§ 5. "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £450,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1928, for additional Expenditure on the following Navy Services, namely:—
§ "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."591
§ Mr. LEES -SMITH
On a point of Order. On the Report of the Air Estimates and of the Army Estimates, you permitted us, Mr. Speaker, to have a general discussion on Vote A, of course, on the understanding that there would be a corresponding limit to the discussion on the subsequent Votes. May I ask whether you will give us the same permission to-day?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
In view of the short time that was available in Committee on Vote A, I propose to allow a more or less general discussion on the Report stage, of course, confined entirely to Service questions.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
Might I ask whether the First Lord of the Admiralty will be present during the Debate to-day?
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Lieut.-Colonel592
§ Headlam): I hope the First Lord will be here later on during the Debate. The Opposition were informed of the fact that, owing to a long-standing engagement and the somewhat unexpected appearance of these Estimates to-day, the First Lord would not be able to be here at the beginning, but I hope he will be here later on.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
I am bound to say that I very greatly regret that these Estimates should have been put down for to-day, and that the First Lord is not present. It is not the part of the Opposition to determine on what day the Estimates should be put down. I may say that the First Lord, in the discussion last week, issued a challenge to the Opposition to substantiate certain statements they had made with regard to him. I am prepared to accept that challenge now, and I had expected to do so in the presence of the First Lord himself. Should I be in order, Mr. Speaker, in moving the adjournment of the Debate until the First Lord is present?
§ Motion made, and Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Mr. Lees-Smith.]
§ The House divided: Ayes, 112; Noes., 199593
§ Original Question again propsed.594
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Question is already before the House, "That this House doth 595 agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
In case I may exhaust my right to speak, I had better, in very few words, present as clearly as I can, the case which, I presume, my hon. Friend would have presented in response to the challenge which the First Lord of the Admiralty made to the Opposition to substantiate our charges against him in connection with the Geneva Conference. Very briefly, I will repeat the charges that have been made. I am assisted in this, fortunately, by a letter in the "Times" from Lord Cecil. It will be remembered that the First Lord commenced his speech introducing the Navy Estimates in his usual jocular, flippant and humorous manner, but later on, when he replied, he allowed himself the luxury of a little emotion, and, figuratively speaking, beating his breast, he declared his innocence before the world, said that we pacifists who were always preaching peace were endangering the peace of the world by so doing, and that he was the godly man without blemish or sin. In the exchange of charge and counter-charge across the Table, I reminded the right hon. Gentleman of the statement of a colleague of his in another place, which I was not at liberty to quote, with reference to the 7-inch guns, and I then asked the First Lord whether it was not the fact that a compromise could have been reached on the question of the7-inch guns and the Cabinet vetoed the suggestion.
The House will remember that we nearly reached an agreement with the American delegates at Geneva by which a certain number of 10,000-ton cruisers should be built and a larger number of smaller cruisers of the "B" type. The point of difference was whether the Americans could use the 8-inch guns to arm their smaller cruisers of the "B" type, and a suggestion was made, apparently by Lord Cecil himself, that the 7-inch guns might be a useful compromise, but this was vetoed by the Cabinet. The First Lord, very cleverly, if I may be allowed to say so from the Parliamentary point of view, said there was never any agreement reached on the 7-inch guns, the point being, of course, that our delegates were not permitted by the Cabinet at home really to get fo grips with the discussion of this com- 596 promise. Those are the facts according to Lord Cecil, and according to a careful reading of the First Lord's speech at Geneva and his remarks in this House. It may be said, of course, that the First Lord is innocent, that it was the wicked Cabinet which was to blame; but the First Lord, by not resigning his post, acquiesced in the policy of the Cabinet, and now I can reinforce this charge, which we are prepared to substantiate, by a letter which appeared in the "Times" of the 19th March, signed by Lord Cecil himself, in which he declares that there 'were three occasions on which agreement could have been reached, and that on each occasion the Cabinet vetoed a possible compromise. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member the Parliamentary Secretary will be good enough to note these points, so that the First Lord. when he is able to release himself from his engagement, will be able to reply on behalf of the Board of Admiralty, of which, of course, the hon. and gallant Member is not a member.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I am a member of the Board of Admiralty, and I have read Lord Cecil's letter.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Then I apologise to the hon. and gallant Member. I am very glad to hear that he is, as he ought to be, a member of the Board. One of the troubles in the past has been that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Admiralty has not been a member of the Board. [HON. MEMBERS: "Always!"] That, however, is a small matter into which I need not enter. I would remind hon. Members that I did not expect to be called upon, and that I have not all my notes, which would have prevented me from making a very small slip. These are the three proposals, to which I hope the First Lord will be able to give a full and complete answer. First, it was suggested that we shouldseek to limit the agreement to the year 1931, since till that date the Americans would be fully occupied in catching up with our built or building 10,000-tonners.Let me remark that the estimate of the late Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has been drawn out because the programme, which has now apparently been approved by Congress, will enable the Americans to catch up to us in or about the year 1935. The letter continues: 597Next we proposed a compromise on the basis of 7-inch guns. Thirdly, we urged that the question of the calibre of the guns for the second-class cruisers might be left unsettled—it could not become actual for the United States for some years—on the understanding that if the United States definitely decided to build cruisers carrying 8-inch guns, other than the 10,000-tonners, they should give us notice, and a further conference could be held, if we so desired. I thought, and think, there was a very good chance that this would have been accepted. All the suggestions of compromise were rejected by the Cabinet, though both Mr. Bridgeman and I supported them,That is the charge; that is our witness. He is a good witness, because he was present, and there should be some explanation by the First Lord. The hon. Member for Keighley would have made this case much better than I can, because he was expecting to do it, and I was not. I attempted to bring this matter home to the First Lord on the Committee stage, but, with his great Parliamentary skill, which we all admire, he was able to ride off. Let us now have some further explanation in view of this evidence from Lord Cecil. The truth that seems to stand out is, that the Cabinet, for some reason best known to themselves, were not anxious for agreement with America, when agreement could have been had on very reasonable terms. I must repeat what I have said before in this House; I do not put the whole of the blame on our delegates, and I certainly never put the blame on our technical officers, who have their duty to perform. The ultimate responsibility lies with the political chiefs, and each people must deal with their own Government. It is admitted that certain interests in America, interests in engineering, in armour-plate rolling, and in the armament trade exercised a baneful inflifenee at Geneva. There is a Big Navy party in America allied to them partly on sentimental grounds and partly on sordid grounds, and they have been stirring up all possible ill-feeling in America against us before the breakdown of the Geneva Conference, during the Conference, and since.
We must be careful not to play into the hands of these people, arid when we have speeches made, as we had during the Geneva Conference itself by no less a person than the Chancellor of the Exchequer of this country, who said, in effect, that we would not accept mathe- 598 matical parity with this other great English-speaking nation, and that money alone was not the last word, it is playing into the hands of those interests in America which are questionable interests, and is making it much harder for that great body of peace-loving opinion in America, which objects to anything in the nature of naval competition between the British Empire and the United States of America. I think it is necessary, although this matter has been so often debated in this House, once more to ask for some explanation of these matters from the Government. The importance of the Geneva Conference warrants us in raising the question again. That Conference was not some minor disarmament preparatory commission, called together for the fifth or sixth year in succession to wrangle and haggle about technical details, and never expecting to come to any definite conclusion. It was not that kind of conference. It was a great turning point in the relations between England and America, and, unless steps be taken to repair the damage, we may find that we and America are on a road which will lead to the same hellish goal to which the road led on which the German and the British people embarked between 1902 and 1904. At the present moment, the relations between England and America are very similar to those between Germany and England in those years, and they arise out of the same difficulty—the question of the command of the sea, and the use that is to be made with the command of the sea in any future war.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I observe a notice on the Paper in the name of the right hon. Member for Central Newcastle (Mr. Trevelyan) and the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) dealing with this question, and we must not anticipate that Debate on the freedom of the seas, and so on.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I was not going to refer to it further. I was going on to a matter actually affecting the Votes. The ray of hope is that since the appropriations for the new American warships have been before Congress, a rider has been added to the Navy Bill calling upon the President of the United States to summon another conference at the earliest possible moment. That is a very hopeful sign. 599 I hope, therefore, that the Admiralty will be prepared for that conference, and that, in the meantime, no further additions will be made to the existing naval programme. I suppose it is too much to ask that the 1925 programme should be still further amended. Already, three cruisers have been dropped, and it is too much to ask that further construction should be stopped pending the summoning of that conference; but, if the party to which I have the honour to belong were in office, I trust that they would, in view of this American proposal, and the presumed invitation that is coming, stop the further laying down of new keels. That would be a statesmanlike action to take. Presumably, after the present Presidential year in America, the invitation will come. In view of that, it would be the highest statesmanship to lay down no further keels, especially in the cruiser class. In any case, I hope that the demand that has been made in certain quarters, that these three cruisers should be started, will be resisted.
I wish to turn to one other matter. I referred to it on the Committee stage, but it was never answered by the First Lord. It also affects the Air Service. It is the responsibility for the defence of merchant shipping from air attack. The reply made by the Air Minister was that the responsibility for the defence of our merchant fleet against air attacks depends on the circumstances. That is an altogether unsatisfactory answer. It means in plain language that the matter, if it has been considered at all, has never been decided, and that no real preparations have been made. When a Government Department on a strategical question makes the reply that the measures to be taken depend on circumstances, we can be certain that no proper plans exist. This is the state of affairs. The most important area of the seas, from the point of view of our trade and our Imperial connections, is the Mediterranean. There we keep our largest fleet, and there we have the three great strategical points of Gibraltar, Malta, and the defence of the Suez Canal. Our shipping, in passing through the Mediterranean, would be exposed in case of war, and we only keep a Navy of the present size because of the danger of future war, to air attack all along the 600 main Mediterranean routes. I do not want to pick out any one country, but Spain, France, Italy or Greece, to mention four, all possess Air Forces. The French possess the greatest Air Force in the world, and the Italian Air Force is being rapidly increased. Any of these four countries, if we were to be so unfortunate as to be at war with them, could inflict immense losses on our merchant shipping by air attack. In the last War the surprise was the use of submarines against ships. No one expected that submarines would be used against merchant ships in that way, because of the laws of nations and of humanity.
The Commission on Food Supplies in War Time in 1903, manned by distinguished naval and commercial experts, found that, in time of war, although we might suffer inconvenience from submarines, we would not suffer any serious losses. What was our actual experience? In April, 1916, this country was within an ace of losing the War. The losses of merchant tonnage had gone up to over 800,000 tons a month, and we had only some 3,000,000 tons of shipping available left over from the requirements of the Army. The German submarines were a greater menace to this country during the War than all the German Army Corps in Europe. If another Great War comes, I believe that the surprise we are likely to have is the use of aeroplanes against merchant shipping, and they would be much more effective, if they were sufficiently numerous and efficiently handled, than submarines. What is being done to meet the situation? The Air Force, if I might refer to it a moment—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
This is the second time that reference has been made to the air. We had this speech, so far, on the Air Estimates, and I am anxious to see how it comes in on, the Navy Estimates.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
We have to vote money for the Naval Wing, and I am asking the hon. and gallant Gentleman whether he considers that the aeroplanes supplied to the Naval Wing are sufficient for the purpose? I think, if I am in order to that extent, I have come to the end of my thesis. The Air Force has the duty of supplying the Naval Wing to the Royal Navy, and the Naval Wing is organised with the Navy for tactical purposes. The Admiralty has practically complete control over the 601 Naval Wing. I believe I am right in saying that 90 per cent. of the pilots are naval officers, or soon will be. It is almost entirely a naval service. Such personnel as is loaned by the Air Service is under the Naval Discipline Act, and the machines are entirely under the control of the Admiralty. The Naval Wing is a tactical unit. its duties are, briefly, to assist artillery fire by "spotting," to ward off attacks on our warships from enemy aircraft, and to attack the enemy warships with bombs or torpedoes. Those are, I think I am right in saying, and I am giving away no naval secrets, the functions of the Air Wing of the Royal Navy. The aeroplanes supplied, including those carried in the aircraft carriers, are just sufficient for this purpose, and I can see no extra provision made for convoy service.
The danger to our shipping at sea will arise not from aeroplanes flown from carriers but from aeroplanes flown from land stations, a far cheaper and more efficient way of using aeroplanes, because then there is no limit to the size of the aeroplanes, as there is in the case of a carrier. It is very necessary indeed that the responsibility for this matter should be "pegged down" somewhere. Either the Admiralty must be responsible for such attacks or the Air Ministry. In the old days of combined operations it was quite simple. We had an army escorted by a fleet. So long as the soldiers were at sea they were under naval command; as soon as they stepped on shore they were under the command of the generals. What is the position with regard to air attacks upon merchant shipping? Who is responsible? Is it the Air Ministry or the Admiralty? It is of no use for the Air Minister to say that it will depend upon circumstances, and I do beg the Admiralty to give this matter most serious consideration. I hope it has received consideration and that some fuller reply can be made.
I thank the House for bearing with me so long, but this is probably the last day on which there will an opportunity of discussing these matters, and I must refer to the answers given to questions to-day with reference to the incidents arising on "Royal Oak." I understand there is to be a court-martial, the matter is sub judice, and I will be careful to say nothing that could in any way pre- 602 judice the case. I have had some experience of courts-martial—I am glad to say not as a prisoner—and I must remind the House that while a court-martial is a very well established and efficient court it is bound in its procedure by the circumstantial letter it receives and by the charge or the terms of reference if it is to make an inquiry. The incidents that occurred in the "Royal Oak" have never been communicated to this House or to the public. My hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) will refer to this matter later, and I do not want to go into it in detail, as I understand he is going to ask why we have the extraordinary statement from the Admiralty that they had no information, and so on. Suffice it to say that I think my hon. Friend will make out a case against the Admiralty for the suppression of information which, if published, would have killed a good many harmful rumours, harmful to the welfare of the Navy. I believe I am right in saying there has been no case, for 100 years at any rate, of a flag officer afloat being ordered to haul down his flag. The only similar case, though it is in no way comparable, was that of the late Lord Beres-ford who, as Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, after completing only two years of his service in command of a Fleet, was ordered to haul down his flag, instead being allowed to go on for another year. In that case there was no question of any charge at all, but there had been an alteration of the regulations of the Admiralty by which flag officers were to fly their flags for only two years instead of three years, and yet at the time it caused a very great sensation indeed in naval circles, and, indeed, generally.
The circumstances under which a Rear-Admiral afloat can be ordered to haul down his flag must be of very great importance, and it is in the interests of the Navy that these facts should be known. This is no party question and no political question. The discipline of the Service is of the utmost importance, and the fact Mat the discipline of the Fleet is so high, and that this case is so exceptional, makes it all the more important that the public should be fully informed, in due course, of the whole of the circumstances. A court-martial is bound by its terms of reference, or the 603 charge, and in this case the suspension of the flag officer and his flag captain and the second in command is of such importance that both in the interests of the Navy and in the interests of the public the terms of reference of the court-martial should be so drawn that the whole of the facts are available, at the proper time. On the other hand, it would be possible for the terms of reference to be narrowly drawn. I do not say this has been so in any similar case. I am without information. I have put down a written question, and I particularly asked the Parliamentary Private Secretary to let me have an answer to it yesterday, but I have not yet received the answer, and I am therefore without information. But it would be quite possible to draw the terms of reference or the charge so narrowly that the full facts would never be brought to light. If the full facts are never brought to light, there will be plenty of information going about, correct or incorrect. You cannot have happenings like this in a garrison town, in a dockyard like Malta, without all sorts of stories being spread. They have been spread already. I have heard a dozen different versions of what has happened, and I do not know if any of them are true or are untrue. Therefore, it, is very essential indeed that the Court should be placed in such a position that it has full latitude to explore and examine into and report on the whole of the circumstances that gave rise to these incidents, without precedent for a very long time, on board the "Royal Oak."
The matter goes further than that. There is a very great issue at stake here, concerning the rights and customs of the Service, the rights of the individual to prefer complaints. I want to be careful in what I say here, very careful indeed. I am quite aware of the gravity of the situation as it affects naval discipline. It may not be so obvious at the moment to the general public, but there is a very great principle involved. King's Regulations enjoin members of His Majesty's Service to bring complaints, in a proper service manner, to higher authority—complaints of a character which may affect the discipline of the Service.
§ Sir GERALD HOHLER
On a point of Order. I understood that the whole of this matter was sub judice. Is it in 604 order for a Member of the House of Commons to give or to suggest instructions to the Court?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is not, a point of Order with which I can deal. It is a question of the custom of the House. It is usual to avoid entirely any comments on a matter which is regarded as sub judice.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
May I point out that the House is in total ignorance as to how much of this case is sub juclice? We have not even got the charge which is to be brought.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Before you give your ruling, Sir, may I inform you respectfully that I had not gone into any details, and I had no intention of going into details? I am only-dealing with the broadest principles of courts-martial in the Service.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am not proposing to give a ruling to say that this is out of order. I can only say that it is not usual to discuss such a matter, and trust to hon. Members to do what is right.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
The charge has not yet been made, I understand, but in any case I had no intention and I have no intention of saying anything that will prejudice the rights of the accused. There is, however, a very large question of principle involved here—I think the hon. and learned Member for Gillingham (Sir G. Hohler) will be with me in this—and that is that the question is whether if the naval personnel, to-day officers, tomorrow perhaps a seaman, a stoker, a marine—if they in their duty, as enjoined by King's Regulations, prefer a complaint in a service manner about matters which affect or may affect naval discipline, are the whole circumstances to be examined into or the mere act of laying the complaint? That is a very large question indeed. As I say, to-morrow it may be 605 a case affecting one of the ratings, or it may be the case of an officer, but the principle remains the same, and is of the highest importance, and it is very necessary indeed that the Admiralty which, through the Naval Law Department is responsible in this matter, should see that this court-martial has the duty of thoroughly investigating the whole of the incidents concerned with the hauling down of the Rear-Admiral's flag and the suspension of two senior officers of the flag ship, and of making the fullest possible report for the information of the public and, as I sincerely believe in this case, in the interests of the Royal Navy as a whole.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
The representative of the Admiralty made a plea on behalf of the Admiralty to treat this question of the "Royal Oak" as sub judice. As far as I am able to do so, I intend to respond to that appeal. But it is difficult to know what is sub judice. This House, as I shall show presently, was promised an inquiry into the whole of the facts. To-day we are parting company with the Navy Estimates altogether. We will then not have an opportunity of raising this question again. Next Tuesday, I believe, there will take place a court-martial on the captain and commander of a battleship responsible for the discipline of that battleship. The Admiralty have refused to state what the charge is to be, though they acknowledge that they know what the charge is to be. They have already informed me that the officers concerned have been informed of the charge.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
Does that mean that they are not going to get proper notice? The trial is to take place next Tuesday. They have to instruct their counsel.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
The actual date of the trial, as far as I know, has not been fixed. Until we know form the Commander-in-Chief at Malta, the date is not settled.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
It is natural that I should feel some suspicion in the matter, because the court of inquiry was 606 assembled, I am informed, a few minutes after the officers had been notified. On that question, as to how much of this is to be sub judice, if the inquiry is to be into the substance of the charges, I have nothing more to say; that is fair. But if it is to be on a mere matter of form, the form of the letter which the officers sent in, then the gravamen of the charges is not going to be inquired into—the gravamen of the charges which the officers made in connection with the discipline of the ship, in perfectly proper manner, in so far as they sent in the letters. That is my point—unless, of course, there is to be another court-martial on Rear-Admiral Collard. If that is so, the thing will be inquired into. But, as I have said, he is on half-pay at present, and you cannot court-martial an officer on half-pay.
