Mr. WILLIAM ADAMS0N
I beg to move,That, in the opinion of this House, the decision to close His Majesty's Dockyards at Rosyth and Pembroke was taken without due regard to the Government's responsibilities to Parliament, to the municipalities concerned, and to the workmen affected.In moving the Resolution which stands in the name of my right hon. Friends and myself, I can assure the House that the sudden and unexpected decision to reduce the Rosyth dockyard to a care and maintenance basis has not only caused dismay and indignation in Dunfermline, which will have to bear the brunt of the financial burden, but all over Scotland, among all classes of the community. National sentiment has been deeply touched, as has been demonstrated in a most remarkable way by all the newspapers in Scotland, including such national newspapers as the "Scotsman" in the East and the "Glasgow Herald" in the West, and by all our local bodies. The reason for this remarkable demonstration of national sentiment is not difficult to find. Pride in the home land and its distinguished place among the nations has been for centuries one of the dominating influences of our race. In the building up of the British Empire Scotland has ever borne its full share of the labour and sacrifices involved, and, therefore, must be accorded a fitting place and fair treatment within the United Kingdom, unless our English friends want to see the partnership speedily dissolved.
I can assure the House that nothing that has occurred in recent years has done more to strengthen the rapidly growing demand for Scottish Home Rule than this foolish and fruitless gesture on the part of the Admiralty to show economy that really cannot be obtained by the closing of this dockyard. If the Admiralty and the Government think that we have reached the time when we could do without a Navy and without dockyards, I am certain that no part of the United Kingdom will more readily agree than Scotland. We will welcome the time when we can afford to do without navies and without Royal dockyards, but so long as these are essential to the well being of 855 the United Kingdom then, as we pay our share of the money required for running them, we insist and are entitled to insist on getting our fair share of the money that is spent in running these national departments. [Laughter]. The people of Scotland, notwithstanding the display of mirth by hon. Members, pay their full share of the taxation necessary for running the United Kingdom. I think an examination of the national balance sheet will prove what I am saying to be correct. When we come to spending the money so raised, the people of Scotland have always had the idea that they do not get their fair share of the money spent within the United Kingdom. I am not saying that there is as big a disparity as some of our people believe, but an analysis of the national balance sheet will undoubtedly prove that Scotland does not get as big a share of the money that is spent within the United Kingdom in proportion to population, as does England. An analysis of the national balance sheet will prove that, beyond the shadow of a doubt. The closing of Rosyth will undoubtedly accentuate that feeling. It will increase the feeling of injustice as far as Scotland is concerned.
Only two reasons have been given up to the present for the action of the Admiralty. The first is, that in view of the developments at Singapore and in the Mediterranean there is a redundancy of of dockyards at home. If that be so, why close the most efficient and most up-to-date dockyard in existence, according to the statement may by no less an authority than Admiral Lord Beatty. It is true that since he made that statement Lord Beatty would seem to have changed his opinion somewhat, and is now beginning to criticise the amateur strategists who are standing up for continuing the dockyard at Rosyth on its present basis. If these amateur strategists are wrong, Lord Beatty is largely responsible for leading them astray, because that statement, made in 1919, was either a statement that he believed, or it was made under the influence of a good dinner and the presentation of the freedom of Dunfermline. He can have it any way he likes. He can have his choice. Further comment is needless. Fortunately, we are not dependent on Lord Beatty alone for such a statement in 856 connection with Rosyth. I find that the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty in 1922, after the Washington Conference, when reductions in naval armaments had been agreed to, stated thatThe unrivalled docks built at Rosyth, capable of taking the largest ships and fitted up with the most up-to-date plant and appliances, make it certain that Rosyth will be permanently used for docking the capital ships of the Navy.Admiral Sir Henry Bruce pointed out that from the Armistice until March, 1920, they had been able to dock and refit 78 capital ships, 182 light cruisers and 37 small craft at Rosyth. Among the capital ships was the "Hood." He added that there were only two dockyards in the United Kingdom where the "Hood'' could be docked, namely, Portsmouth and Rosyth. I understand that at Portsmouth the "Hood" can only be taken in to a floating dock, which involves far greater difficulties.
§ Major Sir BERTRAM FALLE
There is no dock at Portsmouth to take the "Hood." There are two docks which will do that, but if they be occupied by the "Hood" the whole dockyard is blocked.
That is all the more reason for retaining Rosyth. Admiral Sir John Green stated, in July of this year:Rosyth is the only dockyard in the United Kingdom at which, at any state of the tide, during the day or the night, the whole of the Grand Fleet can anchor off the dockyard.He added:It is a 100 per cent. dockyard. It is absolutely up-to-date for docking and repairing ships. In case of war, it is further off from potential enemies than any of our other dockyards, and is, therefore, immune from attack from the air.The Admiral concluded by deploring the decision of the Admiralty to close the yard. In such circumstances the choice of Rosyth as one of the yards to be closed, instead of some of the less efficient yards, well afford some of our Continental friends scope for mirth. Some of them have never fully understood us as a nation, and the latest decision of the Admiralty will not illumine their darkness. The second reason given, up to the present, for the closing of Rosyth is economy. In Scotland we are prepared to bear our share of any sacrifices necessary in the interests of economy, but we insist that these economies, if they are 857 to be made, must fall equally on all sections of the United Kingdom. We protest against the idea of any economies being borne by Scotland and not by England. If this Admiralty decision is persisted in, that is exactly what will take place: you are economising at the expense of Scotland.
Let us carry the argument for economy a little further. I ask the First Lord whether he is sure that the closing of Rosyth will really be an economy. The first figure that we had as to the economies to be effected, was £160,000 a year, but I see in the latest statement, the White Paper which was issued yesterday, that he has increased that sum to a certain extent. I am bound to say, in connection with the White Paper, that there is no detail from which one can make practical comparisons of the savings to be effected at Rosyth and at other dockyards. The First Lord puts the figure for the saving by the closing of both Rosyth and Pembroke at something like £328,000 per annum. If we had details it could be clearly shown that that figure of £328,000 is much exaggerated. I do not know what the Government's liabilities will be in connection with the closing of the Pembroke Dockyard, but, taking Rosyth alone, I have a list of the Government's financial responsibilities if they are going to recompense local authorities for the outlays made. It is not conceivable that they will simply close the dockyard and say to the locality, "You must bear the whole brunt of the burden."
Here is a list of the financial responsibilities that must be deducted from the saving of £328,000. Already on the housing there is a Government subsidy of £25,448 a year. The closing of Rosyth will mean that many of those houses will be empty, and, if not empty, they will be filled by unemployed men drawing unemployment benefit and unable to pay rent. That, I calculate, will mean an additional burden for housing of £27,200 on the Admiralty annually. The rate contributions by the Admiralty and Treasury on Government property at Rosyth is £21,053. Their liability to the Dunfermline District Committee of the Fire County Council for the water undertaking is £10,880. The losses to the local education authority and parish council in the way of occupiers' rates on vacant houses and reduced rates, I calculate will amount to nearly £4,000 858 a year. Dunfermline Town Council's annual deficit on the Rosyth administration area is £13,000 per annum. The interest on the ground purchased and the feu duty on the ground leased by the Admiralty for their own purposes at Rosyth will amount to no less than £7,000 per annum. There is at the moment an outstanding account between the Admiralty and the borough of Dunfermline for accumulated losses representing a sum of £80,000, and, if the interest on that sum is met, you add to that annual responsibility which must be carried by the Admiralty and deducted from any saving which the State will accomplish by the closing of the dockyard. In addition, at least 2,000 men will be thrown idle, and I calculate that the payment of unemployment insurance benefit to them will cost about £100,000 a year. The first Lord stated recently that some of the permanent men are to be taken from Rosyth to Southern dockyards, but he was not sure if there would be housing accommodation for them, and he said it might be necessary for a time to pay separation allowances to the families of these men.
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Bridgeman)
That has been provided for in the calculation in the White Paper.
What I wish to say in regard to that matter is that there is not a single detail given in the White Paper, and we cannot by reading the White Paper find whether that liability has been given effect to or not. The two classes of liabilities which I have mentioned involves a sum considerably over £200,000 between recurrent and non-recurrent responsibilities, which the Admiralty will have to discharge. The Chancellor of the Enchequer, speaking on the Navy Vote, in August last, in favour of a grant by this House to the Admiralty of an additional sum of £58,000,000 for the next seven years to provide a new building programme, said the Admiralty had promised considerable savings in administration which could be taken as a set-off against that huge sum. That £58,000,000, plus £11,000,000 required for the work at Singapore—which is part of the Admiralty's policy for the time being — make a sum of something like £69,000,000 over a period of seven years. The first set-off we get is a sum of less than £69,000. The Government take 859 £69,000,000 with one hand and offer to the country with the other hand a set-off representing less than £69,000. An economy of that kind is too funny for words.
I ask the First Lord and the Parliamentary Secretary, what they intend to do to discharge their responsibilities to the borough of Dunfermline? Originally, a promise was made that if the borough authority developed the Rosyth area they would be assured of an income sufficient to cover their outlay. That assurance was given by the Parliamentary Secretary of that day, Dr. Macnamara. It was also given by Sir George McCrea who, at that time, was President of the Scottish Local Government Board. It was given by Sir Edward Raban, who was Director of Works at the Admiralty at that date. It was pointed out by Sir Edward Raban that there would be such a development of Rosyth as would ultimately recoup the local authority for any outlay made in the development of the area. Already they have spent in the development of that area £250,000. A quarter of a million has been spent by that little community, and I ask the First Lord or the Parliamentary Secretary to say specifically, if they insist on closing the dockyard, what are they prepared to do to discharge their responsibilities to this borough? Already there is an accumulated loss of £80,000 so far as the borough is concerned. Their representative, accompanied by the Member for the constituency and myself, again and again interviewed the officials of the Admiralty regarding this figure of £80,000, but the Admiralty refuse to recognise their responsibility. They refuse on the ground that there is no contract in writing. There is, however, not a shadow of doubt but that the officials of the Admiralty of that day led the Town Council of Dunfermline to believe that if the Council spent the money necessary for the development of Rosyth they would be recouped for the expenditure. I now ask what the Admiralty intend to do by way of discharging that righteous and equitable responsibility?
My concluding point is that, important as are the matters with which I have already dealt, I think the greatest tragedy of all involved in the closing of Rosyth is its effect upon the population of 10,000 people who have been brought there from all parts of the United 860 Kingdom. They have been brought from England and Wales, and all parts of Scotland, and have been settled down at Rosyth under housing conditions which may possibly be described as the best to be found in any part of the United Kingdom. We call that part of the 'borough the "Garden City." The Prime Minister was speaking in Scotland recently and he condemned in no unmeasured terms the housing provided for people in certain parts of the country. But here is a community housed under very reasonable conditions, which the Prime Minister and his Government, at the bidding of the Admiralty, are prepared to make derelict. They are prepared to tear that little community up by the roots and ask them to go elsewhere and find employment, and that, at a time when employment cannot be found. That is the greatest tragedy involved in the whole proposal for the closing of Rosyth.
I hope that the House will not agree to the carrying out of the proposals put forward by the Admiralty, because I am convinced that, neither on the ground of making the best use of our available material, so far as naval defence is concerned, nor on the ground of economy, nor on the ground of justice and fair play to that population which has been brought there can the decision of the Admiralty to close Rosyth be justified. The proposal, I am convinced, is purely and simply a gesture on the part of the Admiralty to make the country believe that they are prepared to economise as a set-off for the millions that they got in the course of the present Session of Parliament for naval development. I believe that, from the figures I have already given, the House will be convinced that, so far as Rosyth is concerned, no economy will be effected, and that, even taking the ground of economy, it is simply a gesture in order to placate the country for the big sum that the Admiralty got quite recently. I hope that before the House decides to give effect to the decision, a full inquiry will be made into all the circumstances. If the Admiralty can justify the steps that they are taking, that will be a different matter, but up to the present neither in the former statement nor in the statement that has been issued to-day is there a single particle of justification for this policy so far as economy is concerned.
It is with some fear and trembling that I rise to say a word in regard to the closing of Pembroke Dock, which is associated in the Resolution with Rosyth, in face of the hilarity, which I am sorry to see, displayed in regard to some of the remarks made by the right hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. W. Adamson), when he was talking with regard to economy, especially from those hon. and right hon. Members who are representing other naval interests in this House. I venture to say that Government Departments have done some crazy things in their time, but the decision to close Pembroke Dockyard, for which I am speaking more especially, is very unwise, and we have some measure of complaint with respect to Pembroke Dock especially It will be, for instance, of some interest to know why the decision was taken to close Pembroke Dock during the time that Parliament was not sitting, and we are asking, in the closing words of the last speaker, that no drastic step shall be taken until some inquiry, either in the form of a Committee or through some other machinery appointed, has been made into this question. I do not propose to traverse the ground already covered, but I wish to point out that I think there is a special case with regard to Pembroke Dock. I shall leave the details, more or less, to the hon. Member for that county to deal with, and I want to say, at the very beginning, that those who will be speaking with regard to both Rosyth and Pembroke Docks are as anxious to study economy and to save money in the interests of the taxpayers as anybody else, but we want to show, if we can by the figures, that there will be no economy for some years at any rate.
It is very peculiar, but it is true, that we have had a recurrent agitation for some years with respect to the closing of Pembroke Dock, and I want to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty if he thinks it is a wise step to take, to estrange Wales. It is true we are a small nationality in Wales, but in regard to all that has been said by the right hon. Member for West Fife as to loyalty and assisting the Government of this country, I claim that Wales has been as loyal as any other part of the United Kingdom whenever the occasion has arisen to show that loyalty. This is the only dockyard on the West coast, and my right hon. Friend's 862 claims in regard to the "Hood" and other great battleships that go to Rosyth can be reinforced ten times over in regard to Pembroke. I am not an authority, but I could quote naval experts to show that Pembroke Dock is more sheltered, if we are going to have an invasion or an attack from the air, than any other harbour or dock in the United Kingdom. In 1921, when the last agitation was on foot for the closing of Pembroke Dock, there were employed and engaged in the yard somewhere about 2,200 men, and after a good deal of agitation and opposition on our part, to compress the thing into a sentence, we believed that a common agreement was arrived at, and, in the words of the First Lord of the Admiralty at that time, the Yard was by common consent reduced to a permanent basis of 1,200 men.
At that time, there were 800 thrown out of employment amongst the hired section of the dockyard, and they have been there ever since, unable to find any employment, and at the present moment, if the dockyard is closed, the same thing will apply. Some of the men from Pembroke at that time were taken to the south and some to Rosyth. At the present time, I understand, the project is that about 400 to 500 established men will be taken to other dockyards, and, roughly speaking, about 800 hired men will be discharged entirely. Those 800 men are more or less special men. They have been trained, and they are fitted and highly skilled for this work, but for no other work. But the tragedy of the whole thing is that no other industry of any kind exists in the neighbourhood, or for many miles round. Indeed, since the reduction in 1921, over 800 men have been unemployed in the town.
I leave the question with regard to the transfer of these men to the other yards, but I should like to say a word with regard to the saving that has been put forward, namely, at the outside, between £60,000 and £70,000 a year. I think we have a legitimate and sound complaint that the figures in this White Paper are concentrated in one lump sum, so that we are not really able to examine them, as I complained to the First Lord last night outside this House. It is quite common knowledge—I say to without any offence. I hope—that we do not get from the Admiralty Department, 863 in answer to questions put on the floor of this House, the same set of figures in any consecutive weeks. One does not like to say so, but we are driven to the conclusion that this manipulation of the figures is intentional and made to fog us. I want the First Lord to tell us when he comes to reply, whether we can get the figures for Rosyth and Pembroke Dock separately. If they are available, why have they not been set out in this White Paper, so that each dockyard could make out its own case, and we could know exactly where we are?
At the present time, at Pembroke Dock there are 1,600 houses, roughly speaking, owned by the workmen or dockyard pensioners, and the remaining 900 are owned by the tradespeople of the locality. These houses represent a capital value somewhere in the region of £1,000,000. They have been built out of the life savings of the working class population of the dockyard, and if there is no alternative work to be found for the workpeople there, the town will be entirely denuded of wage-earners, and the whole population will be dependent entirely on unemployment relief, and ultimately the town will become derelict and a ruin. In addition to that, there is the town of Pembroke close by. It is within the knowledge of all Members of the House as to what the shutting down of an, industry means. There are 16,000 people entirely dependent on this dockyard, and, without going into the various commitments, it would be well to point out that since 1921, when we believed we had come to an agreement that the dockyard would be retained on a permanent basis, the commitments alone have been £50,000 for various amenities required in the shape of new water schemes, sewerage, moneys expended upon schools, roads and so forth. If the dockyard is to be closed down, after an existence of 100 years or more, we shall want to know what is to become of, at least, the £900,000 estimated as claims for compensation as the result of the closing down of the dockyard. Of course they comprise items similar to those put forward by the right hon. Member for West Fife in the case of Rosyth.
