Mr. AMERY
The reduction of over 10,000 men contemplated is being made solely in order to meet the need for 2423 avoiding expenditure in the immediate future, and involves the delaying or abandoning of a great deal of important and necessary work. As far as possible we are spreading this reduction evenly. It was impossible in the interests of economy, with the reduced work to be done, to continue maintaining Rosyth in its present very costly inchoate state as a dockyard centre still in the making, and it has been decided to place it on the footing of becoming mainly a docking yard, making use of its exceptional facilities in this respect. This decision, I may hasten to assure hon. Members who are specially interested in Rosyth, is one which deals purely with the temporary financial emergency and in no way prejudices the ultimate destiny of Rosyth, the great natural advantages of which are fully recognised. I can also assure the same hon. Members that we are trying as far as we can to ease the situation for the men in this dockyard, where the rate of reduction has been so much heavier than elsewhere.
There is one group of Votes, that for the non-effective services (Votes 13–15), which shows an increase of £3,195,000. Of this, £3,000,000 represents a provisional estimate of the cost of the special arrangements which will have to be made in order to make possible, within the year, a reduction in the personnel of the Navy far exceeding any reductions that can be secured by ordinary wastage, as well as to provide for the increased charges for gratuities and pensions arising from the heavy reduction at the dockyards. It is a purely conjectural estimate, as it has been quite impossible in the brief time at our disposal since the reductions were decided upon to frame special schemes of retirement which will meet a very complicated problem, and which will be fair not only as between the different Services, but also as between the many ranks and categories in each Service. Such schemes will, I hope, be announced shortly. All I will say about them to-day is that they must not be ungenerous. The State cannot afford, even in these difficult days, to disregard the just and equitable rights of those who have given the best of their lives to its service.
There is one scale on which I fear it will not be possible to compensate those who may have to leave the service in consequence of these reductions, and that is 2424 the scale of the pay and emoluments with which they are credited in the Third Report of the Geddes Committee. Here, again, I do not wish to be controversial, but I may say that a calculation according to which the lodging and other allowances given to junior officers, for instance, when away from their ships or other establishments are supposed to be a standing part of their emoluments, is surely rather misleading. The suggestion that a sub-lieutenant receives, or that the State is out of pocket on his behalf by an extra 7s. 1d. a day, or £135 a year, because he is allowed to swing a hammock between decks and share one-twentieth part of the light and warmth of a gun-room, and half the spare time of a marine servant, has really an element of unconscious humour which will appeal to no one so much as those junior officers themselves. Nor do I think it is really much use when by these means you have worked out that a sub-lieutenant gets or costs over £500 a year, and that a junior lieutenant commander gets £900 a year, to compare these figures with the pay of the Civil Service, without, taking into account not only the enforced early retirement of the great majority, the discomforts, the separation from home, with the cost of keeping up a separate establishment, the hardships, the danger ever present, not only of a great war, but perhaps of death in some trifling scuffle during a landing party, or in some accident to a boat. The business test, after all, is that the emoluments are not more than sufficient to secure for the nation by voluntary enlistment the type of officers and men which it needs.
These £.3,000,000 are a necessary offset against our economies, a special war charge, as the Geddes Committee suggested, and consequently diminish the total reduction on the net Estimates to £17,595,000. The reduction on the effective Votes, which is the test of our effort at economy, is £20,791,000. The resultant effective Vote is, in fact, when allowance is made for the altered value of money, just half of the similar Vote for 1914–15. The proportion of this Naval Vote to the total national expenditure, excluding pensions and debt charges, is 15 per cent, as compared with 28 per cent, in 1914–15. The actual reduction is 33 per cent, on the Vote for 1920–21. I trust that the House will agree that these figures represent a genuine and most substantial con- 2425 tribution to the public need. The credit for this result I should like to give wholeheartedly to my naval colleagues. From Lord Beatty downwards, far from resenting the demand for reduction, they have thrown themselves with the utmost keenness into the task of discovering means of economy in every direction without impairing the training or the strength of the Navy in essentials. I do not believe that by any other method could we have secured such large reductions with comparatively so little damage to the enduring life of the Service.
We have reached the limit. Things have been scraped to the bone. Only the effects of a further fall in prices, or the possibility of other navies following up Washington by some yet more advanced policy in the reduction of armaments, would make possible additional economies in subsequent years We cannot go further unless, indeed, we abandon the one-power standard altogether, and drop to the rank of the second or third naval power—and if we drop once we shall do so for all time. We have no right to do that. We owe the maintenance of that standard to our fellow subjects in the Empire, with whom we formally, by resolution of the Empire Conference, agreed only last summer that the standard of equality with any other Power was our minimum. We have collaborated again with them at Washington in these last few months in re-affirming that standard and definitely fixing it in actual terms of ships and tonnage in the Naval Treaty. We owe it in trust to future generations of our people here and across the seas.
All else in politics may change; one principle stands firm and beyond question. We live and move and have our being as a nation and as an empire by our power to keep open and free the highways of the sea. That power we can never surrender even to the best friend or the closest ally. We have agreed at Washington to accept terms of equality in naval power with the one nation with which, above all things, we wish to live on terms of friendship. We regard that equality as one not of competition but of co-operation in maintaining the peace of the world. But even for the purposes of that co-operation we, with our traditions and responsibilities for the peace of the world, cannot afford to be less than equals. That is the meaning of these Estimates. They 2426 represent what I believe is a fair and true adjustment of our great naval responsibilities to a difficult and anxious domestic situation. I trust that the House will recognise this in supporting the Motion that you, Sir, do leave the Chair.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Rarely has the House listened to a more eloquent speech than that which my hon. Friend has just delivered, and I cordially concur with him in his remarks at the commencement as to the debt of gratitude which we all owe to the great United States of America. We owed them a great debt of gratitude when they came to our help in April, 1917, and we owe to President Harding and his advisers a great debt for the Washington Conference, and the very successful result which I am sure has been achieved there. We owe also a special debt to the Lord President of the Council for the splendid manner in which he upheld the finest types of British statesmanship. I take precisely the same view as my hon. Friend about the all importance of the Navy. That this is an island dependent upon foreign trade is too often forgotten, and we have to secure the communications of that trade and to secure our food supplies. The Navy is all important in these matters. We had an opportunity yesterday of listening to a very eloquent speech by the distinguished Field Marshal the Member for North Down (Sir H. Wilson), who adorned the Debate with his experience. But without the Navy you could not move a division of troops from these islands, and the magnificent armies which were transported across the sea during the War were all dependent for safe conduct upon the Navy. But while the Navy is all important, there is a still more important factor, and that is finance, the question whether this country can carry the burden. From what I can judge, of the Estimates to be presented, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the coming financial year, will budget for something like £900,000,000 or four and a-half times as much as the amount was before the War.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted; and 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. LAMBERT
