§ [13th ALLOTTED DAY.]
§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. JAMES HOPE in the Chair,]
§ NAVY ESTIMATES, 1925–26.
§ ADMIRALTY OFFICE.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a. sum, not exceeding £1,246,100, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expenses of the Admiralty Office, Which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1926.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
This Motion has been put on the Paper in order to call the attention of the Committee and of the country to the scale of Naval expenditure, both actual and prospective, and to invite the Government to make a statement as to the principles upon which they consider that expenditure should be regulated. I am aware that the Prime Minister announced a day or two ago that it would not be possible to-day to reveal the precise proposals which, after this long period of incubation, the Cabinet will, presumably, some day be able to announce. The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) in a Supplementary Question, suggested that if that were the case, the debate to-day would be premature.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I do not take that view. The hon. and gallant Member must make up his mind whether he thinks that Parliamentary discussion is a good thing before matters are decided, or whether he prefers to postpone Parliamentary discussion until after things have been decided. If the House of Commons is merely to register the decision of the Government, I agree that Parliamentary debate at this stage is unnecessary, though I do not think it is more ridiculous or as ridiculous as Parliamentary debate after an announcement has been made. On the other hand if, as I hold, 1558 a Cabinet decision should be a decision of the Executive after Parliamentary consultation and debate, then I do claim that the time when it is useful to have such debate is before rather than after a decision has been arrived at. If I thought that the majority that was returned to support the Government was going to resist the Government proposals, according to the size of the building programme which they produced, I might take a different view; but I am not aware that the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone, who thinks that this debate is ridiculous, is prepared to tell me of any naval construction which he pledges himself in advance to resist.
The position is anomalous, because when last March the First Lord of the Admiralty presented his Estimates he explained that, large as the figure was—not less than £60,500,000 to be spent in the year—it did not include any provision. for the announcement of any new construction. If that is so, it cannot be because there has been any delay on the part of the Board of Admiralty in putting forward their proposals. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman has been careful to lead the House to believe, in an answer he gave, that whatever the explanation may be of the failure to make an announcement hitherto—here we are in the middle of July—the blame does not in the least degree rest upon the Board of Admiralty, which he represents. I have no doubt that that is true. Even now, certainly up to the last few hours, this is an unsettled question. It is unsettled because the Admiralty on the one hand and the Treasury on the other have taken different points of view, and, as the Prime Minister told us only yesterday, the Cabinet—the united Cabinet of which he is the head—has not yet been able to make any public announcement, If the Cabinet could not settle the matter and announce its conclusions before now, there must be, even in the informed authoritative circles from which the members of the Cabinet are drawn, a body of opinion which is resisting the demands of the Board of Admiralty. That being so, I claim that it is a perfectly proper and very useful function of the House of Commons to consider what are the principles upon which a decision ought to be based, and to ask the Government to toll us how far they intend to put these principles into practice.
1559 In approaching such a question, the principle for which we ought to stand is neither a ready acquiescence in any naval expenditure proposed, nor a resistance on merely abstract grounds to any naval expenditure that is suggested. There are people in this House and in the country who, either because of their political associations or because of the way in which they regard the enormous service which the British Navy renders to the peace and security of the world, are naturally tempted, when they hear a, proposal from the Government bench relating to naval expenditure, to accept it without very narrow scrutiny. I do not in the least blame them. It is a point of view which is perfectly natural and highly honourable. I do not by any means limit that point of view to the dockyard members who have, of course, their particular domestic difficulties. There is another set of people in this House and outside who, whenever they hear proposals for naval expenditure, are tempted to take up an attitude of opposition on merely abstract grounds. They may be moral grounds, they may be philosophical grounds, they may be grounds that are based on very high principles, and most sincerely held, but, still, their opposition is almost instinctive, and has very little to do with the merits of the particular proposal under discussion.
I try to set for myself, and I think other hon. Members should set for themselves, a resolve to take up neither one attitude nor the other, but, rather, to say that our principle is that naval armaments should be reduced, and that they should be reduced to the lowest point consistent with national safety. Of course, when I use that phrase I am using the actual phrase of the Covenant of the League of Nations, and it has to be remembered, therefore, that this country is pledged to that point of view, and that if we exceed that figure we are in fact ourselves engaged in breaking the Covenant, and, of course, making the whole scheme of the League of Nations look ridiculous. The question, therefore, which I wish to ask, and to which I hope to get an answer from the Government Benches, is this. The principle to which we are committed is that the nations of the world—in this matter we rightly claim pride of place—should pro- 1560 ceed on the basis that naval armaments should be reduced to the lowest point consistent with the national safety. I want, therefore, to ask whether the Government, which accepts that principle in words, is really addressing itself to the application of that principle in practice.
As I said, the dockyard Members have a very special concern in some aspects of this matter, and so far from complaining of it I think it would be greatly to the advantage of the Committee that the concern that they feel as to their own constituencies should be most firmly expressed. It is a concern which is not by any means limited to dockyard Members. If I may refer to my hon. and gallant Friend behind me the Member for Devonport (Major Hore-Belisha), he has more than once in this House, and also out of it, pointed out that the anxiety of the dockyard towns in the presence of very widespread unemployment cannot always and ever be met by the laying down of new ships of war, but that we ought to endeavour, and the Government ought to endeavour, to find ways in which that labour may be employed, and that skill taken advantage of, in other or analogous directions, if indeed national and international considerations do not justify naval buildings.
May I give an example from another country? Krupps was before the War an immense arsenal turning out. with the assistance of tens of thousands of men, material not only for the equipment of the army but of the navy as well. Krupps, as such, is dead and, if my information is even reasonably accurate, they have in Krupps' works—having been compelled by the Treaty of Versailles to cease the manufacture of instruments of war of any kind—transformed and made use of an organisation and enterprise and an immense manual skill, which previously had been devoted to building engines of destruction, in ways which do take advantage of the special attainments of the persons concerned. I cannot help thinking that it is a counsel of despair which we are addressing to these unfortunate people in dockyard towns if we tell them that, no matter what the circumstances are, they are condemned to be unemployed unless indeed we continue to build, and to promote schemes of new 1561 naval construction. If indeed we are always to replace everything that wears out, if we are never to face the possibility of a man who has previously been employed directly or indirectly in producing instruments of destruction being employed on something else, then it is useless to declare ourselves in favour of a reduction of armaments. Pronouncements in favour of an international reduction of naval strength are nauseating cant if we are going to refuse to contemplate what is the inevitable result of even the smallest succese in carrying through a programme of that kind.
May I remind the Committee, not from the naval point of view, but from the financial point of view, how matters stand at this moment. I will only trouble the Committee with two or three figures, but they are figures which ought to be kept constantly before everyone who asks questions on economy. An hon. Member on the back benches was putting a question of this sort to the Prime Minister just now. If he is really interested, as no doubt he sincerely is, in schemes for reducing expenditure, will he allow me to ask him what Department of public expenditure do you think that substantial reductions can be secured? The truth is that there are two Departments, and two Departments only, and both of them are related to the subject which we are debating this afternoon. Take, first of all, the expenditure on the armed forces.
The Navy Estimates this year, apart altogether from any new construction, are £60,500,000. That is a net increase, if you take the three Services together, Army, Navy, and Air Force, over last year's estimates—the Labour party's estimates—of £5,202,000. It is an actual increase in the case of the Navy estimate of £4,700,000; though it is fair to say that, included in that £4,700,000, there is a very large figure, nearly £1,500,000, for the Fleet air arm, which, whatever may be the strategical arguments on the subject, may fairly be debited against the Air Service, as distinguished from the purely Naval Service. The position which I think the Committee must be content to face is that that is a staggering figure in itself. In 1913-14, the last year before the War, at a time when the German Fleet was the 1562 enormously powerful and the enormously threatening instrument that it was, the total issue for the Navy was £48,000,000. This year, with the menace of the German Navy completely disappeared, with nothing within reasonable range which can plausibly be said to be a substitute danger, we have under the single head of naval expenditure an addition of £12,000,000 more.
It may be said that you must have regard to the purchasing power of money, and of course you must. If we look at the matter in a slightly different aspect it appears to me that public expenditure as a whole ought to be the primary concern of every Member of the House of Commons, and if we consider the total amount of national expenditure, we have a Budget of £800,000,000, and the expenditure on local rates is £160,000,000, so that you get this fact that during the year we take from the pockets of the people, whether by Imperial taxes or local rates, £960,000,000, which Sir Josiah Stamp says is one-quarter of the total income of the country. If you contrast that with the position before the War you will find that in 1913 the Budget expenditure was £200,000,000, and the expenditure on rates was something like £79,000,000, and the total was £279,000,000, which was not a quarter of the income of the country for the year, but only one-ninth. We are, therefore, faced with the plain fact that if, indeed, we have to contemplate expenditure on this scale on Army, Navy and Air Force combined, we are laying on the country a burden which, in point of size, is so abnormally great that it is at least doubtful whether even this country can stand it.
Take another test. In 1913 for every pound sterling voted under the head of Vote 9, Naval Armaments, 2s. represented administration and 18s. represented the stores account. If we contrast the figures for last year, last year 6s. 6d. of every pound was spent on administration and only 13s. 6d. represented stores accounts. After all, so far as that is really to be explained by the determination to pay a proper wage for services rendered, I do not think that there is or ought to be in any quarter any objection. Since the House of Commons has voted the money for married officers' allowances, I hope 1563 the First Lord is going to be able to make an announcement when that money is to be distributed.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
That proportional figure does not include the Vote for new contruction because there has been no new construction.
§ Sir J. SIMON
The contrast is none the less a very striking one. The plain truth appears to be—I follow the hon. and gallant Member's point, and I agree that it must be allowed for—when you analyse the expenditure of recent years, that there is the strongest reasons for thinking that the very large sums involved in the Votes are not really represented by materiel, but are largely represented by expenditure under the head of administration. I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman will agree that so far I am putting it fairly. That in itself shows a terrible burden, and we are warned by the First Lord, and by rumours in the newspapers, and by the failure of the Government to make an announcement, that this is not the end; and the Prime Minister has pledged himself that at any rate before we separate for the holidays there shall at least be some announcement on further expenditure from the Government.
I have said that there is a close relation between this naval expenditure and the broad concern for economy at this time which is evidenced in every quarter of the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. Hilton Young), on the Third Beading of the Finance Bill, made, if he will allow me to say so, a most striking speech in which he developed this point. He pointed out, as I have ventured to point out, that if you really want economy there are only certain very limited directions in which you can pursue it. One of those, no doubt, is in reducing the annual charge for the debt by creating a financial situation in which you are able to convert loans which are now carrying a high rate of interest into new loans which can be raised at a lower rate of charge. You cannot do that unless you are prepared now to exercise the most iron discipline in controlling the expenditure of the spending Departments in every possible direction. I believe that there are very substantial argu- 1564 ments, from the strategic and from the technical point of view, for postponing, rather than hastening, new construction. That is a matter on which the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Oxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) and many others speak with authority, and on which I do not profess to have any instructive knowledge at all, but any man who uses his brains can see that there are strong reasons for taking that point of view. But whether that be so or not, whether on grounds of naval construction it be a good thing first to make the experiment, or whether, on the whole, it is not better to feel that you are going to use the immense resources of this country for rapid construction at a later period, when you may fairly say that there is a risk or danger, the financial consideration comes into play and the financial consideration is this.
You cannot relieve the burdens of the people of this country under the head of these tremendous taxes unless you are prepared to address yourself either to expenditure on the Navy, Army or Air Force, or else so to conduct your financial affairs as to reduce the annual charges on the debt. Who is there in the Conservative party opposite, when he talks about economy, really contemplates securing it by cutting down the Social Services? You may be able this year to present an Education Estimate which, I think, is £1,000,000 less than the Estimate last year, but you cannot do that for long, and nobody in this House really thinks that the recovery of the country from tremendous spending is to be got by cutting down expenditure on education. What member of the Conservative party, what member of the Navy League is there, who is prepared to say here in his place, when he talks of his great desire to secure practically a reduction of expenditure, that he really means to reduce it on any social service that he can name?
§ Commander BELLAIRS
Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that, if expenditure on the Fighting Services be vital to the safety of the country, it must come before the Social Services?
§ Sir J. SIMON
That is a very important-argument to consider, but it is not in the smallest degree an answer to my question. It is not the slightest use a man announc- 1565 ing that a bomb-proof shelter is so important to him that he is prepared to go bankrupt to get it; and it is no use members of the Conservative party telling the country, or the Conservative Prime Minister, in the King's Speech or in his messages to by-elections, repeating that he is devoted to the cause of national economy, unless he and those who support him are able to face the only possible way in which it can be secured. If the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone will get up and say, "I wish to confess frankly that economy is impossible, and I wish to warn the electors of Maidstone that in future they will spend more and more money; I am not going to commit myself to cutting clown the Social Services, and I take the view that expenditure on the Navy cannot be reduced," let him say so, but do not let him in the next breath say that he is in favour of the reduction of national expenditure, because there is no way, unless you are prepared to face the correlated question of the most searching restriction in expenditure on preparations for possible future wars, and at the same time are prepared to improve the financial position of the country in order to raise money at a lower rate of interest.
For my part, I say, quite boldly, apart altogether from the restrictions that are placed on this country by the Covenant of the League of Nations, a Covenant which binds us if we are honourable people to make it our business to see that naval expenditure is reduced to the lowest possible point consistent with national safety; apart altogether from the need for developing an international atmosphere which may lead to naval reductions throughout the world; apart altogether, let me add, from the danger of war, because I believe it to be a danger of war which is fostered by naval rivalry; apart altogether from these practical considerations, there is a plain practical reason that we had much better recognise now, the reason which depends on this proposition, that we are bound to conserve our resources to-day rather than provide for distant and problematical risks under the plea that after all, a great Navy is the first desideratum of the civilised State which we are. Let me remind hon. Gentlemen opposite of the language which they applauded in the King's Speech. The King's Speech of last December contained this paragraph: 1566Every effort will be made to reduce public expenditure to the lowest possible limit consistent with the security and efficiency of the State. The present heavy burdens of the taxpayer are a hindrance to the revival of enterprise and employment Economy in every sphere is imperative if we are to regain our industrial and commercial prosperity.I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite cheer that, but I should like to know in what department of expenditure they expect to secure this reduction if they rule out the possibility of a more iron discipline on the subject of naval expenditure. I remember that in his Budget speech the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that he had in his mind a scheme to reduce expenditure by, at any rate, £10,000,000 a year. What has happened to that scheme? Perhaps the First Lord, as a Member of the Cabinet, will be able to tell us whether the Cabinet has already adopted that scheme. How are you going in future years to reduce expenditure £10,000,000 a year if you increase naval expenditure by this amount and now bring forward a substantial building programme? How is it suggested by anybody it can be done? In future years, not this year, there is to be a State contribution for widows' pensions. It docs not appear in this year's Budget- In future years— indeed, it is already passed—there is to be an addition to the State contribution for unemployment. You have at the moment put forward an Education Estimate which is below the figure of last year, but that cannot last. Therefore, I ask—
§ Sir HENRY CRAIK
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman say that efficiency in education and lavish expenditure in education are the same thing?
§ Sir J. SIMON
I so entirely agree with my right hon. Friend that I suggest that the same principle might be applied to the British Navy. I am sure that the Committee will see that these really are points of general importance for us all, and that they are questions which legitimately arise in a Debate of this sort. What has happened to the announcement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he had in mind a Committee that was going to overhaul expenditure in blocks? Has it begun with the Board of Admiralty, and, if so, what result has 1567 been secured? Those, I know, are general considerations. It is very easy to dismiss them as being merely platitudinous, or as having no close relation to the special technical problems of the day, but I wish to assort, and to claim, that, as a matter of fact, the considerations which ought to govern naval expenditure in this country are not primarily technical considerations at all. I have taken part in, and have attended with the greatest interest, many Debates on Naval Estimates. I always gain great instruction from the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge "(Lieut.-Commander Burney) and the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone, and others, and I am the last man in the world to claim that a mere general interest in a subject is the same thing as having a special and technical knowledge of it—the whole of my life and training repudiates that idea—but I do assert here in the House of Commons that the fundamental question connected with naval expenditure is not a technical question, but is a large question of public policy upon which every Member of the House has to form his own judgment. There was a famous sentence used by the father of the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he, in his day, as a Conservative and as a Chancellor of the Exchequer, resisted what he thought to be excessive demands for the fighting Forces. He went to the Carlton Club and wrote to the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, a letter, and in that letter Lord Randolph Churchill said:The great question of public expenditure in connection with armaments is not so technical and departmental as might be supposed by a superficial critic. Foreign policy and expenditure on armaments act and react on one another.While I thoroughly agree that we have to listen with the greatest respect to those who speak with special knowledge of the risks which the country may be running and of the means by which those risks may be minimised, I altogether dispute that this is a matter which can be handed over to the experts, however eminent, or that the Board of Admiralty itself has any primary authority to decide what we should spend, It is perfectly right that the Board and the right hon. Gentleman should present their demands at the highest possible point—that is what they are there for—but the duty of the Govern- 1568 ment and of the House of Commons is to see whether those demands can be related, and how they best can be related, to other demands in competition with them; and, for my part, I am not prepared at this time of day to accept the proposition that, notwithstanding the destruction of the German Navy, notwithstanding the complete inability to tell you against whom we are arming, and notwithstanding the confident assertion after the War was ended that we had got rid of this nightmare for some time, some hypothetical or distant peril justifies an immense expenditure, unless indeed, on a review of all the circumstances, we can afford it
Turning to the question of cruisers, there are two expressions used about cruiser construction which I have taken occasion before to point out are extremely misleading. I am not going to have a controversy with hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway about the five cruisers. We are only concerned here to see what is to be done now and in the future. It appears to me, first, to be a gross misuse of language to talk about these proposed new cruisers as though they were replacements. They are not replacements in any practical or accurate sense of the term. They are replacements in the sense in which a man who buys a Rolls-Royce car is replacing a worn-out Ford, and in that sense, but in no other sense, are they replacements. The actual class of ship which they were supposed to be replacing, is a class that was scrapped and was off the Navy List before ever these proposals were made. The new type is a type which you may, if you like, call by the same name, but you do not make things the same by calling them the same name. The new class is a class of 10,000 tons mounting 8-inch guns and it is no use the technical authorities on this subject in the House bemusing themselves and trying to mislead us, by talking as though these were mere replacements. This is, in fact, whether right or wrong, a perfectly deliberate policy which will involve the raising of the whole standard of naval expenditure and naval force and it is promoting and must promote an entirely new race in naval armaments.
There is a second expression sometimes used in this connection by the Admiralty. They not only talk about replacement but about "anticipatory replacement." I remember when the Prime Minister made 1569 a famous speech at Plymouth—a very suitable place in which to make it, as the Noble Lady the Member for Sutton (Viscountess Astor) will agree. When the right hon. Gentleman got to Plymouth, which was a very good place to get to for the purpose, he felt the time had come to assert that, even though particular construction might not be immediately needed, he thought it would be right and justified to anticipate construction. In plain English, "anticipatory replacement" means the spending of public money before you need to spend it, on unproductive work which could only be justified if its omission would reduce national armaments below the safety line. I protest against the Admiralty doctrine which seeks to secure that we should accept proposals of this sort, without examining them, under the phrase "anticipatory replacement."
One other observation which I desire to make on the subject of cruisers is open to be checked by any hon. Member who carefully reads the House of Commons Papers. It is not true that the British Navy in regard to cruisers is notoriously weak. On the contrary, cruisers represent a branch of our Navy in which we are notoriously strong. The present Colonial Secretary, when he was First Lord of the Admiralty, said so in this House with the greatest possible emphasis. If any hon. Member takes the Fleet Return, a very interesting document which comes out each spring, and examines it, he will sec that this statement is true. Any hon. Gentleman who examines this Return of the Fleets of Britain and foreign countries, reads it a little closely and observes its full implications, will see in the first place, that in the case of British vessels, and of British vessels alone, the claim is made that for the purpose of calculating their age one year of war service is equivalent to two years of life. I am not saying whether that is right or wrong, but it is surely a rather curious formula to adopt when in this very same document, in which you are working out comparisons as to the strengths of different navies, you carefully avoid applying any such formula or even any modification of such formula to any other Fleet of any other Power in the world.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I entirely agree with the Noble Lady, and I do not wish the Committee to think that I am belittling the services of our Fleet. On the contrary, I would be the first to assert that no Fleet in the world did so much. At the same time, I think it a curious method of calculation to say that no French cruiser, no Japanese cruiser, no American cruiser, is to find its age thus artificially extended by any similar or analogous calculation, with the result, for example, that when I am asked to look at the effective strength of Japan in cruisers the Admiralty bring in every cruiser, even those built as long ago as 1910, but when we come to the British cruisers they strike out every cruiser built between 1910 and 1915 in order to get what they think is an analogy. That may be right or wrong, but it has to be borne in mind, and if it is borne in mind what is the result? After you have done that, the actual result, as anyone can see who examines the table, is that in cruisers as a whole this country is extremely strong. If hon. Members turn to page 14 of the "White Paper, excluding those cruisers which are set out in italics, because they were completed before 1915, you get a total of 49 cruisers of the British Empire.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am only saying that the Admiralty themselves have selected these as being fit cruisers. If the hon. Gentleman who once was a Member for a naval port does not know that—
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It is a fact that the number of cruisers is given as 49, but of these only 20 are fit for protecting commerce.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I can only deal with the document which the Admiralty have provided. I can only assume that the Admiralty know what the position is, and when I read the document I find that after you have made the adjustment to which I referred, the fact still remains that you have 49 cruisers which are attributed, as cruisers, to the British Empire, whereas you have in the case of the United States nine built and, I think, one building and eight which are unidentified and are stated to be authorised. In the case of Japan you have 18 built, and I think nine 1571 building. Nobody can say on that comparison that it is in cruiser construction that the main need of the British Navy at this moment lies. If you must take the latest type, a type which a year ago was not to be found sailing the seas, when the five cruisers were laid down by the late Government cruisers which approximate to 10,000 tons and with these very powerful guns, built or building, then various calculations may be made, but in substance this conclusion is right. You find of that general type something like 11 cruisers of 10,000 tons in the British Navy, and if you take the four other great Powers signing the Washington Agreement and lump their cruisers into one, against this 11 they can produce eight.
I do not think the big argument in this Debate is one which can proceed on technicalities of design or construction. I hold most strongly that the consideration which the Committee is bound to give to this subject is based on more general but none the less extremely relevant considerations, and I submit that it is not a question to-day of Britain desiring, at all cost and in all events to spend whatever honourable and upright advisers suggest to be adequate for an undoubtedly paramount need. We are bound to recognise that unless we succeed, somehow or other, in reducing the sum total of expenditure and the burden on the taxpayer, then the country itself is likely to sink while at the very time you may be pursuing, with all good faith, a "big navy" policy. I conclude by asking hon. Gentlemen opposite, knowing that they have so great an admiration for their Prime Minister, to consider for a moment quite seriously the language which the Prime Minister recently used in the letter which he wrote to the League of Nations Union to be read at a meeting last month. The Prime Minister speaks as we all know with gravity and sincerity, and I think on this subject we must pause and consider what is the practical method by which we are going to carry out these aspirations. This is what the Prime Minister wrote:What is required is a new habit of thought in Europe and such habit can be fostered only by patient endeavour and by wise persistence. We may gradually succeed in creating conditions in which disarmament will become a practical proposition, but such achievement will lose value if the nations of Europe have not meanwhile acquired the will to disarm.1572 The practical question before the Committee really is, what steps do we propose to take in relation to naval expenditure to develop a new habit of thought and to promote the will to disarm? It seems to be that, as years go on, the memory of the War, or the sharpness of that memory inevitably recedes. The high hopes, the firm resolves that were then entertained and expressed both during the struggle and at the time of the Armistice are losing their confidence and their emphasis and if, indeed, we are returning to the old way and resuming this frantic race to destruction, then history may well record that the immeasurable sacrifice of those terrible years has been made in vain.