What I want to point out to the Admiralty is that the form of the letters sent in by the captain and commander is a very unimportant matter, a microscopic matter, compared with what this House wants to know, namely, the truth of the charges which the officers made in connection with the discipline of the ship. That is the all-important matter. In this House we really had a promise that the whole of the matter would be inquired into. On 19th March the late Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty asked a question, and the First Lord gave his answer. The First Lord was asked, "The nature of the serious trouble which had taken place." The First Lord's reply was:All that will have to be fought out at the court-martial. … Our chief desire is that justice should be done and fair play given to these three officers."—[OFFICIAL RETORT, 19th March, 1928; col. 29, Vol. 215.]That is the desire of every Member of this House. I looked up Thring's "Criminal Law," and it says, in regard to the rules to be observed in framing a charge, that itmust describe accurately the act or omission constituting the alleged offence. It must quote the exact words used where they form the substance of the offence.The offences are the charges made against Rear-Admiral Collard by these officers who are responsible for the discipline of the ship. That is the essence of the whole thing. Everyone knows perfectly well that Naval officers are not skilled 607 hands at writing letters if they are making complaints about discipline, and every lawyer will acknowledge that it is the most difficult thing in the world for any man to draw up a complaint about discipline against his superior officers. The important thing is the exact charges that are made, and if these are not going to be inquired into at the court-martial, then I think this House has a very serious grievance against the Admiralty, for will not everyone say that if the great Captain of a battleship costing £6,000,000 cannot get his case stated with justice, what chance has the poor man on the lower deck? That is the psychological issue which the Admiralty will have to face. They may try to evade it, but they will have to face it whenever the trial takes place if they have not covered the whole issue.
It is my object to save the situation and to try to bring the whole issue before the court-martial, which is one of the fairest courts on earth. But the court must have the whole issue before it. If not, what will happen? The Navy Discipline Act has never been brought on the Floor of this House, except a few times during the War, when nobody took any notice. But the Army (Annual) Act is discussed in this House every year, and there might inevitably arise, if the Admiralty are not very careful, a demand to bring the Navy Discipline Act on the Floor of this House. There is no question whatever that the "Royal Oak" was in every respect a happy and contented ship. That is a well-known fact. But it is enjoined on the captain of a ship that he must know every abuse of power and check it; he must uphold the legitimate authority of all officers under his authority. The point that we want to be sure will be investigated is that he did not exceed his instructions in these respects. But, now, what do we see? We have no knowledge in this House, but we know that the Captain and Commander have been publicly disgraced and sent home, and in that happy and contented ship the whole of the crew—it was the only act that might be called indiscipline—rushed to the side and cheered them when they went away. That is not good for discipline. What we want to make sure of is this. No one can really 608 define discipline. The best definition I have ever seen is that of Carlyle:Discipline is a kind of miracle and works by faith.The Admiralty had better be very careful how far they undermine that faith. They will go far if, on grounds of expediency, they do not give a full trial to these officers on the charges they have made. We are not historical Jesuits. We do not believe that "the end justifies the means." In this country Home Secretaries have been broken for the acts of a single subordinate, and the country is proud of the fact. The Duke of Wellington said, with perfect truth, that he "would sooner lose India than that it should be doubted that an Englishman's word was his bond." That is the faith in which we act. The Admiralty had better be very careful of the prestige of the Navy in this matter. The renown of the Navy is one of the most precious treasures of this country. If the Admiralty endanger it in any respect in connection with this court-martial, which has focussed the attention of the whole country, they may endanger something on which the liberties of this country depend.
§ Mr. AMMON
As you, Mr. Speaker, have already pointed out, it is somewhat difficult to know how far we may go in raising the question of the troubles on the "Royal Oak"; but I venture to say that if any such difficulty arises, and if any embarrassment is likely to accrue, it is due wholly to the policy and the line that the Government have adopted in this matter. I say, further, that the absence of the First Lord, knowing as he must have done and as he did know, that this matter was to be raised, and knowing, as he did, the tremendous amount of public interest that has been aroused by it in the Press and inside and outside the House, seems part of a deliberate policy of "Hush, hush!" in order that this House shall not be fully informed as to the circumstances. In saying that, I know that the Parliamentary Secretary will not think that in any way I am casting any reflections upon him at all. But this House has certain rights and certain very definite privileges with regard to the Services, and neither the First Lord nor anyone else has any right to act in a manner which seems to deprive Members of this 609 House of the information that they ought to have, or to proceed along lines which, after this Vote has been passed, will make it absolutely impossible, save on such small opportunities as one has by questions, to arrive at the facts concerning the trouble on this battleship.
It would be as well, in this connection, if the House were to review the position that led up to the present circumstances. It is well to remember that this is not the first time that the Government, relying on its very large majority, which does not hear the facts of the case discussed, has flouted the Opposition and the rights and privileges of this Commons, and has ridden away in transgression of all practice and precedent in this House. I even now suggest to such Members as are supporters of the Government and are here, that it is a matter of vital importance that they, irrespective of party, should defend the rights and privileges of this House, even if it be against their own Ministers. What is the actual position? The decision to suspend the officers was reached on the Sunday before last at Malta. It was not until the following Thursday that the matter was known in this country, and then the information reached us as a result of a Press message. The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) gave some hint of it in a question that he raised at the conclusion of business on that Thursday, and the Parliamentary Secretary rose in his place and said that the Admiralty had no information.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. AMMON
I want the House to give some consideration to what that means. The next step was on the Friday, when I addressed a Private Notice Question to the First Lord. He again gave a similar statement, that they had not any information, and that they were unable to decipher a certain wireless message. Really that is expecting too much of the credulity of the House at a time like this. Only an hour or so ago, at Question time, we were actually considering, and the Prime Minister was answering, questions which showed that the wireless communications had developed to such an extent that they were threatening to put out of business the 610 cable communications. To suggest that the Admiralty were not in a position to decipher a wireless message—if that is true it raises very grave and serious considerations, for this country is going to be dependent on wireless communications in time of war and difficulty. Then we are told that the Admiralty are unable to get the necessary information! That is not good enough. There are ordinary land and cable communications. At the very time when the First Lord was telling us in this House that he had no information, the officers concerned were in London and had been to the Admiralty, and the Admiralty must have known what the business was. I suggest that all the trouble that has arisen, and all the suspicions, innuendoes and suggestions are due to the action of the Admiralty itself, and they are on the horns of a dilemma. The Admiralty are either deliberately withholding information which we ought to have, or else they have bungled the business so badly as to amount to sheer incompetence. This matter must be explained to the House. If those statements, suggestions and innuendoes had come from the Opposition Press and had been prompted by hon. Members on this side of the House, it might have been said that they were mere propaganda. No less an eminent organ than the "Morning Post" came out with a placard "Mutiny in the Navy," and so eminent a supporter of the present Government and such a respectable organ of public opinion as the "Daily Telegraph" denounced, in an editorial, the action of the Government in withholding information from the House, and for doing much to bring into disrepute the government of the Navy and the administration of that Service.
All those who have any regard for the Service, and the fair name of those engaged it in cannot allow this sort of thing to go unchallenged, and we must endeavour to get some answer. This was no ordinary occasion. In the ordinary understanding of these things, this incident occurred at a time when the vessels were about to proceed on manœuvres just as in ordinary wartime service, and the whole manœuvres were held up for an appreciable space of time owing to the trouble that had arisen. Whatever may have been the cause—and a variety of causes have been circulated 611 —all that could have been stopped had the First Lord of the Admiralty shown some candour before this House, and told us definitely what was the position and what charges were going to be formulated. It is pure nonsense to suggest that such a course would prejudice the case. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) has stated that we should have to go back 100 years to find another precedent for the hauling down of a rear-admiral's flag. I think that shows the gravity and seriousness of the case. Not only is this rear-admiral involved, but other senior officers as well. The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone has told us that feeling ran so high on board that ship that the whole of the crew cheered when the officers left the ship. That kind of thing is not going to make for good discipline or order in the Navy. It raises very serious matters with regard to the future discipline of the Navy, and the administration of justice with regard to any persons who may find themselves in difficulties in the future.
What are the terms of reference? Is there going to be a full inquiry, or are the terms to be so narrowly drawn that the real facts are not going to be brought to light. This incident arose on an occasion when the Navy was holding its manœuvres, and that is a very serious matter. If it had been the case of au artificer, a stoker, or a petty officer who had refused to do his business, or had held up the ship, it would have been an entirely different story, and very different action would have been taken from that which has been taken in this case. I regret this incident, because one does not like to think that in this great Service there is going to be any differentiation of practice or treatment either on the lower or the upper deck, and the Admiralty, by their action, have raised a grave suspicion not only among the public, but one which will run like wildfire throughout the whole Service.
As the writer of the editorial in the "Daily Telegraph" said, this incident might have happened at a time when it might have brought great disaster on the nation. This is a matter of greater gravity than has ever been raised before within the memory of living man, so far 612 as the Navy is concerned, and the First Lord is absent. Instead of attending to his public duty and meeting these charges, the First Lord is away addressing meetings in the country. I have no doubt the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty will use his ability and capacity to the hill in discharging his duty this afternoon, but he does not stand in the same position in relation to this House as the first representative of the Admiralty, and we can only judge of the line that the First Lord has taken in dealing with this subject as a policy of "Hush, hush." The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone has already pointed out that this is very much at variance with the statement which the First Lord gave on Friday, when he led this House to think that a full, comprehensive, and complete statement of the facts would be put before the House at the earliest possible moment. The First Lord has avoided doing that on every possible occasion, and now we are not likely to get any statement from him in this Debate. We know that one of these officers has been placed on half-pay, and all sorts of rumours are current. Histories of one of the officers are being dug out, and that is not helping to improve matters. One cannot help feeling that the gentlemen who are going to face the court-martial are going into a prejudiced atmosphere, which places them in an unfair position, and yet this House has had no opportunity of forming a judgment on the whole of the facts.
There is no need to make any apology for raising these matters. The Navy Estimates are before us, and we are asked to vote certain sums of money for carrying on the Navy. At the same time we are faced with a very grave position which, to some people, almost amounts to mutiny in the Navy at a serious time in naval operations, and the House cannot get any information. All the time these gallant officers are under suspicion, and all these suspicions and innuendoes are allowed to go without any attempt being made to clear up the matter. I submit that, irrespective of party, every Member of this House must agree with me when I say that that is a very undesirable state of things; it is something which does not add to the prestige of the Navy, and is likely to give rise to suspicion and unrest in the future which 613 will not redound to the credit of the Navy or to good discipline. I trust that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to make some statement later on which will give us a little more information than we succeeded in obtaining at Question Time. I hope that by the time this Debate closes, the Admiralty officials will see the wisdom of placing sufficient information in the hands of the Parliamentary Secretary to clear away all these suspicions, and let the House know what charges are going to be formulated against these gallant gentlemen.
I wish to raise two other points, and I think one of them will be a revelation to the House. I hope I may raise the first point without causing any embarrassment to the hon. and gallant Gentleman in charge of the Navy Votes. My point is that the Parliamentary Secretary, although he is second-incharge at the Admiralty and responsible on this occasion to the House for the Navy Votes, has actually no official position on the Board of Admiralty. Not only has he no official position, but his position is such that, when the First Lord is away, instead of the political officer in this House being the person in charge, the First Sea Lord is really in that position. I want the House to notice the curious position which is created. The same thing happened in the last Government when, owing to the distribution of offices, the responsible Minister in this House and the Minister responsible for piloting the Navy Estimates through was the Parliamentary Secretary, and it was pointed out that he had actually no official position at the Board of Admiralty. We have actually adopted in the 20th century 16th century methods, and they are not working as well as they ought to do. This has led to some trouble. I do not think I am betraying any secrets when I say that I found myself running up against this difficulty when I was at the Admiralty and I endeavoured to raise the question. At that time, owing to political circumstances, the Government changed, and my suggestion was not pursued. Probably the Parliamentary Secretary may find the papers on this question at the Admiralty.
What I want to point out to the House is that the Parliamentary Secretary has no place in the Charter which constitutes 614 the Board of Admiralty. When that Board meets it appoints the Parliamentary Secretary as its Secretary and then he sits and takes his place at the Board. When the First Lord is away, instead of the Second Minister being placed in charge as is the case in the other Services, the First Sea Lord, who is a civil servant, presides over the meetings of the Board of Admiralty. On this point I want to make a suggestion. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to convey to the First Lord my suggestion that an Amending Bill should be brought in to amend the Admiralty Charter in that respect, so as to give to the Parliamentary Secretary, or whoever obtains that position, his rightful place at the Board of Admiralty. Here we have the Parliamentary Secretary in charge of the Navy Estimates, and the country believes that he is the second-in-command, when really that position is quite a fictitious one.
The other point I wish to raise is with reference to Singapore. I want the House seriously to notice that there has been a distinct change of policy with regard to Singapore which seems likely to bear out the statements made from this side of the House from time to time that it is an impracticable scheme, and is likely to result in a tremendous waste of money. In reply to a question which I put a day or two ago when the Navy Estimates were before the House, and talking across the Table to the First Lord, I asked if a change of policy had taken place. I pointed out that on a former occasion the right hon. Gentleman had admitted that a change had taken place and he stated that he had not admitted any such thing. I said I was sorry that his memory was so faulty, because otherwise I would have armed myself with the reference. I find that I was at fault in so far as I said that the right hon. Gentleman made the admission last year. I had forgotten that time had flown so quickly; I see that it was the year before last. The right hon. Gentleman then admitted that a previous Government had laid it down that the graving dock should precede the floating dock. Let me quote the right hon. Gentleman's own words, on the 11th March, 1926:I think the hon. Gentleman is probably quite right in saving that in previous Governments the floating dock was not men- 615 tioned. But the only time I have spoken responsibly, as representing the Admiralty, I referred to a programme exactly the same as the present. The floating dock is to be finished first; the graving dock is a matter for further consideration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1926; col. 2663, Vol. 192.]For all the purposes that were put before this House, of a base in the event of a future war, as a place for docking the largest ships—the bulged capital ships and so forth—the fact that there is not likely to be a graving dock alters the whole position entirely, and for all practical purposes, in war-time, a floating dock will not be worth a snap of the fingers. Therefore, we have a right to know whether we and our Dominions are pouring our money into those mud flats without any possibility of getting anything in return for it. I do not at the moment know haw much has been spent on that dock, but the original estimate in 1923 was for an expenditure of £11,000,000, Spread over a period of nine years. Speaking in this House a year or two ago, I ventured to say, and I say it now with increased emphasis and confidence, that twice £11,000,000 will not cover the expenditure on that dock, and it seems that we are to go on pouring out money on it in a way that will be utterly and absolutely wasteful. Replying on the Debate last week, the hon. and gallant Gentleman accepted the statement that the borings are still going on, and that they have not been able to establish a sufficient foundation whereby they can proceed with the construction of the graving dock. This, I suggest, raises the whole question over again; an entirely different point of policy emerges, and the House has a right to have an opportunity to review the whole question whether we shall continue to pour out money in this way for something that will be absolutely useless and entirely ineffective for the purpose for which it was originally started. I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will have something very definite to say with regard to that when he replies on the Debate.
That is practically all that I want to say, because I am hoping that, without my having to recapitulate, answers will be given to the questions which I put in the discussion last week on one or two points with which the hon. and gallant Gentleman was unable to deal owing to 616 the limits of time and the fact that he had to reply to a Debate, which was cut short on an earlier occasion, on the subject of the invaliding of men from the Navy. I hope that he is going to deal now with the points which I ventured to put. In conclusion, I would repeat what I said when I started, that I hope the House will not allow to escape from its view the gravity of the situation set up by the trouble on board His Majesty's Ship "Royal Oak," and, above all, the fact that that gravity is intensified by the cavalier fashion in which the House is treated by the First Lord, who is not here to defend a position of first importance both to the country and to the honour and integrity of the Navy itself.
§ Sir G. HOHLER
I have listened with real interest to this Debate, but the speech of the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) does not move me at all when he begs Members on this side to remember our privileges and vote against the Government. We remember our privileges, but I do not know that it will necessitate voting against the Government. Let me just follow what has happened. On some baseless rumour the other night, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) suggested that there had been a mutiny in the Navy. It was, of course, a pure fabrication. I dare say my hon. and gallant Friend believed it; of course, I give him credit for that; but how he could have believed it, having regard to the well known character of our officers and men, I am at a loss to understand. I do not suppose that there is a more loyal or a better class of people in this country than the officers and men of His Majesty's Navy, and one should at least exercise some caution before dashing in just before the rising of the House and giving currency to such a suggestion. Then we have heard to-day that the Press took it up. No wonder the Press took it up. They said, "We cannot be in the background; we must say something about it." Then we are told—
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
If I may interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman, although the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone is not in the House, I was present when the matter was raised—
§ Sir G. HOHLER
I shall not give way. I think that when I have been through the Debate, and an hon. and gallant Member has taken part in it, and I am having something to say on what he has said or what he has heard, it is his duty to be in his place, and it is not the business of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy) to take up the cudgels on his behalf. Let the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone come back and correct anything that I say. Here he is! I am not going to repeat what I have said; that would be wasting the time of the House, and nothing would induce me to infringe such a well-known rule as that which lays it down that one must not repeat oneself.
I cannot understand the complaint that has been made. I do not pretend to know what my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is going to say, because he knows very much better than I can know, but I can only express the hope that he will say nothing on the subject. To say anything about it would be wrong in the extreme, in my judgment. We are told it has involved an officer hauling down his flag, and all sorts of things. Whose are the interests to be considered first? Surely, the interests of the officers concerned. It may involve their whole career. Are we to handy these statements to and fro in this House, and express opinions when we do not know the facts, and are we then to be told—and this is always the colour that is given to these things—"Think of the lower deck!" Yes, I will think of the lower deck, and I think I am as good a friend to them as anyone else. I have never known such a suggestion as that they will like their case to be prejudiced by what the House of Commons may say.
Suppose—I am going to make assumptions—that half-a-dozen officers, or all the officers of the ship, or many ships, were involved. Surely, they have a right first of all either to call for a courtmartial or to require the Admiralty to do so. Ought not their case first to be heard? I should have said so. Ought it to be prejudiced by anything that might be said in this House? I should have said not. When all these questions have been settled, it may be—I do not know—that the proper course would be for 618 the Admiralty, if they thought it right, to order an inquiry. That is for them to decide, and then, when they take a decision, it will be for this House to raise it. That can easily be done after this Vote has been passed, on the Consolidated Fund Bill or other appropriate occasion; there is no difficulty about it.
What would the First Lord say if he were here? What can my hon. and gallant Friend say? I do not think he can say a word about the cases of these men, or when the courtmartial will be held, if there is to be one. Surely, that is a matter very largely in the discretion of the person who is the object of the court-martial, or of the Admiralty. They will, surely, consider whether it may be material to have witnesses in this country, and what witnesses are required. It may take time to get them here. It may be desirable—indeed, of course, it is desirable—in the interest of everyone, to ascertain the truth, and that may involve postponement of the proceedings. These men are on the ships, and the officers are on the ships, and, if they are necessary or desirable witnesses, you cannot get them back in five minutes. Yet everyone is presuming to offer advice to the Admiralty in regard to the form that the charge should take. How good of them!
The charge may he against an officer, or it may be a charge by one officer against another officer. I cannot tell; no one knows. They will frame their own charge in a particular way, and, when my hon. and gallant Friend speaks of the difficulty of framing these charges, I say that it is very simple indeed. Anyone can do it, and it has never been a difficulty in the Navy yet. What charge can the Admiralty make? What proceedings can they take to deal with these courts-martial? I can see none. We are told of a precedent 200 years ago, but that is a little remote, and I venture to think that very few Members of this House know a word about that precedent; and yet the Debate is held up, and the Adjournment moved, because the First Lord was not here. I have a shrewd suspicion that, when the Parliamentary Secretary rises, he will say, "I know nothing about it, and can tell you nothing." I should not be at all surprised if he said that. Then quite an impromptu idea comes from the hon.
619 Member for North Camberwell. He says that we now want an Act of Parliament to give some greater official position to the Parliamentary Secretary, so that he may supersede for the time being the First Sea Lord, because of his inability—
§ Sir G. HOHLER
That may or may not be desirable, but I do not think that my hon. and gallant Friend would consider it to be in the least desirable. He is a member of the Board; he will be present; he can hear all the decisions taken, the discussion, and the conclusions reached, and he does not want an Act of Parliament for that purpose. Because the First Lord has a little sciatica or something, and is away for a day, do we want all these Acts of Parliament and this waste of public time? Not a bit of it. I think that this is the most unfortunate complaint that was ever made. The only thing to be said in favour of it from the opposite side of the House is the old story of the under-dog—"Think of the A.B.!" Hon. and right hon. Members opposite know that there is a gentleman called the Judge Advocate-General of the Fleet, who, I suppose, is a competent lawyer. He will see whether the charge is in order or not, and, if it is not, he will quash it. The hon. Member for North Camberwell knows that perfectly well. I have never heard such a complaint in my life. We should proceed on the good old rule of law that you ought not to interfere, either by criticism or by suggestion, with a cause—if it be in the nature of a cause—which is pending and will shortly be heard before the competent Court appointed by this country. What right have we to decide it, or to touch it at all?
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Did the hon. and learned Gentleman take that attitude on the Campbell case when the last Government was in office?
§ Sir G. HOHLER
I used the Campbell case most effectively at the Election, and I hope there is another Campbell case next time. I should like to follow that up, but it would not be in order. I am deeply sorry that the hon. Member for 620 Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) overdid himself by preparing an excellent speech in moving the Adjournment and never letting it off. The most amazing thing was that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hull Central, with his usual gallantry, jumped into the breach. I listened to him attentively, but I did not even know the point he was making. I confess that that was my stupidity and not his fault. However, the Parliamentary Secretary has taken a note of his points and I am sure will communicate them in due course to the First Lord. Then there was something about Singapore, but I want to pass entirely from that subject. If it had not been for the material that has been given me in the course of the Debate I should have been exceedingly short.
There are one or two things that really concern the lower deck. Every word I say is said in no unfriendly feeling to the Admiralty, or to any of the Members who represent them in the House, or any of the officials. In many years of intercourse with the Admiralty under whatever Government, and including the hon. Member for North Camberwell. I have always received very great kindness, attention and consideration. I want to raise again the point I raised the other night in regard to invaliding out. A Member of our own side was making a quite excellent speech when the House was counted out. That was a jolly good count out and we escaped such a lovely Debate. The trouble in this case is that I am not satisfied that the Appellate Board has before it sufficient evidence as to the statement the man might wish to make in coming to their conclusion whether or not the invaliding was attributable to or aggravated by the Service. In my judgment you cannot do that on paper.
I know from experience, because I have appeared on behalf of numbers of soldiers before the Appellate Board in the Strand and other places in regard to pensions, and the fact of having them there has been of great. value. A man thinks an injustice has been done him and he sends a letter to the Admiralty. It is well expressed and it will impress them, but it left me under the clear conviction that there is some defect in the system. This poor fellow got dysentery in the Red Sea. He served 621 all through the War and within 18 months he re-engaged for pension and was passed not only fit for that but fit to go to the Red Sea. Getting dysentery, he had some inoculation in his arm and was then sent back to Malta and ordered home. There is no blame to anyone, but apparently the Commander of the "Cornflower" particularly wished to have him back and the order for home was cancelled and he went to the "Cornflower" again. He became a constant invalid. He ought to have come home. Now he, writes to me and says he can barely do his work. He has only a small pension. He has not an invaliding pension. He attributes his disability to what happened and to the illness that occurred when he was sent back to the Red Sea. He feels amongst other things that his arm is steadily going and asks where he will be at 42 or 43, when he would have come out with a good pension for himself, his wife and family. He is one of those who have fallen by the way. I hope something will be done and the Admiralty will consider asking whether he would like to appear before them and make a statement.
With regard to the dockyards, I am not going to complain at all. We have been through a troublous year arid there have been great difficulties. I think the Admiralty know our case and it is no good repeating it. I shall not get any relief in the House at all, the Financial Secretary cannot give it me, but on the whole if the money is spent I do not think I am in a position to say I am satisfied with what they have done for our dockyards this year. I wish to emphasise again that it is the first duty of the Admiralty to the men they employ to find them work. One thing that has struck me very much is the discharge of a great number of young shipwrights. I wonder whether in next year's programme the Admiralty will think of that, so as to provide work suitable for them. I have a special reason for referring to this. I am proud to say I believe the education of the public elementary schools at Gillingham is second to none in the country. The boys are splendidly educated and they pass into the dockyard school and become shipwrights. Unfortunately when they have gone through their apprenticeship, up to the age of 24 or 25, you have a great number dis- 622 charged. They are splendid fellows who love their work and are really skilled and it is a real loss to the country, after the expense of training them, that they should be forced to emigrate or to seek work elsewhere. I hope for sympathetic consideration by the Admiralty and that we may have the same luck in the matter of cruisers that other yards have. I know hon. Members opposite will think it is awful to ask for cruisers but they will want something of that kind another year. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull would not give us a cruiser. He would not give us a gun as far as I can make out. I wish they would consider that in preparing their programme and see whether something could be done to secure these young fellows continuity in the yard. I thank the Admiralty for the very kind way in which they have received deputations from the town I represent and I trust they will do their best to mitigate the discharges which are unfortunately necessary.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
I join with the hon. and learned Gentleman who has so much enlivened our proceedings in congratulating the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hull Central (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) on the way in which he stepped into the, breach when the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) had lost, if not his body, his speech in a noble cause. I do not propose to follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman in his disquisition about the Geneva Conference which was so fully discussed the other day, throughout most of the afternoon and evening, nor do I propose to add much about the "Royal Oak," although I fully appreciate the motives with which he and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) have raised it in this House. They desire to secure that these officers shall have the fullest possible opportunity of putting the whole of their case, and they are naturally anxious that the charges should be so framed as to give them that opportunity, and they are further anxious that any suspicions that may exist in the public mind may be allayed in order that the credit of the Navy may be fully protected. For that reason I do not entirely agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman in complaining of the hon. and gallant Gen- 623 tleman the Member for Maidstone in raising this matter. Everyone who knows him knows that he would say nothing in the House or elsewhere that could possibly do any harm to the Service of which he has been so distinguished a member. Now that the subject has been so fully discussed it is hardly necessary to say any more about it.
The purpose of my intervention is to accept the challenge offered by the Financial Secretary the other day. He began his reference to some remarks of my own by saying it was high time we should really examine more closely What I, that is myself, had said. When the hon. and gallant Gentleman begins a speech in that language one may expect some devastating analysis of the remarks one has made. I find that the hon. and gallant Gentleman, far from analysing anything that I did say, attributed ideas and notions to me which, I must say, with very great respect, I have never held. This is what he says:The great allegation which he always makes is that we do not give sufficient work to the dockyards in comparison with the work which we give to the private yards.I have said that as being obviously true, but he says:The argument is—I do not think he used it in the House to-night but he continuously uses it outside the House—that most of the material used in the Royal Dockyards is purchased from contractors, and that in the course of a year the Admiralty pays large sums to the contractors for goods other than hulls and machinery of ships, and if these sums are included in the allocation of work to contractors the total payments to contractors are large in comparison with the expenditure in the dockyards."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1928; cols. 2189–90. Vol 214.]May I say, with very great respect, that that is not my case at all. I do complain of the proportion of actual construction which is sent to the private firms and which exceeds by the proportion of two and a half to one the work which is sent to the public yards. I did, therefore, make a remark—and I think it was a legitimate remark—that if you take not only the sums which are spent in private yards on construction, but further sums which are spent there on engines, boilers, armaments and so forth, you find that the private yards are getting no less than £12,000,000, which is about one-fifth of the Navy Estimates. If the hon. and 624 gallant Gentleman considers that it ought to be the duty of the Admiralty to sustain the private firms of the country, he must add to the actual sums which they-get for construction the additional sums to which I have referred. If he so adds them, he will find that he is more than discharging any possible obligation that he could have towards outside contractors. He went on to complain that I was pleading for the public yards when private yards had so strong a claim upon the Admiralty. Surely, if any section of the community has any claim at all upon the Admiralty, it is their own yards which they have to keep up irrespective of whether there is a war or not. I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will do the dockyard Members of this House the credit of understanding their case, and the credit of admitting that they do their duty in pleading in the strongest possible language for the dockyards, which have no alternative work whatever. The hon. and gallant Gentleman in the same speech said:The point of the matter is, that during the last few years we have given more work to the dockyards than in the past, and it is the policy of the Board of Admiralty to do everything it can to prevent the discharges which are taking place as a result of there being less work to do."—[OFFICIAI REPORT, 15th March, 1928; col. 2190, Vol. 214.]The fact that there is less naval construction does not necessarily mean that there should be less work at the dockyards, and if discharges are taking place these discharges are due to the policy of the Admiralty, and to no other cause. They have deliberately embarked upon a course which prefers the private yards to the Government yards. I would like to know by what figures the hon. and gallant Gentleman substantiates that the dockyards are now getting a greater proportion of the work. The only figures that I use in this House and in my speeches outside are figures which I obtain from the Government themselves. I may make some mistakes, and I shall be very glad to be corrected, but I find that this year as compared with the three previous years, if my calculations are correct, the dockyards are getting actually less work; actually less money is being spent on the dockyards. If proof were needed, one has only to look at the Navy Estimates, where we find that provision is being made for the discharge of over 625 2,000 men. If the dockyards are getting more work, how does the hon. and gallant Gentleman explain these constant discharges from the dockyards—2,500 in the last three years in my constituency alone, and thousands, when one takes the other dockyards into account. The plain and blunt truth is, and nobody can gainsay it, that discharges are taking place, and it is very small comfort to those men who are being discharged, to be informed that more work is going to the dockyards than in previous years. That is obviously not the case. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman is going to maintain that the dockyards are getting a greater proportion of work than they were getting before, he must be able to show that more men are being able to be employed and not less men.
I do not want to detain the House on this point, but I do want to point the contrast between the speech made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty and the speech made by the First Lord of the Admiralty. The First Lord condoled with the dockyards on their miserable fate, and was compelled to admit that reductions were taking place. The Parliamentary Secretary, later on the same day, far from condoling with the dockyards, told them that they were getting very much more work. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty will explain more fully what he said last week, and show that the dockyards are to get more work, and that more men are to be employed in the future, in order that the accuracy of his speech may be proved in fact rather than in fiction. He complained that if any of my proposals were put into effect it would cost the country more money. Surely, that is not the case. The dockyards are getting practically none of this new naval construction. They have not had an opportunity of tendering. How then can the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty say that it would cost the nation more money to put into operation some of the suggestions that I have made?
I close with a reference to two matters. We have not had this question of the marriage allowance to naval officers properly dealt with. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, in the course of his remarks said, referring to myself, that the hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well that if it rested with the Admiralty, 626 these officers would get their marriage allowance. With whom does it rest? The Army have their marriage allowance and the Air Force have their marriage allowance. Surely, the Admiralty cannot entirely disclaim responsibility for the removal of this very necessary allowance from the Estimates. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary realises the very strong feeling there is on this subject among naval officers, who are not in the habit of complaining, because the cost of education is very high, and the costs of removals from port to port are very considerable and bear no reference to the ordinary cost of living figure. He knows that that is the case, and I will not develop it.
The second matter is the question of general messing. As he knows, the procedure in the home ports has been changed, and chief petty officers and petty officers are now compelled to submit to this general messing. They no longer get their standard ration, which consisted partly of a monetary allowance, and they are compelled to take the provision known as general messing. Under the old system, they were enabled to arrange a dietary more or less of their own, and they could entertain a certain amount, give supper parties and so forth. They were enabled to play some part in the social activities of the town. They could get the cook to prepare the meals they wanted. Under this new system they cannot. This monetary provision has been withdrawn, and the mess cannot accumulate the sums previously accumulated for the general advantage. It is more or less a social question. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will hear a great deal more about it in proportion as more and more naval men come home. I think no reason whatever can be produced as to why this change has been made, and I shall be very grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary will hold out some hope, if he will not change it, that he will take steps to ascertain the views of chief petty officers and petty officers upon it. These are the only subjects on which I wish to delay the House, and I trust that the Parliamentary Secretary will be courteous enough to reply.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
There are one or two points which have cropped up this afternoon, particularly in con- 627 nection with the incident that occurred in the Mediterranean on the "Royal Oak." I do not hesitate to say that in regard to at least two of the speeches I have heard this afternoon, one of which came from the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), I have never heard a more astonishing exhibition of deliberate creation of prejudice. Entirely unfair suggestions were made, and I must say that I think that a very strong protest ought to be registered in that respect. One point upon which the hon. Member for North Cameberwell tried to create prejudice was the question of cheering. He said that the fact that the officers who left a ship were cheered by the ship's company indicates that there was something wrong, or that they were very popular or something of the kind. The fact of the matter is, that when any officer who is at all popular leaves a ship, it does not matter for what he leaves, it is the invariable custom in His Majesty's Service that he shall get something in the nature of a cheer. It may be, in certain instances, a more orderly form of cheering than that which took place the other day. There is nothing to be gained by suggesting that that point should be brought forward in order to create prejudice in favour of one officer or of another officer.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
It is even more disgraceful that it should be raised on this side of the House. I do not know who raised it, but I hope they are thoroughly ashamed of themselves. The hon. Member for North Camberwell spoke of the action or inaction of the Admiralty spreading like wildfire amongst the officers and men, and particularly amongst the men of the lower deck. I can only say—and I hold no brief for the Admiralty—that I have served for a great many years in the Navy and I have never heard of anything of that sort ever spreading like wildfire among any lower deck in His Majesty's Fleet. Anything approaching misconception or lack of trust in the fairness of courts-martial never existed during the time I was in His Majesty's Service. I never remember any comments in His Majesty's Service 628 tending to show that a circumstantial letter or the terms of a circumstantial letter have been unfairly drawn up, or that the actual sentence of the court-martial was an unfair one. I never remember a single case. The result is, that I am impelled to say a few words this afternoon, because it does not seem right, that some Members of Parliament, burning to display their oratorical powers and to appear as champions of people who do not want championing, should allow themselves to go as far as to make this sort of prejudicial statement.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
To my mind it is grossly unfair. This House has every right to know and to see that Government Departments conduct their affairs properly, and in the way that the House insist that they shall carry them on. I have not the least hesitation in saying that from my own experience it will be an utterly new thing if the court-martial which is to take place in regard to these incidents in the Mediterranean is not conducted with exactly the same kind of fairness as has always been the case in the past. I would make one last appeal in connection with the "Royal Oak" case, and that is to ask hon. Members, whether they belong to the Opposition or not, to stay their hands and their tongues for a bit and to restrain themselves until the court-martial is over.
§ Mr. AMMON
I want it to be understood clearly by hon. and gallant Members that nobody on this side of the House has cast the slightest aspersion on the court-martial. We think that it is a very fair court. Our only complaint has been that the action of the Government in their hush-hush policy has given rise to suspicions which would never have arisen had they acted in a different way.
§ Rear - Admiral BEAMISH
As a Member of this House and as a member of the British public I have no feeling that the action of the Admiralty has been what the hon. Member describes as a hush-hush policy. I do not see any signs of it being hush-hush. It is inconceivable to me that the Admiralty could have published any statement that would have placated, pleased or adequately enlightened the people who make all these criticisms. I do very strongly appeal 629 that everybody should stay their hands for the present, and that even the people who write should stay their pens until the court-martial is over. Should the court-martial not be adequate, then, by all means, let us make a jolly row about it.
I wish to return to a subject which I have mentioned twice, and that is the question of tuberculosis and the invaliding of men. One cannot return to that particular matter too often, because it is very serious. As I said the other day, I realise to the full that the Admiralty have their hands tied to some extent, and that the question of, invaliding is a matter for decision by secret and confidential instructions received by the Admiralty from the Treasury. I am not sufficiently conversant with our Parliamentary rights to know whether we have any method whereby we can get hold of those instructions and see them. We ought to know more about them than we do at the present time. I realise that the Admiralty are condemned to be controlled by these particular Regulations which impose upon the men of His Majesty's Fleet very severe hardship when they are invalided. The extent of tuberculosis among the men of His Majesty's Navy is higher, and has been higher for at least four of the last five years, than it has been. in the Army, and the conditions of life in the Navy are very largely responsible for that. I would impress upon the House the real importance of this matter, and I would urge that the question be adequately looked into and that some change may be made, not only in regard to the actual methods of invaliding men but in regard to the composition of the boards that invalid them and in regard to the attributability as to the diseases and injuries for which the men are invalided.
§ Mr. KELLY
I will endeavour not to offend against the susceptibilities mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken, but I think that his remarks with regard to interfering in the "Royal Oak" case, or interfering in other cases that are in the hands of the law or in the hands of a Court, might well be addressed to those who sit behind him. One hon. and learned Member this afternoon told us that we ought not to deal with a case which was sub judice, and yet he asked that we would provide him with others. If the hon. 630 and learned Member knows so little of his profession—
§ Mr. KELLY
I am delighted that the hon. and learned Member is asking to have matters made clear to him. If he had been a little clearer and a little more serious in regard to the subject, it might save been better for the discussion. He asks to be made clear upon this point. The point he put to us was that we ought not to be dealing with the "Royal Oak" case, seeing that it was going to be tried by a court-martial, and he went on to say, after making that appeal to us, that he had been able to deal with cases in the past which were in the hands of the law, cases which had not been decided, and he asked lion. Members on this side to provide him with other cases.
§ Mr. KELLY
I will leave the hon. and learned Member to find out tomorrow morning. We were told by the hon. and learned Member that he was much more concerned with the lower deck ratings. I wish he had joined many of us in our efforts on behalf of the lower deck ratings. I cannot find that we have ever had any support from the hon. and learned Member that would be of advantage to that particular section. I notice that the representatives of dockyard constituencies ask for what they know quite well the Admiralty will refuse. The hon. and learned Member asked for a cruiser to be laid down at Chatham this year.
§ Mr. KELLY
I do not expect anything better from the hon. and learned Member in this discussion. With regard to the discharges from the Chatham dockyard, I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty if he can give us some idea why it has been found necessary to discharge so many people there in the past year. Can he give us an idea as to the probable discharges during next year? I would ask him, also, with regard to sheerness, if he can explain why during the last month notices of discharge were given to a number of Admiralty employés and that within less than a week of the notices being given they were withdrawn. It does not look well for the administration of the Admiralty that they do not understand their business well enough that they should hand in notices of discharge and then find it advisable to withdraw those notices. There are rumours that pressure came from certain quarters from individuals outside the service of the Government. If so, I hope the House will be told why these notices of discharge were given and then withdrawn within a few days.
We should also like a statement in regard to Rosyth. Here we have a dockyard with workshops admirably fitted for work such as has been undertaken and is being undertaken by the Admiralty. Has any of the machinery been dismantled? If so, has it been taken away from Rosyth, and where has it been installed? We ought to know whether the Admiralty are allowing Rosyth to deteriorate by having machinery lying idle because work is not being furnished upon which that machinery might well be engaged. I join with the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) in asking what principle operates in the Admiralty in the giving out of these contracts. It does look absurd that we provide establishments and fit them up with the best machinery that it is possible to find, that we gather around them the finest staffs of workmen that are to be found in this or any other country, and then, instead of engaging our own yards and our own men in the direct service of the Government, we send so many contracts to private concerns in other parts of the 632 country. Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us what principle animates the Admiralty in giving out orders to various parts of the country?
There is the further question of administration. A Committee was set up last year, of which Mr. Hilton, of the Metropolitan Vickers Company, was either chairman or a member. Can we be given some idea of the report of that Committee? Have they reported in favour of the administration in the various dockyards and Admiralty establishments? It is only right that the House, which in the last resort is held responsible by the people of this country, should be informed of the findings of the Committee, so that we may express our opinion upon it. There is a further point, with regard to men serving in the Fleet. We have to raise many eases with the Admiralty with regard to pensions or gratuities to men after they have served their period in the Navy. Many of these men, as the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) told us, are troubled with tuberculosis. One can quite understand that, when the Admiralty pay more regard to making their huge ships great places of engineering and pay so little regard to the living accommodation of the men.
We have heard a good deal in regard to the officers, who are well represented in this House, but with regard to the men of the lower deck very little regard is paid to them in the matter of living accommodation on board ship, and one is not surprised to find so many of them are troubled with tuberculosis and other diseases. I hope the Admiralty will pay some regard to that especially as we have to go to the expenditure of building so many ships of war. The question of the use of naval ratings for work formerly done by civilians has been raised on more than one occasion. This appears to be a new policy on the part of the Admiralty. In order to find work for naval ratings they are displacing civilians in the dockyards. The Admiralty in the past has set its face against this procedure, and I trust that those who are now in charge of the Admiralty will reconsider this matter, and, instead of throwing more civilians on the unemployed market, will find other useful work for naval ratings.
633 May I say a word or two about Singapore? In every Vote we have discussed, Air Force, Army, and now the Navy, we have had a considerable sum of money set aside for the development of this naval base. I am coming to the conclusion that in order to keep the information from the people of this country as to the real cost of this naval base it is being split up amongst the various Services. There is £926,500 in the original Estimate of the Admiralty, and another £500,000 for other portions of the work. Can we have any statement as to the number of people the Admiralty are employing, and the conditions under which they are working? We were told yesterday that the pay of some of these people was between three and four dollars a week. Is that considered an adequate wage? Are they working and living under conditions which are a credit to this country? I am not asking for details with regard to the Votes of the Air Force and Army, but I do ask for what purpose the Admiralty is spending so much money in this part of the world. Why are we appearing to be wasting time and wealth in developing this base in the Far East when we were told in the King's Speech that we are at peace with every country in the world? I put these few points in the hope of arousing some interest with regard to the expenditure of the Admiralty. As to the question of the incident of the "Royal Oak," I am not saying anything which will prejudice the case, but I hope hon. Members opposite, who have criticised us for what they describe as interfering remarks, will remember this when other cases are under discussion and will pay as much regard to those cases as they are asking us to pay in regard to this particular case.
Dr. VERNON DAVIES
I had not intended to intervene in this Debate, but there has been so much reference to tuberculosis in the Navy that I am tempted once again to press the matter on the attention of the House. It is a most serious subject, and serious to a class of men who are not able to speak adequately for themselves. I want, if I can, to arouse the enthusiasm of this House so that the Admiralty will feel compelled to do something for them. We 634 have had statistics showing the number of cases of tuberculosis in the Navy, and the extremely small percentage which get a pension, or are held to be "attributable"—namely, three or four or five per cent. I wonder if hon. Members have any conception of what happens to those poor men. They go into the Navy, pass a very difficult medical examination, so difficult, indeed, that only 10 per cent. of the recruits succeed in passing the test. They go in for five, 10 or 15 years, then develop tuberculosis; are invalided out, and the Government and the medical authorities say it is "not attributable." You can hardly wonder that these poor men who went into the Service physically fit, in the prime of their youth and manhood, then come out practically condemned to death, must hold that in some way or another the Service had something to do with it. When we hear of the different incidence of tuberculosis in the Army and Navy to the detriment; of the Navy, it is perhaps not astonishing in view of the cramped accommodation of these men in the battleships.
After the Debate, which was unfortunately counted out, a little over a week ago, I looked into the matter further. I should like to draw the attention of the House to a letter which I saw in the newspapers only yesterday, written by a man from Portsmouth, saying that there were 1,600 men in that district who had been turned out of the Navy and whose disease had been held to be non-attributable to the condition of service, and the House of Commons took so much interest in the matter that they could not muster 40 Members in order to keep a House to listen to those who, were speaking in their interest. Such a thing creates a very bad impression outside, and that is what impels me to bring this matter forward once again. I looked into some statistics, and, comparing tuberculosis in the Navy and civil life, particularly for the year 1925, I was astonished to find that there is a different incidence in the tuberculosis rate in civil life and in the Navy. In a certain period of civil life, between 20 to 25 years of age, I think the incidence of tuberculosis is decreasing, but in the Navy it is increasing. At first sight, that would lead one to suspect that there is some condition in the Navy which is causing a change essentially different from what happens in civil life.
635 I want to impress upon this House the magnitude of the task, the great importance of it, so that it will compel the Admiralty to inquire into this matter and deal with it at once. It is three years since I first brought this question before the attention of hon. Members, and I have spoken of it several times since then. I was recently informed that a Committee was sitting to consider the matter. When I inquired when the last meeting was held I was told that it was some months previously, because one of the gentlemen had not been very well. If that goes on, we shall have this Committee sitting during the next Parliament, and perhaps the Parliament after that, and I am anxious that something should he done at the present time. On the lowest computation there are some hundreds of men in this country slowly but surely dying from consumption, men who have served in the Navy, who have lived in the Navy, and who are convinced that they contracted the disease there; and yet nothing has been done for them. If hon. Members will go into some of the houses, as I have been, and see these men who were once fine, physically, gradually sinking under this fell disease, hopefully thinking that they will get better some day, yet surrounded by mother or wife and children, all with a feeling of suppressed indignation at the Admiralty, at the Government, at this House, that these men should be allowed to lie there actually dying and yet nothing done for them, except what, they might get from the National Health Insurance scheme—15s. a week. This man has to be kept on that. A baby, four or five months old, can take 10s. worth of milk every week. This disease requires so much nourishment that it is absolutely impossible for any tuberculosis case to live on the money which comes from the National Health Insurance scheme. Yet this House calmly allows these things to happen. Hon. Members do not appreciate the tremendous responsibility which lies upon them, because if once they made up their minds that these men shall be looked after, that these are men who offered their lives for this country, served for a certain number of years on board ship, were liable to be called at any time to go to any part of the world to protect the trade and commerce and lives of our country, they would not allow 636 the Admiralty to say, "No, you have contracted this disease; we have nothing to do with it. Get out." It is a scandal to this House, a scandal to the Admiralty, and a scandal to the country. When these poor men actually die, what is the epitaph that might be placed upon their tombstones?—Rattle his bones ever the stones!He's only a sailor his Service disowns.
§ Mr. DALTON
We have had a most interesting Debate, and I am very sorry that the First Lord has not been here to listen to it. I should like to repeat and emphasise what has been said on this side of the House, that on the last occasion we shall have of considering these Estimates before passing them the First Lord chooses so to arrange his business that he is not present to listen to replies to the challenges which he has himself thrown out. I suppose there is no chance of his returning in time to speak to-night, but I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will not take it as being meant in any personal sense when I repeat that I think it is most improper, most disrespectful to the Opposition, disrespectful to the House of Commons, and disrespectful to the Navy, that the First Lord on an occasion like this should be absent from the House.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
It was quite expected that the First Lord would be here before the Debate began, but he will be here later on.
§ Mr. DALTON
Judging by the number of hon. Members opposite who rose to continue the Debate after the hon. Member for Royton (Dr. Davies) sat down, it would appear that the Debate is likely to close very quickly. I hope I may have given a little stimulus to hon. Members opposite to keep the Debate going until the First Lord returns. I am sure we have listened with great respect and considerable indignation to the story unfolded by the hon. Member for Royton. I hope the First Lord will have something more reassuring to tell us about the treatment of tuberculous sailors. References have been made to the "Royal Oak" case. I do not propose to say anything more about that matter, except to point out, on behalf of my hon. Friends who have raised this matter, that their sole desire, and I am sure the sole desire of everyone who has the interests of the Navy at heart, is that full inquiry shall be 637 made by the court-martial into all the circumstances surrounding this case, and that there shall not be a sort of selective inquiry, leaving out of account some of the most important matters at issue, Provided that condition is guaranteed, I am sure that no one on this side of the House will have a word of criticism to advance as to the procedure adopted, although we criticise the slowness and lack of candour which was displayed by the Admiralty in giving information on this matter.
I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to give us a definite figure of the sum of money which has been spent on naval work at Singapore up to date. We do not seem to be able to get that, and if the hon. and gallant Gentleman can tell us what is the aggregate figure, it would help to clarify, not the mud flats into which money is being poured there, but the minds of hon. Members on this question. I desire to raise certain matters connected with naval construction and it is impossible to discuss naval construction except against the background of the Coolidge Conference. I am well aware that, by reason of the fact that a Motion stands on the Order Paper in the names of some of my hon. Friends and myself, certain matters relevant to questions of naval construction have to be left to a later occasion. Our view—I am not going to develop it now—is that it is impossible to have a complete and exhaustive inquiry into the responsibility for the failure of the Coolidge Conference without taking into account various matters relating to blockade, the freedom of the seas, and Foreign Office policy, which it is not possible to raise in this Debate. That only indicates the importance of subsequent discussion of these matters when it will be in order to pursue the questions to which I have referred.
In this Debate, however, it is relevant to consider certain questions regarding types of warships, the purposes for which they are needed and the proportion in which they are being built, and to relate questions of that kind to the proposals and counter-proposals of our Government and the American Government at the Geneva Conference. I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary agrees with the First Lord that the 8-inch gun cruiser is an offensive ship and the 6-inch gun cruiser a defensive 638 ship. That is the First Lord's view expressed in speeches more than once, and I do not know if the Board of Admiralty are united on that doctrine. If the Parliamentary Secretary does not dissociate himself from it I shall assume that he agrees with it. The First Lord has on certain occasions developed the argument that 6-inch gun cruisers are particularly useful to this country owing to the great quantity of commerce which we have on the trade routes, and that they are really defensive ships designed, as the phrase goes, to keep open the pathways of the sea. If that be so, why have we ceased to build 6-inch gun cruisers? I have been studying the Fleet return with great interest and profit, and I find that all the cruisers we are building now are 8-inch gun cruisers and that we are building no 6-inch gun cruisers at all. That is true of certain other Powers to which I shall refer shortly, but how does that square with the doctrine of the First Lord that the 8-inch gun cruiser is essentially an offensive weapon and the 6-inch gun cruiser is essentially a defensive weapon? According to that doctrine, we are building only an offensive type, whereas the First Lord has said that our Fleet has no offensive purpose at all, but is merely to defend our own interests against attack.
Of course, at, Geneva, when it was said on behalf of the British delegation that our vessels, and our light cruisers in particular, were only designed to keep open the pathways of the sea in time of war, it was well within the memory of those present that very recently they had been used to close the pathways of the sea, not only to enemy but to neutral shipping in time of war. It seems evident that the purpose of these cruisers cannot be described in this simple way. They cannot be classified into offensive and defensive in the absolute sense which the First Lord has suggested. The purpose for which they are designed must depend on the situation at the moment. If there is nothing within reach as strong as a 6-inch gun cruiser, then it is likely to be useful as an offensive ship. But, since these remarks—which I make with all humility as a layman—are hung upon the peg of the First Lord's utterance, I hope that they may be elucidated and that that utterance may be elucidated at a later stage. These 10,000-ton 8-inch 639 gun cruisers were, of course, a British invention like the Dreadnoughts. That, I think, is not denied. When no other naval Power in the world was building anything so strong in the category of cruisers, we forced the pace, and one of the reasons why the Geneva Conference came to a bad end was because—
§ Mr. DALTON
It did not come to a good end. The end to which it came was a complete failure to reach agreement, which has subsequently led to a great deal of ill-will being manifested in various parts of the United States towards this country and a certain amount, though a lesser amount, of ill-will being expressed in certain parts of this country towards the United States. If the hon. and learned Member, with his clear vision of naval policy, regards the Geneva Conference as having come to a good end, the Lord knows what his conception of a bad end would be.
§ Mr. DALTON
That is not a matter of naval concern, and perhaps I may now be allowed to proceed with my speech in my own way. I was asking the Parliamentary Secretary whether it could be denied that we have set the pace with regard to these 8-inch gun cruisers, and whether there was any doubt that that was a very great mistake, in the same way as the building of the Dreadnought, at the particular time when it was built, was a very great mistake. I was asking whether, by pushing ahead with this much stronger type of ship we did not render great numbers of our previous vessels obsolete and whether a great deal of the trouble which has arisen at Geneva, at the Coolidge Conference, is not directly attributable to the building of four vessels described in the Fleet return as being of the improved Birmingham type, displacing just on 10,000 tons, with 7.5-inch guns, and following that up with the "Cumberland." As I read the Fleet return, the "Cumberland" is the only 8-inch gun, 10,000-ton cruiser which is actually built, and no other country at this moment has any ship so powerful. We have actually built and completed 640 the "Cumberland," plus four other cruisers of the improved Birmingham type which are very nearly as good as the 8-inch gun 10,000-tonners, and, certanly, very much stronger than the 6-inch gun cruisers which we were previously building. We have one built, plus these other four, and 13 building—all 8-inch gun cruisers displacing 10,000 tons on the Washington formula. Four were laid down in 1924, two—Australian—laid down in 1925, two laid down in 1926 and five laid down in 1927, and five more are projected. I repeat the question, "Have we altogether ceased to build 6-inch gun cruisers?" Is that an obsolete type as regards future programmes?
In spite of all the talk proceeding in circles where the matter has not been carefully studied, at the moment when the Fleet return was issued on 1st February, 1928, the United States had no modern 8-inch gun cruisers built and had only eight building as against our 13. What they have projected has been the subject of debates in Congress which are not yet over. The Japanese have no 8-inch gun cruisers—no modern cruisers of that type at all—but they seem to have six building. I take the figures from the Fleet Return. The French have none built, but five building, and the Italians have none built but two building. Then we come to the Soviet Union. Let us now examine the strength of the Red navy. According to the Fleet return, page 21, they have only two cruisers building. They are only armed with 5-inch guns. They are described as being of the "pre-revolutionary" type. I do not know if that means that our cruisers are of a revolutionary type but the work on them is said to be proceeding very slowly with frequent stoppages, and the date of completion is uncertain. They were begun in 1914. It is just as well to expose the strength of the Red navy to hon. Members opposite, lest it should ever trouble their dreams. The Germans have none built and none building at this time—they are forbidden by the Peace Treaty. They alone are enjoying the benefits of peace as far as naval construction is concerned.
I come to the proposals and counter proposals made at the Coolidge Conference. I read that Admiral Field, an officer for whom we have great respect 641 and who has a high reputation in the Navy, reported in the "Times" on 22nd June, said:There is at present no fear of war.The First Lord has repeated that statement, in other words, in the explanatory memorandum which accompanies these Estimates. If in the opinion of Admiral Field and the First Lord there is at present no fear of war, why did we not accept the first American offer of a limitation of tonnage, at any rate as a basis of discussion. I do not say that it was finally acceptable or satisfactory, but I submit it was much more satisfactory than the counter-offer which was made by the British Government later on, as a basis of discussion. The first offer the Americans made was to limit the cruiser tonnage for this country and the United States to some figure between 250,000 tons and 300,000 tons—and Japan to a smaller figure, keeping the ratio of 5–5–3. Later on, there developed great controversy as to how this total tonnage was to be made up as between cruisers carrying guns of different calibre. Why could we not have accepted that offer as a basis of discussion and said: "We will agree to that proposal, provided you agree to certain qualifications that we shall put on that proposal?"
Why should we not have agreed to that total tonnage and then argued for the total tonnage being composed solely of the lighter cruisers? Why was not that line followed instead of a mere blank refusal to consider the aggregate tonnage offer? Why, in particular, did it not occur to the Admiralty representative at Geneva to do what was so successfully done at Washington in the 1921 Conference, and to link up the tonnage limitation with a proposal for scrapping ships? Since the 8-inch gun cruisers and 7.5-inch gun cruisers which we have initiated, were causing so much suspicion and bad feeling elsewhere, why should we not have made it a condition of our acceptance of the American offer that there should be a general scrapping and abandonment of all cruisers armed with anything stronger than 6-inch guns? Why should we not have scrapped the "Cumberland" and the four ships of the improved Birmingham type, and barred out all future ships of this type, as a condition of going in with the American aggregate tonnage proposal? I mention 642 that possibility, because it would have been very much in line with what was actually done by the Powers at Washington, in the Treaty to which we were a party. But instead of this, instead of accepting the American proposal as a basis of discussion, the Admiralty produced an amazing doctrine which has never yet been sufficiently commented upon in this House. That is the doctrine of what are called British requirements—absolute requirements, unconditional requirements. I shall say a word on that point in a moment.
We demanded on 8th July at Geneva freedom to build up to a certain amount admittedly above our existing strength. We demanded freedom to build up to 15 of these 8-inch 10,000-ton cruisers, the total tonnage. of which would have been 150,000, or more than half of the permitted tonnage if the American scheme had been adopted, plus 55 6-inch gun cruisers with a total tonnage of 422,000, making a total tonnage for cruisers alone of 572,000. That was our first proposal—nearly twice what we could have got the United States down to, if we had been willing to come down to the same figure, and including 15, out of 70, 8-inch gun cruisers, which we are told, are essentially offensive weapons in purpose. It is true that later, on 28th July, we came down a bit, and proposed that we should have 500,000 tons of cruisers and destroyers together, plus a certain allowance for obsolete ships, but all the proposals from the British side during that Conference were far in excess of the initial proposals, so far as total tonnage was concerned, that came from the American side. We were missing all the time an opportunity of really getting a big cut in cruiser tonnage throughout the world. It would have paid us hand over fist if we could have got a general reduction in cruiser tonnage.
This doctrine of requirements was developed in a long and interesting speech by Lord Jellicoe, and it was put forward as being an absolute standard, independent of the size of other fleets. It was suggested that, whatever the size of other fleets, we must have 70 cruisers of one kind or another—more than we have got now, though less than we had during the War—and it was laid down with almost pedantic exactitude that, of the 70, 25 would be required for service 643 with the battle fleet, that 12 might be assumed to be refuelling or refitting at any particular time, and that 33 would be for commerce protection. What nonsense it is, surely, to lay down a total of 70, subdivided in that precise way, as the absolute requirements of this country, regardless of what other vessels there may be on or under the seas! Twenty-five were for service with the battle fleet, but what if that battle fleet was cut down? What if we were to carry the Washington proposition of 1921 a stage further in 1931? It is true that our own Government suggested at Geneva that replacement battleships might be smaller, and so forth, but there was no suggestion ever put forward from our side that this number of 70 cruisers was in any way affected by any future change in the size of battle fleets. That is an absolutely untenable position.