The fighting force to-day, according to Estimate, are to cost 2427 £137,000,000 against £80,000,000 pre-War. I am wondering when peace is going to break out in Europe or in the world so that we may have a reduction in the Estimate for fighting forces. I sympathise heartily with the Admiralty in the very difficult task which they have before them. They have to make great reductions. That must mean great hardship to many, possibly thousands of men, who have served their country devotedly and well during the War. It is very easy to make an increase in establishment and expenditure. It is extremely difficult to cut it down. Therefore I do not minimise for one moment the difficulties which exist, and I do not envy my hon. Friend or the First Lord of the Admiralty their very difficult task. But may I say that when we are asked to believe that economy has been the ruling note of the Admiralty during the past three years I must take leave to doubt it. After all, before the War, in 1914, the Naval Estimates were £51,550,000. To-day had it not been for the Washington Conference, my hon. Friend says that they would have been £81,000,000 or £82,000,000, but they are £65,000,000 with the Washington Conference. Therefore we are spending £14,000,000 a year more on the Navy than when the German fleet was in being and was a threatening menace to the security of this country. I do not understand why the Estimates in these conditions should be £14,000,000 more, or had it not been for the Washington Conference, something like £32,000,000 more.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Yes, that covers a certain field, but if we are not to have a reduction in warlike implements in future then good-bye to civilisation. In 1914 the personnel of the Navy was 151,000. To-day you propose to reduce it to 98,000, and I do not understand why the cost should be £15,000,000 more after making this great reduction. My hon. Friend has made a vigorous attack on the Geddes Committee. He did it before in a very able memorandum; he has done it this afternoon. I do not wonder that Sir Eric Geddes has left the Treasury Bench. If he could have been there to listen to the attack made upon him by my hon. Friend I am sure he would have shrivelled up almost into nothingness, but I confess that I think that the 2428 country owes a considerable debt of gratitude to the Geddes Committee. The Geddes Committee have brought out many very salient facts of the Admiralty accounts. I do not think that it is quite wise for my hon. Friend to accuse them of gross incompetence and reckless disregard of the nation's need.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I took down these words. I considered them rather strong. I thought my hon. Friend was attacking the Geddes Committee.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Then the Geddes Committee is guilty of gross incompetence in making the Report which it made to Parliament. My hon. Friend, of course, has got a great command of language, but I was thinking that possibly he might have modified some of these adjectives and adverbs with a little wisdom when dealing with the Committee which was appointed by his own colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But let me turn to one or two of the facts that have been brought out by the Geddes Committee. That is one of the things that the House, of Commons never can do; it can never go into the Estimate Vote by Vote. All that the House of Commons can do is to fix a certain sum which the Admiralty or War Office may spend, and to leave them to spend it to the best advantage. To go into all the Votes is impossible. I have given my experience before as to how Members came over when I was at the Admiralty before the War, and in an hour they were snowed over by documents. But the Geddes Committee has given us a few facts, and you cannot get rid of the Geddes Committee in the airy way in which my right hon. Friend has done. After all, Sir Erie Geddes has been First Lord of the Admiralty. He had as Secretary of this Committee a very able civil servant, who was Secretary to the First Lord of the Admiralty.
2429 What the Geddes Committee complain of and, I think, justly, if their figures are right, is that you are keeping up an enormous Navy on shore to the detriment of the righting men. On page 14 they give a figure for coastguards, harbour ships and retinue. I agree that the word "retinue" has a sarcastic flavour. That group of shore establishments shows an increase in personnel from 6,700 pre-War to 16,060, an increase of 9,360 in personnel in the shore establishments. That is the most wasteful form of naval expenditure. I say deliberately, with considerable experience of naval Estimates and naval administration, that, if these figures are right, it only shows that the Admiralty are not alive to the fact that what eats away money are all these shore establishments, all these small depots here, there and everywhere dotted around the country. We have not got the Estimates for this year. I hope that the very wise admonition to the Department will be taken heed of next year, but last year I observe in the Estimates an increase in the number of new establishments dotted about all over the country. Every one of these new establishments has got to be guarded and watched; it has got to have a personnel attached to it which is of no effective fighting value. Moreover, they have all to be guarded. The Geddes Committee have shown clearly that the cost of guarding all these establishments, especially by the Metropolitan Police, is enormous.
I remember the views of a very distinguished, probably the most able naval administrator we have had for generations, the late Lord Fisher. I am not ashamed to have gained from him any knowledge I may have about naval affairs. When the hon. Member for Devonport (Sir C. Kin-loch-Cooke) jeers, I am reminded that no naval reduction suits him. He thinks a reduction not only endangers the country but endangers his seat at Devonport.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
The late Lord Fisher held that all these shipyards meant a withdrawal from the effective fighting forces of the Navy. What has the Admiralty done during the last three years since the Armistice? Take the dockyards. I have mentioned the subject before, but it has fallen upon deaf ears, and I have 2430 not the smallest doubt it will fall on deaf cars again until the electors have to pronounce on the question of economy. That will be the final test. Before the War we have five dockyards in this country; to-day we have six. What earthly use can there be for six dockyards as against five before the War? I am put ting aside Haulbowline, which is to be closed, but even then you have one more dock to-day than you had when the German fleet was in being. I shall not trench on the subject which the hon. and gallant Member for West Derby (Rear-Admiral Sir R. Hall) is to put before the House. He will render a great service to the Navy by his speech as he rendered great service to the Navy during the War. I ask the Admiralty to give little consideration to the question of the dockyards. Are the dockyards in a position where they can be attacked by-aircraft? No one knows the future of aircraft. Are the dockyards in sound strategic positions? Take Rosyth. You are about to reduce Rosyth. I see the First Lord in his statement says that it is to revert to a docking establishment. For how long have you decided to reduce Rosyth? I think the decision can have been reached only recently. What are you going to do with the enormous number of auxiliary establishments at Rosyth, the magazines, oil fuel depots and all the other things that, are congregated there? I was amazed yesterday to be told—the Civil Lord can say if it is true—that within the last few months, the Admiralty have feud something like 100 acres of land at an annual quit rent for the erection of houses at Rosyth. I believe my information is correct. There has been really no foresight in the method of dealing with the dockyards. The First Lord said that the reductions in the dockyards will delay repairs:They necessitate delaying or abandoning a great deal of important ship construction and reconstruction as well as the restriction of necessary repairs and refits of ships of the Fleet.You are actually going to reduce ship repairing, although there are far more men in the dockyards to-day than there were before the War. In an answer to question yesterday, it was stated that there were nearly 60,000 men in the dockyards, whereas before the War, when the German fleet was a menace, there were only 54,200. What is the reason for em- 2431 ploying 5,600 more men in the dockyards to-day? If, as the First Lord says, repairs are to be delayed, what are the men doing? Is it true, as is stated in the Geddes Report, that in the Royal Dockyards the cost of repairing ships is so enormous? This matter cannot be dismissed in an airy fashion, because on the Geddes Committee there were able business men who understood shipbuilding. They stated that in the dockyards, for every pound's worth of material used, £3 was paid in wages, and that in private shipyards for every pound's worth of material used, £1 10s. only was paid in wages.
