§ Resolutions reported,
- 1. "That an additional number, not exceeding 2,059 Officers, Seamen, Boys and Royal Marines, be employed for the Sea Service, together with four for the Royal Marine Police, borne on the books of His Majesty's Ships, at the Royal Marine Divisions and at Royal Air Force Establishments for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937, beyond the number already provided in the Navy Estimates for the year."
- 2. "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10,300,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937, for expenditure not provided for in the Navy Estimates of the year."
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
May I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker, as to the course of the Debate? When the Supplementary Estimates were being considered in Committee, it was agreed that Vote A should be taken formally and that a general debate should take place upon the Supplementary Financial Estimate. Will a similar course commend itself to you and to the House now?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is a matter for the House to decide. If such an arrangement s agreeable to the House, I have no objection. If the first Resolution is disposed of at once, we can have a general discussion on the supplementary sum in the second Resolution.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Mr. G. HALL
I beg to move, to leave out "£10,300,000," and to insert instead thereof "£10,299,900."
I would draw the attention of the House to what can be regarded as the alarming Supplementary Estimate that is now being considered. This Supplementary Estimate raises the naval expenditure for this year to the sum of £80,000,000, a sum larger than that of 2230 any previous year, with the exception of the War years. This Estimate is double that of 1913–14. It can be said that now the nation is seeing the full effect of the termination of the Naval treaties, when there is nothing effective to take their place. Those who dislike those treaties have won their way through, and it can be said that the Government have completely surrendered to the demands of the fighting services in this matter. I can well remember the expressions of certain service Members in this House. It can also be said that after the Labour Government left, the London Naval Treaty had few, if any, friends. The then Prime Minister, the father of the agreement, very quickly abandoned his own child. We know that not only the late Prime Minister, now Lord President of the Council, but even the political heads of the Board of Admiralty, never really agreed with the London Naval Treaty. I recall some of the speeches made in this House. The hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes), writing in March of last year in, one of the newspapers, said that it was impossible for him to write temperately about that agreement. He could not, however, have been very dissatisfied with the agreement, because I also read a report of a speech which he delivered, not in this House or in this country, but in Malta about two weeks ago, in which he said that notwithstanding the operation of the London agreement "the British Navy was equal to any call which might be made upon it."
§ Mr. HALL
There was no mention of the Mediterranean in that speech. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said, that the Fleet was equal to any call which might be made upon it. That was five years after the London Naval Treaty was entered into. The Prime Minister, judged by the speeches which he has made, does not minimise the importance of the London Naval Treaty or of the Washington Naval Treaty, for the right hon. Gentleman, speaking in December of last year at the opening of the Naval Conference said:Nearly 14 years have elapsed since the limitation of naval armaments first became accomplished at Washington, and even though some of the countries here represented may take exception to this or that provision of the Washington and London 2231 Naval Treaties, it cannot be denied that in those 14 years there has been none of the spirit of rivalry in construction between the parties to those Treaties, which tended to impair international relations in the days before the idea of limitation by international agreements was given good practical expression.That was the view of the Prime Minister. Now that the agreements are terminated, we can see that we are at the end of the holiday and that the race in naval armaments has begun. The Navy programme is one of panic. This Supplementary Estimate accounts for only a portion of the expenditure on the armament policy of the Government as the price which the nation has to pay for the mishandling of foreign affairs during the past five years. I think it can rightly be said that the Government alone is not blameless in the matter. This large Estimate to-day is based upon a White Paper which was issued in March last by the Government, and, of course, it is also based upon various statements which have been made by Ministers since the issue of that White Paper. Clarity is not the strongest point in the White Paper or in the announcements concerning the new armament policy. The cart has been firmly placed before the horse. Notwithstanding the voting of such large sums of money as we are asked to vote, there has not been the clear examination of this problem of defence which wisdom and economy should demand. In the White Paper one paragraph says:It is essential, therefore, that the relation of our own armed forces to those of other Powers should be maintained at a figure which should be high enough to enable us to exercise the influence and the authority in international affairs which are alike required for the defence of vital British interests and in the application of the policy of collective security.I ask whether there has been any serious attempt to determine what British interests are likely to be threatened, or by whom, and whether any consideration has been given to the question of the extent to which a system of collective security could be relied on to protect those interests? What British responsibilities are in a collective system? To what extent do the Government propose to carry them out and adopt the policy of honouring the obligations of the Covenant of the League, as they said they would? Is there not 2232 a cloud of fog about collective security, while at the same time we are sliding back to the pre-War policy of balance amongst the great Powers, for which we must have armaments enough to make us either a valuable ally or a dangerous foe?
The White Paper also says that the level of British armaments must be high enough to exercise authority in international affairs. Cannot every great Power use the same argument? Has not that a tendency to bring about the race in armaments which, as far as I understand it, public opinion in this country does not desire at all to begin? In the White Paper dealing with this Supplementary Estimate there is very little or nothing said about the increase of naval armaments in other countries. As a matter of fact the only reference in the White Paper is to Germany.
The naval agreement reached with the German Government on 18th June, 1935, is in a different category, in so much as it limits the expansion of the German Navy to a definite proportion of the strength of the British Navy. Nevertheless the new German Navy, even within this limitation and agreement, is given as one of the reasons why we should expand our Navy. It was an agreement which was entered into quite outside the Treaty of Versailles and gave rise to a good deal of criticism in both France and Italy. In the White Paper there is no reference to any increase in the naval armaments of France. or of. Italy, and the same can be said in regard to the Soviet of Russia. There is a reference to the expenditure on the army and navy in Japan, but no reference, to any increase as far as the United States of America are concerned. If the policy of the Government is founded. on a statement of this kind, without any reference to increases in the navies of other countries which are worth mentioning, then there is no justification for the panic in introducing this large Supplementary Estimate.
In the programme outlined in the Estimate it is proposed to lay down two battleships next year. It can, of course, be argued that this, is not any violation of the Washington or London Naval Agreements. But why this urgency? We have been informed that a committee is sitting under the chairmanship of the 2233 Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence to deal with the issue of the bomb versus the battleship. I am not an expert and cannot deal with such a problem, but I think it is fully intended by the Government, whatever may be the finding of the committee, to proceed with the construction of these battleships. The hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth thinks they are absolutely vital. As a matter of fact, the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence said that the reason why these battleships were being constructed was that there are eight battleships being constructed in Europe. I suppose the right hon. Gentleman had in mind the battleships under construction in France, Italy and Germany. The two battleships under construction in Italy were allowed under the Washington Conference, and could have been constructed during the years 1927–1929, if Italy so desired. The same thing is true of France, and the construction of battleships by Germany is under the agreement which was entered into between Germany and this country. I should like to know whether there is any authoritative information as to the laying down of battleships by the United States and Japan, who were signatories not only to the Washington Naval Treaty but to the London Naval Treaty. The explanation, as far as France is concerned, is that they were allowed under a, treaty of 14 years ago to build these battleships. While it is complained that our battleships are over age, the French still have the three battleships which were placed in commission in 1911, one in 1913 and another in 1914. Of the Italians' five battleships, one was commissioned in 1914. It was for these reasons that the Washington Conference allowed these two nations to build the battleships they are building at the present time.
There is one significant point in this matter, and that is that the decision of the Admiralty and the Government to construct these battleships was taken and announced by the Admiralty during the time when the London Naval Conference. was sitting. The White Paper of 4th March announced the construction of these battleships, whereas the London Naval Treaty was not announced until 25th March, nearly a month after the announcement of the proposed construction of these battleships. The same 2234 thing can be said with regard to raising the number of cruisers from 50 to 70. During the sitting of the London Naval Conference the Admiralty thought fit to announce that our cruiser programme was to be increased from 50 to 70. That is a, frank departure from the standard set up by the Treaty of 1930, and it leads inevitably to a naval armaments race. The Government have never intended to continue the basis of the London Naval Treaty. It was determined to shake itself free of that agreement and build 70 cruisers instead of 50.
§ Mr. HALL
I notice that in the Supplementary Estimate provision is being made for the laying down of two cruisers of the "Southampton" class, of 9,000 tons. The recent naval agreement of 25th March this year limited the tonnage of cruisers to 8,000, but here we are some months after the agreement was entered into laying down cruisers of 1,000 tons more than is allowed by the agreement which the Government entered into with other Powers. It is, of course, true that the agreement has not been ratified, but in any case it does not indicate good faith on the part of the Government. It is not as though there were any inferiority on our part so far as cruiser strength is concerned—large cruisers, as compared with other nations. We have 19 cruisers of over 8,000 tons and eight under construction, with the three which it is proposed shall be laid down under the Supplementary Estimate, making a total of 27 cruisers of 9,000 tons or over. That is equal to the strength of the United States in vessels of that kind. They have 15 cruisers completed and 12 under construction. We have always been told that there is no naval race between ourselves and the United States. If there were a race with other naval Powers who were increasing their strength in large cruisers there would be something to be said for the action of the Admiralty, but Japan will have 14 cruisers, France seven, Italy seven, and Germany two.
2235 There is no indication in the White Paper or in the speeches of Ministers as to what is likely to be the ultimate cost of the programme which we are commencing to lay down in this Supplementary Estimate. The burden will be the minimum during the first year and will be relatively slight. The bills will begin to accumulate in 1937–38 and following years. The astonishing thing is that the Government should have allowed the rumour to be broadcast of a programme costing £300,000,000, that is, if it is not true. In any case, this figure has gone unchallenged, and I think that the Government should at once tell us what is their full programme and what it is to cost, so that the House and the country will know. Some experts who claim to be competent to give an estimate of the cost indicate that a replacement programme alone would cost no less than —200,000,000. That is only for the replacement of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers which are becoming over-age, and it is only a minimum because the race is on. To replace the existing fleets of all naval countries would mean 720 ships at a cost of £800,000,000. I cannot imagine the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) or the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth agreeing to the programme which is outlined in the White Paper. As soon as they have achieved it, pressure will be brought on the Government again to extend and increase the programme. A suggestion has been made in the newspapers that the right hon. Member for Epping in the event of a vacancy in the Admiralty should become First Lord of the Admiralty.
§ Mr. HALL
I think the right hon. Member for Epping would revel at the Admiralty in pre-war conditions when he was turning out battleships and cruisers almost like turning them out of a sausage machine. It is interesting to compare the actual cost of naval armaments in 2236 this country at the present time with the four years when the right hon. Member for Epping was First Lord of the Admiralty, from 1910 to 1914. The cost of naval armaments at that time was £174,000,000, in four years. During the last four years, with this almost obsolete fleet, as it is described by some hon. Members opposite, the naval armaments, under agreements, have cost us £250,000,000, and here we are starting off on this race and incurring an expenditure which no one can really estimate.
I wonder whether a Service Member like the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth, who is sincerely interested in the Navy, would be satisfied with a Fleet of anything less than that which we had during pre-war days, taking world conditions as he sees them to-day, seeing that almost every nation is a potential enemy, and taking into consideration the international outlook and policy of the Government. In 1914 there was only one potential enemy. Will the hon. and gallant Member indicate whether there is more than one now? If it is confined to one, perhaps he will tell the House which. that one is. I think that under this system, and even in the White Paper, the Government are preparing, not for one, but for many, and I cannot conceive of Service Members being satisfied with anything less than the superiority which. this nation had in 1913–14, when the night hon. Member for Epping said we mast have a superiority of 60 per cent. in battleships and of over 100 per cent. in cruisers, with an unlimited number of small craft.
The hon. Member referred to Service Members. Personally, I shall be quite satisfied when this country has in its possession that number of cruising forces—battleships, destroyers, and submarines—which is necessary to give us reasonable defence throughout the world.
§ Captain HAROLD BALFOUR
With regard to the hon. Member's comparison with the figures for 1913, do they include non-effective services, because that makes a great difference?
I would only say that the experts at the Admiralty have laid it down for many years that, so far as cruisers are concerned, the number should be 70. In the White Paper we are now to have 70, of which 10 are over age, and therefore in accordance with the standard, we shall be 10 cruisers short of what are required.
§ Mr. HALL
There again the two Admirals do not agree with one another, because when I suggested that as soon as this agreement is made, pressure will be brought to bear upon the Government to increase it, the hon. and gallant Member shook his head. I would that the Noble Lord who is to reply for the Admiralty should deal with some questions which were put to him by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) and others during the course of the Debate upon the Supplementary Estimate in Committee. First of all, seeing that we are about to incur this very large expenditure, something should be done concerning costs. My right hon. Friend put a question to the Prime Minister and asked whether it was possible that a committee should be set up, on the lines, I think he meant, of the Esher Committee, so that this question of costs might be gone into very fully. Whatever might be the opinions of hon. and right hon. Members concerning the need for an increased Navy or increased armed forces, I think everyone would agree that there should be no profiteering, that there should be some control of costs, and that the public should be satisfied that they are getting value for their money.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence referred to the excellent costings department of the Admiralty, which was also referred to by the Parliamentary Secretary. I am not questioning the efficiency of that Department. They have figures dealing with the construction of cruisers, destroyers, and submarines in the Royal dockyards, but they have no figures concerning the construction of battleships, and I understand that these battleships will be put out to tender, but there are only a very limited number of ship constructors who can tender for them. I 2238 have in mind, as a number of other hon. Members must have in mind, the evidence which was given before the commission which sat in America to inquire into the private manufacture of armaments. There is every indication that there is not only a national but an international ring operating in naval armaments, and I should think that the Government and the Admiralty would readily agree to the setting up of a committee of this kind, seeing that if the present Government continue in office, it is intended that we should incur such a huge cost as is proposed in this programme.
A question was raised concerning the scrapping of the five cruisers, and the Noble Lord and others also blamed the London Treaty of 1930 for the scrapping of those five cruisers in accordance with the terms of that Treaty. I would call attention to the attitude which those of us on this side took up when the First Lord of the Admiralty announced the change in the programme for the construction of small to large cruisers in 1933. In 1932 the First Lord said it was small cruisers that we wanted, and plenty of them. In 1933 he himself announced that, instead of building the requisite number of small cruisers to give the number allowed under the London Treaty, large cruisers would be built and the smaller cruisers sacrificed. The result to-day is that, instead of having the 50 cruisers allowed under the London Naval Treaty, we have sacrificed some of them owing to the fact that the present Board of Admiralty preferred to build larger cruisers.
My right hon. Friend put a question to the Noble Lord concerning the question of anti-aircraft guns and ships supplied with them, and the Noble Lord replied that it was not in the public interest that any information should be given upon this matter. Are the Admiralty still of that opinion? I think we might ask why it is that the newspapers of this country should have the information before the House has it. Almost within a few days of the Noble Lord making that statement in the House, that it was not in the public interest that this information should be given, I took up one of the morning papers and read that the cruiser "Cumberland" had recently undergone a very large refit, and almost minute details of the refit which had 2239 taken place were given. In addition to other details, it stated:Before the refit of the 'Cumberland' she contained four four-inch anti-aircraft guns; she now carries eight, in addition to anti-aircraft machine guns of various calibres.Not only does that apply to the "Cumberland," but on 14th May there was a reference in the newspapers to the refit of the "Repulse," and it was stated:When the ship leaves for the Mediterranean on the 8th June, she will carry four seaplanes, two in the hangars and another pair on deck. Hitherto no warship has carried more than two, and the main anti-aircraft armament of the 'Repulse' now comprises eight four-inch guns, including four of the latest models, twin-mounted on turrets, which give complete protection to the crews. In addition there are anti-aircraft machine-guns of various calibers.Why could not the representative of the Board of Admiralty give to the House of Commons that which the Admiralty are prepared to give to the Press? I ask whether that is treating the House as the House should be treated?
