HC Deb 12 March 1923 vol 161 cc1083-107

Orders for Committee read.

The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Amery)

I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

The new Estimates have now been for some days in the hands of hon. Members, who will, no doubt, in due course, perhaps at a later hour to-night, desire fuller information on many points of detail arising out of them. My immediate purpose, however, is to present them to the House in broad outline and to endeavour more particularly to convey, if I can, their significance in the general scheme of our post-War policy. The Estimates which were laid before the House a year ago were based on the new policy of definitely limited Naval armaments prescribed by the Washington Treaty, which had then just been agreed to by the representatives of the Great Powers concerned. But they, obviously, could not embody the full financial results of that policy. The reductions in the personnel both of the Fleet and of the dockyards, which I then announced, were necessarily spread over a considerable period, and the direct and indirect economies resulting from them could only be realised gradually over a course of years, while against these economies had to be set the heavy charge of some £3,000,000 for the scheme of compensation to the officers and men whose careers were sacrificed to the public interest.

It is consequently only in the present Estimates that the full effect of the new Admiralty policy can be seen. These Estimates are, comparing gross Estimates, over £8,000,000, and comparing net Estimates, nearly £7,000,000 below the Estimates for the current year. But the true comparison, the comparison which brings out the significance of the policy carried out during the last 12 months, is not with the Estimates of the current year, but with the Estimates of the preceding year. Those Estimates marked what, but for the Washington Treaty, would probably have been the lowest point reached by the Navy Estimates in our generation. They included the first steps in a policy of replacing, by modern capital ships of unlimited power and dimensions, a battle fleet which was rapidly being rendered obsolescent in face of the vast new building programmes of America and Japan. The progress of that policy of replacement would, in spite of every administrative economy and of every saving resulting from the fall in prices, have very soon forced up our net Estimates by another £15,000,000 or £20,000,000.

That was the situation which, in the absence of an agreement at Washington, I should have been compelled to lay before the House of Commons to-day. As it is we have, in barely 12 months, brought down the gross Navy Estimates from £92,000,000 to under £61,500,000, a reduction of over 33⅓ per cent, and the net Estimates from £83,444,000 to £58,000,000, a proportionate reduction of 30 per cent. and an actual reduction of £25,444,000. To achieve so drastic a retrenchment we have had to reduce the personnel of the Fleet. by nearly 20,000 officers and men, and to reduce the personnel of the dockyards by another 10,000 men. We have rendered impotent for fighting purposes and handed over to the shipbreakers 17 splendid and comparatively modern capital ships. We have cut down every reserve of ammunition, of fuel, of stores to the very minimum compatible with our safety. We have postponed and spread out over long periods necessary expenditure which, from the purely Naval point of view, ought to be incurred without delay. We have, in more than one direction, accepted risks which we can only contemplate with serious misgiving. But it is only by these means that we have been able to ensure the striking reductions in the total figures which I have given to the House.

I would commend those figures to the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) who, judging by the terms of the Motion which stands on the Paper in his name, seems to think that we have done nothing to bring about a reduction of expenditure or a limitation in naval armaments. I venture, on the contrary, to claim that the figures of these Estimates represent a very substantial contribution to the relief of that burden of taxation under which the industries of this country are slowly plodding their way back to recovery. They represent, also, from the point of view emphasised in the second part of the hon. Member's Motion, a no less substantial contribution to the cause of world peace. But I am bound also to remind the House that, from the point of view of the Board of Admiralty, they represent a grave responsibility, a responsibility which we have not assumed without anxious deliberation or without the most earnest balancing of all the broad considerations of national and, indeed, of world welfare, which have outweighed the purely technical and professional arguments in favour of a larger measure of insurance against the foreseeable and unforeseeable risks which may beset our existence.

The credit for these figures belongs in the fullest sense to my colleagues, and more particularly to my naval colleagues, on the Board of Admiralty. Without their active concurrence and help at every stage, these far-reaching reductions would either have been utterly impossible or could only have been secured at the cost of wrecking the whole framework and fabric of our naval efficiency. My experience, extending now over three successive series of Naval Estimates, has increasingly confirmed the conviction that the wide measure of financial responsibility which, under our Admiralty system, is vested in the controlling Sea Lords at the head of the great spending Departments of the Admiralty, is fully justified by the true economy achieved. A great Navy can never be otherwise than a costly form of insurance. But this House and the country can, at any rate, rest assured that they are getting full value for the money which they spend on the Navy.

I have spoken of the economies which we have effected as resulting from the Washington Agreement. But it is essential that the House should bear in mind that they not only go far beyond the strict terms of that Agreement, which simply limits the dimensions and armament and, in certain cases, the actual number of our ships of war, and imposes no restriction whatever either -on our personnel or on our expenditure, but also that these economies have been carried out in anticipation of the Treaty and in advance of action by any of the co-signatory Powers. We were under no obliga- tion to take any action till every signatory Power had ratified the Treaty. We, fact, took action immediately we had subscribed to the Treaty ourselves, before either we ourselves or any other Power had ratified it, and we did so wholeheartedly, committing ourselves irretrievably from the outset to the utmost measure of reduction which that Agreement could justify. In doing so we ran no small risk, I admit. But by our act of faith we have secured for the taxpayer the immediate fruition of great economies which would otherwise have- had to be deferred for something like two years. We have done more than that. We have given an earnest of our good will and an example which, I believe, will prove the determining factor in securing not only the early ratification of the Treaty itself, but its carrying out by all the Powers concerned.

