§ Order for Committee read.
§ 3.42 p.m.
The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Sir Bolton Eyres Monsell)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
In presenting the Navy Estimates for 1934, I think it must be my first task to attempt to remove some of the misconceptions about the London Naval Treaty. I do not blame people for making mistakes about this very complicated treaty. I myself was guilty last week of giving a wrong answer to a supplementary question about it. It has been apparent lately that a great many people are under the impression that the Admiralty this year are free, and that the Navy is no longer subject to the many restrictions which are placed upon it by the treaty. This is very far from being the truth, and I shall try to clarify the position, first with regard to the cruisers, as that is the type of vessel about which there is the most controversy. The only restriction from which we are free this year is the one that limits the tonnage laid down since the signing of the treaty, and completed before the end of 1936, to 91,000 tons. This limitation, of course, did apply to the last programme, to 1933, and when, as I explained to the House, it became necessary to increase the size of our larger 6-inch cruisers we had to reduce the number of cruisers in that programme from four to three. Otherwise, the total tonnage to be completed by the end of 1936 would have exceeded the figure allowed to us under the treaty.
That restriction has gone, but two most important restrictions remain. The first is the one that limits the total amount of cruiser tonnage, both under and over age, that we may have at the end of 1936 to 339,000 tons. The other restriction, and this is the one about which there is the most misunderstanding, limits the cruiser tonnage which may be laid down in 1934, 1935 and 1936, to the tonnage becoming over-age in 1937, 1938 and 1939, plus tonnage over-age by the end of 1936 and still in existence. 42 This gives us, as the total tonnage to be laid down for 1934, 1935 and 1936, 86,350 tons. But it is also stipulated in the London Naval Treaty that replacement cruiser tonnage cannot be laid down more than three years before the year in which the tonnage to be replaced becomes over-age. The effect of those two restrictions, which sound rather complicated, is that in 1934, this year, we could lay down 67,350 tons. That is made up of 62,500 tons of tonnage remaining over-age and in existence at the end of 1936, plus one ship of 4,800 odd tons which becomes over-age in 1937. The total cruiser tonnage that we are proposing to lay down this year is about 32,000 tons. This, as the House will see, is a generous third of what we are allowed for the next three years, and this building programme is in accordance with the carefully considered Admiralty policy of replacement, a policy which is designed to pursue a steady annual programme.
A steady annual programme has very many advantages, and to depart from that steady programme would create many difficulties. The two chief difficulties would be the question of manning and the inability to take advantage of the latest development in any ship designed. If we laid down, as we are entitled to this year, 67,350 tons, we should have only 19,000 tons of cruisers for the two following years, 1935 and 1936, and, of course, this allowance would be quite inadequate to allow the Admiralty to pursue their steady replacement programme. Some people may contend that we should use all the replacements to which we are legitimately entitled this year, because they say the Naval Conference, which is to be called next year, in 1935, might break down and might end in disagreement. My answer to that is this: This country has made tremendous reductions in her armaments in trying to bring about a general limitation. People may argue whether that was done rightly or wrongly, but we have done it, and we are still pursuing that end. We have not given up hope, we are still trying, and I think the House will agree with me that it would be quite impossible greatly to extend our cruiser programme this year, on the eve of the Naval Conference, and on the assumption, and only on the assumption, that that Conference is going to break down.
43 Moreover, as the House well knows, this country has put forward proposals for qualitative disarmament. If those proposals should be successful, or other arrangements be agreed to at next year's Conference, we should be in a very unfavourable position if we had exhausted all the tonnage to which we are legitimately entitled this year, because we should have only 19,000 tons of cruiser tonnage for the next two years, and would be in a very bad position to take advantage of any scheme that may be arranged, and in a bad way to make any start on a new basis that may be adopted. I want to make it perfectly clear to the House that, by the end of 1936, we shall have the full cruiser tonnage that we can have by that date. Included therein will be the full amount of new tonnage which is allowed by the Treaty. As the House will know from my printed statement, our programme includes four cruisers, one of the "Arethusa" type of about 5,200 tons, and three of the "Minotaur" type of about 9,000 tons.
With regard to destroyers and submarines, the limitations in the London Naval Treaty affecting those two categories are in the main the same as those affecting the cruisers. Here, again, our programme has been based upon a deliberate policy of replacement. We are asking the House to authorise one flotilla leader and eight destroyers, and three submarines, one of which is of the mine-laying class and two of the "S" or patrol type. The numbers are the same as in previous years since the Treaty, and they represent the steady annual programme of replacement which best meets our requirements.
It is true that in destroyers we shall be short, by a little over 60,000 tons, of the under-age tonnage that we might have had under the treaty. In regard to submarines we shall only be short of about 4,000 tons of the under-age tonnage that we might have under the treaty. There is no deficiency in the total permitted tonnage in either category. To sum up: By the end of 1936, in all categories we shall have the full tonnage that we are allowed by the treaty.
In regard to aircraft carriers, it has long been recognised that the construction of a vessel of this type could not much longer be delayed. The House is 44 aware that we in this country were the pioneers in this type of vessel. Of the six aircraft carriers that we possess today, three were experimental types and, according to modern requirements, no longer have the speed necessary for a craft of this sort. Neither have they power to operate the number of aircraft of the modern aircraft carrier. The tonnage of aircraft carriers was limited by the Washington Treaty to 135,000 tons. We have at the moment 115,350 tons, and when the new ship is finished we shall scrap one of the old ones. We shall then still be well within the tonnage allowed in the London Naval Treaty.
The House may be interested to know where the ships of the new programme are to be built. The "Arethusa" cruiser will be built at Portsmouth; one "Minotaur" and two sloops at Devonport; one "S" submarine at Chatham; Malta and Simonstown will have some small craft to build, and the remaining 20 ships and the rest of the small craft will be built by contract. The principal function, as the House well knows, of our dockyards is maintenance and repair. We have a big programme of repair work for the dockyards, and I can assure hon. Members who represent those most important seats that the men in the dockyards will be fully occupied for some time to come.
If I may revert for a moment to the question of submarines, I think that this is the appropriate occasion to inform the House and the Navy of a very important decision which we have come to with regard to saving life from a sunken submarine. After exhaustive and anxious consideration we have come to the conclusion that the raising of a submarine in time to save life by that means is not a feasible operation, and that the only practical as well as the most certain method of saving life is by the Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus which is now fitted to all submarines. For the future we propose to rely only on this for saving life. This conclusion was reached only after most careful investigation of all submarine disasters that have occurred in this country and other countries, in the light of the experience gained by the United States naval authorities, who have gone very deeply into the question and in the light of our own experience of the escapes made by means of the Davis gear from the "Poseidon" in 1931, and even from the negative results which we 45 obtained from the attempted salvage of the M.2 in 1932.
We are fortified in the decision that we have taken because only recently the United Staes have come to exactly the same conclusion and have decided to adopt for the future exactly the same policy as we are going to adopt. Officers and men are all trained in the use of the Davis escape apparatus. There is a tank now at Gosport, one is being built at Hong Kong and a third will be built at Malta. The reason for our decision is that if it was thought by men imprisoned in a sunken submarine that salvage operations were going to be attempted, it might have the very grave effect that the men, although trained in the use of the Davis gear, might postpone using it until they saw the effect of those salvage operations. Waiting for hours, perhaps for days, under most intense strain, might so weaken their strength and their will that eventually they might not be able to make use of that escape gear at all. Escaping by the Davis escape gear is an act which requires great resolution and coolness. It must not be postponed too long if it is to be a success.
Accordingly, we are just about to issue orders to the Fleet that we do not intend for the future to retain a salvage organisation, as we have done in the past, with the object of salvaging submarines only. The existing organisation provides for cruisers and all surface craft available being sent as quickly as possible to the scene of the disaster. We are amplifying those orders by giving instructions that certain signals shall be made to the submarine when the surface craft have located it, and that when the submarine receives those signals the men have to make their escape by the Davis gear, when they can be picked up by the surface craft. The Admiralty have had to face facts in making this decision, and it is a fact that there is no hope of saving life by salvage. We have to make up our minds as to that, and we have come to our decision because we are convinced that it is in the best interests of the personnel of the submarine service.
To turn to a more cheerful subject: one of the most satisfactory features, to my mind, in these Estimates is the increase in Vote A, that is, in the number 46 of the personnel of the Navy. Last year I explained from this Box that we had reached the nadir in the numbers of men, and that from that moment the numbers were going to increase. Doubts were cast upon my statement by various news papers—I do not blame them—because the method we have of computing Vote A apparently failed to bear it out, but it was true, and this year there is a further increase, the numbers having gone up by 2,057 men. So the curve of the numbers of men is now definitely ascending, and with that curve two other important curves must rise, representing the efficiency of the Service and the comfort of the men.
I should like to tell the House what we have been trying to do to improve the conditions and prospects of men of the lower deck. I have nothing at all spectacular to report, but I cannot help thinking that the cumulative effect of a number of small things we have been able to do in this direction is not inconsiderable. First of all, the increase in Vote A, which will increase what we call our margin, is going to make a great difference in the comfort of the men. It will mean, first of all, that they will not have to be moved about from ship to ship as much as they have been, and, besides that, there will be a better distribution of shore and sea service and foreign and home service. With regard to pay, we have done something in that direction. We came to a decision last year that men entered on the 1919 scale of pay should retain that pay when re-engaging for pension until they got a further rise on the 1925 scale, that is, they should retain their existing rate until they became entitled to a higher rate on the 1925 scale. The same with the pensions of the same men. A decision was also made whereby that part of the pension of such men which is in respect of their first engagement is to be calculated on the scale in operation when they joined the Service. In addition to that, we have recognised the very high qualifications necessary for what we call the communications department, that is, the signal and wireless branches. We have recognised that by giving these men non-substantive pay, and so putting them on the same footing as gunnery and torpedo ratings.
The victualling of the Fleet continues to be improved, general messing having been one of the greatest factors in this 47 direction. Much more consideration than formerly is now given to the accommodation for the men on board ship. Shore station barracks are replacing hulks, and existing shore stations are being constantly improved and renovated. Steps have been taken to improve the selection and training of officers promoted from the lower deck, so as to put them on more level terms with ex-cadet officers in obtaining higher promotion. Every sort of facility to-day is given for games and recreation, and when the sailor comes to the end of his active service career, he finds that there are better facilities for vocational training and arrangements for re-settlement in civil life.
As I told the House, there is nothing sensational in any of these things which I have reported. Nevertheless, all of them touch aspects of life which most concern the sailor from the time he joins the Fleet to the time he leaves it, and they all help to ease what is, and should be recognised, as a hard life. I am quite sure that this House will never grudge any small concession that we are able to make to the sailor to ease his life. When he is afloat, the sailor is always on active service. He leads a crowded communal life. He has no barrack square in which to kick a football about during the dinner hour. If he is married, he is separated for a very long time from his wife, and has, in a sense, to maintain a dual establishment. He has to sleep in hammocks, sometimes so close as to touch each other, so that when a man turns the whole row feels it. What is worse than anything, it is almost impossible for the sailor to get any privacy, which at times all creatures want. For these reasons, I am sure the House will never grudge any small concession that we can make to improve his conditions.
I do not want the House to think, from what I have said, that the Navy is an unattractive service. Recruitment shows quite the opposite. Barely 80 years ago we were using the press gang to man our ships; to-day we are able to take only one in 14 of the men who want to join the Service. I think I ought to warn hon. Members who, later on, may wish to reduce my salary either for sins of omission or commission, that our right to use the press gang has never been abolished.
48 While we are getting over some of the difficulties of having too few men, we have still the difficulties in the Service of having too many officers in certain ranks. Owing to the large numbers of officers entered when the Navy was larger, and Treaty restrictions were unforeseen, there has been, and unhappily still is, a surplus of lieutenants and lieutenant-commanders. Several ill effects accrue from this surplus. It prevents a number of junior officers from taking command and exercising control which is so necessary to their future careers. It has meant that prospects are bad in the promotion of these officers. It has involved unemployment and early retirement, and I am afraid that some people outside may doubt very much whether the Royal Navy affords adequate prospects of a reasonably assured career for their sons.