§ The CIVIL LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Commander Eyres-Monsell)
§ Mr. LAMBERT
What is meant by establishment charges? I am certain that if to-day skilled shipbuilders went through the dockyards they would find an enormous amount of waste going on. There is no doubt about it. You hear it on every hand. I hear it in Devonshire, at Plymouth; there is no secret about it. I have asked over and over again that you should make a complete survey of these yards. Let us know what yards are wanted and what yards are not wanted. It must mean great hardship and great dislocation. I know that. Men will have to be put out. It is far better to let the men and the towns know what they have to face than to keep on with this heart-breaking discharging of a few hundred men here and there. In the Estimates of last year I find that you are spending on oil fuel depots something like £5,000,000, and you are having them built all over the world. You are putting up oil fuel depots at Singapore, Rangoon and the Falkland Islands. In the event of war how are they to be protected? An oil fuel tank is like an enormous gasometer. How can you protect Singapore? It was with the utmost difficulty that the oil tanks were protected in this country when we had all the resources of the Navy around our shores. I am certain that the Admiralty is wasting an enormous amount of money in building these depots at the most costly period in our history.
2432 It is the same with the putting up of houses at Rosyth. You are building them at a most costly time. We have to reckon that there will be a few years of peace after the terrible War. If that is not so, what becomes of the men who signed the Peace Treaty? Are we to be always preparing for war? If so, let us finish our civilisation. On the question of education, I see it is proposed to increase the cost of the cadet to the parent from £75 to £150 a year. I think that is a false economy. The cadet costs the nation £462 a year. For 445 cadets I see there is a staff of 529, according to the Geddes Committee. Are those figures right? There is no doubt about the extravagance. When you increase the fees of the boys, it will mean that the naval officer of the future will be drawn from that class of parent who can pay £150 a year for education.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
If you put in £150 as the fee, that will be the fee. I agree that there are special provisions. I do not believe that all the brains in the country are possessed by boys whose parents can afford to pay £150 a year for their education. This arrangement will keep out many bright boys. You are to give the Navy the best material, the best that science can produce. But you are not to give them the best of the manhood of the country. At the beginning of the War we failed in explosives, in torpedoes, and in other essentials of the Navy. We ought to have for the Navy the very best brains of the country, irrespective of what the parents can pay. I ask that there shall be a little clear thinking in the matter of naval policy. New weapons have come, and come to stay, and surely you must scrap the old weapons. It is no use piling the one upon the other. My hon. Friend talks about the one-Power standard. I do not quite understand what he means by the one-Power standard. I understood the old two-Power standard against France and Russia, and then we had practically a 2-keel to one standard against Germany; but the German and Russian fleets have gone, and France and Italy only remain in Europe. Therefore the strategy of the British Fleet was based upon the narrow waters of Europe. There are only two other Powers left, the United States of 2433 America and Japan. I observe that the First Lord in his statement talks about the necessity for keeping mine-layers. He says:One of the main lessons of the late War was the importance in modern naval warfare of various auxiliary vessels of minesweepers, mine-layers, anti-submarine craft, etc., with which our Navy, in common with other navies, was ill-equipped before the War.What are you going to do with these minelayers in your harbours here? How can they be of service. I exclude the possibility of fighting with America, but supposing we were by any chance at war with Japan, what good would these minelayers be here in these harbours?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I do not like to get into collision with so great a naval expert as my hon. and gallant Friend, but how is he going to get his mine-layers to Japan?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I hope that in carrying out such an escort the British Fleet would not suffer the same fate as the Russian Fleet, because I cannot imagine anything more dangerous than to send the British Fleet thousands of miles from its base.
Sir R. HALL
May I ask my right hon. Friend does he think that nothing is more dangerous than to send the British Fleet out to fight?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
No, I am rather surprised at that interruption. The hon. and gallant Gentleman must know that Admiral Earl Beatty could not take his fleet through the North Sea and how are you going to take it to Japan?
§ Captain Viscount CURZON
Would the right hon. Gentleman say on what occasion Earl Beatty could not do so?
§ Viscount CURZON
For the information of the right hon. Gentleman I may say that the fleet has been brought freely through the North Sea minefields by the use of paravanes.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I am informed that Admiral Earl Beatty had to take great precautions before he could go through the North Sea, and it is perfectly well known that he could not take his capital ships, and would not dare to take his capital ships, from the base at Scapa Flow down, say, to Chatham.
§ Viscount CURZON
Does the right hon. Gentleman not know that the Fleet actually did go through the minefields, and I can give him a case if he will refer to it?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Does the Noble Lord really suggest that there must not be an enormously restricted area for battleships if they are to go through the North Sea under such conditions?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
What is the difference? Really and truly I am astonished when I hoar a naval question being discussed in this way. What is the difference between going through the North Sea and going out to Japan?
§ Viscount CURZON
Because the North Sea is much more favourable to the use of mines than any other sea in the world.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
I must ask that the right hon. Member should be allowed to proceed without interruption.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I will state my view, which is based on the opinion of an eminent naval expert, that if you were at war with Japan you could not send the British Fleet to the other side of Singapore. I do not care what hon. Members may say. The Noble Lord may tell us that Earl Beatty was able to manœuvre his fleet in the North Sea and execute a great number of movements despite submarines and mines. I am rather astonished that he should be able to give me that information. I was referring to this one-power standard, and I was asking that there should be clear thinking on the matter. I do not believe we could defend these oil-fuel tanks which we are putting up at Rangoon and Singapore. What sort of bases are we going to have over there for a great fleet? Where are our bases and docks? Then hon. and gallant Members tell me that we could send the Fleet to Japan and 2435 Singapore. I never heard such a thing in my life. There are no docks there big enough for large battleships. I am amazed, if it is the new naval strategy, that we are to spend money on enormous ships to send to Japan. No wonder money is being wasted. If this is the policy it will be wasted, and the Government will have a very serious reckoning to meet. If this is the naval strategy now animating the Board of Admiralty, I do not wonder that they want this very large sum of money, and it will not surprise me that they are going to spend it in an extremely inefficient manner. I am going to stand to my guns, and I am perfectly in earnest, despite all that has been said by the hon. and gallant Member.
Sir R. HALL
I never said that the Admiralty intended to send the Fleet to Japan. The right hon. Gentleman asked how mine-layers were to get to Japan. It was he who wanted to get them there, and I told him how to get them there.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I do not want to get them there. I said that they were here, and I asked of what use they were here in these narrow waters, when there is no German Fleet? I asked that question in perfect good faith. You have got your mine-layers and these immense shore establishments, and what good are you doing with them. The only power you can fight is Japan, and you cannot get your mine-layers there. We have to take stock of this situation and ask ourselves as to the meaning of "a one-power standard." The instructions given to the Admiralty were that the Navy should be maintained in sufficient strength to ensure the safety of the British Empire and its sea communications against any one other naval power. Do you mean to tell me that you could defend the whole communications of the Empire against Japan? I have asked over and over again that we should have a little clear thinking. We should not be hustling and bustling in the building of capital ships, and I am glad to see we have been saved from that by the wisdom of the Washington Conference. We ought to look at the strategic position and the possible enemies we may have to meet. The only powers with great battle fleets are the United States of America and Japan. What is the good of having these bases here in this country 2436 and spending enormous sums of money on ships that will never be used for the purpose for which apparently they are desired. The Government as a whole should take into account the whole of the naval forces, the whole of the military forces, and the whole of the air forces, and find out as to how all three forces can be best guaranteed for the security of the Empire at the lowest; possible cost.
