§ Order for Committee read.
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Bridgeman)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
The Minister responsible for introducing these Estimates is always at a disadvantage, as compared with the Chancellor of the Exchequer when introducing his Budget. The Chancellor is able to keep his audience on the tip-toe of expectation and curiosity, wondering whether he is going to remit or add to taxation, and, as a general rule, nobody ever knows until halfway through the Budget speech or near the end of it, what is going to happen Personally, my position is one of very great disadvantage as compared with that. The First Lord of the Admiralty, on an occasion like this, has to take the wind out of his own sails by issuing beforehand not only the amount of his Estimates but a summary of the salient features in his Estimates. The result is he gives to his critics the advantage of preparation and takes away from himself any interest or novelty. I cannot pretend that I have any great surprise for the Rouse, further than the surprise which they must have had when they saw how low my. Estimates were. All I can do is to try to amplify the White Paper and give some further illustration on points which seem to require it. In July, 1525, the House agreed to a programme of new construction to last over a number of years—
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I managed to secure the support of the House at that time, and I have no reason to suppose they have altered their opinion. The effect of that programme was to enable me to make a number of economies which would otherwise have been impossible. Therefore, on the new construction side 1674 of my Estimates to-day there is no novelty. There is merely a continuation of the programme as accepted 'by the House on that occasion. Perhaps I ought to say that there is one slight deviation from the White Paper which was produced at that time. Instead of four motor launches which were to have been laid down last year, we propose to lay down two mine sweepers this year of an experimental type which we hope will combine the merits of the old sloops and the old mine sweepers in one. This we feel will be an economy. If we can produce a satisfactory type it will be an economy to scrap a number of the old ones, rather than indulge in the very extensive repairs which would be necessary to prolong their lives any further. In July, 1925, when the Chancellor and I agreed to the new construction, he expressed the hope that the additional expenditure on new construction would be balanced by interior economies to be carried out by the Admiralty. The hope which was then expressed was that these economies would enable the Estimates to remain somewhere near the figure at which they then stood, namely, £60,500,000. I promised to do all I could to effect economies which would, at least, reduce, if not entirely obliterate, the extra cost of the replacement programme. We plighted out troths, either to other, and we have most faithfully observed our youthful vows ever since. He has supported the construction programme, and I have done all I could to effect economies to balance it.
The success which has attended my efforts, I am bound to say, is far greater than I ever dared hope at the time. In that year our internal savings produced more than was necessary to offset the £471,000 required for the new building of that year. In 1926 our Estimates, after providing for the extra cost of new construction, were £2,400,000 less than in 1925. We not only paid for the new building, but saved nearly £2,500,000, yet even so we could not satisfy some of the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I remember that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), whom I am sorry not to see here to-day, absolutely refused to believe in the reality of Admiralty economies. He told the Chancellor that he had been taken in by 1675 a wily Salopian, but only a few moments before he had been paying a tribute to the engaging and childlike simplicity of my character. If he will allow me to say so—and I am sure he would if he were here—one cannot live within two or three miles of the Welsh border, as I do, without inheriting from one's forefathers some natural instincts of caution and self-preservation. Those are weapons of defence that are not in the least incompatible with complete sincerity, and I am sure that, if the right hon. Gentleman were here now, he would have to realise that the Admiralty have more than fulfilled their undertaking.
If in 1926 and 1927 the Estimates had remained at the figure of 1925, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said he hoped they might, the country would have had to spend £4,500,000 more than we have asked them for, although the construction has not been suspended, and I think, not for myself but for those who advise me at the Admiralty, the House would wish to say that they have carried out their work with very great skill and very great energy. Not only that, but as a result of the coal stoppage last year I should think about £750,000 that was voted has not been spent and will have to go back to the Exchequer. So that, altogether, not only have we balanced the cost of now construction, but the country is £5,000,000 to the good on that period.
All that they have done, unfortunately; is to project this expenditure into another year, and to give to the Treasury £750,000 which I should very much like to have had to spend in this year. For this year, my difficulties in putting forward a small figure have been unusually great, because there are certain things, quite unavoidable, which add to the expenditure of this year and which could not possibly have been escaped. There is the increase in the Non-effective Vote, pensions, and so on, of over £250,000; there are progressive increases of salary due to length of service, £250,000; there is provision coming in this financial year for an extra pay day, and that means £375,000 more for me to find; and then there is the transfer of liabilities, other 1676 than new construction work, which could not be carried out last year owing to the coal stoppage and which will be done this year, which amount to another £300,000. That is very nearly £1,000,000 to start with, and a very heavy handicap, and, as I have said, the retardation of work owing to the stoppage of last year amounts to something like another £750,000. This year the Estimate for construction has therefore been put at the figure of £9,983,000, as against £9,083,000, or an increase of £900,000 in the cost of construction. We have also got to provide for four new Flights for the Fleet Air Arm, which I told the House last year were being postponed into this year, and that amounts to about £200,000. We have inserted £125,000 for foreseen expenses in sending out ships to China. I do not mean to say that that is going to cover all the expense that may be incurred, bur we have put in what we knew must be charged to us, that is to say, the cost of bringing back the supernumerary ships and men that we have sent out there. That is £125,000. As I say, I hope they may not have to stay there a very long time, but if they are detained et will lee necessary, in the same way as it would be for the War Office, to bring in a Supplementary Estimate for that.
There is thus something like £2,000,000 which I have got to find in excess of last year, and the trouble has been to find savings to balance it. I have had certain windfalls which have helped me. The new rates of pay for new entrants have made a saving in that Vote of £150,000, and prices of food and clothing have saved me something like £200,000. The closing of Rosyth and Pembroke has saved about the amount that we foretold it would when that measure was taken, and, of course, there have had to be—and I very much regret it—savings in the dockyards, involving the discharge of a considerable number of men. I am sorry that it has been necessary, but you cannot have economies without that unfortunate result. It is not that the Royal Dockyards are getting a smaller share of the construction work than they had before. They are getting the same share as before, but the main cause of it is that the total amount of repairs which have to be done are, owing to our having fewer ships in commission, 1677 and owing to our having started a new plan of lengthening the period between refits in the dockyards, very considerably reduced, and, therefore, the staff which has to work at them must be unfortunately reduced too. We have got a considerable surplus of stock of naval stores. It was very large after the War, and it has been gradually reduced from time to time since. This year we shall draw to the extent of £927,000 on those stores as against £726,000 last year, and that amounts to a cash balance of about £200,000. I think I ought to mention one or two windfalls. We have had a very handsome contribution from the Malay States towards the construction of the Singapore Base, a contribution of £2,000,000 in five instalments of £400,000 each. It is a very handsome contribution towards the work, and, although the whole of the money does not come to the Admiralty—some has to go to the War Office, and some to the Air Ministry—our share this year—and it is exceptionally fortunate that we get two years' payment in our own financial year—is £576"000, Apart from Singapore, Vote 10 shows a reduction of about £400,000. That reduction has only been effected by limiting the works as much as possible. There are certain things which are necessary, and for which we still have to ask the House to vote us money. One is additional accommodation at Holton Heath Factory. Another is better accommodation at Fort Blockhouse Submarine Base at Portsmouth, which has been an urgent requirement for a very long time, and which cannot be put off any longer. Another at Portsmouth is the replacement of wooden platforms at armament depots by concrete. The fourth is the underground storage which is necessary for high explosives at Malta, and the fifth is a new boathouse at Chatham. Anybody who has seen the old boathouse will realise that it is absolutely necessary to begin that at once.
Lastly, there has been a slight alteration in what is known as the "shadow cut" I think hon. Gentlemen opposite know what is meant by the "shadow cut." It is a percentage deduction that is made from the whole of the contract work to allow for and discount possible delays in progress. Of course, last year there were tremendous delays owing to the coal stoppage, and 1678 the shadow cut of last year might have been largely increased, although that could not, have been foreseen. I do not know whether the expectations of the Treasury this year are likely to be fulfilled. The arrangement is that the Treasury settles what they think should be the shadow cut. If they are mistaken, then they agree to a Supplementary Estimate from the Department to make up the deficiency. We have always had a sort of friendly dispute with the Treasury. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will remember that. We have always said that the Treasury tried to make too large a shadow cut, and the Treasury always say that we tend to make it too small. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend would know that. It only began when the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite were in office, but it has been continued since. So far, the Treasury have always had the luck to be right. It must have been luck. They could not have foreseen the coal stoppage of last year—[Interruption] — perhaps they did — and always, as we think, something or other has happened which has proved them to be right and which they have had no right to expect. Therefore, the facts being as they are, it is very difficult for us to resist their desire that we should make a larger shadow cut this year.
The result is that we are able to pre sent to the House an Estimate of £58,000,000, which is £100,000 less than last year. I think it is a great achievement on the part of my staff. If hon. Members would compare it with pre-War expenditure on the Navy, they would realise that it is not an extravagant sum. If calculated on a pre-War basis of money value, this £58,000,000 would be £34,000,000 in round figures. The actual Estimate in 1911 was £51,500,000. Therefore, calculating it on that basis, the expenditure for which we are estimating this year is £l7,000,000 less than in the, year before the War, and considerably less, too, than many years before that. In fact, we have to go back to 1908 before we get a lower figure. It is important to bear in mind that, owing to the extra cost of everything since then, it is fair to make comparison on the basis of pre-War prices.
There are one or two important matters to which I think I ought to refer. I 1679 cannot refer to everything that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen would wish me to talk about, hut my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with some points, and no doubt when we have had a Debate others will be raised which will prove to be of interest to the House. But there are a few to which I might refer to start with. One is the Imperial Conference which took place in the autumn, and which I think gave the Representatives of His Majesty's Overseas Dominions a very close insight into our naval problem. They were present twice at meetings at which the whole of the details of the present and future situation were put before them. They attended a demonstration at Portland, which I think then found a very interesting one. This meeting of the Conference gave them the opportunity of reaffirming many of the decisions which had been arrived at at the Conference of 1923, and, of those which affect the Navy, there are two or three of great importance. If the House will allow me, I will mention which they were. One is:To make adequate provision for safe-gum ding the maritime communications of the several parts of the Empire, and the routes and waterways along and through which their armed forces and trade passAnother deals withThe provision of naval bases and facilities for repair and fuel so as to ensure the mobility of the Fleets.A third is:The desirability of the maintenance of a minimum standard of naval strength, namely, equality with the naval strength of any foreign Power.Those Resolutions which had been passed in 1923 were reaffirmed last autumn.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I am coming to that matter later on. They know the policy we are trying to carry out; they agree with it; they realise that financially it is a very formidable one, and they welcome the spirit of co-operation in the Empire. We also welcome, and shall welcome, that spirit of co-operation as it develops. But it must be remembered that certain parts of the Empire have already made very large contributions. At the same time, I very much hope that 1680 in years to come other parts of the Empire may also contribute, and that those who have contributed may contribute more. It is not for us to dictate to the other parts of the Empire what they ought to do, but I am quite certain that they have realised the responsibility which rests upon them, and I confidently hope that in the way which seems best to them, and which it is easiest for them to accomplish, they will come to the assistance of the Mother Country in bearing this burden. There is one other Resolution passed at the Conference to which I wish to refer, and it is that with regard to Singapore:The Conference takes note of the deep interest of the Commonwealth of Australia, the Dominion of New Zealand, and India in the provision of a Naval Base at Singapore as essential for ensuring the mobility necessary to provide for the security of the territories and trade of the Empire in Eastern waters.That was re-affirmed, and the re-affirmation carries with it the refutation of a statement sometimes made in this House that Australasia has lost her interest in the Singapore Base. Her interest is the same and is as great as it ever was. In studying the Estimates, no doubt the House will have observed that there has been a change in the total figure—
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that, when he was in power, Australia wished to support with money the Singapore Base, and it was simply be cause he and his friends would not go on with it that they diverted their money to building cruisers instead. That is a matter of simple history which the hon. Gentleman, I should have thought, would rather have kept to himself. I was going to observe that the total figure for the cost of the Singapore Base has been reduced from £11,000,000 to £7,7.50,000. That is exclusive of the cost of the new floating dock which is being constructed to go there. This reduction has been made possible by a more careful survey of the ground and of what is necessary, and also by leaving out certain facilities for storage and repair which are not absolutely necessary, and which, if unfortunately the political outlook were to become clouded, could be erected in a very short time. Towards the cost of 1681 the whole of the scheme, the Straits Settlements have contributed the land; Hong Kong have already given £250,000; the Malay States, as I have said, have given £2,000,000; and we should be very glad to receive further contributions. They quite spontaneously offered the money, and there is no reason why other people should not do the same. The sum required this year for Singapore will be £335,500 for the construction of the floating dock, and £284,000 for other works, of which £576,000 will come from the Malay States, and only £43,500, it is fortunate for us, from the British taxpayer.
Then I must say a word about the necessity we are under for sending ships to China owing to the disturbed state of that country. I think the Leader of the Opposition and other speakers on that side of the House have attempted to draw some distinction between what they call the policy of the Foreign Office and the policy of the Service Departments, as if they were not united in this matter. It is a complete myth. As far as the Admiralty are concerned, what we have done has been to respond as rapidly as we could—and I think nobody could say we have wasted much time—in carrying out our part. What we have done has hen to respond to what the Foreign Office asked us to do in order to protect British people in China, and we are very glad to be able to send out ships from glad which landing parties can be disembarked, and whose presence will do a good deal to allay the terrible anxiety under which many British people are living in China at the present time. We have sent out 1,000 Marines at very short notice. They were ready in three days from the time they were asked for, and several days before their troop ships were available. I think it is a very fine testimony to the great efficiency of that magnificent force, the Marines, that in less than three days they were ready to go to those very distant parts of the world. As I have said before, we have estimated for £125,000 towards the cost of bringing back those extra ships which have gone out there.
There is another small item on which, I think, we can congratulate ourselves, that is the success that so far has attended the tour of the Duke and Duchess 1682 of York in the "Renown," and the great satisfaction and interest which their visit has caused in all the places at which they have stayed. I am sure the House is very sorry to hear that the Duchess is suffering from even a slight indisposition, and being interested in the "Renown" I cannot help feeling some satisfaction that it was on shore and not in the ship. At the same time, I hope that when she does return to the "Renown," that will he the best recuperative convalescent treatment that she can have. I am sure the House will not grudge the very limited amount of money that has been spent on this most successful voyage.
There is one point which is rather an important one, although it is not a question of a great deal of money, and that is the Royal Naval Medical Service. Recruitment for that Service has been unsatisfactory for some considerable time. I need not go into the causes of it. A Committee was set up to look into the conditions of that Service, and to inquire into the causes of the difficulty of recruiting.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
For all the Services. I think my right hon. Friend the Minister of War mentioned it in his speech on the Army Estimates. It was for all Services. As a result, certain improvements have been effected, and were notified in July last in Fleet Orders. The principal improvements are that greater facilities have been given to the young doctors to specialise in various branches of their profession, which are not naturally easily available in sea service. Improved allowances have been given to holders of specialist posts, and charge pay has been approved of to medical officers in charge of hospital and sick quarters. Also, any candidate who holds a house appointment at a recognised hospital, is allowed to ante-date ins seniority by one year, the object of that being to attract, if we can, the most efficient of the younger medical men. We have also established an addition to the dental officers by increasing their establishment from 48 to 64. In the future we are looking forward to a visit from the French Navy under Admiral Pirot, who is expected to come here in command of 1683 the Second Squadron of the French Fleet, and be our guest at Portsmouth for a week from 30th May. The Royal Navy has a lively recollection of the splendid and hospitable reception they received from the French nation in April, 1919, and we welcome the opportunity of returning this hospitality and testifying to the cordial friendship which exists between the two Fleets.
I cannot conclude without saying a few words from the Admiralty point of view on the subject of President Coolidge's Note inviting the Powers who participated in the Washington Agreement to a further Conference for the limitation of armaments. It has often been suggested by our critics in the House and outside that the Admiralty desire to encourage competition in shipbuilding, and would be likely to oppose any further limitation of armaments. Nothing can be adduced in the way of evidence to support such a contention. I have said again and again—I have said it in this House, and I have said it outside—that we have no objection whatever to a further Conference. We welcome it, provided that we go into that Conference asking other nations to consider our special difficulties in the same way that we shall undoubtedly respect and consider theirs. There are special circumstances with regard to our Navy which are totally different from those of any other country. Our obligation is to maintain a Fleet equal in naval strength to that of any other Power, and provide reasonable security for safeguarding trade and communications. That is the sacred duty, as I regard it, placed upon the Fleet, and one which we at the Admiralty are proud to endeavour to carry out. I think that any defection from that very moderate policy would never be tolerated by the present House of Commons, and that obligation we shall continue to carry out. Even if this House of Commons were to say that we no longer need be guided by such a formula, I for one should not be able to take the responsibility of occupying the post that I do.
In saying this, I have not advanced any argument against the Conference. I am quite sure that the only chance of success in this Conference is that those Powers who go into it are perfectly frank 1684 with one another, that they state why they want the strength that they do want, that we should very easily understand that other nations have problems quite different from ours, and that they would understand the same of us. I very much hope that both the French and Italian nations will still be able to reconsider the question, and, being reassured of the good will and common sense which, I am sure, will be brought to bear by those who take part in the Conference, will be able, perhaps, to join it after all. It would be far more satisfactory if they would. At the same time, if they feel, for reasons which I do not want to traverse, difficulty in coming in, I still think that nothing but good can come from a frank exchange of views between the other three great naval Powers. I also think that we can achieve very considerable progress in that, direction without risking the obligation which I have already stated as the obligation which the Admiralty and the Fleet must carry out.
In conclusion, I would like to say that I am very much indebted to those in the Admiralty, to all ranks in the Fleet, to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, to the men who work in the dockyards, for the loyal spirit in which they have worked to maintain the efficiency of the Royal Navy. They have had certain difficulties and trials to meet, but they have not allowed those trials to stand in the way of admirable work. They have, I think, proved that nothing is failing in the efficiency and the fine spirt of the Fleet, and all who work for it, and they certainly have done a great deal to make my work easier than it otherwise might have been. I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my thanks to them.
§ Mr. AMMON
No one in the House can join more readily than I in re-echoing the sentiments in the concluding words of the First Lord of the Admiralty in praise of the personnel and administration of the Royal Navy, and any criticism we have to make is not in any way levelled at the officials or the personnel in the Navy, but at the Government themselves as those responsible for the administration. The First Lord did himself quite an injustice when he said that he would have no novelty and little of 1685 interest to bring before the House as compared with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I suppose there is no one who can supply the House with a greater feeling of admiration than he as one who can talk for three-quarters of an hour and say, like the right hon. Gentleman, very little about the policy or the plans of the Navy itself. He has managed to do that, and all controversial subjects, those matters which are before the country just now, he has very skilfully avoided. It is only the right hon. Gentleman who could venture to say that the House would be astonished at the low Estimate he was bringing before it with regard to the Navy at this particular time. It is true, as he said, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has supported him all through in his demands for building programmes and extensions, and it is true that the First Lord has done his utmost insofar that he takes credit for saving that which he was unable to spend.
The right hon. Gentleman 'made reference to the "shadow cut," and historically he is quite accurate in saying that that came in with the last Government. He showed a little more courage than I did, because I avoided using the term, as it laid itself open to so much play by critical Members of the House. It is indeed only a shadowy one, and there can never be any possibility of reduction in Navy Estimates until a direct overhead cut is made by the Treasury itself, and the Admiralty and the Navy have to cut their coat according to the cloth that is sups-lied to them The savings, such as they are, have been effected, or rather, we have been safeguarded against very much additional expenditure, by circumstances wholly beyond—in a certain measure—the control of the Admiralty and the Government. I refer to the cut in wages, and the reductions in the cost of clothes and food. These, of course, are due to economic circumstances—with the exception of the first, where the saving has been made at the expense of the men who form the rank and file of the Navy. The closing down of Rosyth and Pembroke, and the discharges from the various dockyards, all go, hi some way, to show a reduction of expenditure, but mean simply a transfer of expenditure from one side of the national account to the other, and perhaps will give us a very 1686 much worse return in unemployment and all those things which follow.
