§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)
I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn."
I am moving the adjournment of the House in order that an opportunity may be given to discuss in the widest possible way the work and issues of the recent London Naval Conference. May I say, before entering into the subject itself, that, whatever the achievements of the Conference may have been, however small they may have been, they were only made possible by the very great forbearance, helpfulness, and good will of the delegates from all the countries which were represented. No Chairman will ever be able to look back upon such sheer enjoyment of hearty co-operation with his colleagues as I do when I think of the London Naval Conference. Although the immediate subject of the Conference was the Navy and naval affairs, let there be no mistake about it: the London Naval Conference was not merely a Naval Conference. It aimed at making a substantial contribution to the problem of general disarmament. We must bend our attention not merely to the sea, but to the air, and to the land as well, because by the mere limitation of one form of armaments we are not going very far to secure the peace of the world.
We had also to note another very serious circumstance. Since the failure at Geneva in 1927 great deterioration in the peace spirit has taken place. I attribute no blame for that failure, but, if hon. Members will look at the shipbuilding programme and various other military programmes since 1927, they will find that the failure at Geneva has been a great impetus to trusting once again to military preparation rather than to the pursuit of pacific ends. Another situation which was only too apparent was this: Since the last War we have created the League of Nations. We have signed arbitration Treaties of varying scope. We have: signed Treaties of peace, Peace Pacts like the Kellogg Pact, but, curiously enough, when we came to close purposes on the problem of armaments and the provision of arms, the mentality and assumption regarding how wars are to be kept off and national security established were such that we found deplorably little trust placed upon these Peace Pacts and the 2086 organisations to secure peace. The nations undoubtedly are falling back into their old mentality. The old fears, the old superstitions regarding security are returning and exactly the same kind of arguments that were so familiar before 1914 are coming back unblushing and unashamed in 1930. I do not say these things in order to strike a pessimistic note. Quite the opposite, because the time is still with us when we can stop it, and by making a sturdy effort to change that mentality and to hold back the tide that is flowing to international destruction, we can still save Europe and the world from what is called the next war. We had these things in mind during those long days of the London Naval Conference.
There was a general view that very little could be done by way of advance in naval disarmament until the United States and ourselves had come to an agreement. I think that view was sound. We had come to an agreement on words. Our predecessors had said, quite candidly, that they were perfectly willing that the United States should build to parity, but what had not been said was what was the programme of parity, and there was a school, or certain individuals—certain friends of mine—who had come to the view that it was unnecessary to pursue the agreement any further. Their view was, "Just let us say 'parity.' We never could imagine a conflict with America. Why should we worry about the force that America is putting upon the waters, whether they are putting 8-inch gun cruisers or 6-inch gun cruisers or whatever they care to build. It is no concern of ours." That view is a very attractive one, but it is a very unsound one. If the whole world occupied with America the same relation which we do, it might be a very sound view, but, unfortunately, that is not the case, and whether we take notice of what is being done on the other side of the Atlantic or not, other nations will. With those other nations we are concerned, and, consequently, one has to come to the conclusion, and I have come to the conclusion, after very careful consideration, that the foundation of a real, secure international understanding relating to naval building, must be an agreement between America and ourselves such as 2087 we were able to effect at the London Naval Conference. That piece of work has been done.
There were two other prominent aims. I do not name them in any sort of logical or organic order, but rather in the order of convenience. There were two other objects that the Naval Conference had to try to achieve. The first was this. What is so disturbing to peace is not always so much the size of fleets, as the growing competition in the building of fleets. The most deadly thing that can arise is a return of that competition which existed, as hon. Members will recall, between Germany and ourselves prior to 1914. I repeat that it is not always the size of the fleet that is dangerous, it is the competition between possible rival fleets. Unfortunately, that was beginning—that had begun—and, therefore, as soon as the opportunity arose to get the five leading naval Powers of the world at the moment at any rate, to come together, we had to strive with might and main to come to an agreement which would end competition.
I tell the House quite candidly that if it had been necessary to increase the size of our fleet, in order to have got an agreement which would have ended competition, it would have been an economy. It would have been wisdom, for the time being to have increased the size of the fleet rather than lose the opportunity of getting certain standards set, upon which further negotiations could proceed. I ask hon. Members to turn their minds to the relations between Canada and the United States to-day on the lakes dividing those two countries, where there are no armaments except insignificant things and to remember that however great the failure—or I would rather put it however imperfect the success—of the Washington Conference, the limitation in expanding tonnage put into capital ships and aircraft carriers, has had a tremendous effect in keeping those buildings stable. It gave us a chance, which we took as I will show in a minute, of considering not programmes which are most difficult things to manipulate when you are negotiating, but of considering actual strengths, and, in consequence, being able to reduce these figures without one-tenth of the trouble which we had to reduce figures 2088 regarding unregulated categories of ships both in this country and in the others. The stopping of competition in building is worth a great sacrifice. We have given nothing by way of expansion. We have succeeded, as regards three Powers at any rate, in stopping competition, and we have also succeeded in getting from the other two Powers which, for various reasons, were unable to subscribe to Part III of the Treaty, declarations that they are going to consider the situation in which they find themselves, with a decided and decisive determination to accommodate their building in the future to the standardisation that has been put into Part III of the London Treaty. That is a very great achievement.
I come to the second of the other two points. Competition was the first and the next is reduction. So far as reduction is concerned, we were only able to get three Powers to agree to it. But the story is not yet finished. It is still being continued, and all I can say at the present moment—if I may say so without doing any harm—is that after such speeches as that delivered by Signor Grandi the other day, breathing the very best spirit that animated the London Naval Conference, I am encouraged to entertain hopes that the continuing conversations will be successful. Then, the House will remember, that the Conference at Geneva was a three-Power conference, and anyone who likes an easy job must have envied those who had to handle, not only three Powers, because that is only part of the easy business, but those who had to handle a three-Power conference which had unified interests—and I am not at all sure that the spectacular effect might not have been very much greater if the London Naval Conference had been from the beginning only a three-Power conference. A three-Power conference would have been a high seas conference pure and simple—America, Japan and ourselves—but Great Britain never could get security on only the agreement of a three-Power conference. We had to face the tremendously more complicated and difficult problem of grouping the United States and Japan with ourselves for what I have called high sea purposes, and then group France. Italy and ourselves for European Continental purposes.
2089 That is the problem. That is the tremendous difficulty. Although a five-Power Conference, as a matter of fact it was not merely five separate nations, but it was two separate groups of Powers consisting of three each, Great Britain practically playing the double part, appearing in the high seas group and also in the Continental; and, if I might add, Great Britain on this occasion, as on several previous occasions, was not merely representative of this country, but we had seven practically independent—I do not want to use words which would be misunderstood over here or in the Dominions—autonomous—I believe that is not quite satisfactory now, but, in any event, do not misunderstand me—we had five Dominions and India represented at London by admirable men, each holding his own view and each the head of an independent, delegation.
The various problems for the handling of such a Conference do not require to be stressed, but for the first time in history, as a result of this Conference, an agreement has been come to which covers the most formidable battleship, on the one hand, and the smallest submarine on the other. This has been possible because, though not a new method, it having been tried before, but because an old method has been tried with a little more consciousness than hitherto, a little bit more thinking out as a fairly efficient method for handling such an arrangement as this. The old method was this: If we had tried, say, a 10 years' agreement, we could not have got such a sympathetic arrangement as we have got. We, therefore, proposed, first of all, that the Treaty should last until 31st December, 1936, that it should be the subject of consideration in 1935, and in that way we got the various Powers—it was not a case of getting them, for they all together saw that the right way is, in the present state of suspicion, in the present condition of facing almost the unknown, instead of making a long-reaching agreement—to make a comparatively short-term agreement, but to take care that in that agreement certain essential things have to be fixed, such as limits of tonnage, and so on, to which I will briefly refer later—to fix the essential things now, and in 1935 revise the experience of five years. The result will be further reductions, more stringent limitations 2090 upon competition, closer relationships between the Powers which, but for those Conferences, would remain apart, and a much more solid and suitable laying of foundations upon which the fabric of peace has got to be based.
As to the programme we have got, I will not take up the time of the House, because it has been published in various ways. The Washington Treaty dealt with battleships, and so we did not deal with them, except on two points. The Washington agreement allowed us to keep 20 battleships until 1936. It allowed us to keep five battleships until 1936 over and above the 15 which was fixed as our quota. It allowed the United States three and Japan one, but the Washington arrangement was that we should have 15 battleships, the United States 15 battleships and Japan nine battleships. We decided mutually—the United States, Japan and ourselves—at once to cut off our superfluous battleships and keep on the basis of 15. That is going to save, according to estimates, about £4,000,000. But then there was something much more serious than that as a consequence of the Washington agreement. Between now and 1936 replacement would have had to come into operation. We should have had actually to have five new battleships in commission before 1936, and to be building five, and those would be at various stages of their building. Japan, the United States and ourselves said, "We will cut the whole thing, and go in for an absolute holiday so far as battleships are concerned." That will save us about £50,000,000 up to 1936.
There are various suggestions made by my good friends behind me that we ought to use this opportunity either to devise a new battleship or to reduce the tonnage of battleships. The battleship at the present time is 35,000 tons, and it is suggested that we might put a 10,000 ton battleship on the water instead of a, 35,000 ton. First of all, we could not get any two Powers to agree as to the reduction. They were quite willing to reduce, some to 28,000, some to 25,000, but no Power would reduce to 10,000, and the reason put up was that you cannot build a battleship of 10,000 tons. I do not know. I am an amateur. I am as ignorant of the technical problems of battleships as most amateurs are, and I confess I avoided the difficulty 2091 by seeing, or thinking I saw, that if you begin to tamper with your battleships you do not know where you are going to end. Instead of having the problem of a small type of battleship of 10,000 tonnage, the chances are that your naval designers will evolve a totally new type of fighting vessel, and you will have then to put a fleet, or a section of a fleet, of this smaller type of vessel on to the sea in order to keep up with the competition of the other Powers. I think that the view we took was sound, instead of tampering with battleships, to stop building until 1936, and that by 1936 there would be plenty of time to consider what is the function of the battleship in naval strategy, what is the size of the battleship and what is the advantage of the heavier type of war vessels which have been devised by the various naval designers all over the world, or, what would please me far better, whether we cannot come to the conclusion that the battleship had better be regarded as an obsolete vessel.
On the cruisers, there has been a good deal of controversy, in which the Admiralty has been blamed that, instead of 70, which has been the figure up to now regarded as the minimum for safety, we had fixed upon 50, made up of 15 eight-inch gun cruisers and 35 six-inch gun cruisers. It has been said that that has been done by us under pressure by the United States. That is not the case. Before the United States gave any views at all upon the subject, we were having this subject investigated by our experts. The Admiralty's position has been already declared, and I will declare it again, so that there may be no misunderstanding in this matter. The Admiralty's position was that, under international conditions such as they exist to-day, the number of 50 cruisers could be accepted for a strictly limited period, provided always that other Powers met our standard of 50, and provided that in our number, that is, in our 50, there is a proper proportion of new construction suitable for extended operations. There is in that nothing terrible or horrible, nothing that could shock my pacifist friends. A good many of our six-inch gun cruisers were built specially for war purposes and during the War, and their operations were meant to cover only the North Sea and 2092 the immediately adjoining waters of our coast. In replacing them, the Admiralty said that we would require to have cruisers not of more tonnage, not of heavier metal, or anything of that sort, but cruisers which would enable sailors to be comfortable inside them if they were further removed from Great Britain than these special War-built vessels allowed them to be. The saving on the programmes of cruisers, destroyers and submarines is estimated at a sum of about £13,000,000.
Another point has given rise to a great deal of discussion and if I have not been able to follow the seriousness of the discussion it is because I think our critics have discovered a very had mare's nest. The House is now familiar with the controversy about the 91,000 tons limitation. It is an intricate sort of point and one which is not easy to explain although it is exceedingly simple in itself. Let me see if I can get the House to understand the intricate position. The London Naval Treaty provides that cruisers laid down before the 1st January, 1920, that is war cruisers really, shall be valued for the purposes of the Treaty at 16 years. That is when they have passed their sixteenth year they become over age. Cruisers built after that date will be valued at the age of 20 years. Then it is provided that we shall build in replacement and in relation to our 50 cruisers which are to be on the sea in 1936 no more than 50—we shall build new contruction equal to, up to 1936, 91,000 tons. Does that allow us to have 50 cruisers? That is the point. The critics say, no. It works out in this way. If we take the 16-year cruiser in the bulk and scrap it all and replace it before 1936 we should have to build 62,220 tons more than we now do. We retain, in other words, in our 91,000 tons, or because of our limitation to 91,000 tons, 62,220 over age tonnage, taking over age at 16 years. None of the over-age tonnage is more than three years over 16.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) knows that the calculations that I am giving are not my own. If we take 20 years as the life of the cruisers in 1936, the 91,000 tons would satisfy all replacements and give us 11,820 tons over and above it. What is the situation? There are two things that we have to consider, and I believe that the expert is with me here. I know 2093 that he has dinned into my ears again and again until I believe that my advice is given without dissent. It is a great mistake to have a big block of ships in any category which is of the same age. I cannot discuss that matter. I am told that that is so and I have accepted that as true. I will tell the House what is the parallel condition and result of that, and I do understand that part of it, that if, say, in 1931 you lay down more than your average annual requirements in cruisers you take more men into your dockyards for construction, and into your private yards also, than you can keep going two and three years afterwards. The result—I have had it worked cut—is this: one of the great troubles that Government after Government has experienced in the employment of labour in dockyards has been that the curve of demand for labour has gone up and down and up and down. Therefore, when you get a chance, as we now have, of regularising the curve and making it far more of a straight line, averaging your demand so well out that you do not require to wiggle waggle your demand for labour, you ought to take your opportunity, and that is involved in this proposal.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I do not want to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman in an intricate statement, but can he say, for our information, if 91,000 tons enable cruisers to be replaced during the next five years with a 20 years' life, how many tons would be required to enable them to be replaced after a 16 years' life?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am sorry if I have not made myself clear. I am sure that it is my fault. Take the 16 year basis and supposing you say that you will disregard all block building. You may have 20 cruisers falling out in one year, because they have come to over 16 years. Next year you may have four and in the following year you may have 10 falling out. That is an absurd arrangement. Therefore, what you have to do is to take your average falling out, and in the year when 20 fall out your average will not give you enough rebuilding, but as you go along and you average your requirements, and your apparently short commons in allowance of replacement satisfy you, you have regularised your demand for labour and you also properly co-ordinate your fleet. Whether the 91,000 tons will do that or 2094 not, that is the idea, but if we had taken the 16 years basis and replaced every one of the ships as soon as they came out, we should have required 62,220 tons more.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
If we had taken it as 20 years, then we should have got 11,820 tons too much, so that the average falls between 16 and 20, slightly nearer, I think, the 20 than the 16. I apologise to the House for delaying so long on that point. I have done my best to make it plain or, at any rate, to put the House in possession of the idea which is behind what appears to be rather absurd mathematics. As regards the United States, there was no provision required for it because it was building up to parity, and it had no replacements. As regards Japan, there is no figure there, although if hon. Members look carefully at another article they will find that that other article does impose certain limitations. As a matter of fact, Japan, using all the rights that it has got and all the special privileges that it asked for in order to enable it to keep labour in its yard and not to have four years absolutely blank in building cruisers—we met it sympathetically—when it uses all its rights against our 91,000 tons cannot possibly fit up one single ton above 35,655 tons.
I pass from destroyers and submarines, as there is nothing special in regard to them. We tried to get reductions there which we could not get, but I would like to remind the House that when we enter an international conference we do not get what we propose but what we can get our colleagues in the conference to accept with us. We can fight as hard as we like to get them to accept more than they are willing to do, but when the last word is said it is the last word of a conference, and not the last word of the majestic and imperious will of any one Power. In addition, there were a great many technical points, apparently small but of the very greatest importance as regards the future. There was the size of units, armaments, the definition of cruisers, destroyers, special ships, aircraft carriers. There was the rule about the use to which submarines might be put in attacking merchant 2095 vessels, rules for scrapping, displacement and so on. You read them with dull minds as you go down column after column of the London Treaty, but do remember this, and I hope hon. Members will not forget it, that these little definitions, these pettifogging little points have just been like nails on the way, pricking and puncturing every attempt to get over the preliminaries of a real international naval agreement.
There is one important point, a point of difficulty which, on the face of it, made Geneva an impossibility. Ought, when efforts are being compared, the settlement to be upon what is called globular tonnage, that is, the total tonnage of all kinds of ships, or ought it to be divided into categories and each class assigned a number of tons for itself? Italy and France fought us. America and ourselves stood side by side, and there was no possibility, apparently, of reconciliation. There was the famous French memorandum put in at Geneva. There were our proposals and the United States proposals, and no bridge, golden or other, appeared to be possible. Well, we have settled it. It has been settled with this precaution—which I felt I ought to take, because I wanted to see just another step forward, before letting it go loose, perhaps to be applied by those who still were not quite converted to the formula—and that was that before we finally accept it in the abstract as a formula that should be applied again and again we would just like to see the first results of it in figures. It has gone to the Preparatory Commission of the League of Nations and we have put in it the precautionary condition that before we can completely subscribe to it, we would like to see what figures it produces in relation to the programmes which we have been working out at the London Naval Conference.
All these are really very good achievements of the Conference. So I think I can leave it there. It is a gigantic task. We have simply made a little nibble at the cherry. There is no use magnifying it and there is no use minimising it. The Conference has done some very good preparatory work, very essential preparatory work, and anyone knows this who sat through those months, although, as a matter of fact—and this ought to be said for the Conference—five weeks were absolutely 2096 lost on account of the change of Government—there was a loss of three weeks and of a fortnight later on. I have no complaint on that, but I hope that that will be taken into account when the time occupied by the Conference is considered. We have to start again the conversations with Italy and France. The Preparatory Commission at Geneva must go on. We have to face the land problem, and the air problem. We have to co-ordinate them altogether in a well-thought-out and well-balanced scheme of security, of actual reduction. The greatest obstacle of all is that of the mentality of people whom, while they know perfectly well that they will never get security by military power, nevertheless, as soon as you bring up their experts and their representatives to face actual proposals of programmes of reduction, you find quivering and shaking and being unwilling, while candidly admitting that they are taking the risk of war, to take the risks of peace for once, to see if that will not be more successful than the other. That has been our work, imperfect, unfinished, but nevertheless done in the very best of good will and with the steadfast determination, and ended for the time being, or rather postponed. The representatives of the Five Powers, therefore, have gone back determined to do everything that they can to advance the cause of peace.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The House is under an obligation to the Prime Minister for the care and pain he has taken to make us a statement on the subject which is now before us. To-day, I must remind the House that we are only discussing a question which you, Sir, have just put from the Chair, namely, whether we should or should not adjourn. This procedure has been adopted at the wish of the Conservative Opposition, because we wish, at this stage, to allow the Government to lay their whole case before us, not only in its diplomatic but also in its naval aspects, so that we may decide what further action it is our duty to take, and, in particular, whether our objections to this Agreement can be adequately expressed by a discussion of Vote 3 of the Navy Estimates or whether they will require to be embodied in some definite Motion put forward by the Conservative party. I say this at the outset to make it clear that we view what is proposed in the 2097 Draft Treaty with the most serious anxiety; and I must say that this anxiety has not been removed at all by the agreeable and lucid speech to which we have just listened.
I am going to make some demand on the patience of the House this afternoon. We must recognise, first of all, that the policy of a naval agreement with the United States or other Powers, supplementary to the Washington Agreement of 1921, has been accepted in principle by all parties in Great Britain. The Prime Minister and his colleagues were therefore, it seems, justified in their efforts to arrive at such an agreement. We ourselves had made a series of important proposals designed to avert or slacken naval competition in armaments and make more secure the growing strength of the foundations of peace. Finally, we do not and must not forget that the Clauses in the Treaty of Versailles have bound the victorious Powers to pursue faithfully and earnestly a policy of disarmament, not only naval disarmament, for, as the Prime Minister has reminded us, naval, military and air disarmament all stand together. It is our belief that we have done by action and example more than any other signatory Power of the Treaty of Versailles or indeed of any other Power in the world. That is a course—I am speaking on behalf of this side of the House—which we are determined steadfastly to pursue, so far as the national safety and interest of the British Empire or of the Commonwealth of Nations, if that term be preferred, will allow. I must also recognise that the Prime Minister in his protracted and difficult negotiations, of which he has given us some account this afternoon, has made a personal contribution of forbearance, sincerity and patience which, quite apart from the merits of this Treaty, command general respect in this country. There is no doubt that the visit of the Prime Minister to the United States was the occasion for a marked and impressive manifestation of American good will towards Great Britain, the calling forth of which was in itself a service to the State. In this navy matter, as in this question of India, the Prime Minister and his colleagues are on the stage of history; what they say will be recorded in other volumes than those of the OFFICIAL REPORT and certainly, in his 2098 conduct of these negotiations, the Prime Minister has done or said nothing that is in contrast with the dignity and consequence of the events with which he was dealing.
But I am afraid I did not rise to-day for the purpose of paying compliments to the right hon. Gentleman. Indeed, I apprehend that, if I were to pay tributes, or if tributes to his policy and conduct were paid from this side of the House, that would not commend his policy or his conduct either to the bulk of his own party or to the foreign countries with whom we have been in conference. I, therefore, proceed forthwith to the practical question which lies before us, namely, the wisdom or unwisdom, the merits or demerits of the proposed agreement itself. I think I must make three main submissions to the House. The first is that the Agreement of London is not the natural successor or child of the Washington Agreement of 1921, but, on the contrary, differs fundamentally from it. That is my first submission. My second is that it is not a Treaty of parity at all in the sense that Great Britain and the United States should be equal Powers upon the sea, but that, on the contrary, it is a formal acceptance by Great Britain of definitely inferior sea-power. Thirdly, I submit that the London Agreement contains within itself subsidiary provisions which will have the effect of ensuring that that inferiority is attained before the Treaty comes to be revised in 1936. Those are my three main submissions, and I will endeavour to make them good.
The Washington Treaty, might I remind the House, rested upon the basis that Great Britain and the United States should be equal in all the battle elements of their respective Fleets. It was confined exclusively to those elements. It did not raise any question of that disparity which we can imagine to exist between this small, densely populated island, the centre of a commonwealth of nations and dependencies spread all over the world, and lying itself in the closest proximity to European centres, between that entity on the one hand and on the other the vast State, almost a Continent, virtually self-supporting in every essential of life and power, separated by thousands of miles on all flanks from all possible attack. None of the disparity 2099 was raised by the Washington Treaty of 1921. It confined itself to the battle sphere. It left unfettered our rights to take the necessary measures, whatever we might conceive them to be, for the protection of our commerce and our food against submarines by means of cruisers, convoy vessels—an expression which should be taken into consideration by naval representatives—and also our rights to make provision for flotillas and small craft as they might be required as long as submarines remain a great factor in the narrow waters and inland seas through which so much of our economic life has to flow. To show how strongly these points were insisted upon at Washington, I need only cite a passage in the instructions which were sent to Lord Balfour, our chief representative, by the Government of that day:We welcome your decision to press for the total abolition of submarines. Even if you can obtain this, we wish to be consulted before a final decision is taken upon the limited scales of construction in small craft permitted to the various signatories. The position of Britain, with her world-wide possessions and food supplies, on the one hand clearly requires an entirely different standard from that acceptable by self-contained nations. We apprehend, however, that there is very little chance of the abolition of submarines being agreed upon, and in this event we must insist at all costs upon absolute freedom in regard to the character and number of all vessels under, say, 10,000 tons. We cannot, in the face of French freedom to construct a great submarine fleet, to say nothing of the submarine and cruiser construction of other Powers, enter into any agreement fettering our liberty to build whatever numbers and classes of cruisers and anti-submaine craft we may consider necessary to the maintenance of national and Imperial life. We feel sure, from our knowledge of your outlook on the whole problem, that you will share this view to the full. Even at the cost of a complete rupture, we feel certain you will not agree to any restriction in this sphere without previous consultation with the Cabinet.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No. That is an extract from a telegram of instructions which was sent 10 years ago by the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was the head.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Certainly. It was one of an immense series of telegrams, but it is of immense importance, in studying these grave matters—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No, but I take the fullest responsibility for the exercise of my own judgment in this matter.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Surely, under the Rules of the House, this is a Cabinet document, and should be published, if it is quoted from.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I happen to know the document. Is this a Cabinet paper, and, if it is a Cabinet paper, has the right hon. Gentleman got the usual leave for the disclosure of Cabinet secrets?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
This is not a Cabinet paper. This is one of a great series of telegrams which have passed. Many telegrams have been published, and this is most relevant to the immediate matter. Ten years have passed since these messages have passed. Immense publications are being made of telegrams which have been sent and have passed on all sorts of confidential matters, and I should not be doing my duty to the House if, in discussing a matter of this vital importance, I failed to place this grave issue before Parliament with all its lineaments fully portrayed.