The actual position, I might remind the House, as regards the implementing of the Treaty by other Powers is as follows: It has been ratified by the United States and Japan. It has been passed by both Houses of Parliament in Italy, and only awaits the Royal Assent. We now have every reason to assume that it will come before the French Chambers for ratification at an early date. We, of course, ratified it a long time ago. Of those who have already ratified it, the United States have dismantled or sold seven obsolete ships and are now making financial provision for the cost of breaking up in the coming year—that is, assuming general ratification—the eleven new capital ships designated for scrapping under Treaty on which construction has been suspended, though they do not propose to take action until all concerned have ratified. Japan is similarly holding her hand pending ratification, but has paid off some of her older ships, and has actually removed the armament of five. Both America and Japan have made reductions in personnel, though not on as large a scale as ourselves. Reviewing the whole situation, I think we can safely say that there is every reasonable prospect of the Treaty, not only being ratified, but being carried out effectively in the near future by the only other Powers upon whom it imposes any active obligations.

The main principle by which the limitation of naval armaments was made effective in this Treaty was that of equality in battle strength between the United States and the British Empire, as measured in the individual displacement and gun power and the total tonnage of our capital ships, with a corresponding ratio of approximately three-fifths for the battle strength of Japan. There was no restriction on the numbers or types of other war vessels, in view of the wide difference in the circumstances of each of the Powers, but only a general overhead limitation of individual displacement and gun power, so devised as to differentiate sharply all other types of ships from the great capital ships, which, in the considered opinion of all the Naval Staffs, still constitute the unchallengeable pivot and mainstay of the naval battle. That general principle of limitation was one which we could accept as consistent with the maintenance of the one-power standard—the standard which for us represents the absolute and irreducible minimum of our security—and as at the same time allowing us a. wide latitude for adjusting the organisation of our Navy to our own peculiar needs.

The House will, naturally, wish to know how we have, in fact, interpreted that one-power standard under the Treaty. For that purpose I will invite hon. Members to follow me for a few minutes while I draw a brief comparison between the post-Washington Fleets of the British Empire and of the United States. Of capital ships we have 22 completed and two just laid down, on the completion of which, four years hence, four of our capital ships are to be scrapped. The United States have 18 completed, two of which are destined to be shortly displaced by two ships of the "West Virginia" class now under construction. But, to arrive at true comparisons between the fighting values of these fleets, it is essential to keep in mind the immense difference in fighting power between any ships built before the Battle of Jutland and those which embody the lessons of that great action. Until our two 35,000-ton battleships are completed—and, as I said just now, that will not be for four years—we shall have only one partially post-Jutland ship, the "Hood," as against three on the part of the United States and two on the part of Japan; while of ships over 30,000 tons we shall have only one, as compared with 10 in the case of the United States and six in the case of Japan. Of cruisers and light cruisers we have 45 completed, or 50 if we include the Dominion Navies, as against 20 on the part of the United States; and four building as against nine. Of aircraft carriers we have five built and two being reconstructed, while the United States have one completed and two being reconstructed from the hulls of their battle cruisers. Of destroyers and flotilla leaders we have 188—or 201 including the Dominions—built and five building, as compared with 316 on the part of the United States. Of submarines, we have 57 built—or 65 including the Dominions—and four building, as compared with 99 built and 29 building on the part of the United States. In fact, while stronger in light cruisers and aircraft carriers—the inevitable consequence of our far more scattered territories and trade interests—we are very markedly inferior in destroyers and in submarines.

When it comes to ships actually in full commission, we maintain 15 capital ships as against 18, 37 cruisers as against 10, 65 destroyers and flotilla leaders as against 109, and 39 submarines as against 73. A more general standard of comparison is afforded by our respective totals of personnel and expenditure. The total personnel provided for in these Estimates, excluding coastguards, is 99,500. The total corresponding figure for the United States Navy for the coming year is 116,400, though this includes some 5,000 officers and men doing naval air work, as against only 1,140 borne provisionally on these Estimates for that. purpose. The American Navy Estimates for the coming year, excluding naval aviation and certain non-effective items, amount to nearly 320,000,000 dollars, or, at the current rate of exchange, about £68,350,000. Our corresponding Estimate for the same items of effective expenditure is £50,600,000.


Is not the cost of production in ships arid wages greater in the United States?


I know, but the difference is very much greater still between our figures. I think it is clear, from the comparison I have given, that, so far from importing into our maintenance of the one-power standard a spirit of keen and jealous competition, we have, on the contrary, interpreted that standard with a latitude which can only be justified by our desire to avoid provoking competition in armaments and by our conception of the special relationship of good will and mutual understanding which exists between ourselves and the United States. It is with the same latitude that we have also dealt with the problem of the balance of naval power as compared with Japan in Far Eastern and Pacific waters, spreading out over a long number of years the preparations in respect of oil fuel bases and the improvement of docking facilities which, if we feared any serious divergence of policy, let alone the possibility of actual conflict, we should be bound to press forward and carry into effect immediately.