§ Admiral Sir ARTHUR HENNIKER-HUGHAN
It is with considerable diffidence I rise to follow the right hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken. His long experience in this House and his great knowledge, cause me, as a very recent Member, to be nervous in speaking immediately after him. I will venture to say, however, that I thought he was most fair in all his remarks with regard to the wants of the Navy. As a naval officer, I wish to say—and I know other naval officers and others interested in the Navy on this side of the House have the same feeling—that I am just as much interested in economy as any other hon. Member in any part of the Committee. I can also assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there is a Navy Committee, and it has been sitting recently. We have taken very great trouble to endeavour to find out whether we can effect economy in the naval forces, and a scheme has been evolved, which has been forwarded to the higher authorities but about which I am not at liberty to say anything at present. We have endeavoured in this scheme to arrange that sufficient money should be provided for the extra expenditure which we know is required for the Navy. I think nearly all hon. Members on this side in our election addresses proclaimed that we wanted a one-Power standard. It remains for me to endeavour to point out what I consider a one-Power standard should be. The former Conservative Administration laid it down that at least five cruisers were to be laid down yearly for the 1573 next 10 consecutive years. They also laid it down that our immediate requirements were eight, but only five have been laid down. I agree with the decision come to by the First Lord of the Admiralty in the last Conservative Administration, that is to say, that eight should have been laid down, and that we require to lay down five for the next 10 consecutive years.
I have my own table here, which I have made out to the best of my ability, and I make the actual number of cruisers slightly more than the right hon. Gentleman, but that is a small matter. I make our total number of cruisers consist of 52. More than half of these are suffering the effects of the War and are in need of replacement; 18 are over 10 years old, and many will be obsolete during the next 10 years. The right hon. Gentleman alluded to the fact that we had a sort of rule of thumb that one year's war service counted two years' ordinary service. I honestly think that is a very right and fair arrangement. I do not wish, because I happen to belong to His Majesty's Navy, to glorify or say too much about anything done by the Navy during the time of the War. That is the very last thing I want to say, but I would ask hon. and right hon. Members to remember that our cruisers during the period of the War had an immensely harder task than the cruisers of any other country. I do not wish to belittle any of the other Powers in the least, but we had all our troops to convoy from the Dominions over many miles of sea, and we had, during the first 10 months of war, all our commerce to protect against the raiders that appeared on many parts of the ocean. I fully believe that no class of vessels had such hard work as the British cruisers, and it is by no means a wrong rule of thumb to make to say that the life of a cruiser in time of war is one year against two years in time of peace.
I alluded just now to the one-Power standard. I have the figures here of the navies of the great Powers, and, as far as the British Empire is concerned, I make out the figures to be: Cruisers built, 52; building, 5; total, 57. Cruisers over 10 years old, 18; cruisers completed since 1st January, 1920, 9; cruisers launched since 1st January, 1920, 2; cruisers with speed of 33 knots or more, 2—and I should 1574 like to draw special attention to that last figure. I now turn to the United States of America: Cruisers built, 21; cruisers projected, 8; total, 29. Cruisers over 10 years old, 11; cruisers completed since 1st January, 1920, 10; cruisers launched since 1st January, 1920, 10; cruisers of 35 knots, 10. I think that is a very important point that I am endeavouring to make, that we have two cruisers only of 33 knots, and the United States have 10 of 35 knots, because I think that all of us know, whether we are technical or not—
§ Sir A. HENNIKER-HUGHAN
Not at all. I have no wish to do that. I am only relating facts. I now turn to Japan: Cruisers built, 20; building, 8; projected, 2; total, 30. Cruisers over 10 years old, 4; completed since 1st January, 1920, 14; launched since 1st January, 1920, 13; cruisers with speed of 33 knots or more, 16. We have two, and that is the most important point of all.
§ Sir A. HENNIKER-HUGHAN
A slow cruiser cannot compete against a fast cruiser. I will continue. France: cruisers built, 5; building, 5; projected, 4; total, 14. Italy: cruisers built, 10; building, 2; total, 12. Those are my figures, and with those figures I contend that the building programme that was laid down by the last Conservative Administration is the least that we can carry out so as to ensure the one-Power standard.
§ Sir A. HENNIKER-HUGHAN
No. The right hon. Gentleman referred to 10,000-ton cruisers. A 10,000-ton cruiser is a very expensive article, but the unfortunate thing was that at the Washington Conference the 10,000-ton cruiser was, as I understand, laid down as the maximum, and, as these things happen, owing to that the maximum has become the minimum. If we had another Washington Conference, and if the Powers would agree that, instead of 10,000-ton cruisers, 7,000-ton cruisers 1575 would be sufficient, we should be able to build cruisers much more cheaply. Unfortunately, however, if one person does it, we all have to do it; the maximum was laid down as 10,000 at the Washington Conference, and I contend that owing to that it has become the minimum. I would like also very much to draw the Committee's attention to our trade routes. I have no intention of saying anything about the Air Force, but I reiterate what I said when I spoke before on the Naval Estimates, that the Air Force cannot protect our trade routes, and will not be able to protect them for generations to come, if ever. Our Dominions are such a very long way from the Mother Country, and our trade routes are so enormously long, that, as the Air Force is at present constituted, it cannot possibly protect them. The only thing is to keep on building and being supplied with sufficient cruisers to protect our trade routes. Cruisers have two services in the Navy. One is to work with the Fleet, and the other is to protect the trade routes, and the same cruisers cannot do both. I do not wish to take up the time of the Committee any longer, but I want to point out that the safety of the country depends, in my opinion, on this naval shipbuilding programme being carried out. The British Empire requires far more cruisers than any other country in the world, and unless the Government carries out that building programme, I consider that it incurs a grave responsibility to the nation.
Before I conclude I wish to say one word in respect to marriage allowance. I brought it up the last time I spoke in this House. It has been brought forward by a great many of us very frequently, and we cannot speak too often on the subject. I say that the married naval officer is the only officer or man in our fighting forces who does not receive a marriage allowance, and, apart from anything else, it is not logical that he should not receive it. There is just one more point, now that I am on my legs and have an opportunity, that I wish to make. I should like to inform the hon. Members opposite that naval pensions are contributory. I have so often heard it said by hon. and right hon. Members opposite, quoting, I am sure, without any feeling that they were saying what was not quite correct, that 1576 naval pensions are not contributory. May I say that the naval pensions are contributory, because it is a question of deferred pay? When I joined the Service many years ago, our pay was not as good as it is now, and we fully understood that joining the Service for such small pay we were contributing to our own pensions. When I joined as a midshipman, my pay was 1s. 6d. a day, and that cannot be called excessive; the pay of a sub-lieutenant, 19 to 24, 5s. a day: lieutenant, 24 to 36, having charge of His Majesty's ships of war by day and night, 10s.; commander,;£l; captain of a small ship, £700 a year; captain of one of our biggest ships in the Navy, perhaps worth £2,000,000, with 1.000 men under him, £900. We cannot consider that that pay is excessive, and I feel bound to take this chance, while I am on my legs, to bring before the hon. Members opposite that the naval pension is contributory.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
It would be considerable presumption on my part to speak on the technical side of the Vote for the Navy. I wish to raise a question which is of considerable interest to the trade unionists of this country, in reference to one small side of the question of naval administration. Everyone in this Committee knows that we are upon the verge of a considerable industrial crisis, and that the trade union forces of this country are very much agitated about the prospects of the immediate future. Just at this moment there is a Fleet Order issued, to which I referred in a question which was answered in this House yesterday, which is obviously a considerable modification of previous Orders of a similar character, and which I should very much like to have dealt with by the First Lord of the Admiralty, in order that we slight accurately understand what it is that, in the event of industrial disturbance in this country, we may expect from the Navy of the country with regard to their use as strike-breakers. I would like to read the terms of the Fleet Order to which I refer. It was issued by the Auditor-General of the Navy as an instruction with regard to extra duty pay for the use of the officers and ratings of the Navy in cases of national emergency:The following instructions relative to the remuneration of naval personnel em- 1577 ployed on, or standing by for, industrial work, in connection with a strike of a general nature, or an industrial emergency of a general nature due to a threatened strike, are promulgated for guidance:—Extra pay at double rates laid down in Article 1469 of the King's Regulations may be credited to officers and ratings who are employed on the following services, namely—Personnel employed on the railways during a strike of railway servants.Personnel employed in working public light and power stations (e.g., light and power scheme).Personnel employed on motor transport service, other than ordinary naval duties.Parties engaged on pumping duties (e.g., pumping out mines, locks, etc.) and for such extra duty as working merchant ships in and out of basins.Double extra pay in respect of the above-named services is payable both whilst standing by and during actual employment as a general rule, commencing from the date of dispatch from ships or depots, and should cease on return thereto.Extra pay at the single rates laid down in Article 1469 may be credited to officers and ratings on loading or unloading foodstuffs carried in His Majesty's ships, payment to be made only for days of actual employment.Any cases not covered by the foregoing; paragraphs are to be referred, with full particulars as to the nature of the employment, to the Accountant-General of the Navy, for consideration before any extra pay is credited.Similar application is to be made for purely local strikes, where naval personnel is employed.That goes beyond the question of national emergency.Extra pay (at either single or double rates) is not to be paid for services which normally and properly fall to officers and men of the fighting forces, e.g., protection duties, defence of vulnerable points, etc.It should be clearly understood that repayment by the firm or undertaking concerned for the services rendered will be made direct to the Accountant-General of the Navy. Officers and ratings before being drafted for emergency duty are, therefore, to be informed that in no case are monetary or other payments to be accepted by them from the firm or its representatives, unless such payments have been specifically authorised by the Admiralty.Then follow certain Orders to facilitate the promulgation and working of that particular Order. I do not wish it to be understood that I regard a question of national emergency as no concern of the Government. I do not wish for one 1578 moment to suggest that if this country is faced by famine as the result of an industrial crisis, it is not the duty of any Government to see that that famine is averted. What I do suggest is this: There is a vast difference between that and providing strike-breakers, providing them for firms at their own request, for payment at double rates—which probably will mean cheap strike-breakers, anyhow —providing that the services of officers and ratings of the Navy shall be entirely at the disposal of firms, whether it is a question of national importance or not.
Officers and men could not be used for a private strike. There would have to be a national emergency.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I know that the Order speaks of a national emergency, but it also speaks of local strikes. When it comes to an emergency of any kind whatever, industrial trouble of any kind, there is a fine distinction drawn between national emergency and the interests of private firms. The whole thing should be one of national control. If it is desirable, in the event of a. national emergency, to control the railways of the country, or the transport services, or the mines, or anything else, then let the Government take over the responsibility, and not arrange the matter in this particular way, which leads surely to the easy possibility of men being used in the interests of one side only in a dispute. There is the danger and possibility of that. I can assure the Committee that trade unionists throughout the country are fearing that danger and possibility. We ought to have from the First Lord of the Admiralty a complete statement as to the precise way in which naval ratings are to be used in such circumstances, so that we shall know exactly where we are on this question. This is an extremely important question, and one about which the trade unionists of the country are very much concerned. This Committee should be concerned in making clear where the Government stand, rather than in adding fuel to the flame of the present unfortunate industrial position.
Mr. HILTON YOUNG
The hon. Member who spoke last will pardon me if I do not follow him into his interesting subject matter, but return to the very broad issues which were raised by the two previous speakers. The voice of the hon. and gallant Admiral who has spoken reminded me so vividly of "old, unhappy far off things and battles long ago," that it is with trepidation that I find myself in such close contact—I hope not conflict —with so senior and distinguished an officer. He referred to a scheme which had been prepared by himself and some of his friends. It seemed to be in the nature of secret and sealed orders to the Government, which were not to be opened until they were at a safe distance from this House. It is difficult for us to take a very practical interest in so profoundly confidential a matter, but I did observe that his scheme is not a scheme for economy. It was a scheme as to how money was to be found in order to meet the expenditure which he required.
That is the first revelation of this important document, and it is more encouraging than I had supposed. To deal with the hon. and gallant Member's words on this occasion, I fear that his speech was one of those with which we are so familiar in general outline upon such occasions as this—the occasions upon which, after we have all been demanding economy in general, there comes a question of possible economy in particular, and we find that all the Members of the House who have troubled to attend have come for the express purpose of resisting the particular economy. I venture to say to the Committee that if we are sincere in our advocacy of economy, we have to be prepared, not only to clamour for economy on the other fellow's Estimates, but when it comes to the Estimates about which we care most, we have to be prepared to point out how economies can legitimately and wisely be made. These Estimates are the Estimates which I care most about; they awaken my most affectionate interest. I stand among those Members of the Committee who would choose to march in the forefront of the defence of the principle that this nation and this Empire rest upon our Navy. Those of us who have not only known it 1580 as a theory, but have seen it as a fact, and have felt from day to day at sea how the future destinies of this country, and the cause of good in all the world, rested during those days on the ships and the men of the British Fleet, at any rate can speak without hesitation.
What I have to say about the directions for economy in our Navy Estimates is not in any degree antagonistic to naval efficiency. The whole of the brief argument which I have to advance will be directed to showing that at the present time you can get absolutely increased efficiency of the British Fleet by reducing expenditure. The hon. and gallant Admiral referred to the one-power standard which was confirmed and accepted at the Imperial Conference. Let us accept it. But do let us take the reasonable view that the one-power standard is not to be measured by the arbitrary and stupid course of merely counting ships. The strength of the Navy does not depend on the number of its ships. It depends upon the quality of its ships, in the first place, and upon the quality of its men. Did we not learn that lesson in the War? It is to that point that I would direct my argument. Recognising that we are, as it were, on this occasion an assembly of those who are friends of and interested in the Navy, let me take my colleagues with me step by step over one or two brief propositions with which they will agree before I come to some proposition which may be more controversial.
I imagine that we are all in agreement that economy is not only desirable, but imperative. You cannot go on with national expenditure at the present rate; you have to out it down, and that is imperative, not optional. As this trade and revenue year has advanced, it has become clearer to us day by day that economy is not only imperative, but is immediately imperative. Our trade balance has gone away to nothing. Our revenue is not coming in with that resiliency which the Chancellor of the Exchequer was depending upon at the beginning of the year. We possibly have ahead of us a season of very grave labour troubles, which may bring revenue down. The need of economy is, therefore, the more imperative and immediate.
Let me come to another proposition. There is a prima-facie case upon the face of the. Navy Estimates for a reduction of 1581 naval expenditure. I base that statement upon the total figures of the Estimates for this year. We got them down to their lowest point of £55,000,000 in 1923, and since then they have gone up. They began to slide up a little in 1924–25, and they have jumped up this year by 4.7 millions. Deduct £1,250,000 for the Naval Air Arm, and that leaves you with a positive increase of £3,500,000 for this year. I know that the First Lord has explained it all away. I know that he has shown how really there is no increase at all. When I read that passage in his speech, I was reminded forcibly of the very first occasion upon which I stood at the Box at which he is now. I was put to deal with the question of our expenditure upon the Civil Service. I had before me some official figures to show that our expenditure upon the Civil Service, rightly regarded, was no bigger in 1922 than in 1913. Step by step I whittled away the figure of our total expenditure, and, as I did so, I grew more and more surprised at my own success and the House more and more amused. Finally, when I arrived at the position that we were spending no more in 1922 upon the Civil Service than we had spent in 1913, the House dissolved in uncontrollable laughter. In my inexperience I had proved a great deal too much. I think the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty has really proved too much in trying to show there is no substantial increase in the Navy Estimates this year. He says it is an automatic increase, but I dread an automatic increase more than a confessed and deliberate increase. What does it mean? It means an increase this year, in consequence of something done last year, and if we have a great programme of construction it will mean a further automatic increase next year.
I want to express my great disquietude that there are no definite economies effected in regard to the less controversial aspect of naval expenditure to set against the proposed increase in construction. An effort is surely needed. One is always challenged by those who say: "Where are they to be made?" A reasonable answer is in the actual business of administration. Take the question of dockyards. I take my courage in my hand and say, without hesitation, that there is not a single efficient business firm in this 1582 country who would not consider that the naval dockyards at Chatham, Sheer-ness, and Pembroke are obsolete. Any efficient business firm that occupied them would either have closed them down or would have moved years ago. I would implore the First Lord of the Admiralty to face up to this proposition and save the country money that is being wasted through these sources.
May I also make a second suggestion, and that is with regard to the cost of the Admiralty Office itself. I venture to advance that there is the strongest possible reason for saying there is a prima facie case for immediate and vigorous advance in the reduction in costs at the Admiralty Office. In 1913–14 the expenditure under Vote 12 was £450,000. In 1925–26 it was £1,235,000, with the naval establishments reduced. It is true that the value of money has to be allowed for. Convert your present expenditure of £1,235,000 to the 1913–14 level and it comes to £725,000 in comparison with the then cost of £450,000. This is no less than five years after the termination of the War and it is after the Washington Conference and a reduction of naval armaments. Is there no cause for a prima facie reduction here?
With regard to the more general situation the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) has called attention to the general level of Navy Estimates. I want the Committee to consider one more figure as showing the strength of the prima facie ease for inquiry. If you do as I have just done, and take the total cost of the Navy for this year and convert it into 1913–14 prices, you get the figure of £37,000,000. In addition to that, you have a special construction programme of £3,000,000 or more now being carried out by the Australian Government. At the present time the Navy is costing us as much as when the whole of Europe was an armed camp, when the eyes of the far-sighted people were looking forward to great possibilities of war coining nearer and nearer. We are still spending as much as in the year the "Panther" went to Agadir. The German Navy has gone. There are only two others of appreciable importance in the world. Neither of them, as far as any reasonable man can see, is over likely to stand in such a position 1583 as to be driven to challenge the British Fleet. How strong the case grows! In the meanwhile it is not simply that we are struggling with the heavy burden in view of our trade depression, it is that our competitors on the Continent of Europe are gaining a double advantage, because they are not only free from the burdens of naval armaments but they are able to use for productive output the plant that we have to use for naval construction.
The last point I desire to make is one on which I come on to ground where I am conscious that there is disagreement and that I am not even in perfect agreement with some of my colleagues. What is the great characteristic circumstance of the present time as regards the Navy? It is, that we are living, as far as naval science is concerned, in a period of experiment. We have still got on our hands all the countless lessons of the Great War, which absolutely revolutionised naval science. All those great unworked-out problems centre on the question of construction. Do we not know, any of us who have followed naval history or taken an interest in the vital welfare of our country, that the welfare of the Navy, the country and the Empire was most in jeopardy at the moment when doubt was passed on the efficiency of our methods of naval construction at the Battle of Jutland? These problems centre on the question of construction as to defence against high tingle fire bombs and torpedoes, the whole relations between the great ship and the submarine, the whole question of the difference made as regards design in ships by scouting from naval aircraft. Do we think at the present moment that any naval expert can give a final answer to these questions? We all know— and the First Lord knows better than any of us— how from day to day fresh advances are being made, and the whole speed of obsolescence of any naval design is faster than at any other time.
The moral I draw is perfectly obvious. It is wrong, uneconomic, and tends to inefficiency to construct ships in bulk at a time when design is changing so fast. You have got a time of safety and, as far as naval contest goes, the country is in greater safety than ever before. You have, coincident with that time, a 1584 period of rapid change in the development of naval science. You should build, as far as numbers go, as slowly as you can, but as far as each ship you are building goes, as quickly as you can. Preserve your money until you have more certainty and then, when the state of the world demands it, begin to add to your forces. But now, the value of every pound you spend is swiftly obsolescent. That lesson is enforced by the extreme slowness of production at the present time. The "Effingham," very largely because of Labour troubles and changes in design, has been long delayed. We know how slow the building of the five new County Class cruisers is. That goes to enforce the moral that, at the present time, we should lay down, as regards numbers, as few ships as possible. If you build five ships of single design, it is highly probable that by the time they are launched they will be completely obsolete. Common sense points to this, that you should restrain your numbers. It is actually contrary to efficiency to build more of these ships at the time is such circumstances as at present. It gives you a false impression of security. You are lulling the public opinion of the country into false security by producing ships, which may after all be valueless when launched. It is actually inimical to efficiency that you should over-build at the present time.
There is one other point I should mention. We are constantly opposed, when we seek for economies, from the more stalwart champions of actual expenditure by, as it were, a threat of other countries in their shipbuilding programmes. It is very easy to produce an atmosphere of apprehension by dwelling on the large numbers of ships that other countries are building. If there is anything at all in the argument I have been advancing, I should say, in reply, when the shipbuilding programmes of other nations are referred to, that if they are so foolish and so unwise as to be spending large sums of money at the present time in ships not likely to be any good, for goodness sake let them do so! They are wasting their money, and, though I do not wish them ill, I am not sorry to see rivals imposing so severe a handicap upon their financial, commercial, and industrial prosperity. Frow the point of view of naval power and influence, I do not see the least cause to apprehend any risk to 1585 our influence and security from the fact that other countries are building even faster than we are at the present time.
In these ways, I believe it is possible to effect an absolute reconcilement between the interests of naval security and the interests of national security which are bound up at the present time with economy. I have no desire to say which should precede the other. Both are essential. Both can be reconciled. I believe that those Members of this Committee will be doing the highest service to their country who do not oppose a mere brick wall, composed of bricks of prejudice, of obstruction, and even of passion in the search for economy in every area, but that the best service they can do for their country is to assist the Minister responsible to find justifiable economies, even in that area of expenditure which is to them most important.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
Before I pass to the remarks made from the Liberal benches I wish to say a word or two about the genesis of what the newspapers call the Naval Crisis. The first aspect of the matter that strikes one is that we have never before in this House discussed this question of shipbuilding without having the shipbuilding programme of the Government before us. That is why I should describe the discussion to-day as useless, because it seems to be far better, when we have no shipbuilding programme before us, that the discussion should be postponed. As, however, the discussion has been initiated let me deal with the genesis of the naval crisis. The Government appointed a Cabinet Committee to look into and to deal with the question. The first that we heard was an apparently inspired paragraph in the "Times" of 17th February, to this effect:The Cabinet attach considerable importance to holding a disarmament conferences in the near future and it feels that this country's position would be strengthened considerably at such a conference if, in the meantime, it could show its sympathy in a tangible manner. It has, therefore, instructed a Committee to inquire into the whole position with regard to new warship construction during the next few years. It is understood that until that report has been presented no new building is likely to be undertaken. If nothing comes of the disarmament question, and it is decided that building must be resumed, it will be open to the Admiralty to produce a Supplementary Estimate at a later stage.1586 What I want to call attention to is this; We have got here three tried old friends —the Committee of Inquiry—reported at long last—the Disarmament Conference, and the Moral Gesture to the World. The Committee of Inquiry, I hope, is finished. I do not know. The conference on disarmament, we know, is unlikely to take place. I do not know why, but I understand that the reason is, as one infers from the speech of the Reporter of the French Naval Budget, that the French demand that the great Powers shall agree to equal navies before they enter into another conference. My own view is that if France refuses to enter into that conference the other Powers should go on with it, hold their sittings in public, and try to find out who is the offender against disarmament.
Then there is the moral gesture. No wiser words have been uttered concerning the moral gesture than contained in the letter read at a City meeting from the present Prime Minister in 1924, in which he pointed out that prior to the War the only cases in which the moral gesture had been made it had completely failed. I venture to say that the only cases where the moral gesture has succeeded have been due to our maritime supremacy. The abolition of slavery, the ability to grant free institutions, and the granting of self-government to Ireland—none of these things would have taken place but for the fact that this country possessed a maritime supremacy that insured her safety. As to examples, the only single success was at the Washington Conference, and it was because the Americans had something in hand to give away. They agreed to scrap 14 battleships if the Powers would agree to their proposals of disarmament as regards battleship tonnage. The result was success. Therefore, it seems to me that the obvious thing to do is to follow their example, bring in our programme, and pass it, and enter a conference on disarmament. If we succeed, we will not have to carry out that programme. If we fail, we go on with the programme. But to say that you are to enter a conference, and if the Powers do not agree to disarm, you will then bring in your programme, that is a threat of war, and is an impossible way to deal with the situation.
1587 In regard to the question of the introduction of Supplementary Estimates. Firstly, what is the programme of the Conservative Government, as initiated in this House, after a great deal of consideration, in a speech by the then First Lord of the Admiralty on 2lst January, 1924? It followed the speech made by the Prime Minister at Devonport. That programme provided for not less than 20 ships of one kind or another to be laid down during 1924. I have worked it out, and the expenditure involved is £24,300,000. It is just as well to face the facts. The Labour Government laid down only five cruisers and two destroyers of that programme, costing £11,000,000. That left £13,300,000 still to be spent. The First Lord of the Admiralty stated that in the first three years we would lay down more than the average of five cruisers. Therefore, if I say we would have laid down six cruisers in 1925, and if I make no allowances for destroyers or submarines, I shall be well within the mark. The 1925 programme of six cruisers would cost £12,000,000, and we then have of the 1924 Convention programme approximately £26,000,000 yet unspent. Averaging that over a period of three years equally distributed—though not really equally distributed—for the first year you would not spend so much, but more in the second year—it would give £8,700,000 a year if distributed equally over three years. We have to add to that construction the cost of upkeep and personnel. I have seen a statement to the effect that we are not to have any Supplementary Estimates for this year, the expenditure being postponed. I should like to represent to the Government that that would be rather a breach of faith to the House, because the First Lord in his statement in the White Paper on the Navy Estimates issued at the beginning of this Session said:His Majesty's Government is at present proceeding with the investigation which the late Government declared its intention of making into this question as a whole, and proposals as regards new construction will be laid before Parliament at a later date when the inquiry has been completed.Therefore, I take it, we shall certainly have these proposals for new construction brought before us.