§ Mr. BROCKWAY
On a point of Order. Is it within the Orders of this House that a Member who has been a member of a previous Cabinet should quote from Cabinet documents which he has had in that capacity and which have not been published?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I understood, in the first instance, that that question could not arise, because it was not a Cabinet document.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It is an administrative paper, but anyhow—[an Holy. MEMBER: "Who sent it?"]. That telegram was sent upon the authority of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I should certainly have thought, with due respect, that this was a Cabinet document, and I very much regret that my right hon. 2101 Friend, seeing that probably this is a telegram which was sent by me, had not the courtesy at least to inform me, because it must have been one of a series of telegrams, some of which it might have been very inadvisable, not from the point of view of the members of the Cabinet, but from the point of view of the relations of the various countries, to publish. I very deeply regret that, at any rate, some opportunity was not afforded me, who happened to be head of that Government, and who probably sent that telegram, of seeing what the nature of the telegram was, and whether there were not other communications. I should have thought, on the point of Order, that this was essentially a Cabinet document.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman, and indeed the House, will realise that it is not within my authority to say whether it is or is not a Cabinet document. I was only quoting what the right hon. Gentleman said who has produced it, that it was not a Cabinet document. I cannot be the judge of that matter.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
At any rate, it is not a point of Order. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is a point of honour!"] It is a matter on which I very readily submit myself to the measured judgment of the House and of this country.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
That is not a point of Order. On the point which was raised by my right hon. Friend—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member asked me, on a point of Order, whether the House is entitled to know who first published the telegram. I can only say that, under the Rules of this House, when a Member is quoting from a document he makes himself responsible for it. Beyond that I cannot go.
§ Mr. BROCKWAY
Further to the point of Order which I first raised. I appreciate that the Chair cannot decide whether this is a Cabinet document or not, but I suggest that it is possible to put to the right hon. Member the definite question whether this is a Cabinet document or whether it is not.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The hon. Member asked me a question, and I presume he would like me to reply, but I do not wish to reply if he does not want to hear the answer. In my judgment, it is not a Cabinet document. It is one of an unending series of administrative telegrams which have been sent—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Replying to the point of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. [An HON. MEMBER: "Run away!"] Who is running away? I am going to be here for another hour. Replying to the point raised by my right hon. Friend—[Interruption].
§ Mr. SPEAKER
We are discussing a very important question, and we cannot do so in an orderly manner with so many interruptions.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Replying to the point raised by my right hon. Friend, I would gladly have given him notice of my intention to cite, in one form or another, the important instructions which were given by his Government in 1921, but I am bound to say that I thought those instructions would so redound to his credit and reputation that I could not conceive that there would be any occasion where he would wish me to inform him. If I have erred in this matter, I express to him my regret. These were the instructions and the spirit of the instructions which were sent by my right hon. Friend, and on his authority, and on the authority of his colleagues, at a time when he was defending, with resolution and success, the vital interests of this country.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I have been so much interrupted that perhaps I may recall the House to the theme of the argument which I am addressing to it. My argument is that this London Agreement bears no relation to the Washington Treaty, to which it is apparently a supplement, and that the Washington Treaty carefully and specifically excluded all attempts at achieving parity in regard to minor vessels. I have quoted the instructions that were sent by the Government of that day, and I need scarcely say that those instructions were given the fullest effect by Lord Balfour and in the Washington Agreement. The London Agreement, on the other hand, seeks to apply or purports to apply strict parity to the naval forces of all kinds, whether required for battle or for trade and food protection, and, by so doing, brings directly into the foreground of our minds those immense differences in the situation of the two countries to which I have already referred. There, then, is the fundamental difference which the Pact of London has superimposed upon the Washington Agreement of 1921. This is a change of principle of the most profound and far-reaching character, which has certainly not escaped the attention of any country in the world except perhaps our own. That is my first point, and it leads me directly to my second.
My second point is this: What we are asked to agree to now is not a treaty of parity at all. Under superficial and paper appearance of parity, this treaty embodies a solemn acceptance, not only by Great Britain, but by the British Empire, of a permanent secondary position in seapower. We have abandoned, in fact—and when I look at some of the clauses I think we have also abandoned in form—the principle of the one-Power standard to which our naval strength was reduced after the War. Let me remind the House how that standard has been successively reduced. First of all, for some generations we were as strong at sea as all other countries put together. We did not abuse our strength. Next for a long period we adopted the principle of being substantially stronger than the next two strongest Powers combined, the United States not being at that time a factor. Then, when the German danger grew upon us in the early years of this 2104 century, we declared our standard of 16 battleships to Germany's 10 and a two-to-one superiority in cruisers and small craft, all Dominion vessels, let me point out, being excluded, and consequently additions to the calculation. I think that is a sound basis, for, after all, the Dominion navies have separate communities of their own to protect, separate difficulties and dangers to face. After the War, at Washington we accepted the one-power standard in all that contributed to battle strength, excluding all other elements necessary for the protection of food supplies.
The Prime Minister asks us to abandon, in effect, the one-Power standard. We are no longer to have a Navy equal even for purposes of battle—I say nothing of trade protection—to the other leading Navy in the world. That is my assertion. Perhaps the First Lord will address himself to it when he comes to speak later in the Debate. I will try to explain on what I base that statement. I am afraid I am going to speak for some time. We are not going to have interests, rights and securities that have been built up over centuries dismissed without patient and searching examination. First, let me say in discussing this matter, that war between the two great English speaking peoples is completely excluded from our minds. It has never played any part in our precautions or preparations at any time, and it has been expessly banished in the most solemn and irrevocable manner by the Kellogg Pact. I will therefore use to illustrate my arguments, letters of the alphabet instead of the names of countries. If you have two Navies, "A" and "B," each of which has 20 battleships and 50 cruisers, you have paper equality. But if "A," by sending its cruisers to raid the trade routes of "B," can draw 30 cruisers of "B" to protect those trade routes, the resultant forces available for battle will not be equal. "A" would have 40 cruisers to protect her battle fleet and find her opponent's battle fleet, and "B" would have only 20. The result in the battle sphere—[An HON. MEMBER: "What about C and D?"] That is a complication going to be still more embarrassing to that nation with the longest trade routes.
I have taken only one illustration, but one has only to read the evidence which 2105 Mr. Stimson has been giving before the Senate committee, for the report of which we are indebted to the "Times," in the last few days. Mr. Stimson is a man most high-minded, most fair-minded, most sober-minded, and although, no doubt, in putting his case to the Senate committee, he would naturally make the best of the mission with which he was charged over here, we make allowances for that. Nevertheless, so far as I see from independent study, everything he has said is absolutely correct. Let us see some of the things he said which have appeared only this morning. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is going to give great attention to this. Mr. Stimson spoke of the Anglo-American equality now established by the Treaty in the battleship class which could evenbe turned to superiority if the United States should modernise its vessels.He explained how they had put forward a demand for a new great battleship, not because they thought it would necessarily be accepted, but because it would be something to give away, so that they would be sure to acquire the right to modernise their battleships, which in his words would have the effect of giving them the superiority in the battle fleet. He proceeded to sayThey secured under the Treaty some superiority in the 8-inch class and they had been successful in reducing British superiority in the 6-inch vessels from 26 to 10 down to 13 to 10.Mr. Stimson went on to say thatThe United States was to-day free to build 10,000-ton cruisers carrying 6-inch guns if she chose to do so. And, when the relative gun-power of the British and United States cruiser fleets was considered, he thought it would be found that the position of the United States was even better than in respect of tonnage.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY rose—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I have already got a long way behind time. No doubt the hon. and gallant Member, as one of the protagonists in this discussion, will have the opportunity of addressing the House in good time. My objection is to steer as clear of technical points as possible in order that the House may follow my argument. I have given illustrations and quoted Mr. Stimson, and there is one final test to establish my thesis that we are asked to agree not to parity but 2106 to inferiority. Let us compare, therefore, the British and American cruiser fleets, as they will be built, or virtually built, at the end of 1936. I say virtually," because there are two American cruisers which may only approach the verge of completion. I assume that both countries build according to the Treaty. I have divided the ships into two classes, the modern or new ships and the older ships. Of modern or new ships, Great Britain will have of 8-inch gun vessels 15, and the United States of 8-inch gun vessels, 18. Great Britain of 6-inch gun vessels will have 14 and the United States of 6-inch gun vessels, 9. The total for Great Britain of modern or new ships is 29, aggregating 237,000 tons, and the 27 United States ships aggregate 253,000 tons.
I come to the older ships. We shall have two Emeralds of 7,000 tons and one Adelaide which may come in that class, and 18 small obsolescent 4,500-ton cruisers. As against this, the United States have 10 Omahas of 7,000 tons or upwards. Such are the fleets. But observe nearly all our 15 8-inch gun ships already built or in process of completion. Nearly all the American 8-inch gun ships are still to build, with all improvements in design and power which the naval science of every year makes it passible to bestow on new vessels. Therefore, I have no doubt that they will be superior at every point to the British 8-inch gun ships—at every point science can give them. All the American 6-inch gun ships are new or under 16 years, and they are all of large tonnage. Mr. Stimson makes a great point of that, which, of course, is of enormous importance, where you have to have a considerable radius, stability, strength to resist artillery attacks, and safety in a rough sea. All these are of the utmost consequence.
There are the two fleets, and there is no doubt whatever of these two fleets, as they will be in 1926 cruiser fleets, that of the United States will be definitely superior in strength. That is taking no consideration at all of the different tasks. One has to protect the immense trade routes on which the life of this island depends, and the other is for war unconnected with the bringing in of supplies. But there is a method of testing which of these two fleets will be 2107 stronger, because it has been arranged as an alternative that the United States shall be free to construct an exact parity cruiser fleet to our own, a virtual replica as far as possible of our own. By so doing, they will gain 13,000 tons of additional construction. But are they going to do it? They know perfectly well that a far better arrangement for their naval forces and a far better disposition of money for their cruiser fleet will be made by the building which I have set out and not by adhering to an exact replica of our own fleet.
I cannot conclude my argument about parity without dealing with one more point. It is freely stated in the United States, and it is one of the arguments which no doubt the right hon. Gentleman and his colleague the First Lord had to meet, that Great Britain has her large mercantle marine and naval bases all over the world, and that the United States must have a stronger navy to equate this. That is an altogether ill-founded idea. These bases and the merchant ships which we have are not sources of aggressive strength; they are only the vital apparatus by which we compensate ourselves for our dispersed situation and our dependance on overseas food. It the naval power which uses these bases and guards these merchant fleets becomes inadequate, they all sink together in helpless futility. I have used the similitude of the diver. The diver has a helmet, a special dress and heavy boots; he has an air-pipe and pumping apparatus of the most complicated character, but the diver, with all these possessions will not be in a stronger position than the man who is standing on terra firma without any of them. If the air-pipe is severed, the diver and his apparatus perish together and to say that we should bring our mercantile marine and bases into this calculation, is to use an argument to which we would never lend ourselves.
In proposing a Treaty binding us to a definite naval inferiority to any other Power, the Government have gone beyond what is wise and right and in harmony with the long and hitherto carefully guarded interests of this country. The signature and ratification of this Treaty will be a memorable and melancholy event in our history. I look upon it with amazement. If anyone had told me that 15 years after the Royal Navy 2108 had saved this country from the horrors of invasion, that 13 years after it had saved us from actual starvation, that 12 years after it had brought all the allied nations safely and victoriously through the Great War, we should be sitting here to approve a Treaty which denies us, not supremacy, for that has been given up, but even the right to have a navy equal to that of any other great Power, I would have thought him mad. We on this side of the House may be powerless to save such a position, but we cannot accept the slightest responsibility for it. We cannot invest the act of the Government with national sanction. We hold ourselves free to review the whole situation. I was very glad when I saw in this Treaty the provision which had been inserted for a review in 1935, and I shall have a word to say about that later.
I come to my third point. We are allowed a total of 50 cruisers aggregating 339,000 tons. Leaving the United States out of account, is this sufficient for our needs? The Prime Minister did not think so when he was last in power. On the contrary, he began a programme for the construction of these 10,000 ton 8-inch gun cruisers with an instalment never equalled by the Conservative Government in the succeeding years. The Admiralty did not consider it adequate in 1925; on the contrary, they presented arguments and calculations worked out in elaborate detail for every area showing the cruisers required for every area from which it was necessary for this country to draw its food and raw material. They threatened to resign on their cruiser programme so strongly did they feel. At Geneva, the Admiralty adhered to the same figures backed with an immense amount of technical detail. Let us quote Mr. Stimson again:The new British Government came in determined 'to do better,' and he did not think there was sufficient realisation in this country of 'how much they have done.' He drew a comparison between the statement of the British minimum cruiser requirements made at Geneva—70 vessels aggregating 420,000 tons—and the present agreement on 50 vessels of 339,000 tons, and described it as remarkable.We will all agree that it is remarkable. What is the reason which had led the Naval Lords to make such an immense change in the professional advice which it is their duty to tender to the Ministers of the day? It cannot be any improvement in our relations with the United 2109 States, or any pact we have signed with them, because we had always excluded the United States as possible enemies from our calculations. We are assured by the Government that it is the effect of the Kellogg Pact and the general improving sentiment for peace which has justified this surprising alteration in professional views. I did not agree with the Lords of the Admiralty in their estimate of 70 cruisers unless many of them were very old vessels. I am none the less surprised, knowing the very solid and detailed arguments on which they based themselves, at their change of attitude and conviction. I cannot understand how expert naval opinion upon the number of cruisers required in particular areas to assure our food supplies can be influenced by the agreement of other Powers to the Kellogg Pact, especially when it has unhappily been followed in almost every case by a marked increase in naval armaments and an increased interest in naval strategy.
I can understand that the argument about improved conditions of peace might well influence the Government and the House of Commons, but I do not see how it is relevant to the purely technical calculations on which all the previous advice of the expert advisers has been based. There is, however, one explanation which suggests itself. Fifty large cruisers of modern type might give us as great a measure of security as 70 cruisers, a large proportion of which were small, old and obsolete. But this explanation is largely swept from us by the extraordinary provision about the 91,000 tons, the significance of which was only realised by the country after the Treaty was made public. Under this provision we are forbidden for the next five years to build up even to our replacement quota of cruisers within the tonnage which is still allowed to us, and we are allowed to build only 91,000 tons. Therefore, during that period we shall be making replacements approximately at 20 years life instead of at 16 years life. I see no objection to extending the life of cruisers by treaty to 20 years, provided that that condition is simultaneously obligatory on every other party signatory to the treaty. But what are we to say to a provision which compels us, whose cruiser fleet is already largely obsolete, and is also our life and 2110 protection, to rebuild cruisers after only 20 years, while other parties to the agreement are authorised immediately to replace upon a 16 years basis?
Thus we are neither to have numbers nor quality. We are deliberately to be made to allow the main character of our cruiser fleet to degenerate into Obsolescence, while other Powers will be increasing theirs in numbers and modernity, and when the United States will be making enormous and feverish additions to her naval strength. After more than 20 years close connection with these matters, I am astonished that any Admiralty board of naval officers could have been found to accept responsibility—and it is a very grave responsibility—for such a ham-stringing stipulation. The effect is obvious, and I hope that the House marks very carefully the effect; it is to make it certain that our cruiser forces will be reduced to inferiority before the Treaty comes up for revision in 1935 or 1936. That undoubtedly must be considered by us in estimating the importance of the review which we will give to these matters in 1935 or 1936. By then we shall have definitely become the second naval Power.
British affairs, naval and other, have, I think, suffered from lack of will power, through lack of confidence in ourselves or in our duty, and lack of national conviction as to our course. Other countries have their plans and resolves. We drift, seeking the easiest way out, the smoothest course, and taking the line of least resistance. Other countries, much weaker countries, do not hesitate to state their views and intentions and to stand by them. Do they suffer for it? No; they are respected, and deference is shown to their views. We are the passive matrix on which others imprint their claims. Nevertheless, we have not yet reached the position where we need fear to state our views and intentions plainly and resolutely. I have dealt with some of the disadvantages of this Treaty, but what are we going to gain by it? It is called a Treaty of Disarmament. Whom does it disarm? Japan? Japan has secured an increase of her ratio, and she approaches now to within 30 per cent. of the cruiser strength of the British Empire, which is scattered all over the globe. France and Italy? They have gone off to embark, perhaps, on a serious naval 2111 rivalry between themselves, which will be the cause of much anxiety to other Powers.
The United States are, of course, making the greatest naval expansion that has been seen. The only Power to be disarmed is the Power which has already disarmed the most; the only navy to be cut down is the Navy of the country that cannot live without sea-borne food. We are told that a great deal of money has been saved. The Prime Minister mentioned £50,000,000, but I have seen £70,000,000 claimed as the saving to the taxpayer in the next five years to be effected by this Treaty. What truth is there in that? The Government's position is that we must build what, in accordance with their views, is the absolute minimum compatible with safety, excluding the United States. We should have had to do that, anyhow, neither more nor less.
What, then, have we saved on it? "Ah," we are told, "we have not got to replace great battleships." I approve of the extension of the life of battleships, it has always been our aim, and we would also have been very glad to see that important additional measures were taken to secure a substantial reduction in their size; but supposing that no agreement had been made and that we had built no more battleships after 1931? Is it certain that the United States would have built any? I think it would be very difficult for the United States to build a series of new and monster battleships if they were the only ones that were being constructed in the world. It would not be difficult through any lack of material or any lack of resources, but it would be difficult because of the moral outlook of very large masses of the population of the United States, and immense opposition would gather against such a policy. This moral resistance would in this case have been re-enforced by practical arguments of the highest significance, namely, that air power, as it increases, will seal the doom of these £8,000,000 or £9,000,000 monsters. Whether that be right or not I am not saying, but at any rate it is an argument which is much supported in the United States, and it seems to me that we need have taken no steps to renew our battle fleet until other Powers embarked on new building.
2112 Therefore, I conclude, but I am only in the region of conjecture, that the agreement reached on battleships is not the result of a bargain or the fruits of this Conference, but the results of the conviction in many quarters, and especially in the United States, that giant battleships are following the mammoth into extinction. Then what money has been saved by signing the Treaty? There is no question of our reducing our normal Estimates by £50,000,000 or £70,000,000, spread over five years. There never was a question of doing more than averting an expenditure which had not yet arrived, and I submit to the House that it is very probable that this new battleship construction would never have come to pass. There is, however, one great prize which might have been gained by this Treaty, which, if gained, would make amends for much. We ask ourselves whether this immense surrender on our part, this sacrifice to which Mr. Stimson has borne unstinted witness, will end the naval controversy between Great Britain and the United States? Shall we reach the position where British and Americans will not worry any more about each other's fleets and leave off ceaselessly comparing them, gun for gun and ton for ton? [Interruption.] But we cannot blame the British Nation for being anxious on this matter. After all, we see the Senate of the United States holding the most strict inquiry, examining its officers and representatives, summoning before it admirals and experts, and spending we do not know how many weeks in the most searching examination of every detail of a matter which, after all, is infinitely less important to them than it is in our case. Therefore, you cannot blame us for worrying while we are forced to consider propositions of this kind.
I confess that I would, to end this naval controversy between the two English-speaking peoples, pay a great price—[Interruption.]—but not any price. But will this Agreement achieve it? [Interruption.] I am submitting a reasoned argument to the House and I have not been hurrying, because I really think one ought not to hurry over this. I ask again, Will this agreement achieve it? That is the crux of our discussion. I fear, on the contrary, that this Agreement is only the beginning of a protracted and delicate and difficult controversy 2113 between the two countries on technical naval details. Look at the disputes which arose about the simple Washington Agreement. Look at the bitterness which was exhibited about the elevation of the guns, and questions of that kind, and how often we were told that the clever British diplomatists and experts had "pulled the wool" over the eyes of their cousins across the ocean. Look at the bitterness about that simple matter, and conceive what a field for controversy is opened by this enormously complicated Agreement, extending as it does to so many classes of vessel. I fear deeply that this Treaty will create misunderstandings and heart burnings. It has already created misunderstandings and heart burnings on each side of the Atlantic which will hinder and not help the march of the great verities and unities of the English-speaking world. If that be so, all our sacrifices will have been made in vain.
It would have been better to have said that we could not accept numerical parity, because it takes no account of the conditions of our life; it would have been far better to have said, "Let us each build as little as possible and act in a neighbourly manner. Let us each build what we think we require. We are sure that our fleets, however constituted, however contrasted, will, if they act at all, in all human probability act together." That would have been a far wiser answer to have given. The right hon. Gentleman has asked, what would be the effect of giving such an answer on the building of other Powers? He said they would start building, and a repercussion would have been drawn from the United States and another from ourselves. But all that is taking place now. The United States are engaged in building, the Japanese have been given an increase in their ratio; naval construction is going on everywhere, and all that is happening is that we, and we alone, are barred.
Since the War the relations of Great Britain and the United States have become to a very large extent the politics of the world. We in Great Britain can clearly see the course which we should take. We ought to strive to unite the British Empire or British Commonwealth of Nations as closely as possible into one effective whole, so that we can co-operate with the other great 2114 branch of the English-speaking peoples on equal terms and as equal partners in high endeavour and equal guardians of peace and progress among all nations. But equality is the foundation of that co-operation. There is the path of safety and honour for all. It is now to be impeded most gravely by action which, though well intentioned, is wrongly conceived and improvidently executed, and I urge upon the House that a far more stringent examination of this issue should be made by Parliament before we commit ourselves to what is certainly a lamentable and may well be an irrevocable decision.
