HC Deb 15 March 1928 vol 214 cc2200-41

8.0 p.m.


I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words: this House considers that national security and therefore international peace can only be assured by international agreement for a substantial all-round reduction in naval armaments, and accordingly urges His Majesty's Government to take the initiative in making proposals for the abolition of capital ships, as well as of submarines, and for the restriction of the maximum tonnage of cruisers to that necessary for police purposes. Before descending to the strictly controversial side of my Amendment, I would like to take this opportunity of congratulating the First Lord of the Admiralty on the great Department of which he is the head. Perhaps it has been too seldom done on this side of the House. Perhaps we have too seldom found a meed of praise for that great, characteristically British institution, the Royal Navy. It is called the silent Service, and reticence has been due to the fact that people do not know and appreciate the great work of the Navy in time of peace. It is difficult to understand and believe that no ship of any nation, under any flag, from any port, could sail the seas were it not for the work of the British Navy. The British Navy has been used to put down piracy and slavery. It has charted unknown reefs; it has marked perilous shoals; it has traced the course of dangerous currents. In saving human life, the British Navy has a record of heroism and devotion. How often do we read in the public Press that on such and such a day an S.O.S. was received by His Majesty's ship, which immediately went at all speed to the help of a stricken vessel, and the last report was that His Majesty's cruiser was standing by? The British Navy has attained a magnificent prestige. It has maintained and cherished the noble traditions of the great brotherhood of the seas.

My Amendment is an Amendment of peace and disarmament. Year after year the party to which I belong has laid before this House the broad principles of its policy in that direction. I wish my Amendment to-night to be taken as a token Amendment rather than as one which is comprehensive of our whole policy. I believe that the Amendment indicates the first steps to be taken towards peace and disarmament. Nearly 10 years ago the Great War finished—the "war to end war," when we sheathed a sword which, according to the late Lord Oxford, had not been lightly drawn, and honour and right and justice were said to have been enthroned in Europe. That was 10 years ago. The German Emperor was driven from his throne; the second greatest Navy in the world was surrendered; a great military Power had to surrender and reduce her army; a first-class nation had to recede into the position of a third or fourth-class Power. That was a bitter pill for any proud nation to swallow. But there was one consideration which mitigated the harsh conditions imposed on Germany. The Peace Treaty assured Germany that, although the Allied Powers had imposed these drastic limitations on her military and naval power, yet they had no desire to humiliate Germany; still less was their motive one of vindictive revenge. But, they said, these limitations upon Germany are really the first stage of worldwide limitation of armament. Great Britain, France, the United States, and Italy solemnly assured the German nation that in signing the Treaty they were really inaugurating a great limitation policy for the whole world.

What has happened since then? These Estimates have come out—Estimates for the Air, Estimates for the Army and Estimates for the Navy. They show very little diminution of expenditure. I know that they have been compared with the Estimates of 1919 to show what great progress has been made in the way of disarmament. But in 1919 we were at the height of our military and naval power. We were armed to the teeth. Armaments were five, six, seven and sometimes 20 times what they had been before the War. Nor is it just to compare the Estimates to-day with the Estimates of 1914, because the Navy Estimates also at that time were inflated. In 1914, we were in the midst of a great struggle for naval supremacy with Germany. We were laying down two keels to one. We cannot, therefore, compare that period with the present time, when Germany has no Navy to speak of. What have the people who composed these Estimates learned from the War? What has the bureaucracy behind the scenes learned of the great moral lesson of the War? You can read through these Estimates, and you cannot find one hint that a single lesson has been learned from the great tragedy of four years of war. It is not their job. To them war is inevitable. Some of these experts seem to think war is even desirable. It is a curious psychological phenomenon—what might be called the watertight compartment brain, which some of these bureaucrats have. Bureaucrats and experts seem to be able to shut out from their minds all moral considerations. It was that kind of mind which caused the War, not only abroad but in this country as well. Let me illustrate. Some time ago a book was published containing the diary of Sir Henry Wilson, and it is a very interesting and illuminating volume. These diaries contain a very close record of Sir Henry Wilson's doings during the period before the War and also during the War.

Who was the late Sir Henry Wilson? He was a soldier among soldiers. He was the chief of the Imperial General Staff. He was a genius for strategy and tactics. His job was waging a successful war, and he devoted his whole life to the task. He ruthlessly shut out from his mind every other consideration. His job was to perfect the war machine. Peace! What was peace to him, a military strategist? Disarmament! Absolute madness. The whole idea was shattered by one question: How can you wage war without soldiers, and what is the good of an army if you do not have a war? So it is with bureaucracy of the Foreign Office, which is a mere information bureau for the Army and Navy. In France and in Germany and in Russia you have the opposite numbers to the bureaucrats in our own country, and to all these war is the consummation of a life's work. The only consideration these people seem to have is: Are we ready? and the only question is:Which side can be ready first? The civilian politicians might raise slobbery sentiment about peace and disarmament, but when the zero hour struck the soldier had to get on with the job, and his job was to kill more of the enemy's forces than the enemy could kill of his. It was these political fellows, they said, who signed the Treaty of 1919; it was they who pledged Britain's honour. The soldier and the strategist having finished the last War had to get on with the next. The League of Nations was an emotional enthusiasm. Geneva was a foolish notion—forget it.

Here we have the Navy Estimates, formidable and portentous. I do not know in what category Charles Lamb would put this book. I wonder if any Herculaneum raker has delved into its hidden mysteries? By no stretch of imagination can you conceive of this becoming a "best seller." I am somewhat intrigued with the volume. It is as scientific as a mathematical diagram, as literary as a railway time-table, as bright as the Book of Job, as picturesque as a poultice, and as interesting as a post office directory. There it is, a portentous tome. But it is sinister in its meaning, it is cruel and brutal in its implication. We all love and admire the genial gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty, who is innocent, childlike and bland, but behind the right hon. Gentleman there stand the sinister figures of the bureaucrats. He brings this volume before the House with his innocent smile, but behind him are the blood and iron bureaucrats, these furtive schemers who sit in their secret chambers playing that age-long game, Their high chess game, whereof the pawns are men. I do not say that nothing has been done in the cause of peace and disarmament, but the very size of this volume says that it is very little. Since these Estimates were brought forward last year, we have had the Coolidge Conference, to which reference has already been made several times to-day. That Conference failed, and failed for one reason. It was destroyed by the bureaucrats, who looked at the great question of peace for which it was called from the wrong angle. Instead of asking what arms we need, what navies we need, we should have asked, what do we want navies and armies for at all? That question was never faced. The talk was about technicalities, the size of cruisers and size of guns, and the vital principles were missed. I noticed that President Coolidge has thrown the blame on Great Britain. He has said that while Japan was willing to accommodate Great. Britain would not, and the result has been suspicion and ill-will. Last year when these Estimates were brought forward, the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) asked this question: Why always leave America to take the lead in these questions of peace and disarmament. We want the First Lord of the Admiralty to get in first this time, and make a speech which will stagger humanity and send him down to history as one of the greatest naval revolutionaries of the world. I have in my hand the speech that was to stagger humanity. I have secured, as Mr. Speaker says, a copy of it for the purposes of greater accuracy. This is what the right hon. Gentleman said at the Coolidge Conference: We therefore proposed to extend the life and reduce the tonnage and armament of those classes of warships already limited by the Washington Treaty, which would have reduced the cost of replacement very considerably. Limitation in size and armament of the other classes of warships and ages for replacement were also proposed in order to secure economy in the replacement of ships as they became obsolete. I am surprised at that speech. Here is the First Lord of the Admiralty dealing with the richest nation in the world and offering them economy as the only incentive. Britain comes forward as a needy mendicant, I will put money in thy purse, and says: We propose this not because we like it, but My poverty hut not my will consents.


That is not a quotation from my speech.


No. My poverty but not my will consents. is a quotation from a deceased English-Gentleman, Mr. Shakespeare—[Interruption]—a gentleman almost as great as the First Lord of the Admiralty. The principle of the Convention of the League of Nations regarding armaments is from this point of view, that the member States should no longer rely for their security upon their own unaided efforts, but that on the contrary it must be guaranteed by the League of Nations, to which all re bound. A simultaneous reduction of armaments in potential, hostile Powers is in itself an important factor in promoting security in each disarming State. Neither of these two principles, the principles of co-operation in disarmament, and co-operation in security, were ever mentioned at all during the whole of the Coolidge Conference.

