HC Deb 14 March 1935 vol 299 cc589-609

Order for Committee read.

4.0 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 moving this motion I want, first, to remind the House that the Navy Estimates for 1935 fall to be discussed at a very anxious period in the history of world naval armaments, because the treaties under which we have hitherto regulated our naval armaments come to an end in less than two years time, and in consequence of that we have been having many preliminary conversations with representatives of other naval Powers with regard to a naval conference which we hope may take place this year. Therefore, my task of presenting the Navy Estimates might well have been very difficult this year if it were not for the fact that we are making no deviation whatsoever from the steady course we have pursued ever since the Treaty of London. We are merely carrying out the programme initiated by the party opposite within the terms of the treaty negotiated by them, and one can presume that five years ago when negotiating the Treaty of London the party opposite then thought they were providing the minimum requirements for our naval defence. But five years ago the state of the world was very much better than it is to-day.

I want first of all to emphasise that the increase of £3,500,000, for which I am asking to-day, does not mean any expansion of our fleet. It can be divided into two parts. About £1,500,000 of the increase is automatic, beyond our control, and consequent upon decisions already taken by the House of Commons. The other part, about £2,000,000, is for starting a programme to make good the deficiencies in our equipment which we can no longer allow to continue. The programme of new construction which I am putting forward this year is a further instalment of the normal replacement programme which this country has set out steadily to pursue for the last five years, and the sum provided for starting the new programme is only £75,000. The great bulk of the money necessary for new construction in general is required for the advancement or the completion of ships now under construction which have been voted by this House. These programmes involve us automatically in a greatly increased expenditure over 1934, but the net provision for new construction which comes under Votes 8 and 9 has been reduced to about £250,000, and we have been able to reduce this net provision largely because of a big payment we are expecting from Australia in respect of a ship, the "Sydney," which they are taking over from us to replace their ship the "Brisbane."

A considerable part of the increased provision necessary under other headings is similarly beyond our control. Many of our ships are becoming very old. The older they get, the more costly they are to repair, and we have to ask for an increase of £600,000 this year for the normal repairs of the Fleet. The non-effective services show an automatic increase of £170,000. The restoration of half the economy cut entails £520,000. Of this total £60,000 is included in the Vote for new construction and non-effective services, leaving £460,000 to be met from other Votes.

I now come to the increases this year which are not automatic, but which are the result of decisions taken by the Government this year. We are asking altogether for an increase of £1,290,000 as an instalment of a programme for making good our deficiencies. This includes modernisation and necessary defensive material, stores and equipment. When I first introduced the Navy Estimates in this House in 1932, I realised that the money provided was not sufficient to finance the programme which was being laid down, and at the same time to maintain our equipment in proper order. We had to pay for the building of ships, and therefore stores, material, etc., suffered. We could, more or less, face these deficiencies with equanimity when the world was in an untroubled state, but to-day, with the world in the state it is, we feel that we should be making but a poor contribution to the general tranquillity of the world if we allowed the Navy, for lack of essential materials, to become unable to fulfil the proper functions for which it was created.

Let me say a word about modernisation. I have heard a good many people refer to this as a policy of putting new wine into old bottles, but I think a better analogy for ships can be found, and I would rather say it was re-corking old bottles, and, as some hon. Members know, if that is not done in time, the whole contents of the bottle is ruined. We have lagged behind the other great Powers for a long time in the modernisation of our capital ships. The United States of America have modernised 10 of their 15 ships at a cost of about £16,000,000, and we anticipate that Japan will have modernised the whole of her ships by the beginning of 1937. We have only modernised—if we can call it modernised—one ship, and we are asking for the modernisation of more ships under these headings. Modernisation is partly due to some ships wanting re-engining; they are worn out, and therefore no good without new engines. The other great item of modernisation is the very necessary provision of anti-aircraft protection.

