§ MR. ALEXANDER'S STATEMENT.
§ Order for Committee read.
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
The Naval Estimates for 1930 have been available to hon. Members since 6th March, and so this year they have had, shall I say, ample time to study them. I understand the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) will follow me this afternoon, and I have been reading with a good deal of interest—not always with agreement, but always with profit—the speeches he made when he was First Lord of the Admiralty. When he was introducing his first naval budget in 1912 he made this reference:If the country is of opinion that the needs of the Navy have been well and amply provided for, it is to the House of Commons and not to the Board of Admiralty—to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and not to the First Lord—that their thanks and gratitude are due. It is necessary this should be recognised, and it is right for me to say at this point that the great scale which our naval armaments have been forced to assume has only been rendered possible—without additional taxation or recourse to borrowing—by the wonderful fertility of the great Budget of 1909, for which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be long and variously remembered and increasingly respected."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March, 1912; col. 1549, Vol. 35.]He added that the financial aspect of the Naval Estimates was not cheerful. The right hon. Gentleman opposite was fortunate when introducing his Estimates in having such financial provision available to him that, even though he was using the product of a social reform Budget for the expansion of armaments, he had plenty of money with which to do it. I am not so fortunate, for I can find no such legacy in any one of the five Budgets for which the right hon. Gentleman has been responsible. On the contrary, I find myself, largely as a result of his finance, in charge of the Estimates for the Navy in a period of real financial 1736 stringency at the Exchequer. The net Vote which I am asking the House to make is £51,739,000, against £55,865,000 last year, showing a reduction of £4,126,000. This figure does not, however, adequately convey to the House the magnitude of the efforts of my Department for economy, because this net result is achieved after meeting new commitments which, with one exception, I could not possibly avoid. They are set out in the preliminary statement which accompanied the Estimates, but I think they ought to be recapitulated. There was the increased cost of Singapore to this country for the next financial year. There are the scale salary increments to be met, which are going up. There is the additional cost-of-living bonus. There is the continued growth of the non-effective Vote. There is the additional cost of supplies consequent upon the working off of stocks which were previously available. Then comes the one point in new commitments which I might have avoided, but which I now enter upon, and that is the cost of providing a week's holiday with pay for the Admiralty's industrial workers. These, together, make up a total of about £1,000,000, which my predecessor had not to meet. Moreover, the £55,865,000 last year was only arrived at after making a very heavy overhead cut, the cut referred to in the last paragraph of the White Paper accompanying the Estimates. So large was the overhead reduction made last year before the net estimate was submitted to the House that if it had not been for the very substantial curtailment of the 1928 construction programme I should have been forced to come to the House in the last few weeks with a Supplementary Estimate for well over £1,000,000.
There is no doubt that in the uncertain estimating conditions after the War there was considerable justification for the action of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer in introducing in his year of office this "shadow" or overhead cut. I believe he pointed out at the time that it was always inadvisable in preparing the national Budget to ask the taxpayers to provide in a particular year any sums by way of taxation which were not actually required, and, generally speaking, I think the policy has justified itself, 1737 but in view of the more stable conditions which now exist in dealing with Estimates of this kind, I have felt justified in reducing the "shadow" cut this year by no less than £760,000. So, Mr. Speaker, a true figure of the economies which have been secured by the present Government may be said to be £5,886,000, the net figure being £4,126,000 owing to £1,000,000 of new commitments and the reduction of the "shadow" cut by £760,000. The House will readily understand that I could not have secured such economies in these Estimates without the loyal support of my staff at the Admiralty, and I want to take this public opportunity of paying them a special tribute and offering them my grateful thanks.
I should like to proceed now to one or two other items. The net Estimate which I submit to the House is within £190,000 of the figure submitted for 1914, which was the last pre-War Estimate, but, if we are to make a true comparison with 1914, allowance must be made for the higher costs and prices to-day. Calculated at pre-War rates, the provision covered by these Estimates would not have cost more than £31,153,000 or a reduction of 39.57 per cent. as compared with 1914. I would also point out that our provision this year covers a much larger proportion of non-effective charges than in 1914. To-day the non-effective charges amount to no less than £8,679,000, compared with just over £3,000,000 in 1914. If we compare the actual effective services of the Navy, that is omitting naval pensions and civilian superannuation, the net amount is £43,069,000 as compared with the figure of £48,541,000 in 1914. I want the House specially to observe that if you reduce that figure of £43,069,000 to pre-War value it shows an actual reduction compared with 1914 of no less than 46.05 per cent.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
That is what I have just done. I said that the present figure of £51,000,000 odd reduced to pre-War values is £31,153,000, and, taking the net figure and leaving out the non-effective Votes of £4,126,000, it shows a reduction of 46 per cent. I beg the House to remember that no other naval 1738 Power in the world has voluntarily made such a reduction compared with pre-War.
Turning from this comparison, may I say a word or two about personnel? The Fleet numbers at the beginning of the financial year 1929 were expected to stand at 99,800, which constituted the Vote for the year. My predecessor explained to Parliament that it was intended to reduce to 98,800 by the end of the year. Owing to administrative decisions such as the reduction of the Third Battle Squadron to a training status, and the exercise of strict economy in every direction, the requirements of 1930 show a further decrease in personnel. As the House is probably aware, Vote A has to show the maximum number to be carried at any time during the year, and so the figure again represents the number which will be borne on the first day of the financial year, 1st April, which is 97,050, or a reduction of 2,750 on the figure for 1929. That reduction of 1,750 from the original number intended to be worked to on 31st March, 1930, was desirable both for financial and administrative reasons, as further reduction was in prospect. The final figure which we hope to reach by 1930 is 94,000. Thus in the two years between the 1st April, 1929, and the 31st March, 1931, we contemplate a total reduction in personnel of 5,800 men.
Now I come to the question of shipbuilding. As will be seen from my statement accompanying the Estimates, the total net reduction, although far from revealing in full all the administrative economies secured, is attributable in the main to the Government's policy up to date in regard to naval construction, and the House will rather expect me to make some mention of it. The Government position in the matter has already been set out very fully in the statement made by the Prime Minister on the 24th July last. As has been made abundantly clear during the last few months, unilateral disarmament, for this or any country, is no part of the policy of His Majesty's Government. At the same time, we are very strongly impressed with the importance of sparing no effort to ensure, so far as lies with us, that an end is put to competitive shipbuilding between the nations lately associated together against a common foe, who as 1739 signatories to the Kellogg Pact have forsworn recourse to war, and whose representatives are at this moment gathered in London for the purpose of concluding a treaty for limiting and reducing mutually their naval armaments. It is with very great satisfaction that the Government nave found in the general trend of world affairs, and the general outlook for peace, justification for proceeding still further along the road marked out to some extent by the last Government of slowing down the rate of our naval construction and thus giving proof of our sincerity in the cause of all-round reduction of armaments.
The reductions we have made in the last two annual programmes of the five-year scheme introduced by the late Government have been made, at least, in the same spirit which actuated the last Government in the reductions which they made themselves in certain of these annual programmes, but they have been made with greater courage, with a stronger determination to the end in view, and they have been made accordingly very much more drastic. At the same time, as I said before to this House, we are convinced that the provision we are now making is adequate. It is one of the sayings which the Prime Minister is always happy to hear quoted, that never under his auspices should the British Navy be allowed to rot away from the bottom. That is the policy of the present Government. It is a guarantee of a measure of new shipbuilding such as will secure us against relying upon a Fleet composed of obsolescent and ancient ships. Wise economy, if nothing else, demands such a policy, but it also requires that none of the public money shall be spent on the building of ships in excess of what our needs demand. Our replacement programme must be related, not to our present strength, but to future needs. What those needs will be cannot be accurately forecasted until the results of the London Conference now sitting have been ascertained and duly collated. That brings me to a reference to the Naval Conference now sitting, and for the successful conclusion of which, I believe, Members in all parts of the House are anxious. I must thank the House for the 1740 measure of restraint which it has, on the whole, observed on Conference matters during the past two months. Hon. Members have had in their hands now for about five or six weeks Command Paper No. 3485 setting out the general position taken up by the Government and their representatives at the Conference. I do not think that I can usefully add at the present stage anything to the Government's published statement, except to say that we are certain that not only the Government and Parliament, but the whole nation, appreciate to the full the co-operation of President Hoover with the Prime Minister to secure, if possible, real progress in the direction of limitation and reduction of naval armaments. We have cordially welcomed the representatives of the other naval Powers to the London Conference for that purpose, and I would like to say that the feelings of pessimism so often expressed will, I hope, prove to be unfounded.
I should deprecate any discussion in public session here this afternoon of a kind which would not be of assistance in bringing the Conference to a successful issue, especially as the House will have an opportunity of discussing the matter very fully when, as I shall show later, the new construction proposals are introduced. I make that appeal very strongly, and I make it not only from my own desire for the success of this Conference, but upon good precedent. I remember that in 1927, when the Three-Power Conference was sitting in Geneva, and questions were raised by us when sitting on the opposite benches, the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) made a statement at our request, and, after we had indicated our attitude, he said:I take the question of the right hon. Gentleman as to facilities when the House resumes its sitting"—which meant waiting from July until the autumn—as indicating his view, which is the view of His Majesty's Government, that it is inexpedient, and almost improper, that we should enter into any detailed discussions while the Conference is still sitting at Geneva."—[OFFICIAL RFPORT, 27th July, 1927; col. 1250, Vol. 209.]I think, therefore, as I have said, I have not only my own anxiety for the success of the Conference, but good precedent 1741 in appealing to the House to have that in mind when discussing the Estimates which are now before them.
