HC Deb 19 March 1925 vol 181 cc2523-53

I should like to say how grateful we are, and I am sure the whole House is, for the public-spirited way in which Hong Kong has come forward and made the gift she has made for this purpose and also how grateful we are to the Straits Settlements for having made over the land that is necessary at a cost of £ 146,000. It is indeed gratifying that such small units of our Empire are prepared to come forward with sums so proportionately large as that. Australia and New Zealand were prepared a year ago to make their contributions to Singapore, but when the proposal was dropped they decided to spend the money they had intended for that purpose, as well as other money, on cruisers. Mr. Bruce said the other day: Australia entered into naval commitments of £ 3,500,000 towards the construction of two 10,000-ton cruisers, two oceangoing submarines and a general defence reserve. In addition to this a defence programme was initiated covering a period of five years and in each of those years an increase of £ 1,000.000 per annum over the 1923-24 defence expenditure. New Zealand contributed a sum towards the maintenance of a cruiser in lieu of what she had promised for Singapore. That does not preclude either of those Dominions from contributing in the future to the cost of Singapore, but it deserves from us again an expression of gratitude for the way in which they have come forward to try to bear part of their share.


But it indicates that they have altered their mind as to the value of Singapore as far as they are concerned.


No, it does not at all. On the contrary, I shall be able to show that they have not. In order to show that the Dominions are still as desirous of proceeding with the base at Singapore I do not think I can do better than quote a little more from Mr. Bruce's statement. He said on the 6th instant: He noted with considerable concern what was apparently a very serious attempt to induce the British Government to abandon its decision with regard to Singapore. He earnestly hoped for the sake of the Empire that this would not be done. Later on in the same statement he said: Surrounded at every angle, we are at least entitled to be heard on the question now and I submit that our opinion should not lightly be ignored. To Australia and New Zealand and to all the Empire in the East this base is vital. Australia, therefore, without such a base can only regard herself as deserted by the Empire. The hon. Member asked me.


I wanted to bring that out—


What is General Smuts's opinion?


We heard General Smuts's opinion some time ago. I am not aware whether he has changed it or not, but, after all, Singapore is not of the same importance to South Africa as it is to Australia.


South Africa is in the Empire, is it not, or are we making a mistake?


I do not know the relevance of that interruption. It is perfectly obvious that the base at Singapore must be of more consequence to the States in that neighbourhood than to any other.


Do I gather that the right hon. Gentleman has quoted Mr. Bruce, as showing the important view that Australia takes of that question? Is it not true to say that, although you have quoted his contribution, the Australian and New Zealand Governments, so far as the monetary consideration is concerned, are less favourable than they were two years ago?


Because they have devoted the money intended for Singapore to building cruisers. [An HON. MEMBER: "They thought they were of much more use!"] Perhaps they are. Both are very useful. At any rate, £ 3,500,000 is a very considerable sum for them to provide. Lastly he says: We cannot, situated as we are, ignore the fact that the British Navy is the sole guarantee we have of safety, but is the most potent force in existence for the promotion of universal justice and peace, and unless it is rendered efficient and its mobility assured by the provision of an adequate base in the Pacific, the existence and prestige of the Empire will be imperilled, the peace of the world endangered and the authority of the League of Nations undermined. I think it is tolerably clear that Mr. Bruce at any rate thinks the position at Singapore of as much importance now as when he was over here.

5.0 P.M. Some people have seen in this movement a menace to Japan. I am unable to understand that point of view at all. Everyone knows that this country—not any one Government, but all Governments—have enjoyed and valued the friendship and alliance with Japan, that we value it still, and we still believe there is no reason to suppose that friendship is in any way dulled. We have ourselves no kind of desire for aggression. It is the very last thing we should think of. If we had wished to menace Japan why should we, in the Washington Treaty, have decided not to strengthen the Fortifications of Hong Kong? Singapore is very nearly 3,000 miles from Yokohama—about the same distance as Plymouth is from New York. I have never heard—I do not know whether the Noble Lady has—that the maintenance of the dockyard at Plymouth is a menace to New York. No official in Japan has given voice to the idea that there is anything in the nature of offence in this. All the official utterances have been quite the other way. In January, 1923. Vice-Admiral Sakomuto in a speech stated: The construction of this base for the British Navy should be and is no cause for alarm to Japan, and attempts made to make it appeal otherwise are founded on no good reason.'' That is the official view of Japan. Here is another. Pear-Admiral Tosu, in a speech in 1923, said: Some see in this measure a sign that England is no longer our friend. They do not realise that we would do the same if we were placed in a similar position. Official opinion, however, does not regard it in an unfavourable light and we consider that the good feeling and amity existing between our two nations are in no way incompatible with it. So I say that official opinion in Japan certainly does not regard it as a hostile action, and I do not believe there is any other country in the world which, if it had been in our position, would have gone on so long without establishing a base there. One glance at the map shows that it is the very centre and pivot of our scattered units of Empire in the East-India, Australia, New Zealand, the Straits Settlements and Ceylon, all within a comparatively small ambit. It is a link in the chain of our trade to the East, and if we are to continue the policy which the Admiralty has always followed of offering some protection—


Against whom?


