Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £7,045,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expenses of the Personnel for Shipbuilding, Repairs, Maintenance, etc., at Dockyards and Naval Yards at Home and abroad, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1925.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I do not quite know what the order of the Debate is going to be. I understood yesterday, through the usual channels—which I, also, sometimes consult—that there was to be a demand from the Oposition for an enhanced and increased building programme of warships, but, apparently, like the much heralded Vote of Censure, that is to be postponed. I understood that there was to be a Debate on the general warship strength, which, I think, is covered by this Vote for shipbuilding, which would last until about dinner time, and that then the House would relax itself into what I may perhaps, be permitted without offence to call the Dockyard Soviet, when the dockyard Members, of course with the assistance, which I know they are always glad to get, of the ex-naval officers who sit in this House, would raise matters of pressing grievance in the dockyards. Apparently, however, that is not to be the case, and, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) is not here, I presume he will take part in the Debate later. I want to raise a matter of policy in connection with the dockyards, and I take the opportunity of apologising to my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary for not having given him notice of the points that I am going to raise, as he would naturally expect me to do. Of course, I was really waiting for the attack 660 of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook, and on this occasion I was sharpening my sword and girding on my armour to defend my hon. Friend's Department against the Opposition. That accounts for my not giving him notice that I was going to raise this particular point. He has, however, heard me raise it before, and I will give him the same opportunity of dealing with it that I gave to his predecessors in office, and, I hope, with more success.
We are asked to find, in this Vote, an additional sum of £531,000 over last year for the dockyards generally, and I think that this Government, which I understand claims to be a business Government, should examine the situation of the dock yards from the business point of view. The other day, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) made a very interesting proposal with regard to the great naval dockyard of Chatham. I found myself very much in agreement with him, having made a similar proposal on one or two occasions myself. Chatham is only one case in point. The great Royal dockyards have grown up with the needs of successive naval situations, leading, in most cases, up to war. We have the Port of Plymouth, which was developed at the time when Spain was the bogey that the Conservatives of those days held up before the country as the enemy against whom we had to fight. Portsmouth, a very ancient naval dockyard, first came into great importance in the reign of Henry VIII, as an answer to the French naval menace from the other side of the Channel, and it has remained of very great importance. Chatham, and its later adjunct, Sheerness, was developed and became of great importance in the Dutch wars, and Rosyth was built and developed to meet the menace of Germany. It was proposed to increase—and it would have been carried out if the Conservative Government had remained in office—the dockyard of Singapore against an imaginary menace from our ancient friend and ally, Japan.
It is quite obvious that if we are to have one port against the Dutch, another port against Spain, a third port against Germany, and a fourth port against Japan—
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
No, I am glad that the port of Halifax is not being developed, or the port of Bermuda.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Jamaica has been very much reduced. It is obvious that we do not need all these dockyards. I can remember some of the heated Debates that we have had in this House over the question of the Pembroke Dockyard, which the Admiralty admitted was not required for naval purposes, but the retention of which the Government defended on political grounds. Quite openly, they said, "We have allowed a community to grow around this dockyard, and gas-works, water-works, etc., have been built, therefore we must go on making work for this dockyard, and must go on spending money on it." With regard to Pembroke, I have modified my attitude a good deal, but for quite another reason from that which was given by the Government of the day. My reason is that Pembroke is one of the most distant ports from the point of view of air attack from possible enemies. That is an additional reason, which was not put forward then, for retaining Pembroke as a building and refitting yard.
With regard to Chatham, a port against which I have no personal hostility—although the local leaders of opinion there seem to think I have—I have nothing but the friendliest recollections. Chatham is, however, particularly exposed to aerial attack. It is also unsuitable for the largest and most modern types of war vessels, and it is not strategically well-placed in the event of the most probable war, in preparation for which we have to spend money and build up our forces. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge suggested putting Chatham under the Port of London Authority and developing it as a great commercial centre. I am very much in agreement with that point of view, although I realise the responsibility that Governments have to the communities which have grown up around the dockyards, and the difficulties which confront them. At the same time, I realise that the Treasury will have far heavier burdens placed upon it in future. There will be great demands for urgent social expenditure on very much more useful objects, and badly needed objects, than expenditure on dockyards beyond the 662 barest and most essential needs. With regard to Chatham, we have responsibility for the highly-skilled workman who have settled round that dockyard, and I consider, therefore, that this Government should seriously consider in office what they used to advocate in opposition, and what I used to advocate when I was also in opposition.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I give general support to the Government, I am happy to say. The Government should very seriously consider afresh, and, in a more sympathetic way than previous Governments have done, the question of utilising the very excellent and modern plant in the Royal dockyards and the skilled and highly-gifted workmen who work in those dockyards, for the manufacture of useful engineering products, for the building of merchant vessels, locomotives, and so on. With regard to the manufacture of war material, for the reasons that I have given in regard to Chatham being so vulnerable to air attack that it is very unsuitable under modern conditions as a great naval arsenal, I do not think that war material should be manufactured there. Generally speaking, with regard to the other dockyards, such as Plymouth—
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Plymouth is the more general term. Of course, every one knows the dockyard of Devonport, as well as that of Stonehouse. Plymouth is not so open to air attack, but, in view of the rapidly increasing efficiency of aerial attack, that position will not long remain. However, in regard to Plymouth, much more armaments might be made in that dockyard than in the private armament making firms.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
There is, I understand, a tendency in the Council of the League of Nations to veto 663 the private manufacturer and traffic in armaments and munitions, and we should be prepared, therefore, for a step which I hope will be taken, namely, a veto by international agreement on all private manufacture of armaments and munitions. Then we should not have this unhealthy political pressure from armament centres which is just as unhealthy as the political pressure from the Royal dockyards. I have mentioned the Clyde, and I will deal with it if my hon. Friend wishes. After all, the great prosperity of the Clyde has been due to the building of merchant vessels, and it is only recently that they have fallen from grace by building war vessels. What is needed is a thorough-going inquiry into what dockyards we actually need. These dockyards are enormously expensive, and it is unhealthy to have these redundant naval establishments. They, in their turn, demand work, and war vessels are laid down. Then we get Japan and the other Powers increasing their naval strength, and thus the naval race is accelerated. What dockyards are really required and which can be reduced. That is the first point. Secondly, how can the redundant establishments and redundant plant be best utilised? What steps can be taken for the compensation for those displaced, and how can the dockyards be utilised for the manufacture of useful articles or the building of ships? This is the dockyard side of the question that I wish to raise on this Vote. I hope that I have not expressed these ideas in a way that will be considered as hostile by the dockyard Members, because I quite understand their difficulties.
At Question Time, I asked for time to discuss another matter, and my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal said that the matter could be discussed on the Navy Estimates. I was in much doubt—and expressed my doubt—whether I should be in order on the Navy Estimates. I do not think that I shall be in order—I am sure you will inform me if I am correct—in attempting to raise the question—although it is really a ship-building matter—of the very important Resolutions passed in the Senate on the American Navy Appropriation Bill which allows for the building of eight cruisers. The Senate, following the example of the House of Representatives, has sent a recommendation 664 to the President, asking that he should consider calling a conference of the Four Powers concerned to consider a fresh limitation of naval armaments. Perhaps I might refer to it, as an item of this Vote has to do with actual shipbuilding, and as three new vessels are being laid down and are being built in the dockyards.
§ The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Robert Young)
The Navy Votes which we are discussing to-day are to be taken in three parts, and the Question which is to be put first deals with personnel.
§ The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Mr. Clynes)
Although I used the word "Estimates," I had not the Vote of to-day in mind, but the Foreign Office Vote.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I do not see how either on the Foreign Office Vote or on Vote 12 of the Navy Estimates we can pass a Resolution, Mr. Speaker having been moved out of the Chair on the Civil Service and Navy Estimates. There are two right hon. Gentlemen in the Committee with much greater Parliamentary experience than I have, and perhaps they can explain how it can be done. My impression is that in Committee no Resolution can be passed, and therefore some other time will have to be found. Here we are spending over £500,000 on the dockyards more than last year. The great part of that expenditure, especially with regard to the payment of wages, is for the building of war vessels outside the scope of the Washington Agreement, and, while not attempting to develop that argument now or to anticipate the discussion which I hope will take place at an early date, I do trust that we shall make some answer to the Resolution passed in the two Houses at Washington. It is a matter of the very highest importance. No one knows better than my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal how essential it is to look for a reduction in expenditure wherever a reduction can be usefully made, and our greatest field for saving money is undoubtedly 665 in the three fighting Services, and of those three I still believe that, with international co-operation and agreement, the greatest saving can be made in the ship-building Vote. I have raised the so particular questions, and though I do not expect any detailed answer, I do hope that this question of the suitability and needs of the existing dockyards, and the possibility of great economies without undue hardship to the people concerned, is engaging the lively and careful attention of my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, and that he will be able to give us some satisfaction before we pass the Vote. I have an Amendment down for a reduction, but under the present circumstances I do not propose to move it but will wait for the reply.
§ Sir B. FALLE
It gives me much pleasure to follow my hon. and gallant Friend. It appears from his remarks that Devonport has ceased to exist since my old colleague Sir Clement Kinloch-Cooke, has left this House. We were under the impression that Devonport was the dockyard. It now appears that it is Plymouth. I do not think so. Devonport is the dockyard, and continues to remain the dockyard.
§ Viscountess ASTOR rose—
§ Sir B. FALLE
It is true that a good many of the Devonport dockyard workers live in other parts of the town, but it is the same in Portsmouth. The dockyard is in my own constituency, but a great many of the men who work in the dockyards live in the centre and on the south of the town, and on those grounds all the three Members are members of the dockyard committee. In the same way, the Noble Lady the Member for Sutton (Viscountess Astor) is a member of the dockyard committee, not because she represents the dockyard itself, but because a good many of her voters work in the dockyard. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member made his interruptions in a louder voice, I might be able to reply to them. My hon. and gallant Friend wants to scrap Pembroke, and he wants to scrap Chatham. The reason he gives is that they are within the range of air attack. I am surprised to hear that he is so backward in his ideas. A 666 very few years ago all those ports would have been outside the range of any air attack, and, if we are to have 10 years of peace—and Heaven forbid that we should have any less, because we are utterly unprepared at the moment—who is to say that it will make the smallest difference either to a rigid airship or to an aeroplane whether the distance be 50 or 500 miles.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend does not wish to misrepresent me. I admitted, with regard to Pembroke, that I had modified my attitude a great deal, because it is not so vulnerable to air attack as Chatham.
§ Sir B. FALLE
Ten years hence it will be just as vulnerable as Chatham. The French gentleman who is flying to Cochin-China and who has beaten our own and the United States airmen has shown that those distances are nothing to him. He does his 800 miles in six hours, and, whether the distance be 80 or 800 miles, 10 years hence, when it is possible that we may have another war with a civilised Power, it will make no difference whatever. The hon. and gallant Member also seemed to think that preparation for war leads to war. It seems to me absurd that anybody who has read history should entertain the notion that preparation for war leads to war. Can anybody give an instance in which preparation for war has led to war?
§ Sir B. FALLE
Germany with her armaments kept the peace for 40 years, and she did it because she was prepared for war and the others were afraid to attack. When she was ready to attack, she did so. Do hon. Members think we are going to spend 40 years more before somebody attacks us?
§ Sir B. FALLE
Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,Wha struts, and stares, and a' that;Tho' hundreds worship at his word,He's but a coof for a' that.667 My contention is that preparation for war prevents war. I do not pretend to be original in that idea. We have it from the greatest Empire that the world has ever seen except our own, and they knew considerable about war and peace. If hon. Members do not like their views they can go to the good Book itself—A strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace.
§ Sir B. FALLE
I do not want to quote the whole passage, but it only emphasises my argument. If the stronger had not been more prepared he would not have come along.
§ Sir B. FALLE
Why do you want the whole passage? The point of the argument is that if you are prepared for war, nobody will attack you.
§ Sir B. FALLE
Just so. The man, for instance, who will not have a dockyard in the Pacific, and objects to Singapore in the Indian Ocean, who makes it so that his ships cannot go into those parts of the world at all—when a man who is stronger, and has prepared better than himself because his preparations are inadequate comes along, he beats him, and takes from him even that which he hath. That only strengthens my argument.
§ Sir B. FALLE
All of them except ourselves. Why are they preparing for war? Because we have every single thing in the world that they want; that is why.
§ Sir B. FALLE
The British Empire has every single thing in the world which the other people want. That is why they are preparing for war. That is the reason that we should be prepared. There is hardly a spot on the habitable globe, outside of Europe and America, to which a white man can take his wife and breed his children that does not belong to this country. There are other peoples who would like to have some of that territory. Japan herself looks naturally with longing eyes at Australia, which is populated at the rate of one man for every square mile As long as we do not increase the population of those countries we have no right to hold them, and those who prepare sufficiently will take them from us. Preparation is to meet the necessity for holding all our possessions abroad. One of the preparations is to have our dock yards in good order.
I know that it is the habit to say in this House that the dockyard Members must protect their dockyards, but that is not one little bit more the case than that the Members for Glasgow, or the Members for any other place must speak for the places which they represent, but Members are elected, not only for their own constituencies, but to represent this country and this Empire in this House, and I should be very loth to think that any of the speeches which I make or questions which I ask or arguments which I raise in this House are definitely and entirely confined to the dockyard itself. Portsmouth has many other interests. Of course, I look upon Portsmouth as the premier dockyard of the Empire and of the world, and when we have got the premier dockyard it would be folly to throw away its advantages. On the other hand, Chatham is an old dockyard, and I believe, a very useful one, which is represented by an old friend of mine, who came into the House with me, and I trust, sincerely, that the Government will keep it. I do not think that we have got a dockyard too many.
One of my reasons is that if we were to shut them up we would immediately 669 cause a great deal of unemployment which this Government is pledged to curtail. In the same way my hon. Friend suggests putting down the private yards. Why? Because they are a menace to other peoples. That may be a reason, but again it means throwing thousands of people out of employment. The old idea is that if you cannot get armaments you will stop war. Did the lack of armaments ever stop war? Never, so far as I know. If you cannot get guns to kill at 2,000 yards you will get a Brown Bess to kill at 20, or if you cannot do that you will get a club to kill at close quarters, but none the less there will certainly be slaughter. I was reading a horrible Persian story of a conqueror who had brought to him on trays 70,000 right eyeballs of those whom his army had killed.