Therefore, we are taking active measures to meet these several difficulties. Various ships in the Navy are now working on considerably reduced complements of officers, that is in addition to the reduction we made in lieutenant-commanders last year. In the light of the experience which we are gaining we shall adjust the numbers of lieutenants and lieutenant-commanders, and, at the same time, adjust the entries of cadets into the Service, so that we shall be able to offer definitely better prospects of promotion in the future. We have already considerably improved promotion from commander to captain, and I hope that in the future we shall have a considerably higher proportion of officers promoted from lieutenant-commander to commander. To those who may think of sending their sons into the Service, I have no hesitation whatever in saying that the prospects of a boy entering the Royal Navy to-day as a cadet have never been better since the War.
Last week my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air, at the end of his very admirable speech in introducing the Air Estimates, said:I am sure that the House as a whole realises that the Royal Air Force is now, alongside the Royal Navy, the first line of defence of these Islands and of the Empire."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1934; col. 2041, Vol. 286.]I am sure that not only the majority of the House, but the whole House realises that, and I may say that the Navy has realised it for a very long time. 49 I want to say here that I deplore very much a growing tendency to indulge in controversy on the respective merits of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force for the protection of our Empire. I think that such controversy is wholly mischievous, and can only do harm to both Services and also to our country. Both these Services are vitally necessary for the defence of our Empire. In my opinion, the two Services are peculiarly complementary, and, if I see the future aright, I think that they will become more and more complementary as time progresses. The Fleet depends more and more upon our Naval Air Arm. We regard it as the spear-head of the Fleet, and we are prouder of it than of any other branch of our Naval Service.
It is equally true that the Air Force depends on the Navy. Without the Navy, the fuel which the Air Force uses, and indeed every other thing that is water-borne, would be in jeopardy. I am sure that the Air Force, as time goes on, will help more and more in the defence of our commerce in narrow waters. But the House must remember that to-day, at any moment, of the tremendously large number of British ships all over the world carrying our commerce, something like 85 per cent. are outside the scope of land-based aircraft, and I cannot help thinking that, until commerce flies altogether, you must have a Navy to defend it. It is perfectly true to say that the Navy can do nothing to protect London against an air attack, but a blow at the heart is not the only way of killing a country. A country can be killed, if more slowly, just as surely, by attacking its extremities, and sinking its merchandise and provender upon the high seas. Death by a thousand cuts is just as sure as death by a knock-out blow. It must be apparent that both of these great Services are required for our defence, and, in my opinion, they will work more and more closely together as time progresses. I am sure the House would like to know that, at those places where they come most closely in contact, that is to say, in the aircraft carriers and at the shore bases, there is the most perfect comradeship and co-operation between them.
If it is essential, as I think this country will always hold, for England to have a Fleet, I should like the House to realise and understand that it is just as essential 50 for the Navy to have battleships. A dangerous heresy has appeared in certain naval circles which states that a battleship is an anachronism, and is unnecessary to-day. This question is even discussed as though there were two schools of thought in the Navy upon it, but I can assure the House that that is not so. I do not believe that it would be possible to find a Board of Admiralty who would not say that the battleship is, and must remain, the backbone of our Fleet. I see in his place my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes), and I should very much like to obtain his support for this thesis. I am sure I may take this opportunity of saying on behalf of the House how delighted we are to see among us a very distinguished Admiral of the Fleet who will bring great practical experience and knowledge to our Naval Debates.
This heresy about battleships has gained a good many adherents recently, because, in our up-to-date journalism, orthodoxy is no longer news value. It is only the hetrodox who obtain the headlines, as the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) well knows. Besides this, those who, like the First Sea Lord, have supreme responsibility for these things, are not supposed to take part in public debate, and cannot rebut theories that are put forward by people who have no responsibility whatsoever, and so it is left to me to try to make the case for the battleship, which I shall attempt to do. The argument is usually put in this way, that battleships should be reduced to 10,000 tons, and I propose to deal with the argument in that form.
The argument is advanced from three quite different points of view—by those who think that a reduction to 10,000 tons will mean economy for this country; by those who think that a 10,000-ton ship will be of a size sufficient strategically for the defence of this country; and by those who think that the 10,000-ton ship will make for peace, because it reduces the power of aggression. I think I should here state what the Admiralty consider to be the qualifications of a battleship. The first is that a battleship should be powerful enough to remain afloat for a reasonable time against any form of attack—from gunfire, from torpedoes, from mines, and from aerial bombs; and it would be 51 technically impossible to incorporate the necessary protection against all these forms of attack in a ship of 10,000 tons. But there is an overriding consideration, and that is that a battleship should be overwhelmingly more powerful than the next type of ship with which it is likely to come in contact.
Taking first the economy argument, let me say that we at the Admiralty have every sympathy with the idea of economy; indeed, we have put forward plans for reducing the size of the capital ship very considerably, though I may remind the House that up to date those suggestions have not met with very much response. If the capital ship were reduced to 10,000 tons, or if the gap between the capital ship and the cruiser were unduly reduced, all the smaller Naval Powers which at present have not any ships bigger than cruisers would immediately be in a position to upset all the carefully calculated ratios and relative strengths of the other Powers, either by forming combinations among themselves or by re-inforcing one of the larger Powers; and it is only our possession of capital ships overwhelmingly more powerful than cruisers that enables us to accept so low a strength as is represented by a one-Power standard. Were our interests threatened in any distant part of the world, instead of sending, as we did in the War to the Falkland Islands, two ships of a far superior type against the concentration of enemy cruisers, we might, if we had not ships of that superior type, have to send perhaps double the number of ships of the same type. The result would be that we should want so many 10,000-ton ships that the Navy would be far more expensive than it is to-day.
As regards the strategical aspect, suppose that all nations were limited to ships of 10,000 tons, and that a country which had parity, or something like parity, wished to attack us. This country must always have a very large percentage of its cruisers on the trade routes, because our position with regard to the protection of trade is unique. That would mean that, at his selected moment, an enemy could concentrate the whole of his cruiser force against only a fraction of ours, either at home or anywhere else in the world. If it were at home, and he effected that concentration, he would have the whole converging traffic at the 52 mouth of the Channel, and, indeed, the whole of this country, at his mercy. That would be making aggression easy; that would be making attack simple. But now suppose each of these countries to have a small battle fleet as well as cruisers. An attack on this country then would become a very much more difficult and hazardous enterprise, because the concentration of cruisers of which I have spoken could do nothing really effective while our battle fleet was in being, and it would be necessary for any enemy to move his battle fleet, working, perhaps, many miles from its base, before our battle fleet could be challenged.
The enthusiasts for the 10,000-ton capital ship are those who want to stop aggression in all its aspects. They think that by reducing the offensive power of a nation, and strengthening its defensive power, greater general security would be brought about. I agree absolutely with that, but one of the greatest difficulties has been to define what is an offensive and what is a defensive weapon. I think the only definition that finds universal agreement at Geneva is one that says a particular type of weapon is offensive if you are standing in front of it, and defensive if you are standing behind it. But, surely, this plan of reducing the capital ship to 10,000 tons would be deliberately playing into the hands of the aggressor, and dangerously reducing the defensive power of any country attacked. I will try to sum up these arguments by saying that neither technically, strategically, economically, politically, nor even pacifically, could we accept a 10,000-ton capital ship, and this is probably why all investigators who have studied the suggestion have unanimously turned it down.
Two years ago, when I first presented Navy Estimates to the House, I very regretfully explained that the Estimates of the Navy were at a very low ebb. The provision made in 1931 was lower than it had been for nearly 20 years, and, in spite of the very high hopes of general disarmament and general appeasement in the world that were held in those days, I realised that the money voted for the Navy was not sufficient properly to finance it. We were starved for stores and many other requirements; we were living on what was rapidly ceasing to be our own fat. It is true that the Navy Estimates in the last two years have risen by a little over £6,000,000, but, honestly, I do not 53 believe, looking round at the general state of the world to-day, that anybody who had my job, who had the tremendous responsibility of answering for the efficiency of the British Navy to the British people, could possibly ask for a penny less.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
We on this side of the House regard the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty as the most dangerous occupant which that position has had for some time—dangerous from the point of view that he presents his case in such a manner that, if the statement of his case contained nothing other than that, he would disarm a considerable amount of criticism from this side. I know of no one who has been more businesslike in presenting the Navy Estimates than the right hon. Gentleman. He has raised a number of very important questions, the most important, I think, being that of the retention of the capital ship. Is that an indication that, high as the Navy Estimates are this year, there is the possibility of very much higher Estimates being presented, perhaps not in the near future, but at some time in the future? May I suggest that one of the first members of the Government whom he should convert regarding the need for the retention of the capital ship would be the Prime Minister himself? I understood that in the London Agreement, and in one of the memoranda issued while the London Conference was sitting, reasons were given why it was necessary to abolish the capital ship. I am speaking from memory and I do not want to do the right hon. Gentleman an injustice.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)
The injustice is not being done to me but to the hon. Gentleman himself. The basis of the negotiations with regard to capital ships at the London Conference was a reduction of the size but not the abolition of the ship itself.
§ Mr. HALL
I will certainly look the point up. I am satisfied that there are reasons given in the memorandum then issued why there should be either the abolition or a reduction in the size of capital ships. But, at any rate, no increase 54 in the number of capital ships can be made for some time owing to the agreements that are in existence, so there will be ample opportunity for the experts to discuss the question, whether it is necessary, or whether it is in the interest of all the canons of naval strategy, to retain the capital ship. It was most significant that the First Lord left the question of the actual increase in his Estimates until almost the last few sentences. He referred to the programme that was necessary for this increased amount of money, but the Estimates for the Fighting Services during the last two years have been increased by no less than £10,000,000. The Admiralty is taking the major portion of that increase, and that at a time when the Disarmament Conference is still sitting and when we are on the eve of a new Naval Conference if the Disarmament Conference fails, for the London Conference provided that in 1935 there should be a conference to decide what will be the position regarding the Fleets of the great naval Powers on the expiration of the period fixed by the London Conference. At this time the Admiralty and the Government are providing for an increase in the Fleet.