There are some questions concerning Vote 10. In the Supplementary Estimate there are announcements of large expenditure contemplated for the widening of docks. We are laying down provision for the widening of the dock at Gibraltar, at a total cost of £400,000, and at Plymouth at a cost of £345,000. Is it contemplated that there will be an increase in the size of battleships? Is that what the Admiralty are preparing for? Very little notice is taken of agreements at the present time. It must be remembered that the battle-cruiser "Hood" is a battleship of from 41,000 to 42,000 tons, and up to the present time the docks at Gibraltar, Portsmouth, and Plymouth have been quite capable of dealing with the "Hood" and the other large battleships.
Then there is the question of entering into an expenditure of no less than £750,000 to set up a boys' training establishment at Rosyth. It strikes me as being very curious that, with the personnel of the Navy very much less than it was, and with no prospect of its going up to anything like what it was before the War—at least, I should think not—and with the amount of money which was spent on the reconstruction and adaptation of buildings during the War 2240 period, we should have to incur this huge expenditure upon the setting-up of new establishments. I would that the Civil Lord, whose Department is charged with or is largely responsible for, this matter, should take note of the difficulties which exist as between department and department in the Admiralty. I had some when I was there, and I am satisfied that a good deal of this cost which is to be incurred in connection with the erection of new buildings could be saved if the Commander-in-Chief of the ports would himself see that there was this co-ordination which should exist as between them.
Again there is the question of Singapore. We are going to spend another £2,000,000 on Singapore, and the Noble Lord just referred to it when the matter was previously before the House. I think the House should be taken more into the confidence of the Admiralty on this question. What is it intended to do at Singapore which is going to require an expenditure of another £2,000,000, making a total cost at Singapore, on Naval Votes alone, of over £9,000,000? This Supplementary Estimate is just a part of the programme which presupposes a world foredoomed to war. It is a programme of statesmen who have thrown up the sponge, so far as trying to improve international relations is concerned. For five years the Government have allowed chance after chance to slide by, and now this arms policy is a tragic monument to their diplomatic failure. We insist that the nation should not be dragged by tired leaders into the policy of a race in armaments, which would lead this country to war, until a supreme effort has been made to stop the rot which has unfortunately set in.
§ 4.46 p.m.
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Lord Stanley)
I think it would be for the convenience of the House if I were to speak now on some of the questons which have been raised by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), and also to clear away some misapprehensions and misunderstandings which may have been left over from the previous Debate, leaving my hon. Friend the Civil it Lord to answer any questions that are asked this afternoon.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Noble Lord suggests that he should reply to some of the 2241 questions raised in the preceding Debate in Committee. I would not like that to become a precedent. I have sometimes to call Ministers and hon. Members to order for doing that very thing. On this occasion it might be useful to make an exception if the House does not object.
I did not wish to transgress in that respect, but many of the points raised in the Committee were raised again by the hon. Member who has just spoken, and I wish to reply in greater detail than on the last occasion. I am sure the hon. Member will understand if I leave the points which he raised with regard to Singapore and other matters to be dealt with by the Civil Lord. It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Aberdare on naval matters. However much he may criticise the administration of the present Board of Admiralty, I know very well the interest which he takes in the welfare of the Service. With some of his remarks I find myself in agreement. I certainly share with him regret at the necessity for this very considerable increase in the expenditure on the Navy Vote, and I also share with him regret that our incessant efforts—efforts which have been made by every Government since the War—to get an agreed limitation have not been more successful. Where I differ from the hon. Member is when he says that the reason for the increase in the Vote which I am presenting to-day is panic. That is a statement which is made by hon. Members freely up and down the country, but I think the general opinion of the country is that there is no panic on this occasion. Panic undoubtedly would have arisen later on if the hon. Member and his party had been in power, if they had not faced the realities of the situation, and if they had not decided to make good the deficiencies which have accrued and to adapt themselves to the altered conditions of the world.
I would like now to deal with one or two of the points specifically raised by the hon. Member. He referred first of all to the question of battleships. He asked what information we had regarding the building of battleships by other countries and why we were in such a hurry to lay down the keels of our new ones. I will repeat what I have frequently said before, that we are not 2242 building against any single country, but it has been proved by the mere fact that Germany, France and Italy are all building battleships, that the day of the battleship is not over, and it is essential for us to start as early as possible in replacing our own very rapidly-aging battle Fleet.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
Does the last remark of the Noble Lord mean that it is intended to lay down the battleships whatever may be the result of the deliberations of the committee now sitting under the chairmanship of the right hon. Gentleman?
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well what are the terms of reference of that committee, and my right hon. Friend said quite distinctly that there was no reasonable person who objected to the battleships themselves; it was only a question of whether adequate steps had been taken to ensure that they were built according to modern conditions. The hon. Member for Aberdare then went from battleships to cruisers. He asked why we were laying down this year two cruisers of 9,000 or 10,000 tons. We were allowed to build these cruisers to wind up the tonnage which was allowed to be replaced under the London Naval Treaty of 1930, and it is not to meet in any way the conditions which have been envisaged by the new Naval Treaty of this year. The reason for this increase in the tonnage has been explained on frequent occasions in this House. It has been the desire of the Board of Admiralty not to exceed the figure of 7,000 tons and for that reason we started building the "Leander" class of cruisers, and we hoped the other naval Powers would follow our example. That has not been the case. There has been considerable building of larger cruisers and we had to follow suit.
The hon. Member also referred to the question which was asked by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) on the last occasion, concerning anti-aircraft guns. I am very sorry indeed if the House or hon. Members opposite should think that I have treated them with any lack of confidence or courtesy, but the question which was put to me was very much wider than the information which was given in the Press. I have not seen the article in question, but most certainly if 2243 the right hon. Gentleman had asked me what were the arms of any particular ship which had finished her refit and of which the details were therefore well known. I would have given him the information. He asked me a very much wider question, as I understood it, as to the general policy of re-arming with these anti-aircraft guns. Therefore, on that occasion I was anxious not to give information to the House which we have not been prepared heretofore to make known to the other Powers. The right hon. Gentleman knows that under the recent naval agreement we laid particular stress on the people who signed the agreement getting advance information. They are to get four months' advance information as to the size of the armament of ships that are to be laid down. That advantage would obviously be nullified if full information were to be given to the world.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
Is the Noble Lord going to give this advance information to other Powers before he gives it to the House?
That has frequently been done before. It is given in confidence. One of the inducements to other countries to sign the treaty is that they will be given advance information that will not be given to the rest of the world. I would inform the right hon. Gentleman that the policy generally with regard to these anti-aircraft guns is that in every type of vessel, large and small, this vital feature is being pressed forward as fast as possible, but we are not anxious to give any more information at this moment and I very much hope that hon. Members will not press me.
The hon. Member also raised the question of reserves, with which I think I might deal now. He asked whether it would not be possible to reinstitute, to use the phrase of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), the immediate reserve started by the right hon. Gentleman in. 1912. This reserve was formed with the object of having an immediate reserve which could be called up without proclamation in preparation for an emergency. The men were highly trained owing to the longer period allowed for. It was composed of seamen, stokers and marines under 32 years of age who left the 2244 Service before completing their time for pension. The men, who were enrolled for a period of live years, were required to perform 28 days training on board His Majesty's ships annually and to enter the Service if summoned by the Admiralty on a national emergency. They received retaining pay at the rate of Is. a day, or roughly £18 a year, and the maximum time for which they could be called up on any occasion was three months. As a matter of fact, that reserve was never called up, because in the emergency which started in 1914 very naturally all the reserves were required. After the War, when the whole question of the reorganisation of the reserves was investigated, this particular form of reserve was allowed to die out, partly because of the expense and partly because under existing conditions it did not provide the high standard of efficiency, particularly in the technical branches. Moreover the advantage of calling up the immediate reserve without proclamation can be more satisfactorily obtained at present by calling up pensioners under the age of 55 without having the disadvantage of the time-limit of three months. Naturally, if the question of reserves is again raised or investigated, the idea which lies behind this immediate reserve will most certainly be borne in mind.
A very important question which was raised by the hon. Member for Aberdare was that of prices. I think he was on a rather bad wicket when he referred to the Esher Committee and asked why we did not set up a committee of that sort again. As a matter of fact, the Esher Committee was set up after the South African War to reorganise the War Office on the lines of the Admiralty, and later still the Air Ministry was also reorganised on the same lines. It appears, therefore, that the hon. Member would like a Committee to be set up to see whether the original organisation taken for its model was really the correct one. I think he did not want strictly a committee of exactly that sort. What he wants is a committee to make sure that undue profits will not be made out of the expenditure on armaments. I m very glad to have an opportunity of amplifying what I said on the last occasion and of doing away with any impression there may be that because the Admiralty are faced with a 2245 large programme of work, we feel that our organisation is not capable of dealing with it.
§ Mr. G. HALL
Notwithstanding the fact that 20 or 30 years ago the War Office administration was modelled on the Admiralty, and that later on the same was done with the Air Ministry, is the Noble Lord aware that the May Committee in 1931, after a very exhaustive inquiry, held that a committee should be appointed to deal with the cost and design of battleships?
That has nothing to do with the Esher Committee. It is only a small point and I do not think we need quarrel about the exact object for which the Committee is set up. What the hon. Member wants is a committee which will make sure that undue profits are not made out of the present programme of rearmament. What I want to stress is that although there is this considerable expansion, we feel that the Admiralty organisation is quite competent to deal with it, and we also believe that from many points of view the Admiralty programme of works presents the smallest number of new problems and the least difficulty. As the House knows, one of the main items of expenditure is new construction, and here we have the advantage of our own dockyards and the listed shipbuilding firms, and we are able to check their prices both by competition and in other ways. We have id existence a satisfactory scheme for fixing prices and allocating orders. There will be other problems arising, such as the suppply of skilled workers, but those are questions which would come under my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, and will not call for any change in the Admiralty organisation. It is the same in the Works Department of the Civil Engineer-in-Chief. That Department will need increasing and strengthening but I see no reason why we should in any way alter the system.
§ Mr. HALL
I have had experience of dealing with this question of buildings, particularly in outlying districts, and I discovered a considerable amount of overlapping, and of reluctance on the part of the heads of various departments to disclose accommodation which was not being used and which could be used for other purposes. There is a reluctance to give up accommodation and I think something ought to be done in that respect.
I do not think we are faced with the same difficulty, but I will leave that matter to be dealt with by the Civil Lord who will clear up any doubt which exists in regard to it. There is one thing more which I wish to say on the question of prices, and that is in regard to armament supplies, equipment and stores generally. The Admiralty recognise that there are many cases in which plain straightforward contracts will not be possible, particularly in the lines in which it is desirable to develop increased sources of supply. We have had considerable practice in dealing with these cases, as new equipment is constantly being devised for which contractors could not fairly be asked to quote prices without prior experience. Our professional accountancy department and technical costing department, which although located in the Air Ministry also work for the Admiralty, have an important part in these arrangements. Our object is to keep these arrangements flexible and to adapt them to the particular circumstances of each case.
Although we have this experience on which to build, it has been recognised from the first that some special machinery is required in present circumstances, both to give manufacturers whose assistance we require the greatest possible confidence that they will receive fair treatment from the Admiralty, and also to safeguard the Admiralty as much as possible from the risk of paying unfair prices. Following, therefore, the precedent of the Air Ministry the Admiralty have set up a committee which will act as an advisory body to the board and the Director of Contracts and which will be consulted on questions relating to the prices to be paid to contractors for armaments—more particularly those which cannot be procured in sufficient quantities except by special measures to increase the output to which the phrase "the creation of a shadow armament industry" has been applied. They will also be consulted on cases in which there is evidence of combinations or associations being formed by contractors to secure prices which could give or are suspected to give the manufacturers of any equipment or stores an excessive profit. The gentlemen who have with great public spirit consented to serve on that committee are Sir Malcolm Robertson (chairman), Sir Nicholas Waterhouse, Mr. W. Fraser, and 2247 Sir Norman Leslie. I am sure the House will share with the Admiralty a deep sense of gratitude to these gentlemen for undertaking this extremely important work.
There is one more point which was briefly touched upon by the hon. Member for Aberdare and that is with regard to the five "C" class cruisers. I should like to correct the hon. Gentleman on one point. It is not for me to blame or to defend the London Naval Treaty of 1930. My duty is to explain and defend the action which the Admiralty feel it is right for them to take under the terms of the Treaty and as misapprehension appears to have arisen as to the exact bearing of our obligations in connection with cruiser tonnage under this Treaty, I will with the permission of the House briefly restate the facts. Under Part III of the Treaty the United States, Japan and ourselves agreed that our complete cruiser tonnage on 31st December this year should not exceed a given total divided into two sub-categories (a) those with guns above 6.1 inches and (b) those with guns not exceeding 6.1 inches. There was no definite obligation as to the actual tonnage on any given date in the intervening years provided excess tonnage was disposed of by the end of the Treaty term. If no further scrapping were to take place, we should possess 20,000 tons over our given agreed figure.
The question then arose, which ships should be scrapped in order to effect the necessary reduction? After full consideration it was decided to keep the three cruisers of the "Hawkins" class but as they would be in excess of the number allowed under sub-category (a) it was further decided to convert them into sub-category (b) by replacing their 7.5 inch guns by guns not exceeding 6.1 inches and scrapping in their place the necessary tonnage of older and smaller ships that is to say the five cruisers of the "C" class— "Caledon," "Calpvso," "Caradoc," "Ceres" and "Cardiff"—all 19 years old. The view was expressed in the course of the previous Debate that it was a waste of money to scrap these ships when at the same time we had announced the intention of increasing our cruiser strength. That point of view is easy to understand, and 2248 the Admiralty would certainly be able to make use of these ships if we were to retain them, although in view of their age it would be easy to over-estimate their value. On the other hand, we are pledged by the Treaty to reduce to the agreed tonnage by the end of this year and it is impossible to over-estimate the value of keeping the letter and the spirit of any agreement to which we put our name.
The question of making use of the escalator clause of the London Naval Treaty was raised frequently during the Debate but here considerable difficulties exist. Actually, this clause is far more restricted than the corresponding clauses of the Washington Treaty and the recent Naval Treaty of 1936. Moreover, no provision was made in the Treaty of 1930, even to allow of release from its restrictions in the event of a country going to war nor is there any general provision to allow release on account of "a change of circumstances," both of which provisions appear in the other Treaties. Here I would like to make it plain that the position under the 1930 Treaty as regards cruisers and the position as regards destroyers are in no way comparable. With respect to destroyers, we made a definite reservation in the White Paper accompanying the Treaty, that we should have to increase our destroyer tonnage if existing submarine programmes were not reduced, and we are now approaching our co-signatories on those lines. With regard to ships generally, with the exception of destroyers, for which we made this special reservation, Article 21 reads as follows:If, during the term of the present Treaty, the requirements of the national security of any High Contracting Party in respect of vessels of war limited by Part III of the present Treaty are in the opinion of that party materially affected by new construction of any Power other than those who have joined in Part II of this Treaty, that High Contracting Party will notify the other parties to Part III as to the increase required to be made in its own tonnages within one or more of the categories of such vessels of war, specifying particularly the proposed increase and the reasons therefor, and shall be entitled to make such increase. Thereupon the other parties to Part III of this Treaty shall be entitled to make a proportionate increase in the category or categories specified; and the said other parties shall promptly advise with each other through diplomatic channels as to the situation thus presented.2249 That is the relevant article of the London Naval Treaty of 1930, and it will be seen that the conditions to be fulfilled in invoking this clause are that—the requirements of our national security must be affected by new construction by Powers not parties to Part III of the Treaty; and that the reasons for the increase must be explained to the other High Contracting Parties.I would prefer in this connection not to refer by name to any particular Power or Powers or to quote individual statistics but I can assure the House that it is the considered opinion of the Government that the new construction of cruisers undertaken or announced by non-contracting Powers, in programmes subsequent to 1930 and not known at the time of the signing of the treaty, have not been of a character or scope to affect the requirements of our national security.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
How does the Noble Lord square that statement with the speech of the Prime Minister on 11th March, 1935, in the Debate on the first defence White Paper, in which he said that a large number of submarines and light cruisers had been built by Powers not parties to the London Treaty of 1930, of a tonnage to enable us, if we so desired, to invoke the article of that treaty which permitted us to increase our tonnage?