§ Sir B. FALLE
The left eyeballs were left in their natural sockets, and then the others were piled in front of him.
§ Sir B. FALLE
If we go back to the time of Hannibal, we read that every knight wore a gold ring, and, in addition to those given to Hannibal and his generals and to every Tommy in his service, he sent back three bushels of gold rings to Carthage. That gives one an idea of the slaughter which took place in those days when they had only got swords and pikes.
§ Sir B. FALLE
I am sorry that I do not hear the hon. Member's interruption, but it seems to be of interest to himself. If men cannot get a sword or a spear they will kill with the naked hand. A great man—no doubt a relative of the hon. Member opposite—once killed 300 men with the jaw-bone of an ass. As long as men live in this wicked world and one man's possessions are another man's wants, so long will there be fighting. This country has everything which the other people want and it is unctuous rectitude on our part to say to the others: "Let us do away with armaments and let us have peace." There was an old story which was told many years ago, 670 not long after the Franco-German war. It was the story of a horse in his stall, and a hen which used to come and pick the grain which the horse dropped as he fed. The only thing that troubled the hen was that as the horse moved about his feet got in her way, and so she suggested to the horse that they should both give up kicking.
§ Sir B. FALLE
Does the hon. Gentleman mean that he will be in a better condition to understand them in the morning? I was under the impression that Glasgow people were teetotallers.
§ Sir B. FALLE
There are two points which, as a Member of the Dockyard Soviet, I want to bring forward. The first is as to the established list in the dockyard which I have the honour to represent. Can the hon. Gentleman opposite tell me what are the numbers, and how many in each dockyard, and if the full establishment is borne at Portsmouth? There is one delicate point which I want to raise. I do not raise it as a party matter. There, were brought to my knowledge before this Government came into power, certain cases of intimidation in the dockyards. There was one the first year I was returned to this House with my colleague Lord Charles Beresford. We brought the matter up, and we had that particular case righted. I will say that the man himself did everything possible to put himself in the wrong. There is a certain amount of intimidation going on now in the dockyards, and there is need for some statement from the hon. Gentleman to put it right. Men are being told that the ballot is not secret and that numbers of ballot clerks belong to certain parties, and they have it in their power to say what men voted and what men did not and which way they voted. That 671 is a very wrong thing, and it requires an authoritative statement from that Bench to say that such things do not, and cannot exist.
Of course the ballot is secret. At the same time, if you found a man from the dockyard saying, "I voted Labour," and there was no Labour candidate, you would know that he was not telling the truth. We want a statement that, whatever party is in power, the ballot is secret. The men are told that, if they wait advancement in the yard, they must belong to a certain party. I should be glad if the hon. Gentleman would state that there is nothing of this kind in the minds of the Government, or in the dockyard itself, whatever Government comes into power, for if there is one Government to-day, there may be another one to-morrow. Another idea is, that Whitley councils and yard committees are made up of men of one particular persuasion, and only of that particular persuasion. That is a very great mistake, and this inaccuracy should be pointed out by my hon. Friend opposite. I trust that my hon. Friend will see that the matters to which I have referred are put right, and if he does so, I shall be much obliged.
§ Mr. FOOT
I do not wish to occupy the time of the Committee in discussing the difference between the views of myself and those of the hon. and gallant Member who has just resumed his seat, but I am glad to think that there is a profound difference between the views which he has expressed and the views heard on these benches so far as preparations for war are concerned. I should have thought that if there was one hoary fallacy which had been exploded by the experience of recent, years, it would rte the suggestion that, if you want to secure peace, you must prepare for war. Surely the danger is that when the whole of Europe becomes a sort of powder magazine, as it did a few years ago, all that is necessary is some diplomatic trouble to drop in a match which will send the whole thing up in an explosion. Generally, if two people fall out, they are less likely to hurt each other if they have no weapons handy.
§ Sir B. FALLE
If the hon. Member had a personal difference with Georges Carpentier, what would happen? Would he fight?
§ Mr. FOOT
I should decline the combat. Of course, if two people fall out in a temper, and see red there is more likely to be bloodshed when there are weapons handy. If the hon. Member wants to go back on the declaration of old truths, I can refer him to a declaration made long ago—How oft the sight of means to do ill-deedsMakes ill-deeds done.I do protest against the attempt to take part of a passage of Scripture and to give the blessing of the New Testament to the policy of building up armies. The spirit of the Book is that we should forget our quarrels, that there should be no real difference between one nation and another, but that all our differences should be forgotten in one common concord. I join in this Debate simply to support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). I hope that there will be common agreement in the House on the question of the position of the dockyards. Just as a different spirit is being manifested in this country, I hope that a different spirit will be manifested among the nations of the world. What is to be done with regard to these vast establishments that have grown up for national purposes? The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull said, speaking of Pembroke in particular, that it was our duty, seeing that other interests had grown up around the dockyard, to require that those interests be considered by the Government of the day. In that respect I think that he did not state the case strongly enough. I would like to take again the case of Plymouth. The hon. Member who spoke last said that Devonport existed no longer. I do not think that the Noble Lady the Member for Sutton (Viscountess Astor) who interrupted him intended to say anything more than that in 1914 Devonport, which had been a separate municipality, then became one with Plymouth in a united municipality. We recognise in Plymouth the claims of that part of our own town, but even there the name now being generally used is that of Plymouth, which takes us back to the great struggles of many years ago. In Plymouth, however, we do not put the case upon that low ground; we do not say "You must have regard to the interests that have grown 673 up around this national establishment." We put the case on very much higher and stronger grounds. In Plymouth we have a harbour which, I suppose, is one of the finest in the world.
§ Mr. FOOT
Plymouth is certainly one of the finest harbours in this country. It is capable of great development, and it would have been a great commercial harbour if it had not been set aside for Admiralty purposes. I am not setting the claims of Plymouth against Portsmouth, although I should have thought that no one but a Member representing Portsmouth would have sought to put the claims of the two places side by side. When the hon. Member who has just spoken has pursued his studies a little further, he will find that, while there is occasionally another Portsmouth in other parts of the world, there is no town in the world that has had its name copied so often as the town of Plymouth. In America almost every State has honoured itself by using for some town the name of Plymouth. As a result of the Admiralty action the ordinary commercial development of Plymouth has been retarded. Again and again, according to the earlier as well as the more recent records of the town, those who have been concerned with the welfare of the place have sought to develop its natural advantages. Had its natural and commercial advantages been developed, probably Plymouth to-day would be one of the leading commercial ports of the country. Again and again, when proposals were made, the Admiralty said that the first claim upon Plymouth was as a dockyard town and naval port. Other commercial propositions were never allowed to develop because of this commanding need of the nation.
Seeing that the ordinary life of a community such as that has been put into an artificial channel for national purposes, we ask that when the national policy is changed some responsibility should be recognised towards that community. It is not an unfair claim to make. I hope that progress towards disarmament will be accelerated. I do not understand anyone who would not vote that such international relations be established. Whether they are possible now 674 may be a matter for difference of opinion, but surely we all look to a time when the unhappy relations that now exist shall no longer prevail. In bringing about that happy state of affairs, in securing something of what we call the brotherhood of nations, it is not enough simply to make perorations. We must realise our responsibility to these communities. When the Debate arose on the cruisers I was influenced by the responsibility that we had towards those communities as far as employment was concerned. I looked upon that as a legitimate argument, and in that respect I differed from many on the Liberal Benches. The suggestion made by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull is one which might very well be adopted. I believe that the Government would do the greatest possible service if they would make an inquiry as to what could be done for these establishments, as the policy of disarmament develops. I believe that the policy of disarmament might be more readily adopted if we had an assurance, not only in these communities, but throughout the country, that some proper provision was being made. I know that there must be loss and suffering and hardship borne in these communities, but that hardship ought to be lessened, and it could be lessened, by some scientific plan and some deliberate thought.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty will hold out some hope that this proposal will be considered by the Government. There is no hurry for a decision, but a decision will relieve the minds of many who are entitled to speak for these communities. I recognise that I am not a Member for that constituency in particular, but I am a Member of Parliament. We all come here realising that the dominant consideration is the need of the whole country. None the less, it is consistent with Parliamentary traditions that we should especially voice the claims of our own localities. I have no right to voice the claims inconsistenly with the needs of the whole nation, but it is not unfair to put forward that special claim at this time. It is not enough for speakers to speak generally of disarmament, unless they consider how best they can discharge their responsibility to these communities, which have a special claim upon the nation, because they have been created 675 for national purposes. That is the only request which we have to make of the Government.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
I hope that the hon. Member who has just spoken will remember his remarks when we come to discuss the McKenna Duties. I should be out of order, however, if I proceeded further on that subject. I wish to bring attention back to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull. He referred to a suggestion I had made in regard to Chatham, owing to the fact that there had been a complete reorientation of naval power, and I agree with him that it is a matter which this House has to consider very carefully. If we in this country are considerably over-dockyarded, it means that we have a permanent charge on the taxpayers of this country. The Admiralty Vote, which has already been brought down below what I believe to be the margin of safety, is carrying a dead burden for which it gets no useful return in offensive power. Just in the same way as any private undertaking has ruthlessly to scrap its plant when out of date, so a great fighting Department like the Navy must scrap its plant when that plant gets out of date, What is the situation to-day? We have 40 large vessels to keep in repair. In 1904 we had 66 large vessels, and for those 66 large vessels we had one dockyard less than we have to-day, namely Rosyth, which was then not built. Therefore, to-day we have more dockyards for two-thirds the number of ships. In the Debate on Singapore, I suggested that Chatham should become an extension of the Port of London Authority area, not for the reason which the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull mentioned—that it was more open to air attack than any other port in this country—but because it is the only naval port which can readily be transformed into a commercial harbour. Plymouth has no hinterland. Portsmouth is in competition with Southampton, and also has no hinterland. But Chatham is very close to London, is really a part of the manufacturing area of London, and by building a tunnel between Gravesend and Tilbury it could be connected with the transport system.
Another point to be considered in the transforming of a redundant dockyard 676 into a commercial proposition is this: If such dockyards are looked upon for manufacturing, or building, or ship repairing purposes, they will be comparatively useless, because, having been selected and established for strategical purposes, they are not close to iron or coal or the general manufacturing requirements of a shipbuilding area. It seems to me that unless you can take one of your redundant dockyards, and turn it into move of a port for handling merchandise, such as the Port of London, you will not be able to make a commercial success of the undertaking. If we look round on the dockyards which we have, we come to a conclusion which I think is very favourable. It is that the most useless dockyard from the strategical point of view is also that best adapted for conversion into a commercial port. I would like the Admiralty to set up a Committee on which the Port of London Authority could be represented—a Committee composed of commercial persons, who would really investigate this matter, and have a report ready for this House when the period which the Prime Minister requires for investigating the effect of his friendly gesture shall have expired.
It has to be remembered that the Prime Minister stated that if this policy of a friendly gesture should not be successful, he would have to consider the construction of a base at Singapore. It was largely for that reason that many hon. Members supported the Prime Minister in regard to Singapore, notably the hon. and gallant Member for Basingstoke (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher), who made an interesting speech on the subject. If that be the case, surely it is only right that we should ask the Government to make preparations and arrangements which will come into effect in the event of the Prime Minister's policy not being successful. Although Members on all sides of the House hope that the Prime Minister's policy will be successful, yet there are many who doubt whether it will have that success. Therefore if the Prime Minister takes those measures which anyone in his position should take, it is only reasonable to suggest that he should make this investigation, pending the possibility of having to extend Singapore. I make that suggestion for this reason. If the Singapore base is going to be built, as it will have to be, unless you get practically a complete naval disarmament throughout the world, obviously money 677 will be required for it, and the Admiralty Vote will be swollen by that amount. Therefore, it does seem to me that the Admiralty are not able to afford to carry these redundant dockyards upon this Vote, purely from the point of view of employment. They should be carried upon the Unemployment Belief Vote, or some other Vote.
Let me turn for a moment to the question of the actual effect of turning a dockyard of this type into a commercial port. The majority of men at these ports are on what is called the permanent establishment; that is to say, they are permanently employed in the dockyard. The number employed at Chatham is something like 10,000. I do not know the exact number, but I think that is approximately correct. If men be deflected to other ports, there does seem to be no reason why over a series of years—because any change of this character must take a series of years—there should be any unemployment whatever caused. There was another point mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull which I should like to take up. He said he hoped a very large amount of work which is undertaken by private yards might be concentrated in the Royal Dockyards, and more particularly he mentioned or, at any rate, implied, such work as the manufacture of gun mountings, torpedoes, armour, and matters of that kind. The point I would like to put to him is this. The reason he made his suggestion was that political pressure could not be brought upon this House, or upon public opinion, in order to provide more armaments than we really require to keep the peace.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The reason I put it forward was that the traffic in arms and munitions should be prohibited.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Because of the influence, or supposed influence, of the firms in the direction of preparations for war.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
That was just my point. The reason the hon. and gallant Gentleman wanted it prohibited was because of the political pressure which these private organisations could bring upon the legislatures of various countries.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
For war. I think the pressure which has been put upon this House by the Dockyard representation is at least equal, if it does not exceed, that put upon this House by Members representing places like Sheffield, and, in fact, the pressure by those political interests as represented by the Royal Dockyards and by Woolvvich—I think my hon. Friend who represents West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) is alway very vocal in this direction when the Army Votes are under discussion—is much greater than that brought upon this House by Members who represent places like Sheffield.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The pressure brought to boar by armament firms is not in the open, but is behind the scenes.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
The hon. and gallant Member suggests that this pressure is brought by persons behind the scenes, but is it not a fact that every Government in Europe to-day, with, perhaps, the possible exception of Spain, is supposed to be a popular Government, and any money that has to be voted for armaments has to be voted by the equivalent of the House of Commons in those countries? In the ultimate act it is the political pressure which is brought upon this House or similar institutions that matters. Therefore, I think that hon. Members opposite, especially of the Labour party, if I may so express it, seem to have a bee in their bonnet in regard to that very special point.