Last week we discussed the Army and the Air Estimates, and to-day we are considering the Navy Estimates. These three Services call for an expenditure of £115,413,634, the Navy costing as much as the other two. I join with the right hon. Gentleman in his statement that under present circumstances it is necessary that our lines of communication, our trade routes and all other things which are necessary should be preserved and maintained; but the story there is altogether different from that which is presented to us to-day and which is contained in the figures the House is asked to pass. It is somewhat ironical that we should be asked to pass this Estimate for the Navy at this particular time, when our newspapers are telling us of a proposed naval conference among nations to see whether or not we can cut down armaments, and the matter is shortly to be raised at the Geneva Conference. Here, surely, if ever, was the opportunity to take, as it were, something of a naval holiday, and thus give some confidence to other nations that we are sincere in our desire to reduce expenditure and are prepared to go a long way to meet other nations in that direction. The First Lord says it has been charged against the Admiralty again and again that they are doing all they can to encourage shipbuilding and a race in armaments, a charge which he utterly denies. After all, what we are doing would not incline an outsider to accept such a statement at its face value; for while all the special difficulties which have been advanced may be admitted, and while it is true that it is necessary to be perfectly frank, at the same time we could have gone into the proposed conference without coming before the country with any new programme or extension of a programme of building. We should not have suffered the least little bit by doing so, but would certainly have gained very materially in morale and prestige among the nations with whom we are proposing to sit down to confer. While we pay a tribute to the special work which the Navy does for the world in suppressing piracy and slave trading and in survey work and fishery protection, the one fact which stares us in the face, in spite of 1687 what the First Lord says, is the contrast between the amount of money spent in pre-war days and now. In actual cash value we are very nearly back to the same status as in 1913.
§ Mr. AMMON
But we are. The amount in cash is £6,500,000 more than in 1913. The First Lord has just told us that the expenditure then was £51,000,000. That brings us to within very little of the expenditure in those days, when the German Navy was a menace and we were supposed to be arming against it.
§ Mr. AMMON
If the hon. and gallant Member had listened to me he would have heard me say that I am taking the cash value. I am taking the First Lord's own argument. He said in actual cash, or allowing, for the change. My answer to that is that on his own figure we were spending £51,000,000 then and we are now asked for £58,000,000.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I am afraid I cannot have made myself clear. What we are asking for now is £58,000,000. We asked in 1914 for £51,000,000. The value of £58,000,000 in the money value of 1914 would have been £34,000,000, which is £17,000,000 less than we are actually spending now.
§ Mr. AMMON
We will examine that. In 1919 we were all working for a reduction of expenditure, and here we are now spending £6,500,000 more than in 1913, when the German Navy was a menace. We are now being asked to pass this very large Vote, with only small cuts, and those due entirely to artificial causes.
§ Mr. AMMON
Not at all. Let us take the White Paper which the First Lord has issued. He says:Extra charges amounting to nearly £1,000,000 have also been provided for in the new Estimates owing to causes outside the control of the Admiralty.1688 The First Lord is seeking credit for something that could not be helped. In fact, it means that there is a real increase of about £900,000, but that in spite of it it has been possible to present Estimates for 1927 which show a small reduction. Then he goes on to show what the reductions are due to. They are due to administrative economies, and to the contribution by the Federated Malay States; but that contribution from the Malay States in itself exceeds the whole of the reduction of £100.000 for which credit has been claimed this afternoon.
A still more serious thing is that the Admiralty. Office Vete continues to increase, and is up by £18,000. It is no secret that even in naval circles there is considerable discussion and feeling on that subject. I know that some of this increase is due to normal incremental increases in wages, the cost of living bonus, but that does not account for the fact that while we are cutting down in the Navy the expenditure in the Admiralty Office still goes mounting up year after year, and it is well known that there is considerable overstaffing there. In the naval side alone in the Admiralty there are opportunities for a very close investigation. It has been suggested in some quarters that when it was found necessary to cut down the Navy opportunity was taken to provide billets for certain people inside the Admiralty, so that the whole intention of Parliament is being frustrated in this particular matter. We get some ilea of the Government mentality in regard to these things when we turn to heading (f) on page 1 of the White Paper, where it is said:We have continued to take advantage of the absence of any disturbing signs in the general naval situation by extending the period over which the provision of improved war materials of various kinds would normally be spread, and by postponing and reducing other expenditure wherever possible.If that means anything, it means that this country has got to make up its mind for a steady and progressive increase in naval estimates, that in no circumstances will there be any possible reduction or halt, but that in times of peace, such as now, there are only going to be slight increases. One can imagine how they will rocket up should there be any threat or talk of danger from war.
1689 In the very last sentence in the introduction to the White Paper we are reminded that even the so-called small savings may be quite illusory, for the First Lord tells us that these can only be contingent on certain things which may happen and may make it possible to delay work being proceeded with. Really, therefore, we are threatened with this, not any reduction, but, before the year is out, a Supplementary Estimate which will considerably increase the expenditure on the Navy. Again I would like to advance the point that it would have been a very favourable moment to delay any increased expenditure on the Navy and to have brought about considerable reductions, at the same time increasing our morale and prestige among the nations and showing that we are really in earnest in a desire to discuss disarmament. As I gather from the programme issued with the Estimates, at least 15 ships will come into commission during the coming year, including the two capital ships "Rodney" and "Nelson," which will bring our complement of capital ships up to the full strength under the Washington Treaty. The cruisers which were laid down in 1924, will be completed and come into commission.
§ Mr. AMMON
I have never apologised for them and I am not apologising now. They will be completed and in commission. Following on that, in 1928 at least four other ships will come into commission, according to programme, and "Courageous" and "Glorious" will be converted into aircraft carriers—in effect, an addition to the power of the Navy. With all this inereased strength coming in during the current.year, it would have been an easy matter, and one that might very well have been expected, to withhold this present programme, to have been content with those additions and to have gone into the conference with our hands unfettered as it were with regard to the whole business, and yet at the same time knowing that we would not suffer any loss of power or personnel in the Navy. In addition to the vessels which we are laying down and for which we shall be responsible ourselves two Australian cruisers, I believe, will be laid down by the Australian Government. In face of all 1690 that, the First Lord comes to us and asks us to consent to an additional new programme of 20 further ships, including three cruisers, eight destroyers, six submarines, etc. It is bound to make people doubt whether there is any sincerity in the Government talk of a willingness to take part in any discussion and to put out peculiar situation before the other nations when in addition to the ships to come into commission this year we are here proposing to build 20 more ships, to say nothing of those which will be completed in 1928. At a time when we badly need money it would have been an advantage to the nation not to go in for this new programme particularly as in no way would the Navy have suffered.
Turning from that there are one or two points about which I would like to ask direct questions. One is that I cannot find any statement as to the exact cost to the nation of the cruise of the "Renown." Then I want to draw attention to a paragraph on page 6 dealing with the Tangier Patrol. Is it unfair to ask whether we get any return for the services we rendered to Spain and France when we helped them to fight and defeat a small nation of people who were fighting for freedom? I would like to know what return we got for the services we rendered in this connection. How long has it been the practice for us to place ourselves at the beck and call of other nations in connection with a cause of which no nation can feel proud. I also observe it is proposed that the new cruisers, as and when they are ready, will be sent out to the China Station and there will then be assembled the strongest cruiser squadron in the world.
I want to draw attention, as I have, done in previous years, to what I may call the reorientation of the Navy which is now based in Eastern waters. This is a danger to the world's peace because we are getting into a condition in Eastern waters which used to exist in the North Sea in the year 1914. First of all, we have the Singapore Base, the founding of the Indian Navy, and there is a great gathering together of these forces in distant waters. I think the House has a right to know in regard to this policy what is in the mind of the Government and the Admiralty, and 1691 what danger they fear in those particular waters. Hon. Members who have read the reports from the Japanese newspapers will see more and more that they are getting disturbed as to the action and intentions of this country in those waters. At a time like this when we need money so badly, and when there is talk of a desire to come together and discuss possibilities of disarmament, it seems to me that we are going the wrong way to work in order to spread the spirit of peace, or to economise in any way that will be of advantage to this nation.
That brings me naturally to the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to Singapore. On 31st March I noticed that we had spent £1,268,000 and we propose to spend another £291,000 during the ensuing year at Singapore, and this leaves the bigger part of the bill to be faced in the future. Although it has been stated that the total cost of this base will be about £10,000,000, there are people who estimate that twice that amount will hardly cover the total expenditure on that scheme before it is finished. We have been told that a considerable relief is afforded in these Estimates by the generous contribution of the Federated Malay States towards the cost of the Singapore Naval Base, and the First Lord read a, resolution in which Australia still affirms its belief in this particular policy.
When I asked the right hon. Gentleman how far Australia had backed up her opinions by money in support of the scheme, he retorted that they had not advanced the money promised, because the last Government held up the Singapore Base scheme and consequently Australia spent the money in other directions. I believe that was done because there has been a serious change of opinion in Australia in this particular direction. Nobody knows better than the First Lord that there was an even stronger controversy in Australia in regard to the Singapore Base than existed in this country, and many people in Australia wanted the Naval Base established either at Sydney or at Port Darwin. Therefore the Australians were not at all unanimous in regard to this proposal, and I think there is reason to believe that the real opinion of the Australian people is against the scheme.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
It was officially stated in the Australian Parliament that when the Singapore Scheme was abandoned the money voted for that scheme was to be devoted to the building of cruisers.
§ Mr. AMMON
Of course, I am aware of that, and I am pointing out that that was the way in which they got out of it in order to meet the controversy which had arisen in their own country. I know they were able to build their cruisers, and the controversy was running very strongly against the Singapore Base, and I am sure it would again run very strong if there was any thought of sending any more money from Australia in connection with the Singapore Base. On this matter one can understand the position of the Malay States, because, from their point of view, it is an economic investment, but we shall be called upon eventually to foot the bill. In addition to this, there is going to be erected there a floating dock which will cost £1,200,000. Once again, I draw attention to the fact that we are being saddled again with an additional expenditure which was never foreshadowed at first. I know it is true that a graving dock and a floating dock was to be put there, but we understood that the old German docks were to be put into position at Singapore. We know that one of them has not been used, and I would like to know whether the other dock has been scrapped or sold, because it was intended to be used in this particular connection.
I want to raise one other point in regard to the expenditure in this Estimate. I notice there is an item of £882,000 for the air arm in connection with the Navy or an increase of £201,000. That, of course, brings us up against the controversy that has been going on in this House and elsewhere as to the control of the combined air services. Is it not time we came to a decision as to whether there is going to be a co-ordination of the air forces, or whether we are going to have two different services running rival concerns in the same field? The Minister for Air came to us last week and introduced Estimates, which showed certain reductions with regard to the Air Force, but those reductions are more than eaten up by the Admiralty demanding an increase of £201,000 for the development of their Air Force. I 1693 am not alone in thinking that this sort of thing, if it goes on, is going to end in trouble and disaster in the days to come as it did in the days gone by, and this view is shared by people far more competent and expert than I am in regard to these matters.
Last year I asked the First Lord if he could tell me what would happen in the case of a combined attack by the Royal Air Force and the section of the Air Force connected with the Navy? I asked who was going to be in charge and who would be the officer directing the attack, and up to now we have had no answer to that question. I do not think it is good management to leave these things to the time when hostilities break out, and we should know immediately how these things are going to be directed. It seems to me that the Government ought to make-up its mind that the Air Force as a whole has got to come under one control, and we should not have any divided state of affairs in regard to control. This convinces me more and more that I have been right in insisting that we must press forward still more strongly for a Ministry of Defence, and we cannot continue the present method. The conditions have changed, and we require something entirely new with regard to the organisation of our services. Turning from that subject I suppose one ought to look with gratitude in regard to what the First Lord tells us on page 10 of this explanatory statement. He tells us that with all the tremendous expenditure to which we are being committed it has been decided not to proceed with the construction of the four motor launches included in the programme for 1926. I think that can only be taken as a joke and should not be taken seriously. In face of all the millions of unnecessary expenditure this year, and bearing in mind that new ships are coining into commission here, we find that the Government are seeking to get kudos out of a paltry saving in connection with four motor launches.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I did not ask for any kudos. I only said that instead of having four motor launches we are going to lay down two mine sweepers.
§ Mr. AMMON
I am sure the House will appreciate the First Lord's sense of humour, but he is really praying tricks with the House.
1694 I would like to ask what has happened in regard to the building of the four gunboats for service in China. I understand that their completion was delayed by the coal stoppage, and that they are to be sent to Hong Kong for re-erection and completion. There is one other point I wish to raise which concerns this House and the Government. Many of us in some wav or another have been impressed by a good deal of unrest and discontent and dissatisfaction which has arisen owing to certain criticisms which have appeared in the Press over the signature of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Those criticisms are causing unrest for the simple reason that they are leading people to believe that there are privileged people in high positions who may do things which are denied to officers and members of the Civil Service of a lower rank. A controversy has been launched in the public Press in which admirals and other public servants are taking part, raising questions of strategy and work that affects individual officers alone. If it were only a matter of policy then one would not have anything to say, but this question is in a different position.
This is the case of one who was the First Lord of the Admiralty during the time when some of the officers were on active service, and therefore I do not think the Chancellor of the Exchequer should take advantage of the position he then occupied and the position he now occupies to publish in the Press statements referring to strategy, and the conduct of their work when it is extremely difficult for those officers to defend themselves. The difficulty is becoming more accentuated because a position has arisen in which it is now known that there is a report in the hands of the Admiralty known as the Harper Report When this business is going forward, surely the Admiralty should not let it go on in this one-sided manner, which is creating unrest and dissatisfaction. It was my privilege to travel, a week or two ago, in company with a distinguished admiral, and he was feeling very sore about certain articles in the "Times," and the controversy in other newspapers. The matter has not been improved since, in response to questions, the Prime Minister, when pressed as to whether it would 1695 be competent for civil servants and other people filling responsible positions to answer criticisms in the columns of the Press, replied:This is a free country.Well, is it a free country to the extent that it is seriously proposed that we can open the floodgates of controversy, in which all permanent officials or people holding high administrative posts and political chiefs can enter and discuss the problems of their work strategy or whatever it may be? I am bound to say that, although I have always pressed for the widest possible freedom with regard to many things, the possibility of that somewhat appals me. But I must say that, in the face of the line taken up by the Government, it would be very difficult to deny that there is a different law for some people than there is for others.
The right hon. Gentleman, in opening his speech, said that the secrets of the Treasury are well kept. That probably is true, but certainly it seems that the secrets of other Departments are not well kept, particularly when certain people have access to them. Then we got the astonishing statement that the book or the articles were prepared at a time when it was thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not figure again very largely in public life. I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer appreciated the delicate compliment which was paid to him by his chief. Certainly they have had to pay a very heavy price for the right hon. Gentleman's company since he joined them. Whether that be so or not, it opens up the still more dangerous possibility that somebody who may have filled a responsible position in the Government, the Civil Service or filled a political office, because he is not likely to figure again largely on the public horizon, may come out and launch attacks on other people, or enter into criticisms, or bring the affairs and disputes that go on behind the particular Ministries into the light of day, placing other people in difficult positions, while at the same time ethers are denied a like freedom. This particular controversy has raised very acutely the whole position of the Civil Service with regard to the public; as to whether or not civil servants occupying high posts are to be open to attack in this 1696 manner, or whether, no matter how eminent a Minister may be, he is to be expected to conform to the same Regulations and the same standard as any other Member of this House or any member of the Civil Service.
Vice-Admiral Sir REGINALD HALL
There is only one point which has been, raised by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down to which I would refer. When he compared the Estimates of to-day with pre-War Estimates, there is one factor which he overlooked. The figure for the non-effective Services in 1914 was about £3,000,000, but he knows, and the House knows, that, owing to the great expansion of the Navy during the War, and the fact that it had to be cut down after the War, a huge number of officers and men had to be placed on the retired list. That made the non-effective list £8,000,000, an increase of £5,000,000. When you are making any comparison between the Estimates of 1913 and 1914 with those of to-day, that should be borne in mind, as it is a matter which is not within the control of any Government. The point I really want to speak upon is the subject of cruisers. We are going to be placed in a difficult situation in going into this Conference at Washington. There has always been, in many minds, an idea that the number of cruisers a nation requires depends upon the number of its battleships, but that is not the basis upon which you estimate the number of cruisers. One nation may have no trade routes, while another nation may have very large trade routes You may regard our trade routes as sea railways, and it can be seen that our trade routes connecting us with our Overseas Dominions are really comparable to the railways in the United States of America, which connect the different States. If we have to police our trade routes across the seas, then there should be no complaint if we do that in our own way. History shows us, to a certain extent, what the requirements of this country in cruisers are.
There are some very distinct comparisons of the figures of ships during our war with France and with the present day. Our armoured cruisers may be regarded as comparable with the 40- and 50-gun frigates at the time of the French Wars. In 1793, when the war with France began, we started with 30 of those fri- 1697 gates, and when the war ended in 1810 we had only 15. It was found that they had not met the requirements of guarding our overseas trade. In 1914, we started with 46 armoured cruisers, and we finished with 27, none on the stocks and none being built. We found that the heavy armoured cruiser was not requisite for guarding our overseas routes. If you take, on the other hand, the question of light cruisers, which are comparable to the 36-gun frigates of the old days, you will find that in 1793 we started with 96, and in 1810 we finished with 162, and that was in spite of the fact that we lost 74 either by shipwreck or enemy action, and we captured 162 from the enemy. In those days, there was an advantage in capturing a ship, because you could convert her into one of your own ships; you hoisted the British flag and she became an effective unit in the British Fleet. It would be very hard to do that to-day, because in the late War, after any action between cruisers, there was generally no cruiser that was worth having after the victor had finished his work. In 1914, we started with 62 cruisers of sorts, some effective and some ineffective, and we finished with 82 actually at sea and 21 on the stocks, a very large increase. If you take the question of sloops, the old-fashioned sloop of the old days compares with the sloop and destroyer of to-day, and the figures are more amazing still. In 1793, we started with 38 of these ships, and in 1810 we had no fewer than 246 actually at sea. In 1914, we started with 260 sloops and destroyers and other small vessels, and in 1918 we had actually 55s at sea. The point I am trying to bring before the House is that the number of cruisers, either in the French War or in the last War, bore no relation to the size of the battleship fleet. A certain number of cruisers are required for certain definite purposes quite distinct from Fleet functions—for the guarding of overseas routes, for coast patrol, for conveying transports carrying troops, and other purposes.
When the German cruiser "Emden" was at large in the Indian Ocean, we had searching for her from 18 to 24 vessels. It took altogether from 38 to 40 ships to deal with Von Spee. The reason why that number of ships was required was not that these ships were required all at 1698 one point, but because no one knew where the enemy was going, and there were a number of focal points which had to be guarded. Therefore, if any enemy ship or enemy squadron gets through our lines and gets upon our trades routes, our effective cruiser strength has to be very large, because, until we know the enemy's objective, there are many focal points which need to be defended. That is the reason why, when we go into this Washington Conference, we should not commit ourselves to the 5–5–3 standard, as we have done in the case of the battleships, and I take no exception to that. This is the first time in the history of America, since the Civil War, that America appears to be classifying herself among our possible opponents. If they like to classify themselves among our possible opponents that is their affair. I can certify that during the whole time I was in the Navy or holding any official position at the Admiralty, the amount and size of the American Fleet never entered into our calculations as a possible opponent, and any officer of the Navy and any politician in an official position can confirm that. If America likes to come into the lists with us that is her affair. We are not to build against them, and they have never been a possible enemy; but the important point is that we must have our bands free in protecting our trade routes by not tying our hands to a definite number of cruisers. I have endeavoured to show that the number of cruisers we require bears no relation to the size of our Battle Fleet; they depend entirely on trade routes and focal points which have to be guarded. There is one other point in connection with cruisers that I would like to speak upon. As I have said, it is not the case to-day, as it was in the old days, that if you captured an enemy ship you could make it in a few days into, one of your own. In view of the history of the last War, it is clear that, if we are to protect our routes and focal points, we require very large shipbuilding facilities in this country to make up losses and to increase the Fleet when required. For that reason, I hope that the support of the Government will be given to private yards for shipbuilding. The dockyards can always be trusted to take care of themselves.
