§ Order for Committee read.
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Bridgeman)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
I will endeavour not to tax the patience of the House too much by dwelling upon details, many of which can be readily picked up from a study of the White Paper and the Estimates themselves, but I will try to draw the attention of hon. Members to one or two of the more salient points. The Estimates which I present to-day show a reduction of £1,435,000 over last year's Estimates, and, though apparently they are £65,000 higher than the Estimates for 1924, when the hon. Gentlemen opposite were in office, they are in reality £1,250,000 lower than their Estimates, because I have had to include in the sum for which I am asking £1,300,000 for the Fleet Air Arm, which in their time came under the Air Ministry Vote. So that, in fact, we are not only asking for £1,435,000 less than last year, but for £1,250,000 less than the Socialist Government's Estimates of 1924. This has been effected, in spite of the fact that I have to ask for new construction this year amounting to £1,643,000 more than in 1924, and that the non-effective Vote, over which I have no control at all, is £577,000 in excess of what it was at that time. The saving has been brought about by reduced maintenance charges under almost every head, amounting to £3,445,000, or a reduction of about 7 per cent.
I ought to say a word about the non-effective Vote, which is often left out of the calculations of those hon. Gentlemen of this House and of others outside who keep on saying that we are spending more in forging lethal weapons of destruction than we were before the War. It is rather interesting to see how they justify their high rhetorical flights in that direction. We have been told that, in spite of peace and of all the needs for economy, we are now spending actually more in manufacturing weapons 1302 of destruction for the doom of humanity than we were before the War broke out. I am not a great expert in rhetoric, and I am sure that I should do injustice to the eloquence of many hon. Gentlemen here and outside who like their audiences to enjoy these flights of rhetoric, but perhaps next time they go to address meetings on this particular subject, they will take the trouble to remember that the non-effective Vote has increased by £5,500,000 since 1914, which, as the figure stands, is more than the difference between my Estimates this year and the Estimates in 1914. Therefore, the terrible lethal weapons of destruction which are so largely being increased by the present Government are such alarming weapons as cheques for retired pay of officers who have left the Service, warrants for compassionate grants to women and children, and other equally offensive things.
It is a rather remarkable fact that, if you compare the Estimates of this year and those of 1914, you find that there is apparently a difference of £4,300,000 between this year and that, but that is more than wiped out by the £5,500,000 difference in the non-effective charges, and by the £1,300,000 for the Fleet Air Arm. Actually, comparing like with like, our Estimates this year are £2,500,000 less than those of 1914. [Interruption.] I have not finished yet. Perhaps hon. Members will allow me to remind them that the value of money is not the same now as it was then. Relying upon the credulity of their audiences, many of our critics are very fond of pretending that it is fair to compare the actual figures without taking into consideration the value of money. If you take into consideration the value of money to-day and then, and put the present figures of cost against those of 1914, you will find that the Estimates for 1914, instead of being about £51,500,000, as I think they were, would have been £83,500,000 at the present value of money. Therefore, we are spending actually, when you consider the difference in the value of money, apart from the question of the non-effective Vote, less than in 1914 by £27,500,000. Those who say that we are spending more than we were then will, I hope, take notice of what I say, and modify their speeches accordingly. Before the War the Navy cost 24.5 per cent. of the total Budget; now it costs 6.9 per cent.
1303 In accordance with our naval policy, about which I hope to say a little more later on, we have carried out a steady programme of replacement. In round figures, this has cost us £45,000,000 in the five years for which I have been responsible. Of this, two-fifths represents the legacy which I inherited from my predecessors, partly from the hon. Gentlemen opposite, and partly from those who went before them; and three-fifths represents the additions for which I have asked. Of the inherited charges, the party opposite are responsible for £9,500,000, which they passed on to me and which I was very glad to spend, because the policy which they introduced then, which was the policy of replacement, was a policy of beginning when other countries had laid down an enormous number of post-War ships, while we had laid down none. The policy begun in that year has been continued ever since.
I said just now that I have reduced the maintenance charges under almost every head, and, to be quite plain, I will mention the three heads under which they have not been reduced. One is the Fleet Air Arm. There is an addition there of £220,000, and practically all of that goes to providing an instalment of two more flights to the aircraft carrier "Glorious," which will be commissioned this year, but will not have a full equipment of aircraft until 1930. The Fleet Air Arm is manned up to the authorised proportion of 70 per cent., that is to say, 92 naval officers are now employed in it, and 19 have been trained and reverted to periods of general naval service. The actual service has risen from 105 aircraft in 1924 to 135 in 1928, and the number at the end of the year 1929 should be 153. This is a very modest force, but great progress has been made in these years in zeal and efficiency, and I think we may congratulate all the personnel concerned. There has been a delay in fitting catapults to ships other than aircraft carriers owing to the necessity of experiments being fully tried out. Only two so far have been installed, but we are hoping to make provision for more in the near future.
The next head under which an increase is shown is Vote 6, where there is an 1304 addition of £37,900 due to the fact that the Admiralty have taken over the entire charge of the production of charts from the Stationery Office. This increase is not an increase to the taxpayer, but is only a transfer to our Vote, and would otherwise have been carried on Civil Votes. The third increase comes under Vote 10, and this is accounted for by the additional provision for work on the Naval Base at Singapore. The Admiralty work there has been largely paid for by instalments of (he generous contributions of the Malay Straits, New Zealand and Hong Kong., This year the sum to be expended by this country will be £200,000 in excess of these contributions, but the preliminary clearing of the site has been completed, and the contract for the main works has now been placed. The extra cost this year will be counterbalanced by saving on Vote 8, which was charged last year with over £250,000 for the completion of the floating dock which has been successfully towed all the way to Singapore, and will shortly be in position for use. In my opinion, this has been a very great achievement, and it closes the first chapter of the history of the work at Singapore. It will be of the greatest assistance to the mobility of our Fleet in Eastern waters. The contract for the larger engineering works and graving dock is to be completed in seven years. Including the work to be carried out by the Admiralty, the total estimate at present is £7,750,000, which shows a reduction of £3,850,000 on the original estimate which was put before the House five years ago. Those are the three points in which there is an increase shown in the White Paper.
There are one or two other points, to which I would like to draw the attention of the House, which denote satisfactory progress. By a careful scrutiny it has been possible to reduce Vote A by 2,000 men, and we are concentrating upon the training of boys of the seamen class at Shotley and Forton, instead of in the "Impregnable." Although, as I say, we are reducing the numbers, and although we are spending less under a good many other heads, we are not unmindful of the comfort and health of those who are being trained for the service, and we have been able to start in one or two directions what, I believe, are very useful 1305 reforms. I mentioned the "Impregnable," the boys trained there are going to be trained at Shotley and Forton. That, in itself, will be a considerable saving, because the upkeep of the "Impregnable" is a very heavy item, and the upkeep of shore establishments will be considerably less. Shotley is being improved by the substitution of permanent buildings for the temporary ones which were there before. We are also making a little further progress with an improvement to which I attach considerable importance, and that is we are changing from the "Fisgard," the hulk in which the boys were trained for engineer artificers, to a shore establishment at Chatham. There, again, there will be a very considerable saving in the upkeep, and I am quite sure a very great improvement in health, convenience and accommodation of the boys who have done admirable work in "Fisgard" under rather adverse conditions. There are two other things in which, I am glad to say, we are making progress in improved accommodation. One is at Fort Blockhouse, Portsmouth, and the other is in the accommodation of the anti-submarine experimental personnel at Portland who, up to now, have been housed in very uncomfortable temporary buildings.
There is another matter in which I am glad to note that progress has been made in the right direction. For some time I have been concerned with the question of pulmonary tuberculosis and the awards of pensions to those who have been suffering from it. I made very careful investigations, and, with the sanction of the Treasury, we have been able to adopt methods which now make it easier for men to claim pension for this disease attributable to the service than it was before. Of course, there are now, and always will be, hard cases upon the border lines, but in the method we have adopted the number of cases that are recorded as attributable to service will increase, and the pensions will correspondingly increase, as will also the allowances to widows, children and dependants of those who die from the disease. There is one other observation with regard to pensions which, perhaps, I might make. Before April, 1928, awards for service in the Royal Naval Reserve were restricted to men who had completed 20 years' service in the 1306 Reserve, which entitled them to a gratuity of £50. Since that date we have made a new regulation, and men discharged after ten years' service will be eligible for a proportionate gratuity, and according to the time beyond ten years they have served between that and 20 years.
The Headquarters Staff has been the subject of some criticism occasionally in this House, but I have often explained that it is quite impossible to expect the Headquarters Staff to show a reduction in proportion to the reduction in the Fleet. People say: "Why do you have such an enormous staff when your Fleet service is so much smaller?" The answer I have often given is that there are many more services which the staff have to perform now than they had to do before. The complications of machinery, electricity and new inventions have so entirely altered the duties of the Headquarters Staff, that it is quite impossible for the old staff to do the work which is necessary now, even although the numbers in the Fleet are less. You have only to look at a modern battleship or aircraft carrier, and all the different mechanism on it, to see what a different thing it is now to inspect and take care of a ship like that from what it was when you had cannon balls and black powder. I am going back rather far, but I think it is a very good illustration for anybody to go to Portsmouth and see the "Nelson" and then the "Victory," and then remember that in between the dates of those two ships, and especially during the last few years, there has been enormous progress in things which were not thought of then. Without going as far back there is an enormous difference in all the electrical work, anti-submarine, anti-aircraft, mines and other things, many of which are quite modern inventions, which make it necessary to have a much larger central staff.
In spite of all that, we have reduced the staff at Headquarters by 275, and at out-port establishments we can show a reduction of 209. As a matter of fact, that ought to be 809. We are now counting the 600 second-class draughtsmen who were not returned before. I contend that a reduction of 275 in the Headquarters Staff and of 809 in the out-port staff is going some way to meet the 1307 wishes of this House and everybody else for economy in the office of the Admiralty. Of course, I do not know whether we can go any further. We are always looking out for economies and examining this thing. Only the other day the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), who is very assiduous in his attention to the Admiralty, put down on one day three unstarred questions which took 27 man-hours' work to answer. If he goes on at that rate, I cannot maintain these reductions. There is one other point to which I would like to draw the attention of the House. I am making the experiment, after the next vacancy, of having one less Sea Lord on the Board of Admiralty.
Another subject in which everybody is interested, and in which, I am sorry to say, so far one cannot record a great deal of progress is the subject of fuel research. I should like to say that we are keeping in close touch with the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in doing what we can to facilitate whatever experiments can be made to find out whether coal can be more freely used in some form or another, or whether oil can be extracted from coal in such a way as to be capable of utilisation in His Majesty's Navy. I cannot tell how far we are from success in this experiment, but nobody would be more glad than the Admiralty if at some future time we are able once more to rely for our fuel on the coalfields of the Mother country.
I have mentioned those two matters because they seemed to me to be of perhaps greater interest than the others; but I think that in response to the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), who is always accusing me of not referring to Admiralty policy in my speeches, I ought to try to meet him on this last occasion by a summary of Admiralty policy. This is the fifth time I have had the honour of presenting the Naval Estimates. As I am not seeking re-election, I regret that this will be the last. I should like, if I may, to take this opportunity of thanking most sincerely the whole House, including hon. Gentlemen opposite, for the good nature with which they have always dealt with my efforts to sustain the Service which I have the honour to represent.
1308 First of all, I will say something about our dockyard policy. The most disagreeable and painful part of my duty in carrying out the national demand for economy has been making the great reductions which have been necessary in our dockyards. It was essential that it should be done. It has been done by reductions in each yard, and also by reducing the number of yards from six to four. I always hoped that we should reach the point where we could more or less stabilise the numbers employed in the Royal dockyards, and avoid fluctuations, which are objectionable in many ways, and I hope We have now reached the stage where that stabilisation can be said to be possible. To assist this, every opportunity has been taken of allowing the Royal dockyards to tender for outside work, and they have actually made articles in the nature of outside work to the value of £40,000; and, in addition to that, we are doing work for some other Departments on repayment. I am glad also to be able to announce, as I told the hon. Member for Devonport I hoped to, that the Chilean battleship "Almirante La torre" is coming to Devonport for extensive repairs in the course of the next financial year.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
A certain amount of furniture has been made, plywood articles, which are partly for ships and can also be used for offices. A few mechanical things have also been made. I can give details later if the hon. Member wants them, but I have not got them at the moment. Wherever we think it is possible for them to de the work economically, we try to get a little extra work for the dockyards.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the work on the "Almirante La torre" will commence, and what it will mean in money and employment?
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
No, I am afraid I am not at liberty to give details about that. We understand it will be begun well within this financial year, and that the expenditure will amount to a very considerable sum. I cannot tell the hon. Member more than that at present. When 1309 it became necessary to reduce Rosyth and Pembroke to a care-and-maintenance basis we invited offers to lease parts of those yards for commercial purposes, but up to the present I am sorry to say that only work on scrapping old ships has been carried on in those districts. At the same time, I hope that if trade improves there will be an opportunity of establishing other works and of giving employment in those yards. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pembroke (Major Price) has been most assiduous in suggesting various ways in which Pembroke dockyard could be utilised, and I have done my best to follow up his suggestions in various directions, but so far I can only say that in one direction their pursuit is still going on, and that I hope some favourable result may be possible before very long.
With regard to our policy of construction, that has been a consistent policy of replacement, as we stated in 1925, and the programme of that year, 1925, has been carried out with only a few modifications which I will mention. In 1926 we dropped four motor launches; in 1927 and 1928 three cruisers of 8,400 tons with 8-inch guns were dropped out of the programme; and this year we are omitting one aircraft carrier from the programme, which otherwise would have been due this year. On the other hand two sloops were added in 1927, four in 1928, and six are being put down for this year. In the coming year, that is the year of which I am speaking to-day, three new cruisers will be laid down. As regards one, the design is not yet settled. As regards the other two, it has been decided that they shall be smaller cruisers with 6-inch guns, needed to replace some of our smaller cruisers which are becoming obsolete, and because, for strategical reasons, we shall want some new cruisers of that size to replace those which have to be scrapped in the future. Of course the charge for these cruisers this year will not be very considerable, but the fact of having two 6-inch gun cruisers instead of 8-inch gun cruisers, will make a considerable difference in the Estimates of the next year. Subject to these alterations our original programme has been adhered to. The cost has been reduced by £7,470,000.
Our building programme is sometimes spoken of as if it were a great addition, instead of a replacement, programme. If I give the House one or two facts 1310 they will see how very absurd is this idea. Before the War we had 114 cruisers—I am speaking now only of cruisers; now we have 52. If we go on replacing at the rate of three cruisers a year we shall have only 50 under 20 years old in 1940. In the next few years a few cruisers become obsolete, but in the years from 1935 to 1940 no fewer than 30 of our older cruisers laid down during the War will have reached their age limit. From this it will be seen that the building programme of this year is a very modest programme—not an addition, but merely a very slow process of replacement. If we were to do less now, we should be faced with a very heavy building programme in later years. If our building programme suddenly increased very much in size, everybody would be asking what was the reason for it and suspicion would be created. Apart from that, the fluctuations in employment which would result from a policy of spasmodic building, building by fits and starts, would entirely upset our plans for stabilising employment in the Royal yards, and might also have the effect of causing the departure of some of our most highly-skilled workmen from the shipbuilding yards in other parts of the country. I think I can sum up the position in which we are now, and the policy the Admiralty have been pursuing in these words: The time arrived in 1924 when replacement construction could no longer be delayed in view of the very large number of light cruisers which during the next few years would reach an age at which they can no longer be relied upon as efficient units. That, I think, is a summary of our policy with which nobody on the other side of the House can possibly disagree, and therefore I shall expect to receive no criticism on that part of my statement.
I see that there is on the Paper an Amendment which suggests, apparently, that we have not been sufficiently energetic in the matter of disarmament, and so perhaps I may say a few words about that before I sit down. It suits the purpose of certain people to make out that this country is not doing her full share in the matter of naval disarmament. Apart from the question of whether it is good for our country that those things should be said here, or good for the cause of the peace of the world 1311 that such suggestions should be made, that statement contains one essential defect which, to my simple mind, outweighs all other considerations, and that is that it is not true. We are always willing to do our share in that direction, and as far as naval disarmament goes we have done far more than any other country. Some people talk as if the first act of disarmament was at the Washington Conference in 1921. At that Conference the United States of America made a very handsome proposal to scrap a number of capital ships, built or building, and in fact did scrap nearly 500,000 tons at that time. What was our response? We agreed then to scrap 400,000 tons of completed capital ships, apart from four new battle-cruisers just ordered. Including these, we have since the Armistice scrapped over 2,160,000 tons of ships of war up to 31st December last, apart from cancelling orders for ships of a total tonnage of 314,000. Of this total no less than 1,650,000 tons were scrapped before January, 1922, the date of the Washington Conference. As a matter of fact before the Washington Conference we had actually scrapped more ships than we have got now and how anybody can say that we have not played our part in disarmament before and after that Conference I am unable to see. I do not see after we have scrapped all that tonnage how anyone can say that we have not done our fair share towards disarmament when we are the one country in the world whose very existence depends upon free passage on the seas.