It will not have escaped the notice of the House that while these Estimates contain virtually the whole of the first 12 months' expenditure on the 1929 shipbuilding programme recently ordered, there is at present no provision at all made in them for a 1930 construction programme. I observe that some sections of the Press have stated that this is unprecedented, but in this I have actually followed a precedent which was set in 1925 when my predecessor introduced his first Navy Estimates, when he made an identically similar omission. The reason is substantially the same in both cases, though the circumstances are actually dissimilar. When it was decided not to include any Estimate for new construction in 1925, it was because the Government of which he was a member had not been sufficiently long in office, in their judgment, to formulate a programme, which was afterwards submitted in a Supplementary Estimate. To-day the fact that a Conference for the reduction and limitation of naval armaments is actually in session, at which the five principal naval Powers are still at grips with the problem of future naval strengths, has made it necessary for us to hold over any decision as to what this country's next shipbuilding programme should be after that which has just been commenced. Not only so, but in respect of the 1929 programme it has been though best, in view of proposals which we have made at the Conference for the total abolition of the submarine as a naval weapon, to suspend, for the present at any rate, the submarine part of the 1929 programme. I would stress, however, that there is no need for the House to view with alarm the prospects of a Supplementary Estimate to meet our future needs in these respects. It is true that I cannot hope out of these very greatly reduced Estimates to find the necessary provision without a Supplementary Estimate, as was done by my predecessor in 1925, but the House will bear in mind that that was done on that occasion out of an Estimate which showed as much increase above that of the preceding Government of my right bon. Friend as these Estimates to-day show a decrease below those of 1742 the last year in office of the present Opposition. Still, no very great sum will be required in the coming financial year for this purpose. The provision made in 1929 on account of the new construction programme was no more than £80,000, and I think I can promise that no more terrifying figure than that will be asked for in respect of 1930.
As regards the possibility of having to ask the House for provision for three submarines, which are provisionally included in the 1929 programme, should this necessity arise—and, frankly, I do not want to deceive the House in this matter at all; I think it is very likely to arise—the Supplementary Grant might have to be increased to a somewhat more material size, but it would still represent only a small fraction of the reduction on the Estimates as a whole, and would still mean that the ultimate saving on the 1929 construction programme would be no less than £6,500,000
May I say a word or two on a few points of interest in the Estimate? First of all, may I refer to the Estimate for the Singapore Base? The policy of the Government in regard to this question has already been announced to the House. It came before us at a time when the whole future as regards naval policy was necessarily obscured by the imminence of the International Conference in which we are now engaged, and we decided accordingly to refrain from coming to a final decision on the subject until the Conference should have been concluded, and until the situation with regard to the future composition of fleets should have become clearer. A very considerable slowing down of work on the Base has been found to be possible without in any way prejudicing the ultimate decision. But for this, the gross expenditure in 1930 would have been very nearly double the figure of the preceding year, and the net expenditure, after allowing for the contributions received from Dominion and Colonial sources, would have been over three times as great as in 1929. I observe that the late Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies cheers the contributions from overseas, but I hope he will also remember that I had to take into account that in the expenditure incurred on that Base up to date his Government used first of all the contributions from overseas.
1743 As it is, I am asking for a gross provision only of 33 per cent. in excess of that for the current year—a cash increase of about £200,000, and I should not have to ask for that but for the peculiar arrangements which were made in regard to the main contract entered into by our predecessors in office, whereby there was a substantial carry-over of liability from this year to the next—another instance of the financial arrangements of the last Government. We have examined very carefully whether anything could be done about the main contract, but, having regard to its terms, it has not been felt that it would be possible, without grave sacrifice of economy, to interfere at this stage with its progress. A final decision on the future of the development of the Base will be sought as soon as possible after the Naval Conference, but it will not be taken until after consultation with the overseas Governments affected.
I have observed in the Press in the last few days constant references to the size of the Admiralty staff. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I like to hear those cheers from Members who supported, like lambs, the whole policy of the late Government, but I am quite willing to deal with that question. A great deal has been said upon it both here and elsewhere, and no doubt we shall all agree—I think this was put to the Committee upstairs—that a period of transition, whether the trend be upward or downward as regards naval strength, must always throw for the time being heavy work upon the headquarters staff. Even so, there have been material reductions effected in recent years. I found when I came to the Admiralty that a Committee of the Board had been working with that object right through the Department. That work has been carried on and completed under the present administration, the net result being a reduction of well over 5 per cent. in the total staff over the period during which this inquiry has been going on. Of course, I do not desire to take the whole credit for that. The committee has been working in the Admiralty under the ægis of the last Government as well as of this, and for the economy which has been effected, of course we do not want to take all the glory. We are carrying out in the direction of economy something which was already going on. May I 1744 say that we shall continue to keep a very close watch upon the size of the Admiralty staff in relation to the actual necessities of the time. The slight increase in the money provision under this Vote is due to two causes which are common to all the Government service. I refer to the calculation of the bonus on salaries upon a higher cost-of-living index figure, and the progressive increments due to longer service.
May I turn for a moment to the work of the dockyards? I have referred in the Memorandum accompanying the Estimates to the steps which have been taken to put into operation the recommendations of the Hilton Committee with regard to dockyard costings, to be completed at Portsmouth in a very few weeks, and as the reports submitted to us appear to be very satisfactory, we propose this year to extend the system to Devonport. Part of the expenditure provided in these Votes is required, as I have already indicated, to cover the institution of a week's holiday with pay to the workpeople in the dockyards and other Admiralty establishments, and I am sure the House will readily approve this step to place our Government industrial employés on an equal footing with those of many good employers in other industries. In addition, I might add, we propose to raise the number of paid holidays from four to five days.
I have also explained to the House on previous occasions the steps which have been taken to avoid heavy discharges in the dockyards, and which have been very successful. By means of restricting overtime, by allocating new work and facilitating voluntary retirements, the numbers in the yards have been kept practically stable, and we see no reason to anticipate any disturbance of this position in the coming year. For the first time destroyers are to be built at Portsmouth, and valuable experience will, therefore, be gained of this class of ship in Government yards. Every effort is made to obtain other classes of work of a repayment character, and we are in constant touch with the representatives of the workpeople on the general question. Before I leave the dockyard question, may I say that I am exceedingly obliged to the Civil Lord, who is a trade unionist of very long experience, for the great assistance that he has given to me in the last few months in stabilis- 1745 ing the position in the dockyards, and to the workers' representatives on the Whitley Council for the manner in which they have co-operated with him.
I will now say just a brief word on the question of fuel. The House will observe, I am sure, with interest that the Admiralty is giving special attention to fuel research, and taking active steps to try out oil obtained from the low temperature carbonisation of coal. If anything comes of the trials which we are carrying out, two advantages will accrue—in the first place, a real help to the coal industry, and, secondly, and this is of great importance to any Navy, the establishment once more of a natural fuel reserve in this country without heavy capital cost.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
Can the First Lord give any comparison between the cost of the oil which he describes as obtained from coal and of ordinary oil fuel?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The costs vary in the different plants for obtaining oil by low temperature carbonisation of coal, but, generally speaking, the cost of oil of that kind, as compared with oil purchased in other directions would be rather higher. The Government, however, must not be blamed for promoting research in this direction—
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
It would be a great advantage from the Admiralty point of view if we could provide in this country a natural reserve of oil fuel, without having to build up at heavy capital cost fuel reserves purchased from overseas.
I come to the question of submarines. I am sure that the whole country was moved by the dreadful disaster to "H.47" last year, and the House will, of course, know that we have given public expression, as a Government, to our willingness, if other nations will agree, to abolish the use of submarines altogether. At the time of that disaster experiments were being carried out by the Admiralty with an improved submarine escape apparatus, which has proved to be successful. I am glad to be able to say that the necessary supplies of the apparatus were ordered some time 1746 ago for each unit of the personnel working in submarines, and they are now actually in course of delivery, and arrangements are being made for the personnel to be trained in the use of them.
Then just a word about the Fleet Air Arm. The naval air work has been given very careful attention, and a few months ago I had the opportunity of seeing for myself how the work has progressed, and of observing the very important coordination which has developed between the Fleet Air Arm and the general work of the Fleet. The present Estimates make ample provision for this work to be consolidated and extended. It is very pleasant to record the keenness and skill with which naval and Royal Marine officers have carried out their duties in this branch of the service, and I was immensely impressed last fall, when I visited the Fleet for the autumn exercises, to see especially this branch of the work, and how splendidly these officers were working. [Interruption.] I meant the fall of last year. It seems as if some of my hon. Friends would do well to come and live in Somerset for a while. They would then understand such an expression as that.
Our relations with Dominion Navies are, I am very happy to say, of the closest and most cordial character. For the first time, arrangements have been made for a Dominion flag officer to take command of a home squadron. That has been done with the consent of the Australian Government, the officer being Rear-Admiral Hyde, of the Royal Australian Navy, and he has been given command of the Third Battle Squadron for a year.
May I now briefly refer to a question which some of my hon. Friends have been considering—the question of promotions from the lower deck? I have had inquiries made into the general question, and further attention will be directed to this matter when the Naval Conference is over. Until we know the result of the Conference, we cannot formulate our Fleet plans, and upon these to a very considerable extent will depend the number of promotions available. I also intend to extend the inquiry to cover the whole question of the entry of cadets and officers.
