Postponed Proceeding resumed on Question,
That 99,500 Officers, Seamen, Boys, and Royal Marines be employed for the Sea Service, together with 1,423 for the Coast Guard and Marine Police, borne on the books of His Majesty's Ships and at the Royal Marine Divisions, for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1924.
§ Question again proposed.
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
I do not want to enter into a general discussion on the relations of the Admiralty and the Air Service, but to ask a question. In the Vote you have just put 1198 to the House I understand there arc some 140 officers and 1,000 men who are being held in reserve for the purpose of the Air Service. I should like to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty if he will assure us that he will be here on Wednesday when the question is raised and answer for his Department., because on Wednesday we shall only have a Secretary of State for Air, who is not a person reponsible for Admiralty policy, and it would not be satisfactory for us to say what we have to say to the Secretary of State for Air. We want a Minister who is responsible for the policy with which we disagree. If the First Lord of the Admiralty would give that assurance it would shorten the debate to-night.
§ Viscount CURZON
Before that question is answered, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will exercise his good offices with Mr. Speaker and the Chairman of Committees to see that the same facilities are given for discussion on the Report stages of the Air Estimates as have been given on the Report stages of the Votes for the Navy?
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
We have listened to what I would call a very 1199 forcible speech from the hon. Member for Collie Valley (Mr. Snowden). Those of us who were in the House with him before the war will not fail to recognise in that speech the same spirit which prevailed in the speeches which he delivered in the debates from 1910 onwards, and I think the Leader of the Opposition as he listened to that speech must have had many old memories revived, seeing that he was always in the van when there was any proposal in the direction of cutting down Naval Estimates. Had the views expressed by the hon. Member for Collie Valley and the Leader of the Opposition been put into force before the War the position to-day would be very different from what it is. The hon. Member for Colne Valley seemed to think that the only use for a Navy was to meet a menace. The First Lord of the Admiralty, in his speech, exposed the futility of that supposition. But suppose we were to do away with the Navy, would that have any effect upon the United States, upon Japan, upon Italy, upon France? Would they follow suit? Would they have no Navy? Even the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Newbold) told us that if his party—I do not know what the strength of that party is—[An HON. MEMBER: "One!"]— if that party came into power, he would have what he called a red Navy Well, I have heard of the blue-water school, but I never heard of a red-water school or a red Navy. Then we had the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees Smith), a very appropriate seconder, if he will allow me to say so. He appealed to the House as if he were something of an innocent, and as if he were making a maiden speech on Navy Estimates. I have not such a short memory as the hon. Member for Keighley. I can remember the hon. Gentleman not perhaps joining in with the alacrity he did to-day and not perhaps dealing with the economic side of the question, but always saying he thought the time bad arrived when we ought to cut down the Navy Estimates, and every year he went into the Lobby and voted against the Naval Estimates. So it is absurd to suppose he is an innocent abroad, because he is nothing of the sort. He is now what he always was—an opponent of the Navy and anything to do with the Navy. Then we had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert). Having been 1200 once a Civil Lord one would suppose he had some traditions to keep up. He told us what he would do. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nothing"] I would not be so rude as that, though it may perhaps be true. He told us he did not care whether Britain had a fourth or a fifth rate navy. He did not want a one-power standard. That was nothing to him. He said the German fleet was at the bottom of the sea. We all know it is, but we do not need to be told so by him every year since the Armistice.
Then he told us he had sympathy with the retired and discharged officers and men. Sympathy forsooth! Yet he said he objected altogether to the statement of the First Lord that there would be no further reductions in the Navy. The Navy do not want sympathy of that kind. But we are always pleased to know the Liberal view. I would suggest to hon. Members opposite to get out a. leaflet explaining to Liberals at the next General Election what the views of the Liberal Party are as expressed by the hon. Member for South Molton, late Civil Lord. [Interruption.] I am glad to see hon. Members opposite in such numbers. It is the only time I have seen so many on the Labour benches during a naval Debate. It shows the interest they are taking in the matter. I had the pleasure of knowing the brother of the hon. Member who continually interrupts, and he never interrupted.
I cannot help thinking that it will be a very long time before this sitting is ended if we go on at the present rate.
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
I should like to say a few words about the First Lord's speech. It was a somewhat apologetic speech. It was a very well reasoned speech, but it was apologetic. It was apologetic on the question of ratification lie told us two Great Powers had ratified the Washington Treaty. The right hon. Gentleman opposite was not aware of that, so it was news to him. Perhaps the First Lord will tell us when he expects the other Powers to ratify it. He admits the scrapping of capital ships required of us by the Treaty, but says frankly no other Power has done the same. He tells us this is a 1201 great relief to the taxpayer. Of course it is. Some taxpayers no doubt will be very much obliged to him, but at the same time it involves risks. It involves risks which an island State such as ours, dependent on imported supplies and food, cannot afford to take. The First Lord, in the excellent statement which he has issued with the Naval Estimates, says that he has done this as an "act of faith." Previous First Lords have told us over and over again that it was a matter of "life and death" .that the British Navy should be supreme. The Washington Conference reduced the Navy to a one-power standard, but until that agreement is carried out it is not even a one-power standard. While faith is a very good precept, if before the war we had relied on precepts such as these as regards the Navy the position of this country to-day would have been very different from what it is. Suppose the other Powers do not ratify the agreement, we cannot get back the ships which we have scrapped or the officers and men whom we retired or discharged. We cannot build a new navy.
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
The Admiralty in this respect acted too quickly. Instead of acting on the assumption that the Treaty would be ratifed, we should have waited until ratification had taken place. What we are now doing is risking our security, and while I yield to no one in my desire for economy I am not prepared to take the risk. [Interruption.] If hon. Members would only cease interrupting—
I may remind hon. Members that if they do not care to listen to the speeches, there are other parts of the House to which they can go. The Minister in charge and myself are the only persons who are compelled to listen.
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
In reference to stores, I am very sorry to see the First Lord continue his policy in the same direction. The First Lord tells us that 1202 it is justified only by the financial situation and the passive atmosphere in the sphere of naval armaments. But in the matter of stores, especially oil fuel and fuel abroad, it is necessary to have a constant supply. It is not much good spending a large amount of money on ships if we cannot steam them under their own fuel. For myself I do not see the placid atmosphere. I read the other day—the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Newbold) will correct me if I am wrong— that Russia was spending some of her ill-gotten gains on building a navy. "We ought to have fuel stations where the ships which we have built could he supplied with oil fuel." On page 4 of the statement the First .Lord says: "We do not propose to lay down any new ships in 1923–1924.' If hon. Members turn to page 12, they will see that the First Lord says that during the year progress will be made with new construction and reconstruction. Surely the two statements conflict. No doubt the First Lord will give us some explanation? Will he tell us what new construction he refers to on page 12? Are we to have no new cruisers laid down? We had four cruisers laid down between 1916 and 1918; only one of them has been nearly finished, the "Frobisher." In view of the loss of the "Raleigh" two at least of those cruisers should by now have passed into the Service. But that is not to be. And we are to have no new cruisers. That is a mistake. I would suggest that if possible the First Lord should reconsider his decision.
I was glad to see that there are to be no further discharges in the dockyards. I hope that the First Lord will emphasise that to the greatest possible extent, because it is essential that men now engaged in the dockyards should be certain that they will not be discharged. But what about the apprentices and ex-apprentices who have been discharged? Is there no hope of bringing them back and making some provision for them? The apprentices of the Navy, Army and Air Force are invariably retained. Is it not possible, even now, to make it a sine qua non that apprentices and ex-apprentices of the Royal Yards shall be established? Nothing is said in the memorandum about dockyard wages. May I take it that there will be no further reductions? I should be glad to have a statement on that point, and also to know 1203 whether the Admiralty letter sent me the other day with regard to Devonport Ropery is correct, and whether it will be maintained, or whether there is any prospect of it being transferred to Chatham.
