HC Deb 14 November 1933 vol 281 cc737-8
Lieut.-Commander AGNEW (by Private Notice)

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether any alteration of the 1933 programme is contemplated.

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

Yes, Sir. The House will remember that this programme included one "Leander" class cruiser of 7,250 tons and three "Arethusas" of 5,400 tons each, armed with eight and six 6- inch guns respectively. The policy of building cruisers of comparatively small tonnage had been adopted in the hope that other nations would follow our lead. Also, it will be recalled that in July, 1932, the United Kingdom Delegation at Geneva put forward proposals for the reduction of future cruisers to 7,000 tons with a maximum gun calibre of 6.1 inch in the hope that these would be generally accepted. Unfortunately, neither of these hopes has been realised.

In 1931 Japan laid down two cruisers of 8,500 tons reported to mount 15 6-inch guns. It is learnt that she is now laying down two more of the same dimensions, and that the construction of yet another two, making six in all, is projected. The United States also have already announced the intention of building four cruisers of 10,000 tons, each with 15 6-inch guns. If, therefore, our programme already approved were to be carried out the new cruisers would be definitely inferior to those being developed by other Powers.

As the House is aware, however, our total cruiser tonnage is limited by the London Naval Treaty. The result is that we have been on the horns of a very serious dilemma. If we proceeded with our original programme, all the cruisers that we should be building would be definitely inferior to certain of the cruisers which are being built by other Powers. If, on the other hand, we are to build any cruisers comparable with those vessels, we must reduce our number from four to three.

The first alternative could not be accepted, and accordingly, after the most anxious consideration, and with much regret, we propose to revise the 1933 programme so as to include two cruisers of a new type of about 9,000 tons with increased armament, and one cruiser of the "Arethusa." type (about 5,200 tons). This alteration will not involve any increase in the cost of the 1933 programme. Indeed, some small reduction in the cost of this programme is expected to result.

I should explain that the United States and Japan, under the terms of the London Naval Treaty, are fully entitled to build ships of the size they contemplate. Nevertheless, it will be the continued policy of the Government to endeavour by common agreement both to restrict the number of vessels of the larger size as much as possible, and also to reduce the maximum size of cruisers to be constructed in the future.

Vice-Admiral TAYLOR

Does not my right hon. Friend consider that it is most inadvisable for this country to agree to any Treaty in the nature of the London Treaty which prohibits us from building what we require for our defence—what we consider is best?


That is outside the question.