I am very glad to say that the Medical Director-General reports that the health 1747 of the Fleet personnel in the past 12 months has been very good, and no serious epidemics have occurred; but I regret that some concern is felt by my advisers over the difficulty of obtaining an adequate supply of medical officers, in spite, may I say, of very special efforts which have been made during the last 12 months by the Medical Director-General; and, as I think the medical profession is not without some direct representation in this House, I hope that they will be able to use some influence in the direction of assisting the Admiralty in this regard. Very substantial provision is now made for the welfare of the men, and it is a great factor in maintaining general health and efficiency. The pressure of preliminary naval negotiations and the Conference itself have prevented my giving the amount of personal attention that I should have liked to give to this side of the Admiralty's activities, but the welfare work has been going on very well, and in the conferences which are to meet shortly opportunities will be given for the consideration of new suggestions.
I have referred already to the short visit which I paid to the Fleet at the end of last year, and I should like to add that I was very much impressed indeed at the time of that visit with the general fitness, keenness and efficiency of all the men in the Service; and I think I might add that it is not surprising to know that men of the kind that we have in the Navy are welcomed all over the world. I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my thanks to them all.
I cannot close this preliminary survey of the Estimates without a reference to the First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Charles Madden, who, as already announced, will retire this year, as soon as is convenient after the work of the Naval Conference is completed. Sir Charles Madden's career and service for his country need no eulogy from me; they are already well known; but I should, if the House will permit me, like to take this opportunity of expressing my personal gratitude and thanks to Sir Charles for his great kindness and help to myself during a very trying period. The Government especially appreciate the help and advice that they have invariably received from the Naval Staff. No step affecting naval policy has been taken by 1748 the Government without full consultation of the naval members of the Board, but I would add that the Government take full responsibility for ultimate decisions arrived at. In the circumstances that exist to-day, and in the improved conditions of world relationships, we consider that the provision which is made in the Vote now submitted to the House is adequate, and I confidently ask for its approval.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No one, I think, wherever he may sit, will fail to recognise the lucid and at the same time terse manner in which the First Lord of the Admiralty has laid his first Navy Estimates before the House, and I need scarcely say that with all that he said in tribute to the men of this Service, and in tribute to the high naval authorities, he carried with him the cordial concurrence of those at any rate who belong to the Opposition. Of course, I could not help being struck, during the right hon. Gentleman's speech, by the extreme air of apology which he assumed in speaking of the great Service, the great arm and instrument, upon which the life and the history of this country are both founded. One would have thought that he had something very shocking to explain to Parliament, but that he was anxious to state every extenuating circumstance that could possibly be pleaded for the continued maintenance of the British Navy, even on a scale so considerably reduced as he has described to us. It is true that this Debate takes place at an inopportune moment, and at a very inconvenient moment for the House of Commons. I am not blaming the Government, because they are bound by the ordinary course of the financial year, and, of course, the prolongation of the Naval Conference is a matter not within their control. Still, I think it would have been very much better if this Vote could have been taken even a week or 10 days later, when the Naval Conference would perhaps have been in smoother waters.
This is our regular opportunity for debating the strength and efficiency of the Navy; this is our annual opportunity. We do not get very many in the House; pressure of business stands in their path. It is undoubtedly a period in which there is deep anxiety 1749 about our naval position, and in which there is an earnest desire to discuss all sorts of grave matters. The right hon. Gentleman appealed to us, in the course of the Debate, not to make more difficult the task of the Naval Conference. I am sure that his appeal will be responded to on this side of the House, and that at any rate as strict a view of the public interest will always be taken by those who sit on these benches as has in the past been taken by some of those who now sit on the Treasury Bench. At any rate, it seems essential that we should make it clear that any silence which is maintained upon various matters which are the crux of the present Conference must not be taken by the Government as a sign that they have the consent of the whole of the House of Commons in many of the measures which they have proposed, and still less that we, with our present knowledge, are able to say that we consider that the Estimates which the First Lord has just presented are adequate for our security.
I think we ought to have had a full statement, from the Prime Minister or from the First Lord, of the basis of our naval policy. We ought to know what are the standards of naval strength which the Board of Admiralty consider necessary arid which the Government have approved, and we ought to know what are the measures that are being taken to maintain them. The Government have brought this Debate on—the first of the three Fighting Services to be discussed—at the earliest moment. They give us virtually no information on any of the vital points, and they seem to exploit to the fullest the argument that any discussion on these vital points will be embarrassing to them in their naval negotiations. We cannot really feel that that leaves us in a very satisfactory position. We have, of course, the assurance that, when the Naval Conference is over, there is to be a full submission of its results to the House and the country, and thereafter the Government will lay the new construction Vote for the year and will take any Supplementary Estimates that may be required. There are, of course, good precedents for such a course. There have been in my own recollection three occasions when it was not found possible to lay the full pro- 1750 gramme of annual construction before the House on the opening statement of the Navy Estimates, and, therefore, there are good precedents, but we must make it clear that in the interim we in no way assent to the present proposals and Estimates of the Government. We reserve to ourselves most complete and untrammelled liberty to examine the position at a later date.
There are, however, certain points of a purely domestic character which do not affect any other Power, which I think must receive some passing attention. First of all, I allude to the question of cruiser strength. We have been told that the cruiser strength which is thought necessary by Admiralty experts has been reduced from 70 to 50 cruisers. This matter is more complicated than the casual reader of a newspaper would often suppose. The strength of a cruiser fleet depends not only upon its numbers, but upon its newness, and the value of 70, 60, or 50 cruisers can only be judged in relation to the number of old and new vessels respectively that are included in those figures. However, we have been told that the Admiralty now advise the Government that they may remain content with 50 cruisers, not over 20 years old. That is the present declaration. That is an immense reduction on all the previous estimates that were brought before us by expert authority, and most recently brought before us, and when the First Lord boasts as at one moment in his speech he allowed himself the indulgence to boast that, as far as the present Government are concerned, there would be no unilateral disarmament he raised a question which I am bound to take up, and I am bound to ask him, in return, if there is to be no unilateral disarmament—his own phrase—why was this immense reduction in our cruiser strength announced before the Conference began, instead of becoming part of a general process of disarmament? It seems to me this is a very strange and unfortunate diplomacy. It is unfortunate in this sense, that, whereas every other Power states its requirements at the maximum, we begin the discussion with an enormous reduction, and then the argument proceeds on the basis of how much more can be cut off all round. Thus, there is a grave danger and risk, which we feel most concerned about, that the 1751 Conference may become a process, not of general naval disarmament, but of disarming Britain, while other Powers become relatively, and, in some cases, actually stronger.
There is another danger in this method of announcing these reductions before entering upon a discussion of this kind, and also of announcing reductions in the actual programme of the year, at this stage. If the right hon. Gentleman had been content to let the programme stand as he found it, in the hope of making a reduction should favourable results emerge from the labours of the Conference, he would have been in the good position, when the Conference had concluded its successful labours, of making a reduction which would be justified by all that had gone before; but now, if for any reason the Conference should not reach a completely successful conclusion—I hope the Prime Minister will follow this—he would have to emphasise the fact that it has not reached a successful conclusion by sending the First Lord to the House to propose a Supplementary Estimate for additional construction. That appears to me to be leading up to exactly the kind of conclusion that you would have endeavoured to avoid, namely, of following on upon a Conference of this character, which I cannot conceive is going to fail altogether, although it may not achieve its full purpose—to follow on upon results which, like so many things in this world, may be mixed and partial, with a Vote which will clearly indicate that those results have not been wholly satisfactory. I am sure it would have been far better not to be so impatient to make a gesture of disarmament, but to proceed frankly on a straightforward basis to lay all the cards on the table and endeavour to reach a general and joint conclusion.
But, even if the 50 cruisers of 20 years of age were accepted as the basis of the protection of our food and trade routes, what steps are the Government taking to carry out this programme? There is surely no need for secrecy about this. We ought to know what are the programmes that would be necessary to carry out the maintenance of the cruiser fleet on a basis of 50 cruisers not being over 20 years of age. It is not a matter of secret negotiation. It is not a matter 1752 of delicate diplomacy. It is a matter of pure arithmetic. The cruisers are all known. They are all in the list. Everyone knows them. Everyone knows the exact date when they were laid down and the date when they will accomplish their 20 years. Therefore, the rate of replacement can be produced with extreme simplicity and accuracy by anyone who chooses to study it. There is no question of running a risk in mentioning such figures to other Powers at the Conference for fear that they would be shocked, because they are capable of making the same calculations that I have had made for myself. I am told that, between now and 1939, approximately 34 or 35 of the present British cruisers will drop out of the line. They will be past the age when they can be considered efficient. If that is so, it would appear that the construction of about four cruisers a year is indispensable to maintain this programme of 50 cruisers of not more than 20 years of age. When the Government have reduced, needlessly, before the Conference, the programme of this year to one cruiser, it is clear that they are not only reducing the standard but they are not even maintaining their own programme.