I may be asked by hon. Members opposite why, if we contemplate no conflict, or even friction, with the great naval Powers which I have named, should we attempt, in our present difficult financial position, to aim even at equality? The German fleet is at the bottom of Scapa Flow; we have no other immediate menace to fear; why should not we drop quietly, for a time at any rate, into the second or third place? I would ask hon. Members, do they really think that it is possible for us, of all nations—we who have everything at stake on the sea—even in times of profoundest peace, even when the horizon seems fairest, to run the risk of being obviously and demonstrably inferior to any other Power, however friendly that Power may be? There is no certainty in the domain of international affairs. The clearest sky may be suddenly overclouded, and nations may be swept from their peaceful course by a storm which has sprung up almost without warning. Rut one thing is certain. A great -Navy, once let clown, cannot be re-improvised in an emergency. It is not only that the ships take years to build; the training and instinct required to handle that amazing complex of mechanism, a modern battleship, need a generation to teach. Is there any Government, whatever its political complexion, which could afford to gamble with our whole existence on the probability of perpetual world peace? We, at any rate, are not prepared to run that risk or to incur that terrible responsibility.

As a matter of fact, if we did contemplate the contingency of serious difference with any other Power in the near future, we should certainly not be justified in resting content with a one-power standard, or one interpreted in so easy-going a spirit. We have never done so before. During the years of rivalry and contention between ourselves and the Russo-French Alliance at the end of the last century, we laid down as our general guiding standard that of two Powers to one—a two-power standard. More than that, we took good care to interpret that two-power standard so as to give ourselves a very substantial margin of strength over the combined forces of any possible adversaries. That margin preserved the peace when the sudden crisis arose over Fashoda in 1898. A year later it saved us from the possibility—by no means a remote possibility—of joint German, French and Russian intervention in the South African War. When the menace of German naval ambitions displaced the older rivalry with France and Russia, we fixed that margin at a 60 per cent. superiority in capital ships. Will anyone suggest to-day that we ought to have fixed it at a lower margin?

If, then, we do dispense with such a margin, if we are content with an easy equality, it is just because there are no underlying rivalries or conflicts of purpose which could bring a war within the zone of reasonable probability in the near future, and because there is a widespread desire for peace and for relief from the burden of armaments, which we, on our part, have done everything by our example to encourage. But there is a limit to the risk we can afford to run by weakening ourselves in order to promote peace—if, indeed, we do promote peace by going beyond that limit—and we have reached it. I should be failing in my duty to this House and to the country if I suggested the possibility of further reductions in our strength in succeeding years. On the contrary, I must ask the House to keep clearly in mind that these are exceptional Estimates, framed to meet an exceptional financial situation, and that the economies which we have achieved are, in part, at any rate, due to the postponement of necessary ex- penditure which will have to be made up with the return of more normal conditions.

No part of the task of carrying through this scheme of reduction has been so difficult and painful as that which has been concerned with the cutting down of personnel. The terms of compensation for loss of career and prospects which we fixed for officers and men have, I think, been generally regarded as meeting the case fairly, and even generously, in so far as money compensation can ever meet such a case. We offered these terms in the first instance for voluntary acceptance, hoping in this way to discover those to whom the compensation might, for one reason or another, be a real inducement to leave, and so reduce compulsory discharges to a minimum. As regards the men, we, to a very large extent, attained our object. Of 12,250 men to be discharged, all except 550 have applied voluntarily. That we have been compelled, in the last few weeks of the financial year, to select even 550 for compulsory discharge is in itself regrettable, but the relative figures for voluntary and compulsory discharges prove that our terms did in the main appeal to the men.

As regards officers, the terms have appealed to about two-thirds of the total of 2,000 who will have left by the end of the financial year, but this has been mainly in the warrant officer class and in the non-executive branches. Among executive officers the reduction has had to be made almost entirely by compulsory selection. The lists had already been most drastically weeded out by previous reductions, and there had been practically no inferior officers left to eliminate. The task with which the Board of Admiralty have been confronted has been the anxious and truly invidious task of scrutinising records in order to find some way of deciding who among officers of high ability and distinguished service could be said to be even a shade behind their fellows. It was impossible that selection carried out under such conditions should not give rise to heartburning and disappointment; but it does speak well for the patient care and fairness with which the Sea Lords have carried out their painful task that their verdict has been so generally accepted.

A period of cutting down such as we have just passed through is not only dis- couraging to the service itself but to those outside who are thinking of joining or allowing their sons to join; but. I believe I can venture to give both to the service and to the parents the assurance that we have reached the limit of possible reduction, and that they need not fear a recurrence of any other such period as that through which the Navy has just passed. As every care has been taken in the present reductions, both as regards officers and men, to avoid creating the possibility of blocks in promotion in future, I think I can say with confidence that the prospects of those who arc now entering the Navy, in all ranks, are as good as they have been in the past.