Why 70? We had many more during the War, and then we had the assistance of various Allied Navies as well, but, with all that, we were not able to prevent almost disastrous sinkings, first by the "Emden" and other German surface ships, and later on by submarines. Lord Jellicoe himself said, in his speech at Geneva, that on one occasion there were 29 British vessels simultaneously chasing the "Emden" and that from first to last she was chased by 70 British vessels altogether at one time and another. If we really were involved in war against any enemy which had any appreciable fleet at all, can it be maintained that these 33 commerce protectors would be enough? It could easily be argued, on that assumption, that there would not be nearly enough, and, on any other assumption, they are much too many, because if you are not going to be involved in war either at all or against any State with an appreciable navy, the 33 commerce protectors are an extravagant ration. I have never yet been able to understand the mental basis on which this number of 70 cruisers was fixed, and the reason why it was clung to with, I was going to say, such obstinate, but perhaps I had better say rigid, persistence.
Surely, looking at the thing from a common sense point of view, the naval requirements of the British Navy depend very largely upon the size of other 644 navies. Supposing we had been able to get a big cut in American cruiser tonnage, both actual and prospective, and in Japanese cruiser tonnage, actual and prospective, surely that would have reduced our requirement of cruisers, if requirement is interpreted in any at all intelligible way? Is it not the case, looking at the experience of the last War, that we should have gained very much more if the Germans had had fewer commerce chasers and fewer submarines than we should have gained if we had a few more cruisers to run after the German ships round the world? Putting the same thing in another way, is not the path towards security much more obviously reached by way of a reduction in naval strengths than by sticking up some irreducible minimum for ourselves and thereby preventing any agreement being reached—because that is what happened at Geneva—either for a reduction of the American Navy or even for the stabilisation of the American Navy? Since then, it must be remembered, the "Big Navy" group, with all the sinister hirelings of the armament firms, have been stirring up the propaganda in America which is pushing towards a big naval expansion. I would like the hon. and gallant Gentleman to endeavour to justify the rigidity with which we clung to the 70 cruisers standard at Geneva, and to indicate, if he can—perhaps he cannot—whether the Admiralty point of view has suffered any change, or whether they feel that they have learned any lessons for future negotiations from the failure of the last.
Few hon. Members will doubt that one of the most important requirements of the future in the international sphere is a cordial and complete Anglo-American understanding. If we can get that, it is worth while paying a very high price for it. If we had an Anglo-American understanding, cordial and complete, that would be a key which would open nearly every door which is now closed against those of us—and surely it is all of us—who desire to see the world peaceful, prosperous, and secure; and if we return, as we do, time after time to this question of the Coolidge Conference, I would like the Government to realise that we do it, not simply with a desire continually to criticise them and to make party capital, but because we believe 645 that, if the Government had pulled off a settlement at that Conference which had resulted in a large reduction of naval strength and in the spread of a real Anglo-American friendship, they would have done an awfully big thing, for which we might have been willing to forgive them many other things.
But they have not done that, and we feel that a most critical point was reached where a great success might have been achieved, but was not. It might not be putting it too strongly to say that a very grave failure occurred, because it was an unquestionable failure, but it is still remediable, and what we are particularly concerned to see is that steps should be in contemplation which will secure that that failure shall, at the next opportunity, be turned into a success. If an Anglo-American agreement on naval armaments could be reached, the repercussions for good throughout the world would, I believe, be tremendous.
§ Lieut. - Colonel HEADLAM
We have listened to a very interesting Debate, which has covered a very wide range. I have also to reply to my hon. Friend opposite, who asked certain questions the other day which I had not time to answer and I therefore shall possibly leave certain matters to be answered by my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty when he returns.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I hope, almost immediately. I feel myself somewhat overcome by my position to-night. So desirous are hon. Members opposite to hear my right hon. Friend the First Lord that, although they assure me that they are quite satisfied with me at ordinary times, I cannot believe that that is really true to-night. I am, therefore, more nervous than I usually am when addressing the House. However, I will do my best. It was unfortunate for all of us—at least, I was very much disappointed—when the speech of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) was still-born, or not exactly still-born, because what remained of it was so gallantly picked up by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy). I would only say, about the point that he brought forward with re- 646 gard to the letter which appeared in the "Times" the other day written by Lord Cecil, that the matters in that letter are, obviously, largely matters of opinion, the opinion of Lord Cecil, and I do not feel qualified, as he very naturally supposed might be the case, to offer my views upon the points raised in that letter.
With regard to the "Royal Oak" incident, there has been a good deal said to-night, but I can only say that I adhere now to what I said at Question Time. There seems to be a suggestion in certain parts of the House, or by certain hon. Members at any rate, that the Admiralty is doing something unusual in regard to these courts-martial. It is merely acting according to a long-established principle, and when the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) suggests that we have adopted a "hush, hush" policy, I would like to assure him that he is entirely mistaken. I am perfectly certain that, had he been in the position of the First Lord when this incident was first brought forward in this House, he would have given exactly the same answer. It is obvious that a long and detailed report coming from Malta could not be carefully considered and reviewed in the twinkling of an eye, and the very fact that this case had been brought into the Press before we really had received the details was all the more reason for the Admiralty taking the greatest care and exercising the most profound discrimination before it gave its views on the matter in this House. I can only hope that the wishes that were expressed so well by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) will appeal to the House as a whole, and that we shall be allowed to look after the interests of the Navy in what we believe to be the best way until it is proved by anything which we have done that that is not the case.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I quite appreciate what the hon. and gallant Member is saying, but would he be kind enough to answer the question I put to him, without prejudice to anyone concerned, as to whether the court-martial will have before it such terms of reference or charge as to enable it fully to explore the whole circumstances 647 that led to the hauling down of the Rear-Admiral's flag?
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
My right hon. Friend the First Lord gave this House that assurance when he spoke the other day on the subject in answer to the hon. Member for North Camberwell, and I cannot understand why my hon. and gallant Friend supposes that we at the Admiralty are not as much concerned and interested as he is himself in the welfare and the interests of these three officers. In other words, we are determined that these courts-martial shall be carried out in accordance with the spirit of the Navy, and that these officers shall be given a full opportunity of receiving justice.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I need scarcely assure the House that the suggestion that the Board of Admiralty or the Navy as a whole does not regard the interests of the junior officers just as tenderly as those of senior officers, is entirely without foundation. One thing is clear, that if you are to have a contented Navy, it must be absolutely certain in the minds of all ranks that every man will get justice. I leave it to the House as an earnest plea that it can trust us. We are determined to see that justice is done. The hon. Member for North Camberwell was anxious in regard to certain matters affecting Singapore, and another hon. Member also raised the matter of Singapore with regard to expenditure and housing accommodation and the general amenities enjoyed there by the workpeople. As far as I can make out, the hon. Member for North Camberwell desired information with regard to the construction of the graving dock, and he maintained that there had been a change of policy. I have looked up the reports on this matter as he looked them up, and I think that there was certainly one speech which might have given the impression that the intention was to construct the graving dock first and then the floating dock. But since this Government has been in office it seems to me clear that the policy adopted 648 all along has been to build the floating dock first. This is what the First Lord has maintained to be the case.
§ Mr. AMMON
That point is not in dispute. The point is that, as admitted by the First Lord, the previous Government did indicate that the graving dock would precede the floating dock. As that Government closed it down, it must have been a Government similar in complexion. The point is that this is a definite change of policy which calls for a review of the whole situation. That disposes of the whole case.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I think what I am going to say will prove that is not the ease. The second question put by the hon. Gentleman was whether the reason for the floating dock preceding the graving dock is that borings show that a satisfactory foundation for the latter cannot be obtained. Another question was, are the borings finished? Another one was, how much money has been expended on the borings? The answer to the first question is that the graving dock has not yet been commenced. It is included in the main constructional works for which tenders have been invited. These tenders are due at the end of this month. The answer to the other questions as to the floating dock and as to whether the borings are finished can best be made by explaining that the purpose of the boring is to ascertain the line on which the wharf walls and dock can be most economically built. Singapore, like many other places, has an irregular surface which requires exploration before the alignment of the various works can be settled, and the necessary trenches opened. Progressive results of the boring have enabled an improvement to be made and the main scheme of boring is now approaching completion. The fact that the floating dock is being proceeded with before the graving dock has no connection with the borings or the character of the strata encountered. The total cost of the boring is £20,000 including those for a preliminary site. The total naval expenditure on the Singapore base up to the present is £508,500.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
That is the expenditure by the Admiralty. We are spending this year £228,000 on the base plus the expenditure on the floating dock which is estimated to be about £300,000 and we received as the contribution towards that expenditure £378,000 from Hong Kong, the Federated Malay States and New Zealand. I think the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) was interested in the conditions of the working men out there, I may tell him that we are taking an interest in their amenities of life. He asked the other day whether we were satisfied that they had adequate living accommodation and matters of that kind. I have taken the trouble to find out since, and I may tell him that the rates of wages we are giving are quite adequate. Some people in that part of the world think that they are more than adequate as compared with the local rates of pay.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
The hon. Member asked me whether the wages compare favourably with the local rates of that area, and I replied affirmatively. I am not saying that it is what the hon. Member or I or anyone in this country would like to be paid.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I cannot give off-hand the names of the contractors who are doing the Admiralty work, but I shall be glad to supply the information.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
Tenders for the main work are coming in at the end of this month. I cannot, of course, say which will be accepted or not. Some hon. Members spoke on invaliding out of the Navy. I do not propose to go into this subject any further than I have done previously, except to say that this question of disability attributable to disease is exercising very earnest attention, and we have appointed a Committee to go into the whole question. The hon. and gallant Member for Lewes referring to the conditions of life in the Navy said 650 that there was more tuberculosis in the Navy than in the Army. I can tell him we have referred the whole question of hygienic conditions to a consultative committee of experts outside the Admiralty. There is another question which has also been dealt with, namely, that of dockyards. There are hon. Members who seem to think that I did not make out a good case. What I say to-day is a mere repetition of what I said the other day. The Admiralty cannot think only of the Royal dockyards. It is obvious that we have other parts of the country to think of. The dockyards are primarily for repairing and reconstruction work. There are also all over the country great naval building establishments which in the interest of the country must be kept going.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
We have to keep up the dockyards in a state of efficiency and not let the private yards go out of use. It is not an easy matter when you are reducing construction and every year the number of ships gets fewer. The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) said that there was less work in the dockyards, and his suggestion is that we ought to give more constructional work to the Royal dockyards because we have to give a great deal of the armament work to contractors, in other words, that the construction should be done in the Royal yards and the other work should keep the private contractors going. All Members for dockyard towns take this view, but their arguments are biased to a certain extent. I am trying to point out that we are doing our duty for the whole country and that is the whole gist of the matter. We are trying to employ as many people as we ran and to keep them employed, and I can only assure the House that what the First Lord said the other day on the subject of discharges is the policy of the Admiralty and will be pursued as far as possible. We cannot however guarantee that if there is not enough work we can keep all the men.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
Will the Admiralty, before discharging these men, make some arrangements for finding them other work on the line that is being 651 followed in regard to the miners? They are very highly skilled men. Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman also see if he can do any work for the Air Ministry, or the War Office, so as to keep these highly skilled men together?
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
We are always trying to induce other Departments to give us work, but the difficulty is that they also have their workmen to whom they want to give work. There is too little work for the workpeople, and that is one of the troubles of this period of economy and the reduction of armaments.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
As the hon. and gallant Gentleman well puts it, it is one of the disadvantages of peace.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I was also asked about Rosyth. This yard is being maintained on a care and maintenance basis. Some of the machinery is still there, and some has been moved to other yards. We are looking after it all right and keeping it in as good condition as we can. The same hon. Member asked about the Hilton Committee's Report. That has been very carefully considered by the Admiralty and many of its suggestions with regard to the management and financial arrangements in the dockyards have been put into force.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I do not think there is any intention of publishing it. It was for the benefit of the Admiralty and the Admiralty are using it to the best advantage. With regard to the fact that naval ratings have been employed to do certain work, I answered that question fully in the House the other day, and explained that it was not really keeping civilian workmen out of work for the simple reason that if naval ratings had not been employed, the work in question would not have been done. It was a particular job and is the type of work that is done for the benefit of naval ratings, and has been done by them for some time past. It is not the Ad- 652 miralty practice to employ naval ratings to keep workmen out of work. One or two questions were raised by the hon. Member for North Camberwell which I will answer and there is one other question I must answer in regard to the air arm.
The hon. Member asked whether the Navy has been employed recently to check piracy. We maintain a destroyer and a sloop almost continuously in Bias Bay, and in the last three months there has been a cessation of piracy in that part of the world. It is considered that this is due to the maintenance of this patrol and the moral effect of the action taken against the "Irene." At Hankow, arrangements have been made for the loan of guards for British shipping in the Upper River, and the Cantonese Government are building anti-piracy gunboats. It is hoped that by joint action piracy will be, if not wiped out, greatly diminished. He also asked about slave traffic. The anti-slave traffic patrol in the Red Sea is continuing, but I am glad to say that it has had very little work to do. Then he asked a question in regard to the co-ordination of the staff colleges. My reply to that question will enable me to answer my hon. and gallant Friend as to the arrangements which are made in conjunction with the Air Force for the co-ordination of work. There is a great deal of co-operation between the three staff colleges at the present time. Officers from the Army and the Air Force are attached to the Naval Staff College for each course. Naval officers are attached to the Army and Air Force Colleges for each course. Lectures are given at the Staff Colleges by officers of each Service, and there are periodical exercises dealing with combined operations in which officers of the three Staff Colleges work together. There was a suggestion a little time ago that the three Staff Colleges should be amalgamated, but there are obvious reasons against it, because there is no doubt that although co-ordination between the work of the three Services is highly desirable, the actual staff work of each Service is largely separate in character. Naval officers particularly must give a great deal of time to their work at sea, and consequently when they are at the Staff College they should be able to devote the greater part of their time to the staff problems of their Service.
653 I can assure the House that the institution of the Imperial Defence College in London has fulfilled the requirements of co-ordinating the training of the Senior Staff officers of the three Services. This college has had a very admirable effect in bringing the officers of the Army, Navy and Air Force into close touch. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) may rest assured that the question he raised as to who is to be the responsible authority for the policy of the air defence of merchant vessels, and for defence at sea in general is being regulated by the staffs working together. There is no doubt that this is a difficult problem. A complete air arm is part of the Navy, and I can assure him that staff officers in the Navy are quite as alive as he is to the fact that in future wars the defence from the air will play a very prominent part, particularly in areas such as the Mediterranean. I can assure him that the matter is receiving the attention of the strategical side of the Admiralty staff. A question was asked by the hon. Member for North Camberwell as to the co-operation between those responsible for research in the three Services. There are frequent meetings of those responsible for research, and no overlapping exists. In regard to the Dominion Navies, about which a question was asked, they are entirely at the disposal of the Dominions, and all costs are borne by them. There are, of course, arrangements for co-ordination and co-operation between the several Navies of the British Empire.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
No, the Dominions pay for their own ships. The hon. Member for Devonport alluded to the marriage allowances question. He knows as well as I do that the Admiralty are not averse from giving marriage allowances to officers. Hon. Members scarcely seem to realise how liberal the Admiralty would be if they could, but this matter of marriage allowances has already been decided by the Cabinet and we unfortunately cannot do anything more in the matter. In regard to general messing, I have no reason to suppose that the new system is not working well, and on the whole the general impression is that it is becoming popular. The Navy 654 is a conservative institution in the best sense of the word. But I am perhaps rather advanced in my views and believe that changes are occasionally highly desirable. There is no reason to suppose that general messing will not become generally popular.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I do not know about ugly rumours, but I do know that if there be any possibility of keeping men on we always do so. It was thought in this case that we might be able to provide more work and thus keep the men going rather longer than was expected. I only wish that it were possible to retain them, but I am afraid that these discharges will have to take place not later than the end of the month. I can assure the hon. Member that there was, as far as I know, no illicit influence. I cannot think what illicit influence there could be. We are always anxious to keep men in work if we can.
I think that I have now answered most of the questions I was asked, and I hope that I have succeeded in satisfying the curiosity of hon. Members opposite. It is somewhat difficult to do justice to all questions when there are so many. There is only one other matter that occurs to me. The hon. Member for North Camberwell raised the question of the position in the Admiralty of the Parliamentary Secretary. I am not sure that anybody is perfectly clear what the function of the Parliamentary Secretary is. He is a member of the Board of Admiralty, but I believe he is not a Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty. Certain members of the Board are Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty and exercise the ancient office of Lord High Admiral of England, but I think that the Parliamentary Secretary is not one of them. Whether he plays his part at the Admiralty or not is a matter of opinion. Some people think that he plays too large a part, and some people imagine that he ought to do a great deal more. I do not think that the actual situation is such as to cause us to be very anxious as to the 655 safety of the Fleet. It may be a matter of opinion as to whether he is sufficiently the economist that certain Members would have him be.
§ Mr. DALTON
Before the hon. and gallant Gentleman sits down, is he going to answer the questions I put to him? I asked him whether the Admiralty had ceased to build 6-inch gun cruisers, and various consequential questions, and we have had no defence made to-night of the proceedings at Geneva, on which we challenged the First Lord.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
The First Lord is present and will, no doubt, answer any challenge that is put to him.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
When I was speaking I definitely asked the hon. and gallant Member to note down three points in which I was interested, and not to answer them himself, because they concerned the First Lord and not him. Would he be kind enough to present them to the First Lord and ask the First Lord to be good enough to answer them?
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
The hon. and gallant Member asked me to put down three points, which were points contained in Lord Cecil's letter. The First Lord is duly apprised of the fact. I have not actually shown him a piece of paper with the points written out, because I did not write them down, as I had Lord Cecil's letter by me, and the First Lord is perfectly aware of what the hon. and gallant Member requires. With regard to the question of the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Dalton), he went into the policy of the Admiralty at the Geneva Conference and asked certain questions. The most important point he put was why we wanted 70 cruisers. He asked why that figure was fixed. I need only say that in my opinion the answer is supplied by his own speech. He alluded to the immense damage done by the "Emden." It is quite clear that if one ship, when it can get about freely, can do so much damage to merchant shipping, that we who have immense lines of communication to maintain, must have a certain number of cruisers to guard those lines of communication. I cannot tell him why the particular number of 70 was fixed upon. 656 All I can say is that it was decided upon presumably by the Naval Staff, that is to say, the body of officers whose duty it is to consider these matters, who have to work out a policy in time of war, who have to study the tactics and the strategy of any possible situation. I cannot pretend to putt myself in their place, nor do I presume to question their capacity for the purpose. They are the picked brains of the Navy, and they are employed for that very purpose. One of the great drawbacks of the Navy before the War was that it had not got this Naval Staff. Now it has got it. We have a body of officers who are looking into the needs and possibilities of any future war in which we may be engaged. The hon. Member said—I hope I am not doing him an injustice—"All this is based upon something that is really rather vague, because it has been based upon a want of knowledge of how many ships the fleets we are fighting made have."