A further increase of £530,000 is required for our Fleet Air Arm, including an instalment of a programme for making good the existing deficiencies in that Arm. This includes £130,000 for new flights, which means an addition of 19 first-line machines compared with 12 added last year. Six of these are going to the aircraft carrier "Glorious," six to capital ships and seven to cruisers. The rearmament programme involves an increase of £150,000, because the 39 first-line aircraft which we are providing are new types, and more expensive than the aircraft which they are replacing. The remainder of the £530,000 is accounted for by increases in spares, personnel and victualling, etc., which are inevitable corollaries of the development and expansion of the Fleet Air Arm. Therefore, except for an increase of £200,000 for minor things into which I will not go to-day, I have now accounted for the whole of the £3,500,000 increase for which I am asking.

The programme of new construction is in all respects a normal replacement programme. It is governed by the London Naval Treaty, which governs not only the total tonnage we may have, but the replacement tonnage in Various categories. Under the London Naval Treaty we cannot lay down in the next two years more than 54,000 tons in cruisers, 51,436 tons in destroyers, and 7,746 tons in submarines. The three cruisers for which we are asking this year will absorb 27,000 tons—just one-half; the destroyers, 12,500 tons; and the submarines, 3,250 tons. We shall thus be continuing our policy of replacement, and leaving an adequate amount of tonnage to be built next year. The position at the end of 1936, when the London Naval Treaty comes to an end, will be that in cruisers we shall have built fully up to our total tonnage and to our replacement tonnage. In submarines we shall have done very nearly the same thing, and practically got up to our replacement tonnage. It is only in destroyers that we have deliberately pursued a policy of not building up to what we are allowed under our replacement tonnage. We have done that, I say, deliberately, because we attach the very greatest importance to a steady programme, and as long as we can have new flotillas to work with the Fleet we think the older destroyers, of which there are a good many, will be sufficient for the work for which they are wanted. With regard to where these ships are to be built, one cruiser and two sloops will be built at Devonport, one submarine at Chatham, and all the rest will go to contract, and I hope may find themselves evenly distributed in some of those areas which are hard pressed.

I have said that the termination of the Treaties which govern the relative naval strength of the great Powers is in sight, and, in consequence, I think the interest of this House and the country will naturally shift from the present to the future. But I am sure the House will understand me to-day when I say that I can only speak in very general terms of the future, because of the Conference which is about to take place. We have had many preliminary conversations with several Governments, and every aspect of naval problems has been fully discussed.


Including the trade routes?


Yes, including the trade routes. It was not intended that these preliminary conversations should reach any hard-and-fast conclusion. They were intended merely to clear the ground for future negotiation, and, we hope, agreement. This purpose, I think they have served well. We have, at least, established most friendly relations with all the delegations, and every sort of problem, as I say, was fully debated. We do not for a moment pretend that Japan's announced intention to terminate the Treaty of Washington is not a great disappointment. This Treaty of Washington, for the first time, as far as I know in the history of the world, by limiting by agreement the naval forces of the great Powers, has prevented armament races which might well have proved ruinous to the countries concerned. The Treaty of Washington has done much more than this. The ratios under that Treaty have had this effect. While allowing each Power sufficient forces amply to protect its defence, those ratios made it very difficult indeed for any country which wished to become an aggressor to be ultimately successful. For 16 years the Treaty of Washington has in fact brought calm to the face of the waters, only ruffled once—during 1932 by the pacifists in this country.

I have said that we are disappointed at Japan's intention to abrogate the Treaty. But I do not think we need take the situation too seriously or in too tragic a manner, because I believe that the world has appreciated the inestimable benefits that we have got from that Treaty. I sincerely hope that the main intention of the ratios, the preservation of peace, will be perpetuated in some other way. If we look upon the bright side of things we can see positive objections to agreements between Powers which set out to ask countries to put down in figures what their ultimate naval requirements may be. If countries are asked to put in figures on this basis no country is likely to err on the side of moderation, and they may put in figures that they have no earthly chance ever of attaining or which in many years they may not be able to attain owing to political or financial restrictions. But when a country has publicly stated what its ultimate requirements are, you may be quite sure that some section of the public of that country will always be demanding of its Government to build up to that figure, and, as so often happens in these things, the maximum becomes the minimum.