We looked forward to a reduction of armaments at the Coolidge Conference at Geneva in 1927. We accepted an invitation to that Conference, and we put before that conference a plan which would have resulted in an enormous reduction of armaments, and it was a plan which I am sure would have been approved by every Member of this House. Unfortunately that conference broke down. The most important part of our plan was the reduction we proposed in the size of battleships and in their armament and an extension of their term of existence. That would have been an enormous saving, which we proposed to carry down to all other classes of vessels, amounting in a few years to over £100,000,000. That was an attempt to 1312 carry out a policy with which everybody, agrees, a policy advocated by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) before we went to Geneva, that is, an attempt to prevent a naval race by putting a limit on the size of ships. Obviously, this was the right principle, because it would be reversing the policy which has led to naval races in the past. Although both sides were aiming at equality in strength that Conference unfortunately failed because we could not find a formula which could equate ships mounting eight-inch guns with ships mounting six-inch guns. The Americans wanted a larger number of ships with eight-inch guns and we wanted a larger number with six-inch guns. It was impossible to find a formula to suit both sides. We have made other attempts under the machinery of the Preparatory Commission at Geneva, and finally we proposed what is known as the Anglo-French proposal in which we submitted to the other Powers a plan to which the French had agreed and which would have met the American situation in this way: There would have been no limit to the number of 10,000-ton ships that they could have provided if they put a limit on the number that mounted eight-inch guns. That was an advance on the Geneva proposals, but, unfortunately, it was not acceptable to America.
When I talk of building Competition, I think I mean what everybody else means, that is, a race in armaments similar to that which took place between this country and Germany before the War. One country would design a particularly large battleship, and then the other country endeavours to go one better. Thus you got the Dreadnought and the super-Dreadnought, and you went on from one to the other in an interminable race. It is quite clear that, as far as battleships are concerned that policy is not possible, because of the Washington Conference which put a limit on the size of ships and the armaments in them. We proposed to carry that principle down to the other ships of lower strength when we went to the Coolidge Conference at Geneva. That would have seen an immense saving of money, and it would have been a peaceful prevention of any building competition.
The Prime Minister has already said that we are not going in for a 1313 building competition with America, and we have shown our intentions both at the Washington Conference and by the proposals which we have made at Geneva. I think I have said enough to prove without any fear of contradiction that we have done more than any other country in the actual reduction of armaments, and we have shown ourselves willing to consider every proposal that has been made in this direction. When we remember that we are the only country in the world which depends for its existence upon a free passage for our food and our raw material across the sea between this country, our Dominions and other countries, then, I say, we have every reason to feel satisfied that we have done our best. There has been a good deal of very unwise talk about this idea of a building competition with the United States of America, and it is in no way borne out by any policy which I have had to carry out since I have been at the Admiralty. At the Coolidge Conference, we offered to mark time in 10,000-cruisers until the United States had caught us up, and then to stop altogether. In 1927–28, we dropped three cruisers out of our programme in case America might still wish to consider the proposal which we had made, and the fact that this year we are beginning the replacement of 6-inch gun cruisers shows perfectly plainly that we are not and have not been trying to go one better than America. There is among scaremongers on this subject a good deal of loose thinking. The President of the United States in his inaugural address drew attention to this point, when he said:The whole world is at peace. The dangers to the continuation of this peace are largely the fear and suspicion which haunt the world. No suspicion or fear can rightly be directed towards our country.Then the President goes on to say, speaking of other countries:Their desire for peace is as deep and sincere as our own.I can certainly endorse that statement, speaking for the British Government. The two Powers are lovers of peace, both by interest and tradition. They have both renounced recourse to war as an instrument of national policy. Therefore, it is Quite unreasonable to suppose that either one or the other country will engage in a war of aggression against any other 1314 Power, and there is still less reason to imagine any danger of their fighting each other. Whatever shipbuilding either country is doing is done for purposes of defence and insurance against risk, and the peace of the world is not endangered by the fact that one or two peace-loving nations have strong navies, so long as those Powers are not animated by the ambition for territory or lust of conquest, and nobody can say that either of us are animated by that spirit. On the other hand, there is a certain want of logic among those who hold that, if you make a proportional reduction of armaments all round, you are necessarily taking a step in the direction of peace. If everybody's forces are proportionately reduced, their chances of success against any other Power are just the same as they were before, and therefore the incentive to war rests where it is now.
The real fact is that substantial Fleets in the hands of peaceful Powers are not a danger to peace where no war spirit exists, and a mere proportional reduction of armaments is no guarantee against war where the spirit of peace does not exist. Consequently, I think we can brush aside a good deal of the language which is commonly used on the platform about a reduction of armaments. We all agree that a reduction of armaments is still a most desirable thing. It is desirable in the interests of economy, and it is still more desirable in the interests of humanity. If it were possible to abolish the use of submarines, the use of poison gas, or attacks by air on non-combatants that would be an immense step forward in the avoidance of incalculable suffering in war. Therefore, we are all agreed that a reduction of armaments, if it can be carried out without risk, is a desirable thing. Thai being so, the Amendment which has been put down is quite unnecessary.
I believe that the perpetual harping on the danger of war does breed that suspicion and fear which the President of the United States so strongly deprecates. I do not know whether it is possible to appeal to people on all sides to avoid creating this suspicion by perpetually talking about the dangers of war. In saying this, I am not referring only to Members of this House, but to others outside this House. Some people profess 1315 a kind of self-righteousness which to me is repugnant. They assume that they are the only people in the world who want peace. I regard that as a most offensive and totally untrue assumption. A generous confidence in the desire of all great nations for peace, which is now embodied in a Pact signed by many nations, will make peace far more certain and reduction of armaments much more likely than if very elaborate tables are insisted upon.
If you attempt to meet the requirements of countries whose conditions are all totally different, and whose needs are in certain ways very unlike, you are not going, in my opinion, to advance very far, either in economy or in doing away with suspicion. As regards economy, if every nation is going to be forced into some particular formula, they will of necessity, for safety, ask for something rather more than they really want, or, at any rate, the maximum of what they want to get, in that particular formula, whereas I believe that, if a little more freedom were left, the natural desire for economy would work of itself. Again, as regards suspicion, when you have made, if you ever can, all these elaborate mathematical tables, every country will be looking at every other country to see whether they have not in some degree, whether in size of guns, in elevation of guns, in tonnage, or something or other, exceeded their proper ration under the tables.
Although I do not by any means say that it is not possible to make some sort of agreement as regards reduction on paper, I think it is risky to attempt to make it too elaborate, and is not worth anything compared with the result that would come from people in this country—not merely the Labour party, not merely the Liberal party, but everyone in this country—wanting peace, wanting reduction and economy, and being prepared, as we have been in the past, to listen to any proposal that can he made. While claiming for ourselves the right to protect our insular position and our Imperial responsibilities which every other country should and will claim for itself, we are ready to consider, either amendments to proposals which have been already made, or some new proposal which, perhaps, has not yet been discussed. 1316 In saying that I am certainly speaking for myself, and I believe I can speak for the country. I believe that if the whole country, speaking with one voice, were to say that these suspicions in the world are unnecessary, we should have done a great deal towards improving the spirit of the whole world. In presenting these Estimates, I should like to point out that, while we have provided for new construction for replacement purposes at a cost of £45,000,000 in five years, I am able to ask the taxpayers this year for a sum which is, in reality, £1,250,000 less than the Estimate for the year preceding our administration, and I claim from this House their approval of the efforts of the staff at the Admiralty, who have worked most diligently and earnestly, while aiming at the efficiency of the Service, to provide as much economy as is possible for the taxpayer.
§ Mr. AMMON
I am sure that the whole House, without distinction of party, will be in agreement with me when I say that it is with great regret that we have learned from the First Lord himself that report speaks only too truly in saying that he has decided, of his own volition and on personal grounds, to take his departure from this House. I know that everyone will very much regret that severance. May I say that the right hon. Gentleman has given us an indication this afternoon that he is not retiring because his powers have in any way declined, or because he is no longer fit to carry on his high office and take part in the government of the country, or, perhaps more than on any other occasion, he has thrown up a very successful smoke-screen with regard to many of the actions of the Admiralty and the situation internationally, and he has also treated us to a fatherly admonition and something of a schoolmasterly talk which I am sure the whole House will have appreciated very much, and will look upon with gratitude later on. The right hon. Gentleman has also indicated that, under the very genial exterior which we all know so well, and which we have got to like, and even more than like, the Dr. Jekyll of the real old hide-bound Tory is there in the last resort.
I do not wish to depreciate in the slightest degree the full credit that is the right hon. Gentleman's due for the reduction in the Estimates which he has 1317 brought before us. By a peculiar coincidence, that reduction comes when a General Election is very close ahead, but it would be ungenerous to suggest, and I would not do so for a moment, that there is any relationship between these two facts. I presume it is simply that it has taken that measure of time to work it out. The right hon. Gentleman has also indicated that there have been reductions at headquarters, and it seemed to me that he threw out one of his smokescreens when he first of all pointed out that, as we all agree, a great increase in technical work has come to the Admiralty, involving the creation of new branches. He showed that, after all, there had been some point in the criticism that there was room for reduction in the headquarter staff at the Admiralty. That, also, has been carried out just as the election is upon us, and, while giving the right hon. Gentleman and his Government full credit for it, we cannot help noticing the peculiar coincidence in point of time.
The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned that the dockyards have been used, as there has been a depletion of the ordinary work of Admiralty construction, for other work that is more of a civilian character. I am particularly pleased to hear that, because, during the period of office of the last Government, inquiries were circulated round the dockyards as to whether the machinery and so on could be adapted for that purpose in the event of an alteration being made, the particular question in view being the housing stringency with which the country was then faced. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will believe me when I say that I do not desire to withhold from him my genuine congratulations on what he has done in this direction, but it is very gratifying to me to find that the tentative idea of the Government at that time has been confirmed and is being carried out by the present Government. I am sure that that will give rise to satisfaction throughout the House.
I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman a little more strongly in his comparison regarding the rate at which we have disarmed, as far as the Navy is concerned, since the War. It does not seem to me that that is quite a fair comparison, or that we ought to take all the credit for that action which the right 1318 hon. Gentleman is claiming. The Navy was very much in the same position as the land Forces after the War, when the Army was demobilised and men were sent back to their normal civil occupations, the work for which they had been called together having, fortunately, ceased. Therefore, the great reductions during the years immediately following the War can hardly be considered in the same sense in which, in normal times, we speak of reduction of armaments. It was merely the scrapping of machinery which had been brought together for a particular and specific purpose for which it was no longer required.
As regards the right hon. Gentleman's admonition to those who have been raising criticisms and alarums of war, and as to the harm which is likely to arise thereform, I imagine there will be very little disagreement with him in any part of the House. I think I am right in saying that he addressed his remarks, not only to people within this House, but to those outside who have been somewhat busy in fomenting unpleasant relations, to put it no higher, between this country and other nations. That is a danger which is always present, and from which we cannot wholly dissociate the question of armaments and the question of having a considerable Army or Navy always mobilised. We agree with the right hon. Gentleman—at any rate, speaking for myself, I agree with him whole-heartedly—in deprecating anything of the kind of which he has spoken, but I hope he will not misunderstand me when I say that I think a great deal of such criticism and misunderstanding has been due to the way in which the Government themselves have handled this problem on different occasions.
Even when they have desired genuinely, as I believe they have on more than one occasion, to come to some agreement on the question of disarmament, it has been done in a way, or there has seemed to be some cross-current at work, that has resulted in vitiating the whole action, and has given point to criticisms which have been raised, not always in this country, but in other quarters, where the right hon. Gentleman and the Government and this country have not been given the full credit that was rightly due. I need not refer to the unfortunate incident—whether it was misunderstood or misrepresented, 1319 as the right hon. Gentleman might suggest, the fact was that it was there—the unfortunate incident that, at the same moment when we were in discussion with Mr. Coolidge, we were also found to be discussing something entirely different with France in regard to naval agreement. I am not by any means implying that the right hon. Gentleman or those associated with him were insincere or did not desire to go as far as they could along the road towards reduction of armaments and a more peaceful understanding, but that very act did give some support to persons on both sides of the Atlantic who were trying, for their own particular reasons, to stir up public opinion in various sections of the Press, and it depreciated the whole action of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in the Government and put this country in an entirely false position. The Government cannot escape their share of the blame for bringing about that position. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that in a measure the understanding between this and other countries on naval matters has been checked, particularly with regard to capital ships. I have said before, and I have been supported by more technical knowledge than my own, that that check is not due only to the Washington Treaty but is also due to the raising of doubts in the minds of naval experts as to whether the days of the capital ship are not numbered and it has become a thing of the past and may be as obsolete as bows and arrows or, shall we say, the old Roman trireme. That also is playing a part, and our concern now will be not so much with the old capital ship but rather with the more heavily armed 10,000 ton cruiser, which is also faster. That, of course, shifts the point of view. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for many other things he has done in addition to those I have enumerated. He has at last opened up somewhat on policy. It has taken five years to move him on that, but in his swan song he has helped us. In the review of various negotiations and discussions which have taken place between this and other countries, whether across the Atlantic or at Geneva, I wish he had given us some idea whether they had discussed at all, and how far they had gone with the discussion of the freedom of the 1320 seas. It seems to me that, if we can arrive at some proper agreement with regard to that, we shall do more to settle the question of permanent peace than anything else we have yet considered so far as naval armaments are concerned.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and I have said in and out of the House that mere reduction of armaments is no solution of the problem, because if we all come down to bows and arrows it amounts to much the same things as far as the moral principle is concerned. I do not want it to be thought for a moment that I depreciate it. If only on the question of economy it is worth having, and perhaps it helps to familiarise public opinion with the fact that we can reduce armaments and if nothing happens now, we can take the necessary bigger step later on when the necessary public opinion has been made. This question of the freedom of the seas, it seems to me, is going to be a stumbling block between ourselves and the United States. At one time it caused the United States to doubt very much on which side she was likely to come in in the last War. That certainly has been discussed and seriously suggested by eminent historians and writers dealing with the inner history of those times.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)
The hon. Member may refer to that, but I do not think he can develop the question of the freedom of the seas, because that is not a matter for the Admiralty. As far as I can understand his argument, he is going outside matters covered by the Navy Estimates.
§ Mr. AMMON
The right hon. Gentleman raised the question of policy and dealt with certain discussions which have taken place between this country and the United States and elsewhere, and I suggest that this also is a matter of policy in which only the Navy is concerned and, as his salary is under discussion, I suggest that I am in order in referring to it.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I will allow the hon. Member to go on with a warning. I will hear what he has to say. He can discuss questions relating to the freedom of the seas so far as the Admiralty is concerned therein but he must not go into matters which would fall under the Foreign Office.
§ Mr. AMMON
All I need say in that connection is that I think it is a matter 1321 that can be discussed between the naval States and the whole question of the searching of ships at sea for contraband. The last War proved that that was of little use and as time develops and the old methods of warfare have passed away it is very difficult to determine what is and what is not contraband. Therefore we are in a position now in which it will be impossible to carry on should the world ever be unfortunate again to be faced with a war at sea, and any ships will be free to sail the seas without their being hauled up by one or other of the Dominions. The line I suggest that must be adopted is some agreement by international action for the enforcement of international covenants. Along those lines I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman did not give us any idea how far discussions had gone between the Admiralty and other nations in this respect and whether or not they had made any suggestions or negotiations.
I turn from the general aspect of the case to deal with one or two items in the Votes themselves. The right hon. Gentleman indicated that there is a considerable reduction of numbers of men under Vote A. Is that reduction due to the fact that he has not recruited the whole of the necessary personnel or to the fact that was stated on the Army Estimates, that there is a considerable falling off in the physical standard of the recruits? I hope it is not. It would be interesting if we could have a little further information regarding promotion from the lower deck, and whether or not there is now any alteration being made with reference to the scheme as first initiated when promotion from the lower deck came via the warrant officers and then the old mates, who went direct to the wardroom. Do men promoted from the lower deck pass through the gunroom to sub-lieutenant so as not to be particularised in any manner? In Vote 1, under Sub-head D, there is an indication of a reduction of £1,000. Is that due to the fact that they have not been recruiting up to the full complement, or what is the explanation? The right hon. Gentleman made some reference to the fact that his Department, in association with other Departments, has been carrying on some experiments in regard to fuel. When the Vote was before us last year we were told that a ship had been set aside to experiment with regard to 1322 pulverised coal. Could we have some statement on that before the Debate closes? It will be looked for anxiously by our friends in the coalfields and undoubtedly it is a matter of very great importance from the industrial point of view. I should like to know whether the experiments have been continued and whether there has been any measure of success attending them.
With regard to Vote 10, there seems to have been an increase of expenditure at Trincomali of about £15,000 with regard to increases in wharfage and dockyard accommodation. Can we have any information as to what that involves? Does it mean, for instance, that there is an alteration in the depth or size of the dock to meet the bulging of capital ships? There is an increase as far as Gibraltar is concerned and there is a statement about the re-provision of accommodation at Arsenal Yard. What are our commitments there? Is it only to serve the garrison or is it for a road throughout the whole of Gibraltar? The same applies to Hong Kong, where we are spending a considerable amount of money which is particularly concerned with roadways—or is it rather caused through the recent disturbances, where we had to shift our ground somewhat and find other and fresh accommodation? In Malta we have certain charges for road making. To what extent is the Government committed so far as roads in Malta are concerned? Are they only those in and around the clocks or are they right throughout the island? An explanatory note on page 220 seems to indicate that somehow or another we are committed to maintain the ordinary roads of that island, which seems rather a heavy commitment to be charged on a naval Vote. We can perhaps have a little explanation with regard to that.
Plymouth Dockyard is to be enlarged in order to accommodate new capital ships. That probably is so much waste money. I imagine that is to accommodate them after the bulge. It seems very likely that at no distant date these ships will have become things of the past. It seems unnecessary to spend a tremendous lot of money in adapting dockyards to accommodate ships which in a short time will be out of date in view of the rapid development of the cruiser. Under the same Vote a considerable sum is being 1323 expended with regard to Rosyth. Rosyth was reduced a little while ago to a care and maintenance basis, and it would be interesting to know why this considerable amount is being expended in that direction. Is it to escape commitments which we could not escape when the dockyard was placed there with regard to the neighbouring town of Dunfermline, or are we re-opening the dockyard, or carrying out any other work there which has not yet been made public?