The fact that these light cruisers, which were at one time known as destroyers, were contemplated, was perfectly well known at the time of the signing of the London Naval Treaty.
Is it not a fact that a Power has constructed a very large number of so-called destroyer leaders, which, if she had signed the treaty, would be classified as cruisers; and is it not the case that if we had built those ships they would have had to come under our cruiser tonnage? Surely that is a clear case of a Power which had not signed the London Treaty constructing ships which are classified as cruisers in that treaty. Would it not therefore justify us in putting the escalator clause into operation as far as cruisers are concerned?
Perhaps I may be allowed to make my own case first and my hon. and gallant Friend can make his own afterwards. The right hon. Gentleman opposite will remember that a question was put to the Prime Minister on this very point on 13th May, in reply to which he said:The statement referred to was part of a speech on the general question of defence, and was not intended to be an exhaustive or final declaration of our position in regard to the London Naval Treaty limits. In particular, the use of the words 'light cruisers' may have caused some misapprehension. The reference was to a type of vessels which are classified by the French as destroyer leaders, and up to 18 months ago were generally referred to as such, but which are now classified as 'cruisers' in the United Kingdom publication entitled 'Fleets.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th May, 1936; col. 375, Vol. 312.]
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Does not that make the case all the stronger? Here are vessels previously classified as destroyers. Now they are classified as cruisers under the definition of the London Treaty. Does not that make the case all the stronger for invoking the escalator clause in respect of them?
No, I do not agree with that. Whether they were classified as destroyers or are classified now as cruisers their existence was perfectly well known to the right hon. Gentleman and to his advisers when the London Naval Treaty of 1930 was signed. To go back to my argument. I have said that the building subsequent to this Treaty has not been of a character to affect the requirements of our national security. The cruisers in question which would affect the issue consist of 12 vessels constructed over a period of five years, of which only three have been completed and two are beginning their preliminary trials. I need hardly say how important it is that recourse to an escalator clause should only be had when the high contracting party invoking the clause is satisfied, not only that his case is sound, but that his need to invoke the clause is imperious. Otherwise, we should be setting an example which would not only put an end to such prospects as there are of continuing the limitations of armament by international agreement, but would aim a severe blow at the sanctity of international obligations generally.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
We are anxious to get this straight. This is the Report 2251 stage and we shall not get another opportunity. If it is the case, as the Noble Lord has put it, that none of the Powers outside the high contracting parties in 1930 have really built in such a way as to justify our using the escalator clause, what is the reason for the enlarged programme of the Government?
That has been explained time and time again, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it perfectly well. He agreed to a limitation of tonnage allowing us only 50 cruisers, and we have found by experience that the tonnage to which he reduced us is not sufficient to enable us to carry out our responsibilities.
Is it not true that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) said in 1930:You will find a steady decline in naval expenditure and a steady rise in almost every other country, and you begin to ask whether it is a sound policy.
Perhaps we shall be able to hear the rest of the speech later. So much for what I may call the legal side of the question, that is, whether we have a legal right to invoke the escalator clause in this particular case. A different suggestion was also made in the Debate on the 4th May. It was suggested that the retention of these five cruisers could easily have been made a matter for arrangement between the United States and ourselves during the recent London Naval Conference. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough even referred to the 1936 Treaty as one which revised the 1930 Treaty.
Let me first deal with the point that this matter should have been discussed at the recent Naval Conference. This conference was summoned under the relevant provisions of the Washington and London Naval Treaties. Article 23 of the latter treaty provided that the high contracting parties should meet in conference in 1935 "to frame a new treaty to replace and to carry out the purposes of the present treaty." Proposals for the amendment of the old treaty would, therefore, have been outside the scope of this conference and, if 2252 made, would certainly have been rejected by other Powers. Furthermore, the Naval Treaty of 1936 which emerged from this conference is not a revise of the 1930 treaty. The purpose of the recent conference was in fact not to revise the former treaty, which is due in any event to expire at the end of the year, but to determine what degree of naval limitation will be possible when the existing naval treaties come to an end. But it may be eontended that the matter might have been discussed, one might say unofficially. with the foreign delegates outside the conference itself.
Here I must remind the House, in the first place, that the Japanese delegates withdrew from the conference at an early stage before any matters other than those of a general character had been discussed, so that, even had such a course been considered desirable, no suitable opportunity would have presented itself. Even if there had been this opportunity, we must obviously have been prepared in advance to agree that the other high contracting parties should be permitted to retain the cruiser tonnage which they are at present under an obligation to scrap before the 31st December next. As a, matter of fact America has no excess tonnage and would hardly he expected to make a concession from which she got no compensating advantage, while under the same arrangement Japan would be entitled to retain cruisers both more numerous and more serviceable than ourselves; and it is the definite view of the Admiralty that, in the circumstances, the naval interests of this country would be better served by not asking the other parties to enter into an arrangement of this description. To alter our relative naval position in certain respects for the worse would surely be a high price to pay for the retention of these five ships, whose course is almost run.
To sum up, the conclusions of the Government in the matter may be stated. as follows: We should not be justified in escalating in cruisers, within the meaning and intention of Article 21 of the London Naval Treaty, 1930, and, in the interests of the strict observance of Treaty obligations, we believe that the escalator clause should not be used. As regards the alternative suggestion that we should make an arrangement with the other contracting parties independently of the escalator clause, we believe this in the 2253 first place to be impracticable, because the assent of both of the parties to any such proposal is most- unlikely, as it would act unequally; but, even if it were practicable on the basis of a general retention by high contracting parties of tonnage still due to be scrapped under the Treaty, we are convinced that such an arrangement would be contrary to our naval interests. We naturally assume that it is the intention of the other high contracting parties to scrap their surplus cruiser tonnage in strict accordance with the provisions of the Treaty, and, relying on this, His Majesty's Government are prepared to fulfil their side of the contract.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I understood from Mr. Speaker's Ruling that he deprecated the answering on the Report stage of specific questions that had been raised on the Committee stage. No doubt that is our rule and practice. Nevertheless, I am bound to say that I think my Noble Friend, in making a statement which covered what I may call the principal naval topics which are being discussed during this Session, has taken a course which greatly meets the convenience of the House. One of the complaints made in regard to some of the combatant services is that questions that are asked are not answered, and I must say that my Noble Friend has endeavoured to make a specific answer to-day to almost every point that has been current in our naval Debates this year. Whether the answer is satisfactory or not is another question, but that he has endeavoured fairly to meet the issues which have been presented is, I think, common ground in all parts of the House.
I have only one or two minor matters to touch on, and one matter of substance. I am bound to say that I see certain objections to foreign countries being given elaborate, full details of forthcoming British naval construction when those details are for a very long time withheld from the House of Commons representing the taxpayers of the country. It may be that, as a matter of diplomacy, from time to time some indication is given to naval attachés of forthcoming Admiralty programmes or the programmes of other Powers, but definitely to base ourselves upon a system of confiding to other countries the figures of 2254 our future ships and withholding them from the people of this country, is not one which should be pressed very far.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend appreciates the great advantage we get from having this information from other countries also.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
In my view, the Admiralty should aim at giving the House the greatest amount of information possible about their ships. All they have done in the past is to publish very full figures, but when, for purposes of secrecy and in the national interest, it has not been desirable to give those figures, the House has been willing to allow the matter to lie, as it were, in mystery. But from the moment you tell a foreign Power about our own construction, there is not the slightest reason why you should not give similar information to your own people. It is not suggested that you should give to your own people information confidentially imparted to you by other Powers. That is for them to settle with their own people, but it seems to me that in principle what is known abroad ought to be known at home. I remember saying in the Autumn what a very unsatisfactory situation the Fleet was in. It was moved to the Mediterranean and strongly reinforced, and English newspapers were asked not to comment on it. They immediately refrained from comment, but every foreign paper printed every movement, and everybody abroad knew about it from day to day. It is objectionable that information should be withheld, not for the purpose of preventing foreigners getting hold of it, but of preventing your own people getting hold of it.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I was only touching on this point because I thought it important. Then my Noble Friend dealt with the question of the reinstatement of the immediate reserve, which I raised, and he said he did not want it as it was too expensive to get the 3,000 men available at any moment and to train them for 28 days a year. It would be a most valuable method of keeping them in touch with the sea services and would cost £18 a head, or a total of £54,000. When we are thinking of Estimates of over £60,000,000, it does not seem to me 2255 to be such a crushing expenditure that, if the circumstances were otherwise satisfactory, it should deter you from adding this to your facilities. If the Admiralty consider that they have better ways of achieving the results and do not wish to have this facility, and cannot afford the £50,000 which would give them this facility and convenience, obviously there is no good pressing it. You should never force little dogs to eat mutton, and I will not press it on my Noble Friend.
There is one other minor question. I was going to ask the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence whether he is able to give us any further information about the progress of the inquiry he is holding into the transference of the Fleet Air Arm to the Admirality, or about the resisting-power of battleships to attack by modern explosives. I should doubt very much whether he will be anxious to give us information, because I do not suppose his inquiries are complete.
§ The MINISTER for the CO-ORDINATION of DEFENCE (Sir Thomas Inskip)
I may say that, so far as the Fleet Air Arm inquiry is concerned, I have now a great deal of the information before me. I have asked for some more information, and my right hon. Friend will understand that I must inform myself of the facts on particular points at which friction is caused. I am now in possession of a great deal of information, and with such opportunities as I have, having regard to my commitments in this House, I am considering it. With regard to the other inquiry, we have made substantial progress. We have now heard the evidence of a number of gentlemen well qualified to inform us as to the question under consideration. We have arranged a meeting immediately after Whitsuntide, and I think I may say that I see the end of the inquiry well in sight.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention, and we shall all await with great interest the result of his decision about the Fleet Air Arm. With regard to the question of whether battleships can be built or not, that has been settled, whatever the result of his inquiry, by the decision of the Admiralty to build them, and, that being so, I hope in this time of pressure 2256 and strain that he will not unduly burden himself by performing acts of civility to a committee which is certainly dead before it is born.
Now I come to the most serious matter whit happears to me to arise out of the discussion of naval affairs this year, and that is the intention of the Admiralty to scrap these five light cruisers. Let the House face the facts. At a time when it is universally agreed that we ought to increase our cruiser tonnage, when the Admiralty are proposing to raise the number of cruisers from 50 to 70, when it is well known how deep is their anxiety on this matter, at this very time we have to pole-axe five quite servicable cruisers. At a time when we have to make the most onerous demands upon the taxpayer we have to take his money out to sea and sink it. It is a very unappetising and melancholy conclusion to offer the British taxpayer—not the sort of finale to policy which one would hope the British Government would be able to produce. It is not the sort of thing to make people willing to meet the renewed demands which have now to be made continuously upon them, that they should see that good money has to be thrown away in this fashion. It is certainly not the sort of event that the manager of a great private business would announce with gusto in his annual report. It certainly is not a step which can in any way, however it might be explained, be associated either with foresight or with good and happy arrangements.
But, we are told, it is all because of the treaty. The sanctity of treaties! The word of Britain, however great the sacrifice, must be redeemed. Absolute fidelity to the letter and the spirit of the treaty. There, and there alone, we take our stand. No one is going to quarrel with my Noble Friend and attack him when he occupies so majestic and unassailable a position as that. We are absolutely in accord on that question. But let us look at this treaty. I have always been a severe critic of this London treaty of 1930. In those days, when I was the present Prime Minister's guardian angel in naval affairs, endeavoring to keep his steps from falling into evil courses or pitfalls of any kind, I persuaded him to lead the Conservative party through the Lobbies against that treaty, and I have always regarded it as deeply detrimental to the interests of the Royal Navy.
2257 However, I am not prepared to blame the present unfortunate situation upon the treaty. I do not think it is right to do so. The Government have done less than justice, it appears to me, to this treaty. I never expected that I should find myself defending the Lord President of the Council on a naval matter against his Conservative colleagues. I think it only fair to say that this treaty does not bear the interpretation which has been placed upon it in this respect. It is unfair to say, as was said in the late Debate from the Government Benches, that these five cruisers have to be sunk just because of the improvident Socialist treaty of 1930. I have been reading the treaty again, and have taken such advice as I can upon it, and I say without hesitation that nothing in the treaty obliges you to sink these cruisers unless you want to. My Noble Friend has read Article 21, a very remarkable article, which deals with the escalator clause. Let me emphasise some of the points in Article 21. I will not read it again. First, if in your opinion—if in the opinion of the British Government or any of the other contracting Governments your security is affected by the new construction of non-Treaty Powers, you do not have to obtain the consent or the agreement of the other Powers to the treaty; you have only to notify them. You are the sole judges. This is very important.
When this treaty was being put through many people said, "If we find at the end of the six-year period the state of the world is dark and new construction is growing up, how are we to rid ourselves of these new dangers?" and we were told, "There is the escalator clause." "But," we said, "supposing other people do not agree?" They said, "Oh, that has been provided for. You have only to notify. If you think your interests are affected by the change in the naval situation and by the growth of new construction abroad, you only have to notify. It does not depend upon the consent, agreement, or even the subsequent approval, of any of these other Powers."
The second point is this: If this external new construction affects our position there is no question of the escalator clause being limited—as I imagine from what I have heard in this Debate was the impression on the Government benches —to any particular category for meeting 2258 a new development in foreign construction. For instance, the building of submarines is not necessarily the argument for freeing us to build more submarines. The answer to the submarine is not another submarine but a destroyer. In the same way, the answer to a destroyer is not necessarily another destroyer; it is very likely a light cruiser squadron. As the Noble Lord knows so well, in the orthodox scheme of great naval battles when the flotillas of the enemy attack the battle fleet, the light cruiser squadron advances and, with their superior gun-power and high, stable gun-platforms, they are capable of destroying the flotilla attack. That is the whole theory. Therefore, there was never any idea that it should be limited category by category and one can see, by reading the answers to questions in this House, that that has been in the mind of the Government all through and in the mind of the Prime Minister and of the Noble Lord—that you had a case on destroyers but you had no case on cruisers. The French destroyer programme includes 32 2,500-ton vessels which, as they are taking the water, do constitute a very important fact in the naval situation.