I want to conclude by saying, as has been already pointed out, that we are as loyal as any other part of the Kingdom in. this matter, but we have no answer at 864 all when our people call attention to the figures in connection with the Admiralty Board. We find that the personnel of the Fleet has been reduced by about one-third during the last few years. In 1914 it was 151,000, in round figures. In 1924, it was 103,000. Our ships numbered 566 in 1914, and 349 in 1924. The staff at the Admiralty in the middle of the War, when the War was almost at its fiercest, numbered 4,366. On the 31st March, 1925, the staff at the Admiralty was 8,771. Although there is no German menace, the German fleet being at the bottom of the sea, we have the Admiralty staff swollen to twice the size. Then turn to the astonishing figures given on Wednesday, 9th December, in an answer to a question put by an hon. Member with regard to the number of naval officers attached to Admiralty Headquarters. Immediately before the War there were 152. Last month the number was 261. While the cost in 1914 was £102,000, this year it was £288,000.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENW0RTHY
The reason is that before the War we had practically no naval staff, apart from the administrative officials. Now we have something of a naval staff, and a jolly good thing, too.
I do not think the interruption of the hon. and gallant Gentleman has a very great bearing on the fact that it is more than doubled. In regard to the Naval officers, there must be some explanation as to why the staff is costing the nation three times the amount it did in 1914. The cost in 1914 was £483,000, and for the year ending 31st March, 1925, £1,246,000. You propose to close down the two dockyards, the only one in Scotland and the only one in Wales. I think it is a great scandal; if there are to be economies commenced upon anybody it should begin at the Admiralty staff; we have so much less fleet, a less number of ships, and a less number of men.
I am afraid I am taking up time, but I do want to point out again that I think that this is a very unwise step, apart from the closing of the dockyard. If you want to take a step to estrange our nationality from having anything in common with the other parts of the United Kingdom this is the proper way to do it; the proper steps 865 to take. You cannot expect otherwise, if you are going to bring ruin and desolation upon a county, and not only upon a town, upon Pembroke and the docks, but almost upon the county town of Pembroke in closing down the dockyard. I want again to make an appeal, which has been put forward by deputations, and has the assent of many Members, I want to make a final appeal to-day to this House to agree to our resolution, and not accept the decision of the Government. We suggest that a Committee should be appointed. I want to say, on behalf of Wales in general, that it will be a crime to put Pembroke Dock upon a care and maintenance basis. It will mean at the outside something between 50 and 60 men will be kept, probably 100. I ask hon. Members to realise what that will mean for Pembroke Dock. I would rather, if the Board of Admiralty come to the conclusion that Pembroke Dock is not required, that they should clear out altogether from Pembroke Dock, leave it and leave the town, buy up the whole of the machinery and everything, and allow a commercial firm or anybody else who may to come in.
As I understand it the care and maintenance of a place means that the Board of Admiralty will keep control of the dockyards, so that whenever an emergency does arise they will have power and authority to step in and take over the dockyard, at least within three or four weeks of any emergency arising. I think it would be far preferable for Pembroke Dock to face the situation, and let the naval authorities clear out, bag and baggage, leave the dockyard people there, and let them fight their own way. It would be far better than to have a slow starvation policy by keeping the dockyard and this machinery idle, and allow the people of the town gradually to drift into starvation and poverty. Wales does not deserve that at the hands of the Government, after what Wales has done in the past. I hope it will not be taken as a threat, for I do not intend it to be, but I do want to repeat that this kind of treatment meted out to the nation which has proved itself as well as any other part of the United Kingdom in the past, to the people at Pembroke Dockyard, the only dockyard on the west coast—is pitiable. If action is required for strategical purposes then either the Government should provide alternative employment, or in 866 some form allow the people of the town entirely to take over the dockyard.
§ 12.0 N.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I desire Mr. Speaker to thank my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty for his courtesy in permitting me to come in, before his intervention in debate. I have just risen to support my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Rhondda (Lt.-Col. Watts-Morgan) in the very lucid and powerful plea that he has put forward for the retention of the dockyards. He expressed the opinion of the Welsh Members without distinction of creed or party. I stood at those Benches thirty years ago, and put before the authorities the same plea for Pembroke Dockyard. There was then an effort on the part of the Admiralty to go through this process of pinching it to death, of reducing its rations, and that means its becoming a living skeleton, an anguish to its friends and a disgrace to the Department. That was the plea that I remember very well Members about 30 years ago, sitting on those benches, put forward. I really forget whether it was a Liberal or Conservative Government in office at the time, but, at any rate, they had enough sense to listen to what we had to say. I do hope my right hon. Friend will not be less accessible to the appeal to his reason than his distinguished predecessor in office.
What does the Admiralty propose to do? I know further economy is undoubtedly urgent. We have all been pressing that upon the Admiralty. But this is the kind of economy that discredits economy. It arouses sentiment against it. One feels that it is not economy but something else. It is not even a penny wise and pound foolish policy. When you are spending £50,000,000 or £60,000,000 upon cruisers which are not needed in the least to meet any visible enemy on the horizon, when you are spending £10,000,000 or £20,000,000 upon Singapore, after the Japanese earthquake your idea of economy is to save, two years hence, £200,000 a year, while completely obliterating a whole town as though it had been Pompeii or Herculaneum simply buried by ashes coming from the volcano on the Treasury Bench. I hope my hon. Friend will restrain his volcanic energies in this regard, and not pour out his dust and cinders upon this 867 poor miserable Welsh town. Let him spare the town, which has deserved well of the country, which has rendered very great service in the past. Again, I am very doubtful about this £200,000 being saved. I shall be very surprised if it comes to that amount. Just see what it means? I apologise if I am repeating any of the arguments which my hon. Friend has put forward and put forward so well. Take what has happened here. I am not going to draw any comparison between the advantages and disadvantages of Rosyth and Pembroke, because we want the support in this matter of North, South, East and West. My right hon. Friend knows perfectly well what has happened with regard to Pembroke. On the strength not of an undertaking, but of an assumption, which Government after Government have given countenance to, the working men there have built their own houses. I have been given two figures; according to one estimate they have spent £1,000,000 on those houses, and another estimate is £653,000. They have put the whole of the savings of a lifetime into those houses. Now they have to leave them. There can be no alternative employment there unless the Government clear out of the way and make an apportunity for it, because one certainly will not get alter native employment so long as the Government say "We are going to keep a hold upon this place. Whoever goes there, it must be on the clear under standing that they will have to go out if ever this place is wanted by the Government again." Nobody will go there to start any business under those conditions. Therefore, the Government's action is depriving these men of the earnings of a lifetime—£650,000 of their hard earnings have practically gone by the decree of the Government.
We have heard a good deal of vested interests, and know how they stand in the way of everything, and how, when it is a question of property, we have got to pay and to pay through arbitration. How much are these poor working men to get for the earnings of a lifetime which they have invested, on the strength of their confidence in the honour of the British Government? I have never heard. There has not been a word about it. I do not think it is fair that the First Lord of the 868 Admiralty should make a defence solely on the ground of economy without saying one word of what he is going to do to relieve these people, frugal, hardworking, saving, sober, who put all their savings into these houses. What are the Government going to do for them to save them from utter bankruptcy and beggary, because that is what it will mean? Here is a town going to be wiped out. It is a serious thing, it is a sad thing. I do not know anything comparable to it in this country, anything comparable to it at all. I have been trying to think of any precedents. I cannot see them anywhere. It has never happened at all.
Let me put it from the point of view of the treatment of a part of the United Kingdom. As my right hon. Friend knows, there is no part of the Kingdom that, in proportion to its population, contributes more to the British Navy than Wales. Although we live in the mountains, our mountains are high enough for us to see the sea from almost any part of our little land, and there is the eternal fascination of the sea. It is with the greatest difficulty in the world that farmers can keep their sons from going to sea. They can see the steamers and the sailing ships passing to and fro, and there is for these men the eternal attraction of what is beyond, the horizon. That is why so many Highlanders also go to sea. We find them in all our big liners, and we find Welshmen also; and they are generally drawn from the land.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
There is no reason why there should be any conflict with the West Country. They are also Celts, even if their representatives are not. In the counties of Devon and Cornwall there are very large seafaring populations, and you find many of those men in the British Navy. But I never crossed the Channel in a torpedo-destroyer during the war without meeting with young Welshmen, who came and greeted me in my native tongue. We find them everywhere. Even when the Government are economising, economising by spending £50,000,000 that is not needed, it may surely be worth the while of the Government to spend £200,000 in order to keep the one link between us and the Navy, of which we are as proud, 869 believe me, as any part of the Kingdom; as proud of the contribution we make to it as proud of its traditions, as proud of its glory as any part of the Kingdom. We do feel when it is proposed to cut us off from this great institution that has saved the liberties of the world during many centuries when they have been attacked by the most powerful enemies of freedom. We fought with this country and made our little contribution in the fight against the Spaniards when they were trying to trample on the liberties of the world. Then some of the best seamen we had came from this little town that is now to be devastated by the decree of the First Lord of the Admiralty. Some of them, it is true, were called "buccaneers ". They always call reformers "buccaneers," especially if they defend liberty. They were very glad to get these sons of Pembroke then, and they have been from generation to generation and from century to century; and I beg the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider this act which is going to snap the link between the little principality and the Navy in which it feels so much pride.
I remember that when the Irish Members were here Haulbowline was kept alive not so much because it was needed —it was not a very convenient place to have; from the point of view of economy nobody could have defended it—but from the sentimental point of view that it would have been folly to close it. [HON MEMBERS: "Votes!"] No, it was not a question of votes. It was not. It was a little beyond that. I hope hon. Members opposite will give the statesmanship of the past the credit of not being altogether dominated by votes. Great statesmen are generally all very respectable people; and hon. Members might give them the credit that in the past they had in their minds an idea that it was a good thing to associate Ireland with the British Navy, and so it was. My right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty ought to consider this point before he finally shuts down this little chapter in Welsh history before he says "No, not even £200,000 a year is to be spent there"; because we in Wales have no shipyards like Scotland has. This is our sole association with the British Navy, and the right hon. Gentleman, who lives on the borders of Wales, 870 within sight of its hills—I wonder how he dare face them this Christmas? I ask him, I beg him, not to do this.
In my final word—and I promised to be brief, especially as I owe my intervention at this early stage to the courtesy of others—I would like to say to him "Are the Admiralty quite convinced that their decision is wise?" When the enemy were in the east, when we wanted our yards there, when the ships had to go back and forth there for repairs and for shelter, it was a different matter, although even then it would have been a very good thing for us if we had had this magnificent natural harbour better equipped. It is just at the point of the greatest danger to our commerce—on the route to Liverpool, Bristol, Cardiff—all the great ships coining along the south coast of Ireland. Let him take a map. I have seen a map published by the Admiralty showing the submarine sinkings, which are very striking. I wish the Admiralty had seen that map before they decided to close Pembroke Dock because it is in the region which is within easy access of Pembroke where most of the sinkings along that coast took place. Here you have a magnificent natural harbour. I am not going to dwell upon possible enemies because that is to make real enemies, and therefore I am not going to do it. But I can talk about past enemies. I would like to point out that the menace of Germany in the North Sea has gone, and therefore if there is a menace to-day at all it is certainly no longer there. Of course the Atlantic is there and, I do not know what menace there is in this direction, but if there be a menace that is the spot where our commerce would be attacked. Therefore I say to my right hon. Friend do not for the sake of a trifling economy obliterate a whole town, thus taking away the savings of a lifetime of men who have honestly served their sovereign, and done honest work for their country. I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to cut every connection between a very little population who have always served their country as best they could in every part of this Empire, and I ask him not to inflict upon us the dishonour of depriving us of the pride we feel in having had such close relations with that great Navy which has saved the world.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
The last time I had the pleasure of addressing this House, the Admiralty were freely criticised on the ground of extravagance, and hon. Members made various suggestions for economy which they hoped would be carried out. Now I am in the position of having to defend myself and the Admiralty for carrying out the very suggestions made in this House and elsewhere, and which were urged upon the Admiralty in the Debate in the House on the 29th July last. It is certainly more difficult to defend ourselves for being economical than it is to defend ourselves against the charge of extravagance, especially when we have had to listen to speeches like that of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and who has based his argument entirely on a question of sentiment, and that sentiment is one which must appeal to everyone in this House because there is in every quarter of the House a feeling that men are being turned out of work without any certainty of re-employment, and that is something which we cannot contemplate without regret, and we can only justify doing it under stress of necessity.
But after all in other great centres of the industry they are finding the same difficulty. Many of our mines and factories and great shipbuilding yards find themselves unable to carry on. You have this kind of distress occurring there in a very similar manner, and the only difference I can see between a case of that sort and the case we are discussing to-day is that in the one case the Government are the employers and in the other they are not. If that is to be taken as a correct description of the state of things now existing then you have to lay down this rule that the Government must never take action of this sort merely on the ground of economy, and you will have to say "No, you have to give up any idea of economy rather than do such things." That is what it amounts to in plain reason. If ever there was a time when I think one might claim that the strictest and most searching economy has been impressed upon the Government this surely is the time, and when we are told as we were told in the Motion which has been moved by the right hon. Gentleman opposite that this has been done without due regard to 872 Government responsibility to Parliament, that is really a distortion of the facts, because this has been done directly as the result of the Debate in this House to which I have referred and the decision of Parliament on that occasion. On that date by a majority of nearly two to one the House decided on the new programme of construction, and it was clearly set forth both by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and myself that in order to meet the extra cost of that construction the Admiralty undertook to look in every direction for economies which would go some way towards meeting that extra expenditure. That was clearly the decision of the House, and that decision the Admiralty and myself have loyally tried to carry out ever since.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
There is only one form of my economy which has been singled out for criticism, and I do not know whether the whole of my economies are going to be criticised in the same way. Of course, you cannot have the economies without putting somebody out of work.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
The hon. and gallant Member who interrupts me must consider the other side of the argument, which is that the Government must never have economies. The theory of giving up work in Government yards is that there will be more money left in the pockets of the taxpayer to give employment in other directions. On the occasion to which I have referred, Parliament gave a very clear expression of the views of hon. Members as to the necessity of such economies being put into force at the earliest possible moment. We commenced this policy front the very day of that decision, and set to work on the very day that the complex programme of the Government was decided upon. From that very day we set to work. The effect of that decision was that the programme which the Admiralty would have liked was postponed for a certain period from the time when the Admiralty wished to make a. beginning, and the effect of that postponement was that we found that in the course of the next six months, or in the latter part of the financial year, we should 873 have to discharge about 2,500 workmen from the dockyards of this country, because we should not have work for them to do.
Then came the question as to what was the most economical way of doing this, and I think it must be clear to everybody that, if you can do in four dockyards the work which is now being done in six, then that is the obvious economy, and one which ought to be made. What we are doing is to reduce the number of dockyards now used by the Admiralty from six to four. The Admiralty felt that it was their duty to say that they could carry on with four as well as with six, and to say that as early as they were able to make a decision. Of course, if that be conceded all round, there is no question that two of these dockyards must go. The question really is which two of the six. National sentiment has been brought in to enlist sympathy against closing one in Scotland, and national sympathy has been brought in to enlist sympathy against closing one, in Wales. I remember that in the Debate Scottish Members said that at any rate Pembroke ought to be shut down, and I have seen reports of speeches in Scotland to that effect; and, for all I know, Welsh Members Lave been going about saying the same thing with regard to Rosyth.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
Well, I withdraw that. I said that I had not read any such speeches by Welsh Members, but I have read speeches made in Scotland, and one at any rate was made in this House on 29th July to that effect. I can assure the House that neither the Admiralty nor I have been moved by any antipathy either to Scotland or to Wales. I have both Scottish and Welsh blood in my veins, and I have no animosity against either nationality. [Interruption] No, not half and half. We have been actuated by one consideration, and one consideration only, namely, which of these yards offer the greatest amount of economy and the greatest saving. We have gone very carefully into that question, and I do not say that it may not be necessary to close another yard. If there had been one closed in each country, I suppose everybody would have been satisfied. I wish, however, at present to go on this line; On what can 874 we save most? A great deal has been said about the strategic objections to closing Rosyth and Pembroke. It has been said, in the first place, that Rosyth is a very efficient yard with up-to-date machinery, and is one which ought to be kept up. But those who hold that view must remember that, although as regards battleships and large vessels, Rosyth is up-to-date, the original programme for Rosyth, which would have enabled the yard to deal with smaller vessels, was never carried out. Therefore, if the argument be that we ought to shut up, say, Chatham and make Rosyth an absolutely perfect yard, then we should have to have an immense amount of further equipment at Rosyth, and we should have to move thousands of people from the South of England to live there. You could not get that done under an expenditure of many millions —I should think it might run to £20,000,000—and that is a question which this House would not consider.