We hold to the principle that every nation is entitled to equality of security. Different nations have different responsibilities, of course. They are subject to different political and geographical considerations. This principle of the equality of security recognizes different conditions which must be met by different degrees of strength of the armed forces. The ideal naval conference would aim at establishing the position that I would call the equilibrium of defence, which would make it very difficult for one country easily to become the aggressor. The destruction or disturbance of this equilibrium, once it is set up, is the thing that starts armament races, and is the thing that we want to avoid at all costs not only in this country but in the world. And this equilibrium can be upset in two different ways. It may be upset by building ships of existing types or by building ships of a different type. If you start an armament race by building ships of a different type you may render a whole category of ships relatively powerless. So you make a violent disturbance of this equilibrium of defence. On the other hand if you have an armament race which takes the form of building ships of a type that is still in existence, the disturbance of that equilibrium, of your balance, is always under control, is slower and is much more easily redressed.

For that reason, while we think there must be some form of quantitative limitation, that is of course in numbers, we attach the greatest importance to qualitative limitation, which of course means limiting the size and the types of different ships; and also, for the benefit of the taxpayers of the world, we should like to see those limits reduced to the greatest possible extent compatible with the technical requirements of the ships concerned. It is admitted by all nations—this is one of the things we found out very clearly in our conversations with the London delegations—that this country has far the largest responsibility for the defence of trade and Empire communications. Our security will always demand a certain strength independent of other ships and naval forces in the world. For instance, even if there were no other cruisers in the whole world this country must have a certain number of cruisers to protect our food supplies, for the late War showed us what infinite harm can be inflicted on our trade routes merely by merchant ships armed and turned into raiders. I can give one example of one such raider, which in two cruises destroyed or captured no fewer than 41 English merchant ships. That was at a time when we had many cruisers all over the world.

We have already drastically reduced our numbers, and we cannot reduce them any further; but we can reduce our sizes, and we are willing and anxious to do so. We are willing and anxious to come into some international agreement to reduce the size of all ships. I was accused, I think it was on Monday, by an hon. Member of this House of being in favour of large capital ships. I am not. I want to see the smallest capital ships possible, and the House and the country must realise that we are in the forefront in wishing to cut down the size. The difficulty is to get other countries to agree.

Rear-Admiral Sir MURRAY SUETER

To what tonnage would you go?


We think we may have some success with 25,000-ton ships. Of course that is a very big reduction from the 35,000 tons now—and with 12-inch guns instead of 16-inch. We want the 8-inch cruiser to disappear altogether. We want to isolate the 6-inch cruiser, as we have isolated the 8-inch cruiser. We wish to reduce the size of all future cruisers to 7,000 tons, with 6-inch guns; aircraft carriers to 22,000 tons, with 6-inch guns; and we wish to abolish submarines altogether, and if we cannot do that drastically to reduce their numbers and their tonnage. If these proposals were accepted they would mean that the existing tonnage of our Fleet would be reduced, and yet it would give us the ample protection that we want; and it would have this enormous advantage to the world—that every country would be able to maintain its relative strength, but that strength would be achieved at a very greatly reduced cost.

I want now to say a few words about two Votes in particular, Vote A and Vote 4. Vote A relates to the numbers of men. We are making provision in these Estimates for an increase of 2,148. A substantial part of this number is required because old ships are being replaced by new, and because of a certain expansion of the Fleet Air arm. The balance is for making good deficiencies in personnel, deficiencies which I have told the House on more than one occasion caused great hardship to the men of the Fleet. Last year I pointed out that the rise of the curve of personnel must see itself reflected not only in the efficiency of the Fleet but in the comfort of the personnel. This increase in numbers has already had another happy result. Owing to the reduced numbers in the past, promotion for the men was very slow. But now more men are coming in and large numbers are retiring on pension because many came into the Navy just before the War. These things have made a very rapid improvement in the rate of advancement for leading seamen, petty officers and chief petty officers, and I am sure the House will be happy to know that that is bringing amelioration to what is the very hard life of the sailor.