The last question which I want to raise is that of Singapore, and again I want to enter a protest on behalf of the Opposition—I am sure that I can say that with perfect safety—against the further continuance of this scheme. I still look upon it as an absolute waste of money, apart altogether from the suspicion which it is likely to raise in the minds of other nations. By the time that the dock is completed, if ever it is completed, the same argument will apply as has applied to other docks, namely, that the particular ships for the accommodation of which it is ostensibly being built will have become obsolete.
§ Mr. AMMON
I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member's memory will carry him back to 1924, but at that time Earl Howe, who was then in this House as Viscount Curzon, challenged a statement that I made that the docks in operation at Singapore were big enough to accommodate the biggest ship that we had afloat without bulge. Afterwards he was sufficiently generous and gracious to apologise in the House, and to admit that my statement was correct, which is an indication that, apart from the new bulge capital ship, we had ample accommodation at Singapore to meet our naval needs. We are simply pouring money into these swamps by going on with this project. In so far as this means the draining of the hinterland and transforming into a healthy place an area which was formerly swampy and infested with malaria the work is excellent, but such work can be done apart from any naval and military requirements.
1324 There are still some unsatisfactory features connected with this question about which we should like a little more information. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that there was a point in dispute between us a year or two ago as to whether the policy had been changed in view of the fact that the floating dock had been taken out there before the completion of the graving deck. I suggested then, and I suggest new, that the reason for the change of policy was the fact that great difficulty had been experienced in finding any solid rock to enable the work for the graving dock to be continued. I should like some information as to whether the borings have been successful and whether a start has been made with regard to the graving dock—what amount of work has been done in that connection? One recognises that in large measure this scheme has gone forward in the last four or five years. This is a matter for extreme regret, and I think that it will not be many years before we shall find that it is an absolute waste of money which could have been better spent in other directions, and that the Singapore project will remain a cause of irritation and suspicion on the part of the ether nations of the world. These comments are all that I wish to offer at this juncture, and I conclude as I began by expressing on personal grounds our deep regret that this is the last occasion that we shall have the pleasure of listening to the right hon. Gentleman addressing us from the Treasury Box.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
This is the first occasion upon which I have had the honour of addressing this House, and if I rise with the feeling of trepidation which is, I suppose, common to all Members when they make their maiden speech, I do at least fortify myself by the knowledge that this House in its courtesy always extends indulgence to a new Member. I would crave of the House the indulgence which has always been so kindly given in the past. I would like to congratulate the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Government on the fact that they have secured our national security, and at the same time effected economy. I think that Members on both sides of the House will probably agree that they have endeavoured to carry out the maxim laid down over 2,000 years ago by Aristotle that the first duty of 1325 the politician or governor was to secure for the governed two things—supply and security. I would like in the short time that I propose to occupy the time of this House to draw attention to the question of supply in its relation to the question of cruisers. The First Lord has told us that we have some 52 cruisers. I believe that technical experts, who should know, have said that our minimum requirements of cruisers for trade protection and other purposes is in the nature of 70. I would like to ask the House to consider the cruiser question not as a question of offensive and defensive armament at all. Surely if there is one question which cuts through the barriers of party in every way, it is this question of cruisers in relation to our trade. Whatever our opinions may be, we have all got to live. We have all got stomachs which have to be filled, and, as the First Lord pointed out, we have a sea-borne trade upon which we entirely depend.
The cruiser question surely is one upon which we might all join forces. It is entirely away from all questions of offensive armaments. I would ask the House to consider whether anybody but a violent revolutionary would seek to do away with our police force. The policeman is looked upon, first, as a security for the trader, and, secondly, as an instrument for the detection and punishment of crime. In my opinion the cruiser, as regards sea-borne trade, is really in the nature of an ocean-going policeman. The functions of cruisers are two. First, they act as scouts for the Fleet, and no less an authority than Lord Jellicoe has laid it down that the Fleet requirements are some five cruisers to every three capital ships. We are allowed 15 capital ships and, therefore, that means that we require for their purposes some 25 cruisers. The balance which is left out of the 70, which, I believe, is our minimum requirement, is some 45 cruisers. The function of those cruisers is to shepherd the oceangoing trade and look after it. It is a question which is vital to every citizen in this Empire, and particularly to the working men and women of the country who operate our large industries. First, they have to be assured of the supply of the raw material which they want in their industries and, secondly, they have to be assured of markets overseas in which to sell the goods which they produce. 1326 I think that many people forget that we are an island Empire. We are in a totally different position from that of the United States. The United States can, at a pinch, carry all their goods by rail. We cannot. If you take the whole sea-borne trade of India, which is of vast value, you will find that if anything interferes with it, the workers in the factory and the workers in the field are directly affected.
I should like to give the House a few simple figures with regard to our trade. The trade of all British countries with foreign countries is over £2,000,000,000; the United Kingdom with other British countries, £724,000,000; British countries, not the United Kingdom, with other British countries, £137,000,000, making a total of over £3,000,000,000 as the value of our annual trade. I do not think that anybody will deny that cheaper cost of production means better wages, better employment and better production. The cheapening of the cost of production of trade which we send overseas is secured by our securing the sea route over which that trade has to pass. If you divert your trade because of insecurity and an insufficiency of cruisers to a long sea-route instead of a short sea-route, you have to pay for the extra cost of freighting, and this is immediately felt by the man who is working at home. This is no new question. No great sea power has ever existed in the past that was not also a great sea trader. Sea-borne trade is the foundation of all sea power.
As I walked into the House to-day and came through St. Stephen's Hall, I happened to see the picture of Sir Thomas Roe at the Court of the Moghul. It is interesting to note that it was our trade which took us to India, and our trade was kept in India by means of our sea power and by nothing else. Sir Thomas Roe gave as his advice:If you will profit seek it at sea and by quiet trade.But you cannot have security for your quiet trade unless you have sea protection for it as it moves from point to point. I would like to call the attention of the House to the lesson that was learned in one war at least in history, and that was the war of 1739–48. The people who cried out for cruisers to protect their trade during that war were not the militarists of the day; they were 1327 the merchants. It was brought up on the Floor of the House of Commons. They presented a petition asking for increased protection because they pointed out that the Admiralty were putting money into capital ships and not into cruisers. The then First Commissioner gave the answer which, I suppose, any First Lord would give, namely, that they took time to construct. The real reason was that in the years preceding that war they had not gone ahead and built cruisers to protect trade, and when the pinch came they were short of cruisers.
We started the Great War short of cruisers, and the result was obvious, I think, to everybody who studied the question of the War. The disguised raiders cost us at least 300,000 tons of shipping and the Karlsruhe at least 140,000, all of which ample cruiser protection would probably have saved. It is interesting to note that on 4th March, 1742, the question of trade protection was brought up in this House and a Resolution was passed which I should like to read to the House:Notwithstanding repeated applications of merchants for cruisers to be properly stationed for the protection of the trade of this nation, insufficient ships had been provided to the great loss of many of His Majesty's subjects, the great advantage and encouragement of the enemy and the dishonour of the nation.The second Clause is most important:That the detention of the fleet of merchant ships for over 12 months by the refusal of protection gave our rivals in trade an opportunity of introducing new species of their woollen manufactures into Portugal to the great detriment of this Kingdom.It was entirely the loss of protection to the trader through the lack of provision of cruisers by the Government of the day which caused them this loss of trade. The result was that a Bill was brought into this House which, I am sorry to say, did not pass. It must have been a great blow to the people who promoted the Bill and who saw so clearly the need for the protection of our trade on the high seas. Parliament drew a very clear distinction between the capital ship and cruisers for the protection of trade. The Bill was based upon the lines of two preceding Acts, both of which were very much the same, except that one went a little further than the other. 1328 One, in 1695, laid down that the Admiralty were to provide, in addition to ships of the line, 43 ships for the protection of our trade routes. The second Bill, in 1708, laid down that in addition to providing 43 ships for the protection of trade there should be ships provided for convoys.
In those days 43 cruisers we re required for the protection of our sea-going trade, and to-day I submit that we need 45 cruisers for the same secure protection of our trade. The convoy system, people believe, is a solution for the reduction of the number of cruisers; but if we look at history we find that the merchants themselves were the people who, when the pinch came, complained about the convoy system. They said that trade required freedom and the removal of restrictions, and that they wanted not convoy protection but trade route protection which would enable their ships to sail when ready, and nor, be herded away in some harbour until convoy protection was available. In the Great War precisely the same thing happened. Insufficiency of cruisers meant delay in forming convoys, and the result was that merchant ships were delayed in their sailings which, undoubtedly, added to the cost of goods and the cost of production. The defensive armament of merchant ships is, also, no protection. In the old wars at the time of the Commonwealth, it was made obligatory, by Order in Council, that merchant ships should be defensively armed for their protection when sailing. Nobody would propose nowadays that merchant ships should be armed, even if it were possible to arm them in such a way that they could beat off the attack of a disguised raider or an enemy cruiser.
What is the cost going to he? We have a trade valued at over £3,000,000,000. If we ask for 45 cruisers and we take the cost of the cruisers at £1,500,000 per cruiser, the cost would be £67,500,000. Cruisers of 6,000 to 8,000 tons are sufficiently big, and heavily armed, to carry out these duties. If we give them a life of 20 years each, and we spread the cost over the 20 years, it will cost us only about £4,000,000 a year. If we add to that the cost of the upkeep, which is £150,000 annually, and if we reckon that seven-eighths of the cruisers would be in commission at one time, we get 1329 roughly 40 cruisers in commission, which would mean a cost of upkeep of about £6,000,000. This means a total annual sum of £10,000,000 for the provision and upkeep of the cruisers specially detailed for the protection of trade and our trade routes. I do not think that a cost of £10,000,000 annually for the protection of trade of the value of £3,000,000,000 is excessive. Surely, it is a small premium to pay for the insurance of such a vast trade. The spending of that money to give such vital protection would not hinder in the very least those social services such as slum clearance, housing and other things which are so essential in the country. Those valuable social services would not be in the least degree affected by the provision of this necessary safeguard for the jobs of the men and women of this country.
People talk about our cruisers vis-a-vis those of the United States of America. The problem of the United States is a totally different one from ours. The First Lord of the Admiralty put the matter in a nutshell when he said that what the United States want is size rather than numbers, and that what we want is numbers rather than size. It is essential that we should have protection for our trade, because by our trade we live, and if it is only going to cost us an insurance policy of £10,000,000, surely it is well worth while spending that money. If we do not adopt the line of self-dependence, we must adopt the line of dependence upon somebody else. Are we to look in war time for our trade at sea being secured to us by neutral action? Does anyone think that if another war arises—every hon. Member in this House hopes that no such thing will ever happen again—if some nation breaks out of the international agreement, runs amok and goes to war, with every intention of winning, that they could possible resist the temptation of striking at our vital artery, our seaborne trade, if they were certain that a successful stroke would win the war for them? If we cannot depend upon that, if we think that such a nation would fall to the temptation, can we rely upon neutral action to secure our trade for us? In the first place, we must be perfectly certain that other nations will be neutral.
We have seen the world divided into two camps in 1914–18, and twice before in 1330 history, and the same thing has happened on each occasion. There is no guarantee that there would be any neutrals if the world went to war again. International agreements may secure a good deal, but they cannot give absolute security for our trade. Let us be logical. If hon. Hembers are prepared to trust our seaborne trade to international action, are they prepared to do the same with regard to our Air Force? If they are prepared to scrap our trade cruisers, are they prepared to scrap our Air Force? It has been suggested that we might have international agreements which would prevent open, undefended towns from being bombed. Everybody in this country would agree that such a suggestion would be excellent if it would work, but it has been said that such an agreement is impossible because the occupants of the towns might be making munitions, boots and shoes, etc., in order to help to prosecute the war. If hon. Members are not prepared to take the risk by reducing the Air Force, why should they be prepared to take the risk in regard to our seaborne trade by reducing the number of our cruisers?
In conclusion, may I remind the House of a letter that was written by Lord Granville to Lord Justice Russell in 1852, in which he said:One of the duties of the British Government must always be to secure for our foreign trade that security which is essential for its success.Cruisers for the defence of trade are bound up inextricably with the welfare of every living creature in this country, and I would appeal to both sides of the House to press the Government to provide an adequate number of cruisers in order to secure the livelihood and the jobs of all the citizens of this country and of the Empire in general. It is no question of party; it is no question of pacifist or militarist; it is a duty which is incumbent not only upon the Government but upon every Member of this House, to see that provision is made for what I would call the policemen of the high seas, the cruisers, that, in the language of the naval prayer which is read on board His Majesty's ships every day:They may be a security for such as pass on the seas upon their lawful occasions.
§ Sir GODFREY COLLINS
I am sure that I voice the feeling of every Member 1331 of this House when I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member upon his maiden speech. He must have suffered, I believe, more nervousness this afternoon than he did at any time when he was serving with distinction in the Grand Fleet in the North Sea. He has brought to our Debates a great knowledge and experience, and we shall look forward with pleasure to his intervention in our Debates in future. The First Lord of the Admiralty gave us his swan song this afternoon, and we all listened with interest to him. We know that genial exterior hides a tenacity of purpose and a high principle which has not only brought him to the high office which he has adorned, but has disarmed his critics and opponents. We hope that the rest from the day-to-day attendance in this House will mean that he will regain that strength and health which we all desire for him.
If I join issue with the right hon. Gentleman to-day as to his policy, I hope he will believe me when I say that I have an intense admiration for the officers and men of His Majesty's Fleet, for their bravery and ability, but I desire very sharply to join issue with the policy of the First Lord of the Admiralty. There seems to be a marked demarcation between the policy of the First Lord and the policy of the Prime Minister as far as naval armaments are concerned. Every hon. Member will remember the well-known statement of the Prime Minister:We have no intention to build in competition with the United States of America.Further, he said:It gives us an opportunity of a fresh start.Those words were used by the Prime Minister last year after the signing of the Kellogg Pact. The First Lord this afternoon stated that in his policy he had followed a consistent policy of replacement since 1925, with only slight modifications and that the policy of His Majesty's Government is the policy which they laid down in 1925. They have hardly deviated in any marked degree from their policy at that time. What, then, comes of the policy of the Prime Minister when he says that the Kellogg Pact gives us an opportunity for a fresh start? Is this country not to gain because 1332 of the Kellogg Pact? Is it not to secure the benefit of that Pact by reduced armaments and lower taxation? The Prime Minister also said:The conception is so vast that I doubt if people vet have realised the full import of it.Has the First Lord yet fully realised the full import of the Kellogg Pact? If so he has not translated it into action. Some of my hon. Friends on these benches after the Pact was signed represented to the First Lord and other Members of the Government that the Pact could only be of real service to the people of this country if ipse facto our naval armaments were reduced; yet we have the First Lord this afternoon telling us that his policy to-day has been his consistent policy since 1925. These Estimates seem to be framed on a comparison between pre-War times and post-War time. The First Lord to-day made many comparisons between to-day and a few years ago. He compared his Estimates to-day with the Estimates of 1914, and made great play, with the support of his hon. Friends, of the amount of tonnage which has been discarded and scrapped since 1918. Surely, such comparisons are utterly futile. They lose sight of the main facts of the situation.
The British Navy is an instrument to carry out the policy of His Majesty's Government, and when I look round about the world I wonder to myself why these large Estimates should be required to-day. If I may use a naval simile, if I could get the largest and strongest telescope in the world and scanned the horizon to find the foe which makes it necessary for this country to face this large Estimate I should fail to find it. The First Lord of the Admiralty, with all respect, is permeated with pre-War spirit and with post-War spirit; and with a Kellogg-Pact outlook. That is the real difference of policy to which we take exception. His mind is in the past. The Prime Minister's mind is in the future but it is the policy alas of the First Lord which is translated into action, with the result that these large Estimates are brought forward this afternoon. When the hon. and gallant Member was speaking I was reminded of a similar situation which this country faced 100 years ago. At that time there was one outstanding man, the Duke of Wellington, 1333 whose opinions were respected. He told the people of Great Britain, shortly after the Napoleonic wars, that there would be no war in Europe for many years. The Government of the day translated that policy into action and curtailed their armaments, not in comparison with their past but in comparison with their needs at that time, with the result that the great forces which had been gathered together were disbanded and expenditure was largely reduced, with a consequent saving to the taxpayer. Unfortunately, there is no man to-day who carries the same weight as the Duke of Wellington did in his time.
The Prime Minister sees that public opinion is yearning for a drastic cut in armaments. The Prime Minister sees that and he says that it gives us hope for an opportunity for a fresh start. Would that the First Lord of the Admiralty would give us an opportunity for a fresh start and not let his mind go back three or four, or 14 years ago. Let his mind go forward to the true view of the people, not only of Great Britain but throughout the world, that this country should give a real and striking lead to the cause of disarmament. We make comparisons here between this country and America. America makes comparisons between her forces and ours. If I were an American citizen and studied these Estimates I say quite frankly that I should find it very difficult to believe that the Estimates of Great Britain were not framed in competition with the estimates of America. That is the outstanding fact of these estimates. The First Lord of the Admiralty has prepared a statement showing the size of the fleets of other countries. I have studied it very carefully because I have an intense love and admiration for the British Navy. I remember making my maiden speech from the same spot as the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken and I pleaded then for a large Navy. To-day I speak from these benches and, plead that the First Lord of the Admiralty will see the situation in its new light and scrap largely not only the numerous ships he has laid down but a large number of the personnel which he is asking the House to vote this afternoon.