There is one criticism that I have to, make on the Estimates, and that is as to 1699 the amount for the Royal Naval Reserve. I regret that that has been decreased. I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) is here. I want to put an idea before the House which I hope may receive favourable consideration. The Navy always welcomes the Royal Naval Reserve. It makes friends of them, and would like to see more of them. The War, especially, showed us what we already knew, namely, their gallantry and what they are capable of, but that is all one-sided. What do I know about the working of a merchant ship? What does any officer in the Navy know about the difficulties of the Merchant Service? That is why I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea here. Cannot we have some form of interchange? How much better it would be if we could have certain young officers doing certain cruises in certain lines of ships. They would learn some of the difficulties under which the Merchant Service have to work; they would understand the meaning of demurrage, charter-parties and so on, and all the difficulties of navigation in a ship that is not so well found, perhaps, as the Admiralty insist upon. I am certain that, if some system of that sort could be established, it would create a closer brotherhood between the Merchant Service and the British Navy, and, if we are to succeed at sea, we must have the very closest brotherhood between the two great Services. I hope that that point may be taken into consideration, if not this year, at any rate next year. If a committee could be set up, including shipowners, to discuss how it could be done, I feel certain that we should be able to make a big step forward.
I was glad to hear the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who first criticised the Estimates. It is not so much that these criticisms of the late War which have appeared in books and in the Press have been in some cases criticisms of living officers, but they have been in many cases criticisms of the dead. The living can quite well look after themselves; if they cannot, they ought not to be alive; but these criticisms do tend to split the Navy into camps, and anything which tends to destroy the cohesion of the personnel of 1700 the Navy is doing an ill service, not only to the Navy, but to the nation. I should not have raised this question had it not been for something which I propose to read to the House, but before I do that I should like to call the attention of the House to the fact that these controversies regarding battles at sea are no new thing. There was a very famous drawn battle between Admiral Keppel and the French off Ushant on the 27th and 28th July, 1778. It resulted in a court-martial on Admiral Keppel for not sinking the enemy's fleet. Three days after the action, Captain John Jervis, later Earl St. Vincent, who was one of the greatest seamen that ever lived, and who at that time was Captain of the "Foudroyant," wrote to his personal friend George Jackson, and I will read to the House an extract from his letter. There had been criticisms already about the battle, and this is what Jervis said:I do not agree that we have been outwitted. The French, I am convinced, never would have fought us if they had not been surprised into it, and when they formed their inimitable line after our brush it was merely to cover their intention of flight "—What a forecast of Jutland!I have often told you that two fleets of equal force never can produce decisive events unless they are equally determined to fight it out, or the Commander-in-Chief of one of them misconducts his line.No one, at any rate in my hearing, would ever accuse an officer of the Grand Fleet of misconducting his line. I think the letter of this great seaman very accurately sums up the reason why some people criticise the Battle of Jutland without full knowledge. When, however, it comes down to detailed criticism, there I propose to step in. In one of the morning papers, on the 4th March, there appeared this sentence:The conclusive evidence from our own and German sources of the low standard of gunnery in our battle cruisers, which inefficiency went sonic way to account for the loss of the 'Queen Mary' and 'Indefatigable' is ignored by the author.As I have said, we who are living can look after ourselves; but I was the first captain of the "Queen Mary," and my gallant comrades, officers and men, who were lost in their ship, are not here to defend themselves, and so with the permission of the House, I will give the House a few facts. The year prior to 1701 the War, we carried out what is known as battle practice, that is to say, the annual practice at long range carried out under conditions laid down by the Admiralty. I admit that the whole of the Fleet had not completed their practice, owing to the outbreak of war, but the majority had, and the ship which stood at the head of the list over every other ship in the Fleet in that competitive practice—which was the greatest battle test that the Admiralty ever gave a ship—the ship that stood at the head of the Fleet in that test was the "Queen Mary." The gunnery officer, my good friend Llewellyn, who went down in the ship, was the gunnery officer during that practice, the same captains of turrets were there, and the same men were working the ship. I will give the House my own observations of what I saw at the Battle of Heligoland. I was in command of the second ship of the line, and we were firing at the "Köln." Across the bow of the "Lion" the German light cruiser "Arethusa" was steaming at a high speed on an unknown course. The "Lion" trained one of her turrets on her and fired three salvos, and hit the "Arethusa." Meanwhile B turret of the "Queen Mary," under Lieut. Hanley, was trained away from the "Köln" and on to the "Arethusa," and hit her in three salvos. We were steaming at 28, knots, and the "Arethusa" at 18 to 20 knots on an unknown course. These controversies have led to defamation of the dead, and I feel strongly that, whatever criticisms we may have to make on the living, while I have a voice to speak and while I have a place in this House, I cannot allow such criticisms to be made of my dead comrades.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
The House must have listened to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Eastbourne (Sir R. Hall) with sympathy. No one can speak with greater authority and general knowledge than he of the Naval War of 1914–18, and no officers, living or dead, need wish for a better defender. It is not, however, on that subject that I would venture to detain the House for a short time this afternoon. The Estimates were introduced this afternoon in a speech of great candour and good humour by the First Lord of the Admiralty, who appears to have caught the genial habit and humour of the 1702 profession over which he presides. He left, however, in his full statement, many gaps, which I hope will be filled in in the course of the Naval Debates this session. The first and most serious was the omission of any statement from him as to the relations between the Navy and the Air Force and Army. This is an old and very difficult subject which has, during the years since the War, entered upon a new era, and we are now entitled, I think, to more light than has ever been given to any previous House of Commons on what is conceived to be the exact duty to be performed by the British Navy in conjunction with the other two Services. That there is overlapping, and, it may be, in some directions, confusion, many people of knowledge suspect. How far that has been cleared up by the Committee of Imperial Defence has not been disclosed to the House, but I suggest that the First Lord, or whoever replies on behalf of the Government, might well enlighten us as to the functions that are to be performed by the Navy, and what is the new conception of Imperial defence and strategy which governs the whole of the three arms.
The technical questions which were discussed by the hon. and gallant Member for Eastbourne only touch me, if I may say so, at one point, or, at any rate, there is only one point on which I would venture to express any personal opinion, because, from what I have heard of naval discussions in this House, I do not think that hon. Members, unless they have actually been in the Service, shine in technical controversy. There is one point that has been put to the House by the hon. and gallant Member on which I can speak with a certain amount of knowledge and, I hope, with same satisfaction to him. The Royal Naval Reserve officers are amongst the best officers of the Merchant Navy. I know from my own experience what good effect training in the Royal Naval Reserve has had upon those who, as officers or captains in our merchant ships, have done good work in both arms of the Service. The difficulty, however, that arises when we come to the question of an exchange of officers is that we have to expect, from our junior officers in the Merchant Navy, a certain amount of commercial and business knowledge which is not ob- 1703 tainable in the Royal Navy. If there could be sent into the Merchant Navy, as third, fourth or chief officers, young and promising officers from the Royal Navy who would be prepared to submit for a couple of years to the same kind of discipline, and pass through the same experiences on board ship, which are so essential to officers of the Merchant Navy, I venture to think it would be all to the good of the Royal Navy, especially as the Royal Navy, if ever a war should break out again, must have an efficient trade department.
The trade division of the Admiralty, on the outbreak of the Great War, had at its head a most efficient and gallant officer, Captain Webb, who was very well known to many Members of this House. Captain Webb certainly succeeded, in the years before the outbreak of War, in acquiring a great deal of commercial knowledge, but he was always handicapped by the fact that he had but a very small number of junior officers who had had similar training in business. If it will add to the efficiency of the Royal Navy to have this interchange of officers, I think I can answer for the Chamber of Shipping, which is the best authority I can speak for on this subject, and say that we shall be ready to consider any proposals that may be put to us by the Admiralty. We have quite recently been in conference with the Admiralty on some technical questions, and, if this question is raised, we shall certainly be ready to do what we can to provide for that interchange, which we believe will be to the benefit of both branches of the Service. I am glad to hear any mention of the fact that the two are regarded as being so closely akin as almost to be the same thing, and, when war breaks out, it is essential that the Merchant Navy should be regarded as indeed a branch of the British Navy. It is so in fact it becomes so in discipline, it always is so in spirit, and no doubt it can be so in skill.
The point that I would like to impress, if I may, upon the Leader of the House, in the absence of the First Lord, is that at present not very much hope has been given to the House of further economy in the Navy Votes. For my own part, I do not see how it will be possible for the 1704 Admiralty to reduce their programme this year or next, but there is a point rapidly approaching in the matter of naval armaments when a new crisis will arise. When the period of the Washington Agreement has expired, there might quite easily be a fresh outburst of naval shipbuilding, and that point is not very far off. I do not recall at the moment the exact year when the agreement expires. [An HON. MEMBER: "1932!"] If it is 1932, it is very near at hand, and certainly within the next two years, if the agreement is not to be renewed or is to be superseded by something better, the construction departments of all the great Admiralties will have to settle down to the preparation of plans for new construction, and once new plans are embarked on it will be very difficult for any Government—if the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench is in power, he will find it very difficult to resist new programmes if they are put forward by the technical officers of his Department. That was his experience in 1924, and I think it will probably be his experience in the future if he is there. The thought, therefore, that we have of a reduction in naval expenditure might be frustrated unless that new agreement is entered into which will begin in 1932. I have never been able, in the examination of naval Estimates, whether in office or out of office, to see how it was possible for those who are outside the Department to dictate or to prescribe efficient economy. The specialist can always beat the amateur, and the Admiralty can always beat the Treasury, if it comes to a tussle. We know perfectly well that in this country no Chancellor of the Exchequer is able to resist a very strong outburst by naval officials. The only economies that can ever come in the naval Estimates must come from the Admiralty itself. I therefore distrust any proposals that are made of decreases when they are imposed on the Admiralty by the. Treasury. If the First Lord of the Treasury and the Cabinet as a whole have not a strong feeling in favour of economy, it is quite certain that outside critics will not be able to make any impression at all upon the Votes. The only chance there is of a reduction in the naval Estimates as a whole is by a reduction in the Navy.
1705 I am always apprehensive of any reduction of British naval strength which is not accompanied by an equivalent reduction in the navies of other Powers, and for that reason I think one is bound, if one has any sympathy at all with the sea spirit and any knowledge of the liabilities under which the Empire labours, to be driven to the conclusion that the only possible hope of a reduction in naval expenditure must come by international agreement. I therefore heard with the greatest satisfaction the First Lord's statement that he welcomed the Conference that has been suggested by President Coolidge. Wherever that Conference may be held, whether at Geneva, in London, or at Washington, we must all hope that it will result in an international agreement which will lead to a comparative reduction of armaments. Even if the worst comes to the worst it can continue the old Washington Agreement, but I hope it will go a great deal further than that and that it may touch cruisers as well as battleships and submarines as well as vessels that float upon the water. The chance of that successful result depends, of course, not only on what may be the attitude of this country and of America, but what may be the ultimate decision of France and Italy. I cannot conceive it to be possible that there can be a substantial reduction in the British Navy unless France and Italy are prepared, either by agreement or otherwise, to limit their naval construction. Whether they will ultimately come into any agreement that may be reached no one, of course, can tell, but I think we may all express the hope in every part of the House that a general all-round reduction may be achieved at the coming Conference, and that we may be safeguarded against a fresh outburst of shipbuilding which, while it might add to the individual strength, might not add to the comparative strength of this country. Furthermore, we are well aware now that our financial reserves must always play a very large part in our Imperial strength. I hope the First Lord and the Prime Minister himself will feel assured that the general opinion of the House is that a comparative reduction of armaments by international agreement, entered into in good faith by 1706 all the great Powers, will be one of the best most beneficent steps which he or the Government could take.
Mr. HILTON YOUNG
The gallant Admiral, who is just leaving the House, made an interesting proposal to the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. The right hon. Gentleman accepted the gallant Admiral's advances, and we look to see the First Lord of the Admiralty bless the union and that there will be fruition of this fortunate event before next year. It opens up a most prosperous outlook for a new form of training for naval officers. The hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench was, I think, wrong in his comparison of the total cost of the Navy before the War and this year. The effect of his argument was misleading, owing to his inadequate allowance for the rise in prices and in wages. If the hon. Member had completed his argument and worked it out in respect of that point of his attack, the cost of the Admiralty office, he would have produced some very striking figures for the information of the House. I am going to make myself thoroughly nauseous to the First Lord of the Admiralty by asking him once more that question of which he must be so tired, whether he can explain why it is that the Admiralty office costs so much more now than it did before the War. Let us make every allowance for the fall in the value of money. Suppose prices have risen all round 75 per cent., or even as some say 90 per cent., yet the Admiralty office costs 150 per cent more than it did before the War. It is out of all proportion. It is more than double what you would have expected. The increase is spread over every branch of the office, but it is biggest in the staff of the Accountant-General's Department, where it is no less than 170 per cent. So you go through item after item until you come to the gallant little army that sweeps along in the rear, the army of 138 charwomen. There are 32, charwomen more than before the War. Why? Has there been a very great increase in the standard of cleanliness at the Admiralty? If so, perhaps we should not complain.
But as the right hon. Gentleman opposite said, of course it is only in ships and men that you can get a big reduction, and that is a direction in which you 1707 have to advance with very great caution. We all agree cordially with that clear pronouncement by the First Lord as to the absolutely essential necessity of the safeguarding of trade routes for the safety of the British Empire. The British Empire is as much entitled to have an absolute guarantee of safety for the haul of grain from Halifax to Liverpool as the United States are entitled to have absolute safety for the haul of grain from Chicago to New York. A British family overseas are entitled to move with the same safety and ease from Sydney to London as a French family from Bordeaux to Paris. That is a, matter that is at the root, not of our prosperity only, but of our existence. It is for that reason that we ought to accept with unanimous agreement the pronouncement of the right hon. Gentleman opposite that a unilateral reduction of British naval force should fill us with alarm. The sort of reduction to which we look forward is a universal reduction by agreement. It is for that reason that this forthcoming tripartite conference is of such essential importance. It is another opportunity of effecting that relief from the burden of armaments which we know to be vital to the prosperity of the Empire. I will delay the House for a few moments to emphasise the importance of that reduction—not to our pockets only, but actually to the safety of the Empire. This Empire must ever march upon two legs, defence and financial strength. Let us lock back to the example of the most titanic struggle between two nations that the world has ever seen, the struggle between the German and the British Empires. There are many good reasons why Germany lost the war and why we won. We like to think that in the first place it was because we were better soldiers and better sailors; but undoubtedly one of the chief reasons why Germany lost the war was because she overspent before the war. One of the chief reasons why we won was that we had kept financial reserves. You can never neglect that element in national strength.
Is it or is it not the case that at present we have much need of financial rest I do not suppose any thinking man or woman doubts that at present we greatly need financial rest. We are bearing too heavy a burden. I will not argue it at 1708 length; I should be wandering too far from the field of debate. I will but refer to the most conspicuous facts. Our national income has not increased since before the War; and the burden of our taxation has doubled. We are now spending 20 per cent, of our taxable income in taxes, instead of 11 per cent. as before the War. We see the consequence of that in this malignant disease of unemployment which is sapping the national strength. It needs no argument that there must ever be a balance between economy in expenditure, and actual military and naval force; and it needs no argument that at present we should consider in particular the economy arm of the balance. But there is another special reason which makes it at present of urgent importance that we should seize the opportunity of relief from the burdens of expenditure which may be afforded by the coming conference. Let me repeat that I am not arguing in favour of a unilateral reduction, but only of a reduction by agreement. Since the War, the whole theory of naval defence has been in the melting pot. Does anyone think convincedly that he knows exactly in what direction naval theory and practice is moving? I venture to say that they do not. Naval theories are in the melting pot. Naval designs are in the melting pot. Naval weapons are in the melting pot. Experiments based upon the experience of the Great War are changing them from day to day. At such a time what is the wisdom? Is it to turn out big armaments? Of course not! Before they are finished they are out of date. During this period of flux the sensible thing to do seems to be to wait until there is once more some definition in the direction in which naval armaments are moving. It is not very reasonable to produce in bulk during an experimental period. Think of those two great battleships which have just been turned out. They have been five years in construction. Will they have very much in their design which will not be out of date by the time they come into full commission? It is three or perhaps even four years before the big cruisers are finished. There again there is a change of the state of naval science before they are finished. It is improvident to build in bulk during the experimental period. What is wanted is the rapid production of single ex- 1709 perimental samples. Think again of the relations between ships and the air. Can anyone say what will be the effect of the development of aircraft and aeroplanes in combination with submarines upon naval strategy and tactics? I think they cannot. I give this as an illustration of how everything is in the melting pot. There are some who think that the scientific development of combined action between aircraft and submarines will ultimately make the capital ship useless. Every improvement in this technique, every improvement in the working out of the relations in use between aircraft and submarines, the aircraft acting as scouts and pilots for submarines, makes the use of capital ships more dubious. By all these things, naval theories, are fluid just now, and so long as they are fluid there is great disadvantage in bulk production. It is wiser to wait until things are worked out.
These considerations point to this, that when we go into the Conference it should certainly not be in any negative frame of mind as regards possible results. I do not think anybody feels like that. It should further be something more than a mere passive affirmative. We should go into the Conference with an actual dynamic affirmative, persuaded that we must try to get out of it some relief to that other leg upon which we must march, namely, the leg of financial strength. Another suggestion arises out of these considerations in regard to our cruiser policy. Our bed rock theory is the absolute safeguarding of our trade routes. But is it not clear, is it not well known to even the most casual student of these subjects, that the cruisers that are being built now are much bigger and more expensive than is necessary for the bare purpose of the defence of trade routes, and for nothing else. All that we want for that is a small cruiser somewhat on the lines of the "C" type which we had at the end of the War. That type of cruiser is quick enough and strong enough for guaranteeing the trade routes against raiders under ordinary conditions. When we get to these big new cruisers what we are getting to is the rebeginning of a race in armaments. They are bigger than we need for the absolute guaranteeing of the trade routes against ordinary raiders. They show the first bud, shall I say, of 1710 competition in the size of cruisers. These considerations suggest that when we go into the Conference we should go there knowing that we have a margin in the size of cruisers that we can safely reduce without imperilling our trade routes, so long as we can persuade other Powers to join with us in the reduction. By agreement we can with safety get away from these exaggerated cruisers, and get back to cruisers which are not larger than is necessary for guaranteeing the safety of our ships under ordinary conditions.
As regards battleships, the salient fact is that there are no battleships being laid down here now. Does not that suggest a possibility that we should carry on the Washington Agreement from the 5.5.3 stage to an agreement as regards battleships of a ratio of 0.0.0? Why should not the great capital ships gradually be allowed to pass into history? It may not be the time yet to do that; but it is surely much worth while in our present condition that our eyes should be kept open to the first moment at which it is possible to do that with safety and to allow the capital ship to be forgotten. It seems as if the moment, was coming when it would be possible. There is not now any suggestion of a cloud of war above the horizon. The man would be foolish who would even stimulate an effort for the reduction of our armaments if there were any such cloud; but we speak at a time when there is no such cloud. I know that it will be said, "That is what you thought just before the War. You thought that there was no cloud above the horizon then." There is a difference now. It is not a difference of exact certain knowledge, but it is a difference in the instincts and feelings of men.