They are anxious to prove their pacifism and to avoid expense during the current year; they fail to maintain the minimum standard which they have themselves proclaimed, and they are thereby throwing a burden upon the future. They look forward to the day—I can foresee it myself—when they, being an irresponsible Opposition, will use their whole strength to oppose the construction of these very cruisers which, on their own admitted standard, would annually be necessary. The right hon. Gentleman sitting on this side will say, "In our day, we built only one cruiser. We reduced the Navy Estimates by so much. The moment the Conservatives come in up bounded the expenses of the Navy." Yet all this will be part of the execution of a reduced programme to which even the right hon. Gentleman himself has set his seal. The Government ought to have been able to state for this Debate, and I must ask specifically that they will, when the Supplementary Estimate is presented, state exactly what are their series of programmes for the next five or six years ahead to maintain these standards, in order that we may see that they are bearing a just and fair share 1753 of the burden of maintaining the naval strength which they themselves think necessary. The right hon. Gentleman said only to-day that the moment the Conservative Government came in in 1924 up went the Naval Estimates? Why did they go up? Because the right hon. Gentleman laid down five cruisers, for which he had had to pay some insignificant token sum, and the full cost came immediately upon us. Really I should have thought it was hardly worth while manœuvring in that way. The Government will greatly commend any programme of naval policy that they wish to present to the House if it is accompanied by a clearly worked out scheme of maintaining by annual programmes whatever standard is finally selected.
There is another point of a very general character on which I should like to say a word. We hear a great deal about the reduction, or abolition, of battle fleets. Only three Powers in the world have modern battle fleets, and everyone is agreed that it would be sensible to make the existing vessels last another five or six years, and also to reduce considerably the tonnage of these immensely costly capital units. The question whether battleships will be rendered obsolete by submarines or by aircraft is seriously affected by the size of battleships. I sat upon a Committee in 1919 which exhaustively examined the question for many months, and I have always been assured that it is much easier for the capital ship to defend itself against large torpedoes from submarines or heavy bombs from aeroplanes if it is a very large ship than if it is a smaller vessel. I have always doubted whether the submarine would ultimately endanger the battleship or render it obsolete, but the air menace to battleships increases with every year that passes, and, in so far as by general consent all Powers reduce the size of the battleships, to that very extent will you be emphasising the advantage of the new arm over the old and tending to diminish the life of the battleship type.
When we talk airily and hopefully about reducing or abolishing battleships all round, it may be well worth while to consider what reactions will follow from that. What is to take the place of these battle fleets if they are abolished all round? As far as the three great 1754 ocean Powers are concerned, their battle fleets are fixed in a certain ratio, but it must be remembered that, as far as Great Britain is concerned in relation to the Continent of Europe, she is able to accept a much lower strength of cruisers and of other small vessels, because she possesses a very powerful battle fleet, whereas the European Powers have not developed their battle fleets since the War. I am quite certain that the abolition of battleships will require a complete re-casting of the whole of our strength in other vessels in relation to the Continent of Europe, and I hope that, when the First Lord speaks on the next occasion, he will endeavour to throw some light upon this extremely difficult and anxious problem.
I ask myself seriously whether it is contemplated at any time that modern navies should consist of ships which are almost entirely unarmoured. The 10,000 ton 8-inch gun cruisers, which, I think, are most erroneously spoken of as if they were real symbols and tokens of naval strength, are mistakenly compared with the pre-War Dreadnoughts. These ships are virtually unarmoured vessels. They are the revivals of the old pre-War "Europa" class, which in my Admiralty days were held up as examples of what should be especially avoided in ship construction. They are ships which cost an immense sum of money, which offer enormous targets and carry a very large number of lives on board, and which are, I say, virtually unprotected from the fire even of guns of their own calibre. The first duty of a warship is to keep afloat. Have we really forgotten the combat of the "Merrimac" and the "Monitor," now nearly 70 years ago, in the American Civil War, when it was conclusively proved in those days that no ship could, stand up against modern artillery unless it was protected by strong steel or iron armour? What has happened in the interval to artillery to lead us to suppose that we can now talk of navies in which no battleships exist, but in which every form of naval warfare can be discharged only by unarmoured ships? I hope that the First Lord of the Admiralty will, on the next occasion, also tell us more about the Admiralty view upon these matters, which seem to be of the very greatest consequence.
1755 I have only one more point. I do not wish to keep the House, as there is an Amendment which is to be brought on, but I have a third point which I must mention, as the First Lord referred to it in some detail. There is a reduction of, I think he said, 5,800 men in the strength of the Royal Navy. I always have been of the opinion that 100,000 men was the sort of figure we might well have maintained in times of peace. After all, it has been upon our incomparable, long service, seafaring personnel that our Navy has depended as much even as upon modern appliances. The men take an immense amount of time to train—they begin as boys—and a reduction which can be effected cannot be soon reversed if it is desired later on to increase the Navy. I observe that, whereas before the War we had 146,000 seamen and marines, and after the War under the late Government 99,000, we are now reduced to 94,000—that is a tremendous reduction—and that during the same period the next strongest naval power has increased its personnel from 67,000 in 1914 to 114,000 in the present year—114,000 United States seamen and marines and 94,000 British. I agree that figures are not in every respect entirely comparable, but in the main they are comparable, and I ask, in the face of such figures, what becomes even of the doctrine of parity?
I should like the First Lord to tell us—perhaps he will later on to-day when he has a further opportunity—how they have effected this reduction? Has it been effected on the schools and the shore establishments, by reductions there? Has it been effected upon the number of reliefs in transit? Has it been effected by still further reducing the quarter bills of the ships in active commission, by, for instance, providing crews to man the guns on one side of the ship or only a portion of the armament at one particular time. I am bound to say that I have in the past brought pressure to bear on the Admiralty to reduce to the neighbourhood of 100,000, and I was very conscious of the extremely cogent manner in which the Second Sea Lords of the different periods had always defended their numbers and pointed out how efficiency would suffer and how great a blow would be struck if they were unduly pressed in this respect. It was only last year that 1756 I heard a very strong argument put forward for a personnel of 99,000—approximately 100,000—and I therefore feel surprised—as many of us must feel surprised—when the right hon. Gentleman comes forward and without giving any real explanation, except saying that the Third Battle Squadron is to be placed on a training footing, tells us that he has succeeded in striking off no fewer than 5,800 of our naval personnel.
I cannot feel at all contented, or even reassured, by the able statement to which we have listened. Six thousand fewer sailors in the Navy, and still, on the other hand, there are many thousands more upon the dole! So I suppose it will be said that the Government are providing for all the population as thoroughly as before. I should think that it really is an epitome of the message which the present Government have to give to Britain at this time, that all this naval saving, so painfully extracted from the instrument of our protection, pared off from the efficiency and strength of the Fleet, all this £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 which has been saved only forms a small proportion of the additional sums of money which the same Administration is providing for further and better benefits to persons who may not even be genuinely seeking work.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I should like to associate myself with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in congratulating the First Lord of the Admiralty upon his very lucid statement. I know how difficult it is for a man who has come in fresh to that great Department to come down and face the House of Commons. I should also like to join in his tribute to the great service which the present First Sea Lord has rendered to the country. Sir Charles Madden and his distinguished brother-in-law have borne the lion's share of the burden of the Grand Fleet. The nation owes them a great debt of gratitude. As far as the Naval Conference is concerned, we on these benches are wholly with the Government in hoping that it may bring about a reduction of naval armaments. I had an opportunity of being in Washington about three weeks before the Prime Minister, arrived there, and I am very glad to know from my friends there that the Prime Minister created a most excellent impression in Washington. He did not 1757 make a single mistake, they told me, and the relations between the two English speaking peoples are very much better than they were or have been for some years past. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord, though, of course, he must accept the opinions of his naval experts at their true value, that, after all, the Government must accept the final responsibility. During the time that I was at the Admiralty—and I was there for many years—we found that experts differed. Therefore, the Government must take the responsibility. But with the Naval Conference sitting, it is not for us to go critically into these Estimates.
There was one remark by the right hon. Gentleman that Member for Epping which I regretted. I served under him at the Admiralty for a year or two, and I regret very much that he should now bring in a comparison between our personnel and that of the United States of America. I heard the late Prime Minister say that the British Government never proposed to build against America, and I hope that that will be the cardinal point of our policy. If the United States like to build more ships, they must do so. We cannot compete. We have to realise that position. I hope that we shall hear nothing whatever in these debates about the naval strength of the United States. I rather want to know what is the strength up to which we are building to-day? My mind goes back to the time when we used to build on a two-Power standard. That was against France and Russia. Then came the German menace, and we had to build two keels to one. What enemy are we building against to-day? That is the real point. [An HON. MEMBER: "At what rate are others building?"] Will my hon. and gallant Friend kindly tell me whom we have to build against? I want to bring the House back to this point, that it is the height of extravagance to build ships which we do not want. They become obsolete before they are finished. There is a little couplet which I heard quoted by the late Lord Fisher:Build few and build fast,Each one better than the last.But do not build them before you want them. I am perfectly certain that that is the right course to adopt. Therefore, I should like some authori- 1758 tative statement on the subject. To what standard are we building? It is no good building ships unless we have a potential enemy.