Then there is the position which has grown up in the Mediterranean, true a strategic position but one which throws a different emphasis upon the character of the new construction. Then there is the arrival of German naval power, growing from year to year. To say that none of those facts has made any difference, and that the Admiralty representative can get up and say, "We are perfectly satisfied with the situation" is an absurdity, especially when it is contrasted with demands for the greatest naval expansion that this country has seen since the War and with the greatest Estimates that it has ever seen in time of peace. You cannot have it both ways; you cannot say "All is going on perfectly well; we are entirely satisfied; none of the external circumstances cause us the least anxiety; everything is proceeding according to plan; and therefore we do not need to invoke the escalator clause, we do not need to use our rights under the escalator clause," and then the next clay, or almost on the same day, come forward and ask for a continuation, year after year, as it must be, of the most formidable and tremendous Navy Estimates which we have ever yet faced in 2259 times of peace. No, Sir; the Admiralty stulfify themselves and stultify the case of Members supporting them who will be defending this naval expenditure all over the country when these very reassuring statements are made in one small connection.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am going to give way. I will certainly give way to the Noble Lord if he will let me finish my sentence. I was saying when these statements are made on the one hand and an entirely different aspect of affairs is put forward on the major programme.
I only want to say that at no period in my speech did I express any measure of complacency or satisfaction. I only tried to argue that according to the best of our belief we are not entitled to invoke the escalator clause, and gave the reasons why the other methods of approaching our cosignatories were not wise to employ in this matter. There is no question of saying I was satisfied with the situation as it exists, nor of complacency.
I think it was inferred that I expressed great satisfaction and contentment with the present situation.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am going to argue this matter, with great respect to the Noble Lord, because I do not think it is satisfactory where it stands. I did not use the word "complacency." The case is that those five serviceable ships are to be sunk when you have a clause in the Treaty which would enable you to avoid sinking them—when you could notify foreign Powers, and when you would not have to sink them to avoid breaking the Treaty. The reason, the honourable reason, which you allege for not using this power which you have is that nothing has occurred which in your opinion requires this emergency use of the escalator clause. I am content with that statement of the case. I am 2260 not charging my Noble Friend with complacency. I know perfectly well that he would be delighted to keep those five cruisers. I am sorry to say that he and his advisers and the Admiralty have been led into this position on the subject. I say the Treaty foresaw that there was no limitation by categories. It is quite clear that if you find yourselves affected by naval developments and new construction by non-Treaty Powers in any part of the world you are entitled to preserve your own building or, if necessary, to make new construction. Those are the facts of the Treaty. I do not think they are at all denied. The only thing is that the Admiralty have chosen to say that, in their opinion, nothing has occurred to make them use the powers; but they have the powers—there is no dispute at all about that. I think that is a very serious matter.
The next question is whether the case is good upon its merits. There is no dispute about this, because the Prime Minister said on 11th March last year that it was clear that there was ample tonnage to enable us to invoke the escalator clause. It was explained that that referred only to the escalator clause in respect of destroyers, but what has that to do with it? There are no watertight compartments in this matter. If there was enough tonnage to enable us to invoke the escalator clause in respect of destroyers and we chose to invoke it in respect of cruisers, we are absolutely entitled under the Treaty to do so. Instead of building, say, 20 destroyers, we build, say, three cruisers. It is for us to decide absolutely. Something has happened in the interval I do not know what, which has tended to alter the position of the Government since the declaration which the Prime Minister made on 11th March last year. It therefore seems that a misapprehension has arisen.
I repeat that there is nothing whatever in the Treaty argument. What is required of us is clear, the facts are clear, the merit is clear and the intentions are clear. In the comic g years of danger in Europe, when we have not only to consider the North Sea but the Mediterranean in the most pointed fashion, and when the convoy of our food supplies may be a most grave pre-occupation, can any one suppose that it is wise or prudent 2261 to take five serviceable cruisers out to sea and sink them, without any Treaty obligation? Apart from the statements which have been made by the Government, the facts of the world in no way warrant us in making this sacrifice. There is, however, I admit fairly to the House, another aspect of this matter. When my Noble Friend first opened this case upon another occasion, he based himself entirely upon the Treaty: the Treaty compels. Now we see another line of argument being brought forward, which is that if we do not sink or scrap the five cruisers, Japan will not sink five of her cruisers—or seven of her cruisers. That is how I understand the argument. If that is an afterthought, it must be admitted to be a very substantial afterthought.
If there is any fault on that score it must be laid to my door. I did not use all the arguments that could have been used. On the part of the Admiralty it is not an afterthought at all. It is one of the main reasons. If there is any misunderstanding on that point it is at my expense.
May I ask a question of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill)?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am delighted to answer a question of my Noble Friend, but it is unusual for a private Member to be asked to do so.
My right hon. Friend talks about using the escalator clause. Does he realise that if the Government do that, they are faced with an entirely different and new naval situation? They can do what is necessary under their different agreements, but the minute they begin the escalator clause we get a new competition in armaments. Is that what my right hon. Friend wants?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
That would be no doubt a very searching, and in many ways very disconcerting, question, but for the fact that the Government are already using that clause. I really must warn my Noble Friend to be a, little careful. Representing a dockyard constituency, she must follow these naval matters a little more closely.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
She has not even heard it said that we are invoking the escalator clause in respect of destroyers and keeping 40,000 tons beyond what would be—[Interruption.] The Noble Lady says: "By agreement." That is not so. It may be that others will agree, but we are acting on our right, and that is the whole point. If others agree and think it reasonable, all the better, but we are acting on our right. I hope I have given the Noble Lady a satisfactory answer.
What I want to say about these Japanese cruisers is that a question is raised which is very difficult to decide, and it is this: Is it more dangerous for Japan to have five more cruisers in the Far East in the next two years than it is for us to have five fewer cruisers on our own trade routes, in the Mediterranean and in the narrow seas? That is a question which I am certainly not going to attempt to decide. I take it that the Admiralty, having weighed it all, have considered that they would rather be without the five vessels themselves than that Japan should retain those five cruisers—or seven cruisers—which it is believed it is urgent under the Treaty to scrap. The second question I want to ask is: Are we sure that Japan is, in fact, going to scrap or sink those five—or seven—cruisers? Have they done so yet? I will gladly give way to the Noble Lord. We know that they have refused to make any future naval treaty after 31st December, and that they will be absolutely free to build any class of vessel that they may require. They may be perfectly free to build cruisers with 9-inch guns, or 12,000 or 14,000 tons cruisers. Only those cruisers within the Treaty area will be debarred. Anyway, this happy and prudent Japanese Admiralty is absolutely free.
I want to know whether they have, in the exercise of their freedom, begun to dismantle and destroy these five or seven cruisers. Before we sink or scrap our five cruisers we ought to know what is being done at the other end of the world. Observe that there is no question of charging Japan with bad faith. My contention is that they are perfectly entitled, if they choose, to retain those vessels, on the ground of the great changes which have taken place in the naval situation in the world and of the 2263 new construction that has taken place. All that they have to do is to notify us of the great recrudescence of naval building and the growth of the German Navy, a factor not foreseen when the Treaty was made. They can invoke the escalator clause, and no one can reproach them, any more than they can reproach us with having departed from the Treaty either in the letter or the spirit.
What is to happen, supposing we destroy our five cruisers, and thereafter the Japanese, as they are perfectly entitled to do, invoke the escalator clause on the general grounds of world shipping, and keep their cruisers? Surely that would not be very satisfactory. We should lose on both counts and on either side. I ask that whoever is going to speak further in this Debate, perhaps the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, will give us a definite assurance that our cruisers will not be destroyed except pari passu with similar Japanese destruction. That, I think, is the least that can be asked.
I therefore conclude: (1) that there is no treaty obligation; (2) that the Government have taken this step because they consider that being five cruisers short in the next two years on our trade routes in the North Sea is a lesser disadvantage than the Japanese retaining five cruisers in the Far East, and (3) that the Government will give us an absolute assurance that, whatever happens, we shall not mutilate our own Fleet until we are sure that similar sacrifices are being made elsewhere.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Sir R. KEYES
I do not propose to follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in his discussion with the Noble Lord as to what is to happen to these five cruisers. Everybody wants to keep them, and nobody more than the Admiralty, and if the arguments which the right hon. Gentleman has used can persuade the Government that they have the right to keep them, I have no doubt that the Government will do so. I am sure that there will be no scrapping of these cruisers until the very last day of the year, in order to make sure that Japan does not get to windward of us.
I was rather surprised that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hills- 2264 borough (Mr. Alexander) had the effrontery to quarrel with the Government for scrapping these five little cruisers when he was responsible for scrapping five great capital ships which were incomparably more powerful and would have been useful for several years for convoy work.
§ Sir R. KEYES
I think it is quite beside the point. He should not come here and plead any virtue for the London Treaty when the whole country knows what a fearful menace it has been to naval security. It is on account of that Treaty that we have to meet this large expenditure now, instead of being able to spread it over a term of years.
I happened to be in the Mediterranean, and in company with some important units of the Fleet in those waters, when the "Furiou" left the Fleet at short notice to go home; not to embark a number of modern and up-to-date aircraft such as the Navy had been longing for for many years, but, as the Commander-in-Chief sadly told me, to have renovated engines fitted, to replace the worn-out engines in the ancient aircraft which were almost out of date, judged by foreign standards, when I was Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean eight years ago. It is no exaggeration to say that the inadequacy and the inefficiency of the British Naval Air Service is a matter of great concern to the whole Navy.
I mention this because of the speech made last Thursday by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James), which shows how completely he misunderstands and is out of touch with the feeling in the Naval Air Service and the difficulties with which the Admiralty have to contend in their relations with the Air Ministry. He ended upon a cheerful note, apropos, no doubt, of Lord Beatty's anxiety about the Treaty of London and his untimely death, and he went on to say:When some other individuals come to take their rest—I am not referring to the hon. Member for Londonderry—this controversy will die a natural death."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st May, 1936; col. 1492, Vol. 312.]2265 One never knows one's luck. I have never played for safety first, but I am only one of the spokesmen of the Navy, and I can assure him that the whole Naval service, from the men on the lower deck who have been debarred by the Air Ministry from being trained as pilots, to the junior naval officers who are spoiling to fly and who were discouraged by the uncertain future in the Naval Air Service, as well as the officers in command of units, commanders-inchief and the Lords of the Admiralty, is thoroughly dissatisfied with the present state of affairs.
It happened that the report of the Debate on the 4th May reached me when I was with the Fleet, and I think it would have gratified my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping if he could have heard the expressions of relief and satisfaction on all sides at his intervention in favour of the Navy being allowed to develop its own air service, and at the powerful speech that he made on that occasion. It is very difficult to get people outside the Naval Service to realise how bitterly the Navy resents the burden which is being placed upon it by this system of dual control, and that is particularly so in the case of those who are striving to build up an efficient air service. Only a few days ago a Member of the Cabinet expressed great astonishment that there was this dissatisfaction and he asked why, if that were so, the Admiralty did not come to the Cabinet about it. My friend Admiral Stanley, the Chief of the American Naval Air Staff, who was a delegate at the recent Naval Conference, was actually told by Lord Swinton, the Secretary of State for Air, that the Navy was perfectly satisfied with the existing state of affairs, and that the dual control of the Naval Air Service was working smoothly and satisfactorily. He was amazed, because every officer in the American Navy knows, as he himself knows perfectly well, of the unhappy experiences and tribulations and difficulties through which we are passing, and, in fact, the United States Navy, profiting by our unhappy experience, insisted on being left alone and allowed to develop its own air service free from outside control. As a result they are 100 per cent. ahead of us now.
On the 19th March, in another place, reference was made to a question that had been put to the Under-Secretary of 2266 State for Air in this House. The statement was as follows:The Under-Secretary of State for Air was then asked whether any alteration in the degree of control by the Royal Air Force of the Fleet Air Arm or the coastal area is contemplated, and whether he could make any statement on the matter, and the answer given was in the negative. Can I have an assurance that that reply was given with the Prime Minister's authority?Lord Swinton answered—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
The hon. and gallant Member is now quoting from a speech made in another place during the present Session. That cannot be permitted.
§ Sir R. KEYES
I apologise. It was made very clear that the answer was given with the Prime Minister's approval. It is within my knowledge that the Prime Minister has consistently declined to reopen this question. I would like to remind him of a letter which was written by Lord Beatty in 1923, when the Admiralty was forced to accept a compromise. It was to this effect that an innovation so utterly opposed to all principles of naval administration and command could only be regarded as an experiment. The Admiralty have loyally carried out this experiment for many years, and it can no longer be questioned that dual control of the Naval Air Service has failed; and I hope that the judicial inquiry for which Lord Beatty appealed only a few days before he died will be granted. I can assure the House that there is no greater gap in the naval defences of this country than that which is due to the inefficiency and inadequacy of the Naval Air Service.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
Does my hon. and gallant Friend remember a speech made by the First Lord of the Admiralty last March in this House—it was one of his last speeches here—in which he said that the Naval Air Arm was working wonderfully well with the Royal Air Force, so efficiently that it was a treat to see them working in the carriers together?
§ Sir R. KEYES
I remember him saying something of that sort. There is not the slightest doubt that the relations between the officers of the Royal Air Force and those of the Navy are excellent; they are very great friends; but that does not 2267 mean that we are satisfied with the administration of our Air Service by the Air Ministry. The fact is that we are thoroughly dissatisfied. I noticed that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence said in the House last Thursday that he was going into this matter of the relations between the Air Ministry and the Admiralty, and he has indicated that he is taking evidence on the subject, but only on a narrow issue. I take some comfort from his remarks to the effect that he would not hesitate to go to great lengths if he considered it to be necessary. I do not, however, think it quite fair to put him in that position, because he is in no way responsible for the unhappy state of affairs, and I think it is up to the Prime Minister to make some amends to the Navy for the great difficulties under which it has suffered for many years, by appointing a committee, to be presided over by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence and composed of men whom the country trusts, and who are free from political bias and from Service bias, to hear the evidence of those who are responsible for this state of affairs and are anxious to perpetuate it—although they have no responsibility whatever for the efficiency of the Navy or the exercise of sea power—so that the Committee can weigh their evidence with the evidence of those who are entirely responsible and who have all the experience behind them.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
May I suggest to the hon. and gallant Member that all that he is making out is a case for a united Minister of Defence so as to abolish all these jealousies which are continually creeping up on both sides?
§ Sir R. KEYES
No, I am not making a case of that sort; I am making a case for the Navy to be allowed to develop its own air service, unrestricted by outside influences. I turn now to a happier subject. I should like to congratulate the Government on following the advice of their trustworthy and experienced naval advisers, who are trusted in the Navy, by making provision for layink down two battleships without any further delay, despite the criticisms of irresponsible and pretentious so-called experts who have neither experience, nor experiments, nor technical knowledge to guide them. I 2268 think, however, that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence is very wise to invite them to give evidence, and also to invite those people who have been laying down the law in this House and in a certain section of the daily Press to give evidence. I hope it will be possible to publish their evidence and cross-examination, in order that the House and the country generally may appreciate how they have been misled. Matters have been made very difficult for those who are responsible for conducting the affairs of the Navy by all this irresponsible criticism.
One name has been frequently mentioned in the House in this connection, that of my friend Admiral Richmond. He is a great naval historian, but I think it is only fair to him and to the country and this House that it should he realised that he has had no experience in handling a modern fleet or a fleet air arm, and has no technical knowledge behind him on which to advise the Government as to the power and strength of the ships that they should build to counter the powerful ships that other nations are building on the thresholds of our trade routes. I hope my right hon. Friend will invite him to this committee, because, after all, he is a great historian and has studied history, and he must realise, and would be able to prove to the committee from the lessons of history, that unilateral reduction in the size of ships is as dangerous as unilateral disarmament. We had unhappy experience of that at Coronel. To go back still earlier, our frigates had to meet American frigates which were far more powerful and better protected than ours, and we suffered most humiliating defeats until the "Shannon" was especially prepared and waited off Boston to fight the "Chesapeake" when she came out, with happier results.