§ Mr. GEORGE LAMBERT
It is always with great regret that I find myself in collision with the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). I was under him at the Admiralty, and served with him for some years, and it seems to me that, so far as the Liberal party is concerned, he has deserted our camp. I agree with him that we want, if we can, to improve the relations between the great United States and the British Empire, but surely that is far better done by a Treaty of Arbitration than by a meticulous examination of the strength of the United States Navy. My right hon. Friend has examined the United States Navy. That examination is going on in the Senate of the United States at the present moment. I have here quotations from the remarks of Senators in the United States who are cavilling at the great superiority that is left to the British Navy. For my part, I value goodwill and good relations with the United States far more than any battleships or cruisers or submarines, and I believe that the Prime Minister did a great work when he brought about better relations between the United States and ourselves, and congratulate him upon that. My right hon. Friend must know that relations between his Government and the United States were chilly and cold before last May. I am glad they have been brought into a better state. When he argues whether we have had the best or the worst of the bargain, that is exactly what United States Senators are saying over there.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
It is a pretty difficult matter. I could give my right hon. Friend 2115 a good many facts from the United States Senate. Here is a quotation from Senator Johnson. I know that my right hon. Friend has much greater knowledge than Senator Johnston. Senator Johnson said:I have heard, for instance, that the Nelson and the Rodney were of such power that they could wipe out the whole American Fleet.That is exactly the same as my right hon. Friend has been saying. Let me give another quotation. I hope that my right hon. Friend will come to see that arbitration is better than the war mind. I want to get out of the war mind. I speak as an older man than the right hon. Gentleman, though not so old in administrative experience. Another Senator was saying that the United States have not parity with Great Britain because the British mercantile marine is so much larger than the United States mercantile marine, and he was asked:Is it your suggestion that in order to have parity with Great Britain the United States must have a larger navy than Great Britain, and if so how many cruisers should we need to offset Great Britain's greater merchant tonnage?That is the kind of question being asked over there. Of course, we always welcome my right hon. Friend's great naval knowledge. [Laughter.] Oh, no, no! The right hon. Gentleman did a very great work at the Admiralty before the War, and we should never forget that. I am always sorry to find myself in collision with him. There is one other point which I want to clear up, and that is that the Board of Admiralty must be the judges in these matters. The Board of Admiralty, composed of distinguished men, are the servants of the nation, and not the masters of the nation.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
That is not the point. The real point is, has the Government of the day the support of the House of Commons? That is the real point. [Interruption.] If my hon. Friends will allow me to say so, I had a good deal of experience at the Admiralty. I was there for something like 10 years. If you are going to make the Board of Admiralty the masters of the nation, why not also the Army Council, or the Air 2116 Council? As a matter of fact, the First Lord of the Admiralty is the keystone of the Admiralty arch. He is responsible to this House, and this House could dismiss the First Lord of the Admiralty to-morrow. If a Motion to reduce his salary were carried, he would have to go, and the whole Board of Admiralty would go. The responsibility for policy and the strength of the Navy cannot depend upon the official members of the Board of Admiralty; it must depend upon the civilian members, as represented by the Government of the day and the First Lord of the Admiralty.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
The Sea Lords are there to advise the Government of the day upon questions of naval strategy, but the policy must depend upon the Government. I can quite understand the First Lord of the Admiralty saying to his naval experts, "We expect danger from this country or that." That is the point that he must put to them. But for them to say, "We have not security all over the world" is a doctrine which really will not hold water in this constitutionally governed country. What enemies are the Board of Admiralty to meet? Are they to meet everyone? Are they to meet all the nations of the world? What is to be the standard? Let us get back to the constitutional point. The First Lord of the Admiralty is responsible, and, so long as he is responsible, the House of Commons has absolute control over the policy. To make the Board of Admiralty responsible would, of course, be perfectly hopeless. I was a little astonished to hear this argument from the last speaker, because I know that he welcomed expert opinion when he agreed with it, though there were times when he did not quite agree with it. For my part, I refuse altogether to consider meticulously these estimates of strength as between ourselves and the United States. I cannot understand why they have been made here this afternoon, because we have been told over and over again that war between ourselves and the United States is unthinkable. If that be so, why bring in these comparisons? I really cannot understand it, and I do not think that it adds to good relations between the Powers. I listened 2117 to the Leader of the Opposition speaking at, I think, one of the Pilgrim dinners. He said:We shall never build against the United States of America.If that be so, why compare the Fleets? Really, my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the House are not so bad as they try to make themselves out to be. They wanted to negotiate a naval treaty at Geneva. They failed. I am sorry that they failed, and I am very glad that the present Government have made a step in advance. My complaint, however, about the Government, is not that they have done too much, but that they have done too little. I really think that, if the Prime Minister had taken a different course in the early part of his administration, he would have done much better. As an American journalist put it, if he had gone to Washington via Paris, he would not have offended French susceptibilities. As it is, the Naval Treaty is in the air. If the French or the Italians began to build, we should have to begin to build, and I really think that from that point of view the Naval Treaty does not go far enough. I do say that, although we have done a great work in the reduction of our armaments, efforts must still be made to go further.
There is one subject that has not yet been referred to in this Debate, and that is the Versailles Treaty. We are bound by that Treaty to reduce our armaments. If we do not reduce our armaments, how can we expect Germany to carry out her pledges and the conditions of that Treaty? For my part, I really think that the nations of Europe have not carried out their obligations to Germany in this matter of disarmament, and we may expect repercussions later. I welcome all these reductions of armaments, because I believe that the late War was largely caused by competion in armaments; and I welcome them also because of finance. To-day we are spending £110,000,000 on armaments. Surely that is enough and far more than enough, after a terrible, devastating war. I regard finance as being much more important to-day than armaments. I do not believe for one moment that we have given sufficient consideration to finance. I believe we are spending far too much 2118 money to-day in this country. Our taxation is far too heavy, and anything that will reduce it, I should be very glad to welcome. This Treaty, if it reduces expenditure, I shall be very glad to welcome with both hands. I do not know if hon. Members realise it, but during the late War we were in a very parlous state as regards finance. A photograph is to be seen in New York of the cheque which our representatives, in April, 1917, signed on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, for 200,000,000 dollars; but no one knew whether it would be honoured or not until the American Cabinet had decided to honour it. Therefore, I say that finance is one of the most important parts of our, shall I say, war strength. I am very glad indeed that the Government are saving money on armaments. I wish they could save very much more.
There is just another point that I want to mention, and that is about Japan. I have watched these negotiations with a very great deal of interest, and I think that the great nation of Japan has always played the game with England. It fulfilled its treaty obligations in the War, and, when the Alliance was denounced, the Japanese did not take umbrage. I want to ask the Prime Minister and the First Lord of the Admiralty, are they going on with the naval base at Singapore? That is a question to which I should like to have an answer. Here is the opinion of the chief Japanese delegate. I got this from a newspaper of the 12th January, 1930. The chief Japanese delegate said:It is true that the people of Japan do not like the construction of a strong naval base, such as Singapore, in the Pacific. We are friends. Why should our friends come and build this thing at our gates our people ask.[Interruption.] It is their gate; it is 3,000 miles away. At any rate, why are we building it? I earnestly press upon the Prime Minister the necessity of suspending, if possible, the work on this naval base. Surely having signed an arbitration treaty with Japan we are not going to spend millions of money on a naval base at Singapore. So far as I am concerned I welcome the Treaty so far as it goes. I am sorry that it does not go further; I wish that it did go further. The Prime Minister, however, in his speech came down to what 2119 I thought was a very pianissimo tone. It was quite a different speech from those which were made by the delegates when His Majesty opened the Conference in another place. I congratulate him so far as it goes. It is a step forward. It is only a halting step, but I hope we shall march still further towards the goal of disarmament.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has a habit of making very controversial speeches in this House, of refusing to give way to hon. Members who, I think, have some right occasionally to express an opinion on a technical question, and then disappearing. This is the second time that we have discussed this question of the British Navy and relations with other Powers, and each time the right hon. Gentleman has come down here and made a flamboyant speech and has then run away out of the House. I think that that is treating the House with great disrespect, and that it is time that a protest was made.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) will forgive me if I do not follow him in any detail, but I do not think there is one word that he said with which Members on this side of the House would not be wholly in agreement, especially in regard to Singapore. As my right hon. Friend knows, however, any change in policy with regard to Singapore has to be arranged with the Dominions, and it is an unfortunate fact that the Admiralty and the Government have been shackled by the previous Administration in a matter that should have been very carefully examined into, and I think it will bear exposure. We have had to find ways of getting out of this difficulty, but it is, of course, the fact that, as the Prime Minister said, to put it no higher, it is doubtful whether the great nations of the world will decide to continue to build hyper-super-Dreadnoughts. Even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping has his doubts on that matter, and in these circumstances, surely, even the party which has come to be known jocularly in the country as the "Stupid Party" will not be prepared to spend the taxpayers' money to the extent of £10,000,000, as will be necessary if you include the accompanying military, naval and aerial 2120 defences, batteries and so on, on a battleship base at Singapore for battleships which in five or six years' time will be wiped out of the world's navies by mutual agreement. It is like a man building a huge garage when he intends to give up motor cars and take to aeroplanes instead.
May I be allowed, with great humility, to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, first of all, on his achievement, which was a very great personal triumph, and the most important part of which was that he carried through this Treaty, which he admits was only partially successful, without any rupture between the delegates, and all of them left London with at any rate good feelings towards this country; while, in the case of the great Power on the other side of the Atlantic, his action in visiting America and his conduct of the negotiations have undoubtedly improved relations between us and America to a very great extent. My right hon. Friend is, as we all know, very firm and strong on certain aspects of policy, but he also knows how to use the soft words of diplomacy, and they were very useful on this occasion. If he will allow me to say so, his speech to-day was an example of great persuasiveness, and, combined with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, it almost reconciled me to the Treaty itself. My right hon. Friend, if I may be allowed to add this sentence—and I said this when I was not in his party—when he was Foreign Secretary in 1924, achieved great things in improving our relations with every Power on the mainland of Europe, and I believe he has achieved as great a victory now in improving our relations with America. We shall see the fruits of his endeavours, not now, but in years to come, and in years to come we shall have need, I daresay, of all our friends. In fact, the Prime Minister, whatever we may think about this Treaty, should receive the praise that the Roman General Varro received because he did not despair of the Republic.
I am wondering if the House noticed that at one time the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping was trying to terrorise us by saying the American Navy might dispose of a fleet more powerful than our own, and a little later he said the 2121 United States Navy had always been omitted from our calculations. The First Lord of the Admiralty in the Government of the late Mr. Asquith took no account of the United States Navy, and that was admitted again to-day by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping. How can we account for these two conflicting points of view? There is only one explanation, and it explains the reading of that obsolete and out-of-date telegram which some of my hon. Friends took so seriously. The right hon. Gentleman was engaged in what the Germans call schadenfreude—the love of making mischief and trouble—and that is the only thing he can do now, fortunately. There was not one constructive suggestion in the speech.
It was a most extraordinary example of lack of appreciation of the value of our mercantile marine. He says our incomparable mercantile marine, one-third of all the merchant shipping of the world, must not be considered as any asset for us at all, and yet this is the right hon. Gentleman who was First Lord of the Admiralty when the tenth cruiser squadron was formed of merchant ships which did most valuable service in carrying on blockade service in the Northern oceans. He was the right hon. Gentleman who led men drawn from the mercantile marine and wasted them at Antwerp with insufficient equipment. He does not know that, without the mercantile marine and the trawlers, the Grand Fleet could hardly have gone to sea, the submarines could not have been combatted, and we should have lost the War. Having forgotten all these things, for the sake of making a party point against the First Lord and the Prime Minister, he says you have no business to take the mercantile marine into account. Of course, you must take the mercantile marine into account. If, by some lucky stroke of commonsense on the part of the Governments of the world, every war vessels could be scrapped by mutual agreement and we had no regular Navy, we should be incomparably the strongest naval power. The lower you cut down the navies of the maritime Powers, the stronger we become, as long as we preserve our mercantile marine, and see that there are not too many Chinese and Arabs under the British flag.
2122 This is the point I wished to put to the right hon. Gentleman when he unfairly refused to give way. I have always given way to him or to anyone who wished to put a serious point. He wanted to make play of the fact that Mr. Stimson, in his evidence in to-day's "Times," described how he had got permission to raise the elevation of the American guns. The explanation is very simple. It is that we had the "Rodney" and the "Nelson," two vessels built by agreement after the 1921 Washington Treaty, with maximum elevation for their heavy guns. They were able to fire at longer range than the United States vessels and, for the sake of theoretical parity, it was quite reasonable that the American Navy should be allowed to elevate their guns. It is obviously impossible to get actual parity between navies. You can no more get parity between navies than between racehorses, in fact rather less. So much depends on personnel, on the duties to be carried out, on the resources of the mercantile marine, on oversea bases and on shipbuilding resources, on how much is spent on training and sea and target practice that you cannot get actual parity.
I am inclined to press on the Prime Minister that the search for parity can be dangerous. There was this much of truth in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, that parity in itself, unless you have a political agreement, may lead to another and a dangerous form of rivalry. Actual parity between navies, especially in such a different position as ours and the United States, is utterly impossible of attainment. In fact, I am told that at the Naval Conference there was so much bickering between the naval experts as to which fleet was the stronger, the Americans saying ours was, and we saying that theirs was, that some bright spirit suggested that we should exchange fleets—a good judgment of Solomon. I am glad to see that the story has reached Admiral Pratt and that he has told the American Senate that he would not swop his fleet for ours.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The hon. Baronet is quite right—when they have spent 1,000,000,000 dollars. The most necessary thing is to have an agreement. That we have and on that we can 2123 now work. But before we can get a real reduction in armaments, there are a great many misconceptions which will have to be cleared out of the way. First of all, is it absolutely necessary that we must build up to the scale of tonnage laid down in the Treaty because if we are going to build cruisers up to 339,000 tons, it will mean laying down in the next four years 13 or 14 cruisers, at very great cost. If we are going to follow the American example and build 6-inch gun cruisers of just under 10,000 tons—we have built far larger cruisers in the past to carry 6-inch guns than 10,000 tons, and very unsuccessful they were—then it will be nine or 10 very large cruisers. But why must we begin to build up to this agreed ratio? Why not wait to see what happens? When this Treaty has passed through the sieve of the Senate, something else has to happen at Washington. The Naval Appropriation Bill has to be passed.
This part of the statement of Admiral Pratt was not quoted by the right hon. Gentleman. The cost of achieving parity, if we all build up to what we can build up to permissively under the Treaty, is for the American nation 1,071,000,000 dollars. For us it will undoubtedly mean Supplementary Estimates this year. It will mean three or four cruisers a year for the next four years. Then there is the destroyer question. It will mean 12 or 13 destroyers a year from now onwards. We shall have to begin submarine building in the same way when we do not know that the American people will find the money to build up to parity with us. I am hoping that, while the Senate may ratify the Treaty, the American people will refuse to find the appropriations for the tremendous expansion of the fleet. If you look at the figures of the fleet now and as it will be if they build up to parity, it is a tremendous expansion. Why should we set the example? In 1924 I felt it my duty to attack the Prime Minister on his proposal to lay down the five cruisers. I believe, if he had known everything that he knows now, and if he had been in a stronger position—he was in a weaker position as a minority Government than now—he would have called a halt and delayed the laying down of those five cruisers. I know it was a cutting down 2124 of the previous Government's intention, but it started the race.
I do not want to see this new type of 10,000 ton 6-inch gun cruisers started in America, because there are people who will demand that we shall build similar cruisers. They are like women who see other women in the streets in new fashions. I beg of the Prime Minister and the First Lord to hold their hands and to see what happens in America. In Japan there has been a conflict between the naval staff and the Cabinet. I hope the Cabinet will win. The Japanese people are overtaxed, and they are hit by the same trade depression that has been so detrimental to the labour market in this country. I hope the Japanese people will also refuse to find the money, but I have a greater hope still, that the Foreign Secretary's efforts at Geneva will be successful and that he will build on the foundation laid by the Prime Minister, and that France and Italy will come to the agreement that they were unable to be brought to in London, and that the Italian and French programmes will remain programmes on paper.
I am still hopeful—we must be optimistic in these matters—that the League of Nations, through the Preparatory Commission on Disarmament will now, after this question of the battleship and tonnage has been settled, draw up a treaty for disarmament to make it possible for all nations to agree upon a lower total tonnage. We may find that we may have to scrap ships built at great cost because of the atmosphere of the next few years. I make this request to the Government. First of all, there should be no Supplementary Estimates this year, as foreshadowed in the statement of the First Lord in introducing his Estimates. They are unnecessary. The very fact that the Americans, if they are to achieve parity, have to spend 1,000,000,000 dollars shows the immense advantage that our Navy has, in spite of the moans and complaints of the right hon. Member for Epping. We are immensely strong in comparison with the navies of any other Power, and with the American Navy in particular. I hope that 1935 is not to be the year of the Conference. I hope that if Italy and France can be brought to agreement and we are able to come to an agreement, another conference will take place much 2125 sooner. That is a very important matter. If the atmosphere is suitable in America—and I believe it will be, if they are faced with the immense expansion of the American Navy at a cost of 1,000,000,000 dollars to the American taxpayers—and we are faced with a considerable increase of our own Estimates, it, will be possible to have an earlier conference. I hope that certain matters will then be dealt with in regard to which it has not been possible to seek agreement in the present Treaty.
I am coming straightaway to the particular question which, I hope, will be dealt with as soon as possible. Article 22 of the Treaty is altogether unsatisfactory. I refer to the new rules for the use of submarines in warfare against merchant shipping. I hold in my hand a letter from the National Union of Seamen speaking for 80,000 British seamen, and I make no excuse for quoting it. These are the men who received the thanks of this House after the War, and they are all aware of the terrible sufferings caused during the late War by submarine attack. They asked me if I will kindly refer—to our anxiety respecting the meaning of that Article. It appears to us as merchant seamen that we are Still in the same position of danger that we were in during the late War. We are very anxious to know that in any treaty respecting the discussion of naval armaments, the interests of merchant seamen will be fully safeguarded and that they may not suffer the untold hardships they suffered in the past.The letter is signed by the General Secretary of the National Union of Seamen on behalf of the management committee. I ask the First Lord of the Admiralty to give careful attention to this protest, which I do not take lightly. What are the grounds of complaint? Under these rules a submarine commander will be permitted, in certain circumstances, to sink a vessel on the high seas and allow the crew to take to the doubtful safety of open boats, providing that the proximity of land is such that they are not in danger. Who is to be the judge of the proximity of land? An open boat voyage has at times taken six weeks. In the late War some of the ships which were sunk were thousands of miles from land and indescribable suffering was caused. Their crews, in some cases, reached land in open boats, but in other cases they died of hunger and thirst. The submarine commander is to 2126 be the judge of the proximity of land. In former rules drawn up at Washington in 1921 relating to submarine warfare the commander who broke the law could be tried as a pirate. This provision has been wiped out. [Interruption.] It was never ratified, I know. These rules are a deterioration. The acts of the German submarines in the War were illegalities. During three centuries of sailing ship warfare the war vessels and the privateers in all those wars had a rough chivalry of the sea, in which the merchant seamen, when his ship was taken prize, was always made a prisoner and kept in a position of safety. He was never turned adrift in the old sailing days. That was the chivalry of the sea in the old days, and it was not until the Germans broke it under the special plea of necessity in the late War that this dishonour was committed. We are allowing a very wide loophole for the same practices in a future war.
I am not making a reflection upon the Prime Minister or upon his fellow-delegates in this matter. I am sure that they did their very best, but I hope that this question will be attended to in future conferences, which, I trust, will soon take place. The answer may be, "Ah, yes, it is no use having any rules of war. What does it matter whether you have rules or not?" I would remind those who say that, that the Germans broke the rules of war, and they brought America into the war against them. And I have heard it said that the man who sank the "Lusitania" won the War. The rules of war in the past were very faithfully observed. One rule was that a vessel must not be condemned and sunk but taken into the prize court. The captain of the cruiser capturing the merchant ship was not to be the judge in his own case as to whether she was good prize or not. There is a great deterioration in these rules.
It may be said, "Is it not far better to abolish submarines altogether" I agree, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty upon making his effort to have the submarine abolished. He would have had more success if he had been prepared to abolish the battleship as well in return and in exchange. I know that he tried to have the figures reduced there and that other nations stood in the way. 2127 In the meantime, as long as the submarine exists, I regret the deterioration of the rules which have been agreed to. I hope that they will be amended at the earliest possible moment either through the machinery of the League of Nations, or other international conference, or some other way. Even if we abolish the submarine, there is another great danger to merchant shipping in a future war. We have to envisage future war, or we would not be maintaining such huge Naval forces. I am prepared to back up the League of Nations, and I believe in the League of Nations, and I believe that the Kellogg Pact for the outlawry of war has transformed the whole international situation; but the very fact that we are discussing this Treaty with its heavy tonnage of war vessels shows that war in the minds of the Committee of Imperial Defence is, at any rate, still possible.
There is another menace to merchant shipping in a future war, and it would affect us as neutrals. If some future war occurs through a gap in the League of Nations, when arbitration and like measures have failed, we may be badly treated as neutrals, just as the neutrals were treated in the late War. All their shipping was decimated. The aeroplane will, in a future war, be used against merchant ships as the law stands to-day. The sanction behind these laws and rules is the fear of the neutrals intervening. I do not make these suggestions in a critical sense at all, and I hope that they will be taken note of by those who have this great responsibility.
I do not care to make criticisms after a great international Conference, but I must make two observations. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the First Lord of the Admiralty will not close their minds on the subject of what is called the battleship. There is no such thing as a battleship, really. This is quite a modern term. Your capital ship is your strongest ship in any part of the sea. You may have a campaign like the campaign in the Caspian Sea in the aftermath of the late War against Bolshevist forces where the capital ships were light gun-boats. On Lake Victoria Nyanza a motor-boat put together in sections, with gun mountings, was made the capital ship and it took control of the lake. It was able to drive 2128 off the paddle-steamers and so on. That was the capital ship. Cruisers can fight battles and so can destroyers.
This point in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman rather alarmed me. It is said, "If you agree future that you will not have a larger tonnage than 10,000 tons, you will start a new competition in a new type of vessel." If my Lords of the Admiralty can get successive Governments to increase the size of battleships—the Dreadnought was only 18,000 tons; the Nelson and the Rodney 35,000 tons—why do they not get them to agree to come down. I believe we suggested a willingness to agree to 25,000 tons, with 12-inch guns, as the main armament. That would be a new type.
It will be unfortunate if we let it be understood that we are opposed to a very drastic reduction in the tonnage of warships after 1935–1936. There are very strong technical reasons for the smaller war vessel. I will content myself with one only. Your great battleship needs a tremendous number of small vessels, mine-sweepers, destroyers, seaplanes, aeroplanes and so on. During the height of the submarine campaign when every cruiser and destroyer was almost worth its weight in gold, the Grand Fleet, because it was composed of great super-Dreadnoughts, had to have 80 to 100 torpedo boat destroyers and 50 or 60 cruisers to escort and mother it when it went to sea. The more battleships you have, the more auxiliary vessels and cruisers you require for protection. It is said that it is only by this very large tonnage that you can make battleships invulnerable to torpedo or aeroplane attack. That is true up to a point. If nobody has the large battleship, it does not matter at all. We shall be no worse off.
If we could have wiped out battle fleets altogether, we could, on the calculation of Lord Jellicoe, save 25 cruisers straight away without weakening our defences. He put forward a theory which has not been challenged, that for every three battleships you should have five cruisers to scout, for them and to screen them. There is no reason why the tonnage should not drastically be reduced in future. Although it is a fact that the German battleship or capital ship "Ersaty Preüssen," or "Admiral Von Scheer" as it is now to be called, 2129 possesses very novel features, it is possible on that tonnage to make a very powerful ship. We have no guarantee that the same novel principles and the same kind of internal-combustion engines now applied to that vessel will not be used in bigger ships, too. My right hon. Friend, I know, has not closed his mind to this matter, because he gave a very satisfying hint in the latter part of his speech that the continued hope of the Government is that the battleship will be finally abolished by mutual agreement.
I warn the First Lord and the Prime Minister to beware of the seduction of technical arguments. The study of technical controversies is very fascinating, and one is rather apt to become a protagonist of one class of vessel. I am afraid that the First Lord is becoming so in regard to the battleship. I ask him to adopt a judicial attitude and think not only as the civil head of a great Service, with romantic associations, a great example of practical Socialism, but also of the British taxpayer and the effect of the continuance of these great armaments on the work of the League of Nations and on nations like Germany, which have been disarmed under the Peace Treaties. I regret that an arrangement was come to between the British and the American delegates to prevent any discussion of what is known as the freedom of the seas.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The Foreign Secretary in answer to a question in this House. They came to a decision not to discuss it. I am not giving away any secrets. First the Americans said we would not allow it to be discussed, and we said the Americans would not allow us to. Now it appears there was a mutual understanding that this was too dangerous a topic to be discussed at the moment. We have Article 22 instead. One thing which is required is the education of public opinion in this country to accept the freedom of the seas as part of the peace structure throughout the world. I know the Prime Minister's views on this matter, and I do not want to do him the courtesy to quote from his writing. I could quote far more eloquent passages than anything I can say to the effect that there can be no lasting agreement between us 2130 and the United States on the mere basis of tons and guns and ratios. But this is a question which will have to be discussed and discussed publicly. In other countries the same Governments will not always be in office. I am looking myself for great results from a change of government in more than one Continental country, and we must let them know that the Labour Government of this country, though it has had to give way on this valuable point because the forces against it were very great, still holds that this path will have to be followed if real disarmament and lasting peace is to be achieved. These are the few and humble suggestions that I desire to make in a most friendly way. The right hon. Gentleman knows, and we know, that we are not satisfied with this Treaty, but at the same time we appreciate the difficulties and we believe that he will do better next time.
§ Colonel GRETTON
We have listened with some patience and interest to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), and there is no one in this House, or elsewhere, who will not agree with his criticism of Article 22 of the Naval Treaty. The rules for the regulation of submarine warfare are entirely illusory and are not likely to be kept by any Power which is hard pressed in war. The hon. and gallant Member has expressed general agreement with the Naval Treaty, but someone has furnished me with an article which appears under his name in a paper called "Everyman," published on the 1st of May. After a few preliminary observations on where the Naval Conference failed, he says:The Washington Treaty resulted from the greatest and most successful disarmament conference ever held.He goes on to compare it with the conference at St. James's Palace. In the course of his remarks he says:The corresponding Japanese Fleet of 167,000 tons is to be increased to 209,000 tons. The increase to be provided for the American Fleet is astounding. Her existing cruiser squadron of 90,500 tons is to be increased to 323,500 tons.Under the heading "Widening the Gap," he says:Italy and France have parted in polite enmity, with their mutual relations far worse than before the conference opened.2131 Under the heading "Fictitious Economy," he sums up in this way:We may look for little actual cash savings in the present level of our own Naval Estimates, the Japanese must face an increase in theirs, and the Americans a very substantial addition to what their taxpayers must provide in Naval Appropriations.That is very like the speech he has just made. The hon. and gallant Member agrees largely with the main line of criticism in this House, and if they had not been made from this side of the House he would have probably said the same thing from his place. I am not a naval man, although I have taken great interest in the Navy all my life and I am not going into technical details. I would represent, however, for the consideration of the House that the Naval Conference of London has failed. The intention was to secure a Five Power agreement. The Prime Minister and other Ministers have repeatedly made statements to that effect and in such a form that many people believed until the end of the Conference that no agreement would be entered into unless it was a Five Power agreement and that a Three Power agreement would not be satisfactory. A question was asked as late as the 19th March and the answer was still the same. I have listened with great attention to the Debate, and all the speakers who have contributed to the discussion have agreed upon one point, and that is that it is not necessary for us to have an agreement with the United States because in their view there can be no war under present conditions between us and that great country. What is the use, therefore, of a Naval agreement with the United States, and that is the one achievement which the Prime Minister can claim as a result of this Conference.
How has it been brought about? It has been brought about by scaling down the British Navy to the size which suits the United States, and getting Japan to agree to a balance in certain categories of 60 per cent. instead of 70 per cent. of the next strongest power which Japan desired. We have an agreement which admittedly sacrifices our Naval power. It has never been explained, but I hope it will be by the First Lord of the Admiralty, why the number of cruisers required for the safety of the Empire 2132 can safely be reduced from 70 to 50. When the original Admiralty estimate was made of 80 cruisers, in 1921, after the closest examination and some considerable argument on the ground of economy and the existing state of the world the number was reduced to 70, minimum. What has happened, since, except the Kellogg Pact? That is the only reason, and it is a reason which convinces nobody who seriously considers the situation. The Kellogg Pact is merely a pious expression of opinion. It carries neither force nor guarantee, and following this Naval Pact every Naval Power has increased its Navy except ourselves. We have cut down our Navy to a position of inferiority.
It is very unfortunate that when considering the question of naval strength required it seems to have been forgotten that we are in a dual position. America is isolated and far removed from those parts of the world where powder magazines explode and cause ware between nations. Those who study the operations of a battle fleet consider that they cannot operate 3,000 miles away from their base, and, therefore, the vital question in dealing with distant powers is cruisers. The battle fleet can only be maintained on a base within a comparatively easy distance of the waters in which the rival fleets are expected to come into conflict. Therefore I cannot understand how hon. Members who profess to know naval questions can seriously argue in this House that Singapore is a menace to Japan as it is 3,000 miles away from any Japanese base or territory. We are reduced to a position of naval inferiority, and so great is the anxiety of the Government to give things away that they have bound us to 90,000 tons in cruisers, a point which has been alluded to by several hon. Members and particularly by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). I cannot understand why any such agreement was inserted. We are to build below the permitted scale without any such agreement that we must do so. If it is the Prime Minister's desire to flatten out the building programme so as to maintain an even flow of work to the dockyards and the private yards, it is going to be done at the sacrifice of some proportion of our power, until the time comes when the worn-out vessels have to be replaced.
2133 Why should we bind ourselves to do less than we are permitted to do and less than arty other country under the Three-Power agreement is permitted to do? We must remember that this country, as the centre of the British Empire and as its naval base, is brought into the orbit of the European Powers by its situation on the North Sea and on the borders of the coast of Europe. We cannot escape the consequences of that position; we are a European Power as regards naval questions, and the building of increased European navies is a matter of vital interest to us. It is foolish to say that we do not expect war with any other Power. Have we ever expected war? Since the days when the Plantagenet kings invaded France and sought to establish themselves on the French coast, have we ever in our history carried war on to the Continent? We have always been driven into war by circumstances and we have never been prepared. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is how we got our Empire!"] I am talking of European war and I say that we have never gone to war ourselves, but have always been driven into war in maintaining the balance of power and in supporting allies who were in danger of being overwhelmed or isolated. It has always hen our history on land and sea to be unready at the commencement of war. What nation which was planning war would be unready for war?
As a result of this naval Treaty, we are placed in the unfortunate position of having to watch closely the navies of the European Powers. There is no Five-Power agreement, and remember that outside of the Five Powers represented at the Conference, there are considerable naval forces in Europe. I do not know if hon. Members opposite read the French papers, but if they do they will know that French public opinion was profoundly stirred by the entry into the Mediterranean Sea of a new cruiser squadron, accompanied by destroyers, from Germany. There were, I think, five cruisers and a number of destroyers, making a tour of the Mediterranean, entering all the ports, and showing the German flag. Then there is the navy of Greece which though not a very large one, yet presents embarrassing possibilities of naval action in certain circumstances. Hon. Members opposite are 2134 probably aware also that the present Government in Russia maintains the largest land force in the world and infinitely the largest air force and that they are beginning to build a navy. All these things have to be taken into account. We are obliged to watch these movements and developments when we are in the position of having to go cap in hand and represent our circumstances to other Powers, if we desire for our own safety to make any increase which we consider necessary in any category, or in several categories, should an increased building programme become necessary for us. Difficulties and friction must result from arrangements by which our country is required to place herself in such a position.
We have already seen that the Naval Conference was unable to reach agreement. I have quoted the statement of the hon. and gallant Member for Hull and it is notorious that the Conference has actually led to increased rivalries in regard to naval strengths. Immediately following on the Conference the Italian Government announced their intention of laying down 27 additional vessels—a substantial increase of the building programme already undertaken. Actions of that kind will be watched most closely and jealously. We have gained nothing substantial from this Conference and it is a delusion to regard it as a step on the way to peace. To describe this Treaty as a Treaty of disarmament, is a mis-statement in terms, because the only power which has disarmed is the British Empire. From the time when these negotiations commenced, with the Prime Minister starting on his journey to the United States, until the closing days, these negotiations have been treated with great secrecy. Repeatedly, in this House and elsewhere, in reply to inquiries, we have been told that if we pressed those inquiries too far and sought too much information, we would endanger the success of the Conference. Therefore no substantial information has been given to us at any stage of these negotiations until near the end. We have had to learn about them, little by little, not from our own Ministers but from the foreign Press who have received their information from others in attendance at the Conference.
I am going to ask a question, about the answer to which I have myself very 2135 little doubt, but which is I think a question that ought to be put at this moment. This Treaty, which is dangerous to this country and to the British Empire, has been arrived at by secret diplomacy, and because of that secrecy I would ask if there is any sort of understanding between the Government and any other Power represented at the Conference, which has not yet been disclosed. I think that that is a question which could be answered and one which ought to be answered, in order to clear away any doubts which may exist upon the subject. I regard this Treaty as one which weakens the power of the British Empire and is of no benefit to this country. It is a Treaty which is calculated not to bring about disarmament, but to bring our country and our Government into ridicule and derision throughout the world.
§ Mr. MALCOLM MacDONALD
I think we all recognise, when we are reminded of the fact, that the Treaty which we are discussing has much greater significance than the details which have been the subject of Debate. There may be room for controversy about the 91,000 tons of replacement of cruisers, and about two or three of the other details, but those are very few details in a Treaty which is a mass of details, and I submit to the House that the effect of the Treaty, as a whole, on the mind and the spirit of the world, is quite beyond dispute. At any rate, I think it will not be disputed by anybody, except possibly the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton). He has put forward the theory that the Conference which has just been adjourned, has made much worse than they were before the relations between Italy and France. In support of that theory, he quoted an article written by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). I think he might have quoted far more effectively the speech delivered by Signor Grandi the other day during the discussion on the navy estimates in the Italian Parliament. He might have quoted effectively against his own argument the fact reported in the "Times" that Signor Grandi and M. Briand are, at this moment, engaged in the most 2136 cordial and amicable conversations in Geneva regarding the relations of the two countries.
I contend that the effect of the Treaty as a whole has been of great benefit to the peoples of the world. The five most formidable naval Powers have met and have exchanged views very frankly, and have come to a perfect understanding regarding their respective positions. They have put their signatures to a Treaty which goes a long way to stop competition altogether in naval building between the five Powers and completely stops competition between three of the most important of those Powers. The statesmen who attended that Conference have gone away determined that the Treaty which they signed is simply one step in a series of steps towards the ultimate objective of naval disarmament. I believe that the effect of that Treaty on the world has been enormously to reinforce the cause of peace. It has spread a sense of confidence between the nations and it has had the effect of putting fresh heart into all those persons who are working, in various fields, for the creation of a permanent and unassailable state of peace.
Despite that broad effect, there have been various criticisms of the Treaty in detail. There was the criticism levelled in the most friendly spirit by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert), who said that the Treaty did not go far enough in reduction. On this side of the House, we all agree very heartily with that sentiment. If the Treaty could have brought about greater reductions, by agreement, in the naval forces of the five Powers concerned, or even the three Powers mainly concerned in the Treaty, we should have welcomed that fact. If the Treaty had resulted in the complete abolition of all the navies of those five Powers, we should have been highly delighted, but we are dealing with practical possibilities arising out of the experiences of five different peoples, and I believe we can congratulate the Government on having achieved a very satisfactory and a praiseworthy measure of success. I have heard criticisms also among my own friends on this side that the Treaty does not establish any reduction in naval armaments. I dispute that view. The significant point which we have to consider in examining this question of reduction is that the 2137 Treaty will establish a certain position in 1936. It establishes that the size of the three main fleets shall reach certain proportions, and we have to consider what would have been the respective strengths of those three main navies, in 1936, if this Treaty had never been signed.
We have to consider not merely whether there is a reduction in the actual forces already existing on the oceans of the world, but whether the Treaty has not succeeded in bringing about a reduction in the prospective programmes of the various naval Powers, in the programmes which would have been carried into effect, and the ships which would have been launched had this Treaty not been signed. If we go through the controversies of the last six months and examine most of the claims made by the various countries concerned, we shall find that this Treaty has resulted in a very considerable reduction in the programmes of the three Powers who have come into the Three-Power agreement. I would remind the House of one instance. If I have read my newspapers correctly, even after conversations had started between the United States and ourselves, and even after negotiations had started, the Americans were asking for a minimum of 21 8-inch gun cruisers. The Americans, apart from this Treaty, had the right to build these 21 8-inch cruisers, and, therefore, the Japanese would have had to raise their cruiser fleet, and we should have had to build extra cruisers to secure equilibrium with the other Powers. Therefore, I contend that the negotiations in London during the Conference managed very effectively to reduce the programmes of naval building which the Powers had in mind and would have carried out between now and 1936. Consequently, this Treaty does bring about reduction in naval strength as well as establishing that even more important condition, a stoppage in naval building between the three naval Powers of the world.
A far more formidable series of criticisms has been levelled at the Naval Treaty from the spokesmen of the principal Opposition party. I hesitate to enter into a controversy with the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), though it is rather a relief to enter into controversy with him in his absence, but he laid down certain principles 2138 governing his opposition to the Naval Treaty, and, first of all, he criticised it on the question of parity. He disagreed with the Government as to what parity ought to consist of. He said that this Treaty recognises a certain kind of parity between America and ourselves. It is a parity which consists of one Fleet being as strong as another. It is a parity which consists of every category in one Fleet being the equivalent in strength of the opposite category in the other Fleet; and the right hon. Gentleman said that the parity which consisted of that and which simply recognised equality between two Fleets, irrespective of the duties to be carried out by those Fleets, was not the parity which ought to commend itself to Members of this House. I would remind the House that, if we had gone into the Naval Conference asking for the kind of parity for which the right hon. Gentleman said we should have asked, there would have been no five-Power or four-Power or three-Power agreement to-day. The British Government going into a Naval Conference demanding that kind of parity would have been simply asking for a complete deadlock and break-up of the Conference within the first week of its meeting. We could not have got other Powers to agree with that principle.
What enormous difficulties there would have been and insoluble problems if we had tried to calculate what that kind of parity meant to ships belonging to Great Britain and to the United States! We should have had to take into consideration trade routes, defence of our sources of food and other supplies. How are you going to calculate this distinction in terms of capital ships, cruisers, destroyers or submarines? [An HON. MEMBER: "The French did that."] The French figures were apparently unacceptable to the United States. If we had gone into a calculation of that kind of parity, we should never have had any signature to any Treaty embodying that principle. It would have been extremely difficult to calculate parity in ships in that way. But, quite apart from that difficulty, we could not have got a Treaty out of a Conference considering that question at all, because the Delegation of the United States would absolutely have refused to discuss parity on that principle.
2139 I think the House ought to know whether, when the right hon. Gentleman gave his ideas of parity, he was speaking his own individual ideas or the ideas of his right hon. colleagues on the Front Bench opposite. The late Prime Minister made various speeches about parity between the United States and ourselves, and I certainly understood from those speeches that the kind of parity which he was speaking about was not the parity of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, but the parity which the Naval Treaty of 1930 gave. In another place, a few days ago there was a Debate on this Treaty, and the Noble Lord who was First Lord of the Admiralty in the last Government, Lord Bridgeman, criticised the Treaty, but not because he had accepted a principle of parity similar to that outlined by the right hon. Member for Epping. I do not believe that the parity of which he spoke this afternoon is a parity which his own Government would have insisted on if they had been in office, and had gone into conversation with America. As a matter of fact, we know it was not that idea of parity, because on various occasions when the spokesmen were talking about parity with the United States they gave this impression quite definitely that, so little did they desire competition with the United States, so little was there any consideration that war could take place between the United States and ourselves, that they would not have insisted that parity between the Fleets should mean that the two Fleets were to be exactly the same strength. The Noble Lord said that he would not have minded if the American Fleet in this respect had gone a bit above parity as opposed to our own Fleet.
I contend, therefore, that the right hon. Member for Epping is not expressing the opinion of his colleagues and his party in saying that the kind of parity he advocates is what we should have insisted on. If we had done so, the only result would have been the failure of the Conference and the alternative of competitive building between this country and the United States and between the United States and Japan, and, after a term of years, a position which would not even have given us the kind of parity with the United States that we have secured. The 2140 United States with her great material resources and wealth would have launched a greater Fleet than the British Fleet. The right hon. Member, having made his case for a parity which he recommends, forgets the kind of parity which we have secured in this Treaty. He then went on to say that, nevertheless, even if we have got the kind of parity which the Government have secured, and that is a proper kind of parity, yet when we examine the actual figures the British Fleet as against the United States Fleet, as they will be 1936 under this Treaty, is inferior in guns and strength to the American Fleet which we are going to allow. He produced facts and figures in support of his case.
It is interesting to compare that with the report published in the "Times" today, in which the enemies of the London Naval Treaty in America are using the same argument with the same ingenuity to prove that the British Fleet in 1936 in guns and strength will be superior to the United States Fleet in that year. I must say, when I hear the right hon. Gentleman who does not like this Treaty declaring that the American Fleet is going to be superior to ours and also see that the enemies of the Treaty on the other side of the Atlantic are saying the opposite, I think it is extremely good evidence of the fact that the Government with the approval of the naval expert advisers have come to a very equitable arrangement with the United States, and we in this House can rest satisfied that a proper and just parity has been obtained.
Then there was the criticism which has been repeated in speeches on the other side, that this Treaty, far from being a Treaty for the reduction of naval armaments, is one which allows the Americans and Japanese to increase their fleets, and leaves us the only naval Power to make actual reductions in our strength. But what is the alternative? Either you have to accept a principle of parity with the United States, or else you will not. There are two methods. Either we can consent to the Americans building their fleet up to our strength, or the alternative is to scrap our ships till our fleet strength comes down to the present level of America. Hon. Members opposite would not have been satisfied with that second alternative. They think that we have reduced to too low a level already. 2141 If they will not accept that alternative, they are bound to accept the other alternative, and allow the Americans to go in for a considerable programme of shipbuilding by 1936. The American taxpayer will have to foot the Bill, but we have nothing to do with that. We have a Treaty which will save £17,000,000 between now and 1936. The figure of £50,000,000 which has since been misquoted referred simply to the construction of new battleships. I contend that the whole of this argument about parity is an argument which is not only against the terms of this Treaty, but against the Treaty altogether, because we could not have got a Treaty based on the principles laid down by the other side.
What about the Treaty at any price? somebody asked. What kind of a price have we paid in order to get this Treaty? Hon. Members opposite have said that we have paid too great a price in reducing our minimum requirements in cruisers from the figure of 70 to the figure of 50. What are the facts to-day? What kind of a cruiser fleet have we to-day? Have we 70 cruisers? Have we had 70 cruisers in our fleet at any date since the War came to an end? We have only 58 cruisers to-day, of which 54 are completed and four building. Are we insecure? Are we in a condition of great lack of safety? I contend that we are not. If we are not secure with 54 cruisers and four building, why did the late Conservative Government continually drop cruisers out of their building programme? If the late Government could afford—considering, as I have no doubt they did consider, the proper security of this country—to drop cruisers out of their programme and bring the strength to 54 or 58 cruisers, then we are enjoying perfect security with that cruiser fleet to-day. If we have to prove that we require not 58 but 70 cruisers, we shall have to establish the fact that since the late Government went out of office international relations have become so bad that there is a new danger of war. I submit that that is an absurd contention. What new danger is there? What new international feature is there which says that although we had security with 54 cruisers 12 months ago, we have not security to-day unless we have 70 cruisers? I submit that the very opposite is the case. During the last 12 months international relations 2142 have improved sufficiently to justify one in saying that instead of danger having increased, the danger of war and the danger of an attack upon this country has receded a little more into the background.
Let me press the argument a little further. Even if we assume that at Geneva in 1927 our delegation were right in saying that we needed 70 cruisers; if 70 was the figure for 1927, should 70 be the figure for 1930? Has nothing happened to improve international conditions during the last three years, during two years of which a Conservative Foreign Secretary was responsible for conducting the foreign relations of this country? Since 1927, has the Locarno Pact had no increasing effect in producing confidence and peace in Europe? Have the Kellogg Pact, the Pact of Paris, signed by a Conservative Government, had absolutely no effect in improving international relations and putting further into the background the possibility of war? I should like to hear what the late Foreign Secretary would say in reply to his own colleagues who say that conditions have not altered since 1927, that nothing has been done in foreign affairs to mean that we can reduce our demand from 70 cruisers to some lower figure. As this House well knows, the influence of the Locarno Pact and the Kellogg Pact, the influence of the work done by this Government in the last 12 months, the signing of the Optional Clause and this Naval Treaty—this Naval Treaty is going to have an effect between now and 1936—all these new treaties and these new agreements in international affairs have had a very considerable effect since 1927 in improving the prospects of peace and allowing us to make some reduction in the figure for our minimum cruiser requirement, which we declared in 1927 to be 70. Having quoted 70 in 1927 and these other things having happened in the meantime, if we again had quoted 70 in 1930 it would have been a declaration to the world that the British Government attach no importance to these international treaties and agreements. No greater blow at peace could have been levelled, and nothing could more misrepresent the real sentiments of this country.
This Treaty, which has improved the prospects of peace, which heals a breach not only between America and ourselves but between America and Japan, a very 2143 important consideration; this Treaty which has not only made more friendly relations between the two great nations which face each other across the Atlantic but between the two most formidable nations which face each other across the Pacific, is a Treaty which should command the respect and support of all Members of this House. It is an honourable Treaty. It is a wise Treaty. It is a Treaty which will bring great blessings to the world, and I hope that this House will show its statesmanship by supporting the Treaty and approving it in the most hearty manner.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
I want to comment on the Prime Minister's speech and to say that I, and I think all of us, cordially agree with his desire that the world might be a more peaceful place in the future. He made a remark which interested me very much, to the effect that he thought the only way to real international peace was for us to make some form of agreement with the United States. I should very much have liked to have interrupted him then and to have asked him to explain that idea more fully, because it may be that he has something in his mind, which a great body of opinion in this country would welcome, if such a thing were possible, as to an agreement, a useful kind of agreement between the English-speaking races. But he did not explain it, and it remains for us to hear in the future, perhaps, what he really thinks. One further point about the Prime Minister's speech which struck me was that, so long as we have a Navy and so long as we must maintain it, he made it perfectly clear that everything that he had to say accentuated the necessity for the steadiest of replacement programmes, and not merely rushing in and building a large number of ships and laying up liabilities for our successors. I shall return to that aspect of the question later, because I regard it as the most important and most vital of the subjects that we are discussing at the moment.
Speeches from the other side, including the Prime Minister's speech, were notable for the usual exception, and that was that not one single word was said in regard to the responsibilities, dangers and necessities of national security in this country. The hon. Member for 2144 Bassetlaw (Mr. Malcolm MacDonald) referred to the burden upon the taxpayers of America, but I do not believe that the taxpayers of America will feel any very great comfort at the sympathy of British pacifists because they have to pay a little more for their security. The effect of the Treaty in general is to bring about a state of affairs which has resulted in our accepting a strength of fleet which is utterly out of conformity with the duties that we have to perform, and the vital necessities of the Empire. The United States and Japan will build up a newer, better and more efficient fleet than either of them has ever possessed in the past, and yet we are asked to accept the idea that this is a disarmament treaty. Moreover, France and Italy are left with a perfectly free hand not only to build just what they like, but when they like. They can create for us in some respect, and they seem to be making a start in that direction, a most serious menace across our communications in various parts of the world.