I would rather turn the attention of the Committee for a moment to the practical objections to carrying out what the hon. and gallant Member has suggested The cost of armour and gun-mountings made in Royal Dockyards would, necessarily, have to be very much higher, for the very reason which I gave when I said that none of the present Royal Dockyards would be of any use as a commercial manufacturing establishment, because they are removed too far from the industrial centres of the country. Admitting for one moment that work in a Government establishment is as efficient as in private establishments, which I do 679 not think hon. Members will ever find carried out in practice, but admitting it for one moment, one still has the difficulty that the actual geographical situation of these dockyards is wrongly selected for a commercial manufacturing centre. It is for that reason I suggest that the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull should modify his opinion in regard to that. I will turn from dockyards to another matter. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir B. Falle) stated that it made no difference to an aeroplane whether it had 50 or 800 miles to go, if an attack had to be carried out.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
The laws of nature which govern the present design of aeroplanes will not change in ten years' time. They remain absolutely constant, and whatever improvement there may be in aircraft—and the rate of improvement, as the Committee knows, is very rapid—the fact remains that a distance of 800 miles, as opposed to 50 miles, will make an enormous difference in the amount that any machine can carry. I would like to point out one further reason why I think the Admiralty policy should be changed in relation to these home dockyards, and that is the view that, with the development of aircraft, the control of the narrow waters is bound to pass more and more into the hands of the Air; that is to say, that just as the invention of the submarine and the mine has driven the surface ship further from the coast for any operations it has to carry out, so, inevitably, will the development of the torpedo and bomb-dropping aeroplane drive the surface ship still further out.
Therefore, if the craft for which our dockyards were originally constructed purely for the surveillance of the narrow seas, have their functions carried out by craft other than those for which they are constructed to assist, it is an added reason why there should be some change of policy with regard to our over-dockyard-ness in this country. But I would not like to mislead the Committee as to the power of aircraft as far as the Fleet is concerned, because, to my mind, there is a very great difference as between the Fleet at sea and the Fleet in narrow waters, as, in 680 the latter case, it can be attacked by aircraft more easily. I have lately been making a study of this question, and I think some of the figures may be of interest to the Committee. The other day I took the cost of one of these aircraft carriers which are attached to the Fleet. They carry only some 14 pilots and machines, and I worked out the actual cost of one aeroplane with a pilot. It came to the enormous sum of £35,000 a year. That is to say, the actual cost to the Navy of one aeroplane with pilot, if used for the Fleet at sea, is £35,000 per annum per machine and pilot. In itself it is a consideration which, I think, this Committee has to take into view when considering this suggested change of sea-power to air-power, namely, the enormous cost of a matter of this kind. Obviously, each machine does not cost that, but if you take into consideration the actual cost of the building of your aircraft-carrier, depreciation, and sinking fund to replace it in 15 years, and so forth, I think hon. Members will find that those figures are not very far wrong.
Another matter of interest, with regard to the effect of air on the sea, is that the actual use of these aeroplanes, such as flying off aircraft carriers and the like, is not nearly so great as the public outside really believes. We read all sorts of newspaper paragraphs that the battleship is dead, because the aeroplane would bomb it out of existence. I would like to mention one or two practical difficulties in regard to that. It may be of interest to the Committee to realise that, supposing an aircraft carrier is accompanying the fleet, in order to get its machines into the air, she may have to go away from the fleet, in order to steam head to wind, and she may take anything from 10 to 20 hours to regain her station, simply because the speed of the fleet and the aircraft carrier is not very different—some four knots—and, therefore, if you have a following wind, your aircraft carrier, which has to turn into the wind, may very rapidly separate your aircraft carrier from your fleet by 40 or 70 miles. It depends on the wind. The point I am trying to put forward is, that many of these newspaper articles, to the effect that the power of the aircraft is such that, within a year or two, or five years, and so forth, the battleship can be swept out of existence, is an invention on the part of the writers of the articles. I 681 think this bears very much on the question of Singapore, which is bound to come up at a later date. One of the reasons put forward for not building the Singapore base is that aerial development in a very few years will make it unnecessary. To return to my point. Aircraft carriers cannot accompany the fleet with any degree of accuracy, because so much depends on the wind which happens to be blowing.
There is a further point. These airplanes are of no use for attacking ships. They are only light scouting machines, of about 30 cwt. and they can carry no great weight of bombs or torpedoes. The big torpedo and bomb dropping planes of which we read in the American Press, in regard to experiments carried out there, are all machines which have started from shore or from the enclosed waters of a harbour. They have not been sent off carrier ships, and they have not proceeded into the air from the open sea. Therefore, it is obvious that there are two very great differences as between what I term the narrow enclosed waters and the open ocean waters in regard to air attack, and it is for this reason that I should like to turn the attention of the Committee to these four points because, to my mind, they are all co-related—that is to say, the amount of over-dockyarding in the country, the fact that the control of the narrow waters will pass into the air, the fact that there has been, and now is, an entirely new orientation of naval power which necessitates dockyard accommodation in the ocean spaces, and, fourthly, the difference in the effect of air power in the narrow waters and in the open spaces. It will not be too much to say that, with the aerial devices which we now have, the power of the aerial weapon in the ocean spaces is practically negligible except for reconnaissance, and it is for that reason that I would press upon the Admiralty to set up this Committee to investigate whether or not it is possible to turn Chatham into an extension of the Port of London Authority so that that report may be ready for this House when the question of Singapore again arises, in order that the money which might be saved in that way may be used for the building of Singapore.
§ Mr. NICHOL
I do not pretend to be a dockyard Member, and this day in Committee 682 has very largely in the past been a preserve of dockyard Members. I am certain we shall hear still some more of them. Perhaps there is on their part a good deal of special pleading so far as their districts are concerned. I do not think that is at all objectionable. I do not think we should go without that special pleading, but we must take into consideration that element in weighing up the evidence. The whole question of our national dockyards is a question of historical growth. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) dealt seriatim with some of the dockyards, but it is quite a notable fact that even the Rosyth dockyard was not at the best place for a dockyard in the last War, although it was specially built for that purpose, and that most of the South of England dockyards were practically useless. If I were going to make any observations on the subject I should have imagined that a dockyard somewhere in the Shetlands or the Orkney Islands would have been the strategic place in the late War.
But we are in the position, that with the historical changes we have had in two or three centuries—I admit that the growth of the community under special conditions through these centuries is a point which we must take into consideration so far as employment is concerned in particular, but we have had continuous additions during various wars, or as the result of various particular enemies in the past, to our number of dockyards, and we are now overstocked. We have had naval agreements reducing the number of ships, but the dockyards go on growing steadily, and we have more now than we had previously, with 50 per cent. more ships than we have now. It would be out of order to follow the argument of disarmament which was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth (Sir B. Falle), very largely, I admit, owing to interruptions, but so far as the general dictum is concerned, that if you want peace you must prepare for war, that itself has a much longer history than any dockyard in Great Britain. I should imagine it was thrown about first of all in epigrammatic Latin form in the earliest Senate in Rome, and it was not original even then, because I believe there is a Greek epigram of about 600 years earlier which has this as its essential basis. We 683 have had about 2,500 years' experience of this dictum of national defence and 2,500 years' experience of its complete failure, and the more history goes on, as evidenced by the last War, the greater the preparations the greater the failure of the formula. I do not want to enter into that consideration.
I think the Admiralty might take into consideration the suggestion which has been put forward from various quarters that a national survey should be made of our dockyard accommodation and that the various interests should be represented on it. I do not know that Chatham is so very much more obsolete than Plymouth or Portsmouth. I think all three are probably very nearly in the same category, and the argument of the hon. Member for Portsmouth is quite a valid one for suggesting that some more of them will be obsolete in 10 years. This House has in the present Session plainly evidenced, in its voting, that it is not in favour of disarmament, except for 13 or 14 of us, but if we are going to have armaments we ought to have them efficient and up to date, and I think a case has been made out for a general survey of our dockyard accommodation from a national point of view. That inquiry should also deal with the question of alternative employment in the case of any dockyard that it is decided to dispense with. It surely does not pass the wit of this Government, or even of a much less brainy Government, to devise means of employment for the dockyards. The equipment of a dockyard is essentially shipbuilding, ship repairing and engineering equipment, and if anything was evident in our war experience it was that men who have been trained and are skilled in any of these employments can very easily be transferred to some similar employment. We have had evidence on the Continent. The wholesale transformation of very large sections of the Krupp works at Essen and elsewhere in Germany has shown that these alternatives can be carried through very successfully. That whole experience should be taken into consideration, and I would press upon the Admiralty that now is the time for getting ahead with a general survey of the whole situation and that all these considerations should be taken into account.
I should like to explain that when I said there was no such place as Devonport what I meant was that hon. Members did not realise that there had been an amalgamation of the three towns. We tried to get that unity at Plymouth which we hear so much of in this House, and the three towns are one. Of course, Devonport Dockyard will come under Plymouth, and Devonport Dockyard men are in all three constituencies. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) for the way he put the case for Plymouth Dockyard. It is not because we are fighting for a bigger Navy that we speak about the dockyards. It is not because we want war that we are interested in the Navy, but it is simply because we want law and we want peace. The community owes something to places like Plymouth and Chatham, which have been built up for national purposes. If you are going to do away with them you have to think of some other plan. The hon. Member who spoke last suggested that we should have a survey of the dockyards and see whether they are redundant. That is a reasonable suggestion. No one wants over-lapping in anything, and certainly we who represent the dockyards do not speak in any aggressive way, and I hope we leave out pride, prejudice and partial affection. We try to put the case clearly from a national and not merely a local point of view. I am always pleased when I hear people talk about peace. I love hearing people talk about peace. The world needs more peace, but it is a strange thing that the people who talk most about peace are very often the most quarrelsome people in the world. It is a beautiful thing. I hear hon. Members talk about brotherhood and international love and a better world. They would knock you down if they got you in the Lobby. They have done it, too.
I think the world wants peace, but I do not think the world is ready for peace. I believe the worst thing in the world yon could do at this moment would be to have disarmament. You might as well get rid of the police, and have done with it. We have the police because we want law. What the world needs now is law.
If you live in this island you might think that, but if you travel about the world—if you look at Europe, if you look at the East—you would never say that, because anyone who has travelled knows it is essential to the peace of the world that you should have a strong Navy, not for aggressive pur-purposes, but simply to police the world.
If you had international agreement you could have anything. But you have not got it; you have not even got local agreement.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
We will not get international agreement if the Noble Lady goes on as she is doing.
I go on most peacefully. I want any amount of peace. When hon. Gentlemen opposite hurl insults at my head, do I care? Not in the least, because I realise that the only way in which you can get peace is by striving for it in your own consciousness. An hon. Member on this side has written a book, in which there is a very good passage which, is not unrelated to this question of war. He says the Socialists are always worrying about what their neighbours are doing, whereas the Christian is always worrying about what he is doing himself. That is the only way you can get peace. You cannot force peace, and I ask hon. Members to give us credit, even though we believe in a strong Navy, for wanting a strong Navy because we are interested in peace and not because we are interested in war. I think the suggestion which has been made as to the manufacture of armaments being taken out of private hands, if carried out, would be a tremendous step forward in the world. I am all for that proposal and against the exercise of any pressure in this respect, but what we ought to do as democratic people is to resist all pressure of this kind by any interests, whether armament interests or other interests. Democratic countries have to guard against such pressure, and I trust the people of this country will do so, but, while I am not against private firms, I do think it is dangerous that this matter 686 should be left to private enterprise, and I would be quite willing to join with those who want to get it out of private hands.
That however is quite a different thing from always talking about disarmament, and I think the greatest enemies of peace in the world are the pacifists. They talk of peace when there is no peace. I do not wish to be controversial, however, on the question of the Navy. I think hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench take a different view of the Navy since they came into office, and many of us who put country ahead of party are delighted at the fact and are very grateful. I think the Navy should be ahead of party. I do not like to think that the Navy, upon which our national existence depends, should be a subject of party controversy. Nor should the dockyards be made a subject of party discussion, and with regard to the proposal which has been made that we should have an inquiry to see whether we have too many dockyards, I say by all means let us have it. Although I speak as a dockyard member, I am perfectly certain that the country as a whole, while desirous of a strong Navy, does not want redundancy and cannot afford it. As I have pointed out before, the men in the Navy are just as much interested in education and housing and other questions as any other section of the community. They have children who require to be educated, they have wives living in horrible houses, and they are just as much interested in those questions as anybody else. I wish to call attention to one or two matters of local importance, but before doing so I urge upon those who are always talking about peace and who are always belittling the Navy—not in this House, but in the country—to consider that they are doing a very dangerous thing, because the Navy stands for law and order, and without law and order no country is progressive. Even a political party cannot get on without law and order, and the leaders know how difficult it is to maintain law and order in their own ranks. You are all very "much of a muchness." Sometimes I laugh to hear one party getting at another for not being united. All parties have their forward members and their backward members, their selfish members and their unselfish members, and all parties have their half-wits.
687 I urge once more on the Admiralty to take certain steps in connection with the dockyards to which I referred the last time this subject was under discussion. There are certain conditions and practices obtaining in the dockyards which would not be allowed to go on under private enterprise. If hon. Members opposite want to make State ownership attractive, let them take the first steps in this direction, and let them begin with Devonport. The dining rooms in the dockyards are literally such that the men cannot use them on account of the way in which the rain comes in, while the roads are in a lamentable condition, and if they are not attended to, will get much worse. On the question of the messing allowance, I would call attention to the fact that 9d. per day is the fixed sum, and that it bears no relation whatever to—
In that case I have nothing more to say except to urge once again upon my hon. Friends opposite not to think that they are the only people who are interested in peace. Their peace would have had us all doing the goose-step now.
§ Sir THOMAS BRAMSDON
I wish to be permitted in a few words to refer to a matter arising out of the Shipbuilding Vote which affects the men of the lower deck. I wish to point out the inconvenience which the men of the lower deck suffer in consequence of certain things connected with the construction and fitting-out of modern ships of war. First, there is the fact that the cooking galleys in our great ships are placed on the mess decks, and inasmuch as the men sleep on those decks, the cooking, especially in the early morning, is a source of very great discomfort and annoyance to the men. When they are reposing in their hammocks they have to put up with the poisonous smells which arise out of these galleys, and the steam in connection with the making of tea, cocoa and such like is very 688 objectionable. I suggest to those who construct our ships that the cooking galleys might be placed on the main deck instead of the mess deck. Although the matter has been raised before nothing has been done. The men have made complaints from time to time, but their applications to have the matter considered are always turned down with the words "Not approved." It is because they have repeatedly made this request without success that I raise the matter to-day and advocate their case. I do not know what objection there can be to moving the cooking galleys from the mess deck to the upper deck.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am not sure that the hon. Member is in order. We are not discussing conditions on board ship in this Vote; we are discussing the dockyards.