I must say a word about unestablished writers. The decision that those employed in the Royal Dockyards and Naval Establishments and who entered after August are required to pass a qualifying examination before they are placed on the Establishment, and that if they do not pass they will be discharged, is causing much dissatisfaction amongst the boy writers and ex-boy writers. These boys were not allowed to compete in the examinations held for absorbing the temporary staffs, although the temporary staffs had no Civil Service examination to pass. The majority of them have between six and eight years' service. I ask the First Lord whether he can give some explanation why this difference should be observed. Then there is the question of the Admiralty established Civil servants. They claim—there are 15,000 of them—to be paid for leave. They have four public holidays in the year, but no other holiday, and if they take leave for sickness, or because they want a change for a day or two, they have to lose their pay from the State. I do not think that is quite fair. This practice is not observed with other grades of permanent. Civil servants nor by private employers. Another point with regard to the Admiralty established Civil Service is the claim to have no real deduction made from the substantive rate of pay for superannuation purposes. Hon. Members may not be aware of the fact, but Civil servants in other branches, when they get what is called "an appointment," have an addition made to their stipends or salaries and do not have to pay for superannuation.
We are told by the First Lord that the naval reductions have come to an end or nearly so. In this connection I wish to press forward the case of those men who have been compulsorily retired lately. Many of them are young and many of them have had a certain amount of money spent upon them by their parents and by the State. Now they are sent out with only one month's notice. I do not regard that as quite fair, because they were 1204 asked to come into the Navy, and they were told they would have continuous employment and would be able to put in time for a pension. By being sent out at one month's notice, all that is done away with, and some proper compensation should be made to them. The compensation at present is £20 or £25. Is that sufficient? I do not think it is, when you consider that £1,000 in addition to retired pay is given to officers of similar age and length of service. I entreat the First Lord of the Admiralty to see if he cannot do something in the direction of awarding higher compensation, in view of the fact that it is absolutely impossible for these men to get employment in the towns where they are now located. The First Lord told us he was quite unable to spread these discharges over the entire Navy. He said the time was not sufficient, and therefore he had been obliged to confine the compulsory discharges to the home service. I think, with a little more consideration and a little more calculation, it would have been possible to take in the whole Navy instead of making all these discharges in the home service. An hon. Member has spoken at length about "Showing the Flag." Showing the Flag is very important for the British Navy. It served us exceedingly well at Brazil, as we heard this afternoon, and it has done the same in the past. It has shown what the British Navy is—what the power of the British Navy is, what its personnel is, and what its ships are like. That is an important matter when one considers that ours is an island State, thousands of miles from our British Possessions overseas.
We have also been informed by the First Lord that particular ships were sent to the Dardanelles and that they were very useful in serving the purpose for which they were sent there. Let me tell the House, that. in order to send those ships to the Dandanelles properly manned, we had to take almost every man and boy from the Naval Schools, and in the Royal Marine Barracks hardly;I man was left. That was the result of cutting down the personnel of the Navy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am very much obliged to hon. Members opposite for applauding me—it is not often I get applause from them. May I now refer to the question of the pensions of officers' widows. The ordinary pen- 1205 sions of widows of officers from warrant rank up to 13th August, 1920, were £25 for the widow of a warrant officer, £30 for the widow of a commissioned officer from warrant rank, and £50 for the widow of a lieutenant. Since that date, the pensions of widows of officers have been reconsidered, and a great deal of amendment has been made in those of widows of officers who come within the categories of Commander to Admiral of the Fleet, but, so far as that class to which I have referred is concerned, nothing has been done. In the Admiralty Regulations today there is a note to the effect that these pensions of widows are still under consideration. They have been under consideration for two years; surely it is time to come to some conclusion.
Then there is the important matter of ventilation. Only the other day when the question was raised in this House we were told that a Committee was inquiring into the matter. I have received a letter to-day from a man who sailed in the "Vindictus," which went to Hong Kong, and what happened there? Not only was the ventilation very bad, but all the arrangements were very bad. The ship was overcrowded, the messes of the lower deck Pere particularly overcrowded, and the galley arrangements were indifferent. The galley was designed to provide food for only 750, and there were on hoard 1,300 men, and the ship was not even fitted with a refrigerator, notwithstanding the fact that she was going to the tropics. I hope the First Lord will see his way to place these facts before the Committee, in order that this sort of thing may not happen a second time.
In conclusion, let me say a word about a subject that is very near to my heart, and that is the question of an Imperial Navy. The Prime Minister told me, and at the same time the House, in answer to a question the other day, that the effect of the Resolution passed by the Imperial Conference in August, 1921, was to defer detailed recommendations till after the Washington Conference, and that discussions were proceeding, but had not arrived at a stage when a statement could be made. The First Lord of the Admiralty has not given us to-day any indication as to what it is intended to do to carry out that Resolution, and I should like to know what is the position. And I should like to ask, Does the Washington Agreement im- 1206 pose conditions on shipbuilding in the Dominions?
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
In that case, then, the Dominions are dependent on the Royal Navy, and if they are dependent on the Royal Navy, and cannot build local Navies, the matter is of greater urgency, some arrangements should he made by which the Dominions could send contributions, either in money or in kind, to help us keep up a Navy which assists them as well as us. If we have arrived at the point where there is to be a one-Power standard for the entire Empire, each part of the Empire should shoulder its burden. What we want is not a United Kingdom Navy, not an Australian Navy, not a Canadian or a South African Navy, but an Imperial Navy, and I use the word "Imperial" in its broadest sense—that of Empire. That is what is wanted, and that is what I beg leave to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty to see if he cannot bring about by calling together at once an Imperial Naval Conference, and seeing if the matter cannot be brought to a head.
§ Mr. R. MURRAY
We have been discussing Vote A, and I had some trepidation as to what particular Vote one would be permitted to discuss, but following the example—
The hon. Member will be in order in discussing anything that seems to have a bearing on this Vote.
§ Mr. MURRAY
I was about to follow the example of the hon. Member who has just sat down, and who has sailed on every sea. We have discussed every section of shipping from a cockle-shell to a post Jutland warship. I felt I would be equally safe in taking any part of the navy or naval questions for discussion. The hon. Gentleman who preceded me spoke at the beginning of his remarks as to the position taken up by my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley—
§ Mr. MURRAY
—who tried to harrow our souls by suggesting that if the policy recommended by the hon. Members on our side in the pre-war era had been carried out that this country would have been in a terrible condition, would have endured 1207 unutterable things, and would have had to spend enormous sums of money. But the policies we have had, and the ideas that have been carried into effect, are those which emanated from the other side of the House, and we have paid an enormous price for it in men, in ruined homes, lost trade and conditions of uncertainty and unrest so great that it is impossible to conceive any other policy that could have brought us anything worse than that policy. Some of us believe that if the idea of steady disarmament of the world advocated by the hon. Gentlemen named had been accepted by the nations of the world in the pre-war years that we would not have endured what we did in the years 1914–1918. But some say, that if we had carried out the policy of reducing the navy other nations would not have followed our example. Britain would have been defeated and would have had to suffer the results of it. We maintained a great navy and went to War, and as a consequence we have to-day a million and a quarter of our people walking the streets unemployed, and suffering all sorts of evils, lacking the necessaries of life, and the children being starved.
The right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Vote reminded us of the naval expenditure of the world. He said we must consider in this matter interna-national suspicions that are apt to be engendered. It is because we have recognised and seen the result of the War, and the continuance of a great navy, and the excitement thereto to other nations to adept the same policy; it is because we recognise all these and the present tendencies to misunderstandings amongst the nations of the world, that we urge this country to take steps to secure an international conference that may so far as possible make an effort towards putting an end to the evil conditions which so far have prevailed. We were also reminded that. in 1912 or 1913, and just before the War, that Admiral Jellicoe had made a tour of the world and made a report which showed that in his opinion, that by the year 1924 it was essential that we should build up an enormous navy in relation not merely to the navy of to-day, but in relation to the navy of 1912 and 1913. What stronger proof than that could you adduce of the fact that the maintenance 1208 of a powerful navy can only lead to the building up of still greater navies by other countries because you create competition amongst the other nations of the world. What stronger argument could we have on this point than the statement in which we were warned by Admiral Jellicoe that it would be essential that by 1924 our Navy should be swollen to gigantic proportions. The hon. Gentleman told us that we had now escaped that burden because of the War which we have passed through, and we have paid an enormous price for escaping the burden of that Navy in war expenditure and having some 3,500,000 persona killed and maimed. Now we are being asked to revert to the policy which ended before in that result, and which is likely to end in the same way again.