I heard with interest what the First Lord said about the Singapore Base. I have been opposed to the Singapore Base from the beginning, and I never made any secret of it. I regarded it as a gross waste of public money, but the House decided otherwise. I am sorry that we cannot slow down to a very much greater extent. I am certain that the strategic aspects of Singapore have never been properly considered. It is open to attack by land, by air and heaven knows what else. There is one thing that I wish to say very earnestly to the First Lord of the Admiralty and to the Government—it is a matter more for the Government than the Admiralty—and that is, that the Air Force and the Admiralty should be joined together. When I advocated that in 1919 I was promptly sat upon by my late chief at the Admiralty, the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the last Government, the right hon. Member for Epping. To keep the efficiency of the Navy, the Navy must have its own Air Force. I have never had the slightest doubt about that.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
My hon. and gallant Friend agrees with me. I am glad that there is one topic upon which we are in agreement. If at some future date, which God forbid, we should be involved in war, there would be continual squabbles between the Air Force and the Admiralty. If we cannot have a Ministry of Defence—there is only one man in this House who would be capable of managing a Ministry of Defence, but I will not mention his name—I suggest very earnestly that the Admiralty should have its own Air Force. I would give the whole control of the Air Force to the Admiralty. As my late chief, Lord Fisher, used to say, the Army is a secondary affair compared with the Navy. The Admiralty should have charge of the Air Force and be responsible for the defence of this country against invasion. I do not intend to say more on the subject, because the Naval Conference is sitting, and I hope it will be a success.
1759 The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Admiralty staff. I will give a few figures. I cannot understand why the Admiralty should require so large a staff to-day. In pre-War days, when there were 146,000 men and boys on Vote A, the Admiralty staff numbered 2,000. [An HON. MEMBER: "What do you mean by the Admiralty staff?"] I mean the officials at the Admiralty. They totalled 2,000 in pre-War days. To-day the staff numbers 3,000. Why should there be 1,000 more people at the Admiralty to-day, when we have 48,000 fewer sailors? I do not understand it. There must be something wrong somewhere. In the pre-War days to which I am referring we had very vigorous administrators, Mr. McKenna, now chairman of the Midland Bank, and the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, were both First Lords of the Admiralty and they did their work well. If it was necessary to have only 2,000 persons at the Admiralty in those days, when there were 48,000 more sailors in the Navy, I cannot understand why we need to have 3,000 to-day. I asked questions on this subject in 1923, but I never received a satisfactory reply. In the outport establishments before the War there were 57,000 employed, and to-day there are 53,000. Why should there not have been a greater reduction? I hope that when the First Lord next addresses the House he will be able to give us a satisfactory answer. Meanwhile, I congratulate him upon his statement, and I hope that the Conference now sitting will be a complete success.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
It gives me peculiar pleasure to join with the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) in congratulating the First Lord of the Admiralty on his very lucid and what is equally refreshing, his very brief statement. Using the vernacular of his native Somerset, which has been adopted by the Americans, he has said a mouthful. He uses a vernacular which some people think is American, and can say a great deal in a short time. As the Naval Conference has been mentioned, I should like to say that I have spoken to foreign delegates, some of whom were comrades of mine in the late War, and they speak in 1760 very high terms of the First Lord, with whom they have come in contact on various expert Committees. I have heard nothing but praise of the right hon. Gentleman, and I say that with great pleasure, because I shall have some rather disagreeable things to say presently.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Epping has been called out of the House. It is very regrettable that he should have made a speech of the kind that he has delivered to-day, and then should have gone to another engagement. Nevertheless, I must comment on what he said, and I am going to comment with some severity, otherwise my silence might be taken for consent. I hope that the First Lord of the Admiralty will listen to what I am going to say, because I am going to give more power to his elbow. The right hon. Member for Epping talked about the immense reductions in cruiser strength brought about by the present reductions. Any outsider listening to or reading what the right hon. Gentleman said would suppose that our cruiser fleet had been cut down from 70 to 50 by the present Board of Admiralty. Nothing of the kind. The wonderful Conservative Government, with their great resources in this House, with the fine financial position which they inherited from our Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1924, left an inheritance to my right hon. Friend the present First Lord of the Admiralty, which, on their own showing and by Conservative standards, was inadequate for the defence of the Empire. They told us that 70 cruisers were the absolute minimum strength, and that that was the advice given to them by the naval advisers who are now advising my right hon. Friend on the present Board.
What was the position when they went out of office? My right hon. Friend inherited 54 cruisers. Those were all the cruisers that were left for the defence of the Empire. Of that number 30 are old, or small, or weak vessels; useful vessels with a great deal of service left in them but, judged by present-day standards and in comparison with the kind of ships being built all over the world by other Powers, quite inadequate for their purpose. That was the inheritance from a Government of the blue-water school, the Navy League inspired Government. Judged by the standard for 1761 cruisers laid down by the Washington Conference of 1921, only 24 of the 54 cruisers left by the late Government are of the proper standard. Anyone who looks at the Navy List can confirm that statement. Even if the 70 cruisers existed, if this country should by some great tragedy be involved in another war and they were used as the right hon. Member for Epping used the cruisers at the beginning of the late War, they would be altogether inadequate.
When the right hon. Member for Epping was First Lord of the Admiralty at the outbreak of the War he had 130 armoured and protected cruisers as against 163 for the rest of the world—allies, enemies and neutrals. Deducting the cruisers with the battle fleets in the North Sea and the Mediterranean, and those undergoing repair, and adding the Japanese, French and Russian cruisers on the trade routes also, and under our direction, we had available for the defence of our trade routes 104 cruisers, outside the North Sea. The right hon. Gentleman had at his disposition these 104 cruisers on the trade routes, not counting the cruisers with the battle squadrons in the Mediterranean and the Channel and with the Grand Fleet. That was before submarines were used for sinking merchant ships. Outside the North Sea and outside the Mediterranean the Germans had two armoured cruisers, six light cruisers and four armed merchant liners. Of those, two armoured cruisers—the two most powerful ships of the enemy outside European waters—and four light cruisers were Von Spee's squadron, in the destruction of which the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) took an important part, and were kept together as a tactical unit. They were to be used for raiding the coast of South Africa or were later coming home to join the German High Sea Fleet and were not used seriously for attacks on the trade routes. Although their presence on the coast of South America held up our trade, they were not seriously used as raiders. Practically all the damage was done by the "Emden" and the "Karlsruhe," with their four-inch pop-guns. They were little ships of little fighting value.
I sent a note to the right hon. Member for Epping that I was going to attack him, and it is not my fault that he has been called out of the House. The dis- 1762 positions of the cruiser fleet on the trade routes which were made by the right hon. Member for Epping and his naval advisers on the Board of Admiralty were most faulty and unfortunate. Really, the right hon. Gentleman was the Admiralty at that time. The right hon. Gentleman did what he thought was right. At one moment he was commanding surplus marines and special units in the Naval Brigade and at another moment he was disposing the fleet according to his Napoleonic ideas, but the tragedy was that the Napoleon quality was missing. Despite our immense preponderance of cruisers, the tragedy of the disposition of those cruisers was such that the two German commerce raiders were responsible for sinking 220,000 tons of merchant shipping under the British flag and 30,000 tons under the flags of our Allies before they were disposed of. The "Emden" was only sunk by the "Sydney" through a pure accident. The "Sydney" was escorting Australian troops, but the "Emden" did not know that and attempted to make a little raid. The "Sydney" happened to be there, not through any dispositions of the Admiralty, and she sank the "Emden." These are the facts. There ought to have been a totally different disposition of our cruiser fleet and our merchant ships in the very beginning. It was urged upon the Admiralty, but they would not study these things, that we should put the whole of our merchant ships into convoys at the beginning. Had we done that, we should scarcely have lost a vessel. Seven hundred cruisers would not be sufficient to preserve our trade routes at sea, on the dispositions of the fleet carried out by the right hon. Gentleman for Epping. The less the right hon. Gentleman says about the use of cruisers in warfare the better.
I should be glad if the First Lord of the Admiralty would be kind enough to answer one or two questions. I am going to refer to the figures of the Washington Conference of 1921 in relation to the present Conference. It is common knowledge that it is proposed that the battle fleets of Britain and America and Japan should be reduced to 15, 15, nine. We have 20 battleships and battle cruisers on the Navy List, and to reduce to 15 obviously four of the oldest will have to go. The "Tiger" is the oldest battle cruiser, just on her limit of age, and the 1763 four Iron Dukes. Why is it that His Majesty's Ship "Tiger" appears in the Navy List for a big refit; and why is it that the "Benbow," one of the Iron Dukes also appears on the list for a large refit? In any case these ships will reach the age limit in two years, and it is proposed that within 18 months these ships should be scrapped, and not replaced, so as to reduce our battle fleet to 15 ships.
Why is it that these ships are to undergo large refit? If it is to provide work in the dockyards I can understand it. One of the best things this Government has done has been the provision it has made for work in the dockyards, and the prevention of the discharge of men. The work of the Civil Lord has been admirable in this respect, and all dockyard members know this. If that is the case all right, but let us know. But it is rather unfortunate that these two ships should appear as if they are to undergo extensive refit, as if they are going to last for many more years. I hope I am not criticising my right hon. Friend but I think it is a little unfortunate that we are carrying out grand manoeuvres in the Mediterranean at the time when you have the Conference meeting in London. I know the Fleet has to be trained, but it would have been a little more tactful to have postponed these manoeuvres. That is the only point on which I agree with the right hon. Member for Epping. He said that it was unfortunate that the Navy Estimates should have to be discussed now. I agree, and it is equally unfortunate that these manoeuvres should now be taking place in the Mediterranean. It is hardly the thing to get the French Prime Minister at Chequers and say, "You must not ask for the right to build more ships, you must reduce your fleet," to make similar demands on the Italians, when the papers are full of most beautiful pictures of these wonderful examples of the naval architect's art practising battle manoeuvres in the Mediterranean.