§ Lieut.-Colonel BURGOYNE
I desire in the first place very humbly to associate myself with the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, in his first remarks of congratulation to the Parliamentary Secretary for the admirable and lucid introduction of these Estimates. I am rather sorry the hon. Gentleman did not tell us more in regard to the effect of the Washington Conference upon our naval policy, and if the House will forgive me I purpose to devote such few observations as I shall put before them, to that particular aspect of the question. I do not want to follow the right hon. Gentleman in the controversial cross fire which has been taking place. Probably it would upset me and my argument, more than it did him. The reason why I wish to concentrate upon this particular aspect is because in the first sentence of his explanatory statement the First Lord refers to the Washington Conference as the real reason why reductions have taken place. He does incidentally mention concurrent administrative economies, but makes no reference—leaving that to his lieutenant to what has been the result of the Geddes Report. In view of the importance to the world of this Conference, it should not go out to the public at large, that the real value of what has been done in Washington, can be summed up merely in pounds, shillings and pence. That Conference, in my view, is the most remarkable episode in the naval history of our country. It abolishes for all time the discussion of naval power on the lines of two keels to one, or two power or other standards. It stabilises naval strengths as they exist to-day and it wipes away any possibility of competitive building in the future. There is one thing, however, as to which we want no mistake made in the country, and this is where the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) went wrong. It was not a conference for disarmament. Indeed the President specifically stated that was not his intention 2437 in convening it, and if the matter is looked at in that light, I think the House will find that the economies now suggested in the statement of the Financial Secretary, are all that we could possibly hope for as the result of the agreement arrived at.
If the House will permit me, I should like to draw attention to a matter referred to briefly by the Parliamentary Secretary, and that is the state of our Fleet at the commencement of the War, during it, and at its close. At the commencement of the War we not only had a two-keels to one standard, but rather more than that, and we were supreme upon the seas. As the War proceeded, a hectic energy was displayed in naval construction, by Japan, the United States, and ourselves, and also Germany, but Italy and France, which until that time had been regarded as potential naval factors in the world, went out of existence as such, and devoted the whole of their energies to building up their positions on land. The result, as stated by the Parliamentary Secretary, was, that when the War closed, if we had proceeded with the programmes then under construction or projected, by 1925 the United States of America would have had precisely double our amount of tonnage in capital ships. I do not think that fact is sufficiently appreciated by the world at large.
We were faced, therefore, by two alternatives. Either we had to set out upon a frenzied programme of construction, to meet which the four ships suggested last year would have been illusory and silly, or else we had to be prepared in the course of two or three years to take a second place in naval strength in the world. Probably, with the circumstances of wealth in Japan and the financial burdens placed upon us, we should eventually have fallen to third place. Out of that arose two considerations—how best we could deal, in the first place, with our fleet, and, secondly, whether it would be possible not to continue the ruinous expenditure which had built it up. The Financial Secretary could have taken a little more credit to the Admiralty for a step that I have not seen quoted and which has never been appreciated. They started the ball rolling out of which arose the suggestion of the Washington Conference, by making the most drastic reductions in the commis- 2438 sioned strength of our fleets at sea and of their own volition placing upon the list of vessels to be destroyed an enormous number of capital ships, thereby, at one fell blow, showing to the world that we were not prepared to commence competition as had been the case before the War, with this result, that although, under the Agreements of the Washington Conference, we are to dispose of 19 battleships, 15 had prior to those Agreements being published to the world, already been condemned by the Admiralty. If this fact had been realised a little more closely, I think we should have had rather less wild talk as to losing our naval supremacy.
The term "naval supremacy" is wiped out of the British dictionary; we are finished in that line, and we can be rather proud of it, for what we have done is that we have announced to the world that we are prepared to go into partnership with the other great English-speaking race and are going to ask them in the future to bear something of the burdens and responsibilities of naval control. What was it precisely that Mr. Secretary Hughes proposed? His proposition was that we should accept a naval strength based upon the then existing completed American Navy, utilizing that as a unit. That being so, and accepting that as a formula, I want to turn for a few moments to the details as they affect the Various classes of vessels. Before the War, mainly because they bulked the largest in the public eye, and also because undoubtedly—and it is a thing I would never forego in argument—they were the controlling factors at sea, we always discussed battleships as the leading unit of our naval forces, but even more so should we, in making reference to the Agreements under the Washington Conference, pay regard to our strength in these capital ships, since in them alone have the Powers accepted the unit of strength, whereas in all the other types of ships, barring protected cruisers, upon which I desire to say something a little later on, there is not only great freedom allowed to the Powers concerned, but, in the case of submarines, to come up to the strength that has been agreed, we could build another 25,000 tons weight, and, in regard to cruisers, the United States have a matter of 200,000 or more tons in hand.
2439 As to the battleships, under that Agreement the United States have given up 15 ships that they had building, and 15 older vessels. Those 15 that they had building had already had spent upon them $332,000,000, or a matter of £80,000,000 sterling, and I suppose there has never been any parallel to such a vast cutting of loss in any national considerations before. For ourselves, we were to give up 19 old vessels, of which 15 had already been condemned, and four new ones, and Japan a matter of 8 or 10 new ones and 10 old vessels. Then came certain modifications, but before I deal with them I want the House to recognise that on the subject of battleships there are four main points to bear in mind. The first is the vessels to be scrapped, the second is the ships that we are to build and when we can build them, the third is the 10 years' holiday, and the fourth is the limitation in size to which those ships can be constructed. Let me take the 10 years' holiday first. At the end of those 10 years we are permitted to replace such ships as have reached 20 years of age from the date of their completion, and they are not to be laid down until 17 years after that period of completion. Here it seems to me is the folly of that 10 years' holiday, if it be a folly, and I want to see whether there is not something deeper behind it, which I sincerely hope, for in 1931, when the 10 years are up, it will be up to us to have to build a matter of seven ships in that year, three in 1932, and four in 1933, whereas the United States in 1931 will be called upon to maintain the then relative strength with no less than nine new capital ships of 35,000 tons. We are this year, under a modification which only came in because of Japan's desire to retain a vessel nearly finished, the "Mutsu," to lay down two ships of 35,000 tons.
I have never believed that we have seen the end of the battleship. Nothing that we can invent will do away with it as being king of the seas except one thing, and that one thing is this 10 years' naval holiday. I am wondering whether in 1931 there will be any nation which is going to be brave enough—perhaps foolish enough, but certainly brave enough—to go to its people and demand an expenditure of £10,000,000 per unit for new con- 2440 struction after a holiday of 10 years. My own view was voiced admirably by Admiral Sims when he said that the battleship cannot be replaced, but is destined to fade away; and I go further. During these 10 years, are we to ignore the greatest coming factor in warfare, namely, warfare in the air? I do hope that we shall not get our ideas mixed up by taking the coming service and adding it to those that are going down hill, but will have developed a unity of ideas in defence so that all the three great Services shall be under one head, and by that means I really believe we can come to a proper conclusion as to the value or want of value of the battleship. Last year I ventured very humbly to suggest to this House that we should not lay-down the four super-Hoods, and I am afraid my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary rather jeered at me when I pointed out the possibility of the Washington Conference being successful. It is never very dignified to say, "I told you so," and it is of no value from a back-bench Member, but I feel the same in regard to these two ships.