We have heard his swan song. Let me put his swan song in another way. In his last year of office the First Lord of 1334 the Admiralty is sending on to the high seas new ships which have cost £10,000,000 or £12,000,000. I get that figure from the table showing the number of new ships which have been launched and commissioned this year. At the same time that these ships are going out flying the British flag, he is laying down in the yards of this country another £12,000,000 of ships. That is his record. I have no doubt that he is proud of it; proud of the fact that he is sending out these ships costing £10,000,000 and at the same time is asking the House of Commons and the overburdened taxpayer to find another £12,000,000 for new-ships. Whom are they to fight? What nation? Where is the potential foe? I want our Navy to meet the needs of this country, but I fail to detect either in the policy of other countries or in their shipyards the necessity for Great Britain to start building new ships this year which will place a burden on the taxpayers of this country of £10,000,000, or it may be £12,000,000. The necessity does not exist; and it is here that I join issue with the First Lord. But side by side with these costly ships there is the personnel, which in the British Navy amounts to £23,000,000. The right hon. Gentleman is asking the House for £23,000,000 for personnel. Our personnel is far superior to that of every other country, and when I hear people compare the numbers of our men with the numbers of any likely or potential foe, it seems to me that the comparison is ill founded. Ours is a long service and highly-trained personnel, and our needs to-day do not demand that the First Lord should ask the taxpayers this year for £23,000,000 in order to maintain in effective service 100,000 men spread throughout the Fleet in different parts of the world.
The First Lord of the Admiralty is a very powerful person. I have watched First Lords of the Admiralty in different Governments. He is able to flout public opinion; and we had a very remarkable instance of that after the issue of the Geddes Report. Directly after that report was issued the then First Lord of the Admiralty torpedoed its recommendations so far as the Admiralty were concerned. The British public have always accepted the word of the First Lord of the Admiralty. I believe he will 1335 be all powerful until the Government of the day is prepared to accept his resignation. There was another striking illustration of this when the Labour Government was in power. Their contribution to disarmament was the policy of building five cruisers at a cost of £9,500,000. The present First Lord of the Admiralty was able to flout successfully the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1925. He threatened to resign, and, knowing the character of the First Lord, the Government of the day were unable to accept his resignation, with the result that the taxpayers ever since have been burdened with unnecessary expenditure. The same thing happened when the Labour Government was in power. The First Lord of the Admiralty determined on a line of policy and the Government of the day accepted it. Until a Government arises which is prepared to accept the resignation of the First Lord of the Admiralty there is little chance of getting a reduction in the Navy Estimates, which the country undoubtedly desires. The First Lord made play on the fact that he has reduced the Estimates. The true total is not £55,865,000, but £2,225,000 more. He is drawing on stores without replacing them to the extent of £1,800,000, and taking credit for the sale of stores and ships to the amount of £676,000. Therefore, the true Estimates are not £53,865,000, but £58,341,000.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
Other Departments when they sell stores do not do the same as the Admiralty, but the First Lord is all powerful and able to overrule the Treasury, the Government of the day, and the House of Commons. It is true that the form of accounts are the same as that followed since 1918, but, nevertheless, I am entitled to point out that the First Lord takes credit for having reduced the Navy Estimates when the real fact is that they are £2,250,000 more.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I am giving the real cost of the Navy to-day, which is more important to the taxpayer than the cost three or four years ago. I turn to another item in the Estimates. The 1336 stock of stores of coal and oil fuel amounts to a sum of £25,750 000, and I find that the depreciation through a fall in price is £500,000. The Admiralty have such enormous stores that any fall in price places a burden of £5(0,000 upon the taxpayer this year. I suggest to the Admiralty that their stock of stores is quite out of keeping with their needs. I put this question.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Lieut.-Colonel Headlam)
You are limiting it to coal and oil stores?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
All the articles which the Admiralty require to maintain the Fleet in being amount to £25,750,000, and their consumption this year is only £6,750,000. In other words there is a sufficient supply for about three-and-a-half years. If the Admiralty are anxious to curtail their Estimates, I suggest that they should reduce their stocks. The First Lord told us that since 1918 the Admiralty had always taken credit for the sale of stores of ships. I would draw attention to another characteristic of Navy Estimates. The invariable habit of the First Lord is to ask this House for more money than he can spend in the course of a year. I will give some figures. In the year 1927–28 the Admiralty asked this House for £310,000 more than they could spend; in 1926–27 they asked for £500,000 more than they could spend, and in 1925–26 they asked for £843,000 more than they could spend. That is a total during the three years of £1,653,000. That may be a small illustration, but it is an illustration of the power of the First Lord to get money from the Treasury. The First Lord can ask the Treasury for more money than he can spend and he gets it. Year by year that has been his practice.
I suggest that this House should take these matters into its own hands, and should insist upon the First Lord curtailing his Estimates and making them more in keeping with the needs of the Navy. The people of this country have put forward a terrific effort. Our enemy has been disarmed by our action But the First Lord is placing an unbearable and unnecessary burden on the taxpayer of this country. It is no exaggeration to say that if the policy of the Government 1337 in regard to armaments was animated by the needs and by the foreign policy of the Government, the Estimates might well be reduced by an amount nearly equal to sixpence in the £ in the Income Tax. We have now seen for nearly five years the policy of the Government translated into action. I suggest that these Estimates are divorced from reality, and that the comparisons with post-War or pre-War periods are removed from the true facts of the situation. For that reason I shall vote against the Estimates at all stages.
§ Sir E. HILTON YOUNG
It is impossible to use a more expressive phrase than to say that the House has listened with its usual pleasure to an exposition of the Navy Estimates by my right hon. Friend, given with his customary charm and clearness. It is with intimate personal regret that we realise that we have heard him do so for the last time. How we shall miss from our Debates the salt of his wisdom, that wit which was so charming because it was so individual, and particularly how we shall miss the soft padding of those velvet paws which so successfully concealed the polished steel of his claws. Whatever sphere he adorns in future, he will carry with him the sincere and affectionate admiration of his colleagues in the House of Commons.
Clear as his exposition was, one felt in listening to his official account of the Navy Estimates for this year, and in listening afterwards to the attack made upon those Estimates by the hon. Member for Greenock (Sir G. Collins), how difficult it is to have a clear mind upon the deeper questions involved in the Estimates. It is not only here but in the country that you find there is no very clear mind on the subject. There is uncertainty. What is the salient fact brought out by the Estimates? It is that we see this year a reduction of £1,500,000 in comparison with last year. This reduction is the end of a long process of reduction that has gone on for many years, until now the forces of the Service, the men, are 33 per cent. less than they were in 1914, and the tonnage is 43 per cent. less. After so large a reduction as that it is impossible, in a country which has been educated to believe that its safety depends on naval security, that 1338 there should not be some sense of uncertainty.
Turn to the aspect of the salient facts, the other side of the picture. The budget is becoming established at between £55,000,000 and £60,000,000. The hon. Member for Greenock has expressed the uncertainty felt by those who realise that economy in every direction of national expenditure is essential to a country which finds itself in the state in which our country is at the present time. There are two sources of disquiet—disquiet about safety and disquiet about economy. They meet in the common-sense point of view of those, with whom I venture to range myself, who look upon naval strength as an absolute necessity for the existence of our country, but are equally anxious to make sure that, in the interests of that other vital necessity, economy, the money spent on the Navy shall be spent in the best possible way. There is disquiet, and in order to remove it and to give peace at home in the minds of men, the reassurance is needed that can only be obtained through a re-statement of the ends of our naval policy. Such a re-statement is now essential to bring security to men's minds both as to the safety of the country, and as to the efficiency of the Naval Service in the interests of economy. But it is not only in the interests of peace of mind at home that that is necessary. Is it not also necessary in the interests of peace of mind abroad? We have to recognise that the British Navy is a force so powerful that it must be a matter of interest throughout the world to know what our intentions are as to its use. We have to recognise also that to secure ourselves, in our specially vulnerable position as a maritime Empire with long sea routes for our trade, we have to demand certain naval rights which may not seem natural to the rest of the world. This great power that we have, and these special claims, give us special responsibilities. We owe it to the rest of the world to give them a clear account of what our essential interests are. We owe it to the world to remove the doubt that breeds fear, because fear breeds war. Everything points, in the interests of peace, at home and abroad, and in the interests of a strong Navy, to the essential necessity of a re-statement of our present aims in the maintenance of a Navy.
1339 The present need for a re-statement has resulted from the revolution of the Great War. Before the War there was little doubt in the minds of people either here or in foreign countries about the objects in the existence of the British Navy. Our naval political problem was a comparatively simple one. It was confined to Europe. In the course of time it became confined to the narrow problem of the maintenance of our forces against Germany. For that purpose, the old and sweet simplicity of the two-Power standard was enough. If we examine what is in our minds to-day about the essential purposes in existence of our Navy, we shall find that our ideas are still largely based on those pre-War conditions of the German menace. But those conditions have become obsolete; and many of our ideas are obsolete with them. Now, the political problem is infinitely more complicated. Fortunately there is no definite threat from any single nation; but, with the passage of that definition, there has come a big concomitant increase in the variety of hostile possibilities which make the political problem far more complex. The permutations and combinations of possible friends and foes are far more numerous than they were.
The technical problem has also ceased to be simple. Then it was the problem of naval warfare in narrow seas. Now it is the problem of naval warfare which must not contemplate confinement to the narrow seas, but must generalise itself to all the seas of the world. As regards the sort of Fleet that we need, before the War the evolution of naval technique proceeded on the simple and logical lines of building ever bigger and more powerful surface ships. That was so from Trafalgar till 1914. Now that sweet simplicity has gone, too, and we have added the complexity of the air and the submarine. So in all things since the great revolution of the War complexity has followed simplicity—and naturally, public opinion, finding itself without the same simple basis that it had before, is urgently in need of instruction.
My right hon. Friend has celebrated, no doubt, his regretted last appearance in introducing these Estimates by giving a wider sweep than usual to his speech, 1340 and by telling us more about policy. I should have expected a rather more generous recognition of that from the hon. Member who spoke first for the Opposition (Mr. Ammon). It deserved generous recognition. But, though welcoming that wider sweep of his treatment, there is yet wider ground which needs to be covered in order to reestablish public opinion about the Navy. The merely private individual cannot cover it. He cannot say what policy should be. He has not the command of technical information on any co-ordinated knowledge of the varying needs of various Departments. That the Government alone can possess. All that we can do in such a Debate as this, in encouraging the First. Lord to lay down a naval policy with a yet wider sweep, is to say what are the things about which we and public opinion at large need education and enlightenment We must then leave it to the Government to provide the education.
There are two directions in which we want guidance. We want guidance as to the objects of the Navy under modern conditions, and we want guidance as to what is the best sort of Navy to attain those objects. Thus only can the full force of informed public opinion be brought to bear in support of the Navy Estimates. What is the Navy for? The first answer of course is that given by the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Commander Southby) who has made to-day a distinguished first contribution to our Debates. The Navy is for the maintenance of sea power: but when you say that, you have not gone very far. You must be tempted to exercise the gentle art of definition, and to say what sea power is. We used to be told that sea power was necessary for this country, adequately to maintain its power to command the free use of the seas for our own military operations and for our own supply in time; of war, and to deny it for those purposes to the enemy. No doubt that is still true. But even when we have said that, obviously we have not yet said enough, because under modern conditions, one cannot define the power which is necessary for this country simply in terms of the relations between us and our enemies. It involves also the relations between us and neutrals. Here we come 1341 to that region of ideas where there is the greatest uncertainty—where more certainty is necessary in order to reestablish public opinion.
Formerly, the rights of neutrals in wartime were the subject of a structure of international law. But with the War the whole structure of international law upon which the rights of neutrals were based has fallen in ruins. It is an expressive fact that the Institute of International Law, one of the most authoritative and learned of bodies, has not, I believe, met since the War. It remains for the great naval powers to make up their minds as to what the new basis of the rights of neutrals must be. If we do but glance at the sort of words which were used in defining the rights of neutrals before the War, we shall see how utterly obsolete has become the old basis of naval usage in this respect. Blockade has gone. The whole conception of blockade appears to be obsolete. It was based upon the sailing fleets of the Napoleonic Wars—the idea of a blockading fleet lying off a port. Nowadays blockade is exercised all over the high seas, and off the port of departure. Again, the old idea as to contraband seems to be obsolete. Under modern conditions it is impossible to find any workable distinction between what is contraband and what is not. In the Great War, cotton was discovered to be as much contraband as cordite.
The old distinctions between public and private property seem to have gone too, which was another basis for the rights of neutrals. According to the logic of modern ideas this distinction is disappearing; under modern Governments with their larger powers, what is private property to-day may become public property to-morrow. Three things have contributed to making obsolete all these former bases for our naval theories. The structure of international law has been beaten down by improvement of communications both in speed and certainty, and, resulting from that, the enormous improvement that is possible in the organisation of States. That has enabled Governments to achieve results in the restriction of enemy supplies which were formerly unthinkable. Lastly, to change the basis of neutral rights, there is the relentless logic of modern times as to efficiency in 1342 warfare; there is that efficiency, grading into ruthlessness, in warfare, which has made obsolete a whole body of conventions as to what was right and what was wrong in war, what could be done and what could not be done—conventions which governed the conditions under which that body of international law came into existence.
The rights and powers of belligerents and neutrals are in the melting pot; hence great uncertainty as to the objects our Navy is to serve. Such is the first direction in which there is an urgent need for guidance if we are to have a clearer idea as to how we are to get the best Navy at the lowest cost. Does not the history of disarmament prove that most clearly?
I imagine that there is on this side of the House, as in other quarters, universal agreement that disarmament is a good thing as long as it proceeds equally among all nations, step by step; but that disarmament of a unilateral kind, applying only to one nation, is contrary to the interests of peace, because it leads to those states of fear and doubt in which war is bred. But in our quest for this beneficent ideal there is a sense of impotence. There has been some impotence in our negotiations upon disarmament with the United States of America. The result achieved since the Washington Conference has not been encouraging; and what is the reason? Is it not that we have begun at the wrong end? We have tried to make direct agreements as to the reduction of armaments before we have made any direct agreement about what our armaments are for. If two parties find themselves together in a field with clubs in their hands, the wisest thing for them to do is, not to begin to discuss the respective weights of the clubs, but to discuss whether they have any quarrel. So the first requirement in discussions on disarmament is that we should have a restatement of the essential interests of the British Empire, in order that we may know whether there is any necessity for the United States and us to eye each other with suspicion.
That raises another question, namely, whether one of the ideas that have become obsolete in the evolution of naval ideas is not the whole idea of neutrality. 1343 If there is anything in the League of Nations, in Locarno, in the Kellogg Pact, in the International Court, and similar international institutions and agreements, at some future time there may well be no room for the conception of a neutral in warfare at all. On the other hand it may be that there will still be, even in the remote future, the possibility of what may be called private warfare, as distinguished from warfare conducted under the auspices of international institutions, to repress an aggressor. If that be so, then it may also be that a series of propositions as to our rights will be necessary for private war different from that necessary for a war undertaken in order to keep a recalcitrant nation in order. Here again, there is a necessity for restatement.
If we pass from doubts and uncertainty regarding the present objects of our naval power to the second question, as to what sort of navy is best in order to obtain the objects in the existence of the Navy, do we not find equal doubts? Of course we have the old principle that the sort of Navy which we want is the Navy which is best for the purpose of seeking out and defeating the enemy's fleet. At least we had thought that that was still the basis of our tactics until we observed growing, here and there, strange theories about the defence of trade routes. People begin to talk, in some contemporary discussions, as if a trade route were something which you could fortify, as if you could entrench the sea, and hold a line upon it against attacking forces. But, as I suppose, if one pursues the matter to its common-sense conclusion the old principle still holds that trade routes can only be defended on that particular patch of the seas where you meet and defeat the enemy's fleet. What is the best sort of Navy for that purpose? There is much less clearness about that now than there was before the War. It is all very well to say "beat the enemy's fleet," but you no longer have any certainty what "a fleet" is. There are the doubts about the capital ship. I do not venture to express an opinion: it is a matter for experts; but it is one of the chief matters upon which guidance is required. Is the capital ship now so vulnerable, both from underneath and from above, that it is no longer a practicable method of warfare? 1344 What is the effect upon the use of the capital ship of the immense increase in the radius at which our ships must fight? It may be that these considerations make the question of the utility the capital ship a very different question from what it was before the War. The question of radius involves the question of Singapore, as the type of the remote base which is certainly necessary in order to enable the capital ship to work at a distance from home. Here is another moot point.
Even as to the cruiser, restatement is required. We had a logical and well informed apology for the cruiser from the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom but still there are matters of a fundamental nature concerning the cruiser about which we need guidance. For what is the big new cruiser meant? Is it to take part in general actions as a second line of battle, or is it meant only to operate in the defence of trade routes? If so, why is it so big? Why is a smaller cruiser not possible. These questions involve a consideration of the state of affairs produced by the Washington Conference. The next question which one asks is this—is that state of affairs artificial or natural? Is the Washington Conference a thin barrier interposed between the nations and a future prospect of the construction of bigger and bigger ships; or is the agreement of the Washington Conference truly the epitaph of the big ship? In other words—if we were free to build them, should we, be building big ships or not? If not what is the purpose in the existence of the 15 or 16 big ships which we have got.
These matters are no longer clear, though they were clear enough for us under the conditions prevailing before the War. So we come back to the primary necessity of the present time, that in order to get a wholesome public opinion on naval matters and expenditure guidance is needed. I know that my right hon. Friend can very easily pour a bucketful of his cold wisdom over this suggestion for a restatement of naval policy. He can say, and with wisdom, that it is sometimes unwise and not for the safety of the country, to define things too clearly. In doing so you may give away to potential foes more than you ought to give away. He may also point out that in defining things too clearly you may offend susceptibilities and produce 1345 an atmosphere of nervousness. It may also be said with great force that naval policy under present conditions cannot be arrived at in vacua: it must be the result of considering relations with the other nations of the world: it cannot be determined except in negotiation with others. All that is very true indeed: but there is a converse that is equally true. It is at its peril that a country like this allows public opinion to remain so uninstructed as not to understand the general nature of the objects which the Navy is required to serve and what is the best way for the purpose. The penalty is failure to obtain the expenditure on the Navy which is required. We owe much to others: but we owe it to our own safety, and to our own peace of mind, that there should be adequate clearness as to the direction in which we are moving and how we mean to move in that direction. A strong Navy is essential in the elementary interests of the country. A strong public opinion is absolutely essential if we are to have a strong Navy.