If you had empanelled a common jury before the War and asked them whether there was a reasonable danger of war, you would probably have got a difference of opinion. There would have been a majority saying that there was no such danger, and a minority saying that there was such danger. To-day, if you empanelled a common jury and asked whether there was a reasonable danger of war, you would get a unanimous verdict against it. There is a great difference in the state of affairs to-day and before the Great War. Before the War, the fireplace was full with coals 1711 and paper ready for a match to be put to it. That fire has burnt out and there is nothing left in the grate but the cinders. There must be a conspicuous filling of the grate, which would give us warning, before there is any immediate 'danger of a fresh conflagration. Were there any such danger at the present time a wise man would stand for the utmost strain in financial resources in order to produce safety through naval armaments. At the present moment when we have a chance of a holiday the greater wisdom seems to be to secure the future by the further husbanding of our financial resources by mutual agreement for the reduction of armaments.
The hon. and gallant Member for Eastbourne (Sir R. Hall) spoke with justifiable indignation of the supposed attacks and reflections upon the officers and crew who went down in the "Queen Mary." We can all understand his feelings, but, having read with some care the volume which appears over the signature of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I can see no attack upon the dead. I can see no reflection upon the conduct of the crews of any of our ships engaged at Jutland. The hon. Member for Camberwell, North (Mr. Ammon) has gone, I think, rather too far in another direction. Such books as that written by the Chancellor of the Exchequer can be defended for the sake of their historical use in the future. A book such as the one which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has written could only have been written by people who were behind the scenes. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is unfair that the people attacked have no chance of replying, and I think the time has come when all those who are apparently debarred from replying should be given equal freedom and facility to reply. Admiral Lord Jellicoe has already written one book. [HON. MEMBERS: "Two!"] I have only read one. I do not see why other admirals should not be given equal facilities for stating their views, because their work would be of great value to all those who are engaged in historical research. We have had the soldiers complaining of the reflections on the military high command. I am sorry the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not here. I think the 1712 hon. Member for Camberwell, North, and the hon. and gallant Member for Eastbourne might have notified the right hon. Gentleman that they would like him to be present when they made their speeches. The real reflection on the Chancellor of the Exchequer is this—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)
Any criticism of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in regard to anything that he has done must be in some sense affecting the Navy; something that the Admiralty has done that it ought not to have done or something that it ought to have done that it has not done. Any criticism of the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself would not be in order.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I was referring to the effect on naval discipline by the reflection made on Lord Jellicoe in the book written by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. After all, it was the Chancellor of the Exchequer who appointed Lord Jellicoe; he knew him well personally, he knew such defects of character as that very sincere and gallant officer had, and he has no business to criticise him now. The hon. and gallant Member for Eastbourne made a point which has provided a new peroration for semi-Conservative and Conservative speakers, namely, that our trade routes at sea are in future to be compared to Grand Trunk Railways, and that because the United States of America has a certain police force guarding the permanent way of the American railways, therefore they could make no kind of objection to our claiming the same right to dot ships all along the trade routes. It is a ridiculous argument. I have never heard anything so absurd. It may have been suggested by some small man on the naval staff in conversation with the hon. and gallant Member for Eastbourne and it will probably be advocated by Conservative speakers in future, but it will not bear examination.
The trade routes are international. We must look upon these things from the point of view of other people. They see us piling up a tremendous cruiser fleet which we shall not really require for guarding the international trade routes, and from their point of view our guarding of these trade routes is to deny those trade routes to their vessels. 1713 [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Most certainly it is. [Interruption.] When the objections have subsided, I will try to explain why. This is an age of agreement in naval construction. There are only three navies of the first rank, the Japanese Navy, the American Navy and the British Navy. I agree with some hon. Members that it is foolish to compare our Navy with the American Navy or the Japanese Navy, as has been done by the hon. and Gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander 13ellairs) on previous occasions. It is foolish to compare our fleet with the fleet of our friends, thereby enhancing the supposed rivalry. The fleets of France and Italy are not comparable; they are directing their attention mostly to submarines and small ships. Where vessels which could dispute the command of the seas are concerned, there are only three navies which can be mentioned, and they have limited their capital ships and their aircraft carriers by the Washington Convention. According to the Washington Agreement, battleships, battle cruisers and aircraft carriers are to be limited until 1932.
Let us look at the actual facts. In the return of fleets, the effective life of the cruiser has been altered, and I would ask the First Lord of the Admiralty the reason for that. In 1925, when the great controversy took place between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the First Lord of the Admiralty, of which we have heard echoes in the right hon. Gentleman's speech to-day—I think his speech reflected much more on his own colleagues than it did on Members on this side—the effective life of the cruiser was given as 15 years, but in the return of fleets this year it is given as 20 years. What is the reason for the alteration? The British Admiralty has been extremely wise, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on this fact, in scrapping all but the most modern vessels. The result is that we have an extremely modern fleet to-day; the most modern fleet we have ever had. There are no obsolete vessels in the British Navy to-day, except a few training ships. In the ease of the American Fleet vessels of 25 years old and over have been retained. In regard to modern cruisers, we have built 48, the United States of America only 10—I am leaving out cruisers of 25 years—and Japan 22. In the building programme agreed on in 1714 1925—which was only a tacit agreement between the right hon. Gentleman and the Treasury and was not authorised by this House; certainly no one will deny that the Naval Defence Act cannot be altered, and I hope that when this Government goes out of office it will be reconsidered—we are embarking on an enormous building programme costing £58,000,000 for new ships alone, over and above the very substantial programme which was laid down by the Labour Government in regard to the five cruisers and the previous cruisers which were then building. We have embarked upon a building programme in five years from 1925, costing £58,000,000.
If we count up the ships we have building and projected, and if we take into account all the ships that have been spoken about in the United States programme, projected and planned, and those spoken about in the Japanese Diet, the figures at the end of 1929 or, say, 1930, will be something like this: Great Britain 71 cruisers, all modern, United States 25, and Japan 32. These are extraordinary figures. Admitting that we have overseas trade to consider, and commerce that must be defended, yet we are working up to a cruiser strength roughly equal to what we had before the War. At the outbreak of the Great War we had modern cruisers, armoured and on-armoured, 76 of all classes, and we are now working up to a building programme to replace that fleet by a modern fleet of 71 vessels instead of 76. It is practically the same. In view of the fact that the German Fleet is off the international chessboard and that the French and Italian Governments are not building except for defensive purposes, it means that they cannot attempt to oppose us in the Mediterranean or the United States in the Atlantic or the Japanese in the Pacific with any hope of success. In these circumstances, in view of the comparatively, modest shipbuilding prograrnmes in other countries 'and the excellent relations existing between us, I think the Admiralty are making a profound mistake.
I want to compare the attitude towards the Fighting Services of the present Conservative party, of which the First Lord is such a stalwart pillar, with the attitude 1715 of the old Tory party composed of landed gentlemen after the Napoleonic Wars. Then, as now, we were financially exhausted. Then, as now, the whole of Europe and all our possible enemies were also financially exhausted. The country was over-taxed, and it was obvious that we must restore our financial prosperity or perish as a first-class Power. Both Whigs and Tories, particularly the Tories under the great Duke of Wellington and his successors, Tory Governments, true blue aristocrats, saved money on the defence forces and gambled on the chance of a long period of peace, with the result that our finances recovered, our trade was restored, there was a revolution in industry and we found ourselves in the immensely strong position we were in 1914. The Tory party of to-day has not inherited the wisdom and prudence of its political ancestors. There is no possibility to-day of a great war and we could quite well, I do not say gamble, but budget for a period of peace as regards great battle fleets and capital ships, and we should give that chance to recover to our financial position which is absolutely necessary at the present time. A short time ago I was in the United States and, while there, I discussed the naval situation with a great many people. The situation from the American point of view is profoundly disquieting. You have there a great people, proud and rich, and if you like not dependent on sea power for their future. They believed in 1921 that they had it in their power to maintain a greater Navy than ours, but they agreed to the Washington Agreement, and now they see this immense cruiser programme in this country, in spite of delays in the Japanese programme caused by the earthquake, and in spite of the delays caused by the political contest in America. No appropriations for these cruisers in America have been voted for by Congress which rose last month; in fact, the only sum of money voted was a mere trifle of 320,000 dollars.
In spite of all these things, the right bon. Gentleman insists on having his pound of flesh from the Exchequer, he insists on enjoying the fruits of his victory of two years ago over the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and is sticking to the programme of 1925 with its £58,000,000 1716 of new construction. What must be the-effect on our friends in other countries? They must feel that if there is to be a naval race it has been started by the right hon. Gentleman and his advisers. [Interruption.] Yes most certainly. The figures I have given cannot be challenged, and I see no reason at all why we should continue with this vast building programme, which was ground out of a reluctant Treasury in 1925. Look at the position in new ships to be laid. In 1926 four cruisers, and other vessels besides, this year three, in 1928–1929, three, 1929–1930, three, all great cruisers of a displacement of 10,000 tons, but which with their full stores and equipment will probably be nearly 13,000 tons displacement, and costing about £2,500,000 each. This is going on like a slowly moving glacier in spite of what is happening abroad and in spite of invitations to Conferences. The only thing the right hon. Gentleman has said is that he will lay down his vessels this year a little later. Would they have been laid down earlier but for the Conference? I say they would have been laid down in the same month as they are going to be laid down. But the progress on the other vessels building on the stocks is continuing with no check whatever, in spite of President Coolidge's invitation.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I have mentioned the United States programme and also the Trench and Italian programmes, and I say that we can afford to delay because we have an excellent start, and it would be a good thing if we did delay our programme. After the Conference we may agree to scrap some of these ships and, therefore, a large sum of money will have been wasted. The right hon. Gentleman rather patronized the Washington Conference. He told us that he would not be, responsible for the Navy—I am sure we should all hate to lose the right hon. Gentleman—unless it was equal to that of any other Power and unless special provision was made for the defence of the trade routes. It would be a fatal mistake if we entered the Conference without a well-defined plan as to what we proposed to carry out, and, secondly, with every desire to make it a real success I suggest we should 1717 work out figures showing the minimum number of surface ships, cruisers and destroyers, that we need for the defence of our overseas trade; that we should agree that we would build that number and no more and that if the United States or Japan desired to build up to that number that no demand would be made on Parliament to authorise more expenditure.
I suggest that we should make the following proposal. If we are to limit our freedom as regards shipbuilding for vessels other than battleships and cruisers, there should be some Convention, some International Convention, between the three principal naval Powers that in the case of unprovoked aggression they will assist and defend each other's sea routes. I see no reason why in the ease of unprovoked aggression on this country, Japan should not agree to safeguard our trade routes in the Pacific, and in the case of unprovoked aggression on Japan that we should safeguard her trade routes in the Mediterranean. In the same way the United States may agree to safeguard our trade routes in the West Atlantic in exchange for guarantees by us in the Mediterranean. I see nothing in that proposal that would cut across the policy of the United States in other directions, providing we meet them half way and agree to stop the beginnings of this serious race in cruiser building. These new ships are costing 15,000,000 dollars in the United States and £2,500,000 in this country, and in 1932, if no agreement is reached, any attempt to extend the Washington Agreement of 1921 will prove abortive and we shall embark on a race in battleship building, in building battleships like the "Rodney" and "Lord Nelson," which cost £7,500,000 each. That should show hon. Members what a naval race in shipbuilding means to the financial stability of this country.
I want to say a word with regard to the designs of the new ships. I know a great deal can be made out of the paper speeds of the cruisers which have been laid down. They are shown as having a speed of 31½ knots, while vessels of a similar type in other countries have a greater speed. The United States cruisers of a similar type are faster, 1718 Japan's are 33 knots, French 34, and Italian 36. I expect that a few years hence, when the Labour party is in power, hon. Members opposite will come down and demand a, greater shipbuilding programme because our ships are too slow. I do not want to make too much out of this paper speed, but if we Lad delayed building we might have worked on more successful designs and given a faster speed. It is obvious that this shipbuilding programme cannot continue. We cannot afford the money. It is all very well the right hon. Gentleman saying he will not be responsible for the Navy, and for the hon. and gallant Admiral the Member for Eastbourne to talk about trade routes being the same thing as grand trunk railway lines. We have to face the facts of the situation. This country is overtaxed. Trade and commerce is languishing, and we have a great volume of unemployment. In addition there is no possible enemy threatening us on the sea, and it is perfectly absurd, therefore, in these circumstances for the Admiralty to wring money from the Treasury to this amount, which the country cannot afford. The whole country has been greatly disappointed in the size of the Naval Estimates. There is only a miserable saving of £100,000, and that is due to the coal stoppage. Then there were his almost insulting remarks about motor launches—at any rate, jocular and frivolous remarks. They are not what the country wants to-day. We are building up an Air Force, and that should do something to take the place of the Navy. Later on, when we get an opportunity, my friends and I will move a reduction of the Estimates. I feel that the Admiralty is not playing the game by the country, and I think I am expressing the view of my friends here when I say that the Admiralty must do better next time.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
There is one point on which I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken, and that was in his reference to the book of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I think it desirable, after so many years since the War, that all the facts should come out and should be publicly discussed. One sees the necessity for it in the case of the controversy with reference to the signals. For some years rumours have been going about 1719 of Lord Beatty as an Admiral who rushes into space without having made the necessary signals to his supporting squadron. Those rumours were absolutely false, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has blown them sky high. Yet they were revived, and a very malignant article appeared in a Sunday newspaper on 6th March, written by an ex-Cabinet Minister and Privy Councillor, Mr. Masterman, in which he attacked Lord Beatty in an article headed "The Truth," and based the whole article on the idea that Lord Beatty had made no signals to his supporting squadron, and that he therefore lost two battle cruisers and the lives of many gallant people. I have the article here. All those statements were absolutely untrue. Lord Beatty did use seachlight signals though it was stated that he did not. They were taken in on board Admiral Evan Thomas's Flagship, as the First Lord showed in his answer to-day. I think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in getting these matters publicly discussed, is rendering a great service. Besides that, apart from the fact that men who occupy official positions cannot reply, it is a matter of public interest and a matter of interest to the whole Navy what manner of men should occupy the command in war. Every man who held such a command must expect his qualifications to be canvassed by the future historian.
Passing from that subject, I noticed that the hon. Member for North Camber-well (Mr. Ammon) and the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken are practically at one in believing that we are leading some sort of race in armaments, especially in cruisers. As a matter of fact we are the only maritime nation of standing in the world that abstained from building a single cruiser or smaller ship for six years after the War. For six years, up to 1924, this country did not build a single ship, except the two battleships that we were authorised to build after the. Washington Conference. Therefore, that charge falls hopelessly to the ground. The hon. Member for North Camberwell asked us to set the example of a further naval holiday. He ought to remember that the only conspicuous success which has been won in reduction of armaments, was at the Washington Conference by America 1720 laying down her ships and being able to say, "We take the ships which have been commenced and have realised 10 to 80 per cent. of that construction, 13 battleships, and we will scrap the lot if you will consent to agree to these proposals of ours for limiting the number of battleships, the size and so on." That is the only conspicuous success.
The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy) spoke of the Washington Treaty coming to an end in 1932. It does nothing of the kind; it comes to an end several years later. What happens in 1932 is that we resume the building of battleships, or we shall be free to do that. That, of course, makes it necessary to hold a conference at an earlier date. We have been at one in urging the Government to make representations to the United States that we should like a further conference. I think all parties are agreed that we want a further conference on these matters. But the hon. and gallant Member is quite wrong as regards the cruisers. Taking even the life of 20 years, we find that 60 is the utmost strength that we shall possess in 1930, supposing that no scrapping of cruisers takes place. Japan will then have 39 and the United States will have 37.
The White Paper refers to China, and the First Lord dealt with China in his speech. I think he mast be able to congratulate himself on the fact that with all the talk we have had about the air superseding navies and armies, the whole question during the Chinese difficulty has been the Question of ships—ships to carry out the men, ships to defend citizens, ships to land parties—and the air is not heard of at all. The only use that the Air can be is as an instrument co-operating with the Army or the Navy. The First Lord speaks in his White Paper of piracy being rampant on the China Station. Here I would point to the efforts at reduction we have made. We never had any piracy on the China Station where we had destroyers there. We always used to have them there, but since the war we have had none, until we rushed them there at the end of 1926. Before the destroyers we had torpedo boats there. We always had a ready torpedo boat at Hong Kong—in 1896 when I was there— 1721 to deal with acts of piracy and the result was that there was no piracy whatever. Piracy has become rampant since we withdrew our ships from the China Station.
The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord dealt in his speech with the Imperial Conference, and he told us what great benefit it had been to bring the representatives of the Dominions into contact with naval matters. I have heard that they learned a great deal in this case. I would congratulate the First Lord on having broken with the old tradition of having reviews. Instead of reviews the Admiralty gave practical examples of the Fleet at work. That is much better. The great reviews that we have held in the past were mainly for the edification of the Kaiser, and they educated him into all his ideas of the expansion of naval armaments. The last review after the War was spoken about in the French Chamber as showing the tremendous and overbearing power of the British nation. It is far better to go back to the old diplomacy of Chatham, who issued orders to all our Ambassadors to avoid on all occasions talk about the British Navy, and so giving chances to every hireling pen to inveigh against the maritime power of England.
Several of the speakers to-day have spoken about economy. In the Debate last March I tried to get the House to take an interest in the question of the amalgamation of naval and military hospitals. I am interested because I brought up this subject for years in succession. I brought it before the Geddes Committee, and I am glad that that Committee brought in a recommendation in favour of amalgamating naval and military hospitals, and stopped the plans for Air hospitals. I have never been able to see the difference between the body of a sailor and the body of a soldier. The same doctors can attend to both bodies. After the Geddes Committee, the Admiralty gave up Gibraltar Naval Hospital and era military gave up Chatham Military Hospital. I complained last March that they then shut down. I am glad that the Admiralty and the War Office have since come to an agreement about a number of other hospitals. I hope that that will result in substantial economies. What I would congratulate the Admiralty on more than anything else is that 1722 for the first time in my long experience of these matters the Chancellor of the Exchequer is wholly pleased with the Admiralty. The two Departments are working hand in hand. I attribute that in part to the Conservative Navy Committee of the House. We saw the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in March, 1925, and we suggested, in regard to the great cruiser controversy of 1925, that they should say to the Admiralty, "We cannot deny you what is vital, and you must have your vital cruisers, but we: ask you to provide for these vital cruisers and for the naval programme that you have outlined by savings on the non-vital things in your Estimates."
Always in connection with fighting Services there are numbers of non-vital things which some people think would be useful. I agree that in these times nothing that is merely useful should be given the Navy or the Army or the Air. But you must give what is vital. A tussle went on in the Cabinet right away until the end of July, 1925. It was on that plan, put forward by the Navy Committee, that a compromise was reached. What was the result I Instead of the old method of the Treasury nagging at naval officers and treating them as enemies, which had been going on ever since I had known or had anything to do with naval and military matters, the War Staff have become the allies to a large extent of the Treasury. The Treasury never have had the necessary knowledge to bring about economies. It has now succeeded in creating allies within the Service itself. This proposal to keep the ships out of dockyard hands and to do the work afloat is another example of the economies which have been brought about. The thing will grow, and you will get naval officers more and more interested in bringing about economies, a thing that has never existed in the past. There, however, I am wrong, because Nelson and his captains, as I have pointed out in past speeches, prided themselves on the way they economised on spars and sails. The hon. and gallant. Member for Central Hull knows that. It is one of our great historical instances. They used old spars and sails and prided themselves on keeping out of dockyard hands. You can easily get the same spirit in the Navy again.
1723 As a rule there is one direction in which we never get criticism from the Opposition, so I was delighted to hear the hon. Member for North Camberwell criticise the number of officials at the Admiralty. I disagree with him about the War staff. We never had a War staff in the proper sense before or during the War. We got it after the War. The more you cut down the Navy the more real the necessity for a War staff to get out, plans for making the best of diminished resources. But when you come to civil officials I am not so sure. I agree with the former Financial Secretary who spoke from the Back Benches that the Admiralty have made some economy and have reduced this year the number of charwomen. They had increased them considerably since before the War, but the fact that they have reduced the charwomen by five illustrates the point that reductions are nearly always at the bottom instead of at the top where we should like to see them. The nearer you get anywhere to civil officials the less the reduction is made. The Noble Lady the Member for Sutton (Viscountess Astor) will not agree with what I am going to say. The personnel of the Navy has been reduced from 146,000 to 101,000. The reduction of dockyard personnel has been only from 53,530 to 48,415. That is comparing 1914 with the present date. Now the dockyards are going to be reduced by 3,000 more. On the whole, the Treasury is always against the real fighting element instead of against the civil element. That is what I complain of. The reduction of dockyard personnel, even allowing for this 3,000, will be only 8,000 as compared with 45,000 of the Navy personnel.