The right hon. Gentleman has made several speeches in this House and outside on this question, and his justification is that he could not risk British security. He said, and said truly, that we were dependent on our overseas trade. That is perfectly true. Seven weeks would Leave us on the verge of starvation. Our raw material for our industries and our food supplies come from the ends of the earth. We have 80,000 miles of sea to guard. On 1st April, 1926, there were 9,500,000 tons of British shipping round the Seven Seas. To protect that shipping and to protect these trade routes the First Lord says we must have six cruisers. I call attention to what the present Chancellor of the Exchequer said on one occasion in this connection: We feel that our island Empire is dependent for its inherent and integral existence and indeed for its daily bread upon our power to keep open the paths across the ocean. If those paths could be closed at the will of another, the integral life of the British Empire and even the independence of its various parts would no longer rest in our own keeping. Those were the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—that the British trade routes must be kept open. The present proposal is that 70 cruisers can perform that task. We have laid it down that, no matter how other nations may limit their armaments, we must have 70 cruisers. I ask the House to think of what this means. It means 25 cruisers with the battle fleet, 12, on the average, fitting and fuelling and 33 for the job of guarding the trade routes. That means one cruiser for 2,500 miles. challenge the First Lord to say that anyone of authority in his Department regards that number as sufficient.


Does the hon. Member want more?


According to the right hon. Gentleman's principle, this Estimate should be ten times its present size. If this is going to be the purpose of the Navy, then the present Estimate is quite inadequate. I wish to view the matter in another way. I do not believe in arming, over and over again. We have our own policy, and this is not the way to deal with the problem. I want to show how futile it is to expect that 70 cruisers—really 33 cruisers—can tackle this gigantic task. Not 70 but 300 cruisers would be required for it. Why, it, took 70 cruisers to hunt down the "Emden"—70 cruisers to one raider. We were fighting against the naval forces of Germany in the Great War. It happens that the exit from Germany is a bottle-neck, very easily guarded and as easily blockaded, and Admiral Jellicoe has said that it would be a thousand times more difficult to guard our trade routes against any other Power. Yet, I repeat, it took 70 cruisers to chase the "Emden," and we know the damage which the "Emden" did. How, then, can you expect one cruiser to guard 2,500 miles? During the War the raiders destroyed 250,000 tons of British shipping and 39,000 tons of allied shipping. Could you blockade America? How many "Emdens" will there be in the next war? You cannot possibly protect commerce in this way. Before the War our sea supremacy was unchalleneged. We had two keels for one, and Lord Fisher said we could sleep soundly in our beds. It was the British Navy that kept our foes at bay. If I may be allowed to quote again from the Chancellor of the Exchequer: Nothing in the world, nothing that you may think of or dream about or that anybody may tell you about, no arguments however specious, no appeals however seductive, must lead you to abandon that naval supremacy on which the life of our country depends. We must retain that naval supremacy. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is not in his place. I know there is some disagreement between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the First Lord with regard to parity. Even the Chancellor of the Exchequer, after all he has said, has to abandon the idea of supremacy. He is boggling a little on the question of equality with America, but the First Lord has admitted parity with America. Sea supremacy has gone. We have no longer the two-Power standard. The two-Power standard was intelligible and logical. It was, in some degree, comparable with the risks and needs of the times, but what about parity? What about the new proposal of 5, 5, 3 as between Britain, America and Japan? The Prime Minister has said that the English race is not a logical race. Well, sentiment is fine. Sentiment may start a war, but it is the coldest of cold logic which must wage and win it. If we contemplate the possibility of war, then these Estimates are ridiculous. If we do not contemplate the possibility of war, then they are superfluous.

There is one other side of this question of defence to which I would like to draw attention and that is the great advance in the science of aviation, which has greatly added to the terrors of war. The new menace lies in aircraft and the ability of aircraft to strike both at merchant shipping at sea, and at the docks, so as to prevent ships from discharging foodstuffs, raw materials and other cargoes. Aircraft can also strike at the surface warships by means of which only can merchant shipping be convoyed and protected. Last September, General Groves, who was director of aircraft operations in 1918, said that all surface craft within 500 miles of hostile shores would be within reach of attack by shore-based aeroplanes; that we could no longer command the narrow seas and the home waters of Europe, no matter how many battleships and cruisers we had, nor could we assure, as in the past, the safe passage of our shipping through the Mediterranean.

Remarkable corroboration of this contention has been found in a book which was published the other day, entitled "Armaments and the Non-combatant," by C. F. Spanner. Who is Mr. Spanner? He is a member of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, a member of the Institute of Naval Architects, he is a naval architect assessor to the Board of Trade, the inventor of the "duct keel" system of ship construction and the "soft-ended" ship, he has invented the Spanner strain indicator, and he has written a formidable list of technical and scientific works on naval architecture. Clearly he is an authority, and he has written a book to prove that the British Navy can no longer safeguard our trade routes. I wonder if the First Lord has read the book yet. No answer! With a wealth of argument and illustration, Mr. Spanner goes on to show that battleships ships have always found their chief difficulty in hitting other vessels at the great distances at which these vessels at present have to fight. When we realise that a battleship, which becomes a speck on the horizon, has to fire at another speck on the horizon, we see the difficulty that there must be in making hits, and we know that in fine weather and with a calm sea the hits are only from 1 per cent. to 5 per cent. of the projectiles at most, and even in two dimensional shooting against slow moving targets, you cannot claim to be well off in weapons of precision. What then can be expected against swiftly moving aeroplanes which carry bombs and torpedoes? The idea that battleships can be defended by antiaircraft guns is ridiculous, and if battleships cannot stand up, what chance has merchant shipping, and what chance have we for security for our trade routes?

The professor goes on to show that, even without destroying a single merchant ship, enemy aircraft could absolutely blockade and starve the British Isles. They could do so by smashing the docks, without which the cargoes of merchant shipping could not be discharged. Mr. Spanner's book has an illustration to show the chaos and confusion which would happen in London if the gates of the Victoria Docks were struck by a missile from an aeroplane. I thought when I read this book that he would go in strongly for disarmament and peace, but no. Strange to say, this gentleman has the bureaucratic mind, the watertight compartment brain, and he, like other experts, thinks that nothing can be done unless along the line of his own department. On his job he is a realist and he is a strong advocate of military aviation and of maintaining and extending a great Air Force. The reason he gives for saying that international agreements are impossible is interesting. He says that you cannot get international agreement because there has never existed any honest desire among professional fighting men for any agreement. M. Clemenceau said in 1915 that the War had become too serious for generals. There is no hope of peace from the expert, no hope of disarmament by material means. The only hope is from the political side of the question.

There is one other point upon which I wish to touch, and that is the question of the freedom of the seas. We claim the right of blockade. When we look at it from the point of view of the Germans, the Swedes, or the Dutch, we see how it affects them. Germany alone lost 760,000 of her inhabitants as a result of the blockade, and Sweden was one whole year with almost no imports. We chose at will great islands for protection, destruction, or attack merely because of political sympathies. When we remember these things and the famine in Vienna in 1915 and 1916, we cannot wonder why other nations challenge our right to blockade their shores. America demands freedom of the seas, and for centuries or more she has held this ideal. We talk of contraband and non-contraband, but during the last War we found that that was impossible, and we had to set about stopping all enemy and non-Allied shipping. Now, there lies the danger of war with America. The First Lord said at Geneva that he did not understand why Americans wanted to build a lot of heavy cruisers with 8-inch guns and long steaming range. An American admiral, Admiral Niblack, supplies the answer. He says the old American principles of freedom of the seas "went glimmering" during the Great War, but, he added, "America has learned her lesson." We know that Germany and America nearly became allies at one period during the Great War.

The only solution to this question is by accepting the second of President Wilson's Fourteen Points, which was "that the seas should only be closed in peace or in war by international agreement for the enforcement of international covenants," which would mean, of course, that we would join with the other nations in renunciation of private war and private blockade. This is the only way to bring peace, and in this Motion we are asking Great Britain to make a great gesture. A nation's greatness does not depend on the extent of its territories, the strength of its Army, or the power of its Navy. The test of a nation's greatness is a moral test—indeed, a spiritual test. Righteousness alone exalteth a nation. We of the Labour party are sometimes accused of being friends of every country but our own. The charge is unworthy and untrue. We do love our country, and we believe that it is the greatest country in the world. We are proud of her courage, her integrity, her sense of justice, her glorious traditions, and her noble achievements. But we are solicitous of her honour and jealous of her moral prestige. As we look abroad to-day, east or west. we see a great change coming over the outlook of people. Old standards are passing away, new ideals are taking their place; there is arising in the minds of the common people a desire for peace. Peace is the cry of the nations. They are waiting for a lead. Is it too much to expect that this great nation should give that lead? We do not move this Amendment from unpatriotic motives. On the contrary, we do it because of our pride in our country, because we sincerely believe that now is the opportunity for Great Britain to take that place in that moral leadership of the world which we believe is her duty, her right, and her destiny.


I beg to second the Amendment.

Some 55 years ago, on the 8th of July, 1873, a, fellow-countryman of mine stood up in this House and moved a Motion in the following terms: That a Humble Address he presented to Her Majesty praying that she will be graciously pleased to direct her principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to enter into communication with foreign powers with a view to the further improvement of international law, and to the establishment of a permanent system of international arbitration. The Mover of that Motion was the Rev. Henry Richards, who for more than 40 years filled with conspicuous ability the very office which I have had the honour to hold outside this House. Greatly to the surprise but greatly to the credit of the House, the Motion was passed by 10 votes, and I cannot help but feel that if successive Governments during the last 50 years had tried to carry out, and to interpret and adopt the spirit expressed in that Resolution, these enormous Navy Estimates would have been unnecessary, and I should not have stood here seconding this Amendment. That Resolution marked an epoch in the international world. It really brought a league of nations and an International Court of Justice for the first time within the realm of practical politics; for the first time in the history of the world a parliament endorsed the principle that the proper method of dealing with international disputes was by the arbitrament of law, and not by the arbitrament of war. I cannot expect to emulate the eloquence of Mr. Richards, nor can I speak with his authority, but I do want to urge upon this House that armaments are inseparably bound up with the adoption and application of the principle endorsed in that Resolution passed by this House 55 years ago.

I regret that in a discussion of this kind one must confine oneself to the Navy Estimates. It would be greatly to the benefit of this House if every year we could have a full and general discussion upon armaments generally, because the Army, Navy and Air Force are so closely connected and interrelated that it is almost impossible to discuss one adequately without trespassing upon the province of the other. I shall not enter into a detailed or technical discussion upon ships, and upon their size or character, for two simple and, I submit, very sound reasons. The first is that I am neither competent nor capable of entering into a technical discussion of these matters. The second is that I am firmly of the opinion that behind all armament is policy, and that really it is the policy which is pursued that determines the nature, character and extent of the armaments that have to be adopted. Several compliments have been paid to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty; I should also like to pay him a compliment. It is this. I do not really believe that the right hon. Gentleman comes to this House and advocates the spending of money for the mere sake of spending it. I believe, quite honestly, that he would gladden the heart of the Chancellor of the Exchequer by moving a drastic reduction of the expenditure, if he could do so really feeling that he was not jeopardising any legitimate British interest. I feel that both he and his advisers really believe that this expenditure is essential and necessary for the safety and security of this nation.

The question I want to ask is: Why is it deemed necessary that this enormous amount of money should be spent in this way? As one who has had many opportunities of getting into touch with opinion in various countries, I have no hesitation in saying that one of the reasons why there is no real reduction in expenditure upon our Navy is the breakdown of the Naval Conference last year. I feel with the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) that the Government has never realised or understood the widespread disappointment which was caused by the failure of that Conference. It has created in many circles intense disappointment. That has had a very bad effect upon international relations. In America, it has irritated and annoyed very greatly large masses of people. They believe—I think mistakenly—that the Conference was used by the British Government as an opportunity for challenging the United States, and that having challenged them the British Government deliberately and of set purpose broke up the Conference. I do not share that opinion. I think it is a mistaken and a wrong opinion, but we have to face facts, and the fact is that that opinion is held by very large masses of people in the United States. Apparently, they seem to find support for that opinion in the action and the speech of Lord Cecil, and in the repudiation by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of what is known as parity. The tragic part is that, however mistaken and ill-founded these views may be, they certainly create bad feeling, and, unfortunately, it is from these misconceptions and misunderstandings that wars between nations often arise. I think it was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) who some years ago said that nine-tenths of the disputes that had arisen between nations, many of which had resulted in war, were due to a misunderstanding of each other's purposes. It is our ditty to try to remove these misunderstandings and to create a better feeling.

I share the views of the Mover of the Amendment that the great cause of the present situation is the breakdown of the Conference, due, I really believe, to the question of the freedom of the seas. America has placed great importance upon that end being achieved, and I feel that until this question of the freedom of the seas is properly faced, there is very little hope of getting any real understanding between the various countries. I would appeal to the Government to face that situation, and to try to visualise the point of view of those who cannot see eye to eye with us. The old idea that Britannia rules the waves by Heaven's command must be subordinated to the larger international interests and the newer conditions created by the complete change in international relations.

In making one or two general observations before I sit down, I wish to emphasise the statement of the Mover that those who advocate peace are prompted just as much by patriotic motives as those who advocate war. We believe that the best security for the nation lies in pursuing a peaceful policy and not in building up huge armaments. The hon. Member for Royton (Dr. Davies) said the other day that the best way to secure peace was to prepare for war, but the maxim based on that old Latin tag has been exploded over and over again, and experience has proved it to be worthless. In the past we have prepared for war, but we have not prevented wars. In support of that assertion I would like to quote a greater authority even than the hon. Member for Royton. General Maurice, one of the most distinguished soldiers in the last War, wrote: I went into the British Army believing that if you want peace you must, thoroughly and efficiently prepare for war. I believe now that if you prepare for war you will get war. Field-Marshal Sir William Robertson, after 50 years' experience in the Army, says: Instead of preventing war, armaments are apt to precipitate it. We feel that in urging a reduction in naval armaments we are not in any way jeopardising the security or the best interests of this country, but that in reality we are promoting that security and placing it upon a safer foundation. The hon. Member for Royton has said that those of us who advocate disarmament and urge ideals of peace never take human nature into consideration. Human nature being what it is, he said, this thing cannot be done. All I wish to say on that is that human nature never is what it was, and never will be what it is. Human nature is not static, it is always in a state of flux. Perhaps the only thing that would convince some men of this would be to introduce them to their prehistoric grandfathers, and then they might believe it. We believe that human nature is changing and can be changed, and we believe that human nature is much more ready to pursue a peaceful policy than His Majesty's Government imagine. Therefore, in seconding this Amendment, I do so because I feel conscientiously that the Government are not pursuing peace with half the zeal with which they pursue the preparations for war. I believe the Government have a great opportunity, and I hope this Amendment may stir them to greater efforts in future. Peace and security are not, and ought not to be made, questions of party politics. The security and peace of the world are of much more importance than party issues. I think the Government might have done more than they have done, and I hope that next year we shall have made much greater progress towards peace and good will among men.

9.0 p.m.


First of all, may I congratulate the Seconder of the Amendment upon the charming disarmament speech he made to-night? On these Estimates we usually have to listen to speeches favouring disarmament, and on this side of the House we may regard ourselves as having become experienced judges of them. I would like to tell the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dunnico) that we have never listened to a speech on disarmament which we enjoyed better than we enjoyed his own. May I also say a word of congratulation to the Mover of the Amendment, because of the tribute he paid to the Royal Navy? I sometimes think the Royal Navy resent criticisms which are passed upon them occasionally in these Debates, and he was wise enough to discriminate, and to put the Royal Navy and the policy of the Government into separate categories. He showed no criticism of the Navy; he "went for" the Government, which is the prerogative of everybody in this House and is, of course, the duty of the Opposition. But he did, I think, introduce a somewhat novel method of debating. He quoted at some length from the writings of a Mr. Spanner. That is a perfectly legitimate thing to do if, at the end, you are going to agree with what Mr. Spanner says. We spent a long time listening to the opinion of Mr. Spanner, but at the end the hon. Member said that he did not agree with him. The length of speeches will become even longer and more intolerable if this course is further adopted.

We have heard to-night much criticism of the Government and their policy with regard to the reduction of naval armaments. I rather resent the attitude taken up by the Opposition of picturing the United States in a surplice with a golden halo. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), with some hereditary instinct due to his grandfather who, he said. served in the American Navy, was very severe from that point of view. After all, I stand for a naval dockyard town where the desire to build an enormous number of ships would naturally be very great. The only trouble I find is not that the Admiralty have diminished the number of ships, but that they have given their orders to private dockyards instead of to the Royal Dockyards. I could elaborate that argument, if there were time to do it, but probably I shall have another opportunity later on.

I want to bring to the notice of the House the events which led up to the original Washington Conference because I think they are of outstanding importance and they seem to have been forgotten by many hon. Members. I hope the First Lord of the Admiralty will tell us later on if what I say is substantially accurate. At the end of the War the United States wished to go one better than England in the way of building capital ships. Like this country the United States has her great armament firms. The electric industry in America is a very strong one, and they felt that they were not getting enough out of building ships. Against the advice of the English Admiralty they determined to build their new great capital ships with electrical drive instead of gearing their turbines. That was a great departure in the building of great ships. The enormous power obtained in a capital ship may not be realised. Sometimes it amounts to 150,000 horsepower, or very nearly half as much again as the horsepower developed in our great power station at Barking. The electricians in charge of a power station have little to do when things are going well, but such things as electrical surges are liable now and again to occur, and when they do occur the men who run great power stations earn in a few hours their keep for the whole year.

When a thing like that occurs in an iron-clad ship nobody knows what is going to happen. Scientists have done their best, but they cannot keep rats out of a ship. The one thing rats want to eat is the insulation, and you cannot insulate your cables properly. Here you had some of the biggest ships ever contemplated, half built, and it looked very much as if America was going to be made the laughing stock of the world because these ships were not going to succeed. Is it wrong to assume that that was a very good time to make a gesture for disarmament? The Washington Conference was nothing but an excuse for scrapping ships which would not work.

I want the First Lord of the Admiralty to tell me whether the facts are as I have stated them to-night. Of course I do not ask anybody to draw the same conclusions from them as I have done. It would be a sinister reflection on the idealism of the Washington Conference if it was based on the fact that ships had been built which would not work. Let me turn from that subject to our responsibility as compared with other people's responsibility in what is called the armament race. Hon. Members will recollect that some years ago Chili and Peru asked the United States to come to a decision on a difficult question with regard to a small place called Erica in the North of South America. President Coolidge was asked to arbitrate, but he could not come down on one side or the other and he gave as a sop to Peru two submarines at a cheap price.

The result of these cheap submarines to Peru was that Chili immediately ordered destroyers to compete with the submarines. The argentine then said that, as Chili had got destroyers, they must have some cruisers, and so the race for armaments has gone on in South America. Thank goodness there is nobody on the Opposition side of the House who can blame us on this side for that. I must say that we derived a certain amount of benefit because the Argentine placed her orders for cruisers in this country. I have given these two examples to-night to show that after all the world is still not the ideal world from the point of view of human nature that we should like to see it. That over on the other side of the Atlantic the people are not all angels just as on this side we are not all the reverse.


I do not rise so much to make a speech as to elicit information. I do not desire to dwell on what some of us regard as the failings of the Government in the past. I am more anxious to know what the Government are going to do in the future. I conceive that this nation and the world generally are in a very critical position with regard to the question now under consideration. It is of little importance what those of us sitting on the Opposition Benches may think or say, but it is of vital importance what the Government intend to do. Without striking a party note I desire to know from the Government exactly what they propose to do in regard to this question. Of course, I assume that they are as anxious for national security—the expression used in the Amendment—as any of us can be, that they desire international peace just as we do; and I suppose I may assume that they believe, as we do, that it has got to be attained through international agreement. If that be so, there is a large measure of agreement already, and the only question is as to the method and the speed of trying to secure it.

I notice a significant expression in the Amendment. It urges the Government to take the initiative. I respectfully submit that the initiative has already been taken. It has been taken by Russia. I recognise that the Russian proposals go far beyond that which is before the House at the present moment, but, as the greater comprises the less, so, therefore, the matter now before the House is comprised in that initiative. My anxiety, and, I believe, the anxiety of the country, is to know what attitude the Government are going to take up towards that initiative when it comes up for consideration, as I believe it will, at Geneva next month. Various views are taken in regard to it. With the permission of the House, I would like just to quote one paragraph from a letter which appears in to-day's "Manchester Guardian." It represents a point of view which is shared by many. It says: To question the sincerity of the Russian proposals will not save our face. Even if we assume that Mr. Litvinoff feels confident that we will not accept them, and his object is only to call our peace bluff and expose us as a warlike State, the fact remains that he will succeed unless we do accept them, and thereby hoist him with his own petard if his country does not make its proposals good. What I want to put to the right hon. Gentleman is this. Here are definite proposals coming from a great Government. I do not know whether they are sincere or not, but they are very important proposals. Whatever one likes to say, they include a great initiative, and, therefore, I think we have a right to learn from the Government, whatever their view may be, what that view really is.

How are the Government going to approach this Disarmament Conference which is to take place at Geneva next month? The course which our Government takes may be vital, not only to the welfare of our own nation, but to the welfare of the world. To my mind, it is a great opportunity, and I want to know how that opportunity is going to be faced. If the answer is, "We do not accept the sincerity of these proposals, and flout them and refuse to consider them," I, for one, submit that that will be a fatal mistake for our Government and our country to perpetrate. I think that the only way, whatever may be the facts behind these proposals, is to assume their sincerity and probe them to the very bottom, to see what is in them which will help to promote the international peace that we all desire. I sincerely trust that the instructions which will be given to our representatives at this vital and important Conference next month may be far more direct and far more helpful than, apparently, were those which were given to Lord Cecil some time since, and of which he himself complained in the House of Lords. Our representatives there will be governed by what the Government tell them as to what they are going to do.

I am not going to repeat what has been said here before, but we all believe in peace, we all long for peace. Here is an opportunity, as I see it, in the direction of peace. I want to know from the Government what action they are going to take in reference to these proposals. I think that where the term "initiative" comes in practically, as affecting our nation, is that it is the initiative that our Government will take towards those proposals of Russia. If our Government is afraid to treat them seriously, to see in them an opportunity of conserving world peace, other nations will do the same, and possibly a great international arrangement may be prevented. I am not hoping great things, but I am hoping something. I appeal to the Government, and I urge them to do all that in them lies, at this opportunity, to promote international peace by international agreement. I want them to realise that we look to them with intense anxiety. As I have said before, this is not a party question. All of us take our part in the country in expressing our view, but I very much hope that in discussing this question we shall not look at it from a party standpoint, but from a national standpoint, all of us acting together to promote our country's welfare through securing international peace.

I close as I commenced, by saying that my aim is not to attempt to make a speech; perhaps I am too old to think that speeches are of much worth. I do want to know what the Government are going to do, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, whom we all regard with something approaching affection, if he will allow me to say so, will feel able tonight to take us, so far as his duty allows, into his confidence. This is a matter of vital interest to us all. I know, by personal conversation with many people, the intense anxiety which is felt in this country as to what is going to happen. There is not a man in this House whose heart is not stirred when he thinks of the great War through which we passed; there probably is not a man in this House who in his own home does not look at a vacant chair. We want to make it absolutely certain that our boys did not die in vain, and the only way to show that they did not die in vain is so to carry on our proposals as to prevent war from ever happening again. It is with that intense longing that I am supporting this Amendment, not in any spirit of antagonism to the Government, but to give them all possible support in the direction which the Amendment indicates. I earnestly trust that, before this Debate closes, we shall hear from the right hon. Gentleman, as the mouthpiece of the Government, something which may give us heart and may give us hope that they are actively determined to do all that in them lies to promote international peace by international agreement.


I believe that the attitude of the three parties in this House towards disarmament is not divided by a very wide margin. I believe that, so far as one can sum it up, the difference between the two sides of the House is that we on this side have the responsibility at the present moment, while hon. Gentlemen opposite have not. Therefore, it is the easier for them to say, "Go on; go ahead; disarm." But we have to think of the future, we have to balance in our minds whether we dare take the risk; and, so long as other nations have armaments, it is a risk to set the lead and disarm before other people. Which is right, I believe history alone will prove. It may prove that we shall get that greater disarmament which we all hope for within the next few years; on the other hand, it may be proved in years to come that we should have been very unwise to reduce our armaments any further than we have done. I hope that that may not be so, and that we may not be wrong in keeping our armaments at their present strength. I hope that this Government will not seek popularity by running undue risks in setting the lead and disarming before other nations.

The Debate to-day seems to have run on very normal lines. I remember that in the Naval Debate last year one critic called attention to the fact that after a certain stage in the Debate there was a dismal procession of ex-naval officers making their annual speech. I admit I was one of the dismal procession. I would put in one word on behalf of the ex-naval officer. It may be that we do not make very lively Debates but our early training did not encourage us to argue and to debate but merely to obey. It for instance, a midshipman showed early signs of argument and debate with superior officers he was more inclined to meet a rope's end than anything else. Sometimes I think, after having listened to very long speeches in this House, there is a good deal to be said for that system.

I should like to add to the appeal of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Consett (Mr. Dunnico)—if every speech in this House was as interesting as his are what a much pleasanter place this would be—that we should have one Debate every year dealing with all three fighting services, both in relation to disarmament and in relation to relative expenditure. Even as a naval officer I cannot be quite sure and easy in my mind that our expenditure is adequate as between, say, the defence of London and the defence of our trade routes. It is deplorable that these Debates should get into such a narrow rut as they do every year and, although I do not think we should achieve very much, I believe it is in the interest of the nation that we should at any rate have one big Debate every year in which the best brains and the best speakers of all three parties should take part and that the whole question of the relative expenditure of the three fighting Forces should be thrashed out in rather more detail and perhaps in a better way than it is at present.