I have mentioned that I was recently in the Mediterranean, where our Fleet has been maintained at a sufficient strength to fulfil any obligation that it may be called upon to undertake in those waters, but only at the expense of other stations and by paying off capital ships to provide crews for the numerous submarine-hunting craft which are considered necessary to meet the deliberate menace of Italian submarines. During my cruise I visited Turkey, Greece and Yugoslavia, and I was immensely struck by the friendly feeling towards Great Britain 2269 on the part of the people whom I met in those countries. It augurs well for peace and security in the Mediterranean. But one heard on all sides of ceaseless Italian propaganda to the effect that the British nation is too self-indulgent to make sacrifices to defend its possessions, and that at any time the Italians could drive us out of the Mediterranean and thus jeopardise the security of our Eastern possessions. That sort of propaganda is rife all over the Mediterranean.
The British Navy has often been challenged before; it has often passed through difficult times and been allowed to decline when the political horizon was clear; it has even been driven out of the Mediterranean, temporarily; but, nevertheless, it has always emerged triumphant in the end, owing to some trait or quality in our race—rather latent sometimes—and a belief and faith and a sometimes tardy realisation that our future depends upon the maintenance of sea power. Air power has not in any way lightened the responsibilities of the Navy in that direction. I was thinking of asking the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough who, I suppose, will wind up the Debate, to 'withdraw the Amendment, but, after the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), I suppose it is hopeless to ask him to do so. Still, it would have been a good thing to have shown to the world that this country is united in its determination to maintain a sufficient Fleet equipped with an efficient Naval Air Service to give security to the Empire, to fulfil our obligations, and to enable this country once more to play a decisive part in the maintenance of peace. Since it is useless to hope that the right hon. Gentleman will do that, I can only say: God help England and Great Britain if he and his friends are ever responsible for our defences again.
§ Wing-Commander JAMES
May I be allowed to make a. short personal explanation? I had no thought of the late Earl Beatty in my mind in any remarks that I made last week. He was a man for whom I, like everyone else, entertained the liveliest admiration, the more so in my case since I only met him in the pleasant circumstances of the hunting field. On looking at them again I am even now quite unable to make any connection between my remarks and Lord 2270 Beatty. Nor had I any intention of expressing a wish for anyone's death, least of all hon. and gallant admirals. I think that my remark about my friend the hon. Baronet the Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) shows that. What I meant was that I hoped the time would come when the generation of serving sailors and airmen who have become so deeply involved in this controversy would pass away and those troubles would be-amicably settled. My whole argument was directed towards the need for improved co-ordination upon Admiralty and' Air Ministry alike. Perhaps we shall come on common ground when I say this. My whole plea last Thursday was directed towards that impartial inquiry into the whole problem for which my hon. and gallant Friend has asked to-day. It was because I believe that such controversies as my hon. and gallant Friend and I have exposed by our differences may illustrate the need for the co-ordination of the Services that I referred to this problem on the Co-ordination Vote last week.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander FLETCHER
I rise with a, certain amount of nervousness in a Debate on the Navy Estimates because, when I last did so, I had the misfortune. to incur the very severe wrath of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who flies his flag in North Paddington. In fact he was so angry with me that he reminded me of an advertisement that I read in the "Daily Telegraph" yesterday, which began:The veins in the Admiral's neckSwelled with rage as he rampaged the deck.I am sorry if I incurred his wrath, but I must fortify myself first with the reflection that in the future life we are promised we shall have no more sea, so that we shall, be able to agree up there anyhow, and, secondly, with the reflection that there are no ranks in this House where we are sent by our constituents to represent the case on these great matters as we see it. In that respect I realise that you, Sir, have almost divine attributes inasmuch as you have an all-seeing eye, and in that eye all Members are equal. I should like to refer to a point that I raised in a question the other day to the Prime Minister concerning the difficulty of getting replies in our Debates on naval subjects from the Parliamentary 2271 Secretary and the Civil Lord. The Prime Minister gave me a mild touch of an Olympian rebuke, which would have been more effective if I felt that his seat on Olympus was not quite so tottering and, I understand, so temporary as it at present. I was told that there was no evidence of any failure to get replies to our questions, and that there was no resentment on that ground anywhere in the House. Before I put my question I had been informed from many quarters that very real resentment was felt at the inability to get replies, and an analysis which I had prepared of questions which had been put showed quite clearly that my question was well grounded in that respect. It has been truly said to-day that we have had a more satisfactory reply from the Parliamentary Secretary and that many points have been cleared up. I am delighted at the coincidence that this change of heart should have occurred so soon after I put my question, although I was informed that there was no ground for it.
There is one further question that I should like to ask. It has been said that this inquiry into the battleship is dead before it was born but, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said, there are still a great many people up and clown the country who are deeply interested in the question of the value of the battleship, and I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he agrees with the interpretation of his undertaking about this inquiry that was given by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence on Thursday. As I understood it, and as the right hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) understood it, the Parliamentary Secretary gave a most clear undertaking that the inquiry into the battleship would not be confined to the question of its vulnerability from the air but would go into the matter in all its aspects. The interpretation put upon the undertaking by the Co-ordinating Minister on Thursday was that everything the Parliamentary Secretary said under that heading was qualified by a sentence that critics of the battleship must not make airy speeches about what aircraft can or cannot do and, because that sentence occurred in the undertaking, it followed that the undertaking only referred to the 2272 vulnerability of the battleship from the air and that there was no undertaking to inquire into any other aspect.
I have not the speech with me, but I think the first part of the remarks that I made about battleships dealt with their use during the War, and immediately after the War an inquiry was set up as to whether battleships should be continued with or not. They reported in favour of the battleship. Therefore, as far as the lessons of the War were concerned, we had ample evidence that battleships were an essential part of the Fleet. But since then there has been greatly increased development in the air, and we had to consider again as to what steps we should take to protect battleships from air attack, and it is certainly from that point of view, as my right hon. Friend made clear the other night, that I made the promise I did with regard to the inquiry.
§ Lieut.-Commander FLETCHER
The last thing I wish to do is to misquote or omit anything in quotation, but a phrase from the speech was:I really want people to feel confident about battleships, to feel that they are necessary. I do not want people to go about feeling that their money has been wasted on battleships.
That is perfectly right, but it is no good having another inquiry when an investigation has already been made. I want an investigation into new points.
§ Lieut.-Commander FLETCHER
That inquiry took place somewhere about 1920 or 1921—a very long time ago. Many new factors have entered into the question since then and if, as the Noble Lord said, he really wants people to feel confident on this question of battleships I can assure him that people wish to be reassured on many other points as to their function and their necessity besides that of their vulnerability from the air. I understand from his reply that he accepts the interpretation of his undertaking that was given by the Minister for the Coordination of Defence. That interpretation will certainly cause a great deal of surprise to many who understood the speech as covering far wider ground.
May I now turn to the question raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) concerning 2273 an inquiry into the Navy based, as I understand, upon the model of the Esher Committee, which inquired into the organisation of the Army after the War. I understood the Noble Lord to say that he thought one reason why such an inquiry was unnecessary is that both the Army and the Air Force have taken the Navy as their model in any organising or reorganising of their Departments. That is extremely flattering to a naval officer and to the Navy, but models grow out of date. I do not know if the Noble Lord is still driving a motor car that he might have bought in 1906 or somewhere about then when you had to get in at the back. The model has changed. Models have to be brought up to date, and I do not think it should be assumed that, because the Navy set a perfect example at the time of the Esher Committee, it is now in all respects a model for every Government Department. I think there is very good ground for saying that some such inquiry is long overdue and that it certainly ought to have much wider terms of reference than to inquire into questions of costings and profits, as was suggested. In my opinion some thorough-going inquiry on the lines of the Esher Committee is long overdue. I fear that there is very little chance of the Government appointing any such committee.
The administration of the Navy has been a matter of slow accretion, like a coral island, and in many respects it all dates back to the days when fleets were away from all touch with authority for months, in some cases years at a time, and in those days the Admirals in command of fleets, because they had to maintain discipline in those circumstances, had to be erected into something very like gods. They were a despotic authority. They represented the law, the Crown, the Church and everything else in those fleets, and the Admiralty has to some extent preserved the traditions of autocracy which grew up in those conditions. I am not alone in saying that the Admiralty is not entirely free from the charge of a tendency to ride roughshod over other Government Departments, that it bullies the Treasury, that the Board of Admiralty certainly expects by a sort of divine right to get its own way with the Government of the day, and that it shows other marks of autocracy in being wasteful, intolerant and self-complacent. Lord 2274 Fisher certainly did a great deal during his administration to introduce reforms and to stop wastefulness, but he was mainly occupied with putting through the policy of the big ship, and also with the task of getting rid of personal opponents to his schemes. During his tenure of office he left a great many sides of naval administration unreformed. I think the time is now ripe for an enormous simplification in every phase of naval life, beginning at the top with the board and the Sea Lords and spreading right down to every phase of naval life.
There are many grounds for disquiet on this question of naval administration. I should say that one of the first and foremost is the question of the design of our ships. There is real uneasiness and anxiety on this question. The Chief Constructor at the Admiralty visited the "Queen Mary" the other day. When he came away he said, "Quite a good ship; in fact, we could not have built a better one ourselves." I do not doubt that this was meant to be humorous, but it came from the Admiralty constructors who built the Royal Yacht, which, I suppose, was one of the most utter failures ever put afloat.
§ Sir RONALD ROSS
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) think of something a little more recent than that which happened 'under Sir William White 40 years ago?
§ Lieut.-Commander FLETCHER
I am very much obliged for the interruptions because in the course of debates in this House I have called attention to acknowledged failures in warship design of a very much later date than that. The County class cruisers before the War, the battle cruisers during the War, the 10,000-ton cruisers after the Washington Conference, and several classes of submarines were all complete and acknowledged failures in design. I might remind the hon. Gentleman who interrupted me that in the ease of one submarine that was built, the naval staff were asked to define what her function was, and from that day to this they have 2275 never been able to answer the question of the Rear-Admiral of Submarines on that point. I do not have to speak of the Royal Yacht to prove my case about the faulty designs which have been inflicted upon the Navy for many years now.
To return to the question of the grounds upon which one asks for an inquiry into the administration of the Navy, certainly there are many officers of high distinction who will agree that no proper war doctrine emerged from the Admiralty during the War. I am sorry to see that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) has left the House for the moment, but I am sure that he would agree with me that there was a failure of proper war doctrine at the Dardanelles. During the War our ships and our men suffered severely through faulty administration at the Admiralty which provided them with bad material. There was a shortage of mines, the shells were not altogether satisfactory, and I have mentioned the battle cruisers which were death traps. There was inertia at the Admiralty about the submarine menace. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Portsmouth could tell the House about the muddles and inefficiencies of the Dover Patrol before he took it over. After the War we had to face the same thing; there was no conception of proper design or of function. The Admiralty are unable to convince the public even about the necessity for the battleship, about which the Noble Lord confesses that public opinion is very uneasy and very divided to-day. Coordination with the Air has not been thought out. We have had the very regrettable incident of Invergordon, and we had this extraordinary state of affairs in the Mediterranean last year. All these things show the necessity for overhaul and for a fresh start. In that connection I would like to call the attention of the House to the recommendations of the May Committee in regard to the Navy. The May Committee in their recommendations stated that the Admiralty, as well as the other Services, should be examined immediately after the conclusion of the Disarmament Conference to determine the organisation best fitted to carry out the national requirements with the least expense. Has that inquiry 2276 ever been held? The May Committee said:The prospects for economy and administrative control must depend on a more determined effort at co-ordination by the Departments and this, in, turn, must be generated by the influence of the increased application of financial pressure which will oblige the Departments to seek economies in administrative changes.There the May Committee evidently thought that there was reason to inquire into the administration of the Admiralty. Has that recommendation ever been carried out? They recommended that there should be reasonably long term planning ahead, which, they thought, must be more economical than an annual programme, and suggested that a guaranteed income over a series of years would enable wiser use to be made of the provision available. If the principle is approved "the Department should be content to accept a lower annual average provision than their present expenditure." Has that ever been gone into? I pass over some smaller points about police in dockyards, but they made a great point of the replacement of plant and machinery in dockyards on an organised system instead of the haphazard system which prevails to-day. They recommended the Board of Admiralty to give close attention to all questions of naval stores and naval armaments. One of the last recommendations to which I call particular attention is the following. They said:It is common knowledge that varied opinions are held in the Navy itself as to the wisdom of the policy embodied in certain designs of ships of war.…We recommend that, before the next Naval Conference, the Government should appoint a representative Committee to inquire into the whole subject of naval design and to consider whether any modifications might be adopted… would lessen the cost of naval defence without endangering national security.Has that inquiry ever been held? The extracts which I have read from the findings of the May Committee afford ample support for the contention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough that an inquiry into the whole system of the Navy from top to bottom is advisable in the interests of national economy and naval security. I am certain that sooner or later such a committee of inquiry will be held, and until it is held, I fear that public opinion in this country will have little confidence in 2277 the administration of the Board of Admiralty.
I turn to another point which looms so large in the Supplementary Navy Estimates—the Mediterranean and the events of last year in that sea. I call the attention of the House to the fact that in the statement accompanying the Naval Estimates the First Lord put his name to the following paragraph when dealing with the Fleet and the exercises which took place in the Atlantic:Apart from the strategical and tactical experience gained, these exercises also provided a searching and satisfactory test of the general efficiency of the Fleet as a whole. Although ships were steaming at varying and often high speeds throughout the eight days, no single case of failure or breakdown was reported.How are we to reconcile that with the statement of the Prime Minister in October or November of last year as to the inefficiency of the Fleet? We had a statement in the Naval Estimates that the Navy came through its last exercises triumphantly, no breakdowns, everything splendid, but the same fleet in October or November of last year was inefficient, and, in the Prime Minister's opinion, unable, apparently, to stand up to the tests or calls which might be made upon it.
Now about the movement of the Fleet in the Mediterranean last year. Why did the Fleet move from Malta to Alexandria? It was not on behalf of the League or on behalf of the Government's foreign policy of collective security, and it did not move there in support of sanctions. It moved, we are told, because the Italian Press had been speaking so violently and bitterly about this country that apparently we felt in danger of attack by Italy in the Mediterranean. It was the Italian Press which bustled the Mediterranean Fleet in a hurry out of Malta to take refuge at Alexandria, where it lay at anchor watching the Italian ships pass by to the Suez Canal on their way to build up the very formidable threat to our Far Eastern route with which we are now confronted. Our Navy lay at Alexandria watching the Italian ships go by on that errand. This fear of attack was not quite in harmony with the opinion formed during the War of the Italian Navy by those who served in the Mediterranean.
I should like to ask two questions. The events of those days show that the 2278 Admiralty regard Malta as a base which we cannot hold if threatened with attack. Therefore, will the Noble Lord explain why we have continued to build up and maintain a great naval base there? I understand that one reason for the evacuation—for it was nothing else—of Malta was fear of air attack. Who has been responsible for the anti-aircraft defences of Malta, and what has happensd to the officer responsible for those defences if, when faced with this demonstration in the Italian Press, our Fleet had to clear out of Malta for fear of air attack? There is clear evidence that we have continued to maintain the Fleet in the Mediterranean without there being in the opinion of the Admiralty any safe base in the Mediterranean for it. If that is not true, why is it that the Fleet cleared out of Malta? What was it?