Let me deal with the speech made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman 1588 the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon). At the very outset, he said he was going to call attention to the scale of expenditure. I should have said that it was most important to call attention to what is vital and then deal with the expenditure. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is going to call attention to expenditure, surely the Navy is not the grossest offender. It is only responsible for 20 per cent. of the increase on the Estimates, while the Civil Service Estimates show an increase of 400 per cent. I asked a question to-day with a view to making a comparison between our expenditure to-day on the Navy and what our expenditure was in 1914 after there had been deducted the non-effective Votes and allowance made for the rise in prices and wages. The answer of the First Lord was that our Navy Estimates to-day on that scale—that is the scale of pre-War 1914—after deducting non-effectives Votes —was £15,900,000 less than in 1914. That figure is very significant.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Young) did more than did the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley, and that is he did suggest—for the first time in my knowledge from the Liberal Benches, except a few suggestions of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy)—methods of bringing down the expenditure. He pointed out the rapidity with which cruisers are built, and he pointed out the contrast—and it is a great scandal— between the time occupied in the building of the "Effingham." which was eight years and three months, as compared with her sister ship the "Hawkins," three years and two months. The result was that the "Effingham" cost £537,000 more, or about half-a-million more, for exactly the same construction. Then he went on and pointed to redundant dockyards. He went on to refer to Pembroke. I wondered at the time what was thought by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), for he went down to Pembroke during the General Election and boasted his skill against the power of the Admiralty, saying that he had prevented the Pembroke Dockyard from being abolished. He went on to ask the Secretary, of State for the Colonies, who was then First Lord of the Admiralty, to 1589 restrain the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon) and myself from advocating the abolition of Pembroke Dockyard, saying that if we did that he would restrain his people. That is what we call political log-rolling of the first order. There is an instance of political interference with Admiralty economy.
Chatham was referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich. I believe it is the case that you could save about two millions a year by the abolition of Chatham Dockyard, but then at the same time you have other considerations to take into account. You have to consider the 12,000 workmen there. I would suggest to the Government that they should appoint to Committee representative of the Port of London Authority, the Southern Railway, and other people, to go into this question as to how they can bring Chatham Dockyard into use. It is perfectly useless to make suggestions like that of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley for civil work in the Royal Dockyard. Krupps changed their establishment from 100 per cent. war basis to a 100 per cent. peace basis; but then Krupps are a private firm. We have tried our hands at Government work. At this moment, the Government are trying to sell the Woolwich locomotives. They are a dead loss. That method will not do. The Government have got to get rid of the redundant dockyards by turning them under civil control and for civil employment in the best way they can. The right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley went on to say that cruisers are a branch of the Navy in which we are notoriously strong, a statement which I directly traverse. Ho based his remarks on the Return of Fleets.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Not entirely. I had also in mind the statement that was made by the late First Lord of the Admiralty.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
He advised the Committee to consult the Return of Fleets. The Return of Fleets is intended to be a statement of all vessels maintained on the active list, and it is left for each hon. Member to form his own deductions. The Admiralty do not try to cook the accounts in any way. They give the speed, the armament, and the date 1590 each vessel was launched, in order that we can draw our own deductions. Of course, we can draw erroneous conclusions as well as accurate conclusions.
When we are framing the programme in this year, 1025, we are thinking of the years 1928–29 and on: those are the years on which we have to fix our minds. First of all, we have got to remember the mental attitude which the Liberal party adopts in regard to these matters. I cannot help commenting on it, because it has always been a standing mystery to me that a party which more than any other party has made us dependent on imported foodstuffs should yet refuse to give us the necessary naval armaments to enable us to defend those imported food supplies. No one knows better than the Chairman of that party (Mr. Lloyd George) how absolutely and utterly dependent we were during the War on naval defences, and how without those naval defences we should have lost the War. The leaders of the Liberal party, Lord Oxford and my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) issued a joint manifesto in the General Election of 1924, which was in line with the argument of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley, and because of the five cruisers laid down by the Socialist Government they said we were leading a race in cruiser armaments. Does my right hon. Friend think that statement was justified?
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I must say I am astonished at that. If the right hon. Gentleman will take the number of cruisers launched in the last five years he will find that we have launched one-tenth of the number launched by the United States of America and one-twelfth of the number launched by Japan. How can he say we are leading a race in cruiser armaments? Take the new construction. During the last five years Japan has spent two and a-half times as much on new construction as we have. That is. the position. The Liberal party's statements are wild statements, very like the old statements about mythical armadas and navies to resist nightmares in which the right hon. Gentleman indulged before the War. Surely speakers from the Liberal Benches must realise the harm that is done in Australia through not 1591 advocating the provision of sufficient armaments for the defence of our Colonies. If they study the Debates which have taken place in Australia, in regard to the Singapore question, for instance, in which the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition there took part, they will find that we are charged with abandoning the Dominions to their fate while we are providing for our own air defences—the Liberal party supports air defences—for the reason that we want to sleep quietly in our beds in this island. They keep on contrasting the provision which is being made for air defence with the provision for naval defence.
Let me push the comparison still further. The Japanese have 21 cruisers built, building or projected, as compared with five for ourselves. I am purposely omitting the two Australian cruisers. I am talking about vessels since the War. We built a lot in the War for war purposes which are not suited for warfare in the Pacific.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman wishes to have this accurate. We are actually building now two of the "Frobisher" class, which are only just under 10,000 tons, and they are in addition to the five, so that makes seven in addition to the two Australian cruisers.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
But I am talking about vessels laid down since the War. That is what we have got to fix our minds on.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman does not mind my interrupting him on this technical point. Does he seriously tell us that cruisers of the "Frobisher" class are unsuited for war purposes—that these ships of 9,250 tons, only just under 10,000 tons, are unsuited for war purposes?
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I am not dealing with that point; I am dealing with the statement made that we are leading a race in cruiser armaments. I am dealing 1592 with vessels laid down or projected since the War, and I say that Japan has laid down or projected since the War 21 cruisers to our five, that is, 4⅕ times as many. In destroyers they have laid down or projected 69 to our four, which is 17¼ times as many. In submarines they have laid down or projected since the War 61 to our two, that is, 30½ times as many. These are the facts which we have got to face.
What has been the result of all that? It is that we have only seven cruisers of over 33 knots built, building or projected, whereas Japan has 26 over 33 knots. That is a statement which can be checked by means of the Return of Fleets to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley called attention. When we come to 1931— accepting the statement of the Admiralty that a destroyer has a life of 12 years— it will be found that we shall have only 11 destroyers under 12 years old to Japan's 54; and only 16 submarines to Japan's 65 under 10 years old, which is the term laid down as the life of a submarine. That can only be altered by new programmes in the future. In an answer given in the House of Commons only yesterday, the First Lord of the Admiralty stated that on 31st March, 1925, we should have 47 cruisers, as compared with the 96 we had on the 31st March, 1914—less than half the number. That does not look as though we are leading a race in cruiser armaments. The Admiralty demands are, in fact, very, very moderate, so much so that some naval officers might consider that the Admiralty were endangering the country. They are working to have 52 cruisers for the whole Navy. It is allowed that it is a moderate standard to have one cruiser for every capital ship with the Fleet—during the War we never detached any cruisers which were serving with the Grand Fleet—and then there are only 32 left for the defence of commerce. Seeing that we needed 32 cruisers to search for "Karlsruhe" and "Emden" alone, surely 32 for the whole 80,000 miles of our trade route is a very moderate provision, and does not point to our leading a race in cruiser armaments? All these 47 ships except perhaps two will be obsolete in about 12 years, and if we allow three years for the building of a cruiser it 1593 means that we have got to replace them in nine shipbuilding programmes over the next nine years. Dividing by nine we get five, which is exactly what the Admiralty state will be their average requirements in cruisers in the future. Most of these cruisers, as the gallant Admiral pointed out, have been subjected to great wear and tear during the War; also, they were not designed for the great spaces of the Pacific and Indian Ocean, and we have to replace them in order to keep up our relative strength compared with any Power which might attack us.
I have dealt with the speed of cruisers, but I have not dealt with their strength. Everybody knows that the Washington Conference resulted in a new type of Dreadnought cruiser with 8-inch guns. The bursting effect of a shell from one of those 8-inch guns is three times the bursting effect of the shell of the 6-inch guns in any one of our 6-inch gun cruisers. Taking the whole number of guns on a broadside, then according to which ships you compare them with—the Japanese cruisers have nine 8-inch guns—the broadside would be from four to six times as great as in the case of vessels armed with 6-inch guns. Those vessels have a greater speed, and they have a gun range of 30,000 yards, so that they would be able to choose their range and fire away at 20,000 yards, outside the gun range of any British ship except the five building, and pound that ship to pieces. It is perfect folly to count heads in the Return of Fleets. The important thing is how many of the ships we can compare with one another, and that comparison shows that we have five cruisers building or projected to eight building or projected by Japan armed with 8-inch guns.
I come now to the question of whether we are justified in counting in the two projected Australian cruisers. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer was at one time First Lord of the Admiralty. It would be a good thing, in fact, to resurrect the First Lord of the Admiralty in 1913 face to face with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1925, and that I propose to do in reference to these Australian cruisers. Speaking in this House on 20th March, 1913, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer argued, what Coronel subsequently proved to be the case, that local navies additional to the Imperial 1594 Navy were required to meet local threats, and he added:It could never be supposed that the naval development of the Dominions and of the great possessions of the Crown overseas could be restricted and discouraged on account of any European standard which we in this island found it convenient for the time being to follow."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th March, 1913; col. 1761, Vol. 50.]He called it a "false dilemma," and said they were additional to our standard but not additional to the world-wide requirements of the Empire. I hope the Admiralty will bear that point in mind in regard to any controversy on these two Australian cruisers.
Hon. Members opposite constantly try to confront us with the dilemma: "Are you in favour of economy? Of course, we are in favour of economy. I think nearly all the constructive proposals which have been brought forward in this House for economics on the Army, Navy, and Air Services have come from these benches. The point in regard to the Chancellor of the Exchequer confronting the Sea Lord of the Admiralty is simply this. On a question of policy, the Cabinet lay down what it is to be, but it is impossible for them to say to the responsible sailors that their advice is of no account as to the force required to carry out that policy. The sailors must be the best judges of that. I do not think there can be any doubt about it. The Cabinet, in meeting the Admiralty, or any other of the spending Departments, should say to them: "Is this expenditure vital or is it merely useful? If it is merely useful the country is too hard up to afford it, but if you can show that it is vital we are bound to afford it." That, I think, is the real issue. Having settled that these cruisers are vital, and that we require five a year, and more on the early years; remembering that we have got a great destroyer programme facing us from 1927 onwards; that in the year 1931, under the terms of the Washington Conference, we start building two battleships, and in 1932 another two battleships, is it not wise to distribute the expenditure— to take a wide survey ahead and to undertake some of the expenditure now? That is the point to which hon. Members ought to address themselves. Having said that this construction is vital, is it not wise to help employment? Six cruisers will employ 21,000 men, according to the 1595 Admiralty statistics, during three years of building. The six cruisers, according to the Admiralty calculation, will cost £336,000 less than in 1919, and 80 per cent. of the cost will go in wages. What took place in 1908? The Liberal Government reduced shipbuilding in that year, when prices were low and unemployment was rife. There was a naval scare in 1909, and inevitably we are working up to that again. We did not face our obligations in 1908, which was a year of unemployment and low prices, and we had to face it ultimately in 1909, when prices were high and employment good. In 1909 we had the Liberal Prime Minister and Sir Edward Grey on our side, and "The Nation" came out with an article, in which it said we had a Palmerstonian Prime Minister, but, thank God, we had a Gladstonian Chancellor of the Exchequer in the person of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Lloyd George). Do not make the mistake which was made in 1908. I beg the Government to face their obligations, and I hope they will be able to inform us next week that they are going to fulfil those obligations and do their duty.
§ Lieut.-Colonel SPENDER-CLAY
I do not often intervene in naval Debates, because I prefer to leave it to those who have a better knowledge of naval matters than I have. There is, however, one case I want to put before the consideration of the Committee. I should like to preface my remarks by saying that the necessity for a greater part of my criticism will be done away with if I can receive an assurance from the First Lord that the Committee of Imperial Defence have advised him that there is no danger within the next two years of this country falling below the one-Power standard. If we can have that assurance my criticism will be greatly modified. I think it is agreed amongst all parties as an axiom that we have decided to maintain our Fleet at a one-Power standard.
I would like to know if the Committee of Imperial Defence has warned the First Lord of the Admiralty that there is a danger of us falling below the one-Power standard? I know that we have to take considerations of economy into account. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his Budget statement, said he hoped to reduce expenditure by £10,000,000 a year, 1596 but I do not know how he is going to do it. I do not think there is much chance of reducing the Estimates of the Forces under our present system. Against my will I am coming more and more to the conclusion that it will be absolutely necessary sooner or later, to come to a Ministry of Defence, because there is always a fear of one arm or the other trying to secure an undue proportion of what is available for defence, subconsciously, perhaps, without really having in view what is the aim of all three arms of the Service, which is to maintain the defence of our Empire at the lowest possible cost.
Of course, I am aware that that question involves legislation, and I certainly will not pursue it any further. Before embarking upon a large additional naval expenditure, I feel I must apologise to the Committee for calling attention to the position, as it is to-day, and comparing it with what it was at the commencement of the War. Then we had a growing naval menace with Germany in the North Sea, which was apparent to almost everyone of us. The Germans even went so far as to increase their defences at Heligoland and to widen the Kiel Canal, they even went so far as to introduce a Capita] Levy to increase their fleet; all this was a direct menace to us. This country, which had kept up its Navy purely for the defensive purposes of the Empire, had, in consequence, to commence another building programme, and what happened? The German Fleet was put at the bottom of the sea. and, therefore, our naval commitments now are nothing like what they were in 1914. But what about the commitments of our Army? I am afraid that in the desire to cut down the Service Estimates the Admiralty may have gained their point at the expense of the Army. Let us consider for a moment what is the position as regards the Army. We have no reason to be quite happy about the state of things in China, India, or Egypt, and we do not know what developments may take place in other parts of the world. The effect of the War has been that, whilst naval commitments have been reduced, the commitments of our Army are much greater than they were. Therefore, I must confess that unless it can be proved to me that there is a danger of us falling below the one-Power standard, 1597 I should be very chary about committing our country to any further naval building programme.
I want to ask the First Lord one or two questions, the answers to which may guide us as to the attitude we take in coming to a decision. I want to know how far the building programmes, the advertised building programmes, of Japan and the United States have been retarded. I think that is an important point. It is all very well for people to say that so many cruisers are projected, but it is of interest to know how many of those ships have to be put back owing to the Japanese earthquake, and how many which have been authorised by the United States have not been proceeded with.
My second question is, will there not be, owing to the five cruisers which were authorised by the last Government, a considerable automatic increase next year amounting to some millions over and above the Estimates of this year, and will not the programme of ships authorised at the present moment be an additional charge upon the Estimates, and would that not come on the top of the millions which will be spent next year? I should like to know how much more, if the rumours are true that so many cruisers are going to be built, will be spent during the next financial year, and what economy would take place if our building programme is delayed for nine months or a year? I take it that the greatest expense for the cruisers authorised last year will come next year. If the programme is delayed for nine months or a year, I want to know whether there will not be a considerable reduction, and not an increase, in the Naval Estimates if we delay putting those ships in hand for another nine months or a year?
My third question is in regard to the number of officers and men, and other kinds of ratings and civilians employed by the Admiralty. I confess that the numbers put into my hands are so astounding that I can hardly credit them. I have consulted Command Paper No. 276 for 1919 and Command Paper No. 2448 dated 1st June, 1925, and I find that the number employed by the Admiralty on the 1st of August, 1914, at the headquarter staff of the Admiralty and other parts of the headquarters of the Admiralty was 4,366, and on the 1st June this year, the 1598 total was 7,971 employed in or about the Admiralty. What possible justification can there be for that?
These figures astounded me so much that I went to the trouble of having them confirmed and I am assured that they are correct, and I shall be glad if the right hon. Gentleman can contradict them. In any case we have this large increase. It may be said that these figures include the Air arm of the naval service, which have been added to the naval staff. On the other hand the coastguards have been taken over by the Board of Trade, but I maintain that there is no justification for the number being even the same. I cannot help thinking that something might be done in the way of economy by removing from their retreat in the Admiralty some of those who are at present employed there.
I would also like to ask how far in regard to certain matters do the three Services work together. I would like to be assured that there is proper co-ordination between them in regard to the purchasing of materials and administration. I am quite aware that the Navy cannot use the same sort of cordite as the Army, because a different constituent is required, but the greater part of the supply services would be common to all the three.
Considerable economies could be effected by having a, joint purchasing board for the three Services. That has already been done to a certain extent. Hospitals in various places have been combined, and possibly that might be carried further, not to the detriment of any of the Services, but to the advantage of the State as a whole. I know it is only human nature for all of us who preach economy in our constituencies to feel that some concession should be made to our own hobbies. That is human nature, and we all naturally expect it, but we must remember that we are going through probably the most acute industrial crisis that this country has ever known, and that it is necessary to conserve our resources in every possible direction; and it is in the belief that economy is most essential at the present moment that I urge the First Lord and the Admiralty to think a long time before they commit the country to a large naval expenditure.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
I venture to raise one or two considerations with regard to the subject upon which we are engaged to-day. I am not a naval expert, and, therefore, cannot treat them in the way in which the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) and other hon. Members who have spoken have treated them. I do not know that it will do the hon. and gallant Member who has just resumed his seat any harm if I say that I should thoroughly associate myself with what he has said. Nobody who has been responsible, to whatever degree, for, not exactly supervising, but keeping a hand upon the problem of national defence can be altogether confident about the way in which things are developing. With respect and deference, the feeling I had when listening to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone, was that he represents very accurately, with great knowledge and intellectual distinction, that type of mind which, apparently, is unaware that the whole problem of national defence has changed since the War, and that since the War—I do not know how long it is going to last—we have had an opportunity of combining what one might briefly describe as Foreign Office policy with the three defence Services policy, in a way that we had no opportunity of doing from 1000 to 1914, and which in a year or two we shall not have an opportunity of doing.
To a lay mind like my own—I hope the Committee will believe that I am very much interested in the whole problem— there are not three Departments of defence, the Admiralty, the War Office and the Air Ministry, but four, because I would add the Foreign Office. Therefore, associating myself with the general view of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich (Mr. Hilton Young), I would say that what we ought to do now, generally, is actually to produce what is a minimum necessity, whilst we are very actively exploring two other fields cognate to actual production. The first is foreign policy, and the second a thorough intellectual overhauling of the strategy of naval defence. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out, in a way that is unanswerable, the importance of the method of defence—the use of ships, the construction of ships, and what always 1600 struck me as, perhaps, being more important than anything, namely, the co-ordination of the arms—the kind of ships, the submarines, cruisers of various types, first-class battleships and so on—the whole co-ordination, the selection of what would be the most effective form of striking material theoretically, and the most effective form of defence theoretically. It has been said that the problem is a very simple one, but to say that we should maintain a one-power standard, and then look at our Navy List and, after seeing that we are a little better than country A or country B, when we come to country C and discover that, if we take prospective building into account, we are not quite so good as they, and must build up against them purely mechanically—to say that that is solving the problem of national defence so far as the Navy is concerned is absurd.
Reference has been made to what we did when we were in office, but it is not only the length of time that a Government is in office that is so important—it is the period when that length of time begins. Nine months in office, when it begins in November, is far more precious, for the purposes of producing a naval policy, than nine months in office beginning at the end of January. We came in quite raw, never having been there before, very doubtful, experimenting, carrying burdens that no Government in our time has been called upon to carry—not on account of their weight only, but by reason of the fact that most of my cot leagues were there for the first time, and had to acquaint themselves with a very complicated machinery, with personnel, habit and so on. What did we do in respect of this problem? The First Lord has made a statement of the policy of the Conservative Government, and he made his statement very emphatically. I am not going into the figures, and I am not, as I have said, going to make an expert contribution to the Debate, because I think we can have too many expert contributions once the case is quite clear. What we want to-day is what I might describe as the lay, common-sense, general survey of the problem.
We were, when we came into office, so close to the time for the production of Votes that all we could do as regards the programme of our predecessors was to say 1601 that, as I explained when I spoke in Committee on the Estimates, we did not believe in the rest of that policy, which was not in our opinion an encouraging policy at all, but that we should rebuild that year for replacement. We had some doubt about the programme even from that point of view, but, so far as the question of national defence was concerned, we decided that we would follow that part of the programme, and we did so, telling the Committee and the country that we were going to go into the whole question of naval requirements, and that this year we would produce a policy upon which we could stand. When that was done, the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Amery) was very kindly towards us, and we were sincerely obliged to him, but, at the same time, he made a very lugubrious speech, saying he was sure we were letting the country down, although he was good enough to put the blame upon himself. He said:If any blame attaches"—that was for our programme being introduced, instead of his own—it attaches to myself and the late Government for allowing financial considerations to hold back as long as they did a programme which is now more than ever necessary.He went on to say he was exceedingly sorry for the delay in meeting the needs 01 our naval security. That was after exploration, because they were experts, they were in office, they were accustomed to it they had time, and they said that this was the minimum. As I have said, my right hon. Friend was almost moved to tears. He said that what he called financial considerations had been allowed by the Government to prevent them from carrying out this duty of naval production adequately. Back they come, after nine months, with all their knowledge, with all their experience. They had two points then—Singapore and a shipbuilding programme. Singapore, I understand, they have now modified. That has not been mentioned in the Debate to-day, but it is an essential point all the same in the consideration of the problem we have now before us, and I should like to ask them, what is the policy regarding Singapore now, after the statement made in the other House? I think this Committee of the House of Commons, which, after all, is the financial authority in this 1602 country, ought to know what is the policy now regarding Singapore. They told us at the beginning of the Session, in the King's Speech, that they were going to. build on plan, that they had plans ready, that they knew precisely what they were going to do. We were informed by their representative in another place the other day that they have not got plans, that they are not building on plan, that they are waiting and seeing and experimenting, and in the meantime spending other people's money and not their own. Regarding the shipbuilding programme, they have been longer in office than we were, they have their old plans, their old commitments, and their old declarations that their commitments of two years ago were absolutely essential to national security. Although they have been pressed for weeks to tell us what this Committee has decided, they meet us here to-day and say, "We are very sorry; we have jumped too soon. The Liberal party has been far too anxious to bring this question before the House; we are not ready to tell you." We are within three weeks of the end of the Session, we are within a fortnight of the end of financial control. In less than three weeks this House passes over all the control it has over the expenditure for 1924 and 1925, and on this essential point, this point of first-class national importance, and first-class Parliamentary importance, the Government of the day says, "We must sit down till 10 o'clock at night, when we will wind up the Debate, as we have nothing to say that can be the subject of consideration by the Members of the Committee." The First Lord of the Admiralty is adopting the naval strategy of remaining in harbour until the war is over, and then, when no one can hit him, he will come out and fire a few guns. All I can say is that there is some incompetence somewhere, there is some mishandling somewhere, and we should like to know where it is.
There is one thing I should like to take the courage to say before I sit down. I have toyed, as I dare say everyone who has given any consideration to the problem has toyed, with the idea of a Defence Minister. Quite frankly, my mind is not made up on the subject. There is a great deal to be said for it, and a great deal to be said against it. 1603 Everyone who has been exploring the question, however, has also come up against this, that the Admiralty, a great and powerful and popular Service, which is regarded, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman regards it, as the Service which provides the foundation of the power of Great Britain, has an overshadowing authority over the minds of Ministers and of Cabinets that is not always in the interests of the country. The expert, whether he is a soldier or a sailor or an airman, is always inclined— and, do believe me, I am the last person to blame him for it—to regard his particular duty as a paper problem, and he assumes, not what we should call, carrying cur minds back over the Debates of the last few days, an insurable risk. He regards the problem not as one of supplying a rational insurance for an insurable risk, but as the proper working out of all sorts of possibilities and saying, "If a war breaks out, if something happens, then I shall not be responsible for the defence of the Empire, unless you, the political heads, have done so and so." I am sure that is at the base of the whole of the Singapore folly. I regard it as a folly, and the more one looks into it, and the more information one gets about it, the more one comes to that conclusion. We get now the same idea, that the expert at the Admiralty, admirable as he is splendid man both personally and officially as he is, exercises a dominating influence which makes it very difficult to introduce those reforms that the hon. and gallant Gentleman below the Gangway indicated.
