HC Deb 30 November 1932 vol 272 cc833-92

I beg to move, That this House considers it would be dangerous further to reduce the personnel and matériel of the Royal Navy until greater progress towards Disarmament has been made by other Governments of the world, and urges His Majesty's Government to make no further unilateral reductions. 3. 54p.m.

It is with peculiar pleasure that I have taken advantage of the luck of the Ballot to put down this Motion on a matter which has always been very near to my heart. It is a matter which I am afraid is rather of the nature of a "Giant's Robe," and I cannot hope to do justice to it. I can only ask the House to extend to me, as I am sure it will, that generous sympathy which it always extends to any humble and earnest student. That will be The staff my steps to stay, the hand to hold me fast"; and that, and the transcendental importance of the subject, may, I hope, be sufficient. My thesis is a very simple one. It is that the Navy is England, and that England, in, the larger sense, is the Navy, and the one is inseparable from the other. It follows, of course, that the decline of the one means to a certain extent the blotting out of the other—the blotting out of not only the importance but the power of a great nation, and the loss, probably the irreparable loss, of everything that we hold dear.

It is a thesis that, as our neighbours say, jumps to the eye. It involves no intricate problem, and no figures are, I believe, necessary to prove it. The mind needs only to be carried back a very short while, as years go, and a child could see the unwisdom, the folly, I might even say the criminal folly, into which we have been led. We are the masters of a wonderful land and of a splendid. Empire. We do not seem to be aware that our ancestors gave us that Empire, marvellous as it is, untouched and unspoiled, mighty beyond words, and likely, if we only do our duty, to be still mightier in the future. That Empire can be lost through neglect or want of ceaseless vigilance. We acquired that Empire "while yet the world was small," and we seem to think that it fell into our lap and that it cannot fall out again, or that it cannot be taken out of our lap. It is nearly 900 years since Duke William came to this land with his Northmen, followed by many others of his kindred and of the same breed. He became, as he said, the First Englishman. It is 500 years since we betrayed and deserted Normandy and she was forced to accept the sovereignty of France. Since that time no armed alien has invaded this land. William came, and he Conquered the land and fortified the keep, to quote the words of that beautiful old song which was, I believe, first quoted in this House by the late Joseph Chamberlain. He divided the land among his people. He divided it into lordships. They took it as freemen, and that freehold they held, in the main, by military service. We ourselves have landed in arms in many countries, but no armed alien has invaded this land and made good for that period of 900 years. There is no doubt that that has been due to the pluck of our people, and more especially to the fact that our people were a sea-loving and sea-roving people, full of daring—the parents of our present bluejackets.

Our immunity from attack, and possibly our willingness to attack by which we acquired and held our Empire, was due to our Navy, and so it will ever be as long as we exist and flourish. Our immunity is due, as was said last week by my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench below the Gangway, to the fear that other nations have of attacking us. That fear, as far as I can see, is dying out. It is dying out because people see the little care that we are giving to our shield and spear. To-day the Royal Navy has been out down; it has already been said that it has been cut to the bone. It has been cut below the danger line. It has been living on its prestige. I admit that that prestige is great. At the same time we must remember that we are bound hand and foot by treaties. There is no escape from that thraldom. And when those treaties expire, or if we have to denounce them, then when we have to set about building up our Navy anew, the so-called friendly peoples will say that we are making preparations for war, and it will depend entirely on the backbone of the Ministry of the day if we listen to the hue and cry against protecting our own.

Not so many years ago—in 1887—it was decided, by those who knew, that we required 186 cruisers as a minimum. I need not say that we found that number absolutely inadequate when war came upon us. But since the war, in absolute opposition to what Mr. Balfour claimed at the Washington Conference, we have cut that number down to 70, and a paternal Socialist Government cut down the number further to 50 under certain conditions. The safety of the country does not seem to have been considered at all. It was the money cost, the immediate saving which seemed to govern the people who were then in office. It was not saving; it was not economy. It was extravagance of the very wildest type—the extravagance of the gambler. It will have to be paid for some day unquestionably. It was dangerous folly. Let us hope it was not suicidal folly. Economise on everything and on anybody, said the Socialists, but not on the social services. Cut down the fighting services but the ogre of the social services must be fed, unmindful of the fact that if the ogre of social services is not protected in his food supply, he will certainly starve. Fifty cruisers ! We have not cruisers enough to do the work even in peace time, and in war the number is absolutely inadequate. We depend on cruisers for our very life. I need not tell this House, which knows it, that we have not food in this country for more than six weeks at the most. We must have cruisers to keep our trade routes open, and we have not got them.

The history of the Royal Navy is the history of the country and of the Empire, and there is no other history so fine. The Royal Navy at this moment is in danger of eclipse, and if that comes it will be final. There will be no recovery for us. No one will allow us to build "pocket battleships." If anyone imagines they will, I think that they are seriously mistaken. Our freedom would be gone, our money would be gone, and we would return to the serfdom of the Saxon 900 years ago. Although I do not wish to repeat what I have said in this House many times, we all know that in the years 1914 to 1918 the safety and inviolability of this country were entirely in the hands of the Navy. It was a terrible time, but there was no hint of starvation in this land, and there was no fear and there was no suffering. We never dreamed of defeat. People said, "What are you grousing about? Have we not the Navy?" That was the effect if not the words. The country now gives little thought to the Navy. It looks upon the Navy just as it does upon the sun, which does rise even in London every morning. It looks upon the Navy as part of itself, like its house, its food, its children. The Navy is the silent force, with one or two remarkable exceptions. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who are they?"] My hon. Friend, who has been in this House nearly as long as I have, wishes to know who they are. I will give him a holiday task, to read the OFFICIAL REPORT. Not a hostile foot in this country for 900 years, and yet this is, of all lands, the most beautiful and the most desirable? If I may break into Latin: Ille terrarum mihi praeter omnes Angulus ridet So desirable is this land that men will not migrate. They are too happy where they are, and are afraid of going to lands which they think are not comparable to theirs.

Without the Navy, the Empire could not have been born, existed, or come together. Without our Navy, the Empire would break up and disintegrate and this disintegration, if it comes, will come quickly, like a thief in the night. Without the Navy, as I have said before in this House, not a soldier could have been landed in France, Greece, Gallipoli, Egypt or Mesopotamia, and, further, not one of those men who came to us from overseas could have come to fight for this country. The Navy fed and clothed them, gave them arms and ammunition, and grandly did the Army, both regular and volunteer—men from every latitude—come to fight for Home. Nobly did they respond to the "call of the blood and justify their birthright and the great efforts of the Navy, and do their best, giving their young hearts and their lives to their country. What a record! May I ask what do we do, we who benefited by their devotion, their suffering, their agonies and bloody sweat? We buy poppies and scatter wreaths, but we for- get the dead and all that they died for. And so this Motion is necessary. They died for us, for home, for freedom and for Empire, and we give lip-service and flowers to their memories. We have cut the Services of their pride, the very forces which they made victorious and efficient. I do not like dropping into poetry, but I am going to quote a few lines from a very great man relative to those who died for us: All that they gave they gave In sure and perfect faith. There can no whisper reach the grave To make them grudge their death, Save only this—save only this, We they redeemed deny their blood and mock the gains they won. Do we not daily deny their sacrifice? Peter denied three times—and the cock crew! I prefer Paul. Shame on the flame so dying to an ember, Shame on the reed so lightly overset. Have I not seen Him—can I not remember, Have I not known Him, and can Paul forget? Can we forget the work of those men? Have they really died in vain; and, if riot., what are we going to do or contemplating to do? In the words of a brilliant writer who was here a few moments ago, and who, I hope, is going to return— The unarmed and untrained island nation, who with no defence but its Navy— which line reminds me of the Prayer Book: We have none to fight for us but only Thou. Only the Navy which had faced unquestioningly the strongest manifestation of military power in human record has completed its task. Those are the lines of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). What a record! And when the United States of North America—because I prefer to call them under that new term—came into the War, a war into which Germany shamed them, a war in which we were fighting for them certainly as much as for ourselves, it was our Navy which conveyed them across what our ancestors called the "Swan's bath—"troops, arms, munitions, clothing and food and permitted them to put up the good, but belated, show they did. In all that time, with all those millions of men, there was never a man lost unless he had the misfortune to be in a hospital ship or passenger vessel. The Navy did this, the Navy did much more, and the War was won! Is there any man in this world who would dare to get up and bring forward the thesis that the War would not have been irremediably and irreparably lost if it had not been for His Majesty's Navy, strong, efficient, contented and glorying in its work? A generation ago there was a nation which considered war with us, until it considered our Navy and considered its own. Matters have greatly changed since then to our disadvantage. If that nation had not seen reason, we should not have been fighting by her side for four long years of war. I was reading a similar story in the Book which related how spies of the Israelites were sent into the promised land. They returned and said: The people are a warlike people. They have many walled cities. Moreover, the children of Anak dwell therein. It was not an easy job, and they put it off. The same thing has been put off many times in our case because of our Navy.

Hon. Members do not believe in the ancient maxims of great conquerors and colonisers who, as long as they were true to their maxims, governed the world for the benefit of the world. They deny the dictum of the greatest of war writers that war is merely a "continuation of State policy in another form." The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) who is a master of clear exposition, laid before the House the other day his view, and a sound view, of the history of the ancient Romans. They were the greatest rulers of the world as long as they stuck to their wise maxims, keeping 'what they had and preparing successful war measures against those who wished to take it from them—para bellum.Many have said, and continue to say, that war is "unthinkable," although they know their statement is not absolutely accurate—indeed, absolutely untrue. We know that, if war came, it would mean the destruction of our civilisation. Other great civilisations have been destroyed unwept and unsung. It might be our fate. We know that any war, especially a naval war with a great Power, was scoffed at in 1914 and a, while before. Everyone said the Kaiser was building a fleet for his own amusement that he might see it paddle about the North Sea as a child might see his tin boat in a bath. The cupidity of a nation is never ending and is unsatisfiable. You can read Tacitus. He will give you some pleasant hours. Also do not forget that we own a fifth of the habitable world and, with very few exceptions, the best part. We have weakened our Navy to no purpose. We have weakened it to please a certain nation which will give us no help! And no thanks! It will only dictate to us. Yet we stand in the way of a very great maritime nation, perhaps the only great friendly nation that we have in the world, and we have not treated her too well. That is Japan. After a defeat where should we be? We are an over-populated land, unable to feed ourselves, rich in fighting men—cannon fodder for the conqueror. We are rich in iron, steel, coal and horses; all that God Almighty could give, He has given us. All that would be spoiled if the invader came.

Let there be no mistake, if we have no Navy we have less Army and, what is more, if we have less Army we have no arms to give an Army if we could improvise one. The Navy is, to my mind, of the very greatest earthly importance to every man in the country. The importance of employment, the importance of the debt is as nothing compared with the efficiency and contentment of the Navy. Let it not be forgotten that any attempt to tamper with the debt would require a very strong Navy indeed. As an ex-First Lord has said, "The British Empire is not for sale." There is a suggestion that we should clear our Empire of debt to ourselves—I have made it many times. We forgave other nations much money that they owed us for the simple reason that we knew they would not pay. We made a gesture. But we are taking a pound of flesh from our kin, a "debt" to us because of their wonderful spontaneous willingness to come and help us. It is not even yet too late, although we are not rich now, to wipe out that debt. Tell the truth to the British people. They are a tough and a robust people and they deserve the truth. Tell the country that we have only a remnant of our great Navy, and that not one single class of ships sufficient in itself, in numbers or power. Tell the country that the Navy does not stand where it did, that it is not strong enough for its duties even in peace and not strong enough in personnel or in materiel nor, I regret to say, is it contented enough at this moment to play the role that it has played in the past. It is a disappearing force. If it gets too weak, or if others think it too weak—God forbid that that hour should synchronise—there will be war and there will be starvation for our people. Tell the country that most of our ships are old and are veritable coffins and that, if they were asked to fight, they could not fight, and could not get away. The German Admiralty, as we know now, sent out all its old ships on scouting expeditions and we are told it became a joke amongst the ratings of the German Navy, who used to say when the ships went out, "We shall not see you again," and if those ships had met us they would not have seen the men again. That was one of the causes, and a very just cause, of the mutiny in the German Navy.

