Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £5,397,900, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of the Materiel 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.
§ Sir T. BRAMSDON
In connection with the subject of the use of material in the construction of ships, I wish to draw attention to one or two points in connection with shipbuilding which bear very materially on the comfort of the lower deck of the Navy. The cooking galleys at the present time are constructed in the mess decks of ships. That is a very great drawback at times to the living accommodation of the men of the lower deck. When the men are in their hammocks of a morning, and the early cooking is proceeding, a very objectionable, poisonous smell is conveyed throughout the mess deck of the ship, to the annoyance and inconvenience of the men on those mess decks. I am advised there is no real objection to the placing of those galleys on the upper decks except when the ships are at sea in heavy weather. But I am told there ought to be no difficulty in covering those galleys, and so giving proper ventilation at the sides which will enable them to be used there satisfactorily. This question has been frequently brought up by the men of the lower deck, who have experienced considerable annoyance and inconvenience from the present position of the ships' and officers' galleys. They desire me to bring this matter up for consideration. When they bring it forward in a formal and official way, they are told that the suggestion is "Not Approved." That is the official method of turning a thing down. They desire me to suggest that these cooking galleys should be removed from the mass decks and placed higher in the ships so that objectionable results will not follow. I shall be told that this is not possible, and that the matter has already been gone into fully by the naval architects. The best answer to that is, that in some foreign ships the galleys are placed in the position I have mentioned, much to the comfort of the men. I would instance, in particular, two United States ships in which this situation exists, namely, the "Maine" and the "Colorado." If it can be done in foreign ships, surely there can be no objection to their being similarly situated in our own ships. Another question, in regard to which the lower deck find a good deal of difficulty, is that they have not a direct approach between the mess deck and the galley of those ships which have their ship's galleys, on the upper deck. They 734 have to go upstairs into the open, collect their food, and at times in cold and inclement weather, by the time they have got it down below the possibility is that it is very much affected by the cold.
I would also direct attention to the living quarters in the lower mess decks, particularly in the oil fuel ships, near the chain lockers. I have spoken about the smell which exists in connection with the galleys, but perhaps that is nothing compared with the poisonous smell which exists in these places. Proper ventilation is needed, and I am told there ought to be no difficulty in bringing it about. I am sure we all wish that the members of the lower deck should live in something like peace and comfort under conditions which are often below the water-line. This could be done if there were only some desire to assist the lower deck. I sometimes wonder whether the architects who construct these ships ever board them at sea in order to realise the inconvenience created by this mass of life which exists in these difficult conditions. There is also the question of the lighting of these mess decks. It is at the present time practically all electric light, and I understand there should be no difficulty in getting natural light fittings substituted for iron coverings where the decks are piered for fuel and ammunition supplies, as it is often inconvenient and unpleasant for the men to live under these conditions. They are happy, I know, in the ordinary sense of the word, but the conditions in which they live ought to be improved wherever possible. Another circumstance with which they have to contend is that their living accommodation is very often encroached upon by space being allocated to various other objects. I suppose that in the course of construction there is a maximum and a minimum quantity of air space which is allowed for the mess decks of the ship. At first, such regulations are carried out, but for various reasons which intervene very often between the officers of the ship and the dockyard authorities this space is curtailed by various other things being introduced, which lessen the space between decks and leaves an insufficient amount of air space available. Cabins are sometimes constructed on these mess decks. In the space where cabins are built in the ship at first there is a good deal of space left around them, 735 but if any new cabins are wanted that is never considered the proper place for them to be built. Thus cabins are placed in various positions on the mess decks to the detriment of the air space of the men. This should be remedied.
I want to refer to the vocational training of the men which has for its object the fitting of them for outside employment. This matter of vocational training of ex-professional sailors was considered by an inter-Departmental Committee, consisting of representatives of the Army, the Navy and of the Civil Service. It was appointed some throe-years ago with the idea of enabling ex-sailors to earn their living when they are discharged from the Navy. I submit that our sailors and marines, who are discharged sometimes without pension, should be so taught during this vocational training as to fit them to occupy positions in after life. There is a good deal of talk about this, but the actual result is limited. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty will be one of the first to consider this a most desirable thing in the interests of the men. Some vocational training is already carried on, but to nothing like the extent it might be. Up to now the amount of vocational training has been more owing to voluntary effort than due to the encouragement from official sources. In connection with safeguarding our dockyards and the vast materials they contain, metropolitan policemen are employed. Some time ago a Committee recommended that the Metropolitan Police should be done away with in these dockyards for economical reasons. It recommended that in their place marines might well be employed, and also, perhaps, exsailors. I should like to know if anything has been done to carry out the extension of these suggestions because the safeguarding of these vast quantities of material is a very important matter indeed. If the Admiralty can assist by extending the policy of employing ex-sailors and marines especially on water patrols, and thus set Metropolitan Police free for employment elsewhere it would be a very economical arrangement and utilise the services of these men. I also wish to ask why it is that ex-naval 736 clerical ratings are not allowed to sit for the examination for Grade 3 clerks, and to know if the commanders-in-chief at the different dockyards have been consulted on this question. This is another point in connection with which use could be made of ex-naval men and it would be a great boon to them.
§ Sir GODFREY COLLINS
I desire to draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty to one matter which arises in connection with this Vote, and I do so in no spirit of controversy against the hon. Gentleman. He is no-doubt aware of the letter recently sent by the Treasury to the Admiralty drawing attention to the very large sums of money which the Admiralty in the past have demanded from this House, and which in the course of the year for which they are voted not being spent. Your predecessor in the Chair, Sir, put the question to the Committee a few minutes ago that a large sum should be spent on this Vote, and the gross total of Section II of Vote 8 shows a very meagre reduction in comparison with the Estimates for last year. In this connection I turn to the Appropriation in Aid Accounts—the last Report published—dealing with this particular Vote, and with the experience of a previous year. In the year 1922–23 the Admiralty asked this House to grant £4,322,000, but in the Appropriation in Aid Accounts, page 31, I find that the Admiralty only spent £2,590,000. In other words, the Admiralty at that time asked the House of Commons to grant nearly double the sum which was actually required. Is the experience to be repeated this year? Let me press upon the attention of the Financial Secretary the letter which, as I have already mentioned, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has addressed to the Admiralty on this subject. I find on page 143 of the Appropriation in Aid Accounts that the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes grave exception to the practice, which the Admiralty have followed during the last few years of asking and receiving much more money than they require. On page 144 of the statement to which I refer I find these words:If due allowance had been made for these factors, the original Estimates could 737 apparently have been reduced by at least £3,000,000.As I say, the present Vote only shows a meagre reduction in comparison with last year's Estimate. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary, will he take steps during the coming year to curtail the very large expenditure on this Vote? During the last few years we have protested against the large sums of money which the Admiralty have requisitioned, and judging by the Appropriation-in-Aid Accounts our protests have been well grounded. It must be apparent to Members of the Government that the successful Budget of the Chancellor of Exchequer has been made possible by the large reduction in public expenditure. As the Budget has been made possible by large reductions in expenditure my request to him is that he should take steps to stop this over-budgetting. If this Committee places large sums at the disposal of the Navy, and the officials of the Navy throughout the world, it is only to be expected from human nature that the money should be spent. I am not arguing, at the moment, whether it is well spent or not, but if this Committee votes large sums of money it is natural that officials should not show the same carefulness as they would show if only a small sum were available. In view of the very trenchant criticism directed by the Treasury against the political chiefs of the Admiralty I hope we may have some assurance that the practice will cease and that in future years the taxpayers will receive the benefit which should accrue to them.
§ Sir B. FALLE
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) raised the question of the Gibraltar dockyard and it seems to mo, speaking with your permission, Sir, that it is a question which should have been raised on this Vote rather than on the last Vote. The hon. and gallant Member told us what he had learned some few years ago, namely that the dockyard at Gibraltar was within the range of fire from the Spanish shore, and therefore the dockyard at Gibraltar might be destroyed by Spanish fire from Algeciras. He did not, however, tell us what the guns of Gibraltar would be doing during the time that the Spanish guns were firing on 738 them. On this theory he proposes that we should exchange Gibraltar for a place which is called Ceuta which apparently he seems to think produced valuable commodities but which at the present moment, if we can judge by what appears in the newspapers, is producing only ferocious gentlemen known as Riffians, who it seems are "rightly struggling to be free" from the Spaniards. He adduced no real argument, firstly why Gibraltar should be taken over by the Spanish Government or, secondly, why we should be so unwise as to exchange a valuable property for one which would be at the mercy of the Riffians.
Earlier in the day a very great authority told us that he thought so far as repairs were concerned, the dockyards were the natural home of such work, but that private yards were better for building than the Royal Dockyards. I do not altogether quarrel with what the right hon. Gentleman said. Having been a First Lord he must know a great deal more about the matter than I do, but I recall that a Dreadnought was built in a Royal Dockyard and was the finest ship of her time. She was built by Government employés, in the quickest time on record I believe only one year elapsed from the laying down of her keel until she was launched—a record which, I believe, no private yard could approach. I have been troubling, I am afraid, the Front Bench opposite for some little time on the subject of building engines and repairing engines in Portsmouth. We think at Portsmouth that we can construct boilers, particularly, just as well as any body outside, if not a bit better, and, such being the case and this being a Government yard, in which the Government desire to find as much employment as possible, we do not see why we should not have the building of all those boilers which are now going to be used in the five light cruisers, which, I presume, it is now definitely settled shall be built. There is another point which I have brought forward, I am afraid, on more than one occasion, and that is the fact that there is only one slip at Portsmouth and one at Devonport in which a small ship can be built or repaired, and there is no dock on the southern coast, except at Portsmouth, which will take a big ship. That seems to me very anomalous, and—
That should be discussed on Vote 10, and not on this Vote. Vote 10 deals with "Works, Buildings, and Repairs at Home and Abroad."
§ Sir B. FALLE
Can I not discuss this on Vote 8, which is "Shipbuilding, Repairs, Maintenance, etc."?
That is the heading, but what we are now dealing with is Section II of Vote 8, the expense of the matériel for shipbuilding, repairs, and maintenance.
§ Sir B. FALLE
I would not for a moment go against your ruling, but if that means that I can discuss the repairs of ships in the dockyards, but not the places in which they were built, it seems to me that the heading is incorrect. Where does the slip come in?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
On a point of Order. May I direct your attention to Vote 10, "Works, Buildings, and Repairs at Home and Abroad," rather implying that it is for capital expenditure, and if I understand the hon. Member aright, this point is not dealing with capital expenditure but the ordinary repairs of ships. On Vote 10, under the heading, "Works, Buildings, and Repairs at Home and Abroad," are these words: "To defray the expense of works, buildings, and repairs at home and abroad."
§ Mr. AMERY
May I submit that the difficulty is this: Vote 8, Section I, deals with the personnel engaged on the repairs in the dockyards; Vote 8, Section II, deals with the materiel employed in that same work, and I suggest that the question of ship repairing can be discussed from the point of view of the materiel expenditure required in carrying it out as well as from the point of view of the men required to do it.
§ Sir B. FALLE
I was, and if I am allowed to discuss the repairs to ships I thought I should be allowed to discuss the place in which the ships were repaired. That might, however, be a, little extension of your ruling, and so I will not press it.
§ Mr. AMMON
There are not a great number of points with which I have to deal at the present moment. The first was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Portsmouth (Sir T. Brasmsdon), and had to do with the use of Metropolitan Police in the dockyards and their substitution by Royal Marines and others. That point has already been met. The Metropolitan Police have now been substituted by the Royal Marines who are used in our naval armament establishments, and at this moment I think I ought to take credit to the Admiralty for that fact. I announced it in my opening statement in introducing the Estimates, but it may have been overlooked in the great mass of detail, and I am glad to have had this further opportunity of bringing it to the notice of the hon. Gentleman. He raised another point, a complaint to the effect that ex-naval clerical ratings are not allowed to sit for the Grade 3 examination. Grade 3 clerks are dockyard civilians, and the examinations are governed by the Civil Service Regulations, which exclude these pensioners. It is not a matter that the Admiralty can alter, but some other Department will have to be pressed by my hon. Friend to see whether that particular reform can be brought about.
I want to deal now with the point which the hon. Member raised about vocational training. While it is true that vocational training is not as widespread as we should like it to be, there has been a pretty fair start made in this connection, and arrangements have been made at the home ports to institute vocational training in trades suitable to men when they go back into civil life. Particular attention is given to it for men in their final year of service, and arrangements have been made for them to join municipal and technical schools in different parts and to get instruction in certain subjects. It is true that for the most part the funds are provided by the fees paid by the men themselves, and, of course, by grants which come from the education authori- 741 ties, but I hope that this matter may prove so successful in future that there will be a representative from the Admiralty with courage enough to stand at this box and ask for the money to take it over wholly. I can assure the hon. Member that we will leave nothing undone to extend this vocational training as and when opportunity arises.
As to the point raised by the hon. Member for Greenock (Sir G Collins), it is true that to a large extent it seems that some charge would lie with regard to over-Budgeting by the Admiralty, but it would not be, to use a colloquialism, playing the game if one should let it go quite at that, without having regard to the factors that contributed to that over-Budgeting, especially during the last year. The one that occurred to my mind immediately, and the most serious, was that the boilermakers' lock-out extended over a considerable period and delayed the construction of those capital ships now on the stocks, which would have taken up a great deal of money that was granted under the last Budget. My hon. Friend shakes his head, but he is surely not seriously suggesting that capital ships can be built for a trifle in these days?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I do not want to inter into controversy with my hon. Friend, but the figures I quoted were for 1922–23, and I think, if my memory serves me correctly, the boilermakers dispute was in 1923, the year after.
§ Mr. AMMON
I admit that I was referring to last year, but, even then, there is hardly ever a year in which there have not been trade disputes or other factors which have delayed work and thrown out of gear all the arrangements, and dockyards are particularly susceptible to this sort of thing. Then, last year, of course, there was the effect of the Geddes axe, and there was the cutting down of the programme adumbrated by my right hon. Friend opposite, and I am guilty of presenting a much smaller programme than he suggested, which would also account for a considerable reduction. I am defending, as I know he would do, in like circumstances, the Estimates from the point of view of those who were in office immediately before me, whatever politics might be represented. So much for the past. As to the present, so far as we are concerned, we have taken 742 serious heed of the letter from the Treasury, and it has already been expressed to me by one, who shall be nameless, of the officials in one Department that they did not expect they were going to get a lot with a Yorkshireman and a Scotsman at the Treasury. We have endeavoured to budget in such a way that we shall not have the charge of overbudgeting repeated against us on the occasion of the Estimates next year.
§ Mr. AMERY
May I just say one word to supplement the clear explanation given by the hon. Gentleman as to the over-budgetting. There have been exceptional circumstances. Very heavy war charges were anticipated which, in some cases, owing to the devoted labours of the Admiralty staff, were substantially reduced far below any that originally might have been supposed they could reasonably be cut down to. Then again in connection with the suggestions of the Geddes Committee, the Admiralty have gone to the lowest point to cut down, consistently with other considerations, and in trying to produce detailed economies in fulfilment of the pledge given to the Cabinet. This is a matter for which I do not wish to take credit for those on this side of the House, but I should like that the credit due should be given to the Admiralty staff for their services in this matter. Other economics were forced upon us, and in many matters in which the House voted certain things the Treasury managed successfully to carry on a correspondence until such a time that it was impossible to spend all the money within the year. I want to say just one other word in defence of the Department against the criticism of the Treasury, and that is that our over-budgetting, and that of other service Departments, was a small thing compared with the £40,000,000 to £100,000,000 a year of over-budgetting which the Treasury Bench managed to get during the last three years.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
How grave is the over-budgeting by the Admiralty is seldom realised. In my opening remarks I was not anxious to weary the House with figures, but in view of what has been said, and in view of the Treasury letter only having been sent to the Admiralty on the 22nd of June, may I remind the Committee of the following facts? From the Financial Statement published with 743 the Budget the House of Commons was informed that the Naval Estimates 1923–24 amounted to £58,000,000, while the actual expenditure was only £52,000,000. In view of the £9,000,000 which the Labour Government are spending this year in excess of the actual expenditure of last year—that is the contribution they are asking from the taxpayer this year—I suggest to the First Lord of the Admiralty that in this particular Vote he will apply his pruning knife ruthlessly and drastically so that the taxpayers in the coming year may receive, and may expect to receive, further reductions in taxation.
§ Question put, and agreed to.