Is it beyond all possibility that the whole organisation of the Admiralty should be the subject of a proper inquiry? We have heard about those figures. We know about the increase of cost, and I feel certain that if hon. Members would take into account the history of the War Office, and the attempts that were made by the political authority to get the administration and organisation of the War Office considered and explored, if they would remember the great difficulties that were encountered in doing that and the benefits that resulted, I am not at all sure that we would dismiss, at any rate lightly, the proposal that it might be very much to our advantage if something of the same kind took place at the Ad- 1604 miralty. What we have to try to do now is this. Are we building up a fighting force that is going on the assumption of all those considerations in the mind of the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, or are we going to insist that while we have the opportunity, a policy shall be pursued of international disarmament conferences and so on? If the former, then history undoubtedly will repeat itself. It may be not in our lifetime, though it may. If the latter, the whole of the mentality which has been shown in some of the speeches to-day, admirable though they are from their own point of view, and interesting to listen to, is not the mentality that should control the naval policy of the Government. Nine months in office! Old hands at the job! This problem is staring them in the face—three weeks before the end of the Session, a little more than a fortnight before the House passes away its financial control, sitting there dumb, with no policy whatever, no supplementary Estimate, not quite sure that it can fulfil the solemn pledges it made to us earlier on. Someone has made a bungle, someone has mishandled the situation, and someone ought to be censured.
§ Mr. LOOKER
The aspect of the question to which I wish to call attention does not relate in any way to any question of a possible war in which we may at any time find ourselves engaged, but to those protective duties which, whether in peace or in war, it is essential in an Empire like ours to maintain unimpared. Whatever opinion we may have as to the origin of the recent disturbance in the Far East, or whatever steps we may think it desirable to take now they have arisen, there is one point on which I think the Committee will be in general agreement, and that is that our people out there must have adequate protection. Almost without exception, our people there live on the waterways, or on the coast, under such conditions that the only protection they can have is naval protection. I should like to describe the conditions that prevail up the Yangtse River, where most of these disturbances took place. The length of that river, from Shanghai to Chungking, where disturbances of a serious nature took place the other day, is some 1,500 miles, and apart from Shanghai, included in that distance. there are six British Consulates and 1605 various other places where British interests are looked after. As far as 1,200 miles up, the river is navigable, and beyond that, for another 400 miles, there are considerable difficulties to navigation which are not easily overcome at any period of the year, and during the dry season are considerably increased. Beyond that lies Chungking, which is some 1,500 miles up. In addition to the position of our representatives and our people up there, there are on the coast some 12 British settlements. There is the West River, which, though not so long, contains much the same conditions as prevail up the Yangtse, and in every case of this description the only protection is that afforded by the Navy.
Recent events will have served to bring out into sharp relief the dangers to which our people there are exposed. There will be general agreement that any protection we can give, to be effective must be prompt, and to be prompt must be permanent. These crises arise very suddenly. The need for protection arises with equal suddenness, and protection that is too late is, of course, no protection at all. Who can say how long the present state of affairs is going to continue? It may die down, or it may flare out, and even when it is over, who can say when some similar state of affairs is not going to necessitate the same active naval protection for our people as has been so vitally necessary during the past few weeks? A naval policy which aims at a minimum of permanent protection, or a protection which is based upon the needs of quiet times, is not protection whatever. Each port or place ought to be able to rely in time of trouble, without any doubt whatever, upon naval protection which can be sure of being there when wanted, in spite of any other urgent calls there may be upon it. The mere presence of naval protection at these places is not sufficient. It is necessary that they should be in a position to put on shore a landing party of such strength as will make sure that the lives of our people are protected from any emergency which may arise. I was astonished to see in the Press in the last three weeks that when some urgent trouble arose at one place, all the naval assistance that was sent to cope with the emergency consisted of a submarine. The submarines that there were in China some four or five years ago were utterly unable 1606 to render any form of landing party whatever.
If our naval forces in China are ever at such a pitch that we are obliged to rely on submarines to protect our representatives and our interests out there, it will be time that the whole question was very seriously considered with a view to seeing whether we should not abandon any question of further protection, or give them the protection of which they stand in need. Anyone who has any knowledge of the conditions which exist out there and who read the actual state of our naval forces and their disposition when the recent troubles arose, must have been very gravely concerned at what they saw revealed as to the actual numbers and disposition of our ships in those waters. It was clear, on the face of it, that they were not nearly sufficient either in numbers or in character to fulfil the duties which it is an essential part of their function to perform.
The coast ports can be reached very easily. They can be protected by the bigger ships. They can be reached in a very little time, and landing parties can easily be made available. The question of the river ports is quite a different matter, and our people out there will resent, and rightly resent, in my opinion, being obliged to rely for protection upon foreign bluejackets. They are entitled to the protection of our own men, on whom they rely, and not have to look to foreign Powers for that protection which our own Government ought to afford. The interests of our representatives, our people and our interests in that country essentially demand that the naval forces in Eastern waters shall be permanently and definitely increased in such manner and form that they can remain unaffected by any hostilities or any need for their services elsewhere.
This is not a question of armaments. It is not a question of a one-power standard, and it is not a question, as has been suggested in certain quarters, of maintaining the interests of foreign capital by foreign guns; but it is a question of fulfilling an essential duty, not only to our own people, but also to our interests and for the safety of those engaged in connection with our trade in that country. I submit to the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Government that there are other considerations in 1607 addition to the interests of those who live in these eastern waters. If you want not merely to develop but even to maintain the immense trade which we do in China, which is capable of such vast extension, you must give adequate and permanent protection to all those who are engaged in it, and you must convince those with whom they are trading that you are determined to give that protection, if necessary, and that you are not departing from the policy which was pursued in past years, otherwise you may lead them to get into their heads the idea that your position in the East is not what it was, and that other nations have supplanted you.
I say, with the greatest respect to my right hon. Friend and to that authority behind him, without whose sanction he cannot move, that, quite apart from any question of hostilities, not to permanently strengthen our Fleet in eastern waters would be to neglect our interests there in a manner for which I cannot see the slightest possible justification. I should like an assurance that this aspect of our naval-protected ports in the Far Ea6t is receiving the urgent attention of the right hon. Gentleman and His Majesty's Government.
§ Major HORE-BELISHA
The Debate has pursued a very temperate course as a result of the example set by the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon). In particular, the right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) showed a conspicuous restraint, because it is not very long ago that he was being censured, not for building no cruisers at all, but for only building five. I think we should have to go back a pretty long way in English history to find a Government in the position in which this Government finds itself after nine months of office in not having decided whether it is going to build any cruisers or, if it is going to build cruisers, how many. The First Lord of the Admiralty finds himself in a very difficult and invidious position, which causes me to sympathise with him very deeply. The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs), who always speaks with special authority on these matters, introduced a slightly controversial note. His arguments were similar to the very strong arguments 1608 addressed to the Admiralty in the last Parliament by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Colonial Secretary. Where he was talking on the technical side, it would be impertinent for me to follow him, but when he came to the more pathological side of his argument, and conducted a disquisition into the vagaries of the Liberal mind, I think I am entitled to join issue with him.
What he should have inquired into, and it would have been more appropriate, is the extraordinary nature of the Conservative mind, particularly because the Conservative party has, at any rate, consistently advocated a strong Navy. It has, without fluctuation, always put forward the claims of the Navy. It is only when it has gained office that it has forgotten its great enthusiasm in this regard; at any rate, forgotten it for nine months. Like the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone, I had to choose between support of the Conservative party or of the Liberal party, both of which he has supported in turn, and I came to the conclusion that it was better to support a party which performed than a party which protested. There is a supposed monopoly of enthusiastic affection, expressed affection, for the Navy on the other side, and they are quite welcome to continue to put forward highly exaggerated arguments on behalf of the Fleet, which they are the first to let down when they get into power.
What is the genesis of this Debate? It gives an opportunity to His Majesty's Government either to announce their policy upon certain matters or to announce their alternatives to the policy that they have often put forward. It must not be forgotten that when the right hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary of State for the Colonies, put forward his large programme of construction, he justified it not only on the ground of naval and strategic necessity, but on the ground that it would give employment to 32,000 men. He deplored the fact that the last Government had so far failed in its duty that it had omitted to carry out more than half the programme that he had outlined, and he expressed very sincere sympathy with those men who had failed to obtain employment as a result of the delinquencies of the late Government. I want to know what the First Lord of the Admiralty is going to say this afternoon 1609 not only to those who hold that on strategic grounds our position is weak, but to those men who have been led to expect some sort of solution for their difficulties.
I do not want unnecessarily to embarrass the First Lord of the Admiralty, but the Prime Minister very seriously embarrassed me when he came to Devon-port and told my electorate that if he got in they would have sixteen cruisers. I am entitled to ask, if the Government are not going to build those 16 or 17 cruisers within a period of three years, what are they going to do for these men? I do not want to dwell on the question of the dockyards, but I would ask whether the Admiralty have considered or intend to consider the alternative uses to which the dockyards could be put. I do not press that they should bleed the taxpayers unnecessarily, but I do press that if no alternative form of occupation for these men can be announced this afternoon that, at any rate, we shall have an announcement that their future is being considered. In Devonport there is nothing else for these skilled men to do. These men are the greatest use to the country. I suggested to the Admiralty that they should develop a scheme for house building, and I made other suggestions. I hope for the sake of these men we shall hear what the Government intend to do and what inquiries are being made in regard to their future prospects. I share with hon. Members who have preceded me, a desire to remove the Navy from partisan politics. A discussion of this kind shows how wrong it is to treat the Navy as a matter of party politics. Everybody, in every quarter of the House, has expressed exactly the same ideal.
§ Major HORE-BELISHA
I am sure that the ideal expressed by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley was an ideal which must be shared by my Noble Friend and colleague in the representation of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), namely, to keep this country secure at the least possible expense to the taxpayer. I do not know if there has been any divergence from that principle expressed, and I do not know whether anybody would wish to express divergence. In a matter of national 1610 defence there ought not to be party politics. The reason why party politics enter into these discussions is because nobody has ever discovered a principle upon which the Navy should be built. There is no controversy in business about an insurance premium. Everyone agrees that if you have a, business you must insure it. There is no controversy, because the principle is well established that to insure the value of your goods is essential. The British Empire ought to insure the value of its goods. If any principle is to be discevered in this matter, it surely must be related to the total expenditure upon our trade. Our import and export trade ought to bear some relation to our naval expenditure.
I have looked into the figures ever since the Battle of Trafalgar as to our import and export trade, and I have looked at the figures that represent our expenditure upon the Navy. I wanted to find out what percentage we paid by way of insurance premium. The lowest we have ever spent is 1½ per cent. of our national import and export trade, and the highest we have ever spent is about 4i per cent. during the late War. It ought to be possible to determine some ratio which the expenditure on the Fleet should bear to the expenditure upon our import and export trade. It would have this great advantage that when our representatives went to the Naval Conference at Washington, instead of making the Navy a matter of party politics, instead of saying, "We will build so many battleships," and someone suggesting one less, or saying, "We will build so many cruisers," and someone suggesting one less or one more, we could say that every one of the Powers at the Conference should be entitled to spend upon its Navy for the next five or 10 years a certain proportion of the expenditure on its import and export trade. You can fix the ratio at 2½ per cent. or 2 per cent. or any other per cent., but there could then be no jealousy among the Powers because they would be all spending in exactly the same ratio.
I merely put forward the suggestion for this reason. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nobody will accept it! "] If nobody will accept it, then peace can never be brought about, but it is at any rate more feasible than a bargain about tonnage that has no logical basis at all. 1611 America, if she has less sea-borne trade than ourselves, could not complain if we were spending more on our Navy, because it would not be logical. I do not say that my principle should be accepted. Perhaps there should be some other, but there ought to be something corresponding to the insurance risk which would enable the Admiralty to go ahead with its programme for five or 10 years at a time without this constant interference through General Elections, reasons of economy, and one thing or another, so as to enable the men whose job it is to discover how this country can be beet defended to do that without being criticised and interfered with in the manner in which they now are, because it is undesirable to maintain a body of experts at the Admiralty who are the only people who can judge the situation with all its delicate factors, and then get a lot of persons who do not know much about it, but who for partisan reasons think that less or more should be spent on a very essential service. I merely put that forward in the hope that some principle may be discovered in the future.
There is a second principle with regard to trade. The trade which we protect is the trade of the Empire, not of England alone. Therefore, it is imperative that we should have greater and more intimate relationship with the Dominions when we come to settle these problems. Several hon. Members who have spoken in this House have called attention to the very heavy burden which our naval expenditure entails on the taxpayer. I have looked into the comparative figures for the Dominions, and I refer to them, not with any desire of drawing an invidious distinction between one Dominion and another, or between the Dominions and the Mother Country, but merely because I think that a principle could here be arrived at. We spent in Great Britain last year—it is more this year—£1 4s. 10d. per head of our population in naval expenditure. Canada spent 74 cents; the Commonwealth of Australia spent 8s. per head of the population; New Zealand, 8s.; and the Union of South Africa 1s. 9d. per head of the population.
I have got the figures from the Colonial Office, and the question I asked was "per head of the population." That is the answer given to me, and I could not say whether it is the white population. Obviously, there is matter for investigation here. I also got the figures in relation to the trade of those Dominions, and I find that the amount spent for every £1,000 total export and import trade in England amounts to £25 3s. 9d. Canada, in respect of every 1,000 dollars of trade, spent 74 cents, the Commonwealth of Australia in respect of every £1,000 worth of trade spent £8 14s. 10d., New Zealand spent £5 5s. 8d., and the Union of South Africa £1 1s. 1d. If the Empire means anything, it should mean not only an inheritance of common rights and privileges, but also an inheritance of common responsibilities. The reason that I have given these figures per head of the population, and in relation to trade, is that one way or the other you must come to the conclusion that the Dominions are not bearing their full share of their responsibility. Not that they are unwilling to do so, but I doubt if the problem has ever been approached from a truly Imperial point of view. If the present system continues, it will pay parts of our Empire to fall away from Great Britain. It paid Ireland to go, and when Ireland went it meant that every taxpayer in this country had to pay more for the Navy.
Because Ireland was contributing to the Imperial Exchequer towards the cost of the Navy.
§ Major HORE-BELISHA
Obviously, it must pay her to escape, whatever her obligations were, all her obligations, which amounted to at least 25s. per head of the population, in respect of the Navy. It is logical, and it would also pay Scotland to go, obviously, if she could thrust the whole burden of the expenditure for defence on the shoulders of England. Obviously, it would pay Wales to go. Therefore, you will get in the end to this position, that the moment 1613 the Scotsmen become canny enough to perceive the truth of what I am saying the total burden of armaments will fall upon this very small portion of this very small island in order to protect the trade of the whole Empire. I merely want to make the suggestion to the Admiralty that they should consider these two matters which I have brought forward, with a view to releasing on the one hand the Navy from purely party politics and, on the other hand, making the Navy a really Imperial concern. I hope that those matters will receive some consideration.
I hope also that the First Lord will make some announcement on the question of marriage allowance of naval officers. I have had many letters on the subject, and only this morning I had a letter in which a naval officer said that he would sooner hear something than continue in suspense, and that if they were being played with and were not going to get this allowance let them be told so. The right hon. Gentleman is as anxious to do this as anybody can be and I hope that he will find an opportunity this afternoon for relieving our suspense in the matter.
In the very few minutes during which I desire to detain the Committee, I would like to put the [joint of view of many of us on this side of the House who do really view with very great alarm and deep concern the great rise in expenditure, which is now over £800,000,000, and which of necessity is so largely contributed to by Navy Estimates. I think that there are a great many people on this side of the House who do believe that high expenditure will be to us as a country almost as dangerous as taking a risk with our Fleet, and those of us who think that and who even now would never advocate reducing our Fleet below the one-Power standard, do think that the Government might very seriously consider in reference to the question whether they are going to build cruisers this year or not, as to which is the greater risk. Is it a greater risk to pass over a year and then go on with the programme, or a greater risk to have naval Estimates of £f5,000,000 or £70,000,000 expenditure?
I listened to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley 1614 (Sir J. Simon) and I thought that he, as a leader on the Wee Free Benches, who used to be a leader of the Liberal party, was, at any rate, an impeccable economist, but I am afraid that those ideas of mine were rather wrong, and my estimation of him went down because he seemed to produce no argument showing that he would economise on anything except on our fighting services. He asked, could any of us on this side tell him in what other Department of State we could economise except the fighting services, and he challenged anyone on this side to advocate any reduction in what is known as the social services.
I believe that the great trouble about reducing expenditure is this, that everybody is prepared to reduce the expenditure about which he does not care, but once you touch the Estimate in which he is immediately interested he always holds up his hands in horror and says, "Reduce expenditure on everything except this, particular Estimate in which I am interested." I do not believe that we shall ever get economy—and we must get economy—if we follow out the proposition put forward by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley. As I understood the right hon. and learned Gentleman, he said that the only way in which we could economise was by reducing the fighting services, and not by spending less money on social services.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I was taking about the reduction of expenditure, and I was saying that it appeared to me that, if the reduction of expenditure was going to be secured, one had to consider in what direction it was possible to secure it. It did not appear to me likely that we should find any reduction in the expenditure on what we call social service, and I indicated two possible branches, one of which was expenditure on fighting services and the other was the charge for the debt.
I understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Apparently, he still takes the view that the only Departments of State in which economics can be made are the Admiralty, the War Office, and the Air Force.
§ Sir J. SIMON
There is no good in talking about economy if you mean by it simply a desire to be economical. The question is a reduction of expenditure. 1615 Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will indicate m what Departments he does think a reduction of expenditure should be expected?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has again challenged us on this side to indicate Tin what direction we would cut expenditure. I tell him frankly, though he may not like it, that I shall be quite prepared to make a cut in education, because I believe that we are not getting value for the money which we spend on our Education Department, and I do deprecate, very strongly, the argument which falls from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on that side that the only Services in which a substantial cut can be made are the Departments which deal with the Fighting Services.
§ 7.0 P.M.
I believe that a substantial reduction could be made in the Estimates for that particular Department. I would point this out to the Committee, that we cannot, in my view, go on raising £800,000,000. Perhaps I have strayed away from the subject with which the Debate deals, but I was really intending to answer the point of view, which I understood, was put forward by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley, that the main bulk of economies should be made on the Fighting Services.
§ Sir ROBERT HAMILTON
Would the hon. Gentleman inform the House how much he would propose to cut from the Education Vote?
I think I would be out of order if I went into detail with regard to education. But what will you get if we build a great number of ships? You will have a rise in naval expenditure. You will have large Estimates, and you will have this House faced probably with a proposition either of increasing taxation or of raiding the Sinking Fund. My own view of the problem at the present time is that the risk in both Departments is great. The naval risk is undoubtedly large. The financial risk is also large. The Government have in these difficult times to con- 1616 sider very carefully which risk they would rather incur. If they come down on the side of building more cruisers, if the experts of the Admiralty have been able to convince them that that risk is not worth taking, then I, and I have no doubt others with me, will vote for the Government. But we do ask them very seriously to consider before they have taken an irrevocable decision on this matter as to whether after the War, when we are spending this very large sum of money, it would not be better for the time being, at any rate, to regard the financial hardship as being rather greater.
I have no desire to go over old ground, or to deal with those things which have already been spoken of, but I would ask the Admiralty whether they have ever considered the reintroduction to any ships of the old nucleus crew system which we had before the War. I know you cannot have nucleus crews for ships abroad, but have they considered having nucleus crews for some of the ships in the Atlantic Fleet? I am not, and do not pretend to be, an expert in these matters. I am only asking the First Lord a question. Would it be possible to save money by that means, and that money put into the building of the new cruisers? I think it is going to be very difficult for any Government to continue in these times of financial crisis Estimates of £70,000,000 a year and over. I want to see more ships, but I want to see them obtained for less money. I believe that by pruning the dockyards, pruning the Admiralty, reducing the large number of people at headquarters, we might be able to reduce the actual administrative staff, and therefore save money in that matter. I hope the Government will very seriously consider whether they can in these times continue to present Estimates of £70,000,000 every year to this House. [An HON. MEMBER: "What £70,000,000?"] I understand that the Estimates this year are £62,000,000. If a huge number of cruisers are built the Estimates will probably go into the region of £70,000,000, and that is why I use that figure. If those ships are built, we may get an Estimate next year for £72,000,000, and I ask them to consider whether, financially, we shall be able to continue to raise this very large sum of £800,000,000 a year without inflicting a tremendous disaster on others.
§ Mr. AMMON
I for one have no regrets that the Noble Lord the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Lord Erskine) has just delivered the speech to which we have listened, and I will be very interested to know whether the Government will repudiate some of the statements, or whether they will say he speaks with the voice of the party opposite.
§ Mr. AMMON
I am very glad to hare the answer from the Noble Lady. [An HON. MEMBER: "And from others."] The Noble Lord has indicated that he is prepared to make big cuts in education and among the social Services. I should be very much surprised if that receives the support of the Government. It will be interesting to have, later on, an intimation whether or not they accept that proposal. I have compared somewhat wistfully the tone and temper of the Debate to those I remember last year when I was faced by my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary (Mr. Amery) on the one side, and when at the back of me I had some other friends who also were not quite satisfied in another respect. On the one side, my right hon. Friend was complaining that we had cut down the programme considerably, and on the other some of my friends were displeased by the programme I brought forward. The late Government can claim that in the short time it was in office, having taken up the Estimates prepared by its predecessors, it did at least make up its mind, put forward its programme, and submit it to this House for criticism.
The present Government have been in office very nearly as long as the late Government Now they have not made up their minds, and we are discussing more or less in the dark what the naval programme is to be. I thought up to a little while ago that probably this Debate might prove of very little practical use, but the speeches of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Tonbridge (Lieut.-Colonel Spender Clay) and the Noble Lord opposite may, after all, prove that it has been worth while. Even from the Government Benches we have had a plea for economy, and at least to go slow in this matter rather than to attempt to rush into hasty expenditure. There was a speech made earlier in the afternoon by an hon. and gallant Gentleman to whom 1618 we listened with great pleasure, and who indicated that what we now had got to do was rather to build against the United States as our rival in naval armaments. I am hoping that that is not going to be the spirit which will enter into consideration of our naval programme, and that we will certainly not get that into our minds at all. That is the spirit which led to disaster in days gone by.
§ Mr. AMMON
I accept the hon. and gallant Gentleman's withdrawal. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is not a withdrawal!"] When an hon. Member draws attention to the fact that some other Navy has ships of higher armament, you can take no other line than that he is comparing it with our own armament and Navy for certain purposes.
§ Mr. DENNIS HERBERT
Does the hon. Gentleman remember that my hon. and gallant Friend not only mentioned the United States, but practically every other naval Power in the world?
§ Mr. AMMON
That all goes to emphasise what I am saying. I am very glad to have those interruptions while we are discussing the one-Power standard. The two-Power standard is evidently being aimed at by certain Members. There were other points, some of which were touched on by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) with special reference to Singapore. That does have a very distinct bearing on the matter under discussion, and, as was pointed out in a Debate in another place a few days ago, the Government have not yet made up their minds what it is going to do with regard to that. That is surely another point on which we should receive information. May I ask: Is there going to be a floating dock as well as a graving dock at Singapore, and what amount is the nation to be committed to with regard to expendi- 1619 ture? We have had a suggestion that it is going to cost £10,000,000, but we know that is quite an under-statement as to the ultimate cost. You have to consider barracks, hospitals, coast defence arrangements, and defence against aerial attacks, which mean that three times £10,000,000 will not cover the expenditure if we are going to develop along those lines. The Committee is entitled at this stage to know how far we are going, and if the nation is to be asked to enter into it blind-folded.
I venture with great diffidence to approach this from another point of view, a point which has only been tentatively touched upon in other Debates. We are told it is necessary that we must have this dock there to protect our trade routes in case of hostilities with other Powers. I will not touch on the threat this holds out to our former ally Japan.