There is one further item in the reduction of naval personnel to which I ought to make special reference. The coastguard which was transferred from the Board of Customs to the Board of Admiralty in 1856 has, under modern conditions, ceased to be of direct value to the fighting Navy. Except for certain wireless operations, its work has in fact been entirely devoted to purposes for which the Board of Trade and the Board of Customs are responsible. It is obvious that a system under which one Department does the work and pays for it and another Department prescribes what it wants done is not likely to be economical. The change which has now been decided upon, following the recommendations of the Geddes Committee and of the Special Committee which sat under the chairmanship of Sir William Mitchell Thomson, has certainly resulted in a very considerable economy of personnel. In place of 2,925 coastguards under the Admiralty, there will be 352 for the naval shore wireless service, 935 coastguards for life saving service under the Board of Trade, and 450 for the preventive service under the Customs—a total saving of nearly 1,200 men.

There seems to be some apprehension in certain quarters that the efficiency of the coast watching service will suffer by the transfer to the Board of Trade. As the decision of the site of stations has always rested with the Board of Trade, and as the personnel will, in the main, be the same, recruited in the first instance from the present coastguard, and in future from retired naval officers and pensioners, it is not easy to see in what respect the efficiency of the service could really be adversely affected. There are, I know, cer- tarn difficulties connected with the particular stations which are now being administered for Lloyds by the Admiralty under a contract, but pending a settlement of this difficulty the Admiralty have arranged with the Board of Trade to retain control and management of these stations for a further three months until the end of June.

No legislation will be required for the transfer of the life-saving service to the Board of Trade, though legislation will be necessary to enable the Admiralty formally to divest itself of responsibility in respect of its revenue duties, and to transfer to the Board of Trade power to take over those duties, in so far as at certain points they cannot be carried out by the Board of Customs direct. This need not, however, delay the transfer which is to take place on the 31st March. The existing Coastguard will on that date be discharged with the discharge gratuity to which their services entitle them, plus an additional gratuity as compensation for the curtailment of their naval careers, proportioned to the years of expected service lost. Of this latter gratuity, a portion, in no case exceeding one-half, will have to be refunded on entering the new service of the Board of Trade or the Board of Customs.

As regards the dockyard personnel, we have, I trust, also come, with the last heavy cut of some 10,000 men, to the end of the period of unsettlement and discouragement inevitably consequent upon a period of reduction. Apart from any question of new shipbuilding programmes, there is plenty of work to keep the present staff fully occupied for some years to come, a condition of things which ought to enable us not only to retain our men, but to get the best work out of them. There has already been a very satisfactory improvement in the output of work with the return of more normal and stable conditions. Here, too, the process of reduction has had its painful and anxious side. It has inevitably added to the volume of unemployment, already serious, in the great dockyard centres, which depend almost entirely on Admiralty work for their livelihood, and which consequently felt the full and direct loss resulting from measures of economy, whose countervailing gains will only come back to them slowly and indirectly in the course of a general improvement in our trade condi- tions. I am glad to say, however, that in connection with the general measures for the relief of unemployment this w inter, the Admiralty were authorised to devote sonic of the unexpended surplus in the current Estimates to taking on about 1.000 unemployed men for work during the last few months.

All these reductions in personnel and in the material strength of our establishments have made it more necessary than ever to devote our attention to those imponderable things that matter even more than numbers or armaments, and take even longer to make good. I mean to education and training, to scientific research, to the sound organisation of our staff work, and the fostering and strengthening of all the great traditions which have made the Navy what it always has been, not only a sure shield, but a quickening and inspiring element in the life of the nation. I have been privileged in the last few months to see something of this inner aspect of the Navy. Two impressions in particular stand out in my mind. One is that of treading the hallowed decks of the Victory—Nelson's flagship, and still the flagship of the Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth—and realising how the spirit of Nelson and the Nelson tradition still pervade and dominate the whole life of the Service. The "Victory" has now been saved from possible disaster by being brought into dock, where she is shored up, and receiving such repairs as are necessary for her salvation. The further task of clearing away the new bows and other superstructure added after 1820 and restoring her to the exact state in which she fought at Trafalgar is one which we feel we cannot, in these difficult times, treat as a strictly naval requirement, to be paid for out of Navy Estimates. We can only hope that the appeal which Admiral Sturdee is making to the patriotic generosity of the public throughout the Empire will meet with a sufficient response. The House is already aware that one anonymous well-wisher of the Navy has made a splendid gift of £50,000 towards the £150,000 required.