My right hon. Friend has said that he considers that Part III of the Treaty is clearly against the interests of the British Empire and ought not to be ratified. I very cordially agree that that is so. I notice that the Treaty is called, "A Treaty for the Limitation and Reduction of Naval Armaments." That is a fraudulent and misleading title. It is literally a falsehood to call it that, and it comes very badly from a Socialist administration. The Prime Minister has said that the sea is us, and he made very great endeavours to turn the "U.S." into U.S.A. I have been told many times that this is a most complicated Treaty. It is complicated if you do not read it, but if you do read it it is not complicated. It embodies surrender, and I would remind the Socialists that surrender is always an easy thing for the man who has a defeatist mind. He has no mental effort, but merely surrenders. It is a very mean and crude kind of surrender and will leave an indelible stain on the already murky record of this Government.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
I did not hear the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Hull (Lieut.-Commander 2145 Kenworthy), otherwise I would have replied to his remarks about myself.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
If not, it would be ruled out of order. There are two particular reasons why I consider that Part III of the Treaty should not be ratified. I think that the whole Treaty should be revised and certainly that Part III should be subject to the closest scrutiny, because it is contrary to the interests of the British Empire. It is a surrender, after centuries of effort on the part of this country, of our only means of offence and our only means of defence to another Power against whom we can have no conceivable issue as regards her possessions and her interests. It I know is a strong thing to say, but one must take notice of what people of prominence have to say in the United States. It has been said not once but time and again that the United States fleet is being created for a particular purpose, and we have already had some experience. The day that we are called upon to defend our interests or any other nation's interests by reason of the Covenant of the League or of the Locarno Treaty, if it does not suit the interests of the United States, I do not hesitate to foretell that they will make use of their fleet in order to add to the difficulties of our position. That is the first reason why Part III I say is not in the interests of the British Empire and of this country in particular.
The next reason is that Part III of the Treaty excludes the two Continental Powers, France and Italy, with the inevitable difficulties which must arise in such a case, and I submit most definitely that they are beginning to show themselves, ever since the Conference dissolved. It excites animosity and produces undesirable comparisons. Mr. Stimson says that the American delegates were all unanimous. That is a very nice condition to be in. I understand that our political delegates in this country were unanimous, but I submit that they were also pusillanimous. How easy it seems to be for the right hon. Gentleman to agree to such a Treaty. I know he is impelled by a very sincere idealism, but I would say also that he is fortified by the knowledge that only a very small 2146 minority of his party ever have rendered or ever will render any assistance to this country when it is in trouble. It is a strong thing to say, but I feel that if I were to sign and to be responsible for Part III of this Treaty, I should be as one who acts disloyally to his country, and I should expect the term of "traitor" to be applied to me if I allowed myself so far to forget my loyalty to my country as to sign such a Treaty.
I would now refer to two things in the Command Paper 3485. Paragraph 5 on page 4, dealing with this country and the United States, says:The Government takes the view that if the strengths of national fleets are not to be a menace, they must be the subject of international agreements, the purpose of which should be to maintain an equilibrium. This equilibrium will not be secured by mere numerical equality in ships and tonnage—which may indeed be a condition of serious inequality from the point of view of effectiveness—but by agreed programmes which will be based on considerations of requirements affecting dispersion, etc.I have already remarked that the United States have a superiority with regard to what has been done at this Conference, but I want to ask how it comes about that this qualification for comparing the strength of the British Fleet with the American Fleet has apparently had no effect on the Conference? There is a still more important question. In paragraph 7 on page 6 of Command Paper 3485, the question of the tonnage of destroyers comes up, and it says there that the Britishpresent building programme will ultimately consume 200,000 tons, but this can be reduced if the submarine programmes of other Powers are similarly reduced.Do the Government realise that the French will possess 100,000 tons of submarines in 1936 and that we are condemned to have not 200,000 tons of destroyers, but one quarter less than that, namely, 150,000 tons? Why have the Government accepted this position? We have the right to know what steps they are taking to remedy that for it is to be observed that France show no signs of any reduction in their programme. I think that has been done because the Prime Minister was again pressed by his idealism to the view that any form of Treaty was better than no form at all. It is a strong thing to say, but I feel that it is so, that he 2147 felt his pride would be injured and that he must save his face, and I submit that he has saved it at the expense of this country.
So many technical details have been put forward that I hesitate to say anything more. I have, however, studied the position that will arise in 1936 in regard to the position of our Fleet compared with those of France and of Italy. I am not suggesting that France and Italy would ever combine, but, if they do not do so, there is a lesson to be learned from the figures I am going to put to the House. Everyone realises that the ships they will have will be of the most efficient type. The situation is this, that in 8-inch cruisers, combined, they will have no less a superiority than 33 per cent. over this country, in ships not 16 years old. In 6-inch cruisers we shall have twice their combined forces. In destroyers, France will exceed our force by 60 per cent. and Italy will exceed by 33 per cent. I think everyone will agree that these are startling figures. I now come to submarines. I have taken into account the prospective building programmes in submarines. Everyone, I think, will agree that it is a serious menace when I say that in submarines France will have approximately double the strength of Great Britain, and Italy will have a force equal to our own. France's tonnage will be in the neighbourhood of 100,000 tons of submarines by the Treaty, and ours will be only round about 52,000 tons. I almost hesitate to ask the House and our Socialist opponents to make this more of a national question than it has hitherto been made. I know that there must be a number of Socialists who take the truly national point of view, but, on the other hand, there are a large number who do not. I ask them to consider what the British Empire means and to realise with the Members on this side of the House what the history of our country is and its responsibilities.
I turn now to what I conceive is the most vital of all the questions facing us at the present time. If the Treaty should be ratified, we shall still be faced with the most serious question of replacements. I want to ask on this two specific questions, which with the two I have already asked will make four in all. First, what is being done, and why has 2148 nothing been done, about the 1929 programme of submarines which were suspended because of the pious hope that submarines would be dispensed with in the future? That hope has not come off and submarines have not been dispensed with, and, although the matter is to be controlled to some extent by the Treaty, at the same time the building programme is to be continued. I would ask: Has the British Admiralty put before the Cabinet a definite replacement programme? It is of the utmost importance that we should be informed on that point. We do not want all the details, but we should know if a replacement programme has or has not been placed before the Cabinet. I hope that we shall have a reply to that question at the earliest possible moment.
There are one or two figures of importance on this matter which I must mention. One is that 14 new ships mentioned already will have to be laid down and completed between now and December, 1936, and at least another 14 more will have to be laid down during the years 1934, 1935 and 1936. They will not be completed by the end of 1936. That means a total of something like 27 or 28 ships have to be laid down and spread over the next five or six years, and I say it is of urgent and immediate importance that the Government should make up their minds in this matter. I ask them to realise that this is a national question, and, if the Treaty is to go on, it would be unfair on future Chancellors of the Exchequer or future Government if this Government allowed the liabilities to pile up. Let us face it now, and, if the Treaty is a good one, and the country approves of it and it is ratified, let us face the burden and get on with a good replacement programme. It seems a little hard that when we have 1,750,000 unemployed, and with the great opportunity which our private shipping yards can afford for providing employment, as well as our dockyards, that this opportunity should not be seized and a certain amount of employment provided.
It seems to me that many of the joys of life appear to have been denied the delegates at this Conference. Our delegates do not seem to have been impressed by the glory of our history and the lesson to be drawn from it by anyone of reasonable intelligence. They seem utterly unaware of the responsibility 2149 facing us in this country and appear to have been determined to blot out our history. They have to a great extent endeavoured to place, if they have not succeeded in placing, in alien hands the control and destiny of this country or at least of making its defence for us in war time, if ever we are so unfortunate as to be faced again with war, one of great difficulty. It also seems to roe that we are going through a period of progressive doles and demoralisation, and, if we are to continue in this way and refuse to carry out the terms of the Treaty in the matter of replacement, we shall sink into shameful insignificance as a nation.
I ask the Prime Minister and those who advise him to consider these points and remember particularly what I have asked, that the replacement programme shall be concentrated upon and faced courageously and put into action forthwith. I feel strongly that we have not the right to go on as we are doing, and I cannot avoid quoting the view of the Poet Laureate in this matter:I see the ramparts of my native land, One time so strong, now dropping in decay,Their strength destroyed by this new age's way,That has worn out and rotted what was grand.It is the duty of the British people to stop that decay.
§ Mr. BROCKWAY
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was very restrained in the claims which he made for this Treaty. He urged that it was only the first step towards further achievements for peace and disarmament, but there is one achievement in connection with this Treaty upon which I would like very sincerely to congratulate him and the Government. The right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) said that no one fears a war with America, and why then have a naval agreement? One comment upon that statement would be that the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) quite clearly foreshadowed the possibility of some naval conflict between this country and America, and that even the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) did not hide the Power at which he was aiming by describing it as "A" instead of as America.
2150 We are inclined to forget to-day the relationship between America and this country which existed a year ago. There was then the danger of naval rivalry between the two countries. There is serious economic competition between the two countries, and when there is such competition, opposition is likely to find expression in other ways. No one could read the literature or the Press of either America or this country without being disturbed by the tone of the reference of one country to the other. All that has been completely changed by the negotiations which took place between our Prime Minister and General Dawes in the first instance, by the Prime Minister's visit to America, and by the Treaty which has now been signed. I was recently in America, and I experienced there the very great change which had been accomplished.
While we recognise the contribution which the Treaty has made in that respect, I think we shall make a great mistake if we regard it as any substantial contribution to the cause of disarmament in the world. I was astounded by the statement of the right hon. Member for Epping that this country has fulfilled its obligations under the Versailles Treaty so far as disarmament is concerned. By that Treaty, Germany was almost completely disarmed, her navy had been sunk, and then the victorious Allies solemnly gave the assurance that they too would proceed with a policy of disarmament. It is true that since the War the number of our battleships and cruisers has been reduced, but some of the most formidable instruments of naval warfare have been very substantially increased.
In 1913 the method of aerial warfare was practically unknown in connection with navies, and our expenditure in that respect was insignificant; now, the tonnage of our aircraft carriers is 107,550 tons. In 1913 our submarine tonnage was 29,500, but to-day it is 45,472 tons. The tonnage of our destroyers was then 141,400; now it is 189,165 tons. Yet it is said that with all those great increases in those three formidable instruments of naval armament we have satisfied the obligations of the Treaty of Versailles, wh[...] looked forward to the day when not only Germany but the victorious Allies also 2151 would be disarmed. Since the Versailles Treaty we have had the League of Nations Covenant, the Locarno Pact, and the Pact of Paris, and surely, if all those treaties and international agreements mean anything, they mean that we should have gone even further to-day than what was looked for in the Versailles Treaty.
In regard to the London Naval Conference itself, I want to express regret that so much of its proceedings was carried out with secrecy. I believe that if they had been carried out in the light of day, the public opinion both of America and of this country would have been able to exert much more effective pressure for further disarmament on both sides, and I believe that if, under conditions of publicity, a much bolder lead had been given, public opinion in both countries would have responded to that lead. As a result of this Treaty the taxpayers of America, as has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. M. MacDonald), will have to dig deep in their pockets to pay for increased armaments, and I suggest—and indeed my experience in America while the Naval Conference was proceeding leads me to believe—that if in the light of publicity it had been possible for our representatives to give a lead, say, for the total abolition of the battleship service, or even for reduction of that service by 50 per cent., the public sentiment in America would have immediately responded to that lead, and there would have been very great pressure towards much more effective reductions in both countries.
In the section of the Treaty which deals with the Three-Power Agreement between America, Britain and Japan, there is a Clause which permits of a revision of the figures if the requirements of national security are materially affected by new construction on the part of any Power not participating in the Agreement, and that decision to increase the strength of the Navy, irrespective of the terms of the Treaty, can be reached by any one of those three Powers at its own discretion, and its only duty is to forward a statement of its reasons to the other two Powers. That is a very dangerous Clause in the Treaty. I hope it will be many years before the right 2152 hon. Member for Epping is responsible for the Navy, or has any responsibility in the Government of this country, but the possibility, distant as it may be, is still on the horizon; and during his speech on behalf of the Conservative party he definitely warned us that the Conservative party would hold itself free to review the proportions which this Treaty had laid down.
We are well aware that there is danger of naval rivalry between France and Italy, and even though the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes has said there is no reason to anticipate a combination of those two countries, if those two countries build against each other there is very great danger that, our Admiralty and Government may regard that as a reason for going beyond the proportions which are now allowed within the terms of the Treaty. Does the Admiralty still maintain the principle of the Two-Power European standard, and is it going to say, for example, that if Italy and France build against each other, the Navy of this country must be equal to the size of the Italian and French Navies together? That European Two-Power standard is a fantastic idea when one appreciates the realities of the situation. The hon. and gallant Member says there is no possibility of the Italian and French Navies being combined against this country. Then why on earth should we maintain a Two-Power European standard which assumes that they may combine against us?
The hon. Member for Bassetlaw, in slimming up the effects of this Treaty, claimed that it meant substantial disarmament. It is true, of course, that the holiday which was laid down in the Washington Convention is extended, and that the replacement of battleships is to be postponed until 1935; but when any great claim is made for that, I would remind the Government that, despite the speech of the right hon. Member for Epping, the Conservative Government itself, at the Geneva Conference, made the very same offer which our Government has now embodied in this Treaty. Those of us who are on these benches desire that our Government should go very much further in the process of disarmament than the proposals which had been foreshadowed by the Conservative Government which preceded it. Moreover, 2153 when we begin to examine some of the other categories, we find that, while the number of British cruisers is to be reduced from 54 to 50, the actual tonnage of those cruisers is to be increased and that the actual expenditure may be greater. We find that there is to be destroyer building and submarine building, and we shall be in the extraordinary position in this House, within a few weeks, of having to vote Supplementary Estimates for an increase in the Navy as a result of the Treaty which has been proposed at the London Conference.
I say quite definitely that when we are faced with the alternative, which the hon. Member for Bassetlaw gave, of America increasing her standard to reach our standard, or of our reducing our standard in order to reach America's lower standard, those of us on these benches have no doubt at all about the answer which we would give. We would reduce our Navy to the America standard rather than that the American Navy should be increased to ours. I want to raise the fundamental difference between those who are associated with me and the principle applied in this Treaty. I want to suggest that the result of the London Naval Conference indicates the almost insuperable difficulties of effective and wide disarmament while it is based on national security by armament. So long as we base security on armaments, and therefore on parities and proportions, it is hopeless to expect a disarmed world. We believe that the myth of security by armament must be destroyed. We believe that security can only rest on justice of policies. The Prime Minister, in opening his speech, urged that the mentality of the world must be changed before we can proceed further on lines of disarmament. We want to suggest that the mentality of the world can only be changed by one Government in the world daring to break through the circle of armaments, changing the psychology of the world, and encouraging the forces in other countries seeking disarmament, so breaking through the mentality that bases security on force, and putting in its place the mentality that bases security on justice of policies. This difference of view was indicated by the Prime Minister in an address to journalists 2154 during the Conference and published in the "Times" of 16th January. He then said:Great Britain is not going to disarm as an example to other nations, and the Government do not propose to do anything merely as a gesture. What can reasonably be done in that respect has already been done, and this country can only move on condition that other countries move to some extent.A policy of disarmament on that principle may mean that we can economise, but the temper of the world is not changed. I remember a cartoon in an American paper of a British battleship with a large gun extending from it, and an American battleship with a large gun extending from it. Politicians were sitting on each of the ends of the guns, and simultaneously cutting off six inches, with the ironic remark that that meant disarmament. We believe if disarmament is to take place, if we are to have a, warless world, a Government that believe in peace must take risks for peace and give a lead in the direction of disarmament. We are told that we have sea routes to defend. If we pursued just policies to other nations, to our subject peoples, there would be no need to defend the sea routes, because there would be no danger of war in the world.
We urge on our Government to be much bolder in its proposals for disarmament. The Prime Minister speaks of "merely a gesture." We are proposing an act and a deed which will compel the world to understand that the Government of this country have turned their backs on and repudiated the method of warfare altogether. The European sees this country with its naval power, with its control over Gibraltar, the Suez Canal, Aden, and now Singapore, and we suggest that a gesture to make a difference in the mentality of the world would be to say that such international communications, essential to all the world, should be under the control of an international authority and not one authority. An hon. Member spoke of our country falling to a position of insignificance, because the proportion of armaments is not what it was in the past. We desire to rise to a position of significance, not in the instruments of war, but in peace, so that there may be social justice within our own border and justice to other nations outside our borders, and, if our country can attain that reputation in the world, 2155 it will live in history as a far greater nation than one that was a great military and naval Power.
§ Captain EDEN
The hon. Member who has just spoken has said that all would be well in the world if we carried out such drastic geographical alterations as would indeed be looked upon as astonishing by future generations. We are to hand over to an international body all coaling stations and bases, such as those at Malta and Gibraltar, and to entrust them to that body, so that in the future other fleets as well as our own might use them. How that is going to forward the cause of peace is anything but clear to me. I would suggest that it is not only this country that needs to make gestures. If those gestures are to be effective, then perhaps the Prime Minister came nearer accuracy when in his judgment he said that progress, if slow, is none the less sure towards disarmament. A gesture which is mere gesticulation, can hardly lead to the response the hon. Member expects. After the admirable speech of my hon. Friend behind me, I would not speak on the technical side at all, but there are one or two points of a technical nature on which I feel entitled to ask for information. There is surely one issue in regard to Article 20. It is not necessary for us to examine the statements of the American naval authorities to the effect that they will have a better fleet than ourselves six years hence, but we wish to know why the 91,000-ton limitation is included. There was no need to put a matter of that kind into an international agreement. It is a matter purely of domestic concern.
My chief criticism of this Treaty, so far as the technical side is concerned, is that the Government are not fulfilling within its terms what they stated was the minimum need for Imperial naval security. Do they still hold that 50 cruisers is the minimum need? If so, why are they cutting down the naval building programme below that? That is my first question. I have only one word to say of Singapore. We should like more information if we could have it. The right hon. Gentleman below the Gangway thinks the work ought to be dropped. My view is different. No one will be convinced by the argument that the Singapore dock is at Japan's front door. You might just as well say that 2156 Plymouth is at Boston's front door—they are the same distance apart. I have never understood why it was necessary to bring Singapore into this Treaty at all. Whatever size of fleet you have, you will need a base for it. If the fleet is to be smaller, your need of adequate naval bases will be greater than before. We should like to know, if possible, when a decision is likely to be arrived at on this question. Is it to be held over to the Imperial Conference in the autumn, or will something be heard of it before then?
I want to come to what in my mind are important considerations in this agreement, not technical but political. The Prime Minister said this afternoon, very unlike the speech of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. M. MacDonald), that he regretted not to have come to a five-Power agreement. We also regret to say that that is the position to-day, for a three-Power agreement out of five is not even as good as half an agreement. We are confronted with the position to-day in which the Conference was not really half successful. We need, as the Prime Minister admitted, to correlate our position with the European situation and the world situation. It matters not to Japan and America what the building programme is in Europe, except our own; it is a matter of indifference to them, but it is not so with us, to whom it is as important as the programme of the United States and Japan. That is my first criticism—in that it is not a five-Power agreement and leaves us with the work less than half done and a serious position to face.
I wonder whether any members of the Government, while they were going through these negotiations, let their minds travel back to the time when the late Government endeavoured to negotiate an Anglo-French preliminary naval agreement. A great deal was said about it at the time which was wholly unjustified in abuse of that proposal. I do not believe to this day that the late Government was wrong in endeavouring to arrive at an agreement. They were right, and I do think that perhaps the Prime Minister, in a natural anxiety to make the most of his visit to the United States, to make the most of other factors in improving Anglo-American relations, failed to pave the way as it should have been paved. I am definitely of opinion that several things that occurred shortly 2157 before the Naval Conference were far from assisting in a happy solution so far as the Conference it concerned. I cannot help thinking that the representative of this Government at Geneva last autumn would have been wiser to have postponed the resurrecting of the question of trained reserves. I have no doubt that this was done with all sincerity, but it defeated its object, if it was to pave the way to a Naval Conference. That is all past now, and what we have to consider to-night, and what the House has not yet turned its attention to, is the present position.
What is going to happen next? It is obviously quite impossible that matters should be allowed to stay as they are now. The Prime Minister surely does not accept the present position as satisfactory. We cannot leave things as they are. The difficulty that confronts us today is that in Europe this country has not a definite policy at all. The Prime Minister must turn his mind for the next few months from the process of gilding the lily of Anglo-American friendship, a very pleasing, but now happily unnecessary pastime, in order to grasp some of the thistles that are flourishing in the European garden. Until he can do that he will not achieve any progress in the European problem. Things are happening in Europe which affect this problem, and one of those which we should be considering to-day is the movement for the economic federation of Europe. There is, for instance, the proposal of Monsieur Briand, who is above all things a practical statesman, for a united states of Europe. Matters of that kind must be considered by us, and this country should have a definite policy which it is prepared to pursue. To transpose a saying of Burke, we have to contrive so to be imperialists as not to forget that we are Europeans and co-ordinate our imperialism with our existing but not always pleasant European responsibilities. Unless we do that we shall not further European peace or international disarmament.
There are reasons why some of us are not convinced that the Government, in their lack of policy, have under consideration the present events in Europe. There was a suggestion while the Conference was in progress that there should be a new interpretation of Article 16. The suggestion filled some of us on this side of the House with considerable uneasiness. 2158 We cannot conceive of any interpretation of Article 16 which is not a new commitment. Fortunately, nothing came of the proposal, but the very fact that it existed shows that there is still some loose thinking in respect of England's foreign policy in Europe. Is our policy that we are prepared to enter into greater commitments, for, after all, these fillings up of gaps in the Covenant are new commitments. I prefer a gap, however, to a bad patch. But everybody received it with enthusiasm because it was thought that here was another bit of work in the building of the temple of peace. I am not quite sure that it was; just to say that a gap should be stopped does not mean that stopping the gap is good. The gap may be a safety valve. Nobody wants to stop that. It is to considerations like that which our Government, irrespective of party politics, should turn their attention, because I am convinced that there is a feeling in Europe that we do not stand for any definite policy. There would have been no suggestion of interpreting Article 16 if France had known what our attitude was going to be before the suggestion was made.
If our policy is that there shall be no more of these commitments, let us say so, and the other countries of Europe will know where we are, but it is a mistake to dangle that hesitating bait before the nations of Europe to make then think that we shall do this or that to further disarmament. Before we can make further progress in disarmament, we must examine the European situation today, for we shall do nothing more unless we tackle the real difficulties that exist in the European field. It is no good looking further abroad; it is here where we have to meet the problems, and nowhere else. We shall get no real improvement in Europe unless we are able to bring to the present situation a definite policy of our own which will help the difficulties which exist. It is no use to think of disarmament as a separate problem. It is nothing of the kind. Armaments are simply a reflection of a state of mind, and unless in Europe we make progress in improving that state of mind, there will not be further progress in disarmament.
I do not think that anyone viewing the European situation can feel any optimism at the present state of affairs. I 2159 differ from the hon. Member for Basset-law, who sees an improvement in the past year, for it is certainly true that in the last year there has been a steady deterioration in the state of international relations in Europe. Is that to go on? It is not necessary, and it would be unwise, to specify where that deterioration exists, but hon. Members who study the position know very well. Where do we stand between these cross currents? Where is our influence to be felt? These are considerations to which the Government must turn their minds, for there is to-day a feeling that no real Government policy is being pursued in Europe to-day. This country needs to do more clear and hard thinking as to its responsibilities in Europe, because no amount of good will or carefully phrased sentiments are going to bring us any nearer disarmament. They only draw wool over people's eyes, and prevent them observing the real state of affairs, which it should be this country's constant effort to improve.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
I candidly confess that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who spoke at an early stage of the Debate from the Front Opposition Bench, setting forth a large array of figures and statistics and comparisons, left me perfectly cold. I am prepared to take any risk with the United States. We must take risks in politics; that is a lesson which Lord Asquith used to inculcate in his followers. I believe that the feeling between this country and the United States is such that we can take any risks in future. May I call attention to a very remarkable experiment in history in the relations of the United States and Great Britain, in which a great risk was taken with remarkable success. It is one of the most wonderful phenomena in the relations between States that the boundary between Canada and the United States, which extends some 4,000 miles, is quite undefended. That state of things did not always exist. In 1812 there was a war between Great Britain and America, in which I think Great Britain was in the wrong. Great Britain succeeded in burning the city of Washington and enforcing her will upon the United States. After that war, Great Britain proceeded to build forts and to strengthen the defences between Canada and the United States. Feverishly and 2160 at great expense forts were erected, warships were built, and the frontier was strengthened.