There is not much in the argument from the strategical point of view of the protection of our trade routes. Surely it docs follow with the outbreak of war all trade North of Hong Kong will automatically cease. Dominion trade, that is between Australia and New Zealand, does not for the most part pass through the Straits of Singapore, and could be diverted to a more Southerly route. We have to remember that eight weeks will elapse before the Fleet will get out to Singapore, and another three or four weeks before it will be able to go into the open sea, and by that time three months serious happenings will have ensued. Undoubtedly the first step of any hostile power would be an attempt to seize this base. Is there anything in the suggestion that it is a means of protecting Australia and New Zealand? We are told it is 3,000 miles from Japan, and we have a right to retort that, equally, it is 3.000 miles from Japan to Singapore. But it is also 5.000 miles from Sydney and 3,000 miles from Thursday Island, the nearest point on the Australian coast. There cannot be any substance in the proposal that this is being done as a means of protecting our Dominions in that direction. It has to be borne in mind that there is a strong division of opinion in our Dominions on this base, and one who may be the next Prime Minister of the Commonwealth has expressed very distinctly the view that 1620 they are not prepared to support this project in any particular.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Volley (Sir J. Simon) a little while ago said that what mattered was the habit of thought which one got into, and some sections of the Committee apparently have not learned anything from the War, and are still thinking in terms of War mentality instead of seeing that we are in an entirely different world. At this moment we cannot afford great expenditure on armaments, and if ever there was a time when we should go slow, this is the moment, and we should certainly take steps to foster the peace spirit throughout the world. What has been the greatest assurance of peace between this country and the United States? There has been no greater assurance of that than the 3,000 miles of frontier between Canada and the United States on which there is not a single sentry or a single gun, and if one were placed there you would have the potentialities of war at any time. With regard to the value of Singapore from a strategic point of view, in the short time I was at the Admiralty, I formed the opinion, which has been reinforced since, that there is a considerable difference of opinion among experts as to the future and value of the capital ship. Each rival school disputes the prestige and the authority of the other. A joint paper was read in June of last year before the Institute of Naval Architects by Captain Munro, of the Royal Navy, and a civilian member, in which they had under review proposals with regard to Singapore. They foretold that the days of the capital ship were numbered, and that what we would need in the future was a mobile base, rather than a fixed shore base. In their paper they statedIn the light of the facts set forth in this Paper, should we not ask ourselves if we as a nation, would be doing the right thing if we were to instal at Singapore or elsewhere a permanent base on shore with an excavated dry dock that would take years to complete and cost a large sum of money, a great proportion of which would be spent abroad. Should we not rather provide at vastly less cost, the whole of which would be spent in British labour, a floating base, fully equipped, which in time of war or threat of war, could be readily transferred to whatever port or base the General Staff might deem best for carrying out its duties.1621 I do not profess to be able to judge between experts, but it is fair to point out that there is this difference of opinion as to the value of the base, and at a time when every £l matters, we have no right to pour out money for something which may in a few years prove obsolete. I hope we shall have a full statement as to how far the Government intend to go, what is the scheme, and whether they have decided that there is to be both a graving dock and a floating dock at Singapore.
There are one or two direct and specific suggestions I desire to make, which the First Lord may or may not think of value, with reference to the possibility of effecting economies without impairing the efficiency or strength of the Navy. The right hon. Gentleman is probably aware that the late Government had a small Committee consisting of the First Lord, the Parliamentary Secretary, and the Permanent Secretary, who were to overhaul the whole civil establishment, with a view to making reductions. They were impressed with the fact that it would be possible to make a large reduction in number of staff which had become considerably inflated. That work was interrupted, and I should like to know whether it is now being continued, and what possibility there is of reductions being made along these lines. The Estimates for the Navy are between £60,000,000 and £70,000,000, or more than half the total of £120,000,000 which this country votes for armaments, and one weakness in this connection since the War has been the practice of overbudgetting at the Admiralty. In the review of accounts for 1923–24, we find the total surplus to be surrendered amounted to nearly £4,000,000, which means that people were overtaxed to that extent for the Navy. Attempts were made by the last Government to cut down that surplus. Of recent years the surplus has varied from 5 per cent. to 11 per cent. of the Estimates. That is very high, especially when we have regard to the fact that the surrender in pre-War years amounted to only 1.5 per cent. There should be closer budgetting in this respect, and one would like to know what steps, if any, have been taken in regard to this matter. We are now getting back to proper estimating, but in 1924–25 the overhead cut then made was £3,000,000 1622 on the assumption that there would be a surplus. With that overhead cut made on the Estimates, it was unnecessary to come to the House for a Supplementary Estimate, except for the Sutton judgment, which could not have been foreseen, and which was extraneous to ordinary Admiralty expenditure. I have been informed by those in touch with these accounts that we could make a further cut of £1,000,000 or £2,000,000 on the overhead charges, which is a suggestion worth going into, and one which should commend itself to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Referring further to the subject of economy, I suggest that it is now time that all the War remanets were cleared up. During the War, the Admiralty advanced considerable sums to naval contractors for supplies, the erection of buildings, and so forth. Settlements have been effected on a large scale, but there are still some important items outstanding. What is the position in regard to this matter? Is every effort being made to get the best settlements in the interests of the taxpayer? One would also be glad to know definitely if it is the case that we have advanced a considerable step with regard to control over naval expenditure. I understand that the Permanent Secretary to the Admiralty is now to be the Accounting Officer, and is to appear before the Public Accounts Committee, and other authorities. This of course, means that the House of Commons will be able to get as near as possible to a policy in matters of importance, and exercise a more direct control than has been exercised in days gone by. There are some other questions which I desire to ask the right hon. Gentleman. What is the position between the Government and the United States naval authorities regarding the exchange of petrol effected during the War? What is the aggregate amount of money involved, and what is the amount obtained by Great Britain. One would also like a statement on coal and oil fuel, and the financial effects of the use of oil, and perhaps the Minister will make a statement regarding the policy of working down surplus stocks, the object being to reduce immediate expenditure. Will he also explain the position in reference to the deterioration or diminution of stores left over from the War. All these 1623 matters have remained with us since the War, although that period is now so far removed, and it is not necessary to emphasise the effect which they have on the expenditure of the nation and the importance of having them cleared up satisfactorily.
May I emphasise the point raised by the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague). I know nothing about the matter to which he made special reference, but it is a subject of first-class importance, and it is likely to give rise to much misunderstanding and great disturbance of mind among the industrial population, particularly at a time when people are touchy and anything is likely to happen. I hope, therefore, we shall have a definite statement as to the allegation that the Navy is to be called upon to act in the interests of one side in a dispute. I hesitate to think that such is the case. But a statement from the right hon. Gentleman made with authority contradicting it would very much ease the situation. I hope if the First Lord will heed not so much the criticism from the Opposition he will have regard to the criticism from his own benches, and the suggestion that this is the particular moment when we can stay our expenditure with regard to armaments. Our cruiser outlay is largely experimental, and I see that already criticirms are being made with regard to a ship recently launched. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Surely all the indications point to the fact that there is no need to go in for large scale expenditure on armaments at the present time, and that we can make the necessary experiments on a smaller scale. The money which we would save in this respect is much more needed for social legislation, and meantime, by the use of the machinery of the League of Nations we might do much to render unnecessary in the days to come any increase in our armaments.
§ Major GLYN
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned one point on which I think we are all united. I think every hon. Member recognises that the present time is the opportunity, if not for a naval holiday, at any rate for a naval respite. We must try to look upon this matter, not from the technical point of view, but as Members of Parliament to recognise that we can 1624 never assist the Government if we are perpetually asking them to spend money in certain ways. It is much more difficult to speak from this side of the House than from the other side in regard to the Navy. I have most of my life been in one of the Services, and since I have been in this House I have co-operated with those who work for the good of the three Services. We are perfectly convinced that before very long the question of eliminating unnecessary expenditure, especially in regard to the purchasing of stores, must be taken up. I see no reason why there should be three Medical Departments, one for the Navy, one for the Army, and one for the Air Force, and I see no reason why we should have the absurd spectacle of the War Office competing against the Air Ministry in regard to land purchase. It is the wretched taxpayer who has to pay. It may be very amusing to the representatives of the Land Departments of the two Services, but it does not help the defence of the country, and all these matters want going into, because I am convinced that there are many ways in which economies could be effected.
I am not a naval expert—there are plenty in this House whose views we get, and they are of great interest—but I believe the business of this House is to try to arrive at some figure, either based on something, or at any rate some figure in the mind, which should represent the total amount of money that we should give to the various Services for expenditure. I believe that it would be well, if it were possible, for this House to say to the Admiralty: "You will have £45,000,000, or £55,000,000, or whatever the figure may be, and you must spend that money as you think best. We will back you up; we are not experts; you are paid to be the experts, and you have that money absolutely certain; and if you think that Sheerness, or Chatham. or Pembroke should be done away with, do away with them, and we will back you up." But what ruins Admiralty policy is that now, when they want to do something, political pressure is brought to bear in this House which prevents them doing so. Therefore, we are the last people in the world to throw stones at Admiralty experts in this matter. It is a pernicious system, which we all want to stop.
There is one point, in regard to the immediate question of the construction 1625 of these cruisers, that I wish to put. I am astonished that no Labour Member has mentioned it, because we heard of it all the time during the election when they said that the national wealth of this country was not only cash, but the skill of the British workman. The Labour Members in the elections never ceased telling us that, and they are perfectly right, but what is happening now? On the Clyde, on the Tyne, at Barrow, and elsewhere our skilled workmen are leaving this country and going to other countries. They are going to the United States, and getting good wages and steady employment, and what I see is this danger, that when the time comes to lay down ships, either on the Clyde or on the Tyne, the machinery will be there, the management will be there, and we shall have the will that they shall build these ships, but the skilled men will not be there. That is a point. which concerns all of us, hot from a naval, technical point of view, but from the point of view of the general efficiency of the country as a potential workshop to turn out what we must have in times of emergency, and I think we must seriously consider whether, from that point of view, it would not be possible to spread over the orders and to let certain of the yards on the Clyde and the Tyne know that they will get a cruiser, say, at the end of this year and probably another to follow the year after. They would then know where they were. It does not cost money to the taxpayer to spread the orders over in that way.
The right hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Hilton Young), with almost every word of whose speech I agreed, pointed out that we have to take into account at the present time that there are great changes taking place, but unfortunately, since, the 10,000 tons was fixed by the Washington Conference, it means that that maximum has become the minimum. Everybody regrets that, and the gallant Admiral the Member for Galloway (Sir A. Henniker-Hughan) was just as ready to see 7,000 tons fixed. Whatever the figure may be, directly a great International Conference fixes something as the maximum, it immediately becomes the minimum. If we are sincere in desiring economy and in wishing to assist the Government—and after all we have been returned to try to carry out certain things— 1626 I believe we shall get efficiency and economy if we can devise some means of spreading out the orders for these cruisers in such a way that we will give our skilled men occupation and keep them in this country. I cannot understand why the Labour party have never said a word about that in this Debate. It is, to my mind, essential that we should recognise the difficulty. I do not want to provide work by building battleships if we can build something else, but if you build battleships, surely it is the time to place and spread the orders, because it will give employment and enable the builders to purchase steel plates, and so on, on very favourable terms.
I believe, further, that if we can arrive at this understanding, that we should offer a lump sum to the Admiralty, and tell them to spend up to that sum in the way they consider will produce the greatest efficiency, and we, as Members of the House of Commons, will bind ourselves, not for political purposes, as I believe the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) had an interest in the dockyard at Pembroke—I do not believe Pembroke would have been in existence to-day, had it not been for political pressure—
§ Major PRICE
I totally disagree with that. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister for the Dominions came down to the constituency and stated that he was in favour of retaining Pembroke, and he was instrumental in retaining Pembroke. Therefore, we had a consensus of opinion on Liberal and Conservative benches that Pembroke was necessary.
§ Major GLYN
That shows the danger one gets into in attempting to be at all expert in this House. I am not an expert, and I know nothing about Pembroke, but if you could leave that to the Admiralty experts, it would be a possible means of getting economy. If you want to get economy, trust your experts, and do not go in for amateur experts in this House. We are not here as experts, but as Members of Parliament, and we should be very bad Members if we were experts. We are not representatives of any section or any type, and, therefore, I thought something should be said on this side to show that we want to support the Government in maintaining an efficient Navy, and we want also to assure them that we will back them up if they will let the 1627 Admiralty produce what they consider necessary up to and within certain definite lines.
§ Mr. MORRIS
The noble Lord the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Lord Erskine), in answer to the right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), who had asked him, if he were going to reduce expenditure upon any Department other than the fighting forces, what Department he would begin with, made a very interesting admission that he would reduce expenditure upon the Education Department. He did not say by how much he would reduce it, but he said he was prepared to reduce it by a substantial amount. It would be interesting to know what Departments other than the Education Department he would be prepared to recommend for a reduction of expenditure.
§ Mr. MORRIS
Would the Noble Lord be prepared to reduce the expenditure, for instance, on the Ministry of Health?
As I told the right hon. Member, if the financial situation becomes extremely acute, I flunk we shall have to ration all the Departments.
§ Mr. MORRIS
The expenditure of money on these cruisers is often justified, and has been justified by the Prime Minister, and from time to time by the Colonial Secretary, on the ground that it is necessary to spend this money in order to afford employment to a large number of men. I believe the number has been given at various time6 at about 32,000 men. It is an interesting admission from the Noble Lord opposite that, if you are looking for spheres in which to cut expenditure, he would select as one of them the Ministry of Health. Take the Report of the Medical Officer to the Ministry of Health for last year. Whatever your views about unemployment or strikes and lock-outs may be, it is a fact that during the whole of last year strikes and lock-outs were responsible for the loss of 1,250,000 working weeks in the whole country, but, according to this Report of the Ministry of Health Medical Officer, ill-health was responsible for the loss of 20,000,000 working weeks. Surely, therefore, if the Noble Lord wishes to do something to remedy unemployment and justify this Vote on that basis, the Ministry of Health is one 1628 of the last Departments where he can recommend a reduction of expenditure, au expenditure which is totally justifiable.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain FitzRoy)
I really do not think the Ministry of Health is under discussion at the present time.
§ Mr. MORRIS
I bow to your ruling, Captain FitzRoy. It is not under discussion, but it is relevant in view of the fact that this Vote is often justified on the ground that it does something to solve the problem of unemployment. The Noble Lord, in defending this Vote, mentioned a few figures. The actual estimated expenditure for this year is, I believe, £60,500,000, but the Noble Lord mentioned £62,000,000 or possibly up to £70,000,000 as being the estimated expenditure. That can only be justified if the state of the country demands that that money should be spent. I have in my hands a Report drawn up by the Committee on National Expenditure in 1922. What do they say about naval expenditure in that Report? They say:The Admiralty have clearly given the deepest thought to the production of a thoroughly equipped force to meet immediately any possible naval contingency. Their plans seem to us to take too little account of the period of peace which they have been instructed to anticipate, and of the present serious financial condition of the country.That was in 1922, and the condition of the country was then, in the opinion of that Committee, the Chairman of which was himself an ex-Lard of the Admiralty, so serious that it did not justify the Naval Estimates of that year. What has happened since then? The expenditure on naval armaments has been going up year after year. The financial position of the country is becoming increasingly serious. The opinion I have quoted is not the opinion of those who have an instinctive dislike of expenditure on armaments, but it is the opinion of people whose business it was to investigate and to make an impartial report on the question of the general safety of the country. This is not a matter entirely for experts. If it were, I would have no right to take part in the Debate. This is a question of national policy. Are the Members of the Government agreed that expert advice calls for any additional money being found for naval armaments? If they are so agreed, why have they not 1629 declared their policy? Why are we carrying on this Debate without a word so far as to what the Government position is, whether the figure of £62,500,000, as in the Estimates, or the additional figure of £70,000,000 is necessary? There is one simple test by which we must consider whether the expenditure is justified or not. That simple test is supplied by Article 8 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. The simple test there is that we must reduce our armaments to the lowest point consistent with national safety. Is there anyone on the Government side who will tell us that that point has been reached and passed?
§ Mr. MORRIS
That is interesting. Why are the Government unable to make up their mind? Let me return to the question of unemployment. We are spending this year, taking only the Navy Vote into consideration, the equivalent of £l 12s. per head of the population. If we take the whole armament Vote into consideration we are spending £4 15s. 7d. per head. The total expenditure of this country in all Departments is something like £26 per head of the population. A quarter of that total is being spent upon armaments. Against whom are we preparing? The condition of Europe has changed entirely. The only thing permanently with us is the race in armaments and in preparations for the next war. The Government have clearly two defences —one which has not seriously been put forward, that we have gone below the safety margin provided for in Article 8 of the Covenant; and the other a thing that cannot be put forward seriously, namely, that this would do anything at all to solve the problem of unemployment. As to the latter, it may do so as far as a number of people connected with the dockyards are concerned, but the money to provide those people with employment must come out of the pockets of the taxpayers and out of the industry of the country. We have heard a great deal lately about the money that is being spent on unemployment insurance overburdening the industry of the country. That money has to be provided at the expense of the development of industry. I agree with the suggestion that we should convert a number of these dockyards for civil production. That would create a larger 1630 amount of employment. No justification whatever has been offered for the expenditure of this large sum on naval armaments.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I want to say one word about the speech of the hon. Member who has just spoken. It resembled very closely the speech delivered by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) who opened this Debate. It was full of vague generalities about war and the necessity for the financial situation being kept constantly under consideration by the Government. But there was not one practical suggestion in it as to how any economy could be effected, nor was there any such suggestion in the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley. They did not attempt in any detail to deal with Admiralty administration, or the policy which governs the direction of our naval strategy. I do not see what is the use of speeches of that kind. The right hon. and learned Member deliberately misstated the facts, and distorted the whole situation. The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), late Financial Secretary to the Admiralty, began by discoursing at some length upon Singapore, and his chief argument was that Singapore was so far from Japan and from Australia that it could be used neither for offensive operations against the one, nor for defensive operations on behalf of the other. I submit that the purpose of Singapore never has been for offensive operations against Japan or for purely defensive operations on behalf of Australia. Its purpose is solely to defend our export and import trade, and our trade routes. Unless we have a harbour or base upon which in times of crisis we can base light cruisers on other ships, we should lose once for all the control of the whole of our Far Eastern trade routes, and we should lose the whole of that trade upon which the safety of this nation must depend.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that the present dock at Singapore provides accommodation for light cruisers?
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
The present dock is not sufficient for the new 10,000-ton cruisers, and certainly not for battle-cruisers, and in certain circumstances it might be essential for us to send battle-cruisers to Singapore. Singapore is not levelled at Japan. In the last War the greatest difficulty with which we had to contend was raiding by German cruisers. From 20, to 30 cruisers and other light craft were required to hunt down those raiders. Germany is in the most unfortunate geographical position, of all the countries in the world, for sending raiders out into the ocean, because her coastline is so short. If we went to war with any other nation in the world, that nation would find it far easier than Germany did to send raiders into the Pacific. Unless we have a base at Singapore on which we can base light cruisers or battle-cruisers, we cannot be in a position to hunt down commerce raiders. A couple of raiders sent out by any Power in the world—not Japan—to those waters, would hold up and sink the whole of our large British trade, unless we had Singapore on which to base our cruisers. You have only to look at the strategic position and the proposition becomes self-evident. In Japan no one has ever considered, or considers to-day, that Singapore is in any way a menace to them. In that respect the late Financial Secretary to the Admiralty was right. No naval officer would contend that you could carry out offensive operations against Japan from Singapore. The lines of communication would be far too great. The hon. Member for North Camberwell said that capital ships were probably obsolete. I shall be satisfied on that point when I hear that any capital ship has ever been damaged, much less sunk, by enemy aircraft action. Such a thing never happened in the last War, and it has yet to be proved that it can be done. When Admiralty tests have been carried out, and other nations have come to the same conclusion, I shall believe that the capital ship is no longer the basis of naval power; but until then we must build up our Navy upon the capital ship basis.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
Has the Ron. Member not heard about the experiments with aircraft bombs on old German battleships by the United States? One 2,000 lbs. bomb sank a battleship.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
But that was not in. war-time. Is the Department of the Navy in the United States satisfied that a battleship is very vulnerable to aircraft attack on sea? I do not know. Until the Navy Department has come to that opinion, we cannot accept it. I do not imagine that there was anyone in that battleship firing back at the aircraft. That would have made a considerable difference. I think the speech of the Leader of the Opposition was an. extremely interesting speech and very helpful and instructive. He made one point clear—that we can no longer consider naval policy purely from an Admiralty point of view, but that we must consider it also from the point of view of the Air Ministry and the War Office, and, above all, from the point of view of the Foreign Office. There are in fact four Departments affected, and the policy of those Departments must be co-ordinated into one by the Cabinet as a whole. I believe that that is the main reason which has caused the delay in the announcement of our cruiser programme. The Admiralty quite obviously are fully aware of what they require. Their request is well known to all, and they have put it forward doubtless with great skill and care. I respect the Government for the delay in their announcement. I hope they will not announce their final cruiser programme until they have co-ordinated the policy of the four Departments, and are unanimous.
Let me say a few words about the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Devonport (Major Hore-Belisha). He made a most valuable suggestion when he said that it was time for us to consider very carefully with the Dominions every aspect of naval power. He stated that the Dominions at the present time are not undertaking their fair share of Imperial defence at sea. That is a fact which is admitted by every responsible Dominion statesman. I am not at all satisfied that to have separate fleets is altogether the best way of achieving naval efficiency. I would rather like the First Lord to tell us to-day whether he considers that the existence of a separate Australian fleet of two cruisers and a few other small craft is conducive to general naval efficiency? Does he not think that the Australian Government would do better to send a certain number of officers and men for training with, and to be incorporated in, our own 1633 Fleet, and, if necessary, to serve in the Australia and China squadrons? I do not know to what extent there may be overlapping or co-ordination in the Far East between the Commanders-in-Chief on the China and the Australian stations, but I am certain that to have a separate fleet far such a small unit must lead to more extravagance than is necessary to meet the exigencies of the naval situation. I most seriously plead for a substantial cruiser programme, but I do not think it would be justifiable to submit it unless the First Lord is satisfied that he can effect no further economies in his own Department, and where the dockyards are concerned. The figures given earlier in the Debate were very startling. Is the First Lord satisfied that the civil staff at the Admiralty is cut down as much as it could be? Nobody would wish to see any reduction in the Operations Division, the Plans Division, the Intelligence Division, and the Gunnery Division. It is vital to keep them well staffed, but when you come to the Department of the Engineer-in-Chief, the Director of Naval Ordnance, and particularly that of the Civil Engineer-in-Chief, the Director of the Contract and Purchase Department, and the Naval Store Department, the staffs are very formidable to look at. Is the First Lord quite satisfied that the demands of the Fleet necessitate such a large staff, because undoubtedly the Fleet has been very much reduced since before the War. I am perfectly satisfied that further economies could be effected in the Admiralty.
As regards the question of dockyards, we must consider that our main Fleet is in the Mediterranean. To support an Atlantic Fleet, consisting of one Battle Squadron, the smallest Fleet we have had in home waters for years and years, we have Rosyth, Sheerness, Chatham, Portsmouth, Devonport, Pembroke, and Portland. Does the First Lord not consider that the list is a little long? I grant that men might have to be thrown in the streets through being put out of work, but you have got to be hard-hearted in these matters sooner or later, and if the First-Lord would close down Chatham and Sheerness, which are perfectly useless from the naval point of view, I ask him to consider whether those dockyards could not be used for some other produc- 1634 tive form of work. Establishments both at Malta and Gibraltar have had to be increased, and we have had to embark on a dock at Singapore, which I hope will in the first instance be developed as a commercial dock. I think these points might receive his grave attention.
I want to ask the First Lord how the naval Air arm is doing in conjunction with the Fleet. Has he had reports from the Atlantic Fleet as to how things are working? The matter is vital to the Fleet at sea. Naval gunnery is a more complicated and technical subject than any other in the world, and a naval officer has much less to learn in flying than an air officer has to learn in gunnery. If we are not to have anything in the nature of a Ministry of Defence, the time is not very far off when the naval branch of the Royal Air Force will have to be handed over to the Admiralty. I believe, unless the First Lord can give us an assurance that the Commander-in-Chief and the Rear Admiral commanding the Battle Cruiser Squadron in the Atlantic Fleet are satisfied with the naval Air arm, that the House will probably insist that the Navy, which is our first line of defence and is absolutely vital to our nation, should have control over an arm which, since the War, has become vital to our shooting efficiency.
