§ NAVY ESTIMATES, 1933.
§ SIR BOLTON BYRES MONSELL'S STATEMENT.
§ Order for Committee read.
§ 3.59 p.m.
The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Sir Bolton Eyres Monsell)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
The announcement that the Navy Estimates this year are increased by £3,093,700 has aroused both hopes and fears, hopes in those who, believing in a strong Navy, believe that the deficiencies in the Navy are immediately to be made good, fears in others of some departure from our Treaty limitations. There is no justification for those hopes or fears. As the House of Commons well knows, we are building to a rigid programme, of which this is the fourth instalment, and the increase of a little over £3,000,000 is almost entirely automatic, and, except for new construction, does not fully meet all the potential needs of the Navy. Of this total of £3,093,700, no less a sum than £2,355,360 is required in order to make normal progress—and normal progress only—with new construction. Last year, 1932, we saved temporarily about £2,000,000 by adopting the expedient of postponing the 1931 programme for nearly six months. A similar postponement this year of the 1932 Programme would be quite impossible, and, as the House of Commons will see from that fact alone, the increase this year is bound to be £2,00,000. But that is not all. By postponing the 1931 Programme last year, we pushed the highest point of the curve in the expenditure on the Programme into this year, and so we have, in addition to the £2,000,000, an extra expenditure of £500,000 which has been pushed into this year's Estimate. Those two sums make up the automatic increase for new construction.
If we take that amount for new construction from the total increase in this year's Estimates, I have left to account for a sum of £738,340, and it is very easy to account for that. Votes 13 and 14—what we call the Non-Effective Votes, which deal with pensions of both officers 2160 and men—are on the up-grade. They have been increasing for some time, and they will go on increasing for some time. Unfortunately, they have increased this year by the sum of £285,367 gross. Then, on the other side of our balance sheet, Appropriations-in-Aid—things that help us—are down. They were down last year considerably, and they are still more down this year by a sum of £346,566. It is quite easy to explain the reduction this year. It is due generally to the prevalent state of trade. We cannot get charters for our oil tankers; and old ships and scrap in general are fetching a very small sum. But the House will see that these two large increases in the Estimates — in Appropriations-in-Aid and Non-Effective Votes—about which I have just spoken, are entirely beyond the control of the Admiralty.
There is only one other increase, and that is in the Fleet Air Arm. As in 1932, we are taking no new flight in the Fleet Air Arm, but two of the existing flights are in such a bad state that it is quite imperative to re-engine them with air-cooled engines. If we did not do that, it would not Abe safe to let pilots fly in them. The increase in the Estimate for the Fleet Air Arm of £64,000 is more than accounted for by these engines. Apart from these increases, £42,407 is all that I have got left to account for, and that sum appears under the general head of Maintenance. I pointed out last year that certain economies which we had taken in the Fleet and in Naval establishments could not be repeated without making serious inroads into the efficiency and, indeed, even the strength of the Fleet itself, and this year, so far as the small balance permits, I have made the best provision possible for such things as training reserves, which we had temporarily to abandon altogether last year, and an increase of expenditure in certain stores, more especially oil fuel for the Fleet, which is most important, as the Fleet was being crippled for want of action. We have also taken more money to make up arrears in certain works of paramount importance.
I should like the House to understand that if it had not been for certain automatic reductions which we have had, such as the decrease in the price of stores and the real co-operation of the whole Navy, both afloat and in shore establishments, in helping us to economise, the 2161 Estimates would have had to be considerably greater than those I am presenting to-day. Since these Estimates were presented, we have heard a certain amount of criticism about the increase. No doubt we shall hear a great deal more, but I should like to point out to the House—no doubt it knows full well already—that the people who always deny us the right to an adequate national defence are precisely the same people who internationally are always clamouring for sanctions, for blockades, for wars to end war. They always profess to be worshipping the Goddess of Peace, but, to my mind, their real deity is an ancient heathen god of Wrath and Vengeance. But if these bloodthirsty pacifists, as I might call them, ever get their way, which God forbid, let the country realise what part the British Navy would be called upon to play in any form of castigation they wished to inflict. The First Lord of the Admiralty of the day, standing at this Box, would not be asking for an increase of £3,000,000, but for a sum of money that would well-nigh break the heart of the British taxpayer. Do not think I am not sorry for the British taxpayer, but I should like the British taxpayer to take some comfort from the fact that nearly the whole of the increased sum for new construction this year is going in wages. It is going in wages to people in this country. It is going in wages to those craftsmen whose combined skill produces ships. They have hada very hard time lately. They are people we cannot possibly do without, because their skill and the skill of their forbears has been largely responsible for the growth and development of our maritime Empire.
The 1933 programme is, as I have said, a normal replacement programme, the fourth of its series. I have given some account of it in my printed Statement to the Navy Estimates, and all that I will add to it now, for the information of the House, is where these ships are to be built, which is always interesting to Members of dockyard towns and those who have private shipyards in their constituencies. Of the four new cruisers, Portsmouth will have one, Devonport will have a cruiser and a sloop, Chatham will have one sloop and one submarine, and the rest will go to private contract. One of the cruisers will be in replacement of His Majesty's Australian ship "Bris- 2162 bane," and the question of the replacement of the "Brisbane" is under discussion with the Commonwealth of Australia at the present time. Before I leave the subject of the programme, it may interest the House to be told the names of some of the ships of the 1932 programme, orders for which have all been placed. The principles to which I referred last year have been adhered to. The two larger cruisers will be named the "Apollo" and "Phaeton," and the smaller cruiser the "Galatea." The flotilla leader will be called the "Faulknor." The destroyers will have the names of "Forester," "Fury," "Fearless," "Foresight," "Foxhound," "Fortune," "Fame" and "Firedrake." The submarines will be called the "Clyde," the "Grampus" and the "Salmon," and the sloops will be named the "Lowestoft," the "Wellington," the "Harrier" and the "Hussar."
I now turn to administration, which, I confess, is of more interest to me at the moment than the programme, because it is not yet restricted by any international obligation, and I wish to tell the House of some economies in the naval service which we have been able to effect, and I hope that those economies will not be without general interest in themselves. The first economy we have made, I am sure many hon. Members will be pleased to hear, is in the Admiralty itself—the staff. It is what we call the "merger." During last year we carried out a reorganisation of the staff which combines efficiency with a considerable saving in salaries, and I am sure the House will agree with me that this is a dual achievement which is as rare as it is welcome in any administration. Until 100 years ago the civil administration of the Admiralty was in the hands of independent authorities. One of those authorities was the famous old Navy Office. All those authorities were located in Somerset House, and were entirely independent of the Board of Admiralty. Many people saw the disadvantages of this state of affairs, but it was left to a man called Sir James Graham, who became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1830, to take what was no doubt then very drastic action. He brought all these civil departments under the authority at Whitehall of the Board of Admiralty, and so there grew up five depart- 2163 ments directly under the authority of the Board of Admiralty. The only link which the Navy now retains with Somerset House is the Naval emblem on that building which hon. Members can see as they pass by. One of these Departments, that of the Accountant-General, maintained an honourable, and, in some ways, separate existence for nearly 100 years, for it was only last year that we merged the Accountant-General's Department with that of the Department of the Secretary of the Admiralty, who was made Chief Financial Officer and Accounting Officer for Navy purposes in 1921. The effect has been to simplify and improve the organisation a great deal. But it has done more than that. It has effected a substantial saving in staff and salaries, and I hope that we shall save in a full year by this means £10,000. This has been done by avoiding some overlapping, which was taking place between the Secretary's Department and that of the Accountant-General. One of the most illustrious officials of the old Navy Office was the first man to call attention to such overlapping. On 5th April, 1668, which happened to be Lord's Day, Mr. Pepys made the following entry in his diary;Dined at home, with W. Hewer with me; and after dinner he and I a great deal of good talk touching this office "—that is, the Navy Office—how it is spoiled by having so many persons in it, and so much work that is not made the work of any one man, but of all, and so is never done.I commend that to hon. Gentlemen who like looking at the Admiralty Vote.And that the best way to have it well done, were to have the whole trust in one, as myself, to set whom I pleased to work in the several businesses of the office, and me to be accountable for the whole‥‥; but this is not to be compassed.Perhaps Mr. Pepys was right; and it never could be entirely "compassed," but I cannot help thinking that if Mr. Pepys could have made an entry in his diary to-night he would have said that he was "mighty content" with what we have done.
The next thing I wish to speak about is Dartmouth. Some months ago reports appeared in the Press that Dartmouth College was to be abolished. We immediately took steps to contradict the rumour, because I for one am convinced that we should never get a sufficient 2164 number of cadets of the right calibre in any other way. The only criticism aimed against Dartmouth which I thought had some force in it was the one directed against the cost of Dartmouth, so I. set to work to reduce the cost and undermine that argument as best I could. I have succeeded so far that we have reduced the cost of Dartmouth by 20 per cent., a very considerable achievement. I hope and believe that it is being done without any loss of efficiency. I should be very sorry if Dartmouth lost any of its efficiency. It is one of the very best educational establishments in this country. The chief reason for the high cost is the necessity of a dual staff—a naval staff and an instructional staff. We have made our principal economies in cutting down both. The first six terms at Dartmouth have been combined for instructional purposes. This means that we can have bigger classes and fewer instructors, and I am informed that the larger classes will by no means cause loss of efficiency.
Sir B. EYRES MONSELL
About 25. I am told that the benefit you get in larger classes from mass-thought and competition balances the loss you may have from the lack of individual instruction. I have been told that fact on very high authority. Another cause of the high expenditure at Dartmouth is that Dartmouth was constructed to take a far larger number of cadets than the Navy at present wants, so that the overhead charges are much too big. By increasing the number of cadets, of course, we could reduce the overhead charges, but at the moment we do not want to increase the number of cadets. We are considering whether it would not be desirable to open Dartmouth College, at a suitable fee, to a limited number of boys who do not intend to make the Navy a career. There is much to be said for and against this proposal, to which I am in no way committed. I should like the House to realise one or two points. I have heard a good many parents say that they would like their sons to get the really unique advantage of the education at Dartmouth so long as it was not necessary for them to make the Navy a career. I do not think that the small number taken could possibly upset the public schools. The 2165 fees to be charged would make no difference to the public schools, because they would not be lower than the fees charged by the highest class of public school. We have not the slightest intention of competing with the public schools or of offering to accept boys at such low fees as could only be possible in a Government establishment. There is no question of subsidies. Indeed, the main object, if we do this, will be to lessen the cost of Dartmouth to the public by spreading the overhead charges over a larger number.
Sir B. EYRES MONSELL
I have given the information to the House, and I should like it to be discussed and thoroughly thrashed out. I am in no way committed. This brings me to another matter which is extremely interesting, not only to the Navy, but to all parents who may consider putting their boys into the Navy. It is the policy in regard to the number of cadets entered every year in relation to their ultimate prospects of promotion—prospects which, I think, can and should be very greatly improved, compared with what they are at the present moment. Every great war creates a surplus of officers during the periods of reduction which are bound -o follow, and for the last 14 years we have had, most regretfully, to retire a very large number of officers by special retirement schemes, always the worst part of the administration at the Admiralty. I want to draw the attention of the House to the new problem which has been created since the War, not ephemeral, but, on the contrary, one which will get worse if it is not tackled and tackled very soon. I refer to the serious change which has taken place in the proportion of junior to senior officers compared with what that proportion was only about 20 years ago. This is due, I think, almost entirely to the increased complexity of modern mechanism, and it has been thought necessary to have in ships almost double the number of lieutenant-commanders and lieutenants than was thought necessary 20 years ago solely in order to supervise important and often isolated stations in the ship in action. All this time there has been no proportional increase in the number of senior officers.
2166 The alteration in the balance between junior and senior officers has had at least two very bad effects upon the Navy. The first is that midshipmen and sublieutenants, especially in the big ships, never get a chance of taking charge at all. To have so many lieutenants and lieutenant-commanders for certain action stations is all right, but for the multifarious duties of the ship there are far too many officers, and the consequence is that the senior officers take charge and the junior officers do not get a chance. Another consideration is that petty officers are far too much supervised in their work and never get a chance of showing any initiative. The second bad effect of the proportion between junior and senior officers is that the promotion prospects of junior officers have been seriously diminished lately. As a matter of fact, at the moment it is very good, but I want to make it a good deal better. Many deserving officers fail to get over the first big fence of promotion to commander. What does this mean? It means the man being put ashore at an age when he cannot possibly give up work but at an age when it is almost impossible to get another job. I am sure that this fact must have deterred a good many parents from sending their sons to the Navy. So we intend to restore a more reasonable balance between junior and senior officers.
We have already reduced the numbers of Lieut.-Commanders in the large ships, but we do not intend to carry this policy to such an extent that the livelihood of existing officers will be jeopardised. There is only one way of doing it, and that is, to start from the bottom and control the number of boys entering the Navy from Dartmouth, and making that number such that every Lieut.-Commander who approaches the top of his list and is fit for the rank of Commander shall stand a reasonable chance of promotion. This policy will have two great advantages. The Navy will provide a much better career for the individual, and greater efficiency will be obtained afloat by giving to the junior officers and petty officers their fair share of executive control.
Last year when I presented the Navy Estimates I pointed out certain defects under which, in the best opinion of the Navy, the Service was suffering. The 2167 three principal problems which I then put before the House were: First, the training of the individual—officer, petty officer and seaman—with the idea of instilling responsibility and leadership and developing talent; secondly, the question of promotion, especially the promotion of the junior officer; and thirdly, the changes that occur in the personnel of ships during the commission. These changes occur far too frequently, with the consequence that a ship never gets a chance of properly settling down, officers and men never get a chance of properly knowing each other, and we cannot get that thing that we envy so much in the Army—the "regimental feeling." So this was the diagnosis that I made last year of what might be called the defects of the Navy, and, after a year's experience, I see no reason to alter that diagnosis.
I want to tell the House to-night some of the remedies that we have taken in the course of last year to try to cure these defects. I will first take the changes in personnel. This is no new question, this frequent change of men in ships. I discovered that I was bringing this question forward in very good company when I came across a letter written by Nelson, in which he said:The disgust of the seamen to the Navy is all owing to the infernal plan of turning them over from ship to ship, so that men cannot be attached to their officers, or the officers care twopence about them.I do not pretend that we have cured this evil in the course of the year. We have hardly touched the fringe of it, and I never expected that we should be able to cure it. I told the House last year that I thought that one of the chief troubles was that we were working on too narrow a margin of men; I mean, of men over and above those required to man ships. We are bound to have men on leave, men who are sick, men who are doing training, and men who are actually relieving crews out in China and all over the world. I warned the House last year that we should have to increase Vote A, and I said that it was a very serious affair. I have been somewhat taken to task by certain papers because Vote A is apparently to be reduced once more, and I must say that a look at the Navy Estimates would give you that idea. But 2168 it is not true. I think that everybody here who has served in the Navy knows that Vote A represents the highest number of men borne at any time in the year. The highest number last year was at the beginning of the year; the highest number this year will be at the end of the year. As a matter of fact, almost to-day we are at the lowest point of the curve to which Vote A has fallen since 1895. But almost from to-day it will start going up, and by the end of the year it will be increased by about 1,000 men. I could not do anything more than I have done. I could not do anything to touch Vote A until these Estimates came along, and in these Estimates we are entering the largest number of boys that our training establishments can hold; 2,500 boys as against an average of about 1,300 in the last four years. In addition to them we are entering 900 short-service seamen, as against an average of about 100 in the last four years. There is a special Motion dealing with this question of changes of personnel, which will be answered by my Noble Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, so I shall leave any more details of this question to that special Debate. But I wanted to take the first opportunity of correcting any wrong impression that Vote A was going downward, and to make the House realise that it is now on the upward grade.