Before the War, naval policy developed in a natural and logical course; and public opinion about the Navy developed itself in a course equally natural. The revolution which came with the War has created in post-War conditions a complexity under which the evolution of public opinion cannot be natural. Out of the speed and complexity of events there since then arises a fresh need for guidance. The work done to-day by the First Lord in starting to give us guidance on policy needs to be carried further in those directions which I have ventured to indicate. To give the people the information they need in order that they may strongly support the essential naval strength of the country is a task which it is necessary for any and every Government to perform, and which should be performed with diligence.
§ Mr. BROMLEY
I desire to return briefly to a question that I have raised in this House on the Naval Estimates during the past two years. This will be the third time on which I shall have presumed to address the House on this subject. I want to draw the attention of the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty to the point put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Camberwell, North (Mr. Ammon), as to whether any tests have been made by the Admiralty 1346 with regard to the use of pulverised coal fuel from the coal of this country as against the foreign article. If I rightly understood the interjection of the First Lord, it was to the effect that a test had been made, but that the system tried was not the best and that another was being tried. The Financial Secretary shakes his head.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I do not think that was what my right hon. Friend the First Lord said. I think the question put to him was whether we had lent a ship for the purpose of experiment to some firm interested in pulverised coal. The First Lord replied that we were willing to do so, but that the firm in question had found some other ship and were testing their process in it. I think that this is what the First Lord said.
§ Mr. BROMLEY
I thank the hon. and gallant Gentleman for the correction. The First Lord did not speak with a very loud voice, and possibly I was led astray. As the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord has now returned to the House, I would like to have the honour of adding, as a countryman or a county man of his, an expression of regret that he is leaving this House and of congratulation on his past service to the nation; but that will not prevent my pressing this point home and asking that the right hon. Gentleman or the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty should tell the House exactly what has been done with regard to the testing of pulverised coal fuel. I notice that all that the First Lord has condescended to tell the House with regard to it is in his Statement, where he says:We are keeping in touch with the progress being made in the use of pulverised fuel, and with the performances of working installations both ashore and afloat.That might appear to be something, if it were not for its unfortunate similarity to what the right hon. Gentleman said in his Statement of 1928, which was:The development of the use of pulverised fuel ashore and afloat is being carefully watched.It appears to me, as one very much interested in this subject, that the two statements are about equivalent and, with all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that they mean nothing. Here we have a nation with some of the most valuable steam coal in the world, with some 200,000 or more of our miners idle, with the towns in which they reside brought 1347 to penury and bankruptcy, with the smashing of businesses and homes, having to transport these unemployed miners into other districts where unemployment already exists, and purchasing foreign oil, to the advantage possibly of great capitalists, but certainly to the very great detriment of our own people. It is all very well for the Admiralty to carry on because oil has been in use for some years and they would be very unwilling to change, but it would be thought ridiculous if an individual managing his own home provided, out of his income, boots for the children next door and none for his own. This may be employing those who are obtaining foreign oil in other countries, but it is to the detriment of our own people, and I again suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the Admiralty are not doing what they should do in testing the use of pulverised coal fuel.
When I spoke on this subject a few years ago, there was very little thought of it. I presumed, as a practical individual used for many years to burning coal and having some knowledge of the science of combustion, to put my views before the House, and I said then that I felt sure that pulverised coal fuel, burnt with steam turbines, would be cheaper than the internal combustion engine. Since that time pulverised fuel has been used, vessels have been equipped for using it, and higher authorities than myself are confirming that opinion, but the British Navy still goes on burning oil and is not making adequate and proper tests with the new method of firing boilers. I challenge the First Lord with that statement. I understand that the Admiralty did suggest putting a vessel at the disposal of some company or other to test this fuel, but it may be due to the insularity of the British naval people that it may have been so hedged round with conditions as to make the test exceedingly difficult. It is always possible, if something is not wanted by a Government Department, to make it practically impossible of success. I have the greatest admiration for the personnel of the British Navy, but I am afraid that very often they are rather stolid, not to say stodgy, and very much against the slightest attempt at advice from anyone outside. It is rather a bad frame of mind to get into, but I think that is sometimes so.
1348 I suggest to the First Lord, quite respectfully, that, instead of listening to his Admirals and other high officers as to the possibility of coal dust on their quarter deck, instead of listening to specialists with regard to oil, or being overborne by the tremendous influences that I believe can be brought to bear on any Department of the Government by financiers and others interested in foreign oil, he should calmly take into consideration his engineer officers, those who understand the problem, those who are as anxious as the officers above deck to get the very best out of the British Navy, and he may be told that there is something in my suggestion. I mentioned, when I addressed the House last year on this subject, the seamship "Mercer," of the United States Shipping Board, which was then just about to make a trial trip across the Atlantic with pulverised coal fuel. Since that time the British Blue Star Line have equipped one of their 10,600 ton liners, the "Stuartstar," for the burning of pulverised fuel. There is building, I understand, on the Clyde to-day another vessel for American interests for the purpose of burning pulverised fuel, and I understand that Sir E. Ropner and Company, of West Hartlepool, are at the moment building a vessel of something over 9,000 tons equipped to burn powdered coal fuel only, with no alternative of oil or ordinary coal or anything of the kind. Therefore, it appeals to me that since the time when this was first discussed in this House other people are seeing the utility, the cheapness, and the safety of it, while the British Navy is lagging behind, with our minefield ruined as it is, and continuing to burn foreign coal.
The technical Press of the country—and I take it that that permeates even into the sacred precincts of the British Admiralty—has recently been dealing very largely with this subject, and if it were not for my anxiety not to detain the House with a number of quotations, I could quote authorities whose names would bear some weight, I think, in this House, who have spoken very highly of the use of pulverised coal fuel, which is apparently very successful wherever it has been tried. It is not only, as I mentioned to the First Lord, I think, two years ago, that it has been operated in ocean-going vessels, but it has been tried 1349 for over 12 months and is now in use on the locomotives of the German railways, and it is now being tested on the Southern Railway, of this country, for locomotive consumption. I myself, interested in this subject, only a few weeks ago saw a 25 hours' test of powdered fuel in a set of converted boilers in this country. I saw the close of the test, at the time when the men, who had been attending to it for the whole period, were rather weary, and the fires naturally at their dirtiest state, but the flame was clear, and the small coal used for pulverisation, right on the spot, blown into the fire boxes and giving particularly good service. I would like to know if the Admiralty have made any attempt in ordinary practice to test powdered fuel in this way.
There was some danger of spontaneous combustion, I will admit, owing to the highly inflammable nature of coal dust, which, in its natural state, is possibly the most powerful explosive known yet, but I have information here which, if it would not be presumption on my part, I would be willing to supply to the First Lord, that with some of the latest installations it is possible to exclude the slightest escape of the coal dust and to feed it in, as I suggested two years ago, just as oil is fed into the bunkers of the ship, with the possibility of spontaneous combustion almost eliminated. I could go even further than that. There is a system, which I believe is called the Brand system because it was advocated by Engineer Captain Brand, of the Australian Navy, in which, after the essential oils and other things have been extracted from the coal, all the pure carbon is left, rendering itself readily to pulverisation, and absolutely free from the fear of spontaneous combustion. I would like to know whether the Admiralty have taken any cognisance of these statements.
Apart from the vessels which I mentioned, others are being equipped for burning pulverised coal fuel. If it be possible to make use of this fuel after the other by-products have been extracted, there would be a tremendous saving, apart from its efficiency, and I could give figures if time permitted. I have no wish to overweight my argument by unduly attacking anyone, but I am driven to the opinion, having regard to the fact that 1350 both the mercantile marine, including freightage vessels and liners, and the railways at home and abroad are testing this, that the British Admiralty are lying dormant and that there may be great influences at work in favour of the use of oil from abroad rather than coal from our own coalfields. If there were a little more cost in it, if a little of the dust did get on the spotless quarter-decks, the use of pulverised fuel would in no way diminish the effectiveness of the British Navy; there might be some other slight disadvantages, but it would be to the interest of the nation if the Admiralty could burn coal in the powdered form rather than oil from abroad.
There is not the slightest diminution in the steam raising power of powdered fuel as compared with oil; not the slightest difference in the bunker space requisite for storing powdered coal fuel as compared with oil; not the slightest difficulty in any shape or form in regard to the efficiency of the Navy in its use; there would be, in fact, a cheapness, and some future First Lord would find that his Estimates were lower for fuel if it were used. I am not quite sure about storage, but I would draw attention to the fact that last year the Estimates included an amount for fuel storage in Ceylon at a cost of no less than £585,000. There is an estimate this time for storage for oil fuel at Pembroke which amounts, with the machinery, to nearly £450,000; to that practically £1,000,000 is expended on some special storage for oil in two places alone. Powdered coal or coal for powdering could be stored at less expenditure, and with a less elaborate storage.
Having been moved by the industrial situation in our minefields to urge the necessity for burning our own coal as against oil, I will say this. I give place, if I may strike a personal note, to no one, not only in admiration for the British Navy, but in a desire so long as wars have to be—and I am anxious to end them—to see that the British Navy is as effective as any other that can be brought against it. I am not anxious to see it die away, leaving us at the mercy of anyone while the world is a mad capitalist world. I suggest to the First Lord and to the House that there is an actual danger to the nation while the Admiralty pin their faith on 1351 oil as against coal. I can visualise, as I presumed to tell the House two years ago, the possibility of a naval combination against this country which, in spite of the cruisers and the capital ships, cutting off our oil supply from abroad when the country is fighting. We were fighting a land battle last time, but sometime we may be fighting a naval war, and it is quite easy for an aeroplane or an airship to drop an incendiary bomb into an oil store and it would go up in a flash. That would not happen with coal, for it is more easy to destroy a liquid than a solid. If it be possible to cut off oil supplies from abroad, the British Navy, no matter whether it was made up of capital ships or cruisers, would be scrap iron. I commend that view to our imperialists, who are more anxious to see that we are top-dog in the fighting line than anywhere else.
I challenge the First Lord to tell the House what the Admiralty have done, after my appeals of two years, and after the experience of other people in this matter, to test the use of powdered coal fuel. Surely from the business view point and from the humanitarian view point, it is better to employ our own people in getting coal and using it for our own Navy than it is to get oil from abroad. On the other hand, what is the good of talking about the size and quantity of ships if the very thing which makes them a valuable asset can be cut off from abroad in time of war, while we have the finest steam coal in the world in this country which any enemy would have difficulty in stopping. I appeal to the First Lord to drop the insularity of the Admiralty and their impatience of outside criticism. The Admiralty think that they are a great body and know about everything, and that no one has a right to impinge on their particular service, but I appeal to them to consider whether science is not proving, not only that powdered fuel is good and safe, but that it is possible to use the carbon after the by-products have been extracted without fear of spontaneous combustion, and to employ British minefields and to serve British interests.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
The hon. Member will forgive me if, in following him, I refer very briefly to the subject 1352 of his speech. I agree with aim that the Admiralty have not done nearly enough—in fact, they have done nothing—in the way of research into the question of powdered fuel, and I present to him this argument. We spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on oil fuel experiments in ships prior to (he introduction on new warships. During the War we had a shortage of oil, and oil-burning ships were at one time not allowed to proceed to sea because of the shortage of oil. In addition to that, when America came into the War, we requested her not to send any oil-burning battleships to Scapa Flow. In the case, of a British interest such as this, the Admiralty ought not merely to refer us to the Research Committee, but ought themselves to be conducting experiments to see how far they can facilitate the introduction of powdered fuel.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Sir H. Young) made an eloquent appeal in favour of a restatement of British naval policy. The time has come for a restatement of that policy. I do not believe, however, that economy, in the sense in which it is meant by many hon. Members of this House, will be promoted by such a restatement. There was a restatement of American naval policy in 1925 at the request of President Coolidge, and that has certainly not promoted economy in the American Navy Estimates. As the oldest naval Member of the House, I should like to express the regret which all naval Members feel at the announcement of the First Lord that this if the last occasion on which he will present the Navy Estimates. The right hon. Gentleman will have the consolation in knowing that he is the right hon. Friend of every single Member of this House, and we all wish him well. He will have the satisfaction of feeling that he is handing over the British Navy as a very efficient and economical weapon, for he has promoted economy in spite of the attacks that have been made by the Opposition. In fact, no Navy in the world can show such a record of economy since the War as has been shown by the British Navy.
The two dominant questions which have been raised in this Debate are the rivalry with America and capital ships. My feeling in regard to America is that we have to make the policy, such as we have on 1353 the frontier of Canada, where there are no guns or armaments, reach right across the oceans. I am bound to say that, owing largely to America inducing us to go into the League of Nations, we have been put in the position where America is suspicious of British policy, although it is not British policy, but the policy which is carried out by Great Britain as a member of the League of Nations. The Geneva Protocol would have made the British Navy the watchdog of the League of Nations interfering with neutral commerce. The Locarno Pact has very much the same effect, and the result has been that America feels that her commerce will be interfered with, not because the British Navy will ever be at war with America, but because she will be acting on behalf of the League of Nations, interfering with her commerce as she had to interfere at the beginning of the late War. In 1922, when our relations with America were of the very best, and when we looked upon those relations as a virtual alliance, we abandoned the Japanese Alliance—I think rightly and wisely—but, before we abandoned it, in order to free public opinion of suspicion, we announced to the world that in no circumstances would we allow the Japanese Alliance to bring us into conflict with America. I think the time has come for precisely the same policy to be adopted as regards the League of Nations. We should announce to the world that in no circumstances in carrying out the policy of the League of Nations will we allow ourselves to be brought into conflict with America. Even after we had made the détente from the Japanese Alliance, being in alliance with Japan we continued to hand on our naval secrets to Japan. I think the time has come for the two English-speaking nations to communicate fully all naval secrets and naval ideas, and that will get rid of all suspicion. I have no feeling with regard to the expansion of the American Navy, in fact, I have always felt that too much of the work of the world was done by the British Navy.
The second question is the undoubted fact that the idea of British sea power has been to a large extent undermined by the attack on capital ships. I do not think any greater disservice could possibly be rendered to the British Empire than to undermine the confidence of the 1354 public in the British Navy. There was a time when exhibitions were given at Hendon, Edinburgh, and elsewhere, where models of ships were anchored and a wire was taken to a secret position on shore, and when an aeroplane came over and pretended to drop a bomb the ship was blown up, and tens of thousands of people went home and said: "What is the use of a battleship costing £6,000,000 or £7,000,000 when a cheap little aeroplane can blow her up." That, to my mind, was so tragic that I wrote a strong letter to the Secretary of State about it. I said that this sort of thing was doing the maximum of harm to the British Navy and that the worst Bolshevist could not render the British Empire a worse service than to undermine the confidence of the British people in the Navy. I am glad to say that never since has there been an exhibition of a ship being blown up by an aeroplane coining over and pretending to drop a bomb. Is it true that an aeroplane can do these things? I have heard the statement in this House that ships have been sunk in eight seconds, and I have heard it said that a battleship can be sunk in ten minutes. The hon. Member for Rochester said that a bomb dropped within 200 yards of a battleship would sink that battleship.
Those statements are quite untrue and have been proved untrue by actual experiments. I have here an account in reference to these matters, but before I refer to it let me say this with regard to aeroplanes. There are four possible uses. The fighters are the most important; then there are the scouts, the spotters who spot when projectiles are falling, and finally the bombers. It is not true that an aeroplane is cheap. We have the official figures of the Admiralty of what battleships cost and what aeroplanes cost, allowing for the aircraft carrier behind. The "Nelson," taking the latest and most expensive battleship, according to the official figures, cost £432,960 per annum, and a bomber with pilot and proportionate charge for its carrier £20,900 per annum; that is, at the most 21 bombers for one "Nelson," or more probably four and the rest of the other kinds of planes. These are not bombers with heavy bombs. No bomber with a heavy bomb could take off from 1355 an aircraft carrier. People talk of carrying 4,000 lbs. bombs, but they do not exist as far as floating aircraft carriers are concerned. A 1,000 lbs. explosive in a 2,000 lbs. bomb is the most that can be taken off from an aeroplane carrier.
We have to consider again: Do we really get 20 aeroplanes for the cost of one "Nelson"? There are four separate considerations to apply to that. First, of the battleships throughout the War belonging to the Grand Fleet, only two were lost, and they were lost from other causes, one being mined before the days of the paravane and the other being lost by spontaneous combustion of its own cordite explosive. Neither loss would occur to-day. The second consideration is that if the aeroplane carrier goes in many cases the aeroplanes go as well. If you take the very latest aeroplane carrier in the American Navy, with a floating target of no less than 5 acres, the proportionate size of the American aircraft carrier to the "Nelson" is as 9 to 7. If the deck of the aircraft carrier is ripped by a single shell, the chances are that the aeroplane will not be able to take off or land again on that deck. The third consideration is that Sir Hugh Trenchard has stated that the wastage in the first month of war would be 80 per cent., whereas a battleship may go right through the war. The fourth consideration is that half the aeroplanes are probably resting and can only go up in the air if conditions are favourable. I know it is the case that destroyers are always in attendance when aeroplanes are flying from aircraft carriers.