What are we going to do? We are developing an absolutely new type in the first place, and there are going to be just two of them. They are not a tactical unit, and we are going to have no more for 10 years. We are going to put 16-inch guns into them, and they will be the only 16-inch guns in the Service. We are going to develop what France possessed, which was shown, when the great War came, to be an absolute danger, namely, a fleet of samples; but—and here is an argument which technical experts uphold, and far be it from me to argue upon matters in which they are the experts— if they desire to have a unit which is to incorporate all the lessons of the great War, let us put one down. Hon. Members ought to note this fact, that while before the War the cost of building a battle unit worked out at something about £100 to £120 a ton, I am convinced, although I have no figures at hand to prove it, and although two years ago it was costing America £300 a ton and ourselves £250, we are not likely next year to produce those ships at under £200 a ton, and that means that they will, cost us certainly £7,000,000and probably nearer £10,000,000. I would plead—although it is a criticism in which I am quite prepared to be swayed by arguments which might be 2441 brought up later—I would plead that we lay down one ship, instead of two, to get a tactical unit that will be of no value whatsoever and which probably will be rendered obsolescent by the development of the Air Service.
I would like to pass to the cruisers. If there is one feature of the Naval Agreement to which exception could be taken by those who study our history as a world-wide nation, it is that we have agreed to have no more tonnage in the matter of cruisers than the United States. We are each of us to have 450,000 tons weight of light cruisers in the future. We have got that to the full; America has scarcely any worth the name. Before the War we were supreme in that matter, and very properly so, and it is significant that never have our Sea Lords been prepared to accept any standard, any ratio, whatsoever in regard to our smaller craft, having regard to the fact that the number we require is dependent upon our responsibilities overseas and the extent of our possessions there. But having said so much, I think if we have gone to the United States and said to them, "Come in with us; help us to maintain the control of the seas and all that it means," if we are going to give them one-half of the share of responsibility, we ought not to quibble at this point, important as that is to our race. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary mentioned destroyers, and I am sure left an impression on the mind of the House that we were only to have a matter of 63 destroyers in existence, but I think the House should appreciate that at the present time, outside destroyers that are attached to our Colonial Navies, we have, of large vessels of from 900 tons to a matter of 1,400 or 1,500 tons, all of them built since 1915 and 1916, 180; and I want to ask the House what has happened to those other 120 destroyers. Here we have economies being called for. If they are needed, let him tell us so. At the present time, if we take the list of destroyers of the world, we shall find that the United States have completed a considerably larger number than we have, but what have they done in the last fortnight? They have courageously scrapped 150, all modern vessels. What do we want them for? We certainly are not going to build anything else for the purposes of war in the next ten years or so, and there is nothing in the new pro- 2442 gramme. We find that in his explanatory statement the First Lord says:Indeed, the Admiralty have gone further in accepting drastic economies, and consequent risks, which could only be justified on the assumption that the British Fleet will not be engaged in any great war for many years to come.If they have taken these risks in regard to battleships, why maintain these destroyers? I know it must be a great wrench if a vessel has been completed to leave it lying up there and not to say, "Well, we will just hang on a bit, for we may require it," and then to be called upon to scrap it when you know it has cost £200,000. It is, however, infinitely-more economical to take £100,000,000 worth of a Navy, if we actually do not want it, and scrap it straight away, than to maintain it for four or five years, at the end of which time it will inevitably be scrapped, with all the resultant cost of maintaining the personnel during that period.
From destroyers, I wish to go to the smaller subsidiary craft. We were told that the economies have been scraped to the bone. I wish we could be given a few more figures. We do not want figures to worry us, but figures for information. If in regard to subsidiary craft we had been told by the Financial Secretary that in 1914 there were in all only 14 mine-layers and patrol boats considered to be efficient, we should then have understood his remarks, or the remark of the First Lord, on page 8 of his explanatory statement that the Navy "was ill-equipped before the War," but he did not tell us that when the War closed those 14 had been increased to 3,714, and he did not tell us how many of those 3,714 have now been placed upon the scrap heap. If, six months before the War broke out, we could have had a committee of expert officers at the Admiralty, and they could have had sufficient prevision to have stated that we should require in the War nearly 4,000 auxiliary craft, could they have sat down with the finest designers and given us the vessels we eventually built up? It would, of course, have been absolutely impossible. These craft invariably come with every great war. They are the creatures of circumstances as they arise. You can build them as you need them, and if you built craft that you considered were suitable for the last War now, they would be un- 2443 suitable for the next war when it came. That is absolutely so. Each war develops the inventive genius of a race, and that inventive genius never stops still. It would be ridiculous to maintain anything like 3,000 or 300 of these craft, costing this country millions of money, when we can save that. Nor will I say, "Scrap the lot." So long as the world is prepared at times to start killing one another, there is no doubt that explosives of the mine type will be utilised, and we should have a nucleus of expert men from whom to build up mine-laying. We have too one all-pervading advantage in the men of our mercantile marine and the men in our trawlers. So long as we have those, we can always create in the smallest type of craft the particular kind the Navy demands.
I turn to submarines. I hope the House will concentrate a little upon the necessity of our Government endeavouring yet again to persuade France to follow the admirable suggestion set out by the right hon. Gentleman the senior Member for the City of London. I have always been an advocate of the submarine, but it is the most terrible weapon that has ever been invented, and if, by mutual consent, we can do away with it altogether, the better it will be for the world. This much the War has taught us in regard to the submarine: It is the most offensive weapon for the purpose of murder, and the most ineffective weapon for the purpose of attacking war craft. During the whole of the War, no German submarine sunk a single ship of the Grand Fleet, and the Grand Fleet made tours up and down and round about this island as extensive as a trip three times round the world.
§ Lieut.-Colonel BURGOYNE
Precisely, and they did that because whenever they tried to concentrate on anything but the mercantile marine, they were sunk. Out of less than 400 submarines built by Germany and launched for attack, 203 were sunk by our craft. I do not want to decry the submarine, but I remember the manner in which it was used during the War by the Germans, and how do we know there is not a potential Hun hanging about to make similar war in the 2444 future? I want it done away with altogether. It certainly did Germany no good, and brought in America, which eventually led to her undoing. It is the claim of France that the submarine must-be maintained, because it is the weapon of the weaker Power. If that be so, surely France and Italy would have been in a very poor plight, and we should find that the smaller Powers would desire the submarine to be continued. I have looked up several newspapers of small Powers to ascertain their views on the submarine when the "Lusitania" was sunk. In Holland the "Handelsblatt" wrote:This act is opposed to every law and sentiment of humanity, and we raise our voice, however powerless it may be, in protest.Then the "Tidj" said:The commander of the submarine who performed this work can look with pride upon it—Is this not so, Satan?The leading paper in Sweden stated that it wasan unpardonable crime against humanity.The "Vortland," the leading paper in Denmark, said:Whenever in future the Germans venture to speak of their culture, the answer will be. 'It does not exist; it committed suicide on 7th May, 1915.'In Norway, the "Aftenpost," which corresponds to our "Times," said:The mad and reckless action of the German submarine has now reached its culminating point. The whole world looks with horror and detestation on the event.I want to say this concluding word, and it will be on the personnel. If we are going to reduce our fleet, I think we ought to reduce it with a very high regard to whether or not we are inflicting suffering upon the officers and men. We do not want any discontent and injustice to be felt by those who were engaged in such magnificent service during the War. Only those who actually served at sea, as the Noble Lord opposite will be able to testify, can appreciate the hardships they went through, and to throws officers and men upon the shelf without adequate remuneration, merely because there is a cry for economy—a very necessary economy—would, I think, be an act of injustice for which this country would never forgive the Government. Therefore I hope that due consideration will be given to them, and to the officers and men of the mercantile 2445 marine, who helped in the War, and that the, memory of what they did will not fade in our minds.