The second question is: What is it of which we were so afraid? Why were we so afraid for our Fleet at that time? We were so afraid that we had two Commanders-in-Chief out their—another instance of that dualism which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition says is such a feature of the Government's policy. They even carry it into that sphere. They had two Commanders-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet out there. We had an enormous preponderance of naval tonnage in the Mediterranean, and yet there was this state of affairs. In what the papers like to call "well informed social circles" in London, they were having a grand time last November and December telling us of all the terrible things that might happen to us in the Mediterranean. There were submarines popping up everywhere. Our ships did not dare to move for fear of the submarines popping up all round them. The Italians had bombing aeroplanes that would fly 500 or 5,000 miles an hour and carry 5,000 or 50,000 tons of bombs, and they could leave Italy and bomb London and get back the same day, and I do not know what. Those were the remarkable stories which were flying about, but the story to which I should like to call particular attention and about which I should like to ask some questions was the well-repeated story all over London, that the fear about the Fleet was due to the Fleet not having sufficient ammunition or reserves of ammunition; that it was because of the shortage of ammunition 2279 that we were in this state of fear about our Mediterranean Fleet.
Is this true or not? Had the Fleet the ammunition or had it not the ammunition? If it had the ammunition, why the cold feet about the Italian Fleet? Why all this fear and panic if the Fleet had the ammunition? But if it is true that the Fleet had not the ammunition, what has the First Lord been doing all these years? This House has been voting him the money for which he has asked in the Naval Estimates. He has been given the money by this House to buy the ammunition, and if the Fleet had not the ammunition what has been done with the money given to the First Lord with which to buy it? We know that in the Chinese Army these things happen. The general is given the money with which to buy the ammunition, and when the day for battle comes along there is no ammunition. That is why the Chinese army when they fight beat gongs, make hideous noises and make faces at each other. In that case, we can guess what happened, but in the present case some explanation ought to be given why it is that the British Fleet has not the ammunition, when this House has voted the necessary money with which to buy the ammunition. If the Fleet had the ammunition, will the Noble Lord explain why the Admiralty should have got into such a state of funk as to necessitate the establishment of two Commanders-in-Chief in the Mediterranean.
If Malta, as a base, cannot be held because it provides no security for the Fleet, and if the Fleet was so badly off for ammunition, I cannot understand why the First Lord of the Admiralty did not resign. He held office for four and a-half years, and during the General Election he got a certificate from the Prime Minister that the Navy was not equal to its task. I should have thought that in the face of such a severe rebuff as that the First Lord of the Admiralty would have resigned. As he did not resign, I cannot understand why the Prime Minister did not call for his resignation, if that was the state to which he had reduced the Fleet after holding office for those years. I think it is a most discreditable episode. I know that the Conservative party rather likes to be called the "Blue water school." I am not sure 2280 that the blue funk school is not a little nearer the mark. They want to build battleships, but I should like to know what they think battleships are for. Apparently, they think that they are something to lie off the yacht squadron lawn during Cowes Week, so that they do not want ammunition but only a few saluting charges. I should like to have some information in regard to the episode of scuttle in the face of attacks in the foreign Press.
Naval policy must or should depend upon foreign policy. We are completely unable to get any clear statement from the Government on the basis of their foreign policy. We had an instance today when the Noble Lord said that we have to build battleships because France and other countries are building them. How that fits in with the policy of collective security I do not know. The Foreign Secretary says that collective security is the basis of our foreign policy, but the Noble Lord says that we have to build battleships because France is building battleships. That is an illustration of the complete confusion of mind in which the Government are on this question. Collective security is not their policy. It is collective obscurity which is their policy at the present moment.
We distrust the Government on account of their failure to give a clear account of foreign policy. We distrust the administration of the Navy by the Admiralty because of their failure to give us any clear statement in regard to safety of trade in the Mediterranean and on the Cape route, because of their failure to give any reply to the questions about battleships or the new problems that have to be worked out between the Navy and the Air Force. All these things are outward and visible signs of muddle in administration at the Admiralty. It is because of the Government's failure to give us a statement on foreign policy, and as a protest against the waste and inefficiency of their Admiralty administration, that I shall vote in favour of the reduction moved by my hon. Friend.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Sir R. ROSS
It is always interesting to hear the hon. and gallant Member, and particularly interesting to hear him telling off the Admiralty. There is one thing which I should be even more eager to hear, and that is what it was the 2281 Admiralty said to him when he was in the Service that makes him miss no opportunity of having a slap at them.
§ Sir R. ROSS
I am glad to hear that, but I think the Admiralty must have had a few wrong words with the hon. and gallant Member. At any rate, that is the impression that is left on the minds of those who listen to him. I will try to stick rather closer to the matter before the House than did the hon. and gallant Member. He went so far back as to discuss the design of ships that have been broken up 20 years, and I could see the blush on the face of the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) when his hon. and gallant Friend was castigating him for having built 10,000 ton cruisers in considerable quantities during the time that he was at the Admiralty.
§ Sir R. ROSS
The right hon. Gentleman did not build much, but I think he did build 10,000 ton cruisers.
§ Sir R. ROSS
Well, they were coming into service when the right hon. Gentleman was at the Admiralty, and I do not remember him making any criticism of them. He cancelled so much that it is difficult to remember what he cancelled and what he did not cancel. I should like to deal with an important point that was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). It is very rarely that I find myself at any serious difference with him on naval matters. He fought the Naval Treaty of 1830 and I did my best, in a humble way, to fight it, too. The question on which he spoke at some length, a most important question, was that of "C" class cruisers. He alluded to Article 21 of the Treaty, and I think the right hon. Member who is to speak later in the Debate will also allude to Article 21. In my view, the construction which my right hon. Friend put upon that Article was 2282 faulty, because he left out certain considerations. I am very glad that my right hon. Friend is now here, so that I may have an opportunity of explaining one of the very rare occasions on which I differ from him on naval matters. In Article 21 our powers of estimating are strictly drafted. The article says:If, during the term of the present Treaty, the requirements of the national security of any High Contracting Party in respect of vessels of war limited by Part III of the present Treaty are, in the opinion of that Party, materially affected by new construction of any Power other than those who have joined in Part III of this Treaty, that High Contracting Party will notify the other parties to Part III, etc.The occasion when we can avail ourselves of the escalator clause is only by that Article when we consider that our security is affected by new construction. Let me consider the situation as I see it at the present time. I am strongly of opinion that our position has deteriorated very seriously since the time when the right hon. Member for Epping was at the Admiralty. I think that is agreed. Why has it materially deteriorated? Not so much owing to new construction as to the general deterioration of world affairs. At that time there did not seem to be many war clouds on the horizon, but to-day it is very different. Be it noted that it is only in respect of new construction by those countries which are not parties to Part III that Article 21 deals. It may be that a case could be made out on the new construction programme as regards that, but in so doing I think we should be pointing our finger at naval Powers which, as far as we can see at present, are not in any disagreement with us or our building programme, so far as the class of ships we are considering is concerned.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
My hon. Friend surely does not suggest that the French Government would take it amiss if the British had five extra cruisers?
§ Sir R. ROSS
I think the French Government might take it amiss if we said that we considered her new construction a menace to our naval position, and that is what it would amount to.
There is another point in connection with Article 21, My hon. Friend stopped at the consideration of that Article. He considered it very fairly up to the point 2283 where the word "Thereupon" occurred. He did not press matters so much in regard to that, except as to Japan. This is a matter of great importance. Article 21 says:Thereupon"—that is, if this country has availed itself of the escalator clause:the other Parties to Part III of this Treaty shall be entitled to make a proportionate increase in the category or categories specified and such other Parties shall promptly advise with each other, through diplomatic channels, as to the situation thus presented.That shows what the situation is. The whole culminating point of this Treaty — which I certainly fought to the utmost; my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping was a general and I was an industrious private —
§ Sir R. ROSS
—is that when we come to the 31st December of this year we come to the stated date when the Treaty is more operative than it is at any other period of its existence. What happens if we avail ourselves of the escalator clause? We have to decide our course of action under Article 21, which comes after the word "Thereupon." We then open up the construction of all the other parties to the Treaty, and as it seems to me we actually scrap the Treaty, as regards its usefulness, at its most important time. I hope that no one will accuse me of being unduly favourable to this Treaty, which I have always thought was a disadvantageous Treaty from our point of view, but I do say that we must stand by a Treaty to which we have put our hand. Just before it reaches its most critical date it would be a very serious decision to make, to tear it up and leave it of no force or effect.
I should like to allude to the five "C" class cruisers which have been the subject of so much controversy. To begin with, it is clear that whatever has been done some ships would have had to be scrapped. I think that three "C" class cruisers, or the equivalent tonnage of four ships, would have had to be scrapped. The ships that have been chosen are not of great naval value at 2284 present. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman below the Gangway, and any person of naval experience will agree, that in a war anything that can steam is of value, but we have lamentable instances of relying too much on ships that are being put to a use for which they are not properly suited. These "C" class cruisers have done a longer period of service at sea than any of the ships which were in commission at the beginning of the War. They were certainly older ships than "The Good Ho)e." A good deal of that service was war service, and although I am as eager as any hon. Member to see the Navy strong and able to do its work, I do riot think that it is worth jeopardising any international good feeling on naval matters by trying to keep a couple of these "C" class cruisers which are on the verge of being worn out.
The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) made an interesting speech, full of vigour and full of fog, because although he attacked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, he did not state what his own views were, not as clearly as I would like; but as we are going to have the great advantage of having the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) to wind up the Debate for the Opposition, I am sure that he will be able to answer a few of the questions which I would like to put to him. First, we have the common form denunciation of British foreign policy. We were told that it was due to that that there was no subsequent naval agreement. No people could have tried harder to get a naval agreement than the Admiralty did when the other Powers concerned came over. The Conference was wrecked by the early departure of Japan. Have not hon. and right hon. Members opposite got a great responsibility for that? Do they remember the line which they took as regards Japan when there was trouble in Manchuria? Do they recall what they said about Manchukuo? The right hon. Member for Hillsborough could not be drawn the other day as to whether he would have made a war on behalf of China against Japan or not. I do not suppose that he will be drawn to-day, but I would ask hon. and right hon. Members opposite to examine their own record vis-a-vis 2285 Japan, and whether the very frank expression of their opinion did not do more than anything else to put Japan out of the Conference and wreck it.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
As the hon. Member has asked me a question, perhaps I might put one back to him. If he says that we put Japan out of the Conference by our attitude, does he not think that his party bears some responsibility for its attitude to Japan over Manchuria? There was nothing but muddling and futility for 17 months.
§ Sir R. ROSS
As usual the right hon. Gentleman does not say what he would have liked to have done. He says that there was muddling and futility for 17 months. That is so easy. But was he prepared to threaten war against Japan on behalf of China? Yes or no. I will give way to him.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
Was the hon. Gentleman's Government prepared to back the League? I will answer his question when I speak presently, but I want to get the hon. Member's answer before he sits down. Was his Government prepared to back the League and say that Japan ought to be declared an aggressor State and therefore not a suitable State to take part in a Naval Conference?
§ Sir R. ROSS
That is such an easy question to answer that I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman asked it. If he followed the affair he would have seen that no appeal was made by China to the League. If China had made an appeal we should have fulfilled our part. Now that I have given him a good answer I hope that he will not shirk his obligation but will deal with the question as frankly. Throughout all this time we have always wanted to know what is the attitude of those hon. Members opposite who take an interest in naval affairs towards the cruiser question. Do they say that it is unjustifiable to increase the number to 70 and that it ought to remain at 50, because there is one remark which I remember the right hon. Member for Hillsborough making when he was First Lord, and that is that he resented people thinking that he and the people with him were not just as keen to effect the security of this country at sea as anyone else. I remember how pleased I was when he said that, but in fulfilling the duty to oppose are they really fulfilling 2286 the eagerness which they showed then to see that the country is properly equipped at sea? It is one thing to say that a thing is expensive; it is entirely different to say that the expense is unjustified. Those who criticise the Government ought to state specifically in what way the programme is excessive. Is the programme of 70 too much? I hope that the right hon. Member will answer that.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. MANDER
The hon. Member threw an interesting sidelight on the events of some years ago in Manchuria. He suggested that if China had made an appeal to the League for support, we would readily have placed our Navy at her disposal.
§ Sir R. ROSS
My hon. Friend misheard me. I said that we would have fulfilled our part. My hon. Friend must not put words into my mouth.
§ Mr. MANDER
I do not wish to do that but we should have fulfilled our part collectively with the other Members of the League and our part would obviously have been the British Navy. Every other Power would have put in her contribution. But it is perfectly well known by all those who took any interest in the matter that the reason why China did not make that request was that it was made clear that we had no intention of doing anything of the kind. The position that we on these benches take up with regard to the Estimate before us is this: We are very proud of the great services of the British Navy to this country in the past. We realise that to-day she has a different task to perform—that is, to take her due and proper share in collective security under the new order, and we desire that share to be adequate and proper to our position as the greatest naval Power in the world. We feel doubtful whether the Government propose to use the Navy for any purpose of that kind, but in so far as they do they will have our full backing.
We deprecate the pre-judging of the big battleship issue at this moment. We feel that it is a big mistake to build two battleships now before an adequate inquiry has taken place. We and the country learned with great surprise that the inquiry is merely to see what type of armour the ships should possess. It is true that an inquiry took place in 1920, 2287 but so many things have happened since that there should be another, and the country will not be satisfied until an inquiry takes place. It is all very well for experienced Admirals to come down here and utter their full knowledge and tell us what they think, but there are a good many laymen who are not satisfied with that. Many of us would like the report of an impartial committee, composed of people not interested on one side or the other, in order that we can form our own judgment as to how far the case is made out for the big battleship, or otherwise. I think that the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) was hardly justified in the criticism he made of Admiral Richmond, who has great experience, and whose opinion, I think, is of greater value than my hon. and gallant Friend was inclined to say.
We are under obligations in the matter of the exchange of technical information. We have a very precise obligation under Section 6, Article 8, of the Covenant of the League:Members of the League undertake to interchange full and frank information as to the scale of their armament, their military, naval and air programmes,and I only regret that that has not been carried out to the full in the past. Anything that claims to make that possible is a step in the right direction, and in so far as that can be made public so much the better. We are being asked to-night to vote a sum of £2,000,000, in addition to equally large sums voted in the past, for the purpose of keeping the British Navy in the Mediterranean, and I was very interested to hear the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) and the admirable way in which he dealt with this question. There appeared to be two opinions as to how effectively the Navy was able to organise in the Mediterranean. We are told by some that everything went splendidly and by others that things were far from satisfactory. I would like to call the attention of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence to something he said the other clay. He gave his version, and the "Times" spoke of his observations in this way:He spoke of the dispositions that were made with so sure a touch, and with such a remarkable anticipation of the course of events.'2288 That is a point of 'View from which some differ greatly. The "Times" went on to say:But it did not appear that some of the steps which were then and thereafter taken in haste had been adequately thought out beforehand. And thinking does not depend on a large increase in the Estimates.I hope that now we have my right hon. Friend there to think, the situation will become much better than it was in those latter days of last year. I want to know the precise object of having the Fleet in the Mediterranean at all. Why are the Government asking for a sum of £2,000,000? All that the Fleet has done is to perform the useful but minor function of transferring the Emperor of Ethiopia from Jibuti to Palestine, and from Palestine to Gibraltar. I should have thought it might have done other things as well. If you are not going to use it the sooner you bring it away the better, and save all the money wasted on a perfectly useless expedition. I do not think that you can prevent war by running away from every threat of a bully, and that is what you have been doing. The hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth referred to the contempt with which we were regarded by many peoples surrounding the Mediterranean. That is perfectly true. To have the great British Navy there, watching armaments and troops and poison gas going through the Suez Canal day after day, with this country pledged to prevent it, and not permitted to do anything, no wonder so many nations are thinking that our day is spent and that we no longer have the moral courage which used to distinguish us in the old days.