With regard to cruisers, what the Committee must realise is that to-day, as a result of the Washington Conference, we are faced with a cruiser situation which is exactly comparable to the "Dreadnought" situation of 1906. By that Conference we rendered every single cruiser we had got obsolete, and the only thing to do is to replace them if we are to carry on as an Empire at all. It is childish for the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley to say that we are replacing Fords by Rolls-Royces. How can you race a Rolls-Royce with a Ford? He was guilty of another fallacy. We are not replacing one Ford by one Rolls-Royce; we are replacing 20 Fords by one Rolls-Royce, which is a very different affair. A short time ago I was in Jamaica, when I saw a squadron of four little cruisers, built purely and solely for North Sea work, and absolutely unfitted for the job they had got out there. Will not the Financial Secretary seriously consider the question of keeping midshipmen in these foreign stations, where they can- 1635 not get proper accommodation on these cruisers? It is absolutely scandalous. These cruisers are only fit for one thing, and that is showing the flag. The Admiral does not attempt to use them as for tactical units. They are ships which can neither fight nor run away, as Lord Fisher used to say. I appeal to the House to remember these facts before they start talking economic hot air, such as has come in such blasts from the Liberal benches to-day. It is my firm belief that more cruisers we must have.
We have had a most interesting Debate and it gets more interesting as it goes on. I should like to dissociate myself from the speech of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Lord Erskine). In all Parliaments I think we like to get away from the speeches which members of our own party make. I am sure the hon. and gallant Member for Devonport (Major Hore-Belisha) would not defend the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon). Ho made several extraordinary statements. First, he said that cruiser-building was non-productive expenditure, which the hon. and gallant Member for Devonport showed was quite wrong, as we build for insurance. Secondly, he said that to go to a dockyard constituency and tell them their futures depended on shipbuilding was a doctrine of despair. Those who know about the Navy realise that it is not only ships but the men in them that matter, and although you can make a soldier in a very short time, you cannot make a sailor. Thirdly, he advised delay now and rapid building later on. The hon. and gallant Member for Devonport and I have members of our parties whom we can shake off in despair. The hon. and gallant Member for Tonbridge (Lieut.-Colonel Spender-Clay) said the time had come for the country to co-ordinate its defences, and I agree that the sooner we do it the better it will be, Here we have a new force, an Air Force, and the more it is left to itself the bigger it gets and the more swollen-headed it becomes. The officers too, have got a marriage allowance which the officers of the Navy have not got in spite of an older tradition and a stronger moral.
1636 Why the hon. and gallant Member for Tonbridge should select only the Admiralty as having increased in numbers I do not know. Why does he not ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether there has been an increase in the number of Treasury officials, and why does he not ask the same question with regard to the Foreign Office? He will find increases in both of those Departments since the War far greater than in the Admiralty. I would not encourage increases, but I think we ought to look into all the circumstances. The hon. and gallant Member should not just pick on the Admiralty alone. When people talk about the Navy and try to compare us with other countries it is quite impossible. You cannot compare us with any other country in the world. The hon. and gallant Member for Devonport talked about the Colonies. I think the position is that they should look into the matter and, if the Navy is essential to their lives, it is absolutely essential that they should contribute more. I am sure they would like to do it, for this little country has the biggest burden in the world. Hon. Members compared our cruisers to the French, the American and the Italian cruisers, but surely they know the English cruisers did more than all of them. Even the American forces were brought to England guarded by English cruisers.
Regarding Singapore, it was put to the late Government that if you only wanted to defend the Mediterranean you could do it with half the ships you had, but if you want to defend your trade routes, then you must have Singapore. I think the late Government did extraordinarily well about that, although they did not, perhaps, always please some of the back benches. Everyone of right sense knows that we all desire peace, but this is hardly the moment to expect it. Look at China. Look at Russia. Look at the world. We speak about getting into a different frame of mind. We in England have got a proper frame of mind and a proper outlook so far as war is concerned, but it does not seem to me that a great many of the countries have. I hope very much that the Government will press on with disarmament, but it would be futile to disarm so long as you have Russia refusing to come to a conference and China in the state she is. In view of these things I look upon the Navy as the greatest safeguard for the peace of the 1637 world to-day. I am perfectly certain that the essential thing for this country, for Great Britain, to do to-day is to get once more into conference with the United States with regard to cutting down the naval expenditure. Why should either country go on with useless expenditure? They should sit down and make up their minds as to what the building programme of the world should be, and if they can do that, I am sure they will give a lead to the other countries of the world. At this moment it is a different thing wanting peace to getting peace. It is quite an easy thing to speak about; it is very difficult to attain.
I trust the Government will consider the position of the dockyard towns. I admit quite frankly that I represent a dockyard town, but I do not represent that only. I hope I represent a point of view bigger than a dockyard town. If, however, we have to go in for general economy, let the Admiralty look to it. Hut it is not fair to keep the dockyard towns in a state of suspense. The authorities should make up their minds what they are going to do; whether they are going to keep the dockyards or not. I speak on behalf of Plymouth, like the hon. Member opposite; but, even then, if it were for a great national good, I would rather go down and fight for that great national good than for any small or local cause. I believe also, as has been said, that we have got machinery in the dockyard at Plymouth as good as Krupps, and if anything could be done to employ the men it would be a perfect godsend. We have to-day 10,000 men unemployed who have always been dependent upon the dockyard, and the present state of suspense is very real and very hard upon them. I should like the Government to take note of the married officers' allowance.. I am sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has gone, because I am perfectly certain that he is the nigger in the woodpile. That is an expression used in Virginia. I feel quite satisfied that in this case the right hon. Gentleman is the nigger. I should ask him just to remember where we as a party stand. We know that the Unionist party has got many things to its discredit and a great many things to its credit. But the Unionist party have always stood by the Navy. I quite honestly say that it is a great pity to make the Navy a party 1638 question. People of all parties take an interest in it—but look at the Committee at present; hardly anybody here!
Here we are discussing what every Member professes to be interested in. We on this side of the House stand up for what is essential. Let me get back to what I was saying, that our party stand really more than any other party for the Navy. I hope the Government will not let down the married officers in respect to their allowance. Let them remember the wives of the officers. I have spoken often on this point, but the position is almost inconceivable to anybody who does not know what these women have to put up with. It is no good admirals coming here and telling us what they did in 1840. In those days it was held that a young man ought not to get married in the Navy until he became a lieut.-commander. It is a different thing to-day. A great many things have happened since then. Our children have somewhat different ideas. It does not matter how much the older admirals talk about what the young men did in their day. It is far better that the younger men should marry than that we should go back to the old story that a sailor had a sweetheart in every port. We have made real progress. We have made moral progress. I do hope that at the Admiralty they will consider these things. I have, perhaps, taken up too much time, but I have waited a long time. I do not want anybody to think that I am not more interested in anything else than in peace, in conferences, in the League of Nations and everything that is going to make for peace. But we must face the world situation. The British Empire and the United States should get together. America, I believe, will some day come into the League of Nations, and if the two countries got together we could give a lead to other countries towards peace.
§ Mr. CHARLETON
I feel somewhat anxious about the circular which has been referred to this afternoon, and which deals with the Navy being used in connection with strikes. This Committee, I think, will agree that the responsible leaders of the trade unions have been going through a very anxious 1639 time, and nothing is to be desired that would stir up animosity. I speak on behalf of the railwaymen, who have just been asked to submit to cuts in wages. We want our members to consider this matter dispassionately, but we must also remember that many thousands of our members have been using arms on behalf of the country, and they have, perhaps, got into a condition something like that of the Irishman, that if they see a fight they want to be in it.
Nothing should be done to irritate the men at this times of crisis. Yet we have this circular, which deals with the remuneration of the ratings in the Navy when used to displace the personnel of the railways if these men are on strike. The point which I want to put is this: That, so far as I am able to understand the Order, it provides that the ratings, say an A.B., if used on the railways will get somewhere near about, with extra pay and maintenance allowance, £8 per week, and they will be displacing men who are getting round about 50s. per week at present. Unless we get a real denial from the Minister, the railwaymen will think that that is in the nature of a bribe to induce these men to do this work. There is another point I should like to make, and that is, that these same men of the Navy, if unloading on one of their own vessels, would not get anything like the pay they would get for similar work on the railways. It must not be understood that we Labour men do not feel concern about the conveyance of food. We recognise that, if we were in office and there was a national railway strike, we should have to see that the country was fed.
I would like to remind the Minister that we have just celebrated the centenary of railways. During that 100 years there have been only two national all-grade strikes in this country. Ours are not men to go on strike. Our men are law-abiding men. We, get small spasmodic strikes, small disagreements now and then, but nothing serious. But I submit we are now in a very grave crisis. As the Committee know, measures have been taken to bring the railway-men, the engineers, the miners and the transport workers into one great unity for, perhaps, offence as well as defence. It would be very unfortunate if at a 1640 time like this anything was done that would raise the suspicion of our men, and might tend to irritate them, so that they did things that aferwards all would regrat. I hope, therefore, that when the Minister replies, he will give the assurance that the men of the Navy will not be used on the railways for strikebreaking purposes. Conveyance of foodstuffs is quite another matter.
§ Major Sir HERBERT CAYZER
I would like to say a few words in this Debate, not only because all my life I have been taught that a strong and efficient Navy is essential to this country, but because I happen to be one of those Members representing one of the much-maligned dockyard towns we have heard about. I can at least say that I am true to the traditions of the "Silent Service," because it is not often that hon. Members hear me. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) said that 10,000-ton cruisers could not be said to be replacing the existing class of cruisers, because the new cruisers were of a different type altogether; he likened it to replacing Ford motor cars with Rolls-Royce cars. I quite understand that he realised that his own party knows more about the land than the sea, but, after all, we are not talking about motor cars, but about ships. If we had to compete against Rolls-Royces it would be no good building Fords. As other powers are building Rolls-Royces of maximum size of 10,000 tons, it is essential for us to do likewise. It has been said that this cruiser programme is a panacea and a help for the solution of the unemployment question. I believe naval construction a question that is big enough to stand on its own bottom, and should not be confused with the unemployment question in way whatever. We have got to ask ourselves, "Is this programme necessary, and can we afford it?" Personally I think that whatever the can or cannot afford, the one thing it must afford is an adequate and an efficient Navy. I do not mind what we have to cut, social schemes, pensions, insurance, housing, education, we may have to reduce them all, but we must have an efficient and an adequate Navy. I do not want a bloated and overgrown Navy, but one that will meet our requirements, that is, support our capital ships and protect our commerce and trade. It is no good 1641 spending money on social services if we are not going to take the trouble to protect them. The Navy is the insurance for all these social services. If a man owns a house, however hard times may be, the one thing he does not do is to let his insurance policy lapse. We as a country are hard up, we are going through bad times, but whatever we do we must not allow our insurance policy to lapse, we must keep up an efficient Navy.
When the question is, "Can we afford it, or can we economise in any way?" I am all with the people who argue for economy. I think that economies can be effected throughout the whole of the Services especially the Civil Services. The active personnel of the Navy in 1914 numbered 145,000; to-day the number is 102,000, a reduction of one-third. The administrative staff in 1914 numbered 5,800, and to-day they number 8,500. In other words, in 1914 we required one man in an administrative capacity for every 25 men on the active list, and to-day we require to have one man for every 12 on the active list. In other words, it now takes two men of the Administrative Staff to do the work that one did in 1914. The cost of the Admiralty Office was £483,000 in 1914, and it has gone up to £1,250,000 to-day. One could save a certain amount, as these figures show, which would go a long way towards one cruiser, at any rate. I believe if pretty firm lines were taken throughout all the Services, especially the Civil Services, we could find enough money to safeguard this country so far as the Navy was concerned. I regret that the Naval Estimates have been delayed, because they are the thing that, first and foremost, ought to be put before this House. Nothing should be allowed to come before the Naval Estimates. We have had produced a pension scheme which will cost the country a great deal of money, and I am not certain that money is not being spent on it which ought to have been spent on the Navy. Industry is being hit by that scheme, and is bearing enormous taxation; and if we do not get these cruisers, the trade and commerce routes of this country will not be safeguarded. Both as regards taxation and guarding the trade routes, the future of industry must be considerd, because without that we should not be able to carry through any of our great social schemes.
1642 The naval forces are really the ramparts protecting this country. If we do not have these cruisers—and I must say that we are rather debating in the dark, because probably the Government have already decided that they are going to give us adequate cruisers—we shall be allowing the ramparts to crumble. We are building houses and going forward with great social schemes, but if we allow the ramparts to crumble all our work will be wasted, because the enemy will be able to walk in and do what he likes. It is much better to make certain of our ramparts, and have an efficient fleet, than to go on with social schemes if we cannot afford to protect them.
The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor) said just now that she hoped that the Government would shortly see their way to grant marriage allowances to naval officers. I support that plea. After all, the House has voted the money, it has been set aside, and it seems an extraordinary position that it should not have been applied to the purpose for which it was intended without any real explanation of the delay being offered. In carrying through that scheme the Government will only be doing justice to a class of thoroughly deserving men.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
This Debate has shown how very general in every quarter of the House the serious issue now before the country is recognised. It has been said that we are rather in the dark as to what is going to happen with regard to the building programme of the Navy in the future, but what we are in fact discussing is whether the naval programme shall be increased or slowed down at the present moment. As I view the position, this must be governed by two things. In the first place, the state of the nation, and secondly, the general political situation of the world. When we look at the state of the nation, we realise what a very serious condition we are in industrially at the present time. It is not necessary for me to go into details in this connection, because we all see the terrible army of unemployed growing. What relief can be given to that condition of affairs, and how can we obtain relief? There is only one way of doing it, and that is by economy in the spending Departments of the state. Hon. Members opposite are agreed that 1643 economy is necessary, although some of the economies they have suggested are not those that commend themsleves to those who sit on this side of the House. For example, I should not begin economising by cutting down expenditure on education, because that is what the nation needs more than anything else at the present time. We do know, however, that the great opportunity offered for economy is in armaments, and we have to consider whether we are in a position, having regard to the political state of the world, to take this opportunity of effecting that economy.
It was pointed out by a former speaker that it cannot be too heavily underlined that it is only by economy that we can relieve the burden of the dead-weight which is at present depressing industry. It is only by economy on a grand scale that that can be effected. I admit that various economies can be effected by cutting down staffs, in fact I am one of those who refuse to believe that economy could not be effected in the Admiralty staff. But, after all, that is a small matter, and we are concerned with something much more serious. It is difficult to consider one branch of the fighting forces as apart from the other, and although we are to-night only considering the Navy, we cannot exclude from our minds the fact that the expenditure on armaments has gone up this year by over £5,000,000. Is that wise, having regard to the political state of the world? Against whom is that armament directed? Who are our enemies? It is all very well to say you must insure, but why should we be asked to pay a premium out of all consideration to the dangers we see anywhere around us? Are we in danger of attack from anyone? Nobody suggests it. Are we going to attack anyone? People suggest that that is even less likely. Why then should we not take the opportunity that offers itself at the present time when we have come successfully through the greatest war that the world has ever seen, and when, as far as we can see, we are not likely to be engaged in any great war in the near future. After the Napoleonic Wars we went 40 years without another serious war, and surely this is the time to take our courage in our hands, and say we will go slowly with our armaments, and 1644 not go on building up unnecessary navies and armies against foes who do not exist. I do not think it can be overstated by any manner of means that if we lose the opportunity that offers itself now it may not recur again because we shall be starting on a race of armaments.
I should like to call attention to a very interesting article which appeared in the "Times" this morning, written evidently by a very well-instructed correspondent writing from the point of view of a naval correspondent. He pointed out that in the keeping up of an efficient Navy it would be necessary to lay down so many cruisers per annum, so many destroyers, and so many submarines in order that the efficiency of the Navy should be kept up. The comment made was:The deficiency is not so great as the figures would show since other nations have in consequence of post-War conditions not yet resumed their normal amount of construction, but they are on the point of doing so.Of course they will do so if we do. We are the leading nation with sea power, and if we increase our armaments other nations will increase theirs as well. Surely an opportunity offers itself to us to set the example to the world, and direct our attention more to another naval conference to reduce the armaments throughout the world rather than starting on a policy of increased construction which will only lead to the old competition of armaments which led naturally to the dreadful results through which the world has just gone. I can only say in conclusion that I think before this Debate conies to an end not only will it be thoroughly well realised in this House by Members on all sides and Members of every party, that though we all desire that the Navy should be adequate for our purposes, we on these benches at least are determined that it shall not be more than adequate, and that we should take this opportunity of saving in regard to expenditure in order to relieve industry and not build up a Navy that might have the duty of protecting only a silent factory from which no smoke issues.
§ Mr. DENNIS HERBERT
The last speaker has referred to an article in the "Times" this morning. The only remark I have to make is that I wish hon. Members who have heard the remarks made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland on that article will read it 1645 through and take it to heart, and then I shall be satisfied that it will have a different effect from that which the hon. Member hopes his speech will produce. In this Debate so many experts have been speaking, and so many more wish to do so, that I shall occupy very little time, because I am not an expert on naval matters, and cannot even claim to know as much about them as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), or to be such an expert politician as the Noble Lord the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Lord Erskine). I will, however, put what I believe to be the point of view in regard to this matter of the vast majority of the back bench members of the Conservative party, and I think I shall be putting forward the view of the majority of the Conservative working-class constituents of mine who returned me to this House, and who I believe are typical of the great majority of working men and women in this country. We are all out for economy in every possible way, and we realise the necessity for it. When we come to the question of economy in the education grant which has been referred to, there are economies which may be effected without damage to efficiency, and those are the first economies we want to see effected. With regard to the question of building in the Navy, the view I want to put is that the people of this country, whether they are, unfortunately, in receipt of unemployment pay, or whether they are struggling for a hard-earned wage, or whether, in the higher ranks, they are trying to improve and increase industry and trade in this country, the first thing they look for is safety, and we realise that safety in this country means first and foremost and every time the safety of our trade routes and connections all over the world.
We rely upon the Government, whatever their scheme may be, always keeping economy in view, to see that these trade routes are insured as safe. The hon. Member who spoke from the benches opposite, who spoke of insurance in proportion to the value of our trade, seemed to be mixing up the sum for which you are going to insure—which in this case is our lives—and the premium you might have to pay for it. In this case we have to effect the insurance, and, unless we are insured against the particular risk to which we are open as a great island 1646 Power, it is no earthly use thinking of how we are going to spend money on other matters. What I want to emphasise is that we rely upon the Conservative Government, backed by the Conservative party in this House, not merely to see— although we expect them to see to that —that every possible economy is carried out in the administration of the affairs of this country, but that first and foremost we may go to work and work our hardest, knowing that our work will not be destroyed by reason of our trade routes not being properly protected. Hon. Members who have spoken from the Liberal benches to-day have spoken moderately and reasonably, and many things have been said from those benches which are well worthy of consideration; but, unfortunately, in this matter the Liberal party are tainted. Never again will the country trust them where any question of the Navy is concerned. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about 1914?"] It was not through members of the Liberal party that we did not come off far worse than we did in 1914. Let me, however, pay this tribute to one who was then a member of the Liberal party, that this country would have been far worse off in 1914 had it not been for the energy and determination of the right hon. Gentleman who is now Chancellor of the Exchequer in this Government.
§ Mr. HERBERT
While he is a Member of this Government we accept him, and expect with confidence that he will work with his colleagues, many of whom have long been well known to mo personally and to other Members on these benches. Should there be any doubt as to what line certain Members of the Government may take, there is no doubt as to the line which the Conservative party in this country will take, and that line will be taken by those who in the country have votes but no politics. Side by side with economy, and, if anything, before economy, we must have safety, and, should there be any Member of this Government who is not in sympathy with that idea, the sooner he is out of the Government the better. The Conservative party have a great majority in this House. They have a Government in whom they have confidence, and they look to that Government to ensure such a pro- 1647 gramme of naval construction as will leave no doubt as to the safety of this country. So long as they adopt that policy, and not one moment longer, will they have the support of the vast majority of their followers in this House and throughout the country. I have no claim to be anything more than a backbench Member, but I have been fairly well in touch with Members of my own party in this and previous Parliaments for nearly seven years, and I feel I may say with confidence that this party, while it has confidence in its present Government, would have no confidence whatever, and never will have confidence in any man as a leader of their party who could make the speech which was made by the Noble Lord the Member for Weston-super-Mare from these benches this evening. I regret that he is not in the Committee now, and, as he is not, I will say no more about his speech to-day, but I want to urge upon the Government that, if they will take the right line, they will be assured of the support of their party in the House and in the country, while, if they do not do so, the great Conservative party will still be able to govern this country with a Government which will be shorn of those who do not adopt that view.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
It is not my purpose to argue whether we have spent too much or too little money upon the Navy. All that was gone into when we were passing the Navy Estimates. But, if I were the manager of the King's Navy. I should have regard to certain cold figures which I think adequately show that our expenditure on the Navy is at least adequate, and, in my opinion, more than adequate. We are spending on the fighting forces to-day £116,000,000, as against £62,000,000 in 1914. That is nearly double. Germany to-day is spending on her fighting forces approximately one-tenth of what she spent in 1914. That is all I want to say about the Navy Votes. My main purpose in rising is to reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Abingdon (Major Glyn), who is not now in the Committee. He made a very sweeping statement, which I do not think was a considered statement. He dealt with the Clyde, Tyneside, Barrow, and other shipbuilding districts, and said he was astonished that the question of the 1648 allocation of work had never been raised from these benches.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
Anyone who has followed the Navy Estimates and subsequent discussions upon this matter knows that this question of allocation has been raised in all parts of the House. I have raised the question of allocation twice, and the hon. Member for the Hartlepools (Sir W. Sugden) has raised it, and I believe I am right in saying that he is the only one by whom it has been raised on the other side.
§ Sir A. SHIRLEY BENN
I am sure the hon. Member would not wish to do an injustice to the hon. and gallant Member for Abingdon. He distinctly said that it had not been raised to-day.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
That may be right, I do not know; but the evening is young yet, and, if none of us have spoken on the allocation of work, we certainly have been trying to speak. I myself have been sitting here for nearly three hours. The hon. and gallant Member dealt with the allocation of new cruisers, but what is the use of talking about giving Tyneside or the Clyde a cruiser when there is none provided in the Estimates? What I have spoken about in the House and should like to have a reply upon—we have twice tried to get a reply—is the question of the allocation of the ships in the Naval Estimates—four cruisers for reconditioning and 47 small craft, consisting of 12 mine sweepers, three flotilla leaders, 19 destroyers and 13 submarines. There are four cruisers now. There were five when the Estimates were going through. This is the first year in living memory in which no provision has been made for giving new orders to private firms. I have been surprised in these discussions on the Naval Estimates, and twice on Motions for the Adjournment, at Easter and Whitsuntide, that hon. Members on the other side, who are supposed to be keen on the question of private enterprise, have not raised this question. I want to put the case again for the 1649 allocation of these 51 ships altogether. The capital ships are all allocated. There were five cruisers when the Estimates went through. I see by the Estimates now that one has been placed. I should like to know why the important shipbuilding districts of Tyneside and Clydeside and Barrow have been entirely left out. I have nothing to say with regard to the expenditure upon the Navy. Our views on these benches are well known. I think the figures prove that our fighting forces are costing too much, having regard to all the circumstances, the protection of trade routes and everything that has been said to-day. It is not the royal dockyard districts that contribute for the total upkeep of the Navy. The whole country contributes to the expenses of the fighting forces.
I want to put again the case of the districts where private contracts have in past years been responsible for a large amount of our naval work. Hon. Members below the Gangway have been speaking about the load there is upon industry. One of the greatest loads on industry today is the poor rate of our various districts. The poor rate in the city I represent is 5s. 3d. in the £, an amount almost equal to the total rates pre-War. The way to get the poor rate down is to get the men to work. The naval Estimates, good, bad or indifferent, are through, and I should say a wise way of reducing unemployment, reducing the rates in the various centres, and thereby removing the load from industry and paving the way to a better industrial condition, would be to take the money that has been voted in the Estimates and allocate some of these ships for reconditioning to the North-East coast of England, to Clydeside and to other shipbuilding districts. I put the case here of Campbeltown, in Argyllshire. I am not particularly interested in it, or in the Clydeside, but I put the case of that isolated district where men have been deprived of their unemployment benefit because they are not genuinely looking for work, though they have something like 8s. 3d. to pay to get to the nearest port and look for work I believe that little firm in Campbeltown has now been placed on the Admiralty list. I suggest that they, too, might have one of these small craft to keep them going. The very 1650 large volume of work which has not been allocated yet ought to be spoken about. We ought to hear something about it. There are 51 ships, big and little, which have not been allocated, and I think the Members for the industrial centres I have mentioned are entitled to hear something as to what the purpose and intention of the Admiratly is with regard to the allocation of these ships.
§ Mr. STORRY DEANS
I have very great sympathy with the hon. Member who has just addressed the Committee, and in one particular I should like to have his assistance in my own argument. He has told us that one of the ways to relieve industry is to get men to work. That has always seemed to me a fairly self-evident proposition, but it seems necessary that the Committee should occasionally be reminded of it. The financial and the purely physical effect of unemployment is, to my mind, as nothing compared with the moral effect of unemployment, because we all know that a man who is out of work for a long time eventually ceases to wish for work. It is not his fault altogether. It is very largely his misfortune. How does that affect this Debate on the Navy? It affects it in this way. At present the country is spending vast sums of money on what is called the dole. To my mind it would be better to put people to work upon something that might be useful, that might be wanted, though you cannot prove that at this present moment it is useful or it is wanted, rather than pay them money for doing nothing, and if we are to have this new construction, which is the wish of the whole Conservative party, with perhaps half a dozen exceptions, you will have this kind of effect. For every cruiser you construct you will save £400,000 a year on the dole and you will employ the very kind of man who is now craving for employment, because a great deal of the unemployment just now is not unemployment in the unskilled classes. There are many of them out of employment I agree, but it is not altogether the unskilled. You can put the mere labourer on to making roads and doing all sorts of jobs to which unskilled labour is applied. They are the men who are being the worst hit, and, unfortunately, they are the men who are the most skilful craftsmen, people such as engineers. A study of their wages is appalling. A study of the employment amongst them is appalling.
1651 It is obvious, it does not require argument, but merely has to be stated, that if you enter upon an adequate naval shipbuilding programme you will bring into employment very large numbers of these men. I see the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) is looking at his notes. Do not let him or any other hon. Member say that I am advocating the building of unnecessary ships as a cure for unemployment. I am doing nothing of the kind. What I am saying is that it is quite clear, and it does not require any argument to prove it, that if you do start building these ships, you must employ these skilled men. These skilled men are the very men who are the hardest hit by the present trade depression. Therefore, in proceeding with the shipbuilding programme you will be assisting a class of workers who require assistance.
The giving of a contract for work of this kind, or work of any kind, for the making of steel, or parts of an engine, castings, and the like, will be far better than any number of subsidies. What you want is not subsidies, but work, orders for the employers, just as the workmen, in a hackneyed phrase, want not charity but work. A collaterial advantage in a naval shipbuilding programme at the present time would be that you would save the country large sums of money in regard to the dole. You would materially assist the very people, both masters and men, who require assistance, and you would do it in a way which would not injure their self-respect, as the everlasting dole injures the self-respect of the workmen, and as everlasting subsidies would or ought to injure the self-respect of the employer. That is only one part of the subject.
The question arises, is it obvious that a naval shipbuilding programme is unnecessary? I do not think the country thought so at the last Election. It was declared not once nor twice, as the Leader of the Opposition said, by the Conservative leaders during the last Parliament that the Conservative party stood committed to a shipbuilding programme. Although I do not say that that may be modified, either in the direction of a decrease or an increase, yet I do say that the Conservative party when it went to the country went with that shipbuilding programme as part of its policy. 1652 We should be playing fast and loose with our constituents, and we should be playing fast and loose with our party, if we were suddenly, because apparently there is a very small fraction of the Conservative party, a few of whom unfortunately are in high office, who desire a wrong-headed kind of economy, to go back from the pledged word of our leaders before the Election. I do not want to attack anyone in particular or to give the name of any person, but I would like to say that the mandate of this country was given to the Prime Minister, and not to anybody else. It was his mandate and whatever his mandate was I will toll him what it was not; it was not to cut down expenditure upon the Navy. I do not believe it would be found upon these benches that more than half a dozen Members at the last General Election advocated any cutting down of the Navy. I should be surprised if practically the whole of the Members elected in support of the Government did not declare themselves in favour of maintaining the Navy at a greater strength than the Labour Government maintained it.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) asked the time-honoured question, "Who is our enemy? Who is the enemy against whom we are arming?" The answer is that we are not arming against any enemy in particular, and it is neither necessary nor politic to declare from whom you apprehend danger. It is the sort of question that might be put to a man who desired to learn boxing. I see an expert boxer, the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull, on the other side. Suppose someone said, "I am going to learn how to box." You might as well say to them, "Whom do you intend to assault?" I do not mean anything derogatory to the hon. and gallant Member, who is skilled in the art. One might as well say: "Who do you intend to injure when you have learned how to box?" A person learns boxing because he wishes to be able to protect himself when occasion arises.
The British nation is in this position that we of all the people in the world cannot afford to run any risks. A war may arise at any time for causes which at first sight may appear trivial, and if a war does arise, and we have not adequate protection for our trade routes, we are liable to the very dire fate of 1653 starvation. We are not like any other country in the world. We have not a month's supply of food in the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not grow it?"] I do not want to go into any vexed question as to why we do not grow it or whose fault it is. The fact is that we do not grow it, and under the present system it is not likely to be grown. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I recommend hon. Members above the Gangway opposite to settle that question with hon. Members below the Gangway. That being the fact, is it not the height of folly to run the slightest risk, when our supplies of food may be nut off? Hon. Members will remember the case of the "Emden." The "Emden" was in the Indian Ocean, and cut off ship after ship. How many of our ships do hon. Members suppose were engaged hunting the "Emden," for months, before she was caught? I have made inquiries, and I am informed on the best authority that we had 62 ships out for the "Emden "for months before she was caught, and she did millions of pounds of damage in that time. It is not merely a question of millions of pounds. It is a question of the supplies of necessaries of life being cut off.
No one can deny that there is some risk of war breaking out at some time or other. If war does break out, there is again a risk that an attack will be made upon our trade routes. The only way you can attack this country is to attack its trade routes, and the attack would be bound to be made unless we have an adequate supply of cruisers, in particular. We, have no means of protecting those trade routes. It is said that we have cruisers. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). who knows so much more about the technical side of the Navy than I, knows perfectly well the lesson of Coronel—that however gallant your sailors and however skilful, if you are opposed by an enemy whose guns carry 2,000 yards further than yours, and who has a few knots extra speed, then you are entirely at his mercy, and he can circle around you at a distance at which you cannot get near him, and he can sink you. Therefore, unless the cruisers which we have are modern cruisers, they are useless. The Washington Convention which fixed the maxi- 1654 mum size of 10,000 tons has had the usual effect. The maximum has become a minimum, and I do not think that we shall see any cruisers of less than 10,000 tons built. So, therefore, it would be the greatest folly if we became engaged in a naval way, without an adequate supply of cruisers of 10,000 tons and guns. I trust that I shall be forgiven for inflicting myself upon the Committee at more than my usual length, but this is a matter which is very vital to the country, and it ought not to be left entirely to gentlemen professionally interested in the Navy to take up this matter, although they speak with a great deal more authority than I. I am speaking I am sure on behalf of the rank and file of the Conservative party when I say that we should ask the Government; to declare an adequate programme of naval shipbuilding, and that, if they do so, they will have the whole strength of the nation at their back.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
In the few remarks which I intend to make on the subject under discussion, I would first point out that I am not concerned with any idea of reducing the First Lord's salary. Speaking for myself, I have entire confidence that the Board of Admiralty and the First Lord have produced an entirely adequate scheme of shipbuilding, and it is high time that the Government laid that scheme before the House. We ought to have had it long ago. The situation which exists at present, so far as the Navy is concerned, and so far as the navies of other countries are concerned, is the exact counterpart of the industrial situation in every country. The competition is very severe indeed in the industrial world, and it is also unfortunately equally severe in the matter of armaments. The nations which compete against us in industry are now to foe numbered almost by dozens, and at least three of them at present have considerable navies.
They possess those navies for one object and one object only. That is the adequate safeguarding of their own industrial enterprise and their commitments in different parts of the world. We have no right to deny them such a form of insurance. At the same time, it is our definite duty to see that we shall have the same form of insurance in this country. Nothing could have been 1655 better, to my mind, than the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Devon-port (Major Hore-Belisha) with regard to the cost per head of the population for this insurance, and the cost per thousand pounds worth of trade in this country and in the Dominions. I think that they are extremely instructive, and I hope that those figures, if they are correct—if they are not correct they can be corrected—will be read all over the English-speaking world.
One has heard several comments, particularly from the Liberal benches, with regard to reducing our naval commitments. It seems a very extraordinary thing that we can so soon after the finish of the great War have forgotten the tremendous lesson which we should have learned in regard to one matter. We started the War with over 20,000,000 tons of merchant shipping. During the War we lost no less than 8,000,000 tons of that shipping by enemy action. The same thing will happen again, not necessarily immediately, but we have to bear in mind the war that must take place at some future time. During the Napoleonic Wars there was exactly the same difficulty. We had immense trouble to counteract with what was called the guerre de corsaire on the part of the Frency Navy, when the enemy nearly ruined us by the efforts to suppress our merchant shipping. That brings me to the question of trade routes. I have no hesitation in saying that if we do not make adequate safeguards for our trade routes we are most certainly doomed as a great nation. We cannot possibly continue if we allow our trade routes to fall under the control of any navy against which we may be engaged. Several comments have fallen from the Liberal benches. There was one, in particular, from the right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald), in which he said—
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
Is the hon. and gallant Member entitled to insinuate that the right hon. Member for Aberavon sits on the Liberal benches?
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
I apologise to the right hon. Member for Aberavon. He made some remarks on the subject 1656 of the influence of technical advisers on their political chief. I wish he were in his place that he might do me the honour of giving me some idea of the sort of attitude he thinks technical officers should take other than what they do take. I have considerable experience in these matters and have always found it is extremely difficult to influence the political chief in a Government Department, and properly so, because they are not there to do anything but take advice and sift it. The right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) suggested that the dockyards might be put. on to do useful work. That question has already been mentioned this afternoon. He drew a comparison with the great firm of Krupp. No Government dockyard I have any experience of has competed in any sense of the word and should not be allowed to compete except in the supply of war materials with any dockyard run under private enterprise. If it did, it would bring about a serious outcry on the part of the public.
Another point, and I think a very interesting one, was made by the right hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Hilton Young). He rather suggested that ships become obsolete so quickly that one made a great mistake in building them in any numbers. After all, ships made by other nations become obsolete just as quickly, and two obsolete ships that happen to meet at sea could be opposed to one another. It is an inadequate reason for reducing a building programme. I could not agree that such an idea would be agreed to. The hon. Member for Orkney (Sir R. Hamilton) discussed the question of who we were insuring against. It is quite impossible to say who we are insuring against; we are merely insuring. Nobody knows when he insures his house whether or not it is going to catch fire, but he can generally make sure that it will catch fire if he does not insure it. It has been suggested that the Naval Staff might be reduced to help towards spending a little less money which we all naturally would like to see. So far as the Staff is concerned, the faults that occurred during the War, the tragedies and the losses of great ships can in almost every case be traced to the lack of a sufficient Staff for the Navy. It does not at the present time permit of anything in the nature of reduction; rather should it be increased. 1657 Before the War there was so much to be done and so much under the attention of captains and officers and ships' companies, that there was no time for senior officers to do any serious thinking. At the present time we have the Staff at the Admiralty and there is time for report and consideration of the difficulties which arise during any war. I would not for a moment agree that it would be wise to suggest anything in the nature of reduction of the Staff. If we produce this programme which I trust most sincerely will be a definite programme over a long period, I do not hesitate to say that it will introduce a feeling of real security. If after it is produced we can prevail upon other countries to enter another conference, I can think of no finer weapon for us to enter that conference with than that behind us we have a strong and steady progressive programme of insurance to bargain with, as in fact, the Americans did bargain at the Washington Conference.
I would like to touch on the marriage allowance. I know what I am going to say will not be extremely popular amongst at any rate a certain section. I am not in agreement for one moment with subsidising marriage for a naval officer. A great many years ago as a young officer I was brought up by a senior officer in a ship who more than once remarked to me, especially if I happened to be going ashore to a dance, that I should always remember that feminine influence was the curse of the Service. I do not think his dictum carried any less weight with me in that within a year of his telling me that he asked me to be his best man. Honestly speaking, marriage among the more junior officers makes definitely for inefficiency. In saying that I can assure the Committee that I have the backing of a very large number of officers between the age of 25 and 35 years who will agree with me that the general effect of marriage is that the bachelors do the work of the married men in the Navy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"] Well, it is true. It is a very widespread opinion. Nevertheless, if there is any money available, and this money has already been voted, the proper way to use it is to make the position of all officers a little bit better, but not to subsidise a particular branch. If I may quote a letter still in existence and which can be 1658 seen, written by a very great Admiral over 120 years ago about another very great Admiral, at a time of great stress in the history of this country, he wrote about his Commander-in-Chief a private letter in which he said—because the Fleet did not go to sea and do its work—that evidently he found it better to lie abed with a young wife than face the rigours of the North Sea. I am quoting from a historical document which is in existence at the present time. If ever there was an Admiral who was a judge of those matters it was he. That is my opinion so far as marriage is concerned. I hope nobody will take me for a bachelor.
§ Mr. BROMLEY
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggesting that all those things are confined to the Navy?
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
The efficiency of the Navy depends entirely on the First Lord's salary, which is under discussion at the moment.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman is getting a little wide of the subject under debate.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
We have no more right at all to say that we cannot afford money for the Navy than we have a right to do away with insurance against fire or death or any other fatalities of life. We never know when fire or death or even war may come. It always comes when it is least expected, and in no circumstances should we reduce our precautions against the possibilities of war. So long as this country and Parliament and the Government in power at the time remembers the history of the country,; and particularly the naval history, we are quite safe.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I do not propose to follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman into a discussion on the value of a celibate Navy, or the comparative perils of marriage and the North Sea, but I will try to confine myself within the rules of order as laid down by the Chairman. I have often gone through the experience which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is now undergoing, and I am very glad to know that the right hon. Gentleman is now experiencing some of the same anguish which he inflicted upon me in those days when he was First Lord of the Admiralty, and we had to decide upon the point of view of the experts as against the view of common sense. I have never known a 1659 case, and I was Chancellor of the Exchequer for a good many years, where the experts did not advise that it was absolutely necessary that you should get a very considerable number of ships—which they never really did get in the end—and that unless you did so, the country was doomed. They always had an immense programme, a profligate programme, a programme which would sink this ship whilst we were building the new ones, but invariably they had to be content in the end to take some more reasonable programme, but one far more desirable in the interests of national expenditure. I sympathise with my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty who has to confront his experts, and I would say this to him—the country which is governed without experts is apt to go wrong, but the country which is governed by experts is inevitably doomed. This is a case where the House of Commons, and the Government especially, have to exercise their common sense. You cannot insure against every possible risk in a country. You can conjure up endless risks which you will be running, but if you begin to provide against them all, in ordinary life or in national life, you will soon go bankrupt. You must take certain risks in life otherwise you will be so burdened by your insurance policies that there will be nothing left for household expenses. That is the real danger in a programme of this character.
As a matter of fact, you have to choose which risks you are going to insure against, and there are two alternative risks now. Which is the greater risk? I do not use the words ''national bankruptcy," because I do not want to employ extravagant phrases, but you have to insure against a risk from which you will not be far removed. I have been constantly repeating the same warning. I used it in the Cabinet before I left it in 1922, and since I came away from it I have used it in this House, and I have been seeking to warn the country of the perils of the trade prospect. I did it three years ago, when I was told I was an unreasoning pessimist, but everything that has happened since has justified the very sombre prognostications which I made then. I made that forecast on a careful examination of the permanent factors, and I say that these are the risks against which this country has to insure. One 1660 need not go over all the obvious factors. There is huge unemployment and, on the whole, growing unemployment, and you have for the first time in the history of this country a great adverse trade balance. That is one thing which is staring us in the face, and if the right hon. Gentleman before he next goes to the Cabinet will take the trouble to read some of the salient portions of the First Report of the Trade and Industry Committee—a very remarkable document by a very able set of men—he will see that it is very serious reading. Although they have come to no ultimate conclusion, and I wish they would do so as soon as possible, because we want guidance upon these matters, the mere facts to which they call attention are very alarming. They point out, as I have pointed out in a more crude and amateur way, that a time will come when competition will grow keener than ever. When the world begins to be in a position to buy more goods, that is the time when the competition for the sale of those goods will become keener from countries like Germany.
That is the great danger against which we have to prepare and you cannot do that with a national expenditure, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) pointed out, of £980,000,000. It is the heaviest expenditure in the world per head of the population. To embark on any scheme which is not absolutely necessary for the national safety—and I will come to that in a moment—which is not absolutely and imperatively necessary for the national safety under these conditions, is I think, something in. which the Government would not be justified. What is the risk which would justify us in further handicapping ourselves in the struggle? I know about these token votes which cost very little in the first year but are a temptation to the House of Commons and especially to a perplexed Cabinet. I am not talking only about this Cabinet. All Cabinets have to go through the same experience and they generally compromise by saying "Oh the ships will not be laid down until the last few weeks of the financial year and they will not cost much this year," and the Chancellor of the Exchequer says, "At any rate my Budget this year is all right and nobody knows what will happen next year." There is no more seductive proposal for a Government than a token vote for something 1661 which is to be undertaken towards the close of the financial year, and that is exactly the seduction which the First Lord of the Admiralty is now offering to the Cabinet. I have no information, but I think he is pursuing the same policy as his predecessors and is saying: "There will not be much money required this year—only a few hundreds of thousands or it may be only a few score of thousands and surely we can afford that." He knows that this Vote will be followed next year by millions and in the third year by many more millions, and you are committing the country to this expenditure at a time when the revenue is falling.
I should like to hear from the Chancellor of the Exchequer what his Treasury experts are telling him. The Admiralty experts are not the only experts who have to be consulted. What are the Treasury experts and the Board of Trade experts saying as to the prospects of the revenue in the course of this year? So far, our credit has been good because we have been able to balance our Budget and pay our way, but if we get fresh deficiencies no amount of extra protection to save the gold standard will save it in this country once you get a deficit in your Budget, because that is the thing to which the world is looking, namely, whether we are really paying our way. Therefore I solemnly appeal to the Government, unless they know of some peril which is not obvious to the country, at this stage not to commit us to this huge expenditure. What is the risk against which they are building? I have been listening to a great part of this Debate and I listened to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maid-stone (Commander Bellairs) who has been a consistent advocate of expenditure on the Navy ever since I first had the privilege of listening to him in this House. He has a rare virtue among politicians. He is absolutely consistent at any rate, and throughout all these years he has put forward the same plea. What we need at the present moment is not fast cruisers but slow spenders, and as I listened to my hon. and gallant Friend I tried to find out what was the immediate peril, because it is not a question of whether you should or should not have cruisers five or 10 years hence. What is the immediate necessity for building them this year or next year 1662 until you see your way out of the present very grave crisis, industrial, commercial and financial? I should like to know what it is, and I am speaking with a good deal of experience, not merely of the Exchequer, but of war.
There is no man who realises more than I do how much we owe to the British Navy, as my hon. and gallant Friend so eloquently said. I agree with every word he said, that had it not been for the Navy, the whole story of the last War would have been a different one, and we might now have been discussing indemnities to be paid by us, and not indemnities to be collected by us. It would have been a very different story if it had not been for the Navy. I had the greatest difficulty in persuading our Continental friends that the whole basis of their military operations depended upon the British Navy, so I am the last man in the world to disparage it. I pointed out many times to the very ablest generals there, who always forgot, that they would not get supplies, that they would not get iron ore or food for their people, that they could not feed their armies, that they could not get reinforcements for their armies, without the British Navy. When America came across, she had to get British ships to carry over 1,000,000 of her men in 1918, and British torpedo boats to protect them, with British battleships in the background as a reserve in order to protect them. There is no man in this House who knows what the Navy means more than I do, and if I take this line, I am not taking it because in the least I disparage the inestimable value of the British Navy to civilisation, not merely to the British Empire.
The whole liberties of the world for four years and a-half, and God knows for how many more generations, depended upon the fact that the British Navy kept the seas. So, therefore, believe me, I am not pleading against expenditure now because I do not realise the importance of the British Navy, the importance of keeping it strong and mighty and powerful enough in order to fight the battles of civilisation at any time in the future, if the challenge comes from any quarter. I am only pleading for this, that through this very grave crisis, which I have foreseen for years— and I hate preaching pessimism, but I realise the desperate importance of it— 1663 we should not now handicap ourselves by one extra burden in the struggle we are entering into to maintain our trade supremacy in the world, because the power of the Empire, the power of Britain, does not depend merely on maritime supremacy; it depends on our commercial supremacy as well, because we cannot maintain one without the other. It is one of the pillars of this great temple, and if one is brought down, the whole thing comes down with a crash, and I ask the British Navy, in the interests of that Navy, not to forget that too, as well.
Why are we building? What is the peril? My hon. and gallant Friend said Japan has many more fast cruisers which she is on the point of building, and of which she has only laid down one. Well, she does not build very fast. She has got her own troubles. I do not like to refer to these things, but we really must. The cruisers are not for us. We are not the people who are terrifying her. She is not building against us. She is genuinely frightened of her powerful neighbour across the waters, and, as always happens, her powerful neighbour across the waters is just as frightened of her, and because they are frightened of each other, they are just building against each other, and some day there may be trouble. But we are not in that. She is not building against us. It is only just a few years ago that she was one of our best Allies. She kept her bargain very faithfully with us; she held those seas for us; she protected our commerce there when we wanted our ships here at home. She was very useful to us at that time, and she kept faith with us. I believe she is very anxious to be friendly with the British Empire at the present moment.
There is certainly none of that feeling which may ripen into a conflict between us. My hon. and gallant Friend referred to the period before the War here. Well, it took a long time for hatred to explode. The bitter feeling between Germany and this country was a feeling of at least 20 years' growth—at least. As a matter of fact, it was longer, but during 20 years it was passionate; there was a very angry feeling between the two countries. I remember it during the Boer War, but it was long before that. It took 20 years to mature. Where is the feeling now which is going to ripen into 1664 war, either with Japan or anyone else? There are only two countries to be quoted; one is Japan, and the other is the United States of America, and I say that this House of Commons ought to refuse to contemplate a quarrel with the United States of America. It is a thing the very discussion of which makes mischief.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
The right hon. Gentleman is entering the region of forecasts. The whole idea of the one-Power standard is to give the British people a measuring rod and to get us away from the forecasts of statesmen, which have proved so erroneous in the past.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
If my hon. and gallant Friend refers to the people who make erroneous forecasts, I can give him 50 made by naval experts for every one made by politicians—even about their own job. They were full of mistakes, every one of them, and I never met two of them who agreed, so at any rate the majority must have been wrong. Let me resume my argument. You would not get relief, because my hon. and gallant Friend would get up next year and say: "You are not maintaining the one-Power standard. Look at Japan. She has some sort of special contrivance which we have not got. We must have another ship which is equal to the last one she has built." If the naval experts in this House would guarantee to be silent for five cruisers, or whatever they are, I believe it would be almost cheap to buy them off at that price. But they would not be silent; they would go on. They have a special Committee. Their very existence as a Committee depends upon going on. They meet together, and they encourage each other, as brethren always do in a little society of that kind. One of them says: "Now, have you heard this?" And the other says, "No, but I have a still more terrible story. What they are doing in Yokohama is absolutely nothing to what they are doing down in America: and have you heard of the French? "And then somebody says: "I have just had a letter from Greece. They are building a torpedo boat which has the most destructive qualities "; and there they go on, and they enjoy themselves immensely in the thought that everybody is doing better things than ourselves. But they are not.
1665 I heard all this said before the War, but when the British Empire came, amateurs as they were, in a very short time, well, they knew in the end that the British on the high seas won, not by materiel, but by superior seamanship, and what hon. Members opposite always forget is that in every conflict we have ever had on the high seas we have not won because we had more ships or better material, but because we had better sailors than the people we fought. We beat the Armada. Nelson triumphed at sea. Even in the last War—I could tell stories of that, except that I do not want to criticise friendly navies. I could tell many stories as to what a difference seamanship made in the Mediterranean when we abandoned it to material which was probably superior to ours, because we could not police every part of the world. I know many stories of that kind. I am not going to defend the attitude which I took up before the War. If a man says he is of the same opinion to-day as he was 20 years ago, his opinion is not worth anything. If ho does not learn from facts he is incapable of learning anything. Therefore, I am not here to say that I was absolutely right throughout the whole of those years. That is not my point. My point is that there is a great difference between having a menace which is within 36 hours' steaming of your shores and a menace that is—where is it? I would like to know. Mars? I do not know where it is. If it is Yokohama that is a very long way off. Japan is a big Empire and quite capable of looking after itself. If you make this Empire bankrupt at home you build nothing.
§ Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE
The hon. Gentleman's manners were not very good when he represented an English constituency, but since he has gone to Wales they are worse. The climate has got into his head. If it is the defence of the Empire that we are to consider, I think the Empire as a whole should come in. That is a thing I have been urging for long. There are parts of the Empire to whom this may be very urgent and important. They ought frankly to come in and take their full and fair share. I do not want to criticise anyone, but if anyone looks at the Empire fairly and 1666 frankly, if anyone remembers the taxation. here and in other parts of the Empire, if anyone considers the importance of the Fleet to the Empire, he will see that the Navy is as vital to their commerce as to ours. In fact it is more vital. It is about time that the whole of the Empire came in quite frankly. If they want a cruiser fleet to protect their trade they should say, "Here we are; we will take a fair share with you." Too much has been left to this gallant little country which has fought the battles of civilisation for three or four centuries without any grousing or complaining. It is about time that the whole of the Empire came in and said, "Your burdens are ours." The heaviest burden is borne now by this very small struggling community, which has an unemployment register of 1,300,000, and there is no other part of the Empire that bears anything like the share that we bear. Frankly it is time that we had a talk upon that subject.
What I want to say above all is this: There are many things we ought to consider before we commit our selves to this programme. My hon. and gallant Friend criticised the attitude of the Exchequer before the War. The attitude of the Exchequer was that we stood more in need of small craft than we did of big craft. I am not at all sure that that attitude was not justified very largely during the War. We were very short of small craft and had to lock up our big ships in cold storage. I am not sure that we gained much by building in advance of the Germans. Someone has mentioned the Battle of Jutland. The whole of that story has not yet been told. It has been spoken of as if it were merely a conflict between two distinguished Admirals. That is not the real lesson. The real lesson has far more to do with the quality of the ships and the torpedo boats, the devices we had, the question of the superiority of one class of ship to another, and also the quality of the shells. All that story will be told one day. One of the things that did develop as the result of all our building was the superiority of the battle-cruiser in many respects. That is where, if anything, we were deficient. Two or three were sunk, sunk through defects.
I would like to be quite sure that the German Shin was not a better ship 1667 in many respects. If you had had British sailors on those cruisers and German sailors on ours, the Battle of Jutland would have been a different story. Anybody who knows, knows that. Why? The Germans were always building after having our experience. We started with our dreadnoughts. The dreadnought, although it was built only a few years before, simply lagged behind in the battle and never reached it. It was already obsolete. Then the Germans built a "dreadnought" and other countries did the same thing. We should put this question frankly to the Foreign Office: Is there any danger from any quarter for 10 years? You must consider these things when your cash is limited. Is there any peril for 10 years against which we have to build urgently? If there is, I think that in the end the quality and the power of our ships would gain by even the delay that would enable us to see what they are building. I am speaking now as a profound believer in the British Navy, a profound believer that it is essential to the civilisation of the world that the Navy's might should be maintained. I plead, above all, that we should not at this stage, from the point of view of the efficiency of the Navy and the difficulties with which we are faced at home, rush prematurely into this programme.
Vice-Admiral Sir REGINALD HALL
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has given us a speech which, from the debating point of view, I could spend a long time thinking about. I do not propose, however, to waste the time of the Committee, but I want to come to the question of the building programme. As far as I am aware, there are two separate standards at which we have been building. One was the standard laid down by the late First Lord of the Admiralty, now Secretary of State for the the Colonies, in a speech made in January last year. The second standard was laid down by the Leader of the Opposition— five cruisers last year, and I believe on the Navy Estimates this year he said they proposed to lay down a further five this year. So that there are two separate standards by two separate Governments. Therefore it is extremely difficult for anyone to discuss the subject, unless you know what standard you are going to 1668 take. There are two standards, and one reason for accepting both or either of those standards. As far as I can see, only two effective reasons for not carrying out either have been given: one is change of policy, and the other, as pointed out by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), is financial stringency. If the reason given is change of policy, then one is entitled to ask in what way has policy changed. Is the policy now, instead of building cruisers, to trust more to air effect; and is the policy, therefore, of the Admiralty to be confined to the Air Ministry in protecting the overseas trade of this country? It is a reasonable proposition to certain minds, but it will be a duty of the Government to convince the country that there is overseas trade, especially that of Australia, that will have adequate protection from the air. That is one of the duties that will fall to the Government.
But the other consideration is most important. When you come to the question of financial stringency, then you are up against quite a different proposition. I believe that by the Constitution of this country the Board of Admiralty are responsible to the Crown for the safety of our people on the high seas. Through the mouth of the First Lord, it has always been able to assure this House that the provision made for the Navy is sufficient to carry out their responsible duties. There is a difference of opinion on the subject of the building programme. It may be neither that laid down by the Colonial Secretary nor chat of the late Prime Minister, and the building programme may be postponed owing to financial stringency. The point I would put is this, that you cannot expect the Board of Admiralty, having considered the whole question, in view of their responsibility, to have the whole of their plans set aside, not because policy is wrong but owing to financial stringency, and still have that responsibility.
Sir R. HALL
That may be, but I referred to the responsibility of the Board of Admiralty. If the policy of the Government be one of postponement, and they come forward and say so, there must be coupled with it a statement that they are prepared, as a Government, to take the risk involved, and that risk, 1669 accepted by the Government, must be endorsed by this House. I feel strongly on this point, and if a statement is made on these lines, then we can feel quite certainly that though the Admiralty have not done all they bargained for, they will carry out the duty of the Government because they have been relieved of the responsibility.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I am, sure, apart from any party reason, that the Committee will welcome the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Eastbourne (Sir R. Hall) here again, if we are not silent in the Navy, at any rate we are brief enough, and accordingly I will be brief. The argument is continually used, especially by the legal fraternity in this House, that it took 60 vessels to run the "Emden" down, and that therefore we have to build 60 cruisers for each potential and possible enemy vessel in the world. Why otherwise is the argument used? During the height of the submarine campaign, for every one of the submarines against our merchant ships we bad 500 gun-boats, destroyers, and vessels of all kinds, therefore, if this argument is correct, we need 500 vessels, great and small, for every potential submarine capable of being used against our Navy. It is obvious that this is an argument that is absurd if carried to its logical conclusion. The real danger is not from enemy cruisers at all. If the late War proved anything, it was that the real danger on the great ocean routes would be from cruising submarines. At the time when Germany started to use submarines, every German overseas base had been reduced. If they had had a few bases, it would have been a very different story, and that is the real danger we have to moot. Ten thousand ton cruisers will cost £3,000,000 each. I hope that figure will not be challenged, because vessels travelling at 35 knots, with extremely expensive engines, will cost in the end not less than £3,000,000. I would like to know what the figures will be from the First Lord of the Admiralty. The vessels cannot cost less than that, and appropriations in the American Senate provide for a greater sum in dollars—hut these cruisers will be no defence against submarines.
I want to make it quite clear that in the present state of the world, I am not in 1670 favour of scrapping the British Navy, or anything like it. We have got to have an adequate police force, and to be able to show the flag. Might I plead for a class in whom I am specially interested—the Hull fishermen, who have in recent times been extremely harshly treated by the Icelandic authorities? They tell me they never see a British cruiser there. It might help them if they did see some. They are deserving of some protection from the Navy, and with what we are spending each year, the least these men can expect is the protection of a cruiser. I consider that if for no other reason this Debate has been justified by reason of the speeches from the Conservative benches. I refer to the matter exposed by the Noble Lord the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Lord Erskine)—whom I do not see in his place at the moment—when he referred to the Navy Estimates being each year at a total of £70,000,000. If the programme announced by the present Colonial Secretary just before the former Conservative Government went out of office is still the policy of the Government—and I do not know that anything has happened except that the Japanese programme has been somewhat retarded—if the Government still intend to lay down eight cruisers at once, and five every year afterwards, in a full year, I consider we will spend an extra £15,000,000 per year on the Navy.
It is for the First Lord to see whether he can make economies in other directions —either by reducing the Government dockyards, by reducing the Admiralty yacht the "Enchantress," or in other ways, or by cutting down the numbers of clerks, civilians, and typists at the Admiralty. If he can show a saving, then he will not have to increase the Navy Estimates. Otherwise they will be increased, and what has been taken off the Super-tax will have to be put on again next year. The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away from the facts of the situation. I think that the most valuable speech from the point of view of information was that of the Noble Lord, and the First Lord of the Admiralty will have a difficulty to explain it away. For the Noble Lord held out this vista of £70,000,000 for Naval Estimates in future years. I am sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not present to hear the speech.
I also wish to support the speakers on the Labour Benches in making their pro- 1671 test against the Navy being used for industrial disputes. I remember on one occasion, owing to the impetuosity of a naval officer at Liverpool, the Navy was brought in. I know, because I happened to be the commander of a ship at the time, and the Admiralty sent out a circular letter to every commanding officer, stating that it was not their intention that the Navy should interfere in any way in industrial disputes, except where they might be called upon by the civil power to help to restore, and to keep order. The naval ratings were not to be used in industrial disputes; such a course was to be avoided at any cost. That is a perfectly sound policy.
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Bridgeman)
Is it the suggestion that we are saying that they should be?
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
To identify the Navy in any way in industrial disputes is going to do the Navy a good deal of harm and I am glad to hear that there is no intention to do so. The Navy was used at the time of the Coalition Government—
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
That does not make it more reputable. I opposed it at the time. A very grave injury will be done to the Navy if it is used in this way. I am very sorry that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for East Sussex (Rear-Admiral Beamish) rather let down the naval officer in the matter of the marriage allowance. If it is right for military officers and officers of the Air Force to have the marriage allowance, what reason is there that the naval officer should be deprived of it? I am extremely sorry that the hon. and gallant Member who speaks for such a large part of the Service has allowed himself on this occasion to misrepresent the views of the great majority of naval officers. I will endeavour now to make a few constructive suggestions to the Government, and I am very glad the Prime Minister has come into the House.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
It is possible I may let fall a small pearl in the midst of a great deal of verbiage. I am extremely sorry the Foreign Secretary is not here—he has not put in an 1672 appearance during this Debate—because it is in the region of our foreign policy that we can look for relief. The present position is simply impossible. The Government do not know their own policy. They have not got the money to meet the demands of the Admiralty, and have resorted to the old subterfuge of yet another Cabinet Committee of non-expert amateurs as a device to gain time until the House wants to get away for the holidays. It is only another example of the general muddle and incompetence. I think I can suggest a way out. It is in the field of diplomacy that we can look for substantial naval savings. The Washington Conference was abortive. It limited the number of battleships to be built or maintained by the different navies of the world. If it is right to limit the number of battleships, it is equally sound to limit the number of cruisers. ["HON. MEMBERS: No!"] The size of cruisers was limited to 10,000 tons, the calibre of the guns was limited to S-inches, but no limits were set to the number. There were far too many admirals at Washington. One might just as well call a conference of jockeys to abolish horse-racing as to call together the admirals of the different Powers to reduce naval armaments. They were bound by the force of public opinion and the demands of the treasuries and the ministers of finance in the different countries, and had to give way on the battleship Question, but they got back on the cruiser question, and now, unless something is done, we are in for a race in cruiser construction. If cruiser construction is to go on in Japan, America, France and Italy, no Government in this country can ignore it, and we will have to build ships in the same way. Whatever hon. Members may say when they are in opposition, if this cruiser construction is to go on in other countries, our Government would have to lay down cruisers, just as they did last year.
It is absolutely essential that there should be a second Washington Conference to deal with naval armaments, and that it should be particularly directed to two reforms. One is a limitation of the number of cruisers, in the same way that we limited the number of battleships. An hon. Member said we have great trade routes to protect, such as other countries have not. That will be recognised by 1673 the other Powers, and they will agree that we need a greater number of cruisers than other nations. Our diplomatists can make that point. The second thing for which we should work is a declaration that submarines shall be illegal in the future. An attempt was made to do that at the Versailles Conference, but it was vetoed by the French. Another attempt was made at Washington, where we had the Japanese and the Americans with us, but once again the proposal was vetoed by the French. If it is right that Germany should not be allowed to own or build submarines, what reason is there why all the nations should not agree that this type of vessel should be illegal? The submarine is extremely effective against merchant vessels but it cannot be used according to the laws of war, therefore there is a strong case for having the submarine declared illegal. If we are going to enter into pacts with the French Government I think the least we can ask the French in return is that they should join with us in arranging a conference and help us to have the submarine declared illegal in all navies. I am sure that would be a great step towards peace. In this way a check might be put to a good deal of construction which is now going on. and which will be a menace to this nation which we shall have to meet at enormous cost.
The Government of the country seems to be carried on in water-tight compartments, but I think the real policy of the Government should be in the direction which I have indicated, and we ought to use our diplomacy to bring about the greater safety of this country. We have heard a great deal about vessels that are over 15 years old counting war service as twice peace service. I see from the Admiralty return that we are spending £166,000 in refitting a single one of these vessels. We are spending £63,000 on refitting the "Chatham" which was completed in 1912, £72,000 on the "Dublin," £53,000 on the "Yarmouth," and £92,000 on the "Dartmouth." These vessels have all been put down as obsolete and yet the Admiralty are spending these huge sums in refitting them.
There are nine of the "Cambrian" class, and we are spending large sums of money on each of them in this way. I think the only explanation is that they will be available for certain purposes, and 1674 that is the reason why the money is being spent upon them. So they cannot be treated as obsolete. In any case, I think the situation exposed by this Debate is contemptible, because it shows a lack of settled policy on the part of the Government, and this is having a bad effect on our foreign relations. It is necessary for the Government to make up its mind quickly as to what their naval policy is going to be, and in any case I think we ought to use all the influence we can by diplomacy to secure the calling of such a conference as I have suggested.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
The vote which is going to be taken in a short time is whether my salary should be reduced by £100, and on that a considerable amount has been hung. I do not quite understand what the object of the Liberal party was in asking for this day for a discussion on the Navy Estimates. They were told, and knew perfectly well, that the Prime Minister had already announced that he hoped to give the Government's decision on the new construction programme next week, but for some reason best known to themselves they decided not to wait until we could have an effective Debate, in which the Government could answer any points that they might bring forward, but that they had better raise it now, in order that they might be able to say that the Government had not yet made up their mind. That, I suppose, is the whole point of putting this Vote down to-day. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where are they?"] Most of those who spoke have not thought it worth while to come to listen to any reply we may have to make.
Some of them were kind enough to say that they were doing it in order to accelerate the decision and in order to relieve any embarrassment that I might feel, and, if that were the effect of their action, I should have been almost willing to lose my £100 and vote for their Amendment. But, when it came to the point, the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) rather sheered off, and started the theory that the really proper way to conduct the business on Estimates in this House would be, not when the Estimate is brought in, but before it is brought in. I do not know whether he would carry that out with regard to every Estimate that the Government have to bring 1675 in, but his proposition was that one really valuable thing was that the Government should hear all that the House had to say before they ever brought in an Estimate. We should want a great deal more Parliamentary time if that practice were generally adopted.
Having established that theory, the right hon. and learned Gentleman prepared to give me some very kind, fatherly advice, the sort of thing that a parent might say to his son before he leaves for school. I must say I felt rather like Laertes listening to Polonius; but I thought that at least he would do what most generous parents do on these occasions, and that at the end of his lecture I should, at any rate, receive the tip of one cruiser, or something in the way of assistance to carry out the dignified role which Laertes was expected to fulfil at the Court to which he was commissioned. That, however, was not realised. I was to be careful, to beware of entrance into a quarrel, but, if in, to see to it that the foe should beware of me. I was to make sure that we had the maximum of security at the minimum of expense. But that is exactly what I am trying to do, and advice like that has, really, occurred to other and less distinguished people than the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
He proceeded to criticise the extravagance of the present Navy administration, but I do not think he could have been here when I answered a question about the comparative cost of 1914 and the present time. I was asked what was the cost of the Navy this year, apart from the Fleet air arm and the non-effective services, and what was the cost in 1914, and what was the comparative value of money in the two periods? The answer was that the present cost is in round numbers £51,000,000, and that was equal pre-War to about £32,000,000, and the actual Estimate in 1914-15 was about £47,500,000. That does not look—some £15,500,000 below the figure of 1914–15—as if we are guilty of such great extravagance in view of the great additional work that goes on now at the Admiralty.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
That is, of course, my difficulty in speaking in this 1676 Debate, because everyone has spoken knows perfectly well that I am unable to enter into the question of new construction, and although the embarrassment of that position has been recognised by a number of speakers, one or two, especially on our side of the House, have not apparently understood that I was debarred from making any defence of new construction by the position we are in of waiting for the decision of the Government, which is to be given next week. Having been placed in that position do not let anyone think that because I am not going to prejudice the case of the Government I have not got arguments which I could give and hope to have an opportunity of giving when the occasion arises. What the right hon. Gentleman said after that was endorsed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich (Mr. Hilton Young), who said the great maxim was to build late.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
The right hon. Gentleman certainly did use those words. He said the great thing was to take advantage of all the lessons we had learnt from other people.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
That is exactly the point. Other countries have learnt lessons from the Battle of Jutland and have built an enormous number of ships in consequence. Over 300 post-War designed ships have been built by other countries to 11 by us. What lessons did the two right hon. Gentlemen expect to learn in the future which have not been learnt from the Battle of Jutland? Are we to wait for another Battle of Jutland before we begin? There is something to be said for building late and something for building quickly, but there is nothing to be said for building too late. The right hon. Gentleman said that what we called replacing was really an enormous addition to our strength. We were replacing four obsolete Ford care by a new Rolls-Royce. That was aptly answered by the hon. Member for Aberdeen East (Mr. Boothby), who said that we were replacing not one Ford Car by one Rolls-Royce, but 20 Fords by one Rolls-Royce. 1677 Does the right hon. Gentleman seriously suggest that a proper replacement programme is for one old cruiser, absolutely worn out, to be replaced by another that is really no better? That is an argument that cannot be taken seriously. Hon. Members must bear in mind that other countries have thought it advisable to build ships of post-War design. If we neglect our duty in building, in the light of the experience that has been gained by the War, we shall be courting another disaster like Coronel, the lesson of which was that speed and strength of armaments are the dominating feature in all engagements of that kind. Therefore, to say that we ought not to take advantage of all new inventions and to build the best, if we have to build, is an argument which cannot be sustained for one single moment.
The hon. and gallant Member for Tonbridge (Lieut.-Colonel Spender Clay) asked me whether the Government had taken into consideration a lot of obvious things, like the programmes of other countries, the views of the Committee of Imperial Defence on the one-Power standard, and several other matters. Of course, these matters have been taken into consideration. Nobody could approach this question without taking these matters into consideration, and when the Vote for new construction is taken, it will be very easy to answer the questions which the hon. and gallant Member raised. He raised a further point, which was also raised by other hon. Members, which is certainly deserving of considerable attention and consideration, and that is, the number of the staff at the Admiralty. The suggestion was that a great deal of economy could be effected if the staff wore reduced and the money were spent on shipbuilding. I admit that, like all other Departments, economies can be made. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not make them?"] Why not make them? In the first place, the economies we could make would not mean much in the way of shipbuilding. Do not let hon. Members go away with the idea, that there are a great many millions in this. Do not let them go away with the idea that the Admiralty is the only offender in this respect. If offence there be, let them make their cuts in all the other Government Departments. I should like to say this on behalf of the Admiralty, and it is only fair that 1678 I should say it, that they have had an inquiry into their affairs by the Weir Committee, a very powerful and very searching investigation, and the Committee came to the conclusion that it was extremely difficult in present circumstances to reduce, the staff.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I think it was in 1921, but I am not quite sure. There is this consideration to bear in mind, that comparing the present with pre-War times, there is at the Admiralty a naval staff, a general staff as at the War Office, not so large as at the War Office but it is a considerable staff. It is quite new and nobody disputes the value of it. That has to be taken into consideration. There are many other new services imposed from without on the Admiralty which have nothing to do with the Navy but which they have to carry out. There is the Pensions Increase Act, which entails a considerable amount of clerical work: there are the- War Compensation Act, the Merchant Shipping Act, the Representation of the People Act—we have got to keep a register of all the sailors at sea— the Unemployment Insurance Act, the marriage allowance for the petty officers and men, and we have to pay naval allotments now weekly instead of monthly and we have to revise the naval officers' rate of pay perpetually, in accordance with the rise or fall in the cost of living. Also certain principles of accountancy have been adopted which add to the number of the staff.
Lord Weir's Report mentions as an example that in 1914, when it was necessary to make a particular calculation, there were 27 figures which have now become 70 figures, and there are now 12 calculations instead of four. It is impossible for us to alter that. That has nothing to do with naval work. It is work forced upon us because of Acts which this House has chosen to pass. Lord Weir said that he had no particular recommendations to make for reducing this work. He is forced to the conclusion that a substantial part of the increase in staff is due to the development of services and changes in methods of naval war. He says that, measured in terms of capital ships and of personnel, the British Navy to-day is smaller and weaker than the Navy in 1914, but, 1679 measured in other forms of naval activities, the reverse would appear to be the case. I only mention that in order to show that anyone who supposes that there is a great deal of money to be saved by economies in matters of that kind is likely to be disappointed. The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) asked what happened to some Committee which he set up to investigate the cost of these Departments. He did set up a Committee, and it is quite true that we have carried it on, but the legacy of the work left to us by his Committee does not amount to very much in the way of saving. I am prepared to go fully into that question, and I only ask that this shall not be the only Department singled out in this way.
The hon. Gentleman opposite asked questions about Singapore. He seemed to think that there had been some difference since we last debated the Navy Estimates. There is no difference in the situation at all. The position is that we are proceeding with the installation of a floating dock, and considering a larger programme which, at any rate, could not be begun before next year. When we have made up our minds we shall be prepared to say what we are going to do. There was one matter raised by the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) about the Order with regard to the position of naval officers and men when there is a strike. Some sort of suggestion was made that the Navy was to be used for strike-breaking purposes. I may be able to dismiss that view entirely from his mind. He suggested that there might be some small strike in which naval officers or men might be used on behalf of one party to the strike. Of course, that is a totally false impression of what the Order means. To begin with, the Order refers to a general disturbance, a general strike.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I think not. Well, he may be right, but the main intention of it is to regulate the action of officers and men of the Navy in a general strike, the object being to exert what powers the Government have in preventing the cutting off of the supplies of food and other necessaries for the general public. To say that the Navy is to take part in the strike on one side or the other is totally wrong. 1680 If the strike has the effect of victimising the public, it is the duty of the Government to do what they can.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
May I ask the First Lord, how is it that the Order states the method by which the Accountant-General of the Admiralty shall be reimbursed by private firms?
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
The firms might be millers with stocks of flour, from which it might be necessary to get food for the people. They might be a private firm. That makes no difference to the duty of the Navy, which is not to take part on one side or the other, but on behalf of the general public.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I am quite ready to send a copy of the Order. It has already been quoted. I am not ashamed of it. It was issued in 1919. I think it was revised in 1923 and is now in the revised form. The hon. Gentlemen opposite, when in power, would have been perfectly justified in revoking it if they had thought it was unfair. They knew it was not. They knew it was only made in the interests of the general public, and it is those interests which it is the duty of the Government, whether conducted by hon. Gentlemen opposite or by us, to protect. The hon. Member for Devonport (Major Hore-Belisha) raised that very interesting point, that we ought to look on shipbuilding and maintaining an adequate Navy as a policy of insurance of so much per cent. on the imports and exports of this country. I think it is a very reasonable view to take of the question and far more reasonable than some views which have been expressed. I wish some formula of that kind could be arrived at. He worked it cut in a most interesting way from the battle of Trafalgar onwards and I hope he will impress that view upon his friends and any other people upon whom he has influence. He asked us to be solicitous for the interest of the dockyard hands. I shall exercise the greatest solicitude for their welfare that is possible in these very difficult times. He made various suggestions and I can assure him I shall be prepared to entertain any suggestions which can mitigate hardships to those who may be thrown out of work.
1681 I do not think that there are any other salient points to which I need refer except a few words in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who was very amusing, but was not, I think, helpful. He said it was a great mistake to be governed by experts, but it is a still greater mistake, I suggest, to be governed by amateurs. A member of the Labour party asked me a question the other day as to whether I was not aware that the Karl of Oxford and Asquith had expressed the view that no further shipbuilding was necessary and, the Noble. Lord having expressed that view, whether the opinion of anybody else need be considered? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs rather endorsed that theory. My view is that the business of the First Lord of the Admiralty is to listen to the views of the experts and to any criticisms that the amateurs may have to make and to form his own judgment on the results and that on the whole, he would be well advised if he were to take the opinion—using his own discretion—of those who have spent their lives in considering a particular subject rather than those who come to it fresh without knowing a great many of the difficulties which surround the subject—
§ HON. MEMBERS: Order!
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I am the only speaker from the Government Front Bench, and I have only had a very short time—
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
You have not replied to what we said here. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] It has been raised three times in this House, and there has never been a reply.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
All I can say is, that my effort will be to follow the admirable advice of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who opened this Debate, and to do what I can to get the maximum of security at the minimum of expense.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.1682
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.