§ Mr. DALTON
The question I put was why the Admiralty selected 70 as the figure of absolute requirements, independent of what the strength of other fleets in cruisers might be.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I thought that I had made myself clear. I will try again. The Admiralty has to consider certain sea routes—so many thousand miles of sea, so many great trade routes—which we have to protect in the event of war. Up to a point, it really does not matter what fleet you are fighting—I mean that when you are considering the number of ships you require to protect your commerce over those routes you have got to consider the possibility of enemy ships being on those routes. You cannot be certain how many there will be, because you do not know whom you will be fighting. You are not basing your numbers on having to fight any particular navy, but you are facing a position that may require you to guard a certain length and breadth of sea, and by calculation and by general knowledge of the matter the naval staff has worked out a certain number of ships as being the minimum required for the purpose, and that is based upon the experience which was gained in the late War. As the hon. Member truly said, we were fighting 657 then an enemy whose main fleet was shut up in port and we had allies and yet we lost many ships.
But we might well have an enemy whose fleet was not shut up in port, and then the position would be a great deal worse. Therefore, I think that when we fix the figure of the number of cruisers we require we must take into consideration the ocean spaces and the amount of work that our ships can do in a given period of time. That is the way, I think, we should look at it. The number is based, at any rate, as I have already said, on calculations of the expert staff, who have obtained their knowledge and information by practical experience.
§ Mr. DALTON
What about the 6-inch guns? My question was: Have we entirely abandoned the building of 6-inch gun cruisers? All the cruisers now laid down are 8-inch gun cruisers. It is through the disadvantage of the First Lord not being present that these questions have to be repeated.
§ The FIRST LO RD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. Bridgeman)
I am sorry that I was not able to be present earlier in the Debate. I had no intimation that the question of Lord Cecil's letter was going to be raised.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
If the hon. Member had been in the House a little longer, he would realise that on the Report stage of Naval Estimates there is nothing very unusual in the Parliamentary Secretary replying.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Are we to understand that in future, when his Estimates are under discussion, the First Lord does not propose to be here?
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I am not called upon to answer hypothetical questions of that kind. I am trying to answer a question which the hon. Gentleman opposite raised about 6-inch gun cruisers. The present intention is not, certainly this 658 year, to lay down a cruiser with 6-inch guns. If we had any reason to suppose that the numbers of those large 8-inch gun cruisers were going to be limited in future by other countries, of course we should proceed to say, as we did at Geneva, that we are quite ready to stop building cruisers with 8-inch guns when other countries stop and to build nothing in future but smaller cruisers fitted with 6-inch guns. The question put from the other side with regard to Lord Cecil's letter is, I understand, on this point—that in the Debate last Thursday on the Geneva Conference I asked if anybody could say that they did not agree with the proposals we put forward at Geneva on behalf of this country, and whether anybody could say what proposals could have been agreed to at Geneva other than those we put forward? I am placed in some difficulty by Lord Cecil's letter. In that letter he has referred to Cabinet discussions—a most unusual proceeding and I, at any rate, have not permission to violate the secrecy which always prevails about Cabinet discussions, and therefore I cannot enter into a discussion in this House, of what took place in the Cabinet. But the real fallacy in Lord Cecil's letter, and in the speech which he made before on that subject, is that there were any of these proposals which were acceptable to the American delegates. He was himself very sanguine of being able to get agreement. He and I, as he says, worked together most cordially on almost all points. There were one or two points of difference. We were not quite so unanimous as might be inferred from his letter on one point, or on two, but we did wish to explore every possible way of getting an agreement, and therefore we felt obliged, or I felt obliged, as I was the principal delegate, to explain what the alternatives were.
Just before we came back to this country we were engaged at Geneva in a plan which we had drawn up after very close consultation with the Japanese delegation. It is the one which appears at the end of the Paper which contains the speeches I made at the Conference. At the second plenary session, the American delegate had said that the real difference rested between the British and the Japanese and that if the British and the Japanese could come to terms, he thought there was very little difficulty in, I think he used the words, "Completing the tri- 659 angle," or some such phrase as that. Therefore, we did everything we could to try to put on one side the differences which up to then we had had with the Japanese. We came back while we were engaged upon that particular line of approach. That, to my mind, was much the most helpful line along which we could have proceeded, but I did say that there were other courses which might be worth trying, although I had not any great hope that they would be acceptable, even if they were desirable. Therefore, there were two or three alternatives; but the best alternative was the one which we were engaged upon at the time, and upon which the Cabinet authorised us to go back and continue negotiations.
There is no reason to suppose any of the other alternatives would have been acceptable to the Americans. The proposals we made at the end, working with the Japanese, were eventually rejected, not on the question of 8-inch guns, but on the question of total tonnage. It was on that question of total tonnage that our difficulty was all the time. Therefore, to say that any of these alternatives was likely to be acceptable to the Americans is to say what really is not consonant with the history of the Conference. We broke down on the question of total tonnage and not that of 8-inch guns. Although I think that the principle that we went on—making a very strong point of the difference between 8-inch and 6-inch guns—was perfectly right and the only logical one, there was no sign that if we had given way on that we should have got agreement on the tonnage question. That is what I meant when I said that I believed no one could produce any form of agreement which we could have got settled at Geneva, because of the total tonnage difficulty.
Would not the cause of peace be better served if everyone forgot Geneva and stopped talking about its failure, and then pressed forward for further agreement? It seems to me that the cause of peace between the two countries would be better met if we looked forward to another Conference and stopped harping on what has gone.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I am very glad of that interruption, because I agree very much with what the Noble Lady has said. We had honourable differences at Geneva. 660 We never had any violent animosity. We agreed on an immense number of points, which in themselves would afford the subject of a separate agreement. I tried to get an agreement signed on the other things, but was unable to do so. I think it would be far better if we could dwell on the points on which we agreed and press for them, knowing that they are all right and believing that neither country can be supposed to be thinking for one moment of any kind of aggressive war against anyone else. Surely we may hope that, if feelings are not roused and mischief done as between the two countries, we shall, with the foundation we have already got in what was done at Geneva, be able to get some satisfactory limitations in a not very distant future.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
The right hon. Gentleman has replied under some disability, because he seems to be entirely unaware of the fact that the discussion this afternoon has taken a somewhat wider range than the narrower one of Lord Cecil's letter. Before I come to the general subject of the Debate, I would like to say one word which I hope the First Lord will not resent. We have sat here for the whole of the afternoon discussing the Navy Estimates on the last occasion upon which we can discuss them this year—
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
No. Will it not be possible, Mr. Speaker, to enter into a general discussion on a Motion for the reduction of my salary?
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. JONES
Whether my point was a good one or a bad one, I want to emphasize this—that the First Lord has been absent the whole of the afternoon, and that I think the House is entitled to 661 expect from him at least an apology for his absence. I have no sort of criticism to offer as to the efficiency of the Parliamentary Secretary, who has done extremely well in covering most of the points of detail that have been raised. But the Parliamentary Secretary himself recognised, I think, that the main point of principle in regard to the aftermath and the repercussion of the Geneva Conference was a subject which he felt ought to be left to the First Lord. Therefore, I think the First Lord owed the House, in spite of the half-justification of himself that he attempted to offer, a full and frank apology for his most irregular absence from the Debate this afternoon. The First Lord confined himself to the discussion of the Coolidge Conference and its aftermath. I am at one with him when he expresses the wish that we should concentrate as far as possible upon the measure of agreement rather than upon points of disagreement. But while one agrees with that, it is well for us to examine what has been the effect of the failure to agree at Geneva.
I would not have ventured to interfere in this Debate did I not believe that I possessed some first-hand information as to how this matter has been regarded by American opinion. I had the advantage of being in the United States in the three months almost immediately after the Geneva Conference broke down, and, for what it may be worth, I would like to offer to the House one or two observations upon what I found to be the actual case in regard to public opinion in America. The plain fact is that there is in America at this moment, and has been for the last six months, such a feeling that one might fairly describe it in these words: There is a fairly general belief, rightly or wrongly, that the failure of the Coolidge Conference was due mainly to the action of the British Government. I am not for the moment attributing it to the First Lord. I believe that the First Lord's colleagues on the English side and the American representatives on the other side equally share the blame for the failure of the Conference. I am merely stating what I think honestly to be the actual state of American opinion as I found it in the last few months of last year.
It is no use our trying to bluff each other that there is no such thing, no such 662 danger, as a competition in armaments. As a matter of fact in large measure this competition is already upon us, has already begun. One would rather be inclined to think that it already showed itself at the Conference. I will take the First Lord's statement as to the division of opinion between the two sides, which was given by him last week in this House. The First Lord then said, "We wanted numbers rather than size; they wanted size rather than numbers." The main dispute, as I understand it, is as to how the 400,000 extra tons should be allocated. The First Lord himself repeated that statement this afternoon. Surely, if a big and important Conference like that, convened by one of the leading Powers of the world and attended by other leading Powers, breaks down upon a single point, when you come to examine the point itself you are bound to conclude that the breakdown occurred because of a deliberate intention that neither should give way upon what was regarded as an essential point. There is competition in this matter already. One side says, "We want a larger number of big ships for our private purposes," and the other side says, "No, we will not agree to that. We want a larger number of smaller ships."
If one cared to travel in the United States one would find that there is a fairly general impression along the line I have indicated. It might be argued with truth that a good deal of this public opinion has been generated by the Press. Although that may be true, facts have to be taken as they are. I addressed public meetings in the States; I met influential people in Washington; I met the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Congress; I met leading newspaper people. While it is perfectly true that there is a substantial body of opinion amongst the general public and newspaper people, and political people in favour of peace, still that does not entitle us to forget the plain fact that of the general mass of Americans about seven out of ten people, I should say, believe that we were responsible for the breakdown of the Conference. I am not saying that they are entitled to believe it, but they do believe it, and that is the point. We often hear, and we read in speeches by the Foreign Secretary, that war between England and America is 663 absolutely unthinkable. That phrase is on people's lips over and over again. The mere fact that over and over again it is said to be unthinkable, proves that it is thinkable. The statement would not be made in that way unless it were thinkable. It is the fact that there is a horrible danger of this thing developing that makes us very anxious to get a gesture of peace from the Admiralty as soon as possible.
I know that there are some aspects of this question which we cannot discuss this evening and to that extent I am handicapped. I did not find when I was in America any feeling that there was a danger of a direct issue arising between England and America which might lead to war. What I did feel was that the issue which might create a conflict between America and ourselves would not be a direct issue but rather an issue arising from another struggle between ourselves and some other power. The American people have a tendency to draw upon past experience and they say that if England gets into conflict with another country, which I will call A, they want an absolute guarantee that their rights and privileges will not be jeopardised by our naval power.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is just the question which I have ruled to be out of order on this Vote. I prevented one side from dealing with it, and of course I must not allow the other side to reply to it.
§ Mr. JONES
I was only endeavouring to indicate the exact line of American opinion on this point. It is just the repercussion of what we on these benches regard as an unfortunate demand for a large navy. While it is perfectly true that there is in America an undue apprehension in regard to naval armaments, on the other hand there are adequate grounds for being pessimistic concerning the relationship between ourselves and America. It is curious to note that two or three days after the First Lord spoke the American Senate approved the expenditure of money in order to build 15 new cruisers and also to construct an aircraft carrier. That is one side of the story. I believe I am right in saying that on that very day they also carried 664 an Amendment in favour of convening another conference for the purpose of discussing the limitation of naval armaments. It seems that here we have an olive branch offered to us. We may, if we like, embark upon the rival building of cruisers, and we may think we have no alternative. But let the House note that two or three days after the First Lord spoke last week, while the American Senate approved and authorised the expenditure for the building of 15 cruisers they also carried another resolution calling upon the administration to attempt another conference for the limitation of armaments.
I wonder if we are all aware of the number of proposals for American friendship and world friendship which are now occupying public attention in America. The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Senator Borah, has propounded a scheme as to which I am not prepared to say I would subscribe to every detail. But when a man like Senator Borah puts forward such a scheme—he is a man occupying a pivotal position in the American Senate—we are entitled to expect from our Government a larger measure of attention being given to it than has hitherto been bestowed upon it. There is another senator, Senator Capper, who has propounded proposals very much on the lines of the Geneva Conference of 1924. Here we have two influential senators propounding their proposals and they have been tabled in the Senate of the American Parliament. They have received the widest publicity in the Press. If the First Lord and his colleagues in the Cabinet agree to examine Mr. Kellogg's last Note in the light of Senator Borah's proposals I think he will find that the idea put forward by Senator Borah is worthy of consideration. Then there is a Congressman who has put forward proposals with regard to the limitation of the private manufacture of arms, but, of course, that does not concern us on this Vote except in the direction that all these proposals indicate that there is apprehension in authoritative circles concerning the development of American rivalry.
The First Lord has pointed to a certain measure of economies which have been effected. He has told us that we have scrapped so many ships and so on and he reiterates the fact that we have not 665 built a certain number of cruisers. He also says that the year before we scrapped one vessel and we did without two or three others. What I regret to see is that the initiative in the business of peace proposals does not come from our Government at all and they constantly leave it to other nations. Why cannot our Government embark upon proposals of a practical kind quite apart from the small reductions of a cruiser this year and one next year as the case may be? Last week the First Lord delivered a speech in which he very carefully avoided going into the question of Mr. Kellogg's last letter. The silence of hon. Gentlemen opposite about real practical measures for the reduction of armaments is very much like the calculated silence of the Trappist monks. They have no suggestion to offer and we are left to contemplate the development of this unfortunate rivalry between the new and the old world.
When I was in America I heard arguments in favour of the new proposals of the American Secretary for the Navy. Those arguments were exactly like those put forward by the Navy League and they were something like this: "Our trade rides the seven seas and because of that we must have an adequate navy to protect that trade." To-day speaker after speaker on the other side of the House have used precisely the same argument. They say: "Our trade is expanding and it is to be found upon the seven seas. Therefore, it is necessary for England to have a large Navy for purposes so vast." The Americans state that they are not building as rivals to this country, but with these demands for larger navies you cannot prevent the spirit of rivalry and competition developing. The First Lord cannot deny that the effects of the failure of the Coolidge Conference has been to unloose in America and here a large measure of bitterness and rivalry. I would like to ask the First Lord whether it is possible for him to bring pressure to bear on his colleagues in order to send a message of good will to the people of America through the medium of a proposal made by Mr. Gibson yesterday at the Geneva Conference at which this country was represented by Lord Cushendun. Both these representatives agreed that the Russian peace proposals were hopeless. At that Conference Mr. 666 Gibsonsuggested a multilateral treaty—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
The hon. Member appears to be getting far away from the Navy Estimates.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I think not. If the hon. Member is trying to argue from the lesser to the greater on the Navy Estimates, that is not in order, and I am inclined to think that Mr. Speaker has already ruled in that sense.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
This is the Report stage of the Navy Estimates. If the hon. Member wishes to tell the First Lord of the Admiralty that naval disarmament in this country is unduly slow that would be in order, but, on the larger question of general disarmament treaties between nations, the First Lord cannot be responsible for matters of that kind.
§ Mr. JONES
I think I have put my point, and I am satisfied. The First Lord will appreciate that my intention is to get him to agree with his colleagues upon some measure of international disarmament. Having tried to indicate the situation as regards public opinion in America and this country, I think the position is one that does not justify a feeling of satisfaction and contentment. I have heard editors of newspapers say that while we speak of war between England and America as something unthinkable, we all say that in order to be courteous. I am bound to say on the other hand that I have heard a belief repeatedly expressed by other editors as to the necessity of maintaining Anglo-American friendships. I believe that the aftermath or repercussion of the Coolidge Conference policy has been disastrous to our relationship with the American people. That being so, I ask the First Lord to embark upon a larger programme of naval disarmament in order to assure the American people that we regard friendship between themselves and ourselves as being the pivot upon which the world's peace must revolve in the future.
§ Mr. RENNIE SMITH
I should like to say a word or two about the effect which the discussion on the subject of parity has had upon well-informed opinion in the United States. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones), I was in New York in January of this year to consult the opinions of the large number of peace societies in the United States, and nothing impressed me more than the sense of anxiety and concern which has been created as a direct consequence of the discussions on this subject of parity. In view of the fact that we as a people accepted the principle of parity at the Washington Conference, and have been guiding our foreign policy in relation to America on that principle, it is unfortunate and deplorable that, after the lapse of some three years, we should enter into another Naval Conference and suddenly discover that we had no basis of agreement on what is really the fundamental basis of our foreign policy in relation to that country.
What is very noticeable about contemporary American opinion on this subject is that they had taken a very simple view of what parity meant. As far as one can see, they had opened their Webster's Dictionary and read the definition, and had drawn certain very obvious conclusions based upon the normal usages of that word; and I do not think I am wrong in stating the view that this particular Conference was almost foredoomed to failure in its very early stages because of the disastrous psychological reactions which were transmitted from Geneva by the responsible Press representatives of America, based on the assumption that they thought that the responsible British people at Geneva were playing about with this principle of parity, that they were not clear in their minds as to what they understood by it, and, indeed, meant more than one thing when they used the word, and meant to carry out more than one policy under the cover of that word. I hope, therefore, that the House will forgive me if I emphasise what I think is a really important aspect of this problem from the point of view of doing better in the future, which is the essence of the whole discussion.
I want to ask the First Lord whether he will not make it an important part of his business in the next weeks and the 668 next months to get a definition of this word established which will be a firm definition for purposes of discussion and practice as between Great Britain and America. He knows that a little more than a year ago he was using language concerning parity which was very different from the language that, after the lapse of some days, he used in the Conference itself. He has held in his mind very important reservations with regard to the number of cruisers which we are going to have as a nation and which could reasonably be brought into any definition of parity drawn up by an impartial body as between the two nations. If he compares the statement which the Chancellor made at the end of the Conference with regard to the use of this word, and the qualifications involved in the word "mathematical," he will see that the Americans immediately took hold of that definition and went back to a previous statement which the Chancellor had made in another capacity just after the Armistice, when he said:Nothing in the world, nothing that you may think of or dream or, or that anyone may tell you, no arguments, however specious, no appeals, however seductive, must lead you to abandon that naval supremacy on which the life of our country depends.I hope the First Lord will not think that we are nagging at him, that we are trying to multiply the difficulties with which he is confronted. Heaven knows that we, even as amateurs, have sufficient consciousness of the complexity and the difficulty of the problem. But will he not put this matter in the forefront of his programme, and try to get worked out a satisfactory definition which both peoples can use and upon which they can walk as firmly as on a bridge—something on which they can build in the days that lie ahead? As I look back on the four busy weeks that I spent talking to people specially concerned, who want to help the First Lord to do better with the American people, I have the strong impression that there is an enormous fund of good will and common sense, horse sense if you like, in these two peoples. But I think the biggest difficulty at present is the psychological difficulty—this sense that we as a British group have not been playing quite straight, have not been playing quite fair on something fundamental which they themselves 669 assumed some years ago to be established and a fact. The psychological reactions are a real danger and a real problem.
I was very glad to hear the First Lord say last week how important it was that we should all take great care as to the kind of language that we employed when we were discussing America and the American people, and I think it is precisely because American opinion is so sensitive on this point of parity that that kind of advice is of particular importance. My attention was drawn the other day to a letter which had been written by a Member of this House to some friend in the United States, and which is a rather regrettable illustration of how we can disturb in a damaging way this sensitive psychology on the other side. I do not need to remind the House that, while Americans in general have not too high an estimate of the particular vocation which we here pursue, they are always prepared to make an exception in favour of the British House of Commons, and from that point of view a letter of this kind, coming from a Member of the House, does work disastrously, even though we may, to use the American language, be merely politicians. It contained this kind of language:Build your big cruisers; waste your money if you choose; but at the end of it all you will not have a Navy to compare with ours, for you have not got the seamen and you cannot make them.I say that that kind of language is precisely the sort of thing, when joined up to this vagueness and ambiguity of language with regard to parity, which does an incalculable amount of harm in the relations of the two people. I used to think some years ago that America was really an extension of our own civilisation—
§ Mr. SMITH
My hon. Friend asks me if I can give information as to who wrote the letter. The answer is in the negative. I have the information from an authoritative person in this country that it is a genuine and bona fide letter. All I can say is that it was a Member of this House who wrote the letter.