I said that I was going to say some rather disagreeable things. [Interruption.] I am going to say what everyone is thinking; it is time someone said it. I consider that this Naval Conference is going to be a terrible failure. It may be said that it is really a success, and attempts may be made to show how it has succeeded. That will be worse than 1764 to admit that the powers against the Government have been too great. It will be far better to do that and for us to part friends and try again in a few years time. The speech of the right hon. Member for Epping showed that we are bound to have to embark on a considerable building programme in the next few years even if the most successful result that can now be hoped is obtained from the Conference. If we are to keep to the 50 cruisers—the right hon. Member for Epping is largely responsible for it because he left us a small weak, and inadequate cruiser fleet—if we are going to rely on our own strong right arm for our defence, we shall have to build before 1935 21 cruisers. Under the present suggestion the Americans are to have—I am now talking about the 10,000 ton Washington type of cruiser—I understand, 18, Japan 12, and ourselves 15. We have built nine of these ships, there are two Australian cruisers and four are building. These four are to go on building, that makes 15. The First Lord of the Admiralty spoke of a Supplementary Estimate. Is it for building more 8-inch gun cruisers?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER indicated dissent.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
My right hon. Friend shakos his head. Is it to build more 6-inch cruisers to replace the 30 weak and old cruisers, which the right hon. Member for Epping left to my right hon. Friend? I am glad to see the right hon. Member for Epping in his place again, because I do not like to attack a man in his absence.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
My right hon. Friend will be bound to build 6-inch gun cruisers, and they will be larger than the present 6-inch gun cruisers on the Navy List, most of whom are rather small for ocean work. They were left by the right hon. Member for Epping. We shall have to build at least four of these cruisers each year. There, I am in agreement with the right hon. Member for Epping. Then with regard to destroyers and submarines. I appreciate the effort that has been made to abolish the submarine by the First Lord of the Admiralty. His speech was admirable, but he offered nothing in exchange and, therefore, the submarine is not going to be abolished. I gather, look- 1765 ing at the figures and reading what has appeared already in print—I am exposing no secrete—that we are bound to embark even as a result of the most favourable outcome of this Conference on a considerable extra building of destroyers and submarines. The present total of destroyers is 134, as against 309 American and 106 Japanese. Of this 134, 126 will reach the 16-year age limit by 1936—this is the Navy we have been left by the right hon. Member for Epping. We have 22 building and 100 are needed by 1936. That is on the basis laid down by my right hon. Friend himself as the irreducible minimum, and the Prime Minister's statement that not one pound avoidupois will be reduced unless others do the same.
The best we can hope for is the necessity of replacing our destroyer navy at the rate of 100 in the next five or six years. This is a serious state of affairs, and it is useless for us to pretend that we are going to make a great success of the Naval Conference. Even on the Rapidan figures, so far as I can see, on the agreement then reached, there will have to be considerable augmentations, and this is a Conference called for a reduction of naval armaments. It will not be sufficient for my right hon. Friend to say, look at the paper programmes which have been scrapped. What the taxpaying public will want to know is: what will be the naval savings achieved as a result of this Conference, and on that matter you will not be able to deceive democracy for 24 hours. It is obvious from the point of view of a mutual reduction of armaments that if this Conference continues on the present lines it is going to be a failure, and the worst thing that can happen is that its failure should be represented as a success. We have heard a lot about Abraham Lincoln in connection with these matters. Abraham Lincoln said:You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.The reason the Conference is failing, and is bound to fail, is because it is proceeding on wrong lines and by wrong methods. I am not blaming my right hon. Friend. He has fought well; he has bluffed with the best of them and stood up for his Board. He has played his hand as well as he could. If he had been a Conservative First Lord of the Admiralty he could not have done it better. It is not for hon. 1766 Members opposite to reproach him. It was not his business to sit in a corner bluffing with the representatives of the other Powers. He was the representative and spokesman of the one Socialist and progressive Government at the Conference. He was facing four Conservative Governments, or Governments of the Right—the Republican Government of America, the Conservative Government of Japan, the Fascist Government in Rome, and the Government of the Right Centre in Paris. It was necessary for our Government to have taken a certain line different from that of other Governments, and I am sorry to say that has not been done. What has happened is that everyone has ben thinking of the unthinkable war. It was a great pity that it was necessary at the beginning to speak about the irreducible minimum of 50 cruisers. I know my right hon. Friend said it in a small class-room in his constituency, but it went all round the world. How can we say to other Powers that they must reduce below their absolute needs? They say: "You need 50 cruisers, and your Conservative opponents say you need 70." We ought to have gone into the Conference with absolutely free hands. And, worst of all, what does it matter to us what the French and Italians want to build? I am very alarmed at the recrudescence in certain influential naval circles of the talk of the two-Power Continental standard. It was hinted at by the right hon. Member for Epping, whose sympathy with the big naval school is so well known. Originally the two-Power standard was against France and Russia, who were then in military alliance.
In my short naval career I was twice mobilised against France before Germany was the enemy at all. France and, Italy are not military allies; they are fellow-members of the League of Nations, and their alleged fear is of each other's navy. It is criminal to suggest that we have to be bound by the strength of these combined navies. If there is any panic about the French proposed building programme, may I ask why it is that during all the years the party opposite were in power there was no panic when there was a far greater threat to London from the French Air Force? We have inherited from the Conservative party an air fleet one-half or one-third the strength of that of France, and the political and financial 1767 capital of the British Empire might be devastated in a night by the magnificent French Air Force. The right hon. Member for Epping slept every night in his bed, and I suppose his constituents also slept every night in their beds under the most terrible threat from the French Air Force and the French submarine building programme, which is the greatest any nation has embarked upon. It is greater than that of Germany before the War. We have sat down under this threat because the people refuse to be frightened and panic-struck. There is an old hereditary belief in the necessity of being predominant at sea, by which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping is able to make political capital, as he does, out of the alleged weakening of British cruiser strength, but I did not expect the spokesman of a Labour Government to use the same argument against our close friend and ally. However, it is a good argument for hurrying on with the building of the Channel Tunnel.
No great saving on battleships is being outlined, I am sorry to say. We talk of the eventual disappearance of the battleship. The Fascist Italian delegation, in their proposals at the Conference, proposed a simultaneous abolition of the submarine and of what they called the capital ship, by which they mean the big battleship. There was no response from us, except a half-hearted statement that there would be eventually, it was trusted and hoped and believed, a disappearance of the great battleship. This, of course, will be a blow to the prestige of the British Government. But we can recover from that. The Labour party will come back. It was born on economic need and the economic need remains. I am not thinking of that so much, however. What I mean is that it will be a great blow to the peace movement all over the world, and that is more serious; a great blow to the democratic and progressive movement all over the world. The militarists of other countries will say to the pacifist and the Democrat and the Socialist "It is all very well, but look at the Labour Government in England. It stands for a strong navy, and we naturally must do the same."
That is the pity of the way in which the Conference is being held. We shall be told that a Labour Government is as nationalist and as militarist as its pre- 1768 decessor. It is not. But it talks like that, and that is the trouble. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister talks about the Navy being "us," it is the same language as was used by Lord Bridgeman, though not quite so terse. How long is Germany, a great nation, a clever and scientific people with an increasing population, a nation which will recover its economic position—how long will Germany remain unarmed under the Peace Treaty which we on our side have not kept? What is to be done? I make the following proposal. We should acknowledge the failure of the Conference; we should part friends and say "Gentlemen, we cannot agree with you." The British Fleet at present is stronger than any other. No fleet can possibly catch us for five years, even if we stop building altogether, even if the Americans and the Japanese and the others use the utmost of their building resources. [Interruption.] They could not possibly catch us in five years. We cannot be caught in cruiser strength for five years.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The hon. and gallant Member knows that I am speaking the truth. We are in such a position that we cannot possibly be caught in five years. Then let it be remembered that we have a great asset in the mercantile marine. The right hon. Member for Epping spoke about the cutting down of the personnel, and I am sorry that he made a comparison with the American personnel; but he did not mention that we have a splendid mercantile marine, which is not only a material resource, but a resource of personnel, with excellent seamen who would be of a very great value to the Fleet in time of war. Then I would say, let us in the meantime keep our Navy in being, scrap the old ships as they are due to be scrapped under the Washington Convention, keep our dockyards in trim and our seamen trained, and lay down no more ships of any kind for five years. We should then say to the others, "Build what you think you need; we shall not dispute it," and watch the result. I would like them to hear or read the debates that take place in the American Congress or the French Chamber or the Japanese Diet, when the money has to be found for building ships to beat us.
1769 An increase of the British Navy—No. I suggest a five years building holiday all round, if we can get it. Failing that, we should declare our five years building holiday. We can do that with perfect safety—that is not unilateral disarmament—and postpone the Conference sine die, and use the next five years for careful examination of the need of navies, their use and their real effect on the Covenant of the League, the Briand-Kellogg Pact and the Pact of Locarno, and make a careful exploration of the difficult question of the freedom of the seas. I am glad that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is here. He was so brave in war and is so very timid in peace. He dare not face the electors with the truth in this matter, and we have lost 11 years in consequence. Until you settle this matter with America it is useless going into Conference and discussing tons and guns and ratios and personnel and overseas bases and dockyards and how much trade you have to defend. You have to discuss the need of navies with America. As soon as you begin careful, well-thought-out negotiations for that purpose, not only with America but with the French the better. Above all it is no use blaming France in this matter. It is no use saying "The other man did it, please sir. Someone else broke the window."