We recognise that the Estimates provide for ships which will be within the Treaty limits, but we deny the wisdom of building up to those limits at present. The Lord President of the Council last week expressed the hope that the endeavours of the Lord Privy Seal to save the Disarmament Conference will not be a failure. This is a period when the most rigorous economy has been enforced on all services which directly add to the well-being of the people, and, notwithstanding that fact, we are faced with this very large increase in the money asked for the Fighting Services. I do not know how far the First Lord and the Government have been influenced by the extremely significant campaign in the Press, on the platform, and even on the screen, for increased fighting forces, and this while the delegates are sitting at the Disarmament Conference working for a reduction in armaments. This propaganda was given a send-off by the Conservative Conference at Birmingham in October, which unanimously passed a resolution in these terms:That this conference desires to record its gravest anxiety in regard to the inadequacy of the provision made for Imperial defence.55 Since that time the campaign has received active support from a number of politicians, from Admirals, Generals and other naval and military officers. There has been no more widespread demand for an increase in the armed forces of the country since pre-War days. The same arguments are used to-day as were used before the War, and the full forces of this propaganda have been mobilised to compel the Government to refrain from entering into agreements to limit armaments and to insist upon increases taking place. Alarming statistics from the naval correspondents of newspapers show that the sea peril is even more menacing than the air peril—Admirals letting themselves go one after the other at public meetings, banquets and the talkies, telling us that we are on the verge of collapse as a great naval Power and that our island security is threatened as never before. That has been going on for the last three or four months. It is most significant that the First Sea Lord himself should take sides in a controversy of this kind. Sir Ernie Chatfield responding to the toast of the "Imperial Services" said he had noticed in many quarters some apprehension as to the strength of the Navy.That apprehension, if it existed, was a sign of an awakening conscience. The nation must take stock of its defence position and consider whether, on its present naval expenditure, it was maintaining a naval strength in accordance with its policy.He was followed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman whose presence in the House has been referred to by the First Lord. He will be able to bring his very expert knowledge to our Debates and, while perhaps we on this side shall not agree with everything that he says, we shall be very pleased to hear what he has to say concerning the position of the Navy. He is an advocate of a bigger fleet policy. Just before he became a Member of the House he said:Is Great Britain to be almost disarmed in a fully armed world? Is the very existence of an Empire to be decided by other nations or ourselves? Let us take off these hampering agreements with which we have been bound. They are not in the interests of economy, security or peace. Let us resume our right to build such ships as we consider necessary to safeguard our seas, assure peace and restore the prestige and prosperity of our Empire.56 If that is the opinion of the experts, what prospect is there for any progress in disarmament, and what prospect is there likely to be for the success of the Naval Conference that is to be held next year? One would imagine from the propaganda of the last few months that the Navy had been starved, but during the last 12 years no less than £662,000,000 has been voted for naval purposes, and no less distinguished a journalist than Mr. Garvin has pointed out in the "Observer" that, since the War, this country, faced as it is with financial stringency, has spent no less than £2,000,000,000 on armaments and that half that money has gone to the Navy. We are told by the Press, by politicians, Admirals and the First Lord of the Admiralty that the Navy is, nevertheless, in such a condition that our safety is in jeopardy. I wonder what amount of money would have been required had there been no Naval Agreement? What Estimates would the First Lord have produced had there been no Washington Agreement? How much money would have been required in this year's Estimates had there been on London Agreement? The Prime Minister was the father of the London Agreement and, if criticism is levelled against it, he must take his fair share, as he is also entitled with Mr. Alexander, who was then the First Lord, to the credit that is due. My colleagues and I shudder to think what would have been the expenditure called for had it not been for the agreements which have been in existence during the last 12 years. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), in explaining the savings brought about as the result of the Washington Agreement, said that we had saved something like £400,000,000 as the result of the scrapping of certain capital ships and the reduction in size.
We hope the Government will not be influenced by the propaganda that has been going on. The hon. Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) asked that there should be no agreements at all. He was preceded by a number of distinguished Admirals who claim that it is not 70 cruisers that we want, which was the minimum asked for in the Geneva Conference; they said that during the War we had 120 cruisers of all sorts, 57 and they were not sufficient to safeguard our trade routes. Do they want a condition of that kind to exist in the future? I hope the Government and the Admiralty will endeavour at all times to control not only the size but the numbers of ships by agreements such as we entered into at Washington and at the London Conference.
I might ask where is the inferiority of the Fleet of this country at the present time. I do not think that the First Lord of the Admiralty would say for a moment that the Fleet is inferior to the Fleet of any other naval Power. We are not only building up to the full tonnage allowed under the London Treaty to the end of 1936, but, in the words of the First Lord himself, we are providing for overage ships until the end of 1939, and we want next year and the year after to have a programme similar to the programme which he has submitted this year, and then this nation will have built up to the full extent allowed under the London Agreement. I would repeat the question to those who have engaged in this propaganda during the lest few months as to where is the inferiority of the Fleet of this country?
The numerical summary which was issued by the First Lord a few weeks ago, points out that in cruisers alone we have built 50 to 21 built by the United States, and 31 built by Japan. We have a cruiser strength in this country as great as the combined cruiser strength of Japan and America. Not only that, but in the building we are in no way behindhand. I know that it can be suggested or inferred that America and Japan have vast naval votes for the spending of large sums of money. Whatever money is being spent in those countries in the building of warships, it is only to give them the amount of tonnage to which they are entitled under the London Naval Agreement. From the propaganda which has been directed in the Press one would imagine that they were exceeding by far what they were allowed to do. To look at the position at the present time, we are told, on page 371 of the present Estimates, that the number of ships to be completed, advanced, and commenced during the year 1934 will amount to 13 cruisers, one aircraft carrier, two flotilla leaders, 32 destroyers and other ships, making a total of 84 ships. One is inclined 58 to ask, in view of the propaganda which has been conducted, who is the enemy which the bigger navy which is being asked for is to fight? There are five naval Powers. Germany is no longer a great naval Power. America and Japan are the two largest naval Powers which are signatories of the London Agreement. There is, of course, France and Italy, but, as I have already pointed out, the Fleet of this country is not in any way inferior to the Fleets of those countries.
I come to the question of the programme which we have before us at the present time, and I should like to refer to the alteration which took place in the programme of last year. In last year's programme there were three of the smaller type of cruisers and one "Leander." In November of last year the First Lord announced that the programme was to be so changed that, instead of having the three smaller type of cruisers, he was going to have two of the larger type, the new "Minotaur" type of 9,000-ton cruisers. We find that in this programme we are also providing for three 9,000-ton cruisers. I ask the First Lord what is the consideration that persuaded the Admiralty to build cruisers of this size. This sudden change is surprising, for it reverses the declared preference of the Admiralty for smaller ships and more of them. The Board of Admiralty appear to be in as changeable a mood concerning the type of cruiser as they have been during the last eight or 10 years concerning the size of battleships. I pointed out in the Debate on the Navy Estimates of last year that there was a changed opinion concerning the size of the battleship. At the Washington Conference of 1922 the size was fixed at 35,000 tons, which at the Geneva Conference was reduced to 30,000 tons. In 1930 a battleship of 25,000 tons was aimed at, and in 1932 it was further reduced to 22,000 tons. It was not so with cruisers. Here is an increase in the tonnage. In the Estimates which are now submitted we are asked for three of these large type and one of the smaller type. How long is it since the First Lord himself was converted to the larger type of cruiser which is now required? Speaking on the Estimates of 1932 he said:We want cruisers, not big cruisers, but light cruisers lightly armed, which are not a danger or a menace to anybody at all, but 59 a, menace only to commerce destroyers. Although we want small cruisers, we want plenty of them."—[OFFICIAL REPOBT, 7th March, 1932; col. 1503, Vol. 262.]He has sacrificed one small cruiser of his last year's programme for two of a very much larger type. I would ask the First Lord if he has seen the criticism of his predecessor Mr. Alexander concerning the building of the larger type of cruiser as compared with the smaller type? Mr. Alexander in a speech which he delivered last week said:They mean that the Government are going to build cruisers of a tonnage of 9,000 tons. Already they have 15 of 10,000 tons, and although they will be keeping within the total tonnage laid down by the London Agreement they will have the opportunity in 1935 of saying that they had not exceeded the limit. They will also be able to add that they are unable to build their 50 cruisers. Therefore they must have more tonnage.Those were the words of Mr. Alexander who was the First Lord of the Admiralty during the time that the Labour Government was in office. It would be interesting to know whether the views of the Board of Admiralty have now changed, whether the 50 cruisers are not now required, and whether they think that a minimum less than 50 could really be accepted.
The First Lord, in his speech, referred to the fact that one of the most satisfactory features of the Estimates is the increase in the personnel. These Estimates provide for a further increase of 2,000, so that in two years he will have had an increase in Vote A of 2,600 as compared with 1932. This increase is not shown in Vote I, for there is only an increase of some £40,000 in the amount of money required. The cuts in pay, wages and pensions account for a reduction in Vote A of over £1,100,000 as compared with the 1932 Estimates. We on this side of the House would like to see the First Lord do all he possibly can to make the lot of the sailor much better than it is at the present time and as comfortable as it can be made. He said he was able to do some little towards this end. He could do one thing which would make him and the Government very much more popular than they are, and which would be very acceptable to all the ratings in the Navy. He could increase their pay. He is very careful about their accommodation and their food, but I think a little more pay would be acceptable 60 to them. The restoration of the cuts would be very acceptable, in addition to the other improvements which he has been able to bring about.
I want to refer to the Estimates which were presented during the time that the present Prime Minister was Prime Minister of the Labour Government. At that time we were responsible for reducing the personnel of the Fleet. Mr. Alexander, in the Estimates which he presented to the House, indicated that a reduction was to take place and based the reasons on the fact that the operation of the London Agreement really meant the scrapping of five capital ships. These were responsible for the reduction of the personnel which took place at that time. I have satisfied my memory concerning that point.
§ Mr. HALL
That is the position, and the reason given for the reduction in the personnel of 1931 was that it was owing to the scrapping of those five capital ships. We on this side of the House are somewhat alarmed at the increase that is taking place. When the reduction took place it was based on inquiries which disclosed that the Service was overmanned after allowing for the full complement both afloat and for shore establishments. The latter, it was said, were particularly swollen. I understand that the reductions which took place fell short of the suggestions then made, and met with the full concurrence of the Board of Admiralty. Comparing the estimated personnel with the tonnage which we have at the present time, I am of the opinion that there is no justification at all for this increase. The First Lord, speaking on the introduction of the Estimates of 1932, said that in the year 1931–32 we had to dispose of 74,000 tons of warships, and completed barely 26,000 tons. Seeing that in 1932 there was a reduction of 50,000 tons in warships, he is asking for a personnel which is equal 61 to the personnel which existed before those 50,000 tons were scrapped. In comparing the personnel of the Fleet at the present time with the personnel and the size of the Fleet in 1913, I think that the First Lord of the Admiralty will admit that the size at the present time is just about 50 per cent.
§ Mr. HALL
Whatever may be the size of the reserve fleet the reduction of personnel is only 35 per cent. to-day, compared with 1913. It must be remembered that the change-over to oil fuel from coal has meant that the services of something like 20,000 stoker ratings can be dispensed with. That accounts for more than half the reduction in personnel that has taken place.
In the First Lord's statement no reference was made to the change in policy concerning Singapore. We find that in the Estimates, Vote 10, the total cost of Singapore is increased by about £1,000,000. The Naval Votes have already borne a portion of the expenditure and before the work at Singapore has been completed the Admiralty will have to meet an expenditure of nearly £9,000,000. I am not taking into consideration the grants-in-aid which have been paid towards the construction of the Singapore Base. That does not complete the story so far as Singapore is concerned, for in addition to the £9,000,000 which will fall upon the Naval Votes, £2,000,000 will fall upon the Army Vote and £600,000 upon the Air Service Vote. I should have thought that we could have had a statement from the First Lord dealing with this change—I will not say change of policy—and explaining why it is necessary that this increased sum should be placed in the Estimates this year. The Prime Minister knows the attitude which has always been taken by the Labour Opposition ever since the first day that the naval base at Singapore was mooted. In 1924 the present Prime Minister and his Government were responsible for stopping the work there and reversing the policy. In 1931 had it not been for the fact that contracts had been let and that the work had so far proceeded that it would have been very expensive to stop it, I have no doubt that there would have been a change of policy then. Now, nearly three years after the Labour 62 Government went out of office, we find that the full programme of work at Singapore is to be carried out.
These are the criticisms which we offer to the Estimates. We view the greatly increased Estimates with considerable alarm. More ships, more personnel and more equipment are being provided for. More money, amounting to £6,000,000, is being asked for in the course of two years. I have already pointed out that we recognise that the Estimates provide for equipment of ships within our treaty rights, but we on this side of the House deny the wisdom of building up to those limits. The Disarmament Conference is still in being, and the Lord President of the Council said last Thursday that he did not admit that the tour of the Lord Privy Seal was a failure. Apart from the effect upon other nations, we must remember that this is a time for rapid developments, and the development of aircraft must to some extent determine our Naval policy. There is nothing in the Estimates or in the First Lord's statement to indicate that there has been any pooling of ideas in these important matters between the Admiralty and the other Services. The admirals have had their way, more ships are to be built and the Naval Estimates are up, at a time when the whole world is changing, when international relations are becoming revolutionised, when nations are living more on their nerves than they have ever done since pre-War days, and when steady and calm judgment and wise policies are more than ever requisite.