§ Mr. ALBERY
Would the hon. Member mind saying whether he himself knows, even if he considers himself unable to 670 give it, the name of the Member who wrote the letter?
It is true that people on both sides of the Atlantic write letters equally stupid, and that is a great danger.
§ Mr. SMITH
I agree entirely. The point I am emphasising is that the greatest danger in my judgment is of a psychological character. It is the sending over of messages, of which I give this as a type, inflaming passions between the two countries. It is of great importance to remember that America is not an extension of the Anglo-Saxon civilisation. There is an Irish element, a Jewish element and many others, and it is the easiest thing in the world to release passions against the British nation. I should like to say how glad I was that the First Lord took the opportunity in asking, not simply Members of the House, but all responsible people in this country in public life, to take the greatest possible care, particularly in the next three years, as to how we speak to the American people, whether it is through the cinema or any of the thousand and one methods at our hands in the course of our relations with that country.
I want to draw attention to another aspect of the discussions that took place at Geneva. So far as I know, this point has not been raised in the discussion. I understood the First Lord to say over and over again at Geneva that the reason we wanted a certain number of cruisers was because of our special position in the world. He advanced over and over again what I should call a special requirements doctrine for this country. We were in a special position. We only command in this tiny little island seven weeks' food supply out of the 52, and we are therefore dependent on keeping open the trade routes of the world for our very existence. I notice in a very large number of the speeches with which the right hon. Gentleman has sought to educate the people of this country concerning the 671 difficulties with which he was confronted at Geneva, he has said he really could not understand why the American public could not appreciate these facts, and make allowance for them. I am not going to deal with that point of view, but if he is going to put forward a special requirements doctrine for the British people, he should be willing to admit of a special requirements doctrine being put forward from the American side. If it is true, as he has said over and over again, that the American people require to be educated with regard to our special position, we equally need to be educated concerning the special requirements of the American people.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I think the hon. Member forgets that in the first plenary session I stated that the best plan would be for each country to say what they wanted for their own defence and why they wanted it. I stated what we wanted and said that we were ready to admit any special circumstances that existed in other countries. We were perfectly prepared to consider the special conditions of other countries if they were willing to consider ours.
§ Mr. SMITH
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has made this intervention. It leads up to the difficulty I wanted to put to him, because when the American delegates put forward their demands on the basis of their special situation, the Noble Lord took exception to it and wanted to propose an addition to the British 10,000-ton cruisers as a direct consequence of their proposals. Let me elaborate the point a little further, because it is of real importance from the point of view of getting a better agreement the next time we come together. The main argument I have heard advanced from the American side, by people who take much the same point of view and have much the same conception of patriotism and loyalty to one's own group that the right hon. Gentleman has, is that they are fully willing to admit that our position is a difficult one, and to make allowance for it. But they argue that certainly in 1928 the claim of America for cruisers, in terms of dependence upon the rest of the world in vital matters, makes out a case for special requirements which is certainly comparable to 672 anything that can be put forward by Great Britain. I saw the argument advanced—I do not think it can be refuted—that even with regard to food supply the American nation is no longer self-sufficing. Whilst it does not import 45 weeks' food supply, it is, at all events, dependent on the other nations of the world to the extent of £50,000,000 a year, and there is every indication that that amount of dependence, even in food matters, upon the rest of the world, that is, upon the use of all the seas of the world for the maintenance in food terms of the American nation, is on the increase rather than on the decrease.
The Americans have not talked so much in terms of bread. They have emphasised that modern civilisations do not live by bread alone, and, in the case of America, I was going to say they consume more rubber than they do bread. Therefore, you have a very imposing argument from the point of view of special requirements in terms of rubber. Those who are arguing precisely on the same ground as the right hon. Gentleman point out that if raw rubber supplies to America were cut off they could not carry on their civilisation at all. I was reading on my return journey from America that, of the 25,000,000 motor cars in the world, 22,000,000 are in use among the people of the United States. We may describe America as a civilisation that runs on rubber, and if you deny the access of raw rubber to America you do in a vital sense paralyse the whole of the activities and the whole of the life of modern America.
Not only so, but I discovered that the whole of the iron and steel manufactures of America are dependent upon manganese and tin, and some 40 or 45 other commodities, which come to the extent of 80 per cent. or 90 per cent. from other countries in the world. I remember reading a very important article wherein it was put forward that if circumstances occurred in the world whereby these paths of the sea were cut across, and these commodities intercepted, America would not be capable of conducting even a defensive war, because all these imported commodities would be withdrawn from her. Take the matter in terms of export and import trade. So far as I can judge, if you include the whole of the coastwise traffic from New York round 673 by Panama and up the Pacific side of the coast, it is true to say America has a far bigger foreign trade than Great Britain herself. Her manufactured exports and her imports of raw materials approximate to equality when compared with the export and import trade of Great Britain.
I want to emphasise—it seems to me a unique point in the negotiations at Geneva—that this matter of the special requirements doctrine of the British nation has been put forward, I believe, for the first time. It is something new in the matter of negotiations with regard to the Navy. I want to emphasise, therefore, that if he is going to put forward that doctrine in the future we may be reasonably certain, not only that America has an equal claim to put forward a corresponding doctrine, but that, as the years go by, the American demand for cruisers and aircraft and the various classes of ships will increase, and if we work along on the doctrine of requirements, we are committed to a steady, progressive competition between the two navies. Therefore, the whole of the argument leads me to the conclusion, which some of my hon. Friends have been emphasising almost to the point of weariness in the two Debates we have had, that, while within the framework of these assumptions, it may have been possible—we argued that it was possible—to come to a settlement—we have used in the main the evidence which Lord Cecil has presented—if an agreement had been reached it might have been an agreement not to disarm but to increase our mutual commitments. Therefore, even if an agreement had been reached, it would have been really worth very little for the circumstances of the modern world. Does not that very fact drive us back to the position that the assumptions upon which the whole Debate was embarked require to be reconsidered, namely, whether it is satisfactory to maintain the doctrine of special requirements and whether we can get anywhere on this basis in the matter of disarmament?
The right hon. Gentleman has been using the words "defensive" and "aggressive" to an amazing extent in discussions during the last week or two, and he has never yet ventured to give a 674 definition of those words. As I understand the position, he says that a 10,000 ton cruiser is an aggressive instrument, and that a 6,000 ton cruiser is a defensive instrument. That view might be repeated entirely from the American point of view. They would argue over and over again that the fifteen 10,000 ton cruisers which they have just succeeded in budgeting for were essentially defensive instruments in the terms of any definition of defence the right hon. Gentleman cared to make. I want to drive him back to this consideration, to the presumptions and assumptions underlying the whole of the debate which he conducted at Geneva last year. The First Lord is not simply the representative of the Naval Department. He has been discussing the matter in this House as though he had nothing else to do except to represent to us the carefully considered reasons of his Department for not doing this, that or the other. The First Lord is also a Member of His Majesty's Government, and he had at Geneva the supreme responsibility of representing not only the policy of specialists in the Naval Department, but the considered political policy of His Majesty's Government. It is with regard to that second aspect, that I want to make a special appeal. He has used language that war is unthinkable, and his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, has said that war is outlawed in our hearts.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member now seems to be anticipating the Motion which is down in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Newcastle (Mr. Trevelyan).
§ Mr. SMITH
I think that I may say all the speakers from this side of the House have been drawn like butterflies to a bright light to something which is coming on later. I can assure you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I have no intention of transgressing in that direction, but as the whole question is so much involved with the Navy, I thought that you might allow me to refer to this before sitting down. I want to ask the First Lord, within the framework of naval policy, whether he is not prepared, on the grounds of the difficulties he has experienced, to cause the Foreign Secre, tary, or to cause—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
It would be contrary to all the Rules of Supply if any matter could be brought in by suggesting to a Minister that he should use his influence with the Department concerned.
§ Mr. SMITH
I know that my predecessor who represented Penistone was a far cleverer man with regard to the rules of Debate than ever I hope to be. I hope, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you will understand that I am not trying to evade the issue, and I obey implicitly and fully the ruling that you have given. Let me, therefore, conclude by saying to the First Lord that on these two grounds I hope he will realise we are not wanting to make detailed criticism. We want him to pay attention to the assumptions of his policy which he announced at Geneva last year, and, above all, we want him to employ the next three years in trying to provide the foundation whereby, when the Washington Conference falls due for further consideration, we shall have a body of political doctrine and policy which will not put him in the hopelessly unfair position he was in last year, and which will give him a chance of taking hold of this goodwill and this very widespread and growing desire on both sides of the Atlantic to work out a basis of agreement for disarmament which will not involve an increase, but which will, in fact, set an example, which is very badly wanted indeed, to the whole of the rest of the world.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
I propose to intervene for a few minutes, but not as a naval expert or with a desire in any way to criticise the administration of the First Lord of the Admiralty. I want to deal with a matter which is of very great interest to the mining industry of the country, and a matter which was raised, I think, by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Bromley) when the matter was discussed on the Estimates during the course of last week. In dealing with the matter, perhaps I ought to mention that I am not going to question the reason for the change which was made by the First Lord of the Admiralty in the substitution of oil for coal for bunkering the Navy. I think that the main consideration must be the efficiency of the Fleet in the execution and the 676 performance of its real duty of defence and attack. I want to point out what this change has meant to the mining industry in this country. In 1913 we were told that South Wales supplied something like 3,000,000 tons of the very best coal to our Navy, and that that 3,000,000 tons found work for something like 15,000 men all the year round. Owing to the change which has taken place, I now find that, instead of supplying some 3,000,000 tons of coal a year, we are supplying about 300,000 tons; so that, really, instead of the Navy providing some three weeks' work for all the miners in South Wales, they are now providing something less than three days.
Therefore, this change is a matter of very great concern to those of us who come from the mining area of South Wales. As a matter of fact, the amount of fuel oil to be purchased for the purpose of steam raising during the course of this year, amounts to about £1,300,000, whereas the amount of steam coal which is to be purchased amounts to something like £321,000. It is argued in the Estimates, and rightly so, that there is a reduction as compared with last year. That reduction is brought about as a result, of course, of a reduction in the price of oil, and it is also stated that it is probably due to a reduction in the quantity of coal required. My plea—if it can be regarded as a plea—is that the First Lord should burn as much coal as he possibly can without in any way impairing the efficiency of the Fleet. I know this may be regarded by some hon. Members of this House as a kind of jocular thing, but we have to bear in mind that while we have a large number of battleships, cruisers and men-of-war that have been fitted solely as oil-burning vessels, we have a number of vessels which are equipped either for oil-burning or for coal-burning.
If during the time of peace, those vessels which are so equipped would use coal in the place of oil, it would be a very great assistance and relief to the miners in the distressed areas of South Wales. I have been able during the last day or two to compare the Fleets of this country with the Fleets of other countries with regard to fuel. If we take the 16 battleships of this country, we find that 12 are oil-burning ships and four can burn either oil or coal. In the 677 United States, their 18 battleships all burn oil. Italy have not yet resorted to oil for their five battleships, which still burn coal as fuel. What amazes me is when we come to the question of cruisers. We have 48 cruisers belonging to the British Empire, 40 of which are oil-burning cruisers and eight can burn coal or oil, but we have not a single cruiser which burns coal only. The United States of America is regarded as the nation which has a Navy almost equivalent in size and efficiency to our own Navy, and I find that of their 32 cruisers, 22 are coal-burning cruisers. That being the position so far as America is concerned, I do think the Admiralty might do very much more than it is doing at the present time to utilise coal.
I daresay the First Lord of the Admiralty will say that so far as the Navy is concerned it is not only a question of efficiency but also a question of price. I would call attention to a statement which was made by Sir Ernest W. Glover to the Coal Commission. He stated that notwithstanding the higher efficiency or steam-raising quality of oil as compared with coal, according to his experience two tons of oil under the boilers were equivalent to three tons of coal, and in a Diesel engine one ton of oil to four or five tons of coal. With regard to price, he expressed the view that when the price of oil was 72s. 6d. a ton the competitive price of coal was 48s. 5d. When coal at the present time is being put into the bunkers at less than £1 a ton, hon. Members can see that there is no comparison between the price of oil and the price of coal. I was very pleased to note the last paragraph in the Memorandum which the First Lord of the Admiralty has issued, but I cannot understand why he has left the question of pulverised coal and low temperature distillation of coal to the last paragraph. Proud as he may be of the Navy and of the efficiency of the Navy, I am sure that he and most Britishers must be very concerned about the position of coal and the fuelling of the Navy at the present time.
Until 1913 we provided all the fuel necessary not only for our own Navy but for most of the European Navies. At the present time, owing to the change which has taken place from coal to oil-burning fuel, we find, according to the information that I have been able to 678 obtain, that we are producing less than 20 per cent. of the oil required in our own country, and that 80 per cent. of the oil has to be imported from other countries. I would like the First Lord and his Department to take up the question of endeavouring to provide as far as possible the fuel necessary for our own Navy. I need not deal at any length with the question of the experiments in regard to oil extraction from coal. do not know how far the Admiralty are acting in co-operation with the Minos Department in endeavourng to supply oil from coal for naval purposes. The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out in the last paragraph of his Memorandum that:The development of the use of pulverised fuel ashore and afloat is being carefully watched. Trials of the oils produced from the low temperature distillation of coal are being carried out to test their suitability for Service purposes, either alone or blended with petroleum base oils.I do not think that is quite good enough, seeing how much the Navy is dependent upon oil as a fuel at the present time. I would appeal to the First Lord and his Department to do all that they possibly can to use coal where it is possible to use it without impairing the efficiency of the Fleet and, at the same time, to interest themselves in every possible way with a view to seeing how far the experiments in pulverised fuel and how far the experiments in oil abstraction from coal can be advanced, so that the Navy will be able to have a supply of fuel for steam raising in the Navy without having to import between 80 and 90 per cent. of this vital commodity, which one might regard as almost the lifeblood of the Navy.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I am not a naval expert and I am not very keenly interested, but arising out of the point raised by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) I want to ask the First Lord, who besides being a naval expert is also recognised as an expert in languages, why this part of the Estimates should be headed with the French word "Materiel," with the peculiar accent over the central "c." Why is this very un-English title used in connection with a very British Navy? There is one further point to which I would direct the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare has used certain figures in regard 679 to the tremendous reduction in the consumption of Welsh coal by the Navy. I think he quoted figures as being the difference between three weeks' output formerly and three days' output at the present time. That means that there is only one-seventh of the output of coal required for the Navy, compared with formerly. I see, however, in the Estimate that we have exactly the same expenditure for inspecting this reduced quantity of coal and that we still have an Engineer-Commander who acts as the Inspector of South Wales coal.
If there has been this great reduction in the amount of coal to be inspected, there ought to have been some reduction in the staff of inspectors. I should imagine that the Engineer-Commander who is capable of inspecting the South Wales coal is also capable of inspecting the coal that is produced in Newcastle and Scotland. If I am not speaking in too amateurish a way, I should think that the Engineer-Lieutenant who acted as the assistant inspector when the huge quantity of coal was being used would now be capable of inspecting all the coal, when the total amount has been reduced to one-seventh of the former quantity. I would like to hear from the First Lord the reason in support of maintaining a staff of three inspectors, all naval officers of considerable rank, for the inspection of coal, when the amount of coal now used is only a fraction of what was formerly used in the Navy.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. HARDIE
There is one point which I should like to raise in regard to consumption in the Navy. It seems a strange thing that there should be consumption in the Navy when in our minds the Navy is always associated with the biggest supply of ozone in the world. At sea one expects to get the best health, and it is a strange thing that we should have the report that consumption is attacking the ratings on board ship. The one thing in which I am interested is the human side. If you take the conditions which obtained in the old wooden ships of this country—the records can still be consulted—you would not discover that the same diseases affected the lungs of the men as do to-day. Has the Admiralty taken any trouble at all to find out what really takes place when men are sleeping surrounded by non-breathing materials? 680 This is a serious question, and I raised the same point during the discussion on steel houses in this House. It is not a question of being against a steel house or a steel ship, but rather of understanding the effect of surrounding persons when sleeping with non-breathing materials.
From the earliest days, when man in his savage state sought shelter, he tried first of all the tree, and then was driven to try underground. When he made holes in the ground he discovered that the walls of his shelter fell in, and he was driven to dig holes under trees so that the smaller roots acted in the same way as lath and plaster do to-day, in keeping his dugout intact. All the time these people were dwelling with breathing materials, that is with materials which were capable of absorbing what they gave off in their breathing during sleep. When he goes above ground man persists in using some form of breathing materials, and whenever you get men who are kept, especially when asleep, surrounded by metals which are non-breathing metals. you always have the most serious consequences upon the breathing apparatus of the individual. I wonder whether any investigation has taken place in regard to these diseases; have the Admiralty studied and investigated this matter? If you had conditions where you could have air passing through about nine inches above the average surface or sea level, if it was constant, you could prevent any deterioration in the breathing apparatus of the individual, but from the reports I have read that is not possible because of the depth at which these men are kept, and they have to live closely together.
Is it not possible in the construction of ships to so arrange the sleeping places that there would be a material capable of absorbing what is given off in sleep? That is the most important thing so far as the health of the people is concerned. It is a strange thing that we should have the same thing in a warship at sea as you have under what is called the worst slum conditions in towns and cities, the same diseases arising from different causes. Have any experiments been made, have any analyses been taken, during the mid-sleeping hour, or the semi-mid-sleeping hour? It is very cheap to do, and it would give most definite information. We should know the change 681 of conditions which takes place at this time. I hope the First Lord will see that there is a need for something to be done on these lines in the interests of the health of the men. Let me say a word in regard to oil fuel as compared with coal. It is not a question of patriotism which actuates the Navy in the use of oil or coal. If it was patriotism they would use coal. They tell us that it is a question of efficiency, and when you speak of efficiency in regard to the Navy you speak of fighting efficiency. It seems strange that while you pay strict attention to the efficiency of your fuel you should forget the efficiency of your men.
Take steam coal as against oil. Figures were given some time ago. If you take coal at an average price of £1 per ton, and oil of the lowest type of burning oil, with its asphalte content, even then you are not saving money by using oil. As to the space occupied by coal, I can understand the argument that you are able to carry one or two guns more in the space that was formerly occupied by coal. But when you have taken your store of oil you have to provide for two things. You have to provide an oil which will not solidify at certain low temperatures, and when you get to warmer climates you have to arrange for the escape of the gases which are created by heat. Then it is said that the oil taken from British coal is not of the type which can do the service required of it, except in hot countries where the oil will not solidify. That is not the difficulty. If we did not know how to make that oil as good as any oil you can get from the natural oil wells in America there would be some force in that argument, but there is no difficulty about it. I have treated such oil from a low temperature and reduced it to the standard of what you get from Scotch shale. The figures which have been given in relation to the Diesel engine may have been good some years ago, but they have no relation whatever to the present. If you want to run a Diesel engine with any efficiency at all you have to pay £4 7s. 6d. for the oil. You must have that class of oil; and nothing short of that. You must have that class of oil to give any efficiency at all. Thus, taking the comparative costs, you could have four tons of coal, as against one ton of oil, in the case of the Diesel engine.
682 In regard to steam coal its cheapness is known to those who use it especially in connection with sea work. In September two years ago the Norddeutscher Lloyd gave an order to a Dutch firm for a number of oil-driven ships but the moment the coal market fell a change was made in the construction of those ships, enabling them to be converted from oil to coal. The reason was that once you got coal down to about £1 per ton, no oil could compete with it. Had oil been that all some people claim it to be there would be a tremendous advance in the use of oil on land to-day, but even as a result of the coal stoppages in 1921 and later we did not find a great turnover to the use of oil. It is true that by the use of oil in a ship you may make room for a few tons more cargo and that may, in some way, be a compensation, but in regard to land work, oil cannot stand beside coal, if coal is at a reasonable price. The question of power in the Navy rests upon coal even in an emergency. I may be told that we would be able to construct tanks of such capacity that in times of peace we could store a sufficient amount to prevent the danger of a shortage, but we have to remember the risk of air attack.
We have to remember that, through the agency of filthiest of human beings, namely, the spy, the enemy always possesses information about these matters and we have to recognise the possibility of all these stores of oil being attacked and destroyed. As one who is anti-war, I do not cease to use my intelligence in regard to these matters and I ask the pro-war people would it not be wise, from their own war point of view, to have their own source of oil production, without any question of waiting for weeks or months—a continuous production from their own resources so as to become independent of the conditions I have described. If you build a fine engine like the aeroplane engine, why should you depend for petrol on a country which may some day be your enemy? Then you may be deprived of your petrol and your machines compelled to remain on the ground. If only from his own point of view—that of having full security should war come—the First Lord should do his best to see that this country is independent of all outside sources of supply in connection with that which is the basis 683 of the Navy, namely, the generation of steam.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
I think it regrettable that the First Lord should have replied to this Debate at such an early stage, because he will not be able now to answer the further points which have been raised. I know I shall get no reply from any representative of the Admiralty to what I am about to say, but there is an old Biblical saying which urges us to cast our bread upon the waters, and promises that it shall return to us after many days. Even if I get no immediate reply, I hope the sea will bear fruit at some future time. Considerable anxiety exists regarding the medical services of the Navy. We have heard of the tremendous number of cases of tuberculosis among ratings who had been admitted to the Navy as healthy men, and who are alleged by the medical officers concerned to be unaffected by their naval service. It is very difficult for a layman to get at the truth, but one or two things which have come to my notice have made me feel that the medical services of the Admiralty could do with a little investigation by the right hon. Gentleman.
A short time ago I was reading one of those fine old volumes of which I profess myself a great admirer, namely, the "Admiralty Sailing Directions to Pilots." I came across directions for the maintenance. of health of officers and men of the Navy in West African waters. Those regulations were so obviously out of date that it was clear to me that no medical officer with any knowledge of the subject could have revised them for at least a century. Although many of the fine old idioms and sayings in these volumes make them attractive reading, I think that in regard to medical directions they ought to be revised and kept up-to-date to meet the rapid changes in medical science, particularly as regards tropical medicines. In connection with the trouble in the "Royal Oak," the right bon. Gentleman has made several appeals to the House and the Press—not couched as I think in the best language—urging them not to prejudge the issue and not to make it awkward for the Admiralty.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
The hon and gallant Gentleman who is the right hon. Gentleman's colleague did.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
I apologise if I have misrepresented what the right hon. Gentleman thinks, and I proceed to say what the Parliamentary Secretary said. He said he appealed to the House to trust the Admiralty to see that the officers got fair play and that the matter was properly dealt with. But the people who ought to be trusted are not the Admiralty but this House. This House has an overriding responsibility and in that responsibility each hon. Member has his part to play and the Admiralty are on no strong ground when they protest against a question of this nature being raised in the House. We have a duty not only to the Admiralty but to our constituents and the country, and I consider that both the Press and this House have been extremely circumspect in what they have said and in the inquiries they have made about this case. It is, as far as can be seen, an incident without precedent—a Vice-Admiral's flag hauled down. [An HON. MEMBER: "A Rear-Admiral's!"] It has been done without a word to the country or the House as to the cause. The whole matter is shrouded in mystery and when the result of the court-martial is published, this House will not only want to have those proceedings but will want copies of the original report which was wirelessed to the Admiralty, and in regard to which they took precautions against any leakage. I do not propose to say any more upon the subject. [interruption.] In that case I shall say one or two further things, because I do not intend to be intimidated. First, the Admiralty were so good as to tell us that the public would be admitted to the courts-martial. To-day I asked the Parliamentary Secretary whether, in view of the fact that these courts-martial were to be held on one of the ships, facilities would be granted to the 685 public to get on board and hear the trial. It seems to me that that was a perfectly reasonable request. Either the public are to be admitted or they are not. If they are to be admitted, facilities ought to be given them for going on board, because I know very well that sometimes it is very difficult—and rightly so—to get facilities for going on board His Majesty's ships. I hope that in this case it will not be a pretence that the trial is to be public, but that the Press and the public will be able to go and hear it.
I want to say a word about the Geneva Conference. I have not been among those who have made any public complaint against the action of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord. I believe he did his best, and the fact that it resulted in failure is a matter to be regretted on every side. So far as I was able to follow those negotiations—and I followed them very carefully—they broke down on this question: The First Lord told the Americans that, according to the best technical advice which we have, Britain needs so many cruisers and such and such a force in order to protect our essential lines of communication at sea. The fact that that total force was stronger than was required by any other country in the world for the protection of its lines of communication leads us to this difficult situation. If we insist on the full number of cruisers necessary to protect our sea lines of communication, those lines being longer than anybody else's, it stands to reason that, if our forces are massed, they are going to be stronger than the force of any other country. Therefore, when we ask for the bare minimum to protect our sea. lines of communication, what we are in effect asking for is a force which, when brought together, will be more powerful than any other navy.
I am not saying whether or not we are justified in that demand, but we must address ourselves to meeting the objection of Powers like America, which are not willing to accept that position. They say that if we insist on an adequate force to defend our shores, it means. that their navy must inevitably be of an inferior strength. I hope, in view of the failure of all these disarmament discussions—because the First Lord is not alone in his failure to achieve any progress towards disarmament; everyone who has followed 686 the discussions of the League of Nations well knows that they have become absolutely hopeless so far as leading to any result is concerned—[An HON. MEMBER: "No!"]. The hon. Member may know better than I do, and his opinion is no doubt more valuable than mine, but I would like to stand on record as saying that the proceedings of the Preparatory Commission will not lead to any tangible results in disarmament if they go on for 20 years.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
I was giving that as an example to show how efforts towards disarmament are failing in every sphere, and I was using that as a preamble to urge the right hon. Gentleman to take up the matter afresh and to consider it from a new point of view. I will conclude by asking what answer he is going to give to the United States when their spokesmen say to him: If you insist on a force adequate to protect your lines of communication, they being the longest lines of communication, what you will in effect insist on is a navy which in its total strength will be superior to any other navy in the world. I am not offering an answer, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will-bring forward some proposals to meet that question.
§ Mr. PALING
I had expected that the right hon. Gentleman would have given an answer to the questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall). The right hon. Gentleman said that the Admiralty are watching with interest the experiments that are being conducted in regard to the new pulverised fuel, but that is not quite satisfactory. The hon. Member for Aberdare has put rather an alarming question. It would seem to me that some of the distress in the coal industry is due to the fact that there has been such a radical change in the use of fuel in the Navy. The hon. Member for Aberdare stated that of the amount of oil used in the Navy 80 per cent, comes from abroad. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman is watching the experiments in low carbonisation with a view to the Admiralty making their own oil in this country. If he is, so much the better, and I hope we shall be able in the 687 course of time to secure that, of the amount of oil used in the Navy, 80 per cent. will come from home sources and only 20 per cent, from abroad, thus completely turning the present percentages round. I think, however, the right hon. Gentleman will agree that at present the experiments in low-temperature carbonisation are going along very slowly, and if he has been in the House when questions have been asked on the subject, he will have noticed that his fellow Minister has always answered very carefully, and that never yet have we been able to get him to say that it is a commercial success, nor can we get him to say when it is likely to be a commercial success. It may be a question of a good many years, and in view of that fact, I wonder what the Admiralty are doing in order to try this new kind of fuel.
I think it, is admitted, from the point of view of efficiency, that pulverised fuel has got past the experimental stage, and that there are boats and firms of every description using it; and it has been proved up to the hilt that the efficiency that can be got out of pulverised fuel is probably greater than can be got by low-temperature carbonisation. When the right hon. Gentleman states that they are watching these experiments, I would like to know whose experiments they are watching. Are they depending on private enterprise, and are they then going, in a few years' time, to make use of the knowledge thus gained? Are we not rather used in this country to State Departments taking the initiative in these matters, and making experiments for themselves? It has been stated that one of the points in regard to the superiority of oil over coal is the question of bulk, and I think the proportion is about three tons of coal to two tons of oil, but the oil, of course, can be carried in much less space, ton for ton. I understand also that the amount of coal that would be used in the pulverised state as against the amount that would be used in the raw state is very small, so that from all points of view it will be found that a good case can be made out for the pulverised coal.
I know of no Department that is better fitted than is the Admiralty to make experiments on this subject. Is it not possible, with all the ships which the First 688 Lord controls, for the Admiralty to make experiments for themselves, to be continually experimenting in the use of fuel, with a view to getting the utmost efficiency out of it, particularly in view of the fact that the greatest industry which we have to-day, which is sometimes called the life-blood of the nation, is at present in such a terrible condition? I think if he takes all these facts in relation one to the other he will agree that it is not good enough for him to tell the House that they are watching these experiments with interest. I think he will come to the conclusion that it is his duty as First Lord to make these experiments and progress with them as rapidly as possible. If it is proved that pulverised coal is of the efficiency which is claimed by the people who are using it, and is as good as, or even better than, oil, and that as far as bulk to be carried is concerned it is as favourable, or nearly so, as oil, cannot he tell us something more than he has done up to the present? If he has not made any experiments up to the present, in view of the circumstances in regard to coal in this country, will he tell us whether he is prepared to do something in the near future?
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I can only answer by leave of the House. I should like to assure the hon. Gentleman that we are most interested in this question. So far, pulverised coal has not reached the point where we feel it can he compared with oil for His Majesty's ships in the Navy. Possibly it may improve, but as has been mentioned, at present for bulk and calorific value there is no comparison possible. With regard to research in low temperature carbonisation, I think the hon. Member must have forgotten that there is a Government Research Department, apart from the Admiralty, and that it is conducting experiments into this particular method, and has been doing so for a very long time. It is disappointing, I agree. that more progress has not been made, and I agree it would be most gratifying indeed if we could rely in future on the oil we require for the Navy being derived from coal. It is a thing to which I look forward. I do not think it will come during my period at the Admiralty, but I should like to live to see the day when it does come. I am sure it would be a very great thing for the country. I 689 hope the hon. Member will not think that we are uninterested or unsympathetic in the matter. It is obvious that if we could rely upon large supplies of oil derived from this country, it would be of immense advantage to the defence of the country and the Empire.
There is one other thing upon which I should like to say a word, and that is tuberculosis, We are trying to find out the facts about it, and it is a thing in which I am very much interested. We are trying to find out all about it, and to provide as far as possible for avoiding any of the dangers. If the hon. Member has any particular points which are not known to us, and which he would like to put before us, I should be very glad to refer them to our medical and other authorities at the Admiralty.
§ Mr. MARDY JONES
I am very disappointed with the attitude of mind of the First Lord towards the possibilities of pulverised coal and its use by naval vessels. Surely when we remember that oil fuel replaced raw coal for fuel purposes on the high seas, it does not follow we have got to wait for the commercial use of pulverised coal for this purpose. Pulverised coal can be used quite as easily as oil at sea, both in the use and fuelling of the ships. When we remember that there are very few parts of the British Empire where oil fuel resources are available, and that we have to go to the ends of the earth to get oil for the Navy and run the danger when there is war with other countries in getting that oil supply, we ought to pay more attention to the possibilities of coal in a pulverised form. We must remember that we have very abundant and rich resources of coal in most parts of the Empire more accessible than the oil from the oilfields, and that for the purpose of pulverised coal it is not necessary that we should get the highest class of coal, say from South Wales, for it is now proved that almost any quality of coal from the poorest as well as the richest coalfields, if properly pulverised, can be utilised as readily and easily as oil itself. Therefore, we ought to take a very long view of this matter.
I attach the utmost importance to the possibilities of substituting not raw coal but pulverised coal for oil as a fuel for the Navy on the high seas. It has all 690 the advantages of coal without any of its disadvantages. There is only one serious objection to the use of pulverised coal at the present time on the high seas, and that is the danger of spontaneous combustion. The First Lord has not referred to it, but the House is entitled to know from him if that is a serious difficulty which stands in the way. Surely the only way to overcome a natural or scientific difficulty is to experiment with it until you have solved the difficulty. What has the right hon. Gentleman done in that direction? As far as we know from him or from any of his colleagues, they have done next to nothing. Surely, with all the vessels we have on the seas consuming enormous quantities of fuel in times of peace, some of them could be set aside to experiment in this direction. Even if the experiments involved danger, that is part of the duty of the people who are at sea. Out of that danger and those experiments we would gain valuable lessons, not in the laboratory by theory but by everyday use at sea. I say very seriously it is high time that the Navy, with its exceptional position and advantages should set aside some of these vessels—if you like, vessels which are least valuable for future fighting purposes—for these experiments. I make that submission respectfully for the right hon. Gentleman's consideration. There is another point to which I want to draw his attention. It concerns a matter of which I have had personal observation during the last few months.
§ Mr. JONES
It was not in North Borneo, but somewhere else in the Far East. I refer to the naval base at Singapore. We find that the Government propose to spend, in order to complete this base, altogether something like £7,750,000 in the Naval Department alone. Last night we discussed a very heavy Vote for Army expenses for the base and on the Air Force Vote we discussed a heavy item of expenditure for air defence purposes solely for the base. Here we are proposing to spend £7,750,000. Half a million pounds will have been spent by the end of the present month, and another £200,000 has been voted for 1927, leaving over £6,000,000 to be spent on future occasions. We have not had a word as to what period of time or number of years 691 will be required for the expenditure of this total sum for the completion of the base. Nothing has been said about it. The naval base is treated by the Government as a great secret and a mystery, and nobody must get near it or ask questions about it, because it is of a very delicate international character. Yet this naval base is the most talked-of military preparation in every country in the world. We are entitled to know if this enormous sum of money is to be spent, and what guarantee we have from the Government that the estimate they have made is a reliable one. When we get nearer the construction of this base we may find the Government coming along and calmly demanding an enormous extra sum of money beyond this Estimate.
We want some assurance that we are not running into a mad race for the expenditure of millions and millions of pounds during the next few years at Singapore, and then, when we have completed the base and squandered all this money and created unrest and distrust among the nations of the world as to what is our object in building the base, find that, like Rosyth, it will have to be scrapped because it is not required. Without any pretence of knowledge of naval affairs, but merely as a Member of this House and a man-in-the-street, I have been very surprised to discover at Singapore that somebody has blundered in the building of the naval base. The base is on the island of Singapore. The port is at one end of the island and the base at the other, and the new air base is six miles away inland, The naval base is on the north side and the port on the south side, 16 miles apart. The base bounds a narrow channel of the Malacca Strait, which is about a mile in width. This channel is deep enough for all the naval vessels, but there has been built across it what is known as the Causeway. It is a mile in length and connects the island of Singapore with the mainland of the native State of Johor, linking it with the whole Malay Peninsula. The astonishing thing to an outsider is that the Causeway is on a low level, nearly to the water.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
Does the hon. Member say that any money is to be taken in these Estimates for the Causeway?
§ Mr. JONES
If I may develop my argument, it will be obvious in a few moments. This Causeway has no convenience for the passage of vessels up and down the river. At the Johor side of the Causeway is a small canal, allowing small vessels to get through, but no vessel for war purposes is small enough to get through the lock. In certain conceivable circumstances, in an actual outbreak of war, the vessels in the naval base, if they could not get out of the present main outlet, would be caught like rats in a trap, because the Causeway is in the Way. For rail service and road transport the Causeway is necessary at that point, but what is not necessary is that it should block the passage of vessels up and down the channel. Who is responsible for having that Causeway constructed as it is, and who has failed to have the foresight to arrange for a cantilever bridge, which would open and shut as occasion required, so that vessels could come and go in both directions in this channel?
This is not only a personal opinion, but an opinion held by many people who have naval knowledge. It is common talk in the Island of Singapore and throughout the Johor and Malay that somebody has blundered seriously in this matter. We ought to know whether it is a deliberate part of the naval policy of the Government that that Causeway has been built as it is, or whether it is an oversight that will have to be put right in the future. If it is to be put right, it will cost a great deal of money, and is any provision made in this £7,750,000 for any alteration or improvement along those lines? If not, sooner or later that question will have to be met. Out of the £500,000 which is to be spent this year, has any portion been allocated to studying the comfort, the health and the welfare of the men who are engaged upon the clearing of the jungle and upon the dredging in preparation for the floating dock, which is due to go to Singapore by November and will be completed and put into position by June of next year? Is the First Lord aware of the actual conditions under which the men, the Britishers apart from the natives, are housed? If he has no personal knowledge, I suggest that he should make inquiries, and satisfy himself that the conditions are satisfactory. The naval base is situated on very low-lying land; it is full of wild jungle and brooks and 693 little streams which are the centre of malaria. It is a tropical climate, and people who go there for a few years are out of their usual environment, and special precautions should be taken for their comfort, health and safety.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
I wish to have a word in regard to Singapore, for it is very strange how the Singapore base has disappeared from our discussions. One would like to know the reason there has been such a long-maintained silence. The total amount in the Vote this year amounts, not to £7,750,000, but to £8,700,000, because we have to take into consideration the whole question of the furniture, and the other equipment required. I do not know whether my information is correct, but I understand that up to the present no foundation has yet been found upon which it is possible to erect the dock.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
If the hon. Gentleman had been here earlier, he would have heard that I went into the whole of this question. If he will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT in the morning he will see that I have dealt with those points.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
I will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, but the House has a right to be reassured. There is a great deal of talk about this dock and the necessity for a floating dock, and it is alleged that the floating dock has become necessary because the other dock is utterly impossible. These statements are being made and mooted abroad. I leave that question, and will strengthen the argument that has been adduced that the Admiralty should do something to utilise British resources for the fuelling of the Navy. Whether this be in the form of pulverised coal, or of oil derived by the low-carbonisation process, it seems to me that from every point of view, from the strategical point of view, and from the point of view of the best interests of our own workpeople, that the Admiralty should do all they can to acquire the fuel that is necessary for the Navy from our home resources and through the labour of our own work-people. The arguments which have been submitted are adequate arguments and have been put with force, and it seems to me that the advantage is on the side of those who argue in favour of the Navy 694 being fuelled from resources at home instead of having to run the risk of deriving its fuel from sources which may be open to attack in time of peril.
Ordered, That the Resolutions which upon the 20th day of this instant March were reported from the Committee of Supply, and which were then agreed to by the House, be now read:
That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 153,500, all ranks, be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom at Home and Abroad, excluding His Majesty's Indian Possessions, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1929.
That a number of Air Forces, not exceeding 32,500, all ranks, be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom at Home and Abroad, exclusive of those serving in India, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1929.
§ Ordered, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide, during Twelve Months, for the Discipline and Regulation of the Army and Air Force; and that Secretary Sir Laming Worthington-Evans, Mr. Bridgeman, Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare, Mr. Duff Cooper, and Lieut.-Colonel Headlam do prepare and bring it in.