Instead of the policy which has gone on unchecked from generation to generation, resulting in war after war and high costs and higher costs, with social dorms stunted and starved in order that the purposes of war may be fed full, we ask that an effort should be made to change the whole policy, and instead of spending our money upon war that we should seek to create by an international conference the spirit of peace, and that by the scrapping of navies we should try to promote and ensure the peace of the world. It is now proposed to build two post-Jutland vessels of 35,000 tons, and we are assured that when they are launched they will carry forward the lessons learned by the Battle of Jutland. It is hardly necessary for me to suggest even the futility of the purpose behind the creation of such a Navy. You have experimented for years and spent. millions of money in discovering new explosive forces and powers, and yet after the experience of a small number of hours under conditions which rendered it impossible to find out what other Powers were doing in consequence of the lessons of the Jutland Battle, you are now proposing to build vessels different from the ones which you formerly built. The Admiralty appear to think that the lessons to be drawn from that battle belong exclusively to this country instead of remembering that all these matters are studied carefully and spied upon and money is spent upon them far in excess of their value by other nations in the world. After that we have to spend 1209 millions finding out the silly arrangements which other countries are making, and then at great expense we have to make prevision for meeting them. Whatever lessons may have come from the Jutland Battle have not come to us alone, but to other nations as well, and they will also build something new to meet the danger. The armament rings will take care that suspicions are engendered amongst other nations by the belief that we are building up a more efficient Navy, and thus they will be stimulated to build more vessels, and so this kind of thing will go on indefinitely, always going round and round and coming back to the same point instead of seeking some new method along more humane lines, instead of silly and foolish lines of that kind.
One argument which has been flung at us across the floor of the House to-day is contained in that high-sounding phrase, "freedom of the seas." What is the freedom of the seas to those nations whose industry, trade and commerce are vastly and quickly increasing without any great, navy to protect them? What about the, cry of the freedom of the seas in the ease of Denmark and Holland? They enjoy the freedom of the seas without spending all these enormous sums on navies. What prevents the sea being free to all nations is the existence and the maintenance of these great navies. The chief sinner in the past in setting the pace so far as navies are concerned has undoubtedly been Britain—
§ Mr. MURRAY
I think we ought to take up the truer policy of scrapping navies and armaments, and go forward as a democratic Government with peace as our objective and not war. As for the argument about the freedom of the seas why do countries like Holland and Denmark feel safe without large navies? The answer given to this question is that ours is a rich country and it would be worth while invading us. I think that argument is so much nonsense, because the, amount of wealth in any country that could be carried away by a successful invader would be hardly worth talking about. The wealth of a country is the people of the country, the machines which are in the country the natural wealth—the coal, iron and other commodities—there. It is not the things that are 1210 packed in shops and warehouses, however good and rich they may lie. The taking away of our Navy, and the securing of a similar action so far as the nations of the world are concerned, would give us freedom of the seas, and would not subject this nation to the danger of invasion.
It has been suggested by the hon. Member who preceded me that if the Navy and naval expenditure are to be continued, at all events, the Royal dockyards and Royal equipment. should be employed rather than that encouragement should be given to the private enterprise which has created nine-tenths of the wars in the past and will probably create all the wars of the future. If there is necessity for any expenditure at all, it should be taken out of the hands of private interests, and stiffly and sternly maintained in the hands of the Government, through its own machinery and through the powers it possesses in that way. It has been said —if not in actual words, at least by inference—" What are we to do with our sons, if you scrap the Navy? It is essential, not merely that we should maintain the Navy for the sake of some great show, but for going round the world and showing the Flag." When people speak like that, it makes me wonder if T am in an elementary school, with a lot of little children, at the beginning of life where I am to be amused by circuses, or things of that kind: or if T have really wandered into a lunatic asylum and if the keeper is, for a. time, out.
§ Mr. MURRAY
While we spend all these millions in sending the British Flag round the seas of the world, our people are starving at home. You will find in the newspapers to-day a report of an address by Professor Noel Paton, the great medical authority in Glasgow, who, after an exhaustive inquiry into the condition of things in Glasgow and into the condition of the labouring class, gives it as his conclusion that the great majority of the working classes in Glasgow are to-day living below the poverty line.
§ Mr. MURRAY
My point is that we are spending money on this silly circus 1211 performance of sending the Navy round the world, instead of spending it in feeding our people in Glasgow. We ought to make a start somewhere toward a new policy, instead of continuing this policy that has been so evil and has had such dire results. When the right hon. Gentleman, who introduced the Navy Estimates to-day, was speaking, I had one thought with regard to his speech, and the right hon. Gentleman who preceded me had another. Those two thoughts were wonderfully like one another, however. He called the speech of the right hon. Gentleman an apologetic speech. What I felt about it was that it was a sort of funeral oration. It was delivered as if it were some funereal rite, and every moment I expected to hear the words, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust." Unfortunately what emerged from it at the end was simply that it was to be "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust" for the future sons of the country in future. fights.
If we are really to act upon lines of wisdom we should go back to the point at which the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Philip Snowden), and those other speakers of ten, twelve, and fourteen years ago, advised this country to cease the evil conditions which led up toWe eight, and we won't wait,and other cries of that kind. Instead of that, we should try to lead the world into lines of peace, in the hope that, by saving expenditure of this kind, we shall be able to end war and to make it possible for newer, better and happier conditions to be. We are here to-day, at the end of twenty centuries of Christianity, and of the call to lay down the sword, and the best hon. Members on the other side—some of whom make great professions about spirituality and the understanding of the spirit of Christ and the spirit of religion —the best they can do for us is to tell us that we should spend the resources of this country and of the world in creating dire and yet more dire instruments of destruction, that we should contemplate the possibility of training millions of young boys into growing manhood, and through that into full manhood, and then devote them to purposes of destruction, telling them that the only way to do good 1212 to the world and maintain the peace of the world is to create war and more destruction and death in the world. I hope the time is not far distant when another type of mind will fill the opposite bench and another type of ideal will move the Government of this country—that we shall for the first time in our history begin definitely to build that kingdom of peace, that kingdom of God, for which we have so long prayed. and towards which, so far, not a single governing body in this country has made one step or movement—when we shall not have silly stories such as we have had, but shall begin to have commonsense, idealism, truth, justice, and a desire for the betterment of the world instead of the destruction of future generations.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
As I listened to the last speaker, it seemed to me that he might be giving us the funeral rites of this country, if his policy were ever adopted. As a new Member, hearing what is said by hon. Members opposite, one wonders whether they realise that they live in this world or in a world of their own imagination. If one takes the whole history of what has happened during the last few years, it is not this country which has forced the pace in naval construction. It is this country that has every time taken the lead in endeavouring to reduce naval armaments. As hon. Members will recollect, Mr. Churchill in, I think, 1913, proposed the "naval holiday." More than one Member of our Government went over to Germany and endeavoured to get the German Government to consider that policy, but the German Government would not agree to it, and it was due to that, and that alone, that we were unable to reduce our armaments before the War. Since then, it was the British Government at the Washington Conference which desired to go further than any other Power. It was the British Government which desired to do away with the submarine altogether. It was France that would not agree. The British Government wanted to reduce or to regulate expenditure on aircraft carriers; it was France that would not agree.
What is a Government of this country to do? It is responsible to the whole of the people of this country for their safety. France is our nearest Power, and it is France always, lately, that has refused to 1213 reduce armaments. Are we, therefore, not to take any notice of that spirit? Hon. Members opposite have only been too ready, when it was a matter of attacking the Government, to state that the military spirit in France was doing great damage to the safety and peace of Europe; but that same argument might be applied to keep our own Navy at such a strength that we can fulfil our functions. I do not, however, wish to stress that point. I rose to ask the First Lord a few questions with regard to staff work, education and research work. It was only too evident from the First Lord's statement that we have not at the present time a one-Power standard. I do not know that anyone would disagree with that position, seeing that it is unlikely that there will be a war, and that our nearest competitors are America and Japan. At the same time we are enabled by adopting that position to give a lead to disarmament, but in adopting that course, which must be a course dangerous in seine degree, it is very necessary that we should concentrate upon those matters which will increase the efficiency of the service, and at the same time will not cost very much money. With regard to staff work, it was stated in the House to-day that the naval staff only consisted of 60 members. If that be true, it is a matter of very grave concern. I fail to see how it is possible for the naval staff to adequately conduct their work with such small numbers. During the War it was burned in upon us day by day and week by week that we were losing not only men's lives, but that we were spending an enormous amount of money simply and solely because the brain work and the staff work at the Admiralty and elsewhere was had. I hope that the lessons we learned by bitter experience at that time are not being thrown away and lost because there is at the present time an outcry for economy. That is the very worst form of economy.