The sailor of the present day is a very different man from the sailor of the past. He is a much better educated man. He has a different mentality, and you can no longer, as was done in the old days, think of sailors in the bulk. You have to consider them as individual personalities. The sailor to-day is getting far more attention as a personality than he did in the old days, and he is very quick to show his appreciation of these things. I would like to tell the House of one very good example of this—the astounding drop in the number of punishments in the Fleet. In 1912 one man in every 1,000 was court-martialled; to-day the figure is one in 8,500. In 1933 under half the number were awarded summary punishments that were awarded such punishments in 1912. Summary imprisonment is less than one-tenth in numbers to-day compared with 1912. Wherever it goes, the Navy is sure of the warmest welcome. It is because of the very high standard maintained by officers and men of all ranks and ratings. Among the pleasantest things that come my way at the Admiralty—and they often come my way—are the reports of the great cordiality which our men always find when they visit any place in the Empire or in foreign countries, and the pleasure that is felt in those places at the visit of the men.

I have already said something about the financial aspect of Vote 4, which relates to the Fleet Air Arm. Now a few words about that Vote from another angle. Last year, when I was expressing the great appreciation of the Navy for its Air Arm, I said that I thought that the Navy and the Air were peculiarly complementary and that in future they must work ever closer and closer together. I have tried to implement that to some extent during 1934. We have carried out six combined exercises with the Air Force, four at home and two in China—one indeed on a large scale with the Army also taking part. Next autumn in order to test the suitability of aircraft carriers for taking part in home defence we are going to exchange the pilots of a squadron of the Fleet Air Arm with those of a squadron of the Home Defence Air Force. But of course the finest example that we see of co-operation between the Navy and the Air Force is in our aircraft carriers, and it is a real pleasure to see these craft at work, combining the many allied problems of the sea and the air. Not less is it a pleasure to see the young officers of both Services working together in great friendship and harmony, because future development between these two Services must depend on these young officers of both, who in time I hope will come to occupy high positions in their respective Services.

For that reason, I must take this opportunity of saying how much I deplore the very ill-informed Press propaganda which is going on outside and which seeks to teach that the functions of the Navy and the Air Force are competitive and not complementary. Such false doctrine, if it ever came to be believed, would seriously impair and might even destroy the defence of our Empire. The use of aircraft with the Fleet is one of the chief studies of the modern Navy. The Air has given the Navy not only a potent weapon, but an increased range of vision, and our hitherto limited horizons have been swept back by many miles. We must also realise how the Air Force depends upon the Navy. We sometimes hear it said outside that the only means of defending England is by aircraft, and that we should therefore cut down by half the expenditure on the Navy and build aircraft. I tell the House that if you cut down the Navy by half you might just as well cut it by all, because the Navy would be unable to carry out its work. It would be unable to protect the commerce of this country, and that commerce includes the oil tankers upon which the Air Force depends for its fuel. For Imperial defence the closest co-operation between the three Services is vital. The Navy cannot work without bases defended by the Army and the Air Force. Neither can the Army or the Air Force operate or transport themselves without the deep sea security which the Navy can give, and the Navy at present guarantees their mobility. But England is not the only problem of Imperial defence. I sometimes think that the lines, What should they know of England who only England know? might have been written for the authors of this anti-Navy propaganda. The centre of gravity of the Empire lies thousands of miles to the East. The lines of communication between us and the component parts of the Empire lie upon the sea, and a huge proportion of those lines are far beyond the range of any aircraft unless sea-borne. Unless we can protect those lines with sea-borne ships working, I hope, ever more closely in conjunction with aircraft, the bloodstream of the Empire could be cut in many places and the heart would soon collapse.

I want to address a few words to the party opposite. I am going to express the hope that the modest steps which we are taking in these Estimates to put right our worst deficiencies will not be used by the party opposite as ammunition in the campaign which they are waging in this country with the idea of teaching the people of this country that this Government is a warmongering Government—one of the most senseless and, I think, one of the basest charges ever brought by to political party. If I am too optimistic in my hope that this will not be used as additional ammunition, may I hope that we can at least detach the large number of people in this country who are not actuated by the wish merely to get votes at the expense of the fair name of their country. If one could prove to these people, as we can, that this country has given a magnificent lead to disarmament by making colossal reductions in all its armed forces and if we can prove not only that other countries have not followed us but that they have increased their armaments, and their forces, surely the great majority in this country will realise that it is but the elementary duty of any Government to protect their people and give them security?