I want to deal with reductions because they have an important bearing on the Admiralty staff. When we come to deal with this point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. Hilton Young), namely, the great increase in the cost of the Admiralty, I want to show that the Admiralty has much less to administer now than was formerly the case. I take the number of ships in full commission. In July, 1914, the battleships in full commission numbered 39; in February, 1927, that number had been reduced to 10. The number of cruiser in full commission has been reduced from 49 to 36 1724 The number of battleships with reduced crews has been reduced since pre-War days from 29 to 5; and the number of cruisers with reduced crews has been reduced from 64 to 7, and the total number of ships which the Admiralty have to administer, as compared with 1914, has been reduced from 506 to 301. Yet we have the appalling fact that the cost of the Admiralty has gone up from £483,000 to £1,238,000. I agree that prices, wages and so forth have gone up, but that does not account for such an enormous increase where there should have been a diminution. One reason I am sure is this. As has always been the case in the past, when economy committees are set up by the Treasury we find that they are staffed by and sit in the Treasury which is not sympathetic to reductions in the Civil Service. They always try to increase the power of the Civil Service. They have put the Secretory to the Admiralty in as a member of the Board, and they got the Cabinet to agree to that, and a similar step has been taken in regard to the Secretary to the War Office and Air Ministry. After all, the Secretary is a servant. He is the servant of the Board and ought not to be a member of the Board Why the Admiralty have broken with the tradition of past centuries during which the Secretary was always the servant of the Board I cannot understand. I believe if you were to carry out the proposal which was once made by Sir Frederick Richards, a very eminent First Sea Lord, and let loose the paymasters on the Admiralty, you would get the work done with fewer men and effect substantial economies.
I turn to the construction Vote which as the hon. Member foe North Camberwell rightly said, rules the whole situation, results from the programme of 1924 and that of 1925 which was outlined up to 1929. The Japanese programme also runs up to 1929 and I wish to point out to the House the danger of the position in the future in regard to modern ships before I get to the question of disarmament. Since the War, the British Empire have provided for 23 cruisers and Japan for 25. That includes the number projected up to 1929. In regard to destroyers, the British Empire has provided for 29 since the War and Japan for 66 plus 15. I put it in that form 1725 because some of the 15 go a little beyond 1929. In regard to submarines, the British Empire since the War has provided for 22 built, building and projected, and Japan for 65. How can the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull pretend that we are leading a race in armaments in face of these figures? Of course, it is absurd. There is this chastening thought that in 1932 we resume the building of battleships if we cannot get success at the disarmament Conference and therefore, you do not want to postpone these cruisers and destroyers until 1932 and after or you will have then a congested programme. In addition to that, if you allow 12 years as the life of destroyers and submarines, every single destroyer and submarine belonging to the War period will be a "dud" by 1932. In any case, if you try to prolong their life, there will be a large increase in the cost of repairs and so you will not economise in that way. A special point was made by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull of the fact that the life of cruisers has been extended to 20 years, but he knows that is because the Government are trying to set an example in disarmament and because they have followed the precedent set by the Coalition Government of saying to the Admiralty, "We absolve you from responsibility and you need not take into consideration a first-class war for 10 years from the year 1925." I must say forecasts of that sort are worthless. No man can make such a forecast. Under that assurance the Admiralty can say, "We will prolong the life of the cruiser to 20 years instead of 15, and for ordinary police duties, we shall be content with obsolete ships." The net result is that when 1932 comes, the navies, except for battleships which are regulated by the Washington Treaty, will be comparable only on the basis of the destroyers and submarines which have been built and perhaps a certain number of cruisers which were built during the War.
I come to the further question of comparison of personnel. The Japanese naval personnel is now 76,000. They are reducing the Army and increasing the Navy. When we concentrated against Germany in 1904, the German naval personnel was 38,028, or just half what the Japanese figure is to-day. Consider this point. This naval insurance which the 1726 Admiralty are providing, and which they themselves say is the very minimum of safety, is an insurance for 1,500 ships that are on sea routes bringing the whole of the food supplies and raw material to this country. We have increased the social assistance which we give to our people by £400,000,000 since the year 1910. The whole of that will collapse like a house of cards if our Navy is inadequate. When one thinks of this very necessary insurance and of the fact that 80 per cent. of the shipbuilding cost goes in wages, one realises that it is about the cheapest insurance which the country could possibly have outside an agreement for disarmament. What is the one supreme lesson of the War? In spite of the great force which had been built up, we loss one-third of our shipping in 1917, through the submarine menace. It is not merely a question of the submarine menace in the next war. There is the air menace as well. I agree with those who contend that the adjustment of the defences by air and by sea is one of the most delicate adjustments that could be made. You cannot use aircraft at all times. You cannot use them at night or in bad weather. If there is a heavy sea you cannot get aircraft off the ships' decks, or seaplanes off the sea, and so it requires the most intimate connection between the Navy and the Air arm to make the arrangements for the defence of Commerce at sea effective. The Imperial Conference has twice ratified the decision that the defence of the trade routes is to be under the Admiralty's care and the Cabinet ought to see to it that the air arrangements for defending commerce at sea are also under the care of the Admiralty.
In conclusion I take the question of disarmament. I wish that, on both sides of the Atlantic, the nagging policy against one side or the other was not pursued further. Only a few individuals do it, but they do a great deal of harm. I remember cutting out in 1924 a speech by a distinguished American naval officer, Admiral Rodgers, who had occupied the same position as Admiral Dewey did after the Spanish-American War. He had been chairman of the General Naval Board. This speech shows the absurdities to which men will go when they are nagging at other nations. He made a forecast in regard to the future disarmament con- 1727 ference. He was addressing an international gathering of delegates to the Institute of Politics and he said:Britain dominated the League of Nations and the commerce of the world.He went on to accuse the British ofconcocting a plot to bring about a Washington Arms Conference in order to prevent the United States from having a sufficiently strong navy to protect its Merchant Marine, or one capable of successfully competing with England.The only comment which it is necessary to make on that speech is that the United States has summoned the conference and we only enter it on their invitation. I wish to deal with the final aspect in regard to a Conference and that is the position of Japan. Everybody must sympathise with the position in which Japan finds herself in having come in late in the race in regard to acquiring territory for her expanding population. We must see that if the British Empire and the United States were to combine against her, she would be helpless. Apart from the relative strengths, we hold practically all the available oil supplies. The oil supply which Japan has stored, is 1,250,000 tons and the whole of that would be exhausted in six months naval operations. In addition to that, 65 per cent. of Japan's imports are from the British Empire and the United States, and 62 per cent. of her exports are to the British Empire and the United States representing practically two-thirds of her trade.
These are great levers for peace which can be used in regard to Japan, but when we meet in this Conference, let us go beyond the mere question of reduction of armaments and think of the policy which leads to armaments. Let us say to Japan, "If you agree to disarmament, we agree to try to make what adjustments we can in regard to policy to give you the necessary expansion of territory which your population demands." The population of Japan is about 13,000,000 more than our own, and it occupies an area only one and a quarter times the size of our islands and it is expanding at the rate of 700,000 a year. There is a problem for the statesman. It is the duty of the statesman to find some solution of that problem which will induce the Japanese to disarm and, at the same time, give 1728 them the territory to which they consider they are entitled and to which we agree they are entitled.
§ Mr. BROMLEY
I intend to get on to another tack than that which has been so fully explored by experts. But, having regard to the closing remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs), in which he indicated that we might make a generous gesture to Japan and assist her to acquire territory for her expanding population, I would like to ask him sometime to tell the House whose territory it is that we are going to hand over to Japan. It certainly will not be any of our own if the traditions of this country hold good. The point that I desire to bring to the notice of the First Lord of the Admiralty is something which may bear, not only on economy, hut on the welfare of our own country, apart from the Navy, and may even possibly be to our advantage, or, at least, minimise our disadvantages, in the case of another war. I see from the White Paper issued by the right hon. Gentleman a reference to the installation of several large oil fuel storage stations, and I would like to ask if the last word has been said by the Admiralty in regard to oil having taken the place of coal.
The transfer from the use of coal to the use of oil has taken place just when the consumption of our coal in other countries has been curtailed, and I think it assisted very greatly in the recent dispute in this country and in the degradation of our mine workers. It will be known that in regard to the reparation which we obtained in the form of coal from Germany, France also obtained sufficient, not only for her own supplies, but to have some 40,000,000 tons per annum of spare coal to compete with us in the markets of the world. British coal was to some extent excluded from Italy, and consequently the export of coal went down by very many million tons, causing a loss to the working people of this country in wages and employment. At the same time the British Government, for varying reasons, no doubt, changed its fuel, or continued to change its fuel, from our own natural supply of coal to foreign oil.
I am aware that I shall be to some extent appearing to he talking heresy to naval officers, and possibly other ratings, 1729 because it will naturally occur to the House that they will point out the very serious disadvantage of coal, with its dust and consequent grit getting everywhere, as compared with taking in a supply of oil fuel, which leaves very little other than the aroma given off. But there might be other reasons. Unfortunately, great financial interests in the world help to sway the policy of Government Departments in the most vital connections, but if I were to show to the right hon. Gentleman that there might possibly be not so much disadvantage as people think in continuing to use our own coal, and consequently employing our own people, I suggest that it is something that the Admiralty might very well consider. Let us take the question of coaling as against taking in a supply of oil. We now have powdered fuel. Our South Wales soft coal lends itself very readily to crushing and powdering, and it is within the possibilities of science to replace the old method of coaling, the method of tipping great wagons of coal into the bunkers of a ship, and to get somewhere near to the same method as that by which oil is taken in.
The powdered coal could he driven through a pipe by steam power supplied from the vessel's own boilers, consequently minimising the dust, and, with a little assistance from gravitation in the supply pipe, could fill the bunkers without the old-fashioned method of covering the vessel all over with coal dust. Then the space which would be taken up with bunkering the powdered coal would be very little, if any, more than the space required for storing oil, and the weight would be almost equivalent. The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone indicated another difficulty that might arise with regard to the supply of oil. He pointed out that we hold the supply of world oil very largely, and that Japan might exhaust her supply in a six months' war. The very fact that we have to get our oil from abroad might, in some future conflict, make it somewhat difficult for us to get a supply of oil, or to do so would necessitate the guarding of the oil routes and the convoying of them with a large number of our own naval vessels, when we have in our own island the finest steam coal in the world, and a coal, especially in South 1730 Wales—the Ebbw Vale and Nantyglo and some of those seams—which lends itself very readily to powdering.
There is one other point which I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to take some note of, and I think that if not the combatant officers of the Navy, his engineer officers may tell him that there is something in what I am going to suggest. I am not by any means a naval expert, but I know some little about the management, construction and care of boilers, and I suggest to the First Lord that the boilers and fire boxes of vessels are damaged more, or do not last the wear and tear as long, by the use of oil as by the use of coal. He might also note that the railways do not take very kindly to burning oil in their fire boxes and engine boilers. No method of scientific firing can reduce the heat gradually in the same way with an oil fire as can be done with a coal fire. The tremendously rapid expansion and contraction of the walls of the fire box and the boiler structure made by the rapid reduction or increase of heat with the supply of oil causes enormous damage to the most expensive part of the machinery. It has been found in practice that that rapid expansion and contraction causes all the stays and rivets within the containing walls of a fire box, and wherever else they apply in a boiler, to develop a waist; that is, by that expansion and contraction they wear thin in the centre, and it is there that the breakages occur, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to make some inquiries as to the cost of boiler and fire box repairs since the introduction of oil fuel, having regard to the difference in cost of material and labour, as compared with the cost of repairs and upkeep of boilers and fire boxes when coal was the fuel used.
I would again suggest that it is not past the consideration of this House or of the Admiralty as to whether we should continue to supply our Navy with oil bought from abroad, and convoyed here at, I understand, a greater expense in the actual cost than our own coal, when we have the finest steam coal available within our own shares, that cannot be cut off under any circumstances in time of war, unless the country falls into the hands of the enemy altogether, when it would not be required. We have the depression in the coal mining industry 1731 and the suffering of our mineworkers, due to some of the facts which I have pointed out, intensified by our own Navy buying foreign oil, as against British coal, and now, what with the pressure of filling up the vacancies caused by the great dispute, it may be that we shall soon be coming to a slack time again, and it appears to me that our naval authorities are not acting with that patriotism of which we hear so much when, on a mere question of cleanliness or ease in oiling, as against coaling, they can cheerfully take away the employment of so many hundreds of thousands of our own people by buying foreign produce as against that very available fuel which is found in our own country.
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if some pretty detailed inquiries cannot be made, first, into the difference in the cost and care of fire boxes and boilers of vessels since the introduction of oil, as against the time when coal was burnt, and the possibility of powdered fuel being used, which would cause little difference in the bunkering space and could be coaled as easily and cleanly as oil is taken in to-day, and whether the saving which could be made in the cost of the coal, as against the oil fuel, and in the wear and tear of the boilers of our vessels, does not afford some opportunity for a reconsidering of the position as to the fuel used. I leave it to the right hon. Gentleman to consult his advisers. It may be said that it will require a great deal of reconstruction in the installation for the feeding of this powdered fuel into the fire-boxes, but I suggest not. I recently had the opportunity of crossing the Atlantic on two of our greatest liners, and I was kindly given permission to go down into the stokeholds, where I spent some time and examined the methods of supplying the fires. I suggest that, with a slightly enlarged nozzle and compressed air or possibly steam, seeing it would be coal, a powdered fuel could be supplied to the fire boxes in exactly the same way as oil is to-day.
In conclusion, I suggest that there would be little cost involved in the change of installations, there would be a saving in wear and tear of the fire boxes and boilers of the vessels, there would be a surety of supply of fuel in our own 1732 countries in ease of war instead of from abroad, and, what is the most vital matter to Members on this side of the House, we should employ British labour in getting British coal for the British Navy rather than foreign oil in place of that which is said to be our mainstay.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
The hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Bromley) has undoubtedly done his very best to advertise coal and to get the British Navy to make a fresh start with it in pulverised form. A good many experiments have been made with this, and on every single occasion oil has unquestionably beaten pulverised fuel. The House no doubt realises that this fuel can be pumped in by pneumatic pumps and can be used, as the hon. Member suggests, with burners in the same way as oil, but none the less it is nothing like as good or as clean or as efficient as fuel oil, and I am afraid that, so far as my personal experience goes, I must put the wettest possible damper on the hon. Gentleman's hopes and say that we must therefore stick to oil.
That brings me to a point which I should like to mention and which is embodied in the first Amendment on the Paper, namely, the question of research, with which I will couple the question of experiments. There is no getting away from the fact that during the late War a good many of our ships, and several of the biggest, were lost through faulty design either of the ships or of the gun positions or of the method of handling ammunition. Although in the years before the War I had indirect, and to some extent direct, insight in connection with experiments and that sort of thing, we did not, in my opinion, carry out anything like enough research or experiments. One feels a certain amount of regret, and possibly a little bit of blame, that that should have been so, but at the same time I do feel that the War opened our eyes to a very great extent to the tremendous necessity for a much higher standard of research and experiment, and I trust that the Admiralty are going to encourage that in every possible way. I cannot speak too strongly of the very great necessity for such research and experiment.
The hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Hilton Young) mentioned two things on a subject which I should like to refer to 1733 for a few moments. In the one case he talked of cruisers and their size and said he considered that the right size of cruisers—or I understood him so to say—was the type of cruiser of the C class in the Service. None of them run much over 5,000 tons or thereabouts. They are very fine ships and do their work very well, but to say that they have great or fine sea-keeping qualities is not a fact, and it is absolutely necessary for us to build larger cruisers whenever we possibly can. The small cruiser has her advantages, but for great sea-keeping work you must have large ships with high free-board and great power, and, therefore, great fuel capacity to allow them to keep the sea almost indefinitely.
The hon. Member mentioned another thing. He did not express an opinion as to whether the day of the battleship had come to an end, but he did suggest that we ought to be ready at a moment's notice to put them on one side and turn our eyes to the fact that their day had passed. I very respectfully put it to the House that that day has certainly not yet arrived. One sees the old question constantly put, "What is the use of the battleship?" That question is very seldom answered, and I should like to answer it in two or three sentences. The battleship is the highest development of a fighting ship. That is the first and simplest definition. She has become no less efficient in consequence of aircraft having been invented. She is the more efficient, because the commander-in-chief knows more of the movements of the enemy than he was able to know previously. The idea that battleships would be sunk or destroyed, dispersed or frightened or anything of that sort, by aircraft has no foundation in fact, or in experiment. It is not the slightest use putting the cases one hears of in which battleships are moored and a large number of active and keen young men armed with aeroplanes and heavy bombs go up to destroy them. Of course, they can do that, but it is quite another story of a ship is steaming and thoroughly well armed with anti-aircraft guns. I, personally, should feel very comfortable if I were the captain of a battleship thoroughly well armed, and modern, against any number of aircraft.
I want to say a few words about what is called the Fleet Air Arm. To begin with, the very words "Fleet Air Arm" 1734 is, to me, a complete misnomer. You might just as well talk about the Fleet Submarine Arm, or about the Fleet Destroyer Arm. The thing is an anomaly and a very dangerous experiment, and we had no right to create that position, and we have certainly no right to perpetuate it. I can only say that the greatest trouble and difficulties we have ever had in this country in connection with our wars and the conduct of those wars, in regard to the Navy, at any rate, has been the difficulty of perfect, harmonious co-operation with the other arms of the Service, and to introduce a completely separate arm like the Fleet Air Arm, for which the Admiralty have to make provisions on a totally different basis, is only to court disaster and difficulty in the future.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
If I may interrupt for a moment, would the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell the House what the Admiralty did with their Naval Air Service when they had one?
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
I am perfectly ready to discuss that point, but it occurred so long ago that, even if a mistake was made in those days, it is not the slightest reason why we should perpetuate it.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
The question before us is the condition of affairs in the present and what is the right thing to do for the future. There is one subject which affects the personnel to which I should like to refer. I have many friends among the personnel, the officers and so on. Before the War the Admiralty introduced a system of examinations for promotion. I think I am right in saying that it has since been very much modified or else altogether put on one side—I hope only temporarily. I hope the First Lord will be good enough to say what the position is in regard to those examinations, and whether they are to be re-introduced or not and whether the candidates for staff appointments are also to have to undergo competitive examinations for such appointments before they go to the staff colleges. I should like to say that the Navy and the naval officers will unquestionably gain very greatly if those examinations are re-introduced. They 1735 may not be popular, but they will become popular and will certainly make for efficiency. We have not got them, but the Army have them at the present time and have had them for a great many years. I do submit most strongly that that is something on which the Admiralty should keep an eye and re-introduce.
I want to say one last word on the question of disarmament. I think it was a matter for very serious regret that we found that a further proposal for disarmament came to us from another nation. I feel very strongly that we should have produced a, scheme of our own and that that scheme should have been definitely published to the world. I know we shall be told that the Geneva Conference was already sitting and examining that subject, but none the less I see no reason why we in our position should not have produced a scheme that we felt was, not only the best and safest for ourselves, but a fair thing for all the other nations concerned. We see one or more of the other nations of Europe asking to have security, and recently they have been provided with security. It would not be the slightest use our asking for security. It is our business to provide that security, and, if we do not have it, then we must, as a nation, fail.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
In the Debate so far, I think there is little doubt that the most important pronouncement of the First Lord with regard to naval disarmament has been the most interesting question raised. The hon. and gallant Member for Eastbourne (Sir Hall) dealt very clearly with the effect upon this country and upon our trade routes of any limitation of naval armaments and the necessity for dealing with the actual number of vessels which we must have to maintain those routes. I was surprised that the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy), who has lately joined the Labour party, has left behind him what little knowledge of the Navy he had. I was hoping that he might inculcate into the Labour party some idea of armed force other than the necessity of its complete abolition.