§ Sir T. BRAMSDON
With all due deference, Sir, I submit that we are discussing the building of ships, and my point has relation to the construction of ships.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The section of the Vote which is now under discussion relates to personnel. Another section which comes on later is in connection with contract work in relation to shipbuilding.
§ Sir T. BRAMSDON
Then I ask permission to be allowed to return to my remarks when that subject comes under discussion.
In view of the fact that certain remarks concerning Pembroke Dockyard have been made, I feel it my duty to intervene in this Debate. I am pleased to note that the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) has had a very pleasing change of opinion in this respect. Two or three years ago he did not think much of the dockyard of Pembroke, but now he has changed his mind, and I am glad he has done so. As he quite rightly mentions, the reason which was given at the time for main taming the Pembroke Dockyard was the fact that the community there had literally come into existence because of the establishment of the dockyard, and it was a responsibility on the country to see that unless some alternative was provided, that dockyard continued to exist. The hon. Member for Bodmin 689 (Mr. Foot) rather looked down upon this attitude and said that in Plymouth they did not put their case on the same grounds as Pembroke. Yet I noticed that later in his speech he asked the Government to realise their responsibility towards Plymouth, and said that, having chosen the place, it was their responsibility to see that the people did not suffer. This is a very serious question for a community such as Pembroke of 15,000 inhabitants, who are there simply and solely because of the dockyard. I am told that 80 per cent. of the people of Pembroke own their houses That fact alone will make it a very serious matter if the dockyard is closed. I, personally, however, have never agreed that this is the only reason for maintaining the dockyard. Its strategic position on the west coast is a sufficient reason for its maintenance. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sparkbrook Division of Birmingham (Mr. Amery) speaking last year, said it was quite possible the geographical position of Pembroke would make it necessary to utilise it to its fullest capacity once more.
It lies many hundreds of miles from the nearest point on the Continent, and it lies several miles up an arm of the sea, the entrance to which is very easily defended. In view of the development in air craft which is going on, it is the most favourably situated dockyard in this country. The hon. Member for North Portsmouth (Sir B. Falle) said that with the development of aircraft 10 years hence the position of Pembroke would be as vulnerable as that of any other dockyard. He mentioned the flight which took place the other day from Paris to Aleppo, and said that in a short time long-distance nights would be very easy, but I would point out to him that flying in peace time and over peaceful countries is a different thing to flying on a hostile mission over a hostile country. Flying to the west coast of Wales from the Continent involves crossing 200 miles of hostile territory, and for that purpose the enemy aerodrome would have to be situated on the coast and open to attack from our ships. The distance from our coast to Pembroke would make it very difficult and dangerous, and, in fact, the flight would have to be at such an altitude that it would be difficult to do any damage, and during the whole of the journey hostile aircraft would be open to attack. 690 I would like to support the plea that was made that more work should be concentrated in the Royal dockyards. It has been said in this House this afternoon that the danger of that is that political pressure is brought to bear, but I would suggest that the pressure brought to bear by dockyard Members is certainly of a more wholesome character than that which is brought to bear from other directions, because whatever pressure is brought to bear by dockyard Members is brought to bear in this House and is open to the criticism of every Member here, and I maintain that that is a far better and healthier thing to have than the other pressure, which is not quite so open for criticism. It has been suggested that an inquiry should be held into the condition of all the dockyards. Personally, I would welcome such an inquiry, because I feel sure that no dockyard member would wish to keep open any dockyard that did not answer the requirements, and I feel certain, speaking as the representative of Pembroke, that not only would it not suffer from such an inquiry, but it would greatly benefit.
§ Major WHELER
I make no apology for saying a word or two as a dockyard representative. Something has been said about political pressure being brought to bear by dockyard Members. As another hon. Member has said, dockyard towns have been built up for the purposes of dockyards, and you can search the length and breadth of England, and you will not find anywhere else, to anything like the same extent, communities which have been brought for a specific purpose to a certain place—I am alluding to Shocrness—as you find in certain of our dockyard towns. That being so, I think we are entitled in this House, if we have the honour to represent these communities, to put their case when we get the chance, and to urge it from our special point of view. They have been brought there and established in those towns, and, if I may take the instance of Sheerness, you have a dockyard town there, established on an island 10 miles from the mainland. While it is very easy to talk about the transference of men from the Royal dockyards to commercial work, it must be remembered that when you have an isolated town of that sort, with a community which has become established and which has worked up a very flourishing 691 building society, with the result that a largo number of those men own their own houses, to talk of the transference of these men from one place to another is to forget that you are only going to transfer them at a very great loss, and any question relating to the alteration of our dockyard system must be considered from a broad national point of view. I do not think that in the case of the smaller dockyards that has been sufficiently recognised.
Of course, as far as Sheerness is concerned, with its position, its deep water, and so on, I think it would hold its own very favourably in any inquiry that might be held. Be that as it may, I do not hesitate to say that if an inquiry is desirable in the national interest, I have not the slightest objection to it, but, if an inquiry is held, you must go a good deal further than looking at it from the particular point of view of whether men are wanted or not at the moment. You have to go into the past history and see why they were brought there, and you have to look at the promise which has been given to such a community, by believing it was brought into the dockyard to be kept there and trained there. That is the main reason why I rose, but I did so also because, in a paragraph of this Memorandum which has been issued, I see it says:The labour conditions in the dockyards during the current financial year have been generally stable, and no discharges on reduction have occurred.I hope that sort of thing will be able to be maintained, because when we talk in this House about the question of unemployment, taking my own special case of Sheerness, if discharges are made at a time like this, and if, as is the fact, those men have to go at least 10 miles to find work elsewhere, it must be seen that they will become a serious charge on the community, and therefore, even at times when work is very short, it seems to me to be better to find some sort of employment for those men at the dockyard rather than to let them become a charge on the Unemployment Fund, and so on, as they are bound otherwise to do. Therefore there are a good many points of view from which I would urge the Government to remember these dockyards.
I make no apology for bringing forward these detailed points, because we 692 have heard about pressure brought from elsewhere, and we know very well that the big industrial centres bring a very large amount of pressure to bear on the Government, but it is only right that some dockyard Members, on the few occasions when they get the chance, should talk of their own constituencies and utilise the opportunity of voicing the interests of these men whom you have trained up in the dockyards—a large number of very experienced, established men. I look upon these men as an insurance that work can be done on pressure in a way, probably, in which it could not be done anywhere else if an emergency arose. That fact should be in the minds of everybody who talks airily about cutting down the dockyards. You have a type of man there trained after many years' experience, and it is very dangerous to lose any of those men. I wish to say once more to the representative of the Admiralty that this is a very vital matter to Sheerness.
§ Sir GERALD HOHLER
A good deal has been said about Chatham. I see the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) smile. He has a wonderful theory, quite a new one, launched, I think, in this present Parliament, and his idea is that you can exchange Chatham Dockyard, close it down, and build Singapore. Has ever such folly, even from a gentleman retired from the Navy, been uttered in this House? What on earth has Chatham to do with building a harbour at Singapore? The conditions are wholly different, and the purpose and object are wholly different. That matter is now in abeyance, and it may have to be arranged, but when it is put forward as a pretext or an argument in regard to Chatham Dockyard, I respectfully tell my hon. and gallant Friend that, in my humble judgment, it is specious nonsense.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
I think my hon. and learned Friend is misrepresenting me somewhat. The only reason why I suggested that Chatham should be done away with was that I think it is strategically useless, and, therefore, the money could be expended to better purpose for a dockyard elsewhere. It is the money that we want to save, not Chatham.
§ Sir G. HOHLER
I heard the hon. and gallant Member's speech, and I have heard his explanation, and I observe that 693 his explanation was that I had misrepresented him somewhat. It is not a question of somewhat, for I do not think I have misrepresented him at all. His argument was, and is, that the money to be saved on Chatham could be spent on Singapore. The Singapore scheme is not in progress, but the hon. and gallant Member never has informed us what relation Chatham dockyard has to Singapore, and he never will be able to do so. Let him try next year, when the Admiralty Estimates come up again, and see if he cannot put forward his point a little better. He talks in a wild and senseless fashion about this proposed subway, or railway, or tunnel from Tilhury to Gravesend, but I wonder how long it will be before the plans for that undertaking mature, and I wonder how long it will be before it is actually constructed, and I wonder if the hon. and gallant Gentleman really recollects that Chatham is on the Medway and not on the Thames. Meanwhile, what is Chatham Yard to do? I think he is very premature in his suggestions, and when they come to be examined, if they wore stated before the Board of Admiralty I think those great men, greater, if I may respectfully say so, in the Service than is the hon. and gallant Member, would treat them with the contumely they deserve.
He and the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) referred to aeroplanes, and told the House with confidence that Chatham Yard will no longer survive. Well, we survived in the last War all right, and we did great and useful work, and they did us substantially no damage. Those hon. and gallant Members, whose brains must have some glimmer of intelligence, should recollect that London is rather a more important place to attack than Chatham, and that aeroplanes will not dwell over Chatham, but will pass on to London. They seem to think that, because in the last War a great advance was made in regard to aeroplanes, and forms of attack were carried out that we had never known before, we have heard the last thing in aeroplanes. Not a bit of it. Are their views so limited and their imagination so short that they think and believe that if and when another war comes there will not be some invention as great to destroy aeroplanes in the air as we should have had to destroy—so I am 694 credibly informed—submarines under the sea had the last War continued? I believe it is a fact that there are now proposals before those responsible for a device to stop and check aeroplanes. When they talk about a great attack, and of Chatham being a point of attack, I would remark that it is London that would be the point of attack; but if all these things that they say are true, everything is useless, and the lives of all our countrymen are at the mercy of any Power which has great aeroplanes and seeks to attack us. I believe there is no foundation for these things. When I think of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull—and I have had to remind him of this before—I remember that he was a rejected aspirant for the constituency for which I sit.
§ Sir G. HOHLER
I am going to tell the hon. and gallant Member what it has to do with it. He never got so far as being adopted, but I wonder what his arguments would have been, when he went down to offer himself as a candidate for Gillingham, if he had said, "These are my views." He will see that it has a great bearing on this matter. If he had never been to Gillingham, it would be another thing, but when I think of it, it mikes me doubt very much the real value of the opinions he expresses. If he had been accepted for Gillingham, and if, being accepted—and this is a large assumption—he had got in, I doubt very much whether he would not have left all that he has told us to-day unsaid. Then there is the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot), who takes a complete interest in Plymouth. That is quite right, but when he told us that he voted for the five cruisers, which had been the subject of attack by the Liberal party—and, if I rightly remember, it originated with the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle)—it is not surprising to me that the hon. Member for Bodmin, who, I understand, resides in Plymouth, voted, as I suppose be did, with the hon. Member for Central Portsmouth (Sir T. Bramsdon) and, I expect, the hon. and gallant Member for Devonport (Major Hore-Belisha), both Members of the Liberal party, for the five cruisers. As I gather from hon. Members opposite, they vote in the way they do because 695 they suppose it will possibly give employment. While, on the other hand, it is like waving a red rag before a bull discussing reasonably the question of armaments in the presence of Members of the Liberal party unless, unfortunately, they happen to represent or misrepresent Portsmouth, Plymouth or other dockyard constituencies. There was a Member who preceded me in the representation of my constituency. He was a Labour Member, and I remember, with great amusement, though I was not in the House at the time, that though a member of the Labour party, his colleagues allowed him to vote in favour of the Navy—for obvious reasons. I attach very little weight or value to what is said in regard to this matter from either the Liberal or the Labour Benches, and especially what is said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), whose political history I will not dwell upon.
But let us look at the matter in the light of the circumstances. What about Chatham, and Portsmouth, and Devonport? Portsmouth is the oldest dockyard, and Chatham comes second. We have a history there. It was there that the Chatham Chest was founded, the forerunner of the Greenwich age pension. We have got, I think I can say, without exception the finest naval barracks of any dockyard. I do not know exactly what the commanders or the late commanders of the Navy in the House think of the matter, but the chief petty officers and men of the Navy will be very sorry to abandon Chatham Dockyard. We have also got the finest naval hospital. There is no question about that. Last, but not least—and this should make us immortal—we have got the naval memorial opened lately by His Royal Highness the Price of Wales to the memory of the men who fell in the Great War. Yet we are attacked by those on the opposite benches whose security of tenure may be a year, or 18 months, or five years. They have no knowledge of what the dockyard is. They really do not seem to understand that Chatham Dockyard is the premier repairing shipyard for the Navy. They seem to be unaware of the simple fact that many years ago—some 30—the Admiralty tried what could be done to repair ships outside in private yards, and after experimenting they had to come back to 696 Chatham, who have done the work admirably. We know what is done in this matter in private yards. When outside contractors have spent what they think is enough on a particular repair no more is done, although a large expenditure may still be necessary. It is the old story of the builder over again, but the only way you can get repairs properly done is by men properly paid and understanding their work, and this applies to Chatham. An inquiry is asked for. By whom, and what is the reason for it? It is ridiculous and absurd. The Admiralty know much better than some hon. Members who speak on this subject. Five cruisers are to be built; only three have been allotted to the dockyards. We have got the slips and the men to do the work. The other two have gone away to private yards. I do not complain of that, because I know the unemployment that exists. But I am pointing out what can be done in the dockyards. There are casualties at sea. Ships get into collision. They require to be repaired. They come into Chatham. It is within my own knowledge that we have had submarines recently at the Chatham Yard, and you must have some place of the kind for the vessels. Therefore do not let the House be too anxious about this matter of aircraft. We are quite willing to run the risk of our lives if hon. Members are not. Do not let there be left any question of uncertainty or doubt in the minds of the people of Chatham. What is needed particularly at Chatham, Rochester, and Gillingham—the division that I represent—is housing accommodation. The thing is a great scandal, and when the Government propose to build I shall be glad to discuss it. But to hold an inquiry into these other matters means to suggest doubt and uncertainty as to the future of the yard, and to prejudice the situation in regard to the greatest evils existing in our midst—that is, unemployment and the lack of housing. People are not willing to put their money into private enterprise in the neighbourhood if they think there is a risk of the dockyard being closed down.
Hon. Members have spoken in a light and airy fashion of opening the dockyard for commercial purposes. Have they considered it? Do they know that after the War the Admiralty made every endeavour to use a part of Chatham with the view of employing men and inducing private owners to give them work? I know it, 697 because I took part in some of these negotiations. The proposals did not interfere with matters inside the dockyard, but what was proposed was in relation to a particular portion of land bordering on the Medway. These schemes failed, unfortunately. I trust the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty will tell us whether there is much probability of getting employment for the men who need it if Chatham Dockyard is closed. I thought shipbuilding was one of the trades that was in as much difficulty at the present, if not more than any other trade. That is not all. People do not always realise—it is perhaps natural in the case of men of comparative youth like the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), who are very healthy—that there are a great many men in my constituency who are getting on in years, some of them approaching my own age, and they, like myself—and we know it—are not so marketable as we once were, and this point ought not to be lost sight of. I ask right hon. Gentlemen opposite not to close the dockyards down in view of what may happen in another war, which, I trust, is infinitely remote. It is about time, I think, that these unfounded and unwarranted attacks on dockyards should cease. I trust that the Parliamentary Secretary, when he comes to speak on this matter, will have no part or lot in appointing a committee of inquiry. Hon. Members speak of the Navy—somei of them—as having been the cause of war, or having provoked it. The British Navy has never been an instrument of war. It has always been a great instrument of peace, defence, and protection to our people. It protects the trade routes and our merchantmen in foreign seas. What would have happened had we not been in possession of our Navy when, in the Baltic two or three years ago, the Russians seized a vessel outside the three-miles limit?
§ Sir G. HOHLER
I accept the correction. At any rate, if you have no cruisers and no fleet how can you protect your interests, supposing an incident happens at sea which is a violation of international 698 law and in waters in which there was no right to seize your vessel? Our Navy makes for peace. It will be a sorry day for this country if anything is ever done to weaken its position. At any rate, so far as the attacks that have been made in the direction of a reduction of the establishment to which I have referred, I trust that the Secretary of the Admiralty will without hesitation or question turn down the suggestions that have been made in regard to our famous dockyards.
§ Mr. W. WATSON
As one interested in a dockyard constituency I should like to be allowed to take part in this discussion. In doing so I shall not be expressing opinions different from the opinions I have expressed before. On former occasions I was under the impression that I was expressing the views of the party to which I belong. This party, and this Government is not disregardful of the welfare of the Empire or the defence of the Empire. We are as much interested in defending the Empire as any other party in this House. Attacks are being made repeatedly outside the House—not so much inside—and attacks have been made both before this Government took office and since on this matter to the effect that we could not be trusted to defend the Empire.
We are not disregardful of the welfare of the Empire. I was certain, when I was speaking from the other side of the House last year to the effect that we were concerned about the welfare of the Empire and its defence, that I was expressing the opinion of my party. After all, if we have to defend Canada and Australia and other far-flung parts of the Empire, which we are defending so long as we make ourselves responsible for their defence, we are defending our own sons and daughters, our own people, our own kith and kin who have not been able to get a living in this country. So long as we hold these different parts of the Empire, we must take the ordinary precautions for their defence. Therefore, there was nothing inconsistent in this Government coming forward and proposing recently that there should be five cruisers built for the purpose of replacing cruisers going out of commission, and in keeping the Navy up to a certain standard. I am certain that while we are keen on peace, while we have always advocated peace, and while we 699 wish to see peace established, that while things remain as they are we cannot be disregardful of the defence of the Empire.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. WATSON
I wish to refer to some of the remarks that have been made this afternoon with regard to dockyards. It seems to be agreed, as was stated by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Sir G. Hohler), that there is a case for an inquiry into the dockyards, and I agree that it will be a good thing for the dockyards themselves if that took place and those employed there were given to understand where they stood for some time to come At present where are they? They do not know, and they have not known for years past, more especially since the big reduction in 1922. Ever since that year the men in the dockyard have never known what was going to happen to them, and what guarantee have they at the present moment?
Supposing there was to be another Washington Conference and another big reduction in naval armaments, and the same thing that happened in 1922 happened again? We should have another large decrease in the number of men employed in the dockyards, and so long as this state of uncertainty prevails there will be dissatisfaction and discontent, and that is perfectly justifiable. These men ought to know where they stand. The Admiralty ought to come to a decision, and there ought to be a proper inquiry as to what the requirements of the country are with regard to dockyard accommodation for a considerable period ahead.
Personally I do not believe that we shall have greater armaments in the future than we have had in the past. On the contrary, I believe there will be a gradual diminution in this respect. Keeping that in mind, I think there ought to be a certain inquiry as to the amount of accommodation that is required in our dockyards, I would press upon the Admiralty to have a searching inquiry as to their needs for some time to come, so that these men may be given some idea as to whether they are going to remain permanently in dockyard employment. There has been far too much transference of men from one dockyard 700 to another, and they are being continually transferred. I am acquainted pretty closely with the condition of affairs existing in our newest dockyard.
§ Mr. WATSON
I know that there is a very serious expense involved, and inconvenience as well, in many cases, by the transference of dockyard workers from one dockyard to another. I am well acquainted with the conditions prevailing in the Rosyth Dockyard, and those employed there have been brought from all the other dockyards in the country, some of them coming from Chatham, Pembroke, Devonport and Portsmouth. They are congregated together there, and they do not know what is to be their fate in the days to come. I know the question of closing Rosyth Dockyard has been mentioned in this House. It is said that that dockyard has now served its purpose and is no longer required. I think it is for the Admiralty to satisfy themselves as to whether it will ever be required again for naval purposes, and if they are satisfied that that is so, then there is one clear and obvious duty that falls upon the Admiralty, and that is to provide alternative employment for the men employed there.
I hope we shall not have this or any other Government saying to dockyard workers in the future, "We require your services no longer and you have got to go, we do not want you and we are not concerned as to what you are going to do next. It is your business to find other employment, and not ours." I hope we are going to have a longer view than that taken at the Admiralty, and if it is necessary to close Rosyth dockyard or reduce the number of men employed there, I hope proper steps will be taken to provide other employment for those workers before any dismissals take place. I hope we are not again going to have thousands of men brought together for national purposes without any consideration as to their future. There ought to be at the Admiralty some outlook for the future. They ought to know what they are going to do with this dockyard, whether they are going to reduce the personnel or whether they are going to use it for other purposes.
701 At Rosyth, with the machinery and equipment and accommodation there, that dockyard could be used for many other purposes. It is in the centre of a big industrial community, and before now I have pleaded with the Admiralty that if this dockyard is to be no longer required for naval purposes steps ought to be taken to provide other employment, Rosyth is a dockyard well equipped for the repairing of merchant ships, and I am certain that work could be done there. Any amount of commercial work could be done at Rosyth, and if at any time, even in the distant future, it was decided that that dockyard was no longer required for naval purposes, I think it is only fair to the thousands of men brought together there that there ought to be alternative work provided, so that the conditions which prevailed at the time of the great reduction in 1922 will not again be imposed upon the men who are skilled workmen and have been highly trained. They are men who know their work thoroughly, and they ought to have more consideration shown them than has been the case up to now.
If such an inquiry, as that suggested this afternoon, does take place, and if the change we all desire comes about; if we embark upon a real peace policy, which will enable us to reduce our Army, Navy and Air Forces, I hope the Admiralty will take a longer view of the question and prepare for that time. I do not want them to come to such decisions as they came to as the result of the Geddes Committee, when they instantly cut everything down. I think they should take a much longer view and prepare for the time when we shall require less in the way of armaments of every description than we do at the present time.
While the Labour party has always been strong on peace, and is ready to do everything it can to establish peace, I admit that we cannot leave the Empire undefended. I know speakers belonging to the other parties have always represented us as the Pacifist party, who are prepared to hand this country over to any other country that cares to come along and take it. While that has been the criticism we have been subjected to in bygone years, I wish to state that we are just as keenly interested in the defence of the Empire as any party can be, and so long 702 as we have a Labour Government—I hope we are going to have one for a good long time—I hope it will be our Government that will lead us forward to real peace conditions. Before we reach real peace conditions, we shall require to change things so far as our policy is concerned, and we shall have to give those who have been brought together for national purposes a better chance of fair play than they have had up to the present time.
§ Mr. AMERY
The speech to which we have just listened is one in regard to which I should like to express my complete agreement, because I think the hon. Member stated the case for defence and for peace in the clearest possible way. We all want peace, and those of us who are concerned with the interests of defence want it too. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) spoke of the hoary fallacy that, if you want to secure peace, you must prepare for war. If it were suggested that the only way of securing peace was to be prepared for war, I might-agree with him, but that is not the only effective way of securing peace. The essential step towards securing peace is to have the will towards peace and the willingness to work for the promotion of peace. That purpose can be secured, not only by the absence of aggression in action or in policy, but also by avoiding anything that looks like an over-equipment of armaments, because anything that suggests that you are arming yourselves beyond the needs of reasonable defence may contribute to war.
On the other hand, I think it is equally true that those who work for peace may see all their efforts frustrated if in a world which is not altogether peaceful they do not, at any rate, take the necessary minimum steps to secure their own defence. The hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr. Nichol), in an interesting speech, suggested that the motto which the hon. Member for Bodmin referred to had been proved untrue through 2,500 years of history. It has only been untrue in the sense that all wars have not boon prevented, but by no means untrue if you take some of the great events in history. I do not want to indulge in a long historical dissertation, but if we think of all that civilisation owes to the Greeks we must remember that it was the Greeks who fell at Salamis and Marathon who preserved that civilization 703 for the world from destruction by the barbarians. In the same way, it is worth while remembering that the greatest era of peace and well-being the world ever knew up to comparatively modern times was that of the Roman Empire in the second century. That Empire fell, not from excessive armaments, but because, in the pursuit of peace, it did not maintain, at any rate, a sufficient minimum of defence to shelter its territories and its riches from hungry, powerful barbarians across the frontier.
If I might give another instance, I would ask the hon. Member for Bodmin, who is so proud of the great City of Plymouth, what would have happened to our religious liberties and our civil liberties if, when the Armada came, there had not been a fleet capable of sailing out from Plymouth to deal with that Armada? I do not know if I might add one personal reminiscence of more recent date, which occurred to my mind when the hon. Member was speaking. Hon. Members may have noticed in the papers that a few days ago a monument was unveiled to our soldiers who fell at Zandvoorde, just outside Ypres. I remember being in Zandvoorde, or rather what little remained of it, on one of the closing days of that battle, and, as I was sheltering from the shells behind the remnants of a wall, waiting for an opportunity to get somewhere else, I noticed the remains of an election placard on that wall, ridiculing the idea that Belgium should spend more money on its defence, pouring contempt on the suggestion that Belgium should base its Army on national service, and pointing out that there was no danger that could possibly threaten that little country. I do think, therefore, that it is going much too far to suggest that you can secure peace for the world, or for a particular country, simply by neglecting your armaments.
§ Mr. FOOT
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not desire to misrepresent me. I did not make that suggestion in the course of my speech. I simply asserted that history went to show that, when armaments were built up, they were very often provocative of war, and that, if we pursued peace instead of pursuing war, it would be better for the whole world.
§ Mr. AMERY
With that I am in entire agreement. I do not think that any of my hon. Friends ask for provocative armaments, but only for armaments in some correspondence with the immense responsibilities and interests that we have to defend. Perhaps I may turn from that to say a word about the argument advanced by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), and, in other Debates, by other hon. Members, that what provokes war is the making of armaments by private firms. I have often heard that argument, and I confess that I have never discovered any tangible foundation for it. More than one hon. Member on this side has pointed out that the pressure upon the House of Commons comes much more from those dockyard communities which are entirely concentrated upon the one industry of armaments. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull suggests that there is a secret influence. I can, at any rate, speak for one direction in which that suggestion as to a secret influence would apply, namely, the Admiralty, and, in the three years that I was there, I never discovered any trace or vestige or indication of pressure or influence being applied by any armament firm in order to induce this country to increase its armaments. We often had representations, both from centres of private shipbuilding and from dockyard centres, but they were always from the men employed and from the local authorities, and never, as far as I can discover, from private firms. Indeed, if you were to attempt to limit the making of armaments to Government factories, under modern conditions there is practically no limit to what constitutes armaments, and really it is, from that point of view, an impossible proposition.
I would say, however, and here I am in entire agreement with more than one hon. Member who has spoken, that, in so far as you have to keep up a certain amount of necessary naval work, you should make your stable foundation the work of the Royal dockyards, and then any extra increase or extra reduction will fall upon the world of private shipbuilding outside. The hon. Member for East Renfrew put the case very fairly from the point of view of the men and their families engaged in that work, and I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that, from the Admiralty point of view, from the point of view of efficiency 705 of work, it makes an enormous difference if the dockyards know that the number of men employed in them is going to be stable. As long as there is always the fear of reduction, the temptation will be to try and delay and spread the work to avoid reduction. If the men in the dockyards know that their own position is reasonably secure, then we get the very best work from them. I have noticed, I think, in this Debate, and on other occasions, a certain amount of rivalry as to who does the work best, the dockyards or private firms. I think the Parliamentary Secretary will confirm the view to which I certainly came, that there are some kinds of work which are much better done by private firms, and others which are much better done in the dockyards. The big shipbuilding work, which calls for tenders, is, on the whole, more cheaply done by private firms, who are accustomed to building numbers of ships; but the repair work is undoubtedly done more efficiently and cheaply in the dockyards, and some of the smaller work also. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gillingham (Sir G. Hohler) spoke with justifiable pride of the good work of Chatham, and I certainly know, from the experience we had recently in the building of submarines, that the work was done admirably and with admirable expedition. It could not "have been done better in a private yard. While criticism may have been directed against the total strength of our dockyard staff, compared with the Navy to-day and with our pre-War Navy—
§ Mr. AMERY
It has nothing to do with that particular question. It is because the dockyards are, if I may say so, in the hands of experienced senior naval officers, who know, when a bill for repairs comes in, what repairs that are asked for should be granted and what should be put off to another occasion. It is special expert knowledge of what is sufficient to keep a ship going, supplied by the naval officers at the dockyards.
§ The DEPUTY - CHAIRMAN (Mr. Entwistle)
I must not allow these interruptions on the question of Socialism.
§ Mr. AMERY
I have no desire to follow up that point. When I was interrupted, I was dealing with the criticism that the dockyard establishment, in proportion to the Navy of to-day, is greater than our dockyard establishment before the War, but I think the answer to that is implied in what I was saying just now, namely, that a great deal of construction, in times of busy work in the Navy, is naturally given outside, but when you contract your work, and especially new construction, it is the outside work rather than the dockyard work which suffers. The dockyard work, especially repair work, is in proportion, not to the total mobilisation strength, but in proportion to the strength of the Fleet which is kept in active commission. With the much more complicated structure of modern ships, it is by no means surprising that our dockyard personnel stands at its present strength, and, as I said just now, I hope that, as far as possible, the Admiralty may see its way to keeping that establishment a constant one.
There is one other quite small point in connection with dockyard wages on which I should like to ask for information from the representative of the Admiralty. It is a matter in which I have been interested for some little time, namely, the question of the basic rate of wages of the dockyard workmen at Malta. I remember that after the War, when I went to Malta to look at the economic conditions there, I came to the conclusion that, taking advantage, perhaps unconsciously, of the situation there, the Admiralty were undoubtedly very seriously underpaying their workmen in that dockyard. The basic rate of 9s. a week, when the cost of living had gone up almost as much as in this country, was grossly unfair, and, indeed, the dockyard population of Malta at that time was only able to sustain life by the help of a costly bread subsidy, paid out of general taxes, which threatened to bring the island to bankruptcy. Since then concessions have been made, but the basic rate has still been kept, or was kept till quite 707 recently, at that, to my mind, wholly unjust and unjustifiable figure of 9s. a week. Even if you allow for the simpler wants of the Maltese as compared with the English workman, it was not a fair wage. I hope it has been found possible finally to get Treasury agreement to a somewhat more reasonable basic wage for those who, after all, are British subjects and loyal British subjects.
If I am not detaining the Committee I should like also to refer briefly to the interesting point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull, and by a number of other Members, as to whether all our dockyards are in the right place, and whether it is not worth while very carefully to inquire where we should make savings and where, perhaps, we should enlarge our expenditure. This is a very difficult and complex subject. It would be quite easy if we were starting with a clean sheet. If we had no dockyards, and were beginning to construct them, we should only be concerned with the best strategical position from the point of view of accessibility from the ordinary peace and war range of our Fleet, and of security against air or other attacks. But we are not starting with a clean sheet. It is quite easy to suggest, for instance, that we should scrap Chatham and build at some other place. I admit that the position of Chatham is not ideal from the point of view of air defence against a European enemy. The position of Pembroke, as the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major G. Lloyd George) is himself anxious to point out, is in that respect far better. The position of Rosyth is better. But we have to remember that there is, first of all, an immense amount of capital sunk in a great dockyard like Chatham. And Chatham is not only a dockyard—it is one of the three great recruiting and supply centres for the whole of the Navy. One-third of the life of the Navy may be paid to be centred upon Chatham, and it is very difficult, quite apart from the consideration of the immense cost involved, suddenly to decide to scrap a great dockyard and naval centre like that and transfer it elsewhere. That is the real difficulty. There are other difficulties which occurred to me when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney)—who is not at the moment in the Committee—suggested that other uses 708 might be found for Chatham. But the hon. and learned Member for Gillingham has already pointed out how difficult it is, even to a small extent, to turn a naval dockyard to other purposes. It is far more difficult to think you can turn Chatham Dockyard into a great commercial repair and equipment station for commercial fleets. The mere fact that it is a good many miles from London militates against it. My impression is that a great deal of repair work on an ordinary commercial ship is done while she is loading and unloading, and to load or unload at the London Docks and send her to Chatham would create great difficulty. The actual work of repair is most easily done where the ship has to go in any case, and that is one of the great centres like London, Liverpool or Southampton.
However, that is incidental. The real question is how far we can gradually shift our main centres of dockyard work. I very much doubt whether it would be worth while attempting to shift those great historical centres—Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth, even though Chatham is open to certain drawbacks from the point of view of air raids. The disturbance and cost involved would not be worth the while. But when you are dealing with work outside you have far more freedom in considering strategical considerations, and while we cannot shift, or perhaps reduce our main centres, there is very clear ground for being sure that our other naval docks are situated at points where, in peace and war, they can be of most use to the Fleet, and involve the least steaming backward and forward, and the least expense in this direction. It is from that point of view that the whole Admiralty staff concentrated on the importance of bringing up to date the docks at Singapore. It was a question not in the least connected with the designs or fear of a particular naval Power, but purely on dockyard considerations as to the future distribution of our Fleet, quite apart from wider strategical considerations which we are not discussing to-day. There is an overwhelming case for modernising, at any rate, one dockyard east of the Suez Canal, and once that is conceded there can be no doubt as to where that dockyard ought to be, and no doubt that the expenditure involved, spread over a period of years, is justified by the actual needs of the Navy and by the 709 economies which both in peace and war it would effect. I need not pursue that theme further, because we shall have to return to it in its broader aspects in the near future, but I quite endorse what the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Uxbridge said, that it is desirable to inquire carefully and to continually review the relative merits and importance of our different dockyards, and even if you cannot scrap one and build it up in another place you can gradually alter the amount of weight which you throw in certain centres and keep it always in a state of adjustment which brings the basic equipment of your mobile fleets into the most effective use. If by peaceful policy we can reduce external dangers, and meet that reduction by making a reduction in our fighting fleet, so much the better for ourselves and for the world, but we must remember that the skeleton framework of our dockyards takes far longer to make good if you neglect it.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Ammon)
It may be for the convenience of the House if, at this juncture, I deal with some of the points which have been raised, and so remove some of the embarrassment which hon. Members find in keeping off the different sections and wandering from personnel to materiel. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has relieved me of a considerable part of my task by the way he has already dealt with some of the observations which have been made. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) made one or two points of first importance. In the first instance, he drew attention to the resolutions which have been passed by the American Senate in favour of some sort of conference. I cannot say more than that those resolutions have been noted with very great friendliness and very great pleasure by the present Government, who themselves will do all they can to show a reciprocal desire to enter into any negotiations or discussions, no matter by whom they are started, and they will be more particularly welcome if they are started by the great English-speaking nation across the Atlantic. Nothing will be left undone that is within the power of the Government to assist in that direction.
710 Reference has been made to the position that our dockyards occupy. No one can deny that the development and the higher offensive power of different weapons can alter very materially the position of the dockyards from the strategical point of view, and probably Pembroke occupies a different position from what it did some time ago. That has not escaped the observation and attention of the Admiralty. This matter and many others which have been raised have already formed the subject of inquiry, and those inquiries will be pursued and probably at the appropriate time some sort of settlement will be arrived at. Then, as was said by the Noble Lady (Viscountess Astor), you cannot ignore, in considering the alteration of or the cutting down of dockyards, the responsibility that the Government, whatever its complexion, has with regard to the populations which have grown up round the various dockyards and are dependent upon them for their very means of livelihood. The point is rather answered by the fact that to a great extent we kept up the personnel of the dockyards through the slump period, but you see the effect of that in those other sections which have grown up round the private shipbuilding yards, where there has been a dearth of work and there followed the results that come from lack of employment. That is one of the difficulties that we find ourselves up against.
We found, in the construction of the cruisers which are now in hand, that we could not ignore the claims arising from the assembling of plant of very great value and of technical staffs of skill and efficiency comparable with what we find in our own dockyards. They are some of the things we had to give consideration to and they do not make the problem easier when we are considering a possible reduction of armaments and their eventual elimination when all of us have got to that stage of civilisation, here and in other countries. Something has to be done for the young life which has grown up in the dockyard communities, and the Government cannot wholly escape the responsibility imposed upon them in that direction. I gather the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) agreed with the hon. and gallant Gentleman below 711 the Gangway (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy) as to the need for inquiry into the present location of the dockyards and the need for their continuance, but their points of view were different. The hon. and gallant Gentleman below the Gangway hopes for such developments in the direction of doing away with weapons of offence that we might be able to reduce the number of dockyards.
§ Mr. AMMON
On the other hand, the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Uxbridge thinks the time has now arrived when you can simply shift a dockyard from one part of the Empire to another to meet changing needs. That raised the ire of a Member of his own party, which demonstrates that this particular discussion is above party. All the points raised by the hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite will be given consideration to. That they are new is no reason why they should not be given very careful attention.
I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) that he need have no doubts or fears about the transference of people from Rosyth. There has been no considerable transference of men from Rosyth to other dockyards for a very long time. Our trouble now is to meet the requests of the men, who are at Rosyth, to be transferred to southern dockyards. We have not the accommodation in the South, nor the need for staff, to meet their request, but the Admiralty will not think of doing anything which is likely to land these men in an awkward position. The question was raised about the expenses when they are transferred for Service reasons. The expenses of removal, etc., are borne by the Admiralty. The Geddes Committee suggested that Pembroke should be disposed of, and a similar suggestion has also been made as regards Sheerness. There is evidently an alteration of the point of view of all sides of the House with regard to Pembroke, owing not to political reasons but to strategical reasons at the present time. May I here say that we are ready to consider an offer for Sheerness Dockyard for commercial work? It is still open for sale. With respect to wages in the dockyards, my hon. Friend opposite will be glad to know 712 that the wage for the labourers at Malta was increased by over 100 per cent. by a bonus. Since then, the basic wage has been increased by five shillings a week, and the bonus reduced by a similar amount. The bonus is now in accordance with the cost of living. The staffs there are well satisfied at having their basic wage increased, and they have now no fear that that will be cut off later owing to a decrease in the cost of living. I am glad to give the information that that has been a cause of great satisfaction there, and that it will lead to a considerable basic increase for the men concerned.
§ Captain Viscount CURZON
I listened with care to the speech which has just been delivered, and I am not satisfied with the answer that has been given. I very strongly support the view put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) that there should be an inquiry into the whole of our dockyard position. I am not clear from anything which has been said by the Parliamentary Secretary that any such inquiry is contemplated. It is a matter of first-class importance that we should examine the position. A good deal has been said in regard to the menace to Chatham from the point of view of the air. Chatham might not only be menaced from the air, but it is within range of long range gun fire from the other side of the Channel. That is a very material point. Of course London is also menaced in that way. Obviously, the enemy would like to be able to put out of action one of our most important strategical centres.
Chatham as a dockyard is only of limited use to the Royal Navy. That is one of the reasons why it has been so much referred to to-day. I do not think it is realised in this House that Chatham will not be able to take the largest class of aircraft carriers, and will not take the largest type of capital ship. Therefore, as it will only take light cruisers, it has a limited usefulness for the Navy. Rosyth, the arguments for which were put forward so ably by the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) is in quite a different category. It is a modern dockyard, equipped with the most modern machinery, and it is the only dock which the Navy possesses at the present time into which the battle cruiser "Hood" can be placed when she requires 713 docking and refit. Therefore, Rosyth is of very great value. There is a small dockyard, Port Edgar, on the other side of the Firth of Forth. The older dockyards, Portsmouth and Plymouth, hardly come under the same difficulties as Chatham. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) made one or two rather astounding statements. He gave us to understand that Plymouth was not a commercial port. Plymouth is a commercial port. It is more a commercial port than any other naval harbour. It is constantly used by Atlantic liners as a port of call, and I doubt very much whether, if the Admiralty were to vacate Plymouth, it would be used to any greater extent by the mercantile marine of this country or any other country than it is to-day. It is quite possible that some arrangement might be come to toy the Admiralty in regard to Chatham.
I plead with the Government that they should take seriously into consideration the suggestion of the hon. Member for Central Hull and set up a real inquiry into the whole of our dockyard position. I do not regard a strategic inquiry on the part of the Admiralty as quite sufficient, or that it meets the case. We need to go wider afield than that. If they would set up an inquiry upon which business men could be placed, I think they would have a much better chance, and this House would have a much better chance, of appreciating the position as to whether it was or was not possible to turn Sheer-ness Dockyard or any other dockyard into a commercial port. I am certain that we have more dockyards than our modern Navy requires, either for peace or war conditions, and in view of the tightness of money, I think the position should be reviewed with the greatest care. I agree with what was said in regard to the employés in the yards. They must be our first consideration and our first concern. I am certain that neither this Government nor a Conservative Government nor a Liberal Government could afford to neglect the interests of the employés. Therefore, we might agree upon that and set that question on one side as settled. I do hope that before we pass from this Debate to-day the Government will be able to indicate that they are going to accede to the request put forward by all parties that some more extended inquiry than has been indicated in the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary will be set up.
714 Dockyards are a form of armament. Armaments have been much alluded to this afternoon. There are a great many people in this country and many Members in this House who, quite sincerely, honestly, heartily and with great vigour and eloquence, continually speak against armaments. Of course, our defensive force has been subjected to withering criticism fore and aft, but I would ask hon. Members whether I am not really stating an actual fact when I say that as far as the British Navy is concerned, ever since the American War of Independence, it has never been used for what can be described as aggressive purposes. I would ask hon Members whether it has not been repeatedly proved that the British Navy has always been one of the greatest factors for peace and stability which has ever existed all over the world. It may be that hon. Members doubt that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I wonder if hon. Members will take the words of an authority in support of my view. I will give them one authority, and I would submit it to hon. Gentlemen opposite with confidence. I will quote Professor Zimmern, who helped to draft the Covenant of the League of Nations in 1918 and who has been in close touch with the work at Geneva ever since. This is what he said at the Co-operative Union Conference at Southport recently:He regarded British sea power, wisely and co-operatively used, as the world's best insurance against war. It had already stopped one war since the establishment of the League, between Serbia and Albania, and it had done it so noiselessly that the world hardly realised its significance.He also said:The best way to prevent international difficulties from ripening into disputes was the promotion of a working arrangement for international co-operation.That is a very important testimony to the work of the Royal Navy, and I hope that hon. Members who look upon the British Navy as an instrument of militarism, possibly even of aggression, will not forget that testimony of an independent authority.
I will submit another point for the consideration of the House. All of us, members of every party, are in favour of peace. We desire to keep peace. It has been said by hon. Members opposite that the argument, "If you want peace you must prepare for war," is a fallacy. The 715 hon. Member for Bodmin indicated to-day that he did not agree with that phrase. Surely, is the position not this, that if you really want peace it is much better to be able to tell the rest of the world that you mean to have peace and there is only one way in which you can enforce that statement, and that is that you are able to back it up? Even the League of Nations contemplates the use of force to enforce its decrees. You have a much better chance, and you are much more likely to get peace, if you can say that you desire peace and that you have the means, if necessary, of maintaining peace. You can do that if you are able to say to others, "We intend to have peace, and you must break it at your peril." It is no use saying that you are going to have peace and then you have, to beg for it.
The argument that the Navy is used in an aggressive sense is not justified by the facts. Is it not true that no Government, composed of members drawn from any party, would continue to govern in this country if they ever attempted to use any of our forces in an aggressive sense? The forces of this country are defensive, and nothing else. I was glad to hear what has been said by the hon. Member for Dunfermline in his rather notable speech, and I was particularly glad to hear it, coming from the benches opposite. I only hope that it will command support amongst Members of his own party. I trust that we shall get an assurance from the Government tonight that they will set up the inquiry which has been asked for in all parts of the House.
§ Major HORE-BELISHA
The hon. Member who has just sat down (Viscount Curzon) has delivered a vigorous and effective speech. Few Members can speak on this question with greater authority than the Noble Lord. However, when he comes, as he did, down to Plymouth, he is getting dangerously near the constituency which I represent, and I may therefore be permitted to join issue with him. The Noble Lord said that if the Devonport Dockyard were closed down, that would not give rise of necessity to any increase in the use which the mercantile marine makes of the port of Plymouth. The truth of the matter is that Plymouth could be a first-rate commercial port. The Hamoaze is 716 necessary, however, if it is to be fully developed as a great commercial port. Ships of more than a certain draught cannot get into the port of Plymouth, and we are constantly hearing of ships which break propellers having to go to Falmouth for repairs. Therefore, if commercial enterprises were allowed to use Devonport Dockyard, there would be a very great increase in the commercial shipping, and Plymouth and the rest of England would derive considerable benefit from it. That is the only point on which I desire to join issue with the Noble Lord.
For the rest, I very strongly support him in the case which he made out for an inquiry into the uses to which the dockyards can be put. I put a question to the Secretary of the Admiralty upon this point, and I only refer to it now because the answer which he gave was somewhat inconsistent with what he has said this afternoon. I asked him whether he would consider appointing a Royal Commission to inquire into the uses to which these dockyards might eventually be put, in view of the inevitable decrease in armaments, and he said:I have no reason for anticipating any cassation of the economical use of the number of Royal dockyards for necessary naval work,and he comes down this afternoon, and forecasts a period in which the dockyards may be of no use whatever. I know he was—
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Major HORE-BELISHA
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me. I was alluding to another part of his speech, where he was alluding to the mililennium, in which the dockyards would be eliminated altogether. The whole programme of his party is based on the suggestion that the millennium is coming about. I suggest that now is the moment to consider what commercial uses the dockyards could be put to. For the rest, the speech made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty was entirely vague and innocuous, and he successfully took up the time he occupied in saying absolutely I nothing and giving no indication what- 717 ever as to what the policy of the Government really was in regard to the dockyards. The right hon. Gentleman the late First Lord of the Admiralty, from whom we might have expected some expert guidance, devoted a very large section of his speech to an historical disquisition, and he advanced some very cogent reasons for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. There is a great diversity of view as to what really caused the decline of the Roman Empire. Some attribute it to the use of Turkish baths and others to the great consumption of cherries. It is difficult, therefore, in a discussion of this kind to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion on a subject which the right hon. Gentleman, judging from the time he gave to it, has very deeply at heart.
The rest of his speech was entirely a speech of innocuous first principles. He laid down the proposition that what the dockyard workers wanted was security. Everybody will agree with him when he says that, but did he give them security when he was in office? I have the figures here for the employment in the dockyards while he was in office, and I find that in January of last year, in the Devonport dockyard, 11,044 men were employed; in April that number had decreased to 10,841; on the 10th July there were 10,736, and by the 6th October, 10,660. The right hon. Gentleman only began to give security to these workers in Devonport dockyard on the eve of the November election, when the numbers suddenly rose to 11,426. It is therefore rather out of place for him to talk of the virtues of security. The right hon. Gentleman was spoken of this afternoon as a Socialist, and I can only attribute the gradually increasing employment which took place at Rosyth alone during his administration to the fact that there happened to be a Socialist representative of that dockyard in the House. An explanatory memorandum which the First Lord of the Admiralty has issued makes this statement:The labour conditions of the dockyards during the current financial year have been generally stable, and no discharges on reduction have occurred.I cannot conceive how he could have come to make a statement of this kind in view of the figures I have just read, and only yesterday, on the question of stability—and he forecast stability for the coming year—the Civil Lord of the 718 Admiralty told me that since March, a period during which his Government have been in office, 223 workmen have been discharged from Devonport, 459 from Portsmouth, and 441 from Chatham, and only the other day he was in Portsmouth making a speech in which he prophesied that under the administration of his Government, these workers would be given some surety of tenure.
That is not all. Not only have these discharges, these very great discharges, been made over the last few weeks, but there are numbers of men under notice to quit; and he also informs me, in reply to the same question, that it is intended to give notice to quit to others. It is true that these men whom it is contemplated discharging do not come under this vote, but they are working side by side with the men who do, and if the Government really wish to play a part in the release of the anxiety of these men, I hope they will reconsider their decision to make these further discharges. It is really most disconcerting to these men to feel that from month to month the numbers to be employed vary so considerably. During the past few years they have been coming into the dockyard and coming out again as though a game of battledore and shuttlecock were going on. I hope this discussion will cause the hon. Gentleman to treat these men with greater humanity. These men should commend themselves to a Socialist Government, if its protestations about nationalisation mean anything at all. They have, in the national dockyard industry, a great many thousands of men, 37,000 I think, with a wages bill of over £7,000,000. They form the greatest nationalised industry in the country, and I think, by virtue of that, they should commend themselves to a Socialist Government.
I hope that an inquiry will be instituted at no distant date by the Government into the conditions of employment prevailing in the dockyards, because it is not right that men who have served the State for 30 years of their lives should retire at the age of 60 with a pension of £35 a year. They have contributed, as the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir T. Bramsdon) knows, towards their pensions, and have given the whole of their lives to the national service, and they are thrown out at the age of 60 on a 719 pension of £35 a year. That will scarcely be credible to the hon. Gentleman the Civil Lord of the Admiralty. A man who has contributed all his life—may I have the attention of the Civil Lord, because I am sure it will appeal to his humanity; he has fought for the miners, and I am sure, now that he is at the Admiralty, he will fight for the dockyard workers—should not be compelled to go out on the streets at the age of 60 with a pension of £35 a year. I hope the Civil Lord is discussing the desirability of dealing with this matter. A hired man makes no contribution, and when he comes out he gets £1 per week, perhaps, from the Employment Exchange, whereas the established man, who has contributed, finishes up with a pension of 14s. or 15s., or a sovereign a week, and he is in a very much worse position than the other man, and even in a worse position than some old age pensioners, because an old age pensioner and his wife get 20s. in many cases. I think these men should therefore commend themselves to a Socialist Government.
There is one other small matter concerning the conditions under which the men work, and are paid and pensioned. Here is a representative case illustrating the difference between the pensions given now and the pensions that used to be given. Here is a man who, after 31 years' service, had a pension of 14s. 9d. a week on retiring the other day. If he had retired in 1921 he would have had a pension of 19s. 11d. a week, and if he had retired before the War he would have had a pension of 15s. 5d. He retires to-day, and gets only 14s. 9d. Therefore, the man retiring to-day is getting a lower rate than his comrade who took advantage of the better conditions before the War, or in 1921. The contention of the men retiring to-day is that on the 22nd February, 1922, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said that a scheme would be introduced, whereby every pension granted after that time would be granted on such a basis that it would be brought into alignment with the cost of living. That has never been fulfilled, and many are now receiving lower pensions than they would have had before the War. I hope the hon. Member will take this into consideration, not only from the point of view of inequality, but from the point of view of 720 the absolute inadequacy of the pensions given to established men in State employment.
While on the question of the conditions under which men work and are paid, I hope, too, that he will see his way, now that a Socialist Government is in office, to allow these men to have a holiday on pay. This is one of the few services in which the men do not get a holiday on pay at all. There are anomalies in the conditions of their employment. There are two grades of employment in the dockyard which must receive his urgent attention. I refer, of course, to the case of the generating staff, where men are working 56 hours a week, and being paid at a rate which a trade union outside would not recognise. Now that we have a Socialist Government in office, there should not be one moment's delay in seeing that these—[An HON. MEMBER: "What have you been doing all these years?"] If I had been in this House I would have raised the matter long ago, but you have an opportunity, and you may have the whole credit, as far as I am concerned, of doing it, providing you do it, and do not talk about it. Here was I opposed by Labour candidates at two General Elections, who told these men that the moment the Labour Government came into office these ships should no longer be sent to private firms, but would come to the dockyards. [Interruption.] Does the hon. Member wish to say something? Now that the duet is over, and the Socialist Government is in power, I hope that the hon. Member will place the general considerations of humanity before the considerations of party and join with me in pressing on the Admiralty the justice of this claim. It does not matter about getting any credit out of it. Here are men working 56 hours a week and receiving a lower rate of pay than the recognised trade union rates. Many of them are elderly men. There is one man in particular who has not had a Christmas day off for 16 years. I hope that the Civil Lord will make it his business to see that these men are paid at a proper trade, union rate.
It was somewhat surprising when he was asked why such things were tolerated in a national establishment to be told by him that dockyard workmen are in a category apart, and though the conditions are worse and the wages are lower than outside 721 side they were not comparable because they were part of a common industry. Every commercial worker now knows that under a system of nationalisation he stands a very good chance of having worse conditions and lower wages, if that is to be the argument. The hon. Member has made a very good reputation by fighting the case of the miners outside, and I hope that he is going to put the same vigour and determination, which are almost unequalled, into operation now to fight for the dockyard workers, and that they will get the full benefit of his trade union experience and his skill in getting concessions out of the Government. The generating men are not the only men in that position. There are yard craftsmen in the dockyards working 100 hours a week. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give his attention to the conditions and the wages of these workers.
There has been discussion as to the use to which the dockyards might be put. I hope that as a result we are going to have an inquiry. It so happens that in Devonport and Chatham rope is made, and better rope than can be made by any commercial enterprise outside, and rope-workers come under this Vote. I went through the ropery at Devonport Dockyard the other day, and I found that it was idle, and that established ropemakers are being turned out of the ropery and reduced 8s. a week, with the prospect of losing their establishment and their pensions. Why cannot the Admiralty explore the advantages that might accrue from the use of these roperies in Devonport and Chatham for commercial purposes? I note that the hon. Member for Gilling-ham (Sir G. Hohler) objects to Chatham being used for commercial purposes at all, but so far as Devonport is concerned I hope that the Civil Lord will inquire into the possibilities of using this rope for the national advantage. I am putting a series of questions about it because so many men have lost employment owing to the vast stocks of tarred yarn that have accumulated. During the War the roperies were working at full pressure, and a great deal of rope was produced, evidently more than the Admiralty required. Consequently these roperies are almost closed down.
There are many other respects in which the dockyards might be used to the advantage of the country in accordance with Socialist principles. I mention this question 722 of the ropery, because the dockyard makes a different kind of rope from any produced by commercial firms and is not in competition with commercial firms. Also because a large number of women were formerly employed in the ropery. Whereas the number of women employed in the dockyard at Devonport in 1918 was 1,097, there are only 79 left to-day. These women make flags, doing needlework, upholstery and French polishing, and they work in the ropery. They receive a very low rate of wages, but the main point is that all these women are the widows of regular service men or the widows of dockyard men, and if we get 1,000 widows back into the dockyards it would be doing a great service to humanity.
It cannot be said—and I regret to have to make the observation—that the present Government have been more favourably disposed towards these nationalised industries than any previous Government. So far no attempt has been made to give just wages and just conditions of work. No inquiry has been made into the disparity between the wages in the dockyards in some categories and those outside, and no endeavour has been made to demonstrate to the country that work in a nationalised industry is better, both as regards conditions and payment, than work in a commercial firm. Our Socialist Government have an excellent opportunity—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—and I am glad to have these cheers, which, I hope, mean as much bite as bark from hon. Members—of saying, "Here we have a ready-made nationalised industry. We are going to show the country and the world that we can run this industry a great deal better than any commercial firm." I hope that before the Socialist Government go out of office they will have demonstrated that they meant what they said when they said that they believed in nationalisation. So far the Government have shown their anxiety to foster private enterprise rather than public enterprise, and I was surprised when the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty said he was open to receive an offer for Sheerness. It is not often that a Socialist Government endeavours to secure offers of that kind.
The Government have already spent colossal sums on private yards, and are ready to give guarantees to private shipyards. Although I do not minimise the distress that prevails, the 723 nation is under no obligation to provide work in private yards, because it does not undertake commercial shipbuilding. I notice that no money is allocated for the construction of mercantile vessels in the Royal Dockyards. There was some last year, but one would have thought that this Government would have explored the possibility of putting the dockyards to commercial use. I notice that the armour and gun mountings of the ships that are being laid down are going to private firms. Therefore I am disappointed in the hope, which I had genuinely in my breast when this Government took office, that something would be done to vindicate the principle of the nationalisation of industry, and I would press on the Civil Lord that he should institute an inquiry at once as to what commercial use these dockyards can be put to, and reconsider the policy of subsidising private firms when there is no reciprocity, and, generally, survey the whole condition of the rate of pay of hired men and of established men, and the claims of women and the pensions question, in order that the nationalised industries may be an example to the whole world.
§ Mr. HAYCOCK
I do not propose to deal with the speech of the hon Member for Devonport (Major Hore-Belisha) except to say that I am particularly delighted to know that he would like to see this Government go in for nationalisation and for social experiment.
§ Mr. HAYCOCK
Therefore, I hope that when the hon. Member goes to his constituency, he will not indulge in wild criticism of Socialism.
§ Mr. HAYCOCK
He will probably have a Labour opponent, and so I hope that he will be able to speak for himself. I would like to remind the hon. Member that we have only been in office for three months.
§ Mr. HAYCOCK
Is it five months? It does not seem so long as that, but in five months you cannot undo all the work of previous Governments. But I did not rise to deal with the speech of the hon. Member, but to deal with some of the 724 speeches made this afternoon concerning the problem of peace. I think that nearly every Member who has participated in this Debate has expressed the hope that peace should reign on this earth, and we have had peculiar philosophies concerning the way you arrive at peace. The Noble Lord the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon) suggested that the way to get peace was to say that we are able to back up our own particular point of view. If it be true we have got to be strong enough to back up our case, then, obviously, that philosophy has universal application, and the other fellow has got to be strong enough to back up his case. They have all got to be strong enough to back up their case, which means that each nation has got to be stronger than the other. That is the obvious and natural conclusion of that argument.
The right hon. Member for the Sparkbrook division of Birmingham (Mr. Amery) suggested that our Navy has always stood for the peace of the world. I do no want—to use a vulgarism—to throw the cat among the pigeons, but it has always been our boast, on the one hand, that we are the boys with the bulldog grip, and, on the other, that we have built up the greatest Empire which the world has ever seen, because we were pacifists. Did we get this Empire by pacifism or by fighting? If we are honest we will say that the British Navy and British foreign policy have been responsible for as many wars in the world as the policy of any nation. But the sequel to the argument is that if we want peace and armaments make for peace then the more we arm and the more other nations arm the greater danger there is of peace. What does that mean? If we all disarmed and there were no armies and no navies at all, what terrible Armageddons we should have; what terrible battles there would be if there were no one to fight them and no battleships and no equipment for life destroying!
We know, of course, that that is not true. We know that the more we arm the more other nations arm, and the more suspicion and temper there is in the world. We then arrive at the position when the assassination of a Crown Prince is all that is necessary to produce a universal war. Surely the last war taught us something! If armaments make for peace, why, during 725 the propaganda of the last war, did you blame the Germans for arming and preparing during 40 years? The truth is that experience has taught us that when nations are armed you get war. Suppose that we all decided as individuals that we would carry revolvers. I have lived in a part of the world where men carried revolvers, where they had guns and used them, and there were far more deadly feuds there than in any country where men are not armed. The Noble Lady who represents the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor) suggested that the greatest enemy of peace was the pacifist. Let us see where that leads us. Was the Kaiser a great Pacifist? Suppose that in 1914 Carl Liebknecht had been the Foreign Minister of Germany, that M. Jaurés had been Foreign Minister of France, and that the present Prime Minister of England had been Foreign Minister of this country. If we had had such a Pacifist at the head of our foreign policy in 1914 I make bold to say that—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I quite recognise that there has been a very wide discussion permitted so far, but there must be some limit to the degree of latitude allowed. The hon. Member must try to hinge the Navy on to his argument.
§ Mr. HAYCOCK
I do not like to transgress the rules, and all I am doing is replying to the arguments of the hon. Member for Sutton, the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, and the Noble Lord (Viscount Curzon) who represents South Battersea. They have had the privilege of making certain assertions, and I felt that I ought to have the opportunity of bringing forward arguments against them. If I break the rules I am sorry. I will not pursue that subject further, but will pass to the question of work. No person is more interested than I am in providing employment. I realise what a tragedy it is for skilled men to be out of work, and what a danger it is to the economic future of this country if such men are forced to emigrate. We try to find work by building cruisers, but if we are to think in terms of disarmament we must think of alternative employment for these men. There is no question about that.
Rather than build cruisers I would build, say, 10 passenger steamers, which would cost no more than one cruiser, and would not cost any more to keep afloat. 726 I would use those passenger steamers in a national service. We could have floating sanatoria. We could use the steamers for emigration purposes, particularly group emigration, and we could use them in a thousand and one other ways. To say that we must arrange things just to produce more work, without having any idea for what end that work is to be used, is unreasonable There are some people who believe that if the Almighty had made the earth barren, and if we had had to work 22 hours out of the 24, we would all be better off. Work should not be an end in itself. If we could employ these men on other things it would mean that the total wealth of the nation would be increased. We cannot leave these men in the lurch. We must so organise things that we are able to look after the members of the community who need our help. Many of these men are now unemployed. We shall need them in future. The skill of these men is an addition to the assets of the country. I would like to see things so planned that they would be engaged on such work as would not only bless them but bless the 45,000,000 of people in these islands.
§ Mr. H. M. SEELY
In consequence of the ruling from the Chair, I cannot follow very far the hon. Member who has just spoken, but I must say that I agreed entirely with his statement that in dealing with this question we have to consider alternative work when we have done away with the dockyards. Throughout this Debate, in spite of the dockyard Members and all that has been said, we still find running through it the line which was started by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). He raised a very important question, which has not been answered satisfactorily either by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook or by the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty, namely, the very large question of what is to be the policy for the dockyards of this country. As has been said, the dockyards were started and developed because they were needed by the country. Times have altered, and we have got now to the difficulty that we cannot afford to spend any money except on what is actually necessary.
We want a very thorough inquiry into the whole Question of these dockyards and 727 the future policy of the Government towards them. Could not a Royal Commission be set up to investigate the whole matter? It is a very vital question, which will affect us if ever there is a war again. In the last War we found that some of these dockyards, which were very large and had been very important before the War, were not of the use that they should have been, because of their position. That was the case with Chatham and to a smaller extent with Portsmouth. The defence which was put up so ably on a rather weak case in reference to Chatham was one which is going to play a bigger part in this question than many of us realise. It was brought in also by an hon. Member for Portsmouth. I refer to the question of the future of the air. Where are you to have the dockyards? They must be properly protected from air attack. I do not believe in the theory that Pembroke is safe from the air and that Chatham necessarily is in a dangerous position, because none of us can foresee what strength in the air will be in 10 years' time. I would urge that a Commission be set up to review the whole question and to see what dockyards are of the greatest use and the greatest strategical value to the Navy.
Sir A. SHIRLEY-BENN
I shall not follow the hon. Member for West Salford (Mr. Haycock) in his interesting speech. I agree that it would be the very best thing in the world if armaments could be reduced and if we could live in peace, but I am sure that there is no Member here who would be prepared to stand up and fight with his naked fists a man armed with knuckle-dusters. We are living in a world of armed men. We have a vast Empire spread all over the world. Our highways are the oceans, and unless we can police them we cannot be certain that our people can go through them with safety. It is, therefore, necessary that we should maintain our Fleet. No matter what Government is in power, the maintenance of the Fleet is necessary for the salvation of the country. Therefore, we must have armaments. Our dockyards should not only be the first dockyards in the world, but we ought to have there the best men in the world, and we ought to pay them properly, and be sure that when they retire their pensions are sufficient to keep them from want. In 1919 I was in 728 America. I went to one of the biggest shipbuilding yards and there talked with three leading men. Each of them told me that he had worked in the dockyards at home, and that he went out to America only because he could not find work in this country. Fortunately, those men were helping to build ships for our friends, but they might have been building them for our enemies. A Commission of Inquiry has been suggested. It would be a most advisable thing, and I hope that the Government will give close consideration to the suggestion, with a view of ascertaining whether it is not possible so to utilise the dockyards that they could always be working.
§ Mr. ARNOLD WILLIAMS
Had I taken part in the Debate on the Motion of the hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott) last evening, I should have stressed the fact that I was not concerned in the amount of the expenditure so much as in the question of whether the money was well spent. I am really concerned as to whether we get full value for our money. I think, therefore, it is time somebody in this Debate spoke from the point of view of the taxpayer. So far I have not heard anyone speak from that point of view. I would ask, not in any critical spirit, whether our money is being spent to the best advantage?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am sorry if I have misrepresented the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but I think he will agree, by the time I have finished, that what I have said is correct. On the total Estimates I find there is an expenditure of £4,500,000 more than in 1914–15, and bearing in mind the change in value of our currency, we are apt to think this fact means that the Navy Estimates are satisfactory. I do submit, however, that these figures lend themselves to legitimate criticism, and, in some cases, call for fairly drastic reduction. May I remind the Committee that the personnel of the Navy to-day is only two-thirds of what it was in 1914–15, and that whereas, on the one hand, the personnel itself is costing us £16,500,000 more than in 1914–15, the second part of our Vote, which is concerned with the ships and the matériel, is costing £12,250,000 less? The personnel is £16,500,000 up, and the 729 matériel is £12,250,000 down. If I take that in detail per head of the numbers in 1914–15, the personnel cost us £119, whereas this coming year it is going to cost us £294, an increase of £175. On the matériel side, whereas in 1914–15 it cost us £202 per unit, now it has dropped to £181, a decrease of £21. I submit there is something sadly wrong, or something you will not find in any business in the country, and that there is some justification for asking why that should be.
Then, while the staff in 1914–15 was 1,850, in the coming year it is going to be 2,789. Looking further, I find that the number of men employed has only varied by 300. Why, therefore, is it necessary that we should have 838 more men on the staff to look after only 300 men more than there were in 1914–15? It means that, whereas, in 1914–15, one staff man could look after 23 men, now a staff man is only capable of looking after 17. There may be some just reply to my question. If there is, I think the Committee ought to have it. I find, further, that comparing our total costs with costs outside, whereas in outside yards the wages were 70 per cent. more than pre-War—and I do not think that is adequate—our wages are 167 per cent. more than pre-War. In December, 1921, the Geddes Committee suggested that we ought not to have a personnel of more than 86,000 officers and men in that year. Here we are, two years afterwards, still providing for 14,500 more men than the Geddes Committee considered was quite adequate. On this particular Vote, out of every £1 voted in the year 1914–15, the wages paid away were 11s. 9d., while 8s. 3d. was paid for stores. In 1924–25, we are going to pay 16s. 4d. for wages and 3s. 8d. for stores, an increase in wages from 11s. 9d. to 16s. 4d. and a drop in stores from 8s. 3d. to 3s. 8d. I do submit that this is a fact, which is not borne out in any business in the country, that wages have gone up so much. They have gone up tremendously, but, even if we agree with that, it is not a fact that materials have gone down to that extent in business. By reference to outside shipyards, we get some light on it, and we find that for every £1 spent in our dockyards on matériel, £3 has to be spent in wages. In outside shipyards, for every £1 spent 730 in matériel, they only need 30s. for wages. I submit there is something to account for this, but what it is I do not know—either the situation of the dockyards, lack of labour-saving appliances, or something else.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am very glad to have that explanation, but I do not think it explains the huge difference. I should not agree with that in the ordinary business way. We have a 75 per cent. increase in the wages bill and 18 per cent. reduction in the cost of materiel. That does not explain the difference. There is one other point I should like to make. There are actually 548 policemen required for eight dockyards, and this year they are costing us £156,000. The hon Member for Bootle (Major Burnie) mentioned that the population of Bootle was 78,000 and only needed 100 policemen. Do we want 548 policemen for our eight dockyards? Looking at the question of experiments, again from the point of view of the taxpayers, let me say that, provided this money is being well spent, I shall not criticise it. I was one of the few Members on these benches who voted in favour of the five cruisers. I am not competent to deal with policy. I am only asking, Are we getting a pound's worth for every pound we spend? In 1914 we could carry on our experimental work with a staff of 36, which cost us £8,500. This year there is a staff of 147, who are going to cost us £50,500. Do we need four times as many men, costing us six times as much money, for experiments? Are we getting full value for our money? I only ask, is there any reason for this difference between 1914–15 and the current year? If so, the taxpayers would like to know what it is.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I do not want to hold up the Vote, but there is one question that can only be raised on this Vote; otherwise the opportunity is lost. The other day the hon. Member for Central Portsmouth (Sir T. Bramsdon) raised the question of workmen in the dockyard at Gibraltar. He pointed out that some 800 Spaniards come from Linea and work in the dockyard there, and he asked whether Britishers could not be employed. I am informed that at Gibraltar British working men who 731 live there are out of employment. The Admiralty official answer that there is no accommodation for extra British subjects for work in the dockyard therefore, I think, falls to the ground, and I think if there is unemployment in Gibraltar, and it is in any way possible to house British workers, employment should be found in the coal-ships and dockyard for Britishers rather than for these Spaniards who come from Linea. I have nothing to say against these Spaniards—I saw them a good deal during the War—but our own people should come first.
My other question is with regard to the inquiry at which the Parliamentary Secretary hinted. I wish he had been a little more explicit. I know his difficulty. The Noble Lord who represents the Admiralty is not in this House, and no doubt the hon. Gentleman will represent the tenour of the Debate to him, but with the exception of one or two dockyard Members, I think I carry the Committee with me when I say on all hands it has been agreed that some inquiry is needed into the number of our dockyards, and whether they are redundant or not. It has been pointed out, even by the hon. Member who represents Rosyth, that the feeling of uncertainty in the minds of the men employed in the dockyards has a bad effect on the work. Further, I hope in the inquiry there will be an investigation into the use that can be made of the dockyards for useful work, in view of what is bound to take place in our expenditure on armaments, especially naval armaments.
I would like my hon. Friend to be more explicit on those points. It is no use having experts at the Admiralty to look into this matter. You want business men for such an inquiry, and impartial persons, including naval representatives. The whole matter should be properly reviewed, and I hope that will be done. I hope this inquiry will also include the question of Gibraltar itself as a dockyard. Gibraltar is open to mobile artillery fire from Spanish territory, and in the unhappy event of our being involved with war with a hostile Spain, the dockyard would be untenable and useless, quite apart from any aeroplane question. I have suggested to previous Governments 732 that the matter should be very carefully examined, with a view to seeing if some arrangement could be come to with our Spanish friends to exchange Gibraltar for Ceuta on the other side. Ceuta would be much safer, as being unexposed to artillery fire, and Ceuta has a hinterland with which trade could be opened, while Gibraltar never does any trade at all with Spain. No trade comes from Andalusia into Gibraltar. The only trade is with passing vessels. Whereas Ceuta could tap the rich and potentially important territories of Morocco, and a very great trading port could be established and built up there.
It really is a question that cannot be put off until the day comes when we may find that we are in a very difficult position indeed in Gibraltar. This is a matter which might well be submitted to the Committee of Inquiry, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will give them that problem to decide. In regard to docks, the present docking position, if we are going on with the building of capital ships after 1931 when the Washington Conference Agreement will come to an end, is extremely serious. Outside the United Kingdom there are only two docks on British territory that can take the latest warships—one at Quebec and the other at St. Johns, New Brunswick. There are two others under construction, one at Esquimault and the other at Durban, and we are lengthening the German dock at Malta. We have built these super-Dreadnoughts, and great aircraft carriers, without providing docks for them except in the United Kingdom, and when we talk about the mobility of the Fleet, that fact is apt to be overlooked. This matter should also form part of the inquiry. Another point is whether dock expenditure is not capital expenditure, and should be met by a loan instead of out of income.
§ Question put, and agreed to.