I notice that the British Navy is particularly apt to come under the ban of British pacifists. I would like to say two things to those organisations. First, they are the only people in the world who want to cripple the British Navy. Every other nation that I have spoken to wants to see our Navy strong. The second thing I want to say to our pacifists is that, notwithstanding the international spate of aspirations and protestations for the limitation of armaments that has poured out ever since the War, treaties having that object in view have only been made by the maritime nations of the world and under those treaties the British Navy has made larger reductions than any other. Before the War the British Fleet was the most powerful in the world as it had been for a century. Directly after the Armistice we abandoned many ships that were nearing completion and we scrapped many more. Under the Washington Treaty we made further reductions and we accepted for the first time a one-power standard. Three times between the Treaty of Washington and the London Naval Treaty we agreed to more limitations involving considerable reductions in our strength and the cumulative effect of these reductions is very great.

Comparing our ships in 1914 with the prospective number at the end of December, 1936, we find that our capital ships have been reduced from 69 to 15; cruisers from 108 to 50, destroyers and similar craft from 322 to 118 and submarines from 74 to 48. If we compare what has been going on in this country with what has been going on in other countries, on the basis of the probable tonnage at the end of 1936 compared with what we had or what the others had in 1914, we find that in the case of the three principal naval powers the United States increased by 20 per cent., Japan increased by 35 per cent., and this country reduced by 48 per cent.


A terrible record.


If we examine the tables of Budget expenditure published in the League of Nations Armaments Year Book we find it indicated that between 1925 and 1934 all the great Powers increased their expenditure on armaments except ourselves and Italy. Italy shows a fall of 4½ per cent. and this country shows a fall of over 12 per cent. Germany rose by about 50 per cent., Japan by 90 per cent., France by 101 per cent. and Russia by 197 per cent. I trust that in the light of those figures few people will believe the party opposite in their attempts to make them think that we are a warmongering Government. I think it is wicked so to misrepresent a country which every nation in the world will testify has worked heart and soul, might and main, and is so working to-day for the preservation of peace. We have striven for peace because we know that the people of this country want peace.

I want to know then why should we have all this pacifist propaganda, all these photographs of war? We see the miseries and heartaches which are still legacies from the Great War exploited. We see the withers of people wrung by exhibitions of ghastly photographs, by lectures, by plays and by cinemas. Why all this propaganda in this country, of all others, which does not want it? There is no man or woman in this country who does not look upon war as a curse and an abomination. There is no man or woman in this country who does not realise that to-day victory must mean literally dust and ashes. The ordinary person in this country wants a secure job of work. He wants a little amusement, a little relaxation from his daily toil. He wants to secure the future of his family, so that they may reap where he has sown, and he knows that the two essential things for this are peace and security. As a country we have enough to look after in this world already. We have no designs or ambitions for territorial aggrandisement and the whole world will own to that. We want to be left alone peacefully to develop our industries and our Empire for the mutual benefit of all our peoples.

I want to ask the party opposite: Are they sure that all countries have the same ideas? Are they sure that all countries have learned that war to-day can never pay? Because, if they are not quite sure about that, do they not see that the pacifist propaganda which goes so far as to ask people not to defend themselves in any conditions, which invites our people to leave our great Empire sprawling defenceless over the seven seas, is playing straight into the hands of any potential aggressor, if there be such a thing in the world? In the name of peace, you are inviting war. In asking the House to pass these Estimates, I would remind it that the whole of the British Empire depends for its defence on the British Navy. A navy capable of fulfilling this duty can at once make a quarter of the world secure in its defence and serene in its outlook, and to render a quarter of the world stable is a great step towards the general tranquillity of this world. I submit that the maintenance of an adequate navy is a small price to pay for that tremendous contribution that this country can make to the future peace of the world.

4.46 p.m.


