§ MR. ALEXANDER'S STATEMENT.
§ Order for Committee read.
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
In presenting the Naval Estimates last year, I made some reference to the difficulty which faces anyone dealing with Admiralty Estimates in a time of real financial stringency at the Exchequer. That difficulty, so far from being less, is greater this year than last, and I have no doubt that there are many who will be disappointed that in the Estimates that I now have to present the net saving over last year's figure is not more than £342,000. It must be remembered, however, that it is a very different task submitting Estimates this year compared with last year, when the figure arrived at fell to be compared with the Estimate of the Conservative Government in 1929. The net reduction shown in last year's main Estimate over the previous year was £4,126,000. This was only possible by very severe cuts, which of themselves made it improbable that anything beyond pruning this year would be possible, especially in the absence of any extraordinary factors. But in fact my greatest difficulty in the last few months has been to avoid being compelled to ask the House to vote a larger sum than in 1930, and I have endeavoured to make this point perfectly clear in the White Paper which has been in the hands of hon. Members since last week.
The net estimates are arrived at after allowing for Appropriations-in-Aid from all sources. This year I have to face a loss of such receipts of no less a sum than approximately £1,500,000. The principal items in respect of which this loss of receipts occurs are, first of all, the ending of the generous Malayan contribution to the cost of the Singapore Base; and I had to remind the House before that in dealing with the Singapore Base the late Chancellor of the Ex- 1206 chequer was very anxious to spend everybody's money but our own. We also had to face a very heavy loss in freights from the hiring of Admiralty tankers, due almost entirely, of course, to the trade depression and the completion of the refitting of the Chilean battleship "Almirante Latorre" and the consequent ending of receipts from that source. In connection with this last item, I should like to point out that this very large refit has given employment to several hundred men in the dockyard for over 18 months, and this contract has been valuable, too, in other ways, since it has not only given a large amount of employment in the country on contract orders for material, but has been beneficial in strengthening the ties between our two countries and our navies.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
It is the Chilean battleship "Almirante Latorre" that was disposed of to the Chilean Navy. The completion of the work, which has been most satisfactorily carried out, presented me with the problem of the employment in the future of the men who had been engaged upon this ship. In that connection I should like to say that there is no intention whatever that this should involve discharges to a figure below a level fixed by wastage. But this of course, left us with the problem of the expenditure to be incurred in the employment of these men, an employment which will be arranged on the proportion of new construction assigned to the dockyards and on arrears of repair work.
There are two other points which may be mentioned as having also militated against heavier reduction. In view of the reduced amount of new construction operating this year as a result of the cuts in the 1928 and 1929 programmes, it is not possible to exercise an overhead cut of the magnitude of that of last year, and I have had to allow for a reduction of no less than £600,000 in that figure, which will now stand at less than one-half of the overhead reduction made by my predecessor in 1929. I might add that another factor making this reduction in overhead cut necessary is, of course, that contractors are now far more prompt in the execution of orders, partly no doubt because of their lack of other work, so 1207 that the large overhead reductions for delays that could formerly be made quite safely are no longer justified. The second point that militates against a larger reduction is the fact that the Non-Effective Vote continues to rise, and does so this year to the extent of £126,000. I often hear references to the size of the money Vote for the Navy, and references to the fact that this is spent on the fighting strength of the country. I do not think it is often realised that out of the total of a little over £51,000,000, almost £9,000,000 is in respect of the Non-Effective Vote, that is to say, £17 out of every £100 in the Navy Estimates is non-effective. I hope that my hon. Friends will bear that in mind. Mainly from these causes which I have outlined the gross Estimates at the outset were actually up by over £2,000,000, and in order, therefore, to secure the net reduction which I now submit to the House of £342,000, it has actually been necessary to find on the other side very little less than £2,500,000 of savings. I suggest that the fairest way to judge of the economy of my Estimate this year is to remember that comparing the gross figures of expenditure proposed for 1931 with the gross figures of expenditure in the Conservative Estimate of 1929, there is a reduction of nearly £5,500,000.
The House will, perhaps, like to have some details of how the reduction has been secured. First of all, the increased purchasing power of the pound has enabled us to save about £500,000 made up of £300,000 on account of lower prices and a reduction of £200,000 in Civil salaries, naval officers' pay and men's marriage allowance. Secondly, there are the reductions which may be described as Naval reductions. Perhaps the most important of these is the heavy reduction of personnel which will commence on 1st April at a figure of 93,650, which is 350 below the figure for next month which we anticipated a year ago. This is largely owing to the London Naval Treaty, and the House will observe from the Estimate that the figure will fall still further during the year to 91,840 on 31st March, 1932. The average numbers borne, on which our figures are based, will be less in 1931 by 8,648, as compared with 1928. This represents a reduction in expenditure on personnel in the coming year of £1,500,000, compared with 1928, or a 1208 total saving over the three years of £3,000,000. We are already enjoying two-thirds of this saving, and the reduction next year will amount to about £400,000. Most of this is due to wastage, but a small proportion is due to the new lieutenant-commander retirement scheme which aims at removing a surplus in that rank by offering retired pay before the normal age at which it can be earned. Not more than 150 of such officers are likely to be affected.
Perhaps it will be convenient to mention at this point a concession which has been made in the case of warrant officers. It has been the practice to adjust the pay of warrant officers, either married or widowers, on promotion to that rank, in certain cases where pecuniary loss might otherwise be entailed owing to the cessation of marriage and other allowances drawn as ratings. This arrangement has now been extended so as to take into account the messing contribution of 1s. a day for which warrant officers are liable, and the pay of the officers concerned will therefore be increased with effect as from 1st December last, by a sum not exceeding that amount, subject to the maximum of their rank not being exceeded. The annual expense of this concession is approximately £5,000.
Some saving has been possible on the materiel side due to the reduction of Fleet units consequent upon the London Naval Treaty. I refer specifically to the "Iron Duke" class battleships and the battle cruiser "Tiger." The actual cash saving compared with last year under this head is, of course, not large because it is not proposed to carry out discharges at the dockyards, but I might mention that the scrapping of these ships in advance of 1936 will also save us from having to spend a large sum of money on their refits.
On new construction, the coming year will show a reduction in expenditure of about £250,000 as a result of the policy which was confirmed by the London Naval Treaty. This is mainly on the old programmes and arises from the cuts made by the present Government in the building programme of 1928 and 1929. I would emphasise, however, that the reduction effected under this head of new construction as compared with the 1928 figure is over £4,000,000. The balance of the amount required to show a net 1209 saving of £342,000 has only been obtained by a rigid pruning of the Estimates of all the Departments of the Admiralty. When all these facts are taken into account, and when the House also remembers that we are to a smaller extent every year able to utilise the surplus war stocks in relief of current expenditure, I believe the extent to which economy has been exercised in the preparation of these Estimates will be appreciated in all parts of the House.
It will be seen from page 11 of the White Paper which I circulated with the Estimates that the new programme of construction for 1931 provides for the following new ships to be commenced:
I might, of course, emphasise that this programme represents nothing more than a normal annual replacement programme within the new limited tonnage set out in Part III of the London Naval Treaty. Following the normal Admiralty practice, the orders for this programme would not, in any case, be placed until the first quarter of 1932. While I am on that, I might say that I have been pressed by the shipbuilding industry on more than one occasion recently that, in view of the depressed state of that industry, we should anticipate naval building of the next few years; but both from the point of view of the financial position and from the fact that such an expedition of naval building would prejudice the negotiations for disarmament, it is impossible for me to accede to such a request. While, as I have pointed out, the programme now announced is merely the normal instalment of building under the London Naval Treaty, we all, I am sure, hope that further progress will be made in agreed reductions at the Disarmament Conference at Geneva; and in that event the Government will still be able to cancel, or postpone or vary the different items in the programme now announced. The estimated total cost of the programme, if it is ultimately ordered in full, is a little over £500,000 less than the 1930 programme recently ordered.
- Two Cruisers of "Leander' Class.
- One Cruiser of about 5,000 tons.
- One Leader and eight Destroyers.
- Four Sloops.
- Three Submarines.
- One shallow draught Gunboat.
- One Mining Tender for "Vernon."
- One Gate Vessel for Defence Booms.
1210 The House will probably like to know the Admiralty's reasons for including a 6-inch gun cruiser of 5,000 tons in the 1931 building programme. During the last 10 years, I think the House knows, we have been building cruisers of large size to make up a deficiency in vessels suitable for all operations due to the War-time policy of building only small cruisers for the special requirements of the North Sea. It is essential, however, that the smaller type of cruisers should not waste away altogether as time goes on, and with a view to spreading the replacement of as many as are needed over a suitable period the Admiralty propose to commence the construction of a vessel of the smaller type in 1931. The design of this ship follows generally the design of the larger "Leander" class, but on account of her smaller size, her armament will be less and the scale of protection will be slightly reduced; the machinery installation will also be of a rather lighter design. In general seagoing qualities she will compare well with the "Leander" class.
Before dealing with the agreement which has been reached between France and Italy, I should like to refer to one or two matters of general interest.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I am coming to that. First of all, there is a good deal of criticism from time to time as to the Admiralty staffs. In this connection, however, it must be remembered that there is a general feeling against the pre-War conditions of heavy overtime being worked, and we are now required—and rightly required—to conduct a close scrutiny of all such overtime. It must also not be forgotten that at the present time there is a large volume of work always to be met in connection with the continuous negotiations and discussions on Disarmament. In fact, it takes as much administrative work arranging reductions of naval strength in step with other Powers as it takes in order to arrange for taking part in a naval armaments race. Moreover, the post-War systems dealing much more fully with such questions as victualling, clothing, marriage allowances and general welfare conferences have very largely added to 1211 the clerical and administrative work. When you remember the wider provision made for pensions and compensation, and the way this work has expanded, it will be understood how the administrative work is increasing. Nevertheless, I am glad to be able to report that there was a net reduction in the Admiralty civil staff compared with last year of 30. As I am referring to the Admiralty staff, I should like to mention the great loss we have suffered in the premature death of the late librarian, Mr. W. G. Perrin. He had a distinguished career, as is evidenced by his connection with the Navy Records Society, the Society for Nautical Research and the new National Maritime Museum. Mr. Perrin retained the respect of all with whom he came into contact, and his place is difficult to fill.
As regards the dockyards, it is interesting to compare the position as estimated for the coming year with that of 1914. Whilst the total expenditure on shipbuilding and repairs is less by £8,500,000, or over 33 per cent. as compared with 1914, the figure for dockyard work shows an increase, and the number of men employed has fallen by only just over 3,000, or less than 5 per cent. compared to 1914.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
Probably in March; I have not the actual month. This is, of course, due to the greater proportion of construction work allocated to the dockyards. The 1931 programme, to which I have already referred, will, if ordered in its entirety, be allocated as follows:
The 1930 allocation of contract work recently announced provided a wide distribution of work over the whole country. I think it may be said that the numbers of employées in the dockyards are now more or less stabilised except for a slight falling tendency by wastage. Establishment vacancies are 1212 now being filled at the rate of one in six instead of one in eight as previously. I am very glad to say that during 1930 it has not been found necessary to discharge any dockyard apprentices on completion of their apprenticeship as we had reluctantly to do in previous years. The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) is very persistent in his inquiries on this matter, and I am sure that he is very glad to hear that it has not been found necessary to discharge any dockyard apprentices. The decision last year to grant a week's leave with pay to the dockyard industrial employées was carried out by closing the yards for a week in August. Certain classes of workpeople who had already enjoyed the privilege of annual leave were granted an increase in the number of days of leave.
- At Portsmouth—1 cruiser, 1 leader and 1 tender for "Vernon."
- At Devonport—2 sloops.
- At Chatham—1 cruiser, 1 submarine.
- By contract—1 cruiser, 8 destroyers, 2 submarines, 2 sloops, 1 gunboat, 1 boom defence vessel.
Progress is being made with the revision of the accounting system of the dockyards, which aims at more economical production. The clocking-in system in connection with this is now being inaugurated at Devonport, and I estimate that it will be in full operation by the end of May. At Portsmouth we have been able in connection with this system to devise a much more satisfactory method than formerly of paying wages which has been much appreciated by the employés. That may seem to the House a small thing, but it is not a small matter when it is considered that under the old system, in a dockyard covering a large acreage, all the men were gathered at one point, perhaps at the opposite end of the yard from which they usually left to go to their homes. Under the new system, a man's pay is handed to him at the clock on the job which he is leaving. I am glad to say that we have had a great many expressions of thanks from the workpeople in consequence of the change.
A good deal of very useful experimental and research work has been proceeding during the year. I would mention, among others, deep diving experiments, the further successful experiments with the Davis submerged escape apparatus for submarines, which has now been adopted throughout the Fleet, research in economy of fuel consumption, new types of engines and the use for Fleet purposes of oil produced from coal. On the latter point I do not propose to make 1213 any lengthy comment, as there is a Motion on Paper in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) to which my hon. Friend the Civil Lord, who has made a special study of the subject, will reply; but I can state here generally that tests which have been carried out in His Majesty's ships of fuel oil produced from British coal have, generally speaking, been very satisfactory from a technical point of view. The economic aspect of the question, however, is another matter.
The Fleet, as usual, has done a great deal of most useful general work in addition to police work all over the world, notably in the Far East and in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. Very useful rescue work has been done, and I might mention especially the rescue of the crew of the "Hedwig" and the great services rendered in New Zealand at the time of the recent earthquake by His Majesty's Ship "Veronica" and the New Zealand Squadron, of which we are all proud. It is opportune also to refer to the visit of the aircraft carrier "Eagle" with the destroyer "Achates" to Buenos Aires this month. They arrived yesterday for a stay of three weeks, in connection with the British Empire Exhibition which is to be opened there on Saturday by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. His Royal Highness travelled in a naval aeroplane on the last stage of his journey from San Antonio to Buenos Aires. The "Eagle" carries types of British aircraft with which flying displays are being given at the exhibition. Rio de Janeiro is to be visited on the homeward voyage. There is every reason to hope that these visits will do much to stimulate British trade with South America.
The hydrographical work—one of the most valuable of the many peaceful functions which the British Navy performs—has proceeded with added efficiency now that echo-sounding apparatus has been installed in the surveying ships. I am glad to be able to report a very good bill of health for the Navy. There were no large epidemics in 1930 and as far as I am at present able to judge from the statistical returns, the incidence of disease was generally less than in the previous year.
A large number of questions have been put to me since I have been at the 1214 Admiralty concerning the promotion of men from the lower deck, and the general system of the entry of officers into the Royal Navy. As indicated in the White Paper I appointed two committees to deal with these two questions, that dealing with promotion from the lower deck under the chairmanship of Vice-Admiral Larken and the one dealing with the entry of officers under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Sir E. Bennett), to whom, I should like to say, I am very much indebted for the time and care which he has given to the matter. I hope to receive the reports of these committees very shortly, and there will be no delay in giving consideration to their recommendations.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The hon. Member must not draw me too far, but I will consider that matter. The discipline and general service of the Fleet has been well and efficiently maintained. It is true that there was one unfortunate incident which led to a court of inquiry and court martial, but this incident has only thrown into relief the generally good conduct and discipline of our great Naval Service. I would like to compliment both officers and men on the great reduction in the number of trials by court martial which have been necessary. The numbers are now so small that variations must be expected from year to year, but taking the average over the last three years, only one man in about 5,700 was tried, as compared with one in about 2,250 in the years 1922 to 1924, and one man in about 850 for the years 1911 and 1912. The number of summary punishments has also fallen very considerably, the latest return showing, in proportion to the numbers borne, not more than half the number in 1911 and 1912, and appreciably less in the number for the years 1922 to 1924. I should like to take this opportunity of publicly expressing my thanks to both officers and men in the Service for another year of very excellent service. I should like to express my thanks also to the Admiralty staff, both Naval and Civil, for their great help to me personally, without which help the large economies which I have submitted to the House could not possibly have been secured.
1215 I now turn to the results of the conversations which have recently taken place between France and Italy and ourselves on the question of the limitation of Naval armaments, and am very glad to have the opportunity of reporting to the House the great progress made. The House will remember that at the London Naval Conference while a large measure of all-round agreement was secured on technical questions, it was not found possible at that time to settle agreed strengths of the French and Italian Fleets in the manner in which settlement was arrived at by the United States of America, Japan and ourselves in Part III of the Treaty, and on the conclusion of the Treaty, the Conference adjourned on 15th April, 1930, to enable negotiations to take place between the French and Italian Governments with a view to the settlement of the difficulties.
Last year conversations were resumed between the experts of those Governments, who were afterwards joined in by British experts. These conversations continued until they had obviously reached a stage at which the intervention of responsible Ministers was both necessary and urgent. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and myself therefore left on 23rd February for Paris to discuss with the French Government the position which had been reached. During the evening of the 23rd and on the 24th February we had meetings with M. Briand and M. Dumont, the French Minister of Marine, at which we reached a provisional basis of agreement for submission to the Italian Government. We left for Rome on the evening of 24th February, and on the 26th and 27th had discussions with Signor Mussolini, Signor Grandi, the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Admiral Sirinanni, the Italian Minister of Marine. Late at night on the 27th we reached agreement in principle, subject to the approval of the other Governments concerned, and after a further exchange of views in Paris upon our return there on 1st March, we were able to announce that complete agreement had been reached. It is most gratifying to be able to say that in these arduous and often difficult negotiations the utmost good will and determination to reach a settlement were shown by the 1216 Governments of both France and Italy, and we were very much impressed by the sincere desire of these two Governments to co-operate with His Majesty's Government in our work of consolidating peace in Europe and of achieving a real measure of armaments limitation and reduction.
The terms of the settlement arrived at were expressly made dependent upon the approval of all the Powers who are signatories of the London Naval Treaty. A White Paper has been issued through the Vote Office this afternoon in which the bases of agreement arrived at are printed, and hon. Members will be able to follow what I have to say from that White Paper. I come first of all to the question of Capital Ships. The House will observe that, without prejudice to a general revision of the capital ship tonnages established by the Washington Treaty, it is proposed that the total tonnage in this category accorded to France and Italy—each of them—shall be raised from 175,000 to 181,000 tons. I must point out, however, that this slight increase will not in itself give rise to any additional new construction during the period of the agreement, but will permit France to retain an existing capital ship. Under the Washington Treaty France could retain 208,114 tons of capital ships, this total including three old vessels amounting to 52,791 tons. Of this total 155,323 tons were replaceable by new construction which might total 175,000 tons, an increase of 19,677 tons. The three old capital ships that I have referred to were not included in the replacement calculations and could be retained indefinitely. By the loss of the battleship "France" at sea a few years ago the French total existing replaceable tonnage was reduced to 133,134, and France was thus able to build ships to a total tonnage of 41,866 without any scrapping.
Under Article I of the London Treaty France could not build during the period of the Treaty more than 70,000 tons of replacement capital ships. She desired to build within that tonnage three ships of 23,333 tons each. On building two such ships—and the House will observe that only two are to be built during the period of the agreement—she would ex- 1217 ceed her right to build without scrapping by 4,800 tons, and if she built a third ship she would exceed that right by 28,133 tons. If France then scrapped one of her existing replaceable ships, she would still exceed her right to build by 5,944 tons. But, on the other hand, if she were to scrap two ships instead of one, she would, owing to Article I of the London Treaty, be prevented from reaching her full allowance of tonnage under the Washington Treaty by as much as 16,245 tons. This explains the necessity for increasing her tonnage allowance by 6,000 to 181,000; but I should add that in return for this concession France undertakes to scrap by December, 1936, two of the three old battleships which under the Washington Treaty are not replaceable. The House Rill notice that under the bases of agreement France and Italy will complete only two capital ships before December, 1936. I have explained the procedure that France will follow, and need only mention that Italy will scrap approximately 16,820 tons of average first-class cruisers on the completion of each of her two ships.
One very important point which we discussed in Paris and Rome, and on which I am glad we obtained agreement, was the reduction of the calibre of the gun of the proposed new capital ships from 13 inches to 12 inches. The House will remember that at the London Naval Conference His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom proposed that the maximum tonnage of the capital ship should be very substantially reduced and also that the maximum calibre of the gun should be reduced from 16 inches to 12 inches. It was not possible at the London Conference to secure agreement on this proposal for reduction, and the whole question of the future of the capital ship was adjourned until the next conference in 1935. The laying down in the interim of capital ships to which France and Italy were entitled under the London Treaty with a gun of 13 inches would have been most unfortunate from the point of view of the discussions that will take place on the general question later on. I desire personally to express my appreciation of the action of the French Government in making this reduction after the French Minister of Marine had publicly announced his intention of building a 13-inch gun ship. In return His 1218 Majesty's Government will give the French Government a written assurance that they themselves favour a reduction of the capital ship gun to a maximum calibre of 12 inches and a substantial reduction in the existing maximum displacement or 35,000 tons.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Is it possible to give any sort of figure of how much reduction is proposed in this enormous figure of 35,000 tons?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The hon. and gallant Member will know that at the London Conference His Majesty's Government did propose a reduction of 10,000 tons in the size of the ships to 25,000 tons, but even on that we could not get agreement, and the whole question must come up for new discussion at the next conference.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I think it more advisable that hon. Members should hear the terms of the Treaty and then they can put as many questions as they like. In the case of aircraft carriers the agreement between France and Italy that each may build 34,000 tons in this category is within the limit imposed by the Washington Treaty and therefore calls for no comment. The total figures in this category would be 54,196 tons for France and 34,000 tons for Italy. I come next to what is known as category "A" cruisers, in other words, those armed with 8-inch guns. It is very satisfactory to note that no further construction in this category is to take place by France and Italy after the completion of their 1930 programmes, and this will mean that each will rest upon the strength of 70,000 tons of under age ships in this category.
I now come to category "B" cruisers, that is, cruisers with a gun not exceeding 6.1 inches, and destroyers. By terms tentatively agreed upon at the London Naval Conference and now embodied in the draft Disarmament Convention drawn up by the Preparatory Commission on Disarmament at Geneva, France and Italy are able to treat these two classes of ships as being in one category. In this category France may have in December, 1936, if she builds to her maximum, rather more than 198,000 tons of ships for replacement, whilst Italy will have about 151,360 tons. 1219 It is anticipated, however, that the French Government will in addition possess in 1936 a large over age tonnage in this category. We made it quite clear during the negotiations that the temporary retention of this tonnage confers on France no claim to its ultimate replacement, and hon. Members will observe that the reservation included in the White Paper under the heading of C. (b) adequately safeguards this position. It says:It is understood that the present arrangement establishes no permanent ratio in any category of ship as between the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, France and Italy. In particular, no precedent is being created for the final solution of the question whether, and if so in what manner, tonnage remaining over age on the 31st December, 1936, may ultimately be replaced.The House will also notice that an extension of the life for destroyers has been provided for in paragraph B, subparagraph (b). In that connection I would say that the life of 12 years for destroyers referred to in the London Naval Treaty applied only to vessels which were laid down before 1921. We have always maintained that the normal effective life of a destroyer should be not less than 16 years, and the figure of 12 years for certain destroyers was adopted in the London Naval Treaty to suit the convenience of other signatories.
Turning to the submarine category, the figure for France in 1936 is not to exceed 81,989 tons, whilst that of Italy will not exceed 52,700 tons. The French figure is agreed to on our part only subject to a reservation I shall refer to in a moment or two. I should explain that the tonnage I have mentioned for France is the actual tonnage which she has built and building in submarines at the moment which will be under age on 31st December this year. The French Government were unwilling to rest on a lower figure, although, may I say that if it had not been for our visit the figure would have been much higher. Both the French and Italian Governments, however, agreed not to include any submarines in the 1931 programme and not to lay down any further submarine tonnage before 1933; and therefore any provision for new submarine construction made in the 1932 1220 programme for construction in 1933 will be subject to the decisions reached as regards submarine tonnages by the World Disarmament Conference in 1932. We have cleared away the obstacles to free and full and frank discussion of the whole question at the Disarmament Conference. I should further explain that in arriving at the figure of 52,700 tons for Italy provision has been made for this to include rather more than 5,000 tons of average ships which are not replaceable.
I must emphasise the point which we included in the bases of agreement that we consider the figure for submarines submitted by France as being far too high, especially in relation to our destroyer figure of 150,000 tons in London Naval Treaty, and it was therefore necessary to make a reservation that in the event of a satisfactory solution of this submarine figure problem not proving possible in 1932, the right of the British Commonwealth of Nations to increase their destroyer figure under Article 21 of the London Naval Treaty is maintained. Nevertheless, it must be borne in mind. that whilst from the point of view of His Majesty's Government the figure arrived at in the submarine category is the least satisfactory part of the agreement, the figure of 81,989 tons now accepted by the French Government represents a very considerable reduction upon their original programme, and it is for this reason that, whilst reserving our powers under Article 21 if necessary after the Geneva Conference, we are prepared to notify the other signatory Powers of the London Naval Treaty that, pending the general revision of the naval question at Geneva, we shall not have recourse to Article 21.
It only remains to say on the actual terms of the agreement that, as set out in paragraph C (a) of the bases of agreement in the White Paper, France and Italy accept so far as they are concerned those provisions of Part III of the London Naval Treaty which are of general application and which, do not conflict with the provisions of the present arrangement. In this connection I would say that conversations are now proceeding between the interested Governments as to the best method of formally associating the agreement arrived at with 1221 the work of the London Naval Conference; but I think I should say that it may not be possible to insert the agreement into Part III of the London Naval Treaty until the result of the General Disarmament Conference in 1932 is known.
I am happy to say, in regard to the arrangements contemplated in the bases of agreement, that we have received intimations of their general concurrence from the United States of America and Japan. From all the members of the British Commonwealth who were represented at the London Naval Conference we have also received general approval, and indeed many congratulatory messages. Perhaps I may be permitted to add that we have indeed received from them many congratulatory references.
The work of the London Naval Conference had as its object the limitation and reduction of naval armaments but, although great progress was made in this direction by Part III of the London Naval Treaty, there was always the danger that lack of agreement between France and Italy would lead to a competitive race to which other Powers could not have been oblivious, and in respect of which adequate safeguards would have been bound to be taken. Thus we might have reverted to a position comparable to that preceding the Great War, and it is surely a matter for profound thankfulness that the agreement now arrived at puts an end to competitive building in all categories of naval vessels. Moreover, the result of the agreement will be that the actual amount of tonnage to be constructed during the period of the agreement shows a great reduction on the construction which had been contemplated prior to our concluding the agreement, and it may therefore surely be said that the agreement marks a very real advance towards a general measure of disarmament.
Perhaps the House will also permit me to emphasise what we all hope may be the fortunate results of this agreement in the political sphere. The solution of the Naval difficulties between France and Italy removes what has been admittedly a troublesome element in their mutual relations. Whilst this will undoubtedly create a much better atmosphere in which 1222 to discuss other questions arising between the two Powers concerned, the settlement of the Naval question must be taken as having greatly improved the prospects of the general Disarmament Conference at Geneva next year. It has, I think we can say with confidence, created a much more favourable atmosphere for the work of international co-operation for the maintenance of European peace and prosperity in which His Majesty's Government, in connection with all the nations of Europe, are equally and vitally concerned.
§ Mr. AMERY
I think every section of the House will join with me in congratulating the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Foreign Secretary upon the part which they have played in bridging over the difficulty between Italy and France. To that extent I think our congratulations are unreserved. But from the point of view of these Estimates I think we are bound to consider how far in playing the valuable part of the honest broker we have not been ourselves paying something in security for that service. I could not help wondering, as the First Lord gave the figures—undoubtedly figures of reduction from the very high standard which France and Italy had previously fixed—whether those were figures which we should have brought ourselves to face at the London Conference less than a year ago, and particularly with regard to submarines. The figures are 81,900 tons for French submarines and 52,700 tons for Italian submarines, as against a total figure for the whole of the British Empire of 52,700 tons. I think this creates a very unsatisfactory situation, in view of our limited tonnage of destroyers, keeping in view also the great pre-dominance in the air which France enjoys at any rate in the neighbourhood of her own coast.
It seems to me that instead of postponing our claim to have recourse to Article 21, we should at once have revised the figures, at any rate of our destroyers, and to some extent of our cruisers, to meet the potential menace of these really immense submarine fleets. On this point I do not think we have been doing the right thing, not only from the point of view of our immediate security, but even from the point of view of disarmament. Even from that point of view our acquiescence in a further 1223 measure of unilateral disarmament may well prove not to have been the best course in the interests of disarmament as a whole. Only yesterday the Secretary of State for War, speaking of the experience of this country during the last 10 or 11 years in regard to reductions in the Army, and comparing it with the position of other countries, said:They must conclude that the policy of unilateral disarmament has not achieved its object. It is impossible to examine the figures, and, looking facts in the face, to conclude that any foreign country has followed the example set by this country. I do not want to make invidious distinctions, but I ask anybody who takes an interest in the question of disarmament to note carefully the condition of affairs as shown in the League of Nations books on the subject, and then I think there can be no question at all that the enormous reductions which have obtained in this country have not been reproduced in other countries. Disarmament in this country, instead of being a lead to foreign nations has not lead to that desirable result."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1931; col. 1021, Vol. 249.]The First Lord himself declared last year that unilateral disarmament is no part of the policy of His Majesty's Government. The truth is that ever since the War this country, especially in regard to its Navy, has continually followed the policy of unilateral disarmament. We scrapped something like 2,250,000 tons of combatant ships within three or four years immediately after the War. In order to pave the way for the London negotiations we had a unilateral reduction of our standard of cruiser strength from 70 to 50. What justification there was for that, when we look at the immensely varied services that have to be furnished and met by our cruisers, I have never yet discovered. At any rate, as far as cruisers are concerned, what we did was to carry out unilateral disarmament ourselves in order to facilitate unilateral increase by others to bring up their cruiser standard to our strength. Here, again, in this agreement, much as we applaud its general outline, I cannot help feeling is yet a further step in this tendency, and I believe it is a mistaken tendency, to think that we can help the general cause of disarmament by disarming ourselves and lowering the standard of our security.
1224 I now turn to the actual armaments which are contemplated by the Government in the Estimates. How far do the Estimates maintain the standard of equal disarmament set by the London Treaty? How far do they fulfil the pledge which the Prime Minister gave in 1924 and which the First Lord of the Admiralty reaffirmed during the discussion of last year's Estimate that the Government are not going to allow the Navy to disappear by wastage from the bottom? I would like to go very briefly into the figures of construction which are contemplated by the Government in order to see how far it represents a fulfilment of the policy agreed upon in the London Treaty. I understand that the present position is that the Government intend to repeat this year's programme in successive years and that we shall have three cruisers, a destroyer flotilla, and three submarines laid down every year. If that is the policy of the Government, then it is quite clear that we shall not by 1936 be in a position to have anything like a proper proportion of under age cruisers. The total number of our existing cruisers is 53, and 29 of them will be over age by 1936. Allowing for a continuance of the present programme and subsequent programmes, we shall at the very most at the end of 1936 have 35 under age cruisers completed, and we shall not have more than 31 or 32 actually in commission.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. AMERY
I was taking the life of the cruisers in the Treaty, that is to say, 16 years for cruisers completed before 1st January, 1920, and 20 years for cruisers completed after 31st December, 1919. Those are the age limits of the Treaty. Those are the standards by which other Powers are modernising and bringing their building up to date. That figure of cruisers for 1926, at least 15 short of our requirements, is not a figure forced upon us by the 91,000 tons overhead limit. It is something, as far as I can calculate, between 18,000 and 19,000 tons short. Consequently, within the limitation imposed upon us in that respect by the London Treaty, we ought to be completing at least three cruisers 1225 more before 1936. In other words, there ought to be at least one more cruiser added to last year's, this year's, and next year's programme. It must be remembered that we have the largest commitments in the world. We have 80,000 miles of sea routes to protect, guarding the arrival of our daily bread and the sustenance of our industries, and every reduction in the total number of cruisers reduces the cruisers available for commerce protection out of all measure. When our standard was 70 cruisers, it was fixed by the consideration that 25 was the minimum requirement for the battle fleet, and 45 the minimum requirement for commerce protection on the high seas. By reducing our standard from 70 to 50, we cut down our provision for Empire sea routes, not in that ratio, but in the ratio of from 45 to 25, and if we are going to be 15 or 19 up-to-date cruisers short by 1936, our provision of under-age sea-going effective cruisers which can hold their own in protecting our commerce will be reduced to the merest handful.
I am not sure, however, that the cruiser situation is at all the most unsatisfactory part of our position. I am not sure whether the position in respect of destroyers, destroyer leaders, and submarines is not very much graver, and especially graver since the announcement we have heard this afternoon. The London Treaty sets an overhead total limit for this country of 150,000 tons in destroyers and leaders—enough to provide 12 flotillas of one leader and eight destroyers apiece. At this moment we have 146 altogether, of which only 61 are under age according to the age limit fixed by the Treaty. It may be that the age limit could be reasonably lengthened somewhat. If so, why not lengthen it for others as well as for ourselves? This figure will come down to 33 under age next year, and by 1936 it will be under 60. The figure, as far as I can work it out, is 59, or barely half our actual requirements—our minimum figure under the London Treaty. On the top of that, if we are to meet, not the Escalator Clause, not the new potential menace of submarine fleets in narrow waters, but to meet the position as we saw it at the time of the Treaty of London, we should lay down two 1226 squadrons a year, and not one squadron only.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
May I point out that the last Government, of which the right hon. Gentleman was a Member, built no destroyers for years, and, in the year in which we came in, they had only proposed to lay down one flotilla a year, so that they could not possibly have been in the position which he is now advocating.
§ Mr. AMERY
I am not prepared to admit at all that we were not considering the destroyer question as well as the cruiser question. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the first step which his Government took when they came into office was to cut down by four our provision of destroyers in the 1928 programme. In that programme a leader, three destroyers and two submarines were cut out, and I think a similar reduction was also made, though not in destroyers, in the 1929 programme; and the right hon. Gentleman has no right at all to assume that the beginning we were making in respect of the completion and re-establishment of our destroyer fleets would not have continued if we had been in office. After all, the right hon. Gentleman is well aware that destroyers do not take as long as cruisers or capital ships to construct, and it is only at this moment that there has begun the very heavy drop in under-age destroyers. As I have pointed out, while the figure is 61 under the London Treaty age limit at this moment, it will be 33 next year. It is now and in the last two years that fresh destroyer construction has been required, and in the next few years more will be required. These figures, supported by the great authority of Lord Jellicoe in the House of Lords in last year's discussions, confirm the view I take that in the years now ahead of us it is two squadrons and not one squadron a year that we should be laying down.
There is another point that is worth commenting upon, and that is the inferiority of our leaders in size and power to those of our neighbours across the narrow seas. We have at the present moment 16 leaders, of which 13 will be over age by 1936, and, allowing for new construction, we shall by 1936 only have seven or eight leaders within the Treaty 1227 age, and therefore at the height of their efficiency. I do not say that the others will not still be of some service, but they will not be in the prime of their efficiency. As compared with that figure, France, subject to any modification that is made by the present agreement, has, building and projected, 31 leaders, all of them except one between 2,100 and 2,560 tons, as compared with our leaders whose maximum size is 1,500 tons. That is a serious discrepancy, and one which it is impossible with any reasonable consideration for naval security to ignore.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what was the projected figure?
§ Mr. AMERY
Even if it is true that some of those vessels have now dropped out, the French have still a large number of leaders which are altogether, as far as regards tonnage, speed and power, in a different class from our leaders. To turn to the submarine position, there again we are not living up to the limit set by the London Treaty. The process of unilateral sag is continuing all the time. The tonnage fixed for us is 52,700 tons, representing presumably about 55 vessels of the present tonnage. We have 59 actually at present, representing a total of 56,000 tons. Next year we shall have only 49 submarines under age, and in 1936, if the present programme continues in subsequent years, we shall have 39. By 1936, on the present calculations, we are likely to be from 13,000 to 14,000 tons short of the London Treaty figure. It seems to me that all through in this matter tine tendency is to cut down unilaterally in order to make an agreement possible, and, whenever agreement has been arrived at, then to cut down still further unilaterally for the sake of economy. I cannot conceive that that is a wise policy, or that it is in fact a policy which is going to contribute to the cause of peace.
May I now turn briefly to certain other points on the Estimates? The First Lord drew attention to the fact that the very remarkable reduction in expenditure on construction in recent years has been almost entirely due to a reduction in the work given outside the dockyards, and that the dockyards have been kept, subject to wastage, in a condition which has avoided heavy discharges. That is a 1228 policy which naturally would be approved of in all quarters of the House, but we approve of it only on the assumption that care is taken that full efficiency of work in the dockyards is maintained. I should like to ask the First Lord whether in this matter the former practice of asking for tenders before work is given to the dockyards has been followed, and also whether the increased efficiency that we secured in the dockyards through piecework has been maintained, or whether there has not in fact been—and the figures seem to me a little to indicate it—a making of work at the expense of efficiency.
To turn from the men in the dockyards to something which is even more vital to the efficiency of the Navy, that is to say, the men serving in the ships themselves, there again the First Lord congratulated himself on the great savings that we are enjoying. I am not sure that those who have left the Service enjoy them quite so much. Something like 8,600 men have been reduced since 1928. A part of that reduction is due, of course, to the disappearance of the Iron Dukes in consequence of the Naval Treaty, but that cannot account for anything like the whole of the reduction. I should like to ask the First Lord how far, with these reductions, is really adequate provision made for training courses and for the crossing of reliefs between the various stations, which must always occupy a very large number of men? In the same connection there is a figure which I confess fills me with misgiving. Nothing is more important than the element of long-service trained personnel in the Navy—the element that comes in in boyhood and provides the very backbone of our ratings. I have noticed that in the number of boys serving at sea there has been a reduction out of all proportion to the general reduction in the strength of the Navy. The figure, which in 1929 stood at 2,077, is now only 969. That does, at any rate on the face of it—no doubt the First Lord will be able to give us some explanation—look like an undue economy in one region where it is particularly vital not to indulge in false economy, but to secure the men of the future, whom you cannot replace in a moment.
Another point to which the First Lord did not draw attention in his speech, but 1229 with which he has dealt in his statement, is the fact that we have now three carriers afloat and in commission, that four catapult sets have been fitted to cruisers, and that eleven more are to be fitted in the immediate future. But, in contrast with that satisfactory provision, the provision of aeroplanes to make use of these things is reduced to one flight instead of two flights. Can the First Lord assure us that the new provision is really such that it will be fully made use of by the aeroplanes with the Fleet; and can he tell us the comparable figures for aeroplanes with the American Fleet? There, again, it is essential that our London Treaty standard should be kept up to the full. It should not be a mere excuse for cutting the figures down still further. Certainly, as far as one can judge, the American figures of personnel, making every sort of deduction, are much higher than ours. The Japanese figures at 80,000 are getting very close to ours; certainly, they are much larger in proportion to the tonnage of their Fleet. So, too, in aeroplanes. Such figures as I have seen incline me to doubt gravely whether in that respect either we are living up to the terms of the London Treaty.
Another question is oil fuel, not only the provision of the fuel but of the tanks, without which no fuel can be stored in an emergency. Since 1929 our figures of the purchase of oil fuel have come down from just under £1,400,000 to just over £1,100,000. That is, no doubt, in part due to a reduction in prices, and is so far a welcome reduction, but I cannot help, from my recollection of the figures, surmising that there is a good deal more than is accounted for by the reduction in prices. The House is entitled to know whether that reduction has been made at the expense of the efficiency of the Navy in cutting down training work, or whether it means that the comparatively small tonnage put aside to reserve in recent years has been still further cut down. I notice that, as far as tank provision is concerned, only £16,000 figures in these Estimates, which I gather means the abandonment, or the indefinite postponement of the second big instalment of tanks at Singapore.
I also notice that the £700,000 programme at Ceylon has been cut down by something like £260,000. There, again, 1230 we should be glad to have fuller information as to the extent to which the First Lord is keeping that absolutely vital provision of oil abreast of our needs. It is no use having a Navy if it cannot move, and it is no use professing to have equality in cruisers and other ships with the United States if they have an unlimited supply of modern fuel which will enable them to move round the world, and we are cramped and limited in every direction. Naturally, I should like anything that could be done to enable us to be self-supporting in the matter of oil fuel out of coal, and any money that is spent, not by a reduction of other Naval Votes, but spent as a national contribution through the accumulation of naval stores to help the solution of a problem which may solve matters essential to our general well being. We should welcome anything the First Lord tells us that he is prepared to do in that direction.
We all welcome the contribution which the First Lord and the Foreign Secretary have been able to make towards mutual disarmament in Europe. We hope it may lead to a still further scheme, not of unilateral, but of multilateral and equal disarmament on land, on sea, and in the air at Geneva. We believe such disarmament makes a valuable contribution to the cause of peace. But it would be a great error if we took the view that disarmament by itself is the main security against the danger of war. There are occasions when the competition of armaments may accelerate war, but there are other occasions when the possession of armaments in the hands of the peace-loving is the best assurance against war. It would be perfectly arguable to say that the armaments of Europe during the period that preceded the Great War postponed that calamity rather than accelerated it. That terrible calamity was due to the real factor which most often creates war, and which we have to face in this House if we wish to preserve peace, the clash of irreconcilable ideals and ideas. That War arose largely because the Serbs and the Yugo-Slavs wished to create a great Yugoslavia at the expense of the Austrian Empire, and because the rulers and a great part of the citizens of that Empire wished to preserve it intact. There you have an issue which disarmament by itself will not solve. If Austria had been weaker, 1231 war with Serbia would have arisen earlier.
It is not an issue that can be solved by that machinery of constructive peace about which the Foreign Secretary discoursed on Monday. No general Acts, no Kellogg Pacts, no machinery of the League of Nations will avert war in the long run if nations have conflicting ideals for which they are prepared to fight and to die—[Interruption]—not economic issues—the last war had very little to do with economic issues—but ideal issues, the dream of nationality, the dream of the maintenance of States on a non-national basis. Until we can be sure that the world is for ever free from the emergence of ideals for which men are prepared to die, and to make others die, no great country which is responsible for the peace of a quarter of mankind within its confines, or which has the deep sense of responsibility that I believe this country has always had towards the peace of mankind, can afford to reduce its security below a certain standard. When one considers the immense responsibility that faces the British Empire, and its absolute dependence on the security of the seas for its existence, we may well doubt whether we have not gone more than far enough already in the direction of naval disarmament.
§ Mr. GEORGE LAMBERT
Those of us who were present at the Debates last year miss the presence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who has apparently forsaken the quarter-deck. I am pleased to associate myself with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) in congratulating the Government on their latest achievement in the agreement with France and Italy. It is a very fitting finale to the work of the Prime Minister himself at Washington. I congratulated him last year and I congratulate the Government very heartily now, because agreement is infinitely better than argument in these matters. I will not go meticulously into numbers of ships because, if there is a friendly feeling, there is a much less likelihood of hostilities than if we are constantly bickering. There is one thing in which I agreed with the First Lord, that you should not use the Naval Votes as a kind of out-relief—you should 1232 not accelerate your naval programme in order to provide employment. That is not the function of the Navy Votes. The Navy is for the defence of the country, and defence changes almost year by year.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
We have had naval standards. I have been in the House when we had a two-Power standard. Then we had two keels to one. Now, apparently, we have a one-Power standard. I think it will occur to the hon. Member that, while you have a Power with a submarine strength of nearly 82,000 tons and a very strong striking Air Force, you really must be prepared to defend your food and your existence. I am as pacifically inclined as he is.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I want to be able to protect myself against him. You will not by cutting down, say, the Navy save money in the long run. I have seen it. We cut down prior to 1909. Then there was a panic and money was spent galore. However, that is not quite what I wanted to say. I am sure the hon. Member will agree that, if we have a Fleet, we should have an efficient Fleet. We have the finest personnel in the world, and it should have every advantage that wise foresight can give it. In the last War there is no doubt that the Germans at the commencement had a superiority in mines and explosives.
The First Lord said the Fleet is no good unless it has motive power. But a Fleet must also have eyes. Nelson's frigates in the old days supplied him with information. I want to ask the First Lord a very frank question. Is the Admiralty satisfied with the present air provision for the Fleet? I cannot help thinking that a divided responsibility must make failure certain. As I understand it, the Navy contributes to the Air Force £1,126,000 for the craft that the Air Force supplies to the Navy. I do not understand to-day how the two Services harmonise one with another. I find that the naval officers for observation duties are provided from the, complement of His Majesty's ships, and are not attached to the Royal Air Force, the responsibility of the Air Ministry in 1233 regard to them being limited to training in air observation. That means, I suppose, that in the first place the Admiralty train their officers and then those officers go on to the Air Force.
That is an impossible position. What does air observation mean? I presume that it means "spotting." I do not know the technical details, but I assume that it must mean something. At any rate, it should be under the control of one authority. There is not the slightest doubt about that. The Fleet Air Arm, apparently, is the property of the Air Ministry; it is not under the control of the Navy. There, again, I cannot understand the position. It would be of great advantage if the Admiralty had on their Board men of air ability or air sense. It might enable them to settle the types of vessels, and also it would enable them to know something more of naval needs and bases.
There is the question of weapons, and there, again, it is rather difficult in discussing these matters, first to have to go to the Air Estimates and then to the Navy Estimates. I have the Navy Estimates here, and I find that as far as weapons are concerned, the cost of the supply of the torpedoes required for the Fleet Air Arm is not included in the grant but is borne by Navy Votes direct. That is to say, the Air Ministry supply the machines but the torpedoes are supplied by the Admiralty. That cannot be right. The cost of filling bomb cases supplied by the Air Ministry is also borne by the Navy Votes. That means that the filling of bomb cases is done by the Admiralty, but the supply of these bomb cases, apparently, has to come from the Air Force. That again cannot be right. There must be muddle and complications, which, in times of stress might lead to disaster. I suggested 10 years ago that the Admiralty should be responsible for defence against invasion. I believe that that is as true to-day as it was then. I was then sat upon by my former chief the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping. I ask the Government to take this matter in hand. I can understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook could not say anything about it because it went on during four and a half years of his administration, but I come in with a fresh mind. This matter should be 1234 looked into, and the Navy should have absolute control of its own air arm.
I heard the statement of the First Lord about Admiralty oilers. I want to know something about those oilers. Apparently, the Admiralty are going in for private trading. I do not know whether the First Lord will kindly tell me what he meant by this phrase "depressed freights" in his statement. It says here that there has been a heavy fall in the earning powers of the Admiralty oversea oilers owing to the depressed state of the freight market. Does that mean that the Admiralty are going into the market as a kind of private trading arrangement to carry oil? If so, I shall strongly object to it.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to make that matter clear. We have the oil tankers which are very necessary in war time, and if there is a shortage of freight, as there has been in years past, in the mercantile marine and it is desired to charter existing oil tankers to make up a deficiency during peace time, surely, it is a very good thing for the country and a very good thing for the Admiralty.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
That depends how far it is going to continue. If they use redundant tonnage, it is another matter, but if they go into private trading, the Admiralty will lose money every time. They will be no match for the shrewd shipowners. The Board of Admiralty are excellent men, fine naval officers, but, in business matters, really, I would back the shipowners against them every time. My right hon. Friend referred to dockyards, and I saw a smile appear on the faces of Members of dockyard constituencies because he is giving very little work out to contract. I observe that the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) the other day was rather vicious because he had not got some ships on the Clyde. [An HON. MEMBER: "He is a Pacifist!"] My hon. Friend must really forgive me for not following all the interruptions on the other side. The number of the personnel of the fighting force of the Navy to-day is 93,650 men, and in 1914 there were 149,000 men, but the dockyards to-day have 51,000 in the out-port establishments, whereas in 1914 there were 57,000 in those establishments. There is a reduction of 55,000 fighting sailors, but a 1235 reduction of only 6,700 in the dockyards. Personally, I would rather trust the defence of the country to the sailors than to the dockyard men, though they are so ably represented here. Does my right hon. Friend think that he has gone far enough in that direction? There is a great disparity in numbers when you have a reduction of 55,000 sailors and a reduction of only 6,700 in the dockyards.
I have never been able to understand why the Admiralty civilian establishment should be quite so numerous. In the days when I was at the Admiralty we had some pretty capable administrators. There was Mr. McKenna, who is now the President of the Midland Bank, the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Epping, who took charge of all the Admiralty, Lord Fisher and other men of that type. The Admiralty staff in those days, when we had 149,000 sailors, was 2,072, and now, when we have 93,000 sailors, it is 2,763. Why should you have 700 more when you have 55,000 fewer sailors?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
What have civilians at the Admiralty to do with sailors? I cannot understand why there is this great discrepancy. I know that there are difficulties in compressing the staff, but I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should do something. In conclusion, I congratulate the Foreign Secretary and the First Lord of the Admiralty upon the distinct achievement the other day.
§ Mr. HOLFORD KNIGHT
We have had the advantage of listening to a former Civil Lord of longer service than any man in this House. I remember that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) was at the Admiralty preceding the War, and right through those great days; consequently, he speaks to-day with an authority which many of us envy. This is the occasion when we are entitled to review the position of the Navy from a national point of view, the work it is performing, and its relation to the impulse of opinion, not only in this land but throughout the world. Briefly and concisely, I want to direct myself to these matters. There is present in the minds of all of us that 1236 great event which is rapidly approaching when we, Members on all sides of the House, expect the present Government to do their utmost, in concert with other nations, to bring about, not only a limitation but a reduction of armaments. The notable mission from which the right hon. Gentleman and the Foreign Secretary have lately return was directed to the limitation of armaments, and the whole House congratulates my right hon. Friends on the success which they attained. It was a very remarkable check to a threatened expansion in naval forces in Europe which would have had dire results on international armaments.
As the First Lord said, the conversations put an end to competitive building in all categories, and that was an achievement upon which the whole nation will congratulate the statesmen concerned. He referred to the principle on which this work has been conducted, and I presume that that principle is the setting up of a ratio of strength in particular categories of ships. May I ask that at some convenient time the House should be informed whether any conditions were discussed and accepted as between this country and the other great nations concerned in this arrangement? For instance, I confess that I am disturbed by having seen a suggestion made by the very capable Paris correspondent of the "Manchester Guardian." It is said in Paris that undertakings were given as a result of these conversations that His Majesty's present advisers will support what is described as the French claims at the forthcoming Disarmament Conference. For myself I cannot credit it.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
On the point which has been raised by my hon. and learned Friend, I must say at once that the agreement we arrived at was under no such condition; it was never discussed, and was never mentioned.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
I confess that I desired to elicit that repudiation. Great satisfaction will be felt outside as well as inside this House at the declaration which the right hon. Gentleman has just made. It is clearly understood now that those conversations were not connected with any undertaking concerning the forthcoming conference.
1237 I desire to pass to the second aim which the Government have in view. Having just concluded a conference directed to the limitation of armaments, what steps do they propose to take in the forthcoming year for the reduction of armaments? The work for the reduction of armaments—and here I am certain that I shall carry with me every occupant of the Government Front Bench—is the main purpose for which they are going to enter the Disarmament Conference. It is the work which the whole civilised world expects them to assist. If I may, with all respect, exclude from this category the Noble Lady who sits for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), I believe that every Member of this House desires that whatever Government are in office—we on these benches hope profoundly that His Majesty's present advisers will continue in office—they will pursue the wishes of the people of this country and of the Empire in seeing that at that Conference everything shall be done to bring about an effective reduction of naval strength throughout the world.
It disturbs me very much. Why should the hon. Member pick me out as if I am the only person, apparently, in the House or in the Empire who does not want progressive reduction of armaments, and peace? What does the hon. Member mean?
§ Mr. KNIGHT
Since I am invited to say what I mean, I propose to answer the Noble Lady. The reason why I excepted her from the general description which I hoped would include every other Member of the House, was because of a certain movement, a characteristic movement, of hers, which I thought separated her from the persons to whom I was referring. She is a past-mistress in the art of silent speech. When you have the advantage of sitting opposite to her, you are able to read all sorts of comments which she is making on the Debates as they proceed, although she utters not a word. If I have done her an injustice or if I have misunderstood her 1238 action, I apologise. I should be only too glad to include the Noble Lady in the workers for peace, but, frankly, after an experience of mine some years ago at Plymouth I have a little difficulty in including her in that category.
I really must protest. I sometimes believe that hon. and right hon. Members opposite in order to draw attention to themselves, draw attention to me. When they want to make a scene, they say that I have done something. I did not move my hand on the present occasion. Beyond making a slight gesture, I was quite unconscious of having made any move. I do ask for the protection of the Chair. They say: "Lady Astor interrupts again." They have me interrupting when I am not in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
The Noble Lady entirely misunderstands the situation if she supposes that I referred to her in order to call attention to myself. I have been engaged in these matters in this country for a number of years before the Noble Lady appeared in public business.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
I was diverted from what I was saying in order to meet what, I understood, was the pained remonstrance of the noble Lady. Perhaps I may be allowed to resume my argument. I was inviting the Committee to consider the second main purpose which is to be prosecuted at the forthcoming Disarmament Conference, namely, the reduction of naval armaments. On that question the late Secretary of State for the Domin- 1239 ions, the right hon. Member for Spark-brook (Mr. Amery), made certain observations which are of particular interest because they reiterated a view which is a pre-War view, a view which, in part, contributed to the Great War—an assertion which I am prepared to substantiate on the proper occasion—and a view which embodies a claim which, if persisted in at the Disarmament Conference, will end that Conference in disaster.
The right hon. Gentleman declared that we had effected an enormous reduction in our naval strength. That reduction was a progressive diminution of war strength, a war strength which was predominant in such a way as to be unexampled in the history of naval armaments. He stated that we were lowering the standard of security and even went so far as to make a statement, which I wrote down, that he had an apprehension that the Navy was disappearing by wastage from the bottom. How any hon. or right hon. Member could use such an expression regarding our present naval position in the light of the table of fleets which can be obtained at the Vote Office, I fail to understand. I think it must have been an extract from some pre-War speech, which suddenly came back to him while he was making his observations. It has no relevance whatever to the present situation.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
Is the hon. Member aware that the statement was the Prime Minister's statement? It was a quotation from the Prime Minister's speech.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
I confess that I have followed with care the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and I certainly was not aware that that was a phrase which he had used. If he did use it, I am quite certain that he used it sarcastically. At any rate, the progressive diminution which has taken place is a diminution from a predominant war strength and a diminution which we ought to make, and which the world expected us to make, and we cannot preen ourselves on making it.
1240 The major point in the observations of the right hon. Member was the reiteration of a claim that we have to protect 80,000 miles of trade routes. I have said in this House, and I apologise for repeating it, that the 80,000 miles of trade routes to which the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends are continually referring, are the arteries of the world's commerce. It is true that our own food and commerce have to be carried over those routes, but the commerce of other nations has to be carried over the same routes. If you have an identity of interests over the same routes, surely the work of wisdom is to try to devise some method of dealing with those routes which will harmonise all existing interests. As a matter of fact, this claim to control the high sea routes of the world is a claim which no other nation will recognise, and if any Government goes into the Disarmament Conference with that claim, it will bring the Conference to a disastrous end. I hope the Government in their preparations for the forthcoming Disarmament Conference will arrange to meet the desire of other nations that those trade routes shall be brought under international regulation. I am satisfied that internationa, regulation is a sine qua non of peace and disarmament, and I would urge the Government to pursue that aim with all speed and in every possible way.
While congratulating the Government on the success which they have recently achieved in their further endeavours to obtain the limitation of armaments by stopping the dire race in competitive armaments between France and Italy, I hope that every effort will be made in the coming year to pursue the task of so preparing for the work of the Disarmament Conference, that the whole country and the world may rejoice in the issue that will result in the trade routes of the world being brought under international agreement.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. ROSS
It has become customary on these benches to call upon right hon. Gentlemen opposite from time to time to produce a rabbit out of a hat. On this occasion I can congratulate the First Lord of the Admiralty on having performed the trick, because he has produced the agreement between France 1241 and Italy, which has been seen by those of us on these benches this afternoon for the first time. It is very difficult to tell whether it is a good rabbit, a bad rabbit or an indifferent rabbit. Certainly, as far as I am concerned, and I speak only for myself, I think that the Government are to be congratulated on having produced any agreement at all between France and Italy. There could have been many better agreements, still it is an agreement, and as far as it has been possible to examine it at such short notice there is much that is good in it. I should not criticise the desire of France and Italy to some extent to bring their capital ships fleet up to date, but there is one feature to which I must draw the attention of the House at once, and that is that in this agreement between France and Italy the principle of what are called the Washington ratios has gone completely. At the Washington Conference certain ratios of strength were arranged between Great Britain and the United States, Japan and France and Italy. This ratio of strength as between France and Italy has completely gone.
It is said that France and Ialy accept the provisions of Part III of the London Naval Treaty. Among those provisions is one which limited the number of leaders or large destroyers in size and in numbers. I cannot believe that France has accepted that proposal, and I hope that the point will be dealt with during the course of a Debate. Presumably the B class of cruisers and destroyers are all lumped in under one figure without distinctions. The agreement enables France and Italy to replace cruisers of the larger calibre by destroyers. This provides the French Government with an opportunity of scrapping 65,000 tons of perfectly useless old armoured cruisers and translating it into modern destroyers. This provision will give France the possibility, in fact the certainty, of having a flotilla which will be superior to ours in modern ships, and it is modern ships which count. As to submarine tonnage it is immense and nearly double that of ours, and I may have to say a word about that later on.
Before I come to an exact discussion of the ships I should like to draw attention to a matter which is not the sub- 1242 ject of any controlling regulations of any disarmament conference, and that is Naval Air Force. In my belief the position of our naval aircraft in relation to the needs of the Fleet at sea, and also in relation to the strength of other Powers, is a serious one. It is not possible for any real satisfactory agreement as to limitation to be arrived at which neglects naval aircraft, as the London Naval Treaty neglects it; but that makes it all the more important that we do not drop behind in this respect. At the moment the United States of America has more than twice as many aeroplanes carried with the Fleet as we have. The figures given by the First Lord in January were 306 for the United States and 142 for ourselves. In addition, the Naval Air Arm in the United States is very strong in machines which are kept on shore and which would be available for reinforcement, and they are approaching their ideal of 1,000 machines. As to the actual effect of modern naval aircraft upon fleets one has to combine the experience of the War and the experiments of peace, but no one can deny that a fleet which is deficient in naval aircraft must be at a great disadvantage compared with a fleet which is properly equipped. A modern fleet, whose cruisers do not carry aircraft which can fly from their decks, cannot be considered efficient. Unfortunately, in that we have lagged behind. Catapults were almost standardised in the United States in 1925, but even now our 10,000-ton county cruisers have been completed without them. I hope we may get further information on this matter and as to whether it is not possible to hurry things up and put the Fleet in its proper position and standing in the world's navies.
As to the Battle Fleet I have only one question to ask, and I do not press for detailed information. When we hear of foreign battle fleets being brought up to date and the angle of fire of their guns increased from the ordinary old-fashioned 15 feet up to 35 I should like to have an assurance from the Government that our Battle Fleet is efficient and is not in need of reconstruction of that nature. It is a matter of great concern to all of us to see the extraordinary changes in our shipbuilding industry in respect of work carried out for foreign Powers. 1243 Before the War it was customary for many millions of pounds to flow into this country and into the pockets of those engaged in the shipbuilding industry from contract work for foreign Powers. Now it is hardly ever that you see a contract coming to Great Britain; and it is not that foreign Powers have given up building. Turn to Italy and you will see the large number of ships that are being built in the yards for the Argentine, and for many other countries which are incapable of building warships themselves.
I suggest that there is a connection between this fact and the relative performance of foreign warships and British warships. The design of the ships recently built does not look well on paper when compared to those of other Powers. I wonder sometimes whether the British contractor is not a little too conservative. Has he adapted himself to weight-saving? Has he explored the question of electric welding? It is possible for the Admiralty to consider the further use of the Diesel engine in service ships. Might they not try it out in a surface ship? Would it not be possible, in the interests of the shipbuilding industry at large, to run full power trials occasionally and to allow the achievements of our ships to become public so that it might be known throughout the world that we can build ships which are second to none?
As to our programme, there are various questions which occur to me; and one is the question of cruisers. I do not propose to address the House at any length because I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Commander Southby) will deal with the matter at a later stage, but in passing I would comment on our present position. We have been given a definite standard by the London Naval Treaty, and that. standard is one which, in my submission, we might well try to attain by having a definite and published programme which would show the country how it stands, whether we are going to build up to the number of ships we are allowed by the Treaty or whether for some reason the Government think it proper to build a lesser number of ships. As far as it is possible to calculate we must be below what we are allowed to have in cruisers. We cannot have 50 cruisers of the ap- 1244 propriate degree of modernity by 1936. It is possible to say that the Treaty does not permit us to have ships under 16 years old. That is so, but if you take the standard of 18 years of age for our ships and allow everybody else a standard of 16 years, even then, if we have a programme of this small size next year, in 1936 we shall be nine cruisers short of the 50, and those cruisers will be much older on the average than those of other Powers.
The most serious point I have to make, however, is not in connection with cruisers, but in connection with flotillas. We have never been in a position of such relative weakness to other Powers in flotillas in the history of our nation, certainly not since the Napoleonic Wars, and of the various categories of ships which composes a navy the destroyers are in a worse position than any other. It must be remembered that the function of a destroyer, contrary to its name, is not primarily that of offence. It was originally designed for a primary offensive purpose, but in the last War it was the destroyer which above all other vessels was the maid of all work for defence. There was an unlimited demand for this class of vessel, whether to protect the big ships or the merchant convoys, and if we allow ourselves to become so short of modern destroyers that our flotillas become inefficient we are running a risk as grave as any that can be run by any sea power. As to the type of ship which we are now building, I hope the Government will consider the policy adopted in building torpedo craft before the War, and to some extent after it, so that there should be large flotilla leaders of a definitely increased size to that of the destroyers they lead, or a definitely more powerful armament and generally having a knot or two in hand in speed. That was a policy founded on the experience of the War. I need only refer to the actions in which the "Botha" and the "Brooke' played such a distinguished part in the Straits of Dover, and other actions in which the superior gun power of the British destroyer indicated itself against the less heavily-gunned Germans. That appeared to be a lesson of the War—that the leader, as we were building that type, was an appropriate type to have in our flotillas.
1245 What is the position now? We are not building leaders any more, except in name. It seems to me almost fraudulent to have, in the Returns of the Fleet, lists of so-called destroyer leaders which would suggest a more powerful type of ship than a destroyer, when in fact, compared with the Japanese destroyers, they are infinitely less powerful. The leaders which are being built for the British Navy now are 13,000 tons-odd in displacement, whereas the Japanese destroyer is of 17,000 tons. The British leader armament is four 4.7 guns, and the Japanese have a destroyer armament of six 5-inch guns mounted in turrets. There can be no question as to which would be the more powerful. Yet you have this distinction kept up, and this change of policy which one cannot understand, because there is no justification whatever for it on the ground of necessity of tonnage, as we can certainly afford to build leaders as we have done in the past.
Then there is the question of strength. At the end of the War we had, I believe, between 400 and 500 destroyers of one sort and another, and work for all. What have we now? Including the Basilisk class, and the two Canadian destroyers which the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) did not include in his total, we have only 71 which are under 12 years of age, and, with all respect to the First Lord, 12 years is not an inappropriate length of time for vessels which had some experience of war work. How does that total of 71 compare with other countries? Japan has 83, including the 1929 programme. Italy has 57, but it has to be remembered that Italy is purely a Mediterranean Power and has no obligations outside the inland sea, while we have to maintain squadrons all over the world. Yet we have a superiority of only about 14 over Italy in a type of vessel which is possibly the most important to us.
When I went into these figures of the destroyer position I certainly was astonished to find how much worse they were than I had supposed. We are entitled to 150,000 tons in destroyers. We have only about 135,000 tons at present, and of that amount over 80,000 tons is out of date already. The United States is in a far better position, and Japan too. Let me compare the position 1246 with France. In 1933, as far as I can judge—it is not easy to make these calculations—we shall have about 58,000 tons of destroyers and leaders that are of effective age, that is under 12 years. France will have 108,000 tons, or practically twice as much. That is an astonish-position. I take the position vis-a-vis France, not because I have any particular reason to pick France as an opponent more than another, but I have often said that I thought this country should not live entirely at the good will of other countries but should be in a position to have a defence adequate to her own needs. Under this agreement France is to be allowed 80,000 tons of submarines, most of them modern boats. She is to have a quantity of destroyers and small light cruisers which will, I think, vastly exceed ours.
It is impossible to work this very technical matter straight out without having considerably more time than I have had since I knew what the arrangement was, but I would very much like to hear what is the Admiralty view of this matter, bearing in mind that by the agreement come to—as we see in page 5, Heading B. and Sub-head (b)—it will be possible for France or Italy to build destroyers and destroyer leaders without any limitation as to the number of powerful vessels, on which we are limited, to scrap their old armoured cruisers, which are quite useless, to the tune of about 60,000 tons, and to replace them by modern efficient torpedo craft. I hope that our relations with France will be so friendly that war would be out of question, but I do say that if at any naval staff college a war game was worked out, they would find the position of this country, with the relative strength that I have given, not only precarious but impossible in the case of hostility from that direction. I cannot see why it should be necessary for us to assent to a superiority of almost two to one in submarines, and to a superiority in modern ships which appears to be almost as great in flotillas. Although, as an individual Member, I humbly congratulate the First Lord for having got an agreement, surely it has a point of great weakness and anxiety in that it places us in this position of very definite and marked inferiority, and personally I very much hope that, though this may be a temporary position of in- 1247 feriority, the Government will make it plain that, whether by reduction at some future conference or by building up at some future date, we are not going to assent to be inferior to any country in any class.
§ Mr. RENNIE SMITH
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) in the technical arguments which he has advanced, and advanced with the knowledge and experience which we are accustomed to expect from him when the Navy Estimates are under discussion. Indeed, I should not have risen at all had it not been for the very muddled speech of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery). He used the word "unilateral" so often that I began to imagine that he was a member of the No More War Movement. If we are to have a distinction in this House between unilateral disarmament on the one hand and disarmament by mutual agreement on the other, we had better stick to certain very plain and acceptable definitions. It is not a statement of fact to say, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that in the Three-Power Naval Agreement of last year we entered into an arrangement for unilateral disarmament. It is not a statement of fact to say that we have not built up to the full provision of that Treaty in the Estimates of 1931, that we have been guilty of the terrible crime, as the right hon. Gentleman conceives it, of marching in the direction of unilateral disarmament.
The right hon. Gentleman can complain, if he likes, that the arrangements made in the Three-Power Agreement, or the arrangements that have been made between the French and the Italian Governments, were bad agreements from a mutual point of view. He can say, if he likes, that had he been in charge of affairs he would have made a better agreement on mutual terms. But the right hon. Gentleman misused language in the way in which he applied the word "unilateral" and used it as the theme of his speech almost from beginning to end. I listened to his speech with some care, and I found that all the way through he was complaining because the Estimates in respect of each category of vessel were, in his judgment, not strong enough. The right hon. Gentleman is 1248 greatly disappointed with the agreement that was made a year ago. He prefers the standard of building represented by 70 cruisers rather than the standard of 50 which was established by mutual agreement in 1930. Then, added to that primary disappointment, he complains that, even on the standard of 50, we fall, on every reasonable calculation, below the requirements for the coming year in terms of cruisers and of four of the five classes of vessels which he enumerated.
When I hear the right hon. Gentleman going on in this strain I am reminded of the sort of difficulties that Mr. Stimson had when he was trying to get the Naval Agreement through that narrow bottle-neck, the Senate of the United States, in April of last year. One of the most effective arguments which Mr. Stimson employed in dealing with what he called the professional warriors of all countries, before he succeeded in the miraculous operation of pushing the agreement through the bottle-neck, was that the contentions of professional warriors—I think he would be inclined to classify the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook in that definition—mutually cancelled one another out. He pointed out, in relation to the Three-Power Treaty, that the ex-Lords of the Admiralty in the United States and in Great Britain and Japan were roughly making against the Treaty a case which obviously proved the merits of the Treaty. The argument that Mr. Stimson used is entirely applicable to the point of view of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. I could understand the right hon. Gentleman's grievance if we were dealing with a Treaty of minimum provisions, if we by mutual agreement had pledged ourselves to build a minimum of 50 cruisers and a minimum as provided in the Three-Power Treaty of January of last year. But, as a matter of fact, we have pledged ourselves not to exceed these figures as a maximum by 1935 or 1936.
Within the ambit of this Treaty there is nowhere any statement that we will build up to the full limit of the figures laid down. On the contrary, if we want to get the best results out of the Treaty the sound and safe line of procedure is to keep well below the maximum provisions. If we look across the Atlantic we see that the "Big Navy" group in America have been pressing for the 100 1249 per cent. fulfilment of the American programme of naval construction, but they have been beaten by the sound common sense of the American public, just as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook is beaten here in this House when he advances the same kind of argument. When the right hon. Gentleman talks of unilateral disarmament, in terms of cruisers, I beg him to investigate the actual programme laid down by the United States this year and to multiple it by five and to see what would be the construction programme in the United States on those terms. Indeed I should like to congratulate the First Lord of the Admiralty on the wisdom which he has displayed in implementing the terms of this Treaty, by virtue of which he has not divided the total amount of ships to be built into five or six classes and built up to the full quota permissible under the Treaty.
I would like, on behalf of my Yorkshire colleagues, along with other Members, to congratulate the First Lord, first on the great success which he has achieved in a very difficult enterprise in reconciling the naval contention of two great neighbouring and friendly Powers. Secondly, I wish to add to that very sincere congratulation, a compliment to him on the fact that he has decided, as far as this year is concerned, not to exercise the reserve powers which he holds on behalf of this Government in respect to further shipbuilding in relation to the 1930 agreement. He has said that he does not propose to exercise certain powers which might reasonably be exercised in relation, for example, to submarine and destroyer construction. I am very glad, because, here again, the right hon. Gentleman shows that he has the commonsense of the nation well measured and well estimated. He has shown what I may describe as psychological as well as technical efficiency in naval matters, by leaving this matter to lie on the table until after the world Disarmament Conference of 1932 has had its say. It is not often that a First Lord of the Admiralty receives compliments from anybody and I should like, in the third place, to offer the right hon. Gentleman my congratulations on the fact that he has followed up the very considerable reduction in terms of cash which has made last year—I think the 1250 figure was something like £4,000,000—with another appreciable reduction this year. The gross reduction, if I remember correctly, is about £2,400,000 and I regret the series of unhappy accidents as a result of which it is not possible to show this sum as a net reduction in the presentation of this year's Estimates.
I appreciate this slow, steady reduction all the more, in view of the approaching Disarmament Conference. Those who have been watching the general movement of affairs on the Continent know the temptation, not only for the chiefs of admiralties, but for those responsible for armies and air services to inflate the Estimates of 1931, more or less deliberately, as a mode of preparation for the forthcoming Conference. I am exceedingly glad that the First Lord has not yielded to that temptation, but has, on the contrary, set the best possible example to Europe and the world by carrying out a further process of reduction and making it clear, beyond a peradventure, what our intentions are in reference to the Disarmament Conference of February next. As I say, it was the rather muddle-headed speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook which occasioned this intervention on my part, and I conclude by saying that I am glad to realise the provisional nature of the Estimates. The First Lord's statement contains the following sentence:If, however, the progress realised in the Disarmament Conference indicates that reductions are possible of achievement it will still be possible for His Majesty's Government to cancel or postpone the various items in the programme.That sentence indicates the general attitude of His Majesty's Government and of public opinion in this country towards the forthcoming Conference. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spark-brook has suggested that the best way to obtain security is to build up to the full limit of the 1930 Treaty, with meticulous care, ton for ton and gun for gun, so that nothing shall be omitted and so that we may proceed with resistless logic to the 100 per cent. fulfilment of the maximum terms. I can conceive no worse method of inviting world disarmament and promoting world peace than the application of such a policy. There is no more certain way to promote naval 1251 rivalries and mutual jealousies than to insist on the absolute, literal, servile fulfilment of the maximum terms laid down a year ago. I believe I am speaking on behalf of a very wide British public in offering hearty congratulations to the First Lord on his statement that we are not to go on those lines but that we are to go slowly, steadily and carefully, and that we are going to create a psychological foundation in our naval Estimates this year, which will provide the most favourable opportunity for achieving further appreciable reductions of a world-wide character when the great Disarmament Conference of next year comes into being.
§ Sir B. FALLE
The last speaker said that the First Lard of the Admiralty did not receive many compliments, but I frankly congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the address which he gave us. It was clear, and, as we have a right to expect from him, it was able. At the same time, he will forgive me if I say that it was a sad story not alone for the dockyard Members but for the people of this country. There was one bright spot in it—of what candle-power I am not exactly sure—and that was his allusion to Singapore. Presumably, it was not altogether what my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) wanted, but it is a great score from the Conservative point of view that Singapore is to be completed, if not, as regards air matters, at any rate as far as the dockyards and the defence thereof are concerned. I agree whole-heartedly with what fell from my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) whose speech was even more illuminating than his speeches usually are. He, of course, speaks with the greatest authority and he covered much of the ground which we otherwise would have thought it necessary to deal with and for that alone I should be grateful to him. He has all the details at his fingers' ends and, what is more, his details are accurate, which is perhaps more than can be said of all the statements made in this House.
It has been suggested by another speaker in this Debate that our trade routes ought to be guaranteed by "international power." International power 1252 seems a very nne thing—if you could only secure it—but during the War we sank an enemy ship in Spanish waters, and internationalism said nothing, and we sank another ship in Chilean waters and internationalism said nothing. Those are facts which weigh against what I should call the schoolmaster view of what may or may not happen during war. It is to me a dreadful thing to hear the First Lord congratulating himself on the fact that the personnel of the Navy is to be reduced. We are told that 10,000 officers and men will shortly he put out of the Navy. In the case of the men, admittedly, that will be done by wastage, but in the case of the officers they will be put out whether they like it or not, and apparently they are not to be given any rise in rank on their retirement even though that involves no cost. Apparently they are not on retirement to be eligible for higher rank.
I do not know why that is the case, because it seems to me it would be a graceful thing to make that concession and it would cost the Admiralty nothing. A commander could be retired as a captain, and a lieutenant-commander could be retired as a commander and they would receive, at any rate, some solatium for what I regard as a breach of contract. It is true that the contract with the Government is one-sided, but the fact that an officer's parents have spent large sums of money on his education, and that nothing has been found against his service and that he is only being "axed" because of the great idea of saving money should he taken into account. I suggest, too, that money may be saved at too great an expense in other directions. In saving small sums on the Navy we are running up a great bill in other respects which will ultimately have to be paid. I look upon the present arrangement in the Navy as one under which we are living from hand to mouth. Pray Heaven that we may not find ourselves in a difficulty of the same kind as that which came upon us in 1914 when a very large majority in this House assured us that there was no danger of war with Germany and that such an event was unthinkable. We are reducing the numbers of our men. We are reducing the present number of boys; we are not taking the same number into the Service. These boys 1253 make the finest of our sailors, but I believe at the present time in Portsmouth we are only enlisting one boy a day or six boys a week. That appears to be a very dangerous proceeding and one which will leave us without trained men when we require them.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his dockyard arrangements. I believe they are going to work extremely well. I remember that the first year I had the honour of beiog a Member of this House, I raised the question of "Muster stations." I went to muster stations and saw how they worked, and the then First Lord of the Admiralty was very severe on me, expressing the hope that when next I went into a dockyard I would get permission. The amusing part of it was that I had that permission from the police officer at the gate, but, of course, I could not give him away, and so I had to bear the criticism of the then First Lord.
One of the most important Members of the Government, especially in naval affairs, excepting the First Lord himself, is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I think he recently said that each election cost the winning party about £10,000,000 in redeeming the promises that they had made. Money is scarce, or tight, as they say in the City. We are spending beyond our strength, and, what is more, we are increasing our expenditure by millions, and it is a very dangerous proceeding, but it is not so dangerous as letting the Royal Navy down below its proper strength, because the strength of the Royal Navy is the insurance of the people of this country.
We own the better part of the habitable world, if not the best part, and many nations covet what we have got; they covet our inheritance, and the next point beyond coveting is to see if you can get the thing yourself, to try to acquire that which you covet, whatever it may be, perhaps in those parts of the world which are not filled with our people as they should be, where our people are not as thickly on the ground as they ought to be, in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Cape itself. Those lands are not populated as they should be, and there are nations which have a very large overspill, and they do not see why that overspill should not go to great Dominions which might belong to 1254 them where white men can live and marry and multiply. If anybody doubts that the nations covet what we have got, they need only remember the German terms of peace that would have been made had they won the War. It would have been a very had day for the people of this country if the German had won.
The Conservative Government, I admit at once, cut the Navy to the bone, but this Government has not only scraped the bone but scraped it to the extent that it is inadequate to the burden which it has to bear and to the strength which it has to put forward. [Interruption.] That is my view, though it does not appear to meet with great acceptance from the benches opposite. I am not content with a lower standard in the number of ships, and I do not believe in the scrapping of officers, but I would let the ships go, comparatively speaking, if only we kept the men, on whom we have to rely and who must be long-service men. If not, we risk the life of the nation, and we are breaking faith, not only with the Navy, but with the people of this country and of our great Dominions.
I asked the First Lord the other day about the unhappy episode which arose on the "Lucia," and I maintained that if we had the proper complement of men in the Royal Naval Barracks, a detachment could have been sent down to assist in painting the "Lucia," and no trouble would have arisen. The answer was that it is not the custom. I rather challenge that answer. Custom is a good thing, but there is such a thing as a bad custom as well as a good one, and it may have arisen from a hundred and one reasons, but the fact remains that if that. complement had been ready at the Royal Naval Barracks, there would have been no discontent or trouble, and we should not have had that unpleasant episode, the breaking of two officers in His Majesty's Service and the dismissal of some ratings.
The rising generation is unaware of the sacrifices and the services of the Royal Navy during the War. They do not realise that if it had not been for the Navy, we in this country would now be the slaves of the Germans. The present generation sitting in this House seem to have forgotten the great services of the Royal Navy. Far be it from me to question or water down the 1255 immense services of the Army and of the Air Force—I have had the honour of serving in the Army myself—but are we yet fully aware that not a single man, gun, or shot would have been landed or the men fed without the British Navy allowing those things to be carried across the seas. Men of this generation in this House seem not to know or to have forgotten that fact and seem ready to part, not only with the spear, but with the shield of the Royal Navy. We saw last night, when angry passions rise, when comrade is rude to comrade, that other comrades have to take them by the hand and prevent them getting at each other. They do not want guns, pistols or knives; they want their bare hands or their closed fists. And they are pacifists—[An HON. MEMBER: "Not all!"] It would indeed be a sad moment for this country if the party opposite were composed absolutely of pacifists. Their exit would be quicker than it is going to be if it were so, because I think the country would rise and throw them out if it did not hang them.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) told us last night that the very appearance of weakness was dangerous. It is extraordinarily dangerous, but it is not so dangerous as the fact itself. All foreign nations know exactly what our strength in ships may be. They cannot make any mistake about it. We are free and open and aboveboard, and we give our ships and their tonnage and the calibre of their guns, and we give their speeds. It is only the incalculable that, fortunately for us, they do not know, and that is the pluck of this country and the courage and the genius of the officers and men who man our Navy: and we are reducing the numbers. We have reduced them to 91,000, while the United States of America have 114,000 and Japan 85,000, and neither of those nations has any of the world problems that face us. As the French say:"Qui trompe-t-on ici?"That is what I should like to know. Who is being made a fool? Our ships are limited, in size and numbers, our guns must not be more than 12-inch guns, but nothing is said about their length, their capacity, or the dis- 1256 tance of the trajectory. I have spoken to the First Lord about it in this House. We know "Big Bertha," which was under 8-inch and carried a cannon ball for 75 miles. The fact is that many of these nations think that they are going to get the better of other nations. They build more quickly, they think they can make better guns, but there is one thing that they cannot get, and that is better officers or a better personnel that ours. Fortunately for us, they cannot get anything approaching it. If you want to see that proved, you have only to see the number of our men who are inveigled into the United States Navy, and if they could choose their own moment, we might find ourselves fighting against a Navy, as in 1812, manned by men trained in this Country.
We are gambling. We are a gambling nation. We are not allowed to gamble on the Derby or at Ascot, but you can see the benches in this House on those days, and at about six o'clock when they have bad time to come back, you can see those Members who have been there. Sweepstakes are immoral, whether in Ireland or in this country, but the Stock Exchange flourishes, and many of its members are extraordinarily rich men. But we have no right to gamble with the lives and the happiness of the people of this country and this Empire, and that is what we are doing. We have no right to gamble with the food of our people. We have not the amount of food in this country to keep our men, women and children for more than a very few weeks, but we are deliberately gambling with it; and remember that it would be rich and poor who would suffer, but it would be the poor who would suffer far more than the rich. At the worst, the rich can go elsewhere, but the poor are there, and they must starve, and if they are beaten—and they would be beaten if they were starved—they can be ground down.
By courage, by backbone, by their blood, our ancestors gained for us the fairest inheritance in the world. By cutting down you can save money, but what for? That is, to my mind, the dreadful part of it. We save money on the Navy, the Army, and the Air Force, so that we may have it to spend on what is called the dole, a thing of which very many of the men 1257 who are obliged to take it are thoroughly ashamed. I speak of my own constituency, where some have to live on a dole which is not sufficient to keep body and soul together, and it has the effect of lowering the standard of living all over the country. We are saving for that purpose, and practically for that purpose only. It is an outrage on the people of this country, and why is this done? It is done by the men who made the mad promise of which I spoke at the beginning—and I regret to say that there were thousands who believed it—the mad promise of peace, and a smaller Navy! That is the only promise, so far as I can make out, that so far they are by way of redeeming. It would have been better for us if that was the one promise above all others that they had not redeemed.
The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Rennie Smith) did not believe in the old Roman view that if you want peace you should prepare for war, but at the same time the old Romans knew something about fighting and about world empire, and when they gave up their preparations for war and what they believed in, what happened? They were overrun, and they were scattered. "Their kingdom passed away." May it not he so with us. There are at present two European nations, certainly with the addition of a third, that could break up the British Empire in the first fortnight of a war. And see the temptation to which they are put, with their overspill of population. It is time that we returned to a common-sense view of our great responsibilities not only to ourselves but to our Empire, to those of our blood who have had the courage to go and form new lands of English-speaking peoples at the Antipodes and elsewhere. It is time we took a more serious view of our existence; it is time we realised the burdens and the benefits of that existence, and that we returned to our proper place in the world, to our duty as a House of Commons which governs this country, and to our duty to the people of this country.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
This country can never have been in such imminent danger since 1914, to judge by the speech of the hon. Gentleman. He talked about reviving the courage, the backbone and 1258 the blood of our ancestors in order to protect the fair inheritance which we have had handed down to us. I must say it was a very moving utterance, very forcibly delivered, as my hon. Friend's speeches always are, and it is a pity that there were not more hon. Members present to hear it. It merits the very closest attention, and I hope it will receive that wide publicity which its merits deserve. It would be churlish of me were I to withhold my meed of congratulations from the right hon. Gentleman. Everybody who has spoken has commended him on the great service which he has recently rendered, and, while I do felicitate him most sincerely, I would like to utter a warning against premature rejoicing. There seems to have grown up a habit in this country of throwing our hats in the air and applauding every time there is an international conference. Before any of the results are published, before anybody knows what has happened, those engaged in a conference are praised and heralded as heroes. The right hon. Gentleman certainly deserves it in this case, but he was made the recipient of praise long before anybody knew what he had done. There was anticipation in this case as in others. The right hon. Gentleman the late Foreign Secretary was actually feted in this country for an accomplishment of less importance than the one we have been discussing this afternoon.
Be that as it may, this conference habit is a grave public danger. We do not know what we are aiming at in regard to naval policy. Those who have praised the right hon. Gentleman have not the least idea where the right hon. Gentleman is leading them, and the right hon. Gentleman himself has not told us. The public who support the British Navy are left in considerable doubt as to the benefit which they derive from the expenditure. In the last nine years every First Lord has told us that the minimum requirement of this country was something different from what it was the year before. We thought, when Lord Bridgeman went to Geneva, that we had said goodbye to all these fluctuations. We had been on a kind of scenic railway for years, going up and building more cruisers, coming down and building less. Lord Bridgeman, however, told us 1259 virtually that we might brush all these things on one side, that, whatever other countries might do, we needed 70 cruisers and not one less. Our requirements were absolute and not relative; they were not adjectival to the demands of other nations, but were substantive. In view of our wide commitments, the extent of our Empire, the character of our trade and our dependence on certain materials, including food, we could not, he said, do with less than 70 cruisers. There was a great deal to be said for laying down an absolute requirement, whether it was right or wrong. At any rate, one knew what he was doing.
Then the right hon. Gentleman called a conference, the London Naval Conference, and what was the spectacle—I am not deprecating it in the slightest degree as the right hon. Gentleman will see in a moment—with which we were confronted at that Conference? First of all, we called France to the Conference. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) had previously arranged to remit a large portion of the French debt in order to enable France to have a navy with which they might play this game with us at the Conference. We next called Italy, whose debt had also been previously remitted and out of the proceeds of which that nation was also enabled to come to the Conference and enter into this huckstering. In order that the picture might be complete, we asked America to come also, having previously arranged to pay our debt to her in full, so that we were maintaining her navy also. We were dealing at the Conference with three Powers—
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
I am dealing with these three Powers; my hon. Friend is at the other side of the world. We were dealing with three Powers, each one of whose navies we were maintaining. Long discussions were conducted, the Naval Estimates were deprived of their usual construction programme, and we were told to possess ourselves in peace, because in the end some splendid result would ensue. The First Lord of the Admiralty was able to turn to his friends behind him, who are far greater enemies of his than any he met at the Conference and are headed by my hon. 1260 and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), and to say to them, "You have pacifist aspirations. Do not say anything for a few months, possess yourselves in silence, and the Conference will bring you a small Navy." To the hon. Gentlemen opposite him, who believe in a big Navy, he was able to say, "You wait and you will find in the end you will have the kind of Navy you desire." Like Little Bo Peep, they have lost their "ships,". … and they will come home "wagging their flags behind them.' For six months or so we waited, and we then had what we expected. I was induced to remain silent because of a great hope expressed by my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty. He said, "Things are going to be better than ever they were. We are going to be able to stabilise a programme for five years, if we make a success of this Conference. Think of the advantages of that. The country will know where it is, the Empire will know where it is, industry will know where it is and the dockyards will know where they are. We will have everything stabilised."
Accordingly, in the fullness of time a White Paper was presented which contained a Five-Year programme. We were to have between three and four cruisers every year though I notice we have not had the four yet. Our minimum requirements were 50 cruisers and we were to have three or four of them every year. Four cruisers of the Australian Navy were included in those 50 cruisers. I ask my right hon. Friend because I do not think he made any reference to it, where the four cruisers of the Australian Navy are. Are they in commission? There has been a very strange silence about those four cruisers. As I said, we were to have three to four cruisers every year. We started off with three, and we are to have three again this year. We were, under the Treaty, to have an average of two flotillas of destroyers every year, but we have had only one to go on with. However, if this programme were to be fulfilled, I agreed with my right hon. Friend that it would be excellent and would give great assistance to British industry by stabilising requirements. But it did contain a snag. It said, "You must not regard this five year programme as a five year programme, because this is not an English 1261 Navy. All the English have to do for this Navy is to pay for it. This is an Imperial Navy, and must be approved by the whole of the British Empire."
I pointed out to my right hon. Friend that, in my view, it was a little unconstitutional to ask the British taxpayer to vote Supplies, if those Supplies had to he approved by the British Empire before they became effective. However, I was told to possess myself in patience because there would be another conference. We always look forward from conference to conference with a feeling we are getting a little nearer the millennium. When we hear the Foreign Secretary speak, it is as if he says, "Come on together, boys, we will get to the millennium in a few moments." We have had the Imperial Conference, and I have read the summary of the proceedings. But, strange to say, the question of Dominion responsibility for the Navy was never raised at a plenary session at all. At the previous conference you had the representatives of Australia and Canada getting up and making speeches and recognising that this Imperial Navy was an Imperial obligation, yet nothing is done, when you get the representatives of those countries here, to make it into an Empire Navy in reality. It is no use burking the fact we cannot afford to maintain a one-Power standard with America for this reason. Our population is smaller and—I do not refer to our wealth—the burden per head on our English population of maintaining parity is greater than it is on the American population. We will have to face that problem.
We now come to the programmes for this year. Are we to rely upon that? No. there is to be another conference. Last year it was to be an Empire Navy, but now it is to be a League of Nations' Navy. It is to be decided at Geneva what the British Government are to do to protect themselves. There is a great deal to be said about making it a League of Nations Navy. Under the Covenant our Navy is at the disposal of the League of Nations in order to subdue any recalcitrant state. The only thing wrong with the proposal is that the League of Nations is not paying for it, and we are. It is not only the League of Nations which has imposed fresh obligations upon the British Navy 1262 which were not placed on it before the War. The whole series of these conferences has culminated in adding further obligation on us. I commend this to the small section of hon. Members opposite who are pacifists. They are all in favour of entering into conferences and making agreements. We give these guarantees; then they say, "Dissipate your capital—the capital with which to meet these obligations is of no account."
Locarno places very serious obligations on this country. Either that was made to provide against a serious contingency, in which case one might have been justified in praising the right hon. Gentleman, or it was meant for humbug, and to provide against something that could never occur. Of course, the contingency against which it provides can occur, and we are in honour bound to use our Fleet in order to punish either France or Germany, as the case may be—a proceeding which would involve the whole of the British Empire and the whole world in a conflict. We have a pacific pact, the Washington Treaty, in order to protect the status quo of three other Powers in the Pacific, and an agreement whereby we have to protect the freedom of the Straits against any sudden emergency. We have made a declaration in regard to Egypt. We are responsible for the integrity of Egypt against any attack upon that country, however direct or indirect. I ask the right hon. Gentleman—do these obligations mean anything or do they not? If they do mean something, is there any substantive and absolute standard below which the Navy must not be allowed to fall? Where are we going to? Let the British public know. If it is becoming merely a game of statistics, as it is apparently becoming, let the public know, and have the Navy managed by senior wranglers.
The right hon. Gentleman is in danger of sinking into a morass of statistics. Does he realise that these calculations are becoming so complicated that nobody without an actuarial training can tell you what the British Fleet should be at any moment? You have to add something to the French Navy, substract it from the Italian Navy, take away the number you first thought of, add it on to the American Navy, divide by one-fifth, and you will then get what the British Navy is. It is becoming a serious actuarial matter, and 1263 it means that you will entrench officials. Once you make this a purely technical mathematical subject, the ordinary layman will not be able to make a speech upon the Navy at all, because he will never know at any given moment of what the Navy consists. That is a very serious situation. Therefore, my appeal to the right hon. Gentleman is not for parity, but for clarity. Behind this great barrage of sentiment, encumbered as it is with statistics, the British Navy has to work. It cannot do its job, any more than the right hon. Gentleman can do his job, as long as it is subject to the threat of constant reductions in accordance with an involved mathematical formula.
The Navy has a right to know, just as the country has a right to know, what its substantive strength should be, and whether the Navy is a permanent profession or not. We have already found ourselves handicapped in getting recruits for the Army because of the uncertainty of the career. We shall soon find ourselves in the same position with regard to the Navy. Equally, those who build the Navy have a right to know whether or not Geneva is going to throw them out of a job. We must manage our Navy in accordance with the needs of our position, the needs, not of what France or Germany or America may tell us, but the needs of our own employed and unemployed. Therefore, I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, while congratulating him sincerely on what appears to have been a fine achievement, to give us clarity as well as parity.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
I should like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) on his very fine speech, which was full of eloquence and interested us all very much. I join with him in congratulating the First Lord and the Foreign Secretary for the work that they have lately accomplished in getting France and Italy back into the Naval Conference. It is a great achievement on their part, and I do not think that the country appreciates it quite enough, for, if we had a race in armaments in Europe, a great deal of the London Agreement would be upset. When I read the First Lord's statement, however, I cannot congratulate him, because in his absence, the Naval Lords, I am afraid, 1264 have got at him. On page 4, he says that he cannot expand the Naval Air Arm owing to financial restrictions. A little further I notice that for the first time we are to have three seaplane carriers working with the Fleet. In 1914 we introduced aircraft carriers, and at this distant date we are to have only three working with the Fleet for the first time. When I turn over the pages of the First Lord's statement, I find that we have only four catapults fitted in three ships and one submarine. In 1915 we first started looking into catapults, and yet in 16 years we have fitted only four to four vessels. I would like the First Lord to tell us how many catapults are fitted in the battleships and cruisers of the United States. It is an important point.
I would also like to ask him how he can justify our Navy having only 142 aircraft, when the United States have over 700. He gave the wrong figure the other day when he said that the United States had 340 aircraft; they have over 700, and the Japanese have over 300. How can the right hon. Gentleman justify us having only 142 and reducing the Naval Air Arm owing to financial stringency? I would like to put my analytical probe into "financial stringency." In the White Paper issued at the time of the Naval Conference, Command Paper 3485, I find, on page 5, the following passage:In the opinion of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, the battleship, in view of its tremendous size and cost, is of doubtful utility, and the Government would wish to see agreement by which the battleship would in due time disappear altogether from the fleets of the world.Then Lord Parmoor in another place said this. I am quoting from the House of Lords Parliamentary Debates of 8th May, 1930:As far as one can foresee, it appears to me that by 1936 there will be a general world opinion that the capital ship is in the nature of an archaism, and not the sort of fighting machine wanted under the conditions which will then exist.In Command Paper 3547, on page 5, this is said:Further, the financial saving involved in reducing at once to 15 capital ships is estimated at about £4,000,000.A great many people consider that the day of the capital ship is over, and yet we expend a considerable sum of money—probably between £7,000,000 and £12,000,000; I hope that the First Lord 1265 will give the figure—on keeping these 15 capital ships in commission. We are keeping in commission these ships that are of doubtful value, and depriving the Air Arm of the proper number of machines. The whole question ought to be gone into carefully. I am not the only person who says that the capital ships are of no value; I have preached that in the House of Commons for 10 years. One of the oldest brainwaves of the Admiralty, a captain who retired lately, named Acworth, has written a book in which he comes round to my view, and says that the capital ships should be of only 12,000 tons. I have always said that they should be 10,000 tons and come within the international agreement. Admiral Richmond says the same, that these great capital ships are no use. There is a strong body of opinion throughout the country and among naval officers that these great capital ships are practically useless, and have only a slight potential value. We saw the other day that one went through the Panama Canal. That shows the sort of value they have now—to carry on social intercourse and to pay back calls on another nation, or to demonstrate against the Turk. That can be done perfectly well with a 10,000-ton cruiser.
I only hope that the Economy Committee, when it is set up, will have for Chairman a man like Sir Eric Geddes, who understands a certain amount about the Navy and the Air, and who would put his finger on the spot and say, "You have to reduce this unnecessary expenditure on the upkeep of these out-of-date ships." I hope that the outcome of that committee will be that we shall have a Ministry of Defence, so that we shall have a Minister who will be over the Admiralty and be able to say to them, "You stop building these dud battleships, and expand the weapons that are of some use; equip your cruisers with up-to-date catapults, and provide proper aircraft for working with the Fleet." I see opposite an hon. Member whose son has lately gone as an officer in the mercantile marine. Suppose that there were a war. What would he be exposed to? He would be exposed to submarine attack and aircraft carriers dropping bombs on his convoy. These are the menaces which we have to face. They have nothing to do with battleships; 1266 they do not come into the picture. The whole question of the ships in the Navy, as Captain Acworth says in his book, wants overhauling in order to see that we get the right type of craft in the Navy to bring it up to a high state of efficiency.
I want to say a word about submarines. As an old submarine officer, I do not, like the agreement with France which allows her to have a very high tonnage of submarines. A French writer, "Pertinax," not long ago wrote in a French paper that with 75 submarines the French nation could bring this country to her knees. Yet we make an agreement with France that she can increase her submarine tonnage. I should like to ask the First Lord a question about his design of submarines. The United States have the B4 class, we have the X1 class, and the French the Surcoff, a very large submarine of over 4,000 tons submarine displacement. She has a speed on the surface of 21 knots, and under the water a speed of 11 knots; she carries two eight-inch guns, and she is armoured and has very fine lines under water. I would like to know whether the submarine experience of this country is in accord with having these large submarines or with submarines of more moderate tonnage. As an old submarine officer, I believe those ships are too large. The question ought to be gone into, and we ought not to repeat such very large-tonnage submarines.
I notice that it is stated in the White Paper that the Navy has been experimenting with the Davis apparatus for saving life from submarines. I think the First Lord ought to have told us what is the greatest depth of water from which a submarine crew can be saved—whether it is efficient up to a depth of a good many fathoms or not; and whether it compares well with the apparatus in use in the United States, where they appear to have conducted some wonderful experiments. Pontoons are being provided for raising submarines, I notice also, and I think the House would like to know from, what depth we can raise a submarine and what tonnage can be raised—a very important point.
I hope the First Lord will bear with me whilst I touch upon training in submarines. In the submarine service the 1267 men need to be thoroughly expert in looking after their submarines. The captain in charge of a submarine flotilla is responsible for the efficiency of all the submarines in that flotilla. He is responsible for seeing that the crews are properly trained, and for seeing that the apparatus for flooding ballast tanks and for blowing ballast tanks, the electric batteries, the engines for working when on the surface, the periscope, the gyroscope compass and all the rest, are in order, and that the men are trained for their work. I think the First Lord will agree that I am not over-stating the case when I say there is a great responsibility upon the captain-in-charge of a flotilla of submarines, a far greater responsibility than in the case of surface ships. If there is a collision in the case of a surface ship there may not be a disaster—the ship may put a collision mat over the hole and return to port; but if there is an accident with a submarine and she is not efficient she will probably sink.
From this I pass to the incident of the "Lucia," mentioned in the speech of the First Lord. She is a depot ship, with a captain in charge of a submarine flotilla. A signal was made to the Commander-in-Chief to put that ship out of routine, and that was approved. The first lieutenant ordered some paint work to be done on Sunday, and some of the crew objected. Personally, I think the first lieutenant was a fool to give that order, but anyhow, he did. Some of the men did not obey the order, and they were nightly punished by the Admiralty, but I think the First Lord has given way to what was said in the popular Press about it when he comes down to the House and tells us that the captain, the first lieutenant and another officer incurred their Lordships' displeasure and are to be placed on half pay. I do think he ought not to have given way to that popular clamour in the Press. It is bad for the Service. There was a submarine officer in charge of a flotilla of submarines. On him lay the great responsibility of having his boats efficient. How can he "take on" the painting of a portion of the ship? I submit it was most unfair to the captain in charge of the submarine depot ship. He was probably carrying out work in connection with his flotilla and did not know what 1268 was happening about the painting of the ship.
I am one of the pioneers of the submarine service. I started the experiments when submarines were introduced into the Navy, working with Admiral Bacon 30 years ago, and as an old submarine officer I ask the First Lord of the Admiralty, across the Floor of this House, whether he will go into the case of the captain of the "Lucia" to see whether something cannot be done and to see that he is not unfairly treated. I feel very strongly about this. I do not know that officer, I had never heard of him, I do not know his name, but as an old submarine officer I feel that he ought not to have been censured by the First Lord of the Admiralty on the Floor of this House. I have no more to say, except that I do hope this matter may be looked into.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I think it may be for the convenience of the House if I reply now to the points which have been put to me, so that we can then proceed with the Motion standing in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). I will deal at once with the last point which has just been put to me by the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter). With all his experience of the Service he is, of course, entitled to give his view of the way in which the Board of Admiralty dealt with the incident to which he has referred; but I must claim the right for the Board of Admiralty to have its view and to make the decision which it arrived at from its inside knowledge of the case and after having considered the whole of the detailed evidence, not only of the court of inquiry, but of the court-martial. Whilst he, with his experience of the Service, may resent the fact that any public mention was made of the officers in the case, I am quite convinced that the attitude adopted by the Board of Admiralty was perfectly right and just, and that, so far as there was responsibility, either on the part of the men or of the officers, for the unfortunate incident which occurred, the blame has been rightly apportioned by the Board of Admiralty. The hon. and gallant Member asked me whether I would reconsider the case of the officer who was 1269 in charge of the depot ship. I certainly could not promise to reconsider the case, but I would remind the hon. Member of the position. The position is that the men who offended against the disciplinary rules of the Service have been dealt with. The decision of the Board of Admiralty with regard to two officers was announced. They were not dismissed from their ship in the ordinary way, they were relieved of their appointments, and there is no reason why the Board of Admiralty should not consider them for future appointments. I think the hon. and gallant Member ought to be content to leave things in that position.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The hon. and gallant Member has also protested about our general position in regard to the Fleet Air Arm. I should be telling an untruth if I stood at this Box and said that I was perfectly satisfied with the speed of the development of the Fleet Air Arm, but it must be remembered that we have to keep in mind the financial position. He argued that we could save a great deal of money on the capital ships which could be used for the development of the Air Arm. I would remind him that though he has put his case on that paint year after year for about 10 years he can call only one or two stalwarts to his aid in arguing for the abolition of the capital ship as we know it and reducing it to 10,000 tons and that his views are in a minority amongst naval officers.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The opinion of Admiral Richmond is well known from his articles in the "Times" during the London Naval Conference. I am not offering an opinion as a layman one way or the other. We have left over for complete revision and reconsideration the whole question of the capital ship; but I still hold the view that the majority of naval opinion is against the opinion expressed by the hon. and gallant Member.
Another point he put to me was the concern he felt about the amount of 1270 French submarine tonnage which had been inserted in the agreement arrived at during our recent visit to Paris and Rome. I think I said in my speech that we felt the figure of 81,900 tons to be far too high. All I can say about that is this, that we shall not be content to rest upon our destroyer tonnage after Geneva if no better result than that is obtained, and we have made that perfectly plain in the conversations we have had and in the reservations we have made. But I beg the House also to remember that it is a very different figure from that which we should have seen if we had not arrived at an agreement. We have to keep two things in mind, first, the original programme of submarines that the French nation drew up under their 10 years' programme in the Statute of 1923–24.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
Under that Statute ultimately the figure was to be 125,000 tons, and the figure given for 1936, in the course of the London Naval Conference, was only a ton or two under 100,000 tone. I think it will be seen that though we have to make the reservation that while the tonnage remains over 80,000 we must be free to take what effective steps we think fit in the matter of destroyers after Geneva, that, at the same time, we have made very considerable progress in that particular direction. I have not had the opportunity since the hon. and gallant Member spoke of getting a detailed and technical answer to his question about pontoons, and I am sure he would not expect me to answer that question to-night. It was an interesting point, and I shall certainly look into it and we shall be very glad to confer with the hon. and gallant Member on that question. I have no reason to believe, from the reports submitted to me, that the Davis submarine escape apparatus is not at least as efficient as the apparatus used by the United States Navy, and the fact that we have now distributed this apparatus for training right through the submarine fleet is, I think, the best evidence that that is so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) has interested, and shall I say amused, the House with 1271 his speech, but I could not help thinking that we had that delightful phrasing and gentle leg-pulling because he had very little in the way of criticism to offer. It was absolutely imperative for a dockyard Member to let his constituency know that he was really looking after its interests, but at the same time he found so little to criticise that he had to draw upon the resources which we all know him to possess—his great literary ability, a very elastic mind and a very good imagination. He made a very good story, but I think we may brush it aside as a real measure of criticism. The hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth (Sir B. Falle) who, I am sorry to see, is not in his place, was very busy giving us the same speech which he has made each year on Navy Estimates ever since I have been a Member of the House, and although we are very fond of him and would be very sorry if anything were to happen to him, I do not think it is necessary for me to reply in detail to that speech.
The late Civil Lord of the Admiralty the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) very kindly offered me his congratulations for what we had been able to achieve in the Agreement, and went on to advocate the naval control of the Fleet Air Arm. It is a great pity that he had not pressed previous Governments in this respect during the last 10 years. I agree that things would have been very much better in those circumstances, but it is more difficult to secure a change now in view of later developments. I think there is a very great deal to be said from the point of view that there should be more control by the Admiralty and it is sometimes a handicap to have a dual control of the air side when one is considering the question of the air arm of the Fleet.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Are the Board of Admiralty really satisfied with this divided control as far as the Fleet Air Arm is concerned.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The right hon. Gentleman has asked me a straight question but it is not always easy to reply in public to straight questions. I think however that the Board of Admiralty would be ready to say that they are 1272 working much more harmoniously in regard to these matters than has been the case in the past and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not press me more on that point at the moment. I apologise to the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) for not being present while he was making his speech, but I have had some notes made, and I will endeavour to deal with the points which he raised. First of all, I understand that he is of the opinion that the agreement between France and Italy has actually wiped out the ratios in the capital ship category under the Washington Treaty.
§ Mr. ROSS
May I endeavour to make it clear, because it is a point of some importance. There was a certain proportion of strength applied to capital ships at Washington, and it was assumed that this would have been applied in some respects as regards cruisers, destroyers and submarines under the London Treaty, but in this Treaty there is no attempt to apply that at all, and I think the First Lord is mistaken.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
There has certainly been an attempt in the London Naval Treaty to get definite ratios in regard to other categories, but we have not aimed at the same percentage in other ships as in the case of capital ships. In the Agreement between France and Italy we have not tried in every single class to deal with the matter on the basis of the Washington ratio but we have tried to get the best agreement that we can in the circumstances. Having regard to the circumstances in which we were placed two or three weeks ago I think we have made very substantial progress indeed. The hon. Member for Londonderry asked whether Part III of the London Agreement had been accepted by France.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The hon. Member overlooks the fact that by the tentative agreement at London which was not recorded, but which has now been included in the technical basis for discussion next year by the Preparatory Commission the French destroyers and B class or light 6-inch gun cruisers are to be put into one category and therefore it is not necessary to agree as to the actual limit of the ship unit. The point is that they must have a top limit of guns and a limit of tonnage in what I may call the global category of the two classes of ships, the light cruisers and destroyers. The hon. and gallant Member said that France had a considerable advantage in small cruisers and that we are actually inferior in destroyers. My hon. Friend cannot judge of the position by taking the figures of this country either in destroyers alone or in light cruisers alone, but we must take into account the fact that our light cruiser tonnage is 192,000 and our destroyers figure is at least 150,000 tons, and together you get 342,000 tons. It must be borne in mind that that is the joint figure of the cruiser and destroyer tonnage, and from that it will be seen that there is a considerable superiority for this country in that respect.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
It may be that because the late Conservative Government did not keep up the tonnage of destroyers we shall have to carry a few over-age destroyers, but I do not think there is any cause for great anxiety that within the life set down in the Treaty you will not get a proper under-age Fleet in that category.
Is it not a fact that by the end of 1936 under the construction programme for destroyers there will be no continuity for the four years from 1930, and we shall have a complete squadron of destroyer ships not over age?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I did not say that. What I stated was that it might be necessary on the basis which had been laid down to carry in the Fleet a certain number of over-age destroyers.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I am quite sure that the hon. and gallant Member with his technical knowledge will be able to work that out. I cannot possibly accept from the point of view of the Government the interpretation which has been placed upon the London Naval Treaty by hon. Members opposite. Hon. Members always want to take the basis of a 16 years' life for cruisers and a 12 years' life for destroyers laid down before 1921. I think I made it perfectly clear in the naval Debate last year that we do not accept so short a life as 12 years for destroyers or 16 years for cruisers. I think on that occasion I made it plain that the Government only consented to include 12 years for destroyers and 16 years for cruisers for the convenience of Japan because that country was making great sacrifices in order to come under the Treaty and without this provision would have had no new building during the period of the Treaty. With regard to what has been said about a lesser life, I refused to consent to the replacement of our fleet on that basis. I think if we take the rate of 20 years for cruisers and 16 years for destroyers it will be found that the replacement programme will give to us an adequate and efficient fleet within the limits of the London Naval Treaty.
I have been asked one or two specific questions about dockyard work and whether tenders had been obtained in regard to certain ships. I cannot say that in every case and on every job which Is undertaken in the Royal Dockyards tenders are obtained for that particular job but I may say that we take good care to see that similar contract jobs are measured up and carefully checked and compared with the cost of production in the dockyard. Another question put to me was in regard to the effect that the reduction of personnel would have but hon. Members may rest assured that what is proposed will not interfere with the efficiency of the Navy. We have cut down Vote A because there has been a reduction in the number of ships and in some cases in the size of the ship. It is always very difficult in peace time to arrange these matters because the Government have only a very small margin on which to work, but hon. Members may rest assured 1275 that this point will receive attention. I have been asked a question by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) with regard to oil fuel but I am sure I shall not be expected to answer that question in detail because it would not be in the public interest. Hon. Members are entitled to ask if the Admiralty are satisfied that they are not interfering with the efficiency of the service in regard to the use of oil fuel and on that point I may say that the Government are satisfied.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I am speaking on behalf of the Government of the day and they take the responsibility. I am very anxious to give hon. Members all the information they require and I hope that I have now covered all the points which have been raised in the Debate. May I in conclusion say that I am exceedingly obliged to hon. Members for the courteous way in which they have referred to the opening of the Debate to-day and to thank them for the congratulations which they have offered to the Government on the agreement which has been made with France and Italy.