§ 6. "That a sum, not exceeding £122,770 1s. 11d., be granted to His Majesty, to make good Excesses of Navy Expenditure beyond the Grants for the year ended 31st March, 1930."
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."2056
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
There is some little doubt in the minds of some hon. Members as to how wide the discussion on Vote A will be allowed. May I ask what will be permitted?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The usual custom is that we have a general discussion on Vote A in Committee and not on the Report stage of Vote A. Hon. Members must not repeat on subsequent Resolutions the same arguments as they have used on Vote A.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
I shall certainly make a great endeavour not to do that. I have a few words to say on the subject of the Agreement which has recently been arrived at. Although I congratulate the First Lord of the Admiralty on having settled differences between France and Italy, I cannot congratulate him on having made things any easier for this country; in fact, I cannot help thinking that they have been made even more difficult. It is amazingly easy when considering a matter of this kind, if you are prepared to grant things to others, to arrive at an agreement. The other two nations are content. Their pride and honour are satisfied. But I submit most strongly that there is a very widely-held view that the potential menace to this country remains. I am extremely sorry that Article 21, the escalator Clause, was not made use of, and that no claim was made under it, as I think it should have been. We could, I think, have made our claim, and we should have given exact figures as to the extent of our claim to counter the menace which certainly exists. The handling of the Conference next year, which everybody hopes will be a success, will, in all probability, not fall upon a Socialist Government, but I can only say that the handling of it from a Naval standpoint has been made immeasurably more difficult (1), by the surrender, as I think it, last year; and (2), by our failure consistently to build up to the Treaty strength that is allowed, and the folly of not making clear to Europe that we are appreciative of our risks and rights as a maritime nation.
There are a few points in the First Lord's Statement which I should like cleared up, and which, I think, have not already been touched upon. The first 2057 is with regard to the trials which are to be carried out with the "Emperor of India" and the "Marlborough." I refer to this only to make an appeal to the First Lord to remember, if he does not now know, the extraordinary use that can be made of ships of that kind for trials. Nearly every trouble that befell the Navy during the War by shell-fire, torpedo-fire and explosion, was the result of the failure on the part of the Navy to make adequate trial in regard to these matters. It is a confession if you like; at the same time, it is absolutely true that the explosions brought about by the failure to provide anti-flash from exploding shells could easily have been solved by adequate trials. They were not carried out. Then there is the delay action fuse, which was so admirable in the German Navy, and which, again, was not tried out sufficiently by us. There are a number of other experiments—the action of bombs, and the action of gas.
I want most sincerely to impress upon the First Lord, with his immense power and prestige, to which his position entitles him, that the only way to deal with trials is to think out what are the most horrible and almost inconceivably impossible things that could happen to a Navy, and then to have trials to see if you can prevent them from doing you an injury when they come along. I can assure him, from my humble experience, that that is the right way to deal with them. I would like to see the Admiralty give a prize to officers for what I would call "ideas for trials." They would find that if they issued a little note on the subject, and asked officers to let their imaginations, so to speak, run riot, they would get a good many ideas. We must not allow this great opportunity for trials with these two ships to go by without doing our utmost.
I see in the same paragraph of the Statement that it is proposed to do away with the sea-going training squadron for boys. I do not know what the answer is going to be, but, ever since I can remember, the Navy has had a sea-going squadron for the training of boys. I see that the Statement says:For the present boys after leaving the Shore Training Establishments will be trained in the ships of the sea-going squadrons.2058 That is not a satisfactory method, and I should very much like to know whether there is in view some better system than that at the Admiralty. I see that some destroyers are to be scrapped, and I would rather like to know whether they are to be scrapped abroad, or are to come home for scrapping. That is a minor point. In regard to the river gunboats, the First Lord's Statement points out that a new river gunboat, the "Falcon," is to replace two vessels, the "Widgeon" and "Teal." I hope that it may mean that another shallow gunboat will be built some time later to help in the remarkable work which those vessels do abroad.
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
It is this year's programme, which I announced last week.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
Perhaps I made a mistake, but the Statement says that, on completion, the "Falcon" will replace the "Widgeon" and "Teal," which sounds as though one gunboat was going to replace two gunboats. I want to ask a question or two about the Fleet activities in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. A very difficult job has to be faced by the ships that serve in those waters, in the suppression of the slave trade and the supervision of British interests. I should like to know, and I hope the First Lord will be able to give some sort of idea, as to the amount of work which those ships have done, the number of raids which they have prevented and the number of captures, and whether or not the Admiralty are satisfied that this prevention of slave-trading is doing what we hope it is. In particular, I should like to know, having experienced the trouble myself, whether co-operation is going on between the ships in His Majesty's Navy doing this work and the ships belonging to other Powers? In the past, there has often been very great difficulty in getting that mutual co-operation, and, of course, there are French and Italian interests in those parts. I believe I am right in saying that great difficulties exist in regard to the examination of ships flying the colours of other nations. The last paragraph dealing with the Red Sea, and Persian Gulf is one which disappoints me very much. It says:Arrangements have been made for the Royal Air Force Flying Boats and the Sloops 2059 in the Persian Gulf to co-operate whenever possible.There is a world of inefficiency hidden in that sentence, and I would very much like to know whether it is really desirable to have to tell the Parliament of this country that co-operation is actually in progress between one service and another. That leads me to ask the First Lord to agree with me how much more efficient the British Navy would be if it had complete control of all its aircraft. Why it should be called the "Fleet Air-arm" I have never been able to understand. The mere name is a foolish one; it is futile, and gives a wrong impression. We do not talk about the "Submarine arm." We talk about "His Majesty's submarines," and it ought to be His Majesty's aircraft which are working with the Navy.
There is a minor question I would like to ask about the Chinese Navy. I know that we have Chinese officers training in our service, and can the right hon. Gentleman inform us whether, in fact, Chinese officers are in training in other services, and what is the strength of our officers and men who have been lent to the Chinese Government for service in their Navy? Another question is in reference to sunken submarines, and deep-diving experiments in this connection, which are certainly not secret. I can remember the time when it was extremely difficult to go down 20 fathoms. Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House some more technical and encouraging information, for instance, as to this new life-saving apparatus for sunken submarines, and when it is actually hoped to carry out tests?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
Is the hon. and gallant Member speaking now of the Davis apparatus or of the pontoons?
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
I was referring to the pontoons. Are actual tests to be carried out in the near future? I should also like to ask a question with regard to the Eastney Barracks, so long the home of the Royal Marine Artillery. I see that the School of Music has been removed, and it would be of interest to know for what purpose those barracks are to be used. I want to congratulate most sincerely the First Lord on another point 2060 under Personnel, and that is in regard to junior executive officers and probationary lieutenants, Royal Marines, to undergo a fortnight's course in elementary naval aeronautics in an aircraft carrier. Nothing could be better or more surely lead up to the day when the Navy should control its own aircraft and its own personnel. I do not want to press that point too much, except to say that, it does make for inefficiency now, and I hear from many directions of the difficulties which crop up because of the fact that the Navy has not complete control of its own aircraft. Those are the points which I should be grateful if the First Lord would clear up.
This is the first, time, I think, in the history of the House that we are considering Navy Estimates which have been made out, not in accordance with the needs of the nation and of Empire security, but in accordance with the limitations and restrictions imposed upon us as a signatory Power of the London Treaty. Here I would like to add my congratulations to the First Lord and the Foreign Secretary for the very important part they have played in bringing about the agreement between France and Italy. But this basis is a complete reversal of our naval policy in the past. It is a very important precedent. In the past, we have always endeavoured to maintain such forces as were necessary for us to be the greatest naval Power in the world, and that were consistent with our world-wide possessions and our entire reliance upon the security of our trade routes in time of war. That has gone entirely by the board, and we are placed by this Treaty on equality with another great naval Power, the United States of America.
By this Treaty, we are limited in tonnage in cruisers, destroyers and submarines, and we are placed on an equality with America. That equality merely begins and ends with the ships which we are able to construct. When once we are faced with the issue of war that equality disappears and this nation will find itself not on an equality with that country but in a position vastly inferior, due to the immense responsibilities that we have throughout the world. During the late War, notwithstanding the immense forces which we had at our disposal, there were times 2061 when there was a very severe shortage in this country. I would particularly recall to the House the fact that in 1917, at one time, there was only a few weeks supply of oil in this country. That may occur again unless we are prepared in peace time to take the necessary steps to provide this country with those vessels that would prevent a recurrence of such a calamity.
There is one point in connection with the Agreement between France and Italy to which I would draw attention, and that is the fact of the enormous submarine tonnage, amounting to 81,989 tons, which is allowed to France under that settlement. It cannot be denied that in the event of war, and war is what we have to consider when we are discussing Naval Estimates, we should be placed in a very serious position. It would give her an enormous force of submarines which would be utilised undoubtedly in attacks upon our trade. The limitations imposed upon us in the destroyer category will give us somewhere about 110 destroyers and 15 flotilla leaders. That will be the complete force for work with the battle fleet, with which they will have to remain, and for work with cruisers in the protection of our trade routes. The destroyers play a most important part in the protection of our trade and the number to which we are entitled under this Treaty is far below that which would be required in case of war. This fact as regards the submarine tonnage was recognised by the First Lord of the Admiralty in his Memorandum, when he said:The members of the British Commonwealth of Nations maintain that this figure of 81,989 tons is too high in relation to their destroyer figure of 150,000 tons under the London Naval Treaty, but they agree to notify the other signatories of Part III of the Treaty of London that they will not have recourse to Article 21 of the London Treaty pending the general revision of the Naval question mentioned above. Should it not be possible at the 1932 conference to arrive at a satisfactory equilibrium between French submarine tonnage and British Commonwealth destroyer tonnage, the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations will retain their right to make such increase as they may judge necessary in their destroyer figure of 150,000 tons.That statement is a complete justification for drawing attention to the very dangerous position in which we may be placed in regard to France, and also the 2062 serious disability under which we shall enter the conference next year. In our great haste and anxiety to set an example to the world in the direction of peace and the reduction in armaments the Government adopt the habit of first reducing and then going into conference on the reduced scale. That is an example which other Powers, unfortunately, do not follow. I will give some examples on this point. Since 1914 we have reduced our personnel by 52,397. The United States of America has increased hers by 47,342, Japan by 29,355, and Italy by 6,000. There is nothing in any international agreement, there is nothing in the Washington Treaty, there is nothing in the London Naval Treaty, and there is nothing in the agreement come to between France and Italy as regards personnel. It should be remembered that personnel is a very important factor in regard to armaments reduction, and I hope that this question will be brought up at the forthcoming conference. However many or however few your ships may be, unless they have a highly-trained complement they are quite useless. It would be interesting to know why it is that those Powers are retaining such an immense personnel. It may be partly because they constructed a number of ships during the War and they have not yet got rid of them, and it may also be that they are not content to reduce their highly-trained complements until the general situation in regard to armaments reduction is far clearer than at the present time.
It is very important to remember that the modern man-of-war is a mass of most intricate machinery, not merely as regards the engine room, but as regards guns, torpedoes, fire control, and so on, and it requires a higher percentage of highly-skilled officers and men than was the case in the past. I do hope that this question of complement will be gone into at the forthcoming conference. The destroyer force which we shall have at the end of 1936, if the present replacement programme is continued during the ensuing four years, will provide us not with 150,000 tons of ships which are under age, but, according to my calculation, with 90,000 tons, the remaining 60,000 tons being made up of destroyers and flotilla leaders which are over age. That cannot be considered a very satisfactory 2063 position, and there does not seem to be any justification for it.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
Will the hon. and gallant Member say on what he bases his calculation that 60,000 tons will be over age? I Does he base it on a 12 year or a 16 year limit?
On both. Speed is a very important factor in the protection of our trade routes. In time of war a very severe strain is placed upon our destroyers, and as they become over age they lose just that turn of speed which is so necessary an asset. Moreover, you are never quite certain that a destroyer when it is reaching the limit of its age will not break down. In such an event, owing to the small number of destroyers at our disposal there will be no reserve to fall back upon and that might have very serious results. There is another point with regard to the Agreement between France and Italy, and that is that France at the present time has 12 flotilla leaders which are built and are of such a tonnage and carry such guns as to be outside the limit allowed to us under the London Treaty. They have six more than are projected. That gives them 18 flotilla leaders with a greater tonnage and more heavily armed than we are permitted to have. I am sure that that point will be considered at the forthcoming conference because it is of some importance.
As regards the Government's policy for cruisers, they have laid it down that they consider 50 cruisers sufficient for the defence of this Empire. Having so small a number, it will be necessary by the end of 1936 that they shall be as up to date as possible. We shall have 31 which are over age by that time and two, the "Frobisher" and the "Effingham," which may he scrapped under the London Treaty. We alone of the signatory Powers are restricted in our replacement construction to 91,000 tons. Therefore, although we may build up to the maximum allowed to us it will not be possible for us to have at the end of 1936 50 effective under-age cruisers, but only 39, the remaining 11 being over age. We shall find ourselves in 1936 in a position of great disadvantage compared with the other Powers, who are able under the London Treaty to replace the 2064 whole of their cruisers as they become over age. Also, of these 50 cruisers, 25 are definitely attached to the battle fleet, leaving merely 25, in addition to the destroyer force utilised as cruising vessels, for the protection of our trade and of our oversea Dominions in general. That force is totally inadequate for the work they will have to do. I never could understand on what basis this figure of 50 was made up. It is too many in peace time and far too few in time of war. That has been pointed out by Lord Jellicoe and Lord Beatty, whose words ought to carry great weight throughout the country.
There is another point in regard to the menace to our trade which did not arise in the late War, and that is attack by aircraft. That is a very serious menace and due note should be taken of it and provision made to counter such an attack. Aircraft are becoming more and more efficient, with a larger and larger radius of action. In the event of war the whole of the Eastern trade coming through the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean would be exposed to attack by aircraft, and also after passing the Straits of Gibraltar until they arrived in this country there is no part of the voyage when they would be immune. I know perfectly well that there are no laws governing the attack on merchant ships by aircraft. That is very important, and I have no doubt that the matter will be brought up at the Conference next year. But whatever agreement may be come to I am quite certain that no Power will be able to feel justified in relying on that agreement being fully carried out in the event of war. Necessity is a very hard taskmaster, and although you may have an agreement I am not at all certain that these attacks by aircraft will not be carried out. Therefore steps should be taken for countering them.
Another question that has been raised is that of the Fleet Air Arm. I consider that in the interests of economy and efficiency, and certainly for logical reasons, His Majesty's Navy should have entire control of its own Air Force. You might just as well have a separate force for tanks or engineers corps in the Army or for the destroyers in the Navy. These are all auxiliaries, which go to make one concrete unit, and I 2065 hope the time is not far distant when the Navy will have its own Air Force under the control of the Admiralty. The question of Singapore has not been mentioned at all. It is agreed that this base should ultimately be established, but it is very unsatisfactory to note that the question of the construction works in relation to the docks—
I should like to put in a word as regards marriage allowances for naval officers. This question has been thrashed out in all its details and all the arguments have been put forward—
I realise the anxiety for economy. After every war there has been a cry for economy and it has always been put into operation by reductions in His Majesty's services. That is natural, but there is a limit below which we should not go, and in my opinion we have already gone below that limit. If we reduce our forces below a point where it is possible in time of war to maintain the security of this country and the Empire, that is not a step in the direction of peace, but a step that is rather apt to lead to the outbreak of war.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
The hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) will forgive me if I do not follow him in the details he has given to the House, but there are one or two points of a more general character which I desire to put to the First Lord, who is asking now for 93,650 officers and men. I should like to ask whether there is any naval standard to which the Admiralty is building. I am old enough to remember when we had a two-Power standard, and a two keels to one standard. Now I understand that it is a one-Power standard; and that we are building on an equality with the United States of America. Some rather striking facts emerged in the Debate last Wednesday and I want to put these points to the First Lord, because they are of extreme importance in regard to the food supplies of this country. It is well known that owing to the very low 2066 prices of wheat there must be a great diminution in the acreage of wheat grown in this country and we shall, therefore, have to rely more and more on overseas supplies, unless some action is taken. I want to know whether the Admiralty has taken this factor into account in its building programme. If we are building on a parity with America it is rather senseless, because America has wheat to burn whereas we have to import most of our wheat supplies.
This problem will be greatly accentuated in the future. It is probably the weakest link in the chain. We may have great possessions and great Dominions that can supply us with wheat, but it has still to be brought into this country. During the War about 11,000,000 of people had to be fed from the London port, there was no other means of supplying this enormous population and foodships had to come through the Channel. I congratulate the First Lord very warmly upon reaching an agreement between France and Italy, but it still leaves France, a friendly and allied nation, and I sincerely hope always a friend and ally, with a large submarine force of a tonnage of something like 82,000 tons. I do not know how many submarines that represents but it must be 50 or 60 vessels.
Have the Admiralty considered what it will mean to have this large force of submarines with a base on the other side of the Channel if our foodstuffs have to be brought through the Channel for the feeding of London? That is a point of real importance. Those who are acquainted with agriculture know that wheat growing in England, if present prices continue, will practically disappear, and we shall therefore be entirely dependent upon foreign sources. You have our neighbours, therefore, with this great submarine force, and an enormous aircraft force, which in the unhappy event of war, which I fervently hope will never take place, must jeopardise these food supplies coming up the Channel. The Admiralty have built some large ships, like the "Nelson" and the "Rodney." I protested against them at the time. These two large ships would be of no service whatever in protecting foodships against a submarine menace. Are the 10,000-ton cruisers the beat pro- 2067 tection for our food supplies? I put these points very briefly to the First Lord. We must look forward to the time when, unless prices change, we shall be more and more dependent on foreign food supplies and I should like the First Lord to tell us whether the Admiralty have had these changes in view.
§ Lord ERSKINE
I desire to say one or two things about personnel. In the first place, I should like to ask the First Lord whether he does not agree that the best way of measuring a nation's strength is the number of trained personnel available to fight its ships. Any nation may have a great number of ships. Russia had a much larger number of ships than the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese War, but it is agreed that the Japanese were the better trained, were the better sailors, and as it is men who fight not ships they were successful in that war. Are you not in a far better position for getting parity if you estimate not gun for gun or ton for ton, or class of ship as against class of ship, but the number of trained personnel. Are you not in this way far more likely to get equality than by taking the comparisons which so far have always been taken. We have been reducing our personnel since the end of the War. According to the Estimates it is now about 93,000. Unfortunately, the personnel of the United States Navy has not come down to our level, and if you add the 12,000 men who are engaged in their Revenue Service, and who are in reality as well trained sailors as the men in the United States Navy, they have a large superiority of trained men. When the next Naval Conference is called, or at the Disarmament Conference next year, would it not be possible, if there is to be further naval reductions, to take the line of saying that parity with another Power shall include also the numbers of men borne on the books in the various estimates. That would be a much more satisfactory arrangement of arriving at parity with another Power than by having these endless disquisitions and sometimes quarrels as to whether one type of ship came within the category of the agreements which were arrived at.
I want to say a word about the treaty which the First Lord and the Foreign Secretary have been able to arrange 2068 between Italy and France. The House knows that it was essential from our point of view that France and Italy should come to an agreement otherwise we should have had to make use of what is called the escalator Clause and our Estimates would have gone up very considerably. I am not surprised, therefore, that the two Cabinet Ministers made this European trip a short time ago, and I congratulate the First Lord on the success achieved in Paris and in Rome. We have been making treaties for naval limitation ever since the War, and on almost every occasion it has meant that we have reduced our number of ships while other people have been able to build more new ships. That is hardly a treaty for the limitation of naval armaments. In the last treaty we gave to foreign Powers, perhaps properly, the right to build more battle cruisers, brand new battle cruisers, and we gave to one country the right to have 81,000 tons of submarine craft. I agree that this country objected to that large figure, and I think rightly, and I hope that at the next Disarmament Conference we may be able to induce the French to reduce that large submarine tonnage.
During the last 11 years we have scrapped a large number of ships under these treaties, while other nations have built new ships. I hope that when we get a final agreement we shall not find ourselves in the position of being restricted in our own building while everybody else is able to build more brand new ships. There is one question I would like to put to the First Lord. I see that in his statement he talks about the reduction of the Flag list. He states that there is to be a reduction of eight rear-admirals. I have no doubt it is a very good thing that the list should be reduced and that the list was swollen as a result of the War. What effect, if any, is the reduction in the number of Flag officers likely to have on the prospects of promotion of lieutenant-commanders and commanders in the Fleet. I believe that at the present time a man remains in the rank of captain for about 10 or 11 years. Does this reduction in the number of Flag officers mean that a man has to remain in the rank of captain for a longer period than that?
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
I did not say in the statement that we have re- 2069 duced the number of appointments, but that we are reducing supernumerary Flag officers.
§ Lord ERSKINE
I am very glad to have got that assurance from the First Lord, because I am sure that the whole House desires to see a proper system of promotion for officers of the Navy. It really is heartbreaking for anyone who knows the naval service to realise how many men who have given their lives to the service of their country in the Navy, are thrown out when they arrive at the prime of life because there is no room for their promotion from lieutenant-commander to commander or from commander to captain. They are thrown out with a small pension just at a time of life when it is difficult for them to get any other job on shore. At the present time, of course, there are far fewer officers promoted to commander and captain than before the War, and there are far fewer jobs for them. We are not now in a period of naval expansion, but of reduced ships and numbers. I have no doubt that the lieutenant-commander pension idea, which was promulgated by the Admiralty a few months ago, has had the result of reducing the excess numbers of lieutenant-commanders. I wonder whether the First Lord can give us any indication for the future as to the percentage of lieutenants who will be promoted to commander and of commanders promoted to captain, in order that we may have some idea as to what proportion of officers who join the Navy as cadets are likely to be able to remain in the profession during the time of their active life.
Everyone would like to see the profession as one which a man can join as a youth and in which he can remain for the whole of his active life. Up to the present time, with all these reductions going on, many unfortunate cases have occurred. I am sure that the Whole House realises the trouble that occurs if the vast majority of officers are unable to secure promotion because there is not room for them at the top. Therefore I hope that the new scheme for retirement will at any rate enable a fair proportion of officers to have a certain chance of promotion. Perhaps the First Lord will be able to tell us something about that.
2070 Next there is the question of cadets. I know that there is a committee now sitting to deal with the question of the entry of officers into the Navy. For 18 months I had the honour of being Private Secretary to Lord Long, when First Lord, and I dealt with the cadets. I sat upon a great many of the interview boards. I always had rather grave doubts at that time whether this was indeed the best system of getting officers for the Navy. The boards consisted of an admiral, a captain, a commander, the headmaster of a public school, and the First Lord's secretary who dealt with cadets. The boys that came before us were about 12 or 13 years of age. Some were precocious and some were not; some shone before the interview board and some did not. But it is very difficult to tell, when interviewing a boy of 12 or 13, into what kind of man he will develop. What happened at these boards? The written examination did not take place until the board had interviewed the cadets. In my time there were about 35 places to be filled at Dartmouth, and there were about 40 passed by the interviewing board. So there were very few who were left out after the interviewing board had seen them. I always had doubts as to whether a great many of these young gentlemen whom we were unable to pass might not in the future have developed into very able men indeed. I realise that it is a good thing, as they say in the Navy, to get people young when they are to go to sea. Is the committee that is now sitting considering this particular matter?
I also think that perhaps the medical examination that we impose on cadets is very stiff indeed. I am sure that Lord Nelson would never have passed into the Navy under the conditions which the Admiralty impose to-day. We may be losing very good men because of the stringent colour test. I know one very distinguished naval officer who is very nearly colour blind, but that fact never came out, because in his day these tests were not imposed. His colour blindness never interfered with his career. No one in his senses would say that a completely colour blind man could possibly be an officer at sea. I believe the doctors say that to-day a good many people are colour blind to a slight extent. The 2071 system under which we select naval officers now means that they must have absolutely perfect sight.
No one will deny that in the late War the German navy had very good officers. I knew a certain number of them and the majority wore spectacles. Did the fact that they wore spectacles take away from their efficiency at sea? People who fought against them in the late War, would not say that the German officer was not fit to be a sea officer. I hope that we shall not adopt too stringent conditions. The First Lord may say, "We can get as many officers as we want now, and it is possible for us to put forward any stringent test that we like." That is so, but is the Navy not also losing a great many very good men? Would anyone say that many of the great sailors of the past would have passed the examination that has to be passed to-day?
I want to say a few words about the "Erebus" cadets. I believe naval officers will say that that system has been successful, and that the mixture of cadets coming in from the "Erebus" and from Dartmouth has on the whole been a good thing for the Navy. You get a certain number of young people and train them as naval officers, and you also have coming into the Service from the "Erebus" men who have been at public schools, and you perhaps get from them a larger view and outlook upon life in general. I think we ought to keep up both of these particular systems. I hope that the committee referred to will have that matter in view when it reports. With regard to the examinations for the younger cadets, I must say that it always seemed to me that it would be preferable to hold the examination before cadets are seen by the interview board. In my day we used to see the cadets and pass a certain number, and then the examination was held. On the whole, when the results came out, it was found that the board had usually picked the winners, and that the boys passed the examination very much in the order in which the hoard had placed them; but I would like to see rather more of a paper examination for these young officers. A boy of 12 may not be sharp; he may not be precocious; he may make a very poor show before a number of older men.
2072 Therefore, I think that in the case of the entry of cadets into Dartmouth a small change might be made so that the written examination takes place before the cadets see the interview board. The interview board would then know the results of the written examination. It is true that the interview board gets a headmaster's report on each boy. I would be the last to say anything derogatory of those headmasters, but really the headmaster's report cannot be of very great importance. Some schools have a much higher standard than others. One headmaster may give a boy a good report but it may be of less value than a less praiseworthy report coming from a school which has a higher standard. The interviewing board before seeing these young men should know what they can do at the written examination.
In conclusion, I would congratulate the First Lord on the success of his efforts to reconcile the French and Italian points of view. It is obvious that in the present financial state of the country we cannot afford competitive building. Anything which would have induced us to make use of the escalator clause would in my view have been unfortunate. For that reason I believe that, on this occasion at any rate, the First Lord has deserved well of his country.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I entirely agree with the concluding remarks of the Noble Lord, and therefore I have to disagree very reluctantly with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish), who spoke earlier, and also with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor). I think it would have been a terrible disaster to have to use the escalator clause at the present time. I understand that there will he some little doubt, as it is, with the Japanese and American Admiralties, regarding the agreement that has been passed. I hope the difficulties will be smoothed over. But the use of the clause would be very unfortunate and would re-open the whole of the matters agreed upon last year. From another point of view I think it would have been most imprudent, seeing that we are committed to a world Disarmament Conference next year, out of which no one knows what will come. There may be new size limits of ships and many 2073 other revolutionary changes in international agreements with regard to armaments. For us to start an escalator clause to meet ships that have not even been laid down and are only in the blue print stage, would have been most rash. I hope that my right hon. Friend the First Lord will resist any such suggestion.
I would remind my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes, who attacked my right hon. Friend for not building up to Treaty strength, that in addition to the arguments I have already used there is the fact that the Americans are not building up to their Treaty strength, to their allowed ratios. They could build far more heavily than they are building. The American Congress and House of Representatives are fightting a sturdy battle against the American naval authorities, who naturally want to get the utmost possible out of their elected assemblies Therefore, in this instance my right hon. Friend the First Lord is only keeping in step with the United States. There is still much confusion of thought about the whole problem of naval armaments. I would draw the attention of the House to the speeches with which this Debate opened. We had the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) and of the two gallant Admirals. Whom are we supposed to be building against? The fact is that our thinking on naval matters has not settled down to the conditions prevailing all these years after the end of the last great war. First of all, you have the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton talking about the French menace, and then you have my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes talking about the American menace. We cannot have an all-the-world-Power standard. It is absolutely impossible. But to hear some of the speeches delivered by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite when the Navy Estimates come on one would think that we ought to have a Navy equal to the combined fleets of Japan, America, France and Italy. Of course, that cannot possibly be done. We never did it in the past. In all the great arguments in the great Debates in this House on naval strength before the War, when the Conservative 2074 Opposition were in full cry for an increase in the Navy—they happened to be right then—the pre-War American fleet, which was the third fleet in the world, was never even taken into consideration. Then how absurd it is now to talk of building equal to America plus Japan plus Italy and France. I hope my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty will stand firm on this point and not be stampeded.
I want to make this suggestion to my right hon. Friend. There is going to be a battle at Geneva next year, quite obviously, about the maximum tonnage or displacement of battleships, and there should be very serious and well worked out suggestion put forward to effect economies without any reduction of relative strength by reducing the tonnage of individual ships Of the line. One can see the repercussions of this already in America where there is an agitation—a very well-organised agitation if I may say so—being carried on by the American naval authorities. "No reduction below 35,000 tons per ship" is their argument. They want to build at all costs ships of the line of the 35,000 tons limit, which means a ship costing from 27,000,000 to £9,000,00, a very expensive and costly vessel. I think it will be agreed that my right hon. Friend made a gallant fight at the Naval Conference last year to have the maximum tonnage brought down to a lower figure. Judging by his speech on the Committee stage of these Estimates, I think he intends to continue that fight for the smaller size ship to be agreed on internationally. But the case will have to be carefully prepared beforehand, and there will have to be education of public opinion in this and in other countries.
I am rather disappointed—I am not blaming my right hon. Friend; I know his difficulties in this matter—that both France and Italy, before they know the results of the forthcoming World Disarmament Conference in 1932, are apparently going to embark on building battle-cruisers, a brace apiece, of 23,300 tons. Those cruisers will be bigger than a great many capital ships before the War; bigger than the original Dreadnought by 18,000 tons—a very heavy tonnage indeed. It is rather disappointing and rather alarming. Even so, there is an agitation going on in America by the naval authorities, not the political 2075 people on no account to reduce below 35,000 tons. Up till now the Board that advises my right hon. Friend has been a big battleship Board, a very large capital ship Board. They believe in the American argument that the cheapest vessel you can build for its size and what it can do is the very large super-Dread-nought battleship, heavily armed, bristling with anti-aircraft guns, and well protected under water.
If we can get this maximum tonnage much reduced by agreement—and I know my right hon. Friend takes this line—it will be the most satisfactory way of getting a reduction of expenditure on naval armaments without weakening our relative strength. But, as I say, the plans will have to be very carefully worked out, and the arguments marshalled. It will be no use being caught by the very cleverly argued American case for the large super-Dreadnought, supported by France. This matter must be worked out at once by the right hon. Gentleman's very able staff without any delay, and it will have to be very carefully presented at Geneva. It will be to the advantage of the taxpayers of all nations to get the size very much down by mutual agreement. The largest ship you want for the line to-day is of the size that will not be able to overpower any armed merchant liner sent out to meet it, and which will have the necessary radius of action, comfort for the crew, etc.
I would like to say one word in regard to a matter raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Paddington, and that is the question of aircraft attack on shipping. With what he said with regard to the air menace against merchant ships I entirely agree, and I hope it is a matter which is going to be tackled. There are no rules of capture and search for aircraft and aircraft which attack merchant ships, and that will have to be tackled most seriously. The same thing also applies in a different way to air attack on warships, and, when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes complained about the dual control over the Fleet Arm, I would point out to him that the trouble is that the Admiralty in the past have misused their opportunities, and, when
2076 they had control of the whole Fleet Arm, they neglected it. They still do not believe that the greatest menace against this costly super-Dreadnought class is massed air attack.
One hears romantic talk. One hears wonderful talk about the new anti-aircraft guns that can fire gas shells at a terrific rate into the air at a very long range, and make battleships safe against air attack. That is all stuff and nonsense. The cost of the present-day battleship is about £7,000,000, and for that you could build 350 super-aeroplanes, or, for a fleet of 10 battleships, you could build 3,500 super-aeroplanes. In the manœuvres that are taking place just now only about two score aeroplanes are engaged, nothing to what a great Power could put into the air if she threw her resources into it. This is one of the great arguments against the super-Dread-nought of large tonnage, and it also reinforces the argument of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Paddington.
Why do hon. Members opposite insist on attacking my right hon. Friend for not building more ships and spending more money? We had it said last week that more ships were needed, and we are accused now of endangering the Empire. That is utter nonsense. Look at the actual figures. I have had the curiosity to turn up the Navy Estimates before the War, and the gross expenditure was £46,000,000. Of course there is a large non-effective Vote and the pay to-day is more generous, I am glad to say, and certain stores and so on are still a good deal above pre-War cost, but, allowing for that, we are voting to-day £51,000,000 compared with £46,000,000 in 1912 and 1913, during the height of the naval race between this country and Germany. Hon. Members opposite are never satisfied, and I am afraid they are only using the old cry of the wicked Socialists letting down the Fighting Forces. There is no truth in it at all. I could attack my right hon. Friend—of course, I do not want to do so on this occasion—for spending too much.
§ Sir BERTRAM FALLE
Will my hon. and gallant Friend allow me to interrupt him? Our point is not so much ships, as personnel.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
In regard to personnel I think there is something in that, and the answer is, of course, that we have very excellent reserves in the Mercantile Marine and the British fishing fleet. It is not quite fair to compare the American enlisted men with our serving personnel. The moral is that my right hon. Friend, as a matter of high policy, should do all he could, in conjunction with his colleague at the Board of Trade, to see that the Mercantile Marine has its crews of British seamen in British ships available for the reserve of the Navy.
I want to make one other suggestion with regard to personnel. I agree with all that the Noble Lord the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Lord Erskine) and others have said about the tragedy of cutting off the careers of young naval officers in the prime of life, although I must say that I think the Admiralty have been generous. I think these officers have been fairly well compensated, but this has mostly been in the lower ranks of the commissioned officers. It is the young officers, who are faced with the axe or the acceptance of retirement schemes, for whom everyone, whatever their views on armaments or otherwise, must have a great deal of sympathy. It is a great disappointment to them. But let us look at the higher ranks, and, with great deference in the presence of two such distinguished flag officers as those who have already addressed the House, I must draw the attention of the House to this fact. My right hon. Friend gave me this information last week. The flag officers on full pay in 1913 were 52. That is to say, we employed 52 admirals on full pay in 1913. At that time the personnel was 146,000. This House voted 146,000 of all ranks and ratings, a very much larger fleet in matertial, and we had 52 flag officers employed, of whom three were lent to foreign Governments, reducing the total to 49. There were 49 flag appointments. To-day, with a far smaller Navy, with one-third of the ships at sea in commission, and with only 93,600 men, we are employing 44 flag officers and, allowing for the flag officers lent to Dominion Governments and others to be reduced, the number is still 39. We are to have 39 flag appointments compared with 49 before the War.
2078 I suggest that there is a very good case for economy, and I hope I carry my hon. and gallant Friends opposite with me in this. It is bad for the efficiency of captains and commanders of private ships if you have too many flag officers present. Look at the Atlantic Fleet to-day. I have the Navy List here, and I find that you have only five battleships. The Atlantic Second Battle Squadron, five battleships, two admirals to five ships. We have the Battle Cruiser Squadron of three ships, the "Tiger" having taken the place of the "Hood," and a flag officer again. We had the Second Cruiser Squadron of four light cruisers, and again another admiral. Therefore, for these few ships of the line and the cruising vessels we have four flags flying.
Vice Admiral TAYLOR
Is the hon. and gallant Member suggesting to the House that the battle cruisers ought not to have their own admiral?
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I served on the China station during the Russo-Japanese war when we were twice on the verge of going to war with Russia and we had two admirals for the battle squadron and one admiral for the whole of the cruisers. We had no admiral for the light cruisers and only three flag officers with a very large fleet. I suggest that the commander-in-chief should also command the battle squadron and thus reduce the number of flag officers. When we turn to the Mediterranean Fleet we find there again, only six battleships In the battle squadron and two admirals—the commander-in-chief and another. There is the light cruiser squadron consisting of four ships with another admiral and the third cruiser squadron with another admiral. There is another admiral in command of the destroyers or five admirals in all for the much-reduced Mediterranean Fleet. The point about this is that it takes away efficiency from the post captains. It is a bad thing to have too many admirals. Then they simply swarm in the home ports—
§ Commander SOUTHBY
The hon. and gallant Member has referred to the period when he was serving in China and he has said that there was only one admiral for the whole of the cruiser force. How many cruisers were in that force at the time?
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I think about nine but I am trusting to my memory. The commander-in-chief was Admiral Sir Gerald Noel and I was his signal midshipman. There was one admiral for the armoured cruisers and none for the light cruisers and we had about 90 ships altogether including sloops, gunboats and so on—a very large squadron. However the suggestion which I make is that there are too many flag officers and that it does not conduce to efficiency. They have not enough to do, and they get in each other's way, and they take away the chances of independent action by other officers. I know that such a suggestion on my part is against all trade union rules, but, after all, the older men in the service get the better pensions and we ought not to allow all the sacrifice to fall only on the younger officers. There is nothing personal in what I have said because I know that my hon. and gallant Friends opposite are not likely to hoist their flags again at sea and my only idea in making this suggestion is to save money on the Navy without loss of efficiency. I do not like to make a speech which does not contain at least one constructive suggestion and that is my constructive suggestion on the present occasion. Otherwise, I congratulate my right hon. Friend, if not on making great savings, on keeping the Navy efficient. From all I hear the standard of training is very high, and I am told that the last "shoots" have been extraordinarily good. If we can hold our own at Geneva and at the next Naval Conference, if other nations reduce their navies instead of leaving us in the position of always being the country to reduce its Navy while others are increasing their navies, and if we have general economy all round, then my right hon. Friend will go down to history not only as a very successful First Lord of the Admiralty but as a very practical pacifist.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I have risen for the purpose of dealing with what may seem a relatively small point, but one which I regard as of some importance. I hope that although I may find the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty differing from me on this matter we shall at least avoid emulating the example of the hon. and gallant Member opposite in accusing each other of talking utter 2080 nonsense and so forth, that being the way in which the hon. and gallant Member has treated the arguments of his opponents. I am tempted to refer in the first place to what has been said by the Noble Lord the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Lord Erskine) on the subject of interviewing boards. I agree entirely with what he said. These boards represent one of the last relics of the Fisher changes. When they were established they at once started to reject a great many candidates. It seems to me when you are dealing with young boys, it is very difficult to find out what is in those boys by an interview lasting for 20 minutes or half an hour. At one time these boards were rejecting 70 per cent. or 80 per cent. of the candidates. I should like to know how many candidates are being rejected now. I contend that it is impossible for an interviewing board to pick out the candidates who are likely to turn out, in the long run, the best naval officers. The silent candidates are often the best. They are often the thinking candidates and I suggest that the Admiralty should tell the interviewing boards that the type of cadets which they ought to reject is that type which can pass examinations, and yet is hopelessly unpractical. That is a type which we do not want to become naval officers.
The question which I have risen to deal with, however, is that of the position of the engine-room artificers. This is a highly qualified and skilled body, and they have been treated scurvily by the Admiralty in past years. The Admiralty are now suffering in consequence, because they have had to lower the standard in the type of artificers entering the Navy and they are not getting the requisite number. An experiment was made in regard to this class in 1925. It was done by a Conservative Government but a Conservative Government occasionally makes mistakes and I think this was a bad mistake. They degraded the position of the engine-room artificers to that of petty officers for a period of three years. One may search back through the history of the Navy without finding any case in which a rank in the Navy has been worsened, although one can find many cases in which a rank has been improved. In this instance, instead of being chief 2081 petty officers these engine-room artificers were degraded to the rank of petty officers for three years. Up to that time they had always entered as chief petty officers.
The result of the experiment has been failure, and I have only heard two arguments advanced by the Admiralty in favour of the change. In the first place they say that more accommodation was required for other chief petty officers, but if they had gone back to the policy which the Admiralty were contemplating in 1901–1902—when Lord Fisher swept it aside—they would have succeeded in getting that accommodation. The policy contemplated by the Admiralty in 1901–1902, of which I have a very intimate knowledge, was to make a considerable improvement in the position of engine-room artificers so that they became watch-keeping engineers of the Navy, and the number of engineer officers in each ship was to be reduced so that they had a better outlook in the matter of promotion. In that way much more accommodation would have been available than has been made available by the policy of de-grading the position, which has been pursued since 1925 and has failed. The second point advanced by the Admiralty is that the artificers possess marked advantages over other branches of the service, but that is not a sound argument. You cannot compare the position of the artificers with other branches. They are skilled men and enter the Navy with ready-made skill, whereas stokers and seamen are able-bodied but raw recruits and have not to pass a practical and educational test on entering the Navy.
I can only discover one reason for the antagonism shown in recent years to the artificers, and it is that they belong, and rightly belong, to their trade unions, because of the benefits which those trade unions confer upon them. But I defy the Admiralty to find in the history of the engine-room artificers one single case in which the trade unions have interfered in any way with the discipline of the Navy. The Amalgamated Engineering Union, the United Societies of Boiler Makers and Iron and Steel Shipbuilders—these bodies have never interfered with the discipline of the Navy, and these men, all the time, have probably given more satisfaction to their officers than the men of any other 2082 branch of the service. It is this prejudice against trade unions which has led to immense expenditure in training boy artificers and producing a new type of artificer.
It is a very bad policy to have two or three different types in the service. If it inevitably leads to rivalry and jealousy and if you are getting a satisfactory type, for nothing, from the shore—exactly the same type as the engineers of the mercantile marine—why not rest satisfied with that advantage? My advice to the Admiralty is to go back to the policy which was the unanimous policy of the Board of Admiralty in 1901, though they did not carry it out then. The Admiralty will save a lot of money in that way and they will have no difficulty in getting into the Navy the cream of the mechanics who are now outside the Navy. We are reducing personnel by 10,000 in four years, and it is all the more necessary when carrying out such a policy of reduction to see that we get the most highly-skilled men. Under the policy which is now being pursued we are not getting the most skilful type of men. As I have already pointed out, we have had to reduce the entrance standard and we are not getting the numbers. I ask the Admiralty, for the sake of efficiency, to reexamine the whole question land see if they cannot treat these artificers better and revert to the policy which the Admiralty intended to adopt in 1901.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
I have no desire to traverse the ground which has been covered by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) as regards the cruiser question, but I would remind the House of one fact which emerges plainly from these discussions. Under the London Naval Treaty we must come to the end of 1936 with at least 11 or 12 obsolete cruisers and no amount of juggling with figures or with tonnages can alter that basic fact. At the same time it should he remembered that when we come to the end of the Treaty period we shall still be bound by a moral limitation. During the period of the Treaty we shall of course be bound by the actual Treaty limitations but I do not think that anyone would suggest that at the end of the Treaty period it will be possible for any signatory to the Treaty to put up a large building programme to 2083 make good deficiencies. Therefore it is doubly dangerous that we should arrive at the end of the year 1936 with the number of our effective ships so badly reduced.
The 1930 cruiser programme inadequate as it is is only a paper programme. In answer to a question which I put not long ago the First Lord of the Admiralty told me that only about £13,000 had been spent of that building programme. I may remind the right hon. Gentleman however of an answer which he gave to the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) in July last. He said then that it had been decided to commence, this financial year, the new construction programme for 1930. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman in reply to a supplementary question put by the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) said that the amount of the Supplementary Estimate would be about £200,000 and in reply to a further question put by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull as to how much employment that expenditure would give this financial year, he said that it would give a very considerable amount.
Nobody can deny that the mitigation of unemployment has been a primary consideration all through last year. Why has the 1930 programme not been pushed on in those circumstances? We are told that only £13,000 has been spent up-to-date. There is no reason why the construction of the ships should not have been put in hand much earlier last year in order to give employment to men who sadly need it. The amount of employment given by the construction of a ship is considerable; 85 per cent, of the cost, at least, goes in wages to 20 different trades. In the modern method of calculation which has become so popular since the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs was the Lord Privy Seal, the construction of a cruiser—hull, machinery and guns—gives 206,252 man-weeks work. Therefore, the House and the country are entitled to ask that the Admiralty shall expedite not only the programme of 1930, but this year's programme, which was contained in the First Lord's statement. It would do a great deal to provide very necessary Naval strength, which must be maintained, and to provide employment for many trades and many men.
2084 I want to reinforce what has been said on the subject of the destroyers. It is obvious that the destroyer position is very serious. We have at present 19 flotilla leaders built and building and 155 destroyers. Of these, about 15 leaders and 129 destroyers will become obsolete by the end of December, 1936. That would leave us with four flotilla leaders and 26 destroyers as efficient, effective, up-to-date vessels. We are building at the rate of one leader and eight destroyers a year; therefore, if we continue this rate—that is, the rate of last year's programme and this year's programme—we shall come to the end of 1936 with five flotilla leaders and 40 destroyers built under the programmes, giving us a total at the end of 1936 of nine leaders and 66 effective destroyers. We are allowed by the Treaty a tonnage of 150,000 for this particular class of vessel, which might roughly be translated into 15 leaders and 127 destroyers. The fact emerges that if this present rate of building is to be adopted, we must come to the end of 1936 with 61 obsolete destroyers and at least six obsolete flotilla leaders.
Consequently, there can be no doubt to anyone who studies the figures that, instead of building one flotilla leader and eight destroyers a year, we should be building two flotilla leaders and 12 destroyers. The French flotilla leader is an infinitely more powerful vessel than anything we possess or are able to possess. The latest French flotilla leader is a vessel of 2,500 tons with a speed of 36 knots and an armament of 5.5 inch guns. She is in all respects equal to a light cruiser. The First Lord, in reply to a question which he was asked in May last year, admitted that the so-called flotilla leader of France is really a light cruiser. The French can build this class of vessel quite happily, but if we attempted to build a ship to meet the challenge of the French flotilla leader, it would become a light cruiser and would come into our light cruiser tonnage, which is already too small. I am sorry that in the negotiations which the First Lord recently carried out, and which resulted in what probably everybody will say is a good piece of work well done, producing, as it did, agreement between the French and the Italians, he was not able to get some 2085 limit to the tonnage and size of gun for the French and Italian flotilla leaders. I asked the right hon. Gentleman a question about this, and he said that it would not be in accord with the system of naval limitation adopted in the Draft Disarmament Convention recently drawn up at Geneva. It was, however, a heaven-sent opportunity for him to take up this question and endeavour to get some satisfaction.
With regard to the negotiations which have resulted so happily between the First Lord and the French and Italian representatives, the right hon. Gentleman said in Committee last week that the French Government had been given a written assurance that His Majesty's Government favour a reduction of the capital ship gun to a maximum calibre of 12 inches and a reduction in displacement from 35,000 tons. This is one of the few points where I am in agreement with the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). No one will deny that the size of the battleship has reached almost absurd figures of tonnage. It is one thing, however, to state definitely that we are in favour of a reduction in tonnage, and another to state that we are definitely pledged to a reduction in the size of guns to 12 inches. There is a considerable amount of expert opinion which says that, taking it all round, the most efficient and convenient type of heavy gun for the battleship is a gun of 13.5 inches. We went into the London Naval Conference with our hands tied as regards our cruiser tonnage. Before we even went to the Conference, it had been decided that we were to reduce from 70 to 50 cruisers. The First Lord and others with him had nothing with which to bargain. In this case history is repeating itself. Before the next negotiations even commence the First Lord has given an assurance to the French that we are bound to agree to a reduction of the calibre of the large guns to 12 inches. In the circumstances, it was an unwise undertaking to give when it is so necessary for us to go into the next Conference with our hands quite free in order to discuss matters as they then stand.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has made a grave statement about the 13.5 inch gun being the best gun for us. The 2086 statement is frequently made, but what difference is made if nobody else is allowed to have a bigger gun than 12 inches?
§ Commander SOUTHBY
My point is that the time to discuss that is when the Conference meets, and that it is no good announcing beforehand that you are going to agree to a 12-inch gun and then find at the Conference that other people will not agree. Reference was made by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull to the opinion in America with regard to the size of the battleship. There is no doubt that opinion in the United States is hardening in favour of the retention of the 35,000-ton ship. I am sorry for it, and it is a great pity, but it is a fact that must be taken into consideration. With opinion hardening in that direction in America, it is no time for us to make definite pledges as to what we shall do when the next Conference comes. Let us wait until the Conference takes place, and discuss matters as they arise in the light of the then existing circumstances. I do not know whether it is possible for any conversations to take place between the First Lord and Mr. Stimson, who, I believe, is in London It must be remembered that Mr. Stimson has in the past been a staunch defender of the 35-000-ton battleship, and the First Lord might perhaps find it possible to have informal discussions with him that would help this matter along a great deal.
The question of the examination of cadets has been raised. I am not in agreement with what has been said by the Noble Lord the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Lord Erskine). There is a difference of opinion as to whether the naval cadet caught young and taken to Dartmouth is better or worse than the officer who goes to sea as a midshipman direct from a public school. My Noble Friend made a great point of the fact that some years of public school experience is broadening for the mind. The most broadening thing for a man is to go abroad and to go to sea. Having had some experience of both types of officer, I do not think there can be any doubt that it is a good thing to take an officer at a reasonable age, send him to a naval training establishment, train him in the traditions of the service, train him specifically for the job he is to do, and then 2087 send him to sea at as young an age as possible. I hope that when the Committee which is sitting on this question has come to a decision, nothing will be done until the House has had an opportunity of debating the question. It is a serious thing to interfere with and to alter the type of training for the Navy. Those who saw the effect of the alterations which were made in haste by Lord Fisher will remember that we had to go back to what had been going on before, because Lord Fisher's alterations were proved to be unsuitable and unsuccessful. It is no small thing to make an alteration in the system of naval training which might do away with training establishments.
I would like to reinforce what the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) said about sloops. As one who has served in the Persian Gulf, I have some knowledge of what is needed in the way of small ships of the Navy for the work in those waters, and I would ask the First Lord to consider whether it would not be possible to increase our building of sloops which are a very useful type of vessel. In fact it is the only type adequate to carry out the prevention of the arms and slave traffic in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. There are those who think that the functions of a sloop can be undertaken by a flying boat. Anybody who has seen a shamal blowing in the Persian Gulf will know that it would be impossible for a flying boat to do anything in the nature of boarding a dhow; it would be unable to search it with any degree of safety to herself or the crew. Therefore, we must fall back on the surface vessel working, if you like, in conjunction with the flying boat, and if we are to carry out our duties in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea adequately, we must have a considerable increase in the number of sloops.
I am glad to see that something more is being done with regard to the training of Naval personnel in flying. According to the White Paper, 85 naval officers are employed as observers, 127 Naval and Royal Marine Officers are serving as pilots in the Fleet Air Arm, and 25 are under training. I am not going to ask the great question which was asked by the right hon. Member for South Molten (Mr. Lambert), whether the Ad- 2088 miralty would like to have the Air Arm back. I know that it is impossible for the First Lord to give an answer to that question, but I would beg him to lend his weight and press for the return to the Navy of its flying service. These figures show that it is essential that the Navy should have its own flying personnel, who should be partly naval officers and partly flying officers who know the conditions both at sea and in the air—a state of affairs which cannot exist with regard to the ordinary land pilot. It is essential that if you want to have the best results—and the Air Service in the Navy is only subordinate to the work of the ship—you should run the service in the same way as the Marines and the Engineers. The regrettable accident off Plymouth the other day surely serves to show that land pilots ought not to be put into flying boats, because we cannot expect them to be as successful as men who have spent the whole of their time in flying naval aircraft.
The First Lord referred to the reduction in the personnel of lieut.-commanders in order that in this congested rank there may be some hope of promotion for those officers remaining in the Service. At the same time, it is essential that full justice—and more—should be done to those officers who, through no fault of their own, have to take advantage of this retirement scheme. When the matter was debated last week I asked the Parliamentary-Secretary whether the rates of retired pay would be fixed or fluctuating rates, and he said they would be fixed, permanent, standard rates. I was sorry to hear him say today, in reply to a question, that that was a mistake, and that the rates would not be fixed, but would vary with the cost of living.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Ammon)
In that respect those officers will be placed in precisely the same position as others.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
I quite understand that, and I was not criticising the answer in that respect; but may I make a plea to the First Lord to reconsider this question, and to standardise these rates as fixed, permanent unchanging rates? Not only in the Naval Service, but in the Army, in the Air Service, and 2089 in the Civil Service particularly, the time is coming for a standardised rate of pay. It is time we dropped this sliding-scale based upon the cost of living, which leads to arguments and to uncertainty, and to a sense of grievance when the rates of pay fall. We should stabilise the pay in all the Services in the light of existing conditions to-day. It is impossible to debate marriage allowances on this Vote, but if it is impossible to give carriage allowances to naval officers let us at least stabilise their pay and do away with this sliding-scale based upon the cost of living. There is precedent for doing it, because in the past there have been retirement schemes with fixed rates of pay not subject to any fluctuations in the cost of living. There has been a scheme of that character since the War; and so I ask the First Lord to reconsider this point and try to help this class of officers—there are only about 150 who will take advantage of this scheme—by giving them a fixed rate which will save them from uncertainty and a sense of grievance if, in a year or two, the cost of living is supposed to have fallen and their pay falls too. It is not a big thing to ask, and it would make the scheme far more popular.
When this matter was discussed in the House the other day, the hon. Member for West Salford (Mr. Haycock) made some extraordinary statements about officers being entitled to free washing, food and clothing. If those halcyon conditions do exist in the Navy—and I doubt it—they certainly did not exist in my time. I have never heard of any officer who has free washing, or free food—except free rations, of course. It is a great pity that the hon. Member for West Salford should sneer at the retirement scheme for lieutenant-commanders. He sneered at the fact that these officers were to have £155 or £200 a year, or whatever it is. I would impress upon the House that this retired pay is deferred pay. It is just as much, in effect, the savings of the officer himself as it is in the case of a man earning a salary ashore who puts some of his money into the bank every week and keeps it there for a rainy day. This retired pay is not a charity, it is a right. The pay of these officers when serving has been low, and they have accepted that situation in view of the pension that was coming to 2090 them; and the particular pension scheme brought forward for lieutenant-commanders is only anticipating the retired pay to which an officer would be entitled later, and has been introduced in order that the list may provide quicker promotion for those remaining behind. I do not want to say more, except again to ask the First Lord if he will reconsider this question of the retirement pay, and fix it definitely and finally instead of basing it on a sliding-scale.
§ Captain W. G. HALL
One question I would like to raise concerns the liability of naval pensioners who have served the full 22 years in the Navy to be recalled to serve again in an emergency. It may be a small point, hut it does concern a very large number of men—not those who have passed into the Reserve, because all branches do not pass into the Reserve—who feel that once they have served for 22 years and have passed to their pensions they should not have the possibility of their being recalled for service hanging over their heads until they are really very old. Nothing appears upon the entry forms which they sign—and re-sign after having served 12 years—to show that they are liable to be called up again in an emergency. The matter was put to me by some of my constituents, and I set about discovering how it was that they were liable to be called up. I put a question to my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, who told me they are liable to be recalled under the old Naval Volunteer Act, 1853. The Section—16, I think it is—which gives the Admiralty this right, is obviously inserted in an Act which really has very little to do with naval men. It is an Act which enabled the State to raise volunteer seamen from the merchant service in case of emergency. They were to serve for one year, or at the most two years, and were not to go beyond 100 leagues from the coast of the United Kingdom.
It was a volunteer force; and yet embedded in that Act we find a Section which drags in men on the active list of the Navy. I suggest to the First Lord that ways and means should be found whereby men who have given 20 years' service to the nation in the Navy may know that they can settle down afterwards without the feeling that at any 2091 moment they may called on to serve again. I think it is Article 1999 which allows the Admiralty to treat them as deserters should they not return when called up, and gives the Admiralty the further right to take away the pension they are enjoying. Men who have served 22 years in the Navy feel that the pension which comes to them is in the nature of pay which has been earned—not something for which they are still liable to serve. This is a matter which might be looked into in these days of piping peace, very different from the time when that Act was passed, when people did not know from month to month when a great emergency might arise. We would relieve the minds of naval pensioners of the feeling that at any moment they may be called up to serve again, even though they have reached the age of 50 and over.
May I ask the First Lord what is the age up to which they are liable to be called on to rejoin the Navy?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
After all that we hear about the interest which the party opposite take in the Navy, I am surprised to find that only a few faithful souls can find sufficient time to come here to heckle the Socialist First Lord about the disgraceful way in which he is failing to keep the Navy up to strength! [Interruption.] My hon. Friends behind me do not make that charge; it is hon. Members opposite who make it. The hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) went through a number of questions which were raised in the White Paper submitted with the Estimates. He opened up with what, I thought, was rather an astonishing suggestion. It was that we had made a grave mistake in not asking the country immediately to operate Article 21 of the London Naval Treaty. Really, that is the sort of suggestion which is not going to be helpful at the Conference next year. The hon. and gallant Member did express the hope that the Conference would be successful, but he said that the London Treaty and the terms of the Treaty secured between France and Italy, were going to make it more difficult. Nothing could have made the Conference next year more difficult 2092 than for this country to have put into operation Article 21, with all the contingent results which such action would have had upon other Powers who may be party to the Conference, as well as France and Italy. It seems to me that it was all the more necessary for the Foreign Secretary and myself to take all immediate steps—
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
I did not say "operate," and I did not mean "operate." What I meant was that we should have made it perfectly clear as to the attitude we would have to take up in the case of a continued growth of the submarine tonnage of France. That is quite a different thing.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I shall be very glad to check the OFFICIAL REPORT on that point in the morning. I took rather a particular note of it. As a matter of fact, we have made it clear, I think, beyond peradventure, in the basis of the agreement arrived at between France and Italy, that unless there is a more satisfactory revision of the submarine strength we absolutely reserve our right to exercise Article 21 so as to secure a proper equilibrium between our destroyer strength and the submarine strength which in those circumstances would remain with France. I hope the hon. and gallant Admiral, who is never an unfair critic, and is always helpful in his criticism, will take particular note of that point.
The hon. and gallant Member also referred to the question of trials which will be carried out on the battleships going off the active list. The first thing that happens in regard to such ships is that the Admiralty gives consideration to what trials can hest be instituted and the hon. and gallant Member may rely upon the scrapping of the four ships under the London Naval Treaty being adequately used for the purpose of improving the efficiency of the Navy. I am rather surprised that the hon. and gallant Admiral thinks it necessary to offer prizes to officers for ideas in this connection. I should have thought that all officers in the Navy can be relied upon to submit their ideas for the benefit of the Navy without such inducement as prizes and indeed in these days when competition for promotion is so keen I 2093 should think there is little doubt that any officer who has suggestions to make will make them well knowing that it may improve his chances of promotion.
With regard to the training of boys, we have had a special training squadron for them in the old capital ships, and the naval staff are fully satisfied with the arrangements that are going to be made for the training of the boys in sea-going ships. If the arrangements turn out satisfactory, my submission is that it would be better to have the boys trained in seagoing ships than to have the kind of thing which we have had in the past. The duties have been changed, and I am perfectly satisfied that what we are doing is right. The hon. and gallant Member for Lewes asked whether the destroyers for scrapping were to be broken up in this country or abroad. None of the destroyers on the scrapping list are being broken up abroad, and they are being disposed of in this country.
I have been asked a question about the service in the Persian Gulf and the steps taken to deal with the slave traffic and other matters. On this point, I would like to pay a tribute to the work which has been continuously done in the Persian Gulf by the ships of His Majesty's Navy. The whole Navy was pleased with the award of C.I.E. to Captain Boyes, the senior naval officer in the Persian Gulf, for his work in that area. It is gratifying to us that this award was recommended not by the Admiralty but by the Indian administration in recognition of the good results of Captain Boyes' work. Upon this question I should like to say that I cannot give any very specific cases of co-operation in this work by the navies of other countries. We are always willing to secure co-operation of that kind, but I am unable this afternoon to give any instances of such co-operation. I do not agree with what has been said about the policy of the Navy in regard to co-operation with the Royal Air Force. We have already stated that we have co-operated with that force whenever possible. As to my views about the ultimate control of the Fleet Air Arm, and whether it should be under the control of the Air Ministry or the Board of Admiralty, I would remind hon. Members who have spoken that "what I have said I have said," and I have nothing to add.
2094 With regard to submarine salvage and deep-sea diving experiments, the inquiries are incomplete, but experiments have been made. I do not want to go into the details, but the main thing that is necessary for the moment is to remember that we have to carry out these experiments under reasonable conditions. A great many more trials in deep-sea waters will be made during the summer. We have already done a good deal of experimenting in inshore waters, and we want this rounded off by deep-water experiments. I think I shall be able to give the House the results of our experiments later on. I have been asked a question about Eastney Barracks, and why we have moved the School of Music to Deal. Those premises are being taken over by the Marines, most of whom had to live outside the barracks, and this change will save the expense of lodging allowances. One block is already occupied, and the other will soon be ready. In view of the fact that some of this accommodation has to be used for married quarters, certain alterations had necessarily to be made, and this takes a certain amount of time. The hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) has put some questions to me, and I am not at all sure whether I have to treat him as a member of the official Conservative party or as a free lance.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
It is always difficult to reply to such questions as those which have been put to me by the hon. and gallant Admiral, because they deal with matters involving the policies of previous Governments. One of his arguments was that we had reduced our naval strength, that we have accepted less than we had before the War, and that we have no longer power to build up to the standard of the largest naval power in the world. The hon. and gallant Admiral is wrong, because it was the Government of many years ago that decided that our naval strength should be equal to a one-Power standard.
It does not alter my argument at all which Government may have reduced our standard. The fact is that the Government to which the First Lord of the Admiralty belongs 2095 went into the Naval Conference last year on the basis of 50 cruisers. I do not know how that was arrived at, but, as I have said, that basis does not permit us to have sufficient ships to carry out the duties in war for which they exist.
I really should like to know the right hon. Gentleman's policy. Does he really think that we should go in for a two-Power standard, which might mean starting fresh naval competition and ultimate war?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I gave way to the hon. and gallant Admiral, but he will recognise that I was dealing with his items seriatim. I was dealing with the opening of his speech, in which he lamented the fact that we had come back to a one-Power standard.
Our strength is absolute as regards craft and destroyers, but we have now come down to our relative strength, and that is an entirely incorrect standpoint to take up. The number of cruisers and destroyers we want is absolute, and can be worked out perfectly definitely.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is in too great a hurry, and he must not think that I am running away from his arguments. His first point was that we had accepted in this country the one-Power standard. I think it is a pity that he did not criticise the Government on that point at the time when the Conservative Government were responsible, because they accepted the one-Power standard. The hon. and gallant Gentleman says that 50 cruisers are not enough. It is true that that number was not inserted in the Washington Treaty. I remember the occasion last year when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) disclosed a secret document in this House. If it had not been for the intervention of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping at the time of the Washington Conference in regard to a telegram which he quoted, I very much doubt whether we should have come away from Washington without an agreement on auxiliary craft as well as battleships and aircraft carriers. It is no very serious thing to feel that we have come 10 years after to a fixed figure in a Treaty for our cruiser strength 2096 which had actually been debated at the Washington Conference at that time.
I will now go back to the year 1923, the year of the first Tory administration. What was the effective strength of the cruiser fleet at that time? It was about 225,000 tons. The Government have been charged with being criminals in this respect, when, as a matter of fact, we have actually agreed to a Treaty which gives us 339,000 tons in 1936. The hon. and gallant Member referred to the French submarine tonnage, and said that what we are considering is war. I hope that that is not the spirit in which we shall enter into naval discussions in this House. I said on a public platform the other day, and I am not ashamed to say it here in the House, that while my job at the Admiralty is to see that the Fleet is kept efficient, my job is not to prepare for war, but to try to stop the next war.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
But that is not the only means of obtaining security, and that is what we hold and what we are going to adhere to on this side of the House. I repeat that my job is not to prepare for the next war, but to try to stop the next war. I hope, therefore, that, even when we are trying to make the necessary minimum provision for these craft, we shall not give utterance in a responsible legislative Assembly to remarks of a kind which are likely to irritate people in other countries.
The hon. and gallant Member said that our Treaty tonnage of destroyers was too low, and that we were reaching a dangerous position if we were to contemplate a continuous raising of submarine tonnage of the kind visualised by the French, with the building contingent thereon of submarines by the Italian Navy. I entirely agree. I said last week that, if it had not been for our visit to Paris and Rome, there would have been by 1936 a fleet of at least 99,000 tons of French submarines, and a much larger Italian fleet than will now be fixed. That would have been an exceedingly dangerous position. But, as we have enabled the French and Italians to Dome to an agree- 2097 ment that France shall not have more than 81,000 tons for the present, and it will be possible to consider the matter again at Geneva, I think that we have done, after all, the right thing in these circumstances in saying that we are not prepared to tell other Powers that we are going to operate Article 21, but that we are prepared to go into the Conference with the best of good will and to try to come to a permanent settlement.
The hon. and gallant Member mentioned our destroyer strength in relation to other Powers, but he seems to have fallen into the same use of figures as other hon. Members last week. In estimating what will be the number of overage destroyers under the Treaty arrangement, he says that all destroyers laid down before 1921 should be regarded as over age.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
It makes all the difference in the world when you are deciding how much of your present Fleet is over age in 1936. We are replacing our destroyer fleet on the basis that our destroyers are capable of a 16-year life, and the only other thing that I have to say on our destroyer programme is that, if previous Governments had not let the naval programmes go through for many years without providing a single ton for replacement of the destroyer fleet, we should not be in the position, in which we are to-day, of having so much over-age tonnage. On the other hand, a steady building programme of one leader and eight destroyers a year, based upon a 16-years life will, taking a proper view forward, always give us an under-age fleet of over 150,000 tons. As soon as we have completed the programme, which was started in 1928, of one flotilla a year, it will be possible to maintain our destroyer fleet right through as underage.
The hon. and gallant Member mentioned the question of the very large size of the French destroyer leaders, and, in answering him on this point, I shall also answer the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Commander Southby). We have under the Treaty 150,000 tons of destroyers, and we are allowed, inside our cruiser tonnage, 192,000 tons of light cruisers, which gives us 342,000 tons. 2098 The French and Italians lump together their light cruisers, destroyers and destroyer leaders, and it follows that, if they use their tonnage in building very much larger destroyer leaders than it has been the desire to build in this country, they have to take that either out of their light cruiser tonnage or out of their ordinary destroyer tonnage.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
Surely, the point is that we require both the cruiser tonnage and the destroyer tonnage, whereas the French require either cruiser tonnage or destroyer tonnage. That makes a world of difference.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
That may be the hon. and gallant Member's view, but it is not the French view. [Interruption.] The French have a tonnage ill light cruisers and destroyers which they lump together, and we are given on paper a reasonable superiority. If, inside their total tonnage of light cruisers and destroyers, they decide to put into their flotilla leaders a much higher tonnage than we do here, they have much less tonnage to play with in building more destroyers or light cruisers, and so the result is as broad as it is long. I cannot understand why so much time has been spent on that particular point.
The hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington made one other point. I do not need to follow him in his remarks about the Fleet Air Arm, which I have answered already, but he says that he recognises that there is a need for economy, but that he thinks there has already been economy enough in the Navy. That is a very old position with many Conservative people, and we have recognised it for a long time. They are the most insistent preachers of economy, but they always want to avoid economy in the particular services in which they are interested. If the hon. and gallant Member believes all the things that he said in South Paddington during the not very ancient by-election with regard to economy, he must expect economy to be carried out in regard to the Navy as well as in regard to other services.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) asked if I could say whether we have any standard at the Admiralty to which we are building. I think he knows that the standard which was going to be, and is, 2099 laid down under the London Treaty, is a one-Power standard, and, accepting parity with America, we have worked to a one-Power standard, modified in relation to other Powers by the ratios which are, or will be, put into the Disarmament Treaty by the Powers at the Geneva Conference.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The position is this. We were hotly criticised last year. I think that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) criticised us from the point of view that we had a parity agreement with America which did not make sufficient allowance for the fact that the Americans did not want to build as large a fleet as we were providing for ourselves in the London Treaty. [Interruption.] Our position was that we provided what we considered to be the minimum fleet we required, and that, if the Americans wanted parity, they must come up to that minimum strength, which was laid down by the British delegates at the London Naval Conference. That was our position with regard to the one-Power standard, and that is the real answer which the right hon. Gentleman desired to have. I quite agree with him that battleships could hardly be expected to be a protection in the Channel against a large and menacing fleet of submarines from France, but he will have seen the reservation, to which I have already referred, that, if the submarines are kept in such a way as to be a menace, we must have the right to keep a better and a different equilibrium between that submarine menace and our destroyer fleet. We hold that right still.
The Noble Lord the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Lord Erskine) asked me to say one or two things about the personnel. He said he thought that you could best measure the strength of a fleet by the personnel rather than by the number of ships. If that were so, I could save a lot of money by having just a few ships and training a lot of personnel, but perhaps the Noble Lord had better think a little more about that point. [Interruption.] I think that 2100 what he really meant to say was that it was no use having a Navy even of our present strength unless we maintained a satisfactory number of personnel. That is rather a different thing. The real fact is that a good many criticisms are offered, in regard to our reduction of the number of personnel to 93,000 in comparison with other Powers, without making full allowance for the manner in which the numbers of other Powers are made up. References have been made to the United States figure for personnel, but, in the first place, it must be remembered that, having granted them parity, and having decided that we could not go below a certain tonnage for ourselves in giving them parity, if they are to man their fleet they must have more men. The total figure that they return includes marines who are not comparable with the marines of the British Fleet, and it also includes a large number of personnel engaged in aeronautics, such as, again, are not included in our Fleet. When these deductions are made, it will be found that the numbers as compared with ours are much more equal.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I have not heard any suggestion yet from the hon. and gallant Member that we should adopt Prohibition in this country in order to provide a special reserve for the Navy.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
I think it is rather unfair of the right hon. Gentleman to say that. Surely, these 12,000 men should be taken into account in any comparison with regard to personnel, because they are trained men-of-wars-men, whatever duties they are carrying out now.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
They are special men for a special purpose, and they are doing special work. It is true that we have a certain amount of coastguard work in this country, which was done at one time by the Navy. That work is still being done, but under the Board of Trade. If it is said that the men who do that work ought to be included in the strength of the Navy, I think that is rather splitting hairs. The other point about which the Noble Lord spoke 2101 was with regard to the system of admission of cadets. I think I gathered that he was not very satisfied with the system of entry.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
May I say that the whole question of admission to the Navy is now under consideration, and I do not want to express any very positive view until I have had an opportunity of considering the report of the Committee? I can, however, say at once that I could not accept an immediate action to change the system and put the examination before everything, because I think it would be very unfair to parents, in many cases, that they should be put to considerable expense in connection with the examination of a boy who, perhaps, had not the slightest chance of passing. I think it is much fairer to parents in these circumstances to have an interview first and the academic examination afterwards.
I am afraid that I cannot agree with the Noble Lord as regards the medical examination. We are not really losing very good officers because our medical standard is too high, and, after all, the strain upon officers in the Navy does not grow less, but grows more. I am rather surprised that, in these days of very modern nautical requirements, the Noble Lord should think that someone who is really colour-blind might be admitted as an officer in the Navy. I am sure that the Noble Lord himself would feel that he would not like to sleep at night on board a ship with a colour-blind officer on the bridge.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
There may, of course, be degrees of colour-blindness, but the tests that are carried out, which recently I went into myself with very great interest, are on a new technical basis for discovering real colour-blindness, and they are so expert and perfect that I do not think that cadets experience any injustice on that ground. The Noble Lord will perhaps forgive me if I do not say any more on these matters at present, as I want to leave the whole thing for consideration when I get the report of the Committee which I set up last year.
2102 My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull made one or two useful suggestions, but I should like to point this out to him. In answering one of the critics across the Floor of the House, he said we must remember that the Americans are not building up to treaty strength at present. But we must also remember what has been the course of events. They were building very quickly and suddenly, just before the London Naval Conference, 8-inch gun cruisers. They have a large authorisation of building which can go on, and it was clearly stated by Admiral Pratt, the naval delegate before the Naval Affairs Committee which examined the treaty last year, that he did not particularly want to build up to the treaty because he wanted to avoid, in the circumstances, having a lot of frozen tonnage which would give him no chance, later on, of having a proper replacement building programme. My hon. and gallant Friend must remember the point of view of the American Naval Board. We shall certainly do what we can in the direction of reducing the size of the battleship at the Geneva Conference, and he need not worry about our preparations. We shall certainly do what we can to prepare the best technical case, but I want to offer a word of warning as to how far you can go in reducing the size of ships. We make no decision here in a Debate like this. The whole thing will have to be considered in relation to, the general discussion next year.
But, when I hear hon. and gallant Gentlemen on both sides of the House talking about the future menace of the air, it is well to remember that you must have a ship which has some reasonable chance of resisting air attack and underwater attack, and, while I firmly believe with my hon. and gallant Friend that the capital ship in the past has been allowed to become much too large and much too expensive, we must be very careful in our technical examination of the problem before we settle about going down too far, and I should hesitate at present, without further advice, to be led by his advice to-day that we only want in the line ships that can deal with the largest armed merchantmen that can be brought against us. I really must think also of the danger of air attack and under-water attack.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
It is only partly the answer. It is the answer if you are always able to meet aircraft attack by counter air attack, if we are going to get bombs actually dropped upon a battleship, it is very essential that you should have some deck armour which will have a reasonable chance of resisting at least the worst part of the damage that will be done by a bomb. Trials that have been carried out in that way go to strengthen me in my view, but the whole thing is bristling with technical difficulties, and must be thoroughly well examined.
Another point my hon. and gallant Friend made was in regard to flag officers. He gave the numbers as having been 49 in 1913, with a fleet personnel of 146,000, and 39 now with a fleet personnel of 93,000. It may seem that in regard to the number of personnel we have not gone down quite as far in the number of flag appointments as some people might desire, but, when the War broke out, there was a general lament that we had never had a proper staff in the Navy comparable to the war staff of the Army. Having regard to the fact that there is a staff now, and to various developments of a technical kind, it is remarkable that we have not seen a larger number of flag officers retained than is the number at present. We have tried to be very economical. I said, in reply to him the other day, that we are cutting down two in the next four months, and he can be assured that, wherever we can save a flag officer, we shall. But we must have regard, first, to the necessity of having a reasonable technical staff—and I do not think he would want to deny us that—and, secondly, that we must have enough flag officers for general efficiency.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) asked about the interviewing boards. I can only say that we do not reject a great number of cadets. He also asked me a question about engine room artificers. There is a good deal of misapprehension as to the position with regard to engine room artificers. We have had over 800 applications for rather fewer than 50 vacancies. We have the 2104 men we want, men of a reasonable standard of qualifications. The standard that has been laid down during the examinations has not been lowered.
§ Captain W. G. HALL
Why is it that the percentage of marks has been lowered from 60 to 30 if you are getting all the people you want? Has the physical standard also been lowered?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I explained, in answer to a question some time ago, that, because you altered the percentage, it does not necessarily alter the standard at all. I am assured by those who are conducting the examinations that the standard has not been actually lowered.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Epsom (Commander Southby) raised a question which I answered last week. Why has not the 1930 building programme been pushed forward with more speed? The practice we have followed is the exact practice of every previous Government. When you have got your programme through the House of Commons and a small Vote-on-Account, you lay down in the last month of the financial year. That is all the money you have to spend on it in that financial year, and you must build in each year a normal year's quota of the work on that programme. Moreover, I think it would be fatal to try to anticipate naval work, for two reasons. First, it would very considerably disturb the negotiations we are carrying on for disarmament, with which I believe all parties will want to be associated, and, secondly, it is not good for industry itself to have what will be the normal work of the country suddenly lumped up into one particular year. I said that was borne out by the state of the shipping industry now as the result of the heavy financing of the building of merchant ships by the Trade Facilities Act, and all the people I meet in the shipping industry lament the fact that we have anticipated our requirements of merchant ships by means of the Trade Facilities Act. [Interruption.] I have already said what I have to say about that. I thought the House already knew that the Government had decided not to reintroduce the Trade Facilities Act, and have not done so. The hon. and gallant Gentleman says we ought to build two flotillas of destroyers a year.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
That is 14 ships a year instead of the nine that we are building. If we go on steadily building, subject to our not having to operate Article 21 against any increasing submarine menace, we need have no qualms about going to bed and sleeping quietly, because we are only building one destroyer flotilla a year. Another point was about Lieut.-Commanders' retiring allowances. The hon. and gallant Gentleman seems to think I might reconsider the fluctuating nature of the payment based upon the cost-of-living. I am afraid I cannot do that. There is no more case for doing that in the case either of naval officers or retired naval officers than in the case of civil servants. Since the alteration in the rate of pay and allowances of naval officers in 1919, the amount of margin for the fluctuating payment is only 20 per cent. That is to say, 80 per cent. either of the naval officers' pay or retiring allowance is not affected by the cost-of-living fluctuation, and you only take into account the cost-of-living alterations with regard to 20 per cent. of the total emoluments. In those circumstances, and having regard to its effect on other services, it is unreasonable to ask me to reconsider the matter, nor do I think it would be of very great advantage in increasing the numbers who would ask for such retirement. It would be very unfair to the men who are staying on for two or three wears, who would have to operate under the ordinary Regulations, if someone who wanted to leave the Service two or three years earlier was all the rest of his life to get an advantage over them in the basis of his retirement allowance.
The need for sloops, to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred, is generally recognised, and I think we shall be building up a good fleet of sloops by laying down four, sometimes five, sometimes six a year, but at any rate four. The type of sloop that is being constructed is a very comfortable 2106 roomy ship, though not of high tonnage, and is going to be very much better for the class of work in the Persian Gulf than it has been in the past. I took a special opportunity last summer of going out to the Mediterranean at a time when no one else wanted to go there, because I wanted to see how the men lived on the ships in the hottest part of the year. It was a very helpful and educational thing for me to see what was necessary in the way of improvement.
The only other point to which I have to reply is that raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Portsmouth (Captain W. G. Hall). Why should we continue the rather old and, in his judgment, obsolete requirement that pensioners who have served for 20 or 22 years are still liable to be called up in emergency under the Naval Pensioners' Act. In the present outlook, it seems to be almost unnecessary, but I do not think it would do any very great service to say we will abolish that particular provision, and it has the very great advantage that, if we did have a particular trouble arising, some of our men who have served for 22 years would be forthcoming, not necessarily to go on active service, but to train others who would be wanted in an emergency. They cannot be called upon after the age of 55, whereas in the case of officers there is no need at all for this requirement. Any officer can be called up at any time of emergency after he has retired.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The more you reduce the number of your voluntary personnel, the more, I think, it is necessary that your reserves should be available if required. I hope, therefore, my hon. and gallant Friend is not going to press that point, because I do not believe the great majority of men who retire from the Navy would want that alteration made. I believe they would be only too willing in a case of national emergency to come forward and help their country. The country never has utilised that statutory provision unfairly or unreasonably, and certainly a Labour Government would never do it unfairly or unreasonably. I hope that we may now pass on to the next Vote.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
This Vote I think, is a proper occasion on which to raise the evergreen question of married allowances for officers. I have a proposal to make and a few remarks to offer. The cost of this allowance, by reason of the persistent reduction in personnel, naturally is becoming less. I have not changed my views, which I have expressed in this House, against subsidising marriage and its inevitable family ties, and the consequent tendency of married officers to avoid risks by the responsibility of two homes, and, in many instances, to avoid foreign service. That has been my experience, and I think that it is, in many ways, a natural tendency. There is no sentiment, I agree, about such a view. I express it from no other desire than that we should obtain the highest standard of efficiency in a Service which is, and has to remain, available, and liable to be mobilised for service at about two hours' notice. Therefore, it is necessary to have a very high standard of efficiency. I confess that if there is an injustice, which I am inclined to think may be the case, as between the Air Force, the Army, and the Navy in this respect, some means should be found of equalising the matter, and I lean in this respect towards a general increase in the pay all round, or, at any rate, for officers over a certain age, in order that that difficulty may be got over. It is not a desirable thing to provide an allowance for a state of life in the Navy—the marriage state—which by no manner of means is conducive to increased efficiency.
At the same time, I have a suggestion—it might almost be described as a plan—and it is, roughly, as follows. At the present time, a great privilege is granted to the officers of His Majesty's Navy which is not granted to any other officers in any other arm of the defence forces, or to any other officers or men who serve under the Government. I refer to the privilege which is granted to them of not paying any duty on any of the wines or spirits which are embarked in a man-of-war for consumption on board ship. I am not in any way suggesting that, in consequence of that, an unlimited amount of wines 2108 and spirits may be embarked or drunk, or, in fact, that an unlimited amount is drunk—nothing of the kind. At the same time, that great privilege does exist, and I think that the House will be surprised at the figures relating to this matter. I propose that the privilege should be abolished. I can imagine that that raw sentence will not be very acceptable to a great many people. I think that everybody will agree that it is in the nature of a special allowance or privilege, almost extra pay to the officers in His Majesty's Service.
In order to equalise the difference in the conditions of pay alleged to exist between the Navy, the Air Force and the Army, and on which the arguments in favour of marriage allowances are based, I would abolish that privilege and apply the sum which the Treasury now foregoes because of that privilege and because no duty is paid, in an all-round increase in the pay of the officers of the Navy. My plan would be to apply it in respect of officers over the age of 25. If they like to use it for getting married, well and good, but, on the other hand, if they like to use the extra pay for any other pursuits which give them even more pleasure, that is their affair. If the plan should even get as far as being considered—and I hope it will—I would say, do not merge the allowance into the pay of the officers. We should not treat it as the officers' grog allowance was treated and which is now obliterated and forgotten. Before I joined the Navy, a great many years ago, the officers of the Navy had had for hundreds of years a free grog or spirit allowance. It was done away with; I am not sure at whose instigation. But it was certainly done away with by the consent of Parliament, and with the idea that it would set an admirable example to the sailors of His Majesty's Fleet. To-day the sailors have the example still before them, but they also have their grog. Therefore, I would say, that if anything can be done, the allowance should not be merged into pay, because it would be obliterated and forgotten. People who give up a great privilege of that kind deserve a special favour to be shown to them. I would take the standard on which to base the obtaining of this money upon the present standard of thirst amongst the officers of the fleet.
2109 I would also take into consideration as another factor in arriving at the amount of money required, the personnel, that is, the number of officers in the Fleet at the present time. The House, I think, will be astonished to hear that the Treasury forgo in this matter between £80,000 and £90,000 in a year, of which well over 80 per cent.—I think it is something like 85 per cent.—is concerned with the spirits which are embarked in His Majesty's ships. I would earmark this sum specifically and suggest that it should be given, if it receives favourable consideration, to the Navy. I can assure the House that the stopping of that privilege would certainly make naval history, and if naval history is to be made, for goodness sake give the sum set aside for this purpose a name. I suggest that it should be called "Efficiency Pay." The State and the Admiralty will certainly get full value in efficiency. The term "Pussyfoot," no doubt, might easily be applied to me, but I have never been a teetotaller and have no intention of being a teetotaller. It may also be said with a good deal of truth that the teetotallers of the Navy are getting unearned increment, because they will not have done very much towards raising the sum of over £80,000 which the Treasury now forego in Duty. There are those who are now responsible, as it were, for this large sum of between £80,000 and £90,000 who would be able to pride themselves upon their sacrifice to what I would call the common cause.
I want this matter to be made quite clear because it lends itself to a certain amount of joking. It is also a very serious matter. The officers of the Navy will not be deprived of their spirits and wines for one moment. They will still enjoy the privilege of alcoholic stimulants in a ship, and they will still be able to take some comfort in realising that—certainly for well over 30 years, to my certain knowledge—the officers of the United States Navy have not been allowed any wines or spirits in their ships. They will not be in a more difficult position or in any invidious position, nor will they be denied having the wines and spirits which they may think necessary for their health or anything else. The sacrifice by the officers of such a great privilege would deserve the generosity of the State. I say most earnestly that the 2110 State, and certainly the Admiralty, would not be the losers if they made the sum sufficiently large for the purpose.
The cost of marriage allowances has been put at various figures. It is said to he something between £100,000 and £200,000. The sum of between £80,000 and £90,000 which I have mentioned will not go the whole way. The State and the Admiralty would gain in the efficiency of the Fleet—they would not be the losers—if they were to double the sum and pay pound for pound in respect of the money that the Treasury have foregone this year. The State and the Admiralty would have a right to expect extra efficiency. I can assure the House, from a wide experience of service all over the world, that if something of that sort were done and the scheme was carefully thought out, it would be acceptable to the officers of the Fleet, and the State would get the extra efficiency, and would never regret the arrangement that had been made.
I am not quite sure, having listened to my hon. and gallant Friend, whether he is in favour of marriage allowances or not, but there is no doubt that he has devoted considerable attention to the question and has worked out a scheme whereby he will deprive the naval officer in general from obtaining wine and tobacco free of duty in order to find part of the necessary money, which the Government, apparently, are rather reluctant to produce, so that marriage allowances may be acceded to the naval officer. I entirely disagree with my hon. and gallant Friend when he suggests that married officers are rather inclined to avoid foreign service. As a matter of fact, with the great reduction that has taken place in the fleets at the present time, officers are only too anxious to get any appointment at all in a ship, whether it is foreign or home service.
The argument that the officer was rather inclined to think more of his wife than his ship was an extraordinarily poor one. The fact that an officer is married, one would imagine, would be a spur to him to give the best to the Service in order that he might get on in the Service, and be promoted, and thereby be better able to keep his wife and family. Therefore, I entirely disagree with the argu- 2111 ment put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend. I can view his suggestion with regard to the wine and so on with complete indifference because, as a matter of fact, I am not addicted to wine in any shape or form as I do not happen to like it. But I do not in the least see why the ordinary naval officer should have this great privilege taken away from him. After all, marriage allowances are either right or wrong; it is a matter of justice or injustice. At the present time the naval officer is the only officer who does not receive a marriage allowance. It is a matter of justice that he should receive a marriage allowance; therefore, it is no question of juggling as to whether naval officers should pay duty or not pay duty on wines or tobacco, but a mere question of fact: Is it right or wrong that the naval officer should receive a marriage allowance? The whole of this question has been thoroughly thrashed out in this House on several occasions. There is not the slightest doubt that the keeping up of two establishments is extremely difficult for the average naval officer, who as a rule is a poor man and has little or no private means. The time is long past when it was considered a crime that a naval officer should be married. I remember that at one time any wife who arrived on a station was looked on as if she was the devil himself, and occasions have happened when a wife has been sent home by the next steamer. That is long past now, and we ought to encourage naval officers to marry. It is an extremely good thing. We want to obtain the best class of boys to enter the Service, and I suggest that the sons of naval officers are probably the best type of boys to follow in their father's footsteps.
The Goodenough Committee recommended that these allowances should be granted, and a sum was inserted in the Estimates in 1925, but unfortunately, owing to the subsidy to the coal industry, it was taken out, and the hopes of the naval officers were dashed to the ground. Now we have been informed that this matter is again under consideration. That does not carry us very far. The naval officer will not get very much marriage allowance out of consideration. 2112 I hope he will at last receive that which is his just due, and be placed on the same level as officers in the other Services, and that no question of economy—because we can run economy too far—shall bar naval officers receiving that to which they are certainly entitled. This is a matter which to some extent affects entry into the Service. Parents are getting rather chary of sending their sons into the Service, as the future is not by any means certain, and they do not know whether their sons will be turned out through no fault of their own and without any chance of getting another job. I hope that at last these marriage allowances will be granted.
§ Mr. AMMON
This matter of marriage allowances was raised on the Committee stage, and I can add nothing to what I then said. I listened with interest to the ingenious scheme of the hon. and gallant Member, and I have no doubt that it will receive the attention of Members of the board who have this under consideration. But when I see there is already a measure of disagreement between two hon. Members I wonder not only what will happen when the matter comes before the board, but what will happen when it gets down to the Fleet. I should view with concern if, when I sought the hospitable board of one of His Majesty's ships, it was known that I had given consent to this sort of thing. In fact, I would be almost afraid to go.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
I want it to be made perfectly clear that this is not going to stop officers having as much wine and spirits as they think is good for them. You will get a jolly good dinner still.
§ Mr. AMMON
There is some reassurance in that, but there is another watchdog on the path. Everybody knows the point of view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in regard to these things, and I do not know how he would look on a sacrifice of £80,000 or £90,000 in the revenue. The financial position is no better than when this was withdrawn a few years ago by the former Government, and I can only say that the Board of Admiralty have the matter under consideration and have now the additional help of the constructive suggestion put 2113 forward by the hon. and gallant Member. I will certainly see that it is brought to their notice.
§ Ordered, That the remaining Resolutions be considered To-morrow.—[Mr. Thurtle.]2114
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.