Against any danger I If it is our duty to offer some protection to the 80,000 miles of overseas trade routes from the Pacific to this country, and have a Fleet to defend them, surely it is also our duty to have a base which, will make that Fleet efficient? If we have a place in which no capital ships can be docked, then it means that a capital ship will have to come back to Malta, 6,000 miles one way and 6,000 miles back, in order to have any repairs done of any magnitude at all. That is not efficiency and it is not economy. This base is purely for defensive purposes. The accommodation at Singapore now is very congested, and not only for the sake of larger ships but smaller ships further accommodation is most desirable. I do feel that if we are to adopt the policy it is our duty to our overseas trade. The hon. Gentleman opposite said "protection against whom?" If we are to haven protection why have a Navy at all? Letthem be honest and say "Have no Navy!" That is one view of the question that may be taken. We have regarded it up to now as the hon. Gentlemen opposite have regarded it, as one of our duties to offer some protection, not against any known enemies, but against any risk there may be. There is no other nation like our own that is so absolutely dependent upon our overseas trade. There is no other country like our own which is so scattered all over the face of the globe, and if we are at war and unable to protect our very means of existence, all the commodities that come over that route—meat, wool and any number of important articles—[Interruption.] It is not new. The Singapore base is not new; it has been considered years and years ago. What we say is, that if you are to have a Fleet efficient and requisite, you must have a base where large ships could be docked, and where, if necessary, you can repair in a very short time ships which would otherwise take a very long time to send home and back again. I look upon this question myself as in the nature of an insurance. When you insure you do not insure against the danger you expect; you insure against a danger which you do not know, that you cannot foresee, and in just the same way we, I think, here in this country, know what a grave peril we risk if we should lose the control of our overseas trade, the loss of the food and other materials that come over. Knowing what that risk is, we should not wilfully decline to make an insurance contribution to secure us against any risk, although we may not foresee one. If one knew exactly when one's house was going to be burnt down or when one's car was going to be upset, one could not take refuge in insurance, but if a person docs not know whether an accident is going to happen in a very short time he desires by insurance to be protected against it. The only reason why right hon. Gentlemen opposite have declined to proceed with the Singapore base was that they said it was postponing it. At the time they did not give a final decision. They were not going to entirely abandon the plan. The idea was that it was a gesture which was going to lead to some co-operation from other people. The hon. Gentleman opposite said: "We shall make a gesture in the hope that there will be some co-operation from other countries." I am not able to see exactly what co-operation this gesture has led to. The idea of co-operation seems to be in this instance rather like that described by the American who said: "Too often when you are co-operating with other people you find that the other fellows are operating and you are left doing the' cooing." It seems to me that we are still cooing and there is a good deal of operating going on. [HON. MBMBERS: "Where?"]


Has not President Coolidge offered a new naval Disarmament Conference in America?


I am not talking of a disarmament Conference. If there is any possibility of a disarmament Conference in which we could take part being arranged, we shall be only too glad. compatible with the security of this country, to arrange for anything that will make the burden of armaments less


Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the remarks he is making at that Box are likely to assist the movement that is now coming from America?


I have said nothing that will hinder it. Why is it that anything that we suggest about putting a big dock at Singapore is provocative-to somebody, whilst other countries build ships? I do not object. It is their own business. I do not say it is provoking this country. But we have to look at the facts, and it is a rather curious thing that the warship building programme of the world in February last year, ships either building or projected, were 228. At the same time this year the number is 352. That is an increase of more than 50 per cent. all over the whole world.


That is in accordance with the Washington Agreement.


So would Singapore be in accordance with the Washington Agreement. The fact is, all over the world 352 ships are being built or projected—new ships of war, 50 per cent. more than last year.


But they are within the terms of the Washington Treaty.


I do not want to go outside the Washington Treaty. Nobody does. But for anybody to talk about our being "provocative" when there are 352 warships being built in the world, while our contribution is 20, and to say that we do not want peace, is to say what they know is contrary to the feeling of everybody in this country. We have no lust of conquest, we have no desire for more territory. All we want is peace to develop the country that we have got and the trade that we have got. There is no need for a gesture to show the people of the world that Great Britain is a peaceable country. She is peaceable by nature, and she is peaceable in her own interests. What more territory can she want? What can she possibly want by war? The glamour and glory of arms has no attraction for us. We have seen too much of the misery which accompanies it, and therefore I say without any fear of contradiction that the world knows that Great Britain is peaceable, and the world will not think any better of us for making gestures which weaken the position that we are in and which would weaken us if we had to go into negotiations on dis- armament and would not bring a response from any other country to help us in that direction.


My right hon. Friend, especially in the former part of his speech, before he came to Singapore, was a bit careful now and again to inform the House that His Majesty's present Government are fulfilling the inheritance which they had received from His Majesty's last Government. I am not quite sure, when I hear that frequently repeated remark, whether it is meant to enable right hon. Gentlemen to get out of their difficulties, or to try to get us into the difficulties that they themselves are making. But in any event I can assure him of this, that, whether it is true or not, the right hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary of State for the Colonies, paring the Naval Votes down to the bone and asking for £ 58,000,000, the last Government, asking for £ 55,000,000, gave the taxpayers far more value for their money than their predecessors gave them for £ 58,000,000.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir ALAN BURGOYNE

What of the three cruisers?


Three cruisers, that were supposed to be necessary as part of the eight. Right hon. Gentlemen come here to-day and tell us they have not made up their mind how many they want for the efficiency of the Navy and the security of the Empire, Precisely the same confession was made in connection with Singapore. One of the reasons why now we are told we should support Singapore is that His Majesty's present advisers have discovered that they can produce as good an article for considerably less money than they proposed to spend 12 months ago upon it. That is exactly our position. Nobody could have come into that office, nobody could have made themselves responsible for the conduct, not only of the Admiralty but of other Departments, without having discovered that a period of examination is absolutely necessary, not merely from the point of view of national safety, but from the point of view of the interests of the taxpayers of this country. I am glad to accept, at any rate, that tribute from my right hon. Friend, that we succeeded in reducing expenditure which he now admits would have been quite useless if it had been incurred by our predecessors.

I can assure him that we did inherit a very bad state of things in the Admiralty, a condition of things which could very largely be described as rust rather than efficiency. But, unfortunately, we came in in January. I see that some of the newspapers that support His Majesty's present Government are making 0 great cry about the fact that the Government have only been in office for a few months, and, therefore, cannot be expected to produce any sort of programme that could claim anything in the nature of originality. At any rate, they have been in about two months longer than we were before we were called upon to My what we would make ourselves responsible for in this House, and I am confessing no secret, I am lifting the curtain and revealing nothing of which right hon. and hon. Members of this House are not thoroughly aware, when I say that the late Government did not have an opportunity for a proper exploration of the budget that had been prepared in the various Departments, and that (he most we could do was lo take care that we maintained efficiency and knocked off extravagance. That is the reason why we knocked off the three cruisers. The ease that was put to us seemed to us. in the very limited time that we had to examine it, to justify, perhaps, five cruisers, and we took our courage in our hands, as we should do again and do now, and asked the House to consent to the building of five cruiser?, pledging ourselves that, if we were in a position to appear before it in 12 months' time with another naval programme, we would be more responsible as; Government for our proposals than, unfortunately, we were able to be 12 months ago in the short time that we were in office.

My right hon. Friend himself is not quite sure that he is right now; he is not at all certain about his position. He tells us that he had conversations with the. Chancellor of the Exchequer. I suppose it would be vain for me to ask what those conversations amounted to, over what subjects they ranged, and with what friendliness they were conducted; but now my right hon. Friend suggests to us that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been a little too much for him, and, although he is responsible for the Admiralty, he has told us that he is not at all sure but that he is neglecting his duty by not asking for more money than, as a matter of fact, he is going to ask for. I hope that when we succeed him, and have to hitch our policy and programme on to that which he leaves behind him, we shall not say that, in that respect, at any rate, we are following the precedents of our predecessors.

I do not propose to discuss at any length what might be called the details of the proposals that are now before us, but I think that this is an occasion when the House would occupy itself with great profit in discussing the wider features of policy. If I might say so, we listen far too much in this House to observations such as those which concluded my right hon. Friend's speech—to the effect that everybody knows that we are a pacifist people, and so are Let us come to hard business, and let us remember that naval policy and Admiralty policy is not a matter of experts. It is a matter which ought to concern this House, as the custodian of the whole body of national interests, not only in regard to what they contain, but also in regard to the manner in which they are handled. When my right hon. Friend asks, in that bland way of his which always endears him to us, however much we may disagree with him, what was the result of the gesture that was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), I think I might make a much better suggestion, if I may say so with respect, namely, the Protocol. There is not a single person who was present at Geneva but knew perfectly well that, if what my right hon. Friend calls a gesture had not been made, it would have been impossible to get the other nations to consent to a disarmament conference. I am not talking about the Protocol itself on its merits at the present moment; what I wish to direct my right hon. Friend's attention to is this, that we did get more nations than ever have agreed in the history of the world before, to meet together to discuss the problem of disarmament in an official international disarmament conference, and if it had not been for the policy of the British Government such a thing would have been absolutely impossible.

I really cannot understand why at the present time the costs of the British Navy should be so high as they are. Up to the War, we were always told that we had rivals. Now that fleet has gone to the bottom of the sea, and, instead of rivals, we have friends. My right hon. Friend, quite rightly, laid stress upon the friendship between Japan and ourselves. No one will say for a moment that any development of the American Fleet has any significance for us whatever. There must, of course, be exceptions. Even in Sodom and Gomorrah there were one or two exceptions. When one goes into a Government Department it is not enough to imagine things. One has to take into account, not possibilities, but probabilities. It is the application of common sense. Of course, this thing might happen, that thing might happen, or the other thing might happen, but that does not justify a Minister in asking the British taxpayers to put their hands deeply into their pockets in order to make it impossible. We deal with probabilities, not with possibilities. Upon my right hon. Friend's own confession, Japan is friendly, and America is friendly. Who is hostile? What is the objective?

I am bound to say, after a very long and interesting consideration of the problem, that this idea, at any rate, has crept into my mind—I do not say it has taken possession of it—that what happens, in very many cases like this, is that someone produces a map, and someone draws on that map the trade routes, and then they say, "Now imagine a war. Do you see that point there on that map? If certain things happen, that point will be a master-point from the point of view of strategy. Therefore, let us suit national policy on the assumption that the circumstances may arise—and that very soon—which will make that point one of the master-keys in the strategy of the defence of the British Empire." That is the business of the expert. I like that. If the expert did not do that, the expert should be taken by the scruff of the neck and turned out. But when my right hon. Friend considers his duty, it is not his duty to take into account theoretical considerations or possibilities like that. He has to consider, not that particular point from the point of view of naval strategy in the event of certain things happening, but he has to consider the policy, the reaction, the politics all round the world, in the necessary distribution of his own Fleet. If he should allow the experts' technical requirements to dominate his mind, and he is a politician—I use the word, of course, in the best sense—if he simply takes his instructions from the experts, he is not doing his duty.

Commander BELLAIRS

May I ask the right, hon. Gentleman one question? Does he contend that he can forecast the situation in regard, say, to a Power like Japan, 10 years hence?


I can either say "Yes" or "No" to that. If I say "Yes," then I can give a very definite and dogmatic answer regarding Singapore. If I say "No," why should the lack of knowledge mean that the British taxpayers' money should be wasted on an escapade, upon a building programme the evil effects of which in other directions we, at any rate, know perfectly well and can be certain of beforehand? If there is a doubt, the doubt must not be put upon the side of evil. If there is a doubt, I have enough belief in human nature—I hope hon. Members will not laugh at me—to know that the man who sits in a Department in this country, say, at the Admiralty, the War Office, the Air Ministry, the Foreign Office, or at 10, Downing Street—with a vigilant eye cast day by day upon his problems, who does not yield to his lack of definite knowledge by putting his influence and his expenditure on to the side of doubtful experiment, but who holds his hand until he has made up his mind—that man is far more likely to guide our Empire through the great difficulties ahead of it than the man who simply follows the theoretical views of his experts, who have not to consider—it is not their duty to do so, and it is not right that they should—the large political issues involved in naval strategic advice.

I see no reason at the present moment why there should not be again this year, as last year, a substantial reduction in our Navy Estimates. I hope the House is not oblivious of the fact—I am sure it is not—that we are not discussing the Navy Estimates at this moment; we are only discussing the first instalment of the Navy Estimates. We are told that a Committee is sitting. We also had a Committee sitting, but, through no fault of our own, we were not able to go very far with it. We could not pursue it very far, but, surely, as has been indicated to-day since I got up, there are some Members on the other side of the House who, at any rate on paper, are great authorities on shipbuilding, both our own and the world's, and who really sincerely believed that we did something wrong, because last year we reduced a programme of eight cruisers to a programme of five. The scheme of building asked, if my memory serves me, seven for this year. [HON. MEMBERS: "Eight."] That is one more than I thought. Eight last year and eight this year. What we decided on was five last year and five this year. If all those cruisers had been laid down, as originally contemplated, we ought to have 16 keels laid down now, including last year's, and according to the conscientious convictions of hon. Members opposite, we are already 11 keels behind.

In any event the Government do not advocate that now. They have confessed it to us. They considered this problem in 1923. We came in, and, I admit, very hurriedly looked over it, and found that five was a sufficient number for the time being until much more careful thought had been put into the policy. This question had to be considered, not merely as one of building for last year and this year, but as part of a system, and we found that five were enough. It is not altogether a matter made of cruisers. We knocked off not only three cruisers, but we knocked off certain subsidiary vessels. In 1924 we came in, and now the Government, apparently having been in office since November, and considered this question at the Admiralty and at the Treasury, have come to the conclusion that they are not prepared to stand by their 1923 programme, and the indication is that they are going to lower the figures, at any rate, which they had put forward before we came in. Could a more melancholy confession than that be made, that the Government of 1923 squandered the taxpayer's money and did not provide with efficiency and economy for the requirements which the Empire imposed upon them?

One thing, however, I can say with that dogmatic assurance which I regret I could not show to the hon. and gallant Gentleman who asked me about the developments of Japanese policy. I can say with confidence that, at the present time, no fresh developments are justifiable. The most that can be said, the most that the strongest, most sincere, and most determined of what one might call Navy men could ask for is to hold what we have got, not increased strength—that is, strength in bulk and numbers—but that if anything is to be increased it should be efficiency. That is a very fair statement of what I hope to be the most extreme demands for the moment, of the most convinced and the most sincere Navy men. But Singapore is of a totally different character. I am not going into the question of Australian contribution, and I am not going to discuss Singapore, except in a very general and very brief way, because I think it far better—and I believe that the House will agree with me—to concentrate on Singapore in the Debate on next Monday. That would be far better, especially when we are going into details of the case both for and against, than to keep sandwiching this important and strategical problem, say, with questions like those in which the Noble Lady the Member for Sutton (Viscountess Astor) has interested herself with so much distinction, such as allowances to married officers and so on, and if we keep off this question of Singapore, as far as possible, until Monday, it will meet the convenience of the House. But this must be said straight away to avoid misunderstanding, after the statement which has been made by my right hon. Friend. I consider that the decision of the Government has been most deplorable.

He tells us that Japan is friendly. He tells us that we are pacifists, that we are pacific. I do not deny it. But does he not also understand—I am sure that he does—that either Japan or ourselves can make a false movement, which means nothing, but which in reality would change the minds of both of us? If ray right hon. Friend does not understand that, it is a great defect, if I may say so with respect, in his political equipment. Because he knows perfectly well that certain approaches which we make to America in certain matters, relating to our policy in the world and to American policy in the world, had to be explained to Japan—all this appeared in the Press so that I may refer to it—so that Japan might understand that everything is all right and that our old friendship was as fresh, vigorous and affectionate as ever. And yet, in the case of these of us who were responsible for the policy, it has never crossed our minds for a single moment that there could be any misunderstanding about it.

But now as to Japan. My right hon. Friend can quote Admiral this and Admiral that, and Minister this and Minister that, and when ho has done it all he will not convince one single person who knows anything about Japan that Japan is not interested. A friend of mine, who has been going about the Singapore district, a man of very good judgment, has written me a letter from which I may quote two sentences, for which I will take it upon myself to make myself responsible to the House. He has such a complete knowledge of the subject that I think I should rend what he writes. He says: Every bazaar in the East knows our reason for it. It is a common topic of conversation of Europeans. Everywhere east of Suez natives are already discussing such a war between the white and yellow races in relation to their own aspirations. Upon this Singapore has a very direct bearing. What one feels, even in European questions, is often this: that the difference between success and failure does not always depend upon what you say or what you are driving at, but upon the way you do it. It is not the statement, it is not the aim, it is not the act, it is the way it is done which very often makes the difference between success and failure. That is true as between Europeans. But it is ten thousand times more true when the West gets into contact with the East. If we are merely to say: "We are doing this, hut we are as pure as the newly driven snow," and arc to trust to that, and to that only, for the confidence of the Eastern, we might as well put up our shutters so far as the Eastern British Empire is concerned.

The question of security is not a question of how many miles Singapore is from Yokohama. If it is 3,000 miles, and if you say you cannot strike Yokohama from Singapore, I would remind my right hon. Friend that Yokohama is precisely the same distance from Singapore. I was reading the other day a chapter in a book of philosophical higher mathematics, in which I believe, so far as I could understand it, it was contended that returning along the same road did not mean travers- ing exactly the same length as one traversed when going out along that road, but unless that was the method of measurement by the Admiralty my statement is true, that if Japan can feel safe while Singapore is fortified, and is a naval dockyard, because we cannot strike so far, then Japan with the intelligence of which she has proved herself in so many eventualities to be possessed, is entitled to say, "If you cannot hit us, how can we hit you?" The fact is that it is the psychological effect upon the Japanese people which we have got to consider, and the psychological effect is bad.

My right hon. Friend talks about this problem developing with too many awkward features attached to it. But when he talks of the East, as if there were no upsetting influences now, as if all were perfectly calm, and as placid, peaceful and harmonious as his own mind, it is not true. Russia has come in with very considerable effect, not merely in European countries, for the problem of Russia in the East is a far greater danger, and of far greater importance than anything which Russia can do in Europe now. Has my right hon. Friend heard of the great movement which is on at present to summon and get assembled a Pan-Oriental Conference for the purpose of the consideration of defensive and offensive and nationalist aims on the part of great nations of the East, China and Japan and other nations taking part. The problem is far more difficult than the right hon. Gentleman imagines. The ease with which he, by an unconsidered or ill-considered move in Singapore, can upset the whole equanimity of the East, is far more dangerous than he is aware of, so far as he has revealed himself to-day.

I am content for the moment to leave Singapore with one further comment. I hope that the House will not live under the delusion that this is merely a dockyard for the convenience of existing ships. Do not make any mistake about it. One great problem of cruiser building is not the problem of defence or of offence, but the problem simply of policing. We will always take that into account. But when Singapore is built, let us assume that 10 years from now we are all enjoying the pleasure of being still in this House and that we have to consider what is the effect of Singapore in the disposition of the British Fleet. The right hon. Gentleman will not then get up and say, "I am going to use my dockyards for docking the ships that are plying here and there as police patrols in Southern Pacific waters." Not at all. The next thing will be that he will have to create that as a base for a Pacific Fleet. When Mr. Bruce talks about Imperial defence, Mr. Bruce knows what he is talking about—he knows exactly. Mr. Bruce's conception of Singapore is something like Portsmouth, something like Plymouth in the Pacific, with capital ships, with a striking force—defensive. Hon. Members know perfectly well that no brain has yet devised a defensive force that was not an offensive force. The force that is effective for defence is effective for offence. The more mobile that force is, as in its nature a fleet must be, the more the two statements mean exactly one and the same thing.

Therefore, what Singapore does is thin: it means that we have to create a new centre, not to repair ships that are passing, but a new centre where ships are to be anchored, a centre selected a? a point nearest to which the various trade routes from Eastward and Westward converge, and then, the moment It is built, it is transformed into a naval dockyard which is independent in itself, which will have its own supplies, its own fortifications. That is what is before us If it was a mere convenience, a sort of police headquarters, I do not know that I would have bothered very much about it. I think that it is unnecessary and extravagant, but really, in such a case, I would not bother much about it. But one must look at it from the large point of view, from the organic development of our national naval policy, and hon. Members who are going to vote for Singapore must take upon themselves the responsibility of moving for a complete revolution in the disposition and strategy of the British Fleet.

Viscountess ASTOR

I understood last year that you postponed the question of Singapore, but had not turned it down. Was that so?


That is quite true, but what is the point of that question here I We did not turn it down. May I. suggest, with great respect, that that makes my opinion to-day all the more weighty? It was an opinion reached after due reflection. The point is, is it the assumption that within six weeks of our coming into office in January we would come to a final conclusion upon a proposition of such enormous importance as I have been trying to indicate in my speech?

Viscountess ASTOR

Now you have come to a final conclusion?


Yes, as far as I am concerned. We have come to the conclusion that the pursuit of Singapore now will be a calamity. There will be more details on Monday. What I want to point out is that in any event this base cannot be put into operation until 10 or 11 years from now. Why the haste? Why not hold one's hand I The point is that if one was convinced that the last War was to make no difference to our equipment and our strategy for peace, there is no uee in talking any pieties about pacifism. Is there any party in the country that will go and tell the country that it has lost hope in that? My own view is very firm and decided. If it is hopeless to come to an arrangement, if we cannot get the nations to give us security which is in the nature of peace, then there is nothing for it but to fight another war, and we will have to make our preparations for it. I do not believe for a single moment that we have reached that deplorable position. But what is happening, by these policies, by these commitments, by these developments, is that we are drifting nearer and nearer to that decisive point. So far as I am concerned, and so far as my friends who are with me are concerned, we shall do everything we possibly can to prevent the nation finding itself once again in the rapids above the waterfall, doomed to go over, not merely to terrible times, to pain and misery such as we have been having, but, it may be, even to destruction itself.


I have listened with the greatest interest to two speeches with which I am in some agreement and in some disagreement, expressing, as those speeches do, the opinions of one right hon. Gentleman who has recently taken office, and of another right hon. Gentleman who has recently quitted office. I would like to transfer my right hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) back to the Bench which he occupied with such distinction last year, and to hear him make a speech defending these Estimates with that eloquence with which he apparently defended the Navy Estimates then. On that occasion, in defending the construction of five cruisers, he traversed every argument in favour of peace with which to-day he has been delighting the House. He then denied every doctrine which this afternoon he has affirmed, for he said that, although he was in favour of peace, it would be criminal for him as Prime Minister not to consider the defences of the country. In a position of greater responsibility and less freedom he was prepared then to saddle this country with high Estimates at a time of great industrial distress and high taxation. The present First Lord has told us in effect to-day, "lama poor Conservative First Lord of the Admiralty who has to come here with regret and with tears in my voice, and have to confess to you that my Estimates have gone up because a Socialist Government last year neglected the Navy. "What an extraordinary spectacle? The right hon. Member for Aberavon asked why the Estimates had gone up. They have gone up because he laid down five cruisers that were entirely unnecessary—just as unnecessary as Singapore. Every argument that he has used against Singapore he could have advanced against his five cruisers.

Lieut.-Gommander BURNEY

And they could be advanced against the whole Navy?

6.0 P.M.


Certainly. There is an increase of £ 5,000,000, and of that £ 2,600,000 is due to the construction costs of the five cruisers. Some of the increase of personnal is caused by the laying down of the five cruisers. The right hon. Gentleman is not prepared now to stand up and take up the attitude of last year on these Estimates. We are the only party that can do so. [.Interruption.] It is perfectly true. Hon. Members on the Labour Benches know that that is so. They have been in office. [HON. MBMBESS: "So have you!"] Yes, and we won the War for you. It cannot be denied, although it may be inconvenient to acknowledge the fact, that those who represent the Liberal party in this House opposed the vote on Singapore last year before the right hon. Member for Aber- avon had made up his mind about it. We also opposed the laying down of the five cruisers. Therefore, ours is a position which cannot be denied. We have all the disadvantages of opposition, and we do not look forward, perhaps, like the right hon. Gentleman to a rapid return to office. But we have one great advantage, at any rate, and that is that we have been consistent. We need not advocate five cruisers one year and pacifism the next. Hon. Members above the Gangway have had that experience. They have found consistency difficult in office, but we have no temptation on that score. Let us consider the position which these Estimates disclose. They disclose an increase of £ 5,000,000. In reality the net increase is £ 5,175,000 for the effective services and £ 155,000 for the no effective services, balanced by decreases amounting to £ 631,000, which, as the right hon. Gentleman explained, are largely due to automatic falling off in various items. The right hon. Gentleman has fairly placed before the House the cause of these various increases, and anyone who has studied the White Paper is familiar with them. To some extent undoubtedly they are commitments from last year, but the alarming fact about the increase is that the Government have not yet really begun to put their Estimates before the House. Singapore is camouflage. What money is to be spent there comes from charitable contributions from outside, and T quite understand the right hon. Gentleman's desire to use that money before it is withdrawn. But the Government's naval programme is not yet drawn up. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any idea of what the Naval Estimates are really going to be? We have already got an increase of £ 5,000,000. Are we to see an increase of another £ 15,000,000? What is our position? We have at the present time an increase of £ 12,000,000 over the Naval Estimates presented before the War in 1914.

In the whole discussion of these matters there is surely only one thing which is really fundamental. Nobody doubts the essential importance to this country and this Empire of a strong Navy, and I think in a long Parliamentary career I have never voted against the Navy Estimates. I have heard long discussions in the old days about whether we wanted six Dread- noughts or eight Dreadnoughts, and I wondered, in those days, how eminent statesmen could spend their time in discussing such narrow margins when we had such great dangers threatening us, and at a time when we had a small debt and low taxation. Can any sensible person doubt that our position to-day is radically different? The Fleet which threatened us before the late War is at the bottom of Scapa Flow, and Great Britain's present naval position in Europe has never been equalled at any period of our history. We do not find any challenge to it in any part of Europe. The Navy of the other great branch of the English-speaking race across the Atlantic is the only Navy to-day which can be said to equal ours in strength and numbers. Are we then prepared to enter into a building campaign with the United States of America? That is the fundamental question on which this House should make up its mind. Ever since I began to study this question, I have noticed that somebody has always wanted to have some programme. At one time, when I was a young man, France was the naval bugbear of this country, and the French Navy was held up to us as one that we should build against. When we became too strong for that argument to have any weight, then was introduced the two-Power standard, and at one time we almost talked of a three-Power standard. Then we came back again to a one-Power standard. I can quite understand the difficulty of framing a standard in the present political complexion of the world, but I would ask this: Are we to gain nothing at all after having for five years made the greatest sacrifice any country ever made? Is the great naval victory which we won not to relieve the people of this country by one penny piece of the enormous expenditure placed upon their shoulders? Is it reasonable after that great victory to have an increase and not a decrease in our Naval Estimates as compared with the Naval Estimates before the War?

I see hon. Members opposite who will appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that taxation should be reduced on the ground that unemployment is increasing and that British industry is disappearing under high taxation, and these same hon. Members twill cheer vociferously every sentence in favour of maintaining a great expensive Navy and building great naval bases. They cannot have it both ways. I maintain the country cannot afford to go on with Naval Estimates of this kind and increases of this kind. The finance of the country makes it an impossible proposition. Do hon. Gentlemen opposite ever reflect on the paradox that Germany, who is now becoming our greatest commercial competitor, after being defeated, has no Naval Estimates at all while we, having been victorious, are increasing our Naval Estimates? What benefit have we reaped from the great victory which we won?


You said you won the War. We are winning the peace.


One cannot discuss a subject of this kind and keep up a conversation with hon. Members above the Gangway. I put these views forward because I feel profoundly that in the present state of the finances of this country and of the trade of this country and of unemployment in this country, the time has arrived when we must cut our financial cloth a great deal more in accordance with what we can afford. I said once that Great Britain could no longer afford to be the philanthropist of the world. We are no longer in a position to act as the rich uncle from America handing out tips. We have, undoubtedly, become poor since the War as everybody knew we would, and we have to take a more exacting and a narrower standard for our financial commitments. The First Lord used that formula which I have heard so often, "economy and efficiency." When I was younger I used to be terribly impressed by the statements of heads of Government Departments that nothing more could be done for economy because efficiency would suffer. Since I myself have been in charge of two Government Departments and since I have been on more than one Cabinet Committee going into the Estimates of Government Departments, I have become sceptical on the subject. I have seen Estimates reduced by millions, while the Department concerned has apparently remained quite efficient, and I maintain that we are not getting all the economy which we could get with efficiency, and we shall never get it until this House and the taxpayers refuse to allow the Departments to have more than a certain amount of money.

I was chairman of a Committee at one time, endeavouring to co-ordinate certain services of the Army, Navy and Air Force in order to produce economy and every representative of those eminent Departments came to our Committee and explained to us the absolute impossibility of doing what we wanted. I never remember anybody coming to us and putting forward a proposal to effect economy. I remember the then Prime Minister and myself starting an inquiry into the Army Estimates just before we went out of office, and he, like myself, remarked on the fact that nobody ever came forward even to suggest economy, while everybody was prepared with arguments of an irresistible character to prove that the expenditure which was being incurred was necessary to the efficiency of the British Army. Therefore, I am no longer convinced by that argument on these subjects. I am not convinced when I am told that the least economy we make will produce inefficiency. I believe if the Government had the courage to reduce these Estimates by £ 10,000,000 they would have just as good a Navy and they would save the taxpayer that amount of money. When the Geddes Committee was carrying out its investigations, there was considerable controversy as to the manning of the Navy and some of the controversialists were of opinion that a cheaper system could be found for manning the Navy but the naval experts disagreed. I remember the right hon. Gentleman who is now Chancellor of the Exchequer taking an active part at that time in endeavouring to bring about a reduction of the Navy Estimates and he was very largely successful in his endeavour. I have no doubt he will do everything in his power now and indeed the First Lord indicated that when he said that he had had friendly conversations with the Treasury. As an ex-Minister I know those friendly conversations only too well but the pressure which the Treasury can bring to bear in this matter is nothing to the pressure which this House and the people of this country could bring to bear. Only to-day in the newspapers I have read an extract from the report of the Auditor and Comptroller-General in reference to the Appropriation Account of the Navy for 1923-24. I find there a little story of another transaction in which the Navy was involved as a result of which quite a considerable amount of money was lost, and the Report also tells of smaller occurrences which have come to notice. Is it really believed that no further cut can be made-in these Estimates, that everything has been bought at the cheapest possible price and that the dockyards are really being managed with the same efficiency as the private shipyards of this country?

Viscountess ASTOR

Plymouth is.


I am afraid that statement is to be taken with some reserve. It comes from an interested party. Docs anybody believe that if these Estimates were seriously reduced, the British Navy or the British Empire would really suffer? If they do, I must say we are still far away from that practical realisation of our duty at which we as Members of this House should by this time have arrived. That is why I have taken part in this Debate and why, although I have not done so myself, some of us will move an actual reduction in order to give the House an opportunity of going to a Division. I hope the right hon. Gentleman did not misunderstand the purport of an interruption which I reluctantly made when he was speaking. I did not mean to imply that the creation of the Singapore base would necessarily be looked upon as a provocative act, but the right hon. Gentleman at the time was making remarks about co-operation and he was mentioning that an American had told him a certain story, and therefore I thought I would draw his attention to the fact that his remarks might very well be misinterpreted on the other side of the Atlantic at a moment when, I understand, the American Government are seriously thinking of calling another naval disarmament conference. I think if the right hon. Gentleman reads what he said he will understand the reason for my interruption.

About Singapore, I am a little bewildered as to the attitude of the Government. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to state officially that the Government had not decided to take any immediate action and were considering the whole problem, but when he warmed up to his subject he began to let out in favour of Singapore with great vehemence and great argumentative force. On that subject I should like to ask a few questions. Is it not a fact that we have already at Singapore a naval base in which we can repair practically everything except the largest sized battleships and cruisers? That is to say, we could already deal at Colombo or Singapore with the ordinary cruiser which would be used in wartime for protecting trade routes. How was it that during the five years of the War we succeeded in protecting these trade routes without the expenditure of £ 11,000,000 on Singapore?

Lieut.-Commander BURNEY

The Japanese Fleet was helping us.


I know the Japanese Fleet, most successfully, came to our assistance in those waters, but that is scarcely an answer to my question.


It knocks the bottom out of it.


Perhaps the hon. Member will listen to what I am about to say. The point I am putting is this: Was the absence of works now intended to be erected at Singapore, in any way destructive of the ability of our Fleet and the Japanese Fleet to safeguard these trade routes? The Japanese ships cooperating with us wanted exactly the same dockyard accommodation for repairs as ours. I believe it is not denied, but I do not profess to speak with authority, that we have there a base which is suitable for cruiser work, but the idea of the new base is for a battleship base, which is entirely different, and that is why I ask for this information. Again, surely we ought to get—and I suppose we shall get in time, when the Government have further considered this question—very much more detailed estimates of the total cost. At present I do not suppose anybody will quarrel about the floating dock going there. That is not a matter, I think, of great consequence, but when you come to a project which will involve not merely naval but military and air co-operation, a project which, as the right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Itamsay MacDonald) said, transposes the weight almost of British naval strategy from the Mediterranean, where it is mainly concentrated to-day, to Far Eastern waters, it seems that even the Govern- ment, much more the House, would hesitate before entering on a path which it is extraordinarily difficult to retrace. We cannot possibly afford to enter on an undertaking of this kind unless we are determined to carry it through at all costs. It is obvious, merely from the point of view of British prestige, that no Government, and no subsequent Government, could begin a scheme of that kind and then drop it. Once you start on it, whatever the ultimate cost is going to be, you will have to carry it through, and, therefore, it wants an amount of anxious consideration far greater than has yet been given to it in all its bearings. Personally, I am no believer in its necessity or its efficiency.

The right, hon. Gentleman spoke about insurance, hut, after all, insurance is a business proposition, and there is such a thing as over-insurance as well 13 under-insurance. I know people to-day who arc almost suffering from it, because so much of their income is going in insurance premiums that they have nothing left to live on, and nations are getting to the position of increasing their insurance to a point of being so burdened by expenditure that they decay at home in order to ensure themselves against dangers far away. Perhaps the fact that I have recently been in countries where great. Empires have come and great Empires have disappeared makes me fee) that the history of those Empires is due to the fact that they neglected their home centres in order to expand themselves abroad. The decay practically of every Empire, from those of the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians down to Roman times, has been largely due to that cause. Therefore, anybody who is anxious that we should not follow the almost universal example feels more than ever responsible that we should look to it that we arc sound at home. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister the other day made an eloquent speech which resounded throughout the country, on peace at home. He asked employers and employed to get round a table and try to solve the industrial problem to-day, but if the employer has nothing but an empty cupboard, what is the good of asking anybody to come and share it with him? If, as I contend, great expenditure) and heavy taxation are producing this result, what is the use of the Prime Minister asking the employers and the employed to sit down and try to solve an impossible task? The responsibility of assisting in this task lies on the shoulders of the Government, and on those of nobody more than my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He is really the man to whom the country is looking. He has been a First, Lord of the Admiralty. He has been, with me, engaged in retrenchment, and I say that I consider he has failed in his duty now in not seeing that these Estimates, far from exceeding what came before, have been reduced to what they were. In his effort to carry out the ideals of economy which I know he has at heart, he has been defeated by those with whom he has often been in contention before.


I rise 10 address the House for the first time, and T know the House will accord me that kindly indulgence with which it greets all new Members when they are making their first speech. I should like to inform the House that the reason why I am joining in the Debate to-night is that I have had the honour of serving His Majesty in His Majesty's Navy for a period of 10 years, and I, therefore, feel that perhaps I have some slight cause for speaking on the subject of naval stratesy and requirements. I was much interested, in the first Debate on the Air Estimates, to hear it quoted that a certain gallant Admiral, who, I think, was Admiral Fisher, had informed the public before the War broke out that the public could sleep quietly in their beds. My opinion is that Admiral Fisher was perfectly right, because, if there was one fighting service which was ready for war when War broke out. it was. I contend, the British Navy. Owing to our great good fortune in having a grand mobilisation for the manoeuvres of 1014 in progress, and also owing to the fact that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was then First Lord of the Admiralty, and Prince Louis of Battenberg arranged that that mobilisation should be retained when war was imminent, practically the whole of our naval forces and men were mobilised when War broke out. The Grand Fleet was at sea also on the night of the declaration of War, and all our soldiers were transported safely, owing to this mobilisation, without, I think, any mishap, across the Channel.

Ten months after war was declared the whole of the outlying surface craft belonging to the enemy had either been captured or destroyed—I am not alluding to their High Seas Fleet, which was kept in their own harbours—and had it not been for the totally unexpected action of the Germans in torpedoing peaceful merchant ships, there is no reason why the food supply of this country should not have gone on perfectly peacefully during the whole course of the War. This is rather ancient history, and I apologise for the digression, but having the opportunity, the proud opportunity, of speaking in the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament, I feel that I should like to say a word in defence of the Service in which T have served for so many years. May T say at once that I am not one of those who think that the Navy is "played out"? I have every respect for the Air Service. I take off my hat to it. I consider that the Air Service, having regard to its short life, is a wonderful Service, but, at the same time, I say that it has not superseded the Navy and is not likely to supersede it for a very long time to come.

May I put this one point to those who say that the Air Service may supersede the Navy? Can the Air Service defend our trade routes? I say, "No, absolutely impossible: at any rate, not for very many years to come," and I do not believe it will be able to do it then. I also say-a subject which came up earlier in the Debate—that the Navy should have its own Air Force. I am quite certain of that in my own mind, because I think that the pilots and observers who have to work with the Navy should be caught young, like all other naval officers. They ought to be trained in the sea sense. It is no use, if war is declared, for an Admiral in charge of a Fleet to be supplied with pilots and observers who do not know anything about the Navy, who may not know a battleship from a cruiser. It is absolutely essential that these pilots and observers, who act as scouts, when they do send in or bring in their reports, should be able to tell the Admiral exactly what is the composition of the enemy's fleet, how the fleet is steering, what formation he is in, how many ships there are of different classes; and unless they can do that they are absolutely useless to the Admiral. That is my point, and I really think that most hon. Members in this House, even if they are pot personally interested very much in the Navy, will say that that is logic. I also say that you have the additional advantage that when these airmen's lifetime is over, they can return back as they wore, and resume their ordinary duties on board a man-of-war.

I have studied the Naval Estimates, and must say that I am very disappointed in the construction programme. I had hoped we were going to see a greater addition to the cruisers. Only five are laid down. It is true there are two others, the "Effingham" and the "Frobisher," but these are rather ancient vessels. They appear in the Naval Estimates as débutantes, but I think they are rapidly becoming dowagers. I happen to know a good deal about the "Frobisher," because after I left the Grand Fleet, when I was promoted to Rear-Admiral, I was sent to the dockyard at Devonport as Admiral-Superintendent. The "Frobisher" was just being laid down at that moment. Her keel was being laid, and we were very anxious to push her ahead in every way, but—and this was not the Admiralty's fault—in the Spring of 1917 the intensive submarine warfare against our merchant vessels started, and it was so intense round the south-west, off Plymouth, that the whole of the resources of the dockyard in the way of salving and docking and repairing were employed in salving, repairing, and docking those of our own merchant vessels that we could rescue. I consider that in the spring of 1917, especially in April, our country was nearer being done in than at any time in our history for many centuries past. I was saying that our great trouble, to my mind, and our crying need is new cruisers. There should be no diminution of our total effective cruiser strength when once the programme has been decided on. The First Lord told us to-night that there might be more hopes, after a Committee had met, of getting additional cruisers. All that I can say is this, that I only hope it may be so, and I know that many of my hon. Friends on this side hope so too, but we have nothing definite at present that we are going to get more. Cruisers are required for two distinct purposes—working with the Fleet and trade protection—and the same ships cannot do both. A very large number are required for trade protection, as we learned to our cost in the War. I alluded to the "Effingham" and "Frobisher." Apart from their being rather ancient, I consider their armament is not big enough. They have only 7'5 guns, and I consider that all our new cruisers should be provided with 8-inch guns. Then, I think, the construction of destroyers and submarines also is not sufficient, but I wish to devote myself to-night entirely to mentioning the cruisers, as I feel there are a great many of my hon. Friends behind who are anxious to join in the Debate.

The Leader of the Opposition mentioned that there was going to be a Debate on Singapore. I should be only too pleased to meet his views, and say nothing about it, but I think he will understand that, as a Back Bench Member, I am very much interested in Singapore, and if one does not speak now, when one has the chance, one might not have the chance on Monday. May I say I am very pleased, indeed, to hear that Singapore is being proceeded with. I do not want to say too much about myself, but I am intimately-acquainted with the China Seas, having been out there for seven years, and having been 3½ years in Australia at one time and nine months at Singapore at a stretch, I really do think I know something about Singapore. Singapore resolves itself into two separate strategical problems—the first, the safeguarding of our Dominions, and the second, the protecting of our trade routes.

I think it is only telling the House what it really knows if I take the first point, the safeguarding of our Dominions. We all know that Australia, to use a colloquial expression, is determined to remain white, and is resisting emigration from the two Eastern countries which are to the north of her. It is a very praiseworthy thing on the part of Australia, but, unfortunately, she is defenceless, and we know that those two Eastern countries to the north of Australia are most anxious to get rid of their surplus population by getting them to emigrate to Australia, and should at any time—which, I trust, may never happen—one of those Powers decide to adopt methods which are not peaceful to ensure this emigration, then Australia would be in a very parlous position, because she would be defenceless. I say she would not be defenceless if she had the defence of the British Navy, but, unless we have this base at Singapore, the British Navy would not be able to defend her. So here we have Australia defenceless without the assistance of the British Navy, and the British Navy unable to protect Australia unless we have this base at Singapore.

I have the honour to represent an agricultural constituency, namely, Galloway, in the south-west of Scotland. It is a long and rambling constituency, with not many large towns, but a great many villages, and in my passage through Galloway, during the Election, I was surprised to find that the subject of Singapore interested people even in the very smallest villages. I found the reason was that a great many had friends and relatives in the Dominions, and when it was represented to them, as I endeavoured to represent it, what the case was in regard to Singapore, I think the peril was brought home to them of what might happen to them, or, rather, to their children or to their friends' children in Australia, and they took a very great interest in it, indeed. The second point of Singapore is, of course, as I said, the protection of trade. You all know that long narrow lane of ships proceeding west to east and east to west. Strategically, Singapore is in an admirable position for the protection of that trade. The erection of the base is no breach of faith at all, because it was all arranged for at the Washington Conference. As has been put to us to-day, it is a great distance from Japan, and could be no menace to them. The main fleet base cannot be in Australia, because, if it were, to get to that base, the main fleet would have to pass, first, through the Straits of Singapore, where there would be no base. Finally, the site selected is on a granite geological formation, very different from the Singapore commercial docks. A sufficient number of borings have already been taken to prove that granite exists at a suitable depth, and I think we could not have found a better place to have this base than the one we have selected at Singapore.

Before concluding, I should like to say one word as to how pleased I am, at any rate, that there seems to be a chance of a married officers' allowance. The naval officer has been the only member of the fighting forces who was not hitherto getting that, and I really fail to see the logic of why he should not have received it. In my own case, when I first went to sea, in 1881, we were always told as young officers that if we got married we were marred. That was rammed home to us, but at that time the pay was very much smaller than now, and, unless you had private means, there was no more chance of getting married than of flying to the moon; at any rate, it was very injudicious to do so. But now the pay is increased, and there is the chance of married officers getting this allowance, and I say it will be a most admirable thing. I do not want to praise the Navy, but I consider the young naval officer of the present day—I can say this, because I am of the past—is rather a fine specimen of humanity. He is of an amatory and inflammatory nature, and when he can spare time from the exercise of his duties, he is usually in love. Therefore I say that this marriage allowance will be a splendid thing for him, so that he can get married, and, perhaps, provide for future naval officers and future young Airmen. I must thank the House for the attention they have given me on my first attempt to address it.