Finally, in the wish to stabilise our position in regard to the results of the Washington Conference, I am wondering whether a suggestion thrown out as to the convening of yet another Conference will fall on deaf oars. This last Conference is half-baked. We have gone some distance, but we are not disarming, and we are not reducing expenditure. I believe the economies made are the maximum that can be hoped for under these particular agreements; but, surely, we want to come to still closer agreement which will prevent a recrudescence of this mad competition in the future. I hope the House, which has been kind enough to listen to me in years gone by, will not think I have become a peace-at-any-price man. I have always been in favour of a big Navy, but not for the joy of seeing ships on the sea, but in the face of potential enemies. If those potential enemies can be persuaded with us to come into a combine to prevent competition in the future, so much the better for the world at large. The Sceptre of Neptune has passed rather from our hands, and it has been taken up jointly with the great American nation, and I think we can feel proud that the people of the United States have joined with us to ease those burdens which have weighed upon us so heavily in the past. A great chapter in the history of this country has closed, a chapter full of proud memories of our sea-fights, but, if we face the future well, and can only persuade others to come in for further conference on similar lines, I believe the chapter now opening is equally full of hope.
§ Mr. ROSE
I do not propose to approach this matter from the point of view of the naval expert, but it has occurred to me that, in all probability, the point of view of a workman may be of interest, if not of much value, to the House. But before I speak upon the specific points that I want to raise presently, I wish to ask the Financial Secretary one or two questions. In a note in the White Paper we are informed that £300,000 is all that is required on Account for the building of two capital ships. It will be within the recollection of the House that last year, in Committee 2446 of Supply, we granted £2,000,000 for the purpose of commencing work on four capital ships. I think we ought to be told where we are to look for that sum; what has been done with it; if spent, what it has been spent on; and, if it has not been spent, where it is, and whether it will be returned to the Treasury at the end of this financial year?
§ Mr. ROSE
I am very glad it is no worse. But I should like to know how this money, or portion of money, has been spent, and what the Admiralty are going to show us for the money spent. I do not know at. all what the procedure is now, but I do know that a good many years ago, when contractors undertook the construction of ships for the Royal Navy, the rule was to pay them one-third of their contract money when the keels were laid, another third when the boilers were in, and the remaining third after the ship had passed her trial. I do not know exactly what money could be spent on the preliminary stages of battleship building, unless it was money that was prepaid to contractors for work that they had not done, or for work that was in prospective, and I hope and trust, before these Estimates come out, or when the Estimates do come out, we shall have this matter fully explained, and we shall know exactly what money has been spent, and why it has been spent. That is the only reference I have to make to that. I want to direct the attention of the House to a Clause in the Geddes Report, and it is with this that I want to deal specially to-night. That portion of the Report, and its relation to the Vote we are discussing now, is, if not of the first importance, of very high importance to those who occupy these benches. This is the statement in the Report:An average of all the home dockyards shows us that £3 is paid in wages for every pound's worth of material consumed, whereas in private shipyards and repair yards doing naval repair and construction work, the 2447 comparable figures on such work are only £1 10s. for every £1 of material. This basis of comparison, though rough and ready, is generally accepted as a sound one. This confirms what is so often stated, that the Royal Dockyards are uneconomical. The country cannot afford to have its Admiralty work carried out at these rates, and, in our opinion, it should be clearly intimated that unless costs can be brought down by economical output and management, Admiralty work will have to be sent elsewhere.6.0 P.M.
I want to offer my complete endorsement of the sentiments and figures which every competent engineer knows are actually ridiculous. The very possibility of the labour of constructional, naval or engineering work costing more than the material is on the face of it, to every experienced man, an utter absurdity. The House will take notice of this: that the material used in constructional work in the engine shops and shipyards is the finished material of at least two other industries and before it goes to the dockyards it is already salted with at least three labour charges and three profits. To suggest that the labour occupied in manipulating this material costs more than the material itself is utterly absurd. At the same time I am not going to suggest—nobody with any common sense is—that the work in Admiralty dockyards does not cost a great deal more than the work done in shipyards run by private enterprise and a very great deal more than it ought to cost.
Let us first of all take the labour in the dockyards. It is exactly the same, if not a shade better, than the labour employed in the private establishments. The reason for that is that dockyard work offers that great desideratum for the workmen, continuity or comparative continuity, and the best workmen gravitate to the dockyards. Hence there is nothing the matter with the labour. What about the equipment? I do not know what it is now in the dockyards, but it ought to be up-to-date and competent, because we have to pay for it. Whether that is so with the plant and machinery that are put in there now I am not in a position to say. I used to be. If labour is the same, and if the machinery and equipment are as good as they should be, how are we to account for the disparity between the cost of Admiralty work and private work, except on the assumption of bad management? There cannot be 2448 anything else. The Geddes Report suggests that at the bottom you should turn out 10,000 men and substitute for them some sort of police raised from the Marine Reserves. But why do you want any police at all in Government dockyards? Do hon. Members know what a policeman does in a dockyard? His principal function is to stand at the gate as the men pass by and tap one or other of them on the shoulder. The man who is so tapped has to go inside an adjoining hut so that it may be seen whether he is not carrying out of the yard some armour plates, a planing machine, or anything of that sort, secreted, naturally, about his person! All that sort of rubbish is no use at all. Every competent managing engineer will tell you that the way to stop, or at all events minimise petty pilfering, is proper and effective storekeeping and a store distribution system. There is no other way. Ask your private enterprise contractor if he is prepared to undertake contract production with the same kind of overhead charges that you insist upon placing upon the dockyards? Get rid of your police at the bottom. You do not want them. They are no use. But attention to these matters is not only required at the bottom but at the top. There are a lot of admirals in dockyards. No doubt they are very admirable and agreeable gentlemen, but their place is on the water. They are no use as conductors and managers of constructive engineering places and naval establishments.