Mr. W. ADAMSON
Some of your leading naval experts say that Rosyth is now the most efficiently equipped yard in the kingdom, if not in the world.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
But they say it only in regard to capital ships, and that is the difficulty. If we are going to have one yard the most efficient of all, and make that the yard on which we rely most, then we shall have to remove from somewhere else an immense amount of equipment and a large number of people, the cost of which, of course, is absolutely prohibitive. That, I think, is a sufficient argument against any possibility of equipping Rosyth. Of course, if we had plenty of money it might be the counsel of perfection, but it is quite impossible in our present financial situation. Again, it has been said that both Rosyth and Pembroke are less accessible to attack from the air. If those attacks were coming from near at hand—Europe—that, I think, might be conceded as true, but it is not proposed that either Rosyth or Pembroke should be put permanently out of action. The proposition is that they should be kept in care and maintenance, so that if there were another war, which God forbid, it would be very easy to make use of them again in a very short time.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
That is where the distress comes in. I want to say a word or two about that later on. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for East Rhondda (Lieut.-Colonel Watts-Morgan) said that it would be much better if, instead of keeping Pembroke in care and maintenance, we cleared out altogether, and allowed some flourishing industry to take possession of the yard. That is a question which, of course, is deserving of consideration, and it is very gratifying to hear that there is some prospect of some large enterprise being initiated there.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I would rather make my speech in my own way. It has been suggested—I am dealing now with the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for East Rhondda (Lieut.-Colonel Watts-Morgan)—that there might be a possibility of someone taking over the whole thing, lock, stock and barrel, if only we imposed no restrictions.
Lieut.-Colonel WATTS - MORGAN
What I said was that, if it is not going to be closed down, but only put upon a care and maintenance basis, it is slow starvation. I should prefer the Government to clear out altogether and leave us to do the best we can. That is not what the right hon. Gentleman is saying now.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
; I do not think I have misrepresented the hon. and gallant Gentleman at all; I was trying to meet his point. His point was—and I hope he will not object this time—that it would be better to clear out altogether without any restriction, without a care and maintenance party, without any condition that the Government must be allowed to take it back again when required. The hon. and gallant Gentleman thinks it would be better to do that than to carry out what is at present proposed, and I say that that is worthy of consideration. I do not, however, believe that any requirements we might impose that this yard should, in the event of war, be given back to the Government for national use, would stand in the way of almost any enterprise that might be anxious to set up in Pembroke. At any rate, I am quite prepared to define and make as easy as I can the conditions on which we should require to resume possession of Pembroke; and, 876 moreover, I presume that, in case of war, under an Emergency Act, we could resume or take possession of any port or dock in Great Britain. Therefore, there is no reason to suppose that those conditions would be particularly onerous.
Then there was another point which was raised, both by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife and by the hon. and gallant Member for East Rhondda. They seemed to have a sort of idea that this was the only economy that the Admiralty were contemplating. At any rate, one economy out of many must come first, and this happens to be the first and most obvious one that we can effect. Do not let it be supposed, however, that this is the only one. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife asked us to compare it with the cost of a seven-years shipbuilding programme, but do not let it be supposed that the only economy that is going to be made is going to be made at the expense of Scotland or of Wales. The economies we are contemplating, which involve a very much larger sum than anything with which we are dealing to-day, will probably fall more heavily on people in this country than on those in Scotland or in Wales. Therefore, do not let them judge by merely one instance, and imagine that everything is going to be done at their expense.
Another point that they made, or endeavoured to make, was that the economy would be a very small one. They said that they did not believe the figures in the White Paper, but were sure they would turn out to be quite different. Well, these are the best calculations we can make, and I still think they are very close to the mark. Perhaps I may here answer a question which the hon. and gallant Member asked me about the division of the figures in the White Paper between Pembroke and Rosyth. I cannot give an absolutely categorical list of the exact division, but it may be taken roughly, that one-third of the total applies to Pembroke, and two-thirds to Rosyth.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
Yes. It is rather lees than one-third for Pembroke, and rather more than two-thirds for Rosyth. The hon. and gallant Member sug- 877 gested, however, that there were other expenses which would completely outweigh the saving we effected by closing these two yards, one of them being the amount of unemployment benefit that would be required. That is on the assumption that everyone who is discharged fails to get any other work, an assumption which I am afraid may come true to a considerable extent, at any rate at first. That, however, has not any bearing on the question of closing Pembroke and Rosyth. These 2,500 men will have to be discharged anyhow, and therefore, whether we close the dockyards or not, if they are not employed again they will come on to the Unemployment Fund. Therefore, the fact of closing or not closing these two dockyards has no bearing at all on the question. You cannot set that off against the saving on these yards. If the right lion. Gentleman (Mr. W. Adamson) is going to say that these 2,600 men ought not to be discharged, he may have some argument, but he does not say that. He says the men ought not to be discharged from Rosyth, and the hon. and gallant Member for East Rhondda says they ought to be discharged from Pembroke.
What is the difference to the nation if you save the pocket of the Admiralty, and transfer the liability to the Treasury? It is taking money out of one pocket, and putting it into the other.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
That is exactly what I thought the right hon. Gentleman had in mind—that we should not discharge these men at all anywhere.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
It is not because they happen to be at Pembroke or Rosyth. It does not make any difference if they are discharged anywhere in the country, because the effect on the Unemployment Fund is exactly the same. Now let me pursue the right hon. Gentleman's argument a little further. He says that these men ought not to be discharged—that we ought not to withdraw from one pocket of the Government something which is being put into another pocket. If, however, we are not to discharge these 2,500 men, this House must vote me some money in order to employ them. The House will 878 not expect me to keep at the taxpayers' expense men for whom we have no employment. The House has decide A what is the amount of money that we have to spend, and I have to work to that; and, if I am to find employment for these men I shall have to have more money voted by the House. That would be the result, according to the wish of the right hon. Gentleman, of my first attempt at economy.
Then he talked, in tremendously strong terms, of the claims which Dunfermline and other places wore going to make against the Government. He gave a long list of the compensations due. It is impossible to say exactly what compensation, may be due. One thing of course is clear, that as far as the housing company, I think it is, is concerned at Dunfermline, there is an obligation on the Scottish Office to compensate them if those houses happen to be unoccupied. We cannot be quite sure they will not be, but if they are as good as the Dunfermline people would have us believe possible, people will come from Edinburgh and elsewhere and live in them. Whatever compensation may be due cannot be calculated till we see whether those houses really are unoccupied or not. Again, whatever other claims the education authority and other people may have, will no doubt be put in. I do not think we ought to expect the Scottish municipal authorities to put in their claims at any lower sum than any other people would be likely to do. The right hon. Gentleman has stated the biggest possible sum he could have found—the most extravagant claim anyone could have made and says "That is what you will have to give." We must see those claims and we shall see how much they come to in real justice. It is impossible either for me or for him at this moment to say what the exact effect will be. The total annual saving is estimated to amount to over £1,000,000, £327,000 of which is due to the closing of the dockyards and the rest to the discharge of men. If the whole claims were conceded the amount would not prevent our having a very great economy, perhaps not quite so soon as we predict, but just about in time for the year in which the right hon. Gentleman and his friends expect to be in office and ready to carry out the economies in their own way.
879 One other weak spot in his argument about these claims on Rosyth was that he never seemed to balance on the other side the enormous gain Dunfermline and the neighbourhood have had in having the dockyard. Surely that must have been forgotten in his calculations, as he is such a fair-minded man. I am sure they are not ungrateful for the many advantages which have come to the district through having in the neighbourhood a very Healthy population, having sailors there who set an example to all on shore. I think I have proved that there is absolutely nothing in the charge that we had not had due regard to our responsibilities to the House of Commons. We have done what we have because of our responsibilities to the House of Commons. Now we are said not to have had due regard to the municipalities concerned or to the workmen. The hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Price), at a very early stage in these controversies, had a long talk with the Prime Minister by himself, and I have been constantly in touch with him ever since, and I am very much indebted to him for having listened to some suggestions I have made and for making a good many very useful suggestions himself, and I am very much obliged to him for the very frank and courteous way in which he has done everything he could in trying to help, and also for pointing out to me how it could best be done.
We have been trying very hard to think of ways in which these hardships could be mitigated, and he is making great efforts too, but at this stage I cannot say more than this, that if there is any chance of any firm coming in to occupy the dockyard or to set up a factory or anything else on our land the Admiralty will do its best to make it easier for them. For our own part we are trying to arrange a certain amount of work which, I hope, will help some of those who are discharged to tide over for some considerable period of months at any rate, both at Rosyth and at Pembroke. We are trying to arrange for a considerable number of ships which it has now been decided to scrap to be scrapped in those two yards, and so employ workmen who would otherwise have nothing to do.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
By contractors. Negotiations are not yet complete, but we-are doing all we can to arrange that a considerable amount of this shipbreaking shall be done, if possible, in those two yards. Furthermore, any other suggestions for relieving the hardships will be listened to, not only by the Admiralty, but, I am sure, by the Government and by the Prime Minister himself. The charge I find it most difficult to understand being formulated by hon. Members opposite is that we have not had due regard to the workmen concerned. I am surprised that they should be the people to bring that charge. When I pointed out that the building of four cruisers would employ 12,000 men for three years they showed their sympathy for the workmen by voting solidly against it. The hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. W. M. Watson) himself, in the Debate on 28th July, gave me thin advice in regard to economy. He advocated not only reducing the number of warships, but reducing the number of dockyards, and certainly the personnel inside the dockyards—as long as it was not at Rosyth.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
So will everybody give reasons why it should not be in their own constituency. He declared even at that time, later on in his speech, against any interference with Rosyth. But, as for the other places, they were to be reduced —certainly the personnel was to be reduced. Yet these hon. Members come and say that the party I represent are doing something, without any regard for the workmen. What regard had he for the workmen except those who might vote for him? What regard had the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite for the workmen and the wages that they might get when they voted against the four cruisers? They are not the right people to talk about employment and labour and about their being the only people with any sympathy for the workmen. They may say—and the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said so in the speech he was able to make before going up to Yorkshire— that we ought not to have built these cruisers. Is not that rather a ridiculous argument to use when you are asking for more work in the dockyards? You are 881 not to build cruisers but you are to keep every man in Pembroke and Rosyth fully occupied. What are they to do?
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether economies can be made in the Admiralty?
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
You will have plenty of time to discuss that when the Estimates come. If the hon. and gallant Member takes the trouble to read a very long answer which I gave, and which is printed in the OFFICIAL REPORT, he will see how they are occupied. Whether they can be reduced is a question that the Colwyn Committee is considering, and we have already reported a number of economies to the Colwyn Committee. I do not know whether we have yet reported on this staff. I do not think we have. It is being considered and until the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows the facts of the case, perhaps he will reserve his strictures and fulminations. I do not think it will be in order to discuss the Admiralty staff on this Motion. I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will take it from me that we are going into the question. It is not so easy as he and others think, partly because, as the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) said, we have now got a naval staff and we had not got that before the War. I cannot go into the reasons now, but what I want to say is this. We are told that it is wrong to build any new ships but we are yet to have our dock-yards fully occupied. What the men are to do, I do not know.
§ 1.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
You cannot argue in that way. If we were to agree to that principle it would mean simply this, that we would have no up-to-date ships, but would rely on the old vessels built before the lessons of the War were learned. We would keep an immense quantity of men with nothing better to do than patch up old ships which it would be more economical to scrap. We would be trying to make the country believe that, by patching up 882 a number of obsolete old ships and employing these men—at Rosyth and Pembroke of course—we were keeping the Navy efficient. It would be perpetrating a fraud on the people of this country by leading them to believe that, because we had a number of ships—no matter how old—ships that would be sunk the moment they came within reach of the enemy, we were keeping the Navy efficient. Here is an economy that can be made. Though there is great hardship we desire to mitigate it as much as we can. It can be done without impairing the efficiency of the Fleet and for that reason the Admiralty thought it their duty to recommend it. We should be very glad to employ any number of men in building new ships but we are not allowed to do so. We felt it is desirable to say that this is an economy that we can make without loss of efficiency and I hope the House will believe that we did our duty in making that statement.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
It is not often that I find myself coming to the support of the right hon. Gentleman. I am sure he will not mind my saying that on this occasion I agree with almost the whole of his speech and I only propose to say a few words in support of it. I have great sympathy with those hon. Members from Wales and Scotland who have raised their voices in protest against these necessary reductions. I have far lees sympathy for their colleagues and for some of my own colleagues on these benches who, I am sorry to say, have forgotten all their old dictums about economy, disarmaments and the peace of the world and are preparing to support and have supported this Motion. For Heaven's sake let us be consistent in this matter! One of the greatest strokes of ill-fortune last year was the precipitate action of the Admiralty under the Labour Government in rushing into the construction of new light cruisers. It was a grave stroke at the peace of the world, and I think they will admit it themselves. This is an even worse disservice to the things we have at heart. How are we to reap the fruits of Locarno, of the Dis-Armament Conference now being arranged at Geneva with great difficulty? We are bound to cause unemployment. To-day it is Rosyth and Pembroke, to-morrow it may be Woolwich or Chatham or some 883 great arsenal or works in Sheffield or elsewhere. Although Pembroke and Rosyth have been able to organise this agitation down here, what about the 68,000 shareholders in Vickers' and Maxims' who are going to lose two-thirds of their capital by the re-organisation announced yesterday? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) had better speak for the other members of the dockyard Soviet. Then there are the workmen who will be discharged from the works and subsidiaries of Vickers' and Maxims' who will also suffer in the same way. The right hon. Gentleman has also drawn attention to the shutting down of coal mines and other works when new processes are discovered and the almost total obliteration of industries in different parts of the country. You cannot have disarmament and you cannot get peace unless you do something.
I join issue with the right hon. Gentleman when he says that this is a matter for the Treasury. Admiralty Estimates are very often too much a matter for the Admiralty, and not so much a matter for the Treasury, in many cases. However, I reserve that argument for another time. If the right hon. Gentleman's argument is right, that we should compensate the permanent officials, it is equally right that the established men should be compensated if they are discharged. There is, I admit, a very strong case, especially in Pembroke, where the workmen have built their own houses. If we are going to compensate the company in Dunfermline which built houses recently, at any rate in the last few years, there is a much stronger case in many ways for compensating the workmen who built their own houses in Pembroke.
If the policy of reduction of armaments is to be followed up, there will be many cases similar to those which have been advanced to-day in regard to Rosyth and Pembroke, and I think the principle of compensation should be recognised and established. I should like to hear a little more on that matter before the Debate ends, or in a subsequent Debate. I understand negotiations are in progress. The closing down of Rosyth and Pembroke is very belated. It should have been done four years ago. The Admiralty reported during the days of the Coalition Govern- 884 ment in favour of reducing Pembroke; in fact, they reported in favour of closing Pembroke; but owing to political interests and pressure that step was prevented from being taken.
The only objection on my part to the present proposal to reduce Rosyth and Pembroke is that it is being done late in the day. If it had been done earlier we might have saved much money. I admit the principle of compensation for the higher officials and the permanent staffs in these dockyards, and it should go right down to the humblest workman who loses his employment through this very necessary economy. With regard to the workmen at Vickers', they are not under Government employment, and that is a different case. I am only speaking now of the Royal arsenals and the Royal dockyards. I hope that what is being done in regard to Rosyth and Pembroke is only the beginning of greater economies in the same direction. I see the hon. and learned Member for Gillingham (Sir G. Hohler) present. I suppose he will support the Motion on the Paper.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Then the hon. and learned Member cannot expect support from the Scottish and Welsh Members when the proposal comes forward to reduce Chatham, or to close Chatham down The same arguments used by the First Lord to fortify his case for the reduction of Rosyth and Pembroke can be applied with greater force in the case of Chatham. I admit that there is a case for Pembroke, in view of air-raid engagements, but that does not apply to Chatham. I am sorry that the case of Chatham has been allowed to be delayed for so long. I am afraid that at Chatham, in addition to the dockyard vested interest, there is the naval vested interest which has to be considered, because in that district a great many naval officers have made their homes in the belief that Chatham was going to be one of our Royal dockyards and arsenals indefinitely. I suggest that that is one of the reasons why the Admiralty have for the time being postponed action at Chatham. Barracks and hospitals and so on have been built there, which you do not get at Rosyth. I hope the Admiralty will go 885 very much further in this matter, and that having once put their foot into the cold water they will now proceed to immerse the whole of their bodies, and swim in the cool and refreshing waters of economy, the blessed waters which will lead to peace.
