HC Deb 07 July 1932 vol 268 cc626-8

7. These proposals cover all types of vessels—capital ships, aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers and submarines.

It is essential that proposals that are intended to be adopted by general agreement should make due provision for varying circumstances. Having regard to the widely-scattered responsibilities of the British Navy, it is not practicable for us to cut down the number of naval units beyond a certain point. Occasions may arise when these responsibilities call for the presence of ships simultaneously in parts of the world far removed from one another. It is essential to bear in mind in this connection the very large reduction in the number of ships of all categories which has already been effected. If a comparison is made with the year before the War it will be found that, taking account of completed, vessels of the United Kingdom and other members of the British Commonwealth possessing vessels of any of the categories mentioned, capital ships have been reduced from 69 to 15; cruisers from 108 to 52; destroyers from 285 to 147; and submarines from 74 to 52. Numerical reduction in the British Navy has, therefore, already been applied on a very large scale and, indeed, cruiser numbers will require special consideration hereafter. But, though there is, for the reasons already pointed out, a limit to numerical reduction, it is perfectly possible, and in the highest degree desirable, to adopt a mode of treatment which will secure by other means the large diminution in naval armaments at which we are all aiming. The present Treaty limits of size and gun calibre are far too high, and the United Kingdom Government consider that very large reductions, amounting to about one-third, both in the case of capital ships and cruisers, can be made in future construction.

8. As regards capital ships, the position under existing Naval treaties is that as between Britain, the United States and Japan, no further capital ship construction could be undertaken in any event until the year 1937. The maximum size for any future construction has been fixed at 35,000 tons and the gun at 16 inches. The total tonnage of the category of ships can be reduced either by diminishing their number or by diminishing their size. In regard to number, the considerations which the United Kingdom Government are bound to bear in mind have already been stated. The American proposal would leave the size of these enormously expensive vessels, and the calibre of their guns untouched in any future construction of capital ships. Every figure involved in these huge demensions—initial cost, upkeep, personnel, ammunition, stores, docks—would be maintained at the highest level. The United Kingdom proposal, while securing no less reduction in total tonnage, evades these consequences by (1) reducing the size of the gun; and (2) reducing the size of the ship. For example, if the calibre of tire gun is reduced to 12 inches the maximum size of the ship can be reduced from 35,000 to 25,000 tons, and an immense saving is effected under both heads, both initially and consequentially.

9. But the Government of the United Kingdom are prepared to go beyond this. They are ready to apply the same principles to cruisers, and to reduce their maximum size and gun-calibre by international agreement from the present figure of 10,000 tons and 8 inches to 7,000 tons and 6.1 inches. It would then be possible to reduce the dimensions in the case of capital ships still further and fix a maximum of 22,000 tons with 11-inch guns. This will nearly halve the initial cost of any future capital ship and greatly reduce the cost of maintenance. Thus the whole scale would come down togther and there would be a definite return to smaller dimensions. On this basis the United Kingdom proposal would effect an ultimate reduction in capital-ship tonnage alone of 195,000 tons; the comparable figure under the United States proposal would appear to be about 175,000.

10. As regards aircraft carriers, the Government of the United Kingdom are in substantial agreement with President Hoover's proposals. They propose a reduction in the size of the Aircraft Carrier from 27,000 to 22,000 tons, with consequent reduction in total tonnage from 135,000 to 110,000 tons.

11. Special reference must be made to the Submarine. The United Kingdom view has been, and is, that the submarine should be entirely abolished. If its abolition can be secured, this would, in our view, at once make possible a reduction of approximately one-third in destroyer tonnage. If international agreement to abolish submarines is found impossable of attainment, oceangoing submarines should be got rid of by limiting the size to 250 tons, and the total tonnage to the lowest figure upon which agreement can be reached.

12. Consequently, the Government of the United Kingdom put forward for immediate adoption by international agreement the following set of proposals relating to the navies of the world:

  1. (1) Reduce the maximum size of any future capital ship to 22,000 tons, and the maximum calibre of the guns carried to 11 inches.
  2. (2) Reduce the maximum size of cruisers hereafter constructed to 7,000 tons, and maximum calibre of guns to 6.1 inches.
  3. (3) If international agreement on point (2) cannot be secured, the Government of the United Kingdom would still urge that the maximum size of capital ships should he reduced to 25,000 tons and their guns to 12 inches as a maximum.
  4. (4) Reduce the maxima for aircraft carriers to 22,000 tons with 6.1 inch guns.
  5. (5) Abolish submarines.
  6. (6) Reduce destroyer tonnage by approximately one-third, this depending on the abolition of submarines.
  7. (7) If submarines cannot be completely abolished, fix their maximum surface displacement at 250 tons, with a strict limitation both of total tonnage and number of units.