With regard to the courses at Cambridge, there is nothing that I have seen introduced which gives me greater pleasure than the fact that naval officers are to be given a course at Cambridge University. The whole tendency of the Navy at the present time is not only to get more and more complicated from the technical and material point of view, but the actual questions become more and more diverse, both from the political and 1214 personnel point of view. The education which is given at the University fulfils a want for any officer who is going to fill a higher command. If the officer takes up the higher command he has to meet competitions, to prepare papers for Members of this House, and perhaps he may even try to get into this House, in which case he would want an education of a character which would assist him in dealing certainly with some hon. Members opposite.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
I have not had a University education, and it is because I feel the want of it that I wish naval officers who have not had an opportunity to get a University education, to have it. It is a very great pity that the Board of Admiralty should have had to economise on that. I should like to know how much the First Lord is saving by what in my opinion is a very foolish economy.
Another question is the amount to be spent on research work. It is only 1 per cent. of the total Estimate. Is it right at a time when the whole system, from the technical point of view, and the whole idea and method of obtaining our military objective in the Service is changing, that we should only spend 1 per cent. of the total amount of the Estimate on research work?
I do not want to query the actual figures of that, but I think it must be essentially wrong, with such a quickly-changing technical position as we have to-day, to spend 1 per cent. of our total expenditure on research work. I should like to know whether experiments are being pressed on with anti-submarine work, and especially what arrangements are being made in training our gunner crews of ships in anti-aircraft work. Are we taking steps to make aerial targets which are in themselves self-contained aeroplanes, so that we may get some idea as to what defence a battleship can put up against present-day aerial attack?
I would like to stress the point, especially in regard to the naval staff at the Admiralty, as to whether they have a proper statistical branch and whether they investigate and record the scientific developments which are taking place, especially in America and Japan.
§ Mr. HOHLER
I should have taken my chance of getting in on some subsequent Vote were it not that there is one point I consider very pressing. Personally I view with alarm the Government reductions in the personnel of the Navy. I venture to think that in this matter the Admiralty could help us. I think the Admiralty have blundered, with good intentions. What has happened, I understand, is this They had asked, quite rightly, for volunteers in the Navy to retire, and pensions were offered. Undoubtedly the number fell short of what the Admiralty, in view of the need of the nation, thought necessary. That being the position, they found that they required a considerable reduction in engineer artificers, in cooks, in mechanicians, able seamen, and chief petty officers. Unfortunately they left this matter to be dealt with to the very last moment. I think it is less than a month ago since this matter received their notice, and the services of the men were terminated within a month. It seems to me that the blunder consisted in this, that the whole of these notices have fallen solely and entirely on the unfortunate men who happened to be in naval barracks in this country. None have been taken from any of the fleets at sea. Anything less in accordance with our sense of justice has never been known. I think the Admiralty must have over-looked this. I realise it is unfortunate that some men must go. In fairness at least he ought to be in equal competition with the other man, and they ought to have drawn lots. To break a man in his career merely because he happens to be in barracks is to my mind a very great injustice. These men recognise what justice is, and if the lot falls on them they will go. What happened was that they found volunteers did not come forward. No fresh appeal was made and no steps were taken to draw from the Navy, either on the basis of character or excellent service or the like, men without a blemish to remain and men with a blemish against them to go. Unfortunately the Admiralty hoped and did nothing, and ultimately, finding these Estimates were coming on and volunteers were not coming forward, as far as I can find out they sent down the Admiral in Charge of the Nore to Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth to see how many men they had in barracks, and to reduce the numbers and discharge a certain number of them. I 1216 beg the First Lord to wait till the men come home from foreign service and see if we cannot get justice without doing injustice. I know one man who is finishing his training as a mechanician. He is a. chief petty officer named Keene. He actually got a substitute who was willing to go in his place, but he was told the man who was last on the list had to be taken. I believe this could be- got over. There is not a Member in the House who would not join with me in inviting the Admiralty and the Government to keep a few more men on for a time until these fleets come home and see if the thing cannot be adjusted. I am not satisfied that the numbers could not be got rid of by illness, death, or the like. I appeal to the Admiralty to do this.
Now may I point out what has been done in regard to these apprentices. I think there are about 70 who are being trained by the Admiralty at Keyham, and the boys who become engine room artificers are those who pass through the dockyards. If they pass their examinations they go into the service. The engineer has undoubtedly certain advantages which the other classes, who also pass through the dockyard as apprentices, do not get. These young fellows have selected that career for themselves because it was a better opening. Of course love of the navy preceded the whole thing. They had been through their shore training under indenture and they are drafted to the various ports in order to go through their sea training. It seems to me quite incredible but it is a fact that those young fellows who had been to all that expense and had directed their whole career in life are quietly told that they are discharged without indentures, and they are to have twenty sovereigns. £20 is nothing to these young fellows. They cannot apprentice themselves to any other trade. Even if they do their fathers could not afford to keen them. In the particular trade to which the Crown apprenticed them they got food and clothing. They have not even got indentures which would enable them to go out into the world and compete with the men outside. I understand that there is to be an increase in the Air Force, and I would suggest that you should take all these young fellows. They are splendid material, intelligent clever lads 1217 of 17 or 18. Take them and continue their training. Do not scrap them in this way. They do not want £20. They want a profession. I beg the Admiralty to do something on the lines which I have suggested to try and save these men, and if any of them have been broken through no fault of their own the Admiralty should make every endeavour as between the men, whether at home or on foreign service to be impartial and fair to all concerned.
§ Mr. W. M. WATSON
There must be deep disappointment not only in this House, but in the country as a whole, at the position in which we are to-day, so far as the Navy is concerned. We were told during the War, and immediately after the War closed, that we should see a big reduction in both naval and military armaments, but instead of getting a big reduction in these directions we are still faced with a very heavy national bill for naval armaments, which must cause deep disappointment in the country. I know the difficulties with which the First Lord and those who have to face the problem are confronted. They had during the period of the War a very huge instrument which had been manufactured for carrying through that particular job, and during the past two years they have had, as the First Lord very properly explained to the House, a very delicate, difficult, and disagreeable task in reducing the number of men and the expenditure generally on the Navy. I am certain that if the First Lord in the years to come is prepared to continue that endeavour he will find, perhaps even on his own Benches, very strong support in that direction. As has been pointed out, however, our Naval policy must depend entirely on our foreign policy, and until our foreign policy is on a better and more secure plane than it is on at the present time—even we on this side of the House must recognise that those in charge of the Navy must take proper precautions for the safeguarding of the interests of our country.
I believe I am the only representative of a Royal Dockyard on this side of the House. Rosyth is my constituency, and consequently I have taken a very keen interest in to-day's discussion. I am pleased to see a change in the tone of the discussion as compared with that of 12 months ago when I was 1218 not in the House. I read very carefully, however, the discussions that took place. At that time there was very great controversy over the question as to whether certain dockyards should be scrapped—on the ground that they were no longer necessary for our national defence. It was suggested at that time that Chatham, Sheerness and Rosyth could be got rid of quite easily. I am pleased that we have not had those sentiments expressed to-night. I want to identify myself with the view that instead of talking of handing our dockyards over to private enterprise, we are going to use our dockyards to a much greater extent in the future than we have done in the past.
The Noble Lord the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon), who is not paying very much attention at the moment, complimented the First Lord on the manner in which he had carried through the reductions. I think he must have been referring to the reductions in the Navy. He certainly could not be referring to the reductions carried out in the dockyards, and I think, as the representative for Rosyth, that I have a right to complain about the treatment that Rosyth received last year during the period when reductions were taking place in the dockyards. Some 7,500 men had. to be got rid of in the dockyards of this country and something like 50 per cent. were discharged from Rosyth. There is one thing in the memorandum which has been issued by the First Lord that gives me a little concern. He tells us that recently a number of men have been taken on at the dockyards temporarily in order to relieve unemployment in the districts. I hope the First Lord is going seriously to consider the question before he carries through any further reductions at the dockyards, or there will be friction in getting rid of these temporary men. I wish to put this point of view to the First Lord, that he is not helping things any by dismissing men from the dockyards and simply putting them on the dole, because that is all that has happened in connection with the discharges that have taken place from dockyards in the past year.