There are two questions which have to be dealt with in any conference dealing with limitation of naval armaments. 1736 There is firstly the actual number of vessels which each country is allowed to maintain. How big they should be is merely a matter of detail. Secondly there is the use to which those vessels may be put in time of war. This second point is, of course, a question of international sea law, but in my view, and I think in the view of the most competent naval authorities, it is by far the most important aspect of any question dealing with naval disarmament. We have a much greater shipbuilding capacity than any other country in the world, and as the tale War showed, if we want more vessels in time of emergency, we can produce them more quickly than any other country in the world. But if our naval commanders at sea are limited and contained in their activities by virtue of the fact that our home Government has entered into agreements with foreign countries before the war then we are likely to suffer very great damage from that condition of affairs.
When I come to deal with this matter, I am confronted with a paradox, because I do not believe the First. Lord knows in the least where he is in this matter. He is on the Front Bench I know, but I do not think he knows where he is in regard to his position in this matter. I venture to suggest that he is being controlled in this respect by the Secretary of State for Air by virtue of the air policy which has been adopted. I will put two questions to the right hon. Gentleman. In wartime would he contemplate the British Navy being used to bombard open and unfortified towns with the resultant massacre of the non-combatant population in those towns; and, secondly, would he advocate the British Navy sinking merchant vessels without search and without warning? I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman will answer these questions, but I take it he would answer them in the negative. We have in this country three sections of armed forces—the Navy, Army and Air Force. But the Air Force is adopting a policy of indiscriminately bombing undefended towns, and massacring the non-combatant population that may reside in the locality. I well know the difficulty they are in, in view of the fact that in modern war munition centres are mainly concentrated in the great industrial areas, 1737 but, nevertheless, the actual policy which is being pursued, and which is advocated by the Secretary of State for Air, by Sir Hugh Trenchard and other high air officials, is one of indiscriminate bombing and the resultant destruction of the non-combatant population, men, women and children. How are we to confine frightfulness to one arm of the Service?
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
That may be, but that is not the point I was dealing with. My point is that if you are going to have frightfulness of that kind, you must realise that it will eventually spread to the other two Services. The Army has long ago given up the old policy of slaughtering every man, woman and child in the capture of a town, but we are doing the same thing under the policy we have adopted with our Air Force, and I think we should face the logical deduction from that policy. I do not believe we could lay down an international law at sea and at the same time have no law whatsoever in the air. That I am expressing directly what the general view is clear from the daily Press. I have a cutting from Mr. Garvin's article in the "Observer" of yesterday, in which he expresses what I might call the general public opinion to some extent. What he says is this:No more than our neighbours can we expose the cities of our people, irrespective of sex or age, to a final and hideous fate of massacre and torture owing to helplessness in the air.I think that shows that is the general policy accepted, not only by this country but other countries, as the correct one, and the point I would like to bring to the notice of the First Lord is this: Is it not going to be of great material damage to this country to allow a method of warfare like that to be approved and accepted in international law? There are certain countries like America and japan, I believe, which are trying to obtain international law against the indiscriminate bombardment of non-combatants in hostile cities, but I should like to show why I believe it is essential that we should establish some form of international law, because the international law at sea is one of the strongest and greatest assets which we can possibly have. For instance, to-day we mourn the 1738 loss of hundreds of thousands of our bravest and best who would never have been called upon to make the great sacrifice if our Government in 1914 had fought under the age-long law of the sea. Tens of thousands of men were killed by T.N.T. manufactured in America, brought by the British Navy into port in this country, released by order of the Foreign Office and allowed to go into Germany. For two years the whole of the sinews of war made up of iron, copper, nickel and so forth poured into Germany, every ton of which could have been stopped by Lord Jellicoe. [An HON. MEMBER: "By America!"] They were allowed to be sent in by our Foreign Office. Now that the War is over, an investigation has been made not only in this country but in other countries, and I think I shall not be contradicted when I say that general naval opinion is to the effect that the War would have been over two years before it was if Germany had been throttled with regard to her supplies at the outset of the War, instead of waiting until February 1917—
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
I will deal with that later. I do not forget that my hon. Friend was at the Foreign Office. I have got more to say about the Foreign Office.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not know yet where the connection comes in with the present Estimates. It is too much of a diversion on the Navy Estimates to go back to what the Foreign Office did in 1914, unless there is some close application to the present Estimates.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
I think the connection is that the object of building our cruisers is to guard the trade routes, and they have two functions—one to deal with the enemy vessels, and the other to deal with neutral and enemy merchandise and merchant ships. But although the cruiser can deal in the absolute physical connection of capture with merchant vessels, what happens to that vessel is decided by the International Prize Courts, and as Prize Courts work under international law, I was merely pointing out that the Foreign Office by Order in Council interfered with that international law by which Germany was 1739 provided with merchandise previously captured by our cruisers, and then allowed to go into Germany. I would point out to the First Lord of the Admiralty that if he allows that to happen again, he might just as well not build his cruisers at all. That, I think, is the connection, and it is really tragic to think that the suffering, the sorrow and the waste of human life of those last two years of war could have been avoided. I suggest that all we can now do for the memory of those brave men is to learn our lesson and see that that is not repeated. I am not speaking without authority, for Lord Bertie, who was the British Minister to France, said:What hampers us dreadfully is that foolish Declaration of London which the House of Lords wisely rejected and the Government unwisely adopted in part for the present war. It prevents us from controlling the importation through neutral States to Germany of articles which will enable her to continue the struggle much longer than if there were no such Declaration.I, therefore assert, without fear of contradiction that the main function which Parliament has to perform in regard to any Naval Conference for disarmament is to insist that the plenipotentiaries attending that Conference on our behalf are very definitely instructed as to what alterations or additions might be made on our behalf to that international law of the world. I hope I am not boring the House too much with this international law question, but I do feel that it is of absolutely vital importance, and it is never brought up on the Navy Estimates. If we take the last 70 years, we find that the action of the British Navy has been hampered four times by international agreement—first by the Declaration of Paris of 1856, then by the Hague Convention in 1907, then by the Declaration of London in 1909 and lastly, we were nearly let in by this specious declaration of President Wilson of what he terms the "Freedom of the Seas." I think it is absolutely vital to this country that we should repudiate the Declaration of Paris at the earliest possible moment. It is important to note that that Declaration was never ratified by this House, and, furthermore, is not a Treaty. It cannot really he accepted as a modification of sea law unless it be accepted by the 1740 world as a law. America, has never accepted it, and would have nothing to do with it.
Now I will deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Cooper). The trouble during the War was that when war broke out the British Government, without any authority from Parliament, adopted the Declaration of London. If I might just explain to the House the difference, it is this. In the case of war at sea before the Declaration of Paris of 1856 the British Navy was able to seize any merchandise or any property belonging to the enemy. Whether private property or Government property, there was no such thing as contraband. What happened in 1856 was that Great Britain agreed to the proposition that privately-owned property was covered by the neutral flag, and therefore the only thing a belligerent could stop was contraband. The whole trouble with America at the beginning of the War was that the Foreign Office, in a little back room, with no authority, issued mandates from week to week stating what in their opinion was contraband. The result, of course, was that America was confused and irritated. Their merchants never knew where they were, and when their ships left America they were told "That is not contraband, you can send it to Denmark and transmit it to Germany." But after a few days the Foreign Office added to their list of articles on the contraband list and their cargoes which left as free goods were subsequently seized. That was what really made many people in this country rather anxious as to whether America would come into the War against us. It is entirely a question of the method with which the cruisers had to deal with the merchandise which they captured.
I come to the question of what is termed the "Freedom of the Seas," which, I think, may quite possibly be resurrected at this new Disarmament Conference. It can, of course, be divided into two different aspects. First of all, there is the question of the freedom of the seas during times of peace; and, secondly, the question of the freedom of the seas during times of war. In times of peace the freedom of the seas has been established for the last century, in so far as the safety of the shipping of the world upon the high seas is concerned. 1741 This freedom is due mainly to the British Fleet, which for a century has chartered and policed them, exterminated piracy, suppressed the slave trade, kept open the trade routes and lighted and buoyed foreign channels where no civilised state existed to undertake that duty. Furthermore, there is real freedom of the seas throughout the British Empire, even their territorial waters and ports are included within this term. All British ports and coaling stations are equally open in time of peace to all corners who will pay the customary dues which are levied equally on British and foreign merchant ships, even the coasting trade of the United Kingdom has been opened by Great Britain to all who desire to take part in it. This is not the case, however, either in the United States or in France, as both those countries have determined that the coasting trade of their countries should ever be protected by a high preferential tariff or entirely reserved for vessels belonging to their own nationals. In time of war, that is somewhat different. What President Wilson wanted to do with his idea of the freedom of the seas was to do away with contraband, and to allow all private merchandise to go free from interruption in time of war. If they did so, it would remove from this country the greatest weapon it possesses, and I hope in any Conference the First Lord will deal with that matter in such a manner that we can regain that free position which we once had before the Declaration of Paris in 1856 was adopted.
I will now deal with the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull, in which he criticised my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Sir R. Hall) for saying that we should consider our trade routes as analogous to the American railways. I think my hon. and gallant Friend is absolutely right. It is so vital to this country that we should be able, not only to protect our own merchant shipping, but that, in time of war, we should be able to destroy that of the enemy, that we cannot possibly allow any chance to be taken of our not having a sufficiency of cruisers. The problem is there, whatever be the number of cruisers built by other nations; and the number of our cruisers cannot be reduced unless the size of the world be made smaller, which is 1742 impossible. Therefore, we are limited to the number to which we can possibly reduce our cruisers.
A further point is that many people appear to think that the advent of air power has in some degree altered the function of the Navy. I think that such a proposition is entirely fallacious. All that has happened is that in time it may be possible—I do not say it is, and personally I think it will be many years hence—for aircraft to perform the same functions which the British Navy now discharges; but the present-day functions of the British Navy are to protect the seas for our own merchandise and deny the seas to that of the enemy. The fact that the Battle Fleet may have to fight an action has nothing to do with the point.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
That is the whole difference between land railways and trade routes at sea.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
I do not quite follow the hon. and gallant Member. My point is that whether or not aircraft can be developed, they cannot alter the function which this country has to perform, either by an air navy or the present Navy; because it is not in contemplation, and I doubt whether it will ever happen, that the great bulk of merchandise can be transferred from the water to the air. The function of this country must be to retain those great water routes which are so necessary to the life of this country. Suppose transport upon those routes was stopped. In three months starvation would be showing in this country, and in nine months half the population would be dead. How can we ever allow any risk to be taken in that respect? Therefore, I would press the right hon. Gentleman on these two points; first, if we are going to secure our sea power, we must have war carried out by law at sea as it always has been carried out; and if we are going to develop a policy with aircraft, which has no law—their development being in the direction of bombing defenceless noncombatants and killing men, women and children—it will be impossible for this country to say to foreign nations, "You have got to observe the law at sea, but you need not observe any law in the air," and I venture to think the effect upon the safety and security of this country 1743 will be very great. The other point I would put to my right hon. Friend is this. Will he give an undertaking that the British Government will repudiate the Declaration of Paris of 1856; and will he give us an undertaking that very definite instructions will be given to our delegates before they go to the Conference at Geneva?
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
It is difficult if, indeed, it be not an anti-climax, to try to follow my hon. and gallant Friend, not only because he is an ex-naval officer of great experience and an inventor who has performed a great service to this country, but he is a profound and reflecting thinker. I can only say that I agree in full with the spirit of his speech, but it is to be considered, and I do not think he dealt sufficiently with the point, that had we endeavoured to make a complete prohibition of neutral shipping engaging in commerce with enemy countries during the War, we should have brought America in on the reverse side.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
America's complaint was not that we stopped her ships or stopped her merchandise, but that instead of sending that merchandise to be judged by the Prize Courts—and the Judges, as my hon. and gallant Friend knows are international Judges—
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
—they are not under the law of this country—the executive in this country overrode them by physical force and gave instructions through the Foreign Office without rhyme or reason. That is what annoyed America—it was our Foreign Office, not the Navy.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
I should hesitate to argue with my hon. and gallant Friend on a subject which he has so intimately studied, but my understanding was that the Prize Courts of this country are Admiralty courts, and that in every country of the world the Prize Courts are national courts under the jurisdiction of the particular country; and it was also my understanding that America came into the last War as a protest against indiscriminate sinkings of neutral shipping, not by England, but by Germany. However, those matters are past and done 1744 with, and nobody is more competent to deal with them than my hon. and gallant Friend, and I should hesitate, as I say, to argue with him upon them.
I wish to refer to one matter raised by the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), who was previously at the Admiralty. In my judgment he did a severe and inexcusable wrong to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whom lie accused, in writing his recent historical work, of corruption and of an injustice to the Civil Service. Everyone who has read that work must be gratified that we have in this country a statesman who has it in his power so well to enrich our literature, and I do not know by what quotation my hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell could establish his charge that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had wrongly criticised any civil servant. I do not think he mentioned in tones of criticism any single civil servant, from the beginning of his book to the end of it. Macaulay, another statesman who was an historian, writing in an historical work of two Members of Parliament of his day, said they had the highest qualification for writing history in that they lived history, breathed history, and acted history. That can be said with equal justice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has undoubtedly given to the world and to posterity a, work of the greatest value. It is, of course, permissible to differ from his opinions, but you can hardly deny to the Chancellor of the Exchequer or to any other statesman the privilege which has been accorded to Lord Jellicoe, and to every general and admiral who served in the War, of giving his own views of the conflict; and, as I see it, it is of the greatest advantage not only to those who served in the Navy and in the Army but to the citizens of this country, that the episodes of the recent War, the doctrines by which it was conducted, and the personalities by which it was influenced, should be freely and fully discussed. I will say no more upon that subject, but I do venture to register a hope that the Prime Minister will not yield to this misguided clamour to prevent statesmen from giving their own accounts of events with which they were intimately connected. It is far better that statesmen should give those accounts than that those who know nothing about 1745 them should have a monopoly of that privilege.
It is customary on the discussion of the Naval Estimates to complain that they are extravagant. I make no such complaint. I think the real charge against the Admiralty is not a charge of extravagance but a charge against the system on which these Naval Estimates are produced. I think you could search the whole of past history without finding the record of an empire which based its naval estimates on so ridiculous a system as that on which the Admiralty bases them. Forty million people out of the whole of an Empire of probably 400,000,000 people are called upon to bear the total weight of the defence of that Empire. That is a position which is insupportable, and which the taxpayer is justified in criticising. It is, indeed, supremely unfair. I make no apology for reverting to this matter again this year, as I did last year and the year before. Last year, on the eve of the Imperial Conference, I was encouraged by the First Lord of the Admiralty to believe that this matter would be raised at Conference, and that there would be a discussion and settlement of the proper apportionment of our burden among the parts of the Empire. It was for that reason that I looked with some hope to the Memorandum on the Navy Estimates this year; and my hope was sustained when I read the paragraph:The meeting of the Imperial Conference afforded the Admiralty a valuable opportunity of discussing Imperial naval policy in all its aspects with the representatives of the Dominions and of India.instead of Justifying the hope which that preliminary paragraph creates, the narrative goes on to deal with some minor questions of the distribution of ships. I do not think it can be denied that if an empire means anything, it means not only a common participation in privileges, it must mean a common participation in and I was astounded as I listened to the First Lord of the Admiralty's very blunt and very delightful speech, to find that he had tin, temerity, if I may use that phrase, to read out a series of Resolutions which had been passed by the Dominion Governments in conference calling on the British Emipre to maintain the one-Power standard and meet other require- 1746 ments, and yet containing not one single reference to the means whereby that one-Power standard and other requirements were to be sustained. It is a little too much to ignore entirely the common responsibilities of our Empire. It is giving the taxpayers of this country an entirely false impression of the Empire. It is giving them the impression that the Empire is something which has to be maintained solely and wholly out of their pockets. I have asked the Secretary of State for the Dominions for the figures of the contributions made by other parts of the Empire, and have them in my pocket, but I will not read them to the House because I desire to be brief. It will be sufficient to say that the whole of the Dominions contribute, I think am right in saying, less than £6,000,000 to the naval defence of an Empire in which their fortunes are involved very much more intimately than our own.
What is the impression that such figures must create in the naval ports of this Country where the naval traditions survive? Every one of the dockyard towns is being confronted with disaster. I am entitled as a representative of one of those dockyards to say that they realise that the only economy in these Estimates is being made at the expense of the dockyard ports and the naval towns. A moment ago I was referring to Lord Jellicoe. It is significant that one of his principal criticisms against the Admiralty is its failure to provide proper naval bases and naval docking accommodation. I represent to the First Lord that it is his duty to look after these ports in which the naval tradition is preserved. Rosyth and Pembroke have been entirely wiped off the map, and I want to know whether a similar fate is in store for Devonport, the constituency which I represent. In that town 600 men are in the course of the next few weeks to be thrown indiscriminately on the scrap heap. Those men when they read these Estimates will see that the largest part of our naval construction is being undertaken this year in private dockyards. As a matter of fact more money is being spent on construction in private dockyards than in all the yards for which the Government of the country is responsible.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
The proportion of construction going to the private yards and the Royal dockyards is the same.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
During the past year two Royal dockyards have been closed. Yet the First Lord allows the proportion between private yards and Royal dockyards to be the same. As a matter of fact there is less work for the Government dockyards than there has ever been before. The logical inference from the closing of Rosyth and Pembroke Dockyards would be that there would be more work for Devonport, Portsmouth and Chatham, whereas there is really less work at those ports. There is £5,894,475 to be spent in these Estimates in private dockyards as compared with £3,500,000 in the dockyard towns. That is the charge I bring with some justice against the Admiralty. The programme of new construction is strengthened, yet of all the vessels mentioned in this programme only two class B cruisers are to be built in His Majesty's dockyards. I ask the new Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, whom I congratulate on his promotion to that office, that one of those Class B cruisers should be constructed at Devonport.
Only two of these cruisers are to be constructed in the Government dockyards, and all the rest of the programme is going to private yards. I think it is quite a misguided policy that the Government should send all their work to firms which have other sources of livelihood, thus depriving the dockyard towns of the labour they are entitled to expect would be employed. I need not impress on the First Lord the distress which now prevails in the constituency which I represent. It is indeed most severe,, and I have every right to plead with the First Lord, whose courtesy and sympathy are always forthcoming, for some more practical measure of relief. The right hon. Gentleman knows that in the whole area and region of Devonport there is no alternative industry. The Admiralty have closed two dockyards, and sent a number of the inhabitants into Portsmouth and Devonport, yet they have made no arrangement for housing them. In this way they have increased the suffering in the towns, not only in regard to housing, but also in regard to unemployment and overcrowding. They have also placed further burdens on the rates, yet the First Lord has made no mention whatever of any measure of relief which he proposes to meet these hardships.
1748 I do ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he seriously means to fling these men in the next few weeks on the scrap heap. They have been trained for the national service, and possess a natural patriotism, and are they to be driven to despair. Is there no method by which some of this construction work intended for private firms cannot be sent to Devonport? I ask if there is no means by which those discharges, if inevitable, cannot be spread over a greater period of time. I would like to ask also if the Admiralty have considered doing with Devonport and Portsmouth what they did with Rosyth and Pembroke, and if that is their intention, I ask them to give us five or six years' notice in order that plans may be made to meet the difficulty.