President Coolidge was troubled about this question of attacks upon battleships, and he asked for a special Commission to inquire into it and report. The Committee took different experiments with different ships, and the only case of a moving ship was the "Iowa." She was worked by wireless. Eighty bombs were dropped from 4,000 feet, and there were only two hits out of the 80. The anti-aircraft guns carried to very great height, and in similar experiments at dummy targets towed at greater heights made 75 per cent. hits. I am not at the moment saying that any such peace practice will be 1356 repeated during war. British experiments were also carried out on the "Agamemnon," whose engines were worked by wireless from a destroyer. Dummy bombs were dropped from 5,000 feet high to 12,000 feet high; 140 bombs were dropped, and there was not a single hit. There is every reason why there should not be hits on battleships if bombs are dropped from heights. It takes 28 seconds for a bomb dropped from a height of 12,000 feet to reach the water, and during that time the ship has moved 1,000 feet. Beside that, if the aeroplane has a very heavy bomb, 2,000-pound bomb, it cannot fly at a greater height than 8,000 feet, and this is well within the range of an anti-aircraft gun.
The bombing experiments of the Americans which have been referred to in this House, where ships were alleged to have been sunk in eight seconds, as the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) said, were against ships 23 years old, the "Virginia" and "New Jersey." They had no water-tight doors. There was also one against an old German ship which was reconditioned, but the watertight doors did not work, and she sunk one foot on the way to the target ground through the water getting in before the experiment started. The Secretary of State for Air in 1922 said that one of these powerful battleships was sunk in a few minutes. Now for the facts, spread over an interval of many hours, the "New Jersey" was attacked by 40 flights of aeroplanes dropping 52,000 pounds of bomb altogether, and only after the last bomb had hit the ship did she sink in five minutes. She was bombed for hours. The "Virginia" was attacked at the very low altitude of 3,000 feet, and no less than 15,400 pounds of bombs were dropped in her case. At the end of the attack, she had a list of 10 degrees and held it for 20 minutes and then sank. The German battleship was bombed for three hours by 52 aeroplanes. There were no pumps, and the bombardment was resumed the next day by 11 aeroplanes dropping 1,000 pounds bombs. Then six 2,000 pounds bombs were dropped. In all, 69 bombs were dropped during 22 hours, and the ship sank 10 minutes after the last bomb was dropped. Hon. Members have made statements in this House, but they have not had access 1357 to the actual documents. There were no fighting aeroplanes, and nothing to interfere with the bombing aeroplanes. The ship was anchored close to the shore and the planes had every advantage.
I come to the bombing of the "Washington." She was prepared with modern water-tight arrangements and five of the largest bombs and torpedoes that are used in the service were placed in position against her and exploded at different times. She stood them all. She then rode out a three days' gale after the bombing, and she had to be sunk by gunfire. The Coolidge Committee reported thatIt was the opinion of the members of the Board that a ship like the 'Washington' would survive eight torpedo hits distributed about the underwater body.I have spoken at this length, because I want to allay the opinion that ships can be sunk in a few minutes by bombs. I appeal to the House that in matters of such dire importance, the British people, at any rate, should give the battleship fair play. To talk in the way people are talking about being able to build 500 aeroplanes at the cost of one battleship and say that a battleship can be sunk in a few minutes is absolutely untrue.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
Those who have participated in this Debate have referred with feeling to the prospective departure of the First Lord of the Admiralty from this House. It must be some satisfaction to him to know that he takes with him the friendship and good wishes of every one of his colleagues, to whatever party they belong. Wherever he goes he will be welcomed, and I can only hope that he will enjoy good health and happiness. I have troubled him and his Department a good deal during his regime, and I must say that the officials of the Admiralty treat the numerous letters which they receive from me with great promptness and consideration. He must have been very proud to preside over that Department. Coming to to-day, the First Lord of the Admiralty treated a great multiplicity and diversity of subjects by binding them all together with a light thread of humour. At one point he pricked the needle in my own flesh, and sought to shoulder upon me the responsibility for some millions of pounds contained in these Estimates on the slender ground that I 1358 had asked three questions yesterday, or the day before, which it had taken 27 man-hours to answer. I wonder how many statisticians he employed to work out the exact cost of answering those questions. I think he might have saved a little public expenditure if he had not put himself to the trouble of making that jest at my expense.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
Do I understand that three men were engaged for nine hours in working out how much it cost to answer the questions, or to answer the questions themselves?
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
However, there are some other matters, involving very human considerations, about which the First Lord said nothing, although many people are waiting expectantly to know what he has to say upon them. If there is one question more than another which agitates the minds of the officers in the Navy, and of their wives, it is the question of marriage allowance. That the First Lord is aware of the importance of this question is obvious, because he appointed a Committee to investigate it and to report upon it. The Committee recommended, as I understand unanimously, that marriage allowance should be granted, and, indeed, the First Lord himself thought that it should be granted, because in the year 1925 he introduced a provision for marriage allowance in the Navy Estimates. Shortly after he had introduced that provision, which was unanimously approved by the House of Commons, the coal trouble occurred, and in order, presumably, to make some contribution towards the coal subsidy that marriage allowance fell by the way. But the urgency is just as great to-day. It must be remembered that the officers of the Navy are the only officers who do not get marriage allowance. Both in the Army and in the Air Force, where the need is not so great and so obvious, they get a marriage allowance; and the naval officer, who constantly has to change his home, who has to maintain, sometimes, more than one establishment, who cannot send his children to a day school because of his frequent movements and has to send them to the more expensive boarding 1359 school, is deprived of a marriage allowance, and cannot understand the reason why. I think every economy the First Lord has achieved which he has mentioned to-day will be welcomed in some quarters, and could he have found it possible to restore to the Navy Estimates the £350,000 which he took out in 1925 he would have ended his career as First Lord of the Admiralty as the most popular man who ever held that office. I am sorry he forgot to do that.
In the War, the Navy reached a stage of security such as it had never reached before. Pay was better, pensions were better, the general conditions were better, and marriage allowance was just in sight. During the regime of the First Lord a new and a lower scale of pay has been introduced, with a consequent lowering of pensions. That is an economy which is unwise, because when the higher scale of pay prevailed there was attracted into the Fleet a body of men of superior intelligence, and the whole character of the Fleet changed. It is a shame that we are to run the risk of getting a worse type of personnel, and if the pay is further and further reduced that will inevitably occur. No service can be exemplary unless every man in it feels not only that he is adequately remunerated but that he can walk as freely the road of promotion as his ability will carry him. There is a general feeling in the Navy that promotion is stagnant, and that a man cannot advance in accordance with his ability, and the country cannot afford to inject that feeling into officers and men of the Fleet. It means not only that they cannot get the pay to which their ability entitles them, but that they cannot get the responsibility to which their ability entitles them. I refer especially to those who have come from the lower deck.
The mate scheme was introduced with a great flourish of encouragement, and we were told that every barrier was down and that it would be possible in the Navy, as it has been for a very long time in the Army, to rise to the top. Which lower deck men to-day are rising to the top? They are not being given the same chance, they are being put into back waters, and I say that it is about time this mate scheme was made into what it was really meant to be. I invite the First Lord of the Admiralty, as one of his last acts, to 1360 institute a committee of inquiry into this whole question, so that the fullest stimulus may be given to the men of the lower deck to rise to the very top. You have not had many careers in the Navy that correspond with the type of career of Field Marshal Sir William Robertson. You do not get admirals rising from the lower deck, although many of the men are quite capable, by brain power and general capacity, of doing so.
But these, after all, are purely material matters. A great spiritual injury has, somewhat inexplicably, been done to the Navy in this last year. In the year 1928, in the very year chosen to enfranchise women, the democratic rights of the Navy were interfered with. What possible reason could there have been for curtailing, for the very first time, the democratic rights of the Royal Navy—unless, of course, the Government were afraid of the verdict which the Navy would give upon their general policy? Has not a naval officer or man exactly the same interest in the welfare of the country as any ordinary citizen? Has he not even a greater sense of civic responsibility? Has he not a wife and a family to be cared for, and has he not the same right to represent that his grievances should be redressed? I think this curtailment of democratic liberty is one of the greatest acts of unwisdom during the First Lord's regime.
I pass from those who man the ships to those who make them, and I say at once how glad I was to hear the First Lord use the word "stabilisation" in connection with the Royal dockyards. For many years I have advocated that policy of stabilisation, but I have always been told that it was quite impossible to stabilise employment in the dockyards. The First Lord says that he has now almost got down to rock bottom, although I see he is taking power to reduce the dockyard personnel by another 1,000 in the current year. But there is only one way in which you can get stabilisation in the dockyards, and that is by giving national work to the national yards and not to the private yards, except in so far as there is a superfluity of it, as there was before the War. If I am not mistaken, more than two-thirds of the money spent on construction goes to private yards, and for years we have been confronted with the 1361 spectacle of men being flung out of their jobs in these dockyard towns after years of service to the State. Now, to add to our difficulties, miners are being sent into the dockyard towns. The First Lord of the Admiralty shakes his head, but he cannot be aware that I was informed only a few days ago by the Minister of Labour that about 60 miners have been sent to Plymouth and to Devonport.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN Has he informed you that they are employed in the dockyard?
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
No, I did not say that. I said that men had been flung out of the dockyards. Those men are unemployed. If they cannot get work in the dockyards they are entitled to any work in the locality in which they live, and the miners have been sent there. Naturally everybody sympathises with the miners, but a Government servant is just as much entitled to sympathy as a miner, particularly if his misfortune is directly attributable to the Government and is quite unnecessary. Did the Admiralty follow the policy of giving its own work to the taxpayers' dockyards there would not be unemployment. You could reduce the building programme very considerably and yet give an adequate amount of work to these dockyards. Two yards have been closed during the First Lord's regime. I have in my pocket a letter from the Mayor of Pembroke. I see that the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Price) is here. Everybody will commiserate with him on tine misfortune that has befallen his town, and will be ready to recognise the ability with which he has advocated some redress. Here is a letter from the Mayor of Pembroke asking the people of Devonport, the dockyard men of Devonport, to get up a concert to provide funds for the destitute dockyard men of Pembroke.
The whole concentration of the country is sympathetically and publicly directed towards the plight of the miners. Here are two whole towns in the United Kingdom, Rosyth and Pembroke, absolutely obliterated from the map, quite unnecessarily, and without warning. If the dockyards of Rosyth and Pembroke were not necessary, some alternative arrangements should have been made for the men before the yards were closed, 1362 and if you cannot employ your dockyards fully in Devonport, Portsmouth and Chatham, then it is the duty of the Admiralty to find other work. I recognise that at last the Admiralty are showing some evidence of pursuing that policy, because they have obtained for Devonport dockyard the work of repairing the Chilean battleship "Almirante Latorre." I hope that policy will be further extended, and extended not only in so far as shipbuilding is concerned but for other Government work.
We want more co-ordination between the service departments. At the present time we are building up a mechanised army and who is building it? You have sufficient plant in the Devonport and Chatham dockyards to make all the machinery required for this purpose and why cannot they supply all the needs of the Army? I am grateful to know that employment in the dockyard towns at the present time appears to be more stable than it has been for the last five years, but we have seen that phenomenon before. When you see the swallows in St. James' Park you know that Spring is at hand, and when you are told that employment in the dockyards is more stable you know that a General Election is at hand. The best thing I could wish for the people of Devonport, Portsmouth and Chatham is that there should be a general election every year.
§ Sir A. SHIRLEY BENN
As an ardent believer in the need for economy, I was glad to see a reduction in these Estimates. I should like to know if the naval experts consider that we shall now have a sufficiently strong Navy not only to protect our shores but to ensure a proper food supply to the people of this country. Our people are absolutely dependent upon the food supply from abroad and unless our Navy is sufficiently strong we might find ourselves in a very awkward position. We know that statesmen can make treaties and agreements with other nations, but they are not always carried out. We have the League of Nations and we hope they will be able to decide all the disputes that may arise; but unless we have a force to ensure that the decisions of the League of Nations are carried out we should be quite helpless.
We hear people say that it is now understood that all these disputes are going 1363 to be decided in accordance with reason. The people of England are the most law abiding people in the world, but just as we have to depend upon our police force to see that our laws are carried out, we have to depend upon our Navy to see that justice is done. We know that our sailors are courageous but the question I ask is whether our naval experts consider the Fleet is sufficiently strong at the present time for the duties which it may have to perform. I wish to say a few words about the American cruiser programme. I hope America will build all the cruisers she can because that policy would enable us to reduce our Estimates still more next year. Since the year 1815 we have had many disputes with America but never once have we had to send our ships to carry out our views, and all those disputes have been settled in the past by arbitration. There is no doubt that we shall pursue that policy in the future, and in that way we shall help to maintain the world's peace.
Mr. L'ESTRANGE MALONE
I want to refer at the outset to a matter which has been raised by the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha). I think the time has come for the Admiralty to review the whole question of promotion from the lower deck. In 1912 the first scheme dealing with this point was inaugurated. When the original scheme was started it was side-tracked very largely by the age limit and by the alley of the warrant officers. The scheme was modified by the First Lord of the Admiralty in 1920. I feel that now the whole scheme ought to be reviewed possibly by such an inquiry as that which has been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport. One of the great drawbacks in the present scheme of promotion from the lower deck is the use of the title "mate." When a man starts from the lower deck and is given the title of "mate" that title loads the dice against him for the rest of his career. The age limit for the promotion of men from the lower deck was raised in 1920, but the lines on which we ought to proceed should be to facilitate entry at as early an age as possible, and make the entries from the lower deck and those through the normal channel blend together at every possible point of contact. I hope the Admiralty will consider that point.
1364 I wish to refer to the remarks which have been made by the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs), who tried to make out that the new weapon of the air was not going to supersede the old-established weapon of battleships and cruisers. May I remind the hon. and gallant Member what happened some 60 years ago. When steamships were first introduced—in fact when the first steel steamship was introduced—the Admirals of the day set their constructors to attempt to prove that it was impossible for a steel ship to get across the Atlantic and carry sufficient coal for that purpose. They also tried to prove that a steel ship would sink if it was provided with sufficient coal to carry it across the Atlantic. Whilst the Admirals were trying to prove their case the first steel ship did cross the Atlantic.
The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone referred to the most vital weapon of all, the torpedo carrying aeroplane, and he gave figures to show the vulnerability of aircraft. The hon. and gallant Member seems to forget that the method of attack from torpedo carrying aeroplanes is by the use of certain aeroplanes which drop a smoke screen round the target; the torpedo carrying aeroplane comes down low, pierces the smoke screen, discharges its torpedoes and then disappears through the smoke screen. That is a fact which is known to everybody associated with that work, and the torpedo carrying aeroplane vitally alters the whole position and value of modern battleships and heavy sea-going vessels.
We have been told that the First Lord of the Admiralty is going to retire from his present position. I hope he will reconsider his decision and I am sure no one will miss him more than the Government. I do not suppose that amongst all the Members who will be returned at the next election the Government can possibly find anyone who could so successfully cloak over one of our most warlike Departments with an atmosphere of peace. The most important part of the statement made by the First Lord was that directed to show that great steps had been taken by his Department and the Government towards disarmament. That argument may hold water in the establishment at the other end of the corridor, but I think he should 1365 give us credit for possessing a certain amount of intelligence. The First Lord told us, for example, that if we looked into the Navy Estimates we should see a certain number of non-establishment charges such as pensions and so on, but surely these charges were in the Estimates before the War.
The Estimates before the War included the Royal Naval Air Service, and now the whole of the air side of the Navy Estimates are shown under the Air Force Estimates. When we talk about disarmament we must consider the whole body of armament expenditure. No less than £114,000,000 have been spent on armaments by this country last year, and £582,000,000 were spent on armaments during the last 4i years. In view of this colossal expenditure, to talk about £2,000,000 or £5,000,000 is simply talking about matters which are insignificant when compared with this huge expenditure. On this question of disarmament I feel that the Admiralty is really the Devil in the ointment. After all, the Admiralty has always adopted a policy of reaction and obstruction in regard to a reduction of armaments. I have just referred to the opposition of the Admiralty to the introduction of steamships. The Admiralty showed exactly the same opposition to the introduction of submarines and the Air Force, and they are now opposing world peace and disarmament. During the War we very nearly lost the War because the Admiralty refused to re-organise the naval staff. Two years after the commencement of War this country was nearly defeated by the German submarine menace, and it was only through political pressure that the Admiralty were compelled to re-organise and adopt more modern methods. Just as political pressure brought about a change in the Admiralty policy of those days, I hope it will take the conduct of disarmament negotiations out of the hands of Admirals and Generals, and put it into the hands of the representatives of the people.
One can approach this question of naval strength and understand what I might call the old Navy League point of view. The old idea that Britannia rules the wages means that in any sea, whether it 1366 is the Adriatic or the Aegean, where there is British property, we ought to have sufficient ships to control our trade in those waters. One can understand that point of view, but that is absolutely incompatible with the idea of the League of Nations. If you are going to keep up the old idea that we have to be supreme over all other navies you will have to see that we are supreme. If hon. Members opposite wish to control all our trade routes in every part of the world, then the Navy must be able to take on all comers from every quarter. To-day we are working under the League of Nations. We have no commitments, no alliances and no treaties between nations, and under those circumstances you can easily reduce the Navy. If you carry out the policy of hon. Members opposite, then you must have a Navy strong enough to meet all comers.
I suggest to hon. Members opposite that the present Navy Estimates do not provide anything like enough battleships or cruisers to carry out that policy which, of course, is absolutely impracticable. Not only is it technically impracticable, but it is morally untenable. What would a blockade mean to-day? A blockade means, as we know, the blockading of every sort of commodity; contraband has ceased to exist. A blockade of France, assuming that unthinkable improbability—we must, of course, in considering these policies, consider every possible enemy—would mean the blockade of the Channel, the Bay of Biscay, and the Mediterranean; it would mean the blockade of the adjoining countries of Germany, Italy and Spain. It would be a tremendous undertaking. Moreover, we must know now that a policy of blockading, not only belligerent countries, but neutral countries also—any policy of blockade must involve that—a policy of starvation of men, women and children, which was only just tolerated by the neutral countries during the last war, will never be tolerated again, and I suggest that the time has come to review the whole question of what is meant by the freedom of the seas. It is necessary now, if for no other reason, from the point of view of ordinary economics. You cannot go on—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is going too wide of the Navy Estimates. 1367 He is now entering into questions of international law.