The first Lord to-day is telling us of the millions that he proposes to save on the Navy during the next year, but there is one thing the First Lord has not told us in this House this afternoon, and that is 1219 how much of that £125,000,000 of which the Minister of Labour told us the other evening is due to the fact that a very considerable number of men, who have been discharged both from the Navy and the dockyards, have had no resource but to go on the unemployment scheme and accept relief. I maintain that we are not saving money for the nation if we are merely dismissing men from the dockyards and the Navy and putting them on the unemployment list. It might have meant a bigger bill for the First Lord to present to this House, but it might have been an advantage to have had men both in the Navy and in the dockyards rather than walking the streets idle, as they have been doing during the past two years in particular.
There are other points I would like to refer to, but I may have an opportunity of raising them at a, later stage when the Votes are going through, but I wish to mention to the Committee that things have not been as fairly done as they might have been. I am justly entitled to complain as far as Rosyth Dockyard is concerned. It has been penalised to a greater extent than any dockyard in this country in the way of dismissals. The unfortunate thing, so far as Rosyth is concerned, is that the great bulk of men there are men who have been enticed from the southern dockyards. They had to get special privileges to entice them to face the climate of Scotland—inhospitable compared with that of England. [An HON. MEMBER: "They came with the greatest pleasure."] They did not, and many would go back to the southern dockyards if they had the opportunity. They are kept up there. The unfortunate thing is that the men who are there are contrasting things in the south with conditions in the north, and the cost of living in the south with the cost of living in the north. Many of them would willingly go back to the southern dockyards. Rosyth was unfairly treated last year, and I am entitled to complain about the manner in which it was treated.
As far as we on this side are concerned, we are not in favour simply of closing the dockyards and throwing men out of employment. That is not our policy. These dockyards are national property, and we are prepared to do everything we can to get them kept, not only in a proper 1220 state of efficiency but, producing things that will be useful when war (if war is necessary) breaks out, or in peace. If the day should come when we have a real reduction in armaments, when the First Lord can come to this House and say that he can safely recommend the cutting down of the Navy Estimates by half so far as naval armaments are concerned, we want to be in a position to say to the First Lord: "If this is the position, you must adopt a new policy, you must take steps in the direction of converting your dockyards into something else than dockyards, or even yards for the building of naval armaments." We are entitled to ask the First Lord, when that times comes, to come to the House with a peace policy as well as a war policy—a policy that will carry the country through the next twelve months. When the time comes for these dockyards to be no longer required for Naval purposes—and you must remember that the reduction in the dockyards followed the Washington agreement—we looked upon that as being of no further use. We may be faced with that position again, and then we would he entitled to ask the First Lord to begin to visualise the time when we shall feel a great deal more security from the international point of view than we feel to-night. The Labour party does not want this country to take risks—at least, as far as I am concerned, I do not think we ought to take risks. We are perfectly entitled to keep our Navy or Army in a state necessary to meet, the enemies of our country. That is necessary. But while we say that, it is not the first thing we require. We require to say, first, that we should get a good peace with the other nations of the world. I f we fail, we do not blame the men on the Front Bench for coming forward with estimates such as we are presented with this evening. As a matter of fact, if we cannot get peace—if the other nations of the world make it impossible to get peace, we expect the men who are at the head of the Army and Navy to take such steps as are necessary to safeguard the interests of our country.
There are many things to be spoken about, only after waiting for five hours eloquence is apt to grow cold. There is just one thing I 1221 want to say. The hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. W. M. Watson) has taken a sane and sensible view, and I am sorry the hon. Member who spoke before him is not here now. When I hear hon. Members opposite describe us as lunatics or children I almost think we are in a lunatic asylum. Anyone would have thought to hear the hon. Member speak that the Navy had been the most aggressive force in the world, whereas every student knows that the British Navy has been the greatest civiliser the world has seen. There was talk about Christianity, but there would have been nothing to get missionaries round the world with if there had not been the Navy. I am glad hon. Members are out of the House for I should have enjoyed having a go at them. I hope the First Lord will explain to the opposite benches that one reason for the increases is that at last a great many men in the Navy are for the first time getting a living wage. I hope he will also make it plain why the two battleships were not built in the Royal dockyards. When I hear private interests being talked about I am perfectly certain that had nothing to do with the building of the ships not taking place in these dockyards.
I am very sorry that the First Lord has not put in a word about marriage allowances for officers. Last year I made a long speech on the subject, but I would again remind him that this is very pressing, and ask him just to give the officers' wives a chance in the same way as the men's wives. With regard to the Royal dockyards, I would like him to look up the system in France with regard to marriage allowances. If he would make an inquiry into that it would solve many dockyard problems. At the present moment the amounts paid are not, enough to provide a living wage for a man with four or five of a family.
I have one particular grievance; a Navy Debate would not be itself unless we had a grievance. There are a certain number of officers who rise from the ranks. It is almost impossible for these men to get retired pay and pension which can be compared with the retired pay and pension of the regular officers. These regular officers have not the same complaint, because they are young enough to qualify and get more work, a good many 1222 of them in the House of Commons. That, however, is not the case with the ranker officers. It takes them years to get their Commissions, and then years more before they can get promotion. I make bold to press this, because in the past there was the same grievance among the Royal Marines, and if the Government saw fit to put it right in their case they ought to do the same for the Royal Navy. It really is very important, because some of us want to see the best men in every service get to the top, and I am sure the officers of the Navy want it as much as anyone else.
Another grievance is the exclusion of the schoolmaster branch of the Royal Marines from revised rates of pay. The First Lord gave me an answer to a question which was very unsatisfactory. Tinder the decisions of the Government upon the report of the Jerram-Halsey Committees in May, 1919, Royal Marine schoolmasters were placed on the same footing as naval schoolmasters. This decision has never been rescinded. But under an order made last year the conditions of promotion, pay, and pensions of Royal Navy schoolmasters were revised, but Royal Marine schoolmasters are excluded from the operation of this order. While the original orders remain in force, the exclusion of the Royal Marine schoolmasters from any improvement in the scale of pay officially allotted to them would appear to be not only unjustifiable, but a distinct breach of contract. I hope, therefore, that the First Lord will think of them. May I also say a word about warrant writers? As I understand it, it is difficult, if not impossible, for writers to become second accountant officers on ships. Will the Admiralty consider promoting writers passed for warrant rank, and appointing them to this post? There is another post which, I am told, might with advantage be opened to warrant writers, namely, that of captain's clerk on ships. Again, there is another position which, I am informed, might be opened to warrant writers, the very responsible position of being in custody of the main public chest. These are highly technical matters, but I know many of these warrant writers—you could not find better men in any rank of the Navy—and I hope the First Lord will consider their grievances. The hon. 1223 Member for Gillingham (Mr. Hohler) has put the case for the engine-room artificers so well that I will not say anything more on the subject.
I congratulate the First Lord on his very able review. When the Washington Conference came up there were not many dockyard Members who dared welcome its decisions. I do. I think it was one of the greatest steps that the world has ever known. However, I want to see the British Navy second to no navy in the world, and I am sure the First Lord and every Member of this House will fight hard for that. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider that if dockyard Members have to speak of grievances it is not in any hostile spirit, but to make the Navy even better than it is.
§ Mr. FOOT
I want to lay some emphasis on one particular grievance before the First Lord replies. It is the grievance to which the hon. and learned Member for Gillingham (Mr. Hohler) drew attention. I have not the immediate association with a dockyard which the hon. Member has, but I can assure the hon. Member for the Devonport Division (Sir C. Kinloch-Cooke) and the hon. Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor) that there has been no decision which the Admiralty has arrived at lately which has caused more indignation and disappointment, and, indeed, dismay, than the action of the Admiralty relating td the ratings of the Navy, particularly engine-room artificers. I ask the First Lord if there is not a possibility at this late hour of re-considering that decision. That notice is still pending. I believe in a good many cases it will operate at the end of the present month. There is a sheer injustice that that notice should have been given to men who happen simply to be serving in the home ships or home establishments. I know the answer was made by the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty that it only applied to a few men. That is no answer. I submit that if a real injustice is done to one of these men, it is no answer to say that the injustice only applies to a few. Among the many letters I have received on the matter there is one in which a man says:All the reductions are to he made from men in home depots, which means that the men who returned from abroad have got to go, whilst others who have been home for 1224 twelve months and more and are just now enjoying themselves with the Atlantic Fleet escape.That is an injustice. Surely the explanation made by the Minister a short time ago, that it was necessary to make these discharges quickly, is not a sufficient explanation. It would be far better if some delay took place, even a few months, if the reduction could be equitably applied to the whole fleet. A further reason for that delay is in this fact. There probably still remain on active service some of the artificers who volunteered to go under the terms of the scheme of last year, and probably these men are still willing, but as they are serving on sea-going ships it is not possible for them to carry out their willingness. We are faced with the position that there are men who want to go and cannot, and other men who do not want to go and must. That is the position as explained to me by those immediately concerned, and I submit it is another reason why these discharges should be delayed.