The French have been realistic. So has the First Lord. The French warned us last December that they would raise this very question. They were not allowed to discuss it. We might have known, from the debates in the French Chamber that they were going to raise the question of the need of navies and guarantees. They are no more to blame than any of the others concerned. The Italians have played up very well; the Fascist Government has shown itself more willing to reduce armaments than the British Government. [Interruption.] There is the Italian Memorandum to the Naval Conference. The Italians proposed to do away with submarines, and they were prepared to reduce to the lowest possible ratio provided others did the same. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Mr. Moses) interrupts the remark that we have said that. That is just what we have not said. President Hoover said it, but we have not done so. My right 1770 hon. Friend the First Lord said that there was to be an irreducible minimum of 50 cruisers in peace time. That is a great difference.
You may say that the Fascist Government was not sincere. If we weigh up sincerities in these matters I do not know where we shall end. The Italians have put their proposals into writing. I wish that we had been as bold. In the meantime, let us devote our own energies to restoring our trade and finance, to developing our own land and Empire. Our strength is very great, but it will be far greater if the world respects us. Moral strength is greater than cannon, and the support of the public conscience is mightier than cruisers.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
We have had one of the speeches to which we are accustomed from the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken. He has preached a sermon to every nation and to everyone in this House. A good many things that he has said will not have a good influence on members of the Conference. The hon. and gallant Member rather reminds me of a story of the mad-dog type of politician who goes about biting everyone, and although he does not inflict rabies on them he gives them a good deal of amusement and they have to pay some attention to him. I am reminded also of an appropriate rhyme:We are the true, selected few.May all the rest be damned;There's only room for me and you,We can't have heaven crammed.That is the sort of stuff we have been listening to for 20 minutes. It is of no interest and of no service either to the Naval Conference or to this Debate. We have been asked to be cautious in what we say. As far as I am concerned, I think that plain speech is very much more appreciated both in this country and in all the other countries concerned with the Naval Conference. A queer thing about it is that we are always thinking that other people's skins are thin. As a matter of fact it is our own skins that are thin, but people who have not the courage of their convictions ask us constantly to withhold our tongues and our pens for fear of upsetting other people. I notice that the converse does not carry much weight from other countries.
I want to make a few remarks on the statement of the First Lord, and to re- 1771 mind him, if he needs reminding, that in pre-War days we spent something like 25 per cent. of our annual Budget on the naval defence of this country, and that to-day, with all the shouting about the terrible expense of naval and other forms of defence, we are not spending 25 per cent., but very much nearer 6½ to 7 per cent. for the tremendous risks that we have to face and the commitments for which we are responsible. The First Lord mentioned unilateral disarmament and said that we were not going to be any party to it. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) touched on that point, and I do so myself in order to remind the First Lord that we have reduced by 66,000 tons, and that the result of that is a saving of something like £4,000,000 at the expense of the security of the country There is not the slightest use in talking about five years' holidays and things of that kind. What we have to do is to see that we have a steady building programme.
If we are not careful it is by no means out of the question that interest in the Navy will fade in the way that it did in the 'seventies and 'eighties of last century, and that we shall find the greatest possible difficulty in recovering and keeping our position. If we had no building programme, by 1936 we should have only 40 cruisers. I shall not go into that question, because it is to be dealt with very fully when Mr. Speaker leaves the Chair. At the same time I do want to remind the House that the most important thing that this or any Government can do, and the finest thing for the security of this country, is to keep up a steady building programme. Surely in so great a national question no Government has any right to create liabilities for its successors? It is not a party question; it is essentially a national question. There is no doubt that at the present time the manoeuvring that is going on on the Front Bench of the Government will have the effect, even if it is not the design, of piling up liabilities for the Government's successors.
We hear a great deal about the marvellous state of peace in the minds of other countries and of this country, and that there is no real necessity to bother very much about our preparation. With the submission of the House I must quote 1772 one or two documents to show how foolish is reliance on that type of talk. For instance, in 1772, Lord North, writing to the First Lord of the Admiralty of that clay, said:I do not recollect to have seen a more pacific appearance of affairs than there is at this moment.… This is the time, if ever there was a time, for a reasonable and judicious economy.… Great peace establishments will, if we do not take care, prove our ruin.Within two or three years we were at war with several nations. Then, William Pitt, in 1792, when producing his Estimates, said:There never was a time in the history of this country when, from the situation of Europe, we might more reasonably expect 15 years of peace than at the present moment.Pitt proposed a reduction in the Army, the Navy and the Foreign Service of this country. Within 12 months of his speech, France declared war on this country. The same thing occurs all through history, showing the necessity for caution. Even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) when asked in January, 1914, whether he considered it was a favourable moment then to overhaul our expenditure in armaments, said—I quote from "The Great War, 1914–1918"—I think it is the most favourable moment that has presented itself during the last 20 years.As we all know, within seven or eight months we were embroiled in the most terrible international conflict. There are one or two specific points in the First Lord's statement on which I wish to touch. The first is in reference to naval air work. On page 6, the right hon. Gentleman speaks of 82 observers and six under training and of 120 pilots and 29 under training. I should like to know what is the ultimate aim of the Admiralty as regards the number of observers and pilots for this service, and whether the Admiralty are satisfied or not with the amount of control which they possess over the Fleet air arm. I have asked the right hon. Gentleman a question as regards the use of oil produced from coal compared with the ordinary oil fuel. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make inquiries and let the House know the actual comparative price as between the ordinary oil fuel and oil which can be produced by various methods from coal 1773 in this country. The right hon. Gentleman said something on the subject of divers and escape methods. I hope be will be able to give us some further and encouraging particulars on that point, because it is a matter of extreme interest to the British public that the officers and crews of our submarines should have a better chance of escape in cases of accident than they have had in past times. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us some of the actual results of experience in this respect.
We have been asked to exercise caution in what we say about the Naval Conference. On this matter I would refer to Command Paper No. 3485, and to the official statement which was published in the "Times" and was described as:Summary of a memorandum setting forth the policy of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom at the Naval Conference.I want to ask what is the position in regard to some of the statements in the White Paper concerning the Naval Conference, and particularly in regard to the question of the number of cruisers which we are said to require. That number is now stated to be 50, as opposed to the 70 which was stated at Geneva to be the figure of our requirements. Can the First Lord tell us the position as between the Government and the Admiralty? It may be an unusual question to ask, but the British public and this House have a right to know. If the Government have relieved the Admiralty of responsibility for the fullest protection of the interests of the country in war, then it is the duty of the Government to state that fact with clarity. If, on the other hand, the Admiralty have been directed to carry out our commitments and responsibilities in war, and have not been allowed the necessary ships and personnel wherewith to do it, again it is the duty of the Government to make that fact clear. I go so far as to say that if the Admiralty are in the latter position and, if I were a member of the Board, I for one would consider whether my resignation was not a fitting reply to such a demand.