Tracing in my imagination as well as I can the probable course of events in a world steady on the run from disarmament towards so-called armed security, I am satisfied that unless the nations of the world strive in every way for greater disarmament, the great Powers of the world will in the coming months and years be arming to bursting point. The propaganda conducted in the country during the past few months, and the Estimates for the Services do not assist disarmament, and for these reasons we shall vote against them at every point.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Admiral Sir ROGER KEYES
I appreciate the generous welcome which the First Lord of the Admiralty and the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) have given me, and from the reception which 63 the House has accorded me I feel sure that it will extend to me that generous indulgence which is always given to a maiden speech. The hon. Member for Aberdare fired several broadsides, and, if I were to reply to him, as I should very much like to do, I am afraid that I should greatly exceed the time which I understand is allowed to a maiden speech. However, I will reply to him in regard to one or two things. I thank you, Sir, for allowing me to speak so early in the Debate, because, having listened with great interest to the Air Estimates, I hope to persuade the House to debate the Navy Estimates in relation to national defence in all its aspects. We who have seen something of war and know what war means have as great a desire for the preservation of peace as the most ardent supporter of the League of Nations Union, but we wish also to do all in our power to ensure the maintenance and the unity of the Empire.
I am sure that the House listened with intense relief to the brave words with which the Lord President of the Council concluded his speech on the Air Estimates on Thursday last. I think that many of us, coupled with our thanksgiving, offered up a fervent prayer that there might be a time-limit, definite and short, to the deliberations of the Disarmament Conference on Air. I do not believe that any other nation except Great Britain is going to surrender anything that affects its interests or jeopardises its security. It was with intense relief that we listened to title statement of the Lord President of the Council that:This Government will see to it that in air strength and in air power this country shall no longer be in a position inferior to any country within striking distance of our shores."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1934; col. 2078, Vol. 286.]It was comforting to hear the shout of approval with which that statement was received in the House. The problem of national defence cannot be solved by raiding the Naval and Military Estimates to provide sufficient money to ensure that London and other places within reach of German aircraft shall not be bombed. There are other dangers. One hears so often nowadays that England is no longer an island, but the waters that surround our island are still the only route over which an army, complete with artillery, 64 tanks, and transport can invade these shores. I never thought in the Great War that that was a serious danger. Then we had a great Fleet, but if our Fleet is allowed to fall below its proper strength that danger will be revived, and if we are ever threatened with invasion the three Services will have to co-operate to defeat it. But invasion is not the only danger. On the great ocean spaces over which our ships carry the food and raw material which is vital to the very life of these islands, aircraft, except those carried in ships, can neither attack nor defend our trade. Incidentally, aircraft carriers are the most vulnerable of all the ships we possess, and require fighting ships to protect them. On the other hand, the co-operation of aircraft is required when our ships approach these shores or pass through the narrow seas. Those who think that the Navy should be abolished and that the Air Force could undertake all our defence are surely labouring under a great and a dangerous delusion. I am sure that that view is not shared by those who are responsible for air defence. Whatever may be said to the contrary, the chief technical officers of the three great Services do work in accord for national defence.
I have been concerned with national defence for many years. I shared the responsibility for naval defence as deputy chief of naval staff on the Board of Admiralty for nearly four years during the early post-War period, when great decisions were taken in the interests of economy and disarmament. I hope the House will bear with me if I relate briefly the steps that were taken to provide security and at the same time to make great economies. I joined the Board of Admiralty on the eve of the negotiations for the Washington Treaty. My civil and naval chiefs, Lord Lee and Lord Beatty, accompanied the late Lord Balfour to Washington, and I remained behind and represented the Board of Admiralty on the Committee of Imperial Defence, under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). We were in close touch from day to day with what was going on at Washington, and it is no exaggeration to say that the co-operation of Lord Beatty and the naval staff, which included the present First Sea Lord, alone made it possible to translate America's gesture into a practical working treaty, the Treaty of 65 Washington. This was a treaty which checked the construction of battleships for 15 years and called for great sacrifices on the part of Great Britain. I say quite definitely that the great economies and measures for naval disarmament after the War could not have been carried out but for the whole-hearted co-operation of the Board of Admiralty.
I would remind Socialist Members of the Opposition that when the first Socialist Administration was in office and was responsible for providing for naval defence, despite the strenuous opposition of the Liberal party of that day, but supported by the Conservatives, they provided a substantial building programme which enabled us to replace some obsolete worn-out cruisers and build cruisers fit to meet the cruisers which America, Japan, France and Italy had all been building. At that time they had the help and advice of the late Lord Haldane, a statesman, at one time much maligned, but to whom the Army and country owes an incalculable debt. He was to all intents and purposes their Minister for Defence, and, personally, I shall always be grateful to him for the wise guidance and help he gave in critical times.
I come to the next Administration. It was necessary to make some definite arrangements to replace our own worn-out and obsolete cruisers and destroyers. The Government appointed a Cabinet Committee which was presided over by the late Lord Birkenhead. On the one side the right hon. Member for Epping, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, defended the public purse, and on the other side Lord Beatty, and sometimes myself in his absence, endeavoured to extract sufficient for the needs of the Navy. In fact, an engagement was fought across the Table with a great lawyer and a jury of distinguished statesmen to decide the issue. When the Committee reported the Government decided that we should gradually replace our worn-out ships to the number of 70, the bare minimum required to carry out all the duties that our cruiser squadrons are called upon to perform all over the world, and may I add that it was less than half the number which had been found necessary in the Great War. This decision enabled us to keep in being the plant and power necessary to build war vessels, and to keep in employment gangs of skilled workmen 66 who would otherwise have been thrown out of work and dispersed.
A vital link in the chain of Imperial defence was the construction of a battleship base at Singapore, without which it is impossible to go to the help of Australia or New Zealand, or to operate in Eastern waters. An efficient and complete base is absolutely necessary for us to carry out those services, and it was distressing to hear the hon. Member for Aberavon deprecate the building of this base. After all, Australia and New Zealand came to our aid in the Great War. Are we to leave them to depend on perhaps a wireless message of sympathy if they are in trouble, because it would be quite easy to cut the telegraph cables. After the Government's decision the then keeper of the National Purse, who had scrutinised every item of our programme, told me that he considered our policy a wise and statesmanlike measure. It will be generally agreed that the country owes Lord Beatty a debt for all that he did during the eight years in five successive Administrations in maintaining the Navy in a state of efficiency through such difficult times. In 1927, having as he thought secured the future of the Navy, he laid down his great office. The policy went on. The ships, however, were not built quite as quickly as we should have liked owing to financial difficulties and other causes, but the policy was clear and we were unhampered by treaty obligations except in regard to the building of capital ships.
In 1929 a dangerous change of policy came into being, and in 1930 the Treaty of London did away with all the safeguards which had been introduced at Washington. The 70 cruisers for which we had proved our case were reduced by 20. I must say this: If the technical advisers to the Government of that day bad sufficiently and strongly represented the dangers and far-reaching effects of that treaty the Government might well have taken advantage of the withdrawal of France and Italy and put a stop to the proceedings. The French Minister of Marine, M. Légues, who was responsible for the remarkable rebirth of the French Navy after the War, once declared:that sea power has been in the past and is now more than ever a measure of the greatness of a nation; and its increase or decrease is the surest symptom of progress or decadence.67 It is not surprising that the French, accompanied by the Italians, should have withdrawn and declined thus to jeopardise their security within the terms of the Treaty of London. The Treaty of London not only limits our right to build ships and the type of ships we require, but it deprives us of the right of replacing a large proportion of those ships that are obsolete and worn out, and condemns us to send our people to sea in ships which are far inferior to those which other nations have been building.
There is one other great loss under that treaty; the hon. Member for Aberdare has mentioned it. We consented to scrap the "Tiger," one of the four ships in European waters which alone is capable of dealing with the pocket German battleship. We also consented to scrap the four "Iron Dukes." These five ships were good for many more years of valuable service. For instance, one of these with the assistance of a few light craft could have convoyed a merchant fleet of 40 or 50 vessels bringing food supplies from Australia. If we wish to build ships now we are compelled to build light cruisers with 6-inch guns, which in clear weather can only be a prey to the 8-inch gun ships which other nations are building unless they are accompanied by a superior force.
I should like to congratulate the First Lord on his admirable speech and on the clarity with which he has explained technical matters. The human note which he introduced will be greatly appreciated in the Service to which he and I are both devoted. I was head of the submarine service for four and a-half years, and I fully endorse all that he said about the salvage of a disabled submarine, and I fully appreciate his courage in making such a statement in this House. During the time I was head of the submarine service we lost several submarines, and that question came up over and over again. We felt that the same answer was needed but owing to sentimental reasons no one had the courage to give it. I congratulate the First Lord on his definite Statement which has cleared the air for ever. With regard to capital ships, I agree with everything that the First Lord has said.
I would take this opportunity of asking hon. Members to trust the naval experts at the Admiralty who are now responsible 68 for the advice which is tendered to the Government on such matters and to disregard and to turn a deaf ear to those academic naval officers and others whose irresponsible criticisms add so greatly to the labours and the difficulties of those who bear the burden of responsibility. The First Lord has told us that we are building up to the full number of cruisers that we are allowed under the Treaty of London, but it is clear, I think, that we are not building up to the full number of destroyers allowed to us by the Treaty of London quota. I fully appreciate the great difficulties which the Government have had in restoring the finances of the country, and it is evident that there was not sufficient money available to build the destroyers. The Admiralty have had to decide where to make economies. But I would suggest that another flotailla should be built. The vessels are required.
Of the cost of their construction 80 per cent. goes into the wages of the people who build them in the shipyards, and of the remaining 20 per cent. no less than 15 per cent. goes into the wages of the workmen who work on the raw material. These figures are irrefutable, and I commend them to the notice of hon. Members who are all keenly anxious to reduce unemployment. This construction would give work to a great number of men for whom work cannot be found in any other way. The United States devoted £47,000,000, part of a great national programme, to alleviate unemployment. I cannot help thinking that here at least we might follow America's excellent example and build these ships.
I would like to go back for a moment to the capital ship. No submarine officer is under any illusion as to the limitations of his vessel when it is called upon to attack a well-screened battleship. Battleships are now provided with anti-air defence which renders them no more liable to destruction from the bombs and torpedoes of aircraft than from the torpedo of a submarine or from the guns of their equals. When the National Government took office, among its many liabilities it inherited a Navy tied up in Treaty bonds, short of stores, of fuel, and other essential reserves, with its overseas base in arrears, its personnel cut down far below its need, and its discipline to some extent impaired.
I hope I have not wearied the House with this retrospect. My only object was 69 to show that up to 1930 naval defence has been very carefully considered by each successive Government, but that in 1930 an unfortunate step was taken. We were then committed to a most unfair and hampering treaty. Now that the National Government have made such great progress in restoring the finances of the country, have promised air parity, and have made a very definite advance in providing for the Navy, I trust that the Government will move forward resolutely and build all the ships that we are allowed under the terms of the treaty, and that at the first possible moment they will take steps to release the Navy from the toils of the London Treaty.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mr. AMERY
I should like to begin by congratulating most warmly an old friend, an old colleague on the Board of Admiralty, and a new and welcome colleague in this House. The speech to which we have just listened must have impressed everyone by its survey, which gained enormously in weight by the authority of the speaker himself and by the moderation and fairness with which he stated his case. It was a case that must commend itself to all of us here, and I think it is bound to commend itself to the most serious consideration of the Government, especially those passages in which my hon. and gallant Friend pointed out the fatal injury done to our naval position by the Treaty of London, and the imperative need of releasing ourselves from the restrictions of that treaty.
Before turning to that issue, let me turn back for a moment to an earlier part of my hon. and gallant Friend's speech, and indeed to a part of the admirable and lucid speech of my right hon. Friend the First Lord, in which they dealt with the necessity of securing a right perspective in discussing the function of our complementary fighting services. We had an interesting and important Debate on Thursday last, and in that Debate, perhaps for the first time, the whole of the House without distinction of party faced up to the new and tremendous perils which confront the heart of the Empire from the development of the new air weapon. With everything that was said on the positive side as to that new development I agree. 70 I agree equally that this new development demands a reconsideration not only of the allocation of our expenditure, but of the whole dovetailing of our forces to each other. But when that argument developed, as it did in more than one speech, on the negative line, and suggested that because a new peril had arisen all existing perils had gone, that the new factor in our defence had eliminated all existing factors, then I confess that I feel it necessary to enter a warning and a caveat.