My other impression, at the very opposite end of the historical scale, is that of the Cadets at Dartmouth, the boys who are destined to carry on and develop, under new conditions, the great traditions of the past. I do not think it would be possible to find anywhere a finer training school, a better all-round education of mind, spirit, and body, amid more beautiful and inspiring surroundings, or a keener, manlier lot of boys than are to be found there. The noble building which has taken the place of the old Britannia has, thanks to the intimate collaboration of naval officers and public schoolmasters to give it each of their best, truly become what Milton wished his ideal school to be —a place where young men are stirred up with high hopes of living to be brave men and worthy patriots, dear to God; where they shall have an abundance of exercises, which shall keep them healthy, nimble, strong and well in breath; which, being tempered with precepts of true fortitude and patience, will turn into a national valour, and make them hate the cowardice of doing wrong. I have specially mentioned Dartmouth, but my impression of all the naval educational establishments and specialist schools, whether for officers or men, is the same. There is everywhere the same adaptation of the traditions of the past to the imperative needs of modern science; the same simple, direct spirit fearlessly tackling the immense complexities and responsibilities of the problem of the future. The sailor's life is one continuous process of education in technical proficiency as well as in responsibility. The one danger is that the demands of the teacher and specialist may encroach too much upon the time given, especially in youth, to what, after all, remains the foundation of all things in a great Navy, the understanding and love of the sea. After all, in the last resort, it is not science alone that counts in the critical moment, but science at the disposal of the quick eye and the instant decision, in the teeth it may he of a bitter gale or in the appalling and bewildering conditions of a great battle.

5.0 P.M.

I do not think that anyone who has not been brought into direct contact with the problems of a modern navy can realise the technical transformation which has been wrought in recent years, a transformation which has been immensely accelerated by the experience of the late War. The Navy of to-day and to-morrow is almost as different from the Navy of 20 years ago as that Navy was from the Navy of the old sailing ship days. The development of wireless, of mining and counter-mining, of submarine attack and defence, of aviation—all these things have transformed the work, and with it the organization of the Navy. It is the failure to realise this that has been responsible for some of the criticism of "shore establishments," as if these were unnecessary accretions to the active work of the Fleet, places of refuge in which superfluous officers and men are tucked away and draw their pay while waiting for something to do. On the contrary, these establishments are training schools and research establishments of the most intensive character, and are indispensable to the efficiency of the Navy under modern conditions. No part of the money we are spending in these Estimates is better spent than that which is devoted to them, and the relative increase in the sums spent on Votes 5 and 6, the Educational and Scientific Services in the total Estimates, to-day, as compared with pre-War figures, is, I confidently claim, evidence of the truest economy, of the determination to achieve the greatest future results from the minimum of total expenditure in the present.

It is this same profound difference in the character of the post-War Navy that accounts in no small measure for the difference in central organisation which is reflected in Vote 12. The increase in that Vote over pre-War figures is, of course, due in large measure to the great increase in salaries and wages which applies to the Civil Service generally. It is in part due to the clearing up of the post-War financial situation to which has to be added the heavy extra work of carrying through the programme of reductions. It is also in part due to extra duties imposed upon the Admiralty by Parliament. Marriage allowances, welfare development, Whitley Councils, Naval voting—all these things are good in themselves, no doubt, but they involve a great amount of extra work, which is necessarily reflected in the numbers and cost of the Admiralty staff. It is due even more to the increasing complexity of modern warfare. Every new weapon, every new electrical or mechanical device has to be dealt with in the Admiralty on its technical merits. But it does not stand by itself. It affects design and construction. It affects tactics and training, it raises a score of new problems which someone has to work out. To starve the thinking Departments which have to deal with these problems and whose right conclusions on these problems may make the difference between the saving and the waste of tens of millions, would, surely, be the height of unwisdom.

In many ways we suffered in the late War as the result of inadequate headquarters' staff organization, and for us to set up our admitted inadequacy of those days as the ideal to which we should revert in post-War times would be to flout every lesson of experience. These Estimates are, in the main, not the work of politicians or of buraucrats, but of practical sailors; of men imbued with the conviction that the strength of the Service is the ship; who think in terms of the naval battle and not of the office stool. If they in their endeavour to secure the very maximum of fighting efficiency for a given sum of money have decided that they have carried out all the reductions in the staff of the Admiralty which present conditions allow of, we may presume, not unreasonably, that their judgment in this respect is not less sound or less unprejudiced than in regard to any other Votes comprised in these Estimates.

Some brief references are made in the memorandum, supplemental to my explanatory statement, to the activities of the Navy during the current year. I need not expand these now, except in regard to one or two points. I think the House will be glad to know that the visit of the "Hood" and "Repulse" to Rio de Janeiro, on the occasion of the Brazilian centenary celebrations last autumn, was an unqualified success. The impression created by the appearance of those two splendid ships was great in itself. But it was surpassed by the impression created by the bearing and conduct of our officers and men, who not only showed themselves to be good sportsmen—they gained nine firsts out of 15 athletic events—but gentlemen, who realised that they wore each and all responsible for the credit of their country. I sincerely hope that this good impression may not be allowed to he obliterated and fade away, but that in one way or another the Navy may regain more frequent touch with the prosperous and progressive nations of the South American Continent.

The most important and significant part of the Navy's work in the past year has been in connection with the events in the Near East. I would remind the House that it, was thanks to the presence of the Navy and the authority exercised by our Commanders that the evacuation of Smyrna was successfully carried out, and that in barely a fortnight, working in conjunction with the United States, nearly 200,000 Greek and Armenian refugees were safely got away. When the subsequent crisis in our relations with Turkey arose, the Mediterranean Fleet was rapidly reinforced and concentrated in Turkish waters. An improvised battalion of Marines was at once despatched to Constantinople to reinforce the Army, large numbers of guns were mounted and manned by the Navy at the Dardanelles, and large parties of seamen landed to help the Army in digging trenches at Chanak. The pressure of military and naval power in conjunction has never been exercised for the preservation of peace more efficaciously than it was during those critical weeks.