Two years before Rosyth was closed we were told on the highest authority that it was indispensable for the Fleet. If the Admiralty really intend to dispense with their own dockyards, one has a right to know, in order that preparations may be made to meet the difficulty. We can see what has happened at Rosyth and Pembroke, and if a similar fate is in store for us in Devonport and Portsmouth, in common justice let us know. I plead with the First Lord to have a particular regard for the young men, because he has been turning out young ex-apprentices on the completion of their time whose education and training are superior to that of any other young men in the Kingdom, who have passed the highest Admiralty tests, and have shown the greatest promise in the service of the country. These young men have been kicked out of employment at the outset of their careers, and I plead to the right hon. Gentleman to see whether something cannot be done to preserve their service, skill, hope and patriotism for the country. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty if he can reveal whether he intends to make some proposals under the Superannuation Acts. If he cannot make those proposals, I would like to know whether he intends to exercise certain powers in that regard, because there are men in the dockyards of Devonport who desire to take up appointments abroad. They say they can get more money in America than they can get in this country. I think that is a very distressing state of things, but it is a fact. They point out that if 1749 they leave the dockyard and are established men they cannot get their pensions under the terms of the Superannuation Act,, and if they are hired men they cannot get their gratuities unless they have done 15 years' service.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he has any proposals to make whereby men who desire to leave the dockyard may do so without any loss whatever. I also ask him if he can do what private employers do, that is, give a holiday to these men for a certain period during which the Admiralty will continue to pay their men as private employers do. All these small measures are of the greatest importance in a town which is suffering so much. It is obvious that those employed in our dockyards should have the same privileges in regard to holidays as those who are doing similar work under private employers. I would also like to ask whether an established man cannot be given the same right to unemployment benefit as a sailor when he comes out on pension from the Navy. These men are being very roughly treated in this respect, because they are mulcted week by week of a certain proportion of their pay which they were led to believe was to be a contribution towards their pension. They were afterwards told that the Admiralty had no legal right to make any deductions towards their pension, and they retired on a small pension and were deprived of their unemployment pay. I ask the House to believe that it is my duty, as it is my right, to say all I can on behalf of my constituents. I realise that the House of Commons is very little interested in this particular subject, and I apologise for wearying hon. Members with all these details. In conclusion, I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty to do all he can to foster that patriotism which properly resides in the naval ports, and not drive these men to despair, but hold out some hope that the Admiralty will do what the nation expects them to do, that is, treat these men with more justice than they have hitherto received.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Sir BERTRAM FALLE
It is a pleasant duty for me to agree with practically everything the hon. Member for Devon-port (Mr. Hore-Belisha) has just said. That is very altruistic on my part because the hon. Member has touched on almost 1750 every subject upon which I intended to speak. I know he has put the points before the House better than I could have done myself. Of course if I had had the advantage of speaking before him, he would have found himself in exactly the same position as I am, and I have no doubt he will sympathise with me. When the hon. Member speaks of the discharges from the dockyards, it certainly seems to me that on this side of the House we have earned the right to be called the stupid party. We have on this side three Conservative Members for Portsmouth, and if we take the Conservative representatives of other dockyard towns on this side of the House we represent 28 votes on a Division, yet the Government pay no more attention to us than if our votes did not exist at all. Instead of cutting out 3,000 men from the nine dockyards, another Government less honest if less stupid would have said, "We will not cut the men out but cut down the ships, and then the men must go, but we will not tell them definitely they mast go." My hon. Friend who spoke last has said that there is no work in the dockyard towns except in the dockyards. These men are going to be thrown on the dole. That is no economy; not the smallest economy. The established men are not going to be allowed to take their pensions, which they might do in many cases at the age of 50 or 55, and find work outside. They will not get that work if they are kept until they reach the age of 60, but they will have to starve on a small pension. These 2,000 or 3,000 men will be literally thrown out to starve on the dole and to lose their self-respect. Their wives and their families are to be allowed to starve on a totally inadequate sum. I have worried my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, and I have worried the First Lord of the Admiralty on this subject for many weeks and the marvel is that my hon. and gallant Friend still smiles at me oven the matter now.
There is one point on which I disagree with the hon. and gallant Member for Devonport, that is, when he talks about Australia and the great Dominions. Those great Dominions came to our assistance in the War. They gave the best they had and it would be difficult to say that we 1751 should have won the War if they had not come in. They ran up big bills with us. With regard to War Debts, we have given back huge portions of what our enemies owe us and of what our friends owe us. We have given them back practically down to rock bottom. But we have not given back one single penny of the debt to any of the Dominions that came to our assistance. We are asking them for interest and principle for every penny they spent for our defence. I do not think we have any cause to blame them if they say, "Wipe off our debt before we give you more money.
I am not a believer, and I never was a believer in gambling. But if you do gamble there is one thing I would not gamble on and that is the Royal Navy. It is the Royal Navy on which our whole safety depends, and, therefore, I am sorry to see in the last paragraph of the statement of the First Lord that certain most necessary expenditure is going to be put off. My right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. Hilton Young) thinks that if you got a jury together and asked them if there was any danger of war, the large majority of the jury would decide that there was none. It is possible that they would, but it is possible also to remember what Carlyle says about the great majority of human beings. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"] From the jury joint of view. It is not in the memory of many of the hon. Members of this House, but they have certainly read it and I have quoted it before in this House that Lord Granville, just one fortnight before the Franco-German War of 1870 broke out, said that there was "not a cloud on the horizon." Lord Granville ought to have known what he was talking about and he was not of that large majority spoken of by Carlyle. Are we not running the same risk now? I think we are. There is no question that, if we are to have a Navy at all, that Navy must be thoroughly and absolutely efficient; if it is not efficient, then it is a very gross extravagance. Not only must we have the ships efficient but we must have the men contented and happy and their ships contented and happy ships. Anyone who knows the Navy knows that is not a universal proposition.
1752 We have been told that Singapore is not a controversial question. It has been stated that the imperial Conference took the view that it was essential. If we have no dockyard in the Indian Ocean, it is certain that our ships cannot go there. The fleet we send to China must return home before any necessary and possible repair could be done to them. Last year it was said that we had got down to the bone, and it was true. We had got down to the bone, and we are digging into the bone at the present moment. Whatever we do cut, we ought not to cut the Navy. We cannot improvise the sailor. We can build ships quicker than other people, and till we tested the German Navy, which stood our bombardment, we used to say that we could build them better than any other nation. We can certainly build them quicker, but we cannot improvise men, It takes years and years to make a competent sailor. I have seen artillery drivers turned out in nine weeks. That was improvising an Army. But you cannot improvise the British sailor, and any attempt to do so has not been of any use or service whatever to this country.
I want to turn from the large point to what my hon. and gallant Friend will think a. small point, but which is not a small point, although it is a subsidiary point, and that is a matter on which I have also bothered him and worried him and the First Lord for a long time. It is a fact that if a man falls ill in the Royal Navy he is sent to the fleet surgeon, and that fleet surgeon, on his own responsibility, decides whether that man should be put out or not. I think that is absolutely wrong. The medical service in the Navy is a great service. The men are as able as you can find anywhere, but I do not think it should rest with one man to decide on a matter of life and death in regard to one of the Royal Navy. I can remember that when I was a youngster, a friend of mine went up for the Indian Civil Service. He went before one of the great doctors of the day. That man said: "I cannot pass you, my friend, you have a hole in your right lung." That rather knocked my friend over, and he went to the next big man. That doctor said to him: "I am sorry for you; you have a large hole in your left lung." My friend said: 1753 "I have just come from Dr. So-and-so, and he told me that I had a hole in my right lung." The doctor said: "You go back to him and tell him from me he is a fool. It is not in your right lung, but in your left." Those were two of the biggest doctors in London at the time. The tragedy of it was that they were both right, and my poor friend was dead within a year.
I use that only as a proof that no man, not even a doctor, is infallible. These poor men who suffer from any illness and are thrown out of the Service should have the right to go to a board. No one man, but the board, should determine their future. If you had a fleet surgeon and a civil practitioner and, say, a man like the town clerk of Portsmouth to give their services for nothing the man would be satisfied with their decision. One hundred and ninety-six men were thrown out of the Service in this year for tuberculosis alone. Only six of them, or just about 3 per cent. were given any pension whatever for the illness which they believe they contracted in His Majesty's Service. Why was that? Everybody must be aware that the men in the Navy do not like tuberculous comrades. They sleep in very confined spaces. Those spaces are very badly ventilated, and the presence of a tuberculous man is not pleasant. But the tuberculous men dare not "go sick" because if they do go sick—all tuberculous cases think they are going to recover immediately and say: "When fine weather comes I shall be well" they will be thrown on the beach by the fleet surgeon and will receive nothing whatever for the ailment from which they are suffering and which in most cases the men truly suppose is due to their service in the Navy. At 18 the sailor is a fit man and he passes a severe medical examination as physically fit but at the age of 22 or 23 when he is probably married but not receiving a marriage allowance he is literally thrown out on the beach. That is an iniquity. That is a wicked thing for any Government to do and I ask my hon. and gallant Friend if he cannot persuade the Admiralty to give a medical board to these poor men. Will he do what has been so often asked for from these benches? Will he allow these men to appeal to the Board of Admiralty? I 1754 am told that they could appeal to the Board of Admiralty if they liked. As a matter of fact it is exceedingly difficult for them to do anything of the kind. I will not say that their commanding officers prevent them—I should not like to think that—but they make it difficult and the medical men on shore and in the ships also make it difficult. They are quite satisfied with their own diagnosis.
The Admiralty have a simple plan to their hand. They could work it by a stroke of the pen. That plan is to make the appeal to the Board automatic and a matter of right. Once it is a matter of right no officer will attempt to interfere, once it is an automatic matter there is no more to be said. If a tubercular able scaman, or whatever his rating may be, or whatever his disease may be, whether it really does arise from the Service or whether it is an accident, as tuberculosis may frequently be, let the Admiralty say— and I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will take note of this and reply to it—and let the Board make it automatic that these men should have the right of appealing to the Board and that nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of their going before the Board and getting what they consider justice. We have spoken to-night of discontent in the Navy. There is discontent in the Navy and it is discontent over small and petty things such as this. Men may face the "big things" and they can fight against that big thing and defeat it, but it is not in human nature to face continual pinpricks which in many cases men in the Service have to suffer. I will not go into the list of things that they do have to suffer because I am holding myself in and I am hoping that my hon. and gallant Friend will give his serious attention to this particular point so that when a young man in the best of health joins the Navy he shall at least know that if any misfortune happens to him he can rely as a right automatically to go before the Board of Admiralty.
It is difficult to know at this time just where to begin, because, after one has sat in the House for four or five hours waiting to speak on the Navy, what impresses one most is that a subject which should be of such vital interest seems the dullest in the world. I do not know whether it is more depressing to listen to speeches in the House of Commons on the Navy or to make one. 1755 Outside the House one can wax eloquent on the subject of the Navy, but inside the House it is very difficult, and it is really most depressing to see how few people in the House take an interest in it. If this were a question of Russia the House would be full, but, it being just a question of the Navy, it is now nearly empty.
I want to ask the. Parliamentary Secretary to join with the hon. Member for North Portsmouth (Sir B. Falle) in his appeal for the men who are suffering from tuberculosis. I have seen so many men in the Navy die of tuberculosis. I know that in battleships the writers have sometimes to live in conditions which make it almost impossible to get air, and we know that the percentage of tuberculosis in that particular class is very high. I do hope that these men will be given the right to appeal, because we all know how difficult it is unless it is a right. Once a man contracts this disease, he seems to lose all energy, and, as the hon. Member for North Portsmouth has just said, he always thinks he is going to get well, though I am afraid that very often he does not. I do hope that the Admiralty will give consideration to this appeal, and will not just let the matter go on the word of one doctor. As to that I agree with the hon. Member for North Portsmouth. In 1914, the doctors told me that I should never lead a normal life again—I was too delicate. They were quite right; I never have led a normal life since 1914, but it has not been because I am too delicate.
The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) started with the Empire, but he got back to Devonport. That was quite right and proper, because it is our job and our duty to do it. I want to join in the hon. Member's appeal, and I would commend this to hon. Members on the Labour benches. See what a bad employer the Government is! Private firms give their men a holiday with pay—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] A great many of them do. I can give the names of plenty of firms who give their men a holiday with pay. The Government do not see their way to do that, but I hope they will consider it, and also the question of a superannuation scheme, as just mentioned by the hon. Member for 1756 Devonport. It is very difficult for a Member for a dockyard constituency to speak on the Navy, because people always think one is just speaking from the dockyard point of view, and not from the point of view of the country. That is a point with which I will deal in a minute. Before I do so, there is one matter which I should like to ask the Government to explain.
On page 168 of the Estimates, there are some figures which I am afraid will be a little misleading, as to the work going to the Royal Dockyards—counting the work in wages—as compared with that going to private firms. The figures given on that page are for the estimated expenditure in cash in the year 1927. According to this statement, taking the figure for dockyard-built ships, it would seem as if the total aggregate sum for new construction at the Royal Dockyards was, in round figures, £3,500,000, and the amount for contract-built ships, also in round figures, about £5,800,000. It looks, therefore, as if the Admiralty had allotted to the Royal Dockyards about £2,000,000 worth of new work less than they had allotted to private firms. That, however, is not the case if one considers the value in wages. Out of the total of £3,500,000 put down for the Royal Dockyards, a sum of £1,700,000 represents contract work, that is to say contracts let out to private firms for material needed on the ships to be built in the dockyards. That is serious, because the wages paid in making that material would be paid to men working for private firms, so that, instead of the expenditure on new construction in the Royal Dockyards being £3,500,000 in wages, at would really be only about £1,800,000, whereas the value of the work given to private firms is really not £5,800.000. but £7,500,000.
I can put it in another way. Instead of the value of the work performed in the Royal Dockyards being £2,000,000 less than that done in private establishments, it is, in fact, 5,700,000 less. That is a very serious difference. I do not know whether, in these private yards, they are making those parts themselves. It may be that they are, but, anyhow, the wages are going to a much greater extent to private firms. Could not the Admiralty arrange that those parts should be made in the Dockyards? If private firms can do it, why cannot the Dockyards? I hope 1757 they will consider that, because it is a practical point, and really the figures are misleading. I myself have not that suspicion that there sometimes is as to the Admiralty giving work to private firms because there are people in the Admiralty who are interested in private firms. That is what we hear in Plymouth, but I do not believe it for one moment. I am perfectly convinced that the Admiralty have to look at the question of unemployment when they give out this work, but it is a serious matter, particularly in Devon-port and Plymouth. Or rather, there is no Devonport now, but it means a great deal in Plymouth.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
On a point of Order. Seeing that a Member has been duly returned to this House to represent the constituency of Devonport, is it m order to say that there is no Devonport?
What I mean by that is that the greater Plymouth includes the lesser Devonport. We must not take a narrow view of this matter, but must fight for work for the dockyard towns. After all, the Government, if they had to do so, could stop all private development in Devonport and Plymouth, and the only chance for these places is the dockyards. I do not believe that Devon-port is going to follow in the steps of Pembroke, but I do feel that this continual cutting down is most disheartening, because there is no alternative occupation, and I think the cutting down is going to continue. In regard to that, although it may seem a curious thing for me to say, if it means peace in the world I hope it will go on, but what I want to see is some alternative scheme. I do not mind what we do in the way of peace, but let us do it intelligently, and let us see, as long as we have the dockyards, that, when the dockyards do get a contract, the whole of the wages go to them, as is the case in private firms.
Another point that I want to make is with regard to women in the dockyards. There is a certain amount of work clone by women, and much of it is home work. A great deal of it could be done by widows of dockyard and ex-service men, and some is, but a good deal is done by con- 1758 tract, and I am told that some of it goes to sub-contractors, which means that it leaves the district entirely. Could not the Government consider taking one of the buildings in Devonport Dockyard, and using it as a workshop in which to employ the women in and around that district? We know that there are some tragic and deserving cases down there of women who would quite readily do such work, and the work is there. I do hope the Government will consider that point. With regard to the Navy itself, I hope very much that the reduction in petty officers and leading seamen which was authorised in 1926 is now at an end. It is most disheartening for men to go on and get that far and then be turned off, and I hope the Admiralty have come to the end of that.
Then I want to ask one more question, which is becoming a hardy annual, as to the extremely high cost of living on foreign stations, particularly China. The Admiralty have promised to look into that. I suppose it is a little difficult at the present time, but we do hope that, when the Chinese crisis is over, the Admiralty will consider once more the question of the high cost of living in these foreign ports, and give an adequate messing and victualling allowance in those cases. I hear that some of the sick berth staff at the Royal Naval Hospital have had their leave privileges curtailed. I do not know whether this is a permanent thing. I hope very much it is not. These are small questions, but it is our only chance of bringing them out.
From the Empire point of view, I have a good deal of sympathy with what the hon. Member for Devonport said, but England is in the position of a mother, and when the mother educates a child and sends it out into the world she must trust that it will do the right thing by her. It is dangerous to tell them what they ought to do. We can perfectly trust to the Dominions realising the position of the Mother Country and doing a great deal more for the Navy than they are doing. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are grown up!"] They are growing up but they are not grown up. Every year we talk about peace. We work for peace, and every year we have to vote for the Navy. I look into my heart to find out whether that is right. I am a practical person. I see the world as it 1759 is and work for the world as I want it. It would not be practical politics at this moment not to vote for the Navy. It would be very impractical politics not to welcome a Conference such as President Coolidge has asked us to. I rejoice that there is going to be another Conference. I am not asking them to limit the number of cruisers, hut I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich that we should have a reduction in the tonnage of cruisers, because that is a perfectly practical question and one which just adds to the expense without, as far as I can see, doing very much good. I do not think it helps this international world peace to compare the route from New York to California to the open seas. That is a very bad comparison. After all, when people walk over your land it is your land. England may rule the seas but no one can say she owns them. I am certain America realises England's position but I do not believe those comparisons will do the slightest good. I am sorry Italy and France have so far kept out. I am glad to note that in those countries women have not got the vote. Perhaps if they had they would be working for them to come into this Conference.
I had to make that passing remark. It is hard to see here and there people talking quite calmly about another war. Anyone who went through the last War can only hope and pray that in all our visions we shall always have in mind a world without war. I shall never forget an Australian boy of about 23 who came into the Royal Naval Hospital at Plymouth, who had gone mad as the result of his service, and the struggle we had to bring him round. I believe in the greatness of England, but I do not want any national feeling of any country to get between us and world peace. In voting for the Navy, we are voting to maintain the world peace as far as possible. I have complete confidence that if England and America, and I am proud to say Japan, will come in and set the pace we need never fear Italy and France, whose record on the sea is not enough to alarm anyone. I do not want to say anything aggressive. We have to face facts as they are, and we 1760 are all in this country fighting and praying for peace. We will go forward and meet America more than half way, and hope and pray that the rest of Europe will follow us.
Mr. McLEAN WATSON
There is considerable surprise and not a little disappointment that the First Lord of the Admiralty has not been able to present a better Report to the House I am certain the taxpayers were expecting to see a much greater saving reported than the £100,000 which the First Lord has presented to us. We had that great flourish of trumpets which heralded the closing of the two dockyards, and we were led to believe that there would be great economies in naval expenditure, and here we are presented with Estimates which bring us to within £100,000 of last year's, and that not entirely due to the saving on the two dockyards that have been closed. I have a very considerable amount of sympathy with the representatives of the Royal Dockyards. They have certainly been having a very bad time recently, and I can sympathise with them very sincerely because I had the same experience, and we had the previous experience of the partial closing down of Rosyth Dockyard in 1922, and again in 1925, when we had hundreds of men taken out. In view of the reduction in the dock-yards and the closing of Pembroke and Rosyth, the taxpayers were entitled to expect a much greater saving of public money than hits been announced to-day. Even that saving is on an Estimate which bargains for the taking out of the Royal Dockyards of between 2,000 and 3,000 men. That is certainly a very serious matter for the dockyards, and I agree with the Dockyard Members who have spoken in favour of getting more Admiralty work for them.