§ Mr. ROSE
That is exactly what they have not done. They have made a most horrible mess of it for many years. Here are all-round complaints that nobody can stand against or argue against that the dockyard costs are twice as much as those for work done in other shops. Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman call that success? I only say admirals, but there are a lot of chief engineers. There is all the paraphernalia of management in an exaggerated form. There are upstanding officials in our dockyards of one sort and another, from the admiral at the top to the policeman at the bottom, in the ratio of one non-producing official for 11 men employed. That is preposterous. Of course, dockyard work does not pay! Let us try to examine 2449 why. It will be remembered that on the occasion of Vote 8, a year ago, I offered some remarks to the House in connection with the armament ring. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ecclesall (Sir S. Roberts), who followed me in Debate, reprimanded me very vigorously for having left the inference—at least, the inference—that I was mildly hostile, to say the least, to the armament rings. The hon. Gentleman, replying to my reference to the armament rings, said:Let me tell the hon. Member there is an armament ring, and the Admiralty are part of it,I knew that forty years ago. I did not dare say so because I could not prove it, but I was obliged to my hon. Friend for having enabled me to prove it. It is a little bit of a mistake to suppose that the Admiralty runs the Royal Navy. It does not, except in the sense that the armament ring runs the Admiralty. It is necessary in the interests of the armament ring, of which the Admiralty is a section, that Government work should be made unprofitable—and so it is—that it should be unprofitable and inefficient, and as inefficient as possible. I do not know whether or not this opens up a very wide and a very broad policy. What I want to keep clear of is the general controversy as between collectivism and private enterprise. But I do believe that all those people who have the interests of the nation and the world earnestly and sincerely at heart are agreed that private enterprise in the making of implements of war and destruction ought to cease, and that every nation ought to make itself responsible for every ounce and every inch of armaments and munitions that it may require. It does not seem much to ask that. I know it may not be quite relevant, but perhaps I may be permitted to quote an illustration of what I desire to put forward. In Wool wich Arsenal—and my own party are not altogether without responsibility in the matter—100 locomotives were laid down and the loss on these was enormous. Why? Because there was no plant, no machinery, and because they had to alter their machine system—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman is getting rather wide of the question; he must confine himself to the dockyards and to the main question before the House.
§ Mr. ROSE
I was rather afraid I was getting a little astray, but I thought I would try it, because my illustration was so perfectly apposite. What has happened and what is happening in Woolwich Arsenal is happening every day in Government dockyards. It is, however, no use offering criticism of this kind if one is not prepared to offer some sort of constructive criticism and I put forward some alternative. What, then, is the alternative? What is a reasonable and rational alternative to begin with? The proper conception of what is the nation's duty in respect to its armaments is that, having Government factories, you shall make all you possibly can make there, and if there is more required than you can make in your own establishments, that, and only that, ought to go to private contractors. But you dare not touch a dockyard as the dockyards stand at present. Why, I remember one of the first jobs I had as a young man just out of my apprenticeship. I went down to a dockyard which is still running, and in spite of the advice given to me by my elders and betters, and of the old hands in the workshop who advised me never to go into a dockyard, because it was ruin to a young workman, and I have given the same advice since to scores of youngsters—
§ Mr. ROSE
I went into Chatham Dockyard, got engaged, and I was loft for two days with nothing to do. Then my chargeman brought me a job to the bench and handed it over, saying: "That will have to last you a week." It was a job that a two years' apprentice could have done in half-a-day. Yet there were scores, if not hundreds, of men in other branches of the engineering trade—my trade—I was going to say working, but not working. We got a half-day's overtime five days of the week, and this with little or nothing to do! Lower down at the shipyard end there was the old "Agamemnon" being built and a great big freak ship called the "Polyphemus" —which was never any good—and some smaller craft. Hon. Members may probably wonder how this extraordinary thing came about. In 1878 the late Lord Beaconsfield paralysed humanity by obtaining a supplementary grant for I £3,000,000—an awful sum in those days. 2451 As nearly as I can remember, Mr. Gladstone said some very severe things about it. In the allocation of this grant to the Chatham Dockyard some genius at Whitehall sent the shipyard part of it to the engine department and the engine grant to the shipyard department, so that we were there working for 12 months—not working really, we were there getting rid of this money, the destination of which could not be altered. Somebody had made a mistake, and it was fatal. I may be told that the whole thing was not very creditable to anybody concerned. My only excuse for having worked in a dockyard was that work was so exceedingly scarce elsewhere that when there was the possibility of getting a job—and preferring work to being idle—I took the work that I could get in the dockyard. That is not as things should be, and I want to know why a practical Board of Admiralty, knowing perfectly well what the potentialities of dockyards are or may be, do not blow out these Admirals as well as the police.
They should appoint as directors competent civilian naval architects or engineers, of just the same type that the private employer would appoint to look after his work, and this would come within reasonable grounds of a free hand. If this is done, you will find that not only can Government work be done much more cheaply, but quite as efficiently as anything you can buy from the armament ring to-day. I do not see why, even with the cast-iron rules of the Admiralty, this should be considered an impracticable thing. We suggest that this work should be taken out of the hands of ex-service officers, and put into the hands of competent civilians, in which case you would find yourselves free from a great deal of blundering you are subject to at the present time, and you would be free from the armament contractors. It seems to me that the Naval Estimates this year ought to have been in our hands, and I agree that this sort of thing only adds to our perplexity when we get this curious jumble of figures thrown at us, and mixed up with the Geddes recommendations.
We have not been told yet as to what sum this £300,000 is on account of, or how much you are going to spend altogether. Does this mean that if this £300,000 is incorporated in the Estimates, 2452 and we find that we want £3,000,000 or £4,000,000, we are to be confronted with. Supplementary Estimates as was the case this year. Generally speaking, I agree that the cuts in expenditure are amply justified. For my own part, although I am not a naval expert, I do not think that building even two capital ships, which will be obsolete before they get into the water, is a good investment. I cannot quite understand why, if we are to have two ships, they cannot at least be assembled in the dockyard. I know the dockyards cannot make the iron required for the ships, and they are only equipped for assembling, but we have a right to know why, if these two ships are to be of a modified design and come within the scope of the building docks, they cannot be brought there and the dockyards placed on an honest business footing.
Year after year we have passed these Estimates for dockyard services that we do not get. I know it is a common thing to say that the dockyard workman does not work, but he does not get a chance to work, and, under existing circumstances, he cannot work because he has not the work to do, and his efforts are mismanaged by incapacity above him. I urge the Admiralty to take, into serious consideration the necessity all round of a drastic reform in our dockyard system to enable our work to be done in our own workshops as expeditiously and much more efficiently and more cheaply than it is now done by private contractors. This is an obligation which nations have to take on their shoulders to-day. Those who are in favour of economic conditions which give private enterprise free play may easily conform to the idea of munitions of war, murder machinery, and implements of all sorts being manufactured by the State because the State ought to take the full responsibility for them and bear the whole of the cost.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I am sure the House will forgive me if I do not follow the discursive reminiscences of the hon. Member who has just sat down, because I think much of what he said was more appropriate to the Dockyard Vote than to the Policy Vote. I will pass at once to the admirable speech which has been made by the hon. and gallant Member for North Kensington (Lieut.-Colonel Burgoyne). The hon. and gas- 2453 lant Member supported the abolition of submarines, and I wholly agree with him. The difficulty is that France has wedded herself to a policy of submarines, and her policy is dependant upon the doctrine of sink-at-sight. That doctrine was originally a French doctrine and was advocated in the French Navy throughout the nineties of the last century, notably by Admiral Aube, Commandant Z, and what was so familiar to us all as the Jeune Ecole. They intended to apply this doctrine in connection with torpedo-boats and torpedo-boat destroyers. Now the submarine depends entirely for its success on a sink-at-sight doctrine, and I fear that so long as submarines are in existence nations defeated at sea will use them that way, despite all promises to abandon the doctrine of sink-at-sight. The hon. and gallant Member for North Kensington said that we were limited to 450,000 tons for cruisers for the American and British Navies. That was the original proposal, but it was all abandoned after the French refused to give up their submarine policy, and the only limitations were in regard to the tonnage of battleships, the total tonnage of aircraft carriers, and the tonnage of aircraft carriers themselves, and cruisers were also limited, I think, to 10,000 tons with 8-inch guns. There was no limit to the number of cruisers and the hon. and gallant Gentleman is mistaken on that point. I think it would have been a good thing if a copy of the Treaty could have accompanied the Estimates, because there are a great many erroneous ideas as to what the ultimate Treaty was.