I now come to promotions. Last year I had to give the House a very gloomy picture of the prospects of promotion for everybody in the Navy, owing to the great block at the top of the flag-list. The captains who were being promoted to rear-admiral were getting too old; the age was getting up too high. I am sure that the House will realise the importance of getting young and active admirals promoted to the flag-list. Further than that, however, the captains' list was getting so swollen that we actually had to foresee a time when it might be impossible for a year or half a year to promote any commanders to captain. If we had had to do that, it would have been a perfectly heartbreaking situation for junior officers in His Majesty's Navy. So I am glad to say to-day, a year afterwards, that the situation has changed entirely for the good. It is very surprising that the situation could have changed so quickly in a year's time. The improvement is almost entirely due to the voluntary retirements of six admirals, 2169 who gave up willingly their hopes and chances when they saw what a very bad state things were in with respect to promotion. They gave up these hopes and chances in order to facilitate the flow of promotion of junior officers. I hope that they will reap their reward for their unselfish, public-spirited and high-minded action when they see the result that they have been successful in bringing about. The first result is that captains are now, only a year afterwards, promoted to rear-admiral with 14 months' less seniority than they had. But, far more important than that, instead of foregoing a half-yearly batch of promotions from commander to captain, we have increased the number of promotions by approximately 25 per cent., and I have every hope and belief that that increase will continue. Of course, this is a great encouragement to junior officers.
The last thing about which I wish to speak is the question of the training of the individual. Last year I referred at considerable length to the training of the personnel of the Navy, and particularly to the idea of getting powers of leadership and command. To instil those qualities the younger you start the better. I am glad to be able to say that I have been down and seen one of the largest establishments for training boys, and there they are putting a very considerable proportion of their time into seamanship, boat-work and work of that sort. I was very surprised to see these youngsters, without any instructors, entirely on their own, taking charge of boats under sail and under oars in a most remarkably proficient way. In the large ships—and indeed in all ships in the Fleet—great attention is being given to seamanship training, to see that this work that boys get in their training establishments is carried on. It is more important to do it in the big ships, because the big ships are so insulated from the elements that the term "perils of the deep" means very much less to them than it does to the crews of destroyers or submarines, or to those who have to fly. A greater opportunity is being given to petty officers and leading seamen to take charge of their men, and I know one big ship where the officers are fallen out altogether and petty officers and leading seamen take entire charge of quite complicated evolutions.
We have made a big alteration in the examinations for petty officers. Formerly 2170 these examinations for leading seaman to petty officer were carried out in the candidate's own ship and the candidates were examined by their own officers. Now a squadron board is formed; it is called by the admiral in charge and is composed of officers from all over the squadron or Fleet. This gives a good deal more importance to the examination, but it also ensures absolutely fair treatment to all the candidates, because they are all examined under precisely the same conditions. I want the House to understand that this examination is a real test of the practical ability of a man to carry out the duties of a petty officer, and is much more than a mere test of his educational attainments.
I had hoped very much to ask leave of the House to build a ship—a sailing ship—for training purposes when I presented these Estimates. I am not doing so, because, apart from the question of finance, I found that a large number of senior officers in the Navy were opposed to this form of training. They advanced many practical objections, to which I can only oppose the arguments of a visionary. But the real question is this: the reintroduction of sail training into the Navy would be a radical change. If it is to be a success, it must not merely have acquiescence: it must be adopted with enthusiasm, and if it is not going to be adopted with enthusiasm I will not have it at all. What I said last year has, I know, raised great hopes among many officers in the Navy, and I know a great number who have given up their leave to go as hands in foreign sailing ships—because they cannot get into a British sailing ship—simply out of keenness and in order to train themselves for what they thought was coming. I do not apologise for having unduly raised their hopes, because I am quite sure that they will never regret the experience they have gained. Personally, I reaffirm my belief in sail training—not merely because it will teach a man to sail a ship, but because it will teach him seamanship; it will make him a seaman, and all that that implies. I wanted a sailing ship, above all, as a symbol of the fact that increased mechanisation must not blind us to the need of individual training. Even now, when my sailing shin has turned out to be a phantom and only the plans remain, I hope the Navy will never 2171 forget that every country can turn out mechanics but few can turn out sailors, and that it is owing to this fact that for a good many centuries we have borne the proud title of "Mistress of the Sea."
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
The very pleasant manner in which the First Lord has introduced the Navy Estimates to-day —it is only a repetition of the manner in which he introduced the Estimates last year—makes it very difficult for the bloodthirsty pacifists on this side of the House to find fault with the bloodthirsty warmongers on the other side of the House. We have listened to a lucid, informative and interesting statement. The present Government are fortunate in having the right hon. Gentleman as First Lord and the Navy also is fortunate in having him in that position. He is able to bring not only the practical experience of a naval officer but also the experience of many years as an administrator to his task. He made his statement very interesting by his references to Mr. Pepys and Lord Nelson, and I wondered whether he was going to give us a few more secrets from the archives of the Admiralty.
We agree largely with what he has said regarding the training of men. I am pleased that he has taken up that matter. In regard to personnel the right hon. Gentleman warned the House last year as to his views regarding the shortage. May I ask him whether he is now satisfied with the numbers included under Vote A between now and the end of the year. I was expecting, as a result of the statement he made last November, that there was a possibility of a very substantial increase in the Estimates. We also agree with him in regard to the question of promotion; but this is a mixed blessing. It means retiring men who are quite capable of continuing their work, transferring them from the active list to the Non-Effective Vote. In the present Estimate there is no less than one-sixth of the amount of the Estimate included in the Non-Effective Vote, and, therefore, one can see what the retirement of these officers, at what may be regarded as an early age, is likely to cost the nation.
The First Lord said that the increase asked for has aroused hopes and fears. 2172 I feel that it has aroused fears; and also hopes. We are now discussing the third Estimate for the fighting services; and in my opinion the most important one. It is the most important not only because they are the Estimates of the Senior Service but also because they are almost as large as those for the Army and the Air Force put together. The increase in the Navy Vote this year is large as compared with the increase in the Army and Air Force Vote. The hopes we had were that now that the Admiralty and the other fighting services have returned, as indicated by the Estimates, to what ma,, be regarded as their normal expenditure that the financial difficulty with which the country was confronted a year or so ago has now passed away.
§ Mr. HALL
The First Lord of the Admiralty shakes his head. I have before me a Memorandum on the measures proposed by His Majesty's Government to secure a reduction in national expenditure, and in order to deal with what we were told was a grave financial crisis I find that the reductions in the three Fighting Services, provided for in this Memorandum, amounted to a sum of not less than £8,600,000. These expectations have not been fulfilled. Cuts were imposed on the social services and were largely carried out; but that cannot be said for the three Fighting Services. As a matter of fact, instead of a reduction of £8,600,000 being carried out the amount of the reductions actually imposed were less than £3,000,000; and this year the increases in the Estimates for the three Fighting Services amount to no less than £4,581,000. The First Lord rightly said that there were fears. We look upon these Estimates with considerable fears. I have heard no criticisms from economists on the other side of the House. The attitude of back bench supporters of the Government can best be described in the words of a leading article which appeared in one of the London newspapers when these Estimates were presented. It said:The publication of the Navy Estimates to-day reveals the fact that, as we anticipated, here again the economists have been disappointed. They come to £3,093,700 more than the Estimates of 1932. That causes us no pain. Of all the foolish directions in which economy can be applied this is perhaps the most foolish.2173 We do not share that view. We say that the Fighting Services, in common with all other Services, should submit to the reductions which were imposed. There is an increase of £4,581,000 in the Estimates of the three Services. Compare that with the position in 1931. In 1931 the expenditure, estimated for and carried out before the so-called financial crisis arose, upon the three Services amounted to £107,329,000. The Estimates which the House is asked to pass this year amount to £108,946,000. Therefore, within a very short time of the so-called financial difficulty, we find that the expenditure on the three Fighting Services has increased by £1,600,000, very little below the expenditure of 1930. The First Lord prefaced the statement on the Navy Estimates last year by saying that the amount asked for had been fixed with a strict reference to the needs of the financial situation and must not be regarded as an adequate provision for the needs of the Navy.
He has said almost exactly the same thing this afternoon. He said that the Navy Estimates have been restricted by the exigencies of the financial situation and do not provide for all the potential needs of the Navy. I am rather inclined to ask him whether he believes that. I have in mind not only the statement of the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon but also the statement made by Mr. Bridgeman when he was First Lord in 1929. The Estimates of that year amounted to £55,000,000, a reduction of £1,435,000 on the Estimates for 1928 and the right hon. Gentleman in his explanatory statement said:This considerable reduction is being made although no diminution in the strengths of the Fleet and Fleet air arm has taken place. On the contrary, modern developments have shown the necessity for two additional flights of the latter.These Estimates satisfied the then Conservative Government and the then First Lord of the Admiralty. The Estimates this afternoon amount to £2,417,000 more than the amount asked for in 1929, and when you examine Vote I and Vote II you find that the savings under these two heads amounts to more than the difference, the increase, in these Estimates as compared with the Estimates of 1929. I know that construction is engaging the attention of the First Lord, as it has engaged the attention of his pre- 2174 decessors for many years. If one examines Votes 8 and 9, the Votes which deal with construction, you will find that in 1929 the amounts under these two Votes compare very favourably with the amounts this year. If we take the two Votes for 1929, Vote 8 (Three Sections) and Vote 9, we find that the amount was £22,698,000. The amount of the two Votes in the present Estimate is £22,433,000, a reduction of £268,000. But that reduction is accounted for almost entirely by the reduction in wages paid to men who are now employed in the various dockyards.
I do not think that the First Lord can express any apprehension regarding the personnel for which he is providing in these Estimates or in regard to new construction. It cannot be said that the Navy, or in fact any of the fighting services, has suffered in any way whatever as a result of the so-called financial difficulty of last year. The First Lord and the Board of Admiralty are, after all, building almost entirely to what is provided for in the London Agreement, especially with regard to cruisers, though perhaps not with regard to destroyers and submarines. Is it necessary to lay down or to make provision for the laying down of the four cruisers provided for in these Estimates My right hon. Friend, of course, will argue that we are to carry out the term of the London Agreement. I would ask whether the other signatories to that Agreement are carrying it out by building up to the limit. Taking into consideration the difficulties with which the nations are faced to-day, and having regard to the fact that the Disarmament Conference is still meeting in Geneva, would it not be a gesture to that Conference to have some relaxation regarding the laying down of these cruisers?
I expected that the First Lord would have given us some indication of the statement which has been made by the Prime Minister at Geneva to-day. We would like to know whether the attitude of the Government has changed in connection with this question. We must remember that we are now in the second year of the Disarmament Conference, a conference which was looked forward to with very high hopes for some years. At present the conference is just struggling on. The thought of that alone can have no other effect than as a shock to the 2175 minds of every representative of the 60-odd nations and the 1,700,000,000 people they represent. Here we are in a period of unparalleled misery, with millions of people in our own country and tens of millions throughout the world suffering from a want of the bare necessities of life. With the world passing through financial difficulties, here are the so-called civilised nations spending more on armaments than in any former time in history.
For more than 12 months the Disarmament Conference has been sitting and has failed to produce any practical results. Far be it from me to suggest that the Government of this country are alone responsible for the situation, but I am of opinion that no great Power can repudiate some measure of responsibility for the deplorable disappointment of the high hopes with which the conference started. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are making an attempt to save the conference. I do not know whether their hands are strengthened as a result of the increase in the Estimates of the three fighting services in this country. I doubt whether that can be so. We fear that the nations of the world are falling back to their old war mentality. The old fears, the old superstitions regarding security, are returning, and the same kind of argument which was familiar before 1914 has returned and is used quite unashamedly in 1933.
If the position could be approached as a question of international agreement was approached at the time of the Washington Conference, which was after all the first disarmament conference, what a wonderful result could be obtained. The Washington Conference resulted in 70 battleships being scrapped, some of them old, some of them in the course of construction and some on which 90 per cent. of the work had been completed. The total tonnage to be scrapped was 1,770,000, which saved the nations no less than £400,000,000. When the Disarmament Conference last year was in danger of breaking down some proposals were submitted by the then President of the United States. In our opinion His Majesty's Government have not yet given an effective reply to those proposals of ex-President Hoover. In the course of his speech in November of last year the 2176 First Lord of the Admiralty did refer to those proposals, but he simply reiterated what was then the attitude of the Government—that there could be no reduction in the number of capital ships and no reduction in the number of cruisers.
§ Mr. HALL
There was a proposal to reduce the size, but that was when we came to the replacements. Nothing could be done regarding the number of capital ships which we had, or the number of cruisers which we were entitled to build under the London Agreement. Has the attitude of the Government regarding capital ships changed since the London Conference was held in 1930? During that conference the Prime Minister and the Government dealt in a memorandum with the question of capital ships. The Government said that in view of its tremendous size and cost the battleship was of doubtful utility, and that the Government would wish to see an agreement by which the battleship would in due time disappear altogether from the fleets of the world. That was the view of the Board of Admiralty and the Government at that time. Why should that expression of opinion not be carried out?
In the Hoover proposals did not the opportunity come to make some contribution to that end? Those proposals were made, as I have indicated, when it was thought that the conference could be saved, for had an agreement been reached it would have meant the scrapping of some of the larger ships. The 15 which were allowed to Great Britain would have been reduced to 10; the same thing applied to the United States; and the Japanese nine would have been reduced to six. The British Government have never explained why we should refuse to reduce the number of battleships by agreement with the United States and Japan, which alone is suggested. None of the other Powers, not even France or Italy, possessed postJutland battleships. The Government still insist upon the 15. The right hon. Gentleman has reminded me that he was prepared to reduce the size from 35,000 tons to 22,000 tons. I ask whether the figure of 15 is sacred and irreducible, and is the tonnage of 22,000 the lowest which the Admiralty can suggest?
2177 The tonnage of battleships has a very striking history. A revolution has taken place not only in the growth of the tonnage of battleships and the calibre of guns, but since the War in a reduction of tonnage and the calibre of guns. In 1906 the then Sir John Fisher, afterwards Lord Fisher, introduced the "Dreadnought," with its 18,000 tons and 12-inch guns, and we thought that the limit had been reached; but increases gradually took place, and in 1920 we saw the battle cruiser "Hood," of 42,100 tons, which cost £6,000,000. By this time all the great Admiralties were hard at work designing the ideal ship in which the lessons of Jutland and other battles could be embodied. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), who during the earlier post-War years was at the Admiralty, said that a few hours of actual fighting were sufficient to revolutionise ideas as to the armament and design of battleships. The ships which were proposed about that time were those which, in the opinion of naval experts, were of such a size that they alone could provide security for the country.
Of what kind were those ships? The race had then begun. Japan proposed to build by 1928 two battleships of 33,000 tons, two of 40,600 tons, four of 45,000 tons, and two battle cruisers of 40,000 tons. The United States planned for the completion by 1925 of 12 ships of over 42,000 tons, whereas we in the autumn of 1921 proposed to lay down four battle cruisers of over 47,000 tons. Then the Washington Conference was held and limited the size of battleships to 35,000 tons. A strange thing happened. The lessons of the War, the few hours of actual fighting which would revolutionise ideas as to the armament and design of battleships, were found to be compatible with the idea of smaller and still smaller battleships. The 22,000 tons battleship now proposed by the Admiralty is, we think, an admirable proposal. But if 22,000 tons is the right size what are we to think of the "Nelson" and "Rodney," which are of 33,500 tons and cost about £7,000,000 each. Why should we not believe that the 22,000 ton battleship is the right size and not excessive?
The Conference of 1922 limited the capital ship to 35,000 tons. At the Geneva Conference in 1927 the British Government proposed that the maximum 2178 should be 30,000 tons, which meant a saving of 5,000 tons and of £1,000,000 of money. In 1930 the British Government were aiming at a maximum of 25,000 tons with an expression in favour of complete abolition. This year at Geneva 22,000 tons has become an acceptable figure. The latter part of the record is creditable to the British Admiralty since, with ratios fixed, it is showing an attempt to reduce the size and cost of future battleships. At the same time it can be argued that the waste of competitive battleships is discreditable to the Admiralties concerned if they cannot be limited to 22,000 tons, or as we trust a smaller figure. We stand where the Prime Minister said he was in 1930, just before the opening of the London Conference, in favour of getting rid of battleships.
Again, may I ask why the Government are adhering so rigidly to the number of battleships and other ships. I am not going into the difficulty which has arisen at the Disarmament Conference. We know the attitude of France, dependent as she is upon her submarines as a set-off against battleships. Italy has said that if the British Government scrap their capital ships, Italy is prepared to scrap her submarines and thus we see the battle going on. What we ask is that the British Government, through the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, should make some gesture which would bring about results and save the Disarmament Conference. We on this side would be prepared to leave it to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary if they would only carry out the principles to which the Prime Minister gave almost a lifetime of service until he joined the present Government. Not only the Prime Minister but the Foreign Secretary strongly advocated disarmament. "We remember what the Foreign Secretary's opinion was regarding disarmament before he assumed that office. I recently read an article written by the right hon. Gentleman in which he said:There has never been a time in the history of mankind when so many people were, in their hearts, convinced that military preparation leads only to war. They may think that armaments are inevitable but they know that they are futile. The ghastly fallacy that if you wish for peace you must prepare for war, has very few defenders to-day. The world has been taught better. What is the good of having 2179 guns to play with if they are never to be let off? What is the use of drilling soldiers if they never fight?He then quoted some poetry:How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds,Makes ill deeds done!He went to to sayWe watch this piling up of the means of destruction but we know that instead of building a sure bulwark for peace, it is really assembling fuel for a conflagration even more terrible than the last.If we felt that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister had those words before them at Geneva this afternoon we would be quite content. To turn to the details of the Estimates, we are pleased to see that the First Lord in his Memorandum refers to the fact that a contract has been placed for a quantity of oil fuel produced from British coal. We think that this has come at an opportune time. For years among the warships of every kind controlled by the Admiralty only the two cruisers of the Australian Navy, the "Adelaide" and the "Brisbane, have been fitted to burn oil or coal. All the others are fitted as oil burners. In that respect this country stands alone. All the battleships of Japan, new or old, are fitted to burn either oil or coal and the same can be said of French and Italian battleships. In the Japanese Navy all cruisers completed before 1928, with the exception of three, were fitted to use either coal or oil, while some of the older cruisers are fitted to burn coal only. The same can be said of France and Italy. In the case of France some of the newer cruisers completed as late as 1930 are fitted to use oil or coal.
This year the Estimate for oil fuel is £1,012,000 or £67,000 more than a year ago, while the amount for steam vessel coal is £208,000 or £27,000 less than a year ago. Thus we see the gradual increase in the amount of oil fuel and the gradual decline of the coal which is being use for naval purposes. These figures will be painful reading to those interested in the coal-mining industry, especially miners who are unemployed. Unfortunately, so far from the Admiralty reconsidering the question of using coal, all other nations are following the example set by this country. From replies given by the First Lord regarding the quality of the oil, it appears to be in- 2180 dicated that this oil to which I have referred is doing its work quite satisfactorily. May I ask whether it is being tried alone or whether it is mixed in the proportion of 50–50 or of 25–75 or of 75–25 with naturally produced oil? May I also ask whether it is the intention of the Admiralty so to encourage production that we can look forward to a large development of this venture? I trust that it will be possible to obtain a substantial proportion of the oil required for naval purposes in this way even if a fixed price has to be given for a fixed period, so as to encourage a number of the other producing companies to send their oil along to the Admiralty. If that guarantee were given, it would be of considerable advantage to the coal-mining industry, the Navy would be less dependent on foreign oil, and it would not be to the loss of the nation.
In dealing with my next point I may be regarded as a little inconsistent but I wish to ask the Admiralty, seeing that there is no intention of reverting to coal, whether sufficient attention is being given to the use of internal combustion or Diesel engines. Reports from Germany indicate that the Germans are now placing these Diesel engines in all their new construction and that the installation of these engines means a reduction in personnel, that they give a very long range of action and tend to a general increase in efficiency. I should like whoever replies on the Estimates to deal with that point. The First Lord and the Board of Admiralty can regard themselves as very fortunate in that we see here a gradual reduction in Vote 10. Indeed, comparing Vote 10 in 1933 with Vote 10 in 1923, we find a reduction of almost one-third or nearly £1,000,000. In the Estimate for this year, out of the amount provided, no less than £588,000 is to be spent on Singapore. That, in itself, is £104,000 less than last year. Again, I say that my right hon. Friend and the Admiralty are fortunate in that this year we see the falling-in of the annuities which were being paid and which represented the amount borrowed under the old Naval Acts from 1905 onwards. It is interesting to know that all submarines are now equipped with the Davis submerged escape apparatus. May I ask whether all officers and ratings told off for submarines are being trained in the use of that apparatus?
§ Mr. HALL
If so it is serving a very useful purpose. The First Lord in his statement referred to the fact that there was a large increase in the number of ships which it is proposed to put out to contract in private yards. We on this side do not regard that fact with very great happiness. During 1930–31 a number of destroyers were built in the yards. I understand from the statement of the First Lord that in the allocation of the new tonnage no destroyers are to be built in the Royal Dockyards but all are to be placed out under contract. It would be interesting to know the result of the experiment, if I may so describe it, which took place in 1930–1931 in the building of the destroyers in the yards. It would be interesting to have a comparison as regards cost. Is that why the First Lord or the Board have been so prompt to place all this new construction of destroyers in the private yards'? Those who sit on these benches representing as we do a great movement in this country would welcome any agreement which could be brought about at the Disarmament Conference leading to a substantial reduction in armaments. We hope, nay we pray, that the efforts of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will be successful, for we are of opinion that only a world-wide movement for peace can provide a tolerable basis for the lives of men and women to-day and that the achievement of peace will prove to be one of the stepping stones to the salvation of mankind.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) concluded a very eloquent peroration with the expression of a desire for world peace. We all desire that peace shall reign in the world and that the Disarmament Conference shall succeed, but I am certain that my hon. Friend is much too fair a controversialist even to hint that the present Prime Minister is not thoroughly sincere in endeavouring to bring that Conference to success. The present Prime Minister, to his great honour, visited Washington on a somewhat similar mission some years ago, and I am sure that my hon. Friend is convinced in his own mind that the Prime Minister is really sincere in his efforts 2182 at Geneva to bring this Disarmament Conference to a success, as is the Foreign Minister also. I noticed that my hon. Friend, in dealing with this subject, had no constructive suggestions to put forward. I think that if there are two men capable of representing Britain at the Disarmament Conference, they could not be found more capable than the present Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, and I am sure their heart is in their job. It is really a sad commentary on human folly that we are still talking of wars and preparations for wars, but the dangers which we escaped only a few years ago are very much too recent in our memories to permit us to risk failure to provide an adequate naval defence for our own country.
I regret, with the hon. Member, that there is to be an increase in the Navy Estimates, but the defence of this country is really the paramount question. I can see, as an old member of the Board of Admiralty, that there will be a, considerable increase. My right hon. Friend has brought in additional new construction—I do not blame him—and additional personnel, and that is bound to be reflected in next year's Estimates. In dealing with my hon. Friend's arguments, I omitted to congratulate my right hon. Friend the First Lord, who is, as we all know, a fine, typical specimen of a splendid Service, on his opening speech. He talked about the heart of the British taxpayer being broken, but what we want in these matters is to be quite certain that the British taxpayer is getting value for his money, defensive value, for I do not think that under any Government the British Navy will be used as an offensive force, except when we are attacked; and I think the British public are willing to pay for that defence, providing they get their money's worth.
My right hon. Friend talked about the reduction in the Admiralty staff. If I might go back to the time when I was at the Admiralty, in July, 1914, when we were preparing for Armageddon, the naval personnel then, officers and men, was 146,000; the other day, in February, my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary told me the figure was 89,984. But the staff is very much greater, and I do not understand why. The Admiralty staff in July, 1914, when there were 146,000 officers 2183 and men of the Royal Navy, was 1,920; in February of this year it was 2,680. Why is there this increase of staff at the Admiralty? I have never been able to understand it. I have asked questions, but I have never got an explanation. If the proportions were the same as in 1914, of Admiralty staff to naval personnel, the staff, instead of being 2,680, would be 1,150. My hon. Friend gave me some figures about the out-port establishments, dockyards, and so on. In 1914 they were 69,284; now they are 64,122, although there has been this great decrease in the number of men afloat. Again I do not understand it. If the proportion was the same as in 1914, the dockyards and out-port establishments, instead of being 64,000, would be about 45,000.
Therefore, it seems to me that the Admiralty is keeping something like 20,000 men on the pay-rolls ashore. Is that giving us value for our money? Will these gentlemen in comfortable berths ashore add anything to the naval strength of the country? I can quite understand that my right hon. Friend has great difficulty in this matter. The Admiralty may be tender-hearted and may not care to exercise the pruning knife ruthlessly, but I would suggest that there might be a division in the Naval Estimates, that they should divide the humanitarian side from the defensive side, because it is unfair to put on the Naval Estimates money voted, say, to help the Unemployment Fund.
Having said that, I want to deal with another topic, and I will do so very generally, because all the time that I was at the Admiralty I knew nothing about the technical side of it, and never attempted to do so. There were far too many very able officers there who knew their job, but I am going to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty, Is there now co-operation between the forces, more especially between the Air Force and the Admiralty? That is, I think, extremely important. In the late war the Navy was supposed to have kept the ring. I remember that that phrase excited the late Lord Fisher tremendously; he was very angry about it. I want to ask, What are the co-ordinating links between the Air Ministry and the Admiralty? This new force is very formidable. Its development, of course, is only in its infancy, and we have seen what has hap- 2184 pened in the last few years. The cruisers, destroyers, and submarines which my right hon. Friend is laying down are very much the same as they were a year or two ago, but the Air Force has made a tremendous advance, and I want to ask, What are the relations between the Admiralty and the Air Force? Do they meet? Is the Air Force consulted by the Admiralty?
Undoubtedly, in any future war—and one hates to talk about it or to think about it—the air must play a big part. I was much interested the other day to read of the mutiny that was quelled on a Dutch battleship by the dropping on it of one bomb. That is an enormous force. I quite understand that the right hon. Gentleman is thinking that that bomb was dropped and that the aeroplane was not fired at. That is true enough, but the very fact that the bomb was dropped on that ship, and that it brought the mutineers to book, is a very interesting commentary on the efficacy of aircraft. With regard to the Fleet Air Arm—and I am putting these questions in no spirit of hostility; I want to help—who designed the machines that belong to the Fleet Air Arm? Was it the Air Ministry or the Admiralty?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I am glad to have that information, because that fact cannot be satisfactory. You have a double or a divided responsibility, which is absolutely disastrous. We know what it was in the great Battle of Jutland, when there was considerable recrimination between two admirals. I do not want to go into it, but they were both in one Service, and naval discipline controlled both, but in this matter of the Admiralty and the Fleet Air Arm, that the machines should be designed by the Air Force is wholly wrong. It cannot be right. I do not know anything of the relations between the two, and it would be out of order to make the suggestion, which I made some years ago, that the Air Force and the Admiralty should be amalgamated, but I do say that there should be the closest co-operation between the two. As I understand it, the connecting link is the Committee of Imperial Defence, but the Prime Minister is much too busy to coordinate the two. I notice that my right 2185 hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council has come in, and I do not know whether he undertakes that as his duty, but that it is important from the point of view of the country getting the best defensive value for its money, I am certain. Let us take the question of the protection of commerce, which has always been the responsibility of the Navy. In the future it is certain that aircraft will be very formidable as against merchant ships, and I want here again the closest cooperation to exist between the two Services.
May I ask a few questions about our naval bases? We have naval bases at both Chatham and Sheerness, and they are on the South Coast, and therefore within easy reach of aircraft from the Continent—within easier reach than other ports. Have the Admiralty considered this point? Have they asked the opinion, say, of the Air Ministry as to whether Chatham and Sheerness can be damaged almost irretrievably in time of difficulty? I am asking these questions because I want to know. These bases at Chatham and Sheerness are costing a great deal. Is it giving the nation fighting value for its money to keep two naval bases on the Southern coast, like Chatham and Sheerness, as close to the Continent as they can be, and has that been considered by the Admiralty and the Air Force? I can quite understand that the Admiralty would not care to shut up either Chatham or Sheerness. These towns have grown up round the Admiralty; I understand that perfectly. But there are greater considerations than that. There is the consideration of the safety of the country. Suppose our ships in time of difficulty—and I hate to think of this time of difficulty—are based upon Chatham and that is bombed, disorganised and possibly destroyed. Then it becomes a consideration for the safety of the country. Portsmouth may be open to bombing by aircraft, and I would ask if Portsmouth Dockyard, which is the principal dockyard, is defended by the Admiralty, the Army or the Air Force? I am simply asking these questions for information, because I am not a naval expert, but there are certain common sense principles that everyone can accept and I think that these questions require enlargement 2186 My hon. Friend opposite referred to the Singapore Base. In its inception I opposed it. It was commenced in 1921 and has had many vicissitudes, but the Board of Admiralty, backed by the Government of the day, have decided to build that base. What is to happen there? It is a very big base. In the Estimates this year there is a sum of £6,917,000 for the naval base itself. Then there is machinery £810,000 and furniture £23,000. That is a total 'Admiralty expenditure of £7,750,000. There has already been spent there on the oil fuel contract something like £1,000,000. I understand that the Jackson contract for the completion of the base is to be finished by 1935. That amounts to £5,100,000, and I do not know whether it includes the floating dock, £971,000. What are the plans of the Admiralty with regard to the future of Singapore? With regard to the Estimate of £810,000 for machinery, it is obvious that a base 8,000 miles away is valueless without machinery and without houses for the mechanics, and for the hundred and one things necessary for docking a battleship. Is it intended to erect this machinery and the other facilities for docking a battleship? Otherwise, this money will be wasted.
I was informed the other day that the Air Force had spent £521,000 at Singapore and the War Office £600,000. That brings us into commitments of capital expenditure of something like £10,000,000. Of course, that is not much in these days, but in my younger days it was a great deal. I do not want to press my right hon. Friend the First Lord if he cannot given an answer now, but I think that the country has a right to ask as to the future of Singapore which has had this enormous amount of money spent upon it. What protection is there against aircraft attacks at Singapore? At Chatham and Sheerness we have the other forces near, but Singapore is 8,000 miles away and if it were attacked I do not know what would happen. I put these questions in no spirit of hostility to the Admiralty, but I am trying to help and to see as far as I can that the country shall get value for its money.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
I propose to ask for the attention of the House for a very few minutes and to limit myself mainly to addressing certain questions to 2187 the representatives of the Government. We are now moving Mr. Speaker out of the Chair, and there will be other opportunities for discussing specific points later in the Session. The whole House was pleased with the presentation of the Estimates by the First Lord. He knows well from long experience how to manage the House of Commons, and now that he has exchanged the whip for the trident his old experience is still valuable to him. The substance of the statement which he had to make to the House was very grave for he was inviting Parliament to vote this year an additional £3,000,000 from the taxes for the purpose of armaments, and this at a time when in all men's minds is the urgent necessity for the most resolute economy that can possibly be achieved. This Government and this House are pledged to an energetic enforcement of the rules of economy, and yet we find it necessary to consider increased Estimates, in addition to certain increases in the Army Estimates, of no less than £3,000,000 for the Navy.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert), who has made many speeches in the House as the stern, uncompromising, ruthless advocate of economy, finds himself to-day, like most other Members when it is a matter in which they are specially interested, ready and willing to make an exception of this one instance because he himself, as a former member of the Board of Admiralty, is deeply interested in naval matters. I observed in the speech of the First Lord one omission. I listened to it with attention, but from beginning to end there was not one reference to the International Disarmament Conference. No one in the House and hardly anyone else advocates one-sided disarmament. No responsible person would run the risk of leaving this country disarmed entirely in an armed world. The future is too uncertain.Let observation with extensive view, Survey mankind from China to Peru.In both those countries we see that the advocates of force have by no means disappeared, and the preservation of peace is by no means assured, not only in China and Peru, but in a good many countries in between. So we must pin our hopes upon joint and simultaneous action, and it is for that purpose that the Disarmament Conference has been labouring for 2188 so long at Geneva. Last July it arrived at a unanimous resolution which pledged all the States to favour a simultaneous reduction in all three arms—land, sea and air. With regard to the Navy, the conference at Geneva requested that the great naval Powers should enter into consultations with a view to effecting great reductions. That was last July. We are now in March, and so far as I am aware, we have had no account of what has been happening in those consultations. Now that we are asked to vote an additional £3,000,000 on the Naval Estimates, the House of Commons should be told what has occurred in those consultations, whether they have been proceeding, whether they have achieved any measure of agreement or any approach to it, and, if not, on whom lies the blame for the failure. The Prime Minister to-day in Geneva has been making a statement urgently appealing at this eleventh hour for a measure of agreement at the Disarmament Conference in order to save it from failure, and, while he is making that appeal in Geneva, the British House of Commons on the same afternoon is considering an increase of £3,000,000 in the British Navy Estimates. We should have some explanation of that apparent inconsistency and some indication of how these Estimates of the Government are related to the policy of the same Government as expounded at Geneva.
At an early stage of the Disarmament Conference in November, 1931, the Assembly requested the Council to urge the Governments convened to that conference "to give proof of their earnest desire for a successful issue to ensure an organised peace, and without prejudging the recisions of the conference "—which had not yet met but was about to meet—" on the programmes or proposals submitted to it by each Government, to refrain from any measure which involved an increase in their armaments." That was acceded to by all the Governments participating in the conference, and for a year up to November, 1932, that truce was maintained, so far as I know, loyally and honourably throughout the world. In November, 1932, when it expired, it was renewed for four months at the request of the Disarmament Conference. That four months has just expired, and I want to ask the Government whether in any degree these Estimates indicate a departure from that truce. I imagine 2189 that the answer will be in the negative. I should like to be assured that these Estimates do not involve an increase in armaments but a replacement, and are merely carrying out the Navy Estimates of the Labour Government, the execution of which has been postponed, and that the ships now to be built were provided for by hon. Members opposite when they were in power.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
Yes, when they were in office, but I do not know that there was any division of opinion on that point in the House of Commons at that time. I only wish to have the assurance, so that any uneasiness in the public mind can be allayed, that these Estimates do not involve any departure from the armaments truce agreed to at Geneva and that they are not justified by the technicality that that truce has in fact run out a few weeks ago. The great danger is that the world may think that we are starting a fresh competition in naval expenditure. The truce having lasted for this length of time, and these Estimates being now introduced, there may be a feeling in this country and elsewhere that Britain is now taking the lead, the initiative, in an increase in armaments' expenditure. I would like the Government to give us some reassurance on that point.
We have in recent years been reducing our naval expenditure. In 1929 it was £56,000,000, in 1930 £52,000,000, in 1931 £51,000,000, and in 1932 £50,000,000, and now it has gone up to £53,000,000. There have been considerable savings on pay and in other matters, and I would like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us how much the expenditure of the Navy has been reduced by the cuts in naval pay, because if the Estimates are going up although expenditure on pay has gone down, what may be called the military expenditure of the Navy will have increased even more than is apparent on this figure. Further, the cost of many supplies has been falling with great rapidity in recent years, and there ought to have been a large saving on foodstuffs and materials of many kinds. Under these two heads, pay and supplies, there ought to have been a considerable saving which should be available for the benefit of the Ex- 2190 chequer, and therefore of the taxpayer, or else for increasing the efficiency and strength of the Navy. Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman give us any indication of what has been the real increase on the naval side during the last few years, taking into account these savings in expenditure?
I noted what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said about the increase of recruiting which is to take place at the end of the present financial year. He said the number of boys to be taken in would be doubled, and the number of short service seamen recruited would be increased, as I understood him, from 100 to 900. Does that involve a large demand for further increases in expenditure next year, and if so what is likely to be the amount? If the House agrees now, without comment, to this increase in personnel it may find itself next year faced by the First Lord of the Admiralty, whoever he may be, with a statement that this is an automatic increase already sanctioned by the House and told that a further increase, possibly of a considerable figure, in next year's Estimates is unavoidable and must be accepted by the House. These are the questions which I venture to address to His Majesty's Government. As I have said, there may be occasions later in the course of the passage of these Estimates through the House when we may have other observations to make with regard to the proposed increase in the amount to be expended.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Vice-Admiral G. CAMPBELL
I wish to offer my humble congratulations to the First Lord of the Admiralty upon the introduction of the Naval Estimates and upon his explanation of them. I do not think he need have any fear that the House will hesitate to vote money for anything which is required for the naval defence of this country providing hon. Members are assured that full economies have been made in every possible direction. I am going to take the liberty of suggesting one or two ways in which I consider that further economies might be-effected. Like many speakers who addressed the House during the consideration of the Army Estimates, I am looking forward to the time when the Estimates for the three Services may be presented as one Estimate, and, further, looking forward to the time when we shall 2191 have a Ministry of Defence and one Minister responsible to this House for the defence of the country. In that way, and in that way only, shall we get the maximum of efficiency with the maximum of economy. Co-operation in itself may be a fine thing, and is often well carried out, but it is not perfect.
I am sorry that the First Lord did not say a little more about what has taken place between the Air Force and the Admiralty, more especially in connection with the development of the flying boats. I cannot help thinking that the flying boat must have a future. There must be many duties which during the last War were performed by our cruisers and small craft which can now be undertaken by flying boats at a much cheaper cost. I cannot believe that the large number of cruisers which had to be employed during the last War in hunting down such vessels as the "Emden" would be required at the present time to deal with enemy raiders, because squadrons of flying boats stationed at focal points would put the enemy raiders at a great disadvantage compared with the position in the last War.
The number of cruisers which, according to the Admiralty, will be required for the defence of our trade routes is estimated to be somewhere in the vicinity of 50 at the end of 1936. I am surprised, on looking at the Estimates, to see that the cost of a present-day small cruiser is somewhere in the neighbourhood of £1,500,000. That appears to be a very excessive sum when we remember that similar ships were built at a quarter of the cost in pre-war days. It does not appear to be very clear where the extra money goes. I hope the First Lord, surrounded as he is by high technical officers, will not allow himself to be led into building our cruisers as miniature battleships, fitted with every gadget under the sun. I do not think it is necessary in the case of a light cruiser, whose chief duty is the defence of the trade routes. Gun controls and things of that kind do not need to he of an elaborate nature, because electric control arrangements can very easily be put out of action by a single well placed shell.
Another point I would like to mention with regard to the cruisers is that out of the number of 50 which the Admiralty forecasts for 1936 10 2192 or 20 will be obsolete, or, I should say, over age, and to allow that state of affairs I regard as false economy, because if we are to have a small Navy it is more essential than ever that it should be efficient and up to date. I hope that steps will be taken to see that al! our cruisers whatever the number we decide upon, are most efficient and up to date, because it, is not fair to send men to sea in ships which are not equal to those of a possible enemy. On the other hand, I do not in any way advocate that large sums of money should be spent on our present battleships. I am surprised to see from the Estimates that £1,500,000 is being spent on the old battleship "Barham," which is nearly half as much as it cost to build her in 1914.
I hope that after the International Conference we shall see the battleship abolished altogether, because it is an unnecessary expense and I doubt its usefulness at the present time. If the Admiralty are to find the money for maintaining our strength in cruisers, and replacing the old ones, undoubtedly economies will be required in some directions. The First Lord rather cheered us when, in introducing his Estimates, he started on economy at the Admiralty, and I was hoping that some wonderful result would be forthcoming. I think he got as far as the fact that the Accountant-General's Department and the Secretary's Department had been amalgamated, and that he was looking in due course to save about £30,000. I do not call that a very great economy at the Admiralty. Figures which we were given in the House yesterday showed that the number of naval officers employed at the Admiralty is twice what it was in 1914, although the personnel of the Navy has been reduced by nearly half.
The First Lord stated that this increase in naval officers was chiefly due to the fact that nowadays we have a large naval staff, such as did not exist in 1914. That is perfectly true, but in my view the naval staff has gone from one extreme to the other; I believe that we are far too heavily staffed at the present time. I feel that this increase of naval staff, not only at the Admiralty, but at our home ports, and in our flagships, has done more to stop the initiative, the in- 2193 dependence and the power of command of junior officers of the Navy than anything else which has happened since the War. One of the most remarkably successful events in the last War was the mobilisation of our Fleet in August, 1914, and its movement to its war stations, and that very fine accomplishment was performed, presumably, without a staff at the Admiralty. With all the staff now at the Admiralty I do not believe that that evolution could have been performed better.
The point about the Admiralty is as to whether the staff should be naval officers or civilian officers. One seldom meets a naval officer who does not say that there are too many civilians at the Admiralty. I think that is a very open question, not to be settled in a few words. I think that the number of civilians at the Admiralty is far too great, but, on the other hand, I think the proper place for a naval officer on the active list is at sea, and that the administration of the Navy should as far as possible be performed by competent civilians. I go further, and say that if about one-third of the Admiralty were removed to-morrow by a stroke of the pen the efficiency of the Fleet would not suffer one iota, in fact, I am not at all sure that it would not increase, and undoubtedly there would be economy. I remember some few years ago, when there was trouble in Shanghai, meeting in Whitehall a naval staff officer from the Admiralty. He was bubbling over with excitement about the situation in Shanghai and I asked him how things were going. He said, "Isn't it splendid? We get in touch with the commander-in-chief in Shanghai in the matter of a few minutes now by wireless." All I replied was, "God help the commander-in-chief."
The First Lord has gathered round him a Board of Admiralty which holds the respect and the confidence of the whole Navy. I think Nelson would have referred to the Board as a fine band of brothers. They are one of the finest Boards of Admiralty I have known since I joined the Navy; but I think we are asking a lot of them when we ask them to cut down the Admiralty. I do suggest, however, that they would add to their prestige if they asked the First Lord or, through him, the Prime Minister to appoint some such Committee as there 2194 was at the War Office and in other Government Departments to go into the question of the organisation of the Navy, to see whether reductions and economies can be made and exactly what staff is required and what is not. The Committee might report that all the people at the Admiralty were a lot of archangels, who could not possibly be replaced, but they might also ascertain that they could be replaced. A report from such a Committee would increase the confidence of the country, and we should know when we are asked to spend money on the Navy that it was not being wasted on the administration at the Admiralty.
Any ordinary person who compares the size of the Navy with what it was in 1914, is bound to have great doubts which I do not think that anything short of a committee would remove. Before leaving the subject of the Admiralty, I would like to ask the First Lord whether he does not think that the time has now arrived for the Board of Admiralty to be strengthened by the Engineer-in-Chief of the Fleet becoming a member of the Board? The days of sail are gone, and the majority of the Fleet is now mechanical in one way or another. There is a higher technique, and the personnel of the Navy contains a large number of engineers. The Engineer-in-Chief and Engineering Branch during the whole of the Great War, never let the Navy down, and it is time that the engineering department was represented by a seat on the Board of Admiralty, for the sake of efficiency and justice.
I cannot agree with the views of the First Lord on the subject of Dartmouth College. I was very much surprised to hear that he has made economies there and has increased the size of the classes of instruction. I am not for cutting down the education at Dartmouth College, because the education of the officers and students generally is of very great importance. The educational side of the Navy is very nearly the last on which reductions should be made. We now have officers entering through Dartmouth College, or, alternatively, through the special entry. If one is better than the other, why have two? If Dartmouth College is better than the special entry, presumably those who go into the special entry must know that their chances of 2195 promotion in the years to come are less than in the case of those who go through Dartmouth College.
There are great sentimental feelings attached to Dartmouth which cannot be ignored, even though in these days of extreme necessity of economy we may have to put them rather on one side. My own experience, having commanded both Dartmouth cadets and public school cadets, leaves me no hesitation in saying that public school cadets make better officers than Dartmouth cadets. The initial training is far superior. Dartmouth is run, and must be run, under dual control. There are a captain and a headmaster. Co-operation in control in certain circumstances, and in certain conditions, undoubtedly works well; you have only to look at the National Government to see that. At Dartmouth the headmaster is there for a considerable number of years, while the captain is changed every two or three years. I do not think that that is an efficient way of running a training establishment, nor do I know any other training school or public school which is run on dual control.
Another advantage of taking cadets only through the special entry is that the Admiralty would not have to look so far ahead in regard to the number of officers that will be required. The Dartmouth entry is four years earlier than the special entry, which means that the Admiralty has to look four years further ahead in the matter of lieutenants and commanders than it does with the special entry. I have heard it said that the public schools do not encourage boys to go into the Navy. There is a certain amount of truth in that, but that could be overcome. If schools knew that the special entry was the only form of entry into the Navy, and if the ages were adjusted, it would be more simple, and would suit the schools better. Naturally, at our best schools, it is not liked that the best boys who are good in Rugby and cricket should be taken away just when they were getting into the first eleven. I quite understand that, but that is only a matter of about six months' adjustment. A boy in the special entry is older, and he knows his mind better as to whether he wants to go into the Navy or not. I am sure that if the 2196 chances of a career of a boy in the Navy were dealt with on the lines I am suggesting, the First Lord might never want for boys in the Navy.
The only objection that I have heard against closing Dartmouth College is that if Dartmouth were abolished the Admiralty would get too many boys from the secondary schools coming into the Navy through the special entry. I see no objection to that. I am not going to say that every boy from a secondary school or that every boy from a public school will make a successful naval officer, or every young student who distinguishes himself at the University in various ways. What I say is that men of character, such as are required for officers in the Royal Navy, can be found in all parts of the community in this country, and that it is up to the Admiralty to find them, which they could do by suitable examination and by taking into their confidence the headmasters of our public schools and other schools, and telling them exactly what they require. I hope that these two matters of the economies at the Admiralty and Dartmouth College will receive the First Lord's attention. I think that the expense of a Dartmouth cadet is far greater than that of the special entry cadet. If there would be any advantage, I should favour the closing of Dartmouth College as an educational establishment straight away.
I should have liked to say a few words about the personnel of the Navy—[HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] Time is going on, and also there is a special Amendment on this subject. One has to remember that, however good a ship may be, it is no good unless you have a well-disciplined and contented crew aboard it. I have been rather inclined, ever since the War, to think that the Admiralty have been paying too much attention to material, and not sufficient attention to personnel. I am glad to hear from the First Lord that this matter is receiving his personal and first-hand attention, and I hope that that will continue. Looking through the figures of the Estimates for this year, I came to the conclusion that the proportion of officers is far greater than that of the men. We have about one officer to every 10 men, and that is far too high a proportion in my opinion. It is help- 2197 ing to crush the younger members of the Navy from showing their initiative and power of command.
The First Lord specially referred to the fact that improvement in promotion in the Navy has taken place during the year, owing to the voluntary retirement of six distinguished Admirals in order to make room for junior officers. The six officers who retired in that way were of high rank and they undoubtedly deserve the thanks of the country for their very fine public spirit, but I do not think that it is the proper way to obtain promotion to commander and captain in the Navy by officers at the top of the tree voluntarily retiring. It is not very fair upon the officers in the higher ranks of the Navy who do not retire to make room for the younger officers, because they at once lay themselves open to the suggestion that they are blocking the top of the List. I would prefer that the Admiralty brought in a very definite regulation as to the retirement of officers at the top of the Navy List.
In conclusion, I would like to say how pleased I was to hear the First Lord's concluding remarks, when he said that he had been unable to obtain his sailing ship but he did tell us how some of the young officers had volunteered to give up their leave in order to make themselves fit for sailing ships; and some, I believe, are actually going to sail home in quite a small boat from China. That shows that we still have the right spirit in the younger generation in the Navy, and I hope that the First Lord will do everything to encourage that spirit. While we will always support further economies, let him ask the House for anything else he requires in the way of men and ships for the defence of this country, and I have no doubt that he will get it.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. DAVID DAVIES
I do not intend to deal with the vast details of the personnel of the Navy, but I desire to make one or two observations, not so much to the First Lord as to the Admiralty itself. I appreciate the importance of the First Lord making provision for safeguarding the shores of this country, but the Government's action in indicating expansion of expenditure is not in keeping with the cry of economy that we heard at the General Election, particularly in view of the enormous depression through which 2198 we are passing. During this year we have had evidence each day in the Votes that have been taken in this House, of a departure from the policy that we believed had been enunciated in the country during the last election—the policy of attempting to secure peace throughout the world. On Monday of this week, the House received with great admiration an announcement by the Lord President of the Council that the ban upon the export of arms had now been removed. At the same time he announced that two representatives had gone to Geneva to hold out the hand of friendship to other members of the League of Nations. While they are dealing with that matter at Geneva we are making preparations for intensifying the difficulties with which they will have to contend. The other nations in regard to our offer of peaceful friendship will say that they recognise that hand as the hand of Esau while this House is giving expression to the voice of Jacob.
I want particularly to direct the attention of the First Lord to the importance of doing something tangible for the mining industry. I believe in the ideals of peace, and I believe in expressing them in this House. In doing so, I represent a very large volume of pacifist sentiment in my division. A departure by this Government from those principles is a betrayal of their promises to the people of this country during the election. It is true that man does not live by bread alone, but it is necessary that he should have bread to live, and, therefore, I desire to direct the attention of the First Lord to the possibilities that exist in connection with the fuel problem of the Navy.
In the area from which I come, we have a very large number of miners unemployed, and this National Government, when it came into existence, tentatively, at any rate, promised those miners restoration of their employment. They have been sadly disappointed. The demand for coal, apparently, has gone down, both inland and export, and I think that this is an opportune moment for the Navy to do something tangible in attempting to restore that great basic industry. I know I may be told that to suggest going back to raw coal for the Navy is to turn back the clock of progress; but I want to submit very respect- 2199 fully, as a layman, without claiming any technical knowledge, but only claiming to have read the scientific developments up to date, that it is possible to utilise for the Navy fuel in the form of raw coal. I do riot think that the Navy has done all that it ought to have done in connection with that matter. Having regard to the fact that this country is dependent, whether for the purposes of its own defence or of attacking any other country, upon foreign fuel, I do not think all has been done that ought to have been done in attempting to develop our own resources.
I want to submit that pulverised fuel has a very great potential future, and I would submit, further, that it may have a potential future even in the Navy. But, whether there are doubts or not about pulverised fuel being a practical proposition, there is a form, which is certainly technically sound and practically right, that could be used by the Navy, namely colloidal fuel; and I would like to ask the First Lord whether any experiments are being conducted at the moment in order to test the efficacy of colloidal fuel. If colloidal fuel could be developed and become a piece of practical politics as far as its use in the Navy is concerned, it would give a fillip to a dying industry. I have read recently that experiments have been conducted in the Cunard liner "Scythia," in which it has been found possible to combine 60 per cent. of pulverised fuel with 40 per cent. of oil. It has been claimed that that would give the boats a greater range than they have now, and it could be produced in this country, thereby making us independent of foreign supplies. To the extent that it would do that, it would enable us 'to balance our Budget, and our imports of oil would not be so great.
It may not be possible for us to produce sufficient for the whole of our requirements in this country, but we could satisfy them to a very large extent. The amount that that would involve would not solve the problem of unemployment in the mining industry; it would be a drop in the ocean; but I want to submit that, when the Navy embarks upon its oil policy, other people follow it, and, to the extent to which the Navy departed from oil, or, at least, returned to something like sanity and used colloidal fuel 2200 of home production, an inducement would be offered to the mercantile marine and to the users of land engines in this country, and that would render enormous assistance in finding employment. I am not suggesting that that should be done on sentimental grounds; I want the question of the utilisation of pulverised fuel and colloidal fuel to be dealt with on a purely economic basis. I do not suggest that mining should be subsidised, but that the calorific value of raw pulverised fuel and colloidal fuel, and the means by which our boats are now propelled, should be tested.
The information that I have procured indicates that it would be an economy to use colloidal fuel or pulverised fuel. I want to reinforce the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), when he made reference to the fact that experiments are being conducted in Germany which have shown that great efficiency results from the utilisation of Diesel engines. Professor Bone, who has conducted very extensive experiments in connection with pulverised fuel in this country, says that the Diesel engine can now be run on pulverised fuel instead of heavy oil, and that, with small adaptations, it can also be used in ordinary internal combustion engines. I should like the potentialities in that direction to be examined. All that I would ask is that such examination should be made without prejudice, that the oil policy of the past should not prejudice the examination of the factors involved by the use of a new type of fuel. I am confident that, if such an investigation were permitted, it would reveal the fact that we in this country are losing on the calories that we import from abroad.
We have to remember what an enormous development has taken place in steam practice since 1913. With ordinary raw small coal, the range of a ship has been increased by modern steam practice by more than 1,000 per cent. It used to take, in 1913, from 6½ to 7 lbs. of coal to generate a unit of electricity. In modern steam practice it is possible to generate a unit of electricity by the consumption of slightly over 1 lb. Of coal. I want to submit that, if the question of range in the Navy were a question of the amount of coal and the efficiency with which it is employed, the 2201 range now would be over five times greater than it was in 1913. The First Lord shake his head, but it seems to be obvious that, if I can produce a unit of electricity with 1.2 lb. of coal, when it used to require 6½ or 7 lbs., I have inflated my range, judged by calorific value, by four or five times. That is an enormous increase, but, compared with the use of pulverised fuel, it is very inefficient. Pulverised fuel shows a far greater efficiency, and has revolutionised the use of raw coal since 1914.
This country's greatness was built up on coal, but, when history comes to be written 100 years from now, unless we change our policy of taking oil from abroad and substitute coal, the historian will write that the decay of this great country started when we commenced importing calories instead of exporting them. I want to submit to the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Admiralty Board that they should not be satisfied to depend upon private enterprise for these developments. It has been argued this afternoon that the life of the Navy is the life of this country, and it is worth while securing a proper circulation for the life of the Navy from our own products. Private enterprise ought not to be relied upon for these developments, but the Board of Admiralty itself, assisted by the Government, should conduct these experiments, in the hope of finding a practical solution. That would mean the utilisation of our own coal and the employment of the miners of this country.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. HOLFORD KNIGHT
The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. D. Davies) speaks from the experience of long and devoted service to the interests that he represents, and I am certain that his suggestions will receive the careful consideration of the Board of Admiralty. I rise to express a point of view upon which I have taken every opportunity presented to me in this House of remarking. I have felt it my duty for several years to comment on the Estimates of the Admiralty from a particular point of view. Before doing so again, I want to say that I can recall no circumstances in which these Estimates have been laid before the House in which more serious reflections were excited by the situation in which we find ourselves. The First 2202 Lord opened with an appeal to all quarters of the House to provide adequate defence for this land, and that appeal will not be made in vain. In the past, that appeal has been criticised in circumstances which are not available now.
This is not the occasion to go into the details of the present situation, but it will be the general desire of the House that the representatives of this country, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, will be successful in the efforts which they are making to revive the conference on which not only the general mass of the people of this country, but the mass of the people in all lands, have fastened their confidence. Whether they will consider it part of their duty to make suggestions to the other Powers for the better conduct of the conference we must wait and see, but there seems to be something seriously wrong with; the way that conference has been managed. I think the representatives of this country might well take an opportunity of consulting with the representatives of other countries as to whether some better management could not be provided. Be that as it may, the fact remains that the conference appears to be drifting to disaster, and from all quarters of the House, representing opinion in all parties and in no party, there is a general desire that this effort of the representatives of the Crown to save the conference should be successful.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) asked to be assured that these Estimates did not indicate any departure from the truce which was completed and extended at Geneva and which is about to expire. He hoped it did not mean that Great Britain was about to lead the world into another increase in naval expenditure. His observations sounded to me like those of a man who was willing to wound but afraid to strike. Did he mean by that an 'attack on these Estimates, or was it merely an adjuration to the Government that they should take no course which would have the effect that he deprecated? On several occasions I have had some difficulty in understanding what exactly is the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman and his friends to this administration. They continue to sit on these benches, where we like to have their company. [Interruption.] The hon. Member says 2203 he belongs to another party. I am not referring to him. It is for the advantage of the House that we should be able to detect the opponents of this administration, and it is an advantage that they should sit together, but I find some difficulty in understanding what is the right hon. Gentleman's real intention. I see no inconsistency in the Government seeking every opportunity to continue and extend this truce while they lay before us the Estimates which they think necessary for the adequate defence of the country. I say that with some emphasis because of the view that I take of the present situation.
I would not by any word or suggestion deepen the alarm that is felt outside the House as to the situation. I want to confine myself to a practical suggestion about these matters. At this time of day it seems to me idle to make general reflections About the desirability of peace, and adjurations to other nations to pursue peace. Those of us who take the responsibility in this trying hour of occupying the attention of the House have a duty put upon us to make a practical suggestion which may ease the way out of the impassein which the country finds itself. I rise to make a suggestion which I have made in all previous Debates on these Estimates in which I have had an opportunity of taking part. I do not, for Obvious reasons, endorse the suggestions of the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite as to economies in the Service. I have no title to say anything about those matters, but this plea for economy in expenditure is wholly consistent with the provision of adequate defence of the country in a difficult situation. At the same time, we must relate that economy to the necessities of the situation, and, while the Government are pursuing at Geneva and elsewhere efforts to reach accord with the other naval Powers which will have the effect of bringing about economy, I want to bring to their attention a practical matter to which, I think, they might give very close and earnest consideration.
The First Lord made use of an expression which I thought was rather unhappy. He spoke of Great Britain as the mistress of the seas. That is a description which is not calculated to assist the efforts that are being made at 2204 Geneva. It will do harm if it is intended to mean—I cannot believe it is—that Great Britain still claims to control the high seas of the world. That claim cannot in reason be preferred. It is inconsistent with our international obligations, and I hope it does not mean more than a perfervid and poetical description by a gallant officer who now finds himself in the proud position of presenting the Estimates of his great Service. While the Government are carrying out these Estimates as necessary for the security of the country in its present trying situation, they should pursue all endeavours to bring about a reconsideration of the defence of the trade routes. Those trade routes are not British possessions. They are the arteries of world commerce, and must be brought under the regulation of an international law with the provision of a tribunal before which disputes call be brought. At present that seems to be a far off event, but it is an aim which I ask this Administration to pursue. There is a particular direction in which, I think, immediate fruitful results can be obtained, and that is that discussions should be opened up with America in order that a friendly accommodation as to the protection of these trade routes should be reached. I believe considerable and representative elements of opinion in America are prepared to enter on that discussion which, after all, is in pursuance of the undertaking that we gave at the Conference of Versailles. Further, I believe that line of approach not only indicates the nearest way out of the difficulties between ourselves and the Americans, but points to the way in which accord and co-operation between these two great nations full of promise for the world can be approached.
I hope the place of experts in these discussions will be carefully regarded. It is the business of statesmen to think out policy and of experts to recommend and advise the means necessary for the support of that policy. I, therefore, press upon the First Lord that in these discussions, which I hope will take place in confidence between the two Great Powers, matters of policy and the principles that underlie them shall be the express business of the statesmen, and that experts shall not be called in until that policy has been agreed upon, and then only when it is necessary 2205 to seek their advice. One of the main reasons why the Disarmament Conference has drifted almost to disaster, it seems to me, is not merely lack of good management, but the fact that experts have been allowed to wrangle interminably with each other year in and year out while the statesmen have failed to assert their rightful place and lay down the principles on which the Conference should proceed before calling in the experts to advise them. I make that practical suggestion. It makes for true economy, No one in his senses would desire that this country should continue the heavy duty of policing the high seas of the world when other nations were prepared to assist in that undertaking subject to this safeguard, that in that policing duty there should be a law which all nations concerned would take part in formulating, The result would be undoubtedly a scaling down of expenditure which would be full of advantage to every State concerned, end not least to ourselves. Furher, it would be an example which Great Britain could set to the world. We have given many examples in the past.
It is the desire of our people in all parties and none that Great Britain should give a lead in these matters. I notice that some bills have been thrown here—a very improper action, but it is an indication to my mind of the desire that is felt throughout the country that the Govern-merit, while providing adequate support for the country in a very difficult situation, should lose no opportunity of pursuing the general work of peace and giving that lead to the world which Great Britain is expected to give. These appeals are being made in all directions. I observe that the clergy are to make another effort. I have not been impressed by the exertions of the clergy in the past. I think we have to get beyond these pulpit generalities, and some schools of politicians have to get beyond generalities about disarmament and have the moral courage, if necessary, to risk unpopularity by pointing to practical suggestions. I feel intensely, and strongly, about this matter, and I have tried to say that which I felt I ought to say with as little feeling as possible, because I know I am stating a view which is not acceptable to many Members of this House. In the last Parliament I had a very difficult administration to address as the Ad- 2206 miralty was in very inadequate hands. But in that Parliament numbers of those sitting on these benches were in general agreement with me. In this House the situation has changed. Parties have come together in comradeship, and in that feeling of comradeship and good-fellowship, Members can listen to a different point of view, and consider suggestions made in a general scheme of co-operation. I have ventured with great submission to make this short observation, and I commend it very strongly to the attention of my right hon. Friend, to whom I offer my congratulations.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. RALPH BEAUMONT
While it can hardly be pretended that the Navy Estimates are completely satisfactory, or that our shipbuilding programme has been so speeded up as to remove all our doubts and fears, yet I think it would be ungenerous not to admit that the increase in the provision for naval construction is extremely welcome. Further, while it certainly does not meet the full needs of the Navy, and it does not by any means ensure that we shall have our requisite number of up-to-date ships by 1936, it does represent a certain speeding up of building, and a definite determination not to allow even the urgent need for economy to cause further postponement of building programmes. Besides, this extra allotment of money for construction purposes will give a very welcome relief to our shipbuilding yards, where so many skilled workers unhappily find themselves in continued unemployment.
There are, however, several disappointments in these Estimates. At first sight there appears to be a still further reduction in the personnel of the Royal Navy. I am certain that hon. Members were glad to hear from the lips of the First Lord that the reduction is more apparent than real. It is somewhat disappointing, however, to find that the number of dockyard workers again shows a further reduction. No doubt that is a continuation of the policy, which has been adopted during the last few years, of allowing wastage to take place, without at the same time allowing any new recruitment to replace that wastage. If that is allowed to continue of course the number will still further dwindle. One cannot help wondering whether this is not 2207 likely to threaten the efficiency of the dockyards, and whether the time will not come, in the not very far distant future, when the personnel of these dockyards will be found to be inadequate, not only from the point of view of construction but also from that of repair work.
While it has been rightly decided that our shipbuilding programme can no longer be delayed, it does not appear that there is to be very much making up of lost ground in the direction of repair work. During the last few years not only have the building programmes been held up, owing to the demand for economy, but so also, to a certain extent, have larger repairs and detailed refits, which have to be carried out periodically. It seems quite possible, therefore, that the time is not far ahead when accumulated repair work will constitute too great a demand upon the capacity of the dockyards. When we further remember that the extension of the life of our ships, under various naval agreements, means that more frequent refits will have to be carried out to keep these ships at sea, one fears that one day there will be very serious congestion in the Royal dockyards, which will be further aggravated by the policy of allowing the present personnel slowly and surely to diminish.
One further matter regarding the dockyards I would like to mention is that, during last year, there have been, at any rate at Portsmouth Dockyard, discharges of electrical fitters. These men have served their apprenticeship, and become skilled electricians at considerable expense of time and money, both to themselves and to the State. In addition to the hardship and disappointment caused to the men themselves by their discharge, it does seem to be very doubtful wisdom on the part of the State, and hardly an economy, to apprentice men for whom no permanent positions can afterwards be found, or to discharge numbers of these men, after their apprenticeship has been served, and thus lose a very valuable supply of skilled labour which the State has created at considerable expense. No doubt the amount of electrical work available depends largely on the rate of progress of construction. I should be very glad if the Civil Lord, when he replies, can reassure us as to this apparent waste of valuable material, and give us some 2208 indication of the policy of the Admiralty on the question of dockyard apprentices and ex-apprentices.
In many directions these Estimates must still cause serious misgiving. The new programme still leaves us some way down the list of the navies of the world in modern destroyers and submarines. It is obvious that we cannot have our requisite number of under-age cruisers by 1936. We have learned during the last few years to expect very little, and so, I suppose, we must be duly grateful for the increase we have actually got this year. Urgent as the need for economy undoubtedly is, the time has come when this new construction can no longer be postponed and, furthermore, this increase in the Navy Estimates should be very heartily welcomed by those who are continually demanding that the Government should undertake schemes of development and encourage public works. After all, the work of building these ships is one of the very best forms of public work for, so far from being unproductive, it is productive of national security. The bulk of the money is spent directly or indirectly in labour. It means steady work for our dockyards, brings a real measure of relief to some of those yards where unemployment is so heavy and saves numbers of skilled shipwrights from the despair, hardship and deterioration which accompanies prolonged unemployment. I believe there is general and widespread disappointment that the Estimates so far submitted show little, if any, reduction; but very few hon. Members will deny that there is ample justification for this increase in the Navy Estimates. We are only making up a little of the leeway we have lost during the past few years and, as the First Lord himself admitted in his Memorandum, even this increase in the Navy Estimates does not fully provide for all the potential needs of the Navy.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. COCKS
In considering these Navy Estimates, one cannot help the thought coming into one's mind that there is growing up, all over this country, a great revulsion against war. For example, a speaker at a public meeting, especially in one of our industrial centres, who asserts that in no circumstances whatever would this country ever 2209 go to war again is certain to have that remark greeted with tumultuous applause. As the chaos of Europe grows greater, and the lightnings begin to flash over Europe, the revulsion against war is assuming rather strange forms. Take the case of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in this House the other day with reference to the trouble in the Far East. He seemed to think that the great thing was to assure the world that in no circumstances would this country ever be drawn into it. The same sort of feeling—for people know how horrible and terrible war is and how near is the danger—caused the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) two days ago to make a speech in which he advocated that this country should free itself from all entanglements and all engagements; turn its back upon Europe and adopt a position of armed neutrality, even if that meant, as he said it would mean, a large increase in our Naval, Military and Air Estimates.
Now I am an advocate of peace, and an advocate of disarmament, but I do not believe we shall ever be able to get peace by shirking our responsibilities, and getting rid of or denying all our international engagements. It seems to me that the policy advocated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping was exactly like that of a man, who, seeing another man waylaid on the highway by highway robbers, instead of going to his assistance shrugs his shoulders, turns away, and leaves him to be robbed or assassinated. When I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping I felt that he, too, was feeling the onset of the years. These were not sentiments he would have used some years ago—those glorious, far away days of his military adventures in Cuba, at Omdurman, of the advance from Antwerp, and the retreat from Pretoria. The right hon. Gentleman has played many parts, but I never thought I should be here to hear him advocate for this country a policy of pusillanimity.
In my view the only way by which peace can be secured is by a policy of ordered security. I believe it is only by developing the structure of international law, and by visiting the offender against that law with swift and condign punishment, that we can bring about a condition in which disarmament will become 2210 possible. That is why in recent months I have viewed the situation in the Far East with such grave concern. If the Covenant of the League and the Kellogg Pact are to be flouted with impunity, then there is no chance of disarmament, and no chance of peace. If international law is to be disregarded and a policy of armed neutrality adopted, then the British Navy is too weak for the work it will have to do in the future. If we are to have neither the security given by an international system nor the aid given by allies—and the idea of having allies was also repudiated by the right hon. Gentleman—we shall have to proceed to build a far more formidable Fleet than we possess at present. The First Lord of the Admiralty make an attack upon what he calls bloody-minded pacifists.
§ Mr. COCKS
I was mixing up the right hon. Gentleman with what the Foreign Secretary said the other day. I do not personally take the line which he had suggested of at the same time advocating the reduction of the Army and Navy below the level of efficiency and advocating interference in foreign troubles and international conflicts. At the same time what is worse than this is the man who adopts the gospel of militarism and scorns arbitration and covenants for the preservation of peace, who thinks these covenants are of little avail, and yet, having brushed them aside altogether, is content with a fleet which in such circumstances is not strong enough for the work it has to do, and is in a large and important area of the surface of the world at the present time in a position of lamentable and humiliating inferiority.
Apart from the way in which the Covenant of the League has been flouted, I would like to bring to the attention of the House the proposals made by the Government of Japan for disarmament as far as their Navy and our Navy are concerned. At the present moment the ratio in capital ships between ourselves and Japan is 15 to 9. The Japanese have come to Geneva and proposed that we should sink or destroy four battleships, whereas they should destroy only one battleship, thus making the ratio 11 to 8, and bringing Japan very much nearer to our strength. In 8-inch cruisers the 2211 ratio at present is 18 to 12, and the Japanese Government have proposed that we should sink six of those cruisers whereas they should sink only two, so that the ratio in future would be 12 to 10. We should then have only two more cruisers than they possess, although their Fleet is concentrated in one part of the world where we have great interests, whereas our Fleet has to guard trade routes in all the seven seas of the world. They have also demanded that with regard to smaller cruisers, destroyers and submarines there should be parity between the two Fleets. Such a proposal could not be considered for one moment. It is one which must be instantly rejected. I would say further, that if that State continues to flout the public law of the world and if she becomes as under her present rulers she seems bent on becoming, the Carthage to our Rome, it will be necessary either to increase our naval forces and have a bigger Fleet in the Pacific, or to enter into consultation with the American Government with a view to co-operating in some scheme of mutual defence of our possessions in that great ocean.
I wish to deal with one or two questions of internal administration. I would ask the First Lord, why should we keep up Dartmouth College in order to provide secondary education for officers of two branches only of the Fleet—the executive branch and the engineering branch—and not the paymaster and accountancy branches or any of the other branches? The parents of those going into other branches of the Service or into any other Department of the State have to provide their own secondary education. It is only in those two branches that we have State-assisted secondary education. The First Lord said that he was afraid that he would not get the necessary entries into the Navy if Dartmouth were abolished. Since the introduction of the special entry system in 1913, over 1,000 cadets from public schools have entered the Navy, in addition to those who have entered the other branches of the Service. Of the 1,066 who have entered from public schools, 28 have already been promoted commanders, which shows that they were found to be efficient officers. In addition there have also been commissioned 470 ratings from the lower deck to the executive branch, and 230 2212 engine-room artificers to commissioned rank. Ten of these have been promoted to the rank of commander, and 40 promoted to that of engineering commander—a tribute to the ability of those officers. Surely, the objection to Dartmouth is the expense, for in spite of what the First Lord said about cutting down the expenses, he stated, in answer to a question yesterday, that the cost per cadet was £300 more than the cost to the State of cadets going in by the special entry system.
§ Mr. COCKS
Yes, but £300 for each unit. That seems to be a matter of considerable importance. What has happened to the report of the Bennett Committee which was appointed some years ago and has reported, though the report has never been published? I understand that the Admiralty appointed another committee to inquire into the findings of the Bennett Committee, and that finally the whole thing has been shelved. One reason which has been put forward for retaining Dartmouth is that it enables officers in the Navy to get their children into the Navy cheaper than if they had to pass through the ordinary public schools. If the First Lord of the Admiralty says that that is not the case, I will withdraw what I have said.
Sir B. EYRES MONSELL
They all come in on their merits, and we have specially reduced fees according to the income of their parents.
§ Mr. COCKS
Whether their fathers are in the Navy or not. I think that by abolishing the Dartmouth system and having instead the special entry system, there would be a wider field of selection at a more suitable age. After all, 132 is rather an early age to decide whether a boy is fitted to be a naval officer or not. There would also be less wastage between the years 13½ and 17½ owing to cadets being invalided or dying and if boys were taken at 17 it would be possible to secure more rapid expansion in the case of war. I suggest that the entries 2213 to Dartmouth should be reduced by 50 per cent. this year, and then gradually reduced until the establishment is abolished.
Another point I want to put to the First Lord has reference to commissions from the lower deck, about which I put several questions to him recently. It is very desirable that the system of giving commissions to the lower deck should be increased. Last year only eight ratings were promoted to sub-lieutenants, and only four from the engine room branch. To promote only 12 out of the thousands on the lower deck is rather an absurdity when you say that you are going in for a democratic system and intend to promote men from the lower deck. How many does the First Lord intend to promote this year under this scheme? I was glad to hear from him yesterday that officers selected from the lower deck are to undergo a preliminary course at Greenwich to enable them to compete on equal terms with officers from the cadet entries.
Something has been said about the surplus of officers. In 1914, although we had 146,000 officers and men in the Fleet, with far more vessels than we have now, there were only 1,493 officers, whereas to-day, although the establishment has been reduced to 91,000 officers and men, and although the units are far less numerous than in 1914, the number of officers has gone up to 1,748—a considerable increase. As far as the men are concerned their numbers have been reduced to the barest necessity of Service requirements. What happens as a result? I have been told that ratings coming home from foreign service are entitled to 14 days leave for every year that they have been abroad, but, having had their leave, they often find on going back that their names are posted for foreign service again. Officers get 30 days leave for each year they have served at a foreign station, and after that they are very often employed at home, or on shore training courses, or get pay without any employment at all, due to the fact that there is a surplus of officers.
I am sure that the Navy is a happy Service, but I am told that at the same time there is considerable dissatisfaction about the reductions and cuts in the pay of the Navy. The men were cut by a 2214 larger proportion than were the officers. In 1922 a seaman gunner, with two good conduct badges, with a wife and two children, received 4s. 6d. a day, 3d. for being a seaman gunner, 6d. for his badges, and 3d. for grog money, a total of 5s. 6d., or 38s. 6d. a week. To-day he has been reduced to 35s. a week, and at the same time his marriage allowance has been reduced from 23s. 6d. to 15s. a week. He has been reduced in the last 10 years from 62s. to 50s., a very large percentage—over 20 per cent. The officers have been reduced only to the extent of 11 per cent. Ordinary seamen's pay has been reduced from 2s. 9d. to 2s. a day, a reduction of 27 per cent., and the seaman boy, who received 2s. a day in 1919, now only receives 1s. 3d., a reduction of 37½ per cent. On the other hand, midshipmen have not had their pay reduced at all. After all, the sailor works seven days a week and often in very unhealthy climates, and we cannot expect him to go ashore without spending a little money. It is time that some of the cuts imposed upon the Navy by the Bank of England were restored. The well-being of the Fleet is far more important than the well-being of financiers. I have far more regard for the health and happiness of the blue-jackets than I have for the bankers.
I have said that I am a pacifist, and I am a believer in Disarmament.. At the same time, considering the dangerous state of the world to-day and the absolute failure of the Foreign Secretary—
§ Mr. COCKS
Well, I do not exclude the Prime Minister. Considering the absolute failure of other Departments of the Government, I do not criticise the First Lord for bringing in slightly higher Estimates than last year. He is only doing what I hope I should do if I were in his place in the circumstances: standing up for the efficiency of the great Service of which he is the head.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. J. WALLACE
I shall not detain the House very long, but I cannot help thinking, after the speech of my hon. Friend, that it does not constitute a tribute to his great authority and well- 2215 known political knowledge that he should suggest that the Bank of England was responsible for the cuts in the Navy—or, indeed, for any other cuts. I do not suppose for one moment that he meant it seriously, but expect that it is merely another example of that political persiflage of which he is such a master. I shall not attempt to follow him in the points of his speech, especially in his elucidation of technical matters, because, frankly, I think that he knows much more about them than I do. But I have listened to a great deal of information during this Debate, first of all in the speech of the First Lord and then in that of the hon. and gallant Admiral, who, while supporting the Government, offered them the frankest possible criticism in the best possible spirit. After such a speech by one with his distinguished record and great knowledge and interest in the affairs of the Admiralty, I feel that I myself may take a little courage in pursuing the same course.
Coming away from those great questions of policy and administration, I should like to give this Debate, just for a few minutes, a little local colour. I regret very much that it is no longer possible for me to read those Estimates and digest the information in those 403 pages with any particular personal interest, for I no longer, in the real sense, represent a dockyard constituency. At one time, not so many years ago, these Estimates had a direct relation to the fortunes and prospects of Rosyth Dockyard. To-day, however, by implication—because there is hardly a reference to Rosyth Dockyard—they deal only with the misfortunes of Rosyth. That great dockyard is comparatively silent and deserted. For some reason Rosyth has become the Cinderella of the dockyards of Great Britain, and there is no sign in the meantime that the Fairy Prince will come to the rescue with the magic slipper. That is a role which I should like to see filled by my right hon. Friend the First Lord; he could do it so perfectly and with all that grace, courtesy and charm which we all know he possesses in such a very high degree. In a time of great national emergency Rosyth played a memorable part, and the city of Dunfermline had every right to believe—and was led by 2216 the Admiralty to expect—that Rosyth would be maintained as a great unit in our system of naval defence. Millions were spent upon its construction, and I do not believe that there is a single naval officer of any standing who would not give willing testimony to its modern equipment during the War, and to its efficiency and outstanding service in the War years.
Why has Rosyth been virtually thrown upon the scrap-heap, while the activities of the Southern dockyards are in full operation? Why is it condemned as only worth continuing upon a care and maintenance basis? I am in no way fitted to judge of the strategic reasons which may have influenced the decision to relegate Rosyth to the background, but in these days of the mechanisation and rationalisation of industry it seems extraordinary to me to ignore real efficiency and to preserve in the South the existence of dockyards less efficient and less modern. It is a reversal of the old order of the survival of the fittest. Rosyth, with all its modern equipment and facilities, situated as it is on one of the finest waterways of the world, has from the dockyard point of view become the despised and rejected. Is it too late to reconsider the claim of Rosyth, and to recognise the sacrifices and willing service which the city of Dunfermline rendered to the Government in the hour of the country's supreme need?
I look at this question not only from the point of view of efficiency and justice, but also from the point of view of the serious condition of unemployment in that district. The whole constituency is under the gloomy cloud of unemployment. In the linen trade the factories have been closed down and thousands of men and women have joined the ranks of the unemployed. Prosperity has departed from the coalfields, and the whole industrial situation there in the Dunfermline district and Bo'ness is serious beyond description. I urge and plead for a reconsideration of the whole position regarding Rosyth and I do so very respectfully, in the name of justice and in the cause of efficiency, as a claim for the recognition of the rights of Scotland. After all, Admiralty decisions are not like the laws of the Medes and Persians, which could not be altered. This is a National Government; it must take the national point of view. I respectfully suggest that no 2217 longer should powerful Southern interests and considerations be permitted to override the legitimate claims and rights of that old country that lies beyond the Tweed. Even if strategic reasons prevail —and if they are sound they must and ought to prevail—I contend that in the departments of repair and reconditioning there is still great work to be done at Rosyth, and the interests of that yard in my judgment, are paramount.
I leave that question, and wish now to refer for a moment to one or two smaller matters. Last year, when these Estimates were before the House, I referred to the question of the repair of oil ships I wish to bring that matter up again. Wherever there is work to be done on those ships at Rosyth, such as the scraping of the bottoms of the ships, the repainting, and the repair of zinc plates or underfittings, everything which can be done by the present staff at Rosyth should be done. There is a strong feeling up there that sometimes those oil boats are sent to Leith, although without any increase of the supervisory staff at all the work could be carried out at Rosyth. I should like to have that matter inquired into. Another small question is the employment of yard lads at Rosyth. Last year I mentioned this matter in the House, and the Civil Lord promised to look into it. Perhaps I may refresh his memory on the subject and, if it is not convenient to-night, ask him to let me have an answer at some other time. One more question: the dockyard at Rosyth frequently requires various classes of machinery, but up till now, although there is a very good engineering plant in Dunfermline, no quotation has been asked from local contractors. Might I ask my right hon. Friend to inquire into this matter also I Unemployment is so serious up there at the present time that even a few men extra employed in any of those works is of very great benefit to the city of Dunfermline.
I do not wish to detain the House further. I have mentioned one major issue and one or two minor considerations, but in my mind the major consideration is uppermost. I beg for the further consideration of the whole Rosyth problem. Even if for the time being the Admiralty has written "Ichabod" on the walls of Rosyth Dockyard, I should like it to remember that the potential glory still remains.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Sir PARK GOFF
I venture to intervene for a few minutes as representing the senior dockyard. As long ago as 894 A.D., Alfred the Great., after one of his scraps with the Danes, said:There is no advantage in living on an island unless your Navy rides in undisputed sway over the waters that surround it.Last year we were warned that arrears of cruiser construction would be made good as soon as possible. The failure to build new ships has forced the Admiralty to retain vessels which otherwise would have been scrapped, with the result that the repair bill is mounting up and will continue to do so. Delay in shipbuilding only adds to the number of the unemployed, and all the costly equipment of our dockyards is lying idle. The general public has an entirely erroneous idea that the laying down of a battleship only applies to and involves armaments. When a battleship is laid down, orders are given to over 150 firms scattered throughout the country. It gives employment to the mines, to transport, to trades, to manufactures, and to every other kind of industry. Our ships are not luxuries; they are absolute necessities.
The cutting down of the Navy, in my humble judgment, is the worst form of false economy possible. At Chatham there is a very acute shortage of men, particularly in the Seamen branch. There is a strong feeling in favour of keeping the men as far as possible in the same ship for a full commission. The reason, of course, is obvious. It is not in the interests of the ship or of the Service to make any change in a ship's company after it has been commissioned, just when a ship's company is getting to know their ship and their officers, and making their ship efficient, clean and happy: At present in the Chatham division there are two cruisers recommissioned for service abroad, the "Cumberland" for China, and the "Dispatch" for the Mediterranean, and in addition there are the annual routine reliefs for gunboats and sloops for China. The shortage of men there is so great that, unless men who have just returned from foreign service are again to be sent abroad, the only alternative is to pick them out of recommissioned ships in the Home Fleet, whereas in normal times the men required were recommissioned from the Royal Naval barracks. The shortage 2219 is insufficient to meet the requirements at sea, so the Home Fleet becomes a sort of extra depot for emergencies. The only alternative appears to be less ships maintained abroad, one or more ships put into reserve and the crews sent to barracks, or the Navy personnel increased, and, as everyone knows, the present number is absolutely inadequate.
About four years ago when the Committee made their report upon the reduction of personnel they did not take into account, when recommending the bare minimum, the number of man days lost to the Service when men were on passage to and from foreign stations, particularly China, and also the time men were granted for foreign service leave, both before and after their foreign service. Everyone wants to avoid any feeling of insecurity or any lack of confidence in any way, but any attempt to run the Navy on a card index line must fail. The Admiralty is of necessity an impersonal body, but it is essentially a personal matter that the more freedom, power and authority which can be given to officers of the Fleet afloat the better it will he for the men themselves, for the Fleet and the Service at large.
The Admiralty have now a great opportunity to keep their hold on the Fleet by a bold pronouncement of policy which they are prepared to carry out quite regardless of any criticism or of any obstruction whatever. Personally, I should like to see a training ship for boys as well as the "Frobisher" for cadets. I believe that training in sailing ships gives a far more thorough knowledge of seamanship than years of steam. I do not mean sail training quasail training, so much as to learn seamanship in sailing ships. I have known it to be very successful in other navies. Boys from 16} years of age to' 18 after a few months at a shore training establishment are sent straight to a ship and to the fleet. A cruise for six months, or perhaps less, in a properly constituted training squadron would be much more valuable and beneficial in my judgment than two years in a fleet battleship. They will come to their ship thoroughly prepared and thoroughly grounded in their job.
I believe that all our problems and all our difficulties to-day date back to Washington, which in my humble judgment, and speaking for myself, was a 2220 most colossal mistake. I also deeply deplore and regret, rightly or wrongly, the abandonment of the Anglo-Japanese alliance. That has probably considerably changed the whole world outlook. It has caused Singapore, at any rate, to loom very much larger on the horizon. Those who have been round the world realise and appreciate now more than ever the importance of the Singapore base, and yet when we come back to our island home how many know and appreciate that Singapore is an island? I may be singular, but I have kept my eye, as far as the senior Service is concerned, directed for some years towards the East. Even since I have been in political life I have been an advocate of the Singapore base. I have realised on many occasions its importance. I do not believe in anyone talking about places or countries unless they have been there and seen them for themselves, not only on one occasion but on many occasions, and stayed there. There are some people who go to countries, to distant lands, and smell them for about five minutes and then come back here and tell us all about them with the wisdom of Solomon, the authority of a dictator, and the invulnerability of Achilles. The chief and greatest characteristic of British sea power is that it is never domineering and never selfish. Lloyds is the main mercantile insurance for the world, the Baltic is the chartering market of the world, and the Court of Admiralty is where the foreigner comes to get justice and redress. If German is the language of science and French is the language of diplomacy, then English is the language of the sea. We came by the sea, we live by the sea, and our whole future is on the sea.
§ 7.51 p.m.
Mr. VYVYAN ADAMS
I have listened with keen attention to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Sir P. Goff), and I am sure that his constituents will read it with pride and interest to-morrow. I hope that he does not wish us to infer that the non-building of ships is going to have any serious effect upon the employment problem, because is it not true that these ships have to be defrayed out of revenue which comes from taxes, and the higher the taxation the more is the spending power of the individual limited. I should like, 2221 if my right bon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty will not take it amiss, to add my sincere congratulations for the manner in which he presented the Navy Estimates to-day. It is indeed a delight to hear the details of a Service expounded by one who is almost entirely its embodiment. There is a story told about a Scottish minister who in the course of his extemporary prayers became so familiar with his Creator that he ended one of his more intimate periods with the phrase "Paradoxical as it may seem, O Lord." I have to submit to the First Lord of the Admiralty a paradox and the relationship of the right hon. Gentleman to myself is very similar to that of the Creator to the Scottish minister. The paradox I have to submit to my right hon. Friend is that. the more Great Britain disarms the more secure does she become.
This is not an opinion confined to myself, in spite of the interjection of "Rubbish" on my left flank because the hon. Member will find that "Scrutator" in the "Sunday Times" pointed in the same direction last Sunday, and, if hon. Members will reflect for a moment, they will see that, in spite of the unilateral disarmament which Great Britain has carried out since the Armistice, there is no country in Europe, with the possible exception of Switzerland, that is more secure than ourselves. It is true that Great Britain may still irritate the foreigner, but we seem to succeed to-day in no longer antagonising him. In these circumstances, we are again "The envy of less happier lands." Is it not true that we cannot with that inevitable and decisive forefinger say, as we could 20 years ago, there, or there or anywhere on the Continent of Europe is a potential enemy. Let us consider and compare that with the situation of our immediate neighbours, France and Germany, whose opinions on armaments are quite different from our own. Each of them is neurotically watching the other for the merest simulacrum and scintilla of an insult. That is an entirely different situation from ours. They are admittedly the most insecure nations on the Continent of Europe. One of them is, in the words of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. 2222 Churchill), "armed to the teeth," though he also suggested that she is "pacifist to the core." The other is apparently, for reasons which are neither clear nor compelling but entirely sentimental, passionately desirous to rearm.
If I may continue my humble relationship with the First Lord I should like to approach him with a little prayer and a little entreaty. In the January issue of a remarkable production called "Home and Empire," superscribed with the Union Jack, I read:The allegation too often heard from Socialists that this country is standing in the way of general disarmament has been described by the First Lord as not only stupid but unchristian; and when it is remembered how this country has reduced its armed forces in spite of increasing armaments elsewhere the words cannot be regarded as being a whit too strong.I want to make one comment on that statement, though I doubt very much whether the First Lord of the Admiralty ever uttered it, because his wisdom is celebrated. It would be difficult to reconcile the Sermon on the Mount with a 16-inch gun. But I suppose that my right hon. Friend the First Lord can be trusted not to repeat a statement of that sort if he ever, in fact, did say it. The Navy is not in any sense sacrosanct. After all, we not only represent the taxpayers in this House, but we are taxpayers ourselves; and when one considers that a sum of £53,000,000 has to be defrayed by the taxpayers it is a sum which cannot be sneezed at. Out of every sovereign a taxpayer pays in Income Tax, over 1s. goes in the form of ship money. And £10,000,000 nearly in spent annually in keeping our 15 capital ships in commission.
I wish to revert to something which I have mentioned at greater length before in this honourable House, that in my view the battleship is to-day, as it has always been, the key to disarmament, at all events to naval disarmament. It is a notorious fact that she is the mother of that odious and loathsome craft the submarine. We have tried before, and we have found that it is absurd to try to out-build our naval rivals. I would like the First Lord in his reply to explain why it is that the Government have not more consistently pressed for a limitation of the maximum size of battleships to a size between 10,000 and 6,000 tons displace- 2223 ment. The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken suggested that the Washington Conference was a calamitous occurrence. I suggest that that is really not in accordance with the facts, when one considers the burden on the taxpayer. Thousands of tons of shipping was scrapped on that occasion by ourselves, and the building of thousands of tons was deferred by the London Naval Treaty of 1929. As I have said, the money has to came from the taxpayer's pocket, and it means a tremendous drag upon industry. There are strong reasons in the minds of some naval experts why the super-battleship in excess of 10,000 tons should be unilaterally scrapped. To my mind those reasons are conclusive.
But I have raised this point before in the House, and I do not want to expatiate at any length on it. I will, for the purposes of argument, take the orthodox view that these battleships can only be scrapped by general agreement. But I would like to know from the First Lord how it is that the figure of 22,000 tons, which is proposed to be the new limit for the super-battleship, has been arrived at. Indeed I cannot see any reason—I have examined this matter at some length, as far as a layman can— why 22,000 tons has been fixed and not 100,000 or 10,000; I have always been informed that the defensive purpose of the capital ship is to arrest any merchantman, the largest possible merchantman or liner carrying contraband or munitions or troops from one point to another, and if you get universal agreement to limit the tonnage of these ships to 6,000 or 10,000 tons I believe it is conceded by naval experts that that maximum would be adequate. It is obvious that in the case of the liner, however large, her decks and her structure cannot carry more than a gun of a certain calibre, six inches or 7.5 inches. I am informed by naval experts that a cruiser, or capital ship as it would be in the new dispensation, of 6,000 or 10,000 tons, would be quite adequate to deal with 'a liner so equipped.
Yet we go on gambling with the super-battleship idea, toying with the possibility of constructing in 1936 a whole new series of these vast and vulnerable vessels. When I use the word "vulnerable" I am immediately reminded of the 2224 air, and I cannot forget that a battleship displacing, say, 30,000 tons, extends on the face of the ocean to the vertical attack of a bomber a target covering several acres. I am in great difficulty over this because I must remember that the occasion to-night is not the Air nor the Army Estimates. But if I may I would say in parenthesis that I think the whole basis on which we deal with the defensive Services is entirely faulty, because one can no longer treat the three Services with the detachment that was possible in former days. The more complicated, the more intricate and the more expensive the problem of defence becomes, the more obvious becomes the need of some Ministry of Defence. If I mention battleships I cannot escape reflecting about the bombing aeroplane, and when I consider the military value, the defensive value, of territorial infantry, I immediately have to consider the menace from the air. If the Territorial Army were equipped with wings there might be some justification for applauding an increase in expenditure or restoring expenditure upon the Territorial arm.
This necessity for a real examination into the problem of a Ministry of Defence was definitely indicated in the report of a Sub-Committee of private Members on which I served last summer. I think I can say without arrogance that that sub-committee was a strong one. It consisted partly of experts, and partly of Members entitled and able to take a fairly impartial view. Those hon. Members who regularly attended it, consisted of two General Officers, an Admiral, a, Lieut.-Commander and two members of the Bar who might be considered able to sift evidence and estimate values. We were eloquently presided over in the tropical heat of last September by the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow (Sir I. Salmon), and, as he said at the time, we were giving the Government something for nothing. But the net result of our endeavours is that our suggestions have been substantially ignored.
I say on quite general grounds that I cannot help feeling, with some hon. Members who have spoken earlier in the Debate to-day, that this increase in naval expenditure is to be deplored. For one thing the National Government came into power with no specific pledge at all, but 2225 with one very positive implied pledge, the pledge of economy. That, of course, is to some degree vitiated by this increase in expenditure. Furthermore, the Disarmament Conference at this moment is in a most critical condition, likely to be thrust over the precipice by any sudden shock from outside—any sudden or slight shock. And in consideration of that I do wish it had been possible to withhold this new expenditure for at least another year. Could we not, if these replacements were absolutely necessary, have found some means of suspending some of the expenses which normally would be incurred from year to year—at all events make it apparent that we were not increasing the Estimates by £3,000,000?
It is often said about the British Navy that it has been unilaterally disarmed, but I would say, if hon. Members will come with me into the sphere of the highest values, that if unilateral disarmament is to be carried out at all I shall be very proud to see my own country do it first. After all, the Government just over a fortnight ago, on 27th February, did something unilaterally in the international sphere. They put an embargo on the export of arms and munitions—an embargo which was removed with an absolutely incomprehensible suddenness. If it was right to impose an embargo on 27th February it was right to maintain it on 13th March. But be that as it may, the decision was taken, and if hon. Members consider for one moment, upon the general question of armaments and arms and the embargo on arms, they will find themselves confronted with a quite simple issue of right and wrong, and if the folly of armaments is some day to be stopped, not perhaps by absolutely general agreement but by multilateral or unilateral action, I am patriot enough to want my country to lead in that direction.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Dr. O'DONOVAN
If there is one place in London that is the showplace of the British Navy for those Londoners who cannot afford or have not the desire to go to the southern coast, it is the Royal Naval Hospital at Greenwich. It is a most beautiful building, perhaps the most beautiful in England. It is to-day easily accessible by motor boat from Charing Cross and by many other means of transport. If it is the showplace of the British Navy to Londoners I beg the First Lord 2226 to give a little of his attention to the way in which the public can get into it and the way in which they are received when they get there. When I was a boy in London, in the intervals of medical studies I wasted much time in the painted hall and got a great love for the British Navy. But recently, when taking my own children there, first of all I was startled by the demand of a charge for admission, which I think cannot result in the obtaining of a sum of money proportionate to the irritation it gives, and, secondly, I was astounded by the dull and dingy nature of the painted hall and the incompleteness of the museum. The painted hall is dull, the great pictures are difficult to see, and the faces are not well recorded.
The museum is a wonderful museum of shipbuilding, of the history of North Pole exploration and of Nelson's career. The articles on view are labelled in a way that was satisfactory in the days of Queen Victoria but has not kept pace with modern standards of museum equipment. The painted hall and the museum are practically all that the Londoner can see. Should he attempt to go to Admiralty House he will find, as I found, a notice in the hall "If you see a stranger hold him fast." Therefore the one building to which the Londoner might have free access, is worthy of a little personal attention from the First Lord.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ The CIVIL LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Captain Euan Wallace)
I think the opening sentences in which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) representing the Opposition, began his speech this afternoon, indicated the tone of this Debate for he began by saying that he had very little fault to find with the Navy Estimates of this year. I therefore find myself in the enviable position of rising rather with the object of giving information than of answering hostile criticism. I should like to say at once that certain matters which have been referred to this afternoon and notably some part of the speech of the hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Bench opposite, and practically the whole of the speech of the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) relate to training and personnel and, therefore, fall within the ambit of the specific Amendment which is to be moved later. I hope the hon. Member for Broxtowe will not think me dis- 2227 courteous if I leave the reply to the interesting questions raised in his speech to my Noble Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty.
So many extremely interesting speeches have been made and so many interesting questions have been asked that it would be impossible for any representative of the Admiralty, fortified as he is bound to be with all the knowledge to be obtained from such a very great Department, to answer all those questions in the space of time for which the House of Commons would tolerate a speech from this Box. I would therefore say to hon. Members on all sides that any points in their speeches which are not specifically replied to must not be regarded as having been ignored or rejected. I am certain that my right hon. Friend the First Lord and indeed the whole Board of Admiralty will do everything they can to gather wisdom from this important Debate.
Two of the principal subjects dealt with and the two which formed the burden of most of the speeches were, first, the subject of Disarmament and, second, the question of the utilisation of coal for fuel, with what may be regarded as the allied question of the use of Diesel engines. As far as disarmament is concerned, I think the House will recognise that it would be a singularly ill-timed occasion for a junior representative of the Admiralty in this House to make any general pronouncement when at this very moment our Prime Minister and our Foreign Secretary are at work in Geneva. I should like, straight away, to reassure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and to tell him that the Estimates which we are presenting, not only as regards new construction but as regards everything in them, represent no departure whatever from our established Programme. We are not speeding up, we are not going outside our strict rights, if I may call them rights, under the Treaty of Washington and the London Naval Treaty. I may, on this point, venture to remind him and also my predecessor in office, that one of the reasons for the increased expenditure to which they drew unfavourable attention is that this year we are engaged in financing a Programme which they themselves were responsible for laying down.
2228 I was asked by my hon. Friend opposite whether it was necessary to include four cruisers in this year's programme. I say unhesitatingly, Yes. It is only by including in this year's programme the four cruisers which remain to us under the proposals of the treaties that we can hope to have them completed by the end of December, 1936, and I do not believe that either the hon. Gentleman opposite or his right hon. Friend who is no longer in this House—Mr. Alexander—if they were at the Admiralty to-day, in view of what both have said on public platforms, would be willing to risk another unilateral gesture of this kind. My hon. Friend also asked me whether we still want capital ships and whether we still require 50 cruisers. The whole question of capital ships and cruisers has also been dealt with by try hon. Friend the Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams). It is a very big subject, but I shall try to answer both hon. Members in the fewest possible words which will suffice. We do want capital ships because we believe that the abolition of the capital ship would make the cruiser the capital ship of the future—the biggest unit—and we believe the result, so far from leading to economy, would be to involve us in considerably increased expense. We do say, however, that we could do with a capital ship of much diminished displacement. My hon. Friend the Member for West Leeds asked why we had selected the figure of 22,000 tons. I think it fair to say quite briefly that 22,000 tons, in the view of the Board of Admiralty, represents the minimum figure which will give adequate protection, suitable endurance and tolerably decent living conditions for the people who have to pass their lives in the ship.
As regards the proposals made by President Hoover, I was asked why we did not support them. The short answer is that we preferred our proposals which, though they were not made exactly the day after the other proposals, had actually been in the Admiralty some time before they were published. We preferred them because we believed they were simpler and cheaper and would, in the long run, effect more real disarmament. I cannot resist saying that it seems a little odd that there are numbers of people in this House who, when any proposals for disarmament are put forward, seem to have a devastating 2229 affection for anything proposed by a foreigner as against anything proposed by us. We have to realise that in regard to disarmament there are two factors to be taken into consideration. There is, first, the factor of relative limitation. if the Navy is to perform its function of keeping the trade routes of the world open for the British Mercantile Marine, engaged in its peaceful avocations, it makes all the difference what ships you are unfortunately obliged to regard as potential enemies. There is besides that relative limitation, the absolute limitation imposed upon us by the number of sea miles that we have to protect, and the House of Commons and the country would be deluding themselves if they believed that, because everybody else in the world was willing to do away with naval forces down to what may be termed zero, this country would be wise to do the same or, indeed, would be able to do so.
I turn to an entirely different subject which was dealt with in the principal speech from the Opposition and was also touched upon in a very thoughtful and obviously well-considered speech from the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. D. Davies). The question of the "back-to-coal" movement is of such public importance to-day as to demand, even at the risk of boring those who are familiar with the subject, a reiteration of certain basic principles. First of all, we ought to be quite clear as to the size of the problem and the possible good effect upon the coal industry if we were able to solve it in the way which hon. Members opposite, and indeed in all quarters of the House, desire. If it were possible for the Royal Navy to return entirely to the use of coal for fuel, it is estimated that we should, in peace time, use approximately 800,000 tons a year. That figure represents less than one-third of 1 per cent. of the total output of the British coalmines. Therefore it would be a great mistake for anybody in the country to delude themselves into thinking that the prosperity of that great basic industry, the coal trade of this country, could be restored by the efforts of the Royal Navy alone.
Apart from that, everybody who has studied the question knows very well indeed that the case against burning coal in its raw state under the boilers of His Majesty's ships is absolutely unanswer- 2230 able, and nobody has put that case more clearly or more forcibly than my hon. Friend opposite when he was Civil Lord of the Admiralty. I do not think it is any exaggeration to say that, taking it all round, the endurance of an oil-fired ship is approximately double that of a coal-fired ship of the same dimensions, and hon. Members will see that, at a time when the amount of tonnage which we are allowed to construct is very strictly limited by Naval Treaties, that factor is even more important than it used to be before the War, when any nation constructed exactly what it, liked. Therefore, for all practical purposes, I think we are bound to rule out the idea of burning coal in its raw state.
There remains the possibility of extracting from the coal of this country liquid fuel which will have the characteristics and advantages of oil, and there are, as hon. Members know, to-day two processes by which this can be done. There is, first of all, tike low-temperature carbonisation process, to which my right hon. Friend has already referred and expressed his satisfaction that, through the enterprise of one British firm, we have been able to secure a quantity of this home-produced oil, and to burn it by itself—it has not required any mixing—in the boilers of His Majesty's Ship "Westminster." Because, however, we have been able to get a. certain quantity of oil fuel of a very high quality from British coal, we must not imagine that the millennium is necessarily within reach. The main product from the low-temperature carbonisation process is not the fuel oil which we require, as hon. Members opposite know. The main product of that process is a semi-coke, which is sold at 59s. a ton, and is a most excellent fuel. We use it at the Admiralty to warm the members of the Board, and I believe it is used in other Government Departments.
But while one ton of coal produces 14 cwts. of semi-coke, it only produces 16 gallons of tar, which in turn produces anything between five and eight gallons of fuel oil. Therefore, the essential thing about this process before it can find any fuel for the Navy is that a market should be found for this solid product. If it were possible for the whole of the 40,000,000 tons of coal used for domestic purposes in this country to be treated in this way, that is, if some Govern- 2231 ment of the future forbade the burning of bituminous coal in open grates, we should then get anything between 800,000 and 1,200,000 tons of oil fuel. I think most hon. Members will agree with me that the time when we can, by legislation or otherwise, compel the consumer to pay 59s. a ton for his fuel, however excellent it may be, is still some way distant.
The other process, hydrogenation, offers the possibility of getting the maximum amount of oil or petrol from coal, and the amount of oil or petrol obtained simply varies according to how far you carry the process, and you are not bothered with having to dispose of another product. The cost of this process is, however, so high that it would only be a commercial proposition to produce petrol of a high grade by this process, and not fuel oil, since the difference in the volume obtained is comparatively negligible, and the difference in price is very considerable. Therefore, I think the House will agree that we have still got some considerable way to go in that direction. I should, however, like to add—and the same thing applies to the pulverised fuel and the colloidal mixtures to which the hon. Member for Pontypridd referred—that the Admiralty are fully alive to the strategical disadvantages of our dependence upon a foreign fuel supply. We are also fully alive to the economic benefits which would accrue to this country if it were possible to get our supplies from home, and I can assure the whole House that our researches into this question in every single one of its aspects are persistent and unremitting and that they will continue.
The other question, somewhat allied to this, which was raised by the hon. Member for Aberdare and also the hon. Member for Pontypridd is that of the Diesel engine. I was asked last year in this Debate, and we were asked to-day, why we did not use Diesel engines in the Navy, because they have them in the German "Deutschland." The short answer is that we do not use them because they are not so good. There are at the moment three kinds of Diesel engine. There is the large slow-speed engine now used in merchant vessels of some kinds. That is much too heavy for the Navy, and for another thing the engine stands too high. Then there is 2232 the medium-speed engine, which we do use in submarines. We have some very good ones in the new "River" class of submarines. We use them in submarines, not because they are more efficient than steam plant of the same power, but because you cannot use steam plant in submarines; and it is equally a fact that these medium-speed Diesel engines are not as efficient in that they are considerably heavier per effective horse-power produced.
There are, thirdly, the high-speed Diesel engines, to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, and which are used in this German battleship. The difficulty with them is that you cannot get a power unit more than about 7,000 horse-power. Therefore, to be of any use as the propelling machinery for naval craft, you have to couple a lot of these engines up, and that involves the use of clutches and gearing, with the net result that here again your weight of plant per effective horse-power produced is considerably more than in steam plant of the same capacity, and it has the additional disadvantage of being more bulky. At the same time, we have a high-speed Diesel engine in the Admiralty laboratory, which I think I may say is in a fairly advanced stage. We intend to push on with our experiments, and I hope that before next year's Estimates come round it will be possible to produce something which we shall be able to put into a ship.
There is another question which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdare asked to which I think I ought to reply. He referred to the experiments which we made in building destroyers in dockyards and asked what were the comparative costs. They turned out to be more expensive to build in dockyards than by private contract. I have not the precise figure with me, but I think it was in the neighbourhood of £10,000. That does not mean that we have abandoned the idea of building any more destroyers in dockyards, because any establishment, be it a Government dockyard or a private firm, which builds a destroyer for the first time, obviously does not do it in the most economical way; and the Board of Admiralty have not the least doubt that if and when it may be necessary or possible to give further orders to the Royal 2233 Dockyards for destroyers they can be built at practically competitive prices.
The hon. Member for Central Portsmouth (Mr. R. Beaumont) referred to the wastage in dockyard employés. We have felt bound to pursue this policy for some years for the simple reason that our Building Programme has been diminishing. The future is uncertain, and there are many Members who hope that it will diminish still further, and we should have failed to discharge our responsibility to the taxpayer had we engaged on a Government job a large number of people whom we might subsequently have to discharge. I go further and I say that we may congratulate successive Boards of Admiralty and Civil Lords on the fact that we have been able to spread out new construction and repair work not only among the Government yards, but among private contractors, in order to prevent as far as possible dislocation and discharges on what I may call a falling market. So far as the discharge of the electrical fitters is concerned, I am afraid that it is inevitable that every dockyard from time to time should have to discharge men in one trade and take on another. It depends on the stage of construction of the ship and the kind of work that is being done. I hope that it may be possible for the electrical fitters to get back in time, and we may derive a little satisfaction from the thought that an electrical fitter after he is discharged from a dockyard is better able to get a job than most men in other trades.
Let me turn to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. J. Wallace). I must tell him, as I had to tell him last year, very sadly but as sympathetically as I was able, that it is not possible for anybody representing the Board of Admiralty to hold out any hope of such a radical change in policy as would alter Rosyth from a care and maintenance basis to the status of a fully working dockyard. The hon. Member accused the Board of taking rather a narrow view. I assure him as a fellow Scotsman that if I took a narrow as opposed to a national view, I would much sooner see some work going to Rosyth, but I am satisfied, as my predecessors were and as the First Lord is, that under present conditions it is not possible to increase work there. The specific question which he asked me with regard to 2234 repairs to oilers happens to be one which was discussed this morning at the Admiralty Industrial Council. I am in a position to be able to tell him that the answer is that there are only 23 men in the Constructive Department at Rosyth, that they are fully occupied without repairing oilers, and that if we had to repair them it would mean bringing in extra staff. The hon. Member, therefore, must take comfort from the thought that what employment is lost in Dunfermline is gained by our mutual friend the Minister of Mines at Leith.
§ Mr. J. WALLACE
It is no consolation to me to know that fewer people will be employed in Rosyth repairing oilers. My point is that by taking on more men it is not necessary to increase the supervisory staff, which was before the excuse for not doing work at Rosyth. Its claims from that point of view ought to be considered.
§ Captain WALLACE
The claims were considered last year and have been reconsidered, and I cannot do more than look into them again, but I fear that no new facts are likely to come out of it. I hoped that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) would have found it possible to come back by now, for I have been saving his interesting speech as long as I could. He asked a pertinent question as to whether we were getting our money's worth for our expenditure, which I am glad to see he recognises as being most important. He has made with his usual clarity what I may call the stock case against the Admiralty Office. I do not propose to take up the time of the House by giving him the stock answer because there is in existence an excellent memorandum by the Secretary of the Admiralty which demonstrates beyond the possibility of a peradventure that the decrease in the numbers of the Navy since 1914 is no proper criterion of the decrease which is supposed should have taken place at headquarters. All kinds of other factors have to be considered and I should enjoy giving them to the House but I resist the temptation.
The second question which my right hon. Friend asked was in regard to our co-operation with the Royal Air Force. I can assure him that we co-operate with them very closely. We have had for 2235 some time at the Admiralty a special department under the Director of the Naval Air Division. We have in more recent times appointed a Rear-Admiral in charge of the aircraft carriers, with the most beneficial effects from every point of view. I was fortunate enough the other day when I was in Malta to attend a conference on the results of some exercises which had taken place during the winter cruise and among many things which impressed me, nothing impressed me more than the very close co-operation which was maintained between the Navy and the air arm throughout two very long and rather difficult exercises. My right hon. Friend seemed rather to resent the idea that our aeroplanes were designed by the Air Ministry, but the First Lord and, I think, the rest of us, are willing to believe that the Air Ministry can design aeroplanes better than the Admiralty, and we are very glad to leave the technical side of the Fleet air arm in their hands.
Finally, the right bon. Member for South Molton asked me about Singapore. I am only going to say this. Of course the Board of Admiralty does envisage eventually having a properly equipped and defended naval base at Singapore. Everybody who has studied the problem, indeed, anybody who has ever bothered to look at a map of the world, or one of those round globes which are seen in nurseries, must realise that such a base is necessary in order that our Fleet may have complete mobility in all parts of the world. Not only is this view held at the Board of Admiralty, but it is also held by other members of the British Commonwealth, who have signified their acceptance of that view by substantial contributions to the cost of the base. I think that may be taken as an indication of our eventual intentions. For the moment, the work is progressing satisfactorily, and there is every reason to believe that Sir John Jackson will complete his contract in time. For the moment we only contemplate the completion of those heavy engineering works which are now in progress and which form the backbone of the scheme.
Just one word in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Mile End (Dr. O'Donovan). I am sure that he will be very glad to know that as the result of a 2236 generous benefaction the Royal Hospital School is moving from the congested area of Greenwich to a new home in the country. We hope to get that move carried out at the beginning of next term. It is then proposed to hand over the buildings which have been occupied by the Royal Hospital School at Greenwich to a board of trustees under the Office of Works, and there to create a suitable, and I hope impressive, Naval museum. Those relics which exist, as my hon. Friend said, in large numbers, and in very inadequate accommodation in the Painted Hall and other places, will then be displayed under better conditions.
Curiously enough, no one has drawn attention in this Debate to the value of the trade which the Navy, to my mind, exists to protect. I think it is perhaps worth while to point out that last year the declared value of our imports and our exports was £1,119,000,000, and that the estimates for the naval defence of that vast trade represent less than 5 per cent. of its value. Only four months ago the First Lord himself reminded the House that every day there comes into our ports 110,000 tons of merchandise and 50,000 tons of foodstuffs. It is quite true that the conquest of the air has already compelled us to envisage the naval defence of our 80,000 miles of trade routes from a new angle, and may require us to make further modifications. The Royal Air Force can co-operate with, and can in some cases supplement, but in my view it can never supplant the Navy in this vital role of commerce protection, and it is, in the words of the preamble to the old Naval Discipline Act, 1866:the Navy whereon, under the providence of God, the wealth, safety and strength of the Kingdom chiefly depend.