These dockyard towns have been built up exclusively for Admiralty purposes. Apart from naval activities, there is nothing in these areas. The whole community is dependent upon the work that is done in the dockyards, and I rather sympathise with their representatives in asking that the men should be given as full employment as can possibly be given them. There is no justification for handing out Admiralty work to private yards if the Government has in their own hands the means whereby they can meet their own requirements. In the Royal 1761 Dockyards a great dead more work could be done than has been done up to now. There is no justification for the plea put forward in one of the earlier speeches to-day, that more Admiralty work should be given to private dockyards. So long as the Royal Dockyards are there and capable of doing Admiralty work, the first claim on that work should be for Admiralty workers in the Royal Dockyards. That is perfectly justifiable, on the ground that those communities have sprung up and are existing on the work done in those yards. There is a very serious problem facing the Royal Dockyards, as there has been ever since the close of the War. With the Washington Agreement of 1921 limiting armaments, and the prospect of another conference coming along still further to reduce armaments in this country, the workers in the Royal Dockyards are certainly in a most unenviable position. They do not know where they are from year to year; they never know where they are going to be. They seem to have more anxiety as to their future than any other class of worker. With the prospect of another conference for the limitation of armaments, these communities wholly depending upon Admiralty work are, as one can well imagine, in a very unsettled state of mind. The men are anxious to get establishment, but even when they succeed in getting on to the establishment, the dockyard worker has not as much security as he is entitled to expect.
I want to put a question to the Parliamentary Secretary to which I hope he will give some consideration. Rosyth Dockyard was almost entirely manned from men from the South of England, although there were a number of local men. These men have come out of the dockyards, and the great bulk of them are receiving unemployment benefit. There are a number of men, I believe less than a dozen, who were transferred at Admiralty expense to Rosyth, and who are stranded at Resyth. I hope the Admiralty will be prepared to do something to return these men to their own home towns. Some of them did not come from Admiralty areas, but from other parts of England. I do not believe that any of them are finding employment in the Rosyth area, but I believe they have hopes of work if they could be transferred to the districts to which they originally belonged. I hope something 1762 will be done to transfer these men either to southern dockyard towns or to the areas from which they came. They are entitled to look to the Admiralty for transfer back to their home town. There is no justification for the Admiralty having transferred these men to Rosyth, then discharging them from the dockyard and leaving them to shift for themselves in an area where they are not likely to find work for many a year to come.
I believe that very few men who have gone out of the dockyard have found employment locally. There are at this moment hundreds of unemployed dockyard workers in Rosyth. Immediately a dockyard closes, the men who are turned away from the dockyard become dependent upon unemployment benefit, or they have to leave the district because there is no question of alternative work as far as they are concerned. In addition to that, if any men with an English accent approach employers, that accent is not exactly the first qualification in Scotland for getting a job. That may not be to the liking of hon. Members, but, at any rate, it is not a recommendation. You will find that the Scottish employer likes to employ Scotsmen first. If he has jobs to offer and an Englishman comes along, he may get a job, but the Scotsman gets the first job. For these reasons, I hope the Admiralty will give serious consideration to sending these 11 or 12 men hack to their home towns in England.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I suppose the little matter to which I wish to draw attention will be regarded somewhat as the dustcart which always follows the Lord Mayor's procession, because I am not dealing with questions of the Empire or the size of the Navy or the Washington Convention, but with a little domestic matter with regard to the Coastguard reserve and their relationship to the Royal Fleet Reserve. I have been requested to bring forward this matter by some of my constituents, who are affected. Although it only affects 600 men in the Service, we ought to have an explanation, which has not been given up to now. The position is that in March, 1923, the Coastguard Reserve was transferred from the Admiralty to the Board of Trade, and a Memorandum was issued at that 1763 time which stated that all men who had joined the Royal Navy or the Royal Marines before the let March, 1901, and were 45¼ years of age, were ineligible to join the Royal Fleet Reserve. No reason was given why they were ineligible, but the men loyally accepted it. The second provision of the Memorandum was that all men who joined the Royal Navy or the Royal Marines after the 1st March, 1901, must join the Royal Fleet Reserve on the transfer of the Coastguard Reserve, by the 1st April, 1923. The men of the Coastguard Reserve signed a necessary document, which meant that certain money had to be refunded which had accumulated on account of Health Insurance and Unemployment Insurance, but when they had accepted service under the Board of Trade and made application for emolument, they were told that they were not eligible to join the Royal Fleet Reserve. The men were somewhat disturbed, because it meant that if they had refused to be transferred they would have received the whole of their gratuity, but those who transferred only received part of it. They thought they would be able to serve in the Royal Fleet Reserve and thus draw the usual retainer of 5d. a day. Subsequently, Parliament passed the Coastguard Act, 1925; Clause 2 of that Act says:Whenever any emergency arises which, in the opinion of the Admiralty renders it advisable that His Majesty's Coastguard shall be placed under the control of the Admiralty, the Admiralty may by order direct that the management and control of His Majesty's Coastguard shall be transferred to the Admiralty, and while any such order is in force, the powers and duties of the Board under this Act in relation to His Majesty's Coastguard shall be exercised and performed by the Admiralty, and the officers and men of His Majesty's Coastguard shall be subject to the Naval Discipline Act and be borne on the books of one of His Majesty's ships in commission, with such respective ranks and ratings and such pay and emoluments as may be determined by the Admiralty.The complaint of the men is this. When they were transferred to the Board of Trade they understood that they would be ineligible for the Royal Fleet Reserve and that they would be entitled to the retainer to which I have alluded. They were told, when they did transfer, that they were not eligible, but now under the Act of 1925 the Admiralty have power to call up these men to serve and, in 1764 the meantime, they have lost the payment which all other members of the Royal Fleet Reserve receive; and they want to know the reason why. As men who are serving they are not allowed to put their case forward in the same way as other men who are not serving under the Government, and have been asked to request that some explanation should be given. So far, no explanation has been given. It may seem a small matter, but it is not a small matter to these men who are indeed the very finest we have and to whom we look in times of stress to make up the deficiency in the ratings of the Navy. I hope we shall have an answer tonight, but if the Parliamentary Secretary cannot give me an answer to-night I shall be obliged if he will let me have it in writing later on.
§ Mr. KELLY
There are one or two points I desire to raise. The Noble Lady the Member for Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) referred to the question of holidays with pay. I hope the Admiralty, at this time of day, will make up its mind that it is not going to be in a worse position in regard to this question than some of the employers of the country. At the present time there are 1,500,000 working people who have holidays with pay. They are employed in private industries, outside Government service. Surely the Government is not going to be in the position which I am afraid some of its officials try to keep it, that instead of leading the employers of the country they are following behind. I hope this question will be satisfactorily settled soon. The request has been made many times before. Then again it is difficult to understand the mind of the Board of Admiralty which, whilst it has valuable machinery in its possession, on which a great amount of money has been spent, allows it to lie idle and at the same time gives orders to other people. I realise that unemployment is rife in other parts of the country, but it is difficult to understand why the Admiralty should denude its own workshops of employment and hand it out to other parts of the country, as it is doing now.
We are anxious to do away with any question of war, and the preparations for war, but whilst we have them with us, and the construction of these ships and armaments has to go on, I think it better they should be built in our 1765 national shipyards rather than by other people, who have not the same interests as we have in out own national workshops. The Noble Lady the Member for Plymouth also referred to the conditions of Government employment as being worse than the conditions which operate in private workshops. I can quite well understand the feelings of hon. Members opposite. They rarely lose a chance of making out that the conditions of private employment are much better and much more secure than those given by Government. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to let us know to what extent discharges are taking place. It is difficult to understand the discharges which have taken place, and more difficult to understand the discharges which I am told are projected in Portsmouth and Devonport particularly. In view of the work in hand, and knowing something of the industry, I cannot understand the reason for these discharges.
I do not know whether the yard craft services come under this Vote or not. There are other matters relating to Malta and Hong Kong which I should like to raise, but I take it they will come up for discussion on another occasion, and then I should like to have a word or two to say with regard to them on behalf of the people I represent. I should like to know whether anything is being done by the Admiralty to reduce the excessive hours worked by the people engaged in the yard craft services. Surely the time has come when they should have a, normal working week fixed, and should not have to serve the excessive hours they have at present. I should like an answer to these two questions. I am sure every one was struck by the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney). If ever a speech showed the insanity of war and the stupidity of settling quarrels by this method it was this speech. The hon. and gallant Member told us that the Air service of this country was one which paid no regard to international law, and, whenever a quarrel takes place between this and any other country, will enter upon the massacre of men, women and children, without any regard to anything except the mere wiping out of towns and peoples. I hope that speech will be remembered by hon. Members on this side of the House, and be read all over the country. It will tend to make people 1766 insist upon peaceful methods, rather than setting up great machines for warlike purposes.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Lieut.-Colonel Headlam)
We have listened to a very interesting Debate this evening and one which has naturally, as was to be expected, ranged over a very wide list of subjects. If I fail to reply to every question which has been addresesd to the Government, I hope hon. Members will excuse me, and take my assurance that I will endeavour to study the Debate tomorrow and answer their questions in writing if I do not do so to-night. The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), who followed my right hon. Friend the First Lord, seemed to find very little to criticise in the Estimates. It was perfectly clear, listening to him, that he had not really any great complaint to bring against the Admiralty with regard to the size of the Estimates. If I did not misunderstand him, he was prepared to say that it was to be regretted, if we were going into the conference with the Americans and the Japanese, that we should be in the position of laying down more ships this year. Had his party been in office and had he occupied the position that I now hold, I do not think he would have been more inclined to stop the contract work on these vessels at this particular moment. A gesture of that kind would really mean very little.
We have said perfectly clearly that we are always willing to consider questions of naval disarmament, and the whole record of the Government has been that it is ready to go to any conference for that purpose. At present the matter is being debated at Geneva by the League of Nations. We are going to discuss the same matter with Japan and America at Geneva in the summer. The First Lord has definitely said that our own programme will be delayed in order that we may, if possible, come to some understanding, so that we may not be pledged to larger commitments than would be necessary. There is nothing whatsoever in the naval programme of this year which can justify anyone in saying that it is a programme of aggression. We are merely doing what any Government 1767 is obliged to do, and that is, safeguarding our interests all over the world. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Sir R. Hall) made what I thought was a very happy comparison between our sea trade routes and the great trunk railways on the Continent of America. There is no doubt that to us our trade routes are everything. We have to protect them, and that is all that the Admiralty seeks to do. So long as the Admiralty is responsible for the feeding of this country and for bringing to this country the raw materials essential to our industries, it is futile to suggest that any Government can neglect the protection of these trade routes.
A good many definite questions were addressed to me with regard to particular subjects in the Estimates. I propose to take these one after the other and to answer the questions as shortly as I can. First, there is the question, which has come up again, of the size of the Admiralty staff. It is very much larger than it was in 1914; no one disputes that. I should imagine that in 1914 the Admiralty was very much understaffed. But the main thing that we have to remember is, that the naval staff at the Admiralty is a comparatively new institution, that it did not really exist much before 1914. It was built up during the War and after the War, and it is obvious that a staff on its formation is not necessarily the staff that will eventually emerge. IF is possible that the naval staff is at the moment too large. It is equally possible that it cannot be reduced without disadvantage to the Service. That is a matter which the Admiralty have to consider and are considering. If it is possible to reduce the naval staff, such reductions will be made. But you must remember that at present the difficulties, the technical matters the hundred and one different devices and designs and the new apparatuses that have come into naval warfare, have totally changed the amount of work to be done at the Admiralty, and that you must have a larger staff in consequence. I do not for one moment hold that it is impossible to reduce the staff at the Admiralty or in any other Department. The thing we have to remember is that in some cases a large staff is an economy, and we have 1768 to decide definitely, before we reduce the staff further—if it can be reduced—that we are doing something which is in the national interest.
An hon. Friend was very scornful or facetious because he said the number of charwomen had vastly increased. I cannot say whether that is so or not. All I can say is that it seems to me that the Admiralty building requires a great many charwomen. The question has been asked what are the relations between the three Fighting Services, and has the coordination which so many hon. Members think desirable been brought forward? There is no doubt that the co-ordination which some of us thought so highly desirable and essential is gradually being brought about. The working arrangement by which the three Chiefs of Staff act together and consult with one another is a really working part of the scheme of co-ordination between the three Services, and there are many permanent standing committees by which all matters of immediate concern to the three Services are discussed and worked upon by officers of those Services. It seems to me that if you can in that way bring about the working together of the three Services on a happy basis, that is to say, on a basis by which all parties are working together for the common good, you will, in the end, bring about what we all desire, and that is the acceptance by the three Services of a common doctrine and a common appreciation of the subjects which come before them. The establishment of the Imperial War College is a step in the right direction, because in that way you will get officers of the three Services working and studying together, and you will bring about what so many of us think is essential, namely, a Joint General Staff, if not actually in name, at any rate in working principle.
I now turn to the subject of a Fleet Air Arm. A good deal has been said about that to-day, and it may interest hon. Members to hear a little with regard to it. I shall not go into the actual figures of what we have or have not in the way of aircraft, because hon. Members can find that out for themselves in the Estimates. But I would like to point out this: Our naval Air strength is by no means excessive and in some respects not up to the one-Power standard. We are gradually building up 1769 an Air arm in conjunction with the Navy, and it will, I hope, in time be worthy of the Navy to which it belongs. At present it is in its infancy. I cannot impress upon the House too much, that the money which is now being spent upon the Air arm of the Navy is absolutely essential if the Fleet is to be in an efficient position to meet fleets which are provided with far stronger air arms. I do not contemplate any particular case of their having to meet any fleet in a hostile sense, but in these days unless you have an effective Air arm the Fleet is very ill equipped and utterly unable to do its functions properly. At the present moment we have 116 aircraft.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
We have 18 torpedo bombers, 51 "spotter" and reconaissance machines, 36 fighters ship-borne and 11 naval co-operating aircraft shore-based. I might point out, merely by way of comparison, that at the present time the United States has a total strength of 560 aircraft, 305 being of the first line and they aim at 338 aircraft carried afloat in 1931. We propose to increase our shipborne aircraft this year by 30 machines, bringing our total from 116 to 146 and by the end of 1931 we hope to have 195 aircraft carried afloat. That is not a very ambitious programme, but it seems it will be sufficient for the purposes of the Navy.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
We hope to have 195 aircraft carried afloat. Meanwhile the relations between the Air Force and the Royal Navy are of the best and our naval officers are being trained as observers and as pilots. There are, I know, various opinions with regard to the advisability of the Air Service and the Navy being under different heads, but it seems to me that the system which has been adopted will end satisfactorily and we shall be able, by utilising the Fleet Air arm in the way in which it is intended to utilise it with the Navy, to establish that perfect accord which is necessary for the carrying on of the two Services when they are acting together. Now I propose to reply to the questions which have been addressed to me with 1770 regard to dockyard discharges. It is, of course, a matter of great regret to the Admiralty that it should be necessary to cut down the expenditure upon dockyards. If the Admiralty were left to themselves and allowed to do what they liked and to build up the Fleet which they thought desirable, I am perfectly sure that there would be no discharges in the dockyards, but at the same time it is perfectly obvious if there are to be discharges in the dockyards, as the result of a reduction in our naval building programme, the Admiralty, which represent the Government of the country and have the interest of the whole country at hear, have to consider private yards as well as Government dockyards.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
Because wherever people are employed in dockyards they are working men, who are in exactly the same position as regards unemployment whether they are Government servants or not.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I would point out to the hon. Member, as I have pointed out to him on more than one occasion, that the percentage of unemployment in certain districts in the North-East of England, on the Clyde and places of that kind, is far higher and the state of destitution among the people is far greater than at Chatham, Portsmouth and Devonport. There has been no change in the policy of the Government with regard to the new work at the dockyards. Why these discharges are necessary is because, in addition to the fact that there is less naval construction, the ordinary work that goes to the dockyards is less than it used to be, that is to say repair work. There are fewer ships to repair and it is necessary that the repairs should be carried out as far as possible while the ships are at sea rather than take them back in the old way to the dockyards. You have to have more mobility in the Fleet. That being so, the causes are outside the control of the Admiralty, and the fact that these discharges have taken place and are taking place is a matter of as great regret to the Admiralty as it is, I am sure, to hon. 1771 Members who represent the dockyard constituencies, but in the circumstances you cannot have it both ways. You cannot have a reduced Fleet and give more work to the dockyards. Every effort is being made to retain the services of the men at the dockyards and to give work where it is possible, but we cannot do more than we are doing, and we cannot promise anything which is beyond our power. So long as the policy goes on of reducing the Fleet, so long as the new system obtains by which ships do not go to dockyards for repairs in the same way or as often as they used to, it is clear that it is not in the power of the Admiralty to employ as many hands as before.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I do not think so. I think it highly improbable, but as the number of ships decreases, it is obvious that you require less people to build them.
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman answer my point about the contract work in private yards?
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I think I dealt with that. A proposal was made, I think, by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eastbourne, which was welcomed by the right hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman), with regard to the relations between the Royal Navy and the Mercantile Marine, and the interesting suggestion was made that naval officers should go on board merchant ships and learn the ways of the Merchant Service. I am not in a position to say whether or not that will appeal to the Board of Admiralty, but it seems to me that it is an interesting suggestion, and anything that will bring together more closely, if possible, than they are already to-day the Royal Navy and the Mercantile Marine is, I think, something that we should all desire. Therefore, I shall be interested to see whether that proposal will bear fruit. With regard to the Amendment of the Superannuation Act suggested by the hon. and gallant Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) with regard to men getting their pensions sooner, so that they can find work elsewhere, I can 1772 assure the hon. Member that I fully appreciate and sympathise with what he has in mind, and I can tell him that the matter is being considered at the present time.
Then, in regard to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir B. Falle), with regard to medical boards, I can only tell him what I have told him in private, and that is that I, personally, and, I think,, everybody who knows anything about this service, sympathise most profoundly with the point of view which he put forward, but I doubt very much whether you will get over a medical opinion quite as easily as he seems to think. I do not think anyone who has had anything to do with medical boards or with medical officers generally will imagine that they are going to change their views so readily as my hon. and gallant Friend seems to think, and whether the automatic appeal which he suggests to the Board of Admiralty is really going to help the men in the way he imagines, I rather doubt. I should be much obliged to him, however,, if he would let me know of definite cases where men have been hindered from appealing to the Board of Admiralty, which it is their undoubted right to do and if he can show us such cases, I think it is a matter that should be looked into. I do not imagine for a moment that the examination suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) would really be of much practical value in these days. I believe that that form of examination was discontinued before the War, and I do not believe, from what I am told, that it is likely to be very acceptable at the present time or really to have the effect he suggested.
Finally, it sems to me that these Estimates that are laid before the House to-day are on the whole acceptable to the House. I understand and appreciate that there are certain hon. Members who think that any money spent in this way is wrong or is to be deplored. I agree with them to this extent, that it seems an unfortunate thing, after so many years, that we should still be in a position in which we have to come fore and each year to ask for vast sums of money for the maintenance of a Fleet, of an Army, and of an Air Force, but I would point out to hon. 1773 Members opposite that it is a very small insurance that you are asked to pay for the protection, not only of your homes and your food supplies, but of the whole of your trade borne by sea, into this country and from it, and for the whole of the craft that bears that trade. I believe that if hon. Members would take the trouble to look at the statistics, they would find that the insurance percentage which they are called upon to pay for the Navy of this country is under 3 per cent. of the total value of the export and import trade of this country, and so long as you can get your protection so cheaply as that, you must be prepared to pay it. It seems to me that it is futile to make the criticism that you are going to have another Conference to discuss with other sea Powers whether or not it is necessary to have so many ships or what size of ships they are to be. The point is that this country has got to have a Fleet so long as it is an island. It seems to me that the wit of man is not going to make England not on island. You may talk about airships and aeroplanes, and say that the time may come when they will revolutionise war, but you will not alter the fact that the great bulk of the trade and of the food supplies of this country must be sea-borne, and if they are seaborne, we must have a fleet to protect our ships and our trade.