The hon. and gallant Member was right in saying that the American Navy, but for the Washington Conference, would have been immensely stronger than our own Navy. I think it shows the good faith of the Americans in all these matters, that under the Washington Conference she has agreed to scrap 15 of her best post-Jutland ships. In this respect America has made an immense sacrifice. As regards America's probable opponent, Japan, they agreed not to develop their bases in the Western Pacific, thereby-hampering themselves, especially in regard to oil supplies, in any offensive they might possibly have to carry out if ever they found themselves at war with Japan. The hon. and gallant Member for North Kensington discussed the programmes after the ten years' period fixed 2454 by the Washington Conference has elapsed, and he told us what would have to be our own programme and the American programme of battleships. He seems to forget one point. The Washington Conference agreement itself provides for a meeting of the naval powers eight years hence, and we may be quite sure that a fresh agreement will be come to if the Treaty is duly carried out. For this reason I do not think it is necessary for me to discuss the likely naval programmes of America and this country in 1931 and 1932.
I pass now to the extraordinary speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert). He maintained the doctrine under which the British Fleet could not possibly be sent out to the Pacific. That doctrine is absolutely untrue, and if it were true it would be the end of the British Empire, because we could not hold our Empire in the Pacific unless we could send the Fleet. By his theory there would be no more naval war of fleets for neither the Japanese Fleet nor the British Fleet would be able to get at each other, and the same would apply to the American Fleet, but that doctrine is untrue. I think the right hon. Gentleman was on much safer ground when he urged that there was still room for economy.
In regard to the controversy over the Geddes Report, which I do not wish to enter upon now, a good deal depends on the purely arbitrary standards taken up with regard to our requirements for manning. Those standards were useful when we had to provide against, a highly prepared navy like that of Germany, but they are not now necessary when the Government have laid down that we are not to contemplate another war for at least 10 years. Where I think we have got down to the bone is in regard to cutting down the personnel. The Admiralty have endeavoured, especially on the naval side, to give the House the economics it desires, and they have cut down the naval personnel to 98,500 as compared with 80,500 for Japan. That reduces the margin against Japan, and it shows that they are acting on the doctrine that we are not to contemplate a war for at least 10 years to come. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton passed on to the question of oil, and he spoke of Singapore. We must have oil fuel resources at Singapore 2455 and the Admiralty are quite right in considering the matter. What I am anxious about is, do the Admiralty take into full account all the facilities that exist, such as the Shell Company possess? They seem to me only to think of what they possess themselves, forgetting all those resources that belong to private traders, which will be at their disposal and can be commandeered when war breaks out.
In the same way, in regard to the supply of oil, they seem to fix their minds solely on the Government property—the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. I believe all their contracts are with that company. I should like to know what is the contract price at which they are going to get their oil from the Anglo-Persian Oil Company next year. I believe it is a favourable contract. I may be told that these matters are confidential and are not disclosed. That is all very well when competitive tenders are put forward, but there are no competitive tenders, I believe, in this ease, and I want to satisfy myself whether it would not be possible to get supplies from a British company like the. Shell Company, and whether it would not be possible to make a more satisfactory bargain in that way. I am told that the Shell Company are supplying the Japanese Navy with 250,000 tons of oil next year. That shows that a company on which the British Navy practically depended in the late War, and to which the Admiralty are very much indebted, is in a position to tender. It is not right therefore that the Government company should be the only one to be asked for a tender. If the Shell Company or any other company were invited to tender, I should like to be informed of the fact.
There is another possible economy to which I would like to direct the attention of the House. We are going to lay down two battleships under the Washington Agreement. The Agreement is that we are to scrap four old ships if we desire to lay down two new ones. I believe that four of the "King George" class are to be scrapped under this Agreement. We are going to lay these two ships down in the beginning of 1923. Is that necessary? We have one post-Jutland ship, the "Hood"—the Japanese have two. We had better get away from the idea that we are contemplating rivalry with the 2456 United States. No one believes that. The real truth is that we contemplate only the Japanese Navy. The argument must be that the Japanese Navy have two post-Jutland ships, very powerful ships, while we have only one. If we are not to contemplate war, we have still a powerful reinforcement in our older ships. If we do not start these two new ships, we shall have 22 capital ships to Japan's 10. If we build the two ships, and have to scrap four old ships, we shall have 20 capital ships to the Japanese 10, and three of our own will be post-Jutland ships. I therefore do not see any danger in postponing the building of the ships, or, at any rate, one of them. If we postpone them, and we can lay them down at any time during the next nine years, we shall be able to take full advantage of all the research and inventions of the British Navy. I agree entirely with the plea put forward by the First Lord of the Admiralty that we must not starve research for the Navy, for that proved of the utmost benefit during the War. One problem alone would Justify the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of pounds, and that is the question of applying internal combustion engines to warships so as to get a high speed instead of the low speeds now possible. If we solve that problem we shall have entirely solved the difficulty of maintaining a fleet in the Pacific. Therefore, I hope the Admiralty will stick to their guns, and not cut down the expenditure on research work.
I do not wish to trench on the discussion which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the West Derby Division (Sir R. Hall) is going to raise, but I am sure he will forgive me if I mention one or two points in connection with aircraft. The Washington Agreement gives us a proportion of 5 to 3, as against Japan in regard to aircraft carriers. We are to be allowed 135,000 tons and Japan is to be allowed in proportion, while all the existing tonnage built or building can be considered as experimental and may be replaced. Aircraft are of increasing importance and every day becomes more powerful as against warships. The bombs which they can drop are capable of sinking battleships, and they are invaluable for reconnaissance work and as against smoke screens while they enable our ships to fire at the enemy at a great distance. From an offensive point of view, against the enemy fleet they are absolutely in- 2457 valuable. It seems to me that the Navy should have the management of its own aircraft in connection with the fleet. I supported the formation of a separate Air Ministry, but then we had plenty of money to spend at that time. Aircraft were being improved every day. It was a great experiment. Now we are getting on much more settled lines, and the Navy finds itself in this position, that it does not have the training of the officers, and the aircraft are not built to naval requirements, which are totally dissimilar to Army and civil requirements. It is economically unsound. I think distinguished airmen will bear me out when I say that the life of an airman is very short. He has to come to ground after a few years.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
At any rate, there is hardly any future career for him. It must be so. If you have these officers specialising like young submarine officers, they can have a career in the Naval Service, and may become admirals. It is said that admirals do not know enough about the air. This would help to meet that difficulty. I am not, however, going to trench on the discussion which my hon. and gallant Friend proposes to raise, neither am I going to be dogmatic about the matter. I will, however, appeal to Members of the House to use their influence with the Government to set up a Commission or Committee, which we can trust, to inquire into the whole of this question whether the Navy shall have control of its own Air Service.