I would draw the attention of the House to a very valuable remark made, by the First Lord, when he was pointing out the cost of expanding Rosyth so that it could do the work that is now done at Chatham and Sheerness in regard to email ships. We have at Rosyth an up-to-date dockyard, with modern machinery, and there is a town near by where the people can live. Yet, according to the First Lord, it would cost £20,000,000 to bring Rosyth up to date for our naval requirements, although we have spent I do not know how many millions in making Rosyth what) it is to-day.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
The hon. and gallant Member must not put words into my mouth which I did not use. I said that it might cost anything up to £20,000,000. That estimate did not merely include putting Rosyth into a position to take the smaller ships, but it included also the moving of the whole population who are doing the work now at Chatham up to Rosyth.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I do not want to misrepresent the right hon. Gentleman. That is exactly what I understood, namely, the cost of moving the population and establishing a new skilled population at Rosyth to do the extra work. What is it going to cost us at Singapore? You are starting in a virgin forest there on the other side of the island. The right hon. Gentleman made a mention of this point, and I would only draw attention to that very valuable admission on his part. Without going beyond the bounds of Order, I suggest that all the men who are being discharged at Pembroke and Rosyth might be found work not at Singapore, where the climate would be impossible for their children, and where you have to employ native artificers, Chinese and other fitters, but at Sydney, where you could, at less cost and with great assistance from Australia, enlarge and bring the dockyard up-to-date.
886 I am sorry to say that I shall be forced to vote against the Motion, and I hope all my hon. Friends who are sincere in their desire for disarmament and peace will also vote against it. We shall find ourselves in the Lobby with the First Lord of the Admiralty on this occasion. I have put on the Order Paper the views of myself and three of my friends in an Amendment which we are not moving. I hope that now the Admiralty have taken their courage in their hands and started this policy they will carry it through drastically, and that they will not listen to vested interests or to sentimental appeals, powerful as they arc, from the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and, above all, that they will not listen to the vested interest appeals from dockyard members.
§ Commander CARLYON BELLAIRS
I beg to move, in line 2, to leave out from the word "Pembroke," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordsis in accordance with the policy of economy approved by the House, and announced in the Gracious Speech from the Throne.In the event of my Amendment being carried, the Resolution will read:That, in the opinion of this House, the decision to close His Majesty's Dockyards at Rosyth and Pembroke is in accordance with the policy of economy approved by the House, and announced in the Gracious Speech from the Throne.In moving the Amendment, I sympathise very much with some of the appeals that have been mach in regard to the displaced population. But, as the First Lord pointed out, the same thing applies to every private enterprise. I also sympathise with the concluding words of the hon. and gallant Member for East Rhondda (Lieut.-Colonel Watts-Morgan), in which he appealed to the First Lord of the Admiralty to abrogate the first part of his proposals, which relate to a care and maintenance basis for Pembroke. I believe that the stipulated time is something like three weeks, in which the dockyard is to be brought into order again for the use of the Navy. I do not think that is necessary. I think that stands in the way of any private enterprise taking over this dockyard. That is a small feature of the Debate. Two things emerge from the debate. First, the evils of Government enterprise. There is invariably a 887 demand made in this House that these enterprises should be maintained for the benefit of the localities and for the benefit of voters. The second thing that happens in this House, is a form, of political log-rolling. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal party went down at the last General Election to Pembroke, and made a speech in which he said that he had saved Pembroke for Wales when the Admiralty wished to abolish it some years ago.
Is it not true also that the present Secretary of State for the Dominions went there, and 6aid that he had saved it by putting it on a permanent basis?
§ Commander BELLAIRS
That only goes to prove my argument—that political log-rolling is indulged in. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) went on to say that the two principal ring-leaders against Pembroke were my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon) and myself, and he asked the present Secretary of State for the Dominions to muzzle us. I had no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs would wish to muzzle the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken worthy) on this occasion. That is all log-rolling. In his moving appeal the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said he was not going to attack Rosyth, simply because he wanted all the support that fee could get from the North, South, East and West. But the hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Major Sir Archibald Sinclair), who has an Amendment on the Paper in favour of Rosyth, had already given away the show in regard to Pembroke. He had said in the Debate on 29th July:If the Admiralty decide in favour of the scrapping of Pembroke I shall certainly support the decision."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 29th July, 1925; col. 513, Vol. 187.]
§ Major Sir A. SINCLAIR
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has already said that my Amendment refers to Rosyth.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
That shows that it is simply a local demand. If the hon. and gallant Member had been in the House a little earlier he would have heard the appeal of his Leader that he would 888 support Rosyth if Rosyth supported Pembroke. It is all political log-rolling. The hon. and gallant Member went on to say of the dockyard as a whole:These dockyards were necessary when we had the whole Fleet concentrated in the North Sea, but now the principal station of the Fleet is in the Mediterranean, and certainly a large amount of money could be saved by scrapping these dockyards."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th July, 1925; col. 514, Vol. 187.]Of course, that did not mean Rosyth. Now that the hon. and gallant Gentleman finds that Rosyth is included, Scotland is up in arms, not on the merits of the case, but because Scotland is to suffer. Then the hon. and gallant Member made an impassioned appeal to the House in favour of economy on the Navy Estimates, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer was on the Treasury Bench listening to him. As everyone knows, Private Secretaries have a great deal of influence with Cabinet Ministers, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer's memory went back to the time when the hon. and gallant Member was his Private Secretary, and the influence persisted. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was carried away by the weight of the hon. and gallant Member's eloquence. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs at the last General Election said, in reference to the five cruisers which the Socialist party laid down, that we were leading a race of cruiser armaments. If that statement had been true there would have been some justification, perhaps, for redundant dockyards. But it is palpably untrue. If we had been leading a race of cruisers armaments we would have laid down cruisers in excess of Japan. Japan has laid down 19 since the War was finished, and we should have laid down 20. As a matter of fact, we have laid down five. That is not bad for the leader of the Liberal party in regard to naval matters; he only multiplied by four.
As a matter of fact we have fewer cruisers to-day than at any time since 1889. It follows that the dockyards we have to-day are unnecessary. It is a truism that your dockyards are required for building and repairing ships, and the dockyard has to be provided in advance of the ship. It is equally a truism that as your ships diminish your dockyards should diminish. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull is quite right in saying that, if anything, the abolition 889 of these dockyards is belated, and that it ought to have taken place several years ago. There is no home enemy to-day. The German fleet is at the bottom of the ocean, and the demand for your ships is abroad. Really the question is one of foreign dockyards and not home dockyards. We commenced to meet the German menace in 1904. We not merely built Rosyth, but considerably extended the three primary dockyards, Portsmouth, Plymouth and Chatham. Now that the Navy has been considerably reduced, surely that great expansion must come to an end; the engines must be reversed and we must get rid of redundant dockyards.
There is another reason. The Washington Treaty cut down the number of battleships considerably; it limited them. The result is that there is no battleship being built, except the Nelson and Rodney, which were specially sanctioned. The battleship; as the Admiralty have told us in answer to questions, employs 12,000 men during three years, whereas a cruiser employs only 3,500 during three years. The result is, naturally, that there is not nearly such a demand for the dockyards as there was formerly. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, when he spoke on 29th July, said that there was not a conceivable menace against our trade routes during the next 10 years. Surely that is an argument for cutting down the dockyards when economy is enjoined on the Government. But immediately Pembroke was threatened he went to Downing Street to whine about this Welsh dockyard. It will be with the utmost difficulty that the Admiralty can provide work for Portsmouth, Plymouth and Chatham, the three primary dockyards. If there are to be economies in the future, we must get rid of the redundant dockyards. I remember that the Leader of the Liberal party accused the Government of having set their faces towards economy, and immediately reversed their engines in response to Admiralty demands regarding cruisers. What has he done himself? He made an impassioned appeal for economy on 29th July. Immediately this abstract demand is translated into concrete facts we find that he reverses his engines, both on sea and land, and his face is turned towards extravagance.
890 The Imperial Conference laid upon the Admiralty the duty of providing for defence against invasion for the whole Empire, for the provision of bases for the whole Empire, for the defence of the trade routes and communications of the whole Empire. You cannot go to that Imperial Conference and say that, now that the German Fleet is at the bottom of the sea, it is necessary to maintain dockyards in this country on the scale on which they were maintained formerly. In addition to that, I ask the House to examine this question of economy in the light of cold reason and not of sentimental appeals such as that made by the leader of the Liberal Party. I ask the House to examine them in the spirit with which Nelson and his captains acted, when they saved their spars and used their old sails and prided themselves on never getting into dockyard hands. I do not think that this House exhibits itself in its best light when it indulges in logrolling for the benefit of localities or puts forward demands because they want a dockyard in Scotland irrespective of strategic requirements or a dockyard in Wales irrespective of the necessities of the nation.
Mr. W. M. WATSON
During the time I have been in this House, I have taken a keen interest in the dockyard question, and have participated in most of the Debates on this question since 1922. The last time I spoke in this House on the subject was during the discussion on the cruiser programme at the end of July. It is true, as the First Lord has said, that I took a particular line on that occasion. I spoke and voted against the cruiser programme, and if the same question arose to-day I would do so again. My attitude on this question has always been clear. I am out for peace, if peace can be secured, and for the greatest measure of disarmament compatible with safety to the Empire. I have never disguised my views in that respect either in this House or in my constituency. My complaint regarding the proposed closing of Rosyth Dockyard is that the matter has never been discussed in the House. During the Debate on the cruiser programme there was not a word from the Treasury Bench about the closing of any dockyard. It is true that a proposal to close dock- 891 yards was mentioned during the Debate, but there was no suggestion from the Treasury Bench that Rosyth or any other particular dockyard should be closed, and it was a great surprise, not only to Scotland, but to Great Britain, when the decree went forth that not only Pembroke but Rosyth Dockyards was to be closed.
When I last spoke on this subject, I put in a special plea for Rosyth on the ground that it was the most up-to-date of our dockyards. I thought whatever dockyard in Great Britain might be closed, Rosyth would be the last. It now turns out that it is among the first to be closed. I have never disguised from myself the fact that the policy of the Admiralty during recent years has created a condition of things in which we have more dockyards than we require for naval purposes. There has been a big reduction in the number of ships in the Navy, and that being so, it stands to reason we do not require as many dockyards as formerly. With the developments at Malta, and the proposed extension at Singapore, I saw it was undoubtedly the case that we were going to have redundant dockyards at home. Ever since I first spoke on the dockyard question in this House, I have urged the Government, not only from this side of the House two years ago, but from the other side of the House, more recently, to provide alternative employment for the Royal dockyards; to take on work of a commercial character, and to maintain the dockyards in that way. I agree that a proposal of that kind is most unpopular, not only on the other side of the House, but also below the Gangway. It is unpopular because this is a Government enterprise, and it is feared that such a proposal as I make would cut out private enterprise.
I am not going to discuss the Woolwich locomotive works, but I am prepared to say that, if the dockyards were run on business lines, they could compete with private enterprise concerns, and my plea has always been for the utilisation of the Royal dockyards for work other than naval work. If the policy of closing Pembroke and Rosyth is persisted in, it will be a 892 disgrace, not only to the Government, but to the country. Here are two dockyards which could do any amount of commercial work, and they are to be allowed to go out of existence. Rosyth, especially, with its up-to-date machinery and equipment, could do a great amount of commercial work, but evidently that is not in contemplation by the Government. They have simply decided to close the dockyards, and it would seem that anything we may say from this side of the House will not change the mind of the Admiralty. Personally I very much regret the step which the Admiralty has taken, and on behalf of my constituency I make the most vigorous protest I can against the policy which is being pursued.
The First Lord in his speech made some interesting statements. He told my right-lion. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. W. Adamson) that if these 2,500 men were to be retained in the dockyards, the House would have to vote him money for the purpose. The money for that purpose was voted earlier in the year. When the Navy Estimates were passed, provision had been made for maintaining these dockyards. We did not get the slightest hint cither at that time or during the recent naval Debate of any proposal to close any of the dockyards. I knew when we had that naval debate that we were going to have much bigger changes than those announced by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty on that occasion. He told us how some economies were to be effected. The First Lord came to the House and asked for token Vote of £100 for the purpose of laying down four new cruisers before the end of the financial year, and he told us that he could make economies to the extent of £500,000. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty indicated how the economies were to be effected. There was to be a saving on the wages of men in the Fleet, and on the clothing and victualling of the men in the Fleet. Then there was to be a saving with regard to the fuelling of the Fleet. A lower grade oil was to be used for fuelling, and great economies were to be effected in that way, but no hint was given that there was to be any closing of the dockyards.
My reply to the First Lord is that this House has voted money for the 2,500 men whom he is proposing to throw out of employment. I thought that when an 893 Economy Committee had been appointed, it would have presented a Report to this House, and that an opportunity would have been given to discuss that Report before the decision was taken in regard to economies. I thought that, before such a big step was taken as the closing of two royal dockyards, this House would have had an opportunity of expressing a free and unfettered opinion, but the Government having come to a decision, the majority of this House are practically committed to support its policy, and we are going to have no opportunity of discussing the economies that may be recommended by the Colwyn Committee, a Committee of three Peers, who have been appointed to advise in the matter of economies.
I want to say a word or two with regard to the responsibilities of the Government, first of all to Parliament. My complaint, and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Fife, is that Parliament has not been allowed to express a free opinion on this question, but when we come to the responsibilities to the local authorities, I want the Government to take note of the fact that the municipality of Dunfermline has undertaken very serious responsibilities and liabilities in regard to Rosyth. The Burgh of Dunfermline extended its boundaries in 1911 in order to take in the land that had been taken by the Admiralty for the construction of Rosyth, and it took over the civil liabilities and incurred very heavy responsibilities with regard to roads, water supply, lighting, constructing new sewers, and so on.
The provision that was made by the Burgh of Dunfermline was far beyond what is now required. The burgh was led to believe that we were going; to have a second Portsmouth at Rosyth, and the Admiralty encouraged that idea, urging upon the Burgh of Dunfermline to undertake liabilities and make provisions for a population which evidently is never going to be there in the future We have a population at the present time of round about 10,000 in the Garden City of Rosyth, but the provision that Dunfermline Town Council was asked by the Admiralty to make was for a population of between 30,000 and 40,000. These obligations were undertaken by the Burgh of Dunfermline, and it is not fair on the part of the First Lord to say that my right hon. Friend has 894 exaggerated the claims that Dunfermline Town Council are entitled to make upon the Government. I think it is perfectly within the mark to say that their capital outlays and their commitments amount to a quarter of a million pounds in the services that they have undertaken in regard to Rosyth. From the first year that Rosyth was began until the present moment the Burgh of Dunfermline has lost by having had to undertake these services.
As my right hon. Friend said, the loss to the Burgh of Dunfermline amounts to the colossal sum of £80,000 up to the present moment, and the representatives of the Burgh have done their best to get a settlement in regard to that matter, both from the Admiralty and from the Treasury. We have been at both Departments, and cannot get them to face their liabilities in regard to the loss that Dunfermline has had to bear up to the present time. That loss is a real loss on the rates, and for one very special reason. The dockyard at Rosyth has always been undervalued. It has never been properly valued by the Treasury valuer, and consequently year by year the Burgh of Dunfermline has had to draw upon the older portion of the Burgh, not on the Garden City at Rosyth, in order to maintain this population, and to give these services to Rosyth.
I want to draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to this, that had he had another local authority to deal with, the position would have been entirely different. Supposing the Burgh of Dunfermline had not extended its boundaries in 1911, but had said to the county council: "You can make provision for the Admiralty and Rosyth," the county council would have said to the Admiralty: "If you want roads constructed, you can make them, and if you make them to our satisfaction, we may take them over." That is what the county council would have said, and that is entirely different from what the Burgh of Dunfermline said. Dunfermline said: "You require roads at Rosyth; we will make them," and they started to make them. But the county council would have said: "You will construct the roads yourselves, and we will take them over if our engineer considers them satisfactory. If you want a water supply, we will provide you with a water supply, but you will pay 895 for it. If you want lighting, we will provide lighting, but you will pay for it." All the services that the Burgh of Dunfermline has undertaken would have had to be undertaken by the Admiralty itself, very largely.
Now I think, considering the treatment that the Admiralty has had from the Burgh of Dunfermline, seeing that everything possible has been done by that burgh to encourage the Admiralty to come to Rosyth and to expand Rosyth as much as possible, the burgh is entitled to better treatment than it has received, both from the Admiralty and from the Treasury. I do not blame the Admiralty so much. I believe that they fully realise the obligation under which Dunfermline has placed them for many years past, but our difficulty is to get the Treasury to realise it, and I am sorry the Chancellor of the Exchequer or some other representative from the Treasury is not present, because, after all, it is with the Treasury that we shall have to deal with regard to that quarter of a million pounds that we shall certainly claim, in addition to the £80,000 that has been accumulating since the dockyard was started in 1911.
The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord says that the claims of the Burgh of Dunfermline will get real justice. Well, I hope they will, not only from the Admiralty, but from the Treasury, and I hope the Treasury is going to look upon the services that Dunfermline has rendered to the Admiralty a great deal more favourably than it has done up to now. I cannot understand exactly what the First Lord meant by the benefits that have been conferred, not only upon Dunfermline, but the whole of the surrounding district, by having Rosyth erected there. As a matter of fact, if Dunfermline had known that Rosyth was only to be maintained for a very short time, its attitude towards the Admiralty and the Government would have been entirely different. I can assure the Parliamentary Secretary, Dunfermline would not have welcomed the Admiralty as it did, and would not have made the provisions it has, had it known Rosyth was only to be there for a very short period.
I come to the third point mentioned in our Motion. Before the reductions took 896 place, we had something like 3,400 men at Rosyth. These men are roughly divided into two categories, the established men and the hired men. I am not dealing with the administrative staff, but with the great bulk of the men at Rosyth, the established and the unestablished men. The established men have been almost wholly brought from Southern dockyards. In the early years of the War, appeals were made for volunteers to go to Rosyth. Rosyth Dockyard was not finished when the War broke out, and a special push had to be made to get it ready for any ships that might come in during the period of the War, and in the other dockyards appeals were made to men to volunteer to go to Rosyth. Almost all the established men have come from Southern dockyards, and the proposal is that these men should be re transferred to Southern dockyards. I want to draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to two classes of transferred men. There are the established men who were brought from Southern dockyards, and there are a number of unestablished men who were also brought from Southern dockyards.
While we have got an assurance from the Admiralty that some provision is. to be made for the established men, up to now we have no information as to what is to be done with the unestablished men. There are over 100 unestablished transferred men at Rosyth, and I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what he intends to do with those men. The established transferred men are either to have a pension or work in a Southern dockyard. I am very anxious to know what is to be done with the unestablished transferred men. Some of them have been long enough in the Admiralty service to qualify for a gratuity, but I think it would be most unfair for the Admiralty merely to send these men out of the dockyards with a gratuity. I think the men have a right to be transferred to the dockyards from which they came. I do not think that is making too great a claim on behalf of these men. They are men who have been accustomed to dockyard work, who have practically no chance of finding work in Scotland for many years to come, and it would be most unfair for the Admiralty to put these men out of Rosyth Dockyard, and leave them stranded at Rosyth or somewhere else in Scotland. 897 I think they are entitled to be treated in the same way as the Admiralty propose to deal with the established men.
Then there are the hired men at Rosyth, mostly local men, who went into the dockyard either in the closing years of the War or since the War. Very few local men are established men, and I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he proposes that the local men who have become established are to be sent to Southern dockyards, or whether an endeavour will be made to find work for those men at Rosyth. In an answer I had from the Parliamentary Secretary a few days ago, I was told that there might be established and un-established men retained in the Care and Maintenance party. Will the Parliamentary Secretary give consideration to the local men who have become established, and see, if possible, whether these men can be retained in the Care and Maintenance party. It stands to reason that men transferred from Portsmouth, Devonport and Chatham to Rosyth, and who may still have some of their friends and even their families there, would prefer to go back to them, and I am very pleased the Admiralty have decided that, so far as practicable, the men to be transferred will be sent back to the dockyards from which they came. That is something for which I think we ought to thank the Admiralty. At the same time, I think I am justified in claiming that local men should have some claim to established positions at Rosyth.
In addition to that, there is a very large number of ex-service men who entered the dockyard, and of all the men in the dockyard my sympathy goes out to them. Disabled ex-service men, who have absolutely no chance of employment once they are outside the dockyard, have been employed as telephone attendants, messengers, storehouse men and on other light duties, which have been found for them in the dockyard. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to give me an assurance that those men are going to have sympathetic consideration and are to be kept in employment.
If the Admiralty has made up its mind that these two dockyards are to close, may I suggest that more time should be given before they are closed. I do not believe that the economies spoken of are 898 likely to be secured. The figures, I believe, that are given to us in the White Paper are absolutely unsound as to the saving to be achieved. I would ask, do these figures rule out any consideration as to claims that may be raised by the local authorities? There are going to be big claims, in some cases, from the local authorities. If these economies cannot be effected within the next two or three years might I suggest that there is no need for closing these two dockyards by 31st March next? A very much longer period might be taken to look into the matter, and to effect the transfers of men to the Southern dockyards. These should be more gradual. The discharges should be more gradual, too, so that these men will have some opportunity of being absorbed into industry. To close down by 31st March is a policy which certainly could not be advocated on the ground that these men are likely to find employment in other occupations for some time to come. As a matter of fact, some of the men discharged in 1922 are still going about unemployed. In view of that there is a claim for a longer period being taken before the dockyards are closed. In addition to the capital outlay and the maintenance about which my right hon. Friend the Member for West Fife spoke, there are certain annual charges to be met. There is one point in that connection to which I should like to have a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary. Is it proposed that the present valuation of Rosyth should be maintained, or is there to be a reduction in the assessable value? Are the Treasury going to escape paying to the Burgh of Dunfermline in the years to come as in the past few years? Rosyth has always been under-assessed. It has never been valued at its proper valuation Now that the dockyard is to be closed, is the Treasury going to escape paying to the Burgh of Dunfermline as much in the shape of assessable value as when it was a going concern? I should like some light upon that, because the claim of Dunfermline will have to be taken into consideration. If the value of Rosyth is to be reduced, then the claim of Dunfermline for compensation will require to be greater than otherwise. There are other similar claims. There is, for example, the Dunfermline District Committee.
899 The Prime Minister, I am glad to see, has just arrived in the House. I should like to say one or two things while he is present, and in case he is in a hurry, I will deal with them now. If Rosyth Dockyard is to be closed, if the decision of the Admiralty is final, would the Prime Minister consider two suggestions that I am going to place before him? They, I think, if acted upon, would be a considerable advantage, not only to Rosyth, but to the whole of the East of Scotland. There are two purposes for which Rosyth Dockyard could almost immediately be used. First of all, there is the proposal to construct bridges across the Forth and Tay. The suggestion is that Rosyth Dockyard might be used as the base from which these two bridges could be built. In the case of the Tay I believe it has been decided to go on with the bridge. In regard to the Forth, the proposal for a new bridge, the Government—that is, the Minister of Transport—has already offered to the local authorities 75 per cent, of the cost of the preliminary survey. Would the Prime Minister consider the suggestions I have put forward as to the utilisation of Rosyth? It would certainly stimulate the trades that require a stimulus in Scotland at the present moment. Iron, steel, engineering and ordinary labouring work are the very industries that now require some stimulus. If Rosyth Dockyard was used for the purpose it might not be such a white elephant as we imagine it is to be.
The other proposal I want to place before the Prime Minister is this: Last night we were discussing the situation in the coal trade. Everyone was agreed that something required to be done in connection with the coal industry. Supposing the Prime Minister begins the experiment —not an experiment, because the matter has gone past that stage; there has been experimenting at Greenwich for years —in the low-temperature carbonisation of coal? Suppose the Prime Minister turns his attention to Rosyth as a possible centre for a scheme of that kind. There is any amount of land in the vicinity that might be used for the purpose. So far as the coal supply is concerned, Rosyth Dockyard is in the very heart of the East of Scotland coalfields. 900 There is coal all round, West, East and North, as well as across the Forth in the South. There is any amount of coal that could be got for the purpose. Not only that, but inside the dockyard there is any amount of equipment that could be used for a scheme of that description. There is storage for oil. Here we have two reservoirs that hold a quarter of a million tons of oil. The difficulty that has been experienced in connection with it has been the using of the gas produced by such a scheme. I do not think there would be any difficulty in regard to that because all over the West of Fife there is a big community where the gas might easily be utilised. I sun certain, if anywhere in this country a scheme of low-temperature carbonisation of coal could be set in motion, Rosyth is an ideal spot for that undertaking.
My plea, however, is not for Rosyth for the purpose of building these two bridges, nor yet for that later scheme which I just mentioned. I want to see Rosyth kept for a bit longer until the Admiralty really sees if it needs to dispense with it. After all, Rosyth is the only dockyard that can take the biggest ship in the Fleet. Three weeks ago the "Hood" went into Rosyth for repairs; opportunity being taken to bring in the biggest ships for repairs before Rosyth Dockyard was closed down. It was dry docked at Rosyth, repaired, and undocked in the densest fog we have had in Scotland for 30 or 40 years, and that vessel left Rosyth Dockyard without a scratch. We could not do that in any other dockyard in the British Empire, yet this is the dockyard the Admiralty propose to close. I hope what has been said to-day will have the effect of inducing the Admiralty to reconsider the position. I know it will be very difficult, because of all our Government Departments the Admiralty seems to be the most indifferent to public opinion or public agitation. It does not matter what Wales feels or what Scotland feels, or what the Geddes Committee recommend; the Admiralty go their own way and do what they like. But I hope the appeals made to the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Parliamentary Secretary will have the effect of continuing these dockyards, for some little time at any rate, not for the purpose of continuing expense, but for the reason that they are not going 901 to make economies during the next two or three years. They have admitted that, and there is no reason for throwing even 2,500 men out of work and creating expense in other directions. They ought to continue these dockyards for some longer period, so that the men at present employed there will have an opportunity of finding employment in other industries.
I have no fault to find with the closing of dockyards. As has been said by previous speakers, I hope the day is not far distant when we shall be able to close more dockyards, and to get a bigger reduction in armaments. But while we should like to see that policy adopted, we want to see a Government who are prepared to utilise the facilities that these dockyards offer. We want to see greater encouragement given to the proposal to use dockyards for other purposes, to commercialise the dockyards as much as possible, I hope the day will come when we shall have a Government who will faces the responsibility of not only doing our naval work inside the dockyard, but doing work that is required for various industries in the country inside the dockyards.
§ Major PRICE
Some of the remarks which have been made by the First Lord of the Admiralty do not apply to myself, as I think I shall be able to make quite clear. He suggested that those who were in favour of a reduction of our naval programme had no right now to talk of unemployment. I have always been in favour of a navy sufficient for our country's need, and I have voted consistently with that object, and therefore I think my remarks can be taken to be remarks from one who is in favour of a navy and whose object is the efficiency of the Navy. The arguments which have been used with regard to the closing of Rosyth and Pembroke are based, so far as the speeches to-day are concerned, entirely upon the question of economy. But before I come to deal with economy I would like to tread upon the very thin ice of naval efficiency and strategy. I am not attempting to set myself up as a naval expert, but we do want to know where we stand. A suggestion was made from the opposite benches that it would be better, in the interests of Pembroke Dockyard, that it should be handed over lock, stock and barrel to other authori- 902 ties and that the Admiralty should clear out altogether. That may be all right from a purely industrial point of view, but what is the Admiralty's view upon it? The question of Pembroke has been under discussion in this House for years. It started first in 1919, there was a discussion in 1921 and 1922, which I will refer to in a moment, and a certain position was then arrived at and accepted by the House, and we proceeded on those lines until, during the Recess, a certain edict was issued by the Admiralty for the closing of the two yards.
From all the information I can gather from conversations with Members of this House, from reading the Press and from other sources, there seems to be an impression that the Admiralty have declared they have no further use for Pembroke Dockyard, and the "Times" went so far as to say the Admiralty had decided to scrap it. When the "Times" said this they were commenting upon a speech made by the First Sea Lord at the Mansion House. This speech had been very carefully prepared, and was read, and therefore it should have been the very considered opinion of the highest authorities we have in naval affairs. The "Times" also suggested that the First Sea Lord had said there was no further use for Pembroke or Rosyth. What the First Sea Lord said, when the report of the speech was read, and not the comments upon the speech, was that these yards were redundant to the upkeep of the Navy. Any yard can be redundant to the upkeep of the Navy; we have only got to send the work to private yards, and we make them all redundant. What we want to know is whether the Admiralty and whether the Committee of Imperial Defence consider Pembroke Dockyard can be scrapped and turned over completely to industrial purposes or not. If, as I was informed when accompanying a deputation that met the First Lord of the Admiralty only a few days ago, the decision of the Committee of Imperial Defence is—as we were told it was—that Pembroke had to be retained for naval purposes, then I say the duty lies upon the nation to retain it in peace for that need for which it is paramount in time of war.
There is a certain statement in a report made in 1919 by the then Director of 903 Dockyards, and I ask the House to bear it in mind all through these arguments. The statement is:It has been accepted as an axiom from time immemorial that the dockyards exist for the Fleet, and even with the reduced Fleet now contemplated this must be maintained,There is the axiom: If the dockyard is a necessity in the time of the greatest need of the Fleet, in the time of war, as apparently the Committee of Imperial Defence have decided, if Pembroke Dockyard is a necessity in time of war, then surely its burden should not be cast upon a small locality, that small locality ought not to be pauperised by the yard being kept on a care-and-maintenance basis in readiness to reopen in two or three weeks or a month, as declared by the First Lord. He has said: "People imagine that I am going to dam up these dockyards. I am not going to do anything of the kind. I am going to keep them ready for action in three weeks or a month." Why? Because they are necessary for the naval defence of this country and the Empire. Surely this is an argument that demands an answer and to which no answer has been made in this Debate. If it is not a necessity, then we should say so; if it is a necessity, then surely the greatest economy is to keep it in peace times efficient and ready for expansion in time of war.
The four walls of a dockyard do not constitute all the efficiency of a dockyard. There is the body—the machinery, the slips and everything else; but the spirit is absent if we have not got the personnel. What is of far greater value to this country even than the machinery is the skill, the enterprise and the knowledge of our working men. It is those you are going to scrap at Pembroke and Rosyth, and you cannot replace them. On this point I would like to call the attention of the House to the system at our dockyards. It has been stated by hon. Members, in fact it was mentioned by the First Lord himself, that our contention means that the Government must never take any action of this kind on the ground of economy, and they assert that it means that you must never make any economy if we do not agree with what is being done now by the Admiralty at Pembroke and Rosyth. May I point out that we are just as much in favour of economy as the 904 First Lord or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but we claim the right to criticise the method by which those economies are carried out. We believe that the best form of economy is not one which creates the most suffering, but which creates the least amount of suffering and distress.
It has been argued that in the case of an individual employer, if fie finds he is overstaffed he reduces his establishment. But that is not national economy, and does not assist the nation because you put your people out of employment. The nation has a duty not only to the tax payer, but to the whole population and the whole country and the Empire, and that duty is to weigh one thing against the other. The Government should face this problem with a wide open mind and not be influenced by Parliamentary considerations. The First Lord said: "I have to get rid of between 2,500 and 3,000 men, and they must go." And he also stated that, "You cannot expect them to do knitting in the dockyards." We are not suggesting that at all, but we are suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman should preserve the lives and the homes of the people in those places, and this can be done. One fact which does not seem to have occurred to the financial advisers of the Admiralty and the Admiralty in discharging all these men from one district is that this action is very different to discharges which are spread over the whole dockyard personnel. Most of the dockyards have been arranged in order to meet emergencies of this kind. You have in your dockyard service one-third established, and that is the nucleus upon which you build, and two-thirds are hired men and their number varies from month to month, and it is nothing out of the way for 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000 of these men to be discharged from the yards, but that does not dislocate the whole of the community.
On the other hand, when you concentrate the whole of these discharges at Pembroke, not only do you create unemployment with regard to the discharged people, but hardship and suffering are extended to everybody else in the town. In Pembroke we differ from Rosyth in this respect. One speaker in this Debate has suggested that when you establish a Government factory you benefit the locality, but with regard to Pembroke the 905 position is that the local dockyard was established in 1814, and from that time the town gradually grew up. The Government first of all established a certain number of houses and markets and other amenities for the convenience of the population, but as years went by they got rid of all this, and the whole future of the town was left in the hands of private enterprise which built and paid for the houses, and to-day two-thirds of the houses in Pembroke are owned by the working classes themselves.
Now, at one fell swoop the Admiralty are rendering the whole of this property valueless, and to-day you cannot sell a, house an Pembroke Dock for anything at all, in fact, if you want to get out of your liabilities in regard to a lease on a house you have to pay somebody to take it over. I would like to ask how can a state of things like that make for peace or good will amongst the community? How can it be suggested that the Government have no obligations or responsibility in this matter? We are doing our best to carry out a Conservative principle which is to establish a whole heap of small owners, but what encouragement is there in this respect when we find that the Government is ready to wipe out the community at Pembroke? I think this House ought to decide that it will not be satisfied unless the Admiralty can adopt some more humane method.
Let us see what arguments have been used on the economic side. It has been suggested that the whole of this is being done as a result of the new cruiser programme, and because of it great economics have to be effected by the closing of this dockyard. I should like to point out that the White Paper issued in this connection is one of the most extraordinary documents I have ever read. On the 25th of November I asked a, question in this House requesting the Government to issue a White Paper giving the amount of the savings to the nation that the Admiralty estimated would be effected by placing Pembroke Dock and Rosyth Dock on a care and maintenance basis. The reply I got was that such a paper would be issued, and it is rather curious that that paper was not issued until 14 hours before this Debate took place, and consequently there was no time whatever for us to check it. What is more, the information was given in such a way that it- 906 was quite impossible for us to check it, and all we can do is to refer back a little bit. With regard to that I should like to call attention to the speech made by the Director of Dockyards, and remember that the whole basis of this proposal is that the amount of saving to the nation that can be effected by closing Pembroke and Rosyth will far outweigh the sufferings inflicted upon those localities. May I point out that the Admiralty have not. proved that, in fact they have not attempted to prove it up to the present moment. The Director of Dockyards issued a statement in the Press on the 10th September in which he said:The actual saving is estimated at about £160,000 a year in the case of Rosyth and £60,000 a year in the case of Pembroke.How does the Admiralty account for the increase in these figures? We are now told that the amount of saving will be £328,000, which is a difference of over £100,000 since 10th September, but there is not a word of explanation in the White Paper, and there is not a single word of explanation vouched by the First Lord of the Admiralty with regard to this extraordinary discrepancy. We were further told that this £328,000 could be roughly divided into two parts, one-third to Pembroke and two-thirds to Rosyth. I do not know how that proportion is arrived at, but the Director of Dockyards said that Rosyth was the most expensive dockyard to keep up because the relation of overhead charges to expenditure was 70 per cent. at Rosyth, whilst at Pembroke it was only 30 per cent. Why, then, should Pembroke be mulcted to the extent of £100,000 compared with Rosyth? The thing is absurd and demands some explanation if the House is to be treated as an intelligent body.
If you take the saving under salaries, it is put down at £72,000. I wonder what the number of discharges of those on this salary list are receiving under £250 a year. If you move an established man, a salaried man, from Pembroke or Rosyth, and you put out a temporary man in one of the other dockyards, it is the lowest paid man that goes out. That is one of our complaints. Economy is being effected entirely at the expense of the weekly wage earner. Every other official—your Captain - Superintendent, your Admiral-Superintendent, your chief engineer, your electrical engineer, and your King's 907 Harbour Master—will either be pensioned or will be found new jobs, but your hired men may walk the streets, and that in the name of economy. Surely, if you are going in for economy, you should consider the human factor first, and the financial factor last.
Now, if we take wages, £91,300. How can we cheek that? Then take materials, £29,600. What materials? Do they intend to keep the yard in repair or do they not? Police, £26,400. That is the only item you can check, because that comprises practically the whole of the police force in Rosyth and Pembroke, and, as I pointed out to the Prime Minister, if you want to make economies in the Vote you can do it and need not discharge a single man. Why do you want a police force in Pembroke costing £10,000 to look after 1,400 men? That is what goes on in every dockyard. The extravagant waste on overhead charges could be cut down, and yet the work at the dockyards could go on. Then you come to dredging, £25,500. We do not use a dredger at Pembroke. You can get there at any stage of the tide without any dredger. And so on from the beginning to the end. Then there is an extraordinary paragraph, put in I do not know for what purpose, unless to mislead. The result, at any rate, has been that it has misled. The paragraph I speak of reads:Concurrently with the reduction of these two yards, it has been necessary, and will continue to be necessary, to adjust the numbers of men employed in the dockyards as a whole to the smaller volume of work to be undertaken in the dockyard," etc.What it means I do not know. I do not know what it has been put in for, because it has always been the dockyard system to put on and off hired men according to the requirements of the work. When one comes to the end of the paragraph, it gives one some idea what was at the back of the mind of the gentleman who composed it. I do not know whether it was the Financial Secretary or not. It says:The annual saving to Navy Votes, including that consequent on the reduction of the two yards, will amount to about £1,000,000.We are not discussing that. The White Paper was not asked for that purpose, but for the purpose of specific informa- 908 tion which is not rendered by the White Paper. The "Daily Mail" was misled all right—I have not had time to read any other paper this morning—misled in favour of those who are all out for economy at anybody's expense.More Navy Cuts—£1,000,000 may be saved by closing dockyards.That is the heading. Is not that the heading intended by the White Paper?
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I really must protest against the hon. and gallant Gentleman's suggestion that this was put in with the intention to mislead. Those explanations were put in in order to make it quite clear that the annual saving that could be attributed to the two dockyards was £327,000, and so that people should not be led to understand that the whole £1,000,000 was thus to be saved. The rest of the saving is accounted for by discharging men.
§ Major PRICE
I do not suggest that it is done intentionally to deceive. I have not suggested that anything was done intentionally to deceive. What I have said is that the impression which has got abroad both with regard to the dockyards and their naval necessity is something quite different from what the naval experts said. I have also stated, and I wish to emphasise the fact, that the impression which got abroad because of that paragraph was that there was a saving of £1,000,000 because of the reduction of the dockyards, and I asked the question why it was there. I suggested it might have been put in by somebody- I do not say by the First Lord—for the purpose of creating that impression.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
Certainly. I have been through the whole thing—I did not draw it up myself—and I object to any official being accused of drawing this up with the intention to deceive. It was put in in order to make it quite clear that the million pounds was not all due to saving on these dockyards, but that that saving was about £327,000.
§ Major PRICE
I thoroughly agree and I withdraw. But I say it is very unfor- 909 tunate—[Interruption]—I certainly withdraw it, but I do say that it is unfortunate that in this circular there should have been put information which was not asked for.
§ Major PRICE
No, I do withdraw it. I say it is perfectly clear to anybody who reads the circular carefully that there was no suggestion that £1,000,000 was to be saved by the closing of the dockyards. I thought that I had made it clear that the "Daily Mail" was wrong. But I said that that was the impression which had been given. I accept the statement of the First Lord, but I say it was very unfortunate that it was put in, because the result has been the same whether it was intended or not. That is all I said. It has no business there. There is no object in it.
Vice-Admiral Sir REGINALD HALL
There is a word left out in the last line of the paragraph. It ought to be "all the dockyards."
Lieut.- Colonel WATTS- MORGAN
Was the intention to show that the reduction was in the dockyards, and not in the naval staff of the Admiralty?
§ Major PRICE
I think my point has been made absolutely clear. It is that the statement itself is misleading to hon. Members of this House, and, as I have said and as I have found out ever since I came back after the Recess, hon. Members do not understand the position at Pembroke Dockyard at all. Many of them do not even know the geographical position of the dock. There is one thing that I do feel should be borne in mind by the House. It has been said repeatedly that Pembroke Dock should be closed. This matter came before the House in 1921, and, if I may, I will read what was the considered opinion of the House on that occasion. At that time the present Colonial Secretary was Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, and what he said with regard to Pembroke Dock was this:In this connection the Committee will wish to know the final conclusions of the Government in the mutter of Pembroke and Haulbowline. It was originally proposed to close down both these dockyards in order to secure an economy in overhead charges 910 by concentrating the work at the larger and better equipped yards.That is exactly the same reason that we have heard to-day. He went on to say that they had come to this conclusion:We are accordingly prepared to keep Pembroke Dockyard in existence at a reduced permanent strength of about 1,200 men."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd August. 1921; col. 1459, Vol. 145.]Upon that defined statement of public policy the town has proceeded. Our dockyard strength was reduced from 2,500 to 1,200 men. Gradually it went up a little, to 1,300 or 1,400, but that reduction from the original strength of 2,500 men— it was not the War strength, which was much more, but the pre-War and the immediate post-War strength—meant the discharge of about 1,000 or 1,200 men, and to-day in Pembroke Dock over 800 of those same men are still looking for work. That deliberate conclusion of the Government was reaffirmed in 1922. In 1922, a statement was made by the present Chief Whip in which he very clearly put the reasons why the House should hold to Pembroke Dockyard as a naval establishment, and I would commend this to the House, that those very reasons are just as important and just as sound now as they were when he gave them. This is what he said:Looked at from the national point of view, I do not think it would pay to close Pembroke Dock.Look at the White Paper!There must be some give and take as between one Department and another in the matter of expenditure for national purposes. You cannot pub the different items of expenditure into watertight compartments. Pembroke is a place which has grown up with the Navy… . When we consider the compensation that must be paid, when we consider that we must look after the established men, and when we consider the out-of-work donations that would have to he paid, I do not know that the country would gain much financially by closing this yard."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd May, 1922; col. 1068, Vol. 154.]Those are exactly my sentiments, and the sentiments of every hon. Member who looks upon the matter dispassionately. Not only was that the considered opinion of the present Chief Whip, but there was also this in the Naval Estimates of that date:It has been decided to reduce Pembroke … to a strength of 1,200 men. The unique and almost complete dependence of the town of Pembroke on the continued 911 existence of the dockyard makes it clear that in the present difficult conditions of trade and employment, which so far make it impossible to dispose of this yard for commercial purposes, the distress and its relief consequent upon the abolition of this establishment would, from the point of view of the national balance sheet, more than neutralise the direct saving.Lord Lee, again, stated, in answer to a deputation:The Government cannot divest themselves of the moral responsibility of their own acts.We have heard very little about the Admiralty's moral responsibility for its own acts. The Admiralty of the day created and built up this town, encouraged all the workers of the town to put "their savings into the town, encouraged the trade people to come to furnish the amenities of the workers, and for the very purpose of keeping the dockyard with the employés in it; and to-day, with one fell swoop, they slam the gate in their faces and wash their hands of the consequences. I do say that the Government should not wash their hands of the consequences; I do say that this House should not wash its hands of the consequences. I am not asking if the Admiralty have decided, if the naval advisers have decided, that they can close the yards, or that these yards can be given over for industrial purposes. It is not for me to suggest that their decision is wrong; I have neither the knowledge nor the means of obtaining the knowledge as to whether it is right or wrong; but what I do know is that the consequences of the decision are fatal to my people. The whole object of a Government, and the greatest rôle of a Government, as our great leader, Disraeli, said, was that the Government should be just find treat its people with mercy. I ask the House to give its decided opinion that we are. entitled to justice and mercy for our people.
It cannot be right to pauperise a whole district. Why cannot the Admiralty come forward and do something? Why cannot some other Department or some other Government body come forward and help us? We are not a big thing; the saving would not be large—I doubt whether, when it is boiled down to actual cash, it would be £40,000 a year; but the effect on that district will be absolute ruin to the people, absolute ruin to a town of 912 11,000 inhabitants and to a district of about 16,000 dependent upon this work. Surely, it is not unreasonable to ask that we should be granted time to turn over from these conditions to ordinary industrial conditions. Surely, it is not unreasonable to ask that some work should be given us. Why go bargaining with this shipbreaking firm and that ship breaking firm? The Government have the ships to break up; why cannot they break them up themselves in their own yards with their own men, and keep their skilled men together? Why cannot they give us a hull or two to build? They can still get rid of the dockyard overhead staff; all we want is a constructional staff. We can build there as well as it can be done anywhere; we can repair there as well as it can be done anywhere; we have the patent slips, which are even better than docks for building these small craft. Give us time to change over to peace conditions. We deserve the help and encouragement for which we ask. We deserve help from this House, in the truest sense of economy. How can it be economy to wash out a town and to pauperise a district? Whom does it help' One-tenth of one per cent, of the Naval Estimates is the amount of the saving: it will mean a saving of £60,000 out of £60,000,000. There are five gunboats to be built this year and next year, every one of which we could build if we were given a chance.
There are many things that could be done to help us. Do not throw on to out-shoulders the burden of making application for compensation. It is the duty of the Government to help us. I ask the House to say that it is the view of the House that we should be given this time to readjust our lives, that we should be given this help to save our people from starvation, to save them from breaking their hearts and ruining their homes and hopes in life. It cannot be right that this population should form a centre of disaffection for the nation. Let the House imagine it. It is easy for us—we know we are going to have breakfeast tomorrow morning, and, we hope, also the week after; but these men, when they lose their employment, when their savings are washed out, when they are tied by the leg to a leasehold house which they cannot leave, and when they have nothing 913 but 25s. or 27s. 6d. a week in unemployment pay to keep their wives and children —just enough to keep body and soul together without paying rent—that cannot be true economy for the nation at all. The decision rests with this House. This House is above any Government Department, and I do ask the House to allow a Committee to be appointed to go into the whole question, and see what can be done to mitigate the suffering, what can be done to keep these people in employment, and what can be done to try and lessen the burden which is laid upon two localities out of the whole Kingdom.
I shall not follow the last speaker in examining the intentions of the First Lord so far as they are expressed in the Admiralty policy. I should like to direct attention to the substance of the Motion and its limited scope. The Debate to-day does not concern itself, I take it, with the matter of dockyards versus no dockyards, of Pembroke versus Rosyth, of one dockyard against another, or four dockyards as against six. What we are concerned about is that the First Lord should prove that for reasons of efficiency in naval matters and national economy the step the Admiralty has taken is justified. Up to now the House has not been informed on either of those points. I heard in the early stages of the Debate references to matters of national sentiment. I am surprised that from the other side of the House national sentiment should be depreciated, as certain speakers have tried to depreciate it. After all, national sentiment is a factor in international life and I am certain the First Lord understand that, so far as this matter of the reduction of Rosyth Dockyard to a, care and maintenance basis is concerned, he has against him the united sentiment and feeling of the whole of the Scottish people. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] We will see how the Division Lobby expresses their opinion. There is not a representative Scottish; authority to day which has not expressed its condemnation of these proposals, and those expressions are made, not on grounds of strategy, not even on grounds of economy —because on those matters I daresay we are all united—they are made on the very simple ground that in this matter of the reduction in our dockyard equipment, Rosyth and Pembroke should have been 914 treated on the same basis as all the other dockyards and should have got equality of treatment. That these two dockyards are not getting at present. I say, repeating and emphasising if I possibly can, what has already been said, that the First Lord has not proved his case up to now that the policy of the Admiralty will work out either in the direction of efficiency or economy.
References have been made to political log-rolling. I am not quite sure, if this aspect of the matter is pursued far enough, that we shall not discover that the reductions in these two dockyards will not be found to be more due to political log-rolling than to any practical naval purpose. I will not pursue that. [Interruption.] It is not, because I could not profitably for my own purpose pursue it, but it is within the knowledge of everyone who knows Rosyth that it has never been a popular place in the official mind. It is too far removed from the centre of those social attractions which certain people value more than national interests. This policy is an affront to the Scottish people, not so much in regard to what it contains, but on account of the manner in which it has been promoted. We are to-day discussing matters of naval interest, two or three weeks ago we were discussing matters relating to pensions administration, and in regard to both those matters this common feature emerges, that without the slightest consultation either with the Parliamentary representatives or the local authorities concerned, Departmental steps are taken fraught with very serious consequences to Scottish interests. I am certain the House does not realise that in this matter of the reductions at Rosyth the local authorities were in complete ignorance of the Admiralty's intentions until they read of those intentions in the public Press. Does the House realise that up to August of this year the public authorities in Fifeshire were under the impression that there was to be no change in the status of Rosyth Dockyard? Does the House realise that up to August the Admiralty was actually pressing the Municipality of the City of Dunfermline to proceed with a tramway extension between Dunfermline and Rosyth
Does the House realise that in the recent negotiations those public authorities 915 have not merely been treated with indifference, not merely have they been ignored, but they have been treated with contempt? The Deputy-Director of Dockyards visited Rosyth and was appealed to by the local authority to grant them an interview in order that matters of interest to the Admiralty and to the authority might be discussed. He refused to give them even the privilege of a five-minute interview. But that did not prevent him very shortly afterwards giving a newspaper a whole column interview in which he detailed the Admiralty reasons for coming to the conclusion they have come to.
It is interesting to notice one of the reasons he gave in support of this policy. He said they had always tried to get recruits in Scotland for the Navy, but had not met with very much success. The Scot did not like the sea. And apparently on the ground of that general prejudice against the Scot and his attitude towards the Navy they are going to wipe out this Scottish dockyard. There was no consultation with the local authorities. I want to ask the House to face the actual national obligation in this matter in order that they may see what we are committed to if we support the Admiralty programme. Do not any of you imagine that in this matter the National Exchequer is to be saved anything by this policy. The Government must still continue to pay their grant in lieu of local rates even if the dockyard is reduced It will amount to an annual contribution of £21,000 at least, and in my judgment that contribution in equity should very materially be increased. The dockyard has never been rated at its full value.
Then in connection with services like the water supply the Admiralty must continue their annual contributions under the agreement with the Fife County Council. That is not a matter that they can possibly escape from. It is not a matter of a single payment. It is a, matter they must face year by year, and that payment alone amounts to something like £10,000. Then in regard to the matter of housing, the Scottish National Housing Council have spent over £1,000,000 on the provision of houses for Admiralty workmen. The annual loss consequent on the reduction to be made 916 from Government funds will be at least £27,000. The total loss to be met in this connection will be at least £52,000 annually. These not not figures quoted at random. They are the considered figures of those who have gone fully into the matter. Then in the matter of the dismissal of workmen, you cannot lightheartedly say, as. this White Paper says, that men who are discharged from the dockyard are to get their maintenance out of the Ministry of Labour. The dismissal of 2,000 men is a most serious matter. There is no alternative employment, and it simply means that the Admiralty is attempting to save money, though the saving is very questionable, by imposing these burdens on the Ministry of Labour.
In addition to that, there is an enormous question involved in removing the men from Rosyth to the other dockyards. That has never been mentioned in the Debate. When they get to those other dockyards, how are they to be placed in the matter of housing? I do not know anything about the housing conditions in Devonport, Plymouth, Chatham and Sheerness, but I venture to say that the introduction of large numbers of men to these dockyards is a very serious matter from the point of view of housing accommodation alone. That is a part of this national obligation which will have to be met.
Then there is the vital matter of what you are going to do to compensate the local authorities for expenditure already incurred, not for local purposes, but purely for Admiralty purposes. Rosyth would never have existed but for national needs and national considerations. In 1922 the local authorities were assured—and I should really like the representative of the Admiralty to offer to the House some explanation of this change of policy— that the work to be done at Rosyth would mean a complement of at least 3,000 men, that is, an established complement of 3,000. That understanding was maintained right up to September of this year, and not the slightest suggestion was made to the local authorities of any change.
The original idea was that Rosyth Dockyard was to mean a population in the district of at least 30,000, and, on that understanding capital expenditure amounting 917 not to £250,000, but, in my opinion, accurately estimated at £275,000 was incurred, entailing an annual charge on the local authorities of something like £30,000. At this moment Dunfermline Burgh is burdened with an accumulated liability of something like £80,000 on account of commitments entered into, not for local purposes at all, but purely for national purposes.
I have already referred to the matter of the rating injustice to the district in this connection. I hope, whatever takes place at Rosyth, as far as the dockyard is concerned, that the assessing of the dockyard will in future be put on a more equitable basis. I need only mention the disparity between the valuation placed on the dockyard in this connection and that placed on ordinary municipal undertakings like gasworks. Actually one-third of 1 per cent. of the cost of the dockyard is the valuation placed for rating purposes on dockyard property, as compared with 5 per cent. of the cost of the gasworks undertaking.
I will say no more in regard to local claims except this, that whatever happens, the local authorities are entitled to ask that a fair valuation should be placed on the dockyard for rating purposes, that the whole of the debts—and this is really not asking too much—incurred by the local authorities for Admiralty purposes shall be wiped out, and that if in addition to that any deficiency arises and any difference between municipal income and expenditure over services relating to Rosyth—I say nothing at all in regard to Pembroke, because that has been sufficiently stated already—if any such deficiency arises, it shall be met, not out of local rates but out of national funds.
§ 3.0 P.M.
Sir R. HALL
I note with some interest the change of attitude of Members on the opposite side. [An HON. MEMBER: "There is no change!"] It is really startling to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. W. Adam-son) advocating the keeping of dockyards for fighting purposes. They have conducted a great pacifist movement, but still they wish to retain these dockyards. I was still more alarmed to hear the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. W. Wat- 918 son) and the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Kennedy) fighting tooth and nail for vested interests and compensation. I am afraid I cannot help thinking that there is some hope Chat, when their party does really enter into the public life of this country, they will see that there are interests such as vested interests which are worthy of defending, even as they defend their own.
Let me take another point. I am quite certain nobody in this House finds the slightest fault with the charming speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Price) on behalf of his constituents, and with the other Members who are defending what they believe to be the vested interests of their constituents. But after all, this is an Admiralty Vote and an Admiralty matter. It is perfectly true that there are two aspects of the case involved, first the aspect of naval efficiency and economy, and next, the social aspect of the case, which I venture to say is a totally different matter. As regards the naval side of the case, one must remember that this House reluctantly but quite frequently has to vote very large sums for the upkeep of the Navy and in view of the need for national economy the smaller we can make it the better. Within that sum the Navy has to be kept efficient for the defence of this country and the Empire. It is the task of the First Lord and the naval advisers to advise how that money should be spent, and speaking purely from the naval point of view, and putting all other aspects of the question aside, if the naval authorities say that they can keep the Navy efficient with four dockyards instead of six, I venture to think that from the purely naval aspect, the closing of these dockyards has an unanswerable case.
It has been suggested by the last speaker that what ought to happen to these dockyards is that they should be treated exactly the same as the others. That—and if I understand it rightly it means that if there are discharges in the southern yards that is the principle which should be applied with regard to Rosyth and Pembroke Docks—is a most uneconomic proceeding. If you are really satisfied that the Admiralty can keep the Fleet efficient with four instead of six yards, I venture to say from the 919 purely naval point of view, there is no argument for keeping them open. I am not in a position to-day to say what line of strategy and tactics existed in the view of the Admiralty or their staff in recommending the closing of these yards. It is quite true that Rosyth presents a most magnificent site, which is a great deal more than can be said of Pembroke. Whether on the matter of tactics they are right or wrong, they are, for the time being, the naval advisers of the Government. Although I am personally extremely sorry to see Rosyth reduced to a care and maintenance basis, and I am equally reluctant to see Pembroke being reduced, yet, if we look at it solely from the naval point of view, the House should support the Government in getting increased naval efficiency with reduced expenditure.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
I do not propose to examine the strategical aspect of this question very largely, because I realise that many other hon. Members desire to make speeches. The Admiralty admit that these two dockyards continue to remain of strategic importance to the country. That is why, instead of scrapping them absolutely or putting them up for sale, they are reducing them to a care and maintenance basis. The Admiralty, however, are not showing the same consideration towards the men. They are not putting the men on a care and maintenance basis.
I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty one or two questions to which we are entitled to have an answer before the Debate concludes. One thousand or two thousand men, I understand, are to be transferred to the Southern yards. One thousand of these men are to come to my constituency. There they are to eject from work men who are already employed. My constituency—I am entitled to put this point of view, because it is of very great importance, not only to my present constituents, but to my prospective constituents—suffers from a deplorable lack of housing. Less than 1,000 houses have been built in Devonport and Plymouth in the last five years, also it was estimated five years ago that 4,500 houses were necessary. People to-day are living in houses which are insanitary, which are damp and which admit into them the 920 winds and rains of Heaven. If there is a room advertised as being vacant, hundreds of people make applications for that room. Where are the Admiralty going to put these 1.000 men?
My second question is this. Where are the Admiralty going to put the families of these men? The country is not in a state of siege. You cannot separate the men from their families year after year. It will be years at the present rate of progress before you can provide adequate housing accommodation in Devonport, at the present rate of progress. You cannot perpetually leave the wives and children of these men in Rosyth and Pembroke, and keep the men in Devonport. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary, what allowance is he going to give to the wives? The men will get 30s. or £2 a week. They will require that for their own lodgings and keep in Devonport. The wives will require quite as much to keep them and their families going in Rosyth and Pembroke.
What subsistence allowance is it proposed to give to these wives and families? I am told the amount is 15s. a week. How can the Government expect the wives of these men to keep their families on 15s. a week? Their husbands have not committed any crime. They are going to be sent a long distance from their own homes. They have already sacrificed their interests and their property. What allowance is to be given to these wives? Is any grant going to be made to the rates of Devonport which are to have this additional burden cast upon them, not only in respect of housing, but in respect of unemployment? For every man you send into Devonport a Devonport man is going to be put out of work. There will be considerable ill-feeling in the town, and considerable poverty and privation. What attention is the Admiralty devoting to this question?
There is another question I wish to ask. The First Lord says that these dockyards at Rosyth and Pembroke are no longer necessary, and that a sound economist cannot at the same time advocate a reduction of the Fleet and the maintenance of these dockyards. I would like to know how much of the Admiralty work he proposes to put into the hands of private firms this year. Does he realise that it is 921 the habit of the Admiralty—I speak subject to correction, because I have asked for the figures and have not been able to get them yet—every year to spend more money on the construction of Government ships in private yards than it spends on the construction of Government ships in national yards? The "Nelson" and the "Rodney" have just been completed at a cost of £14,000,000, spent, on private firms. If the contention of the Admiralty is that Pembroke and Rosyth must be kept on a care and maintenance basis, because they will be needed some day, then it would be far better to give all the work that you have to your own yard and to your own men.
The last question I ask is whether the Admiralty are going to put Rosyth and Pembroke up for tender? The First Lord has to-day given us the first indication that the Government would be prepared to make some arrangement with private firms. Is the First Lord aware that offers have been made for public property in the past, but that the Admiralty would not allow private enterprise to develop itself contiguous to naval interests? Will the right hon. Gentleman withdraw every possible restrictions on the plants of those yards, in the event of it being found possible to give the men employment by keeping the plant at work It is no good offering yards to private firms if you are to place obstacles in the way of their full development, and to tell them that they have to be turned out, perhaps at tea minutes' notice. What arrangement is the First Lord making to keep the skilled men properly trained? It is no good keeping the yards in order if you do not keep the men in order also. All these questions are relevant questions. There were some other matters that I desired to raise, but I have promised not to detain the House at this hour of the day and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give me a full assurance on these matters.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I would not intervene at this hour of the day were it not for the fact that, so far as I am aware, no Scottish Unionist Member has yet spoken. As the subject of the closing of Rosyth has been much canvassed in Scotland, it seems to me right that for a moment or two a Scottish Unionist Member should express his opinion. At the outset, may 922 I say that, from the first, such opinion as I have ventured to express publicly in Scotland is the same as that which I will express now, namely, that the question of which dockyard is to be closed, if dockyards are to be closed, is an Admiralty question. Secondly, it is a point of view quite unworthy of a Member of Parliament that he should approve of economy in general and disapprove of it in particular. I cannot believe that Members of the House of Commons who adopt that point of view will add to the respect in which either their constituents or anyone else holds them. Having said that, I do not propose to go into the merits of the question. That would be superfluous, because, if a private Member may say so, one will wait long in this House before one hears a case so absolutely demolished as the case for this Resolution was demolished by the First Lord. Therefore, I do not propose to say another word on that subject.
I was delighted to find the First Lord prepared to consider favourably and properly the question of compensation to local authorities in the case of Rosyth. I believe that is right and necessary. Even if an agreement is only a gentleman's agreement, without anything definite or written, between a public department and a local authority that local expense should be incurred, I cannot believe it would be a good principle that a change of departmental policy should result in the local authority and the local ratepayer being let down. Therefore, while personally in the fullest sympathy with the idea that such compensation should be practical, and should not be a penny in excess of what is necessary, I warmly welcome the First Lord's view that compensation shall be paid if compensation be found necessary. Nothing definite has been said regarding the case of the workmen who have their own houses at Pembroke. Though in no way connected with Wales may I, as a Unionist Member, say I regard it as of equal importance that their case should be met. It is of special importance when a Conservative Government is in office. It is of importance that we who, in season and out of season, urge the desirability of people having their own possessions, to whatever class or section they belong, should take adequate care that these men who have built up their possessions are properly treated 923 when a Government Department most properly and for other reasons finds it necessary to place those possessions in jeopardy.
One feature of the First Lord's speech which I welcomed was his disclosure that these economies are only the preludes to further economies by the Admiralty. That is welcome hearing on this side of the House, and we wish the right hon. Gentleman more strength to his arm in the process of reducing expenditure wherever possible. Hon. Members opposite seem to take the view that economies in personnel should be confined to the Admiralty staff and should not extend to the working staff of the dockyards on the ground that the working staffs would either be left in the lurch or would cause the nation expense otherwise. If you are going to reduce the staff of the Admiralty you will also throw a number of people out of work. Is it not essential in short, if we are determined upon economy, to set our teeth and take our courage in both hands whether we like these economies or not from the point of view of personnel or of our constituents. Courage is the first necessity in economy, and I welcome most emphatically this first step which the Government have taken.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I am sorry if the tone of my voice led the hon. Baronet to believe that I was about to resume my seat, and give him the opportunity of showing that Scotland would be a paradise if you excluded from it the Unionist policy of economy and the Liberal policy of the land. I hope he will have that opportunity before the Debate closes. May I say that the time may come when economies will be suggested of which private Members on this side cannot fully approve. If that time come, I hope to have the same freedom of speech in opposing economies which I think are against the interests of the nation as that which I now claim in supporting an economy which I think is wise, just and right. As far as Scotland is concerned there can be no question but that second thoughts are best, and those who dreaded economy at first will now realise that we must take our share in the reduction of national expenditure.
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Davidson)
I do not propose to detain the House very long, especially in view of the animated appearance of the benches opposite, except to reply to one or two questions which have been put by my hon. Friends during the course of the Debate. I will reply first to the questions which the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) put, although he spoke nearly last. He asked what the Admiralty were going to do with regard to the housing of the 500 men who may be transferred to his constituency, and the answer is that the Admiralty have been engaged for some time in studying the whole question of the housing of these transferees. I cannot give any details, but the hon. Member may rest assured that we shall do everything in our power to mitigate the hardships which will undoubtedly arise during the first few months after the transfer has taken place. He asked with regard to an Admiralty grant towards the rates, but that is a matter about which the Admiralty are not competent to talk. Any grant which may be asked for would, if it were given, have to be given by the Treasury, and not by the Admiralty.
The hon. Member asked also with regard to the work which the Admiralty did in private yards. I think he had in his mind that if Rosyth and Pembroke were not closed, work would be done there which will now have to be done in private yards, but that is not so. The dockyards are maintained primarily for repairs to the Fleet. Such construction as is done is done in yards where facilities for construction exist, and no such facilities exist at Rosyth, and only for small vessels at Pembroke. The Admiralty have decided, and the Government have supported them, to close Pembroke, and vessels which the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Price) thinks might have been built there will have to be built elsewhere.
§ Major PRICE
Is it not a fact that the reason for closing Pembroke was stated to be that it was a building yard, and not a repairing yard?
So far as subsistence, rates are concerned, I cannot give a final reply, because we are, still in correspondence with the Treasury on that subject. But as far as the Admiralty are concerned we shall do everything we can to see that the transferees are treated fairly in the matter. The hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. W. M. Watson) asked three specific questions. He asked about the late of the unestablished men who were transferees to Rosyth. The answer is that men who were transferred from the Southern dockyards, if they are not established, through reasons beyond their own control, will have an opportunity of transferring to Southern yards, back again to the yards from which they came. The hon. Member asked if local established men would be kept as far as possible in the care and maintenance party; in other words, that the local men should have the first chance in the care and maintenance party. The answer is that, so far as possible, that will be so. I cannot give a definite assurance, but that is the policy we shall pursue in regard to that question. Then he asked, "Will the disabled ex-service men be kept as long as possible?" I answer a question the other day to the effect that they will be kept on to the limit of time possible. Of course, there is a proviso that they have to have work which they are able to do, but so far as that work is available they will be maintained. The hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke—and on many occasions during the debate the point was made—referred to the effect that the closing of these dockyards would have, not only upon the men who would be discharged, but also upon the places where the dockyards are situate. I think the House ought to remember that not very long ago the executive officers and men of the Navy were "axed." and reduced in numbers.
At least they had their profession taken away from them, and they made no demonstration of the nature of which we have heard so much this afternoon. That is a factor which, I think, the House ought to take into 926 consideration. The hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke also referred— and rightly referred—to speeches showing that Pembroke and, of course, Rosyth, which is in the same category, have both in their respective ways been described in the past as dockyards which ought to be maintained for purely naval reasons. The Chief Whip was quoted as saying that he did not think it would pay to scrap Pembroke. That was some years ago, before the programme of construction had been decided upon which has led not only to the economies we propose in the dockyards, but also to the scrapping of ships, which would otherwise come into the dockyards for refitting.
Although my right hon. Friend was quite right in saying then that it would not pay to scrap Pembroke, to-day it will, for this reason. There are six dockyards now in existence. It has been decided to reduce two of them to care and maintenance. The reason for that is that there is not enough work for these dockyards, and if you kept on six dockyards you would have to make work to employ the men. If you have four efficient dockyards working full time, instead of six dockyards not at full pressure, you have the maximum of production and the minimum of overhead charges, for you do away with the overhead charges of two dockyards. That is very unpleasant for the two dockyards, but, so far as the Admiralty is concerned, we have not only to regard the Navy, but we have to consider the taxpayers' money. Therefore, it has come to this. Having got a definite programme of construction, and having decided to scrap a great many obsolete vessels, we have decided that the four dockyards can do the work which previously it took six to do, and that is the whole ease in a nutshell.
Now may I say a word about compensation? Whatever may be the case at Pembroke, at least the public know what Rosyth want. They have never hidden their light under a bushel. We know perfectly well how the matter stands, and figures have been quoted. It is better for the Admiralty to know the full facts of the case. If a municipality comes forward 927 and makes a claim like, say, the municipality of Dunfermline, then I am sure of this, that so far as the Admiralty are concerned I can promise that the claim will be considered from the point of view of doing justice. But the point pressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife does not really rest with the Admiralty. It must be a matter for the Government as a whole, because the Scottish Office and the Treasury are both concerned. When the claims have been formulated and are put in, so far as we are concerned we shall try our utmost to see that justice is done.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for East Rhondda (Lieut.-Colonel Watts-Morgan) was inclined to suggest that much more important than the closing of the dockyards was the reduction of the staff of the Admiralty. It would not be in order to discuss staff reduction to-day, but I might suggest to the House that if you reduce two establishments you are going to reduce the staff. If you are not going to reduce the staff then I do not understand what it means. If there are two establishments the less, six reduced to four, it means a reduction in the correspondence between the Admiralty and those staffs. The result, obviously, will mean a reduction of staff. It would be a very foolish thing to cut off 25 per cent. of the staff at the Admiralty before reducing the work at the dockyards. That is all, I think, I have to say on the question of the staff.
On the general principle I should like to say one thing. We at the Admiralty have taken a long time to consider the question of the dockyards. The hon. Gentleman who last spoke said, primarily, it was a matter for the Naval Staff and the Board of Admiralty to decide whether, from the naval point of view, the dockyards are required and which particular establishments can be dispensed with. Having decided that, we have to see to it that the least possible suffering is imposed upon those who are mainly concerned in the reduction. I believe, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman who sits on the benches opposite, and who was my predecessor, will bear me out, that there are very few employers who treat their employées better than the Admiralty. We do our best to be a model employer. 928 We have done so, and shall do our best to mitigate, as far as possible, the undoubted hardship which will arise from the closing of the dockyards. Therefore I ask the House to vote for the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bell airs), and to reject the Vote of Censure which has been moved from the benches opposite, because in spite of local hardship—economy always means that, and, no matter where you start, you always tread on somebody's corns —it is a real economy; it will not interfere in any way with the efficiency of the Navy, in fact, will increase it, because there are a great many other things we would like to spend money on—the replacing of obsolescent ships and other things. For all these reasons I hope the House will support the Government, and will help us, not only now, but when we lay before the House the much greater economics which are to come.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
The speech that was delivered by the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton)—a very sprightly, though brief, speech—put the case, I think, for the Government to-day. He said Members of this House who believe in economy ought not to draw the line when their own constituencies are affected. I think that is a very sound doctrine. They must first of all be sure that it is an economy. The second point was that in matters like the closing or the opening of dockyards; the decision of the Admiralty ought to be taken, and respected. That is so. I will put a third point. As I have already indicated, in talking of economy we ought to be perfectly certain that it is economy we are talking about, and not a new method of increased expenditure. I regard this matter as something far bigger than the closing of two obsolete, or semi-obsolete, useless, or about-to-be useless, dockyards. I would like the Admiralty to take us fully into their confidence in this matter. Is this merely a closing of two English dockyards, or is it the beginning of a new naval strategy all over the world?
That is why, so far as I am concerned, I am not going to vote for the Amendment, but for the Resolution that stands in the name of several hon. Friends of mine. Were I convinced that these two 929 dockyards were being dispensed with because at last, at long last, the Admiralty are beginning to consider the expenditure of the taxpayers' money, I should support the closing of the dockyards. Were I perfectly certain that the closing of those dockyards would make for increased efficiency in the other four I would support the closing. Were I convinced that the closing of Rosyth and Pembroke meant that the overhead charges of Devonport, Portsmouth, Chatham and Sheerness were to be reduced—because the Admiralty at last had begun to have some real conception of business principles—I should vote for the closing. I am not convinced on any one of these points. What I am perfectly certain of is that the closing of these two dockyards has to be read in with the opening of a new dockyard in the Pacific. There is no doubt about that. I do not see how any doubt can be entertained with regard to it.
Rosyth was opened for the purpose of North Sea defence and attack, and on the assumption that a capital ship was to be our chief armament for defence. I am not so sure that the Admiralty have even now made up their mind on this point, but at any rate Rosyth was based upon the efficiency of the capital ship and upon North Sea strategy. Now we are told that Rosyth has to be scrapped because the strategical problem in the opinion of the general staff of the Admiralty has changed, but where has it gone? The development is going to take place, not in the North Sea, but in the Pacific. Therefore, so far as economy is concerned this is no economy at all, but it is simply an adaptation of the defences of an old system of strategy to a new system, and to begin with certain dockyards are now declared to be redundant and are going to be closed.
I do not know what other economies we are going to have when the Estimates are presented, but I hope they will be more substantial, and I hope that when the White Paper is issued it will be drawn up in a way that will permit of some examination of these economies and that the one we have now will not be taken as a model. I will not use the very condemnatory expression of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Major Price), but I am sure we all share his opinion with regard to the worthlessness of this White 930 Paper, which is the most useless scrap of paper that has ever been issued to explain a problem of this kind. That is my first point, namely, that this is not economy but the beginning of a new development of naval strategy moving from the North Sea down to the Pacific.
Why is Sheerness going to be kept? Why is Chatham kept? Simply for purely sentimental reasons, not because they are good dockyards, but because the Chatham area is a good recruiting ground for the Navy. This new naval strategy is not merely going to scrap two of our dockyards, but more, and a development of the policy of giving building to private yards will enable the Admiralty to produce more economies of this kind, which are only camouflaged methods for further Admiralty expenditure. If these dockyards have to close, I hope the Admiralty and the Treasury will seriously consider the matter. This is not merely an Admiralty question, because we know their intentions perfectly well. It is also a Treasury matter. We have had various promises made to-day on this question, and I welcome them. I commiserate with my hon. Friend, not in rebutting the attack made upon him to-day, but in regard to the attack which will be made at 10, Downing Street and the Treasury offices when the hon. Gentleman repeats the speech he has made to-day about compensation. That is where his trouble will come in, and, as far as we can help him in getting over the trouble, he may rely that any assistance we can give him will be forthcoming. The House knows perfectly well that the real trouble—once all this is settled and the compensation questions are under discussion—is going to be between the Admiralty and the Treasury, not between the Government and the Opposition.
I would, however, emphasise the special need of the claims of those places. Both Rosyth and Pembroke are artificial towns. They were not created in the ordinary operation of business. Where the avenues down which business runs come together towns are created, interests are created. But these two towns have been built up and created at the behest of the Admiralty, and the moment the Admiralty say, "We have no further use for them," or, "We have only a very limited use for them," those 931 towns dissolve. They cannot bear their overhead charges. Therefore, the Admiralty have a special responsibility to see that those towns are not worsened. There is the question of the ownership of houses and so on.
Take the case of Rosyth alone. I have a special interest in the Scottish National Housing Council. I have followed it from the day when its first prospectus was issued. Here was a plan put before the country for building houses that were going to be model houses, and a great many of us took a special interest in it, because we felt that the development of this town of Rosyth would be a splendid example to all building enterprises of the same character. The Government themselves came down and said so much were they interested in this matter and so much was it an artificial affair that they were prepared to guarantee 5 per cent. interest. They are committed absolutely to that company for an expenditure of something like £1,000,000. The case for Dunfermline has been stated, and the case for Pembroke has been admirably put by the hon. Member for Pembroke. This is no question of pettifogging bargaining.
The complete debts of those towns ought to be taken over by the Treasury in so far as those debts were incurred in order to do the work that the towns were expected to do. If this were a private company, if a private company owned Pembroke Dock or Rosyth, if there were mills or factories as suggested by the First Lord, and if that private company were still a going concern, does anyone believe for a moment that they would scrap those mills, discharge those people, and turn them out on to the street? Of course, it would do nothing of the kind. The nation that asked these people to come together, that created Rosyth and Pembroke Dock, is still a going concern, and the services that they asked of these people, the risks they imposed upon them, and the conditions they imposed upon their lives, were for the purposes of keeping the nation together; and, so long as the nation is being kept together, it ought to observe its responsibilities with respect to these people, both individually and as a community. Therefore, I would press very hardly, very closely, and most sincerely upon the 932 Admiralty to continue this fight with the Treasury, not for a niggling, cheeseparing compensation, but for an honourable and gentlemanly discharge of its obligations to these towns.
As I have said, I shall vote with the greatest pleasure for this Resolution, because I believe that the closing of these dockyards is not at all what it seems on paper. If I were persuaded that it was just exactly as it is in the White Paper, I should not vote for the Resolution at all. If this were made necessary by, say, the operation of a peace programme, the reduction of armaments and so on, then it would have to be done, and the necessary compensation would have to be paid. In that case a Resolution like this would certainly not receive my support. But, because I am convinced that this is only the beginning of a fresh development of naval policy, I shall take this opportunity of showing my opposition, not only to the closing of dockyards, but to the development of this naval policy, by going into the Lobby immediately in support of the Resolution which has been moved.
The more I see of Governments, the more convinced I am that Socialism would be a disaster, and, if anything could convince me of what a calamity Socialism would be, this Debate to-day would certainly do so. If I thought that this was naval strategy to begin again a big war, I should be in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition; but I know perfectly well how hard it is for the Government to make economies, and that it is particularly hard for them to do anything to cut down the Navy; but they feel they have got to do it. Everything that can be said has been said on one side or the other, and I only want just to say this, that only those who live in a dockyard town, or represent a dockyard constituency, can realise what a dreadful thing the closing of these two dockyards is. It is a tragedy, and no one can take a light view of it. It is one of the tragedies of peace. Sometimes, I think that war, with its glamour, is easier for a Government that peace, with its hard cold economic facts. This is one of them, and much as I deplore its having to be done, simply on account of the human factor in the dockyards, I shall vote for the Government.
933 I am for peace; I am for the Washington Convention and Locarno; and, when I talk about peace, I am willing to face the risk of unpopularity by economising on the fighting Services. This is an economy on the fighting Services. I have always stood for peace, even in a dockyard constituency. I want to ask the Government, could they consider just one constructive proposal? There will not be, as the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) has said, 1,000 people coming to Plymouth, but there will be 500. Would it not be more constructive, instead of giving separation allowance, for the Government, in the localities where these men are going to be transferred, to get in touch with the local authorities, particularly in places where the housing shortage is as great as it is in Plymouth and Devonport, and, instead of giving the separation allowance to the men, to give the money that is going to be spent to the local authorities in order that they may provide houses and homes for these men? [An HON. MEMBER: "That is Socialism!"] No, it is not. That is a constructive proposal, and I want to commend it to the Government, because the housing question is very acute and the position is such that even if a man could bring his family it would not be right to put them into the houses that there are. This is a change for the Government to do a constructive thing, and if they went to the local authorities it would be a far greater saving instead of separation allowances. I am indeed sorry for the dockyard Members, but we who represent dockyards—in my case for six years —have known that this was bound to come about. I only wish there was some way of getting private enterprise going
§ at Pembroke and Rosyth, but private enterprise is very difficult. Even then it is far better than what you might call Government enterprise. Anything more fallible than Governments I have never seen. I hope this will be a lesson to everyone never to put their faith in a Government running the country. Let the country be run by private enterprise.
§ I have seen to-day that when the call of economy goes up Members are bound to speak from their own narrow point of view or for the sake of their constituencies. I know how dreadful it is, but today it has been an absolute lesson to me to see Members on the other side who go round the country saying we belong to a party that is thinking only of the next war, pleading to-day both for private enterprise and for keeping up two dockyards. I am for peace, and I back the Government in this real move for economy on the righting services, though I would not back thorn when they begin to economise on things that are absolutely necessary for the national welfare, such as education.
§ Miss WILKINSON
May I remind the Noble Lady, who is so strongly in favour of private enterprise, of the startling example of Vickers. I would also inform her that those who are voting against the Government this time are as keen on peace as she is but they think the only hope for the peace of the world is to take the making of armaments out of the hands of private companies.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 65; Noes, 237.937
|Division No. 477.]||AYES.||[4.0 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Morris, R. H.|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, North)|
|Ammon, Charles George||Hardie, George D.||Naylor, T. E.|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Palin, John Henry|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hayes, John Henry||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Barnes, A.||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Potts, John S.|
|Barr, J.||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Price, Major C. W. M.|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)|
|Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Saklatvala, Shapurji|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Day, Colonel Harry||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Dennison, R.||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)|
|Dunnico, H.||Kelly, W. T.||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Edwards, John H, (Accrington)||Lansbury, George||Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Lindley, F. W.||Snell, Harry|
|Garro-Jones, Captain G. M.||Livingstone, A. M.||Spencer, G. A. (Broxtowe)|
|Gosling, Harry||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon)||Stephen, Campbell|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||March, S.||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)||Wilkinson, Ellen C.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Weir, L. M.||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)||Mr. T. Kennedy and Mr. Charles|
|Welsh, J. C.||Windsor, Walter||Edwards.|
|Westwood, J.||Wright, W.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut. Colonel||Fanshawe, Commander G. D.||Mason, Lieut.-Cot. Glyn K.|
|Albery, Irving James||Fermoy, Lord||Meller, R. J.|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Forrest, W.||Merriman, F. B.|
|Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l)||Foster, Sir Harry S.||Meyer, Sir Frank|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Fraser, Captain Ian||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Ganzoni, Sir John||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.|
|Astor, Viscountess||Gates, Percy.||Moore, Sir Newton J.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Gee, Captain R.||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Morden, Col. W. Grant|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Moreing, Captain A. H.|
|Barnett, Major Sir Richard||Goff, Sir Park||Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury)|
|Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.)||Grace, John||Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Grant, J. A.||Murchison, c. K.|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Neville, R. J.|
|Berry, Sir George||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Newman, Sir R. H.S. D.L. (Exeter)|
|Botterton, Henry B.||Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Sir H.(W'th's'w, E)||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Grottton, Colonel John||Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert|
|Bird, E. R. (Yorks, w. R., Skipton)||Grotrian, H. Brent||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William|
|Blades, Sir George Rowland||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Pease, William Edwin|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Pennefather, Sir John|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Penny, Frederick George|
|Bowater. Sir T. Vansittart||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Peto, Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Hall. Vice-Admiral Sir B. (Eastbourne)||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)|
|Brassey, Sir Leonard||Hammersley, S. S.||Pilcher, G.|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Hanbury, C.||Pilditch, Sir Philip|
|Briggs, J. Harold||Harrison, G. J. C.||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Hawke, John Anthony||Ramsden, E.|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.||Rawlinson, Rt. Hon. John Fredk. Peel|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Reid, Captain A. S. C. (Warrington)|
|Brown, Brig. Gen. H. C.(Berks, Newb'y)||Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Reid, D. D. (County Down)|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Remer, J. R.|
|Bullock, Captain M.||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Remnant, Sir James|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Herbert, S.(York, N.R., Scar. & Wh'by)||Rentoul, G. S.|
|Campbell, E. T.||Hills, Major John Walter||Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)|
|Cassels, J. D.||Hilton, Cecil||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Rye, F. G.|
|Cazalet. Captain Victor A.||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)||Salmon, Major I.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Holland, Sir Arthur||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Chadwlck, Sir Robert Burton||Holt, Captain H. P.||Sandeman, A. Stewart|
|Chapman, Sir S.||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Sanderson, Sir Frank|
|Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M.(Hackney, N.)||Sandon, Lord|
|Christie, J. A.||Hudson, R. S. (Cumberland, Whiteh'n)||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustava D.|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur C.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Savory, S. S.|
|Clayton, G. C.||Huntingfield, Lord||Scott, Sir Leslie (Liverp'l, Exchange)|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Hurst, Gerald S.||Shaw, R G (Yorks, W.R., Sowerby)|
|Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Shaw. Lt.-Col. A. D. Maj. (Renfrew, W.)|
|Conway. Sir W. Martin||Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley|
|Cope, Major William||Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Couper, J. B.||Jacob, A. E.||Skelton, A. N.|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Slaney, Major P. Kenyon|
|Courthope, Lieut. Col. Sir George L.||Joynson-Hicks, Rt. Hon. Sir William||Smith, R.W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islingtn, N.)||Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)||Smithers, Waldron|
|Craig, Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||King, Captain Henry Douglas||Sprot, Sir Alexander|
|Crook, C. W.||Lane-Fox, Colonel George R.||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)||Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Stanley, Hon. G. F. G. (Westm'eland)|
|Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)||Steel, Major Samuel Strang|
|Cunliffe, Joseph Herbert||Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)||Streatfeild, Captain S. R.|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||Locker-Lampson, Com. O.(Handsw'th)||Stuart Crichton-, Lord C.|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Loder, J. de V.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Dalziel, Sir Davison||Lord, Walter Greaves-||Tasker, Major H. Inigo|
|Davidson, J.(Hertf'd, Hemel Hempst'd)||Lumley, L. R.||Templeton, W. P.|
|Davidson, Major-General Sir John H.||MacAndrew, Charles Glen||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Tinne, J. A.|
|Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester)||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Tryon. Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Macdonald, R. (Glasgow, Cathcart)||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. p.|
|Dean, Arthur Wellesley||McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus||Wallace, Captain D. E.|
|Drewe, C.||Macintyre, I.||Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Eden, Captain Anthony||McLean, Major A.||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Elliot, Captain Walter E.||McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John||White, Lieut.-Colonel G. Dairymple|
|Elveden, Viscount||Macquisten, F. A.||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)|
|Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)||Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel-||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Malone, Major P. B.||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Falle sir Bertram G.||Margasson, Capt. D.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Wise, Sir Fredric||Wood, Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Wolmer, Viscount||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.||Colonel Gibbs and Major Sir Harry|
|Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'dge & Hyde)||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.||Barnston.|
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ It being after Four of the Clock the Debate stood adjourned.
§ The remaining Government Orders were, read, and postponed.938
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3, until Monday next (14th December), pursuant to the Order of the House of 16th November.
§ Adjourned at Twelve Minutes after Four o'Clock.