With all deference, my point is that the Estimates which we are discussing to-day would not have to be anything like so large if the Government made such a declaration as we propose in regard to the question of the freedom of the seas. In fact, the failure of the Government to make any declaration of this sort fundamentally affects the amount of the Estimates, and it has resulted in a competition with the United States of America. Only a few days ago I was reading, in the "Congressional Record," the Report of the Debates in Congress at Washington, and I noted that Senator Borah, who, I suppose, has more influence than the Foreign Secretary in any country, used these words on Thursday, the 24th January:If we cannot have an agreement with reference to the use of the sea, if our commerce depends for its protection entirely upon our Navy, if England stays with the proposition that she proposes to dominate the sea"—that is the policy to which I have been referring—the blue-water policy—we will build a Navy superior to England's undoubtedly. In my judgment, it is just as inevitable as time. If there cannot be an agreement as to disarmament and an agreement with reference to the right of neutrals, the United States will go forward until she will build a Navy which will prevent interference with the commerce of the United States, in case any nation sees fit to undertake to interfere with it.That is exactly the position which existed before the War—the old idea of one nation building, then another catching up, then the first trying to catch up the second again, and so on, until—
The Admiralty's struggle to maintain the position of the past century has not only endangered Imperial security, but national security, and has been the enemy of world progress. How difficult it would be, in case 1368 of a war with France, to carry out the blockade policy. It would be far more difficult to blockade America. The hon. Member for Drake (Sir A. S. Benn), referred to the impossibility of war with America. We used to talk about the impossibility of war with Germany; we said that right up to the eve of the War, and before any great war it has always been said by large sections of the community that war between the countries concerned would be impossible. Supposing that we found ourselves at war with America, the question of blockade would be a very difficult one. It would be impossible to blockade America, because America is self-supporting; she requires very little from outside. I think that the only basic material which America has to import is rubber, and, in case of war, she would soon devise means of manufacturing synthetic rubber. That shows that we, in an island country, stand to lose less than anyone else by making a declaration in favour of the freedom of the seas. Let us take our minds back to the War—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is what I stopped the hon. Member talking about a few moments ago. It is not a question for the Admiralty, but a question for the Foreign Office and the Government as a whole.
Perhaps I should be in order in pointing out the great dangers which a policy of blockade, if permitted, would bring to this country. Hon. Members will recollect that during the War this country was nearly starved by a few submarines. In order to blockade Germany, we had to bring the whole might of the British Navy to bear, together with the navies of the Allied countries, so that, so long as blockade is part of the policy pursued by the British Admiralty, we shall have to keep a very much larger Navy than we need, and the abolition of the idea of blockade in warfare would be the beginning of an international policy of naval disarmament. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I believe the Admiralty to be the stumbling-block in this matter. When the Coolidge Conference was called together last year, we sent naval experts to discuss these questions; but you might just as well send butchers to a conference to advocate vegetarianism as send admirals to Geneva to discuss the possibility of naval disarmament. 1369 I suggest that politicians and statesmen have to take this matter in hand. I have been following very closely the discussions that have taken place in Congress and in the Senate on the whole question of the use of naval blockade. I believe that the Government would be well advised to make arrangements for calling a conference, or by other means preparing a treaty—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Admiralty cannot call a conference. The hon. Member is going beyond the Navy Estimates altogether.
From my experience at the Admiralty, it would be quite within the competence of the Admiralty staffs to put forward proposals which would show the need for a policy of this sort. In fact, it would be their duty to do so. They ought already to have produced a scheme to show the Government what would be the alteration in the Navy of this country if a declaration in favour of the abolition of blockade were brought about, and I hope that that matter will be very earnestly considered. What is really wanted, however, is that we should take the conduct of all these questions out of the hands of the old blue-water school, drop the policy of the continued adjournment of disarmament conferences, and settle down to business and draft tome agreement which will enable the First Lord of the Admiralty, to whatever party he may belong, to present to us, when he comes before the House of Commons in 12 months' time, very much reduced Navy Estimates. I see very great danger in this continued expenditure of enormous sums on preparing for war. In the last 4½ years we have spent £582,000,000 on preparing for the next war; and we have spent—I should be out of order in discussing it—a mere £362,000 on that great instrument of peace, the League of Nations. Of that sum of £582,000,000, the greater proportion has been spent by the Admiralty. What is it all for? Whom are we going to fight? Who is going to be the enemy? Is it France? Is it Germany? Is it America? What country is it? If it be no country at all, would it not have been very much better if all this money had been spent on housing, health or education? The fact that there is a danger is shown by the speeches of that 1370 very eminent statesman, Senator Borah, who, speaking in the Debate on the Cruiser Bill, said:I think we arts on the eve of a naval race with Great Britain. The situation is not dissimilar to the situation existing between Germany and Great Britain from 1905 to 1914. Of course"—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Admiralty has no responsibility for any of these questions which the hon. Member is raising. He must confine himself to the Estimates presented by the Admiralty.
I think I have put forward the case which I was endeavouring to present. I feel that the Admiralty has a very great responsibility, and that the Admiralty could, if the First Lord so desired, initiate proposals through the Cabinet which would bring about a great reduction of naval armaments.
While I entirely agree with some parts of the speech of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Malone), other parts of it are exactly like the arguments which were used here by the Liberal party before the War, and which I know made it impossible for some people, who agreed with a great deal of the Liberal programme, to join that party. The hon. Member for Northampton has just said that he wants-the Admiralty to initiate a programme, but at the beginning of his speech he said that he did not want the admirals to have anything to do with it. While he blames the First Lord because he has not brought forward a programme which the Cabinet ought to follow, he has just said that the politicians and statesmen ought to take the matter in hand. I think his speech was rather a mischievous one in some ways, because it can be so easily misunderstood by people who want to have a case against England. In talking of these naval questions, we ought to be very careful indeed, remembering that it is very easy to play into the hands of the enemies of peace. Before I go further, I should like to say that I listened with amazement to the speech of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha). While it was a very charming speech, it was a fighting speech. I feel that, no matter where it came from, he did not get it from the Yellow Book, and that, if he had been stating the policy of his party, he would have been pleading for disarmament 1371 and begging that the dockyards should be reduced—because it is in the dockyards that armaments are made—instead of getting after the Government because they have closed up dockyards.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
May I, in the first place, inform the Noble Lady that the policy of stabilising employment in the dockyards is in the Yellow Book; and, secondly, may I ask if she is in favour of building greater armaments, or alternatively, if she is in favour of scrapping the dockyards? She cannot have it both ways.
I have never let my dockyard vote influence me in the least in talking about peace. I am one of the most fearless exponents of peace even in a naval constituency, and I am in a very fortunate position in belonging to a party which really is trying to get peace without scrapping the Navy. I believe that it is perfectly possible to have peace with a navy, and quite impossible to have peace without a navy. I admire the hon. Member for Devonport, who is almost alone in his party in fighting for the Navy, but I must warn him that, when he asks those questions which are so expensive to the Admiralty, he must reckon with those of his party who are always preaching economy.
I wish the First Lord had been able to give the marriage allowance to married officers. We know that he and the Admiralty were in favour of it and that it was turned down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It would have been a wonderful gesture for the First Lord to make, and I am very sorry he could not make it. Some of us are going on always pleading for those who cannot plead for themselves. It does not grow any easier as the time goes on. The hardship to the officers' wives is tragic, and, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer knew a little more about it, he would not harden his heart, and we should get the very small sum that is required.
I congratulate the First Lord on having stabilised the dockyards. A lot of us have been pressing for it, but it is not very easy to do at once. I know he has been working gradually for it, and he could not have done it any sooner. I am a little amused when I hear the 1372 hon. Member for Devonport asking for more work for the dockyards. I should like to see the Government that would dare to put all their work in Government yards. I can imagine the different shipbuilding Members putting the case of their constituencies. However, we dockyard Members feel that the dockyards are a first charge on the Government when it comes to building.
Then, I want to ask about pensions. I have never understood whether the Admiralty look upon the men's pensions as deferred pay. If they do, it is very hard that the widows should not get them. It is amazing how many men die within 12 months of their pensions becoming due. It is very difficult for the women who are left. Some of them do not come under the State pension, and they feel that their husbands have served for years, and, if it is deferred pay, they have a perfect right to it. I know it is an injustice that runs all through the Civil Service, but now that women have the vote it will be easier for the Admiralty and the other services to bring this forward.
I congratulate the First Lord on having made a peace speech, because it certainly was a peace speech, and if his efforts for further disarmament have not been successful, at least he has been completely honest about it. It is one of the tragedies about peace conferences that, if they fail, they are almost more mischievous than if they had not taken place. We all regret immensely the failure of the Geneva Conference. It is a curious thing that each country thinks it is the fault of the other countries. I agree that it is a pity that representatives of the Navy have to be sent to disarmament conferences. From the point of view of peace, it would be far better to send people who are not connected with the Navy, because it would be so much easier to get what both sides want. Some hon. Members have said that they do not care how large a navy America has. I do not agree with them. I am delighted that America has passed the Cruiser Bill, because the sooner America gets parity the better it will be. When we get what each country thinks is necessary for its safety, I hope people on both sides of the Atlantic will see that their navies are not increased. If there is any honesty in the League 1373 of Nations and the Kellogg Pact, navies can never be anything but the police force of the world. It is a good thing for America to have passed her Cruiser Bill. As for the freedom of the seas, surely the signing of the Covenant of the League of Nations and the Kellogg Pact has changed all that. Navies are no longer to be used for one country to impose its will upon another. They are to be used as the police of the world, to see that countries do not settle their quarrels by fighting. If we really accept the League of Nations and the Kellogg Pact, which all people honestly want to do, all this talk of neutral rights and belligerent rights will have to go, if we are honest.
The peope of America are desperately eager about peace, just as the people of England are, and when we hear Members, for party purposes, talk about the Government not being for peace, and putting their strength in navies, they are doing a great disservice to peace. There are people in all parties and in all countries who have the pre-War mind. Nothing will change them except to go up higher or to go out. But the vast majority of this nation welcomes the Kellogg Pact and the League of Nations, and we can look forward to peace. If we, the citizens of the two countries, cease to look on the Navy as anything else except to police the world, it will keep peace. I cannot see how anyone can expect world peace unless you have a police to enforce it. You might as well expect peace in the City of London without police. We have not got to the state when we can totally disarm, and I do not know whether we shall. Until human nature is much better than it is now, I thank God we have a Navy sufficient to keep peace. I should look with horror on any party that wanted to build a larger Navy, and it is a mischievous thing and a false policy to say you do not care how large the American Navy is, because what gives one country a feeling of security is bound to give a feeling of insecurity to other countries.
The hon. Member knows you have to have it for the freedom of the seas. Just as the freedom of the streets depends on the police, the freedom of the seas depends on a naval 1374 force to keep order. Hon. Members opposite talk about sending the Army and Navy to China, but it prevented war. If they had carried out their policy, far from keeping us out of war, we should have had war. I am glad to think the Government's programme is only one of replacement. I deeply regret that the First Lord is going away. He is much too young to retire. He has been useful and helpful in many ways. If his efforts for further disarmament have not been successful, the whole country knows that he has acted sincerely.
§ Mr. KELLY
The Noble Lady took very strong exception to the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) asking why certain parts of a dockyard should be closed, thus asking for more armaments. Throughout her whole speech she made a plea for much stronger armaments than we possess now. If she reproves others, she should be very careful in not asking for policemen to be riding round the world carrying 16-inch guns to prove that they are policing the seas. The comparison with the police force is not at all fitting for this discussion, unless you are going to consider it from the point of view of those who are armed. The First Lord's speech has been described as one for peace. I hope everyone loves peace and is striving for it, but I really cannot accept the right hon. Gentleman's speech as one tending towards peace. There is no reduction, and no effort for reduction of naval armaments, and there is nothing in these proposals that counts for reduction. I know he made an effort to prove, by a comparison with 1914, that much less is being spent. I have some recollection, of the Admiralty on previous occasions reducing the amount they came to the House for, by stopping work they were engaged upon at Woolwich on certain 6-inch guns, but that only meant that they were not asking for particular sums of money at the moment, and they were going to rush it in the following year. Is the position that, whilst they are asking for any great increase in the matter of ships, they have set out on a programme which means that whoever follows them—and I think someone will follow them after the Election—is committed to a programme which will mean a much more expensive spending than anything we have facing us at this moment?
1375 It has been asked many times during the Debate why it is that we require this enormous force. Of whom are we afraid? Whom are we expecting to come up against? If the force is required for the work of policing the seas, surely the forces we now have are more than adequate for that purpose. Against whom are we preparing? Who is it that we expect may justify us in using those guns which are much more destructive than anything we possessed during the Great War? This Debate emphasises the difficulty of having to discuss the fighting forces of the country at three separate times. We Have had discussions on the Air Estimates and the War Estimates, and we are now having a separate discussion on the Navy Estimates. We find in each of those Estimates moneys being expended for certain specific purposes. I hope that in the future an effort will be made to bring the whole of these Estimates together, so that we may have an opportunity of seeing how the money is being spent and of preventing ourselves from being committed, as we are committed, on the first series of Estimates presented to us, to expenditure that also affects the other two Forces.
We have had items in the Air Estimates and in the War Estimates with regard to Singapore, and now we have further items of expenditure amounting to a considerable sum in the Navy Estimates with regard to the same matter. Will the Parliamentary Secretary tell us why it is necessary to expend this huge sum of money on Singapore? We have been unable to obtain any information from the other Ministers who have presented their Estimates, but we are hopeful that we may be able to secure something from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty. There is another matter to which I should like to call the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary at this juncture. It occurs under the heading "Miscellaneous" in page 221 of the Estimates and contains a reference to workmen's holidays. I would like an explanation of this because of a question which was answered by the hon. and gallant Gentleman when he stated that few of the workmen received any pay for holidays. Does this statement in the Estimates mean that the Admiralty have now decided to grant 1376 holidays, with pay, to the men who are employed as industrial workers? If that is so, I welcome it, because it certainly is time that the men who have worked so well and served for so many years should have an opportunity of enjoying at least one week's holiday with pay. If that is the first item which is to be given to us as indicating a change of mind and a change of policy on the part of His Majesty's Government I welcome it, though I realise that it must cover a very small number of men judging by the sum of £34,000 which is placed opposite those miscellaneous items. I take it that there will be an opportunity to raise other questions with regard to Gibraltar, Chatham, Malta and other places, and I trust that the Parliamentary Secretary will explain to us why, in view of all the conferences, the Kellogg Pact and the feeling throughout the country in favour of disarmament and the way in which people speak of war as being something which is opposed to civilisation, the Admiralty find it necessary to ask for such a strong Force at the present time.
§ Major PRICE
I feel that I must say a few words in regard to the matter to which the First Lord referred in his speech, namely, the question of Pembroke Dock. I am exceedingly grateful to him for his remarks about myself, and feel that on this the last occasion of his presenting the Estimates I must express deep gratitude for the sincere way in which he has always met me on the many occasions I have had to come to him with regard to Pembroke Dock and its future. I was rather disappointed that he was not in a position to make a stronger statement to-day with regard to that question. I had fully expected that he would have been in a position to do so, and I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he cannot tell us a little more, such as whether an agreement has been come to between the Admiralty and the Air Ministry, and whether he will be in a position to make a more definite announcement on Tuesday next when the Report stage of the Estimates is reached. I know that he will understand that in asking him for this information I am doing so because of the natural anxiety of the people at Pembroke Dock. They realise that something is in the air, and they also realise that it it nearing completion. If he could see his way to relieve 1377 that anxiety at the earliest possible moment, I am sure that they would be deeply grateful to him. We have had very hard times there, and I was very glad to hear the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) suggest that a concert might be given at Devonport for the benefit of the people at Pembroke Dock. I am sure that what would prove a great attraction at such a concert and ensure a full audience would be a kind of double Chairman—the two Members for Plymouth sitting side by side presiding over the concert. I do not know whether they would be able to sing a duet—[An HON. MEMBER: "There are three Members."] Then we might have a trio as one of the leading items in the concert.
I should like to say how the Debate has struck me up to the present. There seems to be an idea in both Opposition parties that if you have a Navy you must necessarily be preparing for war against somebody. They all base their arguments on the question: Against whom are we preparing for war? Surely, that is a curious mentality. We have a Navy for the purpose of helping to keep the peace of the world. Our whole interest from the naval point of view is not to work for war but to prevent it. There is not a Member on the opposite benches who would get up and seriously suggest that if we scrapped the whole of our Navy to-day it would make for peace. They know perfectly well that there would be an international scramble for everything that we have got. I was much struck with a quotation made by an hon. Member opposite from speeches made in the American Senate. So far as those speeches were necessary to determine American naval policy we have nothing whatever to say against them, but so far as they were speeches dealing with the British naval policy, I think the least said about them, the better. We are not building against America, and so far as the naval policy of our Government is concerned it is not determined by what America builds. America are free to build as much or as little as they feel necessary for their own protection. All that we have asked for up to the present is, that we should be allowed to build what we think necessary for the protection of the country, no more and no less.
§ Mr. RENNIE SMITH
Does the hon. and gallant Member suggest that if the American Navy did not exist, that the present Estimates would have been submitted to this House to-day?
§ Major PRICE
I suggest that the present Estimates would keep in consideration the whole of the world factors. You cannot say that as America-has a Navy you must dismiss it entirely from your mind; but I do say that we are not building against America, as has been suggested from the opposite benches. We have to face the fact, which is in existence to-day, that we find navies all over the world, and our Empire being scattered all over the world our needs for a Navy are greater than those of any other country. But we are not building a greater Navy than the Americans can build, if they wish, or as Mr. Hoover suggested they were going to build. We say to them, "Get on with it. We are not going to stop you, nor are we going to try to keep pace with you."