Next, I should like to remind the House that at no time in the history of this country have we ever found that we have too many cruisers. On the contrary, whenever a crisis has come we have found ourselves short of them. The hon. Member who moved this Amendment gave some very powerful arguments for adding to our cruiser force rather than diminishing it. He asked what is the use of having one cruiser to every 2,500 miles? It is better to have one cruiser to that than to every 3,000 miles. I could not see the logic of his argument. To talk of cruisers in that relation is rather misleading, because it, gives a picture of a cruiser hustling about for 2,500 miles looking for an odd enemy. The way cruisers will be used should the worst occur is in guarding convoys of merchant-men. What saved this country towards the end of the last War was the convoy system as much as anything else, and that is where cruisers will be so useful. Although the air machine is developing very rapidly it cannot yet hover, and it cannot stay out in all weathers over the Atlantic, and although air defence may be necessary as these convoys approach the country, when they are hundreds of thousands of miles away the cruiser is as necessary to-day as it has ever been in our history.

A good deal has been written on the subject of the staff of the Admiralty. Perhaps I have not quite that sympathy with the Admiralty that I might have had I ever served there, but as one who was out in the War the whole time I have the feeling that even now there may be a surplus of people at the Admiralty. I ask the right hon. Gentleman and the Financial Secretary to keep their eyes open when they are going through the corridors for redundant people who may be about. I have a feeling that when the dreams of the right hon. Gentleman opposite are almost fulfilled and the Navy is reduced to one man he will be found at the Admiralty. Whatever may be done, I hope we shall reduce the size and the armament of ships. I would not mind going back to wooden ships if every country would agree to it, but I hope, whatever party is on these benches, they will see to it that the finest material in the world, namely, our naval officers and men, are provided with the very finest equipment.


This time last year a similar Amendment was put down and spoken to by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith). It was not then used to attack the Government, but, for the purpose of suggestion and exhortation, to ask them to take a bold course and give a lead in the coming Coolidge Conference at Geneva. The words my hon. Friend used were these: We want the First Lord of the Admiralty to got in first this time and to make a speech which will stagger humanity and send him down to history as one of the greatest naval revolutionists of the world.




There is nothing more impressive than a man acting well in a role in which we are not accustomed to see him. I regret that I was not able to hear the First Lord's speech to-day, but I am told he said my hon. Friend ought to be satisfied with what he attempted to do at Geneva. I shall be very much surprised if my hon. Friend is satisfied. Events turned out, as a matter of fact, at Geneva worse than our doubts. Not only was there no large and striking offer made by the British Government, but the conference failed lamentably. The First Lord is accustomed to say, if only he could have had his way, this country would have been greatly advantaged and he would have saved the British taxpayer some £50,000,000 in a year. When you look at what he actually would have been able to do, the saving would not have begun until 1931, and when it did begin it would have been spread over 10 years. The £50,000,000 was, I think, the main saving which he promised the country, but that is spread over a long period of time. That was not what the country was expecting if the conference had been a success, and the country generally does not look to what happened last year with the complacency of the right hon. Gentleman and some of the members of the Government. At any rate, the policy of the Government does not suit many moderate people of their own party, who are disappointed and apprehensive just as much as we are.

The most formidable political happening of the last year in our home politics has been the resignation of Lord Cecil of Chelwood from the Government. With his great international position he is one of the two or three men who stand out, trusted not only in their own country very largely, but among the nations of Europe, quite apart from any authority which he exercised at the League of Nations when he was the representative of this country. It is a very severe thing that the man who is recognised in England as the greatest international authority should deliberately have left this Government because it so utterly failed in bringing disarmament any nearer. If we use severe words in condemnation, they cannot be more severe than those of Lord Cecil himself. He said: The impression has been produced that the British Government were lukewarm in their desire that the Commission should lead to a successful result. It seems to me that there is a very formidable situation. The failure of the Coolidge Conference is capable of becoming the most portentous event in the career of this Government. A new race for armaments is threatening to begin between ourselves and the United States of America. New war is spoken of freely in more aggressive and less cautious quarters both here and on the other side of the Atlantic. Who can see the end? The question that the House ought to be considering to-night is this: Is it to be the beginning? Is the situation to be the beginning of a tragedy, or ought it to be a warning to us to make desperate efforts to avoid it?

What we are practically asking the Government is for a total change of policy, of which this Amendment represents one-half. If we are to approach to international security and peace, it is necessary that there should be a double line of advance. We should all admit that disarmament alone is an impossible policy if it is unsecured by a political system for the supremacy of arbitration and law between nations. Disarmament alone is not enough. We had earlier this afternoon a very interesting speech from the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish), who said, "You cannot ask us to reduce the effectiveness of the British Navy until you can provide for us a guarantee for our existing possessions all over the world." Precisely, and we do not pretend that you can have disarmament unless you also have an international guarantee between the nations that law will maintain what force is now hopelessly trying to maintain. That is on the one side. On the other side, security through arbitration and law is unattainable if there continue to exist these huge armaments which are utilisable by immoral Governments and panic-stricken peoples. Therefore what we on this side of the House say is that there must be a double line of advance—real steps taken towards disarmament which are convincingly big, real steps taken towards arbitration, and an all-in arbitration, which will convince the world that law can take the place of force. The two processes must go on at once. Our complaint is that at the present time we do not see the Government moving in either direction. We cannot see that they are doing either in any effective degree.

This year we have got to enter upon new relations with the United States of America. The old Treaty falls in, and our view is that we ought to propose an all-in arbitration treaty with America, keeping no subjects out of consideration. I know there will be those who say that we should get no response from the United States. I do not believe that for a moment. It is quite true that there are two currents of opinion in America at the present time. They are both above the surface, and you may estimate which you think the more important. There is the blatant, militarist, boastful and hostile spirit exhibited in a great many American utterances. They want a big navy to whack the world. That is one side of America. But it is a very much more important thing that there is an entirely different spirit in the White House of America. Since President Wilson issued his great declaration to the world during the War, there has been no more important document that has come from America than the last note of Mr. Kellogg. It is a great document. It is addressed in the first instance to France, but it is obviously addressed to the rest of the world as well. It says that America is ready for a treaty having for its object the unqualified renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy. This, perhaps, is the governing sentence in it: The Government of the United States desires to see the institution of war abolished and stands ready to conclude with the French, British, Italian, German and Japanese Governments a single multilateral treaty open to subsequent adherence by any and all other Governments binding the parties thereto not to resort to war with one another The precise language to be employed in such a treaty is a matter of indifference to the United States so long as it clearly and unmistakeably sets forth the determination of the parties to abolish war among themselves. Is that not a great offer to the world? Is that not a great declaration, and would not that declaration, if put into force in treaties between the great nations of the world, make all cur navies superfluous? Let no one say that there is not the chance of a great advance when an offer of this kind comes from one of the greatest Governments in the world. It is a broad and a grand offer, and I say I am certain that it would undermine any mad navalism that there might be among the extreme elements in the United States. I say it is a, test for ourselves, if it be true, as the Foreign Minister said last year at that Box, that we have outlawed war in our hearts. Let us outlaw it then in law, and then outlaw it as we ask you to do here to-night in our programme.

The world at the present moment has no lead which it can follow to disarmament. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. G. Thorne) that a great offer has been made by Russia. Personally, I believe that offer to be sincere. But he and I must accept facts, and the fact is, that a great many of our fellow-countrymen do not believe it to be sincere. What the hon. Gentleman the Member for Royton (Dr. Davies) said in our last Debate here is true. He said, rather despondently, "How unfortunate that no one believes the Russians!" If this House and if our people do not believe the Russians, it is up to our Government to provide a lead to the world which the world will regard as sincere. I suppose they think, as I think, that if our Government were to give a real big lead to the world, the world would believe it to be sincere. Take the Russian offer. Let us see whether the Russians do mean business. I do not mean by that, that I anticipate that our Government could make as big an offer as the Russian Government has made, because we should all know that on their part it was not sincere, and that therefore it was bluff. But they could make a lesser offer to test the world. They might even make an offer to the Russians.

A few years ago the Russian Government announced that they were prepared to make the Black Sea an unarmed lake, taking the analogy of the great lakes between Canada and the United States of America. They announced that if the other nations of the world would agree that their armed vessels should not in any circumstances penetrate into the Black Sea, they would "put down" all their armed vessels on the Black Sea. That offer was not accepted, but there is no reason why our Government should not call up that offer again and see whether it would not be accepted still. What I am thinking of rather is a proposal, not in relation to Russia, of course, such as we are making here. The lead in the direction of disarmament must come from one of the great nations, and it must come from one of the great nations with something big to give up. Somebody has to do it. It is no use our going on saying, "We are ready, if somebody else proposes something." Somebody has to make a proposal. Who is going to do it, and who better than ourselves? If we want France, if we want Italy to make serious military reductions, if we want them to do something with their armies, the only way in which we can induce them to do that is not by increasing our army, but by decreasing the thing which matters to us. Why should we not do it? Of what are we afraid in these propositions?

I wonder how many people want to keep capital ships. We keep capital ships because there are about three or four other nations which have these big monsters. Should we not be only too delighted to give them up? But somebody must make the offer first, if all the nations that have them are to give them up. The hon. and gallant Member for Lewes said that the biggest ship is the capital ship. That is to say, that you can reduce, and reduce and reduce the size, and, provided everybody agrees to the reduction, you can cut down to your 10,000-ton cruiser, to your 5,000-ton cruiser, and, if there is no bigger one, that is the capital ship. What is the advantage of keeping your huge ironclad as it is to-day? You have already shown that you need not have your super-super-monster. Why, then, insist on your monster?

If we, as the greatest naval nation, were to come forward and say we do not want at all what are now known as capital ships, the chances are that the other nations who are interested in such capital ships would only be too delighted to follow. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about submarines?"] I gather there is no real difference of opinion about submarines. And why not abolish all cruisers over 5,000 tons? Those who object to this policy have to answer the question: What are these armaments kept for now, and if no one has these armaments why should we want to keep them? We cannot get rid of them unless we, the great naval nation, show that we are ready to make a reduction, and if we are ready to make a reduction, believe, with my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, that the thirst for peace is so great in the world that when once we held up this new standard, we should find the nations of the world flocking to it.


The hon Member who moved the Amendment, and who has not been here since, would have heard several compliments paid to him had he remained. The hon. Member who seconded the Amendment is not in his place. The Debate began on a very mild, reasonable and unprovocative note, and it ended by the most gross exaggeration and absurd distortion that we have heard in any Debate of this kind, so far. The Mover of the Amendment said that he was moving a token Amendment, meaning that it was a sort of academic proposal which he wished to put before the House. He began with many compliments to the Navy, but they became rather empty compliments as the speech proceeded, but the tone of his remarks was one of which no one could complain. He asked, first of all, whether we had not learned any lesson from the War. A great many lessons have been learned from the War. The Admiralty learned a great many lessons from the War, and the Conservative party learned a great many lessons from the War. There is one lesson which, I think, most of us learned from the War, and that was that at one period of the War we were within a very short distance of starvation, and many of those who felt that danger then are determined that we shall not run that risk, if it can be avoided, another time.

The hon. Member then proceeded to say that he complained very much of the size and the elaborate character of the Navy Estimates. He held the book in his hand and said: "This is not what one would call a best seller." I do not complain of that. He must not complain if the book is of such a size, because it is owing to an endeavour on our part to give the House as much information as possible. If he and his Friends will be content in the future to take the word of myself and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, without any figures at all, we shall be very glad to meet him in that direction, and we shall be very grateful for the economy and the staff at the Admiralty will be glad.


It could then be done in five minutes.


It could be very quickly done, and nobody would be any the worse. The hon. Member then dealt with a theme which we have heard so often in this House. He referred to the bureaucrats. He said that the bureaucrats spoiled the Geneva Conference. It used to be said that it was the Admirals who spoiled the Conference, now it is the bureaucrats. The only alternative to that and the only change that could be made, and one which might meet his wishes, would be that instead of taking people who know something of what they are talking about, you should send people who are qualified by their total ignorance. I do not subscribe to that opinion. I prefer to go with sensible men, who know their subject, rather than go with people who may be very good at natural history or some other subject, but who know nothing of this subject.

The hon. Member went on to say that one of the reasons of the failure of the conference at Geneva was that I did not ask for a reduction, of armaments in the proper spirit; that I only said that I asked for what would produce economy and retain security for this country. He said that that was a very improper way of approaching the subject, because it should have been approached in a much more theoretic way, and that I am to blame on that ground because the Conference was not successful. I would remind the hon. Member that I did not open the Conference. It was opened by the American delegate, and he enunciated three cardinal principles, with which we were in profound agreement. Those principles were (1) the elimination of competitive building, (2) that we should seek to secure defence and not aggression and (3) that we should study economy. If it is wrong to seek security and economy and if that was what spoiled the Conference, then it was spoiled before I began to speak.


That was not so.


That it was not spoiled? Those were the three cardinal principles.


You agreed to them.


Of course I did. Then why am I to blame for the Conference breaking down upon something to which I agreed? The hon. Member also ridiculed the idea that we asked for only 70 cruisers. On the other hand, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. A. M. Williams) said quite rightly that it was better to have some than none at all. The Mover of the Amendment also proceeded to discuss the great advantage of warfare in the air. According to him, we have no chance in the future against aircraft. He said that the aircraft never miss anything they shoot at, but that we, the Navy, nearly always do. The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Sir P. Sassoon) is present, therefore I will not enter into a discussion on that subject, but I feel sure that he will agree that despite the great advance in aircraft they are not infallible yet, and we still require the Navy.

The Seconder of the Amendment, whose speech delighted us very much, complained that bad feeling had been caused by the failure of the Conference, on ill-founded suspicions. There I agree with him. I think the bad feeling was not caused so much among those who took part in the Conference but by those who were interested in party politics in this country or on the other side of the Atlantic, and who were very anxious to make a case against somebody who was politically opposed to them. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) asked me a question, which I had hoped to answer in his presence. He asked me why we built large crusers to begin with, and, having done so, why did we made a proposal at Geneva to limit the size of cruisers? The reason why they were built at the beginning was because at the Washington Conference 10,000 tons was fixed as the maximum size, and, as the hon. Member for Keighley has often said, the maximum becomes the standard, and it is only by lowering the maximum that you can get a reduction. We built those ships—the Labour Government built some of them and we built others—because other countries were doing it. Therefore, it became a necessity for us to have ships of equal strength with them.

I think it was a great mistake that the Washington Conference fixed so high a tonnage figure as 10,000 tons and so high a calibre of guns as 8-inch guns. If only the conference had fixed the tonnage lower and the calibre of the guns lower we should have had very little trouble now. It was in order to come down from that that we made the proposals which we did at Geneva. That was the reason why we proposed that a strict limit, as in battleships, should be applied to these large cruisers, and that after that limit had been fixed no other cruiser should be built except those of a smaller kind. There is not one man in this House who will disagree with that; we all agree with it. Therefore, it is no sign of inconsistency on our part to say that because we found other nations laying down large 10,000 ton cruisers we had to begin doing the same ourselves, and that when we got the opportunity at the Conference, we tried to persuade other countries to lower the maximum of cruiser tonnage.


Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether, at the Washington Conference, the British representative advocated a 10,000 tons cruiser?


I do not know; I was not at Washington. I believe that the British representative there accepted that, because it appeared then that there was a danger of losing the whole of the agreement on battleships if settlement was not arrived at on cruisers. Therefore the Conference accepted that, really without very much consideration. But I am not blaming him or the Americans or anyone else for not agreeing to a lower standard there. I was pointing out that in the light of history one sees what an advantage it would have been if such a standard had been fixed.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Is it not a fact that the first keel for this new type was actually laid in this country?


I do not know the exact date, but certainly authority was given by other Governments to lay down these large cruisers before we began. Anyhow, hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot get out of the fact that they were the first people to do it.


The right hon. Gentleman made that statement this afternoon. I did not rise at the time to correct him, but I would say now that he is conferring upon us an honour to which we are not entitled. We did not start that policy. When we came into office it had already been decided by the previous Tory Government, and in the Estimates prepared by the previous Government, of which I took charge, there was provision for eight cruisers and we reduced the number to five.

10.0 p.m.


It may be quite right to blame the Government that preceded that of the right hon. Gentleman, but the fact remains that the Labour Government were responsible and accepted five-eighths of the programme of the previous Government. It is no use trying to avoid that fact. I do not want to make any undue capital out of it, but hon. Gentlemen opposite must abide by the decisions that they took, and very rightly took, at that time. The right hon. Member for Central Newcastle (Mr. Trevelyan) took me severely to task for not having carried out the instructions given to me with so much kindness and good temper by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) this time last year. I heard the speech of the hon. Member for Keighley last year, and I have refreshed my memory about it since. I remembered it very well at the time, because when he made his speech I knew what we were going to propose at Geneva, and he did not. My tongue was tied, and, I was very much interested, as he proceeded, to find how very closely his suggestion coincided with what we were going to propose ourselves at Geneva. He did not say: "You must abolish everything at once; you must abolish the whole Navy." He said we could bring about disarmament only gradually, and the first step for us to take was to lower the maximum all round. That is the proposal that we did make at Geneva, and we have not got the thanks that we should have had from the hon. Gentleman, who thinks he is the author of the scheme.

When one reads this Amendment there is a good deal of it that coincides almost exactly with what we did. I have been told that I was to go in first at Geneva and stagger humanity by becoming a revolutionary First Lord or something of that sort—no, not a Bolshevist. That was what I was to do. I pointed out to the hon. Member that, much as I would have liked to have won the toss and to have gone in first, that did not depend on me. As it turned out I went in second, and the American delegate went in first. But as soon as I got the opportunity I did make proposals very similar to what the hon. Member sketched out in his speech. But the right hon. Member for Central Newcastle entirely misrepresented what these proposals were. He says: "Oh, it amounted to a saving of only a paltry £50,000,000. What is the good of that? Fifty million pounds saved 10 years hence is so visionary a thing that no one really cares twopence about it." He did not recall that in following out the advice of the hon. Member for Keighley I proposed that, every cruiser in future should cost £1,000,000 less, and that that saving would begin to operate front the first, moment the agreement was signed. The right hon. Gentleman did not say that we proposed to limit and reduce the size of other categories of ships, again saving on each head. In fact, he did not give me the credit of doing what I did at Geneva, and of course he does not want to. But in a very dramatic, and I may say in a rather tragic way, he said, when he asked us why we did not propose to abolish the Navy altogether, "Are you afraid of abolishing the Navy?"


Hear, hear! You are afraid of nothing!


Five minutes before the right hon. Gentleman had told us that the world was full of immoral Governments and panic-stricken people. Those are the words he used; I took them down. If that be true, surely there is something of which to be afraid: But let us for one moment consider this Amendment carefully. It says: International peace can only be assured by international agreements for a substantial all-round reduction in naval armaments. That is exactly what I proposed at Geneva. Accordingly the Mover of the Amendment urges the Government to take the initiative in making proposals for the abolition of capital ships. Well, I did take the initiative in making proposals about capital ships, not for their abolition, but for the reduction of their size and the extension of their lives. So up to a point, what we proposed at Geneva falls in with the aspirations of the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment.


Then you will vote for it?


If other people are going to do it, I am prepared, as I said at Geneva, to do it.


No, I mean vote for the Amendment.


What I am pointing out is that the Amendment is practically what I proposed at Geneva, and hon. Members opposite are blaming me for its not having been accepted by someone else. Then we are to abolish submarines. I said at Geneva, and the British representative said it also at Washington, that we were perfectly ready to agree to the abolition of submarines if other nations would agree. There, again, I am entirely to blame, according to hon. Members opposite, for not having followed out the very words of this Amendment. The last words are: and for the restriction of the maximum tonnage of cruisers to that necessary for police purposes. I do not know what is meant precisely by "necessary, for police purposes," but that is the principle generally on which we went at Geneva. If we could stop building these large cruisers from the point we have reached now, we could afterwards build only small cruisers to take their place. This Amendment, except for the fact that it mentions the abolition of capital ships, which are sometimes called battleships, embodies what we actually did propose at Geneva, and hon. Members say this because they want to have here a stick with which to beat the Government. Because they proposed something at Geneva in almost the identical terms of the Amendment they are now blaming us—simply because the Government did not get it accepted. It is a very curious thing that they should blame those who made these proposals, which they want to have accepted, rather than those who did not accept them. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. G. Thorne) and right hon. Members opposite made a great outcry about the dangers confronting this country. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton said the whole world is longing for international peace. Of course, we all agree with that; and not only that, we have got it.

Why all this panic and outcry? Hon. Members opposite say that the failure of this Conference was the greatest tragedy that ever happend, yet President Coolidge says that he perfectly ready to further consider the question of limitation. So are we, and nobody in their senses supposes that there is any danger of war between us. The greatest danger is when hon. Members make such absurd specehes as that made by the right hon. Member for Central Newcastle to-night. Why do they imagine that everybody wants war except themselves? What evidence have they for that?


The evidence of history.


The evidence of self-righteousness. That is the only evidence which can justify observations such as those. Much has been said about the failure of the Geneva Conference and great efforts have been made to father that failure on His Majesty's Government. What is the object of that? Is it with the object of doing this country good amongst the nations of the world? Is it with the object of making peace more certain and the horrors of war more distant, that hon. Members picture this failure as being such a tragedy that we are shouting war at one another across the seas? Is that really the object of these protestations?

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

It is for every nation to deal with its own Government, and we can only deal with our own Government which we do not think is very much in favour of peace.


The hon. and gallant Gentleman is not the Leader of the Opposition. What I was asking was, let anyone say with what they disagree with our proposals at Geneva.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

Lord Cecil of Chelwood said he did not agree.


No, he agreed with everything I proposed at Geneva.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

And the Cabinet vetoed it.


Let hon. Members say in what particular the Government is to blame in the proposals they made at Geneva.


You were lukewarm and never meant them.


Is it likely that I should on behalf of His Majesty's Government make proposals at Geneva if I had been lukewarm about them?

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

Lord Cecil of Chelwood said so.


According to the hon. and gallant Member, Lord Cecil of Chelwood said that there was some kind of agreement which we could have got at Geneva. What was the agreement that was possible to get at Geneva which hon. Members opposite would have accepted?

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

Let us clear this matter up. I made the charge against the right hon. Gentleman. One of the statements made by Lord Cecil of Chelwood was that there was a difficulty as to whether the new cruisers should have 8-inch guns or 6-inch guns. We wanted 6-inch guns and the Americans wanted 8-inch guns. A compromise was reached on 7-inch, and Lord Cecil of Chelwood said the Cabinet vetoed it.


The facts are that no compromise was reached at all on 7-inch guns; and that is exactly the sort of thing for which I want to bring people to book. I ask hon. Members opposite to tell me what the Government could have proposed at Geneva. We put forward one proposal, and when it was not agreed to we then tried to secure agreement on another. We met Japan on every essential point. We made proposal after proposal. I do not blame the United States for refusing. They have a perfect right to hold their own views about their defence, in the same way as we have a perfect right to hold our views about our defence. But what I desire to say is this, that not one hon. Member opposite can say that they did not agree with everything we proposed at Geneva, and not one of them can tell me what agreement was possible at Geneva which we did not consider and try.

If that be the case, I ask them not to pretend that the failure to reach agreement at Geneva is a great tragedy that is going to lead to war. We discussed most frankly all the aspects of this question without any ill temper or ill feeling, and we agreed on nearly every point except one, that of the cruisers, as far as I know. Let hon. Members opposite do something to help this country to get further opportunities for discussing limitation, as I am perfectly certain it is open to the three countries, and also European countries, to meet together, not perhaps immediately, but in the course of a comparatively short time, and do something further in the direction of limitation. But every step in that direction will be spoilt and vitiated if hon. Members in this House try to pretend that we have done something which has only made antagonism between this country and America, which does, not exist. That is the way to do harm. Let them be generous and just and say that our proposals were perfectly right.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

The right hon. Gentleman has cleared up one point about the 7-inch guns, and he is in direct conflict with his colleague, Lord Cecil of Chelwood. Will the right hon. Gentleman answer this question? Would he have got success had he been allowed by his own Cabinet to agree with the Americans for mathematical parity? Once agreement was reached with America, what did it matter how many cruisers the Americans built? That is our point. If we got agreement between the two, every additional American cruiser would be an extra safeguard to the peace of the trade routes of the world. Why was the right hon. Gentleman not allowed to agree, on mathematical parity, and to let America build great or small cruisers as she liked? What is the answer to that?


The answer is that the question of parity was never raised at the Geneva Conference and I had not an opportunity of expressing my opinion at any of the sessions of the Conference on the subject. The reasons why we could not accept the proposal for the 25 cruisers of 10,000 tons, out of a total tonnage of 400,000 tons, were first, that it would not have been a limitation of armaments at all and that was the reason why the Conference was called, and, secondly, it would have left us so few cruisers of the smaller kind that our security would have been impaired.


Does the right hon. Gentleman say that in his second speech at the second plenary Conference, he made no mention of parity and did not definitely say that this country accepted mathematical parity with the United States?