The nation should be told the truth and, if we are not prepared to do it, the Conservative and Unionist party will be swept away, and it will join the ranks of the old Liberals in the Ewizkeit. We can build ships, armour and guns as quickly as anyone, possibly quicker, and certainly better, but the personnel cannot be brought to a fighting pitch without long and continuous service. You can build a big ship in a year, as we built the "Dreadnought" at Portsmouth, but you cannot bring a rating into real fighting value for five or six years at the least. He is a picked man. He must be fit and well, not flat-footed, chest measurement and his eyesight must be good and he must have almost all his teeth. It is not every man who can come up to that standard. Again, he should be taken as a boy. If he is taken as a boy, then at the age of 18 he becomes a man, and at 25 he is allowed to marry and get a marriage allowance. After 12 years, if he is fortunate, he is allowed to re-engage for 10 years, and at the end of that time, if he is again fortunate and gets into no trouble, he gets a pension, and it is a fair pension. He knows the glory of the Service and he knows the history of the Service. It is good for him that he does and it enhances his opinion of himself. Tell the country that the number of our ratings is not equal to those of Japan and is very much less than the number of the ratings of the United States of North America. Their Navy is larger, better paid and better looked after. There are some people who say that some of our ratings even desert to join them, but that is hearsay.

We are not recruiting for the Navy generally. At this moment we are recruiting stokers only and seven boys per week at the headquarters of the Fleet—Portsmouth. The best matelots are those who enlisted as boys. The life of a matelot is not all hardship. He is liable to duty 24 hours of a day and seven days a week. He is not too generously paid but he is worth his weight in coin of the realm to the country. He belongs to, and is part and parcel of, a splendid force. His ship is his club, and he sees the world in pleasant company. His sleeping accommodation is not good, and is certainly not as good as that of those gentlemen who on late nights have to "doss it" in the Library. There, at any rate, they are in comfort and are not so closely packed as he is. His food is indifferent. He has, even now, many grievances, and, owing to the shortness of numbers, when he comes back from a foreign station he is almost immediately drafted to another foreign station. That is against what has been promised to him. His promotion is very slow, and it is getting, if possible, slower. He must serve for at least eight years before he can hope to be a petty officer, and a great many years more before he can hope to be a chief. He cannot write to, or call upon, his Member of Parliament. That is certainly right as regards disciplinary matters; and with regard to other grievances I am not now at all anxious, for his women folk have the vote. I do not know a Member, not even on the Front Bench, who is prepared to meet, and to argue with, the mother, mother-in-law, wife or sweetheart of a rating who comes to demand "justice" for her man. So the fact that a rating cannot call upon a Member of Parliament troubles me but very little.

Tell the country that 10,000 officers and men have been put out of the Navy in the last few years; that, according to a Naval correspondent of a newspaper, they have been "got rid of." The rating aims at rising in his own ranks on his own lower deck. A few ratings wish to rise to the quarter deck, but they are very few. The rating is no snob. He wants recognition, some real privilege and power, all of which is denied to him, even to the chief petty officer. He asks for some prestige to allow him to take his proper place, and, what is even more important, to keep others in their proper place, for quicker promotion, and for some reasonable and tangible rewards for good service.

The robe is too heavy for me and is too loose upon my shoulders. I have touched upon but a few of the points I had wished to touch upon. But had I done so, I should have left no time to my friends on either side of me and in front of me, and, particularly, I should have left no time for my friend the First Lord in whom I have very great confidence born of many years' acquaintance when he held posts perhaps as onerous and less pleasant than his present one. I trust that he may be able to remove at least some of our fears. I thank the House sincerely for listening so patiently to me. I am aware that it is the subject and not the individual which has had a claim to their consideration.

Commander MARSDEN

I beg to second the Motion.

4.35 p.m.

May I first congratulate and thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir B. Falle) for having introduced this subject. At this particular time, when all our minds and thoughts are filled with anxiety for the prosperity of this country, I think it is a very good thing that this House, and in fact that the whole country, should fully realise that no prosperity can come without full security. The people who believe in and support this Motion will agree that security is best provided by the British Navy. I know that there is a great deal of thought throughout the country that disarmament must come before security; but our position is this: We argue that a strong Royal Navy has provided the security for hundreds of years, whereas if we came to disarm it might be an experiment which, if it was unsuccessful, would really produce the absolute disin- tegration of the whole Empire, everything which we hold most sacred in our minds and thoughts. That is something which has to be well borne in mind.

Those who believe in that strong Navy will perhaps permit me to point out the position in which we stand. In 1914 we went to war with an efficient force, but relative to the numbers necessary to win the war very small indeed. The naval officer in this matter is in a peculiar position. He is not allowed to say what he thinks. Responsibility for the safety of the Empire has always been very clearly defined for those who take the trouble to find out the position. It is the Government who must say what is to be protected, and it is the naval officer, as far as the sea is concerned, who has to say how it is to be protected. You may think, as you probably realise many naval officers did, that it is a most extraordinary type of Government which will lead them into war, as this country was brought to war in 1914, with a Navy of purely modest dimensions compared with the enormous forces which were eventually necessary to win the War. I think that that might be very much better put from the point of view of the Army. What can the Army officers say of a policy which brings them into war with a small Expeditionary Force of a little over 100,000 men, when it is necessary to produce a force of millions of men before the war is won? I can imagine what the Army officers would say about it if let loose.

What is our position now? There are all sorts of suggestions that armaments should be reduced. I think that the actual suggestions put forward in the last White Paper are the most practical and possible suggestions which have yet been put forward. We are hounded on all sides, at least I am, by postcards from people who demand that our armaments shall be cut down to the limits suggested by President Hoover. That might be all right if we could determine at what point that formula should be applied. If it should be applied from the point of view of the state of the forces necessary to win the Great War—that is to say, the position on 11th November, 1918—it might be one we might entertain with some feeling that our country would be safeguarded in the future. But to apply the formula now when we have cut down to far less than even we are allowed by the Washington Conference is a most hopeless and futile suggestion.

As regards our Fleet, at present there are battleships, cruisers, destroyers and other craft. The battleships have been reduced by the most successful steps towards reduction through the Washington Conference, and then through the London Conference. I presume there will be a similar conference in 1936, and we can take it that everything indicates that after that, whenever further construction of battleships is made, the tonnage of each individual ship will be considerably reduced. There again, it is most foolish to talk about 10,000-ton battleships. They are a useless size and most uneconomical. I have no doubt, with regard to the German battleships of 10,000 tons which are being built now and which are taking four years to build and costing £4,000,000—although I am not a constructor—that a larger and equally efficient ship, say half the size again could be built for considerably less expenditure of money. Therefore, although we should reduce our battleships for future construction by a very large figure I do not see how, in order to combat the various perils which encounter the battleship at sea, they can possibly be reduced to, say, under 20,000 tons. For the moment the battleship construction has stopped and no more ships can be built until it is decided what the Conference shall say in 1936.

The subject of cruisers requires the closest consideration of everybody interested in the Navy. At the present moment, according to the official figures, we have nine cruisers over age. They, by the formula given to the House, have passed their full age of service. It may be argued that the same definite line cannot be drawn in the case of every ship. Some ships are well looked after and possibly are better built and may have a longer life, but cruisers having had a severer period of service may not last as long. If we take the 20 years at present set forth as a legitimate and fair life, we have nine cruisers which are over age, and I estimate that in 1936, even after the present construction programme is completed, we shall have something like 18 cruisers out of date and over age. Yet these will stand in every return of the strength of the fleets of the world as equal to the most modern fight- ing and powerful ships which are being built by other navies. It is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs. It may be that some hon. Members are glad that we are not building more ships, but I hope that they will realise, as my hon. Friend who moved the Motion pointed out, that when certain German ships went on patrol their friends said goodbye to them. Let the House fully realise that that also happened in our Navy. Many ships went to sea with the full knowledge that if they met any of the enemy ships which were superior and stronger they would be sunk. There is no doubt that Admiral Craddock went into action off Coronel with the full consciousness that he could not survive that action, nor did he.

The next ship I wish to say a word about is the destroyer. At the end, in order to win the War, we actually had in commission 527 destroyers, including torpedo boats. The actual number of destroyers now, is, I think, somewhere round about 140, but the number which is not over age—and 12 years has been given as the age of a destroyer—is only 54, whereas of the other capital nations Japan has 97, France 59, United States of North America 78, and Italy 57. Torpedo boat destroyers are not, as is inclined to be argued occasionally, used for the sole purpose of destroying, attacking and keeping under submarines. Their name says what they are—torpedo boat destroyers. They were built in the first case to combat the tremendous numbers of small torpedo boats built for the obvious purpose of attacking our Fleet. Now they have increased in size and strength and are used frequently for every service of which you can think. They have to attack battleships, as some of us know to our cost. They have to attack submarines. They have to take people about on visits to the Fleet. They do every conceivable thing. Yet during the whole of that time directly they are outside the limits of the protection of our heavy ships they stand the chance of meeting much heavier forces of the enemy. It is really a subject about which I hope the First Lord will tell us something in his reply.

Why is it that we have only 54 destroyers under 12 years old at the present time compared with the much superior forces of other countries? One of their chief duties in war would be the protection of our commerce. No longer can we say that the trade routes are open pr shut or anything like that. Each individual ship, or each individual group of ships, must be sufficiently protected from one port to the other. Take the position of the Mediterranean alone. We could give no end of reasons why, through the defence of Egypt, the Suez Canal should be kept open, but we take no measures to see that commerce going, through the Mediterranean to the Suez Canal can be protected. I do not know how far one would be in order in commenting on the possibility of attack by any particular nation, but there are nations who command the Mediterranean, and if they said that our commerce could not go through, it could not go through, and it would be idle and foolhardy to attempt it.

I should like to say a few words in regard to protecting our commerce overseas. It is well known throughout this country that the chief duty of our Fleet is to ensure that adequate supplies reach these shores. To that end the battle fleet exists, whose main duty is to look after the enemy's battle fleet and to keep it in check, while the convoying duty depends mainly on the cruisers and destroyers. As a result of the Ottawa Conference much more of our food must come from overseas, from Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand instead of from countries nearer at hand. That means that there will be much more for our commerce protectors to do. There is another question which is of a most important nature, and that is the position of the enemy raider. At the present time Germany, which is only allowed to build ships up to 10,000 tons, has evolved a most dangerous type of ship which will upset the whole calculations of battleship construction throughout the world. These ships are very strong but not of very great speed, 26 knots, armed with 11-inch guns, and with an enormous radius of action. If these ships got out on to our trade routes we should find ourselves possessed of only three ships that could compete with them. They could run away from our battleships while our cruisers if they got within gun range would not stand a chance.

These new ships will practically fulfil the role of a ship which was built by the French 40 years ago, in regard to which one of the most prominent French nautical writers, in describing its functions, said that its orders were to "mercilessly attack the weak, to fly without shame, before the strong." That is what the "Deutschland" and similar ships could do, and in the whole of our Fleet we possess only three ships that could hold them in check. We have the "Hood," the "Repulse," and the "Renown" with sufficient speed and gun-power to outmatch this new type of ship. If the Deutschland or any other ships of the same type that are built ever come within range of those three battle cruisers they are for it, but it is very difficult to find them and to get them in the right place. The point to remember is, that of all our ships in the British Navy capable of defending our commerce against the range of such ships, we have only three vessels, and those are battle cruisers.

The second part of the Motion deals with the personnel of the Service. Here is perhaps the most difficult matter which a naval officer like myself can talk about. Last year we held back, and I hope the First Lord of the Admiralty appreciated the reservations that we made in dealing with this matter. We have still to bear in mind the unfortunate incident at Invergordon. Alter some apace of time I am almost forced to the conclusion that that incident was not a bad thing for the Navy as a whole, because the Navy is a very Conservative Service. It is, one might say, almost hidebound, with all sorts of precedents, all sorts of laws within laws, and most of all, unwritten laws. I think the Invergordon incident gave the First Lord a chance to make new laws and new regulations and to bring in new ideas. Although I called for more drastic action than was taken at the time I can only say now from close observation that I think the First Lord's policy in this respect has borne good fruit.

I was one of a group of Members who went to see His Majesty inspect the fleet in July, and hon. Members who were present with me would, I think, say that they were surprised at the extraordinary proficiency of the Service which they saw and also by the spirit of the men. I was not altogether surprised, knowing the Navy, but I was very considerably re- lieved. But I do not think the improvement has yet gone far enough. The other day, for example, we saw in quick succession, one after the other, 12 or 14 captains promoted to the rank of Admiral on one day, and retired the same day. I do not think that makes for efficiency in the slightest degree. Officers are human, and when they know that they are going to get what they commonly call "the blue ticket," you cannot get in the last few years of an officer's service that full value which you would get if there was the same keen competition and the certainty of employment on reaching flag rank.

The whole list of officers requires radically to be cut down. The gradient is not nearly steep enough. There was one significant incident in the extraordinary feeling between officers and men in the Invergordon mutiny—it was a mutiny, and a most extraordinary mutiny. The extraordinary part was that there was never in any of the inquiries I have been able to make a single instance of impertinence from a man to an officer. The general feeling on the part of the men seemed to be: "We are in a much stronger position with various Members of Parliament than you officers are. You stand on one side, and we will get you everything you cannot get for yourselves." That was rather the general feeling throughout, and I think that really was due to the fact that owing to the large number of officers and petty officers in the ships to-day the officer does not get a chance of showing his individuality in command as in the old ships. In such enormous floating towns as the "Rodney" and the "Nelson" the number of officers is simply colossal. If we had the same number of officers as existed in the ships when the First Lord first went to sea—a captain, a commander, a navigator, and the four watch-keeping lieutenants, I think those six or seven officers would achieve a position which the present officer cannot achieve.

As regards the petty officers, the same arguments apply. The relations between the officers and the men are perhaps too cordial. Officers get very fond of certain men or perhaps particularly fond of one man and try to rate him up, on the ground that he is a most delightful man and that, they would like to see him a petty officer, a warrant officer or even a commissioned officer. They are pushing them up too far, if anything. The men are rather inclined to look upon promotion to the rank of petty officer and chief petty officer as a reward for length of service and good conduct, rather than a reward for ability in taking command. You get so many types of petty officers. A large number of men enter the Service practically as petty officers. Petty officers in the Navy have certain privileges. They live on the mess deck in special messes, and they get special facilities in many ways. They go ashore under more comfortable circumstances, and more frequently. In fact, the petty officer's badge now is not so much a badge of authority as a badge of social distinction. I trust that the First Lord and his advisers will find some way of picking out the executive petty officer who is to take command and to distinguish him out from the petty officer who achieves his rank by virtue of his professional calling.

It is a most important subject that we are discussing to-day and I hope that we shall have many views expressed. I will only say, finally, that I think all sections of the House, whether they believe in a strong Navy or a weak. Navy, will agree on one thing, and that is that the Navy which does exist and that the ships which we have should not be out-of-date ships, fit to be put on the scrap heap, but the most efficient type of vessel that the country can possibly produce.


I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from the word "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words: approves of the advances already effected by the Government in the diminution of the personnel and materiel of the Royal Navy, and urges the Government to continue to press among all nations for agreement upon further reduction until the declaration made on behalf of the Allies on the occasion of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles has been fully redeemed. 4.55 p.m.

This is a very important and interesting Debate and many hon. Members would like to take part in it. According to the Rules of the House the Debate must come to an end at 7.30 p.m. I therefore propose to take a very short voyage, not for lack of fuel but in order that other vessels may have an opportunity of taking the water. We were all impressed by the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir B. Falle). He impressed us by his deep sincerity, but I could not help thinking that his speech was more appropriate to the Victorian age of which, if I may say so without offence, he is so distinguished a representative. That was a time when the Fleet of England was our all-in-all, when, as he said, the Navy was England and England the Navy. That was a time when every nation was armed for its own defence against every other nation, the result being a continued and fierce armaments race, which ended in a disastrous war. Since the conclusion of that War the Governments of the nations have been trying to adopt another method. They have been trying to build up a system of international law and international security. One of the objects of the Government has been to outlaw war as a method of national policy, and that armaments in the future should be regulated by international agreement.


How would you enforce it?


Perhaps the hon. Baronet will wait, and I will deal with that point. We know very well that this process of establishing a new order of society is by no means complete. The progress towards disarmament, especially on land and in the air, has been painfully slow and in many ways disappointing. We are today in a transitional age and in a new world. The world of ordered justice has not yet been born. At the same time the old world of international animosities has disappeared; we hope never to return. The position of the Navy, therefore, must be regarded in the light of these facts and these ideas. The Motion suggests that the Navy has been reduced by the method of unilateral reductions. What is the meaning of unilateral reductions? I have always understood that unilateral disarmament means that a nation disarms without any relation to what other countries are doing. It is a process to which I am personally unalterably opposed. I have never been in favour of unilateral disarmament, and when I look back on the history of the Navy during the last few years it seems that the reductions have not been unilateral but reductions carried out by agreements and by treaties. The limitation of armaments in the British Navy has been regulated by certain treaties which have also regulated the limitation of armaments of other nations.

Ten years ago, enormous building programmes were either being started or contemplated. A very heavy building programme had been drawn up by the United States of America, and by Japan. Programmes of colossal armaments had been drawn up or were in process of being carried out. In this country we had plans and designs ready for battleships of 45,000 tons, armed with 18-inch and 20-inch guns. On the morrow of the most disastrous war for civilisation preparations were being made for the building of vast armadas of man-destroying machines to breast the waves of the Atlantic and the Pacific. What happened? We had the Washington Conference; and as a result of that Conference this country destroyed 24 great battleships, representing a total tonnage displacement of 583,000 tons. The British Government took 24 superb vessels, many of them bearing the battle honours of famous and terrible victories, and sent them to the shipbreaker. It was a great sacrifice. At the same time the United States of America destroyed 28 battleships, representing 846,000 tons, and Japan agreed to destroy 16 battleships representing 450,000 tons. Some of the battleships I know had not been started, but they were contemplated, and no doubt would have been built by this time if we had not agreed to scrap the programme of shipbuilding. I do not know whether we sacrificed ships which were afloat but we agreed not to build; and if it had not been for the Washington Conference these ships would be afloat to-day.

My point is that as a result of the Washington Conference 60 battleships belonging to three nations, representing a tonnage of 1,846,000 tons, were removed from the navy lists of the world. No one doubts that the action of the late Lord Balfour in accepting the proposal of Mr. Hughes was a wise, far-reaching and far-seeing act of statesmanship. The Washington Conference, although it limited battleships in this way, did not limit or regulate cruisers and destroyers in the same way. What was the consequence? The result was a race in cruisers between various nations, especially in large and powerful cruisers of 10,000 tons displacement. They were built in large numbers by America and Japan, and many by France, Italy and ourselves. Thus two years ago the world was faced with this intensive race in large cruisers and the prospect of a large expenditure of money for the purpose of replacing battleships. What happened? A conference was called, the Conference of London, and the result of that Conference, so far as this country and the United States are concerned, was that we got parity in every type of vessel between ourselves and the United States. There are slight differences I know but, generally speaking, we got parity between ourselves and America. As far as Japan was concerned we got an agreement by which her armaments were limited in the different categories of vessels according to a certain ratio. The ratio was as 60 per cent. is to 100 per cent.; and in regard to battleships Japan was to get 60 to our 100: in armoured cruisers she got 60 per cent. and in large cruisers the ratio was between 60 and 72 per cent. Japan agreed to build only 12 large cruisers, four of which, however, were of 7,500 tons only, not 10,000 tons. We were to have 15 and the United States 18. As far as small cruisers were concerned Japan agreed to a ratio of 70 per cent., in destroyers to 70 per cent., and in regard to submarines to parity with ourselves and the United States. She also agreed to extend the battleship holiday until 1936.

It was very unfortunate that at that Conference there was no agreement between France and Italy. I hope that such an agreement will be brought about, and I am quite sure that His Majesty's Government are always willing to offer their good offices, if necessary, to bring about an agreement between our two former Allies. The suggestion has occurred to me that it might be a good plan if, for say three weeks or a fortnight or a month in every year, the British, French and Italian Fleets in the Mediterranean might meet, not at manoeuvres because that suggests war, but to take part in general fleet exercises, or to take a cruise together to certain of the more attractive Mediterranean ports. The officers on the various ships would be able to entertain each other and I am sure that the members of the lower deck on shore would join together in pleasurable excursions. In the Northern Seas a similar arrangement might be made, and the German, French and the British ships might meet together in Northern waters. It would help to an increase in friendship and a good understanding, and might remove envy and jealousy. I commend the suggestion to the earnest consideration of the First Lord. If the idea developed it might end in the formation of a nucleus for an international fleet.

As far as the immediate future is concerned, I should like to see the battleship entirely abolished, but if that is impossible, then it should be reduced to a maximum of 10,000 tons. The hon. and gallant Member for Battersea North (Commander Marsden) says that a 10,000 ton battleship is a useless size. I do not pretend to be a technical expert in these matters, but there are naval scientists, like Admiral Richmond, who do not agree with him. The great point of reducing battleships to 10,000 tons is that we should have a better chance of getting rid of submarines. That is a great point. Other nations will not give up submarines unless we give up the battleship. If, owing to the refusal of some Power like Japan, it is impracticable to bring about a reduction in the size of battleships to 40,000 tons, I ask the Government to pursue a policy of non-replacement, and to still further extend the battleship holiday in the hope that eventually some agreement will be reached. The fourth alternative, that the Government should advocate the construction of new battleships of 25,000 tons, would be the worst of all alternatives. It would be a waste of money, and whilst it might please armament firms in any other respect its effect would be bad.

Let me say one word about security. The hon. and gallant Member for Battersea North said that our security can best be secured by relying upon the Navy. It is impossible to get security through the Royal Navy unless it is a supreme Navy, equal to two or three other Powers combined. I say that security can best be obtained not by striving for an impossible supremacy but by a development of what I would call the principle of pooled security; by instituting a structure of international justice, an international society, by firmly upholding the principles of the Covenant of the League of Nations and the Kellogg Pact, and by entering into some sort of agreement—I do not say that I am speaking for the whole of the Labour party on this point—between nations by which every nation will agree that whenever a nation breaks the peace it shall be outlawed and visited by all the other nations of the world with swift and violent action. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) in his speech the other day did not quite adopt that point of view. I was rather interested in his remarks because the diagnosis which preceded his conclusions is much the same as mine of the international situation; and the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) will no doubt be gratified when I say that I largely agree with his view of the international situation. But the logical conclusion of the European situation is that there should be an agreement by which all nations should be bound automatically, without any question of the Governments of the nations deciding whether they should go into the war or not.

The argument that a nation must always itself decide whether it is to go to war or not, is the one thing that leads to international insecurity, because no one knows what a nation will do at any given moment. The analogy that I would use is that of a forest fire. You have a. very hot summer when the woods are dry as tinder. Fire breaks out on the prairie. Sparks are seen to be going in the direction of the forest. The duty of every one is to stamp out the fire so as to avoid a forest fire that may destroy a whole province. War to-day is like that. Anyone who starts war to-day might envelop the whole of the globe. It is the duty of civilised nations at once to stamp out a war when it starts. That is why I think it is so important that the situation in the Far East should be settled according to the principles of the Covenant of the League, for if it is not so settled it will make the task of those who are working for disarmament very difficult indeed in the future.

I would conclude as I began. I believe it is in the true application of the principle of pooled security that we can get national security. When we have got that we can proceed gradually to disarm. We shall then see all the navies of the world melt away. They will be replaced by something like an international police force. The White Ensign which floats so proudly over our harbours and our ships will become what it really should be, an emblem of the resurrection and the life of human beings from the death and the bondage of war.


I beg to second the Amendment.

5.18 p.m.

Like the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) I admire the sincerity which found expression in the phrasing of the speech of the hon. Member for North Portsmouth (Sir B. Fa11e), but I was appalled by the arguments that he used, and I propose to deal with some of them. The hon. Baronet very kindly told us at the beginning what was the thesis of his speech. I took down his words: "The Navy is England, and England is the Navy." That was his thesis. Then the hon. Baronet went on to lament the conditions to which the Navy had fallen in recent years. I could not help thinking that if, in spite of his eloquent pleas on behalf of the Navy, what he stated was true, he has not had a great deal of influence over those of his right hon. and hon. Friends who during the years since the War have occupied the Government benches, for they are mainly responsible for the condition of things which the hon. Baronet so much deplored. Then he went on to say a few things about the history of this country, and expressed some of the usual sentiments in regard to Empire. I can never hear the word "Empire" used without reminding myself that it always means subjection for some people somewhere. That has been true all through history, and it is still true. Empire means that some people are treating other people to forms of subjection which in course of time they grow to loathe, and inevitably that gives rise to antagonisms which in the end may prove disastrous to those who have talked of the glories of Empire.

But I have no time to go into the details of history as the hon. Baronet did. He made a remark about Britain living on its prestige. I suppose he meant its military and its naval prestige. I would remind him that a country can establish for itself another kind of prestige besides military and naval prestige. A country surely can establish for itself a prestige which would win world-wide respect because of its desire to foster always and everywhere the spirit of co-operation and good will, and for myself I say that that kind of prestige is infinitely more admirable than military or naval prestige.


That is the prestige of China at the present moment.


For the time being we are dealing with the British Navy, and the thesis of the hon. Baronet's speech is at the moment occupying my attention. It may be that I might have something to say about China later on, if time permits. The hon. Baronet said some very harsh things about what he called the paternal Socialist Government. He regarded the period of office of the Socialist Government, so far as the Navy was concerned, as a sort of reckless period. He said that the Labour Government were prepared to economise on the Navy, and I suppose he intended to imply the armed forces of the Crown, but that they were not prepared to economise on the social services. The hon. Baronet and those who speak with him are prepared to have wholesale economy on the social services and none on the Army and Navy and military equipments generally.


Hear, hear.


That is the fundamental difference between those who sit on the Opposition benches and the hon. Member and those associated with him. We think that if in these days it is necessary to economise, if the nation cannot afford certain things, it should do without these naval and military equipments and armaments generally, and that its first concern should be the condition of the great masses of the people of this country. The hon. Baronet particularly deplored the fact that we have not now what he called enough cruisers, and he went on to say "Food is our very life, and unless the trade routes can be effectively protected we are under certain circumstances in imminent danger of starvation." I could not help thinking that unless the hon. Member can do something to alter the policy of the Government there will be very little trade at all in a little while, and no cruisers will be needed to protect the trade routes.

The hon. Baronet went on to stress the fact that England was a good place in which to live. I am not going to con- trovert that point. The hon. Member argued that it was so good a place to live in that people will not migrate. Surely that is a one-sided way of putting the matter in regard to migration. Surely the hon. Baronet ought to have reminded himself and the House that it is not easy for people to migrate from this country now because other countries will not have them. There are all sorts of barriers and bars to entrance into other countries, our own Dominions included. Why have those barriers and bars been established? Mainly because of the very spirit of nationalism which the hon. Baronet by his speech is seeking to foster, and that same spirit of nationalism is responsible elsewhere for preventing the migration the ceasing of which he deplores. At the same time he seeks to foster the selfsame spirit that makes such movement impossible.

I ask the House: Why should nations fear one another as they do in this modern world? What are the reasons for their fear of one another? Are not those fears very largely artificial fears? Are they not kept alive very largely by artificial methods? Is it not true to say that the great masses of the people in any country are so absorbed in their daily occupations, so absorbed in getting their daily bread, that unless you nowadays put into operation artificial means for stimulating their pugnacious instincts they have no feeling of animosity against the peoples of any other country? It is the adoption of artificial methods to stimulate the pugnacious instincts of huge numbers of people that constitutes a real menace to the peace of the world. One of the ways of doing that is the way adopted by the hon. Baronet to-day. He has tried by his speech to make the people of this country fear. Because the Navy is in a condition which he does not like he has played upon the fears of the masses of the people. He hopes to work that fear up to a certain point, and to make public opinion so effective that the Government will embark again on large and powerful armaments. That is one of the methods employed. But the people in ordinary circumstances have no feeling of animosity to other peoples in the lands beyond the seas.

The hon. Baronet also talked about great conquerors. He has a peculiar interpretation of history. He probably finds a great deal of satisfaction in reading stories of the great conquerors of the past. I do not know of what Empires he happened to be thinking while he was speaking. Was he thinking of Assyria, or Egypt, or Rome He was thinking of Rome, because he used a quotation regarding it. When I think of the great Empires of which he reminded us, I always remember what was at the base of those mighty Empires. I remember a writer who said that when Rome was in the heyday of its glory there could not have been fewer than 6,000,000 slaves at the base of the Roman Empire, human beings without rights or privileges or opportunities of any kind, most of them born to a childhood of hardship, passing on to a manhood of slavish work and an old age of unpitied neglect. If that is the view of the past which the hon. Baronet wants us in this age to emulate, then indeed most of us here have little or no sympathy with him.

The same story could be told about Assyria or Egypt. When I hear hon. Members plead for greater navies, greater armies, greater air forces I cannot help thinking of the condition of millions of people in this country who are, in many cases, without even the bare necessities of life. Yet we have hon. Members advocating the spending of more of the nation's money on armaments. It will be generally agreed that one great cause, perhaps the chief cause, of war in the modern world is economic rivalry. It is out of economic rivalries between nations that recent wars have arisen and if there are any future wars they will spring from those economic rivalries. Whatever the First Lord may say to us this afternoon as to future policy in regard to His Majesty's Navy, I fear that the policy of the Government in the economic sphere will produce rivalries which may make it necessary for them to do certain things—things which perhaps the First Lord will tell us they do not want to do. If you are going to stimulate economic rivalries you may be forced to embark on policies in regard to armaments on which otherwise you would not embark.

I wish to refer to a speech made last week by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery). I listened to that speech with a great deal of interest and I think the right hon. Gentleman's argument might be stated thus—that in a world armed to the teeth you would be quite sure to have peace. Perhaps I have not quoted him quite accurately, but I do not think I do him a great deal of injustice in putting that interpretation upon his argument. In any case he was for more armaments as a preservative of the peace of the world. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] The hon. and gallant Baronet opposite agrees with that view. I should say that all history disproves the contention advanced by the right hon. Gentleman last week and by the hon. and gallant Baronet this afternoon. If we have a world armed to the teeth then sooner or later the arms will be put to use—make no mistake about it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook in reply to a speech by the Lord President of the Council on the subject of air forces a little time ago, advanced the argument that scientific development was conducive to what he called more humane warfare. I think he contended that warfare to-day was more humane than it was a century ago. In my view it is a tragedy that some of the most wonderful accomplishments of the human mind in its struggle with the forces of nature and in its co-operation with the forces of nature are in this age being prostituted to the basest and most ignoble uses.

One cannot think of the wonder of the conquest of the air, or the marvel of the submarine, without admiration for the way in which man has struggled through the ages against the adverse forces of nature and has now conquered and controlled those forces in a way which was perhaps little expected by him in the days that are gone. But it is indeed a tragedy that some of his most wonderful discoveries are in these modern times as I say prostituted to base and ignoble ends. If, instead of discussing a Motion which has behind it the idea of fostering feeling in this country in favour of a more powerful Navy and greater armaments, we were discussing ways and means of facilitating co-operation and good will among the nations of the world, we should be better engaged. It would be better for us to concern ourselves with that aspect of the question than for us to engage in propaganda having for its object to make it possible for greater navies to sail the seas, more powerful armies to march upon the land and more powerful air fleets to float in the skies.

5.37 p.m.


The hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir B. Falle) will, I hope, forgive me and will not consider me impertinent or insolent if I attack the terms of his Motion and the subject-matter of his speech. He entered this House, I know, when I was still in my childhood and he has had a long and uninterrupted Parliamentary career. I do not intervene -in this Debate as a sailor or as a representative of a great seaport. town like my hon. and gallant Friend, but I happen to represent a constituency which has, like hundreds of others, been hit by two factors, the first of which is free imports and the second the injury done to trade by excessive taxation due to wasteful expenditure by the Exchequer on various unjustifiable ends. Further, I have a slight personal interest in this matter. My ability to serve in His Majesty's Forces will last for another 20 years and that is a privilege of which, should a crisis arise, I should certainly avail myself, reluctantly, I confess, and somewhat unreasonably, but in any case it enables me to claim that I have a personal interest in this matter and in the causes of international friction among which, in my view, one of the chief is large armaments. If I may put it in another way I arrogate to myself the right to decree my own suicide.

The hon. and gallant Baronet who moved the Motion had several advantages of which he was not slow to make use. It is true that the mere juxtaposition of the two words "royal" and "navy" is enough to deprive any Englishman of his reason and good sense. Those words immediately recall to us memories of the great Admirals of the past, of Rodney, Drake, Blake, Hood and Nelson, and of this emotion the purveyors of the news films in our cinemas are fully conscious. They know that there is nothing more thrilling to an English audience than the sight of a battleship contemptuously riding a stormy sea. Every hon. Member here, I make bold to say, has been thrilled by reading in the "World Crisis" the highly picturesque and coloured description of the Battle of Jutland by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). I submit, however, with great respect to this honourable House, that since the advent of the aerial arm all these considerations have fundamentally changed, and when I hear the hon. and gallant Baronet in a speech which might have been delivered in 1912 or in 1892, admitting that this subject lies very near his heart and going on to say that the Navy is England, I feel in my own heart an emotion of protest arising. In my view the Navy is not exclusively England nor is England exclusively the Navy. Rather is England Shakespeare and Milton, Cromwell and Darwin. And is nothing to be conceded to politics? If so, what of the leaders of our great party, Disraeli, Salisbury, Joseph Chamberlain and Balfour? Are they not part of England? At all events the last-named of that great four appreciated in 1922 that we were living in a completely changed world. It may be objectionable to the hon. Baronet to recognise these facts, but when he quoted to us Si vis pacem, para bellum. I felt inclined to counter, with a Greek quotation: [HON. MEMBERS: "Translate."] If hon. Members wish, I will readily translate it. it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. That was said to Paul on the way to Damascus and I think it is at least equivalent to the hon. Member's story of the spies. As the hon. Baronet proceeded with his speech I wondered if for a brief moment the corpse of the late Lord Tennyson was turning in its grave. The hon. Baronet referred to the sanctity and inviolability of Great Britain and it might have been an echo from the works of Tennyson when he claimed that Britain was: Compass'd by the inviolate sea. Of course that is no longer possible however much we may regret it since the advent of air forces. It would be just as sensible for John of Gaunt to rise from the dead and refer to England as: This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall. Hon. Members will recall the rest of that quotation and I need not exhaust their patience with it but again perhaps I may say that it would be equally sensible for some contemporary of Andrew Marvell to apostrophise his country to-day in these words: Thou Paradise of the four seas, That Heaven planted, us to please, And, to exclude the world, did guard, With watery, if not flaming, sword. But the next couplet to which I would draw hon. Members' attention is highly prophetic if a day should come when, through international friction, bombs were being rained upon our cities: What luckless apple did we taste To make us mortal, and thee waste? I do ask hon. Members who agree with the hon. and gallant Baronet who moved this Motion to exercise a little moderation in reference to this subject. Depend upon it that if any Chauvinistic or Imperialistic sentiment drops out in the course of this Debate, it will be seized upon ardently and earnestly by every little armament-monger here and abroad and he will make it an excuse for the revival of his revolting traffic. Before long you will have the old vicious circle of armaments going again and quite soon the hon. Baronet will find that there is another war and he and the First Lord of the Admiralty—who has, I hear, suggested that my sentiments are somewhat extraordinary—will have to replace "Rule Britannia" by some strains like "Good-night sweetheart" or "What shall we do with the drunken sailor"?

The Motion talks about a dangerous reduction in the strength of the Navy. Do let us face facts. To what is there danger? Is it danger to our security? Does that security mean, as was suggested just now, absolute supremacy over the rest of the world which shall enable us at all times and in all places to impose our will upon other nations? I suggest that in 1932 such a thesis is no longer acceptable or possible or tenable. We do not want any guarantee of national victory. What we do want is a guarantee against warfare and against any national victory such as that the fruits of which we are now enjoying. If hon. Members refer to security, then I ask, is there to be no security for the men of military age? Are they not entitled to be protected against themselves? The hon. and gallant Baronet referred to the "agonies and bloody sweat" which they had suffered. I hope that the conditions will never arise again in which those agonies will once mare be inevitable. It is some- times said that armaments are a form of insurance, but what is this insurance? Where is the surrender value? Where is the sum realisable at maturity Armaments have been a direct cause of the death of millions of the supposedly assured.

My hon. Friend has, in the terms of his Resolution, these words: "No further unilateral reductions." It might be gathered from that, by people not thoroughly conversant with the figures, that other great naval Powers had not made great reductions, but they have in fact. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) gave the House a few of the facts, and I would remind the House that at the end of the War, while we had 45 capital ships, I believe, against 40 owned by the other nations of the world, that position was not deemed to be tolerable by the other great Powers, not excluding America. I would like to supplement the figures already submitted by these facts, that at the time of the Washington Conference the United States of North America had building some 16 battleships, while Japan, I believe, had a programme of 48, which she was going to build at the rate of two a year. That is leaving aside and quite out of consideration our own designs for enormous monsters of the sea, the size of which was assumed to be 45,000 tons and which were to be mounted with 18 or 20-inch guns.

Supposing there had been no London Naval Conference in 1930, which I have always held to be one of the greatest achievements of the present Prime Minister, we should now have imposed upon us an obligation to build, over a period of three years, five capital ships, representing a total cost to the nation of some £40,000,000. If there had been no London Naval Treaty and the nations of the world, other than ourselves, had not agreed to these general reductions, there would by now have been a vast American fleet, and that would have its reaction upon Japan. I leave the House to imagine the kind of international friction that might have ensued from that.

I want to go into some greater detail over the question of the capital ship. On the 7th July last His Majesty's Government proposed to reduce the maximum size of any future capital ship to 25,000 tons. We did not agree, most unfortunately, I think, to the scrapping of five of our 15 capital ships, as suggested by President Hoover, and in fact it seems to be the policy of His Majesty's Government that all the existing 15 capital ships shall be retained. But I wonder if I may be permitted to hope that the phrase, "the size of any future capital ship" may mean that no such ships will be constructed in the future. I hope very sincerely that that is not a vain hope, because if we do indulge in this kind of construction, it will be absolutely futile to advocate the abolition of the submarine, which is the obvious means of counter-attack against the menace of the battleship. It is just as sensible as proposing the reduction of the maximum figure for tanks to 20 tons, when we have, I believe, one solitary unsuccessful specimen.

If I may approach this subject in terms of war, I would remind the House that there is an extraordinarily strong expert view that now the super-battleship has become obsolete and is a mere liability. I may mention the names of such distinguished sailors as Sir Percy Scott, Admiral Richmond, Admiral Mark Kerr, and Admiral Sims—I think he is entitled to be considered an expert in this matter—and, of course, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter). When one thinks of this enormous body of testimony in criticism of what must obviously be, to any ambitious sailor, the pride and glory of his own profession, I think that that criticism ought to give us pause for a moment and make us reflect. When there is this tremendous division in expert opinion, there does not seem to be any case left for the retention of these monstrous craft. They are, in the view of many experts, merely a means of wasting money. The "Rodney" and the "Nelson" each cost £7,000,000 to construct, and the annual upkeep of one of these Gargantuan craft has been estimated as falling between £400,000 and £800,000. The annual maintenance of the "Rodney," if I may illustrate it with an intimate and somewhat immediate simile, is equivalent to the total economy contemplated over a period of five years by the ill-starred Circular 1421; and if we were to put the 15 capital ships immediately out of commission, as is sug- gested not only by myself but by many experts, who know precisely what they are talking about, with absolute technical knowledge, it has been computed that we should save at least £10,000,000 a year.

Lieut.-Commander AGNEW

What about the men thrown out of work?


I will deal with the question of unemployment later. I would like to remind the House that for the last 10 years the Navy has cost about £550,000,000. Mercifully, I do not believe it has been in action more than about a dozen times during that period, but when one considers this immense expenditure upon a purely fugitive and hypothetical form of insurance, I think this House ought to reflect before consenting to that vast body of expenditure.

There are two grounds on which the Navy is supposed to serve the nation. The first is that it is supposed to be a police force, and the second is the ground of defence. The capital ship, the super-battleship of about 20,000 or 30,000 tons—and here again I quote from the meticulous study which I have made of the works of these various gallant gentlemen—requires, I understand, for its work a whole school of cruisers, destroyers, and submarines. It is considerably slower than the cruiser and the destroyer, and, most serious of all, it is highly vulnerable. At night, I believe, it can be despatched by the cruiser and the destroyer, and by day, of course, it becomes the prey of the submarine and the aeroplane. Various elaborate experiments were made by the American Navy on the power of destruction of these vast super-battleships by the air arm. I will quote the effect upon three vessels. The first was the German battleship "Ostfriesland," on which four 2,000 lb. bombs were rained. They did not register a single hit, but they scored four near misses, and after the dropping of the fourth bomb that battleship proceeded to sink in 10 minutes. A little later the American obsolete battleship "Virginia" was bombed, and she became a total wreck in 48 seconds.

Commander MARSDEN

Was this against any defence?


No, but I will speak on that point in a moment, if my hon. and gallant Friend will not try to throw me out of my course by this salvo of shots. I would like merely to mention further that the "New Jersey," on which a bomber dropped one 1,100 lb. bomb, almost immediately turned turtle. If it be said that these ships were not under weigh, that is true, but in another war, clearly, when you are operating with the Navy against the coasts of your enemy, the enemy would have the advantage of numerous aircraft, and the essence of aerial attack is numbers. I suggest to this House, and most hon. Members who have been in the Navy will probably agree, that it is possible to drop a low hanging smoke-cloud upon your battleships from the air, and that you may still proceed to attack front above the smoke-cloud, guided by the mastheads of your victim; and if you are afraid of antiaircraft guns, you can drop on these battleships phosphorescent bombs and put those anti-aircraft guns out of action.

Lieut.-Commander AGNEW

Will my hon. Friend allow me to—


I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will forgive me if I do not give way. The danger, I suggest, is that you are concentrating in a relatively small space an immense aggregation of wealth and life. In view of the experiments, which are well authenticated, by the American Admiralty, it is proved that you could have destroyed in a moment of time, in a, single flash from the sky, wealth amounting to £7,000,000 and a personnel of 1,200 souls. I suggest that it is too big a gamble to concentrate all that wealth and all that manhood on one highly vulnerable craft. It is said also that the battleship represents defence, but it can only be defensible as a defence against other capital ships. To the mere layman, the super-battleship symbolises aggression, and if it be said that the construction of these enormous battleships serves to solve the unemployment problem, I would ask if we really believe that wasteful and unwarranted construction is going to contribute seriously to this crying problem. If we really thought that, the proper course would be for us to construct a vast fleet of super-Dreadnoughts, to sail them solemnly into the middle of the Atlantic, and proceed to scuttle them. Then perhaps the scuttling party, headed, no doubt, by the hon. Member for North Portsmouth, would return to port, and they would proceed to await the next consignment of scrap iron. It would be most unfortunate if the nations abroad were to mistake our motives during the period of construction.

I am not a Little Englander—I should not be a member of the great National party if I were—but I suggest that we must take a little responsibility for the threats and the dangers of a race in naval construction. After all, Great Britain did build the Dreadnought. The Dreadnought—the super-battleship—has always represented the big stick for smaller nations, and it is inappropriate that this country, which has always claimed to champion the cause of small nations, should seek to perpetuate what is in fact a most obsolete form of the big stick. The United States of North America have been alluded to several times in this Debate, and I think that even if we proceeded unilaterally to save an enormous amount of money by putting these 15 vast capital ships immediately out of commission, we should at least be depriving that great Republic on the other side of the Atlantic of one of their most effective arguments, which is that so long as you squander your treasure upon these useless armaments, which you will probably not use, so long we, the chief creditor nation, are entitled to keep you in the leading strings of poverty.

5.59 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander AGNEW

I do not intend to indulge in a kind of tactical and strategical discussion with the hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams), because I am not at all competent to talk about the relative merits of the various arms used in naval warfare. I should like to pay my tribute to the speech of the hon. Member for North Portsmouth (Sir B. Falle). As one who has been in the Navy, I found the speech very inspiring indeed, and it seemed to carry me away back into the history of this island, when the Navy was the very mainstay and absolute safeguard of the people of this realm. It is a fact that there is still on the Statute Book of this country a crime, for which death is the punishment, of arson in the Royal Dockyards. I do not think if the Attorney-General were here he would be able to correct me. The main point of the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) seems to hinge round the declaration that was made by the Allies in the Treaty of Versailles to bring their forces down to the level of those of Germany. I say this with special reference to the size of battleships of 10,000 tons. It is worth while to see for a moment, in case hon. Members have not the terms of that declaration before them, what it says. Members of the League recognise that the maintenance of peace requires the reduction of national armaments to the lowest point consistent with national safety and the enforcement by common action of international obligations. The Council, taking account of the geographical situation and circumstances of each State, shall formulate plans for such reduction and revision at least every ten years. We have clearly laid down the principle that the Council of the League of Nations, in considereing what armaments—naval, military and air—are fitted for each State, shall take into account what armaments that particular State requires by its circumstances. It will riot be denied that if Germany had the same amount of territory now as she had before the Great War, she would have a strong case for equality of status in armaments and her wish to build up to the full strength of either the British Navy or the American Navy. That is not now the case. Germany has been deprived of all her over-sea possessions, and therefore it will equally well be recognised, not only by the Council of the League, but, I am sure, by this House, that Germany does not require and cannot require as great naval armaments as Powers which still have vast oversea responsibilities. That point will be more appreciated if we see it from the other side. England has no commitments in territory on the Continent of Europe, and we in this country would not wish to claim that we ought to have the same size Army as Continental Powers, which are even much smaller than we are. In our attitude to the size of our Army, we are carrying out the spirit envisaged by the Covenant of the League.

There appears to be a certain difficulty in the question of Germany's claim for equality of status. By the Treaty of Versailles, she is forbidden to build battleships of more than 10,000 tons. I am going to correct myself, and say warships of more than 10,000 tons, because, when that figure of 10,000 tons is being considered, we ought to try to put ourselves in the position of the high contracting parties who made the Treaty of Versailles and see what was in their minds when they chose this figure of 10,000 tons. It is my contention, from a cursory study of the subject, that the figure of an upward limit of 10,000 tons was chosen because the Powers which won the War believed that in enforcing that limit they were virtually going to prevent Germany from building a battleship at all. Necessity, however, is the mother of invention, and we know how Germany has been able to build what are virtually battleships, restricting them to 10,000 tons. The ships of the Ersatz Preussen class have a radius of activity greater than our own battleships and as great as our cruisers and of very much greater destructive power; and they have, therefore, become battleships of the high seas.

By the London Treaty of 1930 Great Britain agreed. as did Japan and America, not to replace any of their existing battleships before 1936. In other words, we are virtually compelled to maintain these very battleships, some of which are up to 44,000 tons. What is the alternative? Suppose this country unilaterally deprived herself of all her battleships, the position would be that the British Empire would have no battleships, and Germany would have two or three very fast, powerful and modern battleships of under 10,000 tons. It must be agreed upon all sides that that would be an impossible situation. I think, therefore, that some adjustment of the present position is urgently necessary, and my suggestion is that in admitting Germany's claim to equality of status, we should give Germany the theoretical position of being able to build battleships of the same size as the great Powers have at present, but at the same time extract from her a voluntarily-made declaration that she will not before 1936, when the London Naval Treaty is due for revision, actually build any of the battleships for which I suggest she should be given the theoretical right to do. Then when 1936 comes, it will be possible for Japan, America and Great Britain and, we hope, France 'and Italy as well, with Germany, to zit round a conference table and agree upon a drastic restriction in the size and the number of any battle- ships that they agree to allow themselves after that date. That solution would supply a method of recognising Germany's claim while not involving Great Britain in the new construction of small battleships, which I think would be deplored on all sides of the House, and later in 1936 it would leave the field clear for an entirely fresh review of the whole situation.

Reference has been made to the Navy as a police force, and its duties and accomplishments in that way have been somewhat decried. I wonder how many hon. Members are aware of not only the enormous number of police duties which the Navy does, but of the positive humanitarian duties which it does and which there is no other power in the world to carry out. It must be fresh in the memories of hon. Members how the British Navy saved hundreds of lives after the terrible earthquake at Messina, how it carried out the same duty after the earthquake at Kingston in Jamaica in 1908, and how only recently the New Zealand Government sent a special communication to His Majesty's Government saying haw much they appreciated the services of the small sloop which had carried out unique duties in saving life and in organising essential services after the terrible earthquake in the North Island of New Zealand last year. To those who contend that navies should be replaced by police forces, I would say that the British Navy is virtually a police force now, and if the time comes when its name is to be changed to that of a police force, there will be no change in the spirit of the officers and men who compose the Navy.

This Motion, which calls attention to the dangerous reductions of the personnel and the materiel of the Royal Navy, must meet our sympathy in the disordered state of the world, but I, for one, would not now go back on any of the reductions that have been made. Indeed, I earnestly hope that other governments in the world will join us in making further reductions by common agreement. We cannot make a further unilateral reduction. It would be unsafe to do so at this stage. This Motion has served a useful purpose in acting as a kind of news-sheet of the work that the Navy has done and is doing, and the spirit that actuates its personnel.

6.12 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander BOWER

I should like to say how much I appreciate the sincerity of the hon. Baronet who moved this Motion, but, having said that, I fee] that I cannot congratulate him on anything else. I must say, with respect, that his speech gave me a sort of Mafeking night feeling which always gives me a cold shiver down the spine. I am afraid that I cannot follow him in his felicitous verbiage, but I hope that that will be attributed—to quote the great Lord St. Vincent—to the poor sailor from whom neither much for nice speech can be expected. There is a point I wish to make in regard to battleships. An hon. Friend who preceded me made several points with which I agree. I cannot agree altogether with his deductions, but as, I think, the Member who has latest served in the Royal Navy and has spent much of the last few years in studying both ashore and afloat the conduct of war and the lessons of the late War, I hold the view that the Navy's function in peace time is a double one. There is the function of the police force and the function of preparing for war.

The First Lord, in a, speech the other day, mentioned a number of occasions on which cruisers had been asked for all over the world. Undoubtedly when there is a hurricane, a typhoon or an earthquake somewhere, the Navy does most useful work. There are other occasions which occur in the best regulated Empires when some savage potentate, such as King Cocoa of Bungo-Bungo, misbehaves himself and a ship has to be sent. In a case like that a cruiser is usually sent and it is just as effective as anything else. The armaments of a ship do not seem to matter. I am told that in many cases the thing that impresses the savage mind is the number of funnels which a ship has. In any case, a cruiser with six-inch guns is just as effective in dealing with a situation of that sort as any battleship. When war comes it is a different matter. All units of the Fleet, of every size and description, must then prepare to come together to form a great weapon of war. Some of them will continue to be employed on convoy work, protection of trade and so on, but others have, to join together to form a battle fleet to deal with the enemy battle fleet.

Perhaps we have been a little bit overmastered by the lessons, or the ex- periences, rather, of the last War, which was fought under very specialised conditions. From the point of view of the Fleet, the War was fought mostly in the North Sea, in narrow waters, against an enemy whose lack of initiative will ever be one of the marvels of history. Our geographical position gave us an immense advantage, but in spite of that our battleships were, I think, a source of most acute anxiety to those who had to use them. The air arm had only been very partially developed by the end of the last War. It can be said that, practically, it took no part in the operations of the Fleet. Conditions have changed very much since. I have had very considerable experience of the air and have learned what aircraft can do, and I have realised, as well as anybody else, the inherent limitations which they have, but one must admit that the use of aircraft afloat is now a factor of the utmost importance and one which will very gravely limit the use of battleships, especially in narrow waters. In the case of a possible European war, our fleet would have to operate, probably, in narrow waters. There is another important factor, and that is that battleships are entirely dependent on their bases, their dockyards, and I am afraid that the hon. baronet the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir B. Falle) will have to realise that in the face of a Western European war his particular dockyard would be in a very precarious position; and so would the other dockyards of Chatham, Devonport and Sheerness. At the end of the War we had an opportunity, perhaps, which we failed to take, of moving our important dockyards. We scrapped Pembroke Dockyard and Queenstown. They were just the two we ought to have kept—those and Rosyth, with, if we could have afforded it, a canal between the Forth and the Clyde. The dockyards on the South Coast would be perfectly useless to us in the event of a war in Europe.

Then, the battleships which we have at present are all obsolete. Many of them are getting on for 20 years old. Even in the later ones there has been very little progress in the matter of protection. The ends of a battleship are always vulnerable to attack. One torpedo in the neighbourhood of the rudder and propellers of a battleship, and she is out of action, a source of appalling anxiety to the commander of the force of which she is a part. I saw it myself in the War—after the battle of the Dogger Bank the "Lion" staggering back surrounded by destroyers; at Jutland, the "Marlborough," hit by one torpedo, staggering back calling for more and more destroyers. The confines of the North Sea are small. If I may quote a personal experience, the day before the battle of Jutland I was fishing in Loch Leven. Exactly 24 hours later I was in the thick of the battle, and I saw one of those great ships go up in a puff of smoke, with a thousand men wiped out. That gives one to think. Are we not, perhaps, putting too many eggs into one basket? When we consider how those ships are dependent upon bases which are now non-existent, one wonders how much use they would be to us in a war in remote quarters of the globe. In the old days Nelson could follow Villeneuve across the Atlantic, because all he wanted in case of repairs was a few sticks and string. Now it is a different matter. If those big ships are to operate all over the world we must have Singapore bases everywhere, because they cannot do without them.

Time after time I have worked out problems of this sort at the Staff College and elsewhere, and, whatever the official conclusion may have been, the conclusion come to by the vast number of officers taking part in those operations has always been that we cannot use those ships. If we fought a Far Eastern Power or even a Far Western Power we should be like two men armed with swords on opposite sides of a river: we could not fight each other. That is what causes me to wonder very much whether the battleships we now have are really of the value attributed to them by some people. Smaller ships have been built by other nations. I think the German "pocket battleship," as it is called, is a good example of what may be built in the future, if anything is built. I, personally, would very much rather see the Navy become an international police force than have another race in armaments, which nobody can afford, which is going to be a cause of war itself, and is going to end, probably, in something as bad as what happened before 1914. The international police force idea has been rather scoffed at by certain hon. Mem- bers, but, after all, since the War the good work of our Navy has been confined to that kind of thing, and there will always be a necessity for it, and with such a, force we should have the nucleus of an adequate force and a useful force if, unfortunately, war should come.

I do hope that this Motion will not be taken too seriously in this country. I know it is put forward in a perfectly sincere manner, but I cannot agree with it. I do not think we are spending too much on the Navy, though I feel that in many respects we have been spending the money in a wrong way. It would be a very grave thing for the people in this country or outside it to get the impression that we in any way wish to enter into a competition once more. If we build no more battleships, and gradually reduce our existing number—so as not to disturb the personnel question too much—we shall be making a very. great contribution, without injuring ourselves in any way, to the solution of the problem which we all desire to see, namely, to make wars in all the world to cease.

6.23 p.m.


I desire to refer first to an interesting suggestion made by the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) which, I think, deserves more attention than would appear at first sight. He suggested that various international forces—the British, the French and the Italian—might well get into the habit of holding joint manoeuvres in the Mediterranean, because when one considers the position under international law—if every nation kept its pledged word, and that is not inconceivable—the only circumstances in which they could be called upon to act would be in accordance with the Covenant of the League of Nations, to enforce sanctions or take some action against an aggressor. That was actually contemplated in the dispute between Bulgaria and Greece, when the possibility of an international blockade of Greece was under consideration. It seems to me that that idea is well worth following up. If national fleets could get into the habit of acting co-operatively, which it is intended should be their duty under international law in the future, it would not be a bad thing.

We have had to-day a most delightful, charming and sincere speech from the hon. Baronet the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir B. Falle). It was well worthy of an hon. Member for Portsmouth, but I am afraid it is not one with which I could to any very great extent agree. His speech has been dated by various hon. Members. I should say that it was a very attractive voice from the sixteenth century. It seemed to be quite out of touch with the realities of the present situation. The mere putting down of the Motion has had the effect of showing the cleavage between the opinion of what one might call, without offence, the "old brigade" in the Conservative party and the younger brigade. Immediately it appeared there followed an Amendment in the name of a number of the younger—and some of the older—members of the Conservative party, showing that they are very deeply divided from the idea of reliance on force and national armaments to secure the peace of the world, and putting forward the new idea of co-operative effort to obtain the security required under modern conditions. All the arguments of my hon. Friend were in opposition to the policy of the present Government, and in opposition to the policy of every Government in this country since the War. I cannot believe he will find a very wide body of opinion in the House to support him in a policy which is against that of the whole of the National Government and the great majority of Members in this House.

I suggest that the Government have the support of the House and the country in tie policy they are now pursuing, and that they might without fear go further than they actually have done, particularly on the naval side of their disarmament policy. The overwhelming body of opinion in the country is vastly ahead of the politicians. I want sincerely to congratulate the Government on the great advance they have made in disarmament policy since the declaration made by the Foreign Secretary at Geneva the other day. They have made a great advance in the direction of equality of status between Germany and the other Powers in the matter of big guns and air disarmament; but when we come to the naval part of the programme there are one or two comments I must make. I must read an extract from the speech of the Foreign Secretary at Geneva, where he said: His Majesty's Government are at present engaged in seeking agreement with the leading naval Powers for substantial reduction in the size of the capital ship, and the principle of according to Germany equality of rights demands that Germany should be permitted to build ships of a type similar to that upon which the great naval Powers shall finally agree. Exhaustive investigation has shown that the arbitrary figure of 10,000 tons as the limit of a capital ship would fail to command general acceptance. I would like to ask who it is that is objecting to 10,000 tons as a limit of a battleship I think we are entitled to know. I do not think it can be the United States of America. There is every reason to believe the United States would not oppose it. Is it Japan It may well be that it is Japan. Is it this country? Have we ever seriously proposed that 10,000 tons should be the limit? We are entitled to know whether the Government have actually put forward that proposal. The second MacDonald Government did, I understand, make the proposal that we should, by non-replacement, come down to a level of 10,000 tons. Is that still our policy? Do we now propose that that limit ought to be exceeded.

I understand that since the building some years ago of the "Nelson" and the "Rodney" no battleships in excess of 10,000 tons have been built anywhere in the world.. It is true that the French Government have recently started a 25,000-ton battleship, "Dunkerque" in reply to the German pocket battleship "Deutschland," and no doubt that is regrettable, but the reason for that is very largely our own, because we have been adhering to the policy of the big battleship the Admiralty have always maintained. If we had been willing before now to make clear to the world that we were prepared to come down to the limit imposed upon Germany, there would have been no reason to think that that battleship started by France would have been begun. It must be remembered that the German Government actually expressed their willingness to sacrifice the "Deutschland," their pocket battleship, in return for concessions made by the other naval Powers, and it is very regrettable that no serious notice was taken of that proposal made by the German Government. Whether the proposal would be made by the present German Government is another matter, but a great opportunity was then missed. Under the policy of the present Government, it would be practicable to offer to Germany to build one battleship, or possibly two battleships, of 25,000 tons. That is what I read in the statement of Government policy. That is a very dangerous situation. If you allow that, you inevitably create suspicion and fear among other nations, and you are going to start a race in big battleships once more, and in battleships of 25,000 tons, without getting rid of the race in 10,000 ton battleships.

The right way to deal with this question is the way the Government have dealt with another side of this same disarmament question. On page 5 of Command Paper 4189, the statement dealing with land armaments uses these words: LARGE MOBILE LAND GUNS …The obvious way of according Germany equality of treatment in regard to this weapon, While at the same time making a great advance in disarmament, is to press for a general reduction to this figure. That is very sound and very wise as regards mobile land guns. Why not apply exactly the same principle to battleships in excess of 10,000 tons? That is the real answer and solution of this problem.

Lieut.-Commander AGNEW

Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that this country should build a number of battleships of under 10,000 tons?


No, certainly not. I am suggesting that the policy of the Government at the Disarmament Conference should be based upon limiting the size of battleships to 10,000 tons, the figure imposed upon Germany by the Treaty of Versailles. By doing that, we are doing exactly what we propose to do with Germany in respect of large mobile land artillery.

Some reference has been made in the Debate, by the hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams) in his admirable speech, to the question of submarines. We have again reiterated our desire to abolish them altogether. I am sure that the proposals were put forward, as ever, in perfect sincerity, but, looked at from the point of view of foreigners, they are inclined to give rise to the idea that there is a certain amount of cynical hypocrisy in them. I know that there is not, but that we should suggest the suppression of things, which above all others, we want to see suppressed, and should propose the retention of things that we want to see retained, is what gives rise to that impression. To get the suppression of submarines, we shall have to make concessions, in particular to France, with her more than 100,000 tons of submarines. We cannot get rid of them without bargaining, or, if you like, buying concessions, and coming down to a lower limit of battleships, as has already been proposed.

This matter affects very closely the subject of the American debt. The Americans always use this argument, and there is no answer to it: "If you people in Europe can go on spending £600,000,000 a year"—or whatever it may be—" on armaments that you pledged yourselves never to use, you can jolly well afford to pay the debts you owe to America." The two are linked together in the minds of the American people.


How would the hon. Member propose to pay the American debt apart from the difficulty of transferring money across the exchange?


I know that there is that side of it, but I am referring to what is perfectly well known. There is in the minds of American people, who have so many queer and, I think, unsound ideas about the payment of debts, the feeling—and there is no denying it—that if we can afford to spend all that money on armaments we can afford to pay them. You may think that it is an irrational idea, but it is there, and it has to be taken into consideration. There is no way of securing greater economies than by tackling the big battleships. We have been told that big battleships cost at the very least £6,000,000. What could we get for £6,000,000 if by international agreement we could cut down the size of the battleships? In exchange for £1,000,000 we could build 50 hospitals. With another £1,000,000 we could have 50 miles of arterial roads; with another £1,000,000, 100 miles of country roads; with another £1,000,000, 100 recreation grounds; with another £1,000,000, 100 schools, and with the last £1,000,000 we could have 1,000 houses. In addition to that, we should obtain something of infinitely greater value. We should have greater security and safety for the people in this country because the size of the armaments in all countries would have been reduced to a very much lower level.

I, therefore, urge the Government to go forward with their progressive policy of disarmament, which commands the overwhelming support of this House and of the country. They can feel, from what has been said in the Debate to-night, that they would have behind them a very large body of support in going still further on the question of the Navy. By promising equality of arms to Germany, they have, by implication, admitted that circumstances might arise in which they would come down to the 10,000-ton limit. I hope that they are not going to rule that out. Naturally, they cannot say a great deal about it to-night, but I urge them to go forward in that direction, taking the small risk—there is a risk about everything which any one does in life—which may be involved, in order to avoid a much greater and inevitable risk of a disastrous and cruel war.

6.37 p.m.


I should like to begin by congratulating the hon. Member for North Portsmouth (Sir B. Falle) upon introducing his Motion, and doing so in a speech of great sincerity. I trust that the Motion will be accepted by the Government. I do not wish to delay the House by supporting in detail the case which he has made. I would rather say a few words about some of the lines of argument advanced by those who have opposed him. The arguments to which we have listened this afternoon have been, in part, arguments of pacifism, and, in part, arguments of pacifism posing as technical expertise. There are the genuine pacifists, and the pacifists who pose as authorities on technical questions of naval and military policy. I know perfectly well that on this question of the size of battleships there are authorities of great distinction who take the view that you can reduce the battleship, or the largest warship made, down to 10,000 tons. The arguments for and against the large or the small warship have been presented to myself, as to other First Lords of the Admiralty, and to those responsible for dealing with this matter in many countries. The balance was such as to convince, the responsible people that, while some measure of reduction on present sizes is possible, the conditions which are required in the naval warship to hold its own against the various forms of attack with which it may be confronted, and to form the core and centre of battle, make it very difficult to reduce the size far beyond the figures which we have put forward.

The hon. and gallant Member for Cleveland (Lieut.-Commander Bower) suggested that big warships could never go to any distance. I remember one instance in the Great War, when the dispatch of our two battle cruisers to the Falkland Islands altered the whole course of history. It would have been very different had we had no vessels comparable to them in size, endurance power, gunnery and speed. It would require a great deal of argument to convince me that the technical case advanced by the hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams) and the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) was overwhelming. We know that it is not actually the case that the United States or Japan have the slightest intention to accept, and I think that there is a certain lack of real honesty in putting such a case ourselves. The hon. Member for West Leeds went further in his technical exposition of the kind of armaments which he prefers, or thinks are more effective, when he suggested that the Navy had been made obsolete by the discovery of flying. Of course the introduction of aerial warfare affects every form of war, and affects naval war particularly in narrow waters. Because, under certain particular conditions, two obsolete, stationary, undefended, American warships were destroyed by bombs from the air, that is very far from being prepared to accept the argument that the Navy has ceased to have any value. A sedentary man at short-range can be shot with a rifle; that does not prove that one or two bullets are sufficient to kill every man in the case of a great war.

If I might again go back to my parallel of the Falkland Islands: In that conflict, our two immensely superior battle-cruisers, with every advantage of speed, range and everything that made for the rapid destruction of a superior enemy, fired off 500 shells, weighing over half a ton each, before they sank the German ship. I do not believe that in similar conditions an aeroplane would be any more successful than a battleship in hitting a ship in motion. Even in present conditions where would we get aeroplanes in sufficient number and of sufficient range to carry 200 or 300 tons of high explosive to the Falklands? Whatever advantage the aeroplane may have in the neighbourhood of land, the wide ocean will for long remain the charge of the Navy. As a mere matter of technical efficiency, it is worth while remembering that the problems of war are essentially problems of transport—are essentially problems of how much defensive and offensive power, which always means weight, can be transported at a certain speed for a certain distance. The aeroplane has the advantage of speed, but in every other respect it is at the greatest disadvantage compared with other forms of transport, because of the immense amount of power required to keep it in the air. The surface of the water is the cheapest means of transport for commerce, and it remains, for all longdistance purposes, the cheapest and most effective means of transporting fighting power. Therefore, I believe that, as far as technical arguments go, we are still a very long way from the supersession of either the moderate-sized battleship or the naval warship.

After all, what is the object, really, of all this parade of technical argument? That is not the intention of the hon. Members who have advanced it. Their intention is, as far as they can, to do away with the Navy altogether. One of their arguments, at any rate, is that, Germany having been reduced to a 10,000-ton standard, we are bound by the Treaty of Versailles to come to the same position. I believe, however, that there is no basis of justification in the Treaty of Versailles for saying that, as regards either quantity or quality, we are compelled to reduce to the German level—and if we were compelled to do so in regard to the one, logically we should be compelled to do so in regard to the other. If that were done, it is certain that the very next step would be the resumption of military activity by Germany to re-cover territories of which she believes herself to have been wrongfully deprived.

We are told that all this is out of date, that my hon. Friend is a Victorian, that a new era has opened. It is true that we are living in an era rather different from that of the later years of Queen Victoria's reign, but it is an era much like the 20 years preceding Queen Victoria's reign. Then, too, we had the terrible exhaustion that followed a long-drawn-out war; we had an enthusiastic, rather woolly-minded potentate conceiving the idea that you can maintain perpetual peace and the status quo together in the interests of the victors; and we had other Powers wishing to conciliate that powerful potentate, the Tzar Alexander, with their tongue in their cheek, subscribing to a great scheme, the Holy Alliance, for maintaining the peace of the world. We know perfectly well how that scheme, with all its insincerities, and with its denial of progress, movement and change in the world, was bound to break down. It certainly did not preserve the peace of the world, and I doubt very much whether the schemes invented at the close of the Great War for perpetuating peace by the maintenance of the status quo—and there is no other scheme before the world to-day—are going to be much more successful in maintaining the peace of the world. I think we should do well to keep a very watchful and critical eye upon these developments before we trust to a yet unborn scheme for the maintenance of world peace and for the security of this country and the Empire. By all means let us play our part with others in such a measure of disarmament as will conduce to economy, and possibly to the removal of suspicion, but do not let us be misled either by the idea that disarmament of itself will make any serious contribution to the cause of peace, or that a new world order has arisen in which some international scheme of government makes us free of that responsibility which has always been ours, and will long be ours, of maintaining our own security as a nation and as an Empire.

6.50 p.m.

The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Sir Bolton Eyres Monsell)

I warmly welcome the opportunity which has been given to me to-day by my hon. Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir B. Falle), who moved this Motion, and who introduced into his speech so many happy poetical quotations. He has given me the opportunity of explaining the policy of His Majesty's Government in regard to the reduction and limitation of naval armaments. This question of naval armaments is one of paramount importance to everybody in this country, and, unfortunately, but I think inevitably, there is a great deal of misconception about it. For a year I have been steeped in this question of disarmament, and even I find it bard to keep up to date with the intricacies that come from a Disarmament Conference composed of representatives of 64 different nations. Therefore, I am very glad to have this opportunity, which I am going to take to-night, of explaining what we have already done and what we propose to do.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Portsmouth, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Battersea (Commander Marsden), and one or two other Members who have spoken, have expressed some anxiety about our present position. They talk of the year 1936 arriving and of our finding ourselves with certain old cruisers, old destroyers, and old submarines. That is perfectly true. We are limited in tonnage in all of these three categories; we may have a certain tonnage by dm end of 1936. In cruiser tonnage we are building up to the limit allowed; in destroyers and submarines we are not. We are readily facing the position of having some of these ships over age in 1936, because we think it is even more important to have a steady replacement programme. Then everybody knows where they are in this country and in other countries, and we do not suffer from a sudden bump in armaments, as we are suffering now, and finding difficulties in consequence. Therefore, we are deliberately taking this risk, if anyone likes so to call it, because of what we think will be the very great advantage of a steady replacement programme.

I would say, however, to all of my hon. Friends who have expressed anxiety as to the present, that we must realise that until the end of 1936 we are absolutely bound, as regards the type and number of the ships that we build, by the Treaty of Washington and by the London Naval Treaty, and those numbers cannot be increased unless we put into operation a clause in the London Naval Treaty called the Escalator Clause. That is a very valuable feature, because its effect would be to enable us to make increases if any Power not a party to the London Naval Treaty should fail to come into line with the general programme of disarmament.

I am temporarily in charge of this great instrument, the Royal Navy, and it is a great responsibility for anyone to have. Bearing in mind that responsibility, it would be too much to ask any First Lord to say that he was perfectly satisfied and perfectly happy with the position, but I will say this: If, firstly, we take into consideration the Escalator Clause, and if, secondly—and this, to my mind, is the important thing—we are allowed steadily to pursue the replacement programme that we have been pursuing since 1930, I say with perfect frankness to the House and to my hon. Friends who have spoken that I do not think they need feel any undue alarm at the present position. I do not think they need feel any undue alarm that the British Navy will not be able to carry out its proper functions.

What does alarm me is the persistent and, I think, pernicious propaganda that is being carried on against the Navy. For the last year that propaganda has been designed always to put this country in the wrong; it has been designed to create and foster an impression that we have been, and still are, standing in the way of disarmament. We have not heard much of that to-day in this Debate, and certainly not from any of the hon. Members opposite. The only hon. Member who came near to it was the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), and even he did not come anywhere near to the sort of thing that has been said in some quarters. I would not so much mind what the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton said, but, unfortunately, I see that many excellent people in this country are beginning to believe what is being said in other quarters, and I propose, first, to give a few facts to the House of Commons to show that this charge that England is the Power standing in the way of disarmament is one of the most preposterous charges that could ever be made; and, secondly, to prove abundantly by figures that this country has given the most magnificent lead to the world. Before doing so, may I briefly state the necessity for this country to have a Navy of a certain size and strength? I believe that the need for a Navy is bred in the bone of the people of this country. But we have been going through what some super-cynic once called "the piping times of peace" for the last 14 years, people are hard up, a great deal of propaganda is being made against the Navy, and some people are apt to forget, but I think that, for their own good, we ought not to allow, the people of this country to forget, certain facts.

The first thing that they must never forget is that their livelihood and the food that they eat are dependent on seaborne commerce. No merchandise, and no food, can come into this country in any other way than by ships, and no country in the world is in a similar position. Every day there come into our ports 110,000 tons of merchandise and 50,000 tons of food. These goods come from all over the world, from the remotest parts—over 80,000 miles of sea routes—and, unless we can secure the safe arrival of this merchandise and food, we starve. The second thing this country must not forget is that our Empire has been built up under the protection of the British Navy. A considerable proportion of the people of this world look to this country of ours for their protection. They look to us to maintain that protection and, should we fail to do so, there is no doubt whasoever that the Empire will come to an end, with whatever consequences that would entail. There is something much worse than that. What would happen if we suddenly saw the disruption of the most stable part of the world, for the Commonwealth of British Nations is the most stable element in the world to-day, and the biggest guarantee of peace, in my opinion. If that became disrupted, I believe that the shattering effect upon the already overstrained world might really be the end of civilisation.

I do not think hon. Members have exaggerated what our Navy does in peace. I think the British Navy has now come to be looked upon as the helper and protector of mankind in trouble all over the world. We have at the present moment 36 cruisers in commission—only 36 cruisers at the present moment. Twenty-nine of these vessels are abroad. I can assure the House that we are finding the very greatest difficulty in answering the demands to send a British cruiser which is continually arising from distressed or perplexed places on the globe. In the last 18 months we have been called upon to send cruisers no less than 18 times in cases of dire necessity, and, if you talk to the representatives of other countries, as I. have had great opportunity of doing at Geneva, you will find that nearly every other country in the world will most freely admit that they do not want to see our Navy cut down and made impotent to carry out, among other things, this great duty to humanity in general. For these reasons, and for others which I will not enter into now, I say that we must have an adequate Navy, and I do not say more. I use the word "adequate" advisedly, because nobody has been more anxious and willing than the Board of Admiralty all through the history of these treaties and negotiations to lighten the burden of naval armament as much as we possibly can.

The Member for East Wolverhampton spoke as if we had not done enough. In fact, we have given a most striking lead, which in many cases has not been followed, to the world in disarmament. I can give it to the House in a few figures, I think. The strength of the British Navy in comparison with the year before the War will have been reduced, by figures which we arrive at in 1936 by the London Naval Treaty, as follows—Battleships from 69 to 15; cruisers from 108 to 50; destroyers from 285 to 117; submarines from 74 to 38. If we take tonnage, the total tonnage of our Fleet in 1914—I give round figures—was 2,160,000 tons. The tonnage in December, 1936, will be 1,151,000 tons. if we compare that with the other great naval Powers we find that the total tonnage of the United States of America in 1914 was 881,000 tons. Under the London Naval Treaty the United States of America's tonnage at the end of 1936 may be 1,139,000. The total tonnage of Japan's Fleet in 1914 was 522,000 tons. Under the London Naval Treaty, Japan's tonnage at the end of 1936 may be 720,000. It will thus be seen that by the end of 1936 the tonnage of the British Empire will have been decreased 47 per cent.; that of the United States of America may have been increased by 29 per cent., and that of Japan by 37 per cent.

In face of these facts, I suggest that it is not only stupid, but unchristian, to say that we have not made enormous efforts. Indeed, I suggest that to say, in view of these figures, that we have stood in the way, and blocked the way, is dishonest and, what is more, it is grossly unfair to the Board of Admiralty. I read in publications, I do not want to quote them, things about soldiers and sailors that never should be said. I can assure the House that not only this Board of Admiralty but all preceding Boards of Admiralty, as my hon. Friend opposite will bear me out, have always had the most sincere desire to economise in every possible way and to cut our Navy to the utmost limit, compatible with their great responsibilities.

I now give the proposals for further reduction. So far I have dealt with the past, and brought up to date the position. We are to-day bound by the Treaties of Washington and the London Naval Treaty. I now want to explain to the House what we are prepared to do in the future towards further reduction and limitation. Here I can at once put the mind of the Mover of this Resolution at rest. In the last part of the Resolution it is asked that we should have no further unilateral reduction unless this further reduction has been accepted by everybody. There will be no further unilateral reduction. Referring once more to this propaganda, I receive thousands of letters, some of which I must say I am very pleased a considerate secretariat do not show to me, from various organisations urging the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Government, to adopt anybody's plan but our own plan. I am convinced after a great deal of study of this question, that our plan is by far the best plan put forward, and it is the best plan because it is eminently practicable. It is thoroughly economic, and it has got much the best chance of being adopted by everybody all round. I have tried to show the House that our requirements, and our responsibilities, are unique among the nations of the world, and what we have done under the Washington and London Naval Treaties. We have already made our cut down to the limit in battleships and cruisers.

Our further proposals aim at a reduction in the size of our ships, and a reduc- tion in the calibre of our guns, because our experience has been, beyond any doubt, that the great cost of these has come about entirely with the enormous ships, and enormous guns, which have been built by all nations in the past few years. Let me give our proposals about battleships. There have been many interesting speeches on that subject to-day. Our plan for dealing with the battleship—although one might not think it from the people urging me to adopt somebody else's plan—effects much bigger economies than the plan of anybody else. We wish to reduce the 35,000-ton ship with 16-inch guns, under certain conditions, to 22,000 tons. I say under certain conditions. We calculate that the smaller ship would cost about half of the greater, and it is quite easy to see that the 15 smaller ships we want will cost far less than 10 larger ones.

I see that, in connection with battleships, several Members have put their names to an Amendment to the Resolution urging the Government when replacing battleships to replace them by ships of 10,000 tons. I see also that the phraseology points out that that must be done by international agreement. None of the Members who have put their names to that Amendment wishes to do it without it being followed by all the other nations of the world. My first observation on that is that we are taking the lead in the world in trying to reduce the size of these ships. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton asked what other countries are reluctant to come down as low. Practically all of them, and I can assure him that we are in the lead in trying to get down to 22,000 tons.

I might leave the Amendment there, because it is obvious that we could not have 10,000-ton ships if we failed to get down to 22,000, but I should not be frank with the House unless I said, as has been said in the latest White Paper, that the 10,000-ton ship is not only unacceptable to us but would also fail to command general acceptance. In the opinion of the Admiralty, the 10,000-ton ship, for many technical reasons which I will not bore the House with now—it would take a very long time—would produce a ship quite incapable of fulfilling the functions of a battleship. The hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams) said he thought technical opinion in the Navy was about evenly divided. I can assure the House that the hon. Member is wrong, and I should say that what I have just said would be endorsed by 99 per cent. of naval officers. I cannot help thinking that the demand that is now going about for the 10,000-ton battleship is based on the wish for economy. I can assure hon. Members that that theory is entirely wrong. Our principal duty is to protect our trade routes. If every nation is limited to ships—I will not call them battleships—of 10,000 tons, all nations will have them, and if we had to meet any possible hostile concentration of those ships in any part of the world, we should have to have so many 10,000-ton ships that the cost of the Navy would be greatly increased instead of decreased. I say, on the very well considered opinion of the naval staff, that it would not decrease expenditure but would result in a very big increase.

After that digression, I will turn to our plan. I have dealt with battleships. Next, we want to cut out two categories of ships altogether. We want to cut out the big 8-inch cruisers altogether, and we wish to cut out the submarine, and, if we should be successful in cutting out the submarine, we are quite ready to cut down the number of destroyers, but of course that depends absolutely on all nations adopting the same plan. We wish to reduce the size of the cruiser to about 7,000 tons with 6-inch guns. We want this small tonnage lightly armed because we want a great number of cruisers to protect these thousands of miles of trade routes. No one can call that an aggressive weapon. It is essentially a weapon of defence, capable of defending our trade routes against any commerce destroyers that may appear. One of the most interesting things about our plan for reduction is that the types of ship that we seek to have almost exactly approximate to the types of ships allowed to Germany under the Treaty of Versailles. As all the world knows, one of the big problems at the moment is to get Germany back to Geneva, and our plan is going a very long way to help to bring that about—for without Germany a Disarmament Conference is no good at all.

I now want to come to the question of personnel. I have kept it for the end, because it does not deal with treaties at all. The number of men that we have in the Service is not governed by treaties. It is purely a domestic matter, and it is purely in the hands of this House of Commons and no one else. I want to say to the House, again very frankly, that I am apprehensive and worried about the number of men that we have in the Service. In introducing the Navy Estimates last March, I said that of all the trouble that I saw in the Service, the worst trouble we had to face, and the thing we muss try to correct, was that of having too few men. It is obvious that for manning the Fleet in peace time you want more men than will actually be in the ships. You must have a good many spares. You must have them for courses of instruction, for foreign service leave, for sickness, and, perhaps even more important, for crossing relief crews, and these extra men who are wanted beyond the duty of actually manning the ships in peace time are called the pool. The pool has always been a very vulnerable thing for economy committees and people who are looking round for something to cut down. They say: "What are these men? They are not wanted. Cut them clown." That has been going on year after year until, in fact, the pool has been cut down a great deal too much.

Theoretically, it is sufficient, but theory does not always go hand in hand with practice, and in practice it is all wrong. For instance, if relief crews taking men out to China could arrive there instantaneously and simultaneously at the time the men who were coming back from China could arrive at Portsmouth, it would be all right. For many reasons like that we find that things are very much all wrong, due entirely to the shortage of numbers. The result of that, although it may sound a small thing, to my mind is the most serious thing in the Navy. It results in frequent changes made in all ships of the Navy, both at home and abroad, and it is most difficult for any ship's company under present conditions to settle down. I have figures for a typical battleship and a typical cruiser in the last six months, and I have asked how many changes there have been in personnel. In the battleship there have been about 21 per cent. and in the cruiser 25 per cent. of men shifted in the last six months. I hope the House will see, especially those who have been accustomed to the working of the regimental feeling and the knowledge of how you can settle down in your regiment and work together, how almost impossible it is for a ship to get together, for the men to know each other and for officers and men to know each other. It must result in a very great loss of efficiency in every ship in the Service.

Another great disadvantage is that men nowadays are frequently failing to get a settled period at home after foreign service. The Naval Service is not an easy one. It is a hard life. Men go abroad for a long time. They come back and appreciate a settled period at home. Now they cannot always get it, and, what is even worse, it is almost impossible at the present moment to do away altogether with inequalities of treatment. I am sure the House will see how bad that must be for any service. I called attention to this last March. We have been trying very hard to put it right. We have taken certain steps. We have altered the proportion of home and foreign service. We have brought ships back from the Mediterranean and increased the number at home. We have also altered the proportion between shore and sea service. We have done that by paying off some of the big ships and putting them in reserve. But, as I foreshadowed last March, that is not a complete solution. I am afraid the only real solution is an increase in Fleet numbers. I attach the very greatest importance to this, and I regard it as the key to the just treatment of our sailors and the proper efficiency of our Fleet. I have always maintained that the personnel of the Fleet is by far the most important, and it is the duty of the House, and I think it will be the privilege of the House, to look after the personnel and see that they get a fair show. If you neglect the personnel and their proper training, you will only produce in the long run a robot fleet without a soul and if, unhappily, we ever come to that, no amount of tons and no amount of guns will ever make the British Navy a certain shield for this country.


In view of the right hon. Gentleman's satisfactory statement—more satisfactory than I hoped—I ask leave to withdraw the Motion.


In view of the statement we have just heard, I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.