We have heard from many Liberal platforms that it is the duty of the Admiralty to give no work to private yards until the whole of the Royal Dockyard accommodation is full. That is a new suggestion from the Liberal party. If they will carry their minds back to the days when they were in power, and reckon the amount of work given to private yards, then compared with the total amount of work given to private yards now, they will see that we are giving 50 per cent. of the available work to the dockyards, whereas they used to give from 8 per cent. to 10 per cent. Another suggestion which has been made is that immediately a man is discharged from a dockyard the Admiralty must find him work. Anyone who puts that suggestion forward as a serious policy cannot for one moment have thought of the difficulty of carrying it into practice. It is a thing which is easy to say on the platform, but very difficult to put into practice in real life. Only those who have tried to find out how to get work into a district where, for one reason or another, the work has left that district, will realise that it is a task which involves effort from everybody, private interests as well as Government interests.
I hope that the line which the First Lord of the Admiralty states that he has 1379 pursued, and which he hopes will result in real benefit to the district of Pembroke Dock, will in a very short time be an accomplished fact. If that be so, we shall thank the First Lord of the Admiralty for doing something for us at the end of his term of office to give us back that prosperity which it was necessary to take away from us when first we met in this Parliament.
§ Mr. VIANT
With respect to holidays to industrial workers in the dockyards I should be glad to know that provision is being made for a policy of that kind. It would be welcome as a splendid gesture from the First Lord of the Admiralty. Industrial workers throughout the country who are employed in His Majesty's Dockyards do feel that they are not being treated as they ought to be treated in regard to holidays. I should be pleased to have a statement from the Parliamentary Secretary that that is to be the policy of the Government. The First Lord stated that his Department are making provision whereby men on Naval service who contract tuberculosis can be treated in a more satisfactory manner than has been the case in the past. I was very pleased to hear that, because I have in mind the case of a young man who was an apprentice at Chatham, and became an engine room artificer. He contracted tuberculosis whilst serving as an apprentice, although there was no trace of tuberculosis on either side of his family. When investigation was made it was declared to be the opinion of those most competent to judge, that the tuberculosis was due to the over-crowded conditions under which these young men were compelled to live. I was somewhat surprised to find that this young man was invalided, with a gratuity amounting to £5. If anything of that kind happens again I hope that, in view of the better treatment for tuberculosis cases to which the First Lord referred, any person who may suffer from the disease will be more liberally treated. I hope that this particular case will receive further consideration from the Department.
I notice in the Estimates that provision is made for new offices at Devonport. I notice that a sum of £30,000 is set apart for this purpose, of which £1,800 is allocated in these Estimates. This has been a matter of keen controversy in the yard 1380 industrial committee. The committee asked those responsible what reason could be advanced for the erection of the new offices. The first reason advanced was that the structure of the present offices was very old, and that new offices were necessary. It was made clear that these offices were erected at the same time as the Admiral's residence and the residence of the officials in the terrace, and that there was no real reason for new offices to be built on the ground that the buildings were old. Another reason advanced was the need of the clerical staff for a change from their present surroundings. That gave rise to considerable controversy, because the yard industrial committee know of essential things which are needed in the yard upon which money could be spent to greater advantage for those who have to go to the yard for their employment.
I understand that a sum of £4,000 is allowed for cleaning up the refuse not only from the north and south yard at Devonport, but also from the ships that happen to be in the docks. In addition, the sanitary arrangements have to be looked after, and there are 10 miles of roads. The expenditure in connection with the sanitary arrangements in the Royal Naval Engineers' College have to be found out of this Vote of £4,000. The men in the yard think that they are entitled to far better accommodation in this respect. Last August I happened to be on a visit to Plymouth and Devonport, and I availed myself of Navy Week to go into the yard and over some of the ships and I was struck with the bad conditions of the sanitary conveniences. The industrial committee in the yard are of the opinion that there is far more need for the money to be spent in this direction than in erecting new offices for the clerical staff.
It seems to be the growing custom at the Admiralty to place their work in the hands of private contractors. More and more the work of alterations in the deck-yards themselves is being carried out by outside contractors. We have our own works department in the various dockyards, which should be efficient in every respect; and being rather concerned about the policy that is being adopted, and a craftsman myself, I made inquiries as to the type of machinery that was possessed by these works departments. For the purpose of greater accuracy I 1381 obtained a list of some of the machinery, and I have in my hand a list supplied to me from Sheerness. I am astonished to find that in the joinery shop we nave machinery which has been there since 1859. The age of some of the machinery is simply appalling. We expect these men to do efficient work and compete with outside contractors. I suggest that some attention should be given to these matters, and instead of handicapping the men in the works departments, as we are doing to-day, that we should be prepared to give them up-to-date machinery so that they may be able to compete on something like fair terms with outside contractors. We all aim at efficiency; and I hope that the point I have mentioned will be noted by the Parliamentary Secretary, and that he will bring them to the notice of the Department so that we can have more up-to-date and improved methods in our Government dockyards.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
I should like in the few remarks I propose to make this evening to refer to some of the points raised by an hon. Friend, who, of course, will not expect me to reply to them as they were directed entirely to the Admiralty. The hon. Member, I am glad to say, did not make any technical excursion into the possibilities of future naval war, as did another hon. Friend. I was led into doing the same thing in 1924, and I have never got over it, because it has always been quoted against me, and, indeed, has been quoted against me this evening. One must always be careful about making a technical speech on the Navy; it is a very risky thing to do. May I pay my tribute to the First Lord of the Admiralty. His praises have been voiced in more than one eloquent speech this evening, and I know nobody who is more likeable on the personal side. Let me point out, however, how admirable he is on the Parliamentary side. I love to hear him reply at the end of a long Debate and take up more or less the pose of a Weary Willie or Tired Tim. But behind that air of lassitude there is always the very keenest intellect, and woe betide anybody who interrupts him. That is a Parliamentary type which I think, we can copy with advantage.
I should like to break a lance with the Parliamentary Secretary on a point which 1382 has been referred to several times already; and that is the work of the Government yards. Dockyard Members are undoubtedly a very severe nuisance to the Government. In these Debates, we get up and raise a long list of troubles, and the poor Parliamentary Secretary has to reply to them, but, if there is anything which annoys our people more than anything else, it is that while they are unemployed much of the Government work is being given to private yards. They are very proud of the efficiency of their yards, and, if you do not keep them full of work, that efficiency must go down because of overhead charges. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary will say that in the last few years the Admiralty have given a bigger proportion of work to the dockyards than ever before. That is true; and I know that you cannot give all the Government work to Government dockyards. National work for national yards is an ideal which, I am afraid, we cannot reach. But I hope the Parliamentary Secretary and the Admiralty will give as much Government work as they possibly can to Government yards; that they will be considered in the most sympathetic way possible.
A few days ago on the Vote for the Air Ministry I had occasion to make some remarks about the co-ordination of our three Fighting Services. I chose that particular Vote because I know nobody would construe me into being inimical to expenditure on the Air Estimates. I do not propose to raise that question in its entirety again, but I should like to refer to one or two of the points mentioned on the last page of the Memorandum issued by the First Lord of the Admiralty. The right hon. Gentleman refers there to some admirable research work that has been going on. My point is this. All the difficult subjects which are discussed there are purely naval matters. I am not attacking the Government in this matter; it would be the same whatever Government was in force. It is the machinery of government. What I say is that there is no machinery in existence which can deal with the economy of one service against another. Take the two questions of coastal defence and the protection of merchant ships against submarines. Is it possible to imagine a First Lord of the Admiralty saying to his own officers: "The protection of our 1383 coasts would be much better done by the Air. We ought to hand over the whole of that to another Department"? That is quite unthinkable, and it will remain an impossibility. The First Lord who said such a thing to his own department would be made to walk the plank in Whitehall. It is an inconceivable thought.
The gravamen of my charge against the service Votes is, not that they are done inefficiently, but that no machinery exists for dealing with questions as to which department should do a particular job. Speaking from these benches and trying to put myself in the place of one who is dealing with all the three Estimates, as Ministers have to do, I cannot see how it is possible to reduce these Votes individually by much more. Praiseworthy economy is shown in these Votes, as in those of the Army, and the Air Force is almost down to nothing. But until we look at the problem from a big point of view and get machinery which will over-ride the departments, qua departments, and look at defence from the point of view of defence and nothing else, we shall never get that big economy in expenditure on armaments which is long overdue.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
In the course of the Debate there have been a good many excursions into matters that are not strictly connected with what the Admiralty can or cannot do, and I do not propose in my few remarks to follow the discussions on them. At the same time certain points have been raised, which I think I might answer without interfering in any way with the prerogatives of other Departments. We have been asked why we require a Fleet and whom we are proposing to fight, and we have been told, so far as I can gather, that there is no necessity for a Fleet at the present time. The function of the Admiralty is to provide a Fleet for the protection of this country. That is the general assumption that we act upon, and it is exactly the same assumption as any other self-respecting country acts upon. President Coolidge and President Hoover in America have pointed out to their countrymen that it is the duty of all self-respecting countries to look after their own defence. The Secretary of State for War in the late 1384 Government, in an interesting newspaper article the other day, said that it was the duty of any country to look after its own defence. With that statement every sensible person must agree.
We are not building the Navy against anyone, and we are reducing it to the smallest possible extent that we consider is consistent with safety. I think that what my right hon. Friend the First Lord said in his speech this afternoon is sufficient to prove that we are not in an aggressive mood, and that we are not thinking of fighting anyone. But we must keep the Fleet in a state of efficiency so long as there is any chance of our being open to attack by other countries. Having made that perfectly obvious statement as to why we have the Fleet, I shall best serve the purpose for which I am here if I answer to the best of my ability some of the questions that have been put. If I do not answer them all it will only be that time does not permit, for I cannot believe that hon Members would like to be here all night listening to me. The hon. Member for Camberwell North (Mr. Ammon) asked a question with regard to outside work at the dockyards, and wanted to know the kind of goods that we produced. To satisfy him I have had a list of them made and I will just give him a sample of some of the things that we do make at the dockyards. They are sailing boats, valves and valve gearing, cordage, joinery and carpentry work, and similar things.
Another question raised by the hon. Member for Camberwell North was how we had effected a reduction of Vote A, that is, of our numbers. It has been brought about by a closer scrutiny of the numbers that we require. We have modified the practice of calculating numbers on the basis of the Fleet two years ahead; we have also economised in personnel by the withdrawal of ships from foreign stations to be recomissioned whenever possible. The scheme which the First Lord mentioned in his speech has enable us to concentrate the training of boys (seamen class) at Shotley and Forton and has enabled us to reduce the numbers to a certain extent. We have also reduced the margins allowed in our calculations for crossing reliefs, sickness, etc. In these ways and by basing the numbers of the Navy on the requirements 1385 of the actual year, we have been able to bring about this reduction in Vote A without, I believe, in any way jeopardising the efficiency of the Service.
Another question raised by the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Duncan) referred to the use of pulverised fuel for the Navy. Of course the interest of the Admiralty and our great wish is that we should be able to use our own fuel rather than be dependent upon foreign imports; but at the same time we have to consider whether the home fuel, the pulverised coal, can be used in the Royal Navy. Up to the present, although it has been found to be of practical value and successful in merchant ships, there are reasons against its utilisation to the Navy. That does not mean that we are not keeping the closest watch upon the progress and development in its use. We are giving the greatest possible attention to the matter. One hon. Member suggested that the Admiralty should carry out experiments in the use of pulverised fuel. We do not agree. We think that this is the function of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and not the function of the Admiralty.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I am not referring to what happened then. I do not think that at that time there was a Department of Scientific and Industrial Research whose business it was to do these things. That I should say was the distinction. There is really no reason why we should ourselves carry out these experiments if we can watch what is being done in the mercantile marine. At present, as far as we are advised, there are grave objections to the use of pulverised coal in the existing ships in the Navy. It is considered that it would reduce the endurance of the ships to a considerable extent. It would also reduce the shaft horse power and would probably mean an addition to the stoke-hold complement while additional costs would be necessary on new construction. These are serious objections but as I have already said we are ready and anxious, if we can, to further the development of the use of pulverised coal, because it is obviously 1386 desirable that we should use our own fuel if we can. We are therefore most anxious that experiments should be carried out in the use of pulverised fuel and we hope that they will be attended with success.
We offered to lend a ship to the Scientific Research Department and also to any firm that was experimenting in these matters and one firm approached us on the subject. We found, however, that the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research was no longer anxious for us to lend a ship in view of the progress being made by private enterprise, which was utilising merchant vessels for the purpose. We found also that the loan of a ship to the private firm would involve its retention for a considerable time. Eventually after a great deal of discussion the firm decided not to use a naval vessel for experiments and I think on the whole, that this was the most satisfactory solution of the matter. The Admiralty were quite prepared to let the company have a vessel on loan, but as it appeared that the experiments were likely to last for two years it was thought necessary to ask for a small rent if the results of the experiments were not to be made generally available.
§ Mr. CHARLES EDWARDS
The First Lord mentioned experiments with oil extracted from British coal. Are the Admiralty themselves making these experiments? Are they using some of this oil?
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
The Admiralty are not making the experiments themselves. All the work of investigation is being done by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. We are in touch with that Department and are following the work with the closest attention.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
As I have said, we are watching the matter closely and our experts are in touch with what is being done. Then there was the question, raised also, I think, by the hon. Member for North Camberwell, with regard to certain details as to the maintenance of roads at Gibraltar and Malta. The Malta work is a new service. The 1387 renewal of the main roads with proper drainage and modern surface, capable of standing the wear of heavy lorry traffic, is necessary and we have had to take this work in hand because of the extra heavy traffic. The same remark applies to the work at Gibraltar. The hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Price) alluded to something which the First Lord said as to negotiations on the question of utilising Pembroke Dockyard for Government purposes. The First Lord said that he was unable to make a statement on the subject to-day. My right hon. Friend expressed his regret at being unable to do so and also expressed the hope that it would be possible to make a statement on the Report stage of the Estimates. In order to allay the natural anxiety of the hon. and gallant Member and his constituents I can state now that the Admiralty has no reason to suppose that the negotiations will not be brought to a satisfactory conclusion.
Several hon. Members representing dockyard constituencies have raised questions connected with the dockyards. I can only repeat to-day what I said last year on this subject. We are doing our utmost to keep as many men as possible at work in the dockyards. As the First Lord said, we have, we believe, succeeded in stabilising the numbers as far as it is possible to do so. It is not easy for hon. Members representing dockyard constituencies to realise the difficulty in which the Admiralty is placed with regard to giving work to private firms in other parts of the country. I can only assure these hon. Members that we distribute the work as fairly as we can. We have to consider great firms with many employés, not only in England but also in Scotland and I think on the whole that we are as just to the dockyards as we can be. I was glad to see that the hon. and gallant Member for Chatham (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) seemed to recognise that fact.
The question of marriage allowances has also been raised by two hon. Members. The position is exactly the same as it was last year. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. We should be glad to give the allowance but the Government have decided that it cannot be done and therefore the matter really 1388 cannot be said to arise at all in this Debate. Some hon. Members were anxious about the position regarding lower deck promotions. The policy of the Admiralty in this matter remains the same, but it is extremely difficult to make any large number of promotions from the lower deck at a time like the present when promotion is so extremely slow and the way to it so crowded. However, the Admiralty still have it in mind and we shall do all we can to facilitate the advancement of really promising boys and men from the lower deck to the higher ranks. There is no change whatever in the policy.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
As I tried to point out, it is extremely difficult to find with this large competition the way of promoting as many promising men from the lower deck as one would like. On the question of paid holidays, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly), the position is that all workmen in the Admiralty service have for many years had four paid holidays a year.
§ Lieut.-Coronel HEADLAM
The hon. Member says that but it is not so. They have these four days' paid holidays in the course of a year. The money is not shown separately under Vote 8, but is part of the wages vote, under Vote 8, Section 1, Subhead B, but in the Estimate for Vote 10 it is not shown in the same way. No new concession has been made, and the matter of the week's holiday which the hon. Member has at heart is not one which the Admiralty can decide by itself offhand.
§ Lieut.-Cotonel HEADLAM
I do not think there is any change of policy. That is the money for the four days' holiday. There is only one other matter to which I would refer, and that was the question raised by the hon. Member for Greenock 1389 (Sir G. Collins), who told us we were spending a great deal too much on the Navy, and who suggested that we might cut it down by something amounting to 6d. on the Income Tax, which is a very large sum to cut off the Estimates we have put forward. He made certain suggestions with regard to our accounts and referred to a sum of half a million pounds difference in the value of stock, but that part of the Estimates is not a cash figure at all. It is on pages 374 to 377, and it is a valuation statement. There are certain kinds of stores which must depreciate as they grow old and become worn out, and you must allow something for depreciation. It is merely a depreciating stock and must be accounted as such. The hon. Member's suggestion that you could reduce the cost of the Navy is, no doubt, part of the programme of his party. I should like to have asked him what he would do and how he would keep up the Navy if such a reduction as he suggested were made.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
All that I can say is that, so long as we are in charge at the Admiralty and responsible for the Navy, we propose to see that the Fleet is efficient and up-to-date, and you cannot have an efficient Fleet unless you are prepared to spend money on it. As a matter of fact we have succeeded in reducing the cost of the Fleet enormously during the last four years, and we have, I believe, preserved its efficiency. You cannot entrust the destinies of this country to a Fleet that is not efficient, and we are certain that our Estimates are such as to enable the Fleet to be preserved in an efficient condition.
§ Sir OSWALD MOSLEY
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words: