HC Deb 21 March 1933 vol 276 cc233-45

  1. 1. "That 90,300 Officers, Seamen, Boys, and Royal Marines be employed for the Sea Service, together with 865 for the Royal Marine Police, borne on the books of His Majesty's Ships, at the Royal Marine Divisions, and at Royal Air Force Establishments, for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1934.
  2. 2. That a sum, not exceeding £12,593,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Wages, etc., of Officers and Men of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, and Civilians employed on Fleet Services, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1934.
  3. 3. That a sum, not exceeding £2,184,300, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the expense of Works, Buildings and Repairs at Home and abroad, including the cost of Superintendence, Purchase of Sites, Grants, and other Charges connected therewith, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1934.
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  5. 4. That a sum, not exceeding £3,099,800, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Victualling and Clothing for the Navy, including the cost of Victualling Establishments at Home and abroad, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1934."

5.25 p.m.


I wish to reduce the number of men by 100. I can imagine hon. Members opposite wondering why I am moving a reduction in the personnel of what is looked upon as the senior Service of this country. Every Britisher regards the Navy as our strongest arm of defence, forgetting how modern progress has changed warfare, and that perhaps we are not as dependent en the Navy as we used to be. I wish to draw attention to the large increase in the Navy Vote. The Votes of the other Services have been increased, but nothing as compared with the Navy Vote, where the increase is more than £3,000,000, equal to 6 per cent. of the Vote last year. That is no small item, and consequently I wish to call attention to the increase. Last year the First Lord of the Admiralty felt regretful at having to introduce Estimates which showed a reduction. I should think this year he feels more pleased with himself.


Unfortunately I did not hear the opening words of the hon. Member's speech. I gather that he is now talking about some other Vote, and not this Vote.


I moved the reduction of the Vote by 100 men.


Apparently the hon. Member then proceeded to talk about money.


We must have the money to keep the men. Surely the question of the men and the money must go together.


As I said when I first rose, unfortunately I did not hear the hon. Member's opening sentences, and possibly I may be mistaken as to what he was doing, but I must point out that he must not discuss on this Vote for men a question which would arise on the other money Votes.


I am moving a reduction in the Vote—


A reduction in the number of men?


Yes, in the number of men, and in dealing with that I am dealing with the supplies for the men, with the increase in the Estimate required to keep that number of men. I put it to you that I am in order in doing that.


If the hon. Member is dealing with pay, that may be right, but I understood that he was not. Perhaps he will go on and explain what he is talking about.


I accept your Ruling. I was dealing with the increase in the money asked from Parliament to keep the personnel of the Navy. I was leading from that to my other point, that the increase in the Navy Vote amounted to 6 per cent. We are moving this reduction because of that increase, believing that at the present time it is not necessary, but if I am out of order I will drop that point and deal with another. In the Memorandum before us there is a mention of the efforts to salvage M.2. The First Lord did not deal with that subject in his speech, and I would like him to give us an explanation. Another point I wish to raise deals with the fuelling of the Navy. The First Lord told us that one of the Australian cruisers was to be replaced. That cruiser, "Brisbane," is fitted to burn both oil and coal, and I wish to know whether the vessel by which she is to be replaced is to be the same type of cruiser.


The hon. Member is now getting definitely outside the Vote. The question of the salvage of M.2 cannot come into the question of the number of men in the Navy.


I seem to be completely out of order whatever point I try to deal with. I do not know how to get back on to the right track again. There are several points that I wanted to bring to the notice of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and if I cannot do so under the heading of the number of men, I do not see how to proceed. I wanted to deal with the fuelling of the Navy, and I do not know whether I should be in order in doing that.


No, definitely not. That matter arises upon one of the other Votes. Does the hon. Member propose to move his Amendment?


It is difficult to move an Amendment unless one can get arguments to justify it.


I am afraid that the hon. Member's justification has so far applied to another Vote.

5.31 p.m.


I beg to move, to leave out "90,300," and to insert instead thereof "90,200."

The First Lord, in the statement that he made when the Estimates were before the Committee, referred to the fact that by March next year there was likely to be an increase of 1,000 in the personnel of the Navy. There is an increase in the number of boys admitted by some thousands—from 1,300 to 2,000 odd. We were prepared for this increase, because of the statement which the First Lord made during the discussion in November of last year, when he said that the personnel of the Navy was lower than, in his opinion, it should be. Provision is being made for this increase. Even now some of us on this side of the House fail to see that there is any justification for it.

I know that comparisons are being made with the pre-War and the post-War personnel; the comparison is chiefly with the pre-War personnel. It is held that the personnel of the Navy at that time was about 146,000. At the present time the total personnel is down to just between 89,000 and 90,000. I may be slightly out with regard to the figures, but in comparing the personnel which is provided for in the present Estimates with the tonnage of the Navy at the present time, and comparing the personnel of pre-War days with the tonnage of the Navy at that time, one can see that the present personnel is overwhelming, as compared with pre-War days. Let me give the figures. In 1913, as far as I have been able to ascertain, the total number of officers and men was 139,424, that is to say, round about 140,000. At the present time, as I have said, it is about 90,000. In 1913 the number of battleships and battle-cruisers was 62. Under the London Agreement we are limited, and the reduction in battleships and cruisers has been from 62 to 15. In 1913 we had some 62 cruisers, and at the present time we have about 50 cruisers. We had one aircraft carrier in 1913–14; at the present time we have six. We had a number of what were called armoured coast-defence vessels. In 1913 we had 34 of those vessels, as compared with three at the present time.

Coming to flotilla leaders and destroyers, we had, in 1913, more than double the number which we have at the present time. There were more submarines than at the present time. There is the change which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) in regard to stoker ratings. In 1913, warships of almost all kinds were coal fired. At that time, we had something like 38,000 or 39,000 stoker ratings; at the present time their numbers are reduced to about 18,000. Notwithstanding the change which has brought about the reduction in stoker ratings, and after comparing the post-War tonnage with the pre-War tonnage, and then comparing the number of naval ratings, there is no justification, in the opinion of Members on this side of the House, for the increase which is provided for in this Estimate.

Far be it from my hon. Friends and myself to interfere with changes which are necessary, or with the proper provision for the giving of leave to the personnel of the Navy, but I have in mind a case which I discussed with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, when I called attention to the "Petersfield," which was last in the China waters. I understand that some of the men who make up the personnel of the "Petersfield" are still retained on the China Station, although their leave has been due for some 12 months. That may be largely owing to a lack of personnel which is interfering with leave. I am simply using this illustration to put my point. If it is the case that there is such a shortage of personnel that it prevents the proper exchanges or changes and prevents men from getting their leave at the proper times, then neither my colleagues nor myself would wish to aggravate a situation of that kind. We feel that there is an explanation as to why there should be these increases, and I have no doubt that the First Lord has one which will go very far to prove the point which I am endeavouring to make, which is that, owing to the changes that have taken place, this number of personnel is necessary.

I remember that when I went to the Admiralty, in the position which I was pleased and honoured to occupy for two years and three months, I attempted to go into this problem, not only with regard to personnel, but also the staff at the Admiralty. One of the arguments which were put to me was that if you attempted to compare the present Navy with the-pre-war Navy, you might as well attempt to compare the pre-war Navy with the Navy in Nelson's time, because the changes had been so rapid. That may account for the increase which is being asked for, but I think that the House and the country would like to hear from the First Lord what justification there is for the increases which are asked for under this Vote.

5.41 p.m.


This question of the reduction in the personnel of the Navy suggests some points that I would like to raise, but not so much in regard to a reduction in the personnel of the lower deck, but in regard to the excessive number of officers who are employed on the present establishment. A day or two ago, when these Estimates first came forward, I brought this point out, to show that the proportion of officers to men was very much larger now than it was before the War, when the establishment was a very much larger one. When one looks through the list of officers, one notices the excessive number of lieutenant-commanders. There are 1,038 lieutenant-commanders, whereas before the War there were only 710, although the Navy is a smaller one. That is a very large increase.

The result is that commanders are supplanting lieutenant-commanders, and that the lieutenant-commanders are replacing the junior officers and warrant officers. In capital ships sometimes the lieutenant-commander performs the duty of captain of the top which was formerly performed by chief petty officers. The result, I suggest to the First Lord, of lieutenant-commanders being employed on duties that were formerly done by juniors, will be that, as they get promotion, they will be less experienced and tested officers than their predecessors have been in the past. The trouble is that when senior officers take on duties hitherto performed by junior officers, there is a depression all down the ladder, rung after rung, through the officers down to the petty officers.

The number of cadets since the War has seemed to be dealt with on the assumption that we shall have a much larger establishment than is necessary. That means that if in the future, for reasons of economy, the number of officers is cut down, the State will be asked to pay a large sum of money in compensation, and that would be avoided if fewer cadets were entered. Another result is that seamen are not coming forward for employment and for promotion to warrant officers, because they feel that there is no future for them in the Service. Because of the refusal of men to re-engage after more than half earning their long-service pension, the Admiralty has resorted to the entry of short-service telegraphists at lower rates of pay. The final point I would like to mention is that no steps are taken to recruit for the Navy as short-service entrants the young highly-trained officers from the Mercantile Marine who are now unemployed. But cadets are being entered at great expense and with 40 years' service liability.

5.45 p.m.


I should like to ask the First Lord one question. The hon. Member who moved the reduction informed us of the figures far the British Navy to-day and pre-War, and he went on to deal with the matter of the substitution of oil for coal. In order that, both in the House and outside, people may be able to judge as to what is the real position, I would like to ask what are the pre-War figures for the British Navy, the United States Navy, the French Navy and the Japanese Navy as regards personnel, and what are the corresponding modern figures for those navies. If the others have not gone down proportionately with ours, the very difficult question arises whether we have not gone down in personnel very much more than they have, and some of us are not sure whether the reduction in the personnel of our Navy has not been carried too far. If that is the case, then, so far from reducing this Vote to-day, one would like to see it dealt with in another way. I think the country is entitled to know the exact position of our Navy in comparison with other navies. I ask this question, not in any hostile spirit to the First Lord or to the Gov- ernment, but simply because it is essential that the country should know where we are, as people are so easily misled. If anyone should happen to read the speech of my hon. Friend, they might think that our personnel had not been cut down, but, if my information is right —and I am seeking the confirmation of the First Lord—we have cut down in personnel at a very much higher rate than any other country.

5.48 p.m.

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

I sympathise with the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). It is always difficult to keep in order on the Report stage of these Estimates, and at any other time I shall be very glad to give him all the information that he wants about "M 2" and oil. I am sorry that I cannot do so now, because I should not be in order. The hon. Member fr Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) has moved a reduction of the Vote by 100 men, but I think that only a stern sense of duty, and a lively realisation of the maxim that it is the duty of an opposition to oppose, can have led the party opposite to move this reduction. With us the question is one of margin in the number of men. I have explained this question of margin many times, and, if I might put it in one or two sentences, it is that, beyond the men actually necessary to man our ships, there must be a surplus to make good the number of men on leave, the number of men who are sick, the number of men who are doing various forms of training, and, perhaps above all, the number of men who are going out to relieve crews on far distant stations.

I may tell the House that at the present moment, in order to try to get a little more margin and so avoid some of the changes that are going on in His Majesty's ships, we are waiting until ships come home from abroad before we send out relief ships. This is not at all a good arrangement, because it denudes foreign stations of part of their full strength. We have, however, to accept these evils in order to avoid greater ones. One of the paramount evils in the Service is that we have not enough men in the Navy to-day, and this lack of men necessitates constant changes in every ship, especially in the Home Fleet, which means that ships hardly ever get the chance of settling down, and the officers and men do not get to know each other. Another reason why I would ask the House to oppose the reduction is on account of the men themselves—the comfort of the men, who are always being changed about. In their own terms, they say they are "messed about" a great deal too much. I may say that that is a euphemistic term for what they really think.

Apart from the question of new construction, under the London Naval Treaty the party opposite laid down a replacement programme, and I congratulate them on it; it was a very good programme. We settled, in the London Naval Treaty, to work down to a certain number of ships by the end of 1936, but the party opposite, when they were in power, realised just as much as we did that, particularly if we were working down, we must have a certain number of modern ships, and this programme which the party opposite put forward is purely a replacement programme. They started it is 1930—a much bigger programme than we had in 1928 or 1929—and all honour to them for it. We continued it in 1931, 1932 and 1933, and our big construction Vote to-day is due to the fact that in 1933 we are having to finance the programmes of 1930, 1931 and 1932; and, even if it were not necessary to increase Vote A in order to try and get a better margin, it would be necessary to come to the House to-day to ask for an increase in Vote A in order to man the ships included in the very sensible programme which was put forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and which we are now carrying out. For that reason I think that a Motion for a reduction comes very ill from the party opposite, and I hope that they will withdraw it. With regard to

the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), I am afraid we cannot get the pre-War Navy figures of other countries in time. I think that my hon. Friend is right in his assumption, but I should be sorry to say any more or to give any figures at the moment; I regret that I have not them here.


Have you the post-War figures?


Yes, I think I can get the post-War figures. The hon. Member for Broxstowe (Mr. Cocks) said that there were too many officers, and particularly too many lieutenant-commanders, and that that is having the effect that junior officers are being squeezed out right down the ladder. I absolutely agree with the hon. Member. What he has said is really a paraphrase of what I endeavoured to say in my speech on the Estimates, and I can assure 'him that we have that point very much in mind and are taking active steps as regards the future. I hope that, in view of my explanation, the hon. Gentleman opposite may see fit to withdraw his Amendment.


The figures for which I asked, and which I think are now being obtained, are very vital and important for the country to know. If the First Lord cannot publish them now, would he publish them in some other way?


If my hon. Friend will put down a question, I shall be very glad to give them.

Question put, "That '90,300' stand part of the Resolution."

The House divided: Ayes, 289; Noes, 37.

Ordered, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide, during twelve months, for the Discipline and Regulation of the Army and the Air Force; and that Mr. Duff Cooper, Sir Bolton Eyres Monsell and Sir Philip Sassoon do prepare and bring it in.