I think there must be something in the contention of the hon, and learned Member for Gillingham that this was, perhaps, a belated decision that had to be arrived at, perhaps, in the stress of preparing the estimates. A large proportion of the men are men with five years' service or less, and I ask the House to consider what is the prospect before these men who very often are the best products of our elementary schools. Some of them were trained at immense trouble by their parents. I know homes where the parents have worked. to the extremity of their efforts in order that they should provide for their children. A boy has gone into the service and has been led to believe all along that it was permanent service. Now he is to he put out, and although admirably fitted for his own work he is very largely unfitted for the work outside. He is at a hopeless disadvantage in competition with the engineer in other establishments. Very often these men have been prepared at great cost to the State; £475 per year in one establishment. During 4½ years of preparation a man costs the State for the completion of his apprenticeship something like £2,000. Some have been drafted from private establishments, but they have been able to get this skill mostly at a very considerable sacrifice to their parents. Nothing, 1225 where I live, is sadder than the ease brought to me of a young man, the breadwinner of his family, who has been sent out of the Service with practically no prospects. The suggestion is made that 14 days' leave is to be allowed these men so that they may look for civil employment. It is a concession which is looked upon as little more than eyewash. They look upon it as something like a breach of faith. I do not say it is an actual breach of faith, and that the Admiralty is not entitled to get rid of these men, but if they broke their contract with the State they would have to pay a substantial sum. I submit that. the £20 which is being offered is inadequate; they should be paid the same sum they would have been required to pay to tile State if they had broken their contract with the Admiralty. I have had brought to my knowledge, and it has appeared in the correspondence columns of the paper which circulates in my part of the country, the disparity in the amounts paid to the officers and the men, though I do not say there is an unfair amount paid to the officers.
The hon. Member for the Devonport Division of Plymouth asked in this House what was the amount available for compensating officers and men discharged compulsorily or voluntarily from the Navy, and the numbers discharged. The reply was that the amount available for officers was £1,250,000, and for men £1,500,000, the numbers discharged being: officers 1,709; and men, 11,274. The total paid to the seventeen hundred officers was £845,000, and to the eleven thousand men was £1,082,000. There was a difference somewhat of this proportion 1494 to the officer and £96 to the man. In the reply it was also stated that the amount paid to the officers did not include retired pay. If you take the officer and the man of less than five years service, it is 1500 to the one and £20 to the other. It is a disparity which is thought to need some explanation among the men immediately concerned. I do not know if some suggestion can be made for the retaining of these men, even in scholastic employment. If anything could be done to relieve a few of these cases it would lessen the injustice. Economy is necessary but, I think, economy secured by the discharge of these men; by the breaking up of their careers, and some- 1226 times by the breaking up of their homes, is economy which would be very dearly purchased. I hope it may be possible within these few weeks to have a rearrangement which will lessen the hardship in the district I represent.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir F. HALL
We have listened this afternoon to very many discussions of various topics connected with the Navy, and I would like to say I was delighted to hear the last hon. Member from the Labour Benches congratulating the First Lord of the Admiralty for maintaining, so far as he can, a Navy that is sufficient to protect the interests of this country. It was exceedingly different to the speech that fell from the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Newbold), in which he stated that so far as he was concerned he should not vote for any Estimates for the Army, Navy or Air Force. I suppose he was following the suggestion of the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden), who indicated that the whole of the £123,000,000 required for the services of this country might be utilised in the cause of social reform. We on this side are quite as desirous as Members on the other side of the House to use as much money as possible for social reform, but we are strongly of opinion that it is necessary to maintain a Navy of sufficient strength to look after the trade routes of this country and keep us in a position in which we are able to feed the people of our country. I wonder whether hon. Members who are deploring the Navy, even as it is to be kept now on a reduced basis, ever take themselves back to the troublous time of 1914–18, and wonder what would have been the position now if the suggestions made from their benches had been carried out by the Government—what would have been the position of this country in regard to the trade routes during the War and the necessary food for the people.
There are many points in the speeches delivered to-day, and I should like to have discussed some of them. At this late hour of the evening I do not, however, intend to do so. There is one I am particularly desirous of bringing before the Committee, and that is a breach of faith which has been made between one of the greatest corporations and institutions in the world and the Board of Admiralty. The First Lord when he was 1227 making his speech this afternoon referred to the reduction of the Coastguard. He did not inform you that there was in existence at the present time a contract entered into between Lloyd's and the Admiralty—a fifty year contract entered into in July, 1903. The contract was to run for fifty years, roughly, from 4th June, 1901. Previously to 1903 the Corporation of Lloyd's were in the habit of keeping their own employés for collecting and distributing their maritime intelligence throughout this kingdom and, if I may say so, it was and is the greatest international means of disseminating maritime intelligence that has ever existed. The Admiralty between 1901 and 1903 applied to Lloyd's and asked if they would agree to some alteration and that they, the Admiralty, should take over the various stations that were owned by Lloyd's and some that were rented by Lloyd's. Lloyd's did not want to make this alteration, but they were particularly pressed by the Admiralty to do so, with the result that they eventually fell in with the suggestion of the Board of Admiralty. I find this in the Report here, which is rather an extraordinary document—the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee. This Committee was set up by Sir William Mitchell-Thomson. You would have thought that knowing this contract was in existence with the Corporation of Lloyd's, the first thing they could have done would be to approach Lloyd's and say: "Have you any suggestions to make Will you agree to this transfer from the Admiralty to the Board of Trade?" But not at all. I find in the Report which is referred to on page 8, which particularly refers to the matter, it says:In addition the Admiralty has contractual obligations with Lloyd's which if continued would involve the manning of certain stations, and since this duty requires trained signallers it must presumably be discharged with a Navy Signalling Section. As however this would involve the retention of about 100 extra men for the most part at stations which are not otherwise required by the Admiralty and as the service is now of no value to the Navy as far as training of signallers is concerned owing to the changed requirements of modern times, we suggest the Admiralty should consider whether it would not be possible to come to some agreement with Lloyd's for the early termination of the contract.The first intimation that Lloyd's received of this proposed alteration was 1228 from the newspapers. They saw the report in the newspapers and they communicated with the Admiralty in September, 1922, drawing attention to the Report and saying they were surprised that this should be the first intimation they should have had, and asking, in the event of any other alteration being made or if it was confirmed, that the corporation should be communicated with. Strangely enough, no reply was ever received to that letter, and it was only when Lloyd's received intimation from some of their coastguardmen with the suggestion that their services would be terminated on the 31st of this month, that they got into communication again with the Admiralty, who replied, "Oh, yes, these alterations are going to be made, and the men that have hitherto been in the service of the Admiralty in the coastguard work and have been doing the work on behalf of the Corporation of Lloyd's have to be transferred to the Board of Trade." The connections between Lloyd's and the Board of Admiralty have always been of the most friendly nature, and the connections with the Board of Trade have been carried on in a like manner, but the Corporation of Lloyd's are not satisfied or, I should say, are quite dissatisfied, that these men should be transferred from the Admiralty to the Board of Trade. It requires men who have been trained for this work, thoroughly trained, in order that the information may be perfectly correct and transmitted correctly, and that reliance can be placed upon it. Naturally at various times there has been a certain amount of trouble for the men employed on this work, with the result that Lloyd's had communicated with the Admiralty. These men are under naval discipline, and it has been of great assistance in securing that proper control is exercised over them.
Now we are told that this alteration is to be made, and I venture to protest, on behalf of the Corporation of Lloyds, at the manner in which this suggested alteration is to he made. I say to the First Lord that if the Admiralty makes a contract it is incumbent upon the Admiralty to maintain the conditions of that contract. Neither the Admiralty nor any other Department have the right to transfer any contract that has been made from one Department to another without both parties to that contract agreeing.