Fortunately, there was in American politics a certain Quaker named Richard Rush of Pennsylvania. He saw the folly of the action, and he approached the British Ambassador, who, fortunately, was a wise man, and between them they made up their minds that this folly should be prevented. They approached the President of the United States, who in his turn approached the British Government, who, after great difficulty, were persuaded to enter into an agreement displacing the war vessels and forts and all the necessary apparatus of war, with the result that from that day to tins the frontier between the Empire and the Republic has remained absolutely undefended. That seemed a great risk at the time. It was a risk taken after a war between the two countries in which the United States had got the worse of it. But that risk was splendidly successful, and I invite the House to follow that example, and deal with America in the spirit exhibited in 1812. If that is done, this foolish rivalry, this building of vessel against vessel, can be dispensed with, to the lasting benefit not only of the peoples of the two countries but of the whole world.
I wish to touch upon the question of relations between France and Italy. I earnestly hope the Prime Minister will turn his attention to the bringing together of those two countries. He did splendid work in Washington, and I should very much like to see him going to France as the spokesman of Italy, and going to Rome as the spokesman of France. France, one can say quite candidly, is jealous of Italy. Italy is progressing in the most amazing way. I have known Italy for 30 years. My first visit was paid in 1900 and my last in the Autumn of last year, and I have been astonished at the amazing progress made by that country. The great cities of Milan and Bologna, which I visited last September, are increasing by leaps and bounds, and I was told that the coming city in the North of Italy was Padova, whose streets were covered with grass at no distant date. Coupled with this wonderful material advancement there is a moral and intellectual advancement. Italy is dreaming of the glories of Rome and the Roman Empire. She aspires to 2161 fill the place of the Roman Empire. Looking round the Mediterranean, she remembers that every shore of the Mediterranean was once part of her Empire, and with her intellectual growth and her material growth she is becoming strong and confident. France, which with her declining population is advancing much less rapidly in material things, is looking with jealousy upon Italy; but I am convinced that if those two nations can be brought together by wise diplomacy it is possible to induce them to dismiss from their future policy the building up of rival navies. I am very glad that Japan forms a third in the agreement which has just been completed, because it cannot now be said that Anglo-Saxon domination is threatening the world. The task of our Government, the task of the diplomatists and statesmen of this country, is to bring Italy and France together, and, having brought them together, to unite them with the other three Powers to form a league which, if established, will, I am certain, bring perpetual peace into this much-harrassed world.
§ Lord ERSKINE
I hope the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser) will not mind if I do not follow him into European politics, but I would like to congratulate him upon the wonderful tribute he has just paid to the Fascist system in Italy. I did not think we should ever get such a tribute from the Labour Benches, a tribute of which Mussolini himself would be very proud. However, I do not intend to go into the intricacies of European politics. What I want to say is that I, at any rate, am not opposed to a Treaty for the limitation of naval armaments. I think most of us on this side have always said that if we could get general disarmament we should be as well prepared to disarm as anyone else, but there are certain features about this particular Treaty, and particularly Part 3 of it, to which I wish to offer a few criticisms. I am sorry that I cannot agree with the statement of the Prime Minister in his opening words that people were wrong in saying that it would be a good thing if we left America out of account altogether. Personally, I do not see why there should be any rivalry between America and ourselves. Our interests are the same. As far as I can see, there 2162 is no cause for hostilities between us, except, perhaps, in the case already been mentioned, in which we might be blockading at the behest of the League of Nations and America would desire to get her trade through. That is the only case, as far as I can see, in which, in these modern times, we might be involved in trouble with the United States of America.
I would far rather say to America, "We never considered your Fleet before the War, it did not enter into our calculations, and we will once more return to that position. You build what you like. You are a wealthy nation. If you desire to do so no doubt you can outbuild us; but we have no possibility of trouble with you. All we desire is our own security and sufficient ships to protect our own trade routes." If we did that we should get out of a great deal of the trouble which we are now in. Ever since the Washington Treaty there have been bickerings with America. There was trouble about the raising of the elevation of the guns of the battleships, and trouble over the question of 8-inch or 6-inch guns in the cruisers. There is trouble as to what exactly is parity. A great many of these troubles would be got over if we said "We will return to the pre-War position." It may he said that it is too late for that now, that that should have been considered before the Treaty of Washington. Very probably that is true, but since the War I think we have got into unnecessary trouble with the great Republic overseas because of these bickerings as to what parity is and what parity is not.
A great many speakers in the Debate have made the charge that this country has not carried out her obligations under the Treaty of Versailles. They said we have not disarmed. I would like to point out to them that the Navy of this country now is half the size it was in 1919. In the case of capital ships, we have scrapped 25 battlecruisers and battleships, all very good ships, a great many of them better or just as good as the ships which are now in the possession of any other Power, and we have also scrapped many cruisers. Therefore, I do not think we can be accused of having failed to live up to the Treaty of Versailles. But we do remember that we 2163 live by the sea. The Prime Minister said that the Navy is "us." We have miles of communications to guard and to police, and we want small ships for that purpose. A very good instance of the use of the Navy is being seen to-day in the China Seas, where piracy has cropped up again. We never know when we may want to use our cruiser squadrons, not for attacking anybody else, but merely for defence of our own mercantile marine—not even for defence against other ships of war.
There is one question I would like to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty. On Page 5 of the Foreign Office Memorandum issued on the 4th February, 1930, the following sentence occurs:In the opinion of His Majesty's Government of the United Kingdom the battleship, in view of its tremendous size and cost, is of doubtful utility.I should like to ask the First Lord whether that paragraph received the assent of his technical advisers, because this White Paper was issued over the signature, not of the Admiralty, but of the Foreign Secretary. Of course, the Government, when the Foreign Office is issuing a White Paper, are perfectly at liberty to say what they, as a Government, think, but I think that the nation and this House have a right to be told whether that declaration was assented to by the Naval Lords. After all, the battleship has been doomed by a great many people for very nearly two generations. I believe that when the old "Inflexible" was launched the then First Lord went down and said that, owing to the introduction of the torpedo, it was probably the last big ship that would he built for our Fleet. That, however, has not been the case, and in fact the large ship of the line has been getting larger and larger. Of course we all know the tag which Admiral Mahan wrote about the old Grand Fleet, that:It was only those distant, storm-beaten ships, upon which the Grand Army never looked, that stood between it and the dominion of the world.He was referring to our ships of the line in that war. It may be said that that is 100 years out of date, but I happened recently to be reading the memoirs of Grand Admiral von Tirpitz, and I came across a passage that interested me with regard to this question of the opinion on capital ships. He said: 2164The Entente has defeated us by means of the British ships of the line, which made blockade possible. Of all the reproaches that have been heaped upon me, only one has really affected me, and that is that I did not build more battleships.That is a technical expression of opinion from an individual who, perhaps, had more to do with the building up of a great fleet of modern times than any other individual. I do not think there is much doubt that the technical opinion in the Navy now is that if we had unlimited means—which we have not—the most effective form of fighting ship is the battleship, and it might even get larger unless there was a limitation. I think that the capital ship, or a form of capital ship, must always remain.
After all, the capital ship may change. I quite agree—it is about the only time that I have ever agreed—with the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) in his remarks about capital ships. He said that the word "battleship" was a bad word. I prefer the old term, "ship of the line," which I think means the ship which, if you are so unfortunate as to have to fight, will be the ship that you will bring up at the last resort, and upon which all your lighter forces will retire. It may be that in the future the capital ship will be able to submerge itself beneath the water, or even to rise and fly in the air, but, there is no doubt whatever that as long as any navies exist there must be a form of ship which will be the ultimate line on which smaller ships fall back, and I do not think we shall ever be able to get rid of what we may call the capital ship from the navies of the world. I wish that the Prime Minister, when he was negotiating this Treaty, had been able to persuade the other nations—and I believe that three of the other nations agreed—to accept the lesser tonnage for capital ships on which we tried to agree at Geneva, and I hope that in any future negotiations that we may have he will try to get a reduction in the size of these ships, because I think that that is the only way in which we can get a reduction of expense.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
If I may interrupt the Noble Lord for a moment, his statement that two of the other Powers agreed to that is really not accurate. If I allowed that to go without contradiction, I do not know what would happen.
§ Lord ERSKINE
I thank the Prime Minister very much for interrupting me. I did not mean, by saying that three had agreed, to put him in any embarrassing position. I believe, and I think the Prime Minister agrees, that if he could get an agreement at some future time to limit the size of the guns and the tonnage of these ships, he would be doing a great service towards reducing the cost of the Fleet.
There is one other thing that I want to say. I regard as the worst feature of this Treaty Article 21. I know that, because it was not possible to get a Five-Power Pact, we had to have something which would allow us to build if the two Powers who did not sign enlarged their fleets, but I think that this Article is a dangerous one, because I am so afraid that, supposing that there is a rivalry and we find that we have to build, we shall have to go to Japan and America and say that we are going to build, as we can according to the Treaty, and we shall then be accused of starting a new naval race in armaments. I do not desire to see a new naval race in armaments started, and I hope that this Article 21 will never have to be used, but I think it is a blot. I remember that the Prime Minister, when he began this Conference, emphasised the fact that what he really desired was a Five-Power Pact, and that he did not want to sign a Three-Power Pact. He had to sign a Three-Power Pact, and to that extent the Conference failed. I am sorry that it was necessary to put in this Article, because I think it may be a source of great embarrassment to us in the future, though, as I have said, I hope it may never be used. That is the reason why I do not think it is a good thing that this House should pass Part III of the Treaty.
With regard to replacement, I hope that shortly a programme will be placed before us. I think the Prime Minister will agree that, although our Fleet is smaller, it should be efficient, and at the present time I certainly do not think it is efficient unless we are able to replace the older ships. After all, the ships of the "C" Class were built during the War. They are small; they had a great deal of work in the War; and I understand that it is the opinion of the Admiralty now that one year's war service 2166 is equal to at least two years' peace service. I hope, therefore, that we shall be given a replacement programme to consider as soon as possible. I do not believe that the Fleet will be efficient without it. We have reduced—wrongly, as I think—our cruisers from 70 to 50. In the last War we had a, great piece of luck, because we were so placed geographically with regard to Germany that we could blockade her; but when a very few of her cruisers got out, they required a, great many of our cruisers to run after them. The "Emden" had 70 ships chasing her. We shall never be in that very favourable geographical position again. If we are so unfortunate as to be engaged in hostilities with another Power, we shall find that it has a long coast-line, and that it will be almost impossible to prevent its raiding cruisers from getting out. Nine cruisers required some 104 British cruisers to capture them, and we shall probably find a great many more cruisers on our trade routes, and our food supplies will be in jeopardy.
Because I think that Article 21 is dangerous and that the reduction in the number of cruisers is not justified, I do not believe it was a good thing to conclude the Three-Power Pact, leaving the other two Powers out, and having a saving Clause, and for my part I do not think that the Treaty will do very much. It does not seem to me that it will bring about a great deal of saving. There is a hypothetical saving, but we must consider what the Estimates are going to be in the next few years. It does not seem to me that there is going to be any very large saving, because what will be saved on the four "Iron Dukes" will certainly have to be spent in replacements.
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
Does the Noble Lord agree that we are building enough?
§ Lord ERSKINE
No; I should have preferred to see a few more built; but, if there is going to be a saving—I do not think there is—it will only be hypothetical, and actually I think we shall find that the Navy Estimates will be very much the same as they were last year and the year before. On the whole, I do not think that the saving is going to be very great, but I do think that the safety of our trade routes has been jeopardised, and for these reasons, 2167 although I congratulate the Government on parts of the Treaty, I certainly cannot congratulate them on Article 21.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
The Noble Lord's concluding observations bring the House to the heart of this matter. Before I say a few words as to that, I desire to make a general observation on the situation. The unfortunate intervention of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) destroyed temporarily the excellent impression created by the Prime Minister's statement. While my right hon. Friend was speaking, I took down his own account of this Treaty and, in justice to him and to the Government who wrought so valiantly for weeks to attain it, the House should refresh its recollection of the description given by the Prime Minister himself. He said he had made a nibble at the cherry and that it was good preparatory work that had been accomplished. I do not use this expression to diminish in any way my appreciation of the work which the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues carried out. I adopt the right hon. Gentleman's own description of his work, because the House should bear in mind that this work has ended in an instrument which is extremely defective and which does not profess to give effect to the whole policy of the Government, but is the utmost that they were able to wring out of very untoward circumstances.
May I say a word as to the intervention of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, who is not here, as is his custom after his intervention in Debate. He astonished the House by citing a document which at first he declared was not a Cabinet document. On that account being repudiated by the then Prime Minister, who was responsible for it, he apologised to the right hon. Gentleman and apparently withdrew his description of it. The House can have no doubt that it was a Cabinet document. Within a few hours of this time, a responsible and honoured journalist has been interrogated for hours by the police for collecting impressions which resulted in the disclosure of a Cabinet decision of a very grave character. The unfortunate journalist underwent this interrogation—I do not say it was not a proper interrogation—and the right hon. Gentleman is allowed 2168 to go scot free for playing fast and loose not only with the traditions of the House but with the decencies of public life. The circumstances a this afternoon recall to my mind his own confession in his book "The Crisis," where he gloats over the fact that, as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1914, he disregarded a Cabinet decision and dispatched the Fleet to its war stations, contrary to the decision of his colleagues in the Cabinet, an act considered in relation to the then international situation, when the Foreign Secretary was doing his utmost to prevent war, or the most provocative and mischievous description and now, when its full consequences are appreciated by the world, the right hon. Gentleman gloats at his action. To-day he repeats a similar performance by using this document. I protest against his action.
What was the document? That is the serious part of the matter on which I desire to address the House. It was an instruction given by the then Government to its distinguished representative at the Washington Conference the nature of which rendered any successful termination of the Conference impossible, because it embodied a view on which international disarmament is impossible. The view is that the interests of Great Britain are such that no international arrangement can be made which interferes with the view of those interests held by the right hon. Gentleman and his friends. I am not attacking the sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman's speech or of his view. It is the traditional, Conservative, blue water view. We are living in 1930 and not in 1914 and, outside the House, there is an enormous population which is looking to this Parliament to give effect to the new view, the after-war view. The principle embodied in that instruction sent to Lord Balfour would not permit of any improvement in the international situation, because the notion that the high seas, the arteries of the world's commerce, can he controlled by a great Power is a notion which the rest of the world will not accept. It cannot he made a counter in the international conference and, if it had been put forward, it would have wrecked the conference and would be a full explanation of the narrow limits within which the conference has succeeded.
2169 I want to ask the First Lord whether this matter was raised at the Conference. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) said the Foreign Secretary denied that the question of the regulation of trade routes had come before the Conference, that it had been excluded from the purview of the Conference at the request of the American delegation. I said in the country, when I read that answer, that I should desire to have some corroboration of its accuracy, because for years I had the advantage of conferring with the highest authorities in America, both in the State and in the Admiralty, as to these matters, and I find in yesterday's "Times" this account of the questioning which Mr. Stimson was put to by Senator Swanson. I ask my right hon. Friend whether this account is correct as it appears in the dispatch of the correspondent of the "Times" yesterday. If it is not correct, it should be corrected by himself. Mr. Stimson was asked by Senator Swanson whether fleet equality for warlike purposes only had been considered, or whether the protection of commerce also had been taken into account. The reply was that both had been considered, for the goad reason that the protection of commerce was inseparable from any combat at sea. On the point of accuracy I invite my right hon. Friend to say whether this is an exact account of what occurred at that Conference. I hope it is correct. If this was the line taken by the American delegation, it is in line with the steadily pursued policy of America as opened by President Wilson himself and finally embodied by that distinguished man in the second of his 14 points.
I am not a newcomer to these controversies. I speak of what I know. Hon. Members in this House who have followed these matters will agree with what I am saving, if they do not accept the view which the Americans have been putting forward. Since the termination of the War, America has steadily pressed for a consideration of the question of the regulation of trade routes in the belief, as Mr. Stimson is reported in the "Times" yesterday to have said, that the protection of commerce is inseparable from any combat at sea. I doubt whether public opinion is very much informed about the technicalities which have 2170 figured largely in this discussion, and that when the Debate is issued to-morrow whether the general public will find any particular satisfaction in the kind of technicalities which have been put forward to-day. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and I worked for years before the War in trying to get public opinion concentrated on this crucial fact, that for the peace of the world trade routes must be regulated by international agreement. Such a regulation would have to be vested in a law which all the nations had had a share in formulating. It would have to include provision for the determination, by a tribunal, of disputes, and if the commerce of the world, on the trade routes of the world, was protected by such a regulation, the peace of the world would be assured.
That is the root question connected with disarmament. The experience of the Washington Conference is fresh in our minds. You may make any arrangement you like between Admiralty experts—and I speak with all respect to them—but you will find that they will thereafter find reasons in their own national interests of escaping from the conclusions arrived at. The whole history of disarmament during the last few years is a succession of attempts to get naval experts to agree, and they have always been followed by fresh disputes. Washington was the last occasion. The whole House desires that this Conference shall not end with further disputes between the nations concerned. There is not a Member in this House who will not come to realise that any arrangement you may make can never succeed unless such arrangement gives effect to policies approved by the people. I take this occasion to criticise the way this Conference was conducted behind the ears of this House, and to express regret at the scanty particulars which were given to the House as to what was happening at the Conference, but I rejoice in this particular, that while I criticise the right hon. Gentleman in certain respects, I congratulate him on the success he has attained. I am certain, and I believe that he has reason to feel, that this Conference has resulted in preparatory work, and that this preparatory work will form the foundation for future conferences.
§ 9.0 p.m.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I had not intended taking part in this Debate, but there are two or three things which have occurred in the course of the discussion which I feel make it incumbent upon me to make some contribution. I should have been prepared to leave the presentation of the case for my hon. Friends and myself to the speech delivered by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert). I have risen at a time when I should not interfere with the arrangements which have been made by the Gentlemen on the two Front Benches. I shall not detain the House very long. First of all, I should like to congratulate the Government upon the measure of success which they have attained. It is a partial success, but I agree with what the Prime Minister said, that that is all that we can hope to secure at any of these conferences. He described this very modestly—shall I say with characteristic modesty—as a nibble at the cherry. I think that this cherry will need more than two bites before you get rid of it. It has appeared at many conferences. It will appear at many more conferences. The same old cherry will appear in the conference cocktail for a great many years to come. But when the Prime Minister said that you must judge a conference not by what you propose to the conference but by what you can get out of it, I was very glad to hear him say so. I have had even more experience of conferences than he has, and I am very glad that he and his friends begin to realise that you cannot be responsible for everything that is carried in a conference. You never secure more than a modicum of the projects which you submit to it.
The Government are gradually learning by experience, and I hope that in due course they will profit by it. The right hon. Gentleman was rather pleased with the fact that the proceedings showed considerable good will, and that the delegates were on the friendliest terms with each other. I can assure him that that is no new experience, and he must not rely too much upon it. It is worth a good deal, no doubt, but I have never seen a conference which did not end with "complete accord." It was the favourite formula with which we announced the result of 2172 all our conferences, and the more complete the accord very often the less was accomplished. Still, it is an advantage that delegates should part on good terms with each other. But we must judge the Conference rather by what has actually been accomplished, and not merely by the temper in which the discussions have been conducted.
Before I come to the nature of the Agreement itself, I should like to say one word about the Washington Conference. I wish the Prime Minister had been a little more gracious. I am not pleading in the least for myself for the Washington Conference, because, although I happened to be the head of the Government at the time, I took no part in it. The success of the Washington Conference was due to Mr. Hughes, who is now Chief Judge of the Supreme Court in the United States, to the late Lord Balfour, and to a large extent to the initiative of Senator Borah. Those are the three men who are primarily and almost exclusively responsible and, therefore, when I put in a plea for the Washington Conference, I am not putting in a plea for the Government of which I was the head. The right hon. Gentleman dismissed it with the phrase, "failure, or want of success." That is a little unfair and a little ungracious.
What happened at that Conference? It was the first Disarmament Conference ever held between nations which ended in actual disarmament. What was accomplished? Over 70 battleships were scrapped, some of them old battleships, some of them battleships which were in course of construction, including vessels on which as much as 90 per cent. of the work had been completed. When you come to the cost, it would be over £400,000,000. The result of that Conference and the scrapping of the battleships have enabled the right hon. Gentleman to prolong the holiday. He said that a mistake was made by the promoters of that Conference when they went in for a 10 years' holiday instead of five. They went in for a 10 years' holiday and got it. They scrapped over 70 battleships, and the right hon. Gentleman is merely prolonging for another five years the holiday which these great men achieved by remarkable courage and foresight, at a time when it was a very 2173 difficult thing to do. It was only three years after the War. The psychology of the War still remained, yet they were able to scrap these gigantic battleships. The importance of it lies in this fact, that the building of these enormous ships had a great deal to do with provoking the temper which led to the War.
When the Washington Conference scrapped over 70 battleships and made arrangements that we should consider at the end of 10 years whether there should be a renewal, it was one of the greatest achievements in the history of any Disarmament Conference in this world, and it would have added a good deal to the force of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman if he had quite fairly stated that fact. I am bound to do it, as being due to the memory of our great and distinguished representative on that occasion. As a matter of fact, the total tonnage scrapped was 1,770,000 tons. I do not want to institute comparisons. I had not intended to do so, but I am bound to do it. There is here no scrapping comparable with that, unless you add the fact that you are not renewing ships which might have been due for renewal if you had not extended the Washington holiday.
Now I come to what I consider to be the greatest achievement of this Conference. In my judgment, the greatest achievement is the fact that we have arrived at an understanding with the United States and Japan. That is worth more than 100 cruisers. It is the outstanding achievement, and it will have a very profound effect upon international history. In fact, there are so many possibilities embodied in that understanding that no one dares to discuss them in public, but I have not the slightest doubt that it will have a most profound effect upon the story of the nations. As far as the Agreement itself is concerned I would say, that as far as it relates to the deep sea situation, it is satisfactory. The Pacific is more or less dominated by this Agreement. When you come to the narrow seas, I do not think it is satisfactory. There are elements of very great peril in it. In fact, in many ways I think the situation has been worsened, because you have stimulated activities, prejudices and rivalries which were dormant, but which have been rather stirred into activity by 2174 the discussions which took place, and the attempt to achieve agreement at a moment when things were not quite right. As we are concerned, not merely with the deep sea situation, but also very vitally in the narrow seas, on our trade routes, it is a situation which I sincerely trust the Prime Minister will not leave where it is, because it is of such enormous importance. It is not a question, in my judgment, of cruisers. It is a question of a very different character, upon which I do not care to enter. It is of vital importance to this country, even if you are going to preserve the integrity of this Agreement, that you should regularise the position in so far as the menace of the submarine in the narrow seas is concerned.
It was the speech of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) which has led me to intervene in this discussion. I sincerely regret that the right hon. Gentleman should have departed from precedent by quoting secret instructions sent by the Government at home to their emissary at the Conference. In my judgment that is one of the gravest things that has happened in this House. There are occasions when documents of this kind should be published, but they should only be published after full consultation with the members of the Government who are responsible for foreign affairs for the time being, and if any individual member of an old Cabinet takes upon himself to publish secret instructions of this kind upon his own responsibility—well, there is mischief involved in it. This document, which I have had an opportunity of reading, was sent, I see, by the Marquess Curzon of Kedleston to Mr. Balfour and it is "Personal and Secret." I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman fully realises the consequences which may ensue unless this precedent is repudiated by all parties in this House immediately. Every Government leaves behind secret memoranda, some of them of a very confidential character, and some of them of a very controversial character. Their successors come in and get hold of all these papers and documents. There is no doubt at all that there is very considerable temptation to publish documents of that kind when you come across them. There may be a certain political advantage in doing so, but up to the 2175 present every ex-Cabinet Minister has honourably observed the precedent that these documents, being secret documents, ought not to be published without the consent of the parties concerned.
But when you come to foreign affairs it is very much more serious. When you are dealing with foreign affairs you send secret documents to your emissaries, not for publication by them, but rather in order to give them your view as to the line that ought to be taken and your reasons for taking those lines. Those reasons may be of a very secret character. They may involve reflections upon other countries, which if they are given to the world may provoke the most serious ill-will between one country and another. There are some of these documents—I have had an opportunity of seeing them—as to which I may say that if we had had any idea that they would be published, we could express ourselves in a different manner. But we were talking freely to one of our own colleagues across the water—in cipher.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman this: Supposing the Prime Minister were to follow this example and were to publish the secret instructions sent to Geneva to the Naval Conference there, and, particularly, the replies given by Lord Robert Cecil, would he regard that as quite playing the game? If this precedent were to be followed it would be, in my judgment, an extraordinarily serious departure from what has been the practice. In this case this document, taken by itself, does not fairly represent what took place. After all, these are views which were formed by the Government at home upon such information as they had. They might modify those views according to other facts which came to their knowledge. Even the right hon. Gentleman has changed his opinion, and everybody does it, when there is sufficient reason for doing so. We had to consider the situation from day to day. We sent our views across the Atlantic to Mr. Balfour, and, on the other hand, he sent his replies, which we considered from day to day. He weighed what we said, and we, certainly, attached very great importance to his opinion. But there was no idea of publishing these things because that might create a very serious situation in foreign countries which it would be very difficult for us to put right.
2176 I regret that the right hon. Gentleman should have raised this matter. He has said that I ought to be very proud of that document, but that has nothing to do with it. I have made inquiry, and I have discovered that the right hon. Gentleman's remark is not prompted by any zeal to defend my patriotism. It is due entirely to the fact, as far as I can see, that the right hon. Gentleman wrote it himself. It is really not friendship, but parental pride, that makes him feel such enthusiasm for this document. No doubt I approved of it. I must have sanctioned it, and I accept full responsibility for it, but I do enter a very emphatic protest against anything of this kind being done without full consultation with the Ministers who are responsible, for the time being, for the conduct of the affairs of the country, and, I think, also consultation with the person who was responsible for sending the document. I observe that, although the right hon. Gentleman wrote it, I signed the paper, and, as I say. I accept the responsibility, but may I point out, in order to show that it does not really convey the whole impression, that it was not so much a question of cruisers, but a question of our protecting ourselves against submarine attacks. It was not so much a question of cruisers for the high seas, although they are mentioned. In the main it was a question of how to deal with submarine attacks in the narrow waters, and subsequent documents will prove to the right hon. Gentleman that that was the view taken by Mr. Balfour himself, because he replied, not by reference to cruisers, but by reference to the fact that we had 3,667 small craft dealing with submarines. What has that to do with cruisers of 9,000 tons and 10,000 tons? It was purely a question of our not being fettered if there was a danger of submarine attack. It was always more or less a question of the narrow waters and of not being fettered in the construction of small craft for protection.
What has happened in this case? I followed this very closely. What has happened in this case is that the Admiralty are convinced that, in so far as submarine construction has gone, they are equipped with an adequate supply of craft for dealing with it. That is, in so far as construction has gone, but supposing the construction of submarines develops to such an extent as to increase the menace beyond what they 2177 contemplate, they have a provision in this Treaty, a safeguarding provision, which enables them to increase their quota of anti-submarine craft by merely giving notice to the other signatories of the Treaty. That is the position, as I understand it, as far as this matter is concerned, and that is quite in the spirit of the telegram which the right hon. Gentleman read to this House, but reading it out like that, without giving any notice, without giving any opportunity for examining all the conditions, without giving any opportunity to read the documents that prefaced it and the documents that followed it—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman one question, and only one? Does he suggest that the information conveyed by the extract which I read was new information, information that had not long been before the public? Does he suggest that the statement that we informed the United States that in no circumstances would we agree to parity at Washington in small craft and cruisers, is an exaggeration, and that it had not been made public before? We have had very heavy weather on this matter and I should like an answer to that question.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
In so far as there was any statement made in public, the right hon. Gentleman was entitled to quote it, but does he mean to say that if a statement is made in public that justifies him in quoting documents which are secret and confidential?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I do say that when a matter of this kind has been public knowledge, as a point of principle, for nearly 10 years, and when it becomes relevant to a great public discussion like this, a statement upon it would be perfectly legitimate. Whether it should be paraphrased and given in the third person or read out directly is, I agree, a point on which the right hon. Gentleman may dilate. The point as to whether it should be put in the third person or the first person may, I admit, be argued.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Really this makes the situation much more serious. I really think that we are entitled to have the view of the late Prime Minister upon it. What does this mean? Does it mean that if there are any discussions at Geneva, or Washington, or in London, 2178 where secret and confidential instructions are given to an emissary by the Government, if there are statements made in the Press as to the general attitude of the Government, then any Minister or ex-Minister is entitled to get up in this House, without obtaining the permission of the Sovereign through the Prime Minister, and read out these telegrams? If that is to be laid down as a principle, then I say it is disastrous. I know perfectly well what would be said if any Minister on that side took such a view. I should be very surprised if the late Prime Minister would get up in this House and say that he accepts that doctrine. The right hon. Gentleman has given his answer. What is much more important is that we should have the answer of the responsible leader of his party upon something which may affect the conduct of every Cabinet and ex-Cabinet Minister in this country who obtain secret and confidential information. That is all I have to say upon it.
One word in conclusion upon the argument advanced by the right hon. Gentleman as to the inferiority of our ships. He says, that although we may have the same number on the seas "Ah, well, they are older." I observe that the same arguments have been used at this very time by the big Navy men in the United States to show that the right hon. Gentleman has got the better of them there. As a matter of fact, you always have those arguments. The argument is that of the old and new ships. That argument is older than any ship in the British Navy. It has always taken place whenever you have had a demand from the Admiralty for an increase. Why, the right hon. Gentleman and I very often had arguments about that whenever there were great demands from the Admiralty for an increase in their armaments. If you go on numbers, it is said that they are old. The right hon. Gentleman has not only used that argument, but has also refuted it according to the particular office he held for the time being. That is always the case, and that is always the argument which is used. There is many an old warship which is quite capable of taking charge, and taking care of itself in any battle. The same is true of the British Navy. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that there were ships which were rejected and regarded as 2179 scrapped, and when the War came they were some of the most useful ships we had in the British Navy. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Coronel?"] At Coronel they were outnumbered, but if you had anything like equality of guns—[Interruption]. All I can say is that those ships were put into action by the right hon. Gentleman and others, and turned out to be very useful. There were a good many of them at the Dardenelles.
You always get that argument, and the fact of the matter is that those men in the United States who plead for a bigger Navy and more cruisers will be using that argument, and the experts on this side will also be using it. If you listen to this, you will never come to any agreement on earth. I am glad that the Government, carrying their experts with them I have no doubt, have had the courage to face that, and that the Government of the United States and the Government of Japan have also had the courage to face it. We have signed pacts of peace and treaties. We have signed a document which has simply abolished war, and still we go on adding battalions, divisions and airships and bombers every year. All this is based on the assumption that we are preparing for another war—the very thing that will provoke war. Let us argue on the assumption that there will be no more war. Even for war, it is far more vital to this country to restore its economic strength. I do hope that the Government will go on, as the Prime Minister has promised, not merely to carry these agreements through, but to proceed with the bigger problem of land disarmament, so that these pacts which we have signed solemnly one after another are made good.
§ Mr. AMERY rose—
§ Mr. AMERY
I am sure that the House will not expect me to follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in dealing with matters of which my right hon. Friend very truly said that the right hon. Gentleman made extremely heavy weather. My right hon. Friend is 2180 perfectly capable of dealing with that issue himself.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
May I ask whether we are to accept the final statement regarding the position which the right hon. Gentleman has taken up as an expression of the future view of the Conservative party?
§ Mr. AMERY
Any statement that is required will be given on the proper occasion. I hope that, at this hour of the evening, I shall be allowed to submit such arguments as I have at my disposal for dealing with the subject matter of this discussion. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has not devoted much of his time to that subject, but in the last few sentences he professed to deal with the whole of the technical argument which was advanced so powerfully and so effectively by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). He suggested that it is the habit of technical experts, when numbers are in question, to point out that some of the numbers consist of out-of-date or small ships, and that, when the question of the condition of the ships arises, they draw attention to the shortage of numbers. The whole case that my right hon. Friend made this afternoon was that neither in numbers nor in quality has this Treaty secured equality for this country.
The right hon. Gentleman had an eloquent peroration, the gist of which was that armaments, and armaments alone, are the chief cause of war. Our whole attitude towards this Treaty, towards the terms of this Treaty, unsatisfactory as we regard is from the technical point of view, must also be governed by our judgment of what part we must assign to disarmament, as such, as a contributor to the cause of peace, and to what extent we consider that armaments, as such, are the principal cause of war. I would suggest to the House that armaments are only in a very subsidiary degree the cause of war. The main causes of war lie sometimes in the ambitions of nations and of rulers, sometimes in the conflict of economic interests and even more—this is where the tragedy of war comes in—in the conflict of irreconcilable ideas which cut across frontiers and which, for their fulfilment, demand the destruction of nations and involve peoples in war. Europe was convulsed 2181 for generations by the conflict of religion. In the last Great War we were confronted with the final outcome of a long conflict for a national idea, the idea that those who speak a particular language or belong to a particular race ought to think first of nationality, and ought to promote it regardless of whether that effort can be accomplished peacefully or by the sword. I remember that one who, in his time, was one of the greatest ornaments of this House, Mr. Healy, was once speaking of what he regarded as the indefeasible claim of Irish nationality. He was asked, "What do you mean by nationality?" and he retorted: "Nationality is that which a man is prepared to die for." He might have added, "and equally prepared to make others die for." Is it that idea, far more than the armaments which may incidentally accompany the development of the idea, which is responsible for war.
Some of us were shocked the other day to read of the erection of a memorial in Zagreb to the memory of the man who committed the assassination which precipitated the war. There are still to-day millions of people in the world to whom that act is a symbol of the desire to lose life for the sake of an idea, and so long as that kind of idea exists in the world, or recurs in the world, you have to face the danger of war. So long as that idea exists, it is not armaments that provoke war; on the contrary, it is only when armaments are on the side of those who wish to change things that war is provoked, while the possession of armaments by those who care to maintain the existing order of things is in large measure the surest guarantee of peace. Even to-day it is largely armaments that are preserving the peace of Europe against the reversal of the Treaty of Versailles. It is only in a change of heart and in a change of outlook in Europe, which will make the issue of racial nationalism less vital to the minds of men, that we may hope that permanent peace, with its natural concomitant, disarmament, will come. The Prime Minister quoted the example of the United States and Canada, with one gunboat on each side, and with practically no armed men over 4,000 miles of frontier. Yes, because there have been no real issues to divide them. So long as that state of affairs occurs, you can 2182 well reduce armaments, but where there are real issues, it is the armaments of the peace-loving and those who stand for the preservation of the existing order of things that are the guarantees of peace.
Any standardised fixing of armaments at any particular low figure, unless it contributes to solving the conflict of ideas in the world, can only precipitate the outbreak of war, when those who wish for change feel that those who wish to maintain peace are weak enough to be attacked. With regard to the Prime Minister's statement that it is the conflict of experts that promotes war, there is the danger of experts on each side always exaggerating the strength of the other side and, by their competition, provoking friction and national trouble. Obviously, it is the duty of statesmanship to intervene to guide and, if necessary, control the experts, but I am not sure that the best way of doing that is not by informal discussion between the Powers directly concerned, because, when you come to formal public conference, you create real danger. You create the danger that each nation pitches its claim at the very highest to cover every possible contingency that may arise. Have we not seen that at the recent Conference, at any rate, as regards two of the great Powers represented, with the result that the entering upon such a conference has led to a state of affairs which, although we hope it may not aggravate the international situation, at any rate means an element of danger in that situation.
There is another serious drawback to standardisation. It does create the belief in different countries that each of them has some claim to interfere in the defensive arrangements of another country. It is a state of things which may in given circumstances lead to a danger to peace. More than that, standardisation has a logic of its own, which is not always the same as the logic of facts and reality. Take the Washington Treaty. I agree with what the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said, that that Treaty was in itself a great achievement. Not only was it a great advance in disarmament, reckoned in tonnage scrapped, but because it confined itself to the realities of the oceanic situation, and safeguarded us, as the right hon. Member pointed out, from the dangers of that narrow sea 2183 situation to which the Prime Minister referred, and from the dangers of being inefficiently equipped for our police work and the protection throughout the world of our trade routes. A certain standard of parity was set up at Washington, confined by those who made the Treaty to carefully safeguarding all our other needs and our complex and varied requirements. But popular logic in the United States led to a demand that in every type of vessel, regardless of our or their needs, the United States must have parity, and it is that which created the most difficult situation for the present Conference.
The difficulty was between what could easily be settled from the point of view of great oceanic Powers, and our difficulties in protecting the narrow seas and our trade where we have the development of submarines and aeroplanes constituting a situation which in certain circumstances can impose a tremendous strain on us, even perhaps greater than in the time of the Great War, when we were able to bottle up Germany and had only to deal with casual raiders. Moreover, the weakening of our cruiser position may actually lead to an increase in submarines, a situation which has already been opened up by Italy's new submarine programme. That the present Treaty does not appear to have solved. It has been side-stepped by that reservation in Clause 21, which in some respect is the most important Clause of the Treaty. It is one dealing with security against an international situation which might conceivably become one of very great danger to this country. I ask the First Lord to make clear to the House whether that reservation is a reality. He has the opportunity of making it clear to the United States. We have introduced it formally, but we have reserved to ourselves the liberty to alter the number of cruisers if we find a situation arises through the action of other Powers which endangers our position.
I trust that in the fullest sense we have made it clear, and will continue to do so, to the United States, as to where we stand in this matter for the future. It is worth while pointing out that, while we made our own strategical situation clear in Washington and there was no misunderstanding at the time, the fact is that, while we laid emphasis on 2184 that position, we have had a different outlook growing up. There is a grave danger that if in the near future we do take advantage of that Clause we run the risk of misunderstanding and the possibility of international and the present satisfactory outcome of the Treaty with the United States might very well be worsened rather than improved by the ultimate outcome of this Treaty. This is a matter which may turn out to be grave, and I am afraid it is a price which we have to pay for a Treaty which has been built up on the basis, not of the reality of the strategical situation, but on mathematical tables, not on technical realities, but on the easy logic of the public, in the United States.
It is for those reasons as much as any other that I regard this Treaty with grave apprehension as one which, while it has disposed of some difficulties, while it has apparently settled some things, does leave loose ends which may very well lead us to a serious position in later years. Turning to the technical aspect of the matter, my right hon. Friend pointed out that by nominal parity in cruisers we have in fact established permanent inferiority as compared with the United States, and that that is not the best basis for a free and equal co-operation. I will not repeat the figures to which he called attention, but he pointed out that the needs of our scattered Oceanic routes, of policing those routes, are bound to deprive and weaken the actual cruiser strength which we might have in any battlefield. The absence from such a field owing to the policing duties of a number of our cruisers gives them an advantage through their having all their cruisers practically ready for battle purposes as against our great disadvantage from having our cruisers locked up, as it were, by the policing ditties which we are called upon to perform.
These requirements of ours are based on the extent of routes which we have to defend. The problem is the same as the policing of a great city, where the number of police is not affected by the number of criminals at large, but by the number of streets and of the property which have to be protected. The Admiralty have fixed that requirement at 45 cruisers, and after taking 25 for the battle fleet. It is now fixed at 25. It has 2185 been halved when practically no change has taken place in the situation, and that seems to me a very grave matter. It is not so much the gravity of the situation as against the United States; the gravity of it lies in this, that for the ordinary needs of our ocean security, in whatever way it may be menaced, we are now left with a provision that on the figures is utterly inadequate. I am not surprised, with regard to the American case, that Admiral Pratt said confidently yesterday that he would not be prepared to swap the United States Fleet for the British.
When it comes to that wholly inadequate figure of 50 cruisers, we are then confronted with this strange and, to my mind, not yet clearly explained problem of why we, and we alone, inserted a limitation upon our right to re-equip ourselves by 1936 with efficient and not obsolete vessels. The Prime Minister gave certain arguments derived from the convenience of spreading your building—convenience both from the point of view of naval efficiency and of the men in the dockyard. That argument was not considered when all building was suspended during the time before the Conference, though he must have known that by no possibility could we come to a figure below 50, and if that argument had counted, I should have thought that, looking ahead even to 50 as a maximum, we should have begun to build to avoid undue pressure in the future.
But even giving to that argument all the force you like, that is an argument derived from our own convenience, and what necessity was there for incorporating it in the Treaty? Why should we bind ourselves to this irrevocably, to something to which we might well bind ourselves voluntarily? There was no reason why we should be compulsorily tied to the position that in fact, by 1937, we cannot have more than at most 40 cruisers in any sense fit to take the seas, or in any sense comparable to the vessels possessed either by Japan or by America. In other words, if we deduct the 25 cruisers required for the battle fleet, and cruisers that will be in dock for repairs at any one time, the position is that we shall not have a dozen fit cruisers to control 80,000 miles of sea routes. That is a profoundly unsatisfactory situation.
We have also, I think, the same right to be told—the Prime Minister has not 2186 told us—what the Government propose to do now, after all this delay, in carrying out those essential replacements. The First Lord only a day or two ago declared that as long as we had a Navy, it ought to be efficient, and that he would not ask any man of our flesh and blood to go to sea in an unseaworthy ship. I hope he will be able to prove to us this evening that he has got a programme, a definite replacement programme, and I hope he can tell us what that programme is and for how many years it is to be carried out. We have had it stated, on the great authority of Lord Jellicoe, that even accepting this figure of 91,000 tons, we shall require 13 or 14 cruisers to be laid down between this and 1933, 16 destroyers a year, and three submarines. We are entitled to know whether that minimum effort to come up to a figure which is still far below parity is going to be directly initiated and conscientiously carried out by the present Government, or whether it is to be postponed indefinitely, so that when the burden is thrown upon other shoulders, they may be charged with extravagance and with provoking naval competition.
There is one point to which I wish to draw the First Lord's particular attention, and that is the position of the Government's naval advisers, the Sea Lords, in this matter. The Sea Lords, Members of the Board of Admiralty, are not in this matter in the position of ordinary civil servants. They have a peculiar responsibility for the safety of the State. It is not, I recognise, a political responsibility. Theirs is a technical responsibility within the limits of the political policy that is laid down for them. But on this matter, which affects the very existence of the British State and the very existence of the Empire, this House and the country are entitled to know quite clearly under what conditions and within what definitions they have exercised their technical responsibility. The Prime Minister told us this afternoon, with regard to the point of a reduction from 70 to 50 cruisers, that the Admiralty position was that under international conditions to-day 50 cruisers could be accepted for a strictly limited period, with a proper proportion in that 50 of new construction suitable for extended operations and long-distance work. I assume that when the Prime Minister said the Admiralty, he did in that context mean the Sea Lords.
§ Mr. AMERY
I am glad we have that point quite clear, but we should like to know how that strictly limited period is defined. Was it laid down on the authority of the Government that there was to be no possibility of war within so many years? If such a definition was laid down, that definition has been in force for a great many years. It was the existence of that definition that justified the Admiralty in fixing the figure of 70, as against the 115, which was our peace standard in the years before the War. We have already taken that into account, and I should like to know what additional political provisos were given to the Sea Lords to justify their changing their mind and accepting the standard of 50 instead of 70. There is this further point. The standard of 50 was accepted on the condition that in the 50 there was a proper proportion of new construction suitable for extended operations. Were the Sea Lords equally consulted when that figure was modified to 40, or less than 40, by this over-riding provision that only 91,000 tons were to be replaced in the next three years? A clear answer on that point would be very reassuring to this House. I understand from the Prime Minister that the Sea Lords were consulted.
§ Mr. AMERY
No doubt the First Lord will amplify that point. Again, the Sea Lords stipulated for a definite replacement programme, and I hope we shall hear from the First Lord that the replacement programme that he now has in view, which will be introduced, I suppose, in the next few weeks, is in accordance with the conditions under which the Sea Lords accepted the grave responsibility of those reductions. I want to put this question, not in any captious sense, for this is, after all, a matter in which the safety and security of the State are concerned. We feel, above all, that the country and Empire are entitled to know what the advice of the Government's expert advisers has been, and the conditions and the stipulations under which that advice was given. I do not wish to follow up this matter any longer—I know that the First Lord of the Admiralty wishes to speak. I will only say in conclusion that this is a Treaty we on 2188 this side of the House can only regard with the gravest disquiet. The Prime Minister says it is not the conditions under which negotiations are opened that matter, but the results that come out of them. We entered into this, professedly, to secure a Treaty for international disarmament, and come out bearing a Treaty for British disarmament alone, a Treaty under which every other Power is building up naval power, some within limits, some without. We who have already reduced our Navy more than the others, alone have to submit to further reductions, these reductions definitely relegating us to the place of second Power. That is all the more serious, as we are concerned with the problems of Europe and the East, where our Navy is likely to be inadequate in the performance of the duties necessary for the preservation of our security.
We might accept these risks if in the Treaty there were some indication that it was making some contribution to disarmament which would permanently establish the cause of peace and permanently strengthen good will among nations. We recognise willingly the efforts of the Prime Minister in the United States, the good influence that his presence and speeches have had, the good effect of his conduct here on the negotiations, yet there are elements left unsettled in this Treaty which are capable of creating grave dangers in the future, that may well make us some day regret that this Treaty was ever passed. I cannot help feeling, too, some misgivings that the terms of this Treaty are not going to be fully implemented. I hope we may have an assurance of that, for the attitude of the Government and their supporters so far has not given us any confidence. Under conditions like these, obviously, we on this side of the House cannot be expected to share the responsibility of the Government in this matter. It is their Treaty. It would be difficult for anyone to go back on a Treaty once achieved without creating new problems and difficulties. It is a Treaty that contains so much from our point of view that is dangerous—perilously dangerous—that we must disclaim responsibility for it.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The last word uttered by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down was practically identical with the last word uttered by 2189 the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). In view of that last word, I should like to put a question, because it is only fair that the country should know where the party opposite stands on this matter. The right hon. Gentleman said he must, and his party must, disclaim all responsibility for the Treaty. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping went further and said that they must retain the right to review the whole situation at the earliest possible moment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I see that that is accepted. I want to know whether we are to take it from this Debate that it is the intention of the party opposite, having examined the draft Treaty, to tell the country at the first opportunity that they will denounce the London Treaty of 1930. In view of the two statements made one after the other by the right hon. Member for Epping this afternoon, and now by the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), I think that the country is entitled to know this, especially in view of some other things said.
§ Mr. AMERY
Obviously, no Government can denounce within the period of the Treaty a Treaty formally entered into. All we can say is that when the Treaty comes up for fresh consideration in 1935, I hope that we shall enter on those discussions in a more watchful and careful spirit than the Government.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
That is a very timely explanation of the statements we have heard, in spite of the qualifications attached to it, which come quite naturally from the party opposite. I welcome the explanation. It would be a very serious thing for this country if it were broadcast to the world that the party opposite had denounced the Treaty. I welcome the statement made in that connection. The right hon. Member for Epping—I am sorry he is not in his place—at the opening of his speech said that the Government were on the stage of history making history. I could not help thinking when I listened to his speech that one of the chief grievances was that he was not on the stage making history. I think that that has characterised a great many of his speeches. After a long and varied political career, spent under the shadow of more than one political leader of various colours, he bitterly resents that almost for the 2190 first time in his long Parliamentary career he is not here helping to make political history. I agree that the right hon. Gentleman has had a great deal to do with past political history, making some good, some indifferent, and some pretty bad. But I do not think that he need worry as to what the view of the country is as to the Government's handling of this Treaty. I resent bitterly the sort of insinuation from the party opposite that members of the Labour party are less anxious about the security and future of the country than the party opposite. [Interruption.]
I have listened very carefully all the afternoon without interruption, and, although one asks for interruptions by rhetorical comments, I hope that I shall be allowed to develop my argument with as much freedom as possible. I have said that I resent the suggestion that is so often made that we are less concerned about the future safety of the country than other parties. There may be differences in our views as to how that safety is best to be secured, but, whatever we have done in connection with the Treaty which has been under discussion to-day, has been done from the point of view not merely of the general question of peace and disarmament in the world, but of the best interests of our own country.
Now that the right hon. Member for Epping has come in, I would like to say one or two things about the incident which occurred to-day. The important Debate in which we are engaged was impaired by that unfortunate incident caused by the quotation of a secret telegram by the right hon. Gentleman, upon which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has commented at some length and with very great force. There is not a single comment upon the action of the right hon. Gentleman which has been made by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs with which we on these benches do not agree.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The right hon. gentleman says "naturally." Let me put one or two points. He quoted a secret telegram, which is taken from the secret papers connected with matters which are related to what we are discussing to-day. It would have been quite possible for 2191 us, if we had wished to follow the right hon. Gentleman's example, to produce paper after paper which would have suited our political arguments down to the ground, and have been very much to our political advantage. We have asked a question to-night whether the action of the right hon. Gentleman is to be regarded as a precedent. I am going to answer for the Government at once what our idea of the position is. Our idea is that, although on this matter and on many other matters, it would be greatly to our political advantage to follow the example of the right hon. Gentleman, we do not propose to do so in the public interest, and we invite the Leader of the Opposition to tell the House whether he accepts the same point of view. [Interruption.] I think that it is due to the House. [Interruption.] I will leave it to the right hon. Gentleman to choose, but I think that he will see that it is vital that the pronouncement should be made by him as Leader of the Opposition, so that the country may know where we are. [Interruption.]
If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping will allow me, I will now deal with his speech. He said at the beginning of his speech that the Versailles Treaty was binding upon the victorious powers to disarm. I should hardly have thought that by the end of his speech, he remembered what he had said at the beginning. I fully agree with what he said at the outset that it is vital for all the victorious powers that were signatories to the Treaty of Versailles, that they should remember that the Preamble to that section of the Treaty makes it incumbent on them to disarm if they are to expect the nations who were treated as the vanquished to continue in a state of disarmament. If his party and himself will bear that in mind, I think they may save a good deal of trouble in Europe in the future. I agree that if we are making perhaps the biggest contribution to disarmament, if we are making sacrifices in our main arm of defence—and I fully agree that we are doing that—we ought to be able to expect that there should be a corresponding contribution to disarmament from those whose main defences in the past as in the present have been on the land and in the air.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that the proceedings at the Preparatory Commission on Disarmament have up to the present made little progress in the direction of disarmament either in land or air forces, because there has been so much misgiving as to the position in naval circles in the world. We have made a real beginning by this Three-Power Pact arrived at between ourselves, the United States, and Japan, and we can go to Geneva with very much more confidence, and indeed a fair case for pressing for disarmament on land and in the air. The right hon. Gentleman said the Agreement that we have entered into ought to have been a natural supplement to the Agreement arrived at at Washington, and he claimed this afternoon that our Agreement was not really a supplement of that Agreement. I take it he meant that at Washington it was never argued, never intended, that we should have any limitation at all in auxiliary craft other than those that were to be used exclusively with the battle fleet. I take it that was what he had in his mind. But my examination of the papers and the general discussion at Washington does not leave that impression upon my mind. It is perfectly true that the delegates from the British Empire were not prepared at Washington to agree to a strict and ratio-provided limitation of auxiliary craft, but it is also true to say that one can tell from the published reports of the Washington Conference that it was fully contemplated by many of the delegates that there should, if possible be an extension of the agreement then arrived at to the whole of the auxiliary craft—the whole—and it was that part of the proceedings at Washington which my right hon. Friend described this afternoon as having been a partial failure.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) seemed to be rather upset by the reference which the Prime Minister made this afternoon to what had been accomplished at Washington. I think when he comes to examine the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow morning he will find that a generous tribute was paid by the Prime Minister to what was accomplished 2193 for disarmament at Washington, but the great difficulty was that the agreement did not cover in any degree the various auxiliary craft. If the right hon. Gentleman's idea was that we ought to have had an agreement in London in 1930 which confined itself only to craft which were attached to the battle fleet, what exactly would he have proposed? I could not discover from his speech this afternoon. Would he have proposed that we should try to get an agreement which would be confined only to cruisers and other craft which would be attached to the battle fleet? If so, how was he going to get a limitation at all? How would he deal with that question in relation to other Powers? He knows perfectly well that to have proceeded along that line would have meant that it would have been impossible to get any agreement at all in regard to auxiliary craft. Any Power that had, say, 20 cruisers attached to its battle fleet, if there were no limitation upon it in respect of auxiliary cruisers in other services, if it could do exactly as it liked, if it could build what it liked—and apparently that is what the right hon. Gentleman would wish—would have little difficulty in the future in attaching these auxiliary craft to its actual battle fleet if they were required.
That is not the way in which to get a complete and firm agreement about general naval disarmament. If there is to be real progress in general naval disarmament, you have to be prepared to face the issue of having agreement for all classes of craft which are in the fleet, and one of the great successes of the London Naval Conference has been that an agreement has been reached between the three principal naval Powers of the world which is not confined either to capital ships or aircraft carriers or cruisers attached to battle fleets, but which does cover every class of ship in the naval armament. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Treaty was not a Treaty of parity, but was a form of acceptance of inferiority, and I gather from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down that he holds exactly the same view. That means, if anything, that we are being charged by the right hon. Gentleman with having, in the policy that we have carried through in the Naval Treaty, definitely reduced our relative naval strength, and thereby reduced the national security.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
All right. Now I understand what the position is. That is the gravamen of the case which is put up against us. Let me deal with that point by point and examine it. The right hon. Gentleman does not say that that is the case in regard to capital ships. He expressed general approval of what had taken place, except that he was not very generous in his remarks about the modernisation of the capital ships in the American fleet. I think it is perhaps due to our American friends to say that, although we have arrived at the reasonable arrangement with them for the modernisation of the Fleet, as a matter of fact it had been carried out in respect of the whole of their capital ships with the exception, I think, of three. We have simply made it plain on the basis of agreement that it was possible.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
They had done it already in respect of all the capital ships except three. They held that, at the time when they did it, they were not really debarred under the Washington Treaty from doing it, and we have now made it plain that we agree that they were quite entitled to do it. Even during the Government of the right hon. Gentleman, in which he was so powerful an advocate of naval supremacy—even when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he was not able, apparently, to raise any effective objection to it. They had done a great deal to modernise their battle fleet at that time.
In regard to the cruiser question, a great deal of the criticism in this Debate has turned upon the point that we have reduced the programme—and I emphasise the word "programme" because we had not 70 cruisers available for this country when we took over from the people opposite—that we have reduced the programme from 70 cruisers to 50. A good deal has been said as to what was the exact position of the Board of Admiralty with regard to this reduction in the number of cruisers from 70 to 50, and a little misunderstanding was, no doubt, caused by the fact, that the full statement which it was intended to make was not made during the Debate in another place last week. On that occasion, the Lord President 2195 of the Council intended, and clearly indicated by his speech that he intended, to make a full statement. I propose to say to the House to-night exactly what I said in the country last January, which covers quite clearly the position of the Board of Admiralty in regard to this question of 70 or 50 cruisers. The right hon. Gentleman who last spoke must not forget that we had five Dominion and one Indian representative present at the Conference, and they have fully concurred in the Treaty.
"Our estimate of the defence requirements of the British Commonwealth has been summed up in the policy of successive Governments of His Majesty here and in the Dominions, namely, a one-Power naval standard. In the matter of capital ships, this has been very simply expressed in the form of parity with the greatest other naval Power. This was the main achievement of the Washington Conference. In the matter of cruisers, it is not so simple, and this was the crux of the Geneva Conference of three Powers which failed to reach agreement. One of the most important aims of the London Conference will be to reconcile our defence needs in the matter of cruisers with the requirements of international agreement.
After the Washington Conference, at which the question of cruiser strength was only to a limited extent touched upon, the Board of Admiralty advised the Government of the day of their view of the needs of the British Empire in cruiser strength. The number which is based on the needs of the defence of our world wide and vital sea communications, was fixed at 70. That was the number for which we held out at Geneva. That is the number which, had the conditions remained the same, would be our requirement to-day. But to-day we have to take account of a new situation which has arisen through the signature of the Pact of Paris, outlawing war, by most of the nations of the world, including all the major Naval Powers, not only those who were members of the League of Nations but also by the United States of America who, by their authorship of this Pact, take their second great step in the practical solution of the world's need for assured peace." [Interruption.] Hon. Members have been asking for weeks if I would state the position of 2196 the Board of Admiralty. I am saying now what I said in the country officially for the Board of Admiralty just before the Conference met, a statement which many critics of the Board of Admiralty have been very glad either to overlook or to forget during the past few weeks.
"With such powerful support for peace, we feel justified in looking forward to a period in which armed conflicts need not be expected. The Board of Admiralty, therefore, having regard to all the circumstances of to-day, and especially the Pact of Paris, and improved world political relationships, are prepared to agree to 50 cruisers as the minimum needs of the Empire up to the next date for conference and revision, which we expect will be 1936. I must emphasize that this figure is the lowest that we feel can be fixed to meet even peace conditions in present world circumstances. The responsibilities of the British commonwealth, both Imperial and international, including large commitments to the League of Nations, are enormous and the Navy is required again and again, as illustrated in the recent Palestine disturbances, to take both precautionary and effective action in carrying out our obligations and to keep the peace in some parts of the world, even when the major Powers of the world are at peace."
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
It is not a new statement. It is a new statement to Parliament, but I made it in the country on behalf of the Board of Admiralty. Many of the right hon. Gentleman's Friends have made speeches and have asked questions as if no statement ever had been made on the part of the Admiralty.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
We are right in assuming that the right hon. Gentleman is not giving us any new statement but merely reading out something he said in the country three or four months ago?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
And which the right hon. Gentleman and his friends seem largely to have forgotten, because I made it perfectly plain at the time that I was speaking for the Board of Admiral, speaking as the head of the Board of Admiralty, speaking with their full knowledge and after full consultation with them. I am repeating what I said then 2197 to the House and then it will be on the official records of the House. The Board of Admiralty made one other addition which the Prime Minister mentioned to-day, and that was that there should be adequate replacement of ships during the period of the Treaty of the kind which would give the radius and range of action to which the Prime Minister referred to-day. I do not think I need say more about the relative position of the Board of Admiralty and the figures which have been arrived at in the Treaty. If the Board of Admiralty made it a condition that there was to be a relative reduction on the part of the programmes of other Powers, as we did, am I not entitled, in reply to charges made against us that we have lessened the security of this country and reduced relatively our strength, to ask: What about, the relative programmes? What is the position? When I went to the Board of Admiralty when the Labour Government took office, what did I find in regard to the cruiser fleet? I want to answer the charge whether we have really reduced the relative naval strength?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
We found first of all that there had been a programme of 8-inch cruisers for 23 ships, but we found that five of the 23 ships had been cancelled mainly at the instigation of the right hon. Gentleman. Therefore, the programme, building and projected, was 18. We found, on the other hand, that although he and his Cabinet had made a cut in ships which were projected, they had obtained no corresponding offer of reduction from the United States of America. What is the position now? If you take the figures of the Treaty, we are now resting upon 15, and the United States programme is reduced from 23 to 18. As far as 8-inch cruisers are concerned as between ourselves and the United States of America, instead of reducing the relative strength, we have improved it. Take the case vis-a-vis Japan. Japan had 12 8-inch cruisers, built, building, and authorised, in 1927, when the position was being discussed after the failure of the Three-Power Conference at Geneva. What is the position now? Japan is resting upon 12 8-inch ships in 2198 the Treaty. We shall have 15 ships as compared with the 12 we had building in 1927. How have we reduced the relative naval strength in cruisers on that account?
Let me go further. Take the consideration of the general cruiser position. Apart from her programme, to which I have just referred, in 8-inch ships of large type, the United States of America had 10 large 6-inch ships of the "Omaha" type, and in 1928 about 100,000 tons of old cruisers. She was free to build what she liked, and, indeed, Lord Bridgeman said last week that he not only considered America might have parity, but he would very much like to see her, if she wished it, build more than parity. Therefore, in 6-inch ships the United States of America was perfectly free to go on building as much as ever she liked. Now she is limited to a, total tonnage, including 8-inch as well as 6-inch ships, of 323,500 tons. We are to get 339,000 tons. How does that reduce our relative naval strength, and, therefore, our security?
Take the position vis-a-vis Japan. If the right hon. Gentleman will go back and study the situation in 1929, he will find, taking the whole of the cruisers of Japan, both 8-inch and 6-inch, and allowing for over-age tonnage, which appeared on the list in 1929, Japan had 75 per cent. of the British cruiser fleet at that time built. What will be the position under the Treaty in 1936? Japan will get, as she has stood out for far her special purposes, rather more than 70 per cent. in 8-inch gun cruisers, but her total percentage of cruiser tonnage, with the old tonnage not replaced, will be lower than it was in 1929 when the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends left office. Our position will be improved from that point of view. How can it be said that in the reductions we have secured under the Treaty we have at the same time reduced our relative naval strength?
Let me go a little further; we have been attacked on these points and I am entitled to make a full defence. Take the question of destroyers; and I should like to say that I do not disagree at all with the statement made in the Press by various people and various authorities about the age of the British destroyer fleet, but no one on the other side of the House has the right to say that the present Government is to blame for the 2199 age of the destroyer fleet. It is perfectly true that a very large percentage of our present destroyer fleet will become old under the terms of the Treaty very soon, but that is largely because of the failure of past Governments to have a regular and steady building programme in destroyers. Let me examine the figures. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Treaty?"] I happen to be dealing with the Treaty and with the criticism that under this Treaty we have reduced our relative naval strength and thereby endangered the Empire. I shall complete my argument. Take destroyers. In 1929 the destroyer fleet of Japan was 107,275 tons. By 1936 that destroyer fleet will be 105,500 tons. The United States of America in 1929 had 290,304 tons. In 1936 that 290,304 tons will be reduced to 150,000 tons. The British Empire, in 1929, had a tonnage of 157,000 tons. In 1936 we get 150,000. Who can possibly say, on these figures, that although there have been heavy reductions we have reduced our relative naval strength. That cannot possibly be contended.
Let me go on to the next category. Take submarines. In submarines we are to get parity with the United States and Japan. At the Washington Conference in 1921 Japan's tonnage in submarines was 33⅓ per cent. only of British submarine strength. By 1929 she had increased that percentage of submarine strength from 33⅓ to 125 per cent. of the British submarine fleet, and the Conservative administration apparently did not have it in mind to change the British provision in order to meet that position. They sat perfectly quiet while this was going on. Although in the Treaty Japan is now reducing so that she will only have 100 per cent. with us in submarines we are told that we are thereby reducing our relative naval strength. If you examine the submarine position in relation to the United States the same thing emerges. Under the Treaty, although we are reducing our programme of submarines, the United States is also reducing so much that we do not lose in relative naval strength in consequence of the Treaty. I hope therefore that that charge will not be made again.
The right hon. Gentleman may say that I am not taking note of his argument 2200 that it is according to the responsibilities of the Fleet and the division of the work of the Fleet that we have to judge whether or not there is still parity, and whether or not we are reducing the relative naval strength. Let us look at that question. The right hon. Gentleman himself and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) and other leaders of the party opposite have said, again and again, with their hands on their hearts apparently, that in no circumstances at any time would this country, with their consent, go to war with the United States of America They said that they never took America into account in estimating naval requirements. The right hon. Gentleman said that America could do what she liked. Those were almost the last words of his speech. Then, why use the argument of the fleet of the United States in talking about the distribution of our Fleet? Not only have we got what, in our view, are reasonable parity figures with the United States, but by those parity figures, and by the improvement of relationship with the United States, we occupy a much better position for handling the rest of the world situation than was possible under the plans of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
I asked the right hon. Gentleman three very important questions on the subject of the replacement programmes for 1929 and 1930, and the 28 ships to be built between now and 1936. Will he answer those questions?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I am not sure that I have got down fully all the questions of the hon. and gallant Member, but, in any case, there will be plenty of opportunity for debating the construction programme when we come to deal with the Estimates.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
One of the other points which the right hon. Gentleman raised was this. He said that not only were we going to have a reduction of relative strength, but that that was to be arrived at before 1936, and he made considerable play with the question of replacement. I would point out to the 2201 House, first of all, that the parties to the London Naval Treaty agreed in principle to the life of cruisers being 20 years. There is nothing very serious about that. If hon. Members turn up the actual records of the technical committee at the Geneva Three Power Conference they will find that it was argued and very well argued by the technical experts that, as far as 8-inch gun cruisers were concerned, a 24-year life might well be assumed and obtained with proper repairs; that in the case of 6-inch gun cruisers the usual practice of the Admiralty was to allow a life of 20 years, and that in the case of destroyers, with proper care and proper repairs, they could be made to take quite economically and well a life of 20 years.
What is the position? All three Powers accepted the principle of a life of 20 years but Japan would have been in the position of having hardly any work at all in her yards in cruiser building during the life of the London Naval Treaty unless we had been prepared to give her some accommodation. We gave her that accommodation not without some advantage to ourselves, because we shall be able, if we wish, to scrap prematurely with a life of 16 years, two or three of the cruisers which fall to be replaced; and in the light of that agreement which was come to with Japan, we put into the Treaty, not a figure which was enforced by the Government for political reasons, but the figure which was requisite and necessary in the view of the Board of Admiralty to secure a proper replacement programme.
I have been asked if I can say what the replacement programme will be. I cannot. I hope to be able to tell the House at no very distant date what it will be, and we shall submit to the House what we consider to be a fair and equitable way of dealing with the replacement required to keep the Fleet in a proper condition. If we had adopted any other method than that which we are adopting, we should probably have been pressed, as we are being pressed by some of the right hon. Gentleman's supporters, to lay down 26 ships in four years. If we did that, we should find that thereafter we should be required to lay down only six in a period of 12 years. That would be a perfectly ridiculous situation. It practically means that we should lay down 2202 6½ cruisers a year for four years, and after that we should have only half a cruiser to lay down in each of the next 12 years. We certainly do not propose to do that. We propose in the light of proper technical opinion given in the past by the Admiralty experts as to the life of cruisers and destroyers to see that the replacement programme is properly spread over the interval, to be on the safe side for the Fleet and to stabilise industry and dockyard requirements.
I observe that in the course of his speech the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping said that there appeared to be a lack of confidence and will power in this country in handling these matters. He said we were a passive nation on which the other nations planted their claims. I could not help wondering when I heard that whether he was thinking of himself or of the members of the present Government who signed the London Treaty. I should rather think he must have been thinking of himself. I could well understand that charge being made by his own supporters against him for his handling, say, of the European debts question or it being levied against the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin) for his handling of the American debts question, but I do not see any real reason for making the charge against us. We have produced a Treaty which covers the whole of the categories of naval ships, which has been agreed to by the three principal naval Powers, and which, I think, is approved by the House. Although the agreements secure reductions in the mass, they do not, any one of them, reduce our relative naval strength. It would be better for the right hon. Gentleman to look to his own history rather than to make that charge against us. Then he said he believed that this treaty would create misunderstandings and heart burnings in America.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I should have thought from what has taken place in the last three or four years that it was much more true to say that, misunderstanding and heart burning took place as the result of the failure of his own Government to bring the Geneva Conference to a successful conclusion. The feeling between ourselves and the United States was not quite as cordial as all 2203 parties desired it to be after that Conference, and he himself admitted, in some of his speech to-day, that the feeling was much better than it has been, and he did not fail to pay a tribute to the Prime Minister for his efforts. I cannot imagine that he has any ground for saying that this Treaty will create misunderstandings and heart burnings in America. The right hon. Gentleman said that he would pay a great price to end controversy between the United States and this country, but he never said what price. I will tell him what the price was. It was that we should let the United States build exactly what they liked. That was the price. How could that lead to an end of the naval controversy between us? That was the only suggestion that he made in the whole of his speech—let them build what they like and let us build what we like. I agree that if we were considering the situation only between ourselves and America, it would not matter, but does the right hon. Gentleman really think that a big building programme by any Power in the world is unobserved by others? Does he think that it calls for no action by other Powers? Does he think that a large building programme in America would not have repercussions on other Powers, and thereby reduce our security?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
There is to be a much less building programme in America than there would have been if they had rested on the results of Geneva in 1927. That is the answer. We have been told that this Treaty and the way in which it is drawn—I think the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) said it—is likely to cause considerable misunderstanding and inconvenience if we have to operate the safety Clause. He hinted that the development of the French and Italian naval programmes was partly a result of this Treaty. I do not think that any right hon. Gentleman can maintain that point of view. They know—they have been in office—that the French programme has been on paper and has been proceeded with year after year since the passing of the Statut Naval in 1924, and if they examine the 2204 naval programme of Italy and examine the curve of the programme, they will see that the Italian curve has travelled sympathetically and faithfully with the annual French building since the Statut Naval.
So far from making the position worse, we have made it quite plainly understood that, whilst we have come to an agreement between the three principal naval Powers, if there is any need to operate Article 21 we must be free to operate it in our own interests and in the necessary defence of those interests; but we did not come away from the Conference with the idea of operating that Clause at once, and I do not want that impression to get abroad. We left the discussion at the Conference in such a way that we can continue it in the future with a view to getting the Italians and the French to adhere to the principle of the London Naval Treaty. I believe that the country knows that we have made a really great advance in the cause of disarmament, and that, whatever may have been said by hon. and right hon. Members opposite to-night, when it comes to the test of the country on this issue there can be no doubt as to the result.
§ Major ROSS
The First Lord of the Admiralty has made several startling complaints. He complained of the number of ships laid down by his predecessor in replacement of ships worn out. The first action of the right hon. Gentleman, after coming into office, was to cancel every ship that was ordered that he possibly could. He cancelled cruisers and he cancelled destroyers, well knowing that, whatever the result of the Conference might be, these ships would be necessary as replacements. There was a modest programme of eight every year in place of destroyers, eight to be finished this year and eight next year, but as to those which were on order when the right hon. Gentleman came in, I think, although I am not quite certain of the number, that he cancelled them all except one or two. Then he complains, with an air of righteousness, that he was left in an unfortunate position by his predecessors, whereas any cancellation by his predecessors was entirely eclipsed by the much larger cancellations for which the right hon. Gentleman was himself responsible. Let us judge the success of the Conference on the right hon. Member's own paper of 4th February.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Motion, for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.