§ Sir R. KEYES
I said, on the contrary, that I was astonished and impressed by the friendly attitude of people in the Mediterranean.
§ Mr. MANDER
I understood the hon. and gallant Member to say that certain nations around the Mediterranean regarded us with contempt.
§ Mr. MANDER
I am sorry that I misunderstood the hon and gallant Member. 2289 I received the other day a letter from a friend in Egypt reporting a conversation he had with an officer in the Egyptian Army. The officer had always looked upon Great Britain as the sure support of Egypt, but he said that as a result of the events of the last few months it was perfectly clear that Great Britain was no longer able or willing to carry out her obligations for the defence of Egypt, and it would be necessary for other steps to be taken to ensure its proper defence. That is an example of a widespread feeling in that part of the world. In a well-known speech it was said that we had not done anything because no other country had moved a ship or a gun or a man, but directly afterwards it was discovered that they had never been asked. When they were asked they all came in, and as a result of staff conversations were prepared to play their part in collective defence in case of attack by the Italian aggressor. Are these staff conversations up to date? Are the League forces in the Mediterranean in all respects adequate, as I believe they are, to repel any attack that the Italian aggressor might make? There is no doubt that a policy of running away and being unwilling to stand up to a bully has created a feeling that there are hardly any limits to what may be done to us.
I want to ask clearly, what is the policy of the British Government in having the Fleet in the Mediterranean? If it is there for use, in exactly the same way as if an attack was made on any part of the British Empire, if that is their policy and it gets into the minds of other nations who may be thinking of using force, then we have seen the end of war for all time.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Captain BALFOUR
It is a good thing that foreigners do not hear some of the things which are said in our Debates, because if they had heard the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) say that we had a bad administration at the Admiralty, bad personnel and bad ships, they would come to the conclusion that the whole of our organisation was thoroughly bad. It is a peculiar phase of British character that whenever hon. Members get into opposition they feel that they must at once run down everything which they loyally supported when they were in office.
§ Captain BALFOUR
The Prime Minister has never said that our equipment and personnel and ships were all bad. The point with which I want to deal principally is that which was dealt with by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes)—the Fleet Air Arm in relation to the Admiralty. I want at the outset to ask for an answer to a question in order to clear up a doubt which I have, and which I rather think the right hon. Member for Epping has in his mind. The other day the Minister for the Coordination of Defence at Question time, when asked whether he would make any statement on the position of the Fleet Air Arm, said that he was making certain inquiries into the adjustment of personnel and equipment. As I understand, he is not making any inquiries into the proposal of splitting the Fleet Air Arm into two. I want to know the scope of the inquiry which the Minister for the Coordination of Defence is now conducting. My interpretation is that it is an inquiry into details and does not cover questions of principle.
I feel that there has been a fog of misrepresentation on the position of the Fleet Air Arm in relation to the Navy, a fog, a smoke screen of misrepresentation, for which the right hon. Member for Epping and the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth are largely responsible. Five main criticisms are put forward as to the present position of the Fleet Air Arm by those who advocate a change. The first is the statement made by the right hon. Member for Epping that there is bitter dissatisfaction throughout the naval service. This statement was echoed by the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth. Where is the dissatisfaction? When did it arise? The First Lord of the Admiralty in his speech introducing the Estimates on 14th March, 1935, said that the relations were harmonious, that the two services were working in harmony and that there was good understanding. It is not for hon. and right hon. Members who are not in the Service to say that there is bitter dissatisfaction in the Service when the First Lord of the Admiralty himself says that there is no such dissatisfaction, and that the two 2291 Services are working in harmony. Such statements do ill service to those who are serving with the Fleet and in the Royal Air Force. As to whether there is bitter dissatisfaction in the Service, I prefer to take the statement of the First Lord rather than the statement of those who, while they have rendered tremendous and great service to the Navy, nevertheless had all their training in the Navy before aeroplanes were invented.
§ Sir R. KEYES
I said that the relations between the officers in the Royal Air Force and the Admiralty were excellent.
§ Captain BALFOUR
That is a line of retreat for the hon. and gallant Member in order to enable him to get away from the full implications of the statement he made, and which was made even more strongly by the right hon. Member for Epping, when he referred to the dual control of the Fleet Air Arm. If one looks at the actual facts they are that the Fleet Air Arm is under the complete control of the Navy, except in so far as the Air Ministry acts as agent for training the personnel, housing, and acquiring their equipment. Under the terms of the Balfour report, even the shore training schedules are laid down by the Admiralty. The Fleet Air Arm units are embarked and disembarked at the entire will of the Admiralty, and it cannot be over-emphasised that the operation and control of the Fleet Air Arm are entirely free from the Air Ministry. The right hon. Member for Epping made great play with the question of dual control. He asked when the aeroplane goes up who is in command. Does the sea captain command his ratings when they go ashore? No. It is impracticable for him to do so, just as it is equally impracticable for the sea captain of an aircraft carrier to command a unit of naval ratings when it goes to a naval shore base. The right hon. Member for Epping has complained of shortages in the Fleet Air Arm. Is he sure that they are any greater than the shortages which have existed in the Navy during the past three years? Does he maintain that the Navy in every respect is adequately and properly equipped, except so far as regards the Fleet Air Arm? Does he maintain that the Navy is all right but that the Fleet Air Arm is not?
§ Captain BALFOUR
Then I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not attempt to debate from the particular to the general and to draw the inference that the Fleet Air Arm is the only part of the Navy that is defective. Is he sure that the Navy is so well equipped and efficient, and that it is only the Fleet Air Arm which is ill-equipped? We all know that ships have been put out of commission in order to enable the complements of other vessels to be made up during the recent emergency owing to shortages. The right hon. Gentleman will agree, and it is well known, that the three Services have been short of men and equipment as a result of the policy of successive Governments. The fourth complaint of the right hon. Member for Epping was of the size of the Fleet Air-Arm. Are the Air Ministry to blame for that? The Fleet Air Arm has not been drained of one single aeroplane in order to help the expansion of the Royal Air Force. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is aware that the Fleet Air Arm size is based on naval requirements as specified by the Admiralty, and if the Fleet Air Arm was increased to the number of 217 aircraft by 1936 there would not be enough ships to take them. Are there any ships to-day which are short of aeroplanes or their complement of aircraft?
§ Captain BALFOUR
Certainly, but both the Navy and the Royal Air Force requirements are being modernised. The same criticism applies just as much to the Navy as to the Fleet Air Arm, and it is unfair on the part of those advocates of the Navy, who have entire control of the Fleet Air Arm, to criticise the Royal Air Force when at the same time their own service has shortages which might equally well be criticised. Those who advocate the splitting up of the Royal Air Force advocate that the control of the Fleet Air Arm should be put under the Admiralty. Has the right hon. Gentleman prepared for the duplication and increase in overhead charges caused by separate accommodation, separate stores, separate repairs and equipment, separate training schools and 2293 depots, which would be entailed if the Royal Air Force was split up and the control of the Fleet Air Arm given to the Admiralty? There would immediately be divergencies of view which would result in a lack of interchangeability in time of national emergency.
I expect most of us remember Sir William Robertson's book, "Soldiers and Statesmen," in which he said that the Grand Fleet would not spare a man or a rifle after the decisive battle of Jutland when our Army in France was hard pressed for reinforcements. The very position which necessitated the creation of the Royal Air Force was that splitting up of a divergent equipment and I am sure that if we had that separation now again, we should have the same position as that which necessitated the creation of a unified force in 1918. It is very unfair that these attacks should be made on the administration of the Fleet Air Arm by the advocates of the Navy. The Navy is all powerful and has tremendous influences and many advocates, both in this House and outside and to argue and indulge in propaganda persistently for the breaking up of the Fleet Air Arm is not really fair. I hope the Minister, when he replies, will deal quite frankly with the Admiralty's view as to how far they are satisfied with the present principle—
§ Captain BALFOUR
—or whether they are content with the dovetailing efforts under the existing principle for which the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence has said he is looking at the present time.
§ Mr. De CHAIR
Will the hon. and gallant Member say whether he is trying to represent the point of view of the Royal Air Force or that of the Navy in this matter? I understood him to say that the Navy did not want the control of the Fleet Air Arm, but the Navy does.
§ Captain BALFOUR
The Navy certainly wants control of it, but I want to know whether the Minister, on behalf of the Navy, will say that the Navy are not content with the present position. Before the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping came in, I was dealing with a point arising out of a question 2294 to the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. I interpreted his reply as being that he was investigating the contact points, and smoothing them out where necessary, between the two forces, but not that he was investigating the principle of the splitting up of the Fleet Air Arm. If the right hon. Gentleman agrees with that interpretation, I think that one can reasonably ask the Minister to-night to say that the Admiralty are not striving, by adding fuel to the fire, to break up the Fleet Air Arm, but are loyally working to make it as efficient as possible.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. WATSON
The hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) made an appeal to us on this side of the House to withdraw our Amendment. He and his friends pledged themselves at the last General Election to a rearmament programme, but we on this side just as definitely pledged ourselves in the opposite direction. We pledged ourselves to no such programme, and that is why we have had a reduction of the Vote moved from these benches. We took that line not because we were indifferent to the defences of this country. As has been said repeatedly from this side, we are interested in the defences of the country and are prepared to take such steps as are necessary in order to defend the country, but there is one thing that has not been demonstrated ever since we came back to this House. It has not been demonstrated that the Navy is in the condition in which it was represented to be by the Prime Minister before the last General Election.
Moreover, we are asked by the Government to commit ourselves to an absolutely unnamed expenditure in connection with defence. Nobody knows what this programme is to cost, whether it will be £200,000,000, £250,000,000, or £300,000,000. All that we know is that during the current year the Admiralty are proposing to spend approximately £80,000,000 for their part of the defence of the country. We on this side wish to be assured that the money that is at present voted for the Navy is being spent to the best possible advantage, whether it is not a fact that we are spending or rather wasting millions of pounds that ought to be spent in other directions, whether, in other words, we are not taking the most effective steps that we could 2295 to defend the country. We are not satisfied on that point, and until we are satisfied we are not likely to look with any more favour than we have clone on this rearmament programme. At the last General Election we on this side pledged ourselves to support the policy of the League of Nations. We were, and are, prepared to play our part along with the other nations that are bound within the League of Nations. Beyond that we are not prepared to go. We are not prepared to say that this country ought to prepare for its defence against the whole of the rest of the world. We say that as long as there is a possibility of getting a League of Nations that can work efficiently, it is our duty to support the League of Nations.
I will not enter into the many discussions which we have had to-day on the question of battleships, cruisers, submarines, aircraft, and all these other things upon which we are always glad to have the advice of the experts. We listen, I think, with due respect to the experts who speak on these important matters, and those of us who are not experts note the differences of opinion between them and the violence with which each holds his opinion from his particular point of view. They are all experts, they all differ, and they all come to different conclusions, so that we are not very much helped by the experts. I do not intend to discuss these matters, but it would be ungracious on my part if I did not say a word or two with regard to that part of this Vote that is going to the dockyard in which I am particularly interested. In this respect I have to differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), who, during his opening remarks, rather deprecated the spending of money on setting up a training establishment at Rosyth dockyard.
I was pleased to hear, in the House yesterday, an answer to a question which gave us the assurance that a training establishment and the necessary equipment for training apprentices are to be set up in Rosyth dockyard. I am glad that at last the Admiralty are beginning to realise that they have some responsibility for that dockyard. They ought to have a great deal more interest in it, and feel more responsibility for it, than they have done up to the present, but they are really beginning. We have in 2296 this Vote a beginning of the recognition that something ought to be done for Rosyth dockyard, and I am very pleased, speaking personally, that this step is to be taken.
I said, in one of our previous Debates, that we in Scotland were supposed to take, and as a matter of fact did take, very little interest in the affairs of the Navy. The Navy is more or less looked upon as an English institution. You have all the dockyards, you have all the training establishments, and you have practically all the equipment, so far as the dockyards are concerned, in England. We had, a number of years ago, when Rosyth dockyard was in full swing, some little interest in the Royal Navy, because we had our share of the repair and reconstruction work that required to be done to the warships from time to time, but with the reduction of Rosyth dockyard to a care-and-maintenance basis, Scotland has again lost its interest in the Royal Navy.
Is the hon. Member really entitled to make such a remark, that Scotland has no interest in the defences of the country, naval as well as any other?
§ Mr. WATSON
I am at least producing very strong evidence that we in Scotland have very little cause for interest in the Navy.
§ Mr. WATSON
I am arguing my own point of view, and I Is ant the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) to note this, that here we are discussing, a Supplementary Estimate which, along with the Estimate for the year, amounts to £80,000,000, and that we in Scotland ought to be making a greater noise to get more of that money spent in Scotland than is going to be spent there. Instead of raising questions of that kind, the hon. Member for Galloway ought to be supporting me in trying to get more of that money spent in Scotland than is now proposed. I was saying that we had little or no interest, from the encouragement that we got from the spending of this money in Scotland, in the Royal Navy, but I hope that greater facilities are to be provided in Scotland, not only at Rosyth, but in other parts of Scotland as well, for playing our part in naval 2297 affairs. I want to remind the House that you did not forget during the last War that we had men who could play a very useful part on the sea. When you required men to man the mine-sweepers, these were usually found from the ranks of the fishermen. In Scotland we have at this moment a very large number of fishermen and their families who are gradually getting down to starvation level and being deprived of their living through the failure of the fishing industry, and we have in that industry an ideal set of individuals who could play a large part in manning the British Navy. I hope that, in addition to the facilities that are being provided at Rosyth under this Vote, a greater effort will he made to get men who have been accustomed to the sea in Scotland. Let it be remembered that there is hardly a county in Scotland which is not interested in the sea. Scotland is almost surrounded by the sea and her people are well acquainted with it. During the most dangerous period of the War and in the most dangerous work, it was that type of man which was recruited for the Royal Navy. If they can play their part in wartime, they ought to be given an opportunity of playing their part in the ordinary work of the British Navy to a much greater extent than has been the case.
The last time I spoke on this matter, I made a statement which was not entirely correct. I referred to the fact that an old German battleship, which had been raised at Scapa Flow, had been brought to Rosyth and had entered the dockyard on the particular day on which I was speaking. That statement was not true. The old German battleship was not taken into the dockyard that day, but had to lie outside for about a week before it could enter. That was something new so far as the Rosyth dockyard is concerned. When the hulk was ultimately put into the dockyard, I understand it was drawing 43 feet of water. I wonder into what other dockyard in this country that vessel could have been taken. Yet Rosyth dockyard, which could be made the best dockyard in Great Britain, is on a care and maintenance basis, and there are three dockyards in the South of England, none of which is safe either from gunfire or from aircraft, working at full pressure. As a matter of fact, alterations and extensions are being made in some of these 2298 dockyards, and that money would be much better spent in re-equipping Rosyth dockyard and making it play its part in the work of the Royal Navy.
I do not wish to detain the House, because I know there are other hon. Members who wish to speak, but while welcoming the Vote so far as it refers to Rosyth, I hope there is to be more money spent, if not in opening up the dockyard, at least in using the buildings and equipment in existence there at the present time to a much greater extent than has been done so far. I know that the Admiralty have difficulty in that respect in that they must either open up the dockyard on a big scale or not at all. If it were opened on a big scale, that would in all probability mean the closing or one or other of the Southern dockyards, but in view of the position of the country, the danger of war in the not-far-distant future and the possibility of some of the Southern dockyards not being safe from attack, we ought to consider a dockyard which is perfectly safe from attack. Rosyth dockyard is far inland and safe from gunfire from the North Sea or anywhere else; it is defended by forts along the East coast; it is defended within a very short distance by four aerodromes which could deal with any possible air attack from the East; and there would be no possibility of air attack from the West. It is the safest and the best dockyard. I hope we are to be given a little encouragement by having greater use made of that great dockyard which was constructed at such expense.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. SANDYS
I wish to say a few words regarding the speech made by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), who opened for the Opposition. The hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his speech, which I am sure will make excellent reading in his constituency to-morrow. Some of us who have not constituencies on the coast, cannot give that type of advertisement, although I would be glad to recommend the Crystal Palace as an admirable dry dock should the sea come that way. I wish only to meet two points made by the hon. Member for Aberdare which have not been dealt with during the course of the Debate. One of the points he made, in attacking the Government's expansion programme, was that this 2299 expansion had been necessitated by the bad handling of our foreign affairs. Surely the truth is exactly the reverse. If we had had a greater Navy during these past months, the handling of a very difficult and critical situation in foreign affairs might have been infinitely easier. I do not think the hon. Member's criticism on that basis is a fair one.
The second point which the hon. Member made in the same connection was that the long service of foreign battleships was an argument against the need for any expansion and any construction on our part. He said that the average age of foreign battleships was so great that it did not justify us in building, that it constituted no menace to us and gave us no cause for alarm. That is a perfectly sound argument by itself, but I ask lion. Members opposite, and particularly the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander), who, I understand, is to wind up for the Opposition, to put that argument alongside the other argument which the Labour party is constantly advancing, that we need no expansion because we must and can rely upon collective security which, in naval affairs, means relying upon the strength of the navies of other countries. Surely hon. Members opposite cannot advance those two arguments side by side; they cannot say that foreign navies are so old and inefficient that they are no menace to, us and give us no cause of alarm, and at the same time say that we need not look after our Navy because we can rely with assurance upon the navies of foreign countries. I have nothing further to say, except that I would ask my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough whether he will explain to the House when he speaks the apparent contradiction in those arguments.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
The reason I intervene in this Debate is that it appears to me that on both sides of the House there is really no fundamental difference on the question of defence, and as I and my colleagues of the Independent Labour party take a fundamentally different position, I have risen simply for the purpose of saying how we differ from both sides of the House in our attitude. This question is always spoken of as the defence of the country, and the amount of money 2300 that is voted for the Navy as being spent on the defence of the country. The Socialist theory has always made it plain that the Socialist looks at these questions not from the point of view of this abstract conception of the country, but from that of the classes in the country. The Socialist theory is that there are two classes which are fundamentally opposed, a class in possession of the means of life exploiting the other class. Hon. Members opposite do not accept that conception, and they speak about the country in a different way, but the conception is one upon which Socialist theory is based.
I wish to make my protest to-night against the expenditure of all this money. I wish to repeat simply in a few sentences my protest against the expenditure of all these millions of money which we say are not for the defence of the country, if one thinks of the country as being the great majority of the people in it—the workers. It is in the defence of the interests of British imperialists. This money is being voted for the defence of the possessing class, the representatives of British Imperialism. The interests of the great mass of the working class are quite aside from the question, otherwise, one of the first questions to be dealt with would be that of the personnel. Greater attention would be paid to the fact that the nation is physically a C3 nation because of the lack of income and the position in which the mass of the people has to live under the present economic system.
Hon. Members opposite say again and again that all parties in this House are united in this matter, but I would ask them not to go on, insisting on that. All parties are not united for the Independent Labour Party is altogether opposed to this programme of expenditure. We believe that these millions of money should be spent on behalf of the working classes. We believe they would be far better spent in providing pensions for the people of the country, in sweeping away the means test and in various other ways in connection with the social services. As I listened to the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys), when he was seeking to show the dilemma in which hon. Members above the Gangway on this side found themselves, I wondered whether it was micessary to strengthen the British Navy in order to provide a 2301 force for the League of Nations, or whether the British Navy had to be strengthened just because of the strength of other navies. The arguments advanced from this side of the House seemed to work pretty much in the same way. I believe there is no real faith in the League of Nations as an instrument of defence. An idealised conception of the League has been used for the purpose of putting across certain policies—the ideal of a real League of Nations, the members of which would act together as a homogenous body. Every Member on this side of the House ought to know that by the very nature of society as it is constituted to-day the League of Nations can never be a homogenous body. It is simply a mass of contradictory capitalist interests as the struggle for profit goes on in the different countries. The League of Nations will never be the sort of ideal body which has been described, so long as our economic system remains a competitive system.
I also listened with interest to the speech of an hon. Member above the Gangway who put the case for Rosyth. While I think it is the business of a Member of this House to look after the interests of his constituency as fully as possible yet I wonder whether the arguments used in favour of the claims of Rosyth were really good Socialist arguments. As a representative of the working class, one thing which I hate like poison is the idea that we in this House should try to influence the Government, if there is a certain amount of work going, in order to try to grab that work for our own districts—that each of us should strive to see that the workers in his own district were made comfortably off by this work and as regards the workers in other parts of the country should say, "To hell with them; it cannot be helped but our own people have to be made all right." I think the setting of the workers in one part of the country against the workers in another part of the country, setting the workers on the Clyde against the workers on the Tyne or the workers in the north against those in the south, with regard to these orders is all wrong. This Debate has shown more clearly than ever that, for the working class, the fundamental thing is to try to get a united working-class movement. That is the great thing in the matter of defence—the defence of the working 2302 class—and if we could secure that, then the programme of this Government, which is a programme purely in defence of British Imperialist profit and plunder, would be riddled by the arguments from these benches and from those who are fighting for social justice and the overthrow of the present economic system.
§ 8.5 p.m.
One can sympathise with the sincerity of the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) in advancing his policy and his ideas, but I would remind him that if his policy were carried out and if this country and the Empire were in consequence left defenceless, there would be no money for increased pensions or social services or anything else. I would also remind him that what we are concerned with here is not the defence of the propertied or capitalist class, but the defence of the country and the Empire as a whole.
The question of battleships has once again been raised in this Debate and the experts have once more been made the targets of virulent attacks from various hon. Members. I was sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) should have referred as he did to Admiral Richmond, who is admittedly the greatest naval expert in this country if not in the world. He suggested that Admiral Richmond's opinion on battleships was not worth consideration because Admiral Richmond had never commanded a fleet at sea. I allude to that point only because I entirely disagree with it. Admiral Richmond spent many years in command of a ship at sea and had ample opportunities of making himself fully acquainted with the practical use of battleships. Therefore, I disagree with my hon. and gallant Friend's view about Admiral Richmond's advice, although I may differ myself from what Admiral Richmond has said about battleships. That is another point.
I wish to ask a definite question concerning the inquiry into the Naval Air Force. I want to know whether the inquiry is merely intended to find out the causes of friction, if any, under the existing system, between the Air Force and the Navy and as a result of the inquiry to remove as far as possible any such causes of friction, or whether the idea 2303 of the inquiry is to come to a decision on the question as to whether or not the Fleet Air Arm definitely and absolutely is to be turned over to the control of the Admiralty. That is a matter of principle. My hon. and gallant Friend below the Gangway went into a great deal of elaborate detail about dissatisfaction and whether the Air Force was working well with the Navy or not and so forth. In my opinion that is beside the point. It is a matter of principle whether the Admiralty should have complete control of the Fleet Air Arm or not, the Naval Air Arm is only one unit of the Naval Service, just like the submarines or the destroyers or any other unit of the Service. I hold that, as one of the units of the Naval Service, the Fleet Air Arm should be under the control of the Admiralty.
We ought to be told definitely whether this committee is inquiring into that question of principle as to whether the Fleet Air Arm is to continue as at present or pass under the control of the Admiralty. Whatever may be said to the contrary, there is a great deal of dissatisfaction in the naval service about the existing state of affairs. The two Services may be working in the closest co-operation and the greatest amity but that is beside the point. There is dissatisfaction at the inefficiency of the Air Arm as it now exists, and the feeling in the Navy as a whole is that it will never be efficient until it is completely under Admiralty control.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander TUFNELL
This Debate has ranged over many subjects and hon. Member of the Opposition have said that they are going to oppose this Vote. Yet they almost tried to involve us in a dispute with Italy which would have entailed the use of the British Fleet although they are not willing to give the Navy the necessary supplies to enable it to carry out its work in accordance with the principle of collective security. On every occasion hon. Members above the Gangway contradict themselves on these questions. We heard one hon. Member to-day say that he wanted money to be spent on the dockyard in his own constituency and at the same time saying that he intended to oppose this Vote.
2304 We have heard again to-day arguments against battleships. I think the Government are to be congratulated on the fact that they are going on with their preparations. What is the use of having these inquiries if the necessary plans and preparations in connection with new types of ships are not produced and if those who are making the inquiries are not to know the result of the experiments which have been male regarding the effect of bombing on battleships? Is this committee to rely upon such information as it can obtain about the battleships now being constructed in foreign countries? Where would we have been in 1914 had we allowed the submarine menace to prevent us building battleships? We should have been in a very awkward position indeed. There were people who said that the money ought to have been spent on more cruisers in order to hunt out and destroy the German raiders, and that we ought to have had more destroyers to deal with the submarine menace, and more light craft generally. But we did not cry out for more battleships, simply because there were so many battleships at Scapa Flow that the Germans were afraid to menace our destroyers and cruisers and to take steps which otherwise might have brought about disaster and brought us nearer to starvation. Because we had that adequate number of battleships we were able to send our cruisers, our light craft, all over the world to defend our commerce and keep us from starvation. I hear other Members complaining about the expense of building battleships. Let us remember that a great deal of this expense goes to giving work to thousands of men, and that it would be far more expensive if, owing to our lack of foresight in replacing battleships, we were to allow foreign battleships to put themselves in strategic positions and thereby bring us into a difficult position and so cause us far more expense to the whole nation by bringing us to the edge of starvation. We have heard criticisms of the naval experts. I think, however, that we want to go by the advice which is given us by the experts, who know what the Navy and the nation desire.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
It is a pity that 1 have to address the House on the Report stage of this Supplementary Esti- 2305 mate at a very inconvenient point. I make no complaint, in a way, about the Noble Lord leaving the Civil Lord to reply to certain questions which have been put, not only to-day but on previous occasions, and which have not been answered, but it seems difficult for a winding-up speech to be made when we have not had the answers from the Parliamentary Secretary to questions which have been put long since.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
Not satisfactory answers. We have put questions with regard to Vote 10, with regard to the docks at Gibraltar and the enlargements that are taking place at Devonport. We have had no answers, and what, therefore, can I say about them? When we on this side open up a Debate we are surely entitled to know what are the answers to the main questions.
I suggested that these points should be left to the Civil Lord, and the right hon. Gentleman made no objection.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I am making my protest now. It is very inconvenient that we should have to wait until after we have finished with this subject before we get answers to our questions. May I deal with the answers that we did get from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty on the various points. He said, in regard to the general case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), that he regretted that the efforts made to obtain a limitation of naval armaments had not been more successful, and he was insistent in his answer that there was not any panic in, dealing with the naval situation in the world as it now appears. I find it difficult to accept the view of the Parliamentary Secretary that the Government were not dealing with this matter in a panic. When this Estimate is passed we shall spend in the current financial year £80,000,000, the largest sum ever spent in one year on the Navy in peace time. There is absolutely no precedent for this sum, and it appears that in the next financial year we shall spend £100,000,000 in current expenditure on the Navy. I should have thought that that was far nearer panic expenditure than we have ever experienced before in our history in preparation for naval defence.
2306 In the same connection, the Parliamentary Secretary said that we were not building against any single Power. A good deal of water has flowed under the bridges and many events have happened since 1914, but we are entitled to say that it is a pity we cannot get clear and concise reasons for the programme of the Government such as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) used to give the House in 1914. We really knew at that time what the Government were after and preparing for. We are not getting any such information from the Parliamentary Secretary. We have asked again and again whether the Government will tell us, before we vote this money, what they are aiming at in their naval programme, and, except for general terms such as that we are aiming at general security, we get no information. The hon. and gallant Member for Cambridge (Lieut.-Commander Tufnell) made a general charge against Members on my side of the House that they are always standing on different legs. He says that we support the policy of collective security under which other League Powers will join against an aggressor, but, at the same time, we are not prepared to vote for the necessary armaments. There is not the slightest ground for that charge being levelled against the Labour party. We have made it perfectly plain, in the case we put to the country at the Election, that we are prepared to maintain efficiently whatever forces are required for collective security. We say that the White Papers on Defence issued by the Government in 1935 and 1936 show clearly that they are not preparing for the commitments required for collective security but are preparing, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) told us, for what they consider sufficient for the defence of the whole British Empire.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I invite the hon. and gallant Gentleman to examine with me at any time vis-à-vis, in a room in the House, the ships of the British Fleet, and to compare them with the ships of other Powers. He will not then have any cause to argue that the British Fleet is any older, more out-of-date, less capable of dealing with modern conditions than 2307 any other fleet in the world. I resent and resist the charge that is always made against the Labour party that it in any way let down the proper standard of British naval efficiency and equipment while it was in office. It is not true, although we were charged with that by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping. I remember a Debate in 1931 on the London Naval Treaty when we were able, taking category by category battleships, cruisers, aircraft carriers, destroyers and submarines, to demonstrate that by the limitations that were imposed on other Powers at the time of the signing of the Naval Treaty, so far from putting us in an inferior position relatively put us in a stronger position than before the conference of 1930, while at the same time we were saving money on naval armaments. I resent and resist charges that are made in that connection. They are simply not true, and it will not help the people who are rushing into this panic expenditure to tell the country that Labour is playing a double game in this matter. We will vote now for whatever expenditure is necessary for efficient forces to maintain collective security.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I am very glad to have had that interruption, because it shows clearly that the hon. Member is against the whole doctrine of collective security. The complaint of lion. Members against Labour is not that we stand at different times on different legs their complaint is that we defend the doctrine of collective security. If that is the case we know where we are.
§ Mr. SANDYS
Collective security depends on the great Powers being able to play a great part, and without a Navy we have not been able to play the part that we should play.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I do not mind continuous interruptions; this is the "cut and thrust of debate" which Mr. Speaker said was wanted, and I do not object to it. Let us think of the last words of the hon. Member. He said that without a Navy we were not able to play our part in collective security. One would have thought that the lack of the proper support of Christian principles as 2308 well as of our commitments under the League in regard to Abyssinia was due to the fact that we had not got a sufficiently big Navy. Do the hon. Member say that? Let him listen to this. This is from the "Evening Standard" of the 8th May, 1936: