§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Bridgeman)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
This time last year when we were discussing the Estimates we were unfortunate, because we were not able to discuss the whole of the picture at the same time. We were deprived, then, of the opportunity of discussing new construction, and we were only able to do that at the end of July. I am very glad this year to think that we shall be able to go over the whole field and to include both maintenance and constructional expenditure. I think the task is very much simplified by the fact that in the Debate of July last year the House gave its approval to a building programme extending over a considerable number of years. That, as I hope to be able to show later on, has made it very much easier to effect the economies which I shall be able to show to the House this afternoon have been effected. I think they would have been impossible without that settled programme having been decided upon and relied upon. In July last year the Admiralty undertook to find savings equivalent to the amount on new construction which would fall in the financial year 1925 and that we have accomplished. They also undertook that they would go as far as they could to effect savings which would counter-balance the extra cost of the new construction programme in the year 1926, and in that they have not only fulfilled their undertaking but have much more than fulfilled it. In the course of that Debate of 29th July, we had the advantage of listening to speeches from the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Churchill) and the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden). My right hon. Friend said:I cannot hold out the hope of large net savings on the amount of Naval Estimates. I hope that that may be possible, 2638 but I am not going to deceive the House, I hope, and I confidently expect, that the diminutions which will be effected by interior economies in the Navy may enable the Estimates to remain at the present actual figure.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th July, 1925; col. 488; Vol. 187.]The right hon. Gentleman spoke, perhaps, with almost more than his usual caution, and did not place his hopes too high. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley, however, had no hope at all. He said:Nobody who has had any experience at all at the Admiralty will place the slightest reliance on the pledges they are giving to effect economy. They are the most arrogant of all the public Departments. … There is no other Department which has so little regard to the ordinary conventions and amenities of the public service as the Admiralty.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th July, 1925; col. 563, Vol. 187.]So the right hon. Gentleman had no hopes at all. How ridiculously false his prophecies have proved will be seen by the figures I am able to produce this afternoon. These arrogant admirals and civilians have not only been as good as their word, as anybody less prejudiced than the right hon. Gentleman would have expected, but they have actually effected economies nearly double those they undertook. The Estimates to-day, in spite of the extra cost of the new building programme, are actually nearly £2,500,000 below those of last year. These reductions, which, I think, will compare very favourably with those of any other Department, have, in fact, been achieved by those who, according to the right hon. Gentleman, have less regard to the interests of the public service than anybody else. I shall look with the greatest interest to see how far the economies of the other very considerate Departments who have so much regard to the interests of the public service and the amenities of life generally exceed those which the Admiralty have been able to effect.
The total Estimate last year was £60,500,000. That was after a deduction had been made representing the amount of money that was thought likely to be not spent in the year owing to the retardation of contract and other work which is usually experienced. The money thus deducted would have to be voted later on in Supplementary Estimates, if the progress of such works had been more 2639 rapid. This year we have made the same deduction, and the figure this year, instead of being £60,500,000, is £58,100,000, showing a net reduction of £2,400,000 on last year's Estimate. Therefore, not only have we provided for the new construction in 1926, laid down in the programme of July, which amounts to £2,908,000, but we have made additional economies of over £2,000,000. This is an achievement which I think could not have been accomplished without the most determined and sustained effort by those who are very much interested in the public service and the amenities connected with it, as I think will be admitted by everybody in this House, and I can assure the House that, after the undertaking given last year, the Board of Admiralty sat down to study most determinedly and most continuously all the possibilities of saving that appeared to be in view.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I should like to try to explain as briefly as I can the principal items of saving. I said earlier that the effect of having a settled building programme was to make it much easier to save. The Chancellor of the Exchequer last year laid great stress upon that, and very properly so. I think he was rather more far-sighted in the matter than I was. I did not realise until I sat down to work on these savings what an enormous difference it made having a fixed programme and knowing where you were going to be not only one year but four years hence, and I say quite plainly that the great majority of these economies would not have been possible without that fixed programme. If you know what replacements to expect in the next five years, it is very much easier to make economical arrangements with regard to your existing Fleet and to take risks which otherwise would not be justified, whereas if you are living in a state of uncertainty as to new ships to be built, you cannot risk getting rid of ships which you have, not knowing what you may get in the future. You must retain old ships whose usefulness is well nigh past; and you must not only retain them, but you must spend money on refitting and retubing them which is really not justified by their fighting 2640 value. Thus you save not only by scrapping ships which otherwise would have' to be retained, but you save in dockyard work and also in personnel.
This fixed programme has also enabled us to have a more accurate and assured review of the consumption which will be necessary in fuel, armaments, and other equipment. It has this further great advantage that the shipbuilding and armament firms have an opportunity of knowing the probable extent of future Admiralty orders, and there is a consequent gain very often in prices to the Admiralty as a result. The Government felt that the generally peaceful outlook justified a reduction in the amount of oil fuel placed to reserve and in the number of Fleet aircraft held in reserve. As progress is made in the manufacture of new models and as new inventions supersede and outclass old ones, there is always some danger of overstocking your reserves in machinery of that kind. The numbers required on Vote A, if we had not gone very carefully through the whole question of manning the Fleet, would on the previous scale have been several thousands up on last year. As it is, owing to the economies and the review, the very careful review which has been made, we are able to present figures in Vote A which are practically the same as last year. On the other hand there is an automatic increase in expenditure which we have been quite unable to avoid. We have no control over the non-effective vote, the increase of salaries, which are automatic, the contributions to the new Pensions Act, and there are smaller surplus stocks to draw on. All these automatic increases have been set off by the savings we have made in other directions.
I want to say a few words about the staff at the Admiralty. It has been the subject of a good deal of criticism here and in the Press and elsewhere. We have been able to make a reduction, not a large reduction, of 162 in the number of the staff; not in the technical staff, but in the other staff. It is well that I should give the figures. The pre-War staff of the Admiralty was 2,072, at the end of the War it was 10,637, and now it is 3,182. It is often said that because you have a smaller Fleet therefore your staff can be reduced accordingly, and a question was put to me by the hon. Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. 2641 Bennett) towards the end of last year which I answered at considerable length on 18th November. I then gave the reasons why a greater decrease of staff seemed to me to be impossible. One reason is, that immediately before the War the Admiralty staff was clearly very inadequate in numbers and very much overworked. If you will look at the hours worked by some of the higher officials in the Admiralty at that time you will realise that it is owing to their great sense of public duty that they carried on as they did for 12 and 15 hours a day. Therefore, one reason which makes the increase in staff look greater than it otherwise should is that the Admiralty was certainly understaffed at that time.
It was understaffed on the naval side; and if the General Naval Staff, which was of the greatest use, had existed before the War, a great deal of trouble as regards mines, torpedoes, and so on, would have been avoided. It was necessary to establish the General Naval Staff, and it would be folly now to disband it. There is more reason now, owing to the great increase in technical work, in ship construction, and of all weapons of offence and defence, for a highly qualified technical staff at headquarters. And I do not think it is at all excessive if you compare it with the headquarters staff of other Departments. The third reason, which nobody naturally would realise, is that an enormous number of new duties have been put upon the Admiralty which did not exist before, many of them by Acts of Parliament. I can enumerate four of five Acts of Parliament which have imposed considerable extra work on the staff at the Admiralty. There is the Pensions Increase Act, the extension of the Act by which the principle of commutation is extended to seamen's pensions, the Injuries in War Compensation Act, Merchant Shipping (Salvage) Act, the Representation of the People Act, which deals with the absent voters in the Navy, and the Unemployment Insurance Act. Those are five Acts which have imposed fresh duties on the Admiralty, and it cannot undertake fresh duties without having a fresh staff of some kind to deal with them.
But beyond that there are other alterations which have added to the work. There is the revision of salaries on the cost of living basis which is constantly 2642 taking place—a great number of calculations have to be made. There is the system now of paying officers weekly instead of monthly, which adds to the necessity for a larger staff, and the marriage allowance to petty officers and men, which again requires additional work. There is also the accountancy department, which adds a certain number to the staff, but it has certainly proved its value in the savings it has made. It must be remembered also that pensions are now paid to 83,000 people; previously they were paid to 56,000 people, and in answer to a question I pointed out that in one year alone the accountants succeeded in reducing the claims by contractors on the Admiralty by £2,900,000, which is more than twice the cost of the whole Admiralty staff. No one would wish to reduce them. There are two other matters which have temporarily added to the staff. They are the questions of prize money and War medals, but they will soon be worked off. There is another consideration which I think the House must bear in mind, and that is the increased complexity of the equipment, which requires a technical staff—a great deal of inspection and exceptional accuracy is of the utmost importance. It includes work on anti-submarines, antiaircraft, wireless telephony, fire control, extension of electricity, and so on, all of which has been enormously extended in the ship of the present day as compared with the pre-War vessel. I am told that the present light cruiser has more miles of electric wire than the old battleship, and the different items in the stores amount to 76,000 to-day as against 33,000 pre-War. These are very largely spare parts, new machinery, new tools, and other requisites.
It is easy to see that it would have been quite impossible to do with the pre-War staff all this extra work which has been put on the Admiralty. The increase in the numbers on the staff to-day as compared with 1914 is 53½ cent., and I think it compares very favourably with other Departments. I want to say this because it is only fair to the staff that people should understand what they have to do. It is easy to say that the numbers have increased, that you should do away with some of them, or that they should work harder; but if you go into the question as I have done you will understand the immense amount of extra work that 2643 is required of them now. I think it is only just to them that everybody should realise this. With regard to some of the more important savings I should like to begin with the Fleet Air Arm. We show a saving of £639,000 this year, but the whole of that is not a real saving, some of it is a postponement.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I am always honest with the House, and I am pointing out that £250,000 of this amount is a postponement of certain flights aeroplanes. The reason for it is that the carriers for which they are intended will not be finished quite as soon as was expected. It goes over to the next financial year. All the rest of the saving is accomplished almost entirely by a reduction in the number of reserve aircraft and engines kept for the Fleet Air Arm. Now I hope it will not be imagined that £681,000 is all that is spent by the Navy on its air service. In addition, there is about £2,500,000 to be spent on naval air work in 1926. There are now 45 naval officers serving as observers and nine in training; 69 naval marine officers at sea serving as pilots, 42 under training and 410 naval ratings in the Naval Air Service. There we have a reduction of £639,000, of which the larger part is savings and the smaller part postponement. There is also a saving resulting from the scrapping of ships, and as the number scrapped is given in the White Paper—I need not take up the time of the House in dilating upon that, except perhaps I may say a word about the three cruisers which are to be disposed of and which are also mentioned in the White Paper. These three cruisers will be all over 20 years of age by the time the five years' programme is completed, and in view of the financial considerations involved we thought it advisable not to spend the large sum which it would be necessary to spend in repairs in order to keep them efficient for that period. With regard to the other smaller ships which are being scrapped, the same thing applies in a lesser degree.
As to the reduction on Rosyth and Pembroke, it received the approval of the House last Session, and I need not do more than remind the House that at that time I explained that there would be 2644 no substantial economy derived from that reduction in the year 1926 but we expected substantial economies from it in the future. It has been decided that no alterations or additions are to be carried out, except on the special recommendation of the Naval Staff, on any ship which has passed three-quarters of her normal life, and no repairs are to be carried out within one year of the end of her life except such as are necessary to enable her to continue on the service on which she happens to be engaged at the moment. In that way there is some economy in repairs.
There have been suggestions made that the savings which we are proposing effect an enormous reduction in the efficiency of the Fleet as compared with last year, in ships, fuel and ammunition. It is quite true that we have had to carry out economies which do affect to a certain extent the Fleet efficiency and the preparedness of the Fleet. You cannot have economies of this size without taking some risks. It would be no use attempting to deny that we have taken some risks which we certainly would not have taken in tunes of danger or when the country was more affluent. But the risks taken have been taken in items which least affect efficiency and which could be most readily replaced if there was any danger in view.
With regard to oil fuel, the saving is £1,291,200. This is made up as follows: A reduction in the allocation to reserve, £615,000; the saving of oil fuel used in shore establishments, £96,000; a saving in not having the larger manœuvres or the Reserve Fleet exercises this year, of £41,000. Last year money was voted for these exercises but they did not take place. Therefore, a saving is shown this year, but there is no change so far as this year is concerned. The result of paying off older ships and withdrawing a few from the Mediterranean to the home station effects another economy of £216,000, and the reduction in prices saved us £323,000. Therefore, it will be seen that no essential operation of the Fleet has been interfered with by these savings in oil. There is no reduction in the steaming allowance for the ships which are in full commission. As far as ammunition goes, there has been a reduction in the amount allowed for practice in those exercises which have appeared to my advisers to be the least important 2645 and to give the least valuable results. Against that there is a slight increase in some of the more practical and realistic exercises.
The main reduction is due to lesser requirements for ships that are near the time of completion. The "Nelson" and "Rodney" have already been mainly provided for, and therefore there is less provided in that way than last year. With regard to ships on the effective list there is no reduction in battleships, battle-cruisers, cruisers, aircraft carriers, monitors, minelayers and flotilla leaders, but a reduction in the older destroyers, depot ships, one repair ship, a few submarines and one sloop, and possibly, though we have not yet decided the matter, there will be a reduction in mine-sweepers. That, I think, shows that the reductions which have been made have been made in those directions where the least risk is incurred and where the deficit could be made up very quickly if we thought it necessary to do so.
I would like to say a few words about the events of the year just past. They have not been highly exciting events for the British Navy, but there has been—
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
By "not very exciting" I mean not very exciting for me to make an interesting speech now. I do not mean "exciting" so much for the people who were concerned, but not sufficiently exciting to make my speech as interesting or as easy to attack as the hon. Member opposite would wish. One interesting thing is that we have gone on with the exchange of ships with the Royal Australian Navy. For the first time this year a captain of the Royal Australian Navy has been appointed as Commodore Commanding His Majesty's Australian Fleet. We are all very delighted to know of that, and we are sure that the relations between the Australian Fleet and our own will be maintained in a most friendly and satisfactory manner. It has been a great source of satisfaction to the Admiralty to have had some part in assisting His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to extend his great and beneficient influence in West Africa, South Africa, and in the States of South America. During the past year the presence of His Majesty's ships on 2646 the China Station has done something, I think, to add to the feeling of security of British subjects in that part of the world.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
There is one interesting point to which I would like to refer, and that is that the "Vindictive" is proceeding to China, and she is the first cruiser which is carrying a catapult for launching aeroplanes.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I am not introducing the United States Navy Estimates. There is another thing to which I attach the greatest importance, and that is the research work now being done by the Admiralty staff. Very considerable and most satisfactory progress has been made in the solution of anti-aircraft problems and anti-submarine problems, in fire control, tactical and navigational instruments, and in the manufacture of a more uniform and practical type of explosives. We have a remarkably keen staff, which is in touch with the research of other Departments, and has been assisted by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research where there is common ground between military and industrial requirements. I think we may claim that our investigations into such things as echo depth soundings, radio acoustics, position finding for ships, improvements in magnetic and gyro compasses and wireless apparatus, can be cited as instances in which our work has been beneficial not only for military but mercantile purposes. For example, a surveying vessel has carried out soundings in 200 fathoms continuously without slackening her speed, and instantaneous response has been given to our experimental gear at a depth of not less than 2,700 fathoms. That alone shows that it is a device which must be of very great value to the Mercantile Marine as well as to the Royal Navy. I am glad to say that no reductions have been made in the fund provided for research. I believe that the diligent pursuit of research not only repays its cost by enormously increasing the efficiency of our apparatus, but also by introducing labour-saving appliances and simplifying mechanical contrivances.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
According to the Estimates there is a reduction in Vote 6 for "Scientific Services" of over £3,000, and in the details of the mechanical Research Department there is a reduction.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will see that my statement is correct, as the decrease is due to larger appropriations in aid.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
On page 95, which is a most important Vote, the actual money voted for research and experiment is less, and the number of officers available has been reduced. It is down compared with last year by a substantial amount.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I had better leave that detailed question to be answered later by the Parliamentary Secretary. I am certain that. I am right in saying that, whatever reduction has been made, it has been a very small one, and does not affect the scientific part of the work that we have to do. I shall be very sorry if any further reduction should be required.
With regard to Singapore, the situation is simalar to that for the year 1925. We are proceeding with the work necessary for berthing the new floating dock, and making preliminary investigations connected with the larger scheme for a new base. As the floating dock approaches completion the Government will decide the extent and rate of progress and the date of completion of the further scheme for a graving dock. We shall have the advantage of consultation with representatives of the Dominions at the forthcoming Imperial Conference.
The cost for 1926 for the work there will be £225,000, of which only £95,000 will fall upon this country. The remainder will be found by what was left of Hong Kong's very generous contribution of £250,000 last year. £130,000 remains to be spent in the coming year. Last year we intended to use the old German floating dock for Singapore. We have one at Malta, and our experience in taking it out to Malta, although the dock was, I am glad to say, successfully taken there, was such as to make us feel that it was not safe to risk taking a large floating dock as far as Singapore. Therefore we propose to dispose of that 2648 German dock and to construct a new one, which will be taken out and put up in the safest way that we can devise. That, of course, will add slightly to the cost of construction, but that has been set off by other reductions in the new programme of building, and therefore it does not swell the total for the year 1926.
There is another interesting event which has taken place, and that is that it has just recently been decided to reconstruct the Royal Indian Marine as a combatant force. India is thus entering upon the first stage of naval development with a view to taking a part in her own naval defence. The Indian Fleet will consist of four sloops, two patrol craft vessels, four trawlers and two survey ships, together with one depot ship. Its functions will be to train personnel for service in war; Indian Government service in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf; the re-organisation of defences at ports under the Indian Government's control; survey work in the Indian Ocean, and marine transport work for the Government of India. India will still continue to contribute £100,000 a year towards the expenses of certain ships of the Royal Navy in Indian waters. I think we all would like to congratulate the Indian Navy, to wish them well and to express the hope that they may advance in skill and efficiency as time goes on.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I do not think that arises on my Estimate. My connection with India is that they pay me £100,000 a year towards the cost of the ships which we provide.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
Perhaps it will be interesting to the House to know some of the other contributions which we have received from different parts of the 2649 Empire. The Straits Settlements have offered to pay for the site of the new dock at Singapore. That is worth £146,000. As I have said, Hong Kong contributed £250,000 towards the cost of the dock. The Australian Naval Estimates for 1925–26 are £2,421,000, and, in addition, they are providing in that year £1,500,000 towards the construction of two new cruisers and two new submarines. The New Zealand Navy Estimates and charges for naval purposes amounted to over £500,000; Canada's £280,000, and South Africa's £140,000. While saying we are very grateful to those who have been generously making contributions, we might also say that we would be very glad if in some directions these contributions could be increased. There is only one other figure I want to give to the House with regard to present-day expenditure. The figure of £58,100,000, which I have given as the Estimate for this year, would, if stated in pre-War value of money, only amount to £34,712,000, and that will compare with an expenditure of £51,000,000 in the year 1914, so that, judged by pre-War values, the expenditure of the present day on the Navy cannot be regarded as extravagant.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I am not comparing it with War Estimates. I am comparing it with the Estimates before there was a war, and when most hon. Gentlemen opposite said there never would be a war.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
If you eliminate the non-effective services over which we have no control, the figure for 1914 would be £48,541,000, and the figure for this year, even on the present value of money, is only £49,880,000, or only about £1,000,000 more. But, judged by the pre-War rates of money value, the expenditure without non-effective services would only be £29,917,006, or a reduction of 38.36 per cent. as against 1914. I hope the House will appreciate the genuine efforts which the Admiralty have made to meet the demands of economy and to do something to save the taxpayers' pockets. I also hope they realise that we could not have gone further without taking risks which are too 2650 serious to be taken. I hope, on the other hand, they will recognise that the reductions we have made are in those items which least affect the efficiency of the Fleet. In view of the peaceful political outlook, and the need for saving the taxpayers' pockets, we have searched in every direction to meet the demands of economy, and in some directions, as I have said, we have had to accept a lower degree of excellence than we could have agreed to, in more prosperous or less peaceful times.
Our policy has been to proceed steadily with the replacement of obsolete vessels by new vessels, built with all the knowledge which has been gained from the experiences of the War and the advance of science. It is a policy begun by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and a very wise one. They laid down five cruisers, which I am glad to say will all have been launched by the end of this financial year. We are trying to keep it up. To adopt the words of the Leader of the Opposition—very picturesque words, which I always remember—we are not more prepared than he to "allow the British Navy to rot away from the bottom." Those are the words he used; they are very striking and very wise words, which we intend to follow. Owing to the geographical position of our Empire and the insular position of this country, we have made it our first object to proceed with the construction of cruisers for the protection of our trade. A few days ago the writer of some articles in the "Times," which I thought very interesting, pointed out that some people seemed to believe that the next war would be fought entirely in the air, that the Army and Navy were not likely to take any part in it, and that there was likely to be what the writer described as "a blow at the heart" delivered from the air. He very properly reminded his readers that, as far as this country was concerned, a blow at the stomach would be equally disastrous. Upon the Navy has been placed the duty of protecting the supplies of food and raw material which supply the human and industrial stomach of this country, and, at the present time, there is no other Service capable of so doing.
In these days progress is undoubtedly being made in the air, and with various forms of aircraft. Progress is also being made with anti-aircraft devices as well, and we in the Navy are doing what we 2651 can to make ourselves efficient to meet new conditions. We are still very far from the time when the defence of our food and raw material cannot be entrusted solely to the Air Service. There is no certainty that this blow at the heart would reach its aim, but it is an absolute certainty that, if we had no naval defence, any country which had even a small naval force could deliver a series of staggering blows to our trade—on which depends the existence of this country. Therefore, it is my duty to ask the House of Commons to enable the Navy to go on fulfilling the duty which has been put upon it. I cannot conclude without saying how much I have been impressed during visits to the Mediterranean Fleet and our home ports, with the extraordinarily high standard which all ranks and branches of the Navy set themselves. In spite of reductions and the increased work cast upon those who remain, in spite of the congestion in promotion which is so discouraging, they still set themselves to attain a very high degree of efficiency, and they work day in and day out to achieve that goal. The House may feel confident that with new methods of construction and the old spirit and tradition of the Navy, we can still hold up our heads among the nations of the world.
As the right hon. Gentleman himself has said, it is not easy to attack either his speech or himself on this occasion. One knows by experience that under a genial exterior and an assumed simplicity, the right hon. Gentleman has an amount of shrewdness and an ability in Debate not possessed by many others. I congratulate him on the manner in which he has presented his report, carefully sticking to the points of detail and avoiding many difficult matters of high policy about which the House would want to know a great deal more than he has told us. Before coming to any criticism, there is one point on which I am sure the House will agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Whatever be our views as to policy or armaments, I am sure all hon. Members will join with the right hon. Gentleman in paying a tribute to the ability and faithfulness of the staffs in the Admiralty, and the men on the high seas in the Navy itself. That one can always do. Under the mask of geniality it has been possible for the 2652 right hon. Gentleman to charge my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) with being ridiculously false and arrogant in a statement he made last year.
§ Mr. AMMON
Then, shall I say, with being ridiculously false in his charge of arrogance against the right hon. Gentleman's Department and the Government, I do not think anybody else would have got away with that statement, without some protest from my right hon. Friend who, however, seemed to take it as something in the nature of a joke, and therefore did not think it worth while to protest. However, I think it is worth while to examine the policy of economy which has been presented to us by the right hon. Gentleman. We see in it what may be described as typical Tory economy. After all, there is very little economy here. It is simply the postponement to another day of bills which are bound to come in. All the right hon. Gentleman has done is to get certain reductions of liabilities by postponing obligations, and that simply means that while we may have a low budget on our construction programme this year, a pretty heavy Bill will be presented to us next year. It is worth while examining the line which has been taken with regard to economies arising since July, when the House met to consider ways and means of effecting savings to offset the new construction programme.
The right hon. Gentleman has not told the House—I am sure only because he was pressed for time—that a very large portion of this saving has been effected by the reduction of seamen's wages, by savings in regard to provisions and messing and by reductions in the amounts spent on seamen's clothing, soap, tobacco, and other things. He has not explained whether these savings have been effected by reductions in quality or in quantity. But the man who has been called upon to pay for a very large part of this reduction has been Jack at sea. These things have not been brought out, though set out both in the White Paper and in the Estimates themselves. I would like to have a little further information as to exactly what the right hon. Gen- 2653 tleman means when he tells us about some different arrangements that have been made with regard to the dock at Singapore. Last year, when this Debate took place, I pressed the right hon. Gentleman to tell us whether there was to be both a graving dock and a floating dock, and I was unable to get any answer. That question was again raised in July, but no answer was forthcoming, and now I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether there has been any change of policy, and whether the graving dock is not to be abandoned, and, in addition, that there is to be a floating dock as well.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I thought I explained that the position was exactly the same as last year, but what I said was that we are proceeding with the floating dock, and that, as that drew near to completion, the Government would consider the rate of progress and the date of completion of the larger scheme, after they had had the opportunity, which they will have this autumn, of consulting the representatives of the Dominions in the Imperial Conference. The position is exactly the same as last year. The Government have not abandoned their intention in regard to the larger scheme, but they have not yet decided as to the date of completion or the rate of progress or the full extent of that scheme.
§ Mr. AMMON
That will be looked up during the Debate, and the right hon. Gentleman will be reminded of chapter and verse, as my memory is quite clear on that matter, that the graving dock was always said to be first, followed by the floating dock, and it was on that understanding that I pressed him last year to tell us whether or not the Government intended to carry out the two schemes. That question brings under review the whole question of the position at Singapore, and I make no apology for again raising the matter, because surely 2654 there have been additional factors introduced into the controversy, if only by the signing of the Locarno Treaty. Surely that fact alone should make some difference in regard to our war preparations. Here we have the startling position that during the last four years we have spent no less than £1,000,000,000 on armaments, and that in a time of supposed peace after we are supposed to have fought the last war. The comparison that the right hon. Gentleman made a little while ago between 1914 and now must, after all, be considered in the light of the fact that we have had the War which was supposed to have ended war, and that we are budgeting now for relatively about the same amount as in 1908. Is it to be said, then, that the position in regard to war is the same now as it was in that year?
The point I want to urge is this: What is the policy of the Government, and what is the objective with regard to the Singapore scheme? Up to now the defence has been that it could not be against Japan, because they are so many thousand miles from Singapore. In fact, it has been said in illustration that they are as far removed from each other as is New York from this country, but everybody knows that plans of war are not always laid down from the point of view of striking at the particular country itself, but rather with a view to getting across their lines of communication or astride their food supplies. Therefore, we are acting in a way that is bound to set up suspicions and rivalries with other countries. That is, as I see it, the position which we are up against now, for Singapore is so placed that the development of that naval base cannot be construed, and is not construed by Japan as other than an unfriendy act towards that country. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] What is the good of hon. and right hon. Members contradicting that? Again and again I, myself, and others have read statements made in responsible Japanese newspapers by responsible Japanese statesmen that they look upon this with disfavour and view it as a possible threat from this country.
§ Mr. AMMON
The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) knows as well as I do that chapter and verse were given only last year for the statements made in the Japanese Parliament, where people voiced the suspicions that are in the Japanese mind with regard to this scheme at Singapore. What is the position? The Singapore base will put us in such a position as to be astride the food supply routes of both Japan and China. There was held an Indian Trade Inquiry in the years 1916–19 as to the position of the rice trade and the source of supply to Japan, India, China, and other countries in the East. In the course of that investigation the fact was brought out that there are two main sources of supply, namely, the Siam field and the Indo-China field, that certain of the more inferior qualities of rice go to Singapore, Hong Kong, and this country, and that the better qualities go to Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan, Singapore, and France. Now, the position is that as we develop this scheme, and as certain parts of China and Japan become more and more highly industrialised, those countries, in spite of the huge supply of rice grown in China itself, will not grow enough to supply their own needs. They have to draw their supplies, the same as we do our wheat supplies, from overseas, and, as the Report of that inquiry says,Rice is to the Chinese what wheat is to us, only more so.Therefore, the suspicion is being aroused in the minds of some of those people that our action in Singapore is the longsighted view of people looking forward to future aggression with a view to cutting across their supplies of food whenever it may seem the fitting moment to declare hostilities against them. That point of view, I know, has not been brought before this House, but I am bringing it forward now, in view of this Report and of a certain amount of attention that I have given to the matter since it was raised here a little while ago. In times like this, when we are talking about Locarno Pacts, and when we had a discussion a little while ago in regard to giving greater authority to the League of Nations, is there not a good deal of humbug and nonsense talked about that sort of thing, when the right hon. Gentleman is here asking for sums of money to set up armed forts and arsenals and 2656 docks in places where we have been able to do without them all along until this moment, and where, simply because now, by the development of the aeroplane, the Navy will not be as useful in narrow waters as in times past, there is evidently going to be an attempt to develop in the wide seas of the Pacific and Indian Oceans? It cannot do other than provoke the same feelings as those which operated in the North Sea between Germany and this country, which eventuated in the War of 1914.
With this sort of thing going on, and the lip service we are giving to peace, it puts me very much in mind of an incident that happened to me when, in my position as a Justice of the Peace on the Lunacy Commission, I visited one of the mental asylums, and in the course of the discussion one of the inmates said: "We are in here because you are in the majority outside." It seems that we are all acting as if we were in a huge lunatic asylum. While we are making professions of peace and endeavouring to get the nations to join together, we are doing all we can to provoke hostility, to upset that spirit, and to bring upon us a worse horror than we went through in 1914–18. It is worth noting that Japan's production of rice has failed by a long way to keep pace with her consumption, and that fact is agitating Japan in regard to our steps in Singapore. From 80 per cent. to 90 per cent. of her rice imports come from British India and French Indo-China, and to a large extent rice is the staple diet of a large number of people in that district. The distance of Singapore, the cruiser base, is only 805 miles from Bangkok in Siam and 630 miles from Saigon in Indo-China, and from the rice distributing port of China, Hong Kong itself, it is 1,440 miles.
The position we are up against is that Japan, by the growth of industrialism, the same as in this country, is devoting less and less space to agriculture—and by the growth of industrialism in certain parts of China the same thing is happening there—and is more and more dependent on overseas for her rice supply, which is, in effect, her wheat supply, and that she sees, in the steps we are taking at Singapore, a menace to the future prosperity of her country and an attempt to get her at a disadvantage. I ask the House and the 2657 country to consider what this means. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite may be quite clear that their own hearts and minds are pure in this matter, but history has shown us only too well that we are bound to go downhill once we start in this way, and that, in doing this, we are sowing the seeds of future war as surely as night follows day.
I want to ask why it is that the right hon. Gentleman has not given us a little more information as to what is meant by the development of the so-called Indian Navy and by the development of Trimcomalee, in India, where they are beginning again to fortify the place and to put into use forts that had become covered with grass and moss-grown. Evidently there is some great war activity or preparation for war going forward there. It is not long ago that in this House we were discussing the abolition of the Indian Marine, which was more or less being used for Customs and Excise purposes, but now, evidently, it is going to be used as an additional means of increasing our naval strength in those waters, and the House ought to have a fuller explanation of all the developments and plans that are in view there than it has yet had.
There is one other point on which I wish the right hon. Gentleman had given us some information. I see that on page 5 of the White Paper there is a reference to a patrol of the Tangier coast. I have in mind that some little time ago the leaders of the Riffs made application to this country whether they would be allowed to have Red Cross supplies going through to attend to their wounded and to the women and children who had been hurt by air bombardment. That was refused absolutely, and I may say, also, that the Riffs themselves have expressed their willingness to allow any such help to go through to the Spanish wounded, should it be necessary and called for. But we have been given to understand all along that we have no part in this quarrel. Is it to be understood that we are in the same war against the Riff leaders? If not, why are we blockading their coast? Why are we acting, in fact, as allies of France and Spain against the little country that is fighting in its own defence, and the right to rule its own people? And we are doing this without it being brought before this House, and without any declaration being 2658 made that we are in a state of war or disagreement with them? The House is entitled, at any rate, to have some information. One does observe, and one must pay tribute to the good work which has been done by the Navy with regard to the slave traffic consistently for years in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere. It has practically done the work of all the other nations of the world in this particular respect. While one may make criticisms with regard to policies, it is only fair that one should pay tribute to the good work the Navy is doing in this respect.
Having criticised to a certain extent what I call the broad general policy of the Admiralty, I want to come down to some matters of greater detail, to ask one or two questions, and make some suggestions that I think should operate in the future to secure better economy in the service without in any way impairing its efficiency. We understand that as a result of the development of the Air Force, the Navy is not so much responsible as in days gone by for the immediate defence of these shores, but the question has been asked again and again in this House in a number of Debates as to what is the position of command between the two Services, say, when you have a combined operation between seaplane and aircraft carriers. Who is going to be in command? Is it to be the Naval officer or the Air officer? Those questions ought to be determined, and not left until a time of emergency arises, and then find that we have not any clear and settled policy.
I do hope we are going to get an answer to this, because the question has been asked by the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) on several occasions. I have asked it on one or two occasions, and others have asked it, and with his well-known geniality the right hon. Gentleman has always been able to get away without answering it. I hope whoever is going to reply for the Admiralty to-day will give us an answer, so as to make quite clear who is to have control and direction under combined action. The rise and development of the Air Service have changed all the relationships, I think, of the whole fighting Services. In days gone by they were pretty clearly defined. The Navy then was considered the first line 2659 of defence. Its position was rightly marked out on the high seas, and it was responsible for protecting these shores, keeping open the channels of communication, and sometimes taking aggressive action on the coasts of the enemy. But now that we are operating in the three dimensions, entirely different problems are raised-problems of co-ordination, organisation, and economy. One does not need to have been inside either of the Departments to realise there is a pretty strong rivalry between all Departments—to put it no higher—as to which is going to be supreme, and the part it is going to play in certain circumstances.
It has been suggested—and I commend it to the Government, as it has been commended in former Debates—that the time is now past when we can run our fighting Services on the same lines as we have done hitherto, as wholly distinct units, separate from one another, and I do urge that close attention should be given to the suggestion of forming something in the nature of a Ministry of Defence, whereby we would be able to co-ordinate all three Services under one head. I believe the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge went so far the other day as to suggest that certain Cabinet Ministers and Under-Secretaries of State should be abolished. He is more daring than I am. I am not going to make any suggestion on those lines. It is quite patent that there should be a considerable saving in that direction alone, but there must be a very great deal of saving on the administration side. If the saving were not expressed in cash, it would certainly be expressed in higher efficiency and better co-ordination. I hope we may have some statement from the Government that before very long they are going to give very serious attention to this. I quite appreciate that among those who are in authority at the present moment it would arouse a very considerable amount of opposition, and the very obvious question would arise as to who is to be the head.
That problem, thank goodness ! the Government themselves have to settle, and I wish them joy of the job, assuming they consider the suggestion. There can be, however, one or two preliminary steps taken that will go a long way towards easing the situation which is almost inevitable. One does hope, for 2660 instance, that it will not be so long postponed that in the event of another war we should have bother and differences between the two Services instead of a proper co-ordinated system. I suggest, for instance, it would be quite possible to make a start with co-ordination and the bringing together of such services as the purchasing of stores. There is no reason, as I thought during the little time I was at the Admiralty, why we should run three separate establishments for the Army, Navy and Air Force in this respect. For one thing alone, we are spending thousands of pounds upon buyers who command tremendous salaries, and there have to be several in each Department. We could reduce that expenditure very considerably by getting all our purchases of stores under one head. After all, there is going to be a considerable change. The Air Force, to a certain extent, will come into contact with the other two Services. If we do not do something like this, we shall simply have a lot of overlapping, with more waste of money and work than now. I do commend this to the right hon. Gentleman for consideration, and I am sure his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will look at this only too eagerly if he can see any possibility of saving anything. Here, again, I dare say vested interests will put up a good fight, but they must give place to the needs of the nation, changing circumstances and the demand for efficiency and greater economy.
The next suggestion I have to make is one that has been raised here on several occasions. It is that the medical service seems to be costing far more than it ought to cost per head, at any rate, speaking for the Navy, and here, again, I cannot see for the life of me why that cannot be Co-ordinated under one head, and thus help to simplify the routine work of administration, save a considerable sum of money to the country, give us greater and better efficiency and knit the Services closer together as a whole than at the present time. I am not so sure whether the next suggestion I make will meet with the same approval that I gather the last two received. I suggest it is time we began to bring our Staff Colleges and education together. Surely the last War ought to have taught us something in that respect. With the closer co-operation that is bound to come 2661 in the three Services by the development of the Air Service, it is most essential that nothing should be done to keep up the cleavage that still exists between the three Services. One of the things that would bring about closer co-operation as quickly as anything else would be to bring people together in the initial days of training in the Staff Colleges. I suggest there is great room for economy in that direction, and certainly for greater efficiency to the advantage of the Service itself.
The last suggestion I have to make is this, and I want here to pay tribute, from my own investigation and knowledge, to the wonderful work being done in the research department of the Admiralty. They have done and are doing some wonderful, fascinating, almost marvellous work, but I do suggest we might combine and co-ordinate our researches for all the departments without in any way interfering with the specialised work that has got to be done in connection with a particular service. There is a lot of work common to both Services such as gunnery, the use of explosives, and many other things which will occur readily to professional Members of the House. I should think by co-operation and the pooling of knowledge of the sciences in the different departments of all three Services, the Services would be considerably advantaged and there would be a great saving to the country.
I make these three or four suggestions which, I believe, are practical suggestions, for economy and for adding to the efficiency of the Services themselves. I conclude very much on the same note as that on which I began. While we in all parts of the House must, as we do, pay tribute to the high efficiency, loyalty and gallantry of the men in the Navy, we are bound to say the policy of the Government, as outlined by the right hon. Gentleman, or rather avoided by the right hon. Gentleman in putting high policy before us, is calculated to lead to war again in the Far East, where suspicions are aroused in the minds of Japan and China that our being there is simply to cut across the food supply of those nations. That suspicion will necessarily breed ill will, and will make war inevitable in the days to come. While we cannot as a party accept the Amendment put down in the names of hon.
2662 Members on this side, we shall give wholehearted support to that in the name of the senior Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour).
I should like to remind the House that the present Prime Minister has already committed himself to that policy. On the lamentable occasion when M.1 was sunk the right hon. Gentleman was asked several questions in regard to the matter, and also as to whether the Government could see its way clear to call an International conference and to consider the abolition of the submarine as an engine of war. I took occasion to reinforce my statement then by quoting from the speech made by the chairman of Lloyds, a responsible person who called upon the Government to take the necessary steps. In reply to me, the Prime Minister himself said that he hoped this would be a matter that would come under discussion at an International conference. If the Government are as sincere as we are led to believe in this matter, is it not time they set about it? Despite that fact, they go on keeping up the War Services, they go on building an Air Fleet against our Allies, and building docks at Singapore.
Instead of this we should like to have a gesture in the other direction by the vote of this House, and in favour of the proposal that my right hon. Friend himself put forward as to the abolition of these various causes of frightfulness. It shows how once you get into the toils the only complaint you can have on the score of frightfulness as a nation is that somebody else has got there first. In view of the position now, surely we can support a better policy. Surely we are prepared to abolish the submarine, and to meet other nations at the earliest possible date to consider the whole question of disarmament, in which conference I hope will be included the question of Singapore, increased air forces, and so forth. I hope that some answer will be given dealing with the questions I have put, particularly as to why the Government have changed their policy and are putting down a floating dock or a graving dock; why it is that we are blockading the Riff coast and taking an active part in warfare against those upon whom we have not declared war, and without any information having been brought to this House? I hope the hon. Gentleman or the Parliamentary Secretary will find 2663 occasion to answer these questions. I refer to the question about Singapore, and as to the graving and floating docks that were mentioned last year.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
On 19th March of last year I spoke for the first time on the subject, and said:We have decided to proceed with the provision of a dock at Singapore. The programme so far decided upon is to set a floating dock in the old Straight. It will take about three years to complete.I also said that:Nothing can be done to begin it for a year or two from now.[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March, 1925; cols. 2521 and 2522, Vol. 181.]Therefore, we are in exactly the same position as we were last year.
§ Mr. AMMON
I must apologise if I have not made myself quite clear. It was not so much last year that the change of policy came. It was said that the graving dock was to be laid down, and then we heard about the floating dock, and now we get the further statement to-day. Is there not indicated there a change of policy? Why is there a change of policy?
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I did not quite understand that. I think the hon. Gentleman is probably quite right in saying that in previous Governments a floating dock was not mentioned. But the only time I have spoken responsibly, as representing the Admiralty, I referred to a programme exactly the same as the present. The floating dock is to be finished first; the graving dock is a matter for further consideration. The larger scheme is not withdrawn—but the Government are still considering the date at which the full scheme is to be completed, the rate of progress, and the extent of the scheme and will have the advantage of consultation with Dominion representatives at the Imperial Conference.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I daresay it is just possible that the Conservative predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman opposite has given rise to this small controversy with regard to Singapore for, if my memory serves me rightly, the Colonial Secretary did make a statement somewhat to that effect. It was with a certain relief that I heard the right hon. Gentleman say to-day that he was not going to follow the policy of his predecessor in regard to Singapore. The right hon. Gentleman said nothing whatever in his speech in regard to the relationship between the Admiralty and the other Departments. He gave no indication of the feeling that we know always exists between the War Office and the Admiralty. He said nothing about the overlapping or the attempts to avoid overlapping between the Admiralty and the Air Ministry. He gave us no indication whether or not any attempt had been made at the Admiralty or elsewhere to co-ordinate the two Services.
Obviously, the right hon. Gentleman will have to hear the same arguments pressed upon him from every quarter of the House. His own supporters are not less interested than we are in this matter, and those Members who are in the Services, and others who are not in the Services, but who take a national interest in the Estimates, will also have something to say. This pressure will be continued until the right hon. Gentleman gets the full benefit, for instance, of that Government buying to which the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has drawn attention. Each of the Departments separately having separate buyers buy very much the same things. They buy from the same places. The stores come along in very much the same packages, and it would be quite possible to co-ordinate the whole of the purchases, except those which are peculiar to ships, in one central buying authority. It is equally evident that there is no reason why there should be one medical branch working for the Admiralty, another for the Army, and another for the Air Force. One set of hospitals ought to be sufficient for the men of any of these forces. This would save, possibly, a very large sum, for the men suffer from the same complaints and are liable to the same accidents. They come under the same medi- 2665 cal profession, the same nurses, and there is no reason in the world why they should not be got into the same Estimates. There are economies to be made in these matters. When the right hon. Gentleman finds he is working under pressure from the Exchequer, he might well turn to a few of these matters as well as those technical extravagances which he has striven against during the year.
There is also the other matter of the co-ordination of policy between the Departments, which is now said to be under the control of the Committee of Imperial Defence The Committee has rendered great services in the past, and this country will be always under a debt to the Earl of Balfour for having been the author of the Committee of Imperial Defence. But its powers are not quite enough. They are not sufficient to affect the executive functions of the three Departments, although co-ordinating to some extent the policy of the Government. They appear to have little or no influence upon the administration of the Departments concerned. Another opportunity will arise for discussing the Ministry of Defence. I think it is only right to warn the right hon. Gentleman that pressure on this subject will come not from one quarter of the House, but from every quarter, for it is quite clear from the experiences of the right hon. Gentleman himself in his Department that it is the business of the Minister to overcome the purely sectional opposition if in the national interest these changes are worth bringing about. The Minister has to overcome the peculiar enthusiasms of the Departments and carry out what will obviously benefit not only the Services themselves, but the Exchequer and the taxpayer.
There was another omission in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. He said little or nothing about the dockyards and the dockyard men. He gave no indication in his speech of what is to be done with the dockyard men. Large numbers of men have been moved about from centre to centre. In some cases they have been plunged into housing troubles very difficult to overcome, and not only in England. In the interest of those who have served the Admiralty loyally in all parts of England, Scotland and Wales it might have been as well if the right hon.
2666 Gentleman had thrown some light upon the beneficence of his policy in regard to them.
I come to the actual economies which the right hon. Gentleman desires to attain. The first thing which strikes me is one about which several questions were put to him last year. I put several myself on the marriage allowance for officers. Last year £350,000 was voted for officers' marriage allowance. It passed the Committee of Supply. The full authority of the House of Commons was given to it. The Admiralty refuse to extend the marriage allowance for officers, although the House of Commons has given it complete sanction. This is one of the economies which the right hon. Gentleman has claimed. He has gained a reduction in the total of his Estimates at the expense of his officers. I do not know what description he applies to it, for it is a kind of economy that can scarcely give him personally any satisfaction.
May I make one suggestion to him. As the marriage allowance for officers has gone, would he not consider the possibility of providing a travelling allowance for the wives of naval officers when they are stationed far away at the other side of the world? It would be a great assistance to them to be able to travel backwards and forwards at the expense of their employers. If the right hon. Gentleman will do that he will do something to remove the feelings of exacerbation, dissatisfaction, and discontent which has been aroused. After we have had a decision of the House of Commons and he has deprived these people of benefits that they thought they had attained. That is one economy—the first.
What are the others? It has been declared from the Government Benches that the Navy Votes this year are nearly £2,500,000 below last year. I am not quite sure that it has not been obtained by the right hon. Gentleman living on his stores. It looks to me on the first examination of his Estimates, and the volume published in explanation, that at least £500,000 out of that £2,500,000 saved comes from the right hon. Gentleman living on his stores. He will find that he will have to fill up those stores again.
2667 Here you have not an economy, but a mere postponement of expense.
I take the comparison which the right hon. Gentleman has put before the House to-day. What do I find? In the first place, I find the great reduction on the Vote is somewhat counterbalanced by a comparison between this year's Estimate and the Estimate for the year before last. In 1924–25 the issue from the Exchequer for the Admiralty came to £55,625,000. I eliminate for the purpose of comparison the Fleet Air Arm Vote. If you eliminate that from this year's Estimates, that is to say, keep it out of the account for the purposes of comparison, it is clear that the increase over 1924 is nearly £2,000,000—£1,970,000. The right hon. Gentleman may plume himself on having made a reduction of £2,500,000, or more nearly £2,000,000, this year, but he is still nearly £2,000,000 above the Vote of two years ago, and if he goes one year further back he is £3,500,000 out. [Interruption.] I do not know which of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues was in office, but he had better ask him about it. As far as I know, this living on stores cannot go on year after year without stores being replenished. What I am pointing out is that the words in the Exchequer Returns show that the amount which the right hon. Gentleman will probably draw at the end of this year will come to more than £3,500,000 over the total Votes of three years ago, nearly £2,000,000 over the Vote of two years ago, and probably £2,000,000 above the Vote of last year. If he is to get any credit out of this reduction, it is only due to his own extravagance of a year ago, and not due to general economy in policy.
The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out some of the directions in which economies cannot be pressed any further. Replying to the criticism regarding the large staff still to be found at the Admiralty—a larger staff to administer a smaller Fleet, although the Fleet may be a more complex mechanical instrument; before the War the staff of the Admiralty numbered some 2,072, whereas now it is 3,152—he said the justification for that increase was that before the War the Admiralty was understaffed. I was not in the Admiralty at that time, and I am not sure what was happening, but I only know that when I came in contact with the 2668 officials of the Admiralty I found them among the most efficient civil servants in the whole of the Government service, and I think they still remain the most efficient. I doubt very much whether the Admiralty was understaffed, but if it was understaffed it is the present Chancellor of the Exchequer who is to blame, for he was First Lord of the Admiralty at that time. While the right hon. Gentleman was speaking, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was sitting by his side, and I wondered what the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have to say as to the understaffing of the Admiralty before the War. As a matter of fact, before the War the Admiralty did its work uncommonly well. If it had not done it uncommonly well, it would have gone very hard with us when war broke out.
He also said that part of the extra expenditure on the staff of the Admiralty was owing to the absence of a Naval General Staff before the War. I am not going into that highly technical question, but I would point out that even though there may not have been in name a Naval General Staff, there was such complete preparation at the Admiralty in 1914 that the Navy was undoubtedly the first arm to be ready for the operations which started early in August. The Navy did its work most admirably, its plans were world wide in scope, and in the absence of what has since been called a Naval General Staff it had a record of which the Admiralty of any country might well be proud. Here again it was the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer who was responsible for that Naval Staff, and it is yet to be proved whether the presence of a Naval General Staff has added greatly to the efficiency of the Fleet. It certainly remains to be proved whether it is true, as the right hon. Gentleman said this afternoon, that it requires a staff 50 per cent. larger than before the War to administer a Fleet which is about 50 per cent. less.
The Admiralty look at their Estimates from a purely technical point of view, and they are quite justified in doing so. They are prepared to defend our trade routes. They still, I presume, hold the same doctrines of naval warfare which have been our rule ever since the days of Nelson, and I should be very sorry to see them weaken our position relatively to the only naval Powers with which we are ever 2669 likely to be in conflict. But the right hon. Gentleman threw no right on the comparative strength of our Fleet with any other European Fleet. He said nothing whatever about our strength m submarines in comparison with some of our neighbours. He made no reference to the United States of America, except to say that he was not responsible for their Estimates. I can quite appreciate the desire of the right hon. Gentleman to break away from the old naval discussions which some of us have heard here for 25 years, in which comparative tables were bandied across the Floor of the House, leading to little or no conclusion of any real weight, but at all events we had the right to expect that the right hon. Gentleman would throw some light upon the necessity for maintaining our naval force at its present level and adding to it.
Last year he was responsible for a Naval programme which was adopted by the Government as a whole, and all his colleagues are, therefore, as much responsible for that programme as he is. Nothing has been said now, and nothing has been said since last year, which could justify a Cruiser Fleet as large as that which is provided under his programme. I should be one of the last to complain of anything that was necessary for the maintenance of our trade communications and of our supplies of food and raw materials, but it is incumbent upon the right hon. Gentleman and the Government to justify, not only to this House, but to the country as a whole, the size of our Cruiser Fleet, and to give, as he can give, good reasons, intelligible to the lay mind, for increasing our Cruiser Fleet at the present time. Programme arrangements I have always held to be much more economical than purely sporadic building, which goes up one year and down another, but the justification for that programme has yet to come from the Government.
Meanwhile, the country as a whole takes a lively interest in the total expenditure on armaments, and it cannot refrain from comparing that total expenditure this year, £117,000,000, with the amount which used to be spent before the War, especially in view of the new international position. The Government as a whole are responsible for a policy which does them every credit. It has been described far too often, until one 2670 becomes a little tired of the phrase, "The Locarno spirit." The value of the Locarno spirit can only be measured by a reduction in armaments. If it is to be of any ultimate value, we must see a reduction in the Votes of all three Services, progressive and comparative disarmament throughout Europe. The Locarno spirit will be of no use unless it is followed by a determined effort on the part of the Government to secure effective disarmament conferences and effective disarmament proposals. Their duty lies as much in that direction as it does in the maintenance of large Cruiser Fleets, and I trust that in considering these Estimates neither the Government nor the House will dismiss from their minds the necessity of maintaining in their international policy a constant effort to bring about a reduction of Fleets and Armies and Air Forces.
Unless that is done, Heaven only knows what will be the future of this country, because no preparations will be sufficient to protect us from comparative destruction. On every ground, human and financial, we are entitled to press the Government not to allow their Estimates for the three great Services to be the last word they have to say on the subject. Let them throw themselves wholeheartedly into the League of Nations policy and translate that into administrative action.
§ Mr. ALFRED WILLIAMS
I ask the indulgence of the House in speaking here for the first time. I do so as, I think, the most junior ex-naval officer in the House and so less experienced, but I did spend 10 years of my life in the Service, and, therefore, I have had some little experience that other Members of this House may not have had. In discussing these Estimates, I feel that science is advancing so quickly that it is impossible for any Member, whatever his past experience has been, to be dogmatic about what is to happen in the future. The relation of the Air Force to the Navy must be a very problematical one, and in any remarks in which I try to express my opinion I do not wish to be regarded as dogmatic; it is only an attempt to give my opinion, based on what little experience I had during the War.
In the first place, I would like to associate myself with those hon. Mem- 2671 bers who have urged the creation of a Ministry of Defence. Although I was a naval officer, I think it would be a retrograde step to abolish the Air Ministry, or regard it as redundant, at a time when the Air Force, and the Air Service in general, is advancing at a faster pace than, perhaps, the other Services. At the same time, I think we feel that there are parts of the Admiralty, parts of the War Office, and parts of the Air Ministry that are redundant, and it is with that in mind that we urge the creation of a Ministry of Defence. The question is often raised whether the big ships and the battle ships are obsolete; and it becomes a more difficult question to answer as years go on, and the lessons of the War recede further from us. I would remind hon. Members that a few days before the end of the War, there was a mutiny in the German fleet. I think it is correct to say that that mutiny was not due to our destroyers or our submarines, or even to our aeroplanes, but to the fact that the German sailors did not wish to meet our Grand Fleet again. They claim to have won a victory at Jutland; they did not wish to win a second. If that assumption be correct, we may claim that the big ship came out of the War as still the. dominant factor in naval warfare. That is only the personal opinion of a very junior officer; but I think the battleship has not yet been proved obsolete. It is true too, that it has become very much more expensive in every way.
Hon. Members cannot realise, unless they have been through one, what a very complicated affair a naval battle is. Mass attacks from the air cannot very seriously menace the battleships of a Navy to-day. It is more than doubtful whether massed attacks from the air would wipe out battleships, even at the present day. Presumably anti-aircraft gunnery advances, and what with smoke screens, high speeds and alterations of course, I think it is quite doubtful whether even yet the battleship would be out of date in a modern naval battle. I can see no reason myself, and I say it in all humility, why, if other nations agree to abandon big ships, we should not agree to do so. I believe, in this policy of disarmament, it would be the wiser policy to concentrate on abandoning big ships; it is a policy on which we could advance further than 2672 with the policy of urging the abolition of submarines.
It is so obviously in our own interests to abolish submarines that we are almost bound to make that suggestion with our tongue in our cheek; but we can go forward and say we are perfectly willing to abandon big ships, if other nations do the same. Therefore we shall be able to save the world tens of millions of non-productive expenditure. Until that is done, I do not see how a big reduction in our Fleet arm and in the Navy Estimates can take place. With regard to the submarine, I think it is still a menace to the big ships, but I would remind hon. Members that at the end of the War we had the submarine very much more under control than in the year 1916 or 1917, and it is quite likely that since the War the listening apparatus with which we were supplied at that time has been developed to such an extent as to make this country more secure from the submarine than it was in 1916 and 1917.
It is usual, when a private Member speaks, to urge the Government to extra expenditure, and I am afraid I cannot altogether escape from that usual fault. But I would ask the First Lord of the Admiralty to consider very carefully whether it is wise to scrap so many of our old destroyers. In the unhappy-event of war, I am sure those old destroyers would be very necessary and useful for defence against submarines. The turning point in the naval war from the submarine point of view in 1917 was when we adopted the convoy system, and convoyed our ships with destroyers. All that is necessary for this convoy work and protective work against submarines is some out-of-date destroyers of about 25 to 30 knots, and they need not necessarily have up-to-date guns. Even if these old destroyers are not a menace to anybody else, I think they should be kept for defensive purposes against a submarine attack. Therefore I hope the First Lord of the Admiralty will consider very carefully this point before scrapping more of the old destroyers. I believe they cost to maintain about £3000 or £4000 a year, but in the event of a sudden emergency it would cost the nation vast sums to build suddenly the large quantities of destroyers which presumably would then be necessary.
2673 There are one or two smaller points with regard to economy that might be brought about, and which I believe are under consideration at the present time. One point is the congested state of the Lieut.-Commanders in the Service at the present time. It might be possible for the Admiralty to make it much easier for a Lieut.-Commander, once he has passed the promotion zone, to get his pension earlier, in order that he might take up a job in civilian life three or four years earlier. This would make it easier for him to get civilian employment, and would at the same time be reducing naval expenditure, because at the present time a number of these officers are employed upon dockyard jobs which cannot do them any good, and they are wasting valuable time before taking up civilian employment. I believe this would be much more economical than the full pay which many of them enjoy at the present time, and it would make it easier for Lieut.-Commanders to retire earlier once they have passed the promotion zone.
With regard to co-operation with the Merchant Service, I hope the First Lord of the Admiralty will not neglect that matter. In the early days of the War we used to convoy merchant ships. When the dawn came every morning it was a matter of doubt as to how many of the merchant ships we were convoying would remain in sight. It would be advisable to have more co-operation between naval officers and merchant service officers. Each has something to learn from the other. I do not think this would mean much extra expense, but at any rate I hope the Admiralty will encourage this, so that, in the event of war, the merchant service officers may know what is expected of them from a naval point of view. Some of the unfortunate experiences we had during the War could be avoided in the future by more co-operation between the two services.
There are two other points I would like to urge. What is most necessary with regard to the Navy is to have, whatever size it may be, the most up-to-date and the most efficient service in the world. The lesson of the War was that if it is at all possible you should be able to send a superior force against any enemy fighting against us. An inferior force, or one inadequately equipped, cannot compete against the foreign Fleets of to-day. It 2674 is a most unpleasant thing to be cruising in the enemy waters and to find yourselves outranged and outspeeded by ships of the same type possessed by your enemy. In conclusion, I wish to say that we should keep those two things in view and whatever the size of the Navy is, if we endeavour to make it the most efficient and up to date in the world, then I believe our Navy will always be able to maintain its past traditions.
I feel sure that I shall be voicing the sentiments of all hon. Members present if on their behalf I presume to congratulate the hon. Member who has just sat down upon his maiden speech. During this Debate the speech which has given me most satisfaction is the one made by the right hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman), because he expressed better than I can a good many of the thoughts that have been passing through my mind, and points which I want to emphasise this afternoon. I have put an Amendment on the Paper, and I am in a position to defend it. I am, however, anxious that it should not be misunderstood, because moving what is practically a reduction of the Navy Vote does not necessarily mean that I am a "Little Englander," and I did not put it down in an unfriendly spirit to the Government. I am anxious that the present Government should remain in power for its full length of time so long as it pursues a course which steers between reaction and Socialism, and if it does that then I wish to see the Government returned again at the next General Election.
I feel sure, however, that it will not be returned, and its candidates will not be successful at by-elections unless it devotes more attention to the vital needs of economy. There is no sign in these Estimates of a real attempt at economy. If you look at the Memorandum to start with, you will find it is disappointing and mystifying, and it is really very little more than a re-arrangement. If I could liken the results of the Government's! naval policy to anything, I should say that at all costs the experts and the admirals are determined to preserve the size of the machine. Whatever size the Navy is, let it, at any rate, be absolutely efficient to the last degree. The Navy with which we are presented to-day is one which has been drained of its life- 2675 blood. It really means that there are hopes in the Admiralty that they will be able to pump new blood back into the machine, and keep it at its present size.
Turning from the Memorandum to the Estimates, these form a volume almost as big as the telephone book, and how hon. Members can understand and read that Memorandum page by page within a week of the Estimates being presented I do not know. I want to ask the Government if it is not a fact that at the request of the House of Commons the Colwyn Committee was set up to look into the finances of all the three Services. The Report of the Colwyn Committee, I understand, is in the hands of the Government. Why has it been withheld from the House of Commons? It would have enormously assisted us if we had been in possession even of an outline of the Colwyn Report. It may be said that it is a Government and a Cabinet Report, and as such is not to be presented to us. If so, why was a portion of it read the other day in the House of Lords when they were dealing with the Air Ministry? The Report of the Colwyn Committee which was set up at the request of the House of Commons ought to be available to us when we are dealing with a policy on such an enormous scale.
Perhaps I shall be taking an unpopular course if I plead for a naval holiday. There are reasons why this request is particularly opportune at the present moment. There are considerations in Europe at the present time which lead one to hope for a peaceful period. The Locarno atmosphere, I am glad to believe, is shortly to be followed by a Disarmament Conference under the auspices of the League of Nations. These are two important incidents, one relating to the past and the other to the future, and I think this is certainly a time when a pause might be made in our naval construction. I have another point which I wish to make. I would like to know what is the present standard and how was it fixed? I submit that the War in which that standard came about has no relation whatever to the needs of the Empire as regards the size of its Navy. It will be remembered that shortly after the War the United States came to the conclusion that they must have a great Navy. They drew up a programme, a staggering programme, presented it to 2676 Congress, and carried it through. I maintain that the standard we are resting on to-day which has been described by our naval experts as a one-Power standard, has far more relation to the panic programme put forward by the United States than to the needs of the nation at the present time.
I have a further suggestion to make in this respect. Let the United States have a Navy of any size it likes. What has it to do with our requirements in dealing with European and Eastern considerations? I submit that, if we could once get out of our heads the necessity and, as I shall shortly prove, the inadvisability of trying to compete with the Navy of the United States, there would be a real chance of economy, not merely to the extent of £2,000,000, but, perhaps, of £20,000,000. How can we build against America? If the competition ever starts, this country will be ruined. There is no chance or hope of any kind of its keeping pace in a competition of that kind, once it is started. In the second place—and this seems to me to be even more important—why should we build against our best friends? Some may say that that is expressing too sentimental a view in this connection, but I daresay there are not many Members of the House who know the sentiment of the United States much better than I do, and I am convinced that, unless we take advantage of a good opportunity like this to indicate that we have no fear of competition from them in relation to naval armaments, we shall be losing a friend who proved to be the best friend we ever had in the bad days of the War.
I pass from that consideration, and also pass rather rapidly over the Locarno atmosphere and the hopes and prospects of the Disarmament Conference of the Autumn, but, under the influence of those considerations, I submit to the Government that they have an opportunity now of presenting us with a provisonal Estimate. If the hopes of the Autumn are fulfilled, so much the better; they will not need the expense which they have outlined to-day. If, on the other hand, their hopes are not fulfilled, if Europe should not become more peaceful, and if, instead of making more friends, we are unable to get together in a satisfactory way and to disarm, there is no difficulty in the Minister coming to the House of Commons, telling us the story, and asking 2677 for more money. The other consideration in relation to this Estimate is the stategical one. I will not elaborate it beyond saying this, that the experts are themselves unable to arrive at a conclusion upon very vital matters. The experience of the War, the development of the air arm, the use of the cruiser as opposed to the battleship—which was very ably expressed by the hon. Gentleman who spoke immediately before me—show conclusively that there is so much to be probed still before the solution is reached that now, again, in this connection, is the right moment for a naval pause.
I will leave the question of the substitution, or limited substitution, of an air fleet for the naval fleet to other hon. Members to discuss, but I think it will be admitted on all sides that no better time has presented itself to us since the days of the War for a pause and a naval holiday. I have asked the Minister and the Government to consider presenting to the House of Commons a provisional Estimate, and I wish to support that by one or two further arguments and considerations. The country is always complaining that Parliament appears to have little or no control over finance. What is the answer? To-day is the. answer. The Government are presenting us with a programme which is going to cost very nearly £60,000,000, with very little explanation, and we have to take it on trust as necessary. If more time were devoted to the consideration of Estimates, and less to introducing legislation in this Chamber, the country would be a great deal better pleased.
My impression of the Estimates as a whole is that this programme has been forced upon the Minister by the great naval hierarchy, with whom he is unable to compete. That is the impression that is produced upon my mind; and what is behind it? The weapon of the strike. It is well known to many of us in this House, and to many outside, that time and again great authorities in the Admiralty have threatened to resign unless they got their way. That is well known, and I submit that, unless Ministers in charge of Departments are prepared to say, "If you strike, we will answer with the weapon of the lock-out," there is little or no chance of bringing these gentlemen to reason. I do not blame them. After 2678 all, as my right hon. Friend has said, their point of view is bound to be sectional, it is bound to be professional, and you cannot expect it to be national as well. It is the business of the politicians to decide upon a national as opposed to a professional or sectional question, and it is only they who can decide, because it is only they who realise that, unless the burden of taxation is taken from industry all through the land, we shall find ourselves one day in the position of being unable to have a Fleet at all.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
The hon. and gallant Member for North Bristol (Captain Guest) made two purely gratuitous assumptions in the course of his speech. In the first place, he made the gratuitous assumption that we were building against the United States, because we made an agreement with the United States that we should have equal Navies and a proportional ratio with Japan. As a matter of fact, throughout the United States, as the hon. and gallant Member ought to know, it was most generously recognised by all the newspapers that this country had stepped down from a position, which she had always claimed, of naval supremacy against any other Power, and that we had made a very generous concession in agreeing to equality of standard with the United States and a proportional ratio in regard to Japan.
The other gratuitous assumption made by the hon. and gallant Member is that it is well known that the Sea Lords of the Admiralty threatened resignation. The Ministry may fear resignation, but I doubt if the Sea Lords ever threatened it. In any case, if men are responsible for the safety of this country and the adequacy of the Fleet, and if the responsible political authorities prevent them from having an adequate Fleet, they are quite entitled to say, "We cannot carry on." I doubt very much whether the so-called threat of resignation has ever been made except with very good reason indeed. I know, of course, that the very patriotic First Lord of the Admiralty was prepared to say that, if he did not get adequate provision for the Fleet for which he was responsible, he would resign, but that is a different thing altogether. Political chiefs are always entitled to resign, and any man is entitled 2679 to resign if the country does not give him an adequate Fleet to carry out his work.
I desire to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon). With some parts of his speech I can completely agree. I can agree with him when he pleaded for the abolition of submarines, in accordance with the Amendment which stands on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour); but there has never been any difference of opinion in this House on that question. His Majesty's Government have always proposed the abolition of submarines. They proposed it at the Washington Conference. We had the strongest and most efficient submarine fleet in the world, and we offered to scrap the whole of it. It was because France refused to agree that that proposal fell through. The hon. and gallant Member for North Bristol proposed that we should have another Disarmament Conference, and I think, again, that His Majesty's Government and this House are in complete agreement that there is no objection in this country to another Disarmament Conference; it was part and parcel of the policy of the Government.
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman allow me to correct an error? I understand that there is to be a Disarmament Conference, and I was not suggesting that the Government should set up a new one, but that the one which is to be held under the auspices of the League of Nations should be taken advantage of.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
This is a purely naval question. The Amendment speaks of disarmament through the League of Nations. There are four or five great naval Powers. On purely naval questions, why should we drag in 50 Powers to settle what a particular Navy should be? I think that that would be absurd on the face of it. The Conference that took place at Washington was a success. It did bring about a certain amount of disarmament. That was a Conference of the great naval Powers, and I do not think there could be any better solution of the difficulty than for the President of the United States to summon a Conference as soon as possible on this question of further naval disarmament.
2680 We have had before us again the question of a Ministry of Defence in order to bring about more co-ordination. I think the demand of this House for a Ministry of Defence is due to the fact that it is so difficult to bring about co-ordination through the agency of this House, its Estimates Committee, or its Public Accounts Committee. I have myself in the past pressed for co-ordination. I remember the difficulty I had in getting the naval and military bakeries amalgamated. I have also pleaded for single hospitals at naval ports to deal with both military and naval needs. It was not until the Geddes Committee was set up, and one could write to Sir Eric Geddes personally, that we succeeded in getting the recommendation carried through for single hospitals for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.
How were we defeated? The Government immediately appointed the head of the Army Medical Service to confer with the head of the Naval Medical Service, and these gentlemen sat down and said, "We will give a sop to the Geddes Committee. You naval fellows give up Gibraltar, and we of the Army will give up Chatham"; and then, having given us that sop, they shut the lid down on any further reform in the matter. Therefore, the House, in despair, naturally asks for a Ministry of Defence.
I have always, in the years before the War, advocated a Ministry of Defence. The idea is not original; it belonged to Lord Randolph Churchill, who proposed it in a Minority Report of the Harting ton Commission. There are two considerations which have to be applied. In the first place, have we any Minister or ex-Minister adequate to cope with the tremendous work of initiating a Ministry of Defence to deal with the three fighting Services. The situation is much more difficult than when we had to deal with two fighting Services, for we now have to deal with the Air Ministry as well. Hon. Members in all parts of the House say that the staffs must be got to work together. The Navy recognised that. The Navy wanted to take their Staff College to Camberley, and were only deterred by the fact that they would probably have to build a college at Camberley. But the Air Force was a new force, and it deliberately took its Staff College as far away as it could from 2681 Gamberley. Until you get the right spirit between the three Services and a real desire to co-operate, you can achieve nothing.
I do not want to deal at length with the hon. Member's remarks about Singapore; we have traversed the whole of that ground again and again. Hon. Members will keep on reiterating that it is a threat to Japan, in spite of the fact that at the Washington Conference the Japanese agreed, because they saw the necessity of Singapore, to draw the line at a prohibited area east of Singapore, so that Singapore could be equipped as a naval dockyard. The hon. Member for North Camberwell said that Singapore is a threat to the food supplies of Japan. Surely, Hong Kong is even nearer to Japan, and at Hong Kong there is a naval dockyard, which we were not prohibited from using. Surely, when Japan has six dockyards, we are entitled to have at least one in the East where we can dock great ships, where we can dock our newest cruisers and battleships of the "Hood" class. Otherwise, a disabled ship, even for a one-day job like shifting a propeller, would have to go to Malta and back. Of course, as everyone knows, you cannot defend commerce unless you have a Fleet behind the cruisers. If we had only cruisers in the Pacific, and they had to face an enemy Fleet, they would have to give up the job and run. At the back of the cruisers must lie the Fleet. It was because Germany had not any Fleet able to go to sea and back her cruisers that her commerce fell a victim to the British cruisers and was abandoned.
The First Lord of the Admiralty in his admirable and lucid speech showed us how he had effected economies on the Navy. He showed that it was largely due to a fixed programme. A fixed programme also enables one to economise one's speech, which I think is an advantage to the House, because we now know what we have ahead of us. We do not want to make those comparisons we formerly made between battleships, cruisers and destroyers. The programme, I take it, satisfies the Admiralty and satisfies the War staff. In that case it satisfies me. But there are certain things to which I wish to draw attention. I think the greatest danger that threatens 2682 this country at this moment is the loss of the sea sense—that sense in the country of how much it depends upon the Navy—and that has been intensified by propaganda from the Air Force advocates. [An HON. MEMBER: "Rubbish!"] I think those who know how we depend upon the Navy—the members of the Government know it, or they are not fit for their job—ought to exercise a little leadership in order to bring back that sea sense, that sense of what the Navy had done in the past and what it can do for the country in the future.
The second point with which I wish to deal on which our naval strength depends is the failure of France to carry out obligations contracted under the Washington Conference in connection with the Root Resolutions, and the third point is the order the Cabinet has issued to the fighting Forces that they are not to take into consideration a first-class war for 10 years to come. The Root Resolutions are part and parcel of the Washington Conference of 1921; that is to say, they were accepted by France five years ago. These Resolutions had the force of law. They were to do away with the horrors of submarine and air warfare against helpless commercial vessels and passenger ships. They prevented those ships being sunk at sight It was laid down that the safety of passengers and crews was to be provided for. All the nations that took part in the Washington Conference have ratified those Resolutions except France. M. Briand was the representative of France. He signed these Resolutions, and there is no doubt whatever that a storm of public opinion in the United States was allayed and prevented by the fact that he signed them. They have never been brought before the French Chamber or sent for ratification, and we have to remember that France at the same time has 116 ships built, cruisers, destroyers and submarines, capable of being used against commerce and practising sink-at-sight doctrines. What is more important, she has 105 cruisers, destroyers and submarines building and projected, and we are entitled to say that that great building programme is being carried out with money that is owed to this country. The situation reminds me very much of the story a dentist who went to collect a debt from 2683 a client and came back indignantly saying, "He gnashed my teeth at me!"
We must remember that the original doctrine of sink-at-sight and military necessity was invented by France, that since the War Captain Castex, who re-organised the French Naval War Staff, wrote an article in 1921 in the French Maritime Review in which he said Germany was well within French doctrine in all that she did in the Naval War—that she was absolutely justified in everything she did. How can you expect a more humane phrase than sink-at-sight to dominate France if we are going to cover up French sins in this matter? The only way is publicity. His Majesty's Government have made no protest at any time against the failure of France to ratify the Root Resolutions at Washington, and when they are asked why they have made no protest they say it is the duty of the United States. Why cannot the United States and Great Britain make a protest to France on her failure to ratify the Root Resolutions? I can see no reason whatsoever. If we made that protest, publicity would draw attention to the matter in France, that more chivalrous French opinion—and we know it exists—would function, and we would get some better phrase dominant in France than sink-at-sight and military necessity. After all Balzac, probably the finest observer of the psychology of the French nation, said France was the one country in the world in which a little phrase could produce a great revolution. I am quite sure if we can get a finer and more humane phrase to dominate in France we shall soon bring about disarmament throughout the world.
The other point I want to draw attention to is the order of the Cabinet that the fighting Departments are not to take into consideration a first-class war for 10 years. That order, I believe, was issued in the middle of 1925. Therefore, members of the Cabinet have entered into competition with Old Moore as prophets. The record of statesmen in regard to prophecy is not very good. Our own record on this side of the House has not been happy. We gave up Heligoland with the idea that Germany could never become a great naval Power. It is common to all parties that statesmen cannot visualise the future. Take that famous interview with the Leader of the 2684 Liberal party which appeared in the "Daily Chronicle" seven months before the outbreak of the War. He said the armaments we were carrying out were organised insanity. Our relatione with Germany were infinitely more friendly than they had been for years, and Germany dare not go to war because of the military situation as against France and Russia. Therefore, the less we attempt to pretend to say we know the future 10 years hence the better it will be for all concerned.
In 1917 the Leader of the Liberal party made a speech in which he said we had never passed from rhetoric to reality—from speech to strategy. I think that is true of most of the disarmament speeches. They are nearly all rhetoric and they do not face reality. This Order has never been comunicated to Parliament. In 1919 I believe it was justified. No war preparations were going on in any foreign country which could mature before 1929. But the situation was very different in 1925. I want to know whether this Order has ever been communicated to the Dominions who were present at the 1923 Conference, for at that Conference the Admiralty were entrusted with certain duties that they had to perform. It was agreed that they were responsible for the protection of all territory against invasion. They were responsible for the defence of all trade routes. I would remind the Admiralty that, being responsible for the trade routes, they are entitled" to ask that the coastal flotillas of the Air Force should be under their direction. At present they are entirely officered and manned by the Air Force, and are in no way under the direction of the Admiralty, nor can the Admiralty demand their co-operation.
The Admiralty were made responsible for the provision of bases to ensure the mobility of fleets and for the maintenance of the Navy at the one-Power standard laid down by the Washington Conference, it being understood that no standard was laid down for cruisers and destroyers, because the necessity of defending commerce was much greater for Great Britain than for any other country. This question must come up before the Imperial Conference at the end of this year. Australia and New Zealand between them in 1925 spent £4,460,000 on their Navy. There was in addition £1,000,000 for general defence purposes. 2685 They might just as well chuck that money into the sea if they cannot be assured of the backing of a Great British Fleet. In the event of war with Japan those ships would simply become the prey of the Japanese nation. They would be no use whatever. Therefore, naturally, those Prime Ministers who face realities and know what war would mean are entitled to come to the Imperial Conference and ask the Government their clear intentions as to the future and what this order means which has been given to the fighting Departments, for they will naturally say, "We must either abandon the naval force in order to save the expense or we must increase that force considerably in order to save our country." They cannot possibly face the expenditure of building battleships, we all know that, and if they cannot rely on the support of the British Navy their eyes will naturally turn to the great American nation instead of to us. That is a thing I do not wish even to contemplate. Therefore when they come to England next autumn I hope there will be a heart-to-heart talk on these defence questions, which matter very much. That does not discourage in any way the idea of disarmament. I am a believer in disarmament. I believe it is possible to bring about gradual disarmament and I ask the Government to do all they possibly can to promote those ends.
§ Mr. GILLETT
I think we have some cause of complaint against the Government that we have not received from the First Lord any very distinct outline of the policy of the Government in regard to armaments. It seems to me that when private Members have to attempt to judge the problem of how much money is to be spent on the Navy, there are two questions that come before us. The first is the larger question of policy and the second the smaller problem how the money is actually to be expended. I should like to deal with the smaller problem first. From remarks which have been made by the Minister and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea (Mr. Runciman), it seems that, of the saving of £2,500,000 that the Minister has taken credit for, about £1,500,000 is easily explained by raiding stores.
I am going to complain about the rather difficult figures that are presented 2686 to us. As far as I can see, there are three accounts dealing with stores. When you take the estimated balance at the end of the year as compared with the balance at the end of March, you find that on the one hand one balance would have increased where the other two would have decreased, and the net difference seems to me to be something like £700,000, representing the sum by which the Minister would have benefited by the reduction. This little dispute that I am having with the Minister relates to a subject which I wish to bring before the House, and that is the way in which the accounts of the Navy and the Army are brought forward, and how exceedingly difficult it is to understand what has actually taken place.
In regard to the Army, we shall have the question brought up again in a very acute form in a few days. The Navy accounts commend themselves as being rather plainer than the Army accounts; but the fact as to how much the stores will have been diminished in the coming year cannot easily be discovered. At any rate, when two of us looking at the accounts have come to a different conclusion it seems to me to indicate how difficult it is to understand what the financial proposals of the Government are, when one comes to deal with the details put before us.
When we turn to other details con nected with finance, I wonder whether hon. Member's realise that while we are sitting here passing these Estimates we are in the position of men who are in control of dockyards and schools as well as being in control of the British Navy, and yet, what possible means have we of judging the simple question whether this or that dockyard or this or that naval port is worth keeping on? When we look at the list of salaries that are paid to the officers responsible for this centre and that centre, we have no means of discovering whether or not they are worth the money. I have looked through the accounts to see whether I could find out easily the amount of work that was going to be done at one of these dockyards, in respect of which we are asked to vote the salaries of a large number of skilled men to supervise the work. You come to the list of salaries, then you turn over several pages and you may find the number of men employed in the 2687 dockyard, and in another place in the Estimates you may be fortunate enough to find the amount spent in buying materials for the work; but you cannot find out whether the dockyard is fully employed.
If the First Lord of the Admiralty were to put a question whether it was best to build our own ships or to put them up to contract, meaning which is the cheapest method, it would be impossible for the House to be able to judge a question of that kind in the way the accounts are presented. Even in a simple matter such as the number of students there are in the schools, one finds that the number is stated, but one is left to calculate exactly how much per head it is costing the State to educate the young men in the schools. If I remember rightly, it seemed to me that the figures of expenditure compared favourably with the expenditure per head for students in the Army colleges and, therefore, there was no reason why the Admiralty should not let us have these facts stated clearly. Is it not possible that the question as to the way in which the accounts are presented might be reconsidered, so that not only could we have the accounts presented with information dealing with the amount of work in the dockyards and other places, but the accounts could be so collected together that we could see at a glance what is the whole amount that is going to be spent in a certain direction? We could then know exactly how much work is being done in the various dockyards, whether this place or that place is fully employed or only partially employed, and any hon. Member who has technical knowledge of the question would be put in a position to know whether things were being done in a satisfactory way. We ought to be put in the same position as a business man who, if he was at the head of a huge company, would want to know whether this or that work was worth going on with, or whether the work in general was proceeding satisfactorily.
I listened to the right hon. Gentleman in his reply to the criticism that had been made against the Admiralty respecting the number of men employed in the Secretary's Department. When we compare the pre-War figures with some of the figures we have before us to-day, we find that, roughly speaking, pre-War, 2688 the whole number of men employed in any capacity whatever who came under the Navy Vote was 150,000. Roughly speaking to-day, the number is about 100,000. There has been a diminution of 50,000 compared with the last Estimate presented before the War. When I turn to the highest class of officers mentioned in the first list in Vote 1, flag and commissioned officers, I find this extraordinary thing, that these officers are bracketed together in the accounts. The total of these two classes of officers is 5,000, compared with 5,330 in the last pre-War account. These are the most experienced and most skilled and, therefore, the most costly officers. When the number of men employed in the Navy have been reduced by one-third, it is remarkable that this class of officer has only been reduced by 330. We paid to the 5,330 before the War £1,600,000. After allowing for the enormous increase in the cost of living, we are paying to the 5,000 who are on the list to-day ever £2,500,000.
If there had been a reduction in this class of officer proportionate to the reduction in the numbers of the men, we should have had to-day 4,000 of these particular officers, and that would have meant a saving of about £500,000, subject, of course, to pension rights and other claims. How is it that we find that there has only been this small diminution in the number of these officers? Is it that the Minister does not want to turn off these officers, who were required during the War? Is it that he expects that in a short time he will require their services again? Is it that owing to the building programme in hand he expects that in the next four or five years as the ships are finished these officers will find useful and necessary places in the active service of the Navy, and that, therefore, they are being kept on? This is an illustration of a kind of economy that might be considered by some of the newspapers that are interested in these things.
There are several other classes to whom the Minister referred in his speech. There are the Lords of the Admiralty and the Secretaries. Before the War, in the Navy that was waiting for and that met the German menace, there were 10 of these officers costing £20,000, as against a cost to-day of £24,000. Of naval assistants, there were five pre-war, and there are 15 to-day. In the Secre- 2689 tary's department there was a staff of 119 pre-war costing £36,000, compared with 139 costing £75,000 to-day. In the Department of the Director of Naval Ordnance, in 1914, there was a staff of 114 costing £36,000, and to-day there are 220 costing £96,000. There is a considerable increase in the cost of the Accountant-General's Department. If we can have clearer accounts, I do not grudge spending more money on this Department. Pre-war, the staff in this Department totalled 352 at a cost of £76,000: to-day the staff totals 633 and the expenditure £213,000. The First Lord stated that this increase had been brought about because the accounts are being presented in a fuller way. I do not grudge money to that Department, where it is required, but it seems to me that this is a considerable increase in view of the fact that we are dealing with 50,000 fewer men in the Navy.
§ Mr. GILLETT
I heard what the right hon. Gentleman said, but I was not convinced by his statement. It seems to me that the amount of work must be less if you have 50,000 fewer men to deal with.
§ Mr. GILLETT
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Fifty thousand fewer men seems to me to be a pretty big number. If you had in any business 50,000 fewer employés, you would surely have less work to do.
§ Mr. GILLETT
The right hon. Gentleman must know that to send a pensioner a cheque once a week or once a month does not require so large a clerical staff as when you are dealing with men who are engaged all the time and are making constant claims upon the staff. When one compares the numbers of men in these different Departments of the Admiralty before the War and now, one finds that whereas pre-War we had 600 men doing the work, we now employ 1,000, and we are now spending £400,000 against £172,000 pre-War. These figures make me very sceptical as to how far the claim of the right hon. Gentleman that he has tried to exercise economy in his Depart- 2690 ment is really justified. The right hon. Gentleman is satisfied in his mind, but he has failed to satisfy or convince me that, even allowing for a certain amount of extra work, there should be need for this increased staff in these different Departments. Having regard to the management of the various Departments, and the way in which the financial statements are presented to the House, I hope that the Minister, whether he agrees with my figures or not, will see whether it is not possible that we might have the statement presented to us in future in a better and clearer manner.
The final decision in regard to naval policy is so closely connected with foreign policy and the whole international problems before the world to-day, that it seems to me we cannot rightly judge or come to a decision on it unless we know exactly what the policy of the Government is. There is one thing in this Report with which I confess I have no sympathy whatever. We are told in the White Paper that the Minister has issued, in one or two little asides, that commissions have been sent to reorganise the Greek Navy and to help to organise the Chilian Navy. If there be two things that are cursing the Near Eastern countries of Europe to-day, most of which are nearly bankrupt, one is militarism and the other the fact that they are constantly fighting, and there is endless friction between them. To allow officers, or at any rate put in the Report that we in any way commend the fact that we send officers out to reorganise the Greek Navy, in no way commends itself to me, and I think is entirely against the best interests of that part of the world. I believe there was a time, before the Great War, when naval men went out to prepare the Turkish Navy and to help it to reorganise. The day came when the Turkish Navy was fighting against us. We supplied our armaments to those other nations. The day comes when the armaments are manufactured in this country and used against the sons of men and women of this country.
That is only a small and insignificant thing in connection with this policy. The whole policy is a mistake. Armaments may be manufactured for the benefit, or, shall I say the necessity of that country, and to go and sell armaments to other countries, is a mistake. It is equally a 2691 mistake to have anything to do with sending our officers to reorganise the military equipment of any other country.
The word "economy" has come to my mind largely to mean that you economise in the things you are not interested in, and I am not going to recommend this House to economise in this, because at once the answer will be given that I would spend the money in other ways, and that is exactly what I would do. I do not believe in people telling me to economise, and then, when it comes to great military armaments, they are willing to spend large sums of money in connection with equipment for the Navy, or the Army, or the Air Force. The only hope for the world is to get disarmament, and I most cordially support the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. A. Williams) who in his maiden speech suggested as a step toward disarmament that large battleships should be abolished.
I do not profess in these naval matters to speak with the ability of the hon. Gentleman who spoke with 10 years' practical acquaintance of the subject. It seems to me that steps should be brought before the nation. The nation, I believe, is seriously desirous of reduction in armaments. I believe, in proposals of that kind, that it is our duty, in whatever part of the House we sit, to urge upon the Government that not only should they talk about disarmament, but that they should use their influence in the councils of Europe in order that there may be a real conference to rid this world of the terrible menace and dangers of another war.
To listen to some of the Members on the opposite side of the House, you would think the present Government were not doing everything they could in the way of trying to establish peace, not only in Europe, but here at home. I am perfectly certain that the economy of £2,500,000 which the Admiralty have made will not satisfy some Members of the front Opposition bench. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes, but nothing will satisfy some of those Members, until you disarm the nation and arm the workers to fight against the capitalists, so we cannot hope to satisfy all of them. I do think we can congratulate the Admiralty on 2692 making a real effort towards economy. They have done it without really impairing the efficiency of the Fleet, without reducing personnel, and have provided for a considerable increase in new construction. But, as the First Lord said, this is only possible on account of the favourable aspect of the political horizon.
I am glad this country and this Government have decided to postpone the full programme on account of this new spirit in Europe. But this new spirit in Europe seems to have knocked at some sullen hearts here at home in vain, and when one reads the speeches of those who ought to be the responsible Members of the Opposition one really is in despair, not quite in despair because we realise that many of the hon. Gentlemen talk to the gallery an amusing sort of mob oratory which they do not use here. We should be very sorry for the Leader of the Opposition, because he seems in the position of a man who is trying to plough with an ox and an ass. One Member has said that the only way to get industrial peace is by industrial war. Really, I had hoped that the War had taught us some things, and that we gain nothing by war, whether international or national. We on this side of the House, who are desperately interested in peace, can only rejoice that we have a Government that are using their heads as well as their hearts. I congratulate the Navy, and I think the First Lord is perfectly justified in saying what he said. The Admiralty have been spoken of as not considering the country as a whole. I hope other Departments will do as well as the Admiralty. We who are interested in the Navy will watch them with great interest.
I want to ask one or two questions. I will not congratulate the First Lord on saying that the welfare departments are to be reassembled. Many of us were very distressed that they were not carried straight on. The lower deck promotion is now being resumed in all branches. There are several things I regret. He says that the provision which the House of Commons voted for marriage allowances' for officers is not required. It is hardly right to say it is not required. It is better to say it is not granted. The First Lord would never have given in to this except for pressure from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. One of the points which an hon. Member opposite 2693 made was that if he could not give marriage allowances, he might grant travelling expenses. We who are interested in this realise that the naval officer's wife is not in the same position as the wives of officers of other Services. She has a much more difficult position. Her husband is further away and less at home, and her position is far harder than that of the wives of officers of other Services. We are going to press forward, and I am perfectly certain we have the First Lord and Admiralty with us. It is the Treasury as usual.
I must register a protest against the new entrants into the Navy being based on the Anderson Report, which says, "All the evidence seems to show us that the pay of the naval rating was not too low in 1914." Then they go on to compare the lower deck man with an agricultural labourer. Everyone who knows anything about the Navy knows that the pay of the Navy had not been changed for 70 years, and was disgracefully low. To base a new entrant on the Anderson Report in really very misguided on the part of the Admiralty. The Navy is not what it used to be in any way; it is a much better Navy. I know no work where a person does not require a certain amount of training, but you cannot compare a man in the Navy with an agricultural labourer for two reasons: first, he has to have technical training, and, secondly, every day of his life he takes risks which the agricultural labourer seldom has to take. I do hope that the First Lord will think of this, and, when the finances of the country get a little better, he will keep to the present rate of pay. If he could see the difference in the homes of the lower deck men since they have been properly paid, he would see the advantage, not only to the Navy, but to the country The children are much better kept. It was very difficult for a sailor to have a home at all. They used to say a sailor had a home in every port. [HON. MEMBERS: "A wife!"] Well, a wife in every port. The Government give him very little encouragement to keep a wife in any port. I hope when the finances get better, we will go on paying them as we do now. It has made a very much happier and contented nation.
I would like to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty another question. I see under Victualling Stores and Clothing 2694 there is an increase of £102,290. I want to know whether this is intended to increase the settlement of messing allowances for officers and men serving on foreign stations. Ninepence for men and 1s. 5½d. for officers is totally inadequate, particularly on the China Station, where the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes do not exist. I hope this increase is for allowances to the men serving in foreign parts. There is also a reference to the plain clothes gratuity for naval ratings—£4,000—and I want to ask the First Lord why it is that, when naval ratings are discharged, a naval man gets 13s. 6d. in order to buy a suit, and a marine 10s 6d. Can you conceive what they would look like if they tried to leave the Service in a suit which has cost 13s. 6d. or 10s. 6d.? I hope the Navy will give them proper clothes in which to go home.
On the Vote for education there is an increase of £6,540. I am delighted at that, because I have always thought there should be better educational facilities in the Navy, but I am sorry to see that the cost of vocational training is the same. These correspondence classes are very pleasant and useful, but they will not train a man coming from the Navy to enter civil life, and as it is possible that many men will in the future leave the Navy at 40 years of age, I think it would be better if there were some period of intensive practical training before they are discharged. It would be a great advantage in inducing proper men to enter the Navy and would save the country a great deal when they leave it. Then there is a question about machinery. The propelling and power machinery is designed and installed by private contractors. Granted that these engines are best supplied by firms who have specialised in some particular type and employ a skilled staff, I think the First Lord might consider whether it is possible for the main engines to be made in the dockyards from designs by the dockyard staff, or from designs obtained from outside firms. I am advised that there is really a possibility in this direction, and I am sure the First Lord realises the lamentable plight of men who are discharged from the dockyards. I want to congratulate the First Lord on what he has done for the Navy and for the nation. Some of the things for which we have been pressing a long time in Plymouth have been done.
2695 Before I sit down may I say a word to hon. Members of the Opposition? When they talk about the peace of the world, I hope they will remember that peace can only come through order, and order only comes through control. When they talk about disarmament in Europe they must not expect England only to disarm. The position taken up by this country has done more than anything else to bring peace throughout the world. I rejoiced at the Washington Conference, and I should rejoice at a further disarmament conference, but I agree with an hon. Member on the opposite side, that it is no use calling "peace" when there is no peace. There is very little peace in some parts of the House, and there is certainly less peace in Europe to-day. We shall not bring peace about simply by crying for "disarmament"; we must get the rest of the world to follow our example. I hope and pray that they will, but it is very difficult, for in this Debate there is the suggestion from one section of the House that the Government are building Singapore as a menace to Japan. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members who say "Hear, hear!" do not know anything about the Washington Conference. Japan was there and knew it perfectly well; but Japan never said a word. The enemies of peace are those at home who will not give their own people the credit for as high motives as people they have never seen.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
The Noble Lady has not been able to resist the temptation to deliver her usual homily to the Socialist party, but she forgot that she is a Member of the party which has only laid down two cruisers a year, and was attacking a party which laid down five. The Noble Lady, with great versatility, has touched upon a wide diversity of subjects, and so far she has performed a useful purpose. She has reminded this House that it is not only concerned with armaments and ships, but is also concerned with the welfare and comfort of the personnel. I do not propose to deal at any length with that aspect of the question, except to say that this, indeed, has been a very unfortunate year in the history of the Navy. It was with some surprise, listening to the speech of the First Lord, that I heard no reference to subjects of the 2696 most vital concern to the Navy as a whole. During the past year they have been deprived of their marriage allowance, the pay of the men has been reduced, the scale of their pensions is under consideration, two great dockyards have been closed with scarcely any notice, and the men are being pitched like sacks of coal into the constituency I represent without any provision being made for their accommodation. I am only going to refer to this aspect of the situation for one moment, but I do ask the First Lord to realise his responsibility as an employer of labour, whether that labour be upon the high seas or concerned with the building of ships.
It has been one of the most unfortunate features of our industrial civilisation that it has permitted towns to grow up in which the homes of the people are allowed to remain in a particularly insecure and insanitary state. But the dockyard towns belong entirely to the Admiralty, and the First Lord should know that those who are manning the ships of the Navy and their families are living in the most disgraceful conditions. It is nothing short of brutality to heap more people into the town I represent, where there are streets after streets of houses into which the rain pours and saturates the whole of the furniture in the home. I hope the First Lord will direct his attention to this matter. Such conduct would not be tolerated from any employer of labour, and I hope he will consider utilising the machinery of the dockyards in order to construct steel houses or make some other provision for the labour and the domestic comfort of his own employés. All these economies have been rendered necessary because we can no longer afford to maintain ourselves in the condition of efficiency which used to be our pride. We have not the money, and, consequently, not only has construction suffered, but personnel has suffered as well; and the reason why we cannot afford to maintain ourselves in adequate security is that the Dominions are not paying a proper contribution towards the Imperial Navy.
I want to ask what steps he has taken in the past year to consult the Dominions on this matter. The burden on the British taxpayer is absolutely intolerable, as compared with the burden on the Dominions. These are the figures which 2697 I got out this afternoon for the current year. The expenditure per head of the population of every British citizen in respect of the Navy is 26s. l0d.; the expenditure per head of every Canadian is 15 cents, of very Australian 13s. 2d.—I am glad to say that is an increase of 5s. on the contribution of last year. New Zealand pays 8s. per head of population, and the Union of South Africa, Is. 9d. It is perfectly ludicrous to suppose that this little Island can continue to bear the whole expense of a Navy which is designed for Imperial needs, and I want to know whether this matter is from time to time discussed with the Dominions. Do they make any suggestions as to how the Empire should be defended, and, if they make these suggestions, is there anybody empowered to ask them what steps they are going to take in order to help us to perform these services? Whether you take per head of the population, or in proportion to the overseas trade of each of these Dominions, you will find that the British taxpayer is bearing a load which he cannot properly be expected to bear. I consider that point is of such great importance that I hope to hear that some steps are going to be taken in this direction. It is not until we are getting our proper contribution from the Dominions that we shall be able to have an adequate defence force in this country, or be able to spend on armaments and personnel the sums of money which they require in the national interest.