I certainly never used the word "mathematical." In what I said—not I think in the Conference—I never challenged the right of America to build an equal number of ships with our own. America already has ever so many more destroyers than we have and more submarines. When you talk about parity you must be careful to know what it means. If it means parity of numbers, and one country having larger ships than the other, then it is not equality. I do not think this question is one which can be laboured now. The point really is that there was a declaration made in this House on the subject which I repeated or circulated at Geneva and that was the basis on which the Government proceeded. It is, I think, printed in the speeches but at any rate it was made in this House and everybody heard it here. That was the attitude taken up by the Government on parity, but it was never discussed after that moment at Geneva or in any of the plenary Conferences


I think the First Lord has been unfair to the Opposition in his reply. We have not been criticising the details of the proposition which he put forward.


The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Newcastle did.


As I understood my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Newcastle, he has been suggesting what is the real problem involved in the Government's policy. We have been discussing mainly three very definite questions arising from that policy. The first is the question of parity and what is to be understood by parity. Very large numbers of people are being drawn to the conclusion that we are receding from the position which we took up in 1923, and I think it is clear that the Government have been speaking with two voices on the subject. In the second place, we have been saying that the Conference broke down, because the whole question of the freedom of the seas had not been faced up to and explored before the conference. In the third place, we have been saying that in our judgment a reason for the breakdown was that the special plea which the Government are putting forward for the bread line, is not a well-founded argument.

In view of the great importance of these questions and of the fact that the Washington Conference arrangements have to be reconsidered in 1931, we are asking the Government in this Motion, in the first place, thoroughly to explore the whole question of parity and what we understand by parity, secondly, to explore the question of the freedom of the seas, and, thirdly, to make allowance for the fact that, if we are to put forward special pleas in the name of a bread line, it is competent for the Americans also to put forward special pleas. If the Americans are not entirely dependent for

45 weeks in the year for bread, they are dependent for rubber, manganese, tin, and a large number of other materials without which their security could not be maintained. It is on these grounds of policy that we have intervened in this Debate, and it is most unfair on the part of the First Lord of the Admiralty not to face up to these questions and assure us that the Government are going to deal with them.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 204; Noes, 109.

Division No. 39.] AYES. [10.22 p.m
Albery, Irving James Ellis, R. G. Little Dr. E. Graham
Alexander, E. E. (Layton) Evans, Captain A. (Cardiff, South) Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)
Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent) Everard, W. Lindsay Long, Major Eric
Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool,W. Dorby) Fairfax, Captain J. G. Looker, Herbert William
Applin, Colonel R. V. K. Fanshawe, Captain G. D. Lougher, Lewis
Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W. Fermoy, Lord Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere
Atkinson, C. Fielden, E. B. Luce, Maj.-Gen. Sir Richard Harman
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Forestier-Walker, Sir L. MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen
Balniel, Lord Forrest, W. Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Foster, Sir Henry S. Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Fraser, Captain Ian Macdonald, R. (Glasgow, Cathcart)
Bellairs, Commander Carlyon Galbraith, J. F. W. Macintyre, Ian
Benn. Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake) Ganzoni, Sir John McLean, Major A.
Birchall, Major J. Dearman Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm
Bird, E. R. (Yorks, W. R., Skipton) Gower, Sir Robert Macquisten, F A.
Blundell, F. N. Grant, Sir J. A. Maitland, A. (Kent, Faversham)
Boothby, R. J. G. Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel-
Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Greene. W. P. Crawford Makins, Brigadier-General E.
Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W. Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London) Malone, Major P. B.
Brassey, Sir Leonard Grotrian, H. Brent Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn
Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. (Bristol, N.) Margesson, Captain D.
Briscoe, Richard George Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E. Marriott, Sir J. A. R.
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Gunston, Captain D. W. Mason, Colonel Glyn K.
Broun-Lindsay, Major H. Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich) Meller, R. J.
Brown, Brig.-Gen.H.C.(Berks.Newb'y) Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.) Mitchell. S. (Lanark, Lanark)
Burman, J. B. Hamilton, Sir George Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden)
Butler, Sir Geoffrey Harland, A. Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)
Butt, Sir Alfred Harrison, G. J. C. Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.
Campbell, E. T. Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington) Moreing, Captain A. H.
Cautley, Sir Henry S. Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes) Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury)
Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston) Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M. Murchison, Sir Kenneth
Charteris, Brigadier-General J. Henderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxf'd, Henley) Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)
Christie, J. A. Henderson, Lieut.-Col. Sir Vivian Nuttall, Ellis
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P. Oakley, T.
Clayton, G. C. Henn, Sir Sydney H. O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton)
Cobb, Sir Cyril Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J. Pennefather, Sir John
Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford) Perkins, Colonel E. K.
Colman, N. C. D. Hills, Major John Waller Perring, Sir William George
Cope, Major William Hilton, Cecil Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)
Couper, J. B. Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D.(St.Marylebone) Pilcher, G.
Courtauld, Major J. S. Hohler, Sir Gerald Fitzroy Pownall, Sir Assheton
Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islington, N.) Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard Price, Major C. W. M.
Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H. Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.) Rees, Sir Beddoe
Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend) Hopkins, J. W. W. Remer, J. R.
Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick) Hopkinson, Sir A. (Eng. Universities) Rentoul, G. S.
Crookshank,Cpt.H.(Lindsey,Gainsbro) Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley) Roberts, Sir Samuel (Hereford)
Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West) Horlick, Lieut.-Colonel J. N. Ropner, Major L.
Cunliffe, Sir Herbert Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K. Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Curzon, Captain Viscount Huntingfield, Lord Rye, F. G.
Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset,Yeovil) Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H. Salmon, Major I.
Davies, Dr. Vernon Jephcott, A. R. Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Dawson, Sir Philip Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton) Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)
Dixey, A. C. Kindersley, Major Guy M. Sandeman, N. Stewart
Drewe, C. King, Commodore Henry Douglas Sanderson, Sir Frank
Eden, Captain Anthony Knox, Sir Alfred Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.
Edmondson, Major A. J. Lamb, J. Q. Savery, S. S.
Edwards, J. Hugh (Accrington) Leigh, Sir John (Clapham) Shepperson, E. W.
Smith, R.W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.) Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.) Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)
Smith-Carington, Neville W. Titchfield, Major the Marquess of Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)
Smithers, Waidron Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)
Spender-Clay, Colonel H. Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Sprot, Sir Alexander Waddington, R. Withers, John James
Steel, Major Samuel strang Wallace, Captain D. E. Wcmcrsley, W. J.
Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H. Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L.(Kingston-on-Hull) Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwaten
streatfeild, Captain S. R. Waterhouse, Captain Charles Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'ge & Hyde)
Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle) Wragg, Herbert
Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Watts, Dr. T.
Thom, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton) Wells, S. R. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Thompson, Luke (Sunderland) White, Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dalrymple- Mr. Penny and Sir Victor Warrender
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Hardle, George D. Potts, John S.
Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro') Hayday, Arthur Richardson, R. (Houshton-ie-Spring)
Ammon, Charles George Hayes, John Henry Rlley, Ben
Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston) Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley) Ritson, J.
Baker, Walter Hirst, G. H. Robinson, W. C. (Yorks,W.R.,Elland)
Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abortlilery) Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield) Rose, Frank H.
Barnes, A. Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath) Salter, Dr. Alfred
Barr, J. John, William (Rhondda, West) Scurr, John
Batey, Joseph Johnston, Thomas (Dundee) Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)
Beckett, John (Gateshead) Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Shepherd, Arthur Lewis
Bondfield, Margaret Kelly, W. T. Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Kennedy, T. Slesser, Sir Henry H
Broad, F. A. Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M. Smillie, Robert
Bromley, J. Kirkwood, D. Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Lansbury, George Smith, Rennie (fecistone)
Buchanan, G. Lawrence, Susan Snell, Harry
Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel Lawson, John James Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip
Charleton, H. C. Lee. F. Spoor, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Charles
Cluse, W. S. Lindley, F. W. Stamford, T. W.
Connolly, M. Lowth, T. Stephen, Campbell
Cove, W. G. Lunn, William Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)
Crawfurd, H. E. MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R.(Aberavon) Strauss, E. A.
Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale) Mackinder, W. Sutton. J. E.
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) MacNeill-Weir, L. Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)
Dennison, R. Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton) Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.
Duncan, C. March, S. Varley, Frank B.
Dunnico, H. Maxton, James Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney
Fenby, T. D. Montague, Frederick Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Joslah
Garro-Jones, Captain G. M. Morris, R. H. Weltock, Wilfred
Gosling, Harry Murnin, H. Williams, T. (York. Don Valley)
Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edln.,Cent.) Naylor, T. E. Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Oliver, George Harold Wright, W.
Griffith, F. Kingsley Owen, Major G. Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Palin, John Henry
Groves, T. Paling, W. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Grundy, T.W. Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr.
Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Pathick-Lawrence. F. W. Whiteley.
Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland) Ponsonby, Arthur

Question put, and agreed to.

Supply accordingly considered in Committee.

[Mr. JAMES HOPE in the Chair.]

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