I also ask whether the commitments and responsibilities of this country have decreased since the figure of 70 was laid down at Geneva as the number of cruisers necessary for us. In view of the fact that the Government now place 1774 the figure at 50 instead of 70, one is justified in asking if the 80,000 miles of trade routes of this country have shrunk in the interval. I suggest that nothing of the kind has happened; that our responsibilities remain the same and that, if anything, our risks have increased. I would like to have the position of the Admiralty in relation to these matters, made perfectly plain to the House. Page 5 of Command Paper 3485 states that the Admiralty has informed the Government that it would favour a reduction in the size of battleships from 35,000 tons to 25,000 tons and also a lengthening in the age of those ships. That is very good and proper, but in the next paragraph we find:In the opinion of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, the battleship in view of its tremendous size and cost is of doubtful utility, and the Government would wish to see an agreement by which the battleship would in due time disappear altogether from the fleets of the world.Can the First Lord say that he has professional backing for that statement which is given as the opinion of the Government? I am not here dealing with my own personal opinions regarding capital ships. My views are, probably, perfectly well-known. But members of the public who read the document from which I have quoted, have a right to know whether the Admiralty are at the back of the Government in that expression of opinion. One finds something even more curious in the statement published in the "Times" of 8th February, because it is an official statement in which we have some queer English—I do not know where it came from. According to this statementThe Government hopes that there will be an exchange of views on this subject (the abolition of battleships) during the Conference. Indeed it would wish to see an agreement by which battleships will in due time disappear altogether as it considers them a very doubtful proposition"—That is the queer English to which I refer—in view of their size and cost and of the development of the efficiency of air and submarine attack.Again I say we have a right to know if the Admiralty, if the professional advisers of the Government, are at the back of that statement. I observe at the end of Command Paper 3485 a note in regard to the abolition of the submarines. 1775 Regarding that matter I would make this comment. It is no wonder that we are suspect when we enter a conference, and ask nations with smaller navies to agree with us in abolishing the submarine. It is the sheerest humbug and everybody knows it. Of course we would like it to be done because it meets our wishes, but other nations are not fooled by such suggestions as that. I deprecate most strongly, and I think it would be infinitely better and a finer gesture if we said not a word about that subject. There are one or two other things to be said on the subject of the Conference—and again I would remark that plain speech is better than hiding one's opinions. We have heard much about parity. Parity leads, as it always has led, and always will lead to odious comparisons and jealousy. I ask what form of parity is in view and on what do the Government base their ideas of parity? If by parity is meant equality of numbers, or nearly so, then, as I have indicated in a question in this House, it can only react very adversely indeed on this country. May I quote from a statement made by Lord Cecil in 1919 apropos of the responsibilities of this country, in which he makes it abundantly clear that parity based on equality of numbers can only be a danger to this country. Writing to Colonel House he says:Not only have we Dominions scattered over the face of the world each of which requires protection from the sea, but the teeming population of the islands of the United Kingdom can only be fed and clothed provided that the avenues of sea traffic are safe. We import four-fifths of our cereals, and two-thirds of our meat, the whole of our cotton and almost the whole of our wool. If we were blockaded for a month or less, we should have to surrender at discretion. That is not true of any other country in the world to the same extent, and, least of all is it true of the United States which could, as far as the necessities of life are concerned, laugh at any blockade.I suggest that that is an adequate presentation of the facts as to the risks and responsibilities of this country, and that we have no right to embark on a campaign for parity in the form of equality, in such circumstances. Parity, it seems to me, is merely a diplomatic means of depriving this country of sufficient naval power to ensure our interests, and such power, even if it amounts to maritime supremacy in war, 1776 is inseparable from and vital to an Empire like the British Empire. After all, this is a form of Socialism—a levelling down—and these protestations of everlasting friendship are in the nature of the statements about the submarines. I conceive them to be humbug. They may be very well meant, but they do not lead us very far. In that connection may I quote from a very respected and well known American publicist in regard to the actual feelings of the citizens of the United States on the question of parity. He writes:While Britain fought for its life, while it incurred a debt of 40 billions of dollars, the American rival with small cost, hardly with an effort, took financial supremacy and thereupon claimed naval and therefore political equality….Moreover, we are not in reality doing this thing by moral suasion.He refers to Geneva.Always at the back of the stage there is the immutable fact, that if we choose, we have the wealth to build a fleet which will be in all respects supreme.The trouble is that no one can quite afford to be frank. Ostensibly we are seeking for equality, but actually we are out to get equality for nothing.Again he says:In reality, therefore, the American proposal applied to Great Britain undertakes to set a limit to British tonnage without regard to British necessities, and in conformity with our convenience. That is the sum and substance of our proposal.These remarks are not made in bitterness. They are published in the British Press and they are perfectly well known and understood in the United States as representing the real aim of the United States.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
His name is Mr. Frank H. Simonds. I do not deprecate these remarks at all. I do not quote them as being unpleasant. I think they are truthful and straightforward and I believe every citizen of the United States would agree that they are a true presentation of the case. Lastly, there are two nations in this Conference, whether we like; it or not, which are aiming at parity, and their aims at parity have brought about a great deal of the difficulties with which we are faced at the present time. They are asking for parity, not on any 1777 logical ground at all, but for other reasons. Surely it is better for the Conference on Naval Disarmament to conclude its labours now in a spirit of amity, rather than continue and produce armament, and not disarmament and calamity to follow.
§ Mr. W. J. BROWN
To-day, to morrow, and on Wednesday, on the Motion that you, Mr. Speaker, do leave the Chair, we shall express approval of expenditure during the coming year, on armaments of one kind or another, of some £110,000,000, of which £52,000,000 is represented by the Navy Estimate that we are discussing to-day. That £52,000,000 represents £1,000,000 a week. The Estimate is brought forward by a Government which represents a movement pledged to comprehensive disarmament. I have in my hand a resolution adopted by the Labour Party Conference, not many years ago, before our leadership attained years of discretion, but as recently as 1927. It was a resolution which was spoken to, among others at Blackpool, by the right hon. Gentleman who now presides over the destinies of India, and it concludes with these words:The Conference calls upon the Government"—that is, at that time, the Conservative Government—to re-open negotiations with the United States with a view to the settlement of all outstanding political questions between them, including the question of the control of the sea in time of war, the conclusion of a treaty outlawing war between the two peoples, and a drastic reduction of naval armaments.In the light of the declared policy of the Labour movement of this country, I think it impossible that those who are associated with me in the Independent Labour Party, and upon these benches, and whose point of view in regard to armaments is quite distinctive, should allow this Estimate to pass without an attempt to state our point of view. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy) has expressed the view that there is little hope of success for the present Naval Conference. I would not desire, any more than any other Member of this House, to embarrass the Government in its conduct of the naval negotiations, but in common honesty I am bound to go further than the hon. and gallant 1778 Member for Central Hull, and to say that that Conference was damned before it was born.
May I illustrate what I mean by that? I think the conception of naval parity with America, unimportant as the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) appears to think it is, was a tremendous improvement, for which our Government deserves all credit, upon the prospect of unlimited naval competition with that country, but when agreement at parity with America had been reached, what happened next? There were two statements—one from the First Lord of the Admiralty and the other from the Prime Minister—defining the minimum needs of this country, statements to the people of this country and to the other naval Powers that the basis of parity with America was a certain minimum naval strength from our point of view. Any Government of Great Britain, France, Japan, America, or Italy which goes into an international conference and puts as the basis of its statement for that conference minimum needs, defeats the objects of that conference before it begins, for the plain truth is this, that if Great Britain claims the right to say, "Our interests are such that we need so many battleships, so many cruisers, so many torpedo boat destroyers, and so many submarines," then every other Power has exactly the same right to say, "Our needs demand a minimum, from our point of view, of so many battleships, so many cruisers, and so forth."
I invite the House to notice two important things, and the first is this, that when any Government bases its naval programme upon terms of need it immediately delivers itself into the hands of the naval experts. I have the greatest personal respect for the right hon. Gentleman who presides over the Admiralty at the present time. I think he lends dignity and distinction to that Front Bench, but may I say, with all respect to him, that when an issue arises within the Admiralty as to whether our minimum need in cruisers is 50, 70, or 30, he is completely in the hands of the experts, because he cannot argue with the experts on their own ground. I would not say an unkind work about the experts in the Admiralty. I will only say this, that what the right hon. Gentleman the late Prime 1779 Minister said the other night in this House—and, as I thought, so finely said—that every science is bound to be erroneous because it draws conclusions from a limited and isolated area of facts, applies with tremendous force to the conclusions of Admiralty experts in regard to minimum needs. The naval expert would not be human if the naval expert were to conclude that the naval expert was not wanted. It is idle to expect the naval expert to do that.
The first thing I ask the House to note is this, that once you accept the basis of need, the real control is outside the hands of the Government and becomes vested in the experts. The second thing—and it is crucial—that I ask the House to observe is this, that if need be accepted as the basis of our naval programme, then this country is at the mercy of any other Power which, like France at the present time, takes a different view from our own. If you have five Powers in conference, and one of them says, "In spite of all that you may say, we intend to build on such-and-such a scale," then, if need be accepted as the basis of our programme, we are bound to build up to such other standard, and the whole basis of international disarmament goes by the board.
On behalf of those who are associated with me on these benches, I desire to say that to-morrow and the day after there will be Motions down to reduce the Army and the Air Force Estimates. We cannot do that to-day, but, on behalf of my comrades on these benches, I am trying to put our point of view. I believe that the only devil in this universe is fear, and I believe it to be an eternal law that fear attracts the very thing that is feared. The basis of this £52,000,000, the basis of the statement that we want 50 cruisers, is fear, and fear attracts the very thing that fear fears. I put it to the House that there will be hope for disarmament in the world when one great Power says: "For our part, whatever other Powers do, we intend to do so-and-so." I believe that the nation that will first make that gesture—and we have had a great opportunity in these last few weeks—will evoke a response in the world that will surprise and astound it.
After all, the other Governments that make up the Five-Power Conference are, 1780 like our own Government, dependent upon public opinion. If anything were needed to stiffen French opinion behind its Government, it would be the kind of announcement that our minimum needs are so many and that we are going to have them. If anything were calculated to weaken a French jingo Government, it would be a statement from our Government—the first Socialist Government in Europe, outside Russia—that we believe for our part that the Locarno Pact meant something, that the Pact of Paris meant something. It is idle for Prime Ministers and Presidents to stand up and announce to the world that they have banished war, to say that they have agreed among themselves that war between us is an unthinkable thing, when all the time we go on building up the machines of destruction. Those things do not march together, and I believe that the Power which first has the courage to stand by its declaration will evoke a response from the public opinion of the world that will surprise it, and that any other Government that dared to act in disregard of it would find itself placed with a public opinion behind it that would make its position gravely uncertain.
For our part, on these benches, we are only a, handful, but we are in earnest, and we believe that our point of view is going to win through. I want to say this to our Front Bench. There are many things they cannot do; many things that they would like to do which public opinion in this country will not let them do; but there is one thing upon which public opinion in this country will be solidly behind any Government, and that is the issue of peace and disarmament which figured so largely in the election struggle a few months ago. I do not believe that the Front Bench can go too fast for public opinion in this matter; but it can make the fatal mistake of going too slow.
May I say this last word, not unkindly. Our domestic record is not such as to command unmitigated enthusiasm. Our foreign record up to now has been our strongest point. Our Prime Minister has captured the imagination of the people of this country on the issue of peace and disarmament more than any other statesman in my lifetime, but the only thing that can beat him on that issue is fear. 1781 I beg the Prime Minister and the First Lord of the Admiralty not to let the policy of the Government be determined by the experts, valuable as they are in their place, but to let it be determined on the sure and certain knowledge that a generous gesture in this world never failed yet to find its response, and will not fail to find it in this particular field of international life.