The First Lord of the Admiralty, when he introduced his first Estimates in 1932, confessed that be had a very dismal duty to perform. He said the Estimates were so low, and he had spent so much time in the Navy, that he regarded it as his misfortune to ask the acceptance of Estimates which were the lowest since 1913. If it be any satisfaction to the First Lord to know it, he has made up for lost time, for from the time he made that speech in 1932 till now his Estimates have increased by £10,000,000, and they now reach a figure of over £60,000,000, the highest figure that we have had in this country for Naval Estimates, with one exception, since 1921, and that exception was in 1925, when they exceeded these Estimates by a few hundred pounds. We say that, notwithstanding the fact that the Estimates have reached £60,000,000, if the policy which is contained in the White Paper, especially dealing with Admiralty expenditure, is to be brought about, it will certainly lay the foundation for a record in peace-time Estimates which even the First Lord himself would blush to introduce into this House. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord referred to 1913 and made a comparison with the tonnage of that year. May I refer to the fact that the Estimates which he has introduced this afternoon exceed the Estimates for naval purposes in 1913 by nearly 20 per cent.; and, after all, that is to a very large extent the test as to what the position is.

Last year I referred to the propaganda carried on by various Members of the Government and high officers of the Services for increasing armaments. In the closing remarks of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, he has referred to the propaganda of the pacifists, but he has forgotten to mention the propaganda of the war-mongers. Not a word about the propaganda which, if I might say so, he himself has indulged in during the course of the last two years, which other Members of the Government have indulged in, which high officers of the Fleet have indulged in, and propaganda definitely directed against a treaty which the First Lord this afternoon has not deemed it his duty to mention. The First Lord himself has forgotten the resolution which was passed at the Conservative party conference in 1933, which recorded its gravest anxiety in regard to the adequacy of the provision made for Imperial defence. The Government has very quickly put that resolution into operation. For this year, as compared with 1932, the Estimates for the fighting Services of this country have gone up by nearly £20,000,000. I wish that resolutions passed by Labour party conferences could be fulfilled as quickly as that resolution passed at the Conservative party conference.

The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord referred to the importance of this year, 1935. He referred at some length to the conversations which have been proceeding between the three great naval Powers in preparation for the naval conference which must take place during the course of this year. He referred to the fact of the denunciation by Japan of the Washington Agreement, and he took some pains in dealing with the position, but I was very surprised that he made no reference to the fact that the London Treaty comes to an end in December of next year.


I spoke about treaties coming to an end, because the London Naval Treaty comes to an end at the same time now as the Washington Treaty, and everything that I said was about the treaties.


I accept that correction, of course, but there was mention made of the Washington Treaty, but no mention of the London Treaty as such. That makes the position very difficult, and one which must be of very grave concern to every person in this country. It is true that the Nine-Power Treaty has not been denounced and that the Four-Power Treaty has not been denounced by Japan, but the lapse of the Washington and London Naval Treaties makes it imperative for a fresh agreement covering both treaties to be arranged during this year of 1935. By her denunciation, Japan will be free to build what ships she likes and will be rid of provisions against fortifying or creating naval bases in the Pacific. The denunciation puts an end to stabilisation, in naval agreements which have existed between the great Powers since 1922, in capital ships; and the lapse of the London Naval Treaty, if it is not replaced, ends likewise the stabilisation of the cruiser, submarine, and destroyer strength of the three great naval Powers. Might I ask the First Lord whether he could take the House and the country into his confidence and indicate whether the fact of putting down the naval base at Singapore had something to do with the Japanese Government denouncing the Washington Agreement?


Nothing whatsoever.


Then might I ask whether the fact that the present Board of Admiralty, including the First Lord himself and the Government, never took too kindly to the London Naval Agreement, in so far that it limited the number of cruisers to 60 instead of the 70 demanded by the Board of Admiralty and the Government in 1927, has any relation to the fact that the Government itself, even in the course of the speech of the First Lord this afternoon, has not indicated whether the London Naval Treaty is to be the basis for any future negotiations which may be conducted by the Admiralty? I was interested to note, in the official statement which was issued when the conversations between this country, Japan, and America were adjourned, that it was stated that it was understood that the Prime Minister, in his capacity as chairman, made a moving appeal to his fellow delegates to keep active the principle of co-operation and to preserve the great benefits which the Washington and London Treaties had conferred on mankind. May I ask the First Lord whether that is the avowed policy of the Government and the Board of Admiralty, whether the London Naval Treaty is to be the policy which will be the basis of the negotiations which will take place during the course of the conference of this year; or has the Admiralty changed its policy and now gone back to a 70-cruiser standard instead of the 50-cruiser standard of the London Naval Treaty? I trust it will be possible to get a definite answer to that question.

It seems strange that in a speech such as we have had from the First Lord this afternoon he should blame almost every other naval Power for the present position in the world. It is very strange that the text of Japan's official denunciation of the Washington Treaty includes an almost similar sentence to that which is to be found on page 5 of the White Paper which was issued by the Government recently. The Japanese statement says: In view of the present state of extraordinary development in warships, aircraft, and other weapons of war, the existing naval treaties, which recognise inequality of armaments among the Powers, can no longer afford security of national defence to Japan. There are almost similar terms in the White Paper which has recently been issued by the Government. In the same way Japan is appealing against the Powers treating her action in an unfriendly way and suggesting that, so far from entertaining the slightest wish to enlarge her armaments, Japan endeavours to promote the cause of peace by establishing the principle of non-menace and non-aggression through the suppression or drastic reduction of offensive weapons of war. I could go on quoting statements made by eminent Japanese and American statesmen, giving expression to exactly the same kind of feelings as the First Lord has done here this afternoon. It seems strange that you should have the statesmen representing those countries expressing the same sentiments when they are making speeches in their own countries, yet when you get them together, sitting around a table, you cannot get them to agree upon a single principle. The First Lord himself was very careful in suggesting that he hoped there would be a naval conference this year. He did not indicate definitely that there would be. I hope and trust that there will be a naval conference and that it will be successful.

The First Lord took some pains to compare the strength of the Fleet of this country to-day with its strength in 1913. I do not know that that is a fair comparison. For years before 1914—if the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) were here he would be able to support what I say—this country spent large sums of money in building up a great Navy. At the outbreak of war in 1914 this nation had no fewer than 68 or 69 battleships, 100 odd cruisers, plus a number of other craft. Would the First Lord desire to have superiority over any fleet in the world similar to the superiority which was demanded by the then First Lord over the German Fleet? The right hon. Member for Epping then said that he would not be satisfied, neither would this country be satisfied, with a superiority of less than 60 per cent. in battleship strength over the German Fleet and a 100 per cent. in any other craft. In the interests of security talked of so much by the First Lord, does he desire a superiority over the other fleets of the world? Is he anxious to have the same superiority over the American Fleet? Does he agree with parity with the American Fleet, or is he going to suggest that parity with America would not give us the security this nation ought to have? Parity with America was agreed to, as far as battleships was concerned, as far back as the Washington Conference. The White Paper which has recently been published is, we think, putting grit into the machinery of peace and will not assist the conversations which will have to take place.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the efforts we have made in the interests of disarmament. Does he realise that since 1921, since the Washington Conference, this nation has spent no less a sum, including the present Estimates, than £850,000,000 for naval purposes? Spread over the same period, is there any naval Power which has spent as much as that? He has referred to the treaties. I was very interested to hear the Lord President of the Council on Monday deal with the White Paper. He said: I just mention that in passing to show that even under a treaty we have not found that so far as strength goes, it has helped us to secure control."—[OFFICIAL REPOKT, 11th March, 1935; col. 52, Vol. 299.] Was it intended that the London Naval Treaty should give us control over America, and is that the reason why we have this White Paper, which indicates that there is to be an extension of naval construction in this country? Then the Lord President of the Council seemed to indicate that there was a complaint because America is building up to treaty strength. The First Lord himself indicated last year that in all categories this nation would have built, by December, 1936, all she is entitled to build, up to treaty strength. He said the same thing to-day.


If the hon. Gentleman asks these questions, I cannot help interrupting, because they are rather important. I said we had not built up to treaty strength or anything like it.


I am quoting his words—" We have built up to treaty strength "—and I shall get the OFFICIAL REPORT to check again whether it is so. This is the statement: The First Lord, in last year's Estimates, in summing up the position, said that by the end of 1936 in all categories we shall have the full treaty strength allowed by the Treaty.


How can it be a statement when it starts "In summing up?" It is somebody's appreciation of what I said.


It was summing up your own speech. If it was an appreciation, it was an appreciation of your own speech. Then as far as the replacement of over-age tonnage is concerned, the First Lord indicated this afternoon that the over-age tonnage by 1936 would be something like 86,000 tons. We have already provided 32,000 tons last year and 27,000 tons this year. Some 59,000 tons out of the 86,000 tons of over-age tonnage of 1936 is already provided for in the programmes of last year and this year. There can be no complaint at all about other nations, parties to the London Naval Treaty, building up to full strength, and it cannot have occasioned the introduction of that White Paper.

The Lord President of the Council in his speech on Monday seemed to indicate that, as far as battleships were concerned, this nation was worse off than any other. Let me examine in some detail the position of battleships owned by those Powers who have battleships at the present time. Our latest battleship was completed in 1915. We went on constructing battleships up to 1917, and three battle cruisers, one of which was completed in 1920. We have the most modern battleships afloat in the "Nelson" and the "Rodney," which were completed in 1927. What is the position now in the United States? The United States, entitled as we are to 15 capital ships, have in use at the present time one ship which was completed in 1912, two completed in 1914, four completed in 1916, and she has not a capital ship which has not been completed since 1921. The same thing can be said of Japan. Japan, entitled as she is to nine capital ships in accordance with the London Agreement, has one ship which was constructed in 1913, three in 1915, two in 1917, one in 1918, and not one later than 1921. With regard to France, three of her capital ships were completed in 1911, two in 1913, one in 1914, one in 1915, and not one since 1915. Almost the whole of the capital ships of France were completed before 1915, and the Lord President of the Council referred to the fact that France and Italy were laying down capital ships this year which they were entitled to lay down in accordance with the Treaty any time from 1922 until the present time.

There can be no justification for the proposals contained in the White Paper. I feel sure the Board of Admiralty will remember that in 1930, when the negotiations were proceeding for the London Naval Treaty, there was a suggestion that the age limit of the capital ships should be extended from 20 years to 26 years. It cannot be said that the age limit of a capital ship can be regarded as 20 years; otherwise, the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Board of Admiralty would not spend the tremendous sums of money they are spending on the modernising of ships at the present time. What can be said of battleships can also be said of cruisers. I mentioned last year in the course of a speech that this country has cruisers to the extent of almost double those of any of the other Powers in the world. In the return which has been published by the First Lord it is said that we have 50 cruisers, the United States 26, Japan 31, France 17, Italy 24, the Soviet Union 5 and Germany 7. Since 1920 we have built 28 cruisers, and there are six coming into commission this year, making 34. We have provided in the programme of construction and the programme outlined by the First Lord in his Estimates to-day for another three, whereas the United States of America have constructed 25 since 1920, and have 12 building; Japan 27 and 6 building; France 12 and 6 building; Italy 11 and 6 building. These cruisers which we have constructed are capable of meeting any of the other cruisers of any of the other Powers in the world. We have built 17 cruisers between 9,000 and 10,000 tons in weight and 15 of them are 8-inch cruisers. We have two cruisers from 8,000 to 9,000 tons, 10 cruisers between 7,000 and 8,000 tons—two completed this year—and two building of the small cruisers between 5,000 and 6,000 tons—a cruiser fleet which compares favourably with any cruiser fleet of any nation, so far as the modem ships of the fleets in any country of the world are concerned. It cannot be said that we have so disarmed that the position of this country is such that we have no security. The First Lord himself, two years ago, suggested that what we wanted was smaller cruisers and plenty of them.

In 1927 at the Geneva Conference the then First Lord of the Admiralty submitted to the Naval Conference a programme of 15 heavy cruisers—10,000-ton cruisers and 55 smaller cruisers between 6,000 and 7,000 tons. As the result of a change in the programme of the Admiralty during the last two years, under the London Treaty which gives us the right to 50 cruisers, we shall have to scrap one cruiser, because it is the declared policy of the Admiralty to build heavier cruisers instead of light cruisers. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Because it is felt that 50 cruisers are really not necessary. Otherwise, if small cruisers were desirable these small cruisers built up to 50 would be retained instead of reducing them to 49. The same thing can be said as far as destroyers are concerned, and almost the same as far as submarines are concerned. In the White Paper for which the First Lord of the Admiralty is responsible as far as the naval side is concerned, reference is made to Germany—that owing to the rearming of Germany it is necessary to have a programme of this kind. Will the right hon. Gentleman or whoever is replying for him—

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