The temporary reinforcement of the Mediterranean fleet is, however, I believe, only the first step in our gradual return to a more normal distribution of the Navy after the abnormal concentration in home waters imposed on us by the development of that German menace. The main task of the Navy is, after all, not to act as coastguard to the United Kingdom, but to keep open everywhere the seas whose freedom is our very life-breath and the condition of our existence as an Empire. The distribution of the Navy must depend on the strategic circumstances of any given time. But the Navy must be free to go anywhere. It is not free to go anywhere to-day owing to the fact that we have neither supplies of oil nor the docking and repairing facilities required to give it the necessary mobility. We can at present neither send our battle fleet to the Far East nor maintain it there.

It is to remedy that situation that we are gradually building up our chain of oil reserves at the various strategic points on our ocean routes, and that we are now making a beginning on a very small scale with the necessary preparations for eventually creating at Singapore a Naval base capable of dealing with the requirements of a fleet of modern capital ships.

At present there is no dock in British territory in the East capable of taking a capital ship. The Washington Treaty precludes us from expanding and developing Hong Kong, and, as a matter of fact, the position of Singapore on the direct route to the Far East and on the flank of our commercial and strategic line of communications with Australia is naturally the one best suited for our purpose. It is for us almost what the Panama Canal is to the United States, our gateway to the Pacific. The ultimate development of this base, with the necessary graving docks and locks, workshops and stores, will cost some £11,000,000, but this will be spread over a long period of years. Only £200,000 in all will be required in the present Estimates for preparatory work, and only comparatively small sums in the near future.

There is in this, of course, no suggestion of any difficulties in our relations with Japan. On the contrary, if there were even an apprehension of such difficulties we should not be dealing in such leisurely fashion with what is an indispensable prerequisite of any strategic action in the Pacific. We are simply carrying out at our own time a measure essential to the performance by the Fleet of its proper function in Imperial defence. We have often in the past in appealing to the Dominions to co-operate more effectively in the naval defence of the Empire reminded them that their destiny might be settled by an action in the North Sea. It is equally necessary for us to remember that our destiny may in the future, as in our past history, depend on what happens in the most distant seas of the world. I want to insist more particularly on this point, that our existence depends on the freedom of the Navy to keep open the seas of the world, because it has been so largely obscured by the impressions of the late War. The Navy did keep them open for us and closed to our enemies, and this was the main cause of our winning the War. But because it happened to do so in and from the North Sea we are apt to fall into the mistake of thinking that the chief task of the Navy was to hold the narrow seas.

And this leads to the even more serious error of supposing that because the local problem of the defence of the narrow seas has been profoundly affected, as it has, by the development of aviation, that the importance of the Navy has thereby been diminished in our scheme of defence, or even that aerial defence is in some way or other destined to supersede naval defence. The importance of the air is bound to develop enormously and will increasingly affect our social and economic life as well as the problems of our defence. But that will not alter the fundamental physical and mechanical fact that the surface between water and air will always remain the plane in which the greatest weight—and consequently the greatest potential offensive and defensive strength—can be propelled the greatest distance with the least expenditure of effort. The sea will always remain the chief base of world wide mobile power. But undoubtedly the effective exercise of sea-power itself will be profoundly influenced by the use of the new weapon of the air.

How this can best be done is a question on which, as the House is, of course, perfectly aware, the Admiralty and the Air Ministry have taken different views. The Air Ministry hold—I trust I am not misrepresenting their views—that as the air is one continuous element the concentration and unification of all forms of air warfare under a single control will lead to the greatest efficiency. The Admiralty is not concerned with laying down so broad a general principle. It does not claim control, for instance, over air operations conducted over the sea from shore bases, or wish to revive the old Naval Air Service. But it claims that the naval air work which is directly a part of the naval battle, which is based on the fighting fleet itself, is so vital and integral a part of work of the Navy, so identical in its essential characteristics with the work done by the other naval weapons which contribute to the same result, that it can be most effectively done only as part of the same Service. This difference of points of view affecting two great Services can only be settled by the kind of inquiry which the Prime Minister has announced. It is to be hoped, in the interests of the efficiency of both Services, that it will be settled with the least possible delay.


How many inquiries have we already had on this subject?


We have not had the inquiry promised last year. The idea was to find out if it were possible to settle the matter by adjustment. The experience of the year has shown that it is not so, and the necessary inquiry is now to be held, I believe, with all possible dispatch.

Rear-Admiral SUETER

Why did the Admiralty get rid of the Naval Air Service?


I had very much rather not enter into that question. It is to be discussed on the Air Estimates. I apologise for having gone so far in mentioning the fact that there is this difference of point of view. I must apologise to the House also if I have detained hon. Members too long. I have endeavoured to .give a true picture of the present position of the Navy and of its part in the general policy of the Government. We are pledged to economy. I believe these Estimates fully honour that pledge. We are pledged to maintain peace if we can. Our endeavour has been in the naval policy on which these Estimates are based to go to the utmost lengths in promoting the mutua1 easing off of naval armaments and of the suspicions which those armaments are apt to engender, without creating an even graver danger to our peace and to our very existence by leaving ourselves defenceless at sea. What the Navy means to us has been summed up far better than I could do it, and more impartially, as coming from a great citizen of another country—I mean the late Mr. Page—in one of his letters which I was reading only a day or two ago— The British Fleet, in fact, is a subject that stands alone in power and value. Since over and over again it has saved these islands when nothing else could have saved them, and since during this War in particular it Las saved the world from German conquest … it lies in their reverence and their gratitude and their abiding convictions as a necessary and perpetual shield so long as Great Britain shall endure. … It is not only a fact with a great and saving history, it is also a sacred tradition and an article of faith.


Whether we agree with the First Lord or not, we always know that in introducing the Naval Estimates he will enlighten the House with a polished, lucid and eloquent utterance, and this afternoon has been no exception to the rule. To me the most gratifying portion of his speech was that all the powers which signed the Washington Conference were taking active steps to ratify and carry out the agreement arrived at.


They are not.


The First Lord told us that America, Italy, France and Japan were taking such steps. If the hon. Member has other information, he will give it to the House.


I will.


May I go on without interruption? The hon. Member is always interrupting. I know the source of the interruption. May I suggest to the First Lord that these comparisons of British naval strength with the naval strength of the United States are somewhat ill-timed. I do not think Britain wants to measure its naval strength with the United States. The United States of America has shown itself to be a firm friend of the old country in the late War. I cannot imagine that it would ever be the policy of His Majesty's Government to build against the United States, and therefore I deplore these comparisons of numbers of ships and numbers of personnel between the United States of America and Britain. When the right hon. Gentleman talks about an easy equality, really we must face facts. If the United States likes to build a bigger navy than Britain, she can afford to do so.


indicated dissent.


When the taxation of this country is £10 13s. per head, and in the United States, a richer country, only £6 per head, I do not think the facts need much elaboration. But I must say the. First Lord sent a cold shiver down my back when he told us there was an end of the reduction in naval expenditure. I hope not, for naval expenditure to-day is very high. The First Lord has told us we have made great reductions as compared with two years ago. I submit that that is not a true comparison. You have to go back to pre-War figures. The German Fleet was then in being. Now it is at the bottom of the sea. The gross Estimate in 1914 was about:£50,000,000. The gross Estimate to-day is £61,000,000—an increase. Yet, for all that, the personnel of the Navy has been decreased from 146,000 in 1914 to 103,000 in this year's Estimates. The First Lord and the Board of Admiralty have my most profound sympathy inasmuch as they have had to retrench so many fine officers and men of the naval service. There can be no more invidious, no more disagreeable duty than to retrench these splendid officers and men who have had to leave the Service to which they were devoted. But there is one consolation I am sure they will have, a queer kind of consolation—that is, that the civilian element of the Navy has not been proportionately decreased. The Secretary to the Admiralty gave me some information the other day about the officials at the Admiralty and outdoor establishments. In July, 1914, there were employed at the Admiralty 2,072 officials at a cost of £514,000. On 1st February this year that 2,072 had been increased to 3,698 at a cost of £1,339,000. Take the dockyards. Heaven knows I do not want to create misery at the dockyards. It is a grave problem. Still, at the dockyards in 1914 there were 57,000. To-day, with the German Fleet at the bottom of the sea, with an enormously reduced naval personnel, there are 61,627 employed. These figures will bear some reduction.

Last year the First Lord was very critical of the Board of Admiralty and its organisation in pre-War days, and he complained that there were not enough typists there, the Sea Lords had to write their own minutes, and there was not a sufficiency of accounting officers. I was a member of that Board of Admiralty. In pre-War days there were at the Admiralty administrators like Mr. McKenna, who now is the head of a great bank, and there were dull, sleepy, torpid men like Mr. Churchill and Lord Fisher, people with no ginger in them. These were the men who submitted to this staff which was so inefficient, or not sufficiently numerous. Then he talked to us about the accounts. I remember the accounts being presented to the Public Accounts Committee for 10 or 12 years. There was never any fault found. The Public Accounts Committee often complimented the Admiralty. Today you have a larger number of officials, but I doubt if you have the same efficiency. The largo number of people you employ is no test, of the efficiency of the work they do.

The First Lord talked about the staff. That again depends. We all agree that there should be a thinking Department at the Admiralty, but it depends on the First Lord and on the Sea Lord. There was a very distinguished First Sea Lord, Sir Arthur Wilson, who did not think of having a staff. The great lesson I learned at any rate from the War was that the naval and the military strategists should not be interfered with by the civilian strategists. It was the civilian more than the naval strategists who were the cause of so many disasters. I could give many instances. Whatever staff you have, it all depends how the conclusions of the staff are worked out, and how they are carried out. God forbid we should ever talk of a future war. but I hope if we ever have a future war it will he the naval and the military officers, and probably the air officers, too, who will control strategic operations, and not the civilians.

The First Lord alluded to the Air, and I should like to say a few words from a naval and general point of view on the present state, not of organisation but of disorganisation. No one can say the Air Services of the Admiralty are not positively disorganised at present. Any Air Service with which the Navy is connected must be exercised with the Fleet, must be under the command of naval officers and must be in daily contact with the ships. You might as well say you could put submarines and destroyers under another command as deprive the Admiralty of its Air Service. To-day we have three Departments. I do not think it is possible that we can go on like it. I am certain when the First. Lord talks about a one-power standard, to-day we have not a ball-power standard because of the lack of one efficient weapon—that is aircraft. There is no doubt about it. There roust be harmonious working between the three Services if we are to become efficient. Whether the future is to be on the surface of the water, whether it is to be aircraft or scacraft I cannot say, but it is greatly to he deplored that you have this friction existing now between the Admiralty and the Air Service. I hope that the Commission of Inquiry which is to be held will be a strong authoritative Commission which will bring about harmonious working in the great Services. I would say to the First Lord of the Admiralty "see how much things have changed." Before the War and during the War the Admiralty could guarantee the safety of this country against invasion. They cannot do it to-day. That is one of the points that have arisen since the War.

Captain Viscount CURZON

Do you mean a raid or an invasion?


I mean an invasion by foreign troops or aircraft. The meaning of invasion is well known. If an enemy comes into the, country that is an invasion.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir F. HALL

Is the Tight hon. Gentleman afraid that troops might be landed from ships by foreign navies on these shores?


No, I imagine that the Navy would prevent surface ships bringing soldiers to these shores, but I would remind the hon. Gentleman that the Navy cannot prevent to-day, say, the bombing of London by hostile aircraft. That is a very important fact. If London be bombed or devastated by gas, is not that an invasion?

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)

I cannot say that the right hon. Gentleman is out of order, but I would remind him that the general sense of the House, as to the relations between the Admiralty and Air Force is that, they should be taken on a Debate on the Air Estimates.


Quite so. I will simply say that the conditions have changed. In days gone by the Admiralty could guarantee us against invasion; today they cannot. The Admiralty to-day have to consider what is the possibilities of aircraft, and if it is possible to destroy the naval dockyards. Has the First Lord taken into consideration the question of air defence or the defence of Chatham against foreign aircraft? We heard a great deal some time ago about Pembroke Dockyard being an out of work relief depot. I am not sure that I agree. Chatham is very much more within the bombing area, yet the Admiralty to-day are spending money now in improving Chatham. I should hate to think that this town, which has grown up with naval money around the dockyard, may have to be turned to another use, but we cannot get away from the fact that Chatham to-day is within the bombing area of the Continent and is one of our naval bases.

Now as to Singapore. We are to have there new a dockyard of very large dimensions costing £11,000,000. Possibly that will be developed more properly later on, but I must ask for some information now. My right hon. Friend says that we have no dock for a capital ship on British oversea territory, yet we are building capital ships though we have got no docks for them in the East. We are to build this dockyard at our leisure. There is no menace from Japan or any other Power, and we can go on taking our own time. It may be that when this leisurely built dockyard is completed it will be entirely out of date. Most probably it will. Have the Dominions been consulted in this matter? It is a Dominion matter. We shall, I. hope, get the Opposition to ask some very pertinent questions as to whether it is wise for this country to establish an enormous new base, probably larger than any British naval base to-day, so far from our shores.

I think that that is a very serious thing indeed. How arc you going to supply this naval base? How is it going to be kept in touch with Britain, thousands of miles away? How will you, in face of submarines and aircraft, which will be more developed in future, keep up communications between the Mother Country and Singapore? I have thought much about it, and I do not understand how it is going to be done. I would suggest larger co-operation between the Admiralty and Air Force, and between the Admiralty and the brains of the Air Force. The Admiralty have erected all over the world enormous gasometers. Have they considered the defence of these larger numbers of establishments? Is it not easy for a submarine to come along and, with a few well directed shots, blow up the lot?

Viscount CURZON

The "Emden" tried, and failed.


If these oil fuel depots in the East are to be of use there must be a very formidable naval guard there. Have the Admiralty considered this when spending this enormous sum of money? I hope that they will give us the amount spent on establishing these oil fuel depots, if not in detail at any rate in the aggregate. Are we getting value for our money? We cannot get value for any money unless we consider the air defence of the Admiralty establishments with the naval vote as a whole. To my mind it is a most abhorrent thing to imagine future wars. We had a gruesome list in the Press this morning of the number of killed. and the amount of treasure wasted, in the late horrible war, and the greatest guarantee of peace would be by a league of peaceful nations, but if we are to have fighting forces they must be prepared for the eventuality of war. I ask, therefore, that there shall be co-operation between the three services, so that we may secure full value for the taxpayers' money. That is the duty of the House of Commons. Whatever the First Lord may say, that money is not spent to the best advantage now. I will not enter further into the question of the air and the Admiralty, though it is a very important question, but I do ask the House of Commons to scrutinise very vigilantly these Estimates, for I am certain that, without the cooperation which I have named, we shall be wasting an enormous sum of public money.

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