I need not labour the point already made by my hon. and gallant Friend. While the heart of the Empire is open to a new and direct attack by air, this country is still as dependent as ever it was on the Navy for the protection of its supplies of raw materials and foodstuffs, and of its export trade, over 80,000 miles of sea routes, of which some 10,000 at most can be directly interfered with or defended by aircraft from land. As has been pointed out very truly, to protect your heart is not enough if your arteries are to be severed and you are to die from loss of blood. What consolation would it be to preserve London immune from bombing, or even to bomb Paris and Berlin, if we were strangled by the suspension of our shipping on the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans? In the Great War Germany for four years on end held her own on land and in the air, and in the end was undone by a blockade which at no point came within effective air reach from her shores or could have been interfered with by a German air force.
Moreover, it is not only a question of what is required to defend this country. In matters of defence it is no use talking in terms of England alone. As my hon. and gallant Friend has said, the Empire stands together, and it is only as an Empire that we can be a great Power. No scheme of defence is worth consideration which does not provide for our power to reinforce other parts of the Empire when they are in danger, or, for that matter, to enable them to reinforce us when we are in danger. For all I know, the problem of Imperial defence may dominate the next generation far more than the problem of our own local defence across the narrow seas. I can hardly imagine any Power on the Continent that would gratuitously wish to 71 pick a quarrel with us. On the other hand, dangers may well develop on the Indian Frontier or in the Far East, dangers which we can only meet if the seas are free for the transfer of our land and air forces.
I would like to deal with this question of the complementary functions of sea and air in a somewhat different way. I ask the House to make a rather fantastic assumption, but one which I think will serve to illustrate the case that I want to make. Let us assume that aviation had been discovered a good long time ago, that we had developed its possibilities for civil and military purposes, that we were as air-minded as anyone wishes to be, but that it was only quite recently that it had been discovered how to build great structures of iron and steel, many thousands of tons in weight, which would float on the surface of the water. Should we not all be immensely impressed by the tremendous strategical implications and possibilities of such structures? Air-minded as we might be, we should at once realise that the force of our aircraft would be multiplied tenfold if, in addition to the ordinary fixed and vulnerable aerodromes in this country, we had a fleet of mobile aerodromes in the shape of aircraft carriers. They would carry our fighting strength, not only as the Navy has carried it in the past to the shore line of our enemies, but many hundreds of miles inland. We should realise at once that we had discovered an instrument of war of incalculable power, the domination of which would make us the strategical masters of the world.
The moment such an invention came to the front, obviously the first thought would be "What is the reply to it?" One reply might be more aircraft carriers of larger size carrying more aircraft. But there might be another reply to it, as my hon. and gallant Friend implied. The aircraft carrier is in many ways very vulnerable. The protection which its aeroplanes can give it is limited by the hours of daylight and conditions of wind and weather. It might be that the most effective and economical reply to this new weapon of the aircraft carrier would be a much smaller and swifter surface vessel or under-the-surface vessel, which could get home and sink it. A submarine or something in the nature of 72 a destroyer might serve the purpose in the first instance. The moment, however, you embarked upon that reply, someone would find another reply and would say, "If this craft of 1,500 tons or whatever it might be is so formidable, why not build craft of 7,000 or 8,000 tons better armed, more powerfully gunned, speedier and with longer endurance on the water?" Every Power would then be compelled to follow suit. When you had done that you would come to the next stage and you would be automatically driven in the end to something not very different in essentials from the battleship of to-day.
I do not wish to enter into the technical details of the controversy about battleships. All these matters were considered with immense care over many months by the Board of Admiralty when I had the privilege of being one of its members, and the conclusions which were then reached certainly convinced me that you could not dispense with an ultimate centre of power at sea in the most powerfully-armed ship, offensively and defensively, that you could construct. The argument for not having any but small vessels is not very different from the argument once favoured among a certain school of gunners that the only gun of any use on land was the 15-pounder shrapnel-firing field-gun. It soon emerged in practice, however, that there was a place and a very important place for the heavier and more powerful gun. Every Power engaged in the Great War was driven to bigger and yet bigger guns. At any rate, the point which I am endeavouring to make is that if you had never had a naval service, if you had begun with an air service, once you moved that air service on to the water you might arrive, by automatic development, at something not altogether unlike the Navy of to-day.
That is as it may be. It is impossible for us in this House to be competent judges on the technical question of exactly how the Navy of the future is to be built—whether it is to be a Navy composed almost entirely of ships, which in one form or another are essentially aircraft carriers and which make aeroplanes their main projectiles, or whether it will be something between that and a Navy such as now exists. What I think stands beyond dispute is that at all times for 73 this country, situated as it is and with an Empire the parts of which are separated from each other by great ocean spaces, the vitally essential element of our defence will be based on the water, whatever may be the actual form of the projectile through which it transmits action to any hostile quarter.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) on Thursday, in a very striking passage, pointed out how our very weakness as an island, our vulnerability to invasion, was used by us as an opportunity for becoming the greatest sea Power in the world. He appealed to us to use our present weakness in the air in order to achieve security in the air. I agree whole-heatedly with what he said, with this qualification. Let us, in aiming at security in the air, think of it not merely in slavish imitation of our landlocked neighbours. Let us think of it as the natural development of our whole history and as a means of making use not only of our position as an island, but of our position as the greatest of the world's sea Powers.
In any case, whatever may be the future structure of the Navy, we have at present to deal with our Navy and the navies of other countries as they exist. We cannot afford to let our vital defence perish while we run ahead in our imagination with schemes for modernising it into something very different from what it is. The obstacle to modernising the Navy and the Air Service is not, I may say in passing, to be found in any old-fashioned obscurantism on the part of the Board of Admiralty, and I am glad that the First Lord vindicated his colleagues in that respect. The obstacle lies much more in the new-fangled treaties with which we are tied up to-day. The Washington Treaty prevented us from having more than the equivalent of five 27,000 ton aircraft carriers above 10,000 tons, but, at any rate, it placed no limitation on smaller aircraft carriers. The London Treaty includes aircraft carriers below 10,000 tons in its limitation and expressly forbids us making them either for ourselves or for any other Power. The mere construction of an aircraft carrier in this country has been forbidden by the London Treaty. More than that, no battleship which was in existence in 1930 is allowed by the London Treaty to have a landing deck for aircraft, and only 25 74 per cent. of our cruisers are allowed to have landing decks for aircraft. One of the things which I would earnestly urge upon my right hon. Friend the First Lord is that he should give us an assurance that at the Naval Conference next year we shall liberate ourselves from these restrictions which prevent us developing our Navy on the lines of the greatest efficiency and, I believe, the greatest economy.
I propose for a moment to follow my hon. and gallant Friend in his story of the retrogression of our naval position in recent years. I, too, was one who thought that the Washington Treaty was a treaty which this country could accept because, while it placed limitations on our naval power, they were limitations which precluded us from doing things that were neither necessary to our security nor desired by us. They prevented us from carrying an aggressive war into the home waters of either the United States or Japan and they prevented those Powers from carrying an aggressive war into our home waters. That was a thing on which all three Powers could be agreed and by which none suffered. Throughout the negotiations which led to that treaty, however, Lord Balfour, Lord Lee and Lord Beatty were absolutely firm on one point, namely, that there should be no numerical limitation of our cruiser strength, because our cruiser strength is something which cannot be fixed with reference to the cruiser strength of others, but only with reference to our own needs in regard to patrolling the highways of the ocean. You can no more fix the number of our cruisers by the cruiser strength of other Powers, as the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) suggested, than you could fix the number of police by the number of burglars whom you estimated to exist in a great city. The number of police is fixed by the extent of the streets and also the value of the property to be defended. I imagine the hon. Member for Aberdare would not be happy if he as a special policeman were told off to protect the whole of Bond Street and assured that there was only one smash-and-grab burglar likely to come into that street.
§ Mr. G. HALL
I do not know what is the policy in London, but in most provincial areas the number of police is governed by population, and not by property.
§ Mr. AMERY
It is the same thing. Population enters into it too. At any rate the number is not governed by an estimate of the number of burglars. It is the number of people who have to be defended. However that may be, I ask the House to have regard to the sacrifice which we made under the London Treaty when we came down from the minimum of 70 cruisers, which we believed necessary for our security, to a maximum of 50—a maximum fixed not by any consideration for our security but by consideration for America's convenience. America insisted on equality and did not want more than 50, and we were prepared for the sake of agreement—we are always making sacrifices for these agreements—to give up our own vital defence at sea, in order to suit the convenience of others. In addition to this limitation we accepted the curious and particularly indefensible limitation that during the years when we should have been entitled to build 157,000 tons of cruisers, in order even to get up to the 50 maximum, we should only be allowed to build 91,000 tons.
We have followed during many years a steady process of failing to live up to our naval responsibilities. Eleven years ago the present Prime Minister speaking in this House said it would be intolerable to allow the Navy to perish by wastage from the bottom. To a large extent by treaties, and outside treaties, that is what successive Governments have done—and I wish to give no party complexion to my argument—with one part or another of our naval defences throughout the last 10 years. Even now I do not feel happy that this well-balanced spreading of our requirements, in order to come up even to our treaty limits, is altogether wise. If we spend something more in the immediate future, we shall be economising from the national point of view in so far as we shall be saving in expenditure on unemployment. More than that, if, as all men know, the result of next year's Naval Conference is not to be a reduction but an increase in the naval forces of the world, then we shall only be in the position of securing a more even expenditure, instead of finding once more that we are seriously behindhand and with the possibility of having to pile very heavy Estimates on to a particular year immediately after 1935.
76 Whatever the position may be as regards that point, I do not wish to press my right hon. Friend too hard upon it. But, in general terms, I feel that the time has come to call a halt to gambling with our national security. We have done so year after year, at the outset with some justification, but a justification which has grown less and less, as the world has recovered from the Great War, and as the hope of any general scheme of disarmament has receded further and further into the mists of the future.
In conclusion, I should like to ask my right hon. Friend for three assurances. Will he assure us, first, that the Government will do everything in their power to bring us up to the very full limit of our treaty obligations at the earliest possible moment, keeping in mind the probability that our cruiser figures and our other naval figures will be higher after 1936 than they are now? The next assurance that I should like him to give us—and this I hold to be even more important—is to declare now that we mean to liberate ourselves at the Conference of 1935 from the arbitrary limits put upon our cruiser strength, and to demand a cruiser strength based upon our needs and not upon the convenience of any other Power. I think that declaration should be made now. The atmosphere should be prepared. If we have to make it in 1935, it is much better that the world should know it now. Japan has let the whole world know that she means to claim a revision of her ratio in 1935. Apart from Japan's action, we have a very strong technical ground for demanding revision in that escalator clause with regard to French and Italian construction of which we have never availed ourselves. The whole position, indeed, with regard to France and Italy clearly shows that it is not possible for us to limit ourselves in the matter of cruisers to an arbitrary figure like that. I might remind my right hon. Friend that even in 1932, in our Declaration of Disarmament Policy, we introduced a caveat preparing the world for reconsideration. On page 5 of that document will be found this sentence:And indeed cruiser numbers will require special consideration for the future.So that I am only asking the Government to follow up a hint that has already been given, and to make a definite and clear statement here and now that at 77 the Conference next year we mean to demand freedom for the construction of our cruisers, or for such aircraft carriers as may serve the function of cruisers, and get back to the position of the Washington Treaty in that respect. The third point on which I should like to ask my right hon. Friend to give us an equally clear and explicit assurance is that at that Conference we shall also press for such a complete revision of the present restrictions on modernising navies, in the sense of a fuller utilisation of the air weapon, as will enable us to make our Navy, if it is to be limited in quantity, at any rate as efficient and up-to-date as any Navy can be. I should like once again to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the admirable statement that he made, a statement that I think will give the greatest pleasure in the Navy, throughout the Services, and also in this House and in the country.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Mr. COCKS
As I agreed with very little of the speech of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), I would like to join him in adding my tribute of congratulations to the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) upon his maiden speech. I feel sure that his speeches will add distinction to our Debates on naval matters and on national defence, as well as upon other subjects in the future. The First Lord of the Admiralty last year attacked those with whom I am associated in the Labour party and accused us of being bloodthirsty pacifists, of advocating sanctions and at the same time refusing the Government the means by which sanctions could be imposed. That accusation, as far as I am concerned, was a blow in the air, because although I strongly believe in sanctions and hold that this country ought to go into a collective system for the maintenance of peace and international justice, yet I have never suggested that the forces by which those sanctions should be imposed should be weakened and made inefficient. I have never believed in unilateral disarmament, and pending the establishment of such a collective system, I feel that our defences should be maintained in an efficient state. Moreover, the Socialist state of the future, which I hope will come before long, will be a well defended State, 78 because it will be a State even better worth defending than our present one, and the man-power in that State will be much more efficient, because our male population will not be starved to death by the means test as at present, when only one in every 14 who want to join the Navy has not to be rejected for physical reasons.
Sir B. EYRES MONSELL
I cannot let that pass. The hon. Member knows that that is absolutely untrue. We have so many recruits that we cannot take more than one in 14. This is not due to physical defects, but because we do not want more than one in 14.
§ Mr. COCKS
I will withdraw that remark as far as the Navy is concerned, but as far as the Army estimates just published are concerned it is stated that a large proportion of recruits have to be rejected for physical reasons. Moreover, we shall be able to keep our Navy efficient at a more reasonable price and cost, because we shall be able to get our materials at cost price instead of adding to the profits of armament makers.
§ Mr. COCKS
As the hon. and gallant Member knows, the Government can produce armaments and munitions at a far cheaper rate than can private firms, as was shown in the last War. I agree with those Members of this House who hope that this is probably the last occasion on which we shall have to discuss the Service Estimates separately. Many of us hope that by next year we shall be able to discuss the subject of national defence in one Debate, and if we take the question as a whole in that way, I think the House will agree that if the Disarmament Conference fails, and if there is no hope of any conference establishing either disarmament or a collective system, then this country will be faced by a potential menace greater even than the menace which threatened Rome in the olden days. After all, when Rome was threatened by the barbarians, she was able to withdraw her legions to the centre to protect her heart, but we are unable to do that. We are unable to withdraw our forces from the far corners of the earth to protect London, because the heart of the Empire is not merely here, but in Australia, in New Zealand, 79 in Delhi and Ottawa, and the possibility is that if a conflict occurred, and we were engaged in it without an international system at all, we should be engaged in a conflict not only here in Europe, but simultaneously in one far away, on the other side of the globe. Thus possibly we might be engaged on two fronts, and we might have to fight a certain nation, in Europe, on the North Sea, and one in the Far East at the same time. That would impose on us an impossible task from the point of view of cost.
That is why I think the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was wrong the other night when he advocated a policy of armed neutrality, that we should make ourselves so strong that we should be able to choose our own course, independently of what might happen in other parts of the world and of the wishes or weaknesses of other nations. He said that we should be, as the Liberal Government in 1914 was, absolutely free and independent to take what course we liked. As a matter of fact, that was not a historically correct account of the case, because the Liberal Government in 1914 was not free to take what course it liked. Not only was it bound by obligations with regard to Belgium, but, as we know, it was bound by a secret understanding or arrangement between the British Government and France, arrangements which were not perhaps binding in a legal and Parliamentary sense, but which were morally binding on this nation; and we were not free at all. The only trouble about that was that those negotiations were not made known to the rest of the world; they were not published. If they had been, perhaps war might have been averted or at least postponed.
Such a policy of armed neutrality is impossible. We think the only security that this country can get is to go into a collective system, a system by which those in it would stand together to protect each other against an aggressor. The attitude of Pontius Pilate, washing his hands and of refusing any responsibility for what might be happening, say, across the Channel, is not an attitude which this country can adopt. We believe, that is to say, in a collective system, under which our forces would be organised and would be calculated, not as capable of fighting every possible combination, including 80 the most difficult combination of Powers here and on the other side of the world, but organised in conjunction with other countries with a view to what it might be necessary for us to contribute in order to help to maintain, with others, the peace of the world and to repel an aggressor State.
Just as before the War we agreed with France to protect her Northern coast, so that the French were able to take their naval forces to the Mediterranean, so in the future we might have a similar arrangement by which the submarine forces of France might help us to protect the Channel against any inroads from Germany. That is my reply to the argument which I am sure my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) proposes to bring forward later. However, while that system is not in existence and while we still belong to the League of Nations, I would ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he will not consider a proposal which I suggested about two years ago, namely, that we should have joint naval exercises in the Mediterranean, say, with the French and Italian fleets, in order that we might be able to get experience in that association and common action which would be valuable in case we had to take action for police purposes later on against an aggressor.
When I leave the question of defence in general, and come to the question of naval difficulties, the problem is a little simpler, but still immensely difficult, and here I would like to say something about the vexed question of battleships. It would be absurd for me to speak as a strategist, or a tactician, or an expert on such a subject, and anybody who held the position of First Lord of the Admiralty, I quite agree, would have to take the advice of his experts. If the right hon. Gentleman says that the experts at the Admiralty are unanimously in favour of maintaining the battleship, that is certainly a consideration which should weigh very strongly with everybody interested in the subject. At the same time, the arguments which he gave did not entirely convince me, because, after all, we are not considering the nation in this connection as in an anarchic world, outside the collective system. We are speaking of navies which are limited all round by various treaties and arrangements. Everybody knows that a big gun 81 is a more powerful weapon than a small one, and there is no need for the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook to tell us that. Everyone knows that the battleship is a more powerful instrument of war than the light cruiser. What we suggest is not a system by which we alone should abolish our battleships, but a system by which we should abolish them if all other nations abolish theirs as well. Considering the naval position of this country, it would put us in a stronger position relatively if the American battleships, the Japanese battleships and the German pocket battleships were destroyed.
We have to meet at the present time practically only two nations. There is the possibility of Germany constructing another Navy. Unfortunately, by some kind of agreement which we have made, it is suggested that Germany should have a right to equality, and, if she takes that view, she may construct submarines, battleships and every kind of vessel. I am sorry that that suggestion was ever made by this country to Germany. At the present time Germany has only these 10,000-ton pocket battleships, and they, of course, have to be dealt with. If they could be destroyed, together with ours, it would be possible for us to maintain our supremacy without the danger of these battleships operating so near to our shores. So far as the Pacific is concerned, what is the use of our battle fleet there? Does the right hon. Gentleman contemplate the possibility of our battle fleet going into the Pacific and operating thousands of miles away from the base? The Navy has to-day among other functions two important tasks. The first is to protect our commerce in time of war, and that would be better done by cruisers; the second is to maintain our defences in the Pacific, and to defend Australia and New Zealand. I do not know what the policy of the Government is on that matter, but surely we should be in la position to defend our possessions in that ocean more easily if the Japanese capital ships were not in existence, and if the whole fleets of the world were composed of smaller craft, the largest being the 8,000-ton cruiser with 8-inch guns.
One of the points which the First Lord mentioned in favour of the battleship was that it would be so much more powerful than the next in its class, but the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth 82 told us that the 6-inch gun cruiser would simply be the prey of the 8-inch gun cruiser. If therefore we had by agreement the 8-inch cruiser as the most powerful naval vessel in any fleet, I should have thought that would have suited the Admiralty much better than its present policy of maintaining the battleship, which means not only a large expense but submarines as well. For unless we agree to the abolition of battleships other nations will not agree to the abolition of the submarine. At the Disarmament Conference one of our admirals declared that the battleship was as precious as rubies. Like precious stones, battleships have to be kept in a safe or at any rate in a safe place. In the War our battleships were a long way away at Scapa Flow and were guarded carefully by la number of smaller ships. It is possible that the Japanese would refuse to abolish their battleships. If they did, it would be clear to the world which nation was standing in the way of that form of disarmament.
I want to come to one or two other points connected with the Estimates, and to deal first with Dartmouth. This question was brought up last year by several hon. Members, including myself. Here is an institution which, after deducting the fees paid by the parents of cadets, is costing the country £40,000 a year. Each cadet passing through Dartmouth costs the country £50 a year, or £300 for the six years he is there. One of the effects of setting up an establishment such as Dartmouth is that it limits the class of boy who can go there, whereas the special entry system does not. Only a certain type of parent can afford to send his boy at the age of 12 or 13 to Dartmouth, and within certain limits the system rules out the boy who goes to the elementary school. With the special entry system, under which the boys enter at 17, you have not only the public school boy type, but the type of boy who, having started in the elementary school, has by his talents gone to the secondary school. It seems to me, too, that it is much better to take a boy at 17 than a boy at 12 or 13 into the Navy. You know better then what type of youth you are getting and the boy himself knows whether he is fitted for a naval career. There has been no criticism at all of the type of entry through the special entry system. It is said that the Admiralty could not get a 83 sufficient number of cadets to enter in this way. I think that just as there is no difficulty of getting lads at 17 to enter Sandhurst so there will be no difficulty in getting them to join the "Frobisher."
Since 1913, I understand, about 11,000 have passed through as special entries, and 14 have become commanders. They have made good, and in a book by Admiral Richmond and speeches by the hon. and gallant Member for Burnley (Vice-Admiral Campbell) high tributes have been paid to the type of boy who comes in by special entry. Expense is saved, and it is very much better to get a boy in at 17 than at 13. Dartmouth is really a survival of the old Victorian days when people thought a good deal of exclusiveness, and when the Navy wanted to get certain types of person and did not want to get mixed up with people who came from the elementary schools. I do not want the British Navy to get like the Metropolitan Police, in which there is an officer class coming from the universities and the public schools. I think that the Navy of to-morrow, like the Navy of the past—not like that of the late Victorian age, but like that of Nelson's days and before—should be thrown open to boys of talent wherever they can be got.
Following on that, I want to say a word about lower deck promotions. Since 1913, 699 promotions have been given from the lower deck, including 467 in the Executive rank and 232 in the Engineering ranks, and they have risen to commanders and engineer-commanders. In case the House-may think that is a great number, I should like to point out that of these 699 commissions, 532 were given during the War. That means that during the last 15 years only 167 commissions have been given from the lower deck—96 on the Executive side, and 71 in the Engineering branch. That is an average of only 10 a year—six in the Executive and four in the Engineering branch. That is a very small number out of the whole number of officers who are in the Navy. When the Larkin Committee was appointed by the Labour Government in 1930 there was a great deal of talk about throwing open commissions to the lower deck. In the following year 12 able seamen were given promotions on the Executive side and there was a good deal of trumpet-blowing about the great new career that was to open up to those in the lower deck. In 84 1932, the last year of the old mate scheme, the number was reduced to eight. In 1933 it was only six, in spite of the fact that 12 were recommended by the Fleet Selection Board. On the Engineering side it was much the same; 15 were interviewed, nine were recommended, and only four were appointed. Last year, therefore, we got from the lower deck only six in the Executive and four in the Engineering branch.
I brought this matter up last year and did not get an answer. I would like to ask the First Lord now whether the Admiralty really intend to make this scheme of promotion from the lower deck a success, or is the intention gradually to reduce the numbers so that the scheme is dropped owing to the fact that in the opinion of some people men from the lower deck should not become officers in any great number because they come from humble homes and have limited incomes?
§ Vice-Admiral TAYLOR
There is no foundation whatever for making a statement that men from the lower deck are not encouraged to become officers. I refute that as an old naval officer. It is a statement which should not be made.
§ Mr. COCKS
The hon. and gallant Member misunderstands me. I am asking the First Lord what is the policy of the Admiralty, and whether they intend to make the scheme a success. I should like to say a further word about the Engineering branch of the Navy. I remember many years ago, when the engineers were fighting for Executive rank, that they wanted Executive curl and the power to sit on courts-martial and to discipline their own men. There was great opposition on the part of the old school of naval officer to the engineers getting Executive rank. I remember one old Admiral saying, "Keep them down in the pit." Now, owing to the energy and the originality of that great naval genius, the late Lord Fisher, who swept and garnished the cob-webbed rooms of the Admiralty, the engineers got their position recognised after years of agitation, and everybody in the Service recognises the great services done by that branch of the Navy. I would like to ask the First Lord whether he will not give a final crown to the Engineering branch as a reward for their work not only in the War but since then, and have a representative of the Engineering branch upon the Board of Admiralty itself.
85 I have one or two questions to put on the Estimates. Under Vote I, on page 35, I see that there is an increase of 248 in the writers and supply ratings, and I wonder whether we could be given any explanation of it. Another point concerns the question of the clothing of the apprentices at the Chatham Mechanical Training Establishment. It is suggested to me that these boys at Chatham, although they are able to get clothes from store, are also allowed to buy them from outside, and consequently many of them are getting into debt to tailors in London and elsewhere for their kit. When the time comes for them to pass out into the Navy, if they have not got quite the proper kit, they are deprived of leave until the requisite kit is bought. I am told that very often they have not bought clothes at all from the tailors but that the latter have lent them money. It has been suggested to me that it would be very much better if the boys were supplied with kit and uniforms, instead of being allowed to obtain them from outside people, with the result that sometimes they are in debt when they go into the Navy. Further, I would like to know why, in the case of Keyham College, we are given the cost in full but not given the cost in the case of the Mechanical Engineering Training Establishment at Chatham. The civilians employed there cost £21,700 and teachers for the apprentices £414. Why cannot the facts with regard to this establishment be brought out as they are in the case of Keyham College and other establishments?
To sum up. We on this side of the House do not want the Navy to become inefficient, but we feel that certain economies can be made without detriment to the efficiency of the Fleet. We know that when a vessel clears for action, a lot of superfluous material is cleared away, that a lot of the furniture, including the officers' piano, with its broken keys, is dumped into the sea, anything which may catch fire being got rid of. We want to see that our Navy is cleared for action in the same way. I am rather glad that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth is not here, because I was going to ask why we should not have a reduction in the number of Admirals of the Fleet. Many people think that Admirals of the Fleet, like Field-Marshals, never die, and that 86 they are very expensive; that it is rather an expensive and useless a rank, and ought to be cut down in times of peace, just as the rank of marshal in the French Army was abolished between the Franco-Prussian War and the late War. Going over Navy lists for the past 10 or 15 years, I note that some 40 or 50 per cent. of rear-admirals are unemployed at any given moment or, if not unemployed, are engaged on jobs which could very well be done by captains or commodores at less cost.
A further point which I have to raise is, I am afraid, rather a sore point with the Admiralty. It concerns the Admiralty yacht "Enchantress." It is laid up, at some cost to the nation. What is it kept for? Why cannot it be abolished? It has no fighting value. If the First Lord of the Admiralty wants to visit the Fleet, he can go in a light cruiser, and possibly would be happier there than in the yacht. It has been laid up for some time, and if it is ever brought into use again, a considerable sum will have to be spent on re-equipping it. I suggest that this yacht is a relic of the olden days, and ought to be eliminated. I have already suggested that Dartmouth should be abolished and a saving effected in that way, and that the special entry system should take its place. If battleships could be abandoned all round, there would be a considerable saving. Finally, as I said at the beginning, if this country joins the collective system for the maintenance of peace and justice throughout the world, we shall have the great saving of avoiding costly and destructive war.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander TUFNELL
As a new Member and as one who has had actual, if now somewhat distant, naval experience, I felt that I should like to take this opportunity of making my maiden speech, and in doing so I would ask for that indulgence from the House which, I understand, it is the custom to grant on these occasions. May I first add my sincere congratulations to my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty for having struck a modest but nevertheless firm blow towards re-establishing the naval security of this country, in so far as security is possible within the limits of the London Naval Treaty? It has always been my belief that it was owing to sea power that the British Empire 87 had its being, that it is by sea power that the British Empire will be maintained and that it will only be due to a lack of sea power if the British Empire should be lost. Therefore, it has been extremely painful to note the continual reductions which have been made in our Navy ever since the end of the War. We have made these reductions in the interests of peace and as a gesture and an inspiration to foreign navies to reduce their armaments, but is it realised that in this way we have, by gradual and successive stages, reduced ourselves to a relatively inferior position? Under this treaty, in accordance with which we have limited the replacements of our cruisers to 91,000 tons by 1936, we also note that by 1936 we shall have 61,500 tons of that cruiser tonnage obsolete, while the cruisers of France, Japan and America will be up-to-date.
I was very glad to see that we intend to pay regard to our anti-submarine forces and destroyers, because, as Lord Beatty said, against a preponderating force of submarines and cruisers and an overwhelming superiority in the air possessed by neighbouring foreign or Mediterranean Powers, what chance have we got of maintaining our supplies of foodstuffs and other vital commodities? In face of these considerations, unless there is agreement as regards disarmament, surely we shall have to reconsider our present policy of unilateral disarmament, which has placed us in our present position of inferiority. Therefore, it is very gratifying to see the new naval programme which has been outlined, especially at a moment when foreign Powers are expanding their navies, and also to note that the people of this country are beginning to realise that it is not in the best interests of peace that we should allow ourselves to fall into a position of such vulnerability as that to which we have come by allowing our Navy to fall so low. We are still one of the strongest influences in preserving peace in the world, and we have shown our sincerity by not taking advantage of that escalator clause by which we should be able to increase our naval armaments if we felt that our position was insecure.
We have nothing to gain by aggression and everything to gain by peace and tranquillity, but, as some of our finest naval 88 experts have warned us, even 50 cruisers would be insufficient to do duty with the fleet as well as guarding and defending those 80,000 miles of trade routes which are the main arteries of the Empire and the mainstay of the life of this country. Will it help to maintain peace in the world if we allow ourselves to fall into an unnecessarily vulnerable position? Further, this naval programme will give employment to our own British working men because, as has already been said, 86 per cent. of the cost of this programme will go towards employing men in 20 other different industries, and surely we should undertake this work now, when there is this present depression, when work is scarce and prices are low. It will go a long way towards helping to overcome the present unemployment problem.
There is still one other point I should like to mention, and that is the gratification with which we see that some of our Dominions are contributing towards the Navy. India is contributing £100,000, New Zealand £72,000 and Gilbert and Ellis Islands £750. Australia, Canada and South Africa maintain their own vessels, but those vessels could only be used for more or less coastal protection. One hopes that the lifting of the cloud of depression will enable our Dominions to contribute more towards our Navy, on which they would depend for their very existence in a real emergency. One other suggestion which I should have liked to see put forward is that there should have been an Imperial Defence Conference before the next world Naval Conference, so that problems could have been discussed by representatives of the Dominions, and a minimum naval strength decided which would give the minimum necessary security to these islands and to the Empire, and which would help us to preserve the peace and unity of the world.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
May I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Cambridge (Lieut.-Commander Tufnell) on speaking upon a subject which he knows well, because we so often hear speeches in the House from hon. Members who know little about the subject upon which they are talking. It is always pleasant to hear someone who really understands his subject. The hon. and gallant Member for Cambridge, 89 like his distinguished commander the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes), the Admiral of the Fleet, would probably have faced an enemy with less trepidation than that with which they addressed the House of Commons. That is a great compliment, of course, to us. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) told us that whole nations were changing, and that Europe was in a state of nerves. If that be so, surely it is essential that this island should be secure. I have had some experience in this matter. I went right through the Debates before the War. I remember during the War coming up from Devonshire one Monday, and learning that at one large store—the Army and Navy Stores—no meat, cheese, margarine or butter could be obtained. That is a state of affairs that I would not like to see repeated in this country, and I am certain that the Labour party would not wish the towns to be in a state where no foodstuffs could be obtained. London is to be governed differently now, but I do not suppose that London will be fed entirely by manna from Heaven.
My impression is that it will be well if hon. Members of the Opposition will try to increase the food supplies to our own country instead of—as they are always doing—endeavouring to hamper us who try to increase those supplies. No one hates these discussions upon war and armaments more than I, but I am a believer in the security of our own country, and I do not propose for one moment to advocate or to vote that this nation shall be at the mercy of the passions of any foreign ruler. We were told about 15 years ago that never again would this country be so dependent upon foreign foodstuffs. We have forgotten that lesson now. There is an increase in the Navy Estimates. Personally, I would vote for anything in order to obtain security for our own country.
There are one or two questions which I wish to put to the Government and which have not been mentioned in the Debate. I hope that in doing so I will not offend the susceptibilities of hon. and gallant Members. We are told that there are 80,000 miles of trade routes. All right; but the focus of them is the English Channel. I received an answer from the First Lord of the Admiralty 90 sometime ago that France since the Armistice have built and are building no fewer than 80 submarines. I asked that question, not with any view of disturbing our good relations, but because I thought that it was something into which we might inquire. I asked whether successive Governments had inquired of the French Government for what defensive purpose the French have those large forces of submarines. I do not wish to say a word which would in any way disturb harmonious relations, but we cannot get away from the fact that there are 80 submarines, built and building, since the Armistice. Against whom can they be used? Germany has none, so they cannot be used against Germany. Eighty submarines can, in certain eventualities, be a grave menace to the free flow of commerce in the English Channel; do not let us make any mistake about it. There are really more than 80 submarines, because there are some older ones, and on the north and west coasts of France they can be a menace to all the trade coming here. London can only be fed from the Port of London. There are 11,000,000 people to be fed from the Port of London, and those submarines could be, in certain eventualities, a great menace. The Government might well ask the French Government for what defensive purpose that enormous force of submarines exists.
We know that it was the submarine that nearly brought us down in the War. The Germans attacked us at the vulnerable spot. I have no love for saying what I am saying now. I do not like it, but the safety of our own country comes first, and no Englishman can tolerate existence upon the sufferance or forbearance of any foreign Power. Our French friends have, as I noticed in the Debate in this House last Thursday, 1,650 aircraft, which, with the great force of submarines, can paralyse all commerce in the Channel. France seems to be depending upon submarines, aeroplanes and the League of Nations, but she does not trust to the League of Nations if those great forces are maintained. I feel a great diffidence in speaking about this, but I think that it is necessary. Commerce in the Channel is dominated by another Power. That Power is friendly at the moment, but I remember the time when relations were very 91 strained between ourselves and our French neighbours. Therefore, I would like the Government to give us some hint that they propose to ask for a reason why this formidable force of submarines is being maintained.
I want to go further. This point has not been mentioned in this Debate, and it concerns naval bases. We are to spend £56,000,000 upon the Navy this year, but the Navy depends upon naval bases. If the bases are not secure, the Navy is not secure and the money is largely wasted. I asked the Prime Minister the other day whether he was quite sure about the defence from aerial attack of Chatham, Sheerness, and Portsmouth. I might even have put in Plymouth. Those ports are on the South Coast, and are within striking distance of the Continent. Are they capable of being defended against foreign attack? If not, it is a very serious matter. I would like this question to be gone into other than by the Committee of Imperial Defence. I am sure that the Prime Minister and the Lord President of the Council give as much attention to it as they can, in addition to their other multifarious duties. I would ask that the question be thoroughly examined, because it is vitally important from the point of view of national safety.
I hope that the Admiralty will not regard the intervention of a civilian like myself as an infringement of their prerogative. I remember Lord Jellicoe putting to sea when there was no submarine-proof base for the Grand Fleet in the North Sea. I was a Member of the Board of Admiralty at the time, and have to accept all responsibility. I am now giving the Government the benefit of the experience which Lord Jellicoe had to learn, because of our neglect to furnish a submarine-proof base. I ask the Admiralty whether they are quite certain that the scrapping of Rosyth was a wise measure? Rosyth was built in the last 20 years and, as a port, is a great deal less vulnerable than Portsmouth, Sheerness or Chatham. It was one of the newest naval bases, equipped with every modern naval convenience. Would it not be wise to reconsider this question of naval bases? It is not for me to discuss now the question of Singapore, but I 92 would far rather have seen the money that has been spent upon Singapore spent on a new naval base on the northern shores of this island, away from aerial attack.
I opposed the Singapore battleship base from the beginning. I do not believe that it is possible for Singapore to be defended. I believe that, as we are supreme in these western seas, Japan is supreme in those eastern seas. I do not think that anything can alter those facts. When we talk of trade routes between China and India and this country in the course of a war with Japan—which God forbid; one hates to talk about such things—we must realise that that trade must lapse.
I wish—and I have only this one special point—to draw the attention of the Admiralty to this air danger. My right hon. Friend the First Lord said that the Admiralty regarded the Air Force to-day as complementary to the Navy. Ten years ago I advocated in this House that the Air Ministry and the Admiralty should be amalgamated. The proposal was negatived then, but I asked then the Admiralty to consider that the air is a coming force. That force is here to-day. Aircraft can destroy commerce. No merchant ship can stand up against bombs from aircraft, and I am told also that aircraft have crippling power against a battleship; that a battleship, even His Majesty's Ship "Nelson" or His Majesty's Ship "Rodney," need not be struck in order to be disabled, and that the explosion of a bomb in the sea beside the ship will so damage the bottom or dislocate the machinery that she may be disabled for some time. My right hon. Friend rather smiled at that, but that is the information which I have on fairly good authority. Be that as it may, I ask that the Government shall consider this question of aerial attacks on our naval bases, and, if it be possible, that they shall find out from France why she requires this large force of submarines.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Commander MARSDEN
I do not think that any statement made in this House has been of greater interest than the First Lord's speech on these Estimates. People of my point of view and thought of mind consider his statement to-day as satisfactory, with this reservation: that it is as satisfactory as 93 he could make it under the conditions with which he is surrounded by the Treaty of London and the Treaty of Washington. We particularly asked that we should have a clear explanation of how we stood in regard to the Treaty of London, and perhaps, when I read the First Lord's speech to-morrow, I shall be a little clearer than I am now. He omitted one thing. I wish he had told us, having built up to these various tonnages which we are allowed, how many ships will be left on 1st January, 1937, that are over-age. I hope that we can get that figure; to many of us, that is the most important figure of all. In my calculation, which is probably wrong, I make it 14 cruisers out of date, obsolete, past their fighting age; and yet these very ships have to be out on our trade routes protecting our commerce against modern ships.
So much has been said by such experts as those who have preceded me that I must not overdo my remarks, but I should like to say a word or two about battleships. During the last two years or so battleships have been forgotten, but they have come to the fore again now. Battleships are the final word; in any fighting that takes place upon the sea, battleships have the last say. Their only duty is to checkmate the activities of the enemy's battleships. If the wish of the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) were carried out, if all battleships now afloat were done away with, it would merely create another race, and the heaviest ships afloat would then be the battleships. I wish to correct the impression that battleships cannot protect themselves. That story has always existed; yet the battleship has survived to this day. I took note of a speech made in this House in 1888 by Lord George Hamilton. They had just then constructed two battleships, the "Nile" and the "Trafalgar," and he saidI had hoped some two years ago that the Nile and the Trafalgar would be the last battleships laid down in this country.…. It is therefore our duty, as we find other nations pushing forward this particular class of ship, to do the same.He said that because at that time it was thought that the large number of fast-motor-boats which the Continental Powers were producing would be the end of the battleship. The battleship, however, survived that development. Then 94 came the submarine, and the battleship did not, as had so often been foretold, seek refuge in harbour. When the submarines were about, she went into the open sea for safety. So it is well to remember that, if we take as an example of the battleship the modern dreadnought, during the last War no one single British battleship was hit by a torpedo fired from a submarine. That is how the battleship successfully protected herself from submarine attack.
§ Commander MARSDEN
I gather that it was a torpedo from a surface craft, and not from a submarine. Having been hit, she kept her place in the line and returned to port next day.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
I asked that, because Lord Jellicoe, in his book, was very doubtful whether the torpedo had been fired from an under-water vessel or a surface vessel.
§ Commander MARSDEN
I do not know about that, but it has always been accepted, as far as I know, that the "Marlborough" was hit by a torpedo fired from a surface craft.
§ Commander MARSDEN
At all events, whatever hit her, she stayed in the line of battle. Then came the mines. Of course ships were hit by mines, but that was something which had to be learnt; methods had to be found to defeat the mines, and the results showed that the mines were practically defeated. Now it is the air. Naval officers speak about what air attacks can do on ships with great reservation, because they prefer to see the results before they make up their minds. With the resources of modern science, smoke-screens and smaller attacking craft, I have little doubt that when a battleship is attacked by aircraft in the battleship's field of battle—not choked up in the North Sea where attacking craft can get at her, but in the open ocean, which is her true battle-ground—she will survive this latest menace.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
If I might again interrupt, would the hon. and 95 gallant Member tell the House how he would use battleships 3,000 miles from their base?
§ Commander MARSDEN
There is no place in the world which is 3,000 miles from a base. When the Singapore base is completed we shall view these possibilities with even greater confidence than we do now.
May I come back to cruisers again? They are the ships that actually do the work, and when the First Lord was telling us of the necessity for them and proving so clearly the strength which the heavier ship has, I hoped that he had also heard the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes), who pointed out what an unhappy time a 6-inch gun cruiser would have against an 8-inch gun cruiser if she met her. As regards cruisers, there is not much that one can say, as so much has been said, but there is this. We can say with great confidence to the whole world that we have fulfilled not only the letter but also the spirit of the Treaty. I am not sure that every other country has done that. I do not say that countries have cheated, but they have taken every advantage of the rules. To come back to battleships again, countries are allowed money for modernising battleships. With a certain class of United States battleships, America spent more money in modernising than the ship originally cost. They did that on several occasions. Also when they have exhausted their quota of 8-inch gun cruisers and must build only 6-inch gun cruisers, they built a cruiser of 10,000 tons carrying 15 6-inch guns. What is the good of our smaller cruisers against a ship of that calibre? I have named the United States one or twice, and I think, as a naval officer, that I can do so. Having fought alongside the United States ships in action in the last War, I know perfectly well that, whatever the next war is, we shall find ourselves in the same position, and I desire to get these ships of the same type and species in order that, when we and the United States fight together, our squadrons shall be easier to handle because they are similar and homogeneous.
When I read these other Treaties, I reflected that people are still calling for 96 more and more treaties, thinking that they will provide safety for this country. I have to remind some of my young friends that the Treaties made before the War were no less binding and no less sacred than the Treaties for which they are now asking, yet, when it suited the enemy to break them, the Treaties went one after the other. The safety of this country now rests partially upon treaties and partially upon our own strength, and I cannot help feeling that the people of this country would like to think that, if all else fails, the Navy still stands as their last line of defence.
As regards the other construction, the Admiralty have admittedly taken the point of view that the number of destroyers they are to build will be adequate. Presumably they will have a large number of obsolete destroyers. I would not criticise that policy too much, because there are to be 144 modern destroyers within the age limits, and it may be that the older types of destroyers, those that have survived their period of life and still remain efficient, may be put to many useful purposes. There is, however, another danger, and that is in the ship referred to as the "pocket battleship," the "Deutschland." The hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth rightly pointed out that in European waters there are only three ships that could seek her out and destroy her. But that ship is not in European waters, unless she has returned home during the last few days. She is in the Pacific, and it is just as well that this House and this country should remember that, whatever we may have at home, we have not a single ship east of Suez that could attack and defeat the "Deutschland"—not one. Hon. Members will remember how the "Emden" went out dealing destruction to our commerce and was afraid of almost any ship of ours that she might meet. Imagine the "Deutschland" going out in the full open day, fast enough to run away from anything more powerful than herself and powerful enough to defeat any ship of ours east of Suez that she might encounter. That is why we want battle cruisers. Yet, in the whole of our Fleet, there are only three ships which could look after the "Deutschland" if we happened to go to war with Germany.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall). I have never pretended 97 to understand the psychology of the Socialist party; they are always seeking to do a man out of a job if they can. Even Admirals of the Fleet suffer; they lose their jobs and have their wages reduced. The hon. Member told us definitely that he proposed to vote against this extra construction. I do not think that he realises what he is doing for the working man. I have here about three pages of all the smaller contracts that go with the building of one cruiser. Think of all the equipment in that ship—anchors and cables, steering gear, ventilation, pumping, ships' fittings for guns and torpedoes, timber, canvas, paint, ropes, and rigging; electrical cables, motors, generators, fuses, switchboards; scientific instruments; electrical steering gear; guns, mountings, armour—I will not read any more; much of that goes in different contracts all over the country. When that is multiplied by the number of all the various ships that are being built, it is difficult to see that there is any community in this country that would not suffer if the programme on the Paper were not carried through. Yet the hon. Member is perfectly prepared to vote against these men getting this work which they so ardently desire. That is the policy of his party, to take away the money from the Fighting Services and give it to the unemployed. They have achieved some recent success by adopting that policy, but I hope that our policy will remain as it is now, and that it always will be so: to produce work for the unemployed, which the building of these ships will give them.
I must refer again to the remarks of the hon. Member for Broxtowe, and ask him to realise this. I know that he takes a great interest in the promotion of the welfare of men from the lower deck, but not more than I do, or more than any other man who has served in His Majesty's ships, especially in command of them. The hon. Member asks: Will the Admiralty make a success of some scheme of promotion from the lower deck? But it is the men who are promoted that must make the success. If they were to prove themselves equally as good as other officers, then indeed the Admiralty might have to reorganise their methods, because, if, with all the money and experience and training given to a certain type of officer not from the lower deck, the lower deck officer were as good, the other 98 scheme of training might as well disappear altogether. I am certain that the Admiralty will do all that they can to encourage such promotions—[Interruption.] Every one is qualified, but you cannot promote them all; that is the trouble. I think there was nothing in the Birthday Honours—not even excepting that conferred upon my Noble Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty—which the Navy observed with more pleasure than the promotion of a former lower deck rating to post-captain on the 1st January.
There is one thing on which I find myself very much in accord with the hon. Member for Broxtowe, and that is in his remarks about the engineering branch. The ancestors of these men started as engineers—simply engine drivers. They lived in a separate mess, wore a different uniform, and, instead of the brass button with the Royal Crown on it, they wore on their buttons a little steam engine. As their position and their duties increased, they went on to the wardroom mess, wore the same uniform, and eventually took executive rank. The First Lord made such play about the necessity of giving some inducement to executive officers to remain on for promotion, but what inducement is there to an engineer officer? He gets to a certain point, and there is practically nothing left. I do ask, with, I have no doubt, the same sympathy that other Members might extend, that there should be an appointment as a Junior Lord of the Admiralty for one of the senior officers of the engineering branch.
What happens to these men? They get very important jobs outside the Navy, but the Navy loses them; they have gone. Of course, as one in the Service, I know all the objections, or, at least, some of them. It is said that the constructors will object. Let the constructors object. It is said that, if that were done, all the doctors and paymasters would want seats on the Board. But all these are subsidiary services; they are not in the same position. I will not enlarge on the point, but will ask the First Lord to show himself big and strong enough to sweep aside all these small objections, and definitely to give to the engineers of the Navy such posts as admiral-superintendents of dockyards, and one of the Lords of the Admiralty, such as I think the whole Navy would wish them to have. In conclusion, 99 I would like to quote one more word from what Lord George Hamilton said in 1889:We must either be content with a lower standard of precaution than in the past, or we must be prepared to face increased expenditure. Her Majesty's Government, in the present state of European politics, cannot recommend the former course.I hope that the present Government are of the same opinion.