1229 We have all sorts of contracts made and cancelled, but we do not expect that condition of affairs between a Government Department and any important corporation such as the one to which he had referred. There are 23 stations—I will not give the names of them all—but there are three particularly out of the 23 which are to be continued by the Admiralty, the other 20 being transferred to the Board of Trade. The Admiralty are continuing seven stations themselves, and of 23 stations —one at Dover Pier, one at St. Anne's Head, and the other, I think, at Prawle. These remain in Admiralty service in order that the Admiralty information shall be of a reliable nature. The services of the coastguard-men are to he retained under their own control. The whole thing is this: It is a question of the transfer of another hundred of this coastguardmen. If the men necessary for the Admiralty work are retained surely a point could be stretched and another hundred of these men kept on to continue the contract which has still 28 years to run, especially as the Admiralty have admitted that they require trained men. The Committee were getting intimations from the coastguard in their service about the change, arid they asked what it meant. Then the Corporation received a notification from the Admiralty saying that "under the circumstances, while the men are being trained for the Department of the Board of Trade, we will agree to continue the men under the Admiralty for a further period of three months."
With all deference, I say the Admiralty has no power to make these alterations without due agreement with all the parties interested. I do not think I am divulging secrets when I say that the Admiralty would be quite willing if the services that have been carried out in the past by the coastguard on behalf of these stations, a great many of which are old stations on which they have spent£30,000 or £40,000 in constructing, should be continued as they have been up to the present time, as the men are required for signalling stations. I do not believe the Board of Trade want to do anything because they know they have not any Department properly arranged for the carrying out of this work. I think it is a ease where the Treasury see they are going to effect some small saving. There 1230 cannot be much saving because it only affects 100 men, and I say that even if an agreement should be come to with the Corporation of Lloyd's and the Admiralty, the Corporation will not agree to the transfer of these stations to the Board of Trade. If it can be arranged, the whole amount would be so small that I think that on re-consideration the Department presided over by the right hon. Gentleman will think twice before they endeavour to cancel a contract that has been entered into and maintained in the spirit and manner in which the Corporation of Lloyd's have always dealt with the Admiralty and the Board of Trade. I hope. my right hon. Friend will very carefully consider this matter, because it is of the utmost importance that this work should be carried on by thoroughly competent men, men who have been trained in the work, and it is not work that can lightly be taken in hand.
§ Mr. ROBERT YOUNG
I rise especially for the purpose of emphasising what has been said by the hon. and learned Member for Gillingham (Mr. Hohler). I am not a member for a dockyard town, but I happen to represent a very large number of engineers in dockyards, and a large number of the engine-room artificers who are being dismissed. I ask the First Lord of the Admiralty to consider the position he has placed these men in. He will remember that when volunteers were asked for there was a number who consented to go, but unfortunately some of those who volunteered have not been allowed to go. I understand also that even some who volunteered were allowed to leave the home ports after they had volunteered. Under these circumstances it is only right that the men who are being compelled to retire should not be retired until those who actually volunteered should have the opportunity of leaving the Service. It means a very great deal to these young men. Sixty at least of the 175 now to go are Navy-trained apprentices. Only smart young men could win through the examination, and they were induced, or their parents were induced, to put them in the Navy through the alluring advertisements and circulars issued by the Navy. They were promised promotion, if they were attentive to their duties, to the position of engineer-lieutenant in the Navy. All that has been stopped.
1231 I am not going to blame the Admiralty, I am rather inclined to blame the Treasury, which is responsible for so many schemes of false economy. Undoubtedly, pressure must have been brought on the Admiralty to get these retirements completed by the 31st of this month, and it has been the well-understood practice in the Navy that efficient men of good character were for all practical purposes assured of at least 12 years' service, with the option of rejoining for 22 years. I shall be told, of course, that there was a Clause in the agreement which gives the Admiralty the right, to discharge these men, but that has never been acted on in the past except, for misconduct or inefficiency. If you cannot do something to delay these retirements the Admiralty ought at least to treat these men as it expected to be treated by them. The men arc to get a gratuity of £20, but I understand it would cost some of them £75 to buy themselves out. If you are going to put them out you ought to he generous to them to the same extent. I am certain that when they read the statement that the terms are regarded as generous they will smile, because they at all events do not regard the terms as generous. They are under the impression that their contract has been broken and that they have been very badly treated. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman could very well delay the matter for a month or two and give these men who are really willing to retire an opportunity to retire, and so retain some of the men who are anxious to continue their career in the Navy.
§ Mr. HARRISON
We have had hon. Members speaking of the conditions in the dockyards. I believe most firmly that work is far better done by private enterprise. On this subject the Geddes Report says:We have been impressed by a comparison of the high cost of labour in the dockyards in proportion to the value of the material consumed. The average of the home dockyards shows us that £3 is paid in wages for every £1 worth of material, whereas in private dockyards it is £1 10s. in wages for every £1 of material.I believe also that wages in the Royal dockyards have been raised by 382 per cent. over pre-War times. It is clear from that figure that it is impossible that work can be done in Royal dockyards as cheaply as under private enterprise. 1232 But take the broadest issue. Our present Budget is roughly £800,000,000. In that the Naval Estimates represent about one-thirteenth or one-fourteenth. I believe that this country will not tolerate an expenditure of £800,000,000 annually. Members on this side of the House should, therefore, realise that if we do not resolutely reduce our expenditure we shall sooner or later have a capital levy brought in by the other side which would be economic ruin.
§ Mr. HARRISON
I think that an effort should be made to attain a Budget of £700,000,000. Of a Budget of £700,000,000 there is already allocated £430,000,000 which would go in interest on debt and pensions. £170,000,000 is roughly equivalent to the pre-war Budget, and if you add another £100,000,000, for doing the same work at greater cost, you get £.700,000,000. If we are to attain that standard the Navy will have to suffer some slight further reduction. That is the branch of the public services which we feel is least susceptible to reduction. But the Geddes Report recommended a reduction of £21,000,000. Last year the First Lord reduced it by £4,000,000, and this year he proposes to reduce it by £6,800,000. If the Geddes Report is to be carried out, that leaves £10,000,000 to be reduced from the Navy Estimates, and that is apart from any savings due to the Washington Conference. I think the layman would be a fool who thought that he could give an adequate criticism of the Naval Estimates with regard to ships, crews and material—to do so would obviously require a lifetime of experience. The Geddes Committee did, however, say that a further £10,000,000 could be spared. I spent the best part of yesterday—seven hours in all—trying to collate the Geddes Report with the present Estimates. I found it extraordinarily difficult, but I did arrive at a few general conclusions, and I will try to bring them out on the detailed Estimates. I will now only allude to Vote 1. The Geddes Committee say that whenever a ship is in commission and a man is on shore for an Admiralty course, his place is always filled. They say that that is unnecessary. They say that on reserve ships there is a complement of one-fifth or one-tenth, and another fifth are kicking their heels in barracks. We 1233 have had large numbers of men unemployed when these men could have been kept in employment as marine police, telephone operators, and in other ways. Another small point, the candle-end of economy, is the officer's servant. It does seem queer that in the Navy an officer's servant should not be taken on the staff as in the Army.
On the question of pay, the schoolmasters come in. I presume that schoolmasters were raised to something like the Burnham scale. Unfortunately in the Navy, and other Government employment, wages were fixed, without bonus, at a time when it was necessary to fix them extraordinarily high, and it may be that the salaries of these schoolmasters are higher now than circumstances warrant. The same thing, I think, would naturally apply to the pay of the sailors. But I feel strongly on that. If we had conscription it does riot much matter what a man is paid, that is his sacrifice for the sake of his country. But when you do not have conscription it is clearly right that you should pay your soldiers and sailors a really good wage to get good men. I think that pay in the past has been disgraceful. I am, therefore, not prepared to make any suggestions for decreasing the pay of the Navy. I will not detain the House further, for on further Estimates it would be more convenient if I raised the small points I have in mind and the suggestions I wish to make. I have merely mentioned these small ones as they turn on Vote 1.
§ Mr. DARBISHIRE
I wish to put one question to the First Lord of the Admiralty with regard to the naval base at Singapore. In the Memorandum circulated by the First Lord he tells us that, owing to the terms of the Washington Convention, extension at Hong Kong is excluded and that it has been decided to proceed gradually with the base at Singapore. I understand that there is a large graving dock there 800 feet long, and when I come to the Estimate I find that a sum of £10,000,000 has been put down as the probable ultimate expenditure to be provided. cannot understand why such a huge sum should be put down, for I believe it would be feasible to enlarge the present docks there. I would he obliged if the First Lord could make a statement to the House. If I understand the Washington Agreement, it was 1234 meant that we should cut down our liabilities and our developments in the East. I do not see how you can reconcile what seems contrary to that Agreement— that you should go away from Hong Kong and embark on this vast expenditure at Singapore.
§ Mr. AMERY
The discussion has ranged over a very wide field, and I am sure hon. Members will forgive me if I do not deal adequately with all the points. I may have an opportunity of dealing with some of them on the separate Votes. I think I ought, perhaps, to say a few words about the main points raised by the Motion of the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden), an omnibus Motion which included such topics as the failure of the present Government to fulfil its pledges of economy, the failure of the late Prime Minister to secure that we should live in a better world after the War and the desirability of securing some international Conference which would apply the principles of the Washington Treaty to every nation besides those who had taken part. Upon these points I should like to say a few words. The hon. Member for Colne Valley brushed aside the far-reaching economy we have had in Admiralty Votes as compared with recent years by insisting that the only standard of comparison was our pre-War expenditure. In using the pre-War standard for comparison you must make some allowance for the entirely different scale of costs and prices. If you make that allowance you will find that our present effective naval expenditure is only 60 per cent. of what it was in 1914–15. Even then 7½ millions of the difference is accounted for by the fact, to which the hon. Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) has referred, that we are now paying a reasonable living wage to the men of the Naval Services, and I think that the party which has always stood for fair wages should be the last to complain about it. If I may give one other example, one in fact which he himself gave as to the expenditure of the different nations constituting the League of Nations. A document issued by the League showed that for the United Kingdom the percentage spent on defence has gone down enormously. Whereas in 1913–41.4 of the total gross Budget expenditure was spent on defence, in 1235 1922–23 it was only 17.6 or 15.0 omitting War charges, but including the payment of pensions.
The hon. Member for Greenock (Sir G. Collins) is not in his place, but he went in for a meticulous criticism of our expenditure. One of his complaints was that we have not taken into account our drawings on stores and sales of ships and that if we did the Estimates would be increased by £2,800,000. If you take account of these things this year you must equally take it into account for last year. We are drawing £200,000 less for stores this year than last year and expect to make £580,000 less by the sale of ships. It is clear consequently that on these two items we are showing an additional saving of £780,000. I do not think I need labour these smaller points. The hon. Member for Greenock and the hon. Member who has just spoken took up the recommendations of the Geddes Committee as regards the personnel, etc. I only regret that the hon. Member, who spent seven hours reading the Geddes Report, did not devote an extra hour to the Admiralty Memorandum which I issued last, year on the Geddes Report, which dealt very fully with it, and I do not think I need labour that at this moment.
The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) made a feature in his speech of "What is this menace against which you are building? Where is it?" The answer I would give, and I gave it in my opening statement is this: Will you guarantee that there will be no menace in the next generation? If the Navy with all its ships, men, traditions could be bought at a shop ready for battle at a moment's notice we should certainly not keep one until the menace arose, but the Navy is a thing that takes generations to build up. You cannot let it down and recreate it in a moment, and we are bound to keep up a certain minimum standard of naval preparedness. As I think I have shown sufficiently, our scheme is based, not on the contemplation of any menace, but only keeping in existence a Navy sufficiently efficient to deal with such a menace gradually coming into existence after a period of years. The hon. Member spoke as if it was a question of the main object on this side of the House being to spend money on Dreadnoughts and the main object of the party opposite to find money 1236 for widows' pensions. I venture to say that if we fail to spend an adequate amount on Dreadnoughts, we may find ourselves with far more widows than in the late War without being able to find pensions for them. The whole object of the Navy is to preserve peace. That is what it exists for, and that is what it has done throughout. The Navy in essentials, apart from minor wars, kept the peace for ns for a hundred years and more, and I trust it will keep it for us for as long a period again. The final part of the hon. Member's proposals was his suggestion that the question of extending the principles of the Washington Conference should be considered and that it should be extended to all other powers who are members of the League of Nations. That has been before the Council of the League of Nations which has suggested that the extension to all the non-signatory Powers in the League should be discussed by the League as soon as the April Congress at Santiago has been disposed of, I suppose this summer. I understand that the Temporary Mixed Commission on Reduction of Armaments has already recommended that when this further meeting takes place the Permanent Advisory Commission should review and consider the technical aspects of such further extension. We are not unsympathetic to this, but, all I would say is that, after all, the main problem of peace was secured when you fixed a definite limit to the great naval Powers. The smaller Powers are not disturbing the peace by their naval armaments. France and Italy were brought into the Washington Treaty by fixing limits far and above anything they would dream of building in the next 10 years. The Treaty puts no limitation or sacrifice upon them. Nothing of that nature is likely to affect the really big problems which, as far as the Navy is concerned, have been settled by the Washington Agreement. That Agreement, as I said earlier in the day, is, I believe, not only on the eve of general ratification, but is on the eve of being carried out by all the Powers concerned. We have done everything for the early carrying out of the Treaty at no small risk to ourselves by implementing the Treaty and thus giving an earnest of our good will and an example to the other Powers.
1237 So much for the general points of the discussion. The hon. Member for Greenock asked certain questions about our oil fuel policy and about Singapore. That policy is not aimed at Japan or any Power. The object is simply to restore to the Navy in the oil fuel days and the days of big bulged ships that mobility which it enjoyed in the days of coal. We have to create at Singapore a graving dock capable of holding the modern big bulged ships, and we have to have workshops, stores, and all the apparatus which would make it an effective base if at any time we wished to restore the position such as existed before the German menace arose and a very large portion of our active fleet was in Far Eastern waters.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
Will we have an opportunity of discussing the Singapore base and will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking not to proceed with the work until the House of Commons has expressed its view on the matter
§ Mr. AMERY
It is hardly necessary to give that assurance, because the matter can always be discussed on Vote 10. The hon. Member seemed to think that Singapore would become out of date in the course of 10 years or more because of the changes in ships. I think he has forgotten that under the Washington Agreement there are to be no new ships of a different design built during the next 10 years, so there is nothing to be afraid of. We are spending in the present year £914,000 altogether on the oil fuel scheme, and I think a somewhat similar sum on the provision of oil.
The most important matter raised in the discussion was that raised by the Noble Lord the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon) as to the necessity of discussing this problem of Singapore and all other problems of naval defence with the Dominions, in order to arrive at a united front on naval policy, and also to arrive at some principle under which we can each take a reasonably proportionate share of the burden of a world wide naval defence. I certainly feel feel that the sooner the conference meets the better, and the more fully and frankly we discuss these problems among ourselves the more likely we are to arrive at satisfactory results.
There is the other point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Gillingham 1238 (Mr. Hohler) and other speakers—the difficulty with which we have been faced in the reduction of the last handful of men in the Navy, more particularly with regard to a small number of engine room apprentices. We had to get rid of some 12,000 men, or more. In fairness, and to get the most equitable system possible, we endeavoured to get the reductions made as long as we could from voluntary applications, and during the year a number of something like 11,600 or 11,700 applications came in, so that the great bulk was disposed of in the way most satisfactory and fair to the Service. But to do that inevitably meant carrying on the voluntary scheme for a considerable time. We did not get the last of the outlying returns until the Atlantic Fleet had gone out Hon. Members who suggest that there are many volunteers whom we could still have got are under a misapprehension. We were faced with the necessity of completing our reduction by the end of the financial year. We could only do that by making the last two reductions from the personnel of the home ports. These amounted to 800. I am glad to say that by a last effort at getting volunteers we have got another 250, and the figures are now reduced to something approaching 550, and I believe we can make arrangements with the Air Ministry to take over many of the skilled young engine-room apprentices who certainly deserve every possible consideration. We will try to see if we can in some way provide for them, at any rate, to complete their five years. It was suggested that we might take some of them on as schoolmasters. Subject to passing the necessary examination we should like to consider that The whole problem of this reduction has been faced with the greatest regret, and in the few weeks that remain we shall certainly try every expedient that will mitigate the hardship that still falls on the small number of discharges of men decided on at the last moment.
There are a number of smaller points on which I have been asked questions, but perhaps it would be fairer to the Committee if, instead of answering them now, I should do so on the several Votes as they come along. I trust the Committee will now give us Vote A, and the following Vote.
§ WAGES, ETC., OF OFFICERS, SEAMEN, AND BOYS, COAST GUARD, AND ROYAL MARINES.
That a sum, not exceeding £14,055,700, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Wages, etc., of Officers, Seamen, and Boys, Coast Guard, and Royal Marines, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1924."—[Mr. Amery.]
